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PART IV. (B.)
II. THE GROWING CONFLICT, ETC.
1. Christ manifests Himself in His public ministry as the light of men.—
(1) At the feast of tabernacles; the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11);
(2) Jesus is the light of the world, to which truth the Father testifies (John 8:12-19);
(3) discourse in the temple concerning His person and mission, and controversies arising there from (John 8:20-29);
(4) many believe on His word (John 8:30).
2. Controversy with the Jews regarding true freedom.—
(1) The enlightenment of truth leads to freedom for Christ’s disciples, spiritual sonship, and eternal life (John 8:31-51);
(2) His angry rejection by the Jews because of His claim to be “before” Abraham, and the “I am” (John 8:52-59).
Second Year of our Lord’s Ministry
Time and place in Synoptic narrative.—See Chap. 7, p. 200
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 7:1-12. For the general exposition of this section see Homiletic Notes, pp. 233–235.
John 7:2. Early in the morning (ὄρθρου).—St. John’s usual word is πρωῒ (John 20:1, and comp. Luke 21:38).
John 7:3. The scribes and Pharisees.—St. John does not name the scribes in his Gospel; they are included under the general name the Jews.
John 7:6. As though He heard them not.—Omitted in best copies.
John 7:12. Again.—See John 7:37. Our Lord here perhaps makes use of the other great symbolical feature of the feast of tabernacles—the lighting of the candelabra at night in the Court of the Women. There were divided opinions regarding Him among the people, and He gave them another opportunity of arriving at the truth.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Chap. John 7:53 to John 8:12
The Light of the World as Revealer.—Whatever view be taken of the position of this narrative in the gospel, its authenticity is generally held. The feast of tabernacles, with all its joyousness, was past. The joyous morning assemblages were over, the lights at eventide blazed no more in the temple courts. But the Saviour came early to the temple intent on His great work; and as the crowds of festival worshippers still remaining in Jerusalem gathered round Him, “assuming the position of an authoritative teacher” (Matthew 5:1) He sat down and taught.
I. Jesus is the light of the world in revealing the evil in men’s hearts.—
1. Whilst engaged in teaching He was interrupted by His ever-vigilant foes. They brought before Him a poor creature, who, instead of having her heart brought nearer God in the religious and joyous feast just ended, had given herself over to sin of the grossest and most debasing nature. The guilty wretch had evidently been brought before the Sanhedrin for judgment; and it was so clear a case that had they dared they would have carried out the old sentence of capital punishment. Hearing that Jesus was teaching in the temple, they brought the guilty woman before Him, hoping thereby to entrap Him, and gain for themselves the name of being zealous for the law.
2. The Pharisees had formerly tempted Him on this subject (Mark 10:2-12), and had been sharply reproved for the laxity of their conceptions regarding the holiness of the marriage tie. On this occasion they probably thought they might “turn the tables” on Christ, by entrapping Him either into giving a too lenient judgment, or by answering their question in the affirmative, thus bringing Himself under the penalties of the Roman law.
3. And, moreover, they either misread their own law, or presumed that Jesus was ignorant of it. The punishment for adultery was stoning only in special circumstances (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). In what form the punishment was to be carried out in other cases was not specified (Leviticus 20:10). Here, then, “Jesus seemed forced to occupy a position opposed either to the law of Moses or to the Roman authority” (Luthardt). It was the same kind of snare into which they endeavoured to draw Him on the question of the tribute money (Matthew 22:17).
4. But Jesus knew the hearts of these men (John 2:24-25). Their hypocrisy could not hide their true feelings and motives from Him. They professed to revere the law; but in reality this law, like others, had become a dead letter to them. The whole Jewish community, during our Lord’s time on earth, had become more or less corrupted by Roman licentiousness, and the sanctity of the marriage tie was disregarded. The more enlightened and spiritual custom of the time was to deprive the guilty woman of her dowry and divorce her; and our Lord seems to have stamped this method with His approval so far (Matthew 5:31-32). But He sternly disapproved of the granting of divorce for trifling causes, and with so much facility as seems to have obtained. But these Jews did not want any direction or guidance as to their procedure; they simply wished to entrap the Saviour, and to render Him obnoxious to the people as a subverter of the law, or to the Roman authorities, as recommending the exercise of the power of life and death to the Jews.
II. Jesus is the light of the world in the revelation of the higher and spiritual law.—
1. The divine wisdom of the Saviour defeated the evil purpose of His enemies. He came “not to judge the world”—not to usurp the functions of human justice, but to reveal the higher law toward which human law and justice should ever be more closely conformed as men come under the influence of the gospel. He raised the case above a merely human level; and did He not perhaps point to what is too often forgotten, even among Christian communities, that the framers and administrators of the law should model their enactments and actions as nearly as possible to the revealed and eternal law of righteousness?—
“And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.… Consider this—
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach as all to render
The deeds of mercy.”
2. These men had no true sense of this divine attribute of justice; in brutal fashion they dragged in this poor criminal before the assembled people. They were therefore not the men to administer the law, since they had no true sense of the spirit of the law. Our Lord did not say that human justice in this and other cases should not be carried into effect; but the men who carry it into effect must have true ideas concerning it.
3. He, therefore, raised the case to a higher tribunal. He brought accusers and accused alike before the bar of conscience. Stooping down, He wrote on the ground (John 7:6), as if intimating that a judicial sentence such as they desired was to be delivered; for such sentences were not only spoken, but written. And when the sentence came it was with crushing effect—not first on the accused, but on the accusers: “He that is without sin,” etc. (John 7:7). Here the claims of the holy law were vindicated perfectly; and those self-constituted judges, conscience-smitten, stole away one by one in utter confusion.
III. Jesus is the light of the world in that He points out the way of safety.—
1. When the last footfall of the baffled and retreating conspirators had died away on the ear, our Lord turned to the poor sinner brought thus before Him in shame and disgrace.
2. The question, “Where are?” etc. (John 7:10), does not mean, Has no man accused and convicted thee of this crime? That, alas! was evidently plain enough. The meaning is, Hath no man offered to carry out the death sentence they threatened? Therefore His further words, “Neither do I,” etc., simply mean, “Neither do I pronounce that sentence.” He gave her indeed an opportunity for repentance, as His closing words show, while at the same time He intimated the enormity of her guilt: “Go and sin no more.”
3. He condemned the sin; and it is noteworthy there is no word of forgiveness and peace, such as we find at Luke 7:48. As in the case of the woman of Samaria, our Lord’s manner of reference to the sin stamps it with its true nature.
4. Thus “the judges were made to feel that freedom from outward guilt is no claim to sinlessness; and the offender, in her turn, was led to see that flagrant guilt does not bar hope” (Westcott).
5. We learn that human justice should be modelled on the divine righteousness; that those who carry into effect the decrees of human justice should be men of a righteous, God-fearing disposition; that there is another bar before which men, even though acquitted or condemned by human law, must stand; and that men must forsake sin ere they can have forgiveness and peace.
John 7:12. The world’s need of Christ, the Sun of righteousness.—How important is the material sun in its relation to our world! Without its light and heat-rays darkness and death would reign. The world’s existence, humanly speaking, depends on the continuity of our earth’s relation to that star. It is the most important to us of all the starry hosts. It would, therefore, be a bold assertion for any man to make that he was as important to the moral and spiritual life of men as the sun to their physical life. Yet here we have such an assertion made. Jesus came, as it appears from the narrative as it stands, over-night from Bethany to the temple early in the morning. The sun had lately risen, clothing in light “the mountains round Jerusalem,” and gladdening all nature by its rising. Jesus, in view of the glorious scene, seems to say, Just as the sun has awakened animated nature to new life in a new day, so am I come to give spiritual awakening to those slumbering in the darkness of sin and error. [Or if the narrative is to be continued from John 7:52 to John 8:12, then His reference may have been to the candelabra in the temple court, and His meaning somewhat similar.] And Jesus had given good reason to those who heard Him for this claim of His. His works of power, His words of wisdom, marked Him out as more than human—to be what He claimed to be, the Messiah, the promised Sun of righteousness, the Light of the world. Notice:—
I. The world needed such a light.—
1. There are some questions which have in all ages engrossed, and will engross, the minds of men, and which cannot be answered by unaided reason. There are problems that puzzle and perplex which no merely human intellect has solved or can solve. These subjects lie in lofty regions, on heights to which philosophy and science vainly attempt to climb. They have been shrouded in darkness, like earth at midnight—have been dimly discerned, as through a mist, distorted, etc.
2. This has been so with the knowledge of God, of the means of approach to Him, of a future life. By reason men have attained to only dim and illusory conceptions of these great subjects, and it has been long felt that reason alone cannot here pronounce decisively.
3. By the light of natural religion men can go only a little toward the verification of such great truths; and even when they seem to have attained to a clearer view, the mists of doubt roll down, and it vanishes from their ken.
II. Jesus is the light of the world in that He leads men to a true knowledge of the nature and character of God.—
1. Among the nations at large, as regards this, darkness prevailed. The most cultured nations of antiquity had not risen above idolatry. Only a few voices called men to a better knowledge, and they were either unheeded or stopped.
2. Amongst barbarous tribes the darkness “was such as might be felt.”
3. There was but one exception—Israel; and in their case tradition had encrusted the windows of the soul and darkened their spiritual vision.
4. The further men had gone from the primitive revelation, the further they had fallen from the true knowledge and love of God. They bowed down to all the hosts of heaven, and finally came to “worship devils” (1 Corinthians 10:20). And this description is still true of the great heathen world.
5. But in the gospel of Christ there is given such a view of the nature and character of God as satisfies the heart. The existence of such a Being clears up the enigmas of life, and makes what at first sight seems “a dubious maze without a plan” to appear full of meaning and order. There is revealed to us One immeasurably removed above our highest uninspired conceptions. His government is seen to be founded on laws which are the expression of His own perfect character, and obedience to which is seen to be for the welfare of the race, etc.
III. Jesus is the light of the world in that He made known the way by which men can approach to God acceptably.—
1. It is not enough for sinful men to know that there is a God; they must know how they stand related to Him. All the religions of the world were framed with a view to this end.
2. Even the chosen people, when Jesus came to earth, needed light on this subject of subjects. They had retained the letter of their law, but had lost the spirit of the law (John 7:23-24). They misapprehended the prophets. Tradition and ritual were what the Pharisee trusted in; whilst the Essene leaned to asceticism and the Sadducee to rationalism. But in none of these ways was there any true approach to God (Micah 6:6).
3. Jesus has shown us the way of access to the Father. He revealed God as holy, abhorring sin, by no means clearing the guilty; and as the sinner, gazing on His revelation of the Holy One, cries out, “Depart from me,” etc., Jesus presents Himself as the Lamb of God, etc. (John 1:29). Sinners are shown that, though eternal Justice forbids that a free, unconditional escape from the guilt and penalty of sin should be granted, yet a way has been found whereby justice and mercy can be and are reconciled. It is true certain conditions are affixed to this boon. Men are required to repent of and renounce sin, and accept the pardon and peace offered in Christ.
4. Thus Christ enlightened the world on this fact of such importance. The Morning Star of promise gleamed in sacrifice and rite and prophecy in the early Church. But it was when He came to earth that the full light shone on our world; and in view of His redemptive work He could say, “I am the light,” etc.
IV. Jesus is the light of the world in revealing to men the existence and eternity of life beyond the grave.—
1. For the assurance of the existence of a future life men have ever longed. This has been to them a supreme question. Reason can offer no final solution of the problem. The disproportion in the allotment of rewards and punishments here, and the longing after immortality, deep seated in the human heart, may lead to a presumption that there is a life beyond. But reason has no absolute authority, and cannot state definitely whether that life she longs and hopes for will be eternal.
2. Revelation tells us of a future spiritual life. In patriarchal times God’s people lived in the consciousness of that higher life. He was the God of the living, and not of the dead (Matthew 22:32). But it was reserved for Jesus Christ, not only by His teaching, but by His actual rising from the dead, to bring “life and immortality to light.”
3. In view of all this Jesus has proved Himself to be “the light of the world.” But the knowledge of the truth will not avail unless He is to each individual the Sun of righteousness. He who enters some gloomy cell, shutting himself in from the brightness of noonday, may indirectly benefit from the sun, for its heat rays will warm even the air of his prison; but he cannot rejoice in its light. So if men shut themselves up in their sin and self-righteousness, the radiancy of the Light of the world will be well-nigh vain, so far as they are concerned. They must open their hearts to receive Him, if they would be blest by the brightness of His rising. And those on whom He has risen will shine in ever-increasing light until the perfect day of which Christ is the eternal light.
John 7:1-11. Pericope adulterœ.—Most Biblical scholars are now agreed that this narrative forms no part of the original text of this Gospel. Their conclusions rest not only on external but on internal grounds. Several great scholars, however, admit its genuineness, and defend it as part of the sacred text. The evidence for and against its retention may be briefly stated.
1. It must have existed as a part of the Gospel narrative in the third or even in the second century; for it is quoted in the Apostolic Constitutions.
2. The Church fathers Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, etc., admit the genuineness of the passage, and comment upon it.
3. It is contained in MSS. ranging from the fifth to the eleventh century (D, F, G, H, etc.), and in about three hundred cursives; and, of course, some of these may be copies of earlier MSS. than any now known. Jerome, e.g., mentions that it was found in many MSS. of his time. And his evidence here is unimpeachable. It appears also in early MSS. of the Vulgate and Ethiopic versions, among others. Such are the main facts of the evidence for its genuineness as part of this Gospel. On the other hand, there is a great weight of evidence which seems to exclude it from its position here.
1. It is not found in the great uncial MSS. א, (A), B, (C), L, X, etc.; for although A and C are defective at this point, it is considered from an estimate of the extent of the portions missing that it was not in the complete copies. It is omitted also in fifty cursives.
2. The passage is marked with asterisks, etc., in several of the MSS. which contain it; whilst in others its position is altered. In one document it is placed after John 7:36; in others at the end of the Gospel; and in others still after Luke 21:3. It is not commented on by Origen, Cyril, Chrysostom, and others.—Scrivener, “Intro.,” etc.
1. There is great variation in the texts where it is admitted. Griesbach distinguished three distinct texts: (a) the Textus Receptus, (b) that of Codex D, and (c) what might be called a composite text (see Godet).
2. There are in the narrative forms of expression which seem to distinguish the passage from the Gospel as a whole. But this part of the internal evidence must not be pressed too strongly. The occurrence here of one or two words and phrases nowhere else found in this Gospel is not conclusive against the authenticity of the passage. If τὸ ὅρος τῶν ἐλαιῶν, e.g., occurs here only, so does κέδρος in John 18:1. Nor must what seems a “want of harmony between the spirit of the narrative and the context of St. John” (Godet) be too much insisted on. Many scholars have failed to see this want of harmony. A consideration of the evidence for and against the passage seems to lead, at all events, to the conclusion that the narrative is a genuine apostolic tradition; and there is much force in the suggestion of Augustine that it was kept out of the text by those of little faith, who were afraid it might lead to moral laxity. It is not impossible that it was first “bracketed” in some MSS., as not to be read in the public assemblies, and in copies of the MSS. omitted. The following weighty words of Dr. Reynolds wisely sum up the controversy: “Though the spirit, atmosphere, and phrase suggest the Synoptic tradition rather than the Johannine, yet it must not be forgotten that there are many Synoptic passages in John’s Gospel, and Johannine phrases in the Synoptists. The criticism proceeding from moral timidity has failed to recognise the grandeur of the entire proceeding. It contains no palliation of incontinence, but a simple refusal of Jesus to assume the position of a civil judge or executor of the law, in face of the established political supremacy of Rome; while the Lord made a demand for personal holiness, and an appeal to conscience so pungent that, in lieu of condemning to death a sinful woman, He judged a whole crowd of men, convincing them of sin, while He gave the overt transgressor time for repentance and holier living.” Bishop Wordsworth (Greek Testament in loc.), whilst concluding that the passage contains a true history, in all probability from St. John, and delivered by him orally, considers that it was not a part of his written Gospel, and was probably added first on the margin of MSS., and thence crept into the text. And he draws from the investigation of the whole difficulty these moral inferences: a. Thankfulness to God for the solid foundation on which the proof of the genuineness and inspiration of the canon of Scripture rests. This passage consists of twelve verses only. Few doubt its authenticity. But its canonicity is the question at issue. How much and minutely has this been discussed! How rigid has been the scrutiny to which the canonical Scripture has been subjected before being received as the work of the Holy Spirit by the universal Church! And, in proportion to the rigidness of the scrutiny, how solid the ground of our belief in the inspiration of Scripture! b. It reminds us of our privilege in possessing so many MSS. belonging to an early age of the Church’s history—proofs of the genuineness of the text. c. It leads to a careful examination of the grounds on which our belief in the inspiration of Scripture is based. d. It excites us to thank Him who not only gave Scripture, but founded the Church universal to guard Scripture and assure us of its inspiration.
John 7:1-12. Illumination of the temple court at the feast of tabernacles.—One of the features of the joyful feast of tabernacles was the illumination of the city at nightfall, on at least the first evening of the festival, but probably on the other evenings as well. Large candelabra were lighted in the court of the women, and threw their radiance afar. Probably a partial illumination of the city took place; at all events, “many in the assembly carried flambeaux.” The wicks of the lamps in the temple court are said to have been “furnished from the cast-off garments of the priests.” Festivities were kept up for some time after the lighting of the lamps, the light of which was seen far and wide. Very striking must have been the spectacle on such occasions. And the ceremony had a meaning. Just as the pouring out of the water of Siloam in the morning reminded the people of God’s goodness to them at the rock in Horeb, so the sudden lighting up of the darkened temple court, and adjacent parts of the city, reminded the festive crowds of the “pillar of fire by night” (Exodus 13:21) which guided them in the wilderness. If the passage John 7:53 to John 8:11 is not retained as part of this Gospel, then it may be held that in John 7:12 our Lord was referring to the preparations for lighting the candelabra or the actual lighting of them. He would thus call attention to Himself as the true guide over life’s pilgrim ways in the darkness of our present state: “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness.” If, however, the pericope be retained (from John 7:53 to John 8:11), we should infer that our Lord, entering the temple in the early morning and pointing to the rising sun, then drew attention to Himself as the true and only light of the world of men. Both images may be legitimately referred to Him (Isaiah 4:5; Malachi 4:2).
John 7:12. The manner in which mankind had wandered from the light.—The early fathers of the race would hand down to their children the knowledge of God they possessed as the framer of the heavens and earth, which continually tell of His glory. “But,” as one has beautifully said, “this precious truth was vitiated among their hands. By dint of admiration for the works of God they took them in the end for God Himself; and the stars which appeared to announce His glory became in turn their divinities” (Massillon).
John 7:12. Men by nature have wandered far from the light and knowledge of God.
Chaldean shepherds, ranging trackless fields,
Beneath the concave of unclouded skies
Spread like a sea, in boundless solitude,
Look’d on the polar star, as on a guide
And guardian of their course, that never closed
His steadfast eye. The planetary five
With a submissive reverence they beheld;
Watch’d, from the centre of their sleeping flocks,
Those radiant Mercuries, that seem’d to move,
Carrying through ether, in perpetual round,
Decrees and resolutions of the gods;
And, by their aspects, signifying works
Of dim futurity, to man reveal’d.
The imaginative faculty was lord
Of observations natural; and, thus
Led on, those shepherds made report of stars
In set rotation passing to and fro,
Between the orbs of our apparent sphere
And its invisible counterpart, adorn’d
With answering constellations, under Earth,
Removed from all approach of living sight,
But present to the dead, who, so they deem’d,
Like those celestial messengers, beheld
All accidents, and judges were of all.
The lively Grecian, in a land of hills,
Rivers, and fertile plains, and sounding shores,
Under a cope of variegated sky,
Could find commodious place for every god,
Promptly received, as prodigally brought,
From the surrounding countries, at the choice
Of all adventurers. With unrivall’d skill,
As nicest observation furnish’d hints
For studious fancy, did his hand bestow
On fluent operations a fix’d shape;
Metal or stone, idolatrously served.
And yet, triumphant o’er this pompous show
Of art, this palpable array of sense,
On every side encounter’d; in despite
Of the gross fictions chanted in the streets
By wandering rhapsodists; and in contempt
Of doubt and bold denials hourly urged
Amid the wrangling schools—a “spirit” hung,
Beautiful region! o’er thy towns and farms,
Statues and temples, and memorial tombs;
And emanations were perceived, and acts
Of immortality, in nature’s course,
Exemplified by mysteries that were felt
As bonds, on grave philosopher imposed
And armèd warrior; and in every grove
A gay or pensive tenderness prevail’d
When piety more awful had relax’d.
John 7:12. Reason not the light of men.
Dim as the borrow’d beams of moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wandering travellers,
Is reason to the soul: and as, on high,
Those rolling fires discover but the sky,
Not light as here; so reason’s glimmering ray
Was sent, not to assure our doubtful way,
But guide us upward to a better day.
And as those nightly tapers disappear
When day’s bright lord ascends our hemisphere;
So pale grows reason at religion’s sight;
So dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light.
Some few, whose lamp shone brighter, have been led
From cause to cause, to nature’s secret head,
And found that one first principle must be;
But what or who, that UNIVERSAL HE;
Whether some soul encompassing this ball,
Unmade, unmoved, yet making, moving all;
Not even the Stagirite himself could see,
And Epicurus guess’d as well as he.
As blindly groped they for a future state,
As rashly judged of Providence and fate,
But least of all could their endeavours find
What most concern’d the good of human kind.
Thus anxious thoughts in endless circles roll,
Without a centre where to fix the soul:
In this wild maze their vain endeavours end:
How can the less the greater comprehend?
Or finite reason reach Infinity?
For what could fathom God were more than He.—John Dryden.
John 7:12. Christians in Christ are lights in the world.—Every Christian is a light of the world; for he should know and be assured what manner of man he is, and what is his standing with God—that he comes from God, and … in Christ has a holy standing, having become a new man, and shall eternally abide with God. In this condition I live and bear the cross; therefore I know whence I have come. I am truly no more the old Hans or Claus, who was descended from Adam; but I am a Christian. I bear a name common to all, with all those who are new born.… And at the end of this life heaven stands open for me, so that with all the saints I may go thither. I am sure of my position; my glory has a most precious foundation. But the “evil men and seducers” stand in great peril; they know not whence they come and whither they go, are uncertain of their condition, and pass on as in a dream.—Luther, quoted by Besser.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 8:13. They forgot His vindication of Himself (John 5:31-37).
John 8:14. Even if I bear record, etc.—Although He was content to let the Father witness of Him, still His witness of Himself was full and complete for those who cared to search and see. Like the light, He was truly His own witness. It might be necessary in human law to require at least two witnesses (Matthew 18:16)—memory and knowledge are alike often defective—but it was not so with Christ. “I know whence I came,” etc.
John 8:15. After the flesh (κατὰ τὴν σάρκα)—See John 7:24. They judged superficially and from the point of view of essentially materialistic minds. Had they been more spiritually minded, the truth as to Christ’s nature must have been apprehended by them. I judge no man.—Many explain with Cyril, etc., I … after the flesh, etc., i.e. with the underlying meaning, “I come as Saviour, not as judge.” But while this meaning is included, perhaps John 8:16 shows that our Lord means, I alone, etc., i.e. not apart from the Father.
John 8:16. And yet, even if I judge, etc.—His judgment and the Father’s are identical. He reveals and declares the Father’s judgments (see John 5:30), and therefore His judgment is true, ἀληθινή; the common reading is ἀληθής, but the former has the fuller, deeper meaning of fundamentally, ideally true (see John 1:9). His judgments indeed are the divine judgments. “Judge not alone (יחדי), for none may judge save One” (from “Pirke Aboth,” quoted by Westcott).
John 8:17-18, It is also written in your law, etc. (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15).—He says Your law, for it was not applicable to Him. As the incarnate Son He came to fulfil the law, not to oppose and annul it; but He could not properly say Our law, any more than He could say Our Father. I am He that beareth witness, etc.—In His unique position as the incarnate Word He had fulfilled the requirement of this precept. Jesus who bears witness is one; but through all His witness-bearing in word or deed shines the testimony of the Father.
John 8:19. The Jews understood what our Lord meant, for they do not say “Who,” but “Where is Thy Father?” They scoffed at His claim: “Any one might make such a claim; show decisively the validity of it.” In reply Jesus points out that only through the means they were rejecting could they truly know the Father. For another example of the same scornful unbelief see Matthew 27:49.
John 8:20. The treasury.—It was in the Court of the Women where the chests for the reception of the gifts of the worshippers were placed. Near at hand was the hall where the Sanhedrin held its meetings, a fact that tells in favour of the retention of John 7:53 to John 8:11 in its present position.
John 8:21-30. Again.—No man had yet laid hands on Him; therefore after an interval He continued His teachings, on the reception or rejection of which such momentous issues hung.
(1. In these verses our Lord, leaving particular types, speaks more generally of His mission, which could not be thoroughly understood at that time, but the full significance of which would be hereafter revealed (John 8:28).
(2) The Jews especially were shut out from comprehending it, owing to the fact that their nature was essentially different from His—nay, opposed to His.
(3) Otherwise they would have learned from the testimony of His works His origin and His standing.
John 8:24. “I am (He).”—ἐγώ εἰμι (see also John 8:28; John 8:58). There seems to be a direct reference to such passages as Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 48:8.
John 8:27. They perceived not, etc.—“Might not the crowd composing His audience, when they heard Him speak mysteriously of ‘Him who had sent Him,’ think of some other being than God Himself, e.g. one of those Messianic prophets of whom a considerable number was expected, and with whom Jesus might be secretly in relation, as the Messiah was to be with Elijah before His manifestation? For what strange misconceptions are attributed by the Synoptists to the apostles themselves” (Godet).
John 8:28. Lifted up, etc.—When they imagined they had cast Him down and destroyed Him they would have in reality raised Him to the throne. The Crucifixion was the prelude of the Resurrection and Ascension.
John 8:30. Believed on Him.—Their faith was imperfect and weak, no doubt; but it was sincere. They not only believed His words, but ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόν. They put their trust and confidence in Him, content to wait for the full manifestation of His Messiahship, and those whose faith is thus genuine, though weak, are the objects of His especial solicitude (Mark 9:42, etc.).
John 8:31-59. In this section Jesus sets forth:
(1) the marks of true discipleship (John 8:31-32);
(2) that impenitent Israel is in the bondage of sin (John 8:33-36);
(3) that though they are Abraham’s seed by natural descent their spiritual head is not from above but from beneath (John 8:37-47);
(4) then there is recorded the testimony of Jesus regarding Himself—His sinlessness, the power of His word, and the eternity of His existence (John 8:46-58);
(5) a climax of unbelief and hatred (John 8:59).
John 8:31. Some interval of time had elapsed between the fact recorded in John 8:31 and this new address. Jews who believed Him.—Not who believed in Him; they had not the simple trust of the other converts, and were still under the power of their traditions.
John 8:33. Never in bondage, etc.—They could hardly forget the Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Syrian bondage, nor the fact that they were at that time politically in subjection to Rome. Perhaps they meant their spiritual freedom; but did they forget the idolatrous lapses of the times of the later kingdom, and the hard experiences of their fathers under Antiochus Epiphanes?
John 8:34. Sin.—I.e. “Sin as a whole—complete failure, missing of the mark in thought and deed—is set over against Truth and Righteousness” (Westcott). Servant.—δοῦλος, slave (Romans 6:16-20).
John 8:35-36. A slave could not be adopted as a son unless he were made free (Hebrews 3:6). There may be a spirit of servitude in the house of the Father (the Church) even (Luke 15:29), as there was in the case of those Jews. What such need is to have “the Spirit of the Son in their hearts” (Galatians 4:6); then they too will cry, “Abba, Father.” Here is our hope that we may cease to be slaves and be freed by Him who is free, and gave not silver and gold, but His own blood for us; and who is our Head; and if He makes us free, etc. (Augustine in Wordsworth).
John 8:37. Ye seek to kill Me, etc.—I.e. the Jews who believed Him, but who were in reality at one with His bitterest foes fundamentally. Because My word does not advance (or make way) in you.—This was the true ground of their enmity to Him. They did not continue in His word. It had gained an entrance, but their hearts were not wholly given to Him. “The thorns sprung up and choked it.” “The lusts of other things,” etc. (Mark 4:19).
John 8:38. I speak, etc.—The foundation of Christ’s nature was the divine eternal Righteousness; God was revealed in and spoke through Him; but His opponents were allied to the power of evil, as their disposition and their deeds testified.
John 8:41. Then said they, … We be not born of fornication.—They understood that “He was speaking spiritually; and it is the usage of Scripture to describe as fornication the prostitution of the soul to false gods” (Augustine in Wordsworth): Hosea 1:2; Isaiah 1:21, etc. Godet says they refer to the facts recorded in Nehemiah and Malachi regarding the marriages of Jews with heathen women (Nehemiah 13:23, etc), and boast that they “had no idolatrous blood in their veins, but were Hebrews of the Hebrews’ (Philippians 3:5).
John 8:42. If God were your Father, etc.—The fact that they had no spiritual affinity with Jesus showed that the supposition could not be entertained. Neither have I come of Myself, etc.—Christ is not only divine in His origin, but His mission and action are also manifestations of His Father’s will, which is His will. All, then, who truly realised His divine origin would not fail to see the stamp of divinity on His whole activity.
John 8:43, Because ye cannot hear, etc.—They were spiritually of another race and country; thus the language of God’s kingdom was to them a foreign tongue (1 Corinthians 2:13-14).
John 8:44. Ye are, etc.; ye will to do, ye desire to do.—Ye in the first clause is emphatic. θέλετε ποιεῖν, = ye will to do, expresses their set determination. A murderer.—By the fall sin entered and “in Adam all died” (Romans 5:12). The departure from truth (righteousness) is the destruction of men. Abode not, etc., or rather standeth not in the truth.—Although there may be no direct reference to the fall of Satan, yet the fact is implied; and the unrighteous character of the adversary continues. Lying (deceit, unrighteousness)—this is the element in which he lives. He and Truth stand eternally opposed, and thus too his adherents and those of truth (Genesis 3:15). Lying comes spontaneously and naturally from Satan and his children. For he is a liar, and the father, etc.—Is ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ to be translated with R.
V. the father thereof, i.e. of lying (falsehood), τὸ ψεῦδος? or the father of a liar, ψεύστης? or as in margin of R.V., “Whensoever one speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for his father also is a liar”? The first seems best to carry out the antithesis running through this section between God the Father of the Truth and of all truth, and the father of falsehood, of all that is opposed to truth.
John 8:45. The truth.—Affinity to the truth is essential to belief in the truth. If Christ had spoken the lies which pretended Messiahs uttered, how greedily would these people have listened (John 8:43)!
John 8:46. Convinceth.—Convicteth. None could find a flaw in His spotless life (John 19:6).
John 8:47. Not of God.—They were not yet born from above; but they were not necessarily excluded from grace. It was of their own free choice that they were so.
John 8:48. A Samaritan.—Christ had declared their spiritual affinity, and they replied by invective. They had no doubt heard of His journey through Samaria, and perhaps that He came to the feast through the same hated country; and they hurled at Him the hateful name of their bitterest foes, implying that He who thus judged the children of Abraham could not be the Messiah. A devil.—Demon (Matthew 11:18; Luke 7:33). “Such language, they thought, could only be explained by the ravings of madness.… The meaning of their retort comes to this: Thou art as wicked as Thou art foolish” (Godet).
John 8:49. I have not, etc.—1 Peter 2:23.
John 8:50. I seek not, etc.—Therefore their taunts affected Him not; but the Father will glorify the Son, and seeks His glory; therefore those who dishonour the Son shall be judged by the Father (John 8:54; John 5:23; John 12:26).
John 8:51-52. Shall never see death.—I.e. shall never know of death as it is known by the impenitent, with its horror, etc., for Christ takes away its sting. But the Jews wilfully changed Christ’s words and made Him say never taste of death. Christ did not say or mean this. Even He Himself tasted of the bitter cup (Hebrews 2:9).
John 8:54. If I honour, etc.—’Ἐὰν ἐγὼ δοξάζω, glorify (א, B, C, D, etc., δοξάσω). If He bad striven for personal glory, apart from the Father and the Father’s will, then His work and purpose had come to nothing. It was to this that Satan sought to bring Him (Matthew 4:8-10).
John 8:55. A liar.—“For to hide the truth is no less falsehood than to spread error” (Westcott). Comp. 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:20; 1 John 5:10.
John 8:58. I am.—See John 8:24.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 8:13-59
John 8:13-19. Witnesses to the Light of the world.—The great claim made by Jesus was not permitted to pass unnoticed. They brought against Him a repeated accusation. “Thou bearest witness of Thyself,” etc., said the Pharisees. They forgot that He had already repudiated this claim (John 5:31, etc.); they forgot or did not choose to remember that Jesus had called in the testimony of other witnesses. But the Pharisees shut their eyes to the wonderful testimony that had been given. They were self-blinded and would not see. When Jesus is accepted as the light of the world by men, then—
I. The witness He bears of Himself is self-evident.—
1. “Even if I bear record,” etc. (John 8:14). As light He could not be otherwise than self-revealing. No elaborate proof, no concourse of witnesses, is needed to demonstrate the presence of light, unless to such as are blind or have been born in, and have never left, some dark and dismal cell.
2. Of course, as the Jews held that Jesus was merely a man, then such a claim was most astounding, and they had a right to question it. But it was even here that their error lay. Had they not been prejudiced, they must have been convinced that the teaching of Jesus and His works (John 5:36) showed Him to be more than man, and could not be compatible with a false claim.
3. The most fatal consequences follow this rejection of the Light. “Ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). The effect of turning away from the Light of the world is darkness and death.
II. Christ witnesses truly of Himself, for He is conscious of His origin and the end of His course.—
1. Our Lord’s testimony regarding things invisible, and His relation to the invisible world, was not mediate or fanciful; nor was it the product of a course of reasoning: it was based on personal knowledge. There is no proof in Scripture that Jesus arrived at such knowledge either by a splendid intuition or the exercise of a purified reason, that His Messianic consciousness might be described as having come to Him by gradual evolution, as, in the case of men, ideas and discoveries are arrived at.
2. He knew whence He had come, as the eternal Word who was with God, and who had ever the consciousness of the divine presence (John 3:13, etc.; Luke 2:49). This the Jews would not admit; they would know Him only as the carpenter, the son of Joseph, etc.
3. Christ knew also the course that lay before Him (Luke 9:31; Luke 9:51, etc.). This was no immediate proof; but even when, after His ascension, the apostles called attention to it (Acts 2:22-37), many refused to be convinced (Acts 4:1, etc.). He knew whither He was going—to the cross and the grave, but thence to the Father who had sent Him, and to the heavenly seats whence He had come to earth.
III. The manifestation of the Light in judgment is borne witness to by the Father.—
1. In the very fact of Jesus being the light of the world is seen the inevitable imminence of judgment on those who are in darkness, even although He had not come to judge but to save. Salvation is the end of His witness-bearing.
2. Without true knowledge it is impossible to arrive at true judgment; and these Pharisees judged according to the appearance—from the external, superficial aspect of things (John 7:24). But even though Jesus possessed all true knowledge, yet He alone, as the incarnate Son, judged no man. His office was not judgment.
3. When, however, men rejected salvation, rejected all the evident testimony that He was the Redeemer, the Star of Jacob, the Sun of righteousness, then nothing but judgment remained possible. It cannot be otherwise. Those who reject Him—the light, the truth—are shut up to darkness and death; and Jesus must, in this view, pronounce sentence upon them (John 9:39; Matthew 10:35; Matthew 10:41-42, etc.).
4. But although in thus coming to save He also must needs judge (Luke 2:34-35), yet even so His judgment was not His alone, but also that of the Father (John 8:16-18), with whom the Son was ever in unity. But “the light shineth in darkness,” etc. (John 1:5). And as hatred of truth prevents men seeing and acknowledging it, because they do not desire to believe it, so hatred of Christ prevented those Jews accepting Him as their light. Had they done so, they must have seen that in the witness of Christ was evident also the witness of the invisible Father (John 14:9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).
(1) Follow the Light. Accept Christ, and then He will be His own evidence in the soul, bringing with Him life, peace, joy.
(2) Accept His witness and the knowledge of the whence and whither of life in Him will be made plain. Life will be no more uncertain and vague, but a fixed course to an assured and blessed end.
(3) Remember the awful results of turning away from the Light of the world; it involves the being left in spiritual darkness: this leads to sin, and the end of sin, which is death.
John 8:21-24. Dying in sin.—
I. A sinful life, without repentance, leads to a death criminally impenitent as an outcome of character.—
1. A wilful renunciation of penitence—and this not only by a positive and express revolt from God—a refusal to recognise the Creator who has given men life, etc. What is meant is that unrepentant spirit resulting from weakness or maliciousness of heart, or which is the effect of the one or the other. Take, e.g., the case of one whose heart is filled with gall and bitterness, and who refuses reconciliation in view of death.
2. The omission of the means by which the grace of God, which leads to repentance, may be found. Thus the disposition and character of the life tend to lead to final impenitence. Habits contracted during life do not vanish at approach of death, and thus men often die as they have lived. So, too, the sinful affections. The wise man says, “The sins of the life form a chain which binds the sinner, almost in spite of himself, in bondage even till death” (Proverbs 5:22). Last, the heart habitually sinful may remain untouched and impenitent, unless a miracle of Divine Grace interpose. And this impenitence is itself a sin—the last sin and consummation of the sinful life.
II. A death unhappily impenitent.—
1. It is not sufficient in order that a man may die in a state of grace that he should resolve to repent some time. For the time for repentance may not be granted. His final impenitence may not therefore be a new sin, but the greatest of all misfortunes.
2. How common are sudden and unlooked-for deaths, when the sinner falls suddenly and without warning! And how often do men die in ignorance of their danger! And how frequently, when spiritual help is called, are they incapable of availing themselves of it, or the messenger fails to unlock the heart of the dying.
III. False penitence.—
1. When death comes it brings sorrow to dying sinners that they are quitting the objects which ministered to their concupiscence, and repentance is thus likely to be thrown into the background.
2. And then because their hearts have been hardened by sin, their repentance may not be of a genuine sort—it may be either forced or a merely human penitence.
(1) A forced penitence; for such men are often moved to express repentance urged by servile fear, and inevitable necessity.
(2) A merely human penitence, i.e. which has neither God nor sin as its object. What do these pretended penitents fear? Burning, said Augustine. This is what moves them. How does an impenitent life lead to false repentance at death? It does so through self-deception. One who has never repented during his lifetime has never learned what it means, and thus may more easily be deceived regarding it at death.—Bourdaloue.
John 8:21-30. The peace of Jesus amid conflict in His consciousness of the Father’s presence and approval.—Probably a new audience had gathered around Jesus. Many of the festive pilgrims have departed. The Jerusalem Jews and the rulers alone remain, and the greater part of that company are inimical to Him. But divine love is unwearied in its efforts for man’s redemption. Another opportunity is to be given to those hearing Him, an opportunity of which some really availed themselves (John 8:30). But the majority of His hearers were openly scornful and antagonistic; and when Jesus came face to face with those men, He experienced what was worst in human nature. But the heart that is in unison with the divine will, and is filled with the divine love, has peace even in this bitter strife.
I. Those who know how they stand toward God have peace in conflict.—
1. It was so with Jesus in the highest degree. He did not attempt to conceal from Himself the enmity cherished against Him by those whom He had come to save. He was well aware that He would finally suffer death at their hands, etc. (John 8:21).
2. But in view of all this opposition, etc., He never lost His inward serenity, but moved among His foes with a calm steadfastness, replying to their words, burning with suppressed hatred and malice, with no hot, passionate rejoinder, but first and chiefest with a trustful look heavenward. “I go away,” etc. (John 8:21).
3. So calm and confident was He of His standing with God (John 8:25), that He declared His right to speak many things to them, to utter the truth, and also to judge them; and that the time would come when they would learn whom it was they had despised and rejected (John 8:28).
4. He did not descend to futile wranglings and discussions with those Jewish rulers and people. He stands among them with majesty, claiming to be the equal with the Father; He requires them to listen to Him, lest they should die in their sins. He speaks as one conscious of His standing toward God, when He so plainly and without periphrase uncovered to their vision the great gulf that lay between Himself and them. In their scornful and wilful misunderstanding of His words, outvying their question on a former occasion (John 7:35), they hinted that He must mean to go hence by the only way by which they would not follow Him, as that would eternally separate them in the spiritual world; but Jesus calmly showed that by continuance in their opposition they would occupy the lower side of the great gulf fixed between life and death beyond (Luke 16:26). And He thus spoke from the sense of assured union with His Father.
II. The sense of the divine presence and favour is the foundation of unbroken spiritual serenity.—
1. It is hard to live among evil-minded men, to see their unrighteousness, to hear their calumnious words. It is trying to experience the evil of their doings in our own lives, or to see it working woe in the lives of others.
2. Nor are we to suppose that Jesus was altogether unmoved by the persistent unbelief and enmity of those Jewish rulers, and the bitterness of their attacks upon Him, etc. No true man can stand by stoically and hear others accuse him of thoughts or actions abhorrent to him and foreign to his nature, as those men did in Jesus’ case (John 8:22). The pure human nature of Jesus must in some measure have felt these attacks. His soul, we believe, was sorrowful in view of all this (Psalms 42:11).
3. But He never lost His tranquillity of soul (Matthew 11:20-30). The sense of His Father’s presence, and the knowledge that every step was bearing Him toward the full glory of the Father’s presence again, kept His soul in peace (John 8:21). Therefore how wise was His dealing with those men! how simple yet how skilful and incisive were His replies to their questions, as He sought “to win some,” and was gladdened when “many believed on Him”! (John 8:30).
4. Here Jesus is our example. Our human spirits are prone to rise and fall in face of the trials and contradictions of life (2 Corinthians 11:20-29). But the more we partake of the Spirit of Christ, the more we seek to rise toward His attitude of constant and unswerving obedience (“I do always,” etc: John 8:29), the more will our doubts, perturbations, etc., vanish away, and peace reign within, even amid the strifes and conflicts of life.
John 8:24. The doom of unbelief.—This is an awful word from the voice of eternal Truth! Had Christ been merely a man, then all He could have righteously asked men to do would have been to listen to His teaching, or at most to follow His example. But He could not have given men life and power, and therefore could not have called them to that higher belief and trust in Him that He demanded. But His life, teaching, power, all bore out His assertion that He was the I am, and that through Him alone men could be reconciled to God. This great truth is confirmed to us—
I. By history and experience.—
1. The power of Christ’s risen life has been manifested in all the ages of the Church’s history. We live amid irrefragable proofs of its presence. Christendom is the proof of Christ’s affirmation, I am (He).
2. And personal experience of the spiritual life of men will convince us that those who believe and trust in Jesus as the incarnate Son of the Eternal are truly blessed. Such live in the assurance of hope, in the knowledge and peace of forgiveness, and die peacefully looking for the “inheritance incorruptible,” etc.
3. What else can bring about such blessed experiences as this great truth of Christ’s oneness with the Father, and the power of His redeeming grace and love? “Can any night be so dark that it cannot be penetrated by this light, and any burden so heavy that this truth will not make lighter? Where this truth takes possession of a soul, there spring airs blow on wintry fields, balsam streams flow for smarting wounds, foretastes of paradise are given on burning deserts, and songs of thankfulness and praise rise from hearts overflowing with blessedness.”
II. The lack of this faith is death.—
1. “If ye believe not … ye shall die in your sins.” Even the life of the unbelievers is a perpetual death, a “dying in their sins.” If they do not live to Christ, they live to themselves and the world.
2. To live to and for the world is to be united to that which is passing and temporary, and the things of the world as consecrated to death.
3. Self and its vanities and dreams, its self-righteousness, etc., what is it all but transitory, illusory, dead?
4. And if this is true of the life of unbelievers, how much more is it of their death! They shall die in their sins. Terrible word! It is more terrible than if Jesus had said, Ye shall die suddenly, and in agony; for such deaths many of Christ’s saints have endured, but to die in sin is to die unsaved. How many die thus! Is it not terrible, fit cause for bitter tears? Will this not urge us to do what in us lies to bring salvation to perishing men?
III. How shall we escape despair and despondency in view of this?—
1. When coldness and want of effort in the Christian Church and much that betokens worldliness and unconcern on the part of many called by Christ’s name are widespread, we might well despair.
2. But whilst our heart bleeds for a perishing world, we must remember that He who wept over Jerusalem, etc., yearns for the salvation of men, and that He still seeks and saves the lost.
3. So we pray for us and our brethren, for whom Thy blood was shed, for mercy! If we forget Thee, forget us not—if we forsake Thee, bear us on Thy heart. If the world is unworthy of Thy grace, it all the more needs it. If the world denies and hates Thee, Thou dost not hate it. Follow us all with Thy love, especially those who are blinded, who misjudge and revile Thee, and let no one go far from Thee, so long as there is a possibility of return.—Abridged from F. Arndt.
John 8:31-47. The servitude of sin and the bondage of corruption.—Truly did Jesus say, “For judgment I am come to the world.” Those words are among the most terrible and the sharpest ever spoken to men. Coming as they do also from the lips of the loving, gentle Saviour, their awfulness is infinitely intensified. Are they not premonitions of the coming judgment, when the impenitent shall cry, “Hide us from the wrath of the Lamb”! (Revelation 6:16). In fiery colours the character of those obdurate unbelievers is limned; and had they not been utterly dead to all love of the truth, those burning words must have led them to pause and reflect. But the truth must needs be witnessed to, and a warning left to men to flee from the awful slavery of sin.
I. The bondage of corruption is a dark reality.—
1. On looking around in the world, two streams of tendency become apparent—good and evil. Man must follow one or other from his nature and position.
2. But as we read the history of the race and review our own experience, we see that men as a rule follow one of these streams—that of evil. Yet they have freedom of choice in that the good appeals to them as well as the evil, that the higher nature prompts to good, the lower to evil.
3. Men must determine which course they will follow. A man cannot help being under one or other power; it is a necessity of his being. Yet he can choose whether he will be a servant of sin unto death, or of obedience to God unto righteousness. But on account of the disordered state of his being he is inclined to evil, for that power finds auxiliaries within his heart.
4. And when the soul delivers itself to that dark power its slavery is unbounded. The soul is bound over to the penalty of the divine law. There is for it “a fearful looking for of judgment.” All the powers and faculties of a man’s being are dragged captive behind his triumphal car. The spiritual vision is dimmed; the spiritual powers and faculties are bound and fettered; the soul is kept in degrading spiritual poverty; and all the intellectual and natural powers are wearied in ministering to their tyrant.
5. And this is no mere dogma of Scripture. It is a truth that has been recognised by earnest, thinking men of every age.
II. The slaves of sin are self-deceived and blind.—1: Sin is a kind of madness, and its greatest slaves are often like the poor madman who fancies he is a king, reigning in royal state, etc. It was so with many of those Jews to whom our Lord spoke. We are free, they said, were never in bondage—as if their whole history from the exile onward did not give their brave words the lie; and as if their spiritual history did not tell the sad tale of enslavement either to idolatry or spiritual pride.
2. The picture of the Pharisee limned by our Lord revealed, in a stroke, their enslaved condition, etc. (Luke 18:11). Thus those Jews lived believing Satan’s lie; and being hearers of the word and not doers thereof, were like a man contemplating his natural face in a glass (James 1:23-27), and not looking into the perfect law of liberty, and continuing therein.
3. So those men deceived themselves as to their true standing and position. They proudly claimed to be Abraham’s seed—nay, more, they claimed a higher descent (John 8:41); but our Lord pointed them to the fact that spiritually they had quite another “head” than Abraham, another father than God. Their works betrayed their spiritual affinity; and had they not been utterly blinded, the truth must have been borne in upon them. But their proud reliance on their outward privileges, their unbounded trust in their outward descent from Abraham, made them imagine themselves spotless. All must be right with them.
4. It is an error the Church even may fall into, and the conduct of those Jews should be a warning example (Revelation 3:17-18).
III. The end of this servitude is destruction.—
1. It is a galling yoke, and its end is death. And this is not only true of flagrant sins—it is true of all sin. All its effects tend to the same end—spiritual death—death to God and holiness and eternal life.
2. As it is with our physical frame, so it is with our moral being. Some diseases are more terrible in their effects than others; but every disease weakens the body and tends to shorten and destroy life. So sin. Not only is the sensualist, the thief, the murderer, a bondslave of sin—every sinful habit enslaves.
3. The deceitful man, e.g. the liar, the slanderer, the gambler, the man who makes gold his god, the miser, the pleasure-seeker—all are wretched slaves of evil.
4. And as God will not permit His commandments to be ever trampled underfoot, and His name dishonoured, as surely as the arch-liar and murderer shall be bound in chains in darkness (Jude 1:6), so surely will those bound to sin receive its wages and reward.
IV. The way of deliverance from this bondage is freedom through the Son.—
1. But this implies taking His yoke. We must serve, come under some yoke. And when we enter Christ’s kingly service we are on the way of safety. And in His service there is perfect freedom (John 8:36)—freedom to move uninterruptedly in the way of our being and of the purpose of our creation—to glorify God “in our bodies and spirits, which are His” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
2. This is the truest freedom; in this way would we walk spontaneously were our humanity perfect, as was that of Jesus. He was a Son in the Father’s house, free to fulfil that which is the highest freedom—the divine will.
3. And the more nearly we rise to Christ’s likeness, the more shall we be delivered from that degrading bondage, and rejoice in “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21), showing our spiritual affinity by our love to the Redeemer (John 8:42), and by doing the works of our Father (John 8:39).
John 8:31. True disciples of Jesus.—There are false and true disciples—disciples who have the name only to live, but are dead; and disciples who belong in heart and life to Jesus. There are those whom Jesus does not recognise as His, and others whom He calls with joy to follow Him. The marks of a true disciple are given in these words: “If ye continue in My word,” etc.
I. The mark of a true disciple is continuance in the word of Christ. And this implies—
1. The hearing of Christ’s word. Men cannot know of Christ unless they hear of Him (Romans 10:17); and there are many among the heathen who thus cannot hear, for the preacher has not been sent. And alas! there are many in Christian lands who will not hear.
2. But the hearing of the word must be followed by its reception, i.e. by faith in the word, if the hearing is to be efficacious. Many of those Jews heard Christ’s word, and rejected it with scorn. So many now have heard from childhood this word, but it remains a dead letter to them. To many still, as to the Jews, His word is “an hard saying,” etc. (John 6:60). Many may read daily His word, and yet not truly understand or receive it. So was it with the Jewish teachers. They were learned in the writings of Moses and the prophets, but they did not understand them and truly receive them. Men must receive it by faith.
3. The true disciple must remain in Christ’s word—continue in it. This implies the diligent use of the word. Christ’s disciples must continually exercise themselves in the word they have heard, seeking prayerfully to understand it.
2. They are not to be content with the mere knowledge of its contents, however. There are those who may have much Christian knowledge, may be well acquainted with the facts of Christ’s word and the doctrines of the gospel, who may yet at heart be cold and dead (1 Corinthians 15:34).
3. The true disciple’s use of the word must be a practical one. He must not only exercise himself in it, know it well; he must obey it, must do what the word commands. He must be a doer the word, and not a hearer only (James 1:23; James 1:25).
4. And in all this true disciples must persevere in hearing and in believing, in use and practice of the word. Then it will be evident to the world whose they are, etc. They will be living epistles, etc. (2 Corinthians 3:2; Galatians 2:20).
II. The company of true disciples.—
1. The Lord gave the word, etc. (Psalms 68:11). Oftentimes the believer is apt to despond, and to think the company small, because all followers of Christ do not fully obey Him. But those words were spoken to Jews whose faith was of a very elementary kind. They now acknowledged His claims to Messiahship, but their knowledge was clouded by their traditional expectations and prepossessions. Still, they testified to Christ, even though imperfectly.
2. And thus there are many who confess the power of His word, and in feeble fashion it may be, yet truly follow Him.
3. The danger is that they do not persevere and continue in His word. Many doubtless fell away during our Lord’s ministry (John 6:66), and no very great company remained after His crucifixion (Acts 1:15; 1 Corinthians 15:6). Yet many no doubt were at heart disciples, and were added to the Church after Pentecost (Acts 2:41; Acts 2:47). And the same is doubtless true in the fields of apostolic preaching now. As the Church looks out on the vast fields of heathenism, let her take courage and go forward to convert and strengthen the weak in faith to persevere.
4. They are a numerous company of every age, of every race, of every condition; all are called to hear, to know, to do Christ’s word, and show forth His glory (Galatians 3:28).
III. The joy of true discipleship.—
1. His true followers know Him and follow Him. And when once they truly know Him they will desire ever to abide in Him (John 6:68).
2. And in knowing Him they know the truth—the truth regarding God, their own condition and their relationship to Him, and, above all, the way of safety here and of blessedness hereafter.
3. And this knowledge brings freedom from the dread of what is beyond, when the divine holiness and righteousness are contrasted with the imperfection and sinfulness of even the best of lives, and freedom from the numbing and paralysing power of sin in the spiritual life.
4. And in this new life of spiritual freedom the true disciples go forth in hope to witness for Christ, and spread that word which has brought such joy to themselves. Thus they are found in every sphere and station,—busy and active men in their work in the world; gentle women in the home, or in the service of the Church, by the bedside of the sick, caring for the poor, seeking to bring back the wanderers to the fold; and even the weak in faith and babes in Christ, showing by their joy in endurance or service, in life and work, their continuance in Christ’s word, and their faith as true disciples.
John 8:32-36. Freedom and truth the liberty of God’s children.—The chief ideas that meet us here are freedom and truth—freedom as the end to be reached; truth, the eternal truth, as the way in which to attain to it. Freedom is a much-abused word and idea. It is forgotten that there cannot for any created being be absolute freedom: within the circle of created things freedom is more or less conditioned in the material and other spheres. Even in social and political spheres freedom is limited. The kind of liberty or licence claimed by socialists or anarchists is not freedom. There is but One who is absolutely free—God; and He is so because He is absolutely perfect. Even when it is said He cannot lie, that sin cannot dwell with Him, He is most free, for sin is slavery, etc. The will and action of the Eternal are the expression of His perfect being. For all created beings true freedom consists in their living spontaneously according to the laws of their being. And within these limitations human freedom is glorious, inspiring. Political, religious, social, and individual freedom are all, in their place and measure, most worthy. But true freedom in all these spheres can come in one way only—by the truth, i.e. through Christ.
I. Spiritual freedom comes through the truth.—
1. It is freedom in this sphere to which the Saviour specially refers here. Freedom here means universal freedom. If the soul is enslaved, the man is enslaved.
2. To this truth the Redeemer pointed those Jews who believed on Him. What was the cause of the degraded condition of Israel at that time? Was it not that many of them had rejected the revelation of God in its spiritual and higher aspects, whilst others who still received it made it void through their traditions? They made their law a system of checks on the outward life, and not a means of enlightening and converting the soul. This was not the kind of freedom the Jews longed for; they imagined that, as Abraham’s seed, they already possessed it. The Roman power left their ecclesiastical freedom practically undisturbed, and in spiritual things they flattered themselves they were never in bondage, etc. (John 8:33). Freedom from Rome and all external foes was what they sought.
3. Our Lord, however, went to the root of the bondage of all humanity as of those Jews when He said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” He led those men higher than Nicodemus. They were not only to become His disciples, but their belief in Him must lead them to continue in His word, to come to the light of truth, so that by its radiancy they might see what was evil, and be delivered from it.
4. And what lies at the foundation of spiritual freedom rests on what seems at first sight a laying aside of freedom, for it implies the yielding up of our wills to God to do His will.
“Our wills are ours to make them Thine.”
In reality this is our truest freedom; only thus shall heart and life be in harmony with the purpose of our creation—the eternal purpose of Him who formed us for His glory. What our life needs is freedom to move in the direction of its being, and in accordance with the divine laws of its being.
5. The truth makes men free spiritually. This implies a willing rejection of sin, a willing turning to God. By the truth we realise that only those who seek His precepts truly walk at liberty (Psalms 119:45).
II. Religious freedom comes through the truth.—
1. No greater bondage existed than Pharisaic traditionalism. The exponents of the Jewish law in our Lord’s time “laded men with burdens,” etc. (Matthew 23:4; Luke 11:46). Pharisaic formalism enslaved the soul and crushed out true religious life. And when Christ came and proclaimed the spirituality of the law, the people were astonished. A new world was revealed to them.
2. Here again He pointed out that it was by continuance in His living, revealing word that they should be made free. By His teaching the fundamental law of love was proclaimed, and the true nature of religion and worship made known.
3. Only by continuing in Christ’s words can we escape from the bondage of error in our religious life. The Reformation was a conspicuous example of this: it was a return to the genuine source of authority in religious matters—the word of God. The unreformed Church was to many a prison-house of spiritual and intellectual life. It was Christ’s word that brought light and freedom. The spreading abroad of that word by Wycliffe, Luther, Tyndale, brought the dawning of the day of religious freedom.
4. The papacy seeks to suppress the truth by discouraging the circulation of the Bible. But is not the influence of rationalistic and destructive criticism even more dangerous, because it seeks to break down our standard of truth? Now, as of old, Christ says: “If ye abide in My word, then are ye truly My disciples.”
III. Political freedom rests on trnth.—
1. Many popular politicians seem to harbour the idea that political freedom will be built up on chicane, misrepresentation, etc. The word “political” has come in many quarters of the world to be synonymous with shiftiness. A political lie is evidently by too many regarded as venal.
2. But it will be found in the long-run that those peoples and governments will be most free and stable which are founded on that righteousness which is the foundation of Christ’s spiritual kingdom. True freedom will be reached when the kingdoms of the world are become the kingdom of our Lord, etc.
3. But when political action is not ruled by righteousness, when party, and not the national, welfare is aimed at, when to gain party ends class is incited against class, and bribes are sown broadcast to gain support, then political freedom dies. Are there not peoples misgoverned in the name of liberty? What nations need, like individuals, is first true spiritual and religious freedom.
IV. Social and individual freedom are reared on the same foundation.—
1. Schemes of brotherhood and equality will ever be vain and visionary unless based on eternal truth. How would trade disputes and social strifes pass away if all who profess to be Christians followed St. Paul’s teaching!—“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty,” etc. (Galatians 5:13-14).
2. What is needed to cure our social ills is to continue in Christ’s words, and as His disciples to become free through the truth.
3. The cure of many of our social disorders is retarded by the want of true unity among Christ’s professed followers. Church disputings and divisions, sect competitions and rivalries, are the cause of the continuance of many of our social ills.
4. What is needed is to come back to the teaching and the example of our Lord. All these divisions and dissensions show that we are to some extent in the “bondage of error.” Every true disciple of Christ should seek to attain this freedom by the truth; and then His people would be saved from moral and spiritual darkness and error, and guided in their religious, their social, and political life to walk righteously according to truth, in following Him who is the Truth.
John 8:34-36. The nature of the servitude of sin.—We consider:—
I. The range of this servitude.—
1. All mankind serve this tyrant. No condition is exempted. Culture or moral training cannot altogether protect against it. Age is no exception.
2. Every part of the nature is subjugated.
(1) The members of our bodies;
(2) The reason is made to minister to desire;
(3) The heart is defiled;
(4) The will is enslaved.
3. This servitude increases also with the lapse of time.
II. The depth of this servitude.—
1. There are three conditions in which men may be found here on earth. In one of these conditions each man stands, viz. the condition of nature, of the law, of grace. In each of these this servitude endures wholly or partially.
2. In the condition of nature men are slaves to sin unknowingly (Romans 7:8-9).
3. In the condition of being under the law men are wittingly under the bondage of sin (Romans 7:15-24).
4. In the condition of grace. A new life in this condition is awakened in the sinful heart; a new power, the Spirit of Christ, works within. But though the power of sin is broken, in this life the yoke is never thoroughly got rid of (Romans 8:20-22; 1 John 3:6; 1 John 1:8; Philippians 3:13). Yet in this state the servitude is not endured willingly, and the fetters are loosened and shaken off. But all this shows how deep the servitude is.
III. The duration of this servitude.—
1. Since the Fall.
2. And in the case of the individual does any one remember when first he began to sin? The sigh of the centuries has been, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
IV. The end of this servitude.—
1. “Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin; and the slave abideth not,” etc. His master can sell him, or give him his dismissal; the slave has no part or inheritance with the free children. The Son abideth ever. He is the Father’s heir, and can dispose of the Father’s possessions as if they were His own. He can set the slaves free, and give them the position of children—make them “heirs together” with Himself. “If the Son shall make you free,” etc. The faithful are the true freemen, and the full tyranny of sin ends when redemption begins.
2. Not that the faithful are ever entirely free from sinning. Still, they are free from sin: from its blindness—they know it for what it is; from its punishment—they fear that no more; from the love of sin; from the dominion of sin. They have come under a better dominion. They learn to glory through and in Him who is the end of the law for righteousness: “I delight to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is within my heart” (Psalms 40:8),
3. Let us thank God that we can rejoice and say, There came to us a Saviour, a Deliverer, a Son of man, full of love and power, who hath kindled a quickening fire within our hearts. Now we see the heaven open to us as our true Fatherland, and can now believe and hope and rejoice that we are of the household of God. “If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed,” etc. (John 8:31-32).—Abridged from Friedr. Arndt.
John 8:39-40. The spiritual children of Abraham do the works of Abraham.—True spiritual sonship with Abraham and participation in his blessedness are found in following the faith of Abraham. His true descendants are those who do his works. All through the New Testament this evident truth is insisted on. Some of his lineal descendants were told by our Lord that they belonged spiritually to a very different family (John 8:44). In His parable of the rich man and Lazarus our Lord puts into the mouth of the tormented Dives the words, “Father Abraham.” But a great gulf spiritually separated Dives from the patriarch who was afar off (Luke 16:19-31). And Abraham’s lineal descendants to-day, whilst fondly still looking back on that majestic figure who stands at the distant beginnings of history and sacred promise, have lost spiritual touch with their great ancestor according to the flesh, and must wearily wander until they too are glad in that day which he saw (John 8:56), and taste of the blessedness he experienced. What is needed in order to this by all spiritual children of Abraham is to do the works of Abraham. By this is meant:—
I. To imitate his obedience.—
1. When God spoke Abraham obeyed. When the call came to him to forsake his father’s home, his kindred, his native land, and go forth to a strange land and to be a sojourner there, he at once obeyed. We hear of no wish to return—no backward glance (Hebrews 11:15).
2. When the awful command was received to offer up his son, it too was at once obeyed.
3. And not only was his obedience to the command prompt; his reverence and regard for the messengers of truth were equally conspicuous (Genesis 22:0, etc., John 14:19-20; John 18:0).
4. How great was the contrast between this feature of his life and the action of his descendants in our Lord’s time on earth.
(1) Though God was evidently speaking to them in the Baptist’s message, in the signs and wonders of our Lord’s ministry, they refused to leave the idolatry of their tradition, and follow the divine guidance into the free country of truth.
(2) God was evidently calling on them to give up putting their trust in any arm of flesh, and to follow a far higher spiritual destiny. But they refused to sacrifice their ideas, and became participators in the awful crime on Calvary.
(3) In place of receiving the messengers of truth like Abraham with reverence, some they stoned, others they killed (Matthew 21:35). And when the Son came they cried, “Let us kill Him” (John 8:40; Matthew 21:38). Thus they proved themselves to be altogether unlike Abraham, who entreated the divine mercy for guilty Sodom, etc. (Genesis 18:16-33).
(4) The same experiences that came to Abraham come in some form or other to all. How many awakened to a new spiritual life have spiritually had to leave home and friends, to bear the scorn of those they loved, to become isolated, strangers in a strange land! How frequently have those converted from Judaism, Mohammedanism, and heathenism literally to follow Abraham’s footsteps as a stranger and sojourner! Are there not still sacrifices to be made which we must obediently offer, which try our faith, it may be, but in the end, through grace, contribute to the higher life? And is there not required from us the same unswerving reverence for the truth, and its messengers, whatever name they bear, and the same gentle spirit toward, and desire for, the salvation of the sinful?
(5) Indeed, Abraham is the Christian’s example just because by faith he participated in the spirit of Christ, who left the glories of heaven, offered up Himself, becoming “obedient unto death,” so that He might save our ruined race.
II. To have the faith of Abraham (John 6:29).—
1. His faith was the foundation of His obedience. By faith he left Ur; by faith he sojourned in Canaan; by faith he offered up Isaac; by faith he inherited the promise; by faith he surmounted difficulties and seeming impossibilities—“he was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20). By his unwavering trust in the word and obedience to the commands of God he “became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Hebrews 11:7; Romans 4:13).
2. This is the great truth which the Jews had fallen away from, interpreting the law in a literal fashion, making it a yoke of bondage in place of a guide in the way of spiritual freedom: “Being ignorant of God’s righteousness, … they have not submitted themselves” (Romans 10:1-10; Galatians 3:5-19, etc.). Thus they missed Christ and freedom, and fell ever more deeply into the bondage of corruption, the slavery of sin (John 8:34; Romans 8:21).
3. So it is now: “they which are of faith,” etc. (Galatians 3:7); “By grace are ye saved, through faith,” etc. (Ephesians 2:8). There is ever a fear lest men should fall into the Judaistic error of resting on their own efforts, and trusting in their own righteousness—a course that may and will often lead to deepest declension and direst sin. There is a danger ever lest men should lose sight of the central gospel truth of justification by faith in these days of bustling activity in the Church and the Christian world. Faith stands at the beginning of the Christian life (Romans 5:1); but faith and trust accompany the believer all through—will be the medium of sanctifying and keeping power until the end.
4. Faith, not works, but faith working by love—faith blossoming out into action as with Abraham—faith especially looking forward to and labouring in prospect of the fulfilment of the promise “in thee and in thy seed shall all nations be blessed” (Galatians 3:8)—rejoicing in the prospect of the full light of the day that has now risen—until faith passes into sight, when the nations of them that are saved shall walk in the eternal radiance of that day (Revelation 21:24).
John 8:46-59. That which distinguishes between the children of God and the children of the devil.—“Who art Thou,” said the Jews to Jesus (John 8:25). It was only, however, to find greater occasion against Him; as for them their anger only increased, until at last they took to action, became murderers, and took up stones, etc. Into such terrible sins they fell through despising Christ’s word. This Jesus told them was a proof of their affinity to the devil; for had they been from God they would have taken up a different position toward His word. The widespread disobedience of men arises from the same cause. They either do not hear God’s word, or when they do, do not keep it. Thus it comes that many are liars, blasphemers, persecutors.
I. Those who do not hear God’s word are not of God, but of the devil.—
1. One who lies and deceives had a good tongue given him from God, but his use of it is from the devil; he abuses his tongue by using it in the devil’s service against God. God may also give men sound eyesight; but he who uses his eyes unchastely does so of the devil. Thus, too, when the heart desires what is unchaste, deceitful, lying, and the like, then, although by nature it is from God, the use of it is evil and of the devil. On the other hand, to be of God is when a man uses his ears to hear the word, and permits himself to be corrected when he is in the wrong. So when one prays, preaches, instructs, and comforts with the tongue, such ears and tongues are of God and are good, for they are put to a godly use. Thus, too, when the heart strives after modesty, to be of use to our neighbour, and is not filled with wrath, such a heart is a creature of God, like the ear and the tongue. The meaning of being “of God” is that we conform to God’s word, and do not willingly think of, read, listen to, what is against God. If it should sometimes happen that we neglect this and stumble, are angry when we should be gentle, etc., this is certainly wrong. But if men repent and confess that they have done wrong, and pray for grace, then this error may be called stumbling or even falling, but it is not being of the devil, because the men turn again to God through repentance, etc. There are, however, children of the devil who are stubborn, and who, when they are corrected for their good and exhorted, speak like ill-mannered children. Such people are of the devil, and will become more evil—“the longer the worse,” for the devil will not let them rest. They first despise the word, then blaspheme it, then rage and curse against it. In the end they will do as the Jews did here—take up stones and become murderers at heart. These are the devil’s true colours—inattention to God’s word, abusing it, doing evil to one’s neighbours, wishing the preacher were dead. By such colours men may learn to know the devil and his children, for “he is a murderer from the beginning,” etc. (John 8:44). Therefore learn to guard yourself against such sins.
II. Those are of God who willingly hear God’s word.—
1. For God is no murderer, but a Creator from whom alone all life flows forth. The devil never made a man or quickened one. And as God is a living God, so also those who are of Him and hear His word shall have that life, as Christ here says, “Verily, verily,” etc. (John 8:51).
2. What is the meaning of keeping God’s word? Nothing else than believing what Christ has revealed to us in the gospel concerning the forgiveness of sins and eternal life—believing that it is true, and keeping fast hold of that faith and hope.
3. He who does that, says Christ, has eternal life—fears not sin, hell, judgment; for in Christ is all grace and mercy. Death truly will fall upon him and slay him, but he will not feel its power as those who die in the devil’s name and without the word of God. These latter die without resignation; they struggle, etc. If it were possible, they would run through an iron wall to escape from death. Not so with My people, says Christ. They shall not have such anguish and fear on their last bed. In their hearts they are at peace with God; they have an assured hope of a better life, and in this hope they fall asleep, and without terror depart hence. For although death will slay them materially, he is so masked and enfeebled that they do not feel his power; they rather look for a quiet bed of rest on which they shall calmly fall asleep.
Lessons.—Therefore think, dear children, how profitable it is for you to hearken willingly and diligently to the word of God. This is the chief thing—that you know that you are of God and have overcome the devil, and that neither sin nor judgment can harm you. Whatever dross you meet side by side with this you will turn away from. On the other hand, the world is impatient and discouraged even in the most trivial concerns. Christians truly must endure much, as the devil and the world are their bitter foes—must often be in danger of life and limb, etc. How can they endure all this and remain patient? Through nothing else than by continuing in the word, and saying: Let things go how they will, I am not of the world, but of God, otherwise the world would act differently toward me. I had liefer that it hated me than that it loved me, and I were not of God. Where the heart is thus fixed, then all temptations, trials, adversities, pass away, as clouds in the heaven pass over us, or as the birds in the air who soil us for a moment, but fly off and leave us untroubled.—Translated from Luther’s “Hauspostille.”
John 8:46-59. The Christian’s crossbearing and triumph.—If but the bloom of faith, etc., would grow like plants in spring, that the beautiful fresh growth might be protected from night frosts. There are such in the fields and vineyards of Jesus Christ. Often what grows quickly hangs the head, and a poor growth makes slow progress even when the frost has not entirely killed it. But there is another kind of growth, most mighty. What? Hatred against God’s Anointed, who came in love to save. This hatred grows more speedily than any tree in the garden. In this history an evident example meets us. A short time before Christ had been urged to become a king. But now! And yet amid all enmity there shone radiant the kingly throne which He possessed from the beginning with the Father, and would possess in all eternity. Thus through this sad gospel history there accompanies us the consciousness of victory, which will not fail, to the Lord and His believing people.
I. The seal of the new life is impressed on the Christian.—
1. Everything in the world has its mark by which men know it. Every plant is known by its fruits or blooms. A coin is known by its inscription, etc. The Christian has a double mark—that by which God knows His own, and that by which men know that we are born of Him (2 Timothy 2:19). The Christian’s seal and mark is confession with the mouth and by a holy life. The Lord could say, “Which of you convicteth Me of sin?” (John 8:46); and we are members of His body, but we are sinful. Is Christ then the minister of sin? (Galatians 2:17). God forbid! None of us truly can say, “Which of you,” etc. But at all times our holiest endeavour will be not to come under the power of sin, to confess and turn from it, etc. Thus “by their fruits,” etc.
2. But along with this witness of the life must be the witness of the word. Christ here bears witness to His eternity (John 8:58), etc., and then says, “If a man keep My word,” etc. (John 8:51). He must reign and rule over those who are His possession through faith and a holy life. In spite of His foes He witnessed to His holy, eternal nature, etc. He requires the same confession from His disciples. Thou, too, shalt witness that He is the eternal Son, has come to earth to seek and save, and that this word has become thy highest good, and that through the power of the Holy Ghost thou art daily conquering thy sins; thou shalt witness to thy hope to the end; thy confession shall run through all thy life.
II. The world shows enmity to the Christian, but he is still and endures.—
1. “For this cause ye hear not,” etc. (John 8:47). But did not God make them? Yes; but they have fallen from His service and entered into that of the prince of this world. I belong to him, am of him with whom my heart agrees, to whom it is conformed, whom it serves. What matters it though I glory in my fatherland, etc., if love to my fatherland is extinguished in my breast? I have really gone away from it. So the children of the world are God’s creatures, but not of Him.
2. Therefore, too, they cannot bear His children, are at enmity with them. When they acknowledge the life of holiness, and bring sin home to the world’s consciousness, its first word is a railing accusation, “Say we not well,” etc. (John 8:48). You know this method. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub,” etc. (Matthew 10:25). The first Christians were called Nazarenes; the reformers were called heretics. So to-day. But do not ask what the world calls you, if God calls you His child and your name is written in heaven.
3. Another method of attack against the Lord is to misinterpret His words. The promise of John 8:51 the Jews affected to take literally: they knew well enough, most of them, that He meant these words to be taken spiritually. They did not desire to understand, for Jesus had already spoken of His own death in the body. They wanted a weapon against Him (John 8:53). Is it not the same now? How are the words of Scripture twisted often to furnish an attack against the gospel!
4. Their last weapon was one against which only patience and faith could avail (John 8:59). It is a symbol of the history of the Church in all times—persecuted, but not forsaken, etc.
III. The Christian founds on God, who weighs with righteous balances.—
1. In human law there are usually three courts of instance. So it may be said is it with eternal justice. Men are first judged by the people connected with the deed. For many this is too favourable; for men judge by appearance. For others it is too severe; for men often judge according to the hate, etc., in their hearts. So was it here with the enemies of Christ. They judged after the hatred in their hearts.
2. Then there comes during the lapse of time a second judgment by men. Now many formerly praised are condemned; others come to their right. So was it with Christ after He had been scourged, crucified, etc. But afterward the people magnified His apostles (Acts 5:12-14). Such traits are of frequent occurrence in history.
3. But there is a third court to which the thousands of God’s persecuted ones, persecuted to death often, have appealed. It is God’s judgment seat. Jesus said, “I seek not Mine own glory,” etc. (John 8:50-51). God has established the honour and name of His dear Son most gloriously. He who was called Samaritan, etc., is called now Saviour and Redeemer, Lord and God. To Him is given all power (Matthew 28:18-20), and His honour and glory shall increase, etc. If you rest your honour on Him, it may seem to fall, but it will rise. “If we suffer with Him,” etc. (2 Timothy 2:12). These enemies took up stones, etc. Who withheld their hand? The same God. Afterward Christ’s hour came. He tasted for a moment the bitterness of death as the wages of our sin; but it was then chiefly that His word was most true, “If a man keep,” etc. (John 8:51). The Christian, too, will see death as the wages of sin, but also, through Christ, as the gate of eternal life: then is ever past the bitter invective, the foe’s uplifted hand, the bitterness of death. There remain the grace of God and the eternal inheritance, of which none can dispossess God’s people.—Translated and abridged from Ahlfeld.
John 8:46-59. Jesus is our true high priest.—The witness of Jesus as to His person, the power of this testimony, and the inimical position taken by the world in reference to it, are the chief points to be noticed in our passage.
Introduction.—Jesus goes to suffering and death in order to make an offering for the world’s sins. The Old Testament high priests could only shadow forth what Jesus had done in reality, in that He offered up Himself. He is our true high priest because—
I. His walk and conversation were without sin.—
1. “Such an high priest was beseeming for us, holy, harmless, undefiled,” etc. (Hebrews 7:26). Only one who is sinless can redeem sinners. Only one who has come from God can free those who are of the world. Only He who has completely overcome Satan can rescue those who are under Satan’s dominion—One who never conformed to Satan, but who honoured the Father alone.
2. Such a high priest is Jesus. His life was sinless. He had come from God. He honoured the Father. Therefore when He offered Himself His sacrifice availed for others also.
II. His word is mighty.—
1. Mighty for those who receive it, and are thereby delivered from temporal, spiritual, and eternal death.
2. Such salvation is possible because the word of Christ prevails also with God, and His intercession has power with the Father. He is honoured by the Father (John 12:28).
III. His continuance is eternal.—
1. Men of all ages need a Redeemer, a Saviour; for all men are sinners.
2. Jesus lives eternally. “He ever liveth,” etc. (Hebrews 7:25). Therefore His saving work avails for all believers before and after His incarnation. Thy fathers, thyself, thy children—all believers till the end of the world.—J. L. Sommer, “Evang. Perik.”
John 8:46-59. The testimony of Jesus.—
I. What Jesus testifies.—
1. Regarding His sinlessness.
2. Regarding the living power of His word.
3. Regarding the eternity of His existence.
II. The manner in which the world receives this testimony.—
1. The world understands it not, because the heart of the world is alienated from God.
2. The world insults and slanders those who bear this testimony to Jesus.
3. The world seeks to exterminate such witnesses in following them with persecution.
III. What it secures to the believer.—
1. Power for the spiritual life, because it is not a human but a divine testimony.
2. Victory over the unbelieving and deliverance from their hand, because it is the testimony of Him who reigns and rules eternally, and will never forsake His own.—Idem.
John 8:47. Hindrances to the word.—Nothing is more powerful and effective than God’s word. If it does not now produce the same fruit as formerly, it is not because of anything in itself or in those who preach it, for it does not depend on their talents. The causes, therefore, lie with those who hear the word. There are three such causes:—
I. Distaste for the word of God.—This is a terrible punishment. It arises from a secret pride or attachment to the pleasures of sense, or to temporal gains. As a figure, remember the distaste of the Jews for the manna.
II. Abuse of the word of God.—Doing as the Corinthians did in their observance of the communion—using it as the word of man, etc.
III. Resistance to the word of God.—This leads to hardening of the heart, as in the case of Pharaoh; and condemnation of the sinner; for this most precious talent has not been made use of. God will judge two classes in this relation—hearers who should have honoured the word, and preachers who should have proclaimed it.—Bourdaloue.
John 8:56. Abraham’s faith in the redemption of humanity.—When the New Testament writers desired to give a striking instance of the power of faith in a human life, and an example to incite men to higher attainment in that grace, the life of Abraham was singled out as the most pre-eminent. Once and again St. Paul founds the weightiest precepts on that life-history of the patriarchal age; and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews gives the story of that patriarch the most prominent position in his long and glorious roll of the heroes of faith. Hence we find in all New Testament history that the memory of Abraham was held in high honour among the Jews. Their highest ambition was to be reckoned as Abraham’s children here below, and their idea of the blessedness of hereafter was to be carried into Abraham’s bosom. And there is no doubt they justly revered the memory of their great ancestor. With the same fervid admiration and gratitude with which we look back on the great heroes of our country’s history, on the pioneers of our religious and political freedom, those Jews looked back to Abraham. But they regarded his memory with a deeper feeling even. He was not alone the father of their race—he was also, so to speak, the fountain-head and channel through which flowed to their race the glorious stream of promise. Personally Abraham was a great man even from a merely material point of view. But it is when we view him from the moral and religious point of view that his true greatness appears. It is his faith that lifts him above even the greatest of his time, and leads to his being affectionately remembered; whilst the names of many statesmen, warriors, kings, are scarce remembered or are altogether forgotten. But the chief object of Abraham’s faith evokes a universal interest. It was not merely faith in God’s guiding hand for himself and those dear to him—a faith which shone most brightly in the darkest hours: it was faith in a definite promise of blessing, not only to himself and his seed, but for all the world. Consider:—
I. Abraham’s faith in the redemption of humanity.—
1. And when we remember where Abraham stood, the greatness of his faith in this blessed consummation will appear, and will prove that his faith was inspired from heaven.
2. By a divine command he was withdrawn from Ur of the Chaldees, to save him evidently from being drawn into the ever-increasing current of idolatry setting in among his kindred, and which afterward developed into that great system, now slowly being brought to light by sculptured stone and engraved clay—tablet or cylinder. But it was to no country claiming immunity from idolatry that he came—rather to one in which it had reached the most degrading depth, so that he might see to what the worship of the heavenly hosts leads, and be more and more strengthened to refrain from idolatry, and keep untainted his purer faith and worship.
3. And it was amid scenes of prevailing and apparently growing idolatry that this patriarch, piercing through the cloud and gloom, the mist and darkness, of his surroundings, with the enlightened spiritual vision strengthened by faith, saw this spiritual night dispelled, and over the nations arise the light of an eternal Sun, the dawning of an endless day. As Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day.”
4. We honour the statesman, etc., who looks forward with hopeful anticipation, even in trying circumstances, to a good issue for his country (Thiers, etc.), the philanthropist who does not despair of the ultimate effect of his efforts (Howard, etc.); but no optimist ever rose to the lofty level of Abraham—his was the optimism of faith which overcomes seeming impossibilities, removes mountains, and attains its goal.
II. The definiteness and firmness of Abraham’s faith in regard to the means by which this redemption should be accomplished.—
1. “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached,” etc. (Galatians 3:8). The promise was that through Abraham’s descendants, nay, through One in especial, this blessing for all nations was to come. “He said not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one,” etc. (Galatians 3:16).
2. When that great promise was made to Abraham, it seemed as if the fulfilment of it were a physical impossibility. He was a childless old man; and when he was led out of his tent under the starry heavens (Genesis 15:5), and told that as is the number of these stars so his seed should be, and when the promise was afterward repeated, and in definite form, that Sarah should bear him a son as a pledge and earnest of its fulfilment, it would be easy to understand the patriarch’s surprise, amazement, and almost incredulity as that definite promise was given him. But when the first surprise was passed, faith surmounted the seeming difficulties. He remembered what God is, and “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief” (Romans 4:19-20).
3. But Abraham was to learn even more fully that the promise given him was divine and spiritual, and not according to the flesh. It did not depend on man, but on the grace of God. Abraham was commanded to take his son Isaac—his only son—with whom the promise was bound up, and offer him for a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. It was a terrible trial; yet the command was unmistakably given, else, had there been any ambiguity, Abraham would never have dreamed of carrying such a project into effect. But the command was clear, and he prepared to carry it into effect, accounting that God was able to raise Isaac up, even from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). Was it on Moriah, on that morning which began with gloom and ended in sunshine and joy, that Abraham caught the first true glimpse of that far-off day when another Son, a willing victim, should bleed and die for the world’s sins and man’s salvation, who should be received again not as in a figure from the dead, but should rise triumphant from the darkness of death, bringing joy and hope to weary humanity?
III. The reward of Abraham’s steadfast faith.—
1. This reward, which was the consummation of his faith and hope in the finished work of Christ, is variously expressed. He was “blessed” in the fulfilment of the promise (Galatians 3:9). “His faith was imputed to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:22). And here: “Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad.”
2. There was given him a present and a future blessing, it would appear. On that memorable morning, by the altar on Moriah, there was given him the joy of the righteousness by faith (Genesis 22:15-19), and a far-off glimpse of the coming time when, through his seed, like blessing should come to all nations as it had come to him, through trust in the divine promise. He was persuaded of it, embraced it, and saw it afar off (Hebrews 11:13). He knew and felt that the blessing which was to be given to that distant race came to him through the same channel, the divine promise, and he rejoiced.
3. But are we not to deduce more from the words of Jesus that Abraham saw His day? “According to Jewish tradition (Bereshith R., 44, Wünsche), Abraham saw the whole history of his descendants in the mysterious vision recorded in Genesis 15:8 ff. Thus he is said to have ‘rejoiced with the joy of the law’ ” (Westcott); or is it enough to say with Chrysostom: “He saw the cross of Christ when he laid the wood on his son, and in will offered up Isaac (Hebrews 11:17); when he believed the promise, that of His seed should come the Saviour, in whom all nations should be blessed”? (quoted by Wordsworth).
4. There would seem to be a deeper meaning in these promises, as many think. Moses and Elias appeared in glory to our Lord on the mount of Transfiguration, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). But although these two alone appeared, as they had passed not by ordinary paths into the invisible, are we to think that the spirits of the saints are in nowise touched or affected by the progress of that great work, for which they toiled and suffered and died? Were the heavenly strains that echoed over Bethlehem’s pastoral slopes, and which are sounding ever sweeter and clearer down the ages, unheard in the blessed courts of paradise? did they find no echo in the hearts of the glorified? Should he, the father of the faithful and the “friend of God,” remain ignorant of the glorious fulfilment of that promise given to him in the earthly Canaan, that he should not be glad in the finished redemption?
5. No! nor will those who labour in hope remain in ignorance of the progress of that holy cause for which they laboured while here. “A great cloud of witnesses” encompasses believers on their course. And the reception of each redeemed soul, each spiritual victory won, every advance of the hosts of light, each successive fulfilment of the promises, will bring joy to Abraham and all the waiting saints of God.
John 8:56-59. The first stoning.—In this incident the rising hatred of the formalist Jews and the ruling religious classes in Jerusalem receives a striking demonstration. All their measures against Jesus had been vain; nay, had resulted rather in the manifestation of Christ’s glory, in the testimony of their own officers (John 7:46) and the intervention of Nicodemus (John 7:50-51), and finally in the fact that many believed (John 8:30). This rising hatred may be considered:
(1) in its expression;
(2) in its inner nature.
I. The outward expression of this hatred.—
1. It is first seen in the expression of doubt as to His claim, and as such was natural, as many may think (John 8:13). But it was a doubt that refused to be enlightened; it rested on a hatred of the truth. Witnesses to Christ were all around. His Father’s works done by Him, etc. But with the Jews it was as with Voltaire, who said: “If on the marketplace of Paris, before the eyes of a thousand men—and my own also—a miracle were to occur, I should much rather doubt the two thousand and two eyes than believe it.”
2. This hatred is seen in the mockery of unbelief (John 8:22). “He is right there; in that case we cannot be His followers, neither as suicides, nor to the lower hell, the abode of such.”
3. Again this hatred breaks out in invective. John 8:48 : a Samaritan—Rabbi J. Sirach says: “To two nations is there enmity in my heart, the Samaritans and the Philistines”; a demon, and therefore one who should be banned from the temple. So was it with the apostles (1 Corinthians 4:13), reformers, etc.
4. Their hatred appears further as malignant fury (John 8:52-53). They twist His words and hurl against Him the charge of heresy, or worse.
5. But hatred knows no bounds; doubt, mockery, invective, malignancy, lead step by step to a murderous outrage. In this the sin against the Holy Ghost in the hearts of the Pharisees became more pronounced. Seizing the stones scattered about, as the work of completing the temple was then proceeding, they thought by an act of violence to rid themselves of accusing Truth. How soon thereafter would nothing but a heap of stones remain! He hid Himself. This was symbol of what would soon happen (John 8:21). But then they would seek and not find Him. They were filling up the measure of their iniquity.
II. The inner nature of this hatred.—
1. How can it be explained? It might have been thought that those people would rather have loved Him who was most worthy to be loved, that eternal Truth must have won all hearts. But human nature unredeemed is inimical to the truth, and is vexed by it because of its power. Truth has a faithful ally in conscience, which demands obedience to the truth. The Pharisees felt the power of the divine words; their own consciences testified to the purity of Christ’s character, the truth of His sayings. Had they remained silent, they would thus publicly have confessed their injustice and their defeat. Come what will, they would not do that. So that they sought to get rid of the sting of truth by mockery and invective. And to-day also, where Christ and His word are hated and attacked, this hatred is ever connected with anger and bitterness on account of the power and triumph of His cause. Men are not enraged and set into bitter defiance against what is known to be merely a chimera.
2. And the true spring of this hate is described in the words of St. Paul—“The carnal mind,” etc. (Romans 8:7); its foundation is the love of self and sin: these are the sworn foes of Christ and His word. And just as the pride and self-love and love of sin embittered the Pharisees against Christ (Matthew 23:0), so endures still the conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent in the world.—Abridged from F. Arndt.
John 8:26. The seal of Christ’s teaching.—“He who sent Me is true.” That is the seal which Christ affixes to His teaching, and wherewith He comforts Himself. So, too, we can say to the world: Well, we have preached to you and judged you, have many things to say concerning you; do not threaten us without cause. But what matters? It is truth; it shall come to pass, and none shall hinder it. For “He who sent Me,” the Father, has commanded us; He has given His word.… I am confident of this, and in this do I trust. Be angry and despise our teaching and preaching as you will, mock and threaten us; it shall nevertheless come to pass, though it may be to the sorrow of you all.—Luther, “Hauspost.”
John 8:28-29. Knowledge acquired too late.—“I am not alone,” etc. These words the Lord repeats in concluding, because they had never yet understood and would not understand that what He spake and He Himself (John 8:25) constituted the true Word of the Father. The fellowship of the Son with the Father—the mystery of the man Christ Jesus, who is the Son of God, whose words and deeds are a perpetually undimmed mirror of the perfect will of God—this sacred mystery the Jews did not understand, because the word of God did not dwell in them (John 8:37). One day they would know what they now did not understand. They would know when they sought the Son of man, Christ the Lord of glory, who was crucified in weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4), and through the lifting up of His cross (John 12:32) was called to manifest His life in the power of God—when they should hear the proclamation of God, who did not forsake His Son (“For, behold, this is My servant; I will uphold Him,” Isaiah 42:1)—who did not leave Him alone in the hour of His sorrow (John 16:32), not even at the rising of that cry “Eli, Eli,” etc. (Matthew 27:46). They would know when the sun was darkened, the veil of the temple rent in twain, the rocks shattered—when Christ came forth from the grave, and ascended into heaven, there reigning till His enemies be made His footstool. They would know when the first strokes of the judgment, for which He shall come at last in the clouds of heaven, fell on the obdurate race of Israel—when the forsaken holy city was overthrown in ruin, and thousands died in their sins: then they would know, with trembling hearts (Song of Solomon 5:4), that He it was, their Saviour and King, whom they had rejected—He, the obedient servant to whom God made His will known, and whom they had crucified—He, the true light of the world, the true and faithful witness, whom they had not believed—He, the beloved Son of the Father, in whom God was well pleased, whom they had despised. Oh! from the terrors of such knowledge let grace, which now comes into our souls, preserve us, so that it may much more be said of us who now hear His word, as it was said of some in Jerusalem, “As He spake these words many believed on Him.”—Translated from Dr. Besser, “Bibelst.”
John 8:37-38. The permanent basis of each human life.—It is a fact of incalculable moment in man’s moral life which is here in question. Behind the particular acts of each man there lies concealed a permanent basis, and, if I may be allowed the expression, a mysterious anteriority. The human life in each of us is in communication with infinity—an infinity of good or of evil, of light or of darkness—which opens up within us, and manifests itself in our works (whether words or acts). This is the fact which Jesus here represents under the figure of the paternal home, whence we come forth, and whence, as a son in his father’s house, we derived our habits. It is easy to see from my words and your deeds from what home you and I respectively come. But this is not all. At the foundation of both this infinite good and this infinite evil with which man is in constant relation, and of which he becomes the instrument, Jesus discerned a personal principle, an intelligent and free will, the father of the family, who governs the whole household: My Father, your father. From this father the initiative arises, from him emanate all impulses. But it is just because the prime mover is, by nature, personal, and not fatal, that the state of dependence in which man finds himself with respect thereto is also free and voluntary. Jesus faithfully cultivates communion with the Father: hence He finds in this relation the initiative of all good (what I have seen and what I am seeing, perf.). The Jews cultivate their inward relation to the opposite will, to the other father: hence they are constantly receiving from him impulses to all kinds of impious works (what you have heard—aorist: a series of particular impulses from their father).—Dr. F. Godet.
John 8:46. Conscience: what is it?—
1. A mirror before which no sin can be concealed.
2. An accuser who cannot be silenced.
3. A witness whose testimony cannot be gainsaid.
4. A judge before whom men cannot stand.
5. A preacher who rests neither day nor night.
6. A brand which cannot be obliterated.
7. A gnawing worm which dies not.
8. A fire which ever burns. Endeavour, therefore, so to act that neither before God nor your own conscience nor any man sin can be brought against you. Faith gives freedom from sin before God. Through faith all our sins are cast into the deep ocean of divine mercy; for then they are forgiven and forgotten. Before conscience you may be free from sin if you make even the smallest sin a matter of conscience, and therefore seek to shun even the smallest sin. Before men you may be blameless when you seek to “give none offence,” to take offence at no man, so that no one may take offence at you.
John 8:48. Those who are evil speak evil.—Those in whose hearts the devil abides speak of him willingly. When men speak evil of us we need not be ashamed, but only when we do evil.—From German Sources.
It is related of Sir Thomas More that he had the good custom of turning aside to some other topic of conversation when any one began in his presence to defame or rail against friends. Frequently also he was accustomed to repeat these words: “He that is without sin among you,” etc. (John 8:7).
John 8:48. “Thou art a Samaritan.”—The rendering “and hast a devil” is one which probably cannot now be improved. Wycliffe’s word here is “fiend,” which, in this sense, is obsolete. But every reader of the Greek must feel how little our English word can represent the two distinct ideas, represented by two distinct words, here and in John 8:44. “Demon,” used originally for the lower divinities, and not un-frequently for the gods, passed in the Scriptures, which taught the knowledge of the true God, into the sense of an evil spirit. Thus the word which could represent the attendant genius of Socrates came to express what we speak of as demoniacal possession, and the supposed power of witchcraft and sorcery. Socrates is made to say, “For this reason, therefore, rather than for any other, he calls them demons, because they were prudent and knowing” (dœmones, Plato, Cratylus, xxiii.). The history of Simon Magus reminds us that the people of Samaria, from the least to the greatest, had been for a long time under the influence of his sorceries (Acts 8:9 et seq.); and it is probable that there is a special connection in the words here, “Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon.”—H. W. Watkins.
John 8:50. True nobility.—It is far more honourable to be ennobled because of worth, than to have inherited a noble name from ancestors. He who recognises the honour that is his through being in Christ and thus in God, will not greatly trouble himself about self-honour or the honours of the world.—J. J. Weigel.
Chrysostom says: “To bear contempt with patience is praiseworthy; but to be indifferent when God is blasphemed is impious.”
John 8:51. Keeping Christ’s word.—Christ does not mean here keeping in a sense that men are said to keep the law by doing the works; rather the word must first be kept in the heart by faith, and not by outward doing, as the Jews thought. And it is not called without meaning a “keeping of the word,” for the idea implies strife and conflict. It is when sin afflicts, when death presses, and hell threatens, that we are to “hold fast the faithful word” (Titus 1:9), nor let ourselves be parted from it.
Never seeing death.—The death of a Christian seems outwardly often very much like the death of the godless. But in reality there is a difference as great as that betwixt heaven and earth. For the Christian sleeps in death, and through it enters into life; but the ungodly goes forth from life, and knows death eternally.
John 8:59. Stoning Christ.—
1. If men follow the evil one on the way of lying, they may soon do so on the way of murder.
2. Jesus hid Himself not from fear, but from forbearance for His foes.
3. Despise not Christ’s words lest He withdraw Himself and His grace.—From German Sources.
John 8:14. The light bears witness of itself.—A light reveals itself as well as other objects. So the light bears witness of itself; it lightens eyes that are healthy, and is its own witness, so that men recognise it as light.—Augustine.
John 8:19. Belief or unbelief—light or darkness?—Either we believe in the crucified One, who has washed us in His blood from our sin; on the risen One, who raises us from the dust and miry clay; on the Friend of Souls, who daily visits us; on the great High Priest, who intercedes for us; on the Lord of lords, who raises us from death, so that old things are passed away, and all—all are become new. Or we do not believe in the Son of man and of God, we impugn His heavenly origin, we doubt His word, we neglect His cross, we despise His grace, we set at naught His kingdom; and we shall die without offering or ransom, shall die in our sins. And although all the princes of earth were to stand around thy dying bed with comfort and compassion, if the Prince of peace be not among them; and although all thy kinsmen, weeping and bewailing thy departure, should surround thee, if Jesus be not there: terrible loneliness, awful passing away! No; better were it to be surprised by death on some desert waste, or in darkened chamber, with face turned to the wall. Yes, deep in the keep of a dungeon to finish your course, if only Jesus be present with you—not to die alone without the Redeemer, unconverted, unpardoned; in the depth of your sin, to go down to destruction!—Kögel, “Predigt.”
John 8:21. Too late.—I was once present at a railway-station when a man who had purchased emigration tickets for himself and his children for a journey to America, and who had put his children into a carriage, as they were to sail on the following day from Amsterdam, came himself too late on the platform, when the train had left with his family and effects. In uncontrollable agony he threw himself on the platform, and cried continually, Too late—too late! What was the sin of many of those Jews? That many first persecuted Jesus; and then, when they afterward would have sought Him, it was too late!—Idem.
John 8:23. The chief cause of contest between Christ and the Jews.—Men often strive bitterly regarding certain questions of public life; and when we look more narrowly at the matter it is frequently to be lost in wonder that the strife waxes so hot and furious. For very frequently the contest is concerned with merely two different ways to the same end: there may be one mind, only two different fashions of expressing it; one melody, with two notes that do not accord. Sometimes only a foot breadth divides the opponents from one another. They could easily join hands, and before one knows their positions may be reversed. So that one may reasonably ask, Why all this extravagance, all this bitterness and strife? But when a man of God has to strive with the unrighteousness of the world, when he has to do with the things of God and not with those of men only, then he occupies a standpoint that must not be altered. He does not stand on the same plane with the adversary.… But here is the distinction, “Ye are from beneath; I am from above.” Mark you what the aim and end of the evil man is. It is with him no question regarding news and hypotheses, regarding the longer or shorter path to a worthy goal, or which of two parties will have the advantage and be able to impress its principles on the world. The question here is whether the Spirit of God shall rule over men, or the spirit of the world; whether truth shall have the place of honour, or falsehood; whether mankind, erring and puffed up, intoxicated by worldly pleasure and the giddy spirit of the age, shall return and receive Christ as a guest into the depth of their souls, and bow their necks under His easy yoke; or take on them the strange yoke with the unbelievers, and repute the light to be like the darkness. “Ye are from beneath,” etc. On this ground victory is secure, and if we do fall we fall with the Lord. He who falls with the Lord, however, conquers even while he falls. For then Christ’s cause is at its greatest, when, in the view of the world, it has reached its nadir.—Lecher, “Predigt.”
John 8:32. Merely human effort cannot deliver men from sin’s bondage.—It is true that the slaves of evil and the tempters to evil do not ply their trade so unrestrainedly as once they did, and it is true that the hearts and consciences of Christian people have been awakened, as perhaps never before, to their responsibilities in connection with the disfigurements and perils of national life. But, after all, is there much to congratulate ourselves upon? In our great cities the forces of the law seem to be paralysed in the face of certain iniquities, which lift themselves unabashed, and press themselves in their most hideous forms upon the notice even of the most innocent. The best and the most earnest lovers of their kind have been driven into the deepest perplexities as to how legislation is to cope with evils that seem almost too great for its force. Many of the purest and noblest spirits of our time have been forced to the conclusion that it is hopeless to expect the destruction of certain evils; that nothing more is possible than to regulate and control them. Nor is there so much to congratulate ourselves upon in our literature. The taint may not be so gross, but it is there, though in a subtler form, and not less seductive because it is somewhat disguised; and though much is suppressed, we have now and then terrible indications of what lies behind and beneath that silence, and finds expression in its own place and time. The development of intellect and culture has done nothing to destroy the power of beasthood; nay, the intellect has often been used to devise new refinements of sin, and from under the decorous exterior ever and anon leap out startling manifestations of the animal. Even in the best this power is often agonisingly felt. Some of the holiest lives the world has ever known have been darkened and shortened through struggles with the animal nature—the changed soul in the unchanged body fretting in its prison.—W. Robertson Nicoll.
John 8:34. The vision of sin.—Nothing could more powerfully depict the ruinous effect of sin and the slavery and bondage into which it brings the soul than The Vision of Sin by Tennyson. In this poem we see the youth born to great things going forth on winged steed, but drawn half-willingly, half-reluctantly, into the maze of sensuous delight, mingling in the giddy dance of the dwellers in the palace of pleasure, till, intoxicated and blinded to the consequences, he loses all lofty aims, and sinks to the level of a votary of the “sensual sty.” When he emerges at last it is as a wasted, cynical, prematurely old roué, mounted on a sorry steed, pursuing his way over a blasted heath, the emblem of a wasted, ruined life. And at the last the palace of delight vanishes, leaving but a noisome marsh where formerly it stood—a graveyard of ruined humanity.
“Below were men and horses pierced with worms,
And slowly quickening into lower forms;
By shards and scurf of salt, and scum of dross,
Old plash of ruins and refuse patched with moss.
“At last I heard a voice upon the slope
Cry to the summit, ‘Is there any hope?’
To which an answer peal’d from that high land,
But in a voice no man could understand;
And on the glimmering limit far withdrawn
God made Himself an awful rose of dawn.”
John 8:34. The miser a slave.—A merchant died some years ago in Moscow. He was not supposed to be a wealthy man. But he was found dead in a miserable, damp room. His hands were clutching the sides of his iron money-safe, and had to be wrenched away violently. He had half-starved himself, was clothed as meanly as a beggar. Yet in that safe which he clutched with his death-grip were piles of gold, bundles of bank-notes, etc., soiled and rotting from damp; in short, a large fortune. Poor slave of sin! Where was his happiness here? and after?
John 8:34. The way in which sin enslaves.—The gospel focussed all the separate rays of truth shining in the world, it may be said—not only the truths revealed under the old covenant, but those reached by men of all races and times before its advent. It is interesting to meet with a beautiful expression of the great truth in John 8:34 in the Πίναξ of Cebes, the disciple of Socrates, a work which has been called aptly the Greek Pilgrim’s Progress. Cebes depicts men entering on life, which is represented by a garden or enclosure, in a picture hung on a wall of the temple of Thebes. Those who are seen entering the enclosure are solicited by good and evil influences, whom he represents under the guise of women. Pleasure and the lust of pleasure meet men at the entrance of life, promising them an existence of joy. If they listen they are led away by Deceit, and wander off from the true path of life, falling into the hands of Chance, and are given over by her in turn to Incontinence, Unbridled Desire, Profligacy, and Flattery. “These,” he says, “spring up and embrace them, flatter them, desire them to remain beside them, assuring them that they will lead a pleasant life, easy, and free from trouble and distress. If, then, any one is persuaded by them to enter on this luxurious existence, for a time that way of life seems pleasant enough, as long as the man gets gratification from it. But by-and-by it is seen to be not all pleasant; for when the man comes to his senses again he perceives that in reality he does not taste this life, but that, on the contrary, he is devoured and outraged by it. Therefore when he has squandered all, he is compelled to serve these women (vices), to bear whatever they put upon him, and to do what is pernicious and wrong.” Then he is given over to Fear and Grief and Pain, till finally he is delivered up to Torment, “bringing his life to a close in misery, unless Repentance by design should meet him on his way.”—From Cebes (“Tabulœ”).
John 8:36. True freedom.—When repentance is preached to the race of to-day, they proudly toss the head and say: Do we not live in the nineteenth century? Are we not a people of thinkers? Are not Schiller and Goethe and all the great spirits of the new age of our flesh and blood? Did not Luther erect among us the banner of freedom? Has not every yoke of the spirit been thrown off and shattered? Ah, they would be free and cultured, would be Protestants and spiritual fellows of Luther, and yet are such poor bound and miserable slaves. Gold is their tyrant and king, the drinking-cup their despot. They are subject to them, will they nill they. The flesh sits on the throne, and stretches out its sceptre over them. When the flesh cries, Come hither! immediately they come; when it cries. Go! then they go; when it commands, Do this, then they do it without contradiction. When God commands, then there is neither voice, nor perception, nor answer. They do not obey; they are not at all habituated to obedience, and know not how to set about it. Where the world allures them, thither they speed on the wings of the wind, although the way should lead into the open abyss.… There is no surer way to freedom than to hear Him who said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.”—Lecher, “Predigt.”
John 8:39-40. Abraham the obedient servant of God.—Abraham, the father of the faithful, rises from his rocky grave in the grove of Mamre, and raises his hand in exhortation, calling to us, “Only believe, for then thou wilt have a pilgrim’s staff through life, which will neither bend nor break, as I have had it during my long, weary pilgrimage.” “By faith Abraham,” etc. (Hebrews 11:8-10). What a checkered pilgrim life had this father of the faithful! How many painful steps did he make on this earth from day to day, from the day God said, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred,” etc. (Genesis 12:0), until the day when, old and life-wearied, he laid his head to rest in the double cave at Mamre, near his faithful Sarah. What was his pilgrim staff on this journey? the pilgrim staff with which he journeyed to the land of strangers, and knew not whither he went? the pilgrim staff leaning on which he made the bitterest journey of his life, the journey to Mount Moriah to offer up his beloved son? His faith was his pilgrim staff. Through faith he became an obedient servant of God, who said willingly, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth,” although he knew not to what the Lord called him. Through faith he was the blessed of the Lord, who as a sojourner and stranger dwelt in the land of promise, which his people should afterward inherit; who was permitted to read in the stars of heaven the glorious promises of coming salvation, which all peoples would share through him. Faith was his pilgrim staff. Blessed are those who still to-day journey through life leaning on this staff. Our life also is a pilgrimage. We also have sometimes to march through barren deserts, anon through green and fertile meads, now through rain, and now under bright sunshine. We too often go out at morning-tide, at the beginning of a new year, or at a new crisis of our life, and know not whither we go, and how it shall fare with us. We too must make many a dolorous journey here (as Abraham to Moriah), on which our faith will be sorely tried, and our obedience put to the hardest proof, when God demands from us what is dearest, and lays the heaviest burdens on our shoulders. We too live in perishable tabernacles here, and have here no continuing city, but seek one that is to come. What shall our pilgrim staff be throughout this life, over rough or pleasant ways, in good and evil days? For thee, O my soul, I know none which will endure unto the end, none that will help thee over hill and vale, except the staff of Abraham, faith. But blessed are all they who seize this staff and walk in the patriarch’s footsteps. Blessed are they when in the obedience of faith, as faithful servants, they pursue the path the Lord points out for them, because they know this one thing, it is God’s will; and thus in the severest trials they will submit themselves to Him for His direction—“Behold, Lord, here am I.” Then will they rejoice in the blessing of faith, and can tread comforted on the darkest ways in the confidence of faith, because they know that the “Lord is their shepherd, and they shall not want,” etc. (Psalms 23:0). In the dark night of sorrow they can look upward to the eternal star of the divine promise, and learn amid the troubles of the earthly pilgrimage to rejoice in the new eternal city whose Builder, etc.—K. Gerok, “Predigt.”
John 8:46. The challenge of Christ unanswered.—So blinded were the Jews by the glamour cast by Satan’s lies, that they rejected Jesus just because He spoke the truth. The highest truth has this for one of its credentials—that sinful men do not accept it. Tongues accustomed to the coarse pungency of leeks and garlic do not like manna. The devil’s children naturally take to lies, and turn away from truth. John 8:46 in its first part gives as proof that He spoke the truth the unanswerable challenge to convict Him of sin. That glove lies in the lists still, and eighteen hundred years have produced no champion bold enough to lift it and say, “I will.” Jesus asserts His sinlessness, and the world admits the claim. But does it accept the consequence, that sinlessness in action implies truth in speech? So He takes for granted here—and surely, if it be true that His manhood was utterly free from sin, the only explanation is to be found in the recognition of His Sonship, and involved therein—the validity of His claim to be the perfect Revealer of the truth. On the basis of His flawless purity is solidly planted the searching question, “Why do ye not believe in Me?” and no less solidly the final crushing unveiling of the ultimate reason for all unbelief, “Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.”—Dr. Alexander Maclaren.
John 8:58. Jesus the eternal Son.—The reason why our Lord Jesus Christ is so strong was shown (at the end of our Gospel) by Him, and so enraged the Jews that they took up stones, etc. (John 8:59). For when Christ said that His word would keep them from eternal death this stood in the way of the Jews. They saw that Abraham and other holy men were dead; only let it be supposed that Christ was not equal to them, then it was a vain glory that led Him to magnify His word so greatly. But Christ answered, “Abraham rejoiced,” etc. (John 8:56). That is. had Abraham not held fast to My word he too would have remained in eternal death. And again, “I am before Abraham.” Both mean as much as, “I am the eternal almighty God.” Whoever is burdened with sin, therefore, and would escape from death and lay hold of life, must be helped thereto by Me. Such a claim neither Moses nor all the prophets could glory in; for they were all men. Christ is both God and man; therefore He can give life and blessedness—He and no other. This is most comforting, and a certain proof of our faith, as we confess that Christ is by nature and eternally Son of God. Why then are such testimonies so frequent in the gospel? In order that we may put our trust in Him, and not in man; and rely upon His word assuredly, for it is God’s word and cannot lie. What He says is yea, and shall not fail through eternity; just as little as it failed when God through the Word created heaven and earth out of nothing. Learn this with diligence, and thank God for such doctrine, and pray that through His Holy Spirit He will keep you in the Word, and thus make you through Christ eternally blessed.—Translated from Luther’s “Hauspostille.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany