Click to donate today!
The three verses we have now read are rich in precious truth. For eighteen centuries they have been peculiarly dear to Christ’s believing servants in every part of the world. Many are the sick rooms which they have lightened! Many are the dying hearts which they have cheered! Let us see what they contain.
We have, first, in this passage a precious remedy against an old disease. That disease is trouble of heart. That remedy is faith.
Heart-trouble is the commonest thing in the world. No rank, or class, or condition is exempt from it. No bars, or bolts, or locks can keep it out. Partly from inward causes and partly from outward,—partly from the body and partly from the mind,—partly from what we love and partly from what we fear, the journey of life is full of trouble. Even the best of Christians have many bitter cups to drink between grace and glory. Even the holiest saints find the world a vale of tears.
Faith in the Lord Jesus is the only sure medicine for troubled hearts. To believe more thoroughly, trust more entirely, rest more unreservedly, lay hold more firmly, lean back more completely,—this is the prescription which our Master urges on the attention of all His disciples. No doubt the members of that little band which sat round the table at the last supper, had believed already. They had proved the reality of their faith by giving up everything for Christ’s sake. Yet what does their Lord say to them here? Once more He presses on them the old lesson, the lesson with which they first began: "Believe! Believe more! Believe on Me!" (Isaiah 26:3.)
Never let us forget that there are degrees in faith, and that there is a wide difference between weak and strong believers. The weakest faith is enough to give a man a saving interest in Christ, and ought not to be despised, but it will not give a man such inward comfort as a strong faith. Vagueness and dimness of perception are the defect of weak believers. They do not see clearly what they believe and why they believe. In such cases more faith is the one thing needed. Like Peter on the water, they need to look more steadily at Jesus, and less at the waves and wind. Is it not written, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee"? (Isaiah 26:3.)
We have, secondly, in this passage, a very comfortable account of heaven, or the future abode of saints. It is but little that we understand about heaven while we are here in the body, and that little is generally taught us in the Bible by negatives much more than positives. But here, at any rate, there are some plain things.
Heaven is "a Father’s house,"—the house of that God of whom Jesus says, "I go to my Father, and your Father." It is, in a word, home: the home of Christ and Christians. This is a sweet and touching expression. Home, as we all know, is the place where we are generally loved for our own sakes, and not for our gifts or possessions; the place where we are loved to the end, never forgotten, and always welcome. This is one idea of heaven. Believers are in a strange land, and at school, in this life. In the life to come they will be at home.
Heaven is a place of "mansions",—of lasting, permanent, and eternal dwellings. Here in the body we are in lodgings, tents, and tabernacles, and must submit to many changes. In heaven we shall be settled at last, and go out no more. "Here we have no continuing city." (Hebrews 13:14.) Our house not made with hands shall never be taken down.
Heaven is a place of "many mansions." There will be room for all believers and room for all sorts, for little saints as well as great ones, for the weakest believer as well as for the strongest. The feeblest child of God need not fear there will be no place for him. None will be shut out but impenitent sinners and obstinate unbelievers.
Heaven is a place where Christ Himself shall be present. He will not be content to dwell without His people:—"Where I am, there ye shall be also." We need not think that we shall be alone and neglected. Our Savior,—our elder Brother,—our Redeemer, who loved us and gave Himself for us, shall be in the midst of us forever. What we shall see, and whom we shall see in heaven, we cannot fully conceive yet, while we are in the body. But one thing is certain: we shall see Christ.
Let these things sink down into our minds. To the worldly and careless they may seem nothing at all. To all who feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of God they are full of unspeakable comfort. If we hope to be in heaven it is pleasant to know what heaven is like.
We have, lastly, in this passage, a solid ground for expecting good things to come. The evil heart of unbelief within us is apt to rob us of our comfort about heaven. "We wish we could think it was all true."—"We fear we shall never be admitted into heaven."—Let us hear what Jesus says to encourage us.
One cheering word is this,—"I go to prepare a place for you." Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people: a place which we shall find Christ Himself has made ready for true Christians. He has prepared it by procuring a right for every sinner who believes to enter in. None can stop us, and say we have no business there.—He has prepared it by going before us as our Head and Representative, and taking possession of it for all the members of His mystical body. As our Forerunner He has marched in, leading captivity captive, and has planted His banner in the land of glory.—He has prepared it by carrying our names with Him as our High Priest into the holy of holies, and making angels ready to receive us. They that enter heaven will find they are neither unknown nor unexpected.
Another cheering word is this,—"I will come again and receive you unto myself." Christ will not wait for believers to come up to Him, but will come down to them, to raise them from their graves and escort them to their heavenly home. As Joseph came to meet Jacob, so will Jesus come to call His people together and guide them to their inheritance. The second advent ought never to be forgotten. Great is the blessedness of looking back to Christ coming the first time to suffer for us, but no less great is the comfort of looking forward to Christ coming the second time, to raise and reward His saints.
Let us leave the whole passage with solemnized feelings and serious self-examination. How much they miss who live in a dying world and yet know nothing of God as their Father and Christ as their Savior! How much they possess who live the life of faith in the Son of God, and believe in Jesus! With all their weaknesses and crosses they have that which the world can neither give nor take away. They have a true Friend while they live, and a true home when they die.
v1.—[Let not...heart...be troubled.] We must carefully remember that there is no break between the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth chapters. Our Lord is continuing the discourse He began after the Lord’s Supper and the departure of Judas, in the presence of the eleven faithful disciples. A slight pause there certainly seems to be, since He turns from Peter, to whom He had been speaking individually, to the whole body of the Apostles, and addresses them collectively. But the place, the time, and the audience are all one.
Our Lord’s great object throughout this and the two following chapters seems clear and plain. He desired to comfort, stablish, and build up His downcast disciples. He saw their "hearts were troubled" from a variety of causes,—partly by seeing their Master "troubled in Spirit" (John 13:21),—partly by hearing that one of them should betray Him,—partly by the mysterious departure of Judas,—partly by their Master’s announcement that He should only be a little time longer with them, and that at last they could not come with Him,—and partly by the warning addressed to Peter, that he would deny his Master thrice. For all these reasons this little company of weak believers was disquieted and cast down and anxious. Their gracious Master saw it, and proceeded to give them encouragement: "Let not your heart be troubled." It will be noted that He uses the singular number "your heart," not "your hearts." He means "the heart of any one of you."
Hengstenberg gives the following list of the grounds of comfort which the chapter contains, in systematic order, which well deserves attention, (a) The first encouragement is, that to the disciples of Christ heaven is sure (John 14:2-3). (b) The second encouragement is, that disciples have in Christ a certain way to heaven (John 14:4-11). (c) The third encouragement is, that disciples need not fear that with the departure of Christ His work will cease (John 14:12-14). (d) The fourth encouragement is, that in the absence of Christ disciples will have the help of the Spirit (John 14:15-17). (e) The fifth encouragement is, that Christ will not leave His people for ever, but will come back again (John 14:18-24). (f) The sixth encouragement is, that the Spirit will teach the disciples and supply their want of understanding when left alone (John 14:25-26). (g) Finally, the seventh encouragement is, that the legacy of peace will be left to cheer them in their Master’s absence (John 14:27). These seven points are well worthy the attention of all believers in every age, and are as useful now as when first pressed on the eleven.
Lightfoot thinks one principal cause of the disciples’ trouble, was their disappointment at seeing their Jewish expectations of a temporal kingdom under a temporal Messiah failing and coming to an end.
[Ye believe...God...believe...Me.] The Gospel words rendered "ye believe," and "believe," in this place, admit of being differently translated; and it is impossible to say certainly whether our English version is right. Some, as Luther, think both words should be indicative: "ye believe and ye believe." Some think both should be imperative: "believe and believe." My own opinion is decided, that the English version is right. It seems[s] to me to express exactly the state of mind in which the disciples were. They did, as pious Jews, believe in God already. They needed, as young Christians, to be taught to believe more thoroughly in Christ.
Among those who think that both verbs are imperative are Cyril, Augustine, Lampe, Stier, Hengstenberg, and Alford. Among those who adhere to our English version, and make the first "believe" indicative, and the second imperative, are Erasmus, Beza, Grotius, and Olshausen.
Let us note that faith, and specially more strong and distinct faith in Christ, is the truest remedy for trouble of heart. But we must never forget that true faith admits of growth and degrees. There is a wide gulf between little and great faith.
Ferusremarksthat our Lord does not say "Believe my divinity," but, Believe personally in Me.
Toletus observes that our Lord here teaches that Jewish faith was somewhat distinct from Christian faith. The Jew, not seeing clearly the Trinity, dwelt chiefly on the unity of God. The Christian was intended to see three Persons in the Godhead.
Wordsworth remarks that the verb "to believe," followed by a preposition and an accusative, is never applied to any but God in the New Testament.
v2.—[In my Father’s house.] This phrase can bear only one meaning. It is my Father’s house in heaven: an expression accommodated to our weakness. God needs no literal house, with walls and roof, as we do. But where He dwells is called His house. (See Deuteronomy 26:15; Psalms 33:14; 2 Chronicles 30:27; 2 Corinthians 5:1.) There is something very touching and comforting in the thought that the heaven we go to is "our Father’s house." It is home.
[There are many mansions.] The word rendered "mansions" means literally "abiding-places." It is only used here, and in John 14:23, "abode." We need not doubt that there is an intentional contrast between the unchanging, unvarying house in heaven, and the changing, uncertain dwellings of this world. Here we are ever moving: there we shall no more go out. (See also Hebrews 13:14.)
Our Lord’s intention seems to be to comfort His disciples by the thought that nothing could cast them out of the heavenly house. They might be left alone by Him on earth; they might be even cast out of the Jewish Church, and find no resting-place or refuge on earth; but there would be always room enough for them in heaven, and a house from which they would never be expelled. "Fear not! There is room enough in heaven."
Chrysostom, Augustine, and several other ancient writers think the "many mansions" mean the degrees of glory. But the argument in favour of the idea does not appear to me satisfactory. Bishop Hall, Wordsworth, and some few modern writers take the same view. That there are degrees of glory in heaven is undoubtedly true, but I do not think it is the truth of this text.
The modern idea, that our Lord meant that heaven was a place for all sorts of creeds and religions, seems utterly unwarranted by the text. From the whole context He is evidently speaking for the special comfort of Christians.
Lightfoot’s idea, that our Lord meant to teach the passing away of the Jewish economy, and the admission of all nations into heaven by faith in Christ, seems fanciful.
[If it were not so...told you.] This is a gracious way of assuring the disciples that they might have confidence that what their Lord said was true. It is the tender manner of a parent speaking to a child. "Do not be afraid because I am leaving you. There is plenty of room for you in heaven. You will get there safe at last. If there was the least uncertainty about it, I would tell you." We may remember that our Lord had called the Apostles "little children" only a few minutes before. (John 13:33.)
[I go...prepare...place...you.] This sentence is meant to be another ground of comfort. One of the reasons why our Lord went away, He says, was to get ready a dwelling-place for His disciples. It is like the expression in the Hebrews, "the forerunner." (Hebrews 6:20; see also Numbers 10:33.)
The manner in which Christ prepares a place for His people is mysterious and yet not inexplicable. He enters heaven as their High Priest, presenting the merit of His sacrifice for their sins. He removes all barriers that sin made between them and God. He appears as their proxy and representative, and claims a right of entry for all His believing members. He intercedes continually for them at God’s right hand; and makes them always acceptable in Himself, though unworthy in themselves. He bears their names mystically, as the High Priest, on His breast; and introduces them to the court of heaven before they get there.
That heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people is a very cheering and animating thought. When we arrive there we shall not be in a strange land. We shall find we have been known and thought of before we got there.
v3.—[And if I go...come again...receive...myself.] These words contain another strong consolation. Our Lord tells the disciples that if He does go away, they must not think it is for ever. He means to come again and take them all home, and gather them round Him in one united family to part no more.
Poole remarks ’’the particle ’if’ in this place denotes no uncertainty of the thing, but hath the force of although, or after that." (See also Colossians 3:1.)
Many think, as Stier, that the "coming again" here spoken of means Christ’s coming to His disciples after His resurrection, or Christ’s coming spiritually to His people in comfort and help even now, or Christ’s coming to remove them at last by death. I cannot think so. I believe that, as a rule, when Christ speaks of coming again, both here and elsewhere, He means His own personal second advent at the end of this dispensation. The Greek word rendered "I will come," is in the present tense, and the same that is used in Revelation 22:20 : "I come quickly." The first and second advents are the two great events to which the minds of all Christians should be directed. This is Cyril’s view of the passage, and Bishop Hall’s.
[That where I am...ye...also.] Here is one more comfort. The final end of Christ’s going away and coming again is, that at last His disciples may be once more with Him, and enjoy His company for ever. ’’We part; but we shall meet again, and part no more."
Let us note that one of the simplest, plainest ideas of heaven is here. It is being "ever with the Lord." Whatever else we see or do not see in heaven, we shall see Christ. Whatever kind of a place, it is a place where Christ is. (Philippians 1:23. 1 Thessalonians 4:17.)
We should mark in these verses how much better Jesus speaks of believers than they speak of themselves. He says to His disciples, "whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." And yet Thomas at once breaks in with the remark, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" The apparent contradiction demands explanation. It is more seeming than real.
Certainly, in one point of view, the knowledge of the disciples was very small. They knew little before the crucifixion and resurrection compared to what they might have known, and little compared to what they afterwards knew after the day of Pentecost. About our Lord’s purpose in coming into the world, about His sacrificial death and substitution for us on the cross, their ignorance was glaring and great. It might well be said, that they "knew in part" only, and were children in understanding.
And yet, in another point of view, the knowledge of the disciples was very great. They knew far more than the great majority of the Jewish nation, and received truths which the Scribes and Pharisees entirely rejected. Compared to the world around them, they were in the highest sense enlightened. They knew and believed that their Master was the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God; and to know Him was the first step towards heaven. All things go by comparison. Before we lightly esteem the disciples because of their ignorance, let us take care that we do not underrate their knowledge. They knew more precious truth than they were aware of themselves. Their hearts were better than their heads.
The plain truth is, that all believers are apt to undervalue the work of the Spirit in their own souls, and to fancy they know nothing because they do not know everything. Many true Christians are thought more of in heaven while they live, than they think of themselves, and will find it out to their surprise at the last day. There is One above who takes far more account of heart knowledge than head-knowledge. Many go mourning all the way to heaven because they know so little, and fancy they will miss the way altogether, and yet have hearts with which God is well pleased.
We should mark, secondly, in these verses, what glorious names the Lord Jesus gives to Himself. He says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." The fullness of these precious words can probably never be taken in by man. He that attempts to unfold them does little more than scratch the surface of a rich soil.
Christ is "the way,"—the way to heaven and peace with God. He is not only the guide, and teacher, and lawgiver, like Moses; He is Himself the door, the ladder, and the road, through whom we must draw near to God. He has opened the way to the tree of life, which was closed when Adam and Eve fell, by the satisfaction He made for us on the cross. Through His blood we may draw near with boldness, and have access with confidence into God’s presence.
Christ is "the truth,"—the whole substance of true religion which the mind of man requires. Without Him the wisest heathen groped in gross darkness and knew nothing about God. Before He came even the Jews saw "through a glass darkly," and discerned nothing distinctly under the types, figures, and ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Christ is the whole truth, and meets and satisfies every desire of the human mind.
Christ is "the life,"—the sinner’s title to eternal life and pardon, the believer’s root of spiritual life and holiness, the surety of the Christian’s resurrection life. He that believeth on Christ hath everlasting life. He that abideth in Him, as the branch abides in the vine, shall bring forth much fruit. He that believeth on Him, though he were dead, yet shall he live. The root of all life, for soul and for body, is Christ.
Forever let us grasp and hold fast these truths. To use Christ daily as the way,—to believe Christ daily as the truth,—to live on Christ daily as the life,—this is to be a well-informed, a thoroughly furnished and an established Christian.
We should mark, thirdly, in these verses, how expressly the Lord Jesus shuts out all ways of salvation but Himself. "No man," He declares, "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me."
It avails nothing that a man is clever, learned, highly gifted, amiable, charitable, kind-hearted, and zealous about some sort of religion. All this will not save his soul if he does not draw near to God by Christ’s atonement, and make use of God’s own Son as his Mediator and Savior. God is so holy that all men are guilty and debtors in His sight. Sin is so sinful that no mortal man can make satisfaction for it. There must be a mediator, a ransom-payer, a redeemer, between ourselves and God, or else we can never be saved. There is only one door, one bridge, one ladder, between earth and heaven,—the crucified Son of God. Whoever will enter in by that door may be saved; but to him who refuses to use that door the Bible holds out, no hope at all. Without shedding of blood there is no remission.
Let us beware, if we love life, of supposing that mere earnestness will take a man to heaven, though he know nothing of Christ. The idea is a deadly and ruinous error. Sincerity will never wipe away our sins. It is not true that every man will be saved by his own religion, no matter what he believes, so long as he is diligent and sincere. We must not pretend to be wiser than God. Christ has said, and Christ will stand to it, "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me."
We should mark, lastly, in these verses, how close and mysterious is the union of God the Father and God the Son. Four times over this mighty truth is put before us in words that cannot be mistaken. "If ye had known Me, ye would have known my Father."—"He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father."—"I am in the Father, and the Father in Me."—"The Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works."
Sayings like these are full of deep mystery. We have no eyes to see their meaning fully,—no line to fathom it,—no language to express it,—no mind to take it in. We must be content to believe when we cannot explain, and to admire and revere when we cannot interpret. Let it suffice us to know and hold that the Father is God and the Son is God, and yet that they are one in essence though two distinct Persons,—ineffably one, and yet ineffably distinct. These are high things, and we cannot attain to a full comprehension of them.
Let us however take comfort in the simple truth, that Christ is very God of very God; equal with the Father in all things, and One with Him. He who loved us, and shed His blood for us on the cross, and bids us trust Him for pardon, is no mere man like ourselves. He is "God over all, blessed forever," and able to save to the uttermost the chief of sinners. Though our sins be as scarlet, He can make them white as snow. He that casts his soul on Christ has an Almighty Friend,—a Friend who is One with the Father, and very God.
v4.—[And whither I go ye know...way ye know.] This remarkable sentence was evidently meant to stir and cheer the disciples, by reminding them of what their Master had repeatedly told them. It is as though our Lord said, "Do not be cast down by my going away, as if you had never heard Me say anything about heaven and the way to heaven. Awake from your despondency, stir up your memories. Surely you know, if you reflect a little, that I have often told you all about it." Is it not, again, like a tender parent saying to a frightened child, who says he knows not what to do, and is ready to sit down in despair, "Come: you know well enough, if you will only consider"?
Poole observes on this verse, "It is pleasant to notice how Christ continueth His discourse to the disciples, like a mother speaking to a little child crying after her when she prepares herself to go abroad. The child cries; the mother bids it be still, for she is only going to a friend’s house. It still cries; she tells it she is only going to prepare a place for it there, where it will be much happier than at home. It is not yet satisfied; she tells it again, that though she goes, she will come again, and then it shall go with her, and she will part from it no more. The child is yet impatient; she endeavoureth to still it, telling it that it knoweth whither it goeth, and it knows the way by which, if need be, it may come to her."
Let us note that disciples often know more than they suppose or admit, but do not use their knowledge, or keep it ready for use. Ferus compares them to infants lying in their cradles, who have fathers and fortunes, but do not know it.
Let us note that Christ looks graciously on the little knowledge His people possess, and makes the most of it. He can make allowance for their minds being clouded by grief or trouble, and their consequent forgetfulness of truth for a season.
v5.—[Thomas saith unto Him, etc.] This verse shows how foolishly a disciple may talk under the influence of despondency. Here is one of the eleven faithful Apostles declaring flatly that they neither knew where their Master was going, nor the way! The saying is characteristic of the man. Thomas always appears a doubting, slow-minded believer. But we must not judge disciples too sharply for words spoken under deep distress. When the passions and affections are much stirred, the tongue often runs away with a man, and he speaks unadvisedly. Nor must we forget that disciples have very different gifts. All have not equally strong faith, clear understanding, and good memory.
Trapp quaintly remarks that believers in the frame of Thomas are like people who hunt for their keys and purses, when they have got them in their pockets.
v6.—[Jesus saith...I...way...truth...life.] This wonderful saying is a brilliant example of a foolish remark calling out a great truth from our Lord’s lips. To the ill-natured remark of the Pharisees we owe the parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke chapter 15); to the fretful complaint of Thomas we owe one of the grandest texts in Scripture. It is one of those deep utterances which no exposition can thoroughly unfold and exhaust.
When our Lord says, "I am the way," He means, "the Father’s house is to be reached through my mediation and atonement. Faith in Me is the key to heaven. He that believeth in Me is in the right road."
When our Lord says, "I am the truth," He means, "The root of all knowledge is to know Me. I am the true Messiah to whom all revelation points, the truth of which the Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices were a figure and shadow. He that really knows Me, knows enough to take him safe to heaven, though he may not know many things, and may be troubled at his own ignorance."
When our Lord says "I am the life," He means, "I am the Root and Fountain of all life in religion, the Redeemer from death and the Giver of everlasting life. He that knows and believes in Me, however weak and ignorant he may feel, has spiritual life now, and will have a glorious life in my Father’s house hereafter."
Some think that the three great words in this sentence should be taken together, and that our Lord meant, "I am the true and living way." Yet the general opinion of the best commentators is decidedly unfavourable to this view of the sentence. To my own mind it cuts down and impoverishes a great and deep saying.
Musculus remarks that no prophet, teacher, or apostle ever used such words as these. They are the language of one who knew that He was God.
[No man cometh...Father but by me.] Here our Lord teaches that He is not merely the way to our Father’s home in heaven, but that there is no other way, and that men must either go to heaven by His atonement or not go there at all. It is a clear distinct limitation of heaven to those who believe on Christ. None else will enter in there. Rejecting Christ they lose all.
We should mark carefully what an unanswerable argument this sentence supplies against the modern notion that it does not matter what a man believes,—that all religions will lead men to heaven if they are sincere,—that creeds and doctrines are of no importance,—that heaven is a place for all mankind—whether heathen, Mahometan, or Christian,—and that the Fatherhood of God is enough to save all at last, of all sects, kinds, and characters! Our Lord’s words should never be forgotten. "There is no way to the Father but by Me." God is a Father to none but to those who believe in Christ. In short, there are not many ways to heaven. There is only one way.
"Coming to the Father," in this place, we must remark, includes not only coming to Him in glory at the last, but coming to Him in a friendly relation for peace and comfort now in this life.
"By Me," is literally, "through" Me,—as a door a gate, a road, a path, an entrance. It is an expression which would be peculiarly expressive to the Jews, taught from childhood to draw near to God only through the priests.
v7.—[If...known me...Father also.] This is a deep saying, like every saying which handles the mysterious union of the Father and the Son in John’s Gospel. The meaning seems to be, "If you had rightly, properly, and perfectly known Me, as the Divine Messiah, in all the fullness of my nature, you would then have known more of that Father to whom I am inseparably united. No one can rightly know Me without knowing the Father, because I and the Father are One."
[And from henceforth...known...seen Him.] The meaning of these words seems to be, "Understand from this time forward, that in knowing Me you know the Father, and in seeing Me see the Father, so far as the Father can be seen and known by man." Although the Son and the Father are two distinct persons in the Trinity, yet there is so close and mysterious a union between them that He who sees and knows the Son, in a certain sense, sees and knows the Father. Is it not written of the Son that "He is the express image of the Father"? (Hebrews 1:3.)
The whole difficulty of the verse arises from the extreme mysteriousness of its subject. The relation between the eternal Father and the eternal Son and the eternal Spirit, who, while three Persons, are one God, is precisely one of those things which we have no minds to take in, and no language to express. We must often be content to believe and reverence it, without attempting to explain it. This only we may lay down with certainty, as a great canon and maxim,—the more we know of Christ, "the more we know of the Father."
v8.—[Philip...shew us the Father...sufficeth us.] We are not told Philip’s motive in making this request. Perhaps, like Moses, he and the other disciples had a pious desire to see a more full vision and revelation of God’s glory, as an authentication of their Master’s Divine mission. "Show me Thy glory." (Exodus 33:18.) Perhaps Philip’s petition is recorded to show how little clear knowledge the Apostles yet had of their Master’s nature, and how little they realized that He and the Father were One:—"If we could only see once for all the Divine Being whom Thou dost call the Father, it would be sufficient. We should be satisfied and our doubts would be removed." At any rate we have no right to think that Philip spoke like the unbelieving Jews, who always pretended to want signs and wonders. Whatever sense we put on the words, we must carefully remember not to judge Philip too harshly. Living as we do in the nineteenth century, amidst light and creeds and knowledge, we can have faint ideas of the extreme difficulty that must have been felt by the disciples in fully realizing their Master’s nature, in the days when He was "in the form of a Servant," and under a veil of poverty, weakness, and humiliation.
Melancthon remarks that Philip’s petition represents the natural wish of man in every age. Men feel an inward craving everywhere to see God.
v9.—[Jesus saith...so long time...Philip.] This verse is undoubtedly a gentle rebuke. The expression, "so long time," is noteworthy, when we remember that Philip was one of the very first disciples whom Jesus called. (See John 1:43.) The meaning seems to be, "After three long years, Philip, dost thou not yet thoroughly know and understand who I am?"
[He...seen me...seen the Father.] This deep sentence can only mean, "He that hath thoroughly seen me with the eye of faith, and realized that I am the eternal Son, the Divine Messiah, hath seen as much of my Father, whose express image I am, as mortal man can comprehend." There is so close and intimate a union between the persons in the Trinity, that he who sees the Son sees the Father. And yet we must carefully beware that we do not, like some heretics, "confound the Persons." The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father.
Musculus observes that to see with bodily eyes is one thing, and to see with the eyes of faith quite another.
[And how sayest thou...show...Father.] This question is a further gentle rebuke of Philip’s ignorance. "What dost thou mean by saying, Show us the Father? What clear knowledge of Me canst thou have if thou canst ask such a question?"
Let us note how Jesus calls "Philip" by his name. It was doubtless meant to prick his conscience. "Thou, Philip, and old disciple, so ignorant! Ought not thou, after following and hearing Me for three years to have known better than this?"
v10.—[Believest thou not...I...in Father...in Me.] This question continues the rebuke to Philip. It means, "Dost thou not yet believe and realize what I have taught,—that there is a mystical union between Me and the Father, and that He is in Me and I in Him?"
This question surely seems to indicate that our Lord had often taught His disciples about the union between Himself and the Father. But, like many of the things He taught, the mighty truth passed over their heads at first, and was not remembered till afterwards. How little reason have ministers to complain if their teaching is little regarded, when this was Christ’s experience!
[The words that I speak...Father...works.] There can be little doubt that this is a very elliptical sentence. The full meaning must be supplied in this way. "The words that I speak to you I speak not independently of the Father; and the works that I do I do not do them independently of the Father. The Father who dwells in Me, speaks in Me and works in Me. My words are words given Me to speak, and my works are works given Me to do, in the eternal counsel between the Father and the Son. Both in speaking and working I and my Father are one. What I speak He speaks, and what I work He works."
The whole difficulty of the verse arises from forgetting the close and mysterious and insoluble union between the Persons of the Trinity. How little we realize the fullness of the expression, "The Father dwelleth in Me."
v11.—[Believe Me...in the Father...in Me.] Direct instruction follows the rebuke of the preceding verse. Our Lord repeats for the benefit not of Philip only, but of all the eleven, the great doctrine He had so often taught them. "Once more, I say, Believe, all of you, my words, when I say that I and the Father are so closely united that I am in Him and He in Me."
The word rendered "believe" in this verse is in the plural number. Our Lord does not address Philip only, but the whole company of the Apostles.
What an example we have here of the necessity of repeating instruction over and over again. Our Lord had evidently taught these things before to the eleven, and yet they had either not understood or not remembered.
[Or else believe...works’ sake.] Here our Lord condescends to the weakness of the disciples. "If you will not believe the close union of Myself and the Father because of my word, believe it because of the works I work. They are such works as no one could work of himself, and without the Father."
Let us carefully observe how our Lord here, as elsewhere, specially names His works, or miracles, as testimonies of His nature and Divine mission. To leave out miracles in the list of the evidences of Christianity is a great mistake.
These verses are an example of our Lord’s tender consideration for the weakness of His disciples. He saw them troubled and faint-hearted at the prospect of being left alone in the world. He cheers them by three promises, peculiarly suited to their circumstances. "A word spoken in season, how good is it!"
We have first in this passage, a striking promise about the works that Christians may do. Our Lord says, "He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father."
The full meaning of this promise is not to be sought in the miracles which the Apostles wrought after Christ left the world. Such a notion seems hardly borne out by facts. We read of no Apostle walking on the water, or raising a person four days dead, like Lazarus. What our Lord has in view seems to be the far greater number of conversions, the far wider spread of the Gospel, which would take place under the ministry of the Apostles, than under his own teaching. That this was the case, we know from the Acts of the Apostles. We read of no sermon preached by Christ, under which three thousand were converted in one day, as they were on the day of Pentecost. In short, "greater works" mean more conversions. There is no greater work possible than the conversion of a soul.
Let us admire the condescension of our Master in allowing to the ministry of His weak servants more success than to His own. Let us learn that His visible presence is not absolutely necessary to the progress of His kingdom. He can help forward His cause on earth quite as much by sitting at the right hand of the Father, and sending forth the Holy Ghost, as by walking to and fro in the world. Let us believe that there is nothing too hard or too great for believers to do, so long as their Lord intercedes for them in heaven. Let us work on in faith, and expect great things, though we feel weak and lonely, like the disciples. Our Lord is working with us and for us, though we cannot see Him. It was not so much the sword of Joshua that defeated Amalek, as the intercession of Moses on the hill. (Exodus 17:11.)
We have, secondly, in this passage, a striking promise about things that Christians may get by prayer. Our Lord says, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do. . . If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it."
These words are a direct encouragement to the simple, yet great duty of praying. Everyone who kneels daily before God, and from his heart "says his prayers," has a right to take comfort in these words. Weak and imperfect as his supplications may be, so long as they are put in Christ’s hands, and offered in Christ’s name, they shall not be in vain. We have a Friend at Court, an Advocate with the Father; and if we honor Him by sending all our petitions through Him, He pledges His word that they shall succeed. Of course it is taken for granted that the things we ask are for our souls’ good, and not mere temporal benefits. "Anything" and "whatsoever" do not include wealth, and money, and worldly prosperity. These things are not always good for us, and our Lord loves us too well to let us have them. But whatever is really good for our souls, we need not doubt we shall have, if we ask in Christ’s name.
How is it that many true Christians have so little? How is it that they go halting and mourning on the way to heaven, and enjoy so little peace, and show so little strength in Christ’s service? The answer is simple and plain. "They have not, because they ask not." They have little because they ask little. They are no better than they are, because they do not ask their Lord to make them better. Our languid desires are the reason of our languid performances. We are not straitened in our Lord, but in ourselves. Happy are they who never forget the words, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." (Psalms 81:10.) He that does much for Christ, and leaves his mark in the world, will always prove to be one who prays much.
We have, lastly, in this passage, a striking promise about the Holy Ghost. Our Lord says, "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, . . . even the Spirit of truth."
This is the first time that the Holy Ghost is mentioned as Christ’s special gift to His people. Of course we are not to suppose that He did not dwell in the hearts of all the Old Testament saints. But He was given with peculiar influence and power to believers when the New Testament dispensation came in, and this is the special promise of the passage before us. We shall find it useful, therefore, to observe closely the things that are here said about Him.
The Holy Ghost is spoken of as "a Person." To apply the language before us to a mere influence or inward feeling, is an unreasonable strain of words.
The Holy Ghost is called "the Spirit of truth." It is His special office to apply truth to the hearts of Christians, to guide them into all truth, and to sanctify them by the truth.
The Holy Ghost is said to be one whom "the world cannot receive and does not know." His operations are in the strongest sense foolishness to the natural man. The inward feelings of conviction, repentance, faith, hope, fear, and love, which He always produces, are precisely that part of religion which the world cannot understand.
The Holy Ghost is said to "dwell in" believers, and to be known of them. They know the feelings that He creates, and the fruits that He produces, though they may not be able to explain them, or see at first whence they come. But they all are what they are,—new men, new creatures, light and salt in the earth, compared to the worldly, by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
The Holy Ghost is given to the Church of the elect, "to abide with them" until Christ comes the second time. He is meant to supply all the need[s] of believers, and to fill up all that is wanting while Christ’s visible presence is removed. He is sent to abide with and help them until Christ returns.
These are truths of vast importance. Let us take care that we grasp them firmly, and never let them go. Next to the whole truth about Christ, it concerns our safety and peace to see the whole truth about the Holy Ghost. Any doctrine about the Church, the ministry, or the Sacraments, which obscures the Spirit’s inward work, or turns it into mere form, is to be avoided as deadly error. Let us never rest till we feel and know that He dwells in us. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." (Romans 8:9.)
v12.—[Verily...works...shall he do also.] Here we have another comforting word addressed to the disciples. They must not suppose there would be an end of miraculous works when their Master went away, and that they would be left weak and helpless, and unable to do anything to arrest the attention of an unbelieving world. On the contrary, our Lord assures them, with two emphatic "verilys," that miracles would not cease with His departure. He would take care that believers should have power to do works like His own, and to confirm their word by signs following.
I cannot doubt that this promise refers to the miraculous gifts which the first generation of Christians had power to exercise, as we read every where in the Acts of the Apostles. That the sick were healed, the dead raised, and devils cast out by disciples after the Lord ascended, is quite plain, and this fulfilled the words now before us.
I can see no reason to suppose that our Lord meant the promise to be fulfilled after the generation He left on earth was dead. If miracles were continually in the Church, they would cease to be miracles. We never see them in the Bible except at some great crisis in the Church’s history. The Irvingite theory, that the Church would always have miraculous gifts if men only had faith seems to me a violent straining of this text.
[And greater works...do.] The meaning of these words must be sought in the moral and spiritual miracles which followed the preaching of the Apostles after the day of Pentecost. It could not be truly said that the physical miracles worked by the Apostles in the Acts were greater than those worked by Christ. But it is equally certain that after the day of Pentecost they did far more wonderful works in converting souls than our Lord did. On no occasion did Jesus convert 3000 at one time, and a "great company of priests."
[Because I go...Father.] These words must point to the great outpouring of the Holy Ghost which took place after our Lord’s ascension into heaven, whereby the miracles of conversion were wrought. There was an immediate and mysterious connection, we must remember, between our Lord ascending up on high and "receiving gifts for men." If He had not gone to the Father the Spirit would not have been sent forth. (Ephesians 4:8.)
Melancthon thinks the promise of this text is clearly bound up with the following verse, "He shall do greater works because I go to the Father, and because then whatsoever ye shall ask I will do."
v13.—[And whatsoever...ask...will I do.] Here comes another great piece of comfort for the troubled disciples: viz., a promise that Christ will do everything for them which they pray for in His name and for His sake. Whatever help, or strength, or support, or guiding they need, if they ask God for it in Christ’s name, Christ will give it.
This is one of those texts which authorizes all prayers being made through Christ’s mediation, as in Prayer-book collects.
The "whatsoever" must of course be taken with the qualifying condition, "whatsoever really good thing ye ask."
The connection with the end of the preceding verse should not be overlooked, "When I go to the Father I will do whatsoever ye ask."
[That...Father...glorified...Son.] This is a difficult sentence. The meaning probably is, "I will do whatsoever ye ask, that my Father may be glorified by my mediation, by sending into the world a Son through whom sinners can obtain such blessings." Christ’s power to do anything that He is asked, brings glory to Him who sent Him.
v14.—[If...ask any thing...will do it.] This verse is a repetition of the preceding, to give emphasis and assurance to the promise. It is as if our Lord saw how slow the disciples would be to believe the efficacy of prayer in His name. "Once more I tell you most emphatically, that if you ask anything in my name, I will do it."
We should notice both in this verse and the preceding one, that it is not said "If ye ask in my name, the Father will do it;" but "I will do it."
v15.—[If ye love...keep...commandments.] Here we have a direct practical exhortation. "If ye really love Me, prove your love not by weeping and lamenting at my departure, but by striving to do my will when I am gone. Doing, and not crying, is the best proof of love." The commandments here mentioned must include all the Lord’s moral teaching while on earth, and specially such rules and laws as He had laid down in the "Sermon on the Mount."
I cannot but think that in this verse our Lord had in view the disposition of His disciples to give way to grief and distress at His leaving them; and to forget that the true test of love was not useless and barren lamentation, but practical obedience to their Master’s commands.
Let us notice how our Lord speaks of "my commandments." We never read of Moses or any other servant of God using such an expression. It is the language of one who was one with God the Father, and had power to lay down laws and make statutes for His Church.
v16.—[And I...pray the Father, etc.] This verse holds up to the eleven another grand consolation, viz., the gift of another abiding Comforter in place of Christ, even the Holy Ghost. "When I go to heaven I will ask the Father to give you another friend and helper, to be with you and support you in my stead, and never leave you as I do." In this remarkable verse several points demand special notice.
One principal point is the mention of all the three persons in the blessed Trinity, the Son praying, the Father giving, the Spirit comforting.
When our Lord says, "I will pray the Father and He shall give," we must needs suppose that He accommodates language to our minds. The gift of the Holy Ghost was appointed in the eternal counsels of the Trinity; and we cannot literally say that the gift depended on Christ asking. Moreover, in another place our Lord says, "I will send Him."
Burkitt remarks that the future tense here points to Christ’s continual intercession. As long as Christ is in heaven, Christians shall not want a supply of comfort.
When we read of the Holy Ghost being "given," we must not think that He was in no sense in the Church before the day of Pentecost. He was ever in the hearts of Old Testament believers. No one ever served God acceptably, from Abel downwards, without the grace of the Holy Ghost. John the Baptist was "filled" with Him. It can only mean that He shall come with more fullness, influence, grace, and manifestation, than He did before.
When we read of the "Spirit abiding for ever" with disciples, it means that He will not, like Christ after His resurrection, return to the Father, but will always be with God’s people until Christ comes again.
The word "Comforter" is the same that is translated "Advocate," and applied to Christ Himself in 1 John 2:1. This has caused much difference of opinion. The word is only used five times in the New Testament, and is four times applied to the Holy Spirit.
Some, as Lightfoot, Bishop Hall, and Doddridge, maintain that our translation here is right, and that it is the office of the Spirit to comfort and strengthen Christ’s people.
Others, as Beza, Lampe, De Dieus, Gomarus, Poole, Pearce, Stier, and Alford, maintain that the word here should have been rendered "Advocate," as in John’s Epistle; and that this word aptly expresses the office of the Spirit as pleading our cause, and making intercession for the saints, and helping them in prayer and preaching. (See Romans 8:26; Matthew 10:19-20.) I decidedly prefer this latter view. Those who wish to see an able argument in its favour, should study Canon Lightfoot’s volume on New Testament Revision (p. 55).
Lampe sensibly remarks that the word "another" points to the phrase meaning "Advocate" rather than "Comforter." That Jesus is our "Advocate" all allow. "Well," our Lord seems to say, "you shall have another ’Advocate’ beside myself." Why use the word "another" at all, if "Comforter" is the meaning?
It is only fair to say that "the consolation of Israel" was a Jewish name of Messiah (Luke 2:25), and that some think that Christ was one Comforter and the Holy Ghost another. But I do not see much in this.
v17.—[Even the Spirit of truth.] The Holy Ghost is most probably so called because He brings truth specially home to men’s hearts,— because truth is His great instrument in all His operations,—and because He bears witness to Christ the truth. Elsewhere we read, "It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth."(1 John 5:6.)
[Whom...world cannot receive...knoweth Him.] Here our Lord teaches that it is one great mark of the unbelieving and worldly that they neither receive, nor know, nor see anything of the Holy Ghost. This is strikingly true. Many false professors and unconverted people receive Christ’s name and talk of Him, while they know nothing experimentally of the operations of the Holy Ghost. It is written, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them." (1 Corinthians 2:14.)
[But ye know...dwelleth...shall be in you.] Our Lord’s meaning here must be that the eleven knew something experimentally of the Spirit’s work. They might not be fully acquainted with Him; but He was actually in them, making them what they were, and He would remain in them, and carry on the work He had begun to a glorious end. "Whether you know it thoroughly and rightly or not, He is actually in you now, and shall always be in you and never leave you."
Let us mark in this and in the preceding verse how our Lord speaks of the Holy Spirit as "a Person." We should never speak of Him as a mere "influence," or dishonour Him by calling Him "it."
Let us never forget that "having the Spirit, or not having the Spirit," makes the great distinction between the children of God and the children of the world. Believers have Him. Worldly and wicked people have Him not. (Judges 1:19.)
The short passage before us is singularly rich in "precious promises." Twice our Lord Jesus Christ says, "I will." Twice He says to believers, "Ye shall."
We learn from this passage, that Christ’s second coming is meant to be the special comfort of believers. He says to His disciples, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you."
Now what is the "coming" here spoken of? It is only fair to say that this is a disputed point among Christians. Many refer it to our Lord’s coming to His disciples after His resurrection. Many refer it to His invisible coming into the hearts of His people by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Many refer it to His coming by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. It may well be doubted, however, whether any one of these three views conveys the full meaning of our Lord’s words, "I will come."
The true sense of the expression appears to be the second personal coming of Christ at the end of the world. It is a wide, broad, sweeping promise, intended for all believers, in every age, and not for the Apostles alone: "I will not stay always in heaven: I will one day come back to you." It is like the message which the angels brought to the disciples after the ascension:—"This same Jesus shall come in like manner as ye have seen Him go." (Acts 1:11.) It is like the last promise which winds up the Book of Revelation:—"Surely I come quickly." (Revelation 22:20.) Just in the same way the parting consolation held out to believers, the night before the crucifixion, is a personal return:—"I will come."
Let us settle it in our minds that all believers are comparatively "orphans," and children in their minority, till the second advent. Our best things are yet to come. Faith has yet to be exchanged for sight, and hope for certainty. Our peace and joy are at present very imperfect. They are as nothing to what we shall have when Christ returns. For that return let us look and long and pray. Let us place it in the forefront of all our doctrinal system, next to the atoning death and the interceding life of our Lord. The highest style of Christians are the men who look for and love the Lord’s appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8.)
We learn for another thing, that Christ’s life secures the life of His believing people. He says, "Because I live ye shall live also."
There is a mysterious and indissoluble union between Christ and every true Christian. The man that is once joined to Him by faith, is as closely united as a member of the body is united to the head. So long as Christ, his Head, lives, so long he will live. He cannot die unless Christ can be plucked from heaven, and Christ’s life destroyed. But this, since Christ is very God, is totally impossible! "Christ being raised from the dead, dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over Him." (Romans 6:9.) That which is divine, in the very nature of things, cannot die.
Christ’s life secures the continuance of spiritual life to His people. They shall not fall away. They shall persevere unto the end. The divine nature of which they are partakers, shall not perish. The incorruptible seed within them shall not be destroyed by the devil and the world. Weak as they are in themselves, they are closely knit to an immortal Head, and not one member of His mystical body shall ever perish.
Christ’s life secures the resurrection life of His people. Just as He rose again from the grave, because death could not hold Him one moment beyond the appointed time, so shall all His believing members rise again in the day when He calls them from the tomb. The victory that Jesus won when He rolled the stone away, and came forth from the tomb, was a victory not only for Himself, but for His people. If the Head rose, much more shall the members.
Truths like these ought to be often pondered by true Christians. The careless world knows little of a believer’s privileges. It sees little but the outside of him. It does not understand the secret of his present strength, and of his strong hope of good things to come. And what is that secret? Invisible union with an invisible Savior in heaven! Each child of God is invisibly linked to the throne of the Rock of Ages. When that throne can be shaken, and not till then, we may despair. But Christ lives, and we shall live also.
We learn, finally, from this passage, that full and perfect knowledge of divine things will never be attained by believers till the second advent. Our Lord says, "At that day," the day of my coming, "ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in Me, and I in you."
The best of saints knows but little so long as he is in the body. The fall of our father Adam has corrupted our understandings, as well as our consciences, hearts, and wills. Even after conversion we see through a glass darkly, and on no point do we see so dimly as on the nature of our own union with Christ, and of the union of Christ and the Father. These are matters in which we must be content to believe humbly, and, like little children, to receive on trust the things which we cannot explain.
But it is a blessed and cheering thought that when Christ comes again, the remains of ignorance shall be rolled away. Raised from the dead, freed from the darkness of this world, no longer tempted by the devil and tried by the flesh, believers shall see as they have been seen, and know as they have been known. We shall have light enough one day. What we know not now, we shall know hereafter.
Let us rest our souls on this comfortable thought, when we see the mournful divisions which rend the Church of Christ. Let us remember that a large portion of them arise from ignorance. We know in part, and therefore misunderstand one another. A day comes when Lutherans shall no longer wrangle with Zwinglians, nor Calvinist with Arminian, nor Churchman with Dissenter. That day is the day of Christ’s second coming. Then and then only will the promise receive its complete fulfillment,—"At that day ye shall know."
v18.—[I will not leave you comfortless.] The word we render "comfortless," means literally "orphans," and is so translated in the marginal reading of the English version. It beautifully describes the helpless, solitary, friendless state, by comparison, in which the disciples of Christ were left, when He died and was withdrawn from their bodily eyes. "In that condition," says Jesus, "I will not leave you. You shall not always be orphans." It adds to the beauty of the expression to remember that He had already called them "little children:" hence there was a special fitness in the word "orphans."
[I will come to you.] The verb here is in the present tense: "I do come." About the meaning of the sentence there is much difference of opinion. Even the Fathers, as Burgon says, "explain the words diversely." There is no more unanimity, we must remember, among the Fathers than among modern divines. The "consent of Catholic antiquity," about which many make so much ado, is more imaginary than real.
Some think, as Chrysostom, that the "coming" means only the reappearing of Christ after His resurrection from the grave on the third day.
Others think, as Hutcheson, that our Lord only means His coming by His Spirit, as a pledge of His presence.
Others think, as Augustine and Bede, that our Lord looks far forward to His second coming at the end of the world, and speaks the words to the whole company of believers in every age: "I am coming again. I come quickly."
I decidedly prefer this last view. The first and second seem to me to cramp, narrow, and confine our Lord’s promise. The last is in harmony with all His teaching. The second advent is the great hope of the Church. In the last chapter of the Bible, the Greek for "I come quickly," is precisely the same verb that is used here. (Revelation 22:20.)
In saying this I would not be mistaken. I admit fully that Jesus came to His Church after His ascension, invisibly, does come to His Church continually, is with His Church even to the end of the world. But I do not think this is the meaning of the text.
v19.—[Yet a little while...ye see Me.] Again the meaning of our Lord is somewhat obscure. I think He must mean, "Very shortly the wicked unbelieving world will no longer behold and gaze on Me, as I shall be withdrawn from it, and ascend into heaven. But even then ye see Me, and will continue seeing Me with the eyes of faith." I cannot think that the present tense here, "Ye behold Me," can apply to the second advent. It must surely refer to the spiritual vision of Christ which believers would enjoy. The world could not prevent them seeing Him. The Greek word for "ye see" implies a fixed, steady, habitual gaze.
Bishop Hall says, "Ye by the eye of faith shall see and acknowledge Me."
[Because I live, ye shall live also.] This great deep saying of Christ seems to admit of a very wide and full signification. "Your spiritual life now, and your eternal life hereafter, are both secured by my life. The life of the Head guarantees the life of the members. I live, have life in myself, can never die, can never have my life destroyed by my enemies, and live on to all eternity. Therefore ye shall live also. Your life is secured for you, and can never be destroyed. You have everlasting life now, and shall have everlasting glory hereafter."
That word "I live," is a great full saying, and we cannot fathom it all. It does not merely mean "I shall rise from the dead." It is certainly far more than the future tense. It implies that Christ is "the Living One," the source and fountain of life. It is like "In Him was life,"—and "as the Father hath life in Himself, even so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself." (John 1:4; John 5:26.)
v20.—[On that day ye shall know, etc.] Here, again, I believe, with Cyril and Augustine, that our Lord specially refers to the day of His own second advent. Then, and not till then, His disciples will have perfect knowledge. Now they see and know in part, and through a glass darkly. Then they shall fully understand the mystical union between the Father and Son, and between the Son and all His believing members.
To confine the "day," as Chrysostom does, to the resurrection of Christ from the dead, seems to me to fall short of its full meaning.
We learn from these verses that keeping Christ’s commandments is the best test of love to Christ.
This is a lesson of vast importance, and one that needs continually pressing on the attention of Christians. It is not talking about religion, and talking fluently and well too, but steadily doing Christ’s will and walking in Christ’s ways, that is the proof of our being true believers. Good feelings and desires are useless if they are not accompanied by action. They may even become mischievous to the soul, induce hardness of conscience, and do positive harm. Passive impressions which do not lead to action, gradually deaden and paralyze the heart. Living and doing are the only real evidence of grace. Where the Holy Spirit is, there will always be a holy life. A jealous watchfulness over tempers, words, and deeds, a constant endeavor to live by the rule of the Sermon on the Mount, this is the best proof that we love Christ.
Of course such maxims as these must not be wrested and misunderstood. We are not to suppose for a moment that "keeping Christ’s commandments" can save us. Our best works are full of imperfection. When we have done all we can, we are feeble and unprofitable servants. "By grace are ye saved through faith,—not of works." (Ephesians 2:8.) But while we hold one class of truths, we must not forget another. Faith in the blood of Christ must always be attended by loving obedience to the will of Christ. What the Master has joined together, the disciple must not put asunder. Do we profess to love Christ? Then let us show it by our lives. The Apostle who said, "Thou knowest that I love Thee!" received the charge, "Feed my lambs." That meant, "Do something. Be useful: follow my example." (John 21:17.)
We learn, secondly, from these verses, that there are special comforts laid up for those who love Christ, and prove it by keeping His words. This, at any rate, seems the general sense of our Lord’s language: "My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him."
The full meaning of this promise, no doubt, is a deep thing. We have no line to fathom it. It is a thing which no man can understand except he that receives and experiences it. But we need not shrink from believing that eminent holiness brings eminent comfort with it, and that no man has such sensible enjoyment of his religion as the man who, like Enoch and Abraham, walks closely with God. There is more of heaven on earth to be obtained than most Christians are aware of. "The secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant."—"If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me." (Psalms 25:14; Revelation 3:20.) Promises like these, we may be sure, mean something, and were not written in vain.
How is it, people often ask, that so many professing believers have so little happiness in their religion? How is it that so many know little of "joy and peace in believing," and go mourning and heavy-hearted towards heaven? The answer to these questions is a sorrowful one, but it must be given. Few believers attend as strictly as they should to Christ’s practical sayings and words. There is far too much loose and careless obedience to Christ’s commandments. There is far too much forgetfulness, that while good works cannot justify us they are not to be despised. Let these things sink down into our hearts. If we want to be eminently happy, we must strive to be eminently holy.
We learn, lastly, from these verses, that one part of the Holy Ghost’s work is to teach, and to bring things to remembrance. It is written, "The Comforter shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance."
To confine this promise to the eleven Apostles, as some do, seems a narrow and unsatisfactory mode of interpreting Scripture. It appears to reach far beyond the day of Pentecost, and the gift of writing inspired books of God’s Holy Word. It is safer, wiser, and more consistent with the whole tone of our Lord’s last discourse, to regard the promise as the common property of all believers, in every age of the world. Our Lord knows the ignorance and forgetfulness of our nature in spiritual things. He graciously declares that when He leaves the world, His people shall have a teacher and remembrancer.
Are we sensible of spiritual ignorance? Do we feel that at best we know in part and see in part? Do we desire to understand more clearly the doctrines of the Gospel? Let us pray daily for the help of the "teaching" Spirit. It is His office to illuminate the soul, to open the eyes of the understanding, and to guide us into all truth. He can make dark places light, and rough places smooth.
Do we find our memory of spiritual things defective? Do we complain that though we read and hear, we seem to lose as fast as we gain? Let us pray daily for the help of the Holy Ghost. He can bring things to our remembrance. He can make us remember "old things and new." He can keep in our minds the whole system of truth and duty, and make us ready for every good word and work.
v21.—[He that hath...commandments...loveth Me.] Our Lord seems to return to the lesson of the fifteenth verse, and to repeat it because of its importance. There, however, He spoke specially to His disciples; here He lays it down as a general principle applicable to all Christians in all time:—"He that not only possesses and knows my commandments, but also does and practices them, he is the man that really loves Me." Obedience is the true test of real love to Christ, and not knowledge and talk only. Many HAVE, but do not KEEP Christ’s will.
Burgon observes, "This amounts to a declaration that the sad hearts and weeping eyes of the Apostles would not be accepted by their Lord as any proof of their love. Obedience was the test He chose."
[He...loveth Me...loved...Father.] Here follows an encouragement to practical obedience: "He that really loves Me, and proves his love by his life, shall be specially loved by my Father. My Father loves those who love Me."
Let us carefully note that there is a special love of God the Father which is peculiarly set on believers, over and above the general love of pity and compassion with which He regards all mankind. In the highest sense God is a "Father" to none but those who love Christ. The modern doctrine of a "Fatherhood" of God which is soul-saving to those who neglect Christ, is a mere delusion of man.
[And I...love...manifest...him.] Here follows another encouragement to the man who strives to keep Christ’s commandments. Christ will specially love that man, and will give him special manifestations of His grace and favour, invisibly and spiritually. He shall feel and know in his own heart comforts and joys that wicked men and inconsistent professors know nothing of. That the "manifesting" of Himself here spoken of is a purely unseen and spiritual thing, is self-evident. It is one of those things which can only be known by experience, and is only known by holy and consistent Christians.
We should carefully observe here, that Christ does more for the comfort of some of His people than He does for others. Those who follow Christ most closely and obediently will always follow Him most comfortably, and feel most of His inward presence. It is one thing, as John says, to know Christ, and another to know that we know Him. (1 John 2:3.)
v22.—[Judas saith...not Iscariot.] Jude, the writer of the Epistle, and brother of James, was the Apostle who speaks here. He is called elsewhere Lebbeus and Thaddeus. Remembering that James is called in Galatians "the Lord’s brother," there must have been some relationship between him and our Lord. Probably he was a cousin. Whether a recollection of this may have been in His mind when asking the question, admits of conjecture. This is the only word recorded to have been spoken by Jude in the Gospels.
We should mark the careful manner in which John reminds us that it was not the false Apostle who asked.
Let us note that out of each saying of the three Apostles who spoke to our Lord, interrupting Him in His last discourse, a great truth was elicited for the benefit of the Church. Thomas, Philip, and Jude, ignorant and slow as they were, drew out of our Lord’s mouth rich and precious sayings.
[How is it...manifest...us...not...world.] This question is the simple inquiry of one guessing after the truth, and not able to see clearly what our Lord’s words meant,—whether a visible or an invisible manifestation of Himself:—"What is the precise distinction of privilege between ourselves and the world to which you point?"
The Greek for "How is it?" would be literally, "What has happened?" The Greek for "Thou wilt," is literally, "Thou art about."
Whitby thinks that Jude, like most Jews of his time, expected Messiah’s kingdom to be a visible temporal kingdom over all the earth. He could not therefore understand a manifestation of Christ confined to the disciples.
v23.—[Jesus answered...will love him.] This sentence is simply a repetition of the truth contained in the fifteenth and twenty-first verses: "I tell you again emphatically that the man who really loves Me will keep my words, and obey my commandments. And I repeat that such a man will be specially loved and cared for by my heavenly Father."
Let us note that in this verse our Lord does not say, "Keep my commandments," but my "word" generally, in the singular number, including all His whole teaching.
[And we will come...abide with him.] These words can only admit of one sense,—a spiritual and invisible coming and abiding. The Father and the Son will come spiritually into the heart and soul of a true saint, and will make their continual dwelling with him. This, again, is a purely experimental truth, and one that none can know but he that has felt it.
Let us note the condescension of the Father and the Son, and the high privileges of a believer. No matter how poor and lowly a man may be, if he has faith and grace, he has the best of company and friends. Christ and the Father dwell in his heart, and he is never alone, and cannot be poor. He is the temple of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The use of the plural number "we," is very note-worthy in this place.
v24.—[He...loveth Me not...my sayings.] Once more the same great principle already taught, is laid down again from the negative side. Where there is no obedience to Christ, there is no love. Nothing can be more plain than our Lord’s repeated warnings that practical obedience, keeping His commandments and sayings, doing His will, is the only sure test of love to Him. Without this obedience, profession, talk, knowledge, Churchmanship, yea, even feeling, conviction, weeping and crying, are all worthless things.
[And word...not mine...Father...sent Me.] The purpose of this sentence is to remind the disciples of the authority and dignity of our Lord’s sayings and commandments. They are not His words only, but His Father’s. He that despises them despises the Father, and he that honours them by obedience honours the Father.
v25.—[These things...spoken...present with you.] Our Lord seems here to begin to wind up the first part of His discourse to a conclusion. Whether "these things" mean only the things He spoke this evening, or all the things He had taught them during His ministry, admits of doubt. I rather incline to the view that the expression must be taken in the widest sense: "These and many other things I have spoken to you, while abiding and dwelling among you. Your hearts are troubled, perhaps, by the thought that you cannot remember them, and do not understand them. Here there are some grounds of comfort."
v26.—[But...Comforter...Holy Ghost...my name.] Here comes one more grand consolation: "When I am gone, the Holy Ghost, the promised Advocate, whom the Father will send on my account, through my intercession, and to glorify Me, shall supply all your need, and provide for all your wants."
Let us note how distinctly the Holy Spirit is spoken of here as a Person, and not an influence.
Let us note how the Father sends the Spirit, but also sends Him in Christ’s name, and with a special reference to Christ’s work.
[He shall teach you all things.] The first word here rendered "He" is unmistakeably applicative to none but a person, being a masculine pronoun. The "teaching" here promised must mean, firstly, that fuller and more complete instruction which the Holy Ghost evidently gave to believers after our Lord’s ascension. No one can read the "Acts" without seeing that the eleven were different men after the day of Pentecost; and saw and knew and understood things of which they were very ignorant before. But, secondly, the "teaching" most probably includes all that teaching and enlightening which the Spirit imparts to all true believers in every age. Light is the first thing we need, and He gives it. It is His special office to "open the eyes of our understandings."
The expression "all things" must plainly be limited to all things needful to be known by the soul, and does not include all knowledge of every kind.
[And bring all things...remembrance...told you.] This is a special consolation for the weak memories of the troubled disciples. Our Lord promises that the Spirit would bring back to their memories the many lessons, both doctrinal and practical, which they had heard from Him but forgotten. This was a very needful promise. How often we find it recorded that the disciples did not understand our Lord’s sayings and doings at the time they heard and saw them, it is almost needless to point out. (John 2:22; John 12:16.)
Some apply these words especially to the gift of inspiration by which the New Testament Scriptures were written. I cannot see this. The promise was to the whole eleven, of whom only five were allowed to write! This is strongly dwelt on by Alford.
Some apply these words exclusively to the eleven. I cannot see this either. To my eyes they seem a general promise, primarily no doubt applying specially to the eleven, but after them belonging also to all believers in every age. As a matter of experience I believe that the awakening of the memories of true Christians is one of the peculiar works of the Holy Ghost on their souls. Once converted, they understand things and remember things in a way they did not before.
Does any one complain of his own ignorance and bad memory? Let him not forget that there is One whose office it is to "teach and to bring to remembrance." Let him pray for the Holy Spirit’s help.
We ought not to leave the closing portion of this wonderful chapter without noticing one striking feature in it. That feature is the singular frequency with which our Lord uses the expression, "My Father," and "the Father." In the last five verses we find it four times. In the whole chapter it occurs no less than twenty-two times. In this respect the chapter stands alone in the Bible.
The reason of this frequent use of the expression, is a deep subject. Perhaps the less we speculate and dogmatize about it the better. Our Lord was one who never spoke a word without a meaning, and we need not doubt there was a meaning here. Yet may we not reverently suppose that He desired to leave on the minds of His disciples a strong impression of his entire unity with the Father? Seldom does our Lord lay claim to such high dignity, and such power of giving and supplying comfort to His Church, as in this discourse. Was there not, then, a fitness in His continually reminding His disciples that in all His giving He was one with the Father, and did nothing without the Father? This, at any rate, seems a fair conjecture. Let it be taken for what it is worth.
We should observe, for one thing, in this passage, Christ’s last legacy to His people. We find Him saying, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you."
Peace is Christ’s peculiar gift: not money, not worldly ease, not temporal prosperity. These are at best very questionable possessions. They often do more harm than good to the soul. They act as clogs and weights to our spiritual life. Inward peace of conscience, arising from a sense of pardoned sin and reconciliation with God, is a far greater blessing. This peace is the property of all believers, whether high or low, rich or poor.
The peace which Christ gives He calls "my peace." It is specially His own to give, because He bought it by His own blood, purchased it by His own substitution, and is appointed by the Father to dispense it to a perishing world. Just as Joseph was sealed and commissioned to give corn to the starving Egyptians, so is Christ specially commissioned, in the counsels of the Eternal Trinity, to give peace to mankind.
The peace that Christ gives is not given as the world gives. What He gives the world cannot give at all, and what He gives is given neither unwillingly, nor sparingly, nor for a little time. Christ is far more willing to give than the world is to receive. What He gives He gives to all eternity, and never takes away. He is ready to give abundantly above all that we can ask or think. "Open thy mouth wide," He says, "and I will fill it." (Psalms 81:10.)
Who can wonder that a legacy like this should be backed by the renewed emphatic charge, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid"? There is nothing lacking on Christ’s part for our comfort, if we will only come to Him, believe, and receive. The chief of sinners has no cause to be afraid. If we will only look to the one true Savior, there is medicine for every trouble of heart. Half our doubts and fears arise from dim perceptions of the real nature of Christ’s Gospel.
We should observe, for another thing, in this passage, Christ’s perfect holiness. We find Him saying, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me."
The meaning of these remarkable words admits of only one interpretation. Our Lord would have his disciples know that Satan, "the prince of this world," was about to make his last and most violent attack on Him. He was mustering all his strength for one more tremendous onset. He was coming up with his utmost malice to try the second Adam in the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross of Calvary. But our blessed Master declares, "He hath nothing in Me."—"There is nothing he can lay hold on. There is no weak and defective point in Me. I have kept my Father’s commandment, and finished the work He gave me to do. Satan, therefore, cannot overthrow Me. He can lay nothing to my charge. He cannot condemn Me. I shall come forth from the trial more than conqueror."
Let us mark the difference between Christ and all others who have been born of woman. He is the only one in whom Satan has found "nothing." He came to Adam and Eve, and found weakness. He came to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the saints, and found imperfection. He came to Christ, and found "nothing" at all. He was a Lamb "without blemish and without spot," a suitable Sacrifice for a world of sinners, a suitable Head for a redeemed race.
Let us thank God that we have such a perfect, sinless Savior; that His righteousness is a perfect righteousness, and His life a blameless life. In ourselves and our doings we shall find everything imperfect; and if we had no other hope than our own goodness, we might well despair. But in Christ we have a perfect, sinless, Representative and Substitute. Well may we say, with the triumphant Apostle, "Who shall lay anything to our charge?" (Romans 8:33.) Christ has died for us, and suffered in our stead. In Him Satan can find nothing. We are hidden in Him. The Father sees us in Him, unworthy as we are, and for His sake is well pleased.
v27.—[Peace I leave with you.] In this verse our Lord gives His disciples one more consolation. He bequeaths them as a legacy, "peace;" not riches or worldly honour, but peace,—peace of heart, conscience, and inward man,—peace from a sense of pardoned sin, a living Saviour, and a home in heaven.
Matthew Henry remarks here, "When Christ left the world, He made His will. His soul He bequeathed to His Father, and His body to Joseph. His clothes fell to the soldiers. His mother He left to the care of John. But what should He leave to His poor disciples, who had left all for Him? Silver and gold He had none; but He left them what was far better, His peace."
[My peace give I unto you.] The expression "my peace," seems to indicate something peculiar in the gift here promised. Does it not mean "a sense of that peace with God which I am purchasing with my blood,—that inward calm and rest of soul which faith in Me procures for believers,—that peace which it is my special prerogative to give to my people"?
[Not as...world giveth...I...you.] The first and fullest meaning of this sentence seems to lie in the kind of things which Christ gives: "I give you possessions which the world cannot give, because it has not got them to give." The world can give temporary carnal satisfaction and excitement, and can gratify the passions and affections and pride of the natural man. But the world cannot give inward peace and rest of conscience.
Some, however, think that the point of the sentence lies in the manner of the world’s giving,—temporarily, defectively, imperfectly, grudgingly, and the like. But, however true this may be, I prefer the view that the chief point is in the nature of the world’s gifts compared to Christ’s.
[Let not your heart be troubled.] This is a repetition of the words which began the long list of consolations in this chapter: "Once more I say to you, in view of the many grounds of comfort which I have just named, do not give way to trouble of heart."
[Neither let it be afraid.] These words are added to the opening charge, not to be "troubled." They point to a frame of mind which our Lord saw creeping over the disciples: "Let not your heart give way to cowardice. Let it not be fearful." It is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used.
We need not doubt that the whole of this consoling verse is meant to be the property of all believers in every age.
v28.—[Ye have heard...said...go away.] This sentence must refer to John 13:33-36, and John 14:2-3, John 14:12. The disciples seem to have understood clearly that our Lord was leaving them, and that seems to have been one chief reason of their trouble and distress.
[And come—to you.] I must retain the opinion that this coming refers to the second advent, and not to the resurrection of Christ. "My leaving the world until my second advent, you have heard me plainly teach and declare."
[If ye loved...rejoice...go...Father.] These words mean,—"if you really loved Me with an intelligent love, and thoroughly understood my person, nature, and work, you would rejoice to hear of my leaving the world and going to the Father, because you would see in it the finishing and completion of the work which the Father sent Me to do." Our Lord cannot of course mean that the disciples did not "love" Him at all, but that they did not rightly and intelligently love Him; otherwise they would have rejoiced at His completion of His work.
[For my father is greater than I.] This famous sentence has always been an occasion of controversy and dispute. It presents two difficulties.
(a) What did our Lord mean by saying, "My Father is greater than I"? I answer that the words of the Athanasian Creed contain the best reply. Christ is no doubt "equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood." This we may freely and fully admit, and yet not give up a hair’s breadth to Arians and Socinians, who always throw this text in our teeth. The enemies of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity forget that Trinitarians maintain the humanity of Christ as strongly as His divinity; and never shrink from admitting that while Christ as God is equal to the Father, as man He is inferior to the Father. And it is in this sense that He here says truly, "My Father is greater than I." It was specially spoken of the time of His incarnation and humiliation. When the Word was "made flesh" He took on Him "the form of a servant." This was temporary inferiority. (Philippians 2:7.)
(b) But what did our Lord mean by saying that the disciples ought to rejoice at His going to the Father, BECAUSE "the Father is greater than I"? This is a hard knot to untie, and has received different solutions. My own impression is that the meaning must be something of this kind:—"Ye ought to rejoice at my going to the Father, because in so going I shall resume that glory which I had with Him before the world was, and which I laid aside on becoming incarnate. Here on earth, during the thirty-three years of my incarnation, I have been in the form of a servant, and dwelling in a body as one inferior to my Father. In leaving this world I go to take up again the equal glory and honour which I had with the Father before my incarnation; and to lay aside the position of inferiority in which I have tabernacled here below. I go to be once more Almighty with the Almighty, and to share once more my Father’s throne, as a Person in that Trinity in which ’none is afore or after other, none is greater or less than another.’ I go to receive the kingdom and honour which in eternal counsels the Father has prepared for the Son; and on this account, if you really knew and understood all, you would rejoice at my going. If I had not voluntarily placed myself in a position of inferiority to the Father by becoming man for man’s sake, you would have no hope for your souls. But now the work is finished. I return to the Father, and leave my position of inferiority and humiliation, and you ought to rejoice and be glad."
v29.—[And now...told...before...to pass, etc.] This seems to refer to our Lord’s going away. "I have told you plainly that I am leaving you and about to die on the cross, in order that when I do die and go, you may continue believing, and not have your faith shaken."
v30.—[Hereafter...not talk much with you.] This must mean that our Lord would not talk much more before His crucifixion. The time was short, and the betrayal and suffering drew nigh. It does not refer to the time after our Lord’s resurrection, and the forty days before His ascension.
[For...prince...cometh...nothing in me.] This means that Satan was drawing nigh for his last final assault on our Lord; and that he would find nothing to lay hold on, and no weak point.
It is very striking to observe that our Lord does not say "Judas, the Romans, the Pharisees are coming." It is only the devil. He, as at the fall, is at the bottom of all. Others are only his tools.
We should note how the devil is called "the prince of this world." He rules and reigns in the hearts of the vast majority of mankind. The whole world "lieth in the wicked one." Of the extent and intensity of Satan’s influence on earth, even now we have probably very little idea.
When it says that he "cometh," we must not suppose that it means "cometh for the first time." All through our Lord’s earthly ministry He was tempted and assailed and opposed by Satan. It must mean, "He is coming with special violence and bitter wrath to make his last attack on Me both in Gethsemane and on Calvary." There are evidently degrees at different seasons in the intensity and virulence of Satan’s attacks.
When it says "hath nothing in Me," it must mean that our Lord’s heart and life were equally without spot of sin. He knew and felt that He, the second Adam, had nothing about Him that Satan could lay hold on. No one but Christ our Head could say that. The holiest saint could never say it!
Sanderson observes, "a cunning searcher had pried narrowly into every corner of His life; and if there had been anything amiss, would have been sure to have spied it, and proclaimed it. But he could find nothing."
v31.—[But that the world...so I do.] This is a somewhat dark and obscure passage. The meaning is probably something of this kind: "I do all I am doing now, and go to the cross voluntarily, though innocent, that the world may have full proof that I love the Father who sent Me to die, and am willing to go through everything which He has commanded Me to go through. Innocent as I am, and without one spot of sin that Satan can lay to my charge, I willingly go forward to the cross, to show how I love the Father’s will, and am determined to do it by dying for sinners."
[Arise, let us go hence.] These words seem to indicate a change of position, and probably mean that our Lord at this point rose from the table where He had been speaking, and walked out towards the garden of Gethsemane. The rest of His discourse He seems to have delivered in the act of walking, without a single interruption from any of the disciples, until the end of the sixteenth chapter; and then, at some point unknown to us, He probably paused and offered up the prayer of the seventeenth chapter.
This is the view of Cyril and Augustine, and most commentators. Yet Jansenius, Maldonatus, Alford, and some others, think that our Lord never left the house, and only rose from [the] table at this point, and went on with His discourse standing!
Lightfoot, almost alone, maintains the strange and improbable notion that the place where this discourse was delivered was Bethany, that the interval of a week comes into the narrative here, that at the end of this week the paschal supper and the institution of the Lord’s Supper took place, and then came the discourse of the fifteenth chapter.
No commentator perhaps can leave this chapter without deeply feeling how little he knows and understands of the full meaning of much of its contents. May we not however fairly reflect that one great cause of the chapter’s difficulty is man’s entire inability to grasp the great mystery of the union of the Father, the Son and the Spirit in the Trinity? We are continually handling matters which we cannot fully comprehend, and cannot therefore fully explain, and must be content humbly to believe.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 14". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter