Monday, June 5th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels Ryle's Exposiory Thougths
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 15". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ryl/ john-15.html.
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 15". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
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These verses, we must carefully remember, contain a parable. In interpreting it we must not forget the great rule which applies to all Christ’s parables. The general lesson of each parable is the main thing to be noticed. The minor details must not be tortured and pressed to an excess, in order to extract a meaning from them. The mistakes into which Christians have fallen by neglecting this rule, are neither few nor small.
We are meant to learn first, from these verses, that the union between Christ and believers is very close. He is "the Vine," and they are "the branches."
The union between the branch of a vine and the main stem, is the closest that can be conceived. It is the whole secret of the branch’s life, strength, vigor, beauty, and fertility. Separate from the parent stem, it has no life of its own. The sap and juice that flow from the stem are the origin and maintaining power of all its leaves, buds, blossoms, and fruit. Cut off from the stem, it must soon wither and die.
The union between Christ and believers is just as close, and just as real. In themselves believers have no life, or strength, or spiritual power. All that they have of vital religion comes from Christ. They are what they are, and feel what they feel, and do what they do, because they draw out of Jesus a continual supply of grace, help, and ability. Joined to the Lord by faith, and united in mysterious union with Him by the Spirit, they stand, and walk, and continue, and run the Christian race. But every jot of good about them is drawn from their spiritual Head, Jesus Christ.
The thought before us is both comfortable and instructive. Believers have no cause to despair of their own salvation, and to think they will never reach heaven. Let them consider that they are not left to themselves and their own strength. Their root is Christ, and all that there is in the root is for the benefit of the branches. Because He lives, they shall live also. Worldly people have no cause to wonder at the continuance and perseverance of believers. Weak as they are in themselves, their Root is in heaven, and never dies. "When I am weak," said Paul, "then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10.)
We are meant to learn, secondly, from these verses, that there are false Christians as well as true ones. There are "branches in the vine" which appear to be joined to the parent stem, and yet bear no fruit. There are men and women who appear to be members of Christ, and yet will prove finally to have had no vital union with Him.
There are myriads of professing Christians in every Church whose union with Christ is only outward and formal. Some of them are joined to Christ by baptism and Church-membership. Some of them go even further than this, and are regular communicants and loud talkers about religion. But they all lack the one thing needful. Notwithstanding services, and sermons, and sacrament, they have no grace in their hearts, no faith, no inward work of the Holy Spirit. They are not one with Christ, and Christ in them. Their union with Him is only nominal, and not real. They have "a name to live," but in the sight of God they are dead.
Christians of this stamp are aptly represented by branches in a vine which bear no fruit. Useless and unsightly, such branches are only fit to be cut off and burned. They draw nothing out of the parent stem, and make no return for the place they occupy. Just so will it be at the last day with false professors and nominal Christians. Their end, except they repent, will be destruction. They will be separated from the company of true believers, and cast out, as withered, useless branches, into everlasting fire. They will find at last, whatever they thought in this world, that there is a worm that never dies, and a fire that is not quenched.
We are meant to learn, thirdly, from these verses, that the fruits of the Spirit are the only satisfactory evidence of a man being a true Christian. The disciple that "abides in Christ," like a branch abiding in the vine, will always bear fruit.
He that would know what the word "fruit" means, need not wait long for an answer. Repentance toward God, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, holiness of life and conduct, these are what the New Testament calls "fruit." These are the distinguishing marks of the man who is a living branch of the true Vine. Where these things are wanting, it is vain to talk of possessing dormant grace and spiritual life. Where there is no fruit there is no life. He that lacketh these things is "dead while he liveth."
True grace, we must not forget, is never idle. It never slumbers and never sleeps. It is a vain notion to suppose that we are living members of Christ, if the example of Christ is not to be seen in our characters and lives. "Fruit" is the only satisfactory evidence of saving union between Christ and our souls. Where there is no fruit of the Spirit to be seen, there is no vital religion in the heart. The Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus will always make Himself known in the daily conduct of those in whom He dwells. The Master Himself declares, "Every tree is known by his own fruit." (Luke 6:44.)
We are meant, lastly, to learn from these verses, that God will often increase the holiness of true Christians by His providential dealings with them. "Every branch," it is written, "that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bear more fruit."
The meaning of this language is clear and plain. Just as the vine-dresser prunes and cuts back the branches of a fruitful vine, in order to make them more fruitful, so does God purify and sanctify believers by the circumstances of life in which He places them.
Trial, to speak plainly, is the instrument by which our Father in heaven makes Christians more holy. By trial He calls out their passive graces, and proves whether they can suffer His will as well as do it. By trial He weans them from the world, draws them to Christ, drives them to the Bible and prayer, shows them their own hearts, and makes them humble. This is the process by which He "purges" them, and makes them more fruitful. The lives of the saints in every age, are the best and truest comment on the text. Never, hardly, do we find an eminent saint, either in the Old Testament or the New, who was not purified by suffering, and, like His Master, a "man of sorrows."
Let us learn to be patient in the days of darkness, if we know anything of vital union with Christ. Let us remember the doctrine of the passage before us, and not murmur and complain because of trials. Our trials are not meant to do us harm, but good. God chastens us "for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness." (Hebrews 12:10.) Fruit is the thing that our Master desires to see in us, and He will not spare the pruning knife if He sees we need it. In the last day we shall see that all was well done.
v1.—[I am... Vine...Father...husbandman.] In this and the following chapter, our Lord proceeds to give instruction rather than consolation. Having cheered and comforted the timid disciples in the fourteenth chapter, He now presses on their attention certain great truths which He would have them specially remember when He was gone. And He begins by urging the absolute necessity of close union and communion with Himself, by means of the illustration of a vine and its branches.
We must always remember that the passage before us is a parable, and as a parable must be interpreted. We must be careful not to press each sentence in it too far; and, as in all parables, we must look at the great lesson which it contains, rather than at each clause.—The old saying is most true, that "no parable stands on four legs;" and in all parables there are parts which are only the drapery of the figure, and not the figure itself. Neglect of this caution does much harm to the souls of Christians, and is the cause of much crude and unsound doctrine.—In the passage before us we must remember that our Lord Jesus Christ is not literally a vine, nor are believers literal branches, nor is the Father literally a husbandman. We are dealing with figures and pictures, mercifully used in order to meet our weak capacities; and we must take care we do not draw doctrinal conclusions from them, which contradict other plain passages of Scripture.
Even Maldonatus, the Romish commentator, here remarks: "All the several parts of a parable are not always meant to be fitted to the thing signified by the parable. Many things in parables are said to fill up or adorn the narrative." Toletus says just the same.
Burgon remarks, "Let us, instead of perplexing ourselves with minor details, bear in mind that in interpreting each of our Lord’s parables, the great purpose for which it was delivered is ever to be borne in mind, if we would understand it rightly."
Our Lord’s reason for choosing the illustration of "a vine" has caused much speculation. Some think that He drew the figure from a vine trained over the walls and windows of the upper chamber which He and His disciples were leaving.—Some think that He drew it from the famous golden vine, which ornamented the principal gate of the temple.—Some think that He drew it from the vines which He saw by the way side as He walked to the garden of Gethsemane.—Some refer it to the "fruit of the vine" at the Lord’s Supper.—After all, these are only guesses and conjectures. It was night when our Lord spoke, and of course nothing could be seen very distinctly. Nor is it necessary to suppose that our Lord drew His illustration from anything but His own mind.
The expression "the true" applied to the vine is an argument much used by those who think our Lord founded His parable on a vine under His eyes. But is it not more likely that our Lord had in view those places in the Old Testament where the Jewish Church is compared to a vine? (See Psalms 80:8; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15:2; Hosea 10:1.) It would then mean: "I, and not the decaying Jewish Church, am the true source of spiritual life." This to Jewish minds would be a very useful lesson.
For the use of the word "true" in a precisely similar way, see John 6:32 : "the true bread." It means the true, original, archetypal vine, of which all other vines are only types and shadows.
Lightfoot says, "Hitherto Israel had been the vine, into which every one that would worship the true God must be grafted. But from henceforward they were to be planted into the profession of Christ."
The meaning of the verse seems to be this:—"The relation between you and Me is that of a vine and its branches. I am the true source of all your life and spiritual vigour; and you are as entirely dependent on Me, as the branches of the vine are on the parent stem: and there is as close union between you and Me, as between a vine and its branches. My Father takes the same tender interest in you that the vine-dresser does in the branch of the vine; and is continually watching over your health, fruitfulness, and fertility. Think not for a moment that my Father is not as deeply interested in your spiritual prosperity as I am myself."
The interpretation adopted by Alford and many others, that the vine means "the visible Church," of which Christ is the inclusive Head, appears to me thoroughly unsatisfactory. Our Lord is speaking specially to eleven believers, and treating of their relation to Himself. To apply all the language of this parable to so mixed and defective a body as the "visible Church," seems to me to lower and degrade the whole passage.
v2.—[Every branch...not fruit...taketh away.] Perhaps no sentence in the parable is more perverted, and wrested, and misapplied than this. Many assert that it teaches that a man may be a real true branch of the vine, a member of Christ, and yet lose all His grace, and be finally cast away. In short, the sentence is the favourite weapon of all Arminians, of all who maintain an inseparable connection between grace and baptism, and of all who deny the perseverance in faith of believers.
I will not urge in reply that this view of the sentence cannot be reconciled with other plainer texts of Scripture, which are not parts of a parable like this; and that we should always shrink from interpreting Scripture so as to make one part contradict another. I prefer saying that the sentence before us will not bear the sense commonly put on it.
The plain truth is that this text is precisely that part of the parable which will not admit of a literal interpretation. As a matter of fact it is not true that the Father "taketh away" all unfruitful branches. When does He do it? When does He remove from the Church all graceless Christians? On the contrary, for 1800 years He has allowed them to exist in the Church, and has not taken them away. Nor will He take them away till the day of judgment. If the expression "taketh away" cannot be interpreted literally, we must beware of interpreting literally the expression, "branch in Me." As the one phrase is figurative, so also is the other. In short it cannot be shown that a "branch in Me" must mean a believer in Me. It means nothing more than "a professing member of my Church, a man joined to the company of my people, but not joined to Me."
The true meaning of the verse I believe to be this: "My Father deals with my mystical body just as the vine-dresser deals with the vine and its branches. He will no more allow any of my members to be fruitless and graceless, than a vine-dresser will allow barren branches to grow on the vine. My Father will take care that all who are in Me give proof of their union by their fruitful lives and conversation. He will not tolerate for a moment such an inconsistent being as an unfruitful believer, if such a being could be found. In a word, fruitfulness is the great test of being one of my disciples; and he that is not fruitful is not a branch of the true vine."
Calvin remarks, "Many are supposed to be in the vine, according to man’s opinion, who actually have no root in the vine."
Hengstenberg thinks that the Jewish Church is primarily meant here, as a fruitless branch compared to the Christian Church.
[And every branch...purgeth...fruit.] The meaning of this part of the verse is happily more easy than the other. "Just as a vinedresser prunes and cuts all healthy branches of a vine, in order to prevent it running to wood and to make it bear more fruit, so does my Father deal with all my believing members. He prunes and purifies them by affliction and trouble, in order to make them more fruitful in holiness."
Let us remember that this sentence throws light on many of the afflictions and trials of God’s people. They are all part of that mysterious process by which God the Father purifies and sanctifies Christ’s people. They are the "pruning" of the vine-branches, for good and not for harm, to increase their fruitfulness. All the most eminent saints in every age have been men of sorrows, and often pruned.
Clement of Alexandria, and many writers in all ages, remark, on this verse, that the vine-branch, which is not sharply pruned, is peculiarly liable to run to wood and bear no fruit.
After all, in leaving this difficult verse, we must not forget that a man may appear to us to be a "branch in Christ," and a true believer, and yet not be one in the sight of God. The end of that man will be death. He will be "taken away" at last to punishment. "Every one that seems and appears to be a branch of the true vine, and yet is not really one, will be lost."—Two principles in any case we must never let go. One principle is that no one can be a branch in Christ, and a living member of His body, who does not bear fruit. Vital union with Christ not evidenced by life is an impossibility, and a blasphemous idea.—The other principle is that no living branch of the true vine, no believer in Christ, will ever finally perish. They that perish may have looked like believers, but they were not believers in reality.
v3.—[Now ye are clean...word...unto you.] Having described the relation between Himself and His people generally, our Lord now turns to His disciples, and shows them their present position and immediate duty. "Now you are comparatively cleansed and purified by the doctrine which I have taught, and you have received and believed. But do not be content with past attainments. Attend to the counsel which I am about to give you."
When our Lord calls His disciples "clean" or "pure" in this place, we cannot doubt that He uses the phrase in a comparative sense. Compared to the unbelieving Scribes and Pharisees, compared indeed with themselves before their Lord called and taught them, the disciples were a cleansed and purified people,—imperfectly and very partially cleansed no doubt, but cleansed.
We should carefully note how our Lord speaks of His "Word" as the great instrument of cleansing His disciples. It is the same mighty principle that is found in E 5:26 and 1 Peter 1:22. God’s Word is God’s grand means of converting and sanctifying souls.
Henry remarks here, "Those who are justified by the blood, and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ, are in Christ’s account clean already, notwithstanding many spots and manifold imperfections."
v4.—[Abide in Me...I in you.] Now comes the direct instruction which our Lord desired the disciples to receive:—"Abide in Me. Cling to Me. Stick fast to Me. Live the life of close and intimate communion with Me. Get nearer and nearer to Me. Roll every burden on Me. Cast your whole weight on Me. Never let go your hold on Me for a moment. Be as it were rooted and planted in Me. Do this, and I will never fail you. I will ever abide in you."
This word "abide," or "remain," is used no less than ten times in the first eleven verses of this chapter. It implies a constant remaining or continuing in one spot or place. A true Christian must be always ’’in Christ," as a man dwelling always inside the walls of a fortified city.
[As the branch...abide in Me.] Here our Lord returns once more to the figure of the parable:—"Just as the branch of the vine cannot bear fruit separately and of itself, and must keep up living union with the parent stem, and out of it draw life and strength, just so you cannot bear Christian fruit and walk in Christian ways, and live a Christian life, except you keep up constant union and communion with Me."
v5.—[I am...Vine...ye...branches.] Once more our Lord repeats the leading idea of the parable, in order to impress the lesson He is teaching on the disciples’ minds:—"I repeat the assertion I made. The relation between you and Me must be as close and intimate as that between a vine and its branches."
[He that abideth...much fruit.] Here our Lord gives encouragement to the disciples to keep up the habit of closest union with Him. This is the secret of bearing "much fruit," and being an eminently holy and useful Christian. The experience of every age of the Church proves the truth of this saying. The greatest saints have always lived nearest to Christ.
Do we not see here that there is a difference in the degrees of fruitfulness to which Christians attain? Is there not a tacit distinction here between "fruit" and "much fruit"?
[For without Me...do nothing.] The marginal reading gives our Lord’s meaning more completely: "Severed from Me, separate from Me, you have no strength, and can do nothing. You are as lifeless as a branch cut off from the parent stem."
We must always take care that we do not misapply and misinterpret this text. Nothing is more common than to hear some ignorant Christians quoting it partially, as an excuse for indolence, and neglect of means of grace. "You know we can do nothing," is the cry of such people.—This is dragging out of the text a lesson it was never meant to teach. He that spoke these words to His eleven chosen apostles, is the same Lord who said to all men who would be saved,—"Strive to enter in;"—"Labour for the meat which endureth to everlasting life;"—"Repent and believe."
v6.—[If a man abide not...burned.] The consequence of not abiding in Christ, of refusing to live the life of faith in Christ, are here described under a terrible figure. The end of such false professors will be like the end of fruitless and dead branches of a vine. Sooner or later they are cast out of the vineyard as withered, useless things, and gathered as firewood to be burned. Such will be the last end of professing Christians who turn their backs on Jesus, and bear no fruit to God’s glory. They will finally come to the fire that is never quenched in hell.
These are awful words. They seem, however, to apply specially to backsliders and apostates, like Judas Iscariot. There must be about a man some appearance of professed faith in Christ, before he can come to the state described here. Doubtless there are those who seem to depart from grace, and to go back from union with Christ; but we need not doubt in such cases that the grace was not real, but seeming, and the union was not true, but fictitious. Once more we must remember that we are reading a parable.
That there is a hell, and that God can punish, seems plainly taught in this verse.
It is noteworthy that the Greek would be more literally rendered, "He has been cast out," and "Has been withered," in the past tense. Alford thinks that this is because the whole is spoken as if the great day of judgment were come.—Also the word "men" is supplied in our translation. Literally it would be, "They gather," "They cast," without referring to any person in particular. This is a Hebraism which will be found in Matthew 5:15; Luke 16:9; Acts 7:6.
After all, the final, miserable ruin and punishment of false professors, is the great lesson which the verse teaches. Abiding in Christ leads to fruitfulness in this life, and everlasting happiness in the life to come. Departure from Christ leads to the everlasting fire of hell.
There is a wide difference between believers and believers. In some things they are all alike. All feel their sins; all trust in Christ; all repent and strive to be holy. All have grace, and faith, and new hearts. But they differ widely in the degree of their attainments. Some are far happier and holier Christians than others, and have far more influence on the world.
Now what are the inducements which the Lord Jesus holds out to His people, to make them aim at eminent holiness? This is a question which ought to be deeply interesting to every pious mind. Who would not like to be a singularly useful and happy servant of Christ? The passage before us throws light on the subject in three ways.
In the first place, our Lord declares, "If ye abide in Me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." This is a distinct promise of power and success in prayer. And what does it turn upon? We must "abide in Christ," and Christ’s "words must abide in us."
To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with Him,—to be always leaning on Him, resting on Him, pouring out our hearts to Him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best Friend.—To have His words abiding in us, is to keep His sayings and precepts continually before our memories and minds, and to make them the guide of our actions and the rule of our daily conduct and behavior.
Christians of this stamp, we are told, shall not pray in vain. Whatever they ask they shall obtain, so long as they ask things according to God’s mind. No work shall be found too hard, and no difficulty insurmountable. Asking they shall receive, and seeking they shall find. Such men were Martin Luther, the German Reformer, and our own martyr, Bishop Latimer. Such a man was John Knox, of whom Queen Mary said, that she feared his prayers more than an army of twenty thousand men. It is written in a certain place, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5:16.)
Now, why is there so little power of prayer like this in our own time? Simply because there is so little close communion with Christ, and so little strict conformity to His will. Men do not "abide in Christ," and therefore pray in vain. Christ’s words do not abide in them, as their standard of practice, and therefore their prayers seem not to be heard. They ask and receive not, because they ask amiss. Let this lesson sink down into our hearts. He that would have answers to his prayers, must carefully remember Christ’s directions. We must keep up intimate friendship with the great Advocate in heaven, if our petitions are to prosper.
In the second place, our Lord declares, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." The meaning of this promise seems to be, that fruitfulness in Christian practice will not only bring glory to God, but will supply the best evidence to our own hearts that we are real disciples of Christ.
Assurance of our own interest in Christ, and our consequent eternal safety, is one of the highest privileges in religion. To be always doubting and fearing is miserable work. Nothing is worse than suspense in any matter of importance, and above all in the matter of our souls. He that would know one of the best receipts for obtaining assurance, should diligently study Christ’s words now before us. Let him strive to bear much fruit in his life, his habits, his temper, his words, and his works. So doing he shall feel the "witness of the Spirit" in his heart, and give abundant proof that he is a living branch of the true Vine. He shall find inward evidence in his own soul that he is a child of God, and shall supply the world with outward evidence that cannot be disputed. He shall leave no room for doubt that he is a disciple.
Would we know why so many professing Christians have little comfort in their religion, and go fearing and doubting along the road to heaven? The question receives a solution in the saying of our Lord we are now considering. Men are content with a little Christianity, and a little fruit of the Spirit, and do not labor to be holy in all manner of conversation. They must not wonder if they enjoy little peace, feel little hope, and leave behind them little evidence. The fault lies with themselves. God has linked together holiness and happiness; and what God has joined together we must not think to put asunder.
In the third place, our Lord declares, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love." The meaning of this promise is near akin to that of the preceding one. The man who makes conscience of diligently observing Christ’s precepts, is the man who shall continually enjoy a sense of Christ’s love in his soul.
Of course we must not misunderstand our Lord’s words when He speaks of "keeping His commandments." There is a sense in which no one can keep them. Our best works are imperfect and defective, and when we have done our best we may well cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Yet we must not run into the other extreme, and give way to the lazy idea that we can do nothing at all. By the grace of God we may make Christ’s laws our rule of life, and show daily that we desire to please Him. So doing, our gracious Master will give us a constant sense of His favor, and make us feel His face smiling on us, like the sun shining on a fine day. "The secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant." (Psalms 25:14.)
Lessons like these may be legal to some, and bring down much blame on those who advocate them. Such is the narrow-mindedness of human nature, that few can look on more than one side of truth! Let the servant of Christ call no man his master. Let him hold on his way, and never be ashamed of diligence, fruitfulness, and jealous watchfulness, in his obedience to Christ’s commands. These things are perfectly consistent with salvation by grace and justification by faith, whatever any one may say to the contrary.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. The Christian who is careful over his words and tempers and works, will generally be the most happy Christian. "Joy and peace in believing" will never accompany an inconsistent life. It is not for nothing that our Lord concludes the passage: "These things have I spoken unto you, that your joy might be full."
v7.—[If ye abide in Me...done unto you.] In this verse our Lord continues to encourage the disciples to "abide in Him," by holding up to them a gracious promise. Abiding in Christ, their prayers will obtain signal and special replies. They shall ask what they will, and it shall be done for them.
The doctrine here laid down and implied is a very remarkable one. There are some Christians whose prayers are more powerful and effectual than those of others. The nearer a man lives to Christ, and the closer his communion with Him, the more effectual will his prayers be. The truth of the doctrine is so self-evident and reasonable, that no one on reflection can deny it. He that lives nearest to Christ will always be the man that feels most, and prays most earnestly, and fervently, and heartily. Common sense shows that such prayers are most likely to get answers. Many believers get little from God, because they ask little, or ask amiss. The holiest saints are the most earnest in prayer, and they consequently get the most.
We should note that our Lord says not only "if ye abide in Me," but adds, "and my words abide in you." This means, "If my doctrine and teaching abide fresh in your memories, and is continually influencing your lives." Our Lord guards us against supposing that a mere indolent abiding in Him, with a dreamy, mystical kind of religion, is what He means. His words must be burning like fire within us, and constantly actuating our characters and lives.
When He says "ye shall ask what ye will," we must of course understand that His promise only includes things according to God’s mind and for God’s glory. Paul asked for the "thorn in the flesh" to depart; but his prayer was not granted. We need not, however, hesitate to believe that there is a special and peculiar power in the prayers of eminent saints. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5:16.) The prayers of Luther, Latimer, Knox, Welsh, Baxter, Herbert, Romaine, and other great saints, are specially noted by their contemporaries as possessing power.
The Greek word rendered "it shall be done," means literally, "it shall come to pass."
v8.—[Herein..Father glorified...disciples.] In this verse our Lord supplies two more reasons why His disciples should abide in Him, and strive to bring forth much fruit of holiness. One reason is, that it will glorify His Father in heaven. Their good works will recommend their religion, and make the world honour the God who has such servants. The other reason is, that it will give evidence of their being real, true, genuine disciples. Their lives will prove plainly that they are followers of Christ.
The expression "so shall ye be," is literally "and ye shall be." It must mean, ’’Ye shall be known and recognized by all men as my disciples, and shall feel in your own hearts the witness of the Spirit that ye are such."
Poole remarks, "In Scripture, being often signifieth appearing," as in John 8:31, and Romans 3:4.
v9.—[As...Father...loved...I...you.] This remarkable statement seems intended to show the depth and magnitude of our Lord’s love to His people. We can form no adequate idea of the love of the Father towards the Son. The feeling of one eternal Person in the Trinity to another Person is a high thing into which we cannot enter. Yet even such is the love of Christ towards those who believe in Him,—a vast, wide, deep, unmeasurable love that passeth knowledge, and can never be fully comprehended by man.
[Continue ye in my love.] This must mean,—"Continue resting your souls on this love of mine towards you, and live under a constant sense of it. Remain clinging to it, as within a fortress and place of refuge." Christ’s free, and continued, and mighty love should be the home and abiding place of a believer’s soul.
The word rendered "continue" is the same that is rendered "abide" in John 15:4, and ought to have been the same here.
v10.—[If...keep commandments...love.] Once more our Lord returns to the subject of practical obedience to His laws, as the grand secret of a happy and comfortable religion. "If you keep my commandments, you will live in the enjoyment of a continued sense of my love to your souls, and feel inwardly that you are my saved people." The doctrine here laid down is one of the great principles of experimental Christianity. Holy living and assurance of an interest in Christ are closely connected. Our own happiness and enjoyment of religion are inseparably bound up with our daily practical living. He that expects assurance, while he neglects Christ’s commandments, and gives way to daily inconsistencies of temper and conduct, is expecting what he will never get. "Hereby we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments." (1 John 2:3.) Let those who will call such doctrine "legal." As a matter of fact, it will always be found true.
[Even as I...his love.] The statement of this sentence is one of those which man can never fully grasp. That Christ kept the Father’s commandments perfectly, while we can only keep His imperfectly, and that He abides in the Father’s love continually and without defect, while our abiding in His love is at least fitful and uncertain, are truths which no intelligent Christian can dispute. In this, as in everything else, our Lord’s example and pattern are propounded to us as things which we must strive to follow, though at a long distance, and not always with sensible comfort. But we may remember that, even when Jesus said on the cross,— "My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?"—He was still abiding in the Father’s love.
v11.—[These things...might be full.] In this verse our Lord gives two reasons why all the things in His discourses were addressed to the disciples. One was that "his joy might abide" or remain "in them,"—that they might have a comfortable share of their Master’s joy in their salvation and redemption. The other was that their own individual joy might be filled up and perfected. Two joys are named, we must observe. One is that special joy mentioned in Hebrews 12:2, which our Lord feels in the redemption of His people. The other is that joy which His people feel from a sense of Christ’s love to their souls.
Here, as elsewhere, we should note, that the joy of believers is a thing that admits of degrees and increase.
Cyril, on this verse, remarks that it is the mark of prosperous Christians to rejoice in those things in which Christ rejoices; and that this is the special object of the phrase, "my joy,"—"that ye may continually rejoice in those things in which I rejoice, and so your own inward happiness may be increased."
Three weighty points demand our attention in this passage. On each of these the language of our Lord Jesus Christ is full of striking instruction.
We should observe first, how our Lord speaks of the grace of brotherly love.
He returns to it a second time, though He has already spoken of it in the former part of His discourse. He would have us know that we can never think too highly of love, attach too much weight to it, labor too much to practice it. Truths which our Master thinks it needful to enforce on us by repetition, must needs be of first-class importance.
He commands us to love one another. "This is my commandment." It is a positive duty laid on our consciences to practice this grace. We have no more right to neglect it than any of the ten precepts given on Mount Sinai.
He supplies the highest standard of love: "Love one another as I have loved you." No lower measure must content us. The weakest, the lowest, the most ignorant, the most defective disciple, is not to be despised. All are to be loved with an active, self-denying, self-sacrificing love. He that cannot do this, or will not try to do it, is disobeying the command of his Master.
A precept like this should stir up in us great searchings of heart. It condemns the selfish, ill-natured, jealous, ill-tempered spirit of many professing Christians, with a sweeping condemnation. Sound views of doctrine, and knowledge of controversy, will avail us nothing at last, if we have known nothing of love. Without charity we may pass muster very well as Churchmen. But without charity we are no better, says Paul, than "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1.) Where there is no Christlike love, there is no grace, no work of the Spirit, and no reality in our religion. Blessed are they that do not forget Christ’s commandment! They are those who shall have right to the tree of life, and enter the celestial city. The unloving Christian is unfit for heaven.
We should observe, secondly, how our Lord speaks of the relation between Himself and true believers. He says, "Henceforth I call you not servants . . . . but I have called you friends."
This is indeed a glorious privilege. To know Christ, serve Christ, follow Christ, obey Christ, work in Christ’s vineyard, fight Christ’s battles, all this is no small matter. But for sinful men and women like ourselves to be called "friends of Christ," is something that our weak minds can hardly grasp and take in. The King of kings and Lord of lords not only pities and saves all them that believe in Him, but actually calls them His "friends." We need not wonder, in the face of such language as this, that Paul should say, the "love of Christ passeth knowledge." (Ephesians 3:19.)
Let the expression before us encourage Christians to deal familiarly with Christ in prayer. Why should we be afraid to pour out all our hearts, and unbosom all our secrets, in speaking to one who calls us His "friends"? Let it cheer us in all the troubles and sorrows of life, and increase our confidence in our Lord. "He that hath friends," says Solomon, "will show himself friendly." (Proverbs 18:24.) Certainly our great Master in heaven will never forsake His "friends." Poor and unworthy as we are, He will not cast us off, but will stand by us and keep us to the end. David never forgot Jonathan, and the Son of David will never forget His people. None so rich, so strong, so independent, so well off, so thoroughly provided for, as the man of whom Christ says, "This is my friend"!
We should observe, lastly, how our Lord speaks of the doctrine of election. He says, "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, . . . . that ye should go and bring forth fruit." The choosing here mentioned is evidently twofold. It includes not only the election to the Apostolic office, which was peculiar to the eleven, but the election to eternal life, which is the privilege of all believers. To this last "choosing," as it specially concerns ourselves, we may profitably direct our attention.
Election to eternal life, is a truth of Scripture which we must receive humbly, and believe implicitly. Why the Lord Jesus calls some and does not call others, quickens whom He will, and leaves others alone in their sins, these are deep things which we cannot explain. Let it suffice us to know that it is a fact. God must begin the work of grace in a man’s heart, or else a man will never be saved. Christ must first choose us and call us by His Spirit, or else we shall never choose Christ. Beyond doubt, if not saved, we shall have none to blame but ourselves. But if saved, we shall certainly trace up the beginning of our salvation, to the choosing grace of Christ. Our song to all eternity will be that which fell from the lips of Jonah: "Salvation is of the LORD." (Jonah 2:9.)
Election is always to sanctification. Those whom Christ chooses out of mankind, He chooses not only that they may be saved, but that they may bear fruit, and fruit that can be seen. All other election beside this is a mere vain delusion, and a miserable invention of man. It was the faith and hope and love of the Thessalonians, which made Paul say, "I know your election of God." (1 Thessalonians 1:4.) Where there is no visible fruit of sanctification, we may be sure there is no election.
Armed with such principles as these, we have no cause to be afraid of the doctrine of election. Like any other truth of the Gospel, it is liable to be abused and perverted. But to a pious mind, as the seventeenth Article of the Church of England truly says, it is a doctrine "full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort."
v12.—[This...commandment...love...loved you.] In this verse our Lord returns to the old lesson which He has taught before: the great duty of love towards other Christians. He backs the command by His own example. Nothing less than His matchless love towards sinners should be the measure and standard of love to one another.
The frequent repetition of this command teaches the vast importance of Christian charity, and the great rarity of it. How any one can pretend to Christian hope who is ignorant of Christian love, it is hard to understand. He that supposes he is right in the sight of God, because his doctrinal views are correct, while he is unloving in his temper, and sharp, cross, snappish, and ill-natured in the use of his tongue, exhibits wretched ignorance of the first principles of Christ’s Gospel. The crossness, spitefulness, jealousy, maliciousness, and general disagreableness of many high professors of "sound doctrine," are a positive scandal to Christianity. Where there is little love there can be little grace.
v13.—[Greater love...for his friends.] In this verse our Lord teaches what should be the measure and degree of the love which Christians should have to one another. It should be a self-sacrificing love, even to death, as His was. He proved the greatness of His love by dying for His friends, and even for His enemies. (Romans 5:6-8.) It would be impossible for love to go further. There is no greater love than willingness to lay down life for those we love. Christ did this, and Christians should be willing to do the same.
Let us note here that our Lord clearly speaks of His own death as a sacrificial and propitiatory death. Even His friends need a substitute to die for them.
v14.—[Ye are my friends...command you.] This verse seems closely connected with the preceding one. "You are the friends for whom I lay down my life, if you do whatever things I command you." We are not to dream that we are Christ’s friends, if we do not habitually practice His commands. Very striking is it to observe how frequently our Lord returns to this great principle, that obedience is the great test of vital Christianity, and doing the real mark of saving faith. Men who talk of being "the Lord’s people," while they live in sin and neglect Christ’s plain commands, are in the broad way that leads to destruction.
v15.—[Henceforth I call you not servants, etc.] Having used the word "friends," our Lord tells His disciples that He has used that word purposely to cheer and encourage them. "Observe that I call you friends. I do so intentionally. I no longer call you servants; because the servant from his position knows not all his master’s mind, and is not in his confidence. But to you I have revealed all the truths which my Father sent me to teach the world, and have kept nothing back. I may therefore justly call you friends."
When our Lord speaks of "having made known all things" to the disciples, we must reasonably suppose that He means all things needful to their spiritual good, and all things that they were able to bear.
The high privilege of a believer is strikingly taught here. He is a friend of Christ, as well as a child of God. No one need ever say I have no "friend" to turn to, so long as Christ is in heaven. Once only before this place does Christ call the disciples "friends." (Luke 12:4.)
It is noteworthy that Abraham is the only person in the Old Testament who is called "the friend of God" (Isaiah 41:8), and of him the Lord says, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" (Genesis 18:17.)
v16.—[Ye have not chosen Me, etc., etc.] The connecting link between this verse and the passage preceding it is not very clear.
Hengstenberg thinks that it refers to the commandment just laid down, to love one another. "I may fairly lay down laws and rules for your conduct, because I first chose and called you to be members of my Church."
I much prefer thinking that our Lord’s object is to exalt the privilege of discipleship in the eyes of the eleven. "Remember, when I call you friends, that I called you into the number of my people, and chose you before you chose Me. See then how great and free and deep is my love to you."
When our Lord speaks of "choosing" in this verse, I think that He means two things: viz., His choice of the eleven to be His apostles, and their eternal election to salvation. There seems to be a peculiar fullness in the phrase. The choice of the believer to eternal life is not the whole idea that our Lord means to convey. True as that glorious doctrine is, it is not the whole doctrine of this verse. The "choosing" includes a choosing for an office, like John 6:70, and seems to have a special reference to the choice of the eleven faithful apostles to be the first children of Christ’s Church.
Calvin certainly says, "The subject now in hand is not the ordinary election of believers, by which they are adopted to be God’s children; but that special election by which Christ sets apart His disciples to the office of preaching the Gospel." (See John 6:70.) This also is the view of Chrysostom and Cyril.—But most of the Latin fathers apply the "choice" to eternal election. So also does Lampe. My own impression is, that, for once, the expression includes both official and eternal election.
The Greek word rendered "ordained" means simply, "I have placed you" in a certain position as my apostles.
When our Lord says, "I have chosen and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit," I think He refers to the work of conversion and of building a Church in the world. "I chose and set you apart for this great purpose, that ye should go into all the world preaching the Gospel, and gathering in the harvest and fruit of saved souls; and that this work begun by you might remain and continue long after your deaths." And then to encourage the eleven, He adds, "It was part of my plan that so bringing forth fruit, ye should obtain by prayer everything that ye need for your work"
It is vain to deny that the verse is a very difficult one both as to its connection and contents. As a general rule I hold strongly that the things spoken by our Lord in this last discourse decidedly belong to all believers in every age, and not to the eleven only. Yet there are perhaps exceptions, and this verse may be one.—The expression "Go and bring forth fruit" certainly seems to apply peculiarly to the eleven, who were to "GO" into all the world and preach the Gospel. It is as though our Lord said, "Take comfort in the thought that I chose you as my friends for this great purpose, to go and preach, to reap an abundant harvest of souls, to do lasting work, and to obtain a constant supply of grace and help, by prayer."—I cannot see how the word "go" can apply to any but the eleven to whom the Lord was speaking; and this weighs heavily with me in interpreting it.—"That your fruit should remain," again, is a phrase that I cannot apply to anything but the lasting and abiding work which the Apostles did when they went through the world preaching the Gospel. But I freely admit that I find in the verse "things hard to be understood."
The passage before us opens with a renewed exhortation to brotherly love. For the third time in this discourse our Lord thinks it needful to press this precious grace on the attention of His disciples. Rare, indeed, must genuine charity be, when such repeated mention of it is made! In the present instance the connection in which it stands should be carefully observed. Christian love is placed in contrast to the hatred of the world.
We are shown first, in this passage, what true Christians must expect to meet in this world,—hatred and persecution. If the disciples looked for kindness and gratitude from man they would be painfully disappointed. They must lay their account to be ill-treated like their Master.—"The world hateth you. Be not moved or surprised. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also."
Facts, painful facts in every age, supply abundant proof that our Lord’s warning was not without cause. Persecution was the lot of the Apostles and their companions wherever they went. Not more than one or two of them died quietly in his bed.—Persecution has been the lot of true believers throughout the eighteen Christian centuries of history. The doings of Roman Emperors and Roman Popes, the Spanish inquisition, the martyrdoms of Queen Mary’s reign, all tell the same story.—Persecution is the lot of all really godly people at this very day. Ridicule, mockery, slander, misrepresentations still show the feeling of unconverted people against the true Christian. As it was in Paul’s day, so it is now. In public and in private, at school and at college, at home and abroad, "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12.) Mere churchmanship and outward profession are a cheap religion, of course, and cost a man nothing. But real vital Christianity will always bring with it a cross.
To know and understand these things is of the utmost importance to our comfort. Nothing is so mischievous as the habit of indulging false expectations. Let us realize that human nature never changes, that "the carnal mind is enmity against God," and against God’s image in His people. Let us settle it in our minds that no holiness of life or consistency of conduct will ever prevent wicked people hating the servants of Christ, just as they hated their blameless Master. Let us remember these things, and then we shall not be disappointed.
We are shown secondly, in this passage, two reasons for patience under the persecution of this world. Each is weighty, and supplies matter for much thought.
For one thing, persecution is the cup of which Christ Himself drank. Faultless as He was in everything, in temper, word, and deed,—unwearied as He was in works of kindness, always going about doing good,—never was any one so hated as Jesus was to the last day of His earthly ministry. Scribes and High Priests, Pharisees and Sadducees, Jews and Gentiles, united in pouring contempt on Him, and opposing Him, and never rested till He was put to death.
Surely this simple fact alone should sustain our spirits and prevent our being cast down by the hatred of man. Let us consider that we are only walking in our Master’s footsteps, and sharing our Master’s portion. Do we deserve to be better treated? Are we better than He? Let us fight against these murmuring thoughts. Let us drink quietly the cup which our Father gives us. Above all, let us often call to mind the saying, "Remember the word that I spake unto you, The servant is not greater than his Master."
For another thing, persecution helps to prove that we are children of God, and have treasure in heaven. It supplies evidence that we are really born again, that we have grace in our hearts, and are heirs of glory: "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." Persecution, in short, is like the goldsmith’s Hall mark on real silver and gold: it is one of the marks of a converted man.
Let us nerve our minds with this cheering thought, when we feel ready to faint and give way under the world’s hatred. No doubt it is hard to bear, and the more hard when our conscience tells us we are innocent. But after all let us never forget that it is a token for good. It is a symptom of a work begun within us by the Holy Ghost, which can never be overthrown. We may fall back on that wonderful promise, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven." (Matthew 5:11-12.) When the world has said and done its worst, it cannot rob believers of that promise.
Let us leave the whole subject with a feeling of deep pity for those who persecute others on account of their religion. Often, very often, as our Lord says, they do it because they know no better. "They know not Him that sent Me." Like our Divine Master and His servant Stephen, let us pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us. Their persecution rarely does us harm, and often drives us nearer to Christ, the Bible, and the throne of grace. Our intercession, if heard on high, may bring down blessings on their souls.
v17.—[These things I command...love one another.] The expression, "these things," must either refer backwards to what has just been said, or forwards to what is going to be said. I prefer the latter view. "I press on you these repeated charges to love one another, because you must expect the hatred of the world. The more the world hates you, the more you ought to love one another and stick together."
v18.—[If...world hate...hated Me...you.] The object of this verse is to encourage and comfort the disciples under the hatred and enmity of the unbelieving Jews. "Do not be surprised and discouraged if you find yourselves hated and persecuted by an unbelieving world. Do not think the fault is yours. You know, and have seen, and must remember that this same world has always hated and persecuted Me before you, although it could lay no fault to my charge."
The principle of the verse will be found true in every age. It is not the weaknesses and inconsistencies of Christians that the world hates, but their grace. Christians should carefully remember that their spotless and blameless Master was bitterly hated by the world when He was on earth, and they must count it no strange thing if they are treated in the same way.
Hengstenberg thinks that the words "ye know" should be taken as an imperative, and not an indicative, like "remember," in John 15:20. I doubt this; but the construction of the Greek language makes it an open question.
The Greek word rendered "before" is literally "first." It is the same that is translated "before" in John 1:15 and John 1:30.
v19.—[If ye were of the world, etc.] In this verse our Lord shows the disciples that the hatred of the world, however painful to bear, is a satisfactory evidence of their state before God. It is like "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you," and "Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you." This comes out more clearly if we invert the order of the verse. "The world hates you because you are not like itself, but have a different faith and live a different life, and because I have drawn you out of it to be my disciples and apostles. The world always loves what is like itself, and would love you if your standard of faith and life was like its own. The very hatred of the world, therefore, is a satisfactory evidence that you are my disciples."
Luther remarks, "Towards each other, apart from Christ, the men of the world are as little friends as dogs and cats. In all that concerns Christ they are unanimous in hatred."
The expression "his own," means literally "its own thing,"—its own spirit, tone, character, faith, and life.
The whole verse contains rich experimental comfort for true Christians. There are few things that we are so slow to realize as the enmity of natural man against God, and all that have anything of God’s image; and forgetfulness of it often brings believers into much trouble and perplexity of mind. They do not expect the world’s hatred, and are surprised when they meet with it. This verse teaches plainly that they ought not to be surprised.
Burgon quotes a saying of Bishop Sanderson: "The godly are in the world as strangers, and in a foreign, yea in an enemy’s country; and they look upon the world, and are looked upon by it, as strangers; and are used by it accordingly."
v20.—[Remember the word, etc.] Our Lord continues in this verse the same subject: viz., what the disciples must expect from the world. He reminds the eleven of the things He had said before, when He first sent them out to preach. (Matthew 10:24; Luke 6:40.) He had always told them they must not expect to be better treated than He had been Himself. He quotes the proverbial saying that "a servant must not expect to fare better than his master." "Did they persecute Me? Then they will persecute you. Did they keep, mind, and attend to my teaching? As a rule the greater part did not, and you must expect the same."
We ought to observe carefully how strongly this lesson about the world is laid down by our Lord. It was doubtless spoken for all time, and with a special reference to believers’ slowness to realize it. If there is anything that true Christians seem incessantly forgetting, and seem to need incessantly reminding of, it is the real feeling of unconverted people towards them, and the treatment they must expect to meet with. Wrong expectations are one great cause of Christians feeling troubled and perplexed. That word "remember,"—"do remember,"—has a mine of meaning in it.
Gataker, Bengel, and some others, think that the Greek word rendered "keep," here means "to observe with a malicious intention" to carp at it: but this seems improbable. Whether, however, there is not a latent irony in the sentence is doubtful.
v21.—[But all these things...name’s sake.] Our Lord here tells His disciples that He Himself was the cause of all the enmity and hatred they would meet with. They would be hated on account of their Master, more than on account of themselves.
"These things" must refer apparently to the expression, "hate, persecute, and keep your saying."
It may be some comfort to a persecuted Christian to think that it is for His Master’s sake that he is ill used. He is "filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ." (Colossians 1:24.) He is "bearing the reproach of Christ." (Hebrews 11:26.)
[Because they know not...sent Me.] This sentence is elliptical. It means that dark ignorance was the great cause of the conduct of the unbelieving Jews. They did not rightly know God the Father who had sent Christ into the world. They did not know that Christ was the Messiah whom the Father had promised to send. In this state of ignorance they blindly persecuted Christ and His disciples.
This judicial blindness and hardness of the Jewish nation in the time of our Lord and His Apostles is a thing that ought to be carefully observed by all Bible-readers. (See Acts 3:17; Acts 13:27; Acts 28:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:8; 2 Corinthians 3:14.) It was a peculiar judicial blindness, we must remember, to which the whole nation was given over, like Pharaoh, as a final punishment for many centuries of idolatry, wickedness, and unbelief. Nothing but this seems thoroughly to account for the extraordinary unbelief of many of our Lord’s hearers.
In leaving this passage we should not fail to notice the singular frequency with which our Lord speaks of "the world." Six times he mentions it. We should also notice the singular resemblance between the line of argument adopted in the passage, and the line of John in the third chapter of his first Epistle. The Apostle writes his Epistle in that part, as if he had this chapter before him.
In these verses our Lord Jesus Christ handles three subjects of great importance. They are difficult subjects, no doubt, subjects on which we may easily fall into error. But the words before us throw much light upon them.
We should observe, for one thing, how our Lord speaks of the misuse of religious privileges. It intensifies man’s guilt, and will increase his condemnation. He tells His disciples that if He had not "spoken" and "done" among the Jews things which none ever spoke or did before, "they had not had sin." By this, we must remember, He means, "they had not been so sinful and so guilty as they are now." But now they were utterly without excuse. They had seen Christ’s works, and heard Christ’s teaching, and yet remained unbelieving. What more could be done for them? Nothing—absolutely nothing! They wilfully sinned against the clearest possible light, and were of all men most guilty.
Let us settle it down as a first principle in our religion, that religious privileges are in a certain sense very dangerous things. If they do not help us toward heaven, they will only sink us deeper into hell. They add to our responsibility. "To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required." (Luke 12:48.) He that dwells in a land of open Bibles and preached Gospel, and yet dreams that he will stand in the judgment day on the same level with an untaught Chinese, is fearfully deceived. He will find to his own cost, except he repents, that his judgment will be according to his light. The mere fact that he had knowledge and did not improve it, will of itself prove one of his greatest sins. "He that knew His Master’s will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes." (Luke 12:47.)
Well would it be for all professing Christians in England, if this point was more thoroughly considered! Nothing is more common than to hear men taking comfort in the thought that they "know" what is right, while at the same time they are evidently unconverted, and unfit to die. They rest in that unhappy phrase, "We know it, we know it," as if knowledge could wash away all their sins,—forgetting that the devil has more knowledge than any of us, and yet is no better for it. Let the burning words of our Lord in the passage now before us, sink down into our hearts, and never be forgotten: "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin." To see light and not use it, to possess knowledge and yet not turn it to account, to be able to say "I know," and yet not to say "I believe," will place us at the lowest place on Christ’s left hand, in the great day of judgment.
We should observe, for another thing, in these verses, how our Lord speaks of the Holy Ghost.
He speaks of Him as a Person. He is "the Comforter" who is to come; He is One sent and "proceeding;" He is One whose office it is to "testify." These are not words that can be used of a mere influence or inward feeling. So to interpret them is to contradict common sense, and to strain the meaning of plain language. Reason and fairness require us to understand that it is a personal Being who is here mentioned, even He whom we are justly taught to adore as the third Person in the blessed Trinity.
Again, our Lord speaks of the Holy Ghost as One whom He "will send from the Father," and One "who proceedeth from the Father." These are deep sayings, no doubt, so deep that we have no line to fathom them. The mere fact that for centuries the Eastern and Western Churches of Christendom have been divided about their meaning, should teach us to handle them with modesty and reverence. One thing, at all events, is very clear and plain. There is a close and intimate connection between the Spirit, the Father, and the Son. Why the Holy Ghost should be said to be sent by the Son, and to proceed from the Father, in this verse, we cannot tell. But we may quietly repose our minds in the thought expressed in an ancient creed, that "In this Trinity none is afore or after other: none is greater or less than another."—"Such as the Father is such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost."—Above all, we may rest in the comfortable truth that in the salvation of our souls all three Persons in the Trinity equally co-operate. It was God in Trinity who said, "Let us create," and it is God in Trinity who says, "Let us save."
Forever let us take heed to our doctrine about the Holy Spirit. Let us make sure that we hold sound and Scriptural views of His nature, His Person, and His operations. A religion which entirely leaves Him out, and gives Him no place, is far from uncommon. Let us beware that such a religion is not ours. "Where is the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ?" should be the first testing question about our Christianity. "Where is the Holy Ghost?" should be the second question. Let us take good heed that the work of the Spirit is not so buried under extravagant views of the Church, the ministry, and the Sacraments, that the real Holy Ghost of Scripture is completely put out of sight. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." (Romans 8:9.) No religion deserves to be called Scriptural and apostolic, in which the work of the Spirit does not stand forth prominently, and occupy a principal place.
We should observe lastly, in these verses, how our Lord speaks of the special office of the Apostles. They were to be His witnesses in the world. "Ye also shall bear witness."
The expression is singularly instructive and full of meaning. It taught the eleven what they must expect their portion to be, so long as they lived. They would have to bear testimony to facts which many would not believe, and to truths which the natural heart would dislike. They would often have to stand alone, a few against many, a little flock against a great multitude. None of these things must move them. They must count it no strange thing to be persecuted, hated, opposed, and discredited. They must not mind it. To witness was their grand duty, whether men believed them or not. So witnessing, their record would be on high, in God’s book of remembrance; and so witnessing, sooner or later, the Judge of all would give them a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Let us never forget, as we leave this passage, that the position of the Apostles is that which, in a certain sense, every true Christian must fill, as long as the world stands. We must all be witnesses for Christ. We must not be ashamed to stand up for Christ’s cause, to speak out for Christ, and to persist in maintaining the truth of Christ’s Gospel. Wherever we live, in town or in country, in public or in private, abroad or at home, we must boldly confess our Master on every opportunity. So doing, we shall walk in the steps of the Apostles, though at a long interval. So doing, we shall please our Master, and may hope at last that we shall receive the Apostles’ reward.
v22.—[If I had not come, etc.] In this and the three following verses our Lord shows the peculiar guilt and wickedness of the Jews in not believing Him.—"If I had not come among them and spoken such words as no one ever spake before, and taught such truths as no one ever taught before, they would not have been so guilty as they are. But now they have no excuse for their unbelief. They cannot say that they were not taught in the plainest way who I am and who sent Me."
Does not our Lord in this verse point to the famous prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:18-19) of a Prophet to be raised up like Moses, to whom the Jews were to hearken? Does He not seem to say, "I have come as that Prophet, and have spoken my Father’s words, and they ought to have received and hearkened to them? The refusal of the promised Prophet is of itself their condemnation, and leaves them without excuse."
The word rendered "cloke," would have been better as in the margin, "excuse." The clause literally is, "They have now no excuse concerning their sin."
When our Lord says "they had not had sin," He does not of course mean they would not have been sinners at all. It is only another way of putting the degree of their guilt. "They would have been less guilty than they are now. To have heard Me and not believed will increase their condemnation." (Compare John 9:41.)
Let us note that there are degrees of sin, and that nothing seems to increase man’s guiltiness so much as to have privileges, and not use them aright.
v23.—[He...hateth Me...Father also.] The object of this verse is to supply a reason why the guilt of hearing Christ without believing was so great. It was because Christ’s words were not only His words but the Father’s also.—"He that hears Me, and hates and refuses my teachings, is hating not Me only but my Father, because I and my Father are one."—Once more we are reminded of the close union between the first and second Persons of the Trinity. The idea that we can worship and serve God while we neglect Christ, is a baseless dream. Neglecting Christ, we neglect the Father. (See Psalms 69:9.)
Poole remarks, "It is a common error of the world, that many pretend to love God, while yet they are manifest haters of Christ and His Gospel. Our Saviour saith, this is impossible; whosoever hateth him who is sent, hateth also him who sent him."
Hengstenberg observes, "The Jews professed that they loved God, and that on the ground of that love they hated Christ; the God, however, whom they loved was not the true God, but a phantom which they named God. The fact that they rejected Christ, in spite of all His words of spirit and truth, showed them to be enemies of the Father."
v24.—[If I had not done, etc.] In this verse our Lord gives another proof of the exceeding wickedness of the Jews. They had seen works and miracles done under their eyes, in confirmation of Christ’s Divine mission, more numerous and mighty than any one had ever worked before, and yet they continued unbelieving. The more they saw of Him the more they hated Him; and in so hating Him, they hated not Him only, but the Father which sent Him.—"The Jews would not be so guilty as they now are, if they had not seen my miracles as well as heard my words. But now they have both seen and heard overwhelming proofs of my Divine mission, and yet remain unbelieving. They have had the clearest evidence that could be given—the evidence of works and words; and yet they have persisted in hating both Me and the Father which sent Me."
Burgon here remarks, "It is not meant that every single miracle which our Lord performed, surpassed in wonder any single miracle recorded of Moses, Elijah, or Elisha; for that would not be true. But Christ’s works were made so great by the way He wrought them. Without effort, by a mere word, He showed that all creation was obedient to His will."
Let us carefully observe how our Lord appeals to His miracles as a proof of His Messiahship, which ought to have convinced the Jews. They are a part of the evidences of Christianity which ought never to be kept back or omitted.
v25.—[But this cometh to pass, etc.] The manner in which our Lord quotes Scripture here is so common in the Gospels that it needs little remark. The things He mentions did not happen in order that Scripture might be fulfilled, but by their happening Scripture was fulfilled.
"Their law" here is a general expression denoting the whole Old Testament Scripture.
"Without a cause" means literally "gratuitously, as a free gift." The word occurs only nine times in the New Testament. Six times it is rendered "freely," once "in vain," once "for nought," and once "without a cause."
What precise text our Lord had in view is not quite clear, and some have thought that He only referred generally to Scripture testimony, like Matthew 2:23. Others however point to Psalms 35:19, and Psalms 69:4.
Let us note that gratuitous, ceaseless hatred was our Lord’s portion on earth; and His true disciples in every age must never wonder if they share His lot.
v26.—[But when the Comforter, etc.] The object of this verse appears to be the encouragement of the disciples. They were not to despond or feel hopeless because of the unbelief and hardness of the Jews. A witness would be raised up by and bye, whose evidence the Jews would not be able to resist. There would come One who would give such testimony to the Divine mission of Christ, that even the wicked Jews would be silenced and crushed, although unconverted. Who was this promised witness? It was the Holy Ghost, who was to come forth with peculiar power in the day of Pentecost, and to abide in the early Church. The second chapter of Acts was the first fulfilment of the verse. The irresistible influence which the Gospel obtained in Jerusalem, in spite of all the efforts of scribe and priest, and Pharisee and Sadducee, was another fulfilment.
The "proceeding" here spoken of, we must remember, does not merely mean that the Spirit is sent by the Father, and comes from the Father. All the best interpreters agree in thinking, that it means the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit.
We should carefully note in this verse the language which our Lord uses concerning the Holy Ghost. He is the "Comforter," or rather the Advocate, as we have seen before. He is the "Spirit of truth," also, as we have seen before. But we should specially mark that Christ says, "I will send Him;" and also says, He "proceedeth from the Father." The singular number is used: "He proceedeth," not "will proceed."—This then is one of those texts which appears to supply evidence of the Holy Ghost proceeding both from the Father and from the Son, though not direct evidence. The whole Greek Church, however, denies the procession from the Son; and it must be honestly conceded that the Scripture does not so distinctly and directly assert it as the procession from the Father. Yet, on the other hand, it is hard to understand how the Son can send the Spirit, and the Spirit in no sense proceed from the Son. The subject is a deep and mysterious one, and we have not eyes to see everything about it. The difference between the Eastern and Western Churches may after all be more apparent than real; and we must beware of denouncing men as heretics, whom perhaps God has received. But in any case the text before us is one which ought to be carefully noted, as one on which much of the controversy hinges. Let us take care that we ourselves have the Holy Spirit in our hearts; and when we die we shall know all about the point in dispute.
One thing at any rate comes out very plainly here, and that is the personality of the Holy Ghost. In the Greek it stands out very prominently in the gender of the pronouns, which our English language cannot reach. The word we render "whom," in the Greek text is masculine;—"which" is neuter;—and "he" is masculine again.
v27.—[And ye also shall bear witness.] In this verse our Lord continues the line of encouragement which He began in the preceding verse. Notwithstanding all the hardness and unbelief of the Jews, even the eleven disciples would be enabled to bear a testimony to their Lord’s Divine mission, which none of their enemies would be able to gainsay or resist. How remarkably this was fulfilled we know from the first seven chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. For instance, the verse, "with great power gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 4:33), is an exact accomplishment of the promise of the text.
It is noteworthy that both the verbs in this verse are in the present tense. They would be naturally rendered, "Ye do bear witness," and, "Ye are with Me." Does this point to the certainty of the testimony being borne? "Ye do bear witness:" you are sure to be enabled to do it.
In leaving this chapter, let us not fail to note how systematically our blessed Master gave His disciples instruction on three most important points. The first was their relation to Himself. They were to abide in close union with Him, like branches in a vine. The second was their relation to one another. They were to love one another with a deep, self-sacrificing love, like their Master’s. The third was their relation to the world. They were to expect its hatred, not be surprised at it; to bear it patiently, and not be afraid of it.