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The opening verses of this chapter contain three important utterances of Christ, which deserve our special attention.
For one thing, we find our Lord delivering a remarkable prophecy. He tells His disciples that they will be cast out of the Jewish Church, and persecuted even to the death:—"They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service."
How strange that seems at first sight! Excommunication, suffering, and death, are the portion that the Prince of Peace predicts to His disciples. So far from receiving them and their message with gratitude, the world would hate them, despitefully use them, and put them to death. And, worst of all, their persecutors would actually persuade themselves that it was right to persecute, and would inflict the cruelest injuries in the sacred name of religion.
How true the prediction has turned out! Like every other prophecy of Scripture, it has been fulfilled to the very letter. The Acts of the Apostles show us how the unbelieving Jews persecuted the early Christians. The pages of history tell us what horrible crimes have been committed by the Popish Inquisition. The annals of our own country inform us how our holy Reformers were burned at the stake for their religion, by men who professed to do all they did from zeal for pure Christianity. Unlikely and incredible as it might seem at the time, the great Prophet of the Church has been found in this, as in everything else, to have predicted nothing but literal truth.
Let it never surprise us to hear of true Christians being persecuted, in one way or another, even in our own day. Human nature never changes. Grace is never really popular. The quantity of persecution which God’s children have to suffer in every rank of life, even now, if they confess their Master, is far greater than the thoughtless world supposes. They only know it who go through it, at school, at college, in the counting-house, in the barrack-room, on board the ship. Those words shall always be found true: "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12.)
Let us never forget that religious earnestness alone is no proof that a man is a sound Christian. Not all zeal is right: it may be a zeal without knowledge. No one is so mischievous as a blundering, ignorant zealot. Not all earnestness is trustworthy: without the leading of God’s Spirit, it may lead a man so far astray, that, like Saul, he will persecute Christ himself. Some bigots fancy they are doing God service, when they are actually fighting against His truth, and trampling on His people. Let us pray that we may have light as well as zeal.
For another thing, we find our Lord explaining His special reason for delivering the prophecy just referred to, as well as all His discourse. "These things," He says, "I have spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended."
Well did our Lord know that nothing is so dangerous to our comfort as to indulge false expectations. He therefore prepared His disciples for what they must expect to meet with in His service. Forewarned, forearmed! They must not look for a smooth course and a peaceful journey. They must make up their minds to battles, conflicts, wounds, opposition, persecution, and perhaps even death. Like a wise general, He did not conceal from His soldiers the nature of the campaign they were beginning. He told them all that was before them, in faithfulness and love, that when the time of trial came, they might remember His words, and not be disappointed and offended. He wisely forewarned them that the cross was the way to the crown.
To count the cost is one of the first duties that ought to be pressed on Christians in every age. It is no kindness to young beginners to paint the service of Christ in false colors, and to keep back from them the old truth, "Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God." By prophesying smooth things, and crying "Peace," we may easily fill the ranks of Christ’s army with professing soldiers. But they are just the soldiers, who, like the stony-ground hearers, in time of tribulation will fall away, and turn back in the day of battle.
No Christian is in a healthy state of mind who is not prepared for trouble and persecution. He that expects to cross the troubled waters of this world, and to reach heaven with wind and tide always in his favor, knows nothing yet as he ought to know. We never can tell what is before us in life. But of one thing we may be very sure: we must carry the cross if we would wear the crown. Let us grasp this principle firmly, and never forget it. Then, when the hour of trial comes, we shall "not be offended."
In the last place, we find our Lord giving a special reason why it was expedient for Him to go away from His disciples. "If I do not go away," He says, "the Comforter will not come unto you."
We can well suppose that our gracious Lord saw the minds of His disciples crushed at the idea of His leaving them. Little as they realized His full meaning, on this, as well as on other occasions, they evidently had a vague notion that they were about to be left, like orphans, in a cold and unkind world, by their Almighty Friend. Their hearts quailed and shrunk back at the thought. Most graciously does our Lord cheer them by words of deep and mysterious meaning. He tells them that His departure, however painful it might seem, was not an evil, but a good. They would actually find it was not a loss, but a gain. His bodily absence would be more useful than His presence.
It is vain to deny that this is a somewhat dark saying. It seems at first sight hard to understand how in any sense it could be good that Christ should go away from His disciples. Yet a little reflection may show us that, like all our Lord’s sayings, this remarkable utterance was wise, and right, and true. The following points, at any rate, deserve attentive consideration.
If Christ had not died, risen again, and ascended up into heaven, it is plain that the Holy Ghost could not have come down with special power on the day of Pentecost, and bestowed His manifold gifts on the Church. Mysterious as it may be, there was a connection in the eternal counsels of God, between the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit.
If Christ had remained bodily with the disciples, He could not have been in more places than one at the same time. The presence of the Spirit whom He sent down, would fill every place where believers were assembled in His name, in every part of the world.
If Christ had remained upon earth, and not gone up into heaven, He could not have become a High Priest for His people in the same full and perfect manner that He became after His ascension. He went away to sit down at the right hand of God, and to appear for us, in our human nature glorified, as our Advocate with the Father.
Finally, if Christ had always remained bodily with His disciples, there would have been far less room for the exercise of their faith and hope and trust, than there was when He went away. Their graces would not have been called into such active exercise, and they would have had less opportunity of glorifying God, and exhibiting His power in the world.
After all, there remains the broad fact that after the Lord Jesus went away, and the Comforter came down on the day of Pentecost, the religion of the disciples became a new thing altogether. The growth of their knowledge, and faith, and hope, and zeal, and courage, was so remarkable, that they were twice the men they were before. They did far more for Christ when He was absent, than they had ever done when He was present. What stronger proof can we require that it was expedient for them that their Master should go away!
Let us leave the whole subject with a deep conviction that it is not the carnal presence of Christ in the midst of us, so much as the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, that is essential to a high standard of Christianity. What we should all desire and long for is not Christ’s body literally touched with our hands and received into our mouths, but Christ dwelling spiritually in our hearts by the grace of the Holy Ghost.
v1.—[These things...spoken...not...offended.] The chapter we now begin is a direct continuation of the last chapter, without break or pause. Our Lord’s object in this first verse is to cheer and revive the minds of the Apostles, and to prevent them being discouraged by the persecution of the unbelieving Jews. "I have spoken the things which I have just been speaking, in order to obviate the depressing effect of the treatment you will receive. Lest you should be stumbled and offended by the conduct of your enemies, I have told you the things you have just heard."
Stier remarks that "these things" include both the warning of the world’s hatred and the promise of the witnessing Spirit. Foreknowledge of the world’s hatred would prevent the disciples being surprised and disappointed. The promise of the Spirit would cheer and encourage.
The word "offended" is literally "scandalized." It is a remarkable instance of a word which has greatly changed its meaning since the last translation of the Bible, to the great perplexity and injury of many Bible readers.
How great a stumbling-block it often is to young and unestablished Christians to find themselves persecuted and ill-used for their religion, it is needless to point out. Our Lord knew this, and took care to arm the eleven apostles with warnings. He never kept back the cross, or concealed the difficulties in the way to heaven.
v2.—[They shall put...out...synagogue.] In this verse our Lord tells the disciples most plainly what they must expect. "They will excommunicate you, and cast you out of the Jewish Church, and expel you from their assemblies." The Greek words are curious: "They will make you out-of-synagogue men." How great a grief and loss this was to a Jew we have little idea, unless we have studied the work of Christianity among the Jews in modern times. Nothing affects a Jew so much as expulsion from the synagogue, or excommunication.
There is no nominative here to which we can refer "they." It is an Hebraism equivalent to "You will be put out."
Hengstenberg observes, "The disciples were not to depart voluntarily out of the synagogue, but to await what would happen to them on a full proclamation of the Gospel. This gives a very intelligible hint to the faithful in times of the Church’s decline: viz., that they should keep far from their thoughts the idea of arbitrary secession. The new formation is right only when the casting out has gone before."
Calvin remarks, "We have no reason to be alarmed at the Pope’s excommunications, with which he thunders against us on account of the Gospel. They will do us no more injury than those ancient excommunications which were made against the apostles." The curse causeless shall not come.
[Yea...time cometh...killeth...service.] In this clause our Lord warns the eleven that they must not be surprised if even death was the final result of discipleship. There would be no length of persecution to which their enemies would not go. "The hour cometh when he who has killed you will think that in so doing he offers to God an acceptable service."
How true this has proved, the history of all religious persecution has abundantly showed. Who can doubt that Saul before his conversion was sincere? "I verily thought that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." (Acts 26:9.) The persecutions carried on in Spain, and Portugal, and France, and England, by Romanists against Protestants, are painful examples of the same thing. Men have actually thought that killing people was doing a holy and a good action.
The extent to which conscience may be blinded, until a man actually thinks that he is doing a godly deed, when in reality he is committing a huge sin, is one of the most painful phenomena in human nature. Many of those who burned our Reformers in the days of Queen Mary were sincere and in earnest. "Earnestness" is not the slightest proof that a man is right in his religion. It is one of the most monstrous idols of modern times. The folly of those who are content with "earnestness," and say that all "earnest" men go to heaven, is abundantly shown by this text.
Ferus remarks that "good intentions and meanings are no better than impiety, if they do not spring from God’s Word."
v3.—[And these things will they do, etc.] Here, as in a former verse, our Lord points to blind ignorance as the true cause of the enmity of the Jews against Himself and His disciples. "They do not rightly know my Father, in spite of their profession of religious knowledge; nor Me, whom the Father hath sent. Hence they hate and persecute." (See John 15:21.)
v4.—[But these things have I told, etc.] Here once more our Lord repeats His reasons for telling the disciples what they must expect. "I have told you what treatment you will receive, in order that you may not be surprised when the time of trial comes, but may remember that I foretold you all, and not be cast down. Nothing unforeseen, nothing unpredicted, you will feel, happens to us. Our Master told us it would be so."
The word "I," in the sentence, "that ye may remember that I told you," is emphatic in the Greek. It seems to mean, "Remember that I myself, your Master, told you."
Our Lord adds the reason why He had not dwelt on these trials before. "I did not tell you much of these things at the beginning of your discipleship, because I was with you, and would not disturb your minds with painful tidings while you were learning the first principles of the Gospel. But now that I am about to leave you, it is needful to forewarn you of things you are likely to meet with."
Of course it cannot be said that our Lord had never and in no sense before this time foretold persecution and the cross to His disciples. But it must mean that He did not think it needful to dwell much on the subject, so long as He was with them and taking care of them.
v5.—[But now I go...whither goest thou?] These words seem to convey a reproof to the disciples for not inquiring more earnestly about the heavenly home to which their Master was going. Peter, no doubt, had said with vague curiosity, "Whither goest Thou?" John 13:36); but his question had not originated in a desire to know the place, so much as in surprise that His Lord was going at all. Our Lord seems here to say, "If your hearts were in a right frame, you would seek to understand the nature of my going and the place to which I go."
Let us observe that the disciples, with all their grace, were slow to use their opportunities, and to seek the knowledge which they might have obtained. They had not because they asked not.
Let us observe that our Lord spoke of His departure as a "going back to Him that sent Him," His mission being finished and His work done.
v6.—[But because...sorrow...your heart.] Here our Lord continues the reproof of the last verse. The minds of the eleven were absorbed and overwhelmed with sorrow at the thought of their Master going, and they could think of nothing else. Instead of seizing the little time that was left, in order to learn more from His lips about His place and work in heaven, they were completely taken up with sorrow, and could think of nothing else but their Master’s departure.
We should do well to mark how mischievous overmuch sorrow is, and to seek grace to keep it in proper control. No affection, if uncontrolled, so disarranges the order of men’s minds, and unfits them for the duties of their calling.
v7.—[Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, etc.] In this verse we see our Lord mercifully condescending to show His disciples the necessity for His leaving them. It was expedient. It was for their good. It was for the real ultimate benefit of themselves and the whole Church that He should go away. If He did not go away the great outpouring of the Holy Ghost, so often promised, could not come down on them and the world. If He went away He would send the Comforter. If He did not go away the Comforter would not come.
There is undeniably much that is deep and mysterious about the contents of this verse. We can only speak with reverence of the matter it unfolds. It seems clearly laid down that the Holy Ghost’s coming down into the world with influence and grace, was a thing dependent on our Lord’s dying, rising again, and ascending into heaven. It seems to be part of the eternal covenant of man’s salvation that the Son should be incarnate, die, and rise again; and that then, as a consequence, the Holy Spirit should be poured out with mighty influence on mankind, and the Gentile Churches be brought into the fold, and Christianity spread over a vast portion of the world. This seems plainly taught, and this we must simply believe. If any one asks "why the Holy Ghost could not be poured down without Christ’s going away?" it is safest to reply, that we do not know.
One thing is very clear. The universal invisible presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church, is better than the visible bodily presence of Christ with the Church. Christ’s body could only be in one place. The Holy Ghost can be everywhere at one and the same time.—Whatever the disciples might think, it was far better for Christ to go up to heaven, and sit at God’s right hand as their Priest, and send down the Holy Ghost to be with the Church till He came again, than for Christ to tarry with them as He had done.—Flesh and blood might have liked better to keep Christ on earth, eating and drinking, and walking and talking in Palestine. But it was far better for the souls of men that Christ should finish His work, go up to heaven, take up His office there in the holy of holies, and send down the Holy Spirit on the Church and the world.
Calvin remarks, "Far more advantageous and far more desirable is that presence of Christ, by which He communicates Himself to us through the grace and power of His Spirit, than if He were present before our eyes."
Alford remarks, "The dispensation of the Spirit is a more blessed manifestation of God than was even the bodily presence of the risen Saviour."
Bishop Andrews remarks, "We shall never see the absolute necessity of the Holy Ghost’s coming, until we see the inconvenience of His not coming."
The expression, "I tell you the truth," is a very solemn, emphatic one. It is like, "Verily, verily I say, whether you believe me or not, it is true."
The expression, "I will send," seems again to point to the equal procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son and the Father. In another place it is, "The Father will send." Here, "I will send."
After all no text throws more light on this deep verse than Psalms 68:18 : "Thou hast ascended up on high, and received gifts for men; that the LORD God might dwell among them." These words surely point out that the Holy Ghost’s dwelling among men was a gift purchased by the Son.
Does not the verse teach us that those who make much of the "corporal presence" of Christ, so called, in the Lord’s Supper, as a thing we should hold and believe, are in great error? There is something of far more importance to the Church, between the first and second advents, than any corporal presence of Christ, and that is the presence of the Holy Ghost. This is the real presence we should make much of, and desire to feel more. Our question should be not, "Is Christ’s body here?"—but, "Is the Spirit, the Comforter here?"—Excessive craving after Christ’s bodily presence, before the second advent, is in reality a dishonouring of the Holy Ghost. We should make much of the Spirit.
Ecolampadius remarks, "Those who try to defend an eating of Christ, or a presence of Christ, in the Sacramental bread, as if His body was at the same time with us and in heaven, are manifestly at variance with this text."
Henry remarks here: "The presence of the Holy Spirit is greater comfort and advantage to us than the presence of Christ in the flesh. Christ’s bodily presence was comfortable, but the Spirit is more intimately a Comforter than Christ in His fleshly presence; because the Spirit can comfort all believers at once in all places, while Christ’s bodily presence can comfort but few, and that only in one place at once. The benefit of Christ’s presence was great, but the advantage of the Spirit’s renovation and holy inspiration is much greater."
When our Lord in this passage speaks of the Holy Spirit "coming," we must take care that we do not misunderstand His meaning. On the one hand, we must remember that the Holy Ghost was in all believers in the Old Testament days, from the very beginning. No man was ever saved from the power of sin, and made a saint, except by the renewing of the Holy Ghost. Abraham, and Isaac, and Samuel, and David, and the Prophets, were made what they were by the operation of the Holy Ghost.
On the other hand, we must never forget that after Christ’s ascension the Holy Ghost was poured down on men with far greater energy as individuals, and with far wider influence on the nations of the world at large, than He was ever poured out before. It is this increased energy and influence that our Lord has in view in the verses before us. He meant that after His own ascension the Holy Ghost would "come" down into the world with such a vastly increased power, that it would seem as if He had "come" for the first time, and had never been in the world before.
The difficulty of rightly explaining the wondrous sayings of our Lord in this place is undeniably very great. It may well be doubted whether the full meaning of His words has ever been entirely grasped by man, and whether there is not something at the bottom which has not been completely unfolded. The common, superficial explanation, that our Lord only meant that the work of the Spirit in saving individual believers is to convince them of their own sins, of Christ’s righteousness, and of the certainty of judgment at last, will hardly satisfy thinking minds. It is a short-cut and superficial way of getting over Scripture difficulties. It contains excellent and sound doctrine, no doubt, but it does not meet the full meaning of our Lord’s words. It is truth, but not the truth of the text. It is not individuals here and there whom He says the Spirit is to convince, but the world. Let us see whether we cannot find a fuller and more satisfactory interpretation.
For one thing, our Lord probably meant to show us what the Holy Ghost would do to the world of unbelieving Jews. He would convince them "of sin, and righteousness, and judgment."
He would convince the Jews "of sin." He would compel them to feel and acknowledge in their own minds, that in rejecting Jesus of Nazareth they had committed a great sin, and were guilty of gross unbelief.
He would convince the Jews of "righteousness." He would press home on their consciences that Jesus of Nazareth was not an impostor and a deceiver, as they had said, but a holy, just, and blameless Person, whom God had owned by receiving up into heaven.
He would convince the Jews of "judgment." He would oblige them to see that Jesus of Nazareth had conquered, overcome, and judged the devil and all his host, and was exalted to be a Prince and a Savior at the right hand of God.
That the Holy Ghost did actually so convince the Jewish nation after the day of Pentecost, is clearly shown by the Acts of the Apostles. It was He who gave the humble fishermen of Galilee such grace and might in testifying of Christ, that their adversaries were put to silence. It was His reproving and convincing power which enabled them to "fill Jerusalem with their doctrine." Not a few of the nation, we know, were savingly convinced, like Paul, and "a great company of priests" became obedient to the faith. Myriads more, we have every reason to believe, were mentally convinced, if they had not courage to come out and take up the cross. The whole tone of the Jewish people towards the end of the Acts of the Apostles is unlike what it is at the beginning. A vast reproving and convincing influence even where not saving, seems to have gone over their minds. Surely this was partly what our Lord had in view in these verses when He said, "The Holy Ghost shall reprove and convince."
For another thing, our Lord probably meant to foretell what the Holy Ghost would do for the whole of mankind, both Gentiles as well as Jews.
He would reprove in every part of the earth the current ideas of men about sin, righteousness, judgment, and convince people of some far higher ideas on these points than they had before acknowledged. He would make men see more clearly the nature of sin, the need of righteousness, the certainty of judgment. In a word, He would insensibly be an Advocate and convincing Pleader for God throughout the whole world, and raise up a standard of morality, purity and knowledge, of which formerly men had no conception.
That the Holy Ghost actually did so in every part of the earth, after the day of Pentecost, is a simple matter of fact. The unlearned and lowly Jews, whom He sent forth and strengthened to preach the Gospel after our Lord’s ascension, "turned the world upside down," and in two or three centuries altered the habits, tastes, and practices of the whole civilized world. The power of the devil received a decided check. Even infidels dare not deny that the doctrines of Christianity had an enormous effect on men’s ways, lives, and opinions, when they were first preached, and that there were no special graces or eloquence in the preachers that can account for it. In truth, the world was "reproved and convinced," in spite of itself; and even those who did not become believers became better men. Surely this also was partly what our Lord had in view when He said to His disciples, "When the Holy Ghost comes, He shall convince the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment."
Let us leave the whole passage, deep and difficult as it is, with a thankful remembrance of one comfortable promise which it contains. "The Spirit of truth," says our Lord to His weak and half-informed followers, "shall guide you into all truth." That promise was for our sakes, no doubt, as well as for theirs. Whatever we need to know for our present peace and sanctification, the Holy Ghost is ready to teach us. All truth in science, nature, and philosophy of course is not included in this promise. But into all spiritual truth that is really profitable, and that our minds can comprehend and bear, the Holy Spirit is ready and willing to guide us. Then let us never forget, in reading the Bible, to pray for the teaching of the Holy Ghost. We must not wonder if we find the Bible a dark and difficult book, if we do not regularly seek light from Him by whom it was first inspired. In this, as in many other things, "we have not because we ask not."
v8.—[And when He is come.] These words would be rendered more literally, "And He having come." Here, as in other places, we must remember that the "coming" of the Holy Ghost does not mean His coming for the first time into the world. He was in all the Old Testament saints, and no one ever believed or served God without His grace. Wherever there has been a true servant of God, there has been the Holy Ghost. The "coming" here mentioned means His coming down with larger power and influence on all mankind after the ascension of Christ, and specially on the day of Pentecost. From that day began an enormous extension of His influence and operations on human nature: an influence so much wider than it ever was before, that He is said to have "come."
Light Foot remarks that "the Holy Spirit had absented Himself from the Jewish nation for four-hundred years!" Hence the phrase "come" had a special significance.
[He will reprove...judgment.] This sentence is perhaps one of the most difficult in the whole of John’s Gospel. Men will probably never agree about it entirely till the Lord comes. There is something in it which seems to baffle all interpreters.
The commonest explanation is that which regards the passage as describing the ordinary operations of the Holy Ghost in saving God’s people. It is He who convinces people that they are sinners; convinces them that they must be saved by Christ’s righteousness, and not their own; and convinces them that there is a judgment to come. This interpretation is the one adopted by Alford and many others.—No doubt it contains truth, but it is not at all clear to me that it is the truth of the passage. It is open, in short, to grave objections, and, in common with some commentators, I cannot feel satisfied with it. For popular addresses this view may do pretty well. But, I venture to think, no man who sits down and calmly weighs the meaning of words, can fail to see that it is open to very serious objections.
Inward conviction is certainly not the meaning of the word rendered "reprove." It is rather refutation by proofs, convicting by unanswerable argument as an advocate, that is meant.
Believers and God’s people are not said to be the subjects of the Spirit’s reproving work. It is the "world" that is to be reproved; and this very world, in this last sermon, is continually put in contrast with Christ’s people.
Add to all this, that the latter part of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh verses can hardly be said to suit and square in with the verse we are considering. If our Lord had simply said, "The Spirit shall convince your hearers of their own sins, of my imputed righteousness, and of a day of judgment," it would have been plain enough. But unfortunately there are several things added which really do not chime in with this mode of interpretation. I repeat, that no intelligent Christian, of course, will think of denying that conviction of sin is a special and saving work of the Holy Ghost on the hearts of believers. But it does not therefore follow that it is the thing taught in this passage. It is truth, but not the truth of the text.
I believe the meaning to be something of this kind.—"After the day of Pentecost the Holy Ghost, the great Advocate of Me and my people, shall come into this world with such mighty power that He shall silence, convince, and stop the mouths of your enemies, and oblige them, however unwillingly, to think of Me and my cause very differently from what they think now. In particular, He shall convince them of their own sin, of my righteousness, and of the victory which I have won over Satan. He shall, in short, be a crushing Advocate whom the world shall not be able to resist or gainsay."
That this was one effect of the Holy Ghost coming down on the day of Pentecost, appears so frequently in the Acts of the Apostles that it is needless to quote texts. It is clear from the whole narrative of the earlier portion of Acts, that after the day of Pentecost there was a peculiar, restraining, irresistible power accompanying the work of the Apostles, which the unbelieving Jews, in spite of all their numbers and influence, were unable to withstand. Nor was this work of the Holy Ghost confined to the Jews. Wherever the Apostles and their fellow-labourers went, the same convincing power accompanied them, and obliged even the heathen to acknowledge Christianity as a great fact, even when they did not believe. Pliny’s famous letter to Trajan about the Christians, is a remarkable illustration of this.
I prefer this interpretation to the one above mentioned, as held by Alford and most commentators, for two simple reasons. One is that it suits the language of the passage, and the other view does not. The other reason is that it harmonizes with the context. Our Lord is encouraging the disciples against the world by the presence of the Comforter. And one special part of the encouragement is, that the Comforter shall do for them the work of an advocate, by silencing, crushing, refuting, and convincing their enemies.
After all, the enormous change which took place in the state of "the world" within a few centuries after Pentecost, is a strong proof to my own mind of the correctness of the view I advocate. About sin, Christ, and judgment, the opinions of men were completely transformed, even though men were unconverted. And who did this? The Holy Ghost. Nothing can account for the change but the miraculous interposition of the Holy Ghost.—I frankly confess that this view of the passage before us is not that of the vast majority of commentators. But in these matters I dare not call any man master, and must say what I think. Those who wish to see the view I maintain more fully argued out and supported, are advised to consult "Poole’s Annotations," and Suicer’s "Thesaurus" on the Greek word which we translate "reprove." Schleusner also seems to support the view.
Scott remarks here, "It is worthy of notice that an immense proportion of the human race, since the pouring out of the Holy Spirit after our Lord’s ascension, have been led to form such sentiments about sin, righteousness, and a future judgment, as the world up to that time had not the most remote conception of; so that a far higher standard of morals has been fixed throughout numerous nations than was at all thought of before."
v9.—[Of sin...believe not...Me.] I think this verse means, "The Holy Ghost shall first and foremost convince the world concerning sin, by obliging my enemies to see, though too late, that in not believing Me they made an enormous mistake, and committed a great sin. He shall make them feel at last that in rejecting Me, they rejected One whom they ought to have believed."
v10.—[Of righteousness...no more.] I think this verse means, "The Holy Ghost, secondly, shall convince the world concerning my righteousness, that I was a righteous Man, and not a deceiver. And this He will do after I have left the world, when the Jews can no longer see Me, and form any opinion of Me. I go to the Father, you know, and you will soon see me no more. But after I am gone the Holy Ghost will oblige my enemies to feel that I was a just and righteous Person, and was unjustly slain." Even the centurion who saw our Lord crucified, declared, "Certainly this was a righteous man." (Luke 23:47.)
v11.—[Of judgment...judged.] I think this verse means, "The Holy Ghost, in the last place, shall convince the world concerning the judgment and overthrow of Satan’s usurped power, by setting up a new kingdom everywhere, even my Church, by emptying the heathen temples of their worshippers, and by drying up the power of idolatry, and delivering vast portions of the world from its dominion."
The "Prince of this world," of course means the devil. How great His power was over mankind before Christ came into the world, and how great a change Christ’s death and resurrection produced in the general condition of mankind, are things which at this period of time we can hardly realize. The coming of the "kingdom of God," or "kingdom of heaven," was a reality 1800 years ago, of which we can now form little idea. The Holy Ghost produced a general conviction that a new order of things had begun, and that the old king and tyrant of the world was dethroned and stripped of much of his power.
Such is the view that I take of this passage. I do not pretend to deny that there are difficulties about it. I only maintain that these difficulties are fewer than those which surround the common idea attached to the passage.
Poole’s "Annotations" perhaps throw more light on the passage than any commentary I have met with. But even he says things which appear to me not warranted by the words of the evangelist.
v12.—[I have yet many things...you.] This clause seems to refer to the higher, fuller, deeper views of Christian truth which our Lord doubtless revealed to His disciples during the forty days between His resurrection and ascension, when He was continually "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God."
The absurdity and unreasonableness of concluding from this text that there are many other truths which Christ after His resurrection revealed to the Apostles, but which are not recorded in Scripture, is well exposed by Ecolampadius and other Protestant commentators.
[Ye cannot bear them now.] This word "bear" means literally "carry." It does not therefore signify things that the disciples could not "apprehend," but things that their minds were not yet strong enough to endure and digest.
Do we not see here that there are steps and degrees in Christian attainment ? A man may be a good man, and yet not able to endure the whole truth. We must teach people as they are able to bear, and be patient.
v13.—[Howbeit...He...guide...all truth.] Here our Lord gives another promise concerning the Holy Ghost. He shall guide disciples into all truth. He will lead and direct them into the full knowledge of all the doctrines of the Gospel, and all the truth they need to know.
It is needless to say that "all truth" here does not mean all scientific truth. It applies specially to spiritual truth.
This great promise does not appear to me to signify "inspiration," or the imparting of that power to write and teach infallibly which the Apostles possessed. I much prefer the view, that it is a wide promise belonging to the whole Church in every age. It means that special office of "teaching" by which the Spirit illuminates, guides, and informs the understandings of all believers. That the minds of true Christians are taught and enlightened in a manner wonderful to themselves as well as others, is a simple matter of Christian experience. That enlightenment is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the first step in saving religion. At the same time we must never forget that the disciples received an immense increase of spiritual knowledge after the day of Pentecost, and saw everything in religion far more clearly than they did before.
Alford observes, "No promise of universal knowledge, nor of infallibility, is hereby conveyed; but it is a promise to them and us, that the Holy Spirit shall teach and lead us, not as children under the tutors and governors of legal and imperfect knowledge, but as sons, making known to us all the truth of God. (Galatians 4:6.)
It is worth notice that in the Greek it is literally, "guide into all THE truth;" as if it specially meant "the truth concerning Me."
Poole remarks that the Greek word rendered "guide," is one of great emphasis, signifying not only a guide who will discover truth as the object of the understanding, but one who will bow the will to the doctrines of truth.
[For...not speak...Himself...hear...speak.] Here begins a list of things said about the Holy Ghost, which our weak capacities can hardly take in.
The clause before us seems meant to show the close and intimate union existing between the Spirit and the two other Persons in the blessed Trinity. "He shall not speak from Himself, independently of Me and my Father. He shall only speak such things as He shall hear from us."
The phrases "speak" and "hear" are both accommodations to man’s weakness. The Spirit does not literally "speak" or literally "hear." It must mean, "His teachings and guidings shall be those of One who is in the closest union with the Father and the Son."
"Of Himself" does not mean "about Himself," but "from Himself."
[He will show...things to come.] The second thing said about the Spirit, is that He will show "things to come." I can only suppose that this points to the prophetical revelation of the future of the Church which the Spirit was to impart to the disciples. He did so when He inspired Paul, Peter, Jude, and John to prophecy. The expression probably includes the destruction of Jerusalem, the removal of the Mosaic dispensation, the scattering of the Jews, the calling in of the Gentile Churches, and the whole history of their rise, progress, and final decay.
v14.—[He...glorify Me.] The third thing said of the Spirit, is that He shall "glorify Christ." He shall continually teach, and lead, and guide disciples to make much of Christ. Any religious teaching which does not tend to exalt Christ, has a fatal defect about it. It cannot be from the Spirit.
[He shall receive...mine...show you.] This is the fourth thing said of the Spirit in this place. He will take of the truth about Christ, and show it or reveal it to disciples. I can attach no other meaning to the phrase "mine." It is in the singular number,—"that thing which is mine,"—and I cannot see what it can mean but "truth concerning Me."
Alford remarks, ’’ This verse is decisive against all additions and pretended revelations, subsequent to and beside Christ; it being the work of the Spirit to testify to the things of Christ, and not to anything new or beyond Him."
v15.—[All things...Father...mine, etc.] The object of this deep verse seems to be to show the entire unity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the revelation of truth made to man. "The Holy Spirit shall show you things concerning Me, and yet things at the same time concerning the Father, because all things that the Father hath are mine."
Both this verse and the preceding one are strikingly calculated to humble a Bible reader, and make him feel how little he knows, at his very best, of the full meaning of some Scriptures. There are things in them which we must feel we do not comprehend. Beyond the great principle, that it is the special office of the Holy Spirit to glorify Christ, and to show disciples the whole truth concerning Christ, it is very hard to get.
May not the clause, "All things that the Father hath are mine," be specially put in to prevent our supposing that there can be any real separation between the things of Christ and the things of the Father? It is like "I and my Father are One." "All mine are Thine, and Thine are mine."—"Think not," our Lord seems to say, "when I speak of the Spirit showing you ’my things,’ that He will not show you the things of my Father. That would be impossible. There is so close an union between the Father and the Son, that the Spirit cannot show or teach the things of the one without the things of the other. In a word, He proceeds from the Father as well as from the Son."
Not all Christ’s sayings were understood by His disciples. We are told this distinctly in the passage we have now read.—"What is this that he saith? We cannot tell what he saith."—None ever spoke so plainly as Jesus. None were so thoroughly accustomed to His style of teaching as the Apostles. Yet even the Apostles did not always take in their Master’s meaning. Surely we have no right to be surprised if we cannot interpret Christ’s words. There are many depths in them which we have no line to fathom. But let us thank God that there are many sayings of our Lord recorded which no honest mind can fail to understand. Let us use diligently the light that we have, and not doubt that "to him that hath, more shall be given."
We learn, for one thing, in these verses, that Christ’s absence from the earth will be a time of sorrow to believers, but of joy to the world. It is written, "Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice." To confine these words to the single point of Christ’s approaching death and burial, appears a narrow view of their meaning. Like many of our Lord’s sayings on the last evening of His earthly ministry, they seem to extend over the whole period of time between His first and second advents.
Christ’s personal absence must needs be a sorrow to all true-hearted believers. "The children of the bride-chamber cannot but fast when the bridegroom is taken from them." Faith is not sight. Hope is not certainty. Reading and hearing are not the same as beholding. Praying is not the same as speaking face to face. There is something, even in the hearts of the most eminent saints, that will never be fully satisfied so long as they are on earth and Christ is in heaven. So long as they dwell in a body of corruption, and see through a glass darkly,—so long as they behold creation groaning under the power of sin, and all things not put under Christ,—so long their happiness and peace must needs be incomplete. This is what Paul meant when he said, "We ourselves, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:23.)
Yet this same personal absence of Christ is no cause of sorrow to the children of this world. It was not sorrow to the unbelieving Jews, we may be sure. When Christ was condemned and crucified, they rejoiced and were glad. They thought that the hated reprover of their sins and false teaching was silenced forever.—It is not to the careless and the wicked of our day, we may be sure. The longer Christ keeps away from this earth, and lets them alone, the better will they be pleased. "We do not want this Christ to reign over us," is the feeling of the world. His absence causes them no pain. Their so-called happiness is complete without Him. All this may sound very painful and startling. But where is the thinking reader of the Bible who can deny that it is true? The world does not want Christ back again, and thinks that it does very well without Him. What a fearful waking up there will be by-and-by!
We learn, for another thing in this verse, that Christ’s personal return shall be a source of boundless joy to His believing people. It is written, "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." Once more we must take care that we do not narrow the meaning of these words by tying them down to our Lord’s resurrection. They surely reach much further than this. The joy of the disciples when they saw Christ risen from the dead, was a joy soon obscured by His ascension and withdrawal into heaven. The true joy, the perfect joy, the joy that can never be taken away, will be the joy which Christ’s people will feel when Christ returns the second time, at the end of this world.
The second personal advent of Christ, to speak plainly, is the one grand object on which our Lord, both here and elsewhere, teaches all believers to fix their eyes. We ought to be always looking for and "loving His appearing," as the perfection of our happiness, and the consummation of all our hopes. (2 Peter 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:8.) That same Jesus who was taken up visibly into heaven, shall also come again visibly, even as He went. Let the eyes of our faith be always fixed on this coming. It is not enough that we look backward to the cross, and rejoice in Christ dying for our sins; and upwards to the right hand of God, and rejoice in Christ’s interceding for every believer. We must do more than this. We must look forward to Christ’s return from heaven to bless His people, and to wind up the work of redemption. Then, and then only, will the prayer of eighteen centuries receive its complete answer,—"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Well may our Lord say that in that day of resurrection and reunion our "hearts shall rejoice."—"When we awake up after His likeness we shall be satisfied." (Psalms 17:15.)
We learn, lastly, in these verses, that while Christ is absent believers must ask much in prayer. It is written, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."
We may well believe that up to this time the disciples had never realized their Master’s full dignity. They had certainly never understood that He was the one Mediator between God and man, in whose name and for whose sake they were to put up their prayers. Here they are distinctly told that henceforward they are to "ask in His name." Nor can we doubt that our Lord would have all His people, in every age, understand that the secret of comfort during His absence is to be instant in prayer. He would have us know that if we cannot see Him with our bodily eyes any longer, we can talk with Him, and through Him have special access to God. "Ask and ye shall receive," He proclaims to all His people in every age; "and your joy shall be full."
Let the lesson sink down deeply into our hearts. Of all the list of Christian duties there is none to which there is such abounding encouragement, as prayer. It is a duty which concerns all. High and low, rich and poor, learned and unlearned,—all must pray. It is a duty for which all are accountable. All cannot read, or hear, or sing; but all who have the spirit of adoption can pray. Above all, it is a duty in which everything depends on the heart and motive within. Our words may be feeble and ill-chosen, and our language broken and ungrammatical, and unworthy to be written down. But if the heart be right, it matters not. He that sits in heaven can spell out the meaning of every petition sent up in the name of Jesus, and can make the asker know and feel that he receives.
"If we know these things, happy are we if we do them." Let prayer in the name of Jesus be a daily habit with us every morning and evening of our lives. Keeping up that habit, we shall find strength for duty, comfort in trouble, guidance in perplexity, hope in sickness, and support in death. Faithful is He that promised, "Your joy shall be full;" and He will keep His word, if we ask in prayer.
v16.—[A little while, and ye shall, etc.] There is a difficulty in this verse which requires consideration. To what time does our Lord refer when He says, "a little while and ye shall not see Me," and "ye shall see Me"? There are two answers.
(a) Some think, as Chrysostom, Cyril, and Hengstenberg, that our Lord only meant, "in a few hours I shall be removed by death, and buried, and then you will not see Me; and again after three days I shall rise again, and then you will see Me."
(b) Others think, as Augustine, Maldonatus, and Wordsworth, that our Lord meant, "In a short time I shall leave the world, ascend up to heaven, and go to my Father, and you will see Me no more; and again, in comparatively short time, I shall return to the world at my second advent, and you will see Me again."
I decidedly prefer the second of these interpretations. To explain the words, "Ye shall not see Me," and "Ye shall see Me," by our Lord’s death and resurrection, seems to me a forced and unnatural interpretation. Moreover it completely fails to explain the words, "I go to the Father." Both here and all through the passage, I believe our Lord is speaking for the benefit of the whole Church until His coming again, and not merely for the benefit of the eleven apostles. The true sense is best seen by inverting the order of the words. "The time has arrived when I must leave the world, and go back again to my Father. The consequence is that in a little time you will no longer see Me with your bodily eyes, for I shall be in heaven and you on earth. But take comfort! In a little time I shall return again with power and great glory, and then you and all my believing people will see Me again."
It is worth notice, in support of the view I maintain, that the expression in Greek, "a little while," is almost the same as in Hebrews 10:37, when the second advent is clearly spoken of. Moreover the expression, "I go," is distinctly applied in several places to our Lord’s final departure from the world, and seldom, if ever, to our Lord’s death on the cross.
Alford thinks His meaning is manifold, and says, "[The words] ’Ye shall see Me’ began to be fulfilled at the resurrection, then receive its main fulfilment at Pentecost, and shall have its final fulfilment at the return of our Lord." This strikes me as a very untenable view.
It is curious that the first "Ye shall see" is in the present tense, and is an entirely different word to the second, which is a future. The first would be rendered literally, "Ye behold, or gaze upon Me."
v17.—[Then said some, etc.] This whole verse shows how little the disciples realized or understood our Lord’s meaning at present, when He spoke of His second advent. Yet when we consider how widely different are the meanings put on our Lord’s words by Christians in this day, we can hardly feel surprised that eleven weak believers, like the apostles, could not take in the full sense of the words when they first heard them, the night before the crucifixion.
v18.—[They said therefore...little while.] This sentence shows that it was the "time" mentioned—"a little while"—which perplexed the disciples. We may conjecture that they could not make out whether it meant "literally" a few days or hours, or figuratively a comparatively short time. And is not this precisely the point on which all students of unfulfilled prophecy disagree? The verse before us is curiously applicable to many a prophetical controversy.
[We cannot tell...saith.] These words would be more literally rendered, "We do not know what He is speaking of."
v19.—[Now Jesus knew...ask Him.] Here, as in other places, our Lord’s perfect knowledge of the hearts and thoughts of all around Him is pointed out. The word "ask," we should carefully note, is literally "to ask questions about a thing." It is the same word that is used in John 16:23 : "at that day ye shall ask Me nothing."
[And said, etc.] The word rendered, "Do ye inquire among yourselves of that?" would be more literally, "Concerning this, do ye seek with each other?"
v20.—[Verily...say unto you.] It should be observed in this verse that our Lord gives no reply to the inquiry of the disciples. He does not tell them what He meant by saying "a little while." Questions about times and dates are rarely answered in Scripture. Our attention is rather turned to practical things.
[Ye shall weep and lament, etc.] I believe, with Augustine and Bede, that the whole verse is meant to be a general description of the state of things between the first and second advents of Christ. "During my absence from the world after my ascension, you, my beloved disciples, and all believers after you, shall have many reasons to lament and mourn, like a bride separate from her husband, while the wicked world around you shall rejoice in my absence, and not wish to see Me return. During this long weary interval, you and all believers after you shall often have sorrow and tribulation; but at last, when I come again, your sorrow shall be turned into joy." In support of this view I advise the reader to study Matthew 9:15. The idea in each place seems the same. (Compare also Isaiah 65:14.)
Poole remarks, "The time of this life is the worldling’s hour, while it is for the most part the power of darkness to all who love and fear God. But as the worldling’s joy shall at last be turned into sorrow, so the godly man’s sorrow shall be turned into joy." (Isaiah 50:11; Matthew 25:23.)
The interpretation of Chrysostom, Cyril, and others, which makes the whole verse fulfilled by the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord, appears to me very unsatisfactory. It hardly affords time for the weeping and rejoicing which is here described. Nor is it quite clear that the day during which our Lord lay in the grave was a day of rejoicing to His enemies, if we may judge by their anxiety to prevent, if possible, His resurrection from the dead.
v21.—[A woman, etc.] This verse is an illustration of the whole state of the Church between the first and second advents of Christ. It was to be a time of pain, anxiety, and desire for deliverance, from which the only cessation would be at the personal return of Christ.
We are distinctly told in Romans 8:22, that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain until now." It is the normal state of things while Christ is absent. The second coming of the second Adam can alone restore joy to the world. The Church in Revelation 12:2, is compared to a woman "travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered." The wars and disturbances of the world are called in Matthew 24:8, the beginning of "sorrows;" and the word "sorrows" there means literally "the pains of a travailing woman."
The whole idea of the verse seems to be that the interval between Christ’s first and second advent will be, to the Church, a period of pain, sorrow, and anxiety, like the state of a woman expecting her delivery,—that the end of this period will be the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ the second time,—and that when our Lord does come the second time, the joy of the true Church will be so great, that the former sorrow and tribulation will be comparatively forgotten. The joy of seeing Christ will swallow up the afflictions of His absence. (Compare Romans 8:18-22; 2 Corinthians 4:17.)
v22.—[And ye now therefore, etc.] I apply to this verse the same principle of interpretation that I have applied to the preceding ones. I think our Lord is speaking of the sorrow and pain which believers would feel during the interval between His first and second advent. "You are now entering on a period of pain, sorrow, and tribulation. But fear not. It shall not be for ever. I will return and see you again. In that day your heart shall be filled and satisfied with joy, a joy which no one can ever take from you, a joy which shall be for ever."
I cannot bring myself to believe that this "see you again" can possibly refer to the short period of forty days between the resurrection and the ascension! Above all, I feel strongly that the words, "Your joy no man taketh from you," could certainly not be applied to the times of trouble, and tribulation, and persecution even unto death, which the primitive Church passed through in the beginning of its existence. The sensible joy of the primitive Church, beyond doubt, was often taken away, as when Stephen was martyred, James slain with the sword, and Peter put in prison. The second coming of Christ is the only time of universal and unbroken joy to which believers can look forward. Now we are in the wilderness, and our sorrowless home is yet to be reached. Then, and then only, will tears be wiped from all eyes.
v23.—[And in that day...ask...nothing.] In the first part of this verse I believe, with Augustine, that the "day" spoken of is the day of our Lord’s second advent. The "asking" is asking questions, or making inquiries, such as the disciples had wanted to make in John 16:19. "They were desirous to ask Him." The Greek word is the same, and quite different from the word rendered "ask" in the latter part of this verse. The meaning of the sentence is, "In the day of my second advent you will not need to ask Me any questions. You will then fully understand the meaning of many things which you do not understand now." The far superior light which believers will enjoy in the day of Christ’s second coming, is the chief point of the promise, as in 1 Corinthians 13:12.
Cyril and Chrysostom, however, apply "that day" to our Lord’s resurrection and the forty days following it.
[Verily, verily...whatsoever...ask...give it you.] In this portion of the verse our Lord renews and repeats His former promise about prayer. "Until that day when I come again, I solemnly declare that whatsoever things you shall ask in prayer from the Father in my name, He will give them to you."
The word "ask" in the Greek, in the latter part of this verse, is entirely different from the word rendered "ask" in the former part. Here it signifies seeking or petitioning in prayer. There it meant asking questions.
It is worth noticing here how very frequent and full are the encouragements to prayer which our Lord holds out in the Gospels.
The "whatsoever" of the text must of course be limited to whatsoever things are really for God’s glory, the disciples’ good, and the interests of Christ’s cause in the world.
v24.—[Hitherto...nothing in my name.] This sentence means that up to this time the disciples had not prayed for anything through the name and mediation of Christ. They had followed Him as a teacher, looked up to Him as a master, loved Him as a friend, believed Him as the Messiah predicted by the prophets. But they had not fully realized that He was the one Mediator between God and man, through whom alone God’s mercy could come down to sinners, and sinful creatures could draw near to God. They were now to learn that their Master was one far higher than any prophet, yea, even than Moses himself.
Daniel’s prayer, "Shine on Thy sanctuary for the Lord’s sake," is almost the only instance of a prayer in Messiah’s name in the Old Testament. (Daniel 9:17.)
[Ask...receive...joy...full.] This sentence means, "From henceforth begin the practice of asking everything in my name and through my mediation. Ask fully and confidently, and you shall receive fully and abundantly. So asking, you shall find the joy and comfort of your own souls enlarged and filled up."
John Gerhard here remarks: "The benefit of prayer is so great that it cannot be expressed!—Prayer is the dove which, when sent out, returns again, bringing with it the olive-leaf, namely peace of heart. Prayer is the golden chain which God holds fast, and lets not go until He blesses. Prayer is the Moses’ rod, which brings forth the water of consolation out of the rock of salvation. Prayer is Samson’s jaw-bone, which smites down our enemies. Prayer is David’s harp, before which the evil spirit flies. Prayer is the key to heaven’s treasures."
The Greek word rendered "full" means literally "filled up," being the perfect participle of the verb "to fill or fulfil."
The sentence teaches us that the joy and happiness of believers admit of degrees, and may be fuller at one time than at another. It also teaches that the joy of a believer depends much on his fervency and earnestness in prayer. He that prays little and coldly must not expect to know much of "joy and peace in believing."
We should not fail to observe how prayer is set before believers here as a plain duty, in the imperative mood, and also how desirous our Lord is that His people should be rejoicing Christians even now in the midst of a bad world. That religion which makes people melancholy and miserable and wretched-looking, is a very low type of Christianity, and far below the standard of Him who wished "joy to be full." (Compare 1 John 1:4.)
The passage we have now read is a very remarkable portion of Scripture, for two reasons. On the one hand, it forms a suitable conclusion to our Lord’s long parting address to His disciples. It was meet and right that such a solemn sermon should have a solemn ending. On the other hand it contains the most general and unanimous profession of belief that we ever find the Apostles making:—"Now are we sure that Thou knowest all things: . . . by this we believe that Thou camest forth from God."
That there are things hard to be understood in the passage it would be useless to deny. But there lie on its surface three plain and profitable lessons, to which we may usefully confine our attention.
We learn, for one thing, that clear knowledge of God the Father is one of the foundations of the Christian religion. Our Lord says to His disciples, "The time cometh when I shall show you plainly of the Father." He does not say, we should mark, "I will show you plainly about myself." It is the Father whom He promises to show.
The wisdom of this remarkable saying is very deep. There are few subjects of which men know so little in reality as the character and attributes of God the Father. It is not for nothing that it is written, "No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son shall reveal Him." (Matthew 11:27.) "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." (John 1:18.) Thousands fancy that they know the Father because they think of Him as great, and almighty, and all-hearing, and wise, and eternal, but they think no further. To think of Him as just and yet the justifier of the sinner who believes in Jesus,—as the God who sent His Son to suffer and die,—as God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself,—as God specially well-pleased with the atoning sacrifice of His Son, whereby His law is honored;—to think of God the Father in this way is not given to most men. No wonder that our Master says, "I will show you plainly of the Father."
Let it be part of our daily prayers, that we may know more of "the only true God," as well as of Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Let us beware alike of the mistakes which some make, who speak of God as if there was no Christ; and of the mistakes which others make, who speak of Christ as if there was no God. Let us seek to know all three Persons in the blessed Trinity, and give to each One the honor due to him. Let us lay hold firmly of the great truth, that the Gospel of our salvation is the result of the eternal counsels of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and that we are as thoroughly debtors to the love of the Father, as to the love of the Spirit, or the love of the Son. No one has learned of Christ so deeply as the man who is ever drawing nearer to the Father through the Son,—ever feeling more childlike confidence in Him,—and ever understanding more thoroughly that in Christ, God is not an angry judge, but a loving Father and Friend.
We learn, for another thing, in this passage, that our Lord Jesus Christ makes much of a little grace, and speaks kindly of those who have it. We see Him saying to the disciples: "The Father Himself loveth you, because ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God."
How weak was the faith and love of the Apostles! How soon, in a very few hours, they were buried under a cloud of unbelief and cowardice! These very men whom Jesus commends for loving and believing, before the morning sun arose, forsook Him and fled. Yet, weak as their graces were, they were real and true and genuine. They were graces which hundreds of learned priests and scribes and Pharisees never attained, and, not attaining, died miserably in their sins.
Let us take great comfort in this blessed truth. The Savior of sinners will not cast off them that believe in Him, because they are babes in faith and knowledge. He will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax. He can see reality under much infirmity, and where He sees it, He is graciously pleased. The followers of such a Savior may well be bold and confident. They have a Friend who despises not the least member of His flock, and casts out none who come to Him, however weak and feeble, if they are only true.
We learn, for another thing, in this passage, that the best Christians know but little of their own hearts. We see the disciples professing loudly, "Now Thou speakest plainly,—now we are sure,—now we believe." Brave words these! And yet the very men that spoke them, in a very short time were scattered like timid sheep, and left their Master alone.
We need not doubt that the profession of the eleven was real and sincere. They honestly meant what they said. But they did not know themselves. They did not know what they were capable of doing under the pressure of the fear of man and of strong temptation. They had not rightly estimated the weakness of the flesh, the power of the devil, the feebleness of their own resolutions, the shallowness of their own faith. All this they had yet to learn by painful experience. Like young recruits, they had yet to learn that it is one thing to know the soldier’s drill and wear the uniform, and quite another thing to be steadfast in the day of battle.
Let us mark these things, and learn wisdom. The true secret of spiritual strength is self-distrust and deep humility. "When I am weak," said a great Christian, "then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10.) None of us, perhaps, have the least idea how much we might fall if placed suddenly under the influence of strong temptation. Happy is he who never forgets the words, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall;" and, remembering our Lord’s disciples, prays daily: "Hold Thou me up and then I shall be safe."
We learn, lastly, from this passage, that Christ is the true source of peace. We read that our Lord winds up all His discourse with these soothing words: "These things have I spoken unto you, that ye might have peace." The end and scope of His parting address, He would have us know, is to draw us nearer to Himself as the only fountain of comfort. He does not tell us that we shall have no trouble in the world. He holds out no promise of freedom from tribulation, while we are in the body. But He bids us rest in the thought that He has fought our battle and won a victory for us. Though tried, and troubled, and vexed with things here below, we shall not be destroyed. "Be of good cheer," is His parting charge: "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
Let us lean back our souls on these comfortable words, and take courage. The storms of trial and persecution may sometimes beat heavily on us; but let them only drive us closer to Christ. The sorrows, and losses, and crosses, and disappointments of our life may often make us feel sorely cast down; but let them only make us tighten our hold on Christ. Armed with this very promise let us, under every cross, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Let us often say to our souls, "Why art thou cast down, and why art thou disquieted?" And let us often say to our gracious Master,—"Lord, didst not Thou say, Be of good cheer? Lord, do as Thou hast said, and cheer us to the end."
v25.—[These things...proverbs.] Our Lord seems here to begin winding up and concluding His discourse. The expression "these things," seems to me to apply to all that He had been saying since Judas went out, and He was alone with the eleven. "All these things I have been saying to you in language which you have not been able fully to understand, insomuch that I seem to have been speaking to you in parables or proverbs." The Greek word rendered "proverb" is only used five times in the New Testament, and in John 10:6 is translated parable.
Besser observes here, "From the very first words of our Lord’s farewell discourse,—’In my Father’s house are many mansions,’—up to the words concerning the travailing woman, the heavenly purport of the discourse is enwrapped in various similes and parables."
Do we not learn here that ministers must not refrain from telling their hearers many truths, which at the time they do not fully comprehend, in the hope that they will seek more knowledge, and comprehend afterwards the meaning of the things taught?
[But the time cometh...Father.] I believe the "time" here mentioned must be the time between our Lord’s resurrection and ascension, the great forty days when He taught the eleven disciples more fully than He had taught them before, and spoke more openly of the things of His Father.—I say this with diffidence. But I can see no other time to which our Lord could refer excepting this. It is evidently some personal instruction that He means, and not instruction by the invisible agency of the Holy Ghost. "The time is very close at hand, when my sacrifice on the cross having been accomplished, and my resurrection having taken place, I will show you openly and plainly the things concerning my Father, who I am, and what my relation to Him, and will no longer use parables and figures to convey my meaning."
The promise MAY possibly include the continual teaching of the Holy Spirit, which our Lord would give His disciples after His ascension; but the language seems rather to point to direct teaching from our Lord’s own mouth. Moreover, it is an "hour" that cometh, in the Greek, and not a continuous period of time. So in John 16:32, "the hour" means a time close at hand.
v26.—[At that day...ask in my name.] I believe this sentence must mean, "In the day following my resurrection, when the full nature of my mission and office is at last understood, you will begin to pray and ask in my name. Hitherto you have not done it. When I have risen from the dead, and opened your understandings, you will begin to do it."
I see insuperable objection to any other view. The "day" spoken of cannot be the day of Christ’s second advent, because prayer will not be needed then. Nor yet can it be the whole period of time between Christ’s first and second advent, because the passage which it is here bound up with belongs specially to the Apostles. (See John 16:27.) There remains, in my judgment, no reasonable explanation except the one already given.
[And I say not...pray...Father...you.] The meaning of this sentence seems to be, "It is not necessary to say that I will pray the Father to hear you and grant your requests. Not only shall I of course do this, but my Father also will willingly hear your prayer." This is the most natural meaning of the passage, in my judgment.
It is singular that the Greek word rendered "pray" at the end of the verse, is the same that is used in John 16:23 to signify "ask questions," or "make inquiry." But it is worth notice that the word seems specially used when our Lord is described as "praying" to the Father. (See John 17:9; John 17:20.)
v27.—[For the Father Himself, etc.] This verse is a continuation of the encouragement contained in the verse before. "You need not doubt the Father doing for you all that you ask in my name, because He loveth you for having loved Me, and believed my divine mission. He loves all who love Me, and believe on Me." (See John 14:23.)
Anton paraphrases the verse, "Ye need not so think of my intercession as if the Father were not Himself well disposed, but must first be coerced into kindness. No! He Himself loveth you, and Himself ordained my intercession."
We should notice here how graciously our Lord acknowledges the grace there was in the disciples, with all their weakness. When myriads of Jews regarded Jesus as an impostor, the eleven loved Him and believed in Him. Jesus never forgets to honour true grace, however much it may be mingled with infirmity.
v28.—[I came forth, etc.] This verse seems a farewell summary of the true nature of our Lord’s office and mission. It grows out of the last clause of the preceding verse. "You have believed that I came out from God. In so believing you have done well, for so it is. For the last time I repeat that my mission is divine. I came forth from the Father, and came into the world to be man’s Redeemer; and now, my work being finished, I am about to leave the world, and to go back again to my Father." This deep sentence contains more than at first sight appears. It points backward to our Lord’s persecution; it points forward to His resurrection and ascension into glory.
Augustine, quoted by Burgon, remarks, "When Christ came forth from the Father, He so came into the world as never to leave the Father; and He so left the world and went unto the Father as never to leave the world."
v29.—[His disciples said, etc.] The words of the disciples seem to be a reference to our Lord’s statement in the twenty-fifth verse, that "the time was coming when He would no more speak in proverbs, but show them plainly concerning the Father." The eleven appear to catch at that promise. "Even now Thou art speaking to us more plainly than we have ever heard Thee speaking before, and not in figurative language."
v30.—[Now are we sure, etc.] This is a peculiar verse. It is hard to see what there was in our Lord’s statement in John 16:28, to carry such conviction to the minds of the eleven, and to make them see things about their Master so much more clearly than they had seen them before. But the precise reason why words affect men’s minds, and lay hold on their attention at one time and not at another, is a deep mystery, and hard to explain. The very same truths which a man hears from one mouth and is utterly unimpressed, come home to him with such power from another mouth, that he will declare he never heard them before! Nay, more: the very same speaker who is heard without attention one day, is heard another day teaching the very same things with the deepest interest, by the same hearers, and they will tell you they never heard them before!
The words, "We are sure," are literally, "We know." They mean, "We know now that Thou knowest all things concerning Thyself, Thy mission, and the Father."
The words, "Thou needest not that any man should ask Thee," mean, "Thou hast told us so plainly who and what Thou art, that there is no need for any one to ask Thee questions, or seek further explanation."
The words, "By this we believe," must mean, "We are convinced and persuaded by the statement Thou hast just made," in John 16:28.
v31.—[Jesus answered...now believe.] In this verse our Lord warns the eleven of their self-ignorance. They thought they believed. They did not doubt their own faith. Let them not be too confident. They would soon find they had an evil root of unbelief within. Never do we find our Lord flattering His disciples. Warnings against self-confidence need to be continually pressed on believers. Nothing is so deceptive as feeling and excitement in religion. We know not the weakness of our hearts.
Alford thinks that "do ye now believe," should not be rendered as a question, but as an affirmation. "You now believe, I know." The Greek admits of either view. I prefer the question.
v32.—[Behold the hour...leave Me alone.] In this sentence our Lord reveals to His confident hearers, the amazing fact that they, even they, would in a very short time forsake Him, desert Him, run away, and fail in faith altogether. "Behold!" He begins, to denote how wonderful it was, "the hour cometh, yea, is now come. This very night, before the sun rises, the thing is immediately going to take place. Ye shall be scattered, like sheep fleeing from a wolf, one running one way and another another, every man going off to his own things, his own friends, or his own house, or his own place of refuge. Ye shall leave Me alone. You will actually allow Me to be taken off by myself as a prisoner to the high priests and to Pontius Pilate, and not so much as one of you will stand by Me."
How little the best of believers know of their own hearts, or understand how they may behave in times of trial! If any men were ever fully and fairly warned of their coming failure, the disciples were. We can only suppose that they did not understand our Lord, or did not realize the magnitude of the trial coming on them, or fancied that He would work some miracle at the last moment, for His deliverance.
The Greek phrase rendered "His own," means literally, "His own things." It may either be "His own business," or as the margin renders it, "His own home."
[And yet...not alone...with Me.] In this teaching and touching sentence, our Lord reminds His disciples that their desertion would not deprive Him of all comfort. "And yet, when you are scattered, and have left Me, I am not entirely alone, because the Father is always with Me."
We need not doubt that one great end of the sentence was to teach the disciples where they must look themselves in their own future trials. They must never forget that God the Father would always be near them and with them, even in the darkest times. A sense of God’s presence is one great source of the comfort of believers. The last promise in Matthew, before the ascension, was, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20.)
John Huss, the famous martyr, who was burned at Constance, is said to have drawn special comfort from this passage, during the lonely imprisonment which preceded his death.
v33.—[These things...peace.] In this concluding verse our Lord sums up the reasons why He has spoken the things contained in this whole discourse. "All these things I have spoken for this one great end,—that you may have inward peace by resting your souls on Me, and keeping up close communion with Me." It is one great secret of comfort in our religion to draw all our consolation from Christ, and live on Him. "He is our peace." (Ephesians 2:14.)
[In the world...tribulation.] Here our Lord tells the eleven, plainly and honestly, that they must expect trouble and persecution from the world. He does not conceal that the way to heaven is not smooth and strewed with flowers. On the contrary, "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12.) To keep back from young beginners in religion the cross and the battle, is not teaching as Christ taught.
[But be...good cheer...overcome...world.] Here our Lord winds up all by bidding the disciples take courage, cheer up, be confident, and go forward without fear. The world in which they lived was a vanquished enemy. He, their Master, had "overcome the world." This means, I believe, not merely that He had given them an example of successful fighting by overcoming the fear of the world and the flattery of the world, but something far more important. He had overcome the Prince of this world, and was just about to win His final victory over him on the cross. Hence His disciples must remember that they were contending with an enemy already sorely beaten. "Ye need not fear the world, because I am just leading captive its King, and about to triumph over him on the cross."
Luther, quoted by Besser, here remarks, "Thus is the ’goodnight’ said, and the hand shaken. But very forcibly does He conclude with that very thing around which His whole discourse has turned. Let not your heart be troubled. Be of good cheer."
No devout commentator, I think, can leave this wonderful chapter without deeply feeling how little we understand of the depths of Scripture. There are many words and sentences in it about which we can only give conjectures, and must admit our inability to speak positively. Nowhere in Scripture, I must honestly confess, do commentators appear to me to contribute so little light to the text, as in their interpretation of this chapter.
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 16". "J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29