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(The Preface to this Volume can be found below, after "Notes".)
THE chapter we now begin is divided from the preceding one by a wide interval of time. The many miracles which our Lord wrought, while He "walked in Galilee," are passed over by John in comparative silence. The events which he was specially inspired to record are those which took place in or near Jerusalem.
We should observe in this passage the desperate hardness and unbelief of human nature. We are told that even our Lord’s "brethren did not believe in Him." Holy and harmless and blameless as He was in life, some of his nearest relatives, according to the flesh, did not receive Him as the Messiah. It was bad enough that His own people, "the Jews, sought to kill Him." But it was even worse that "His brethren did not believe."
That great Scriptural doctrine, man’s need of preventing and converting grace, stands out here, as if written with a sunbeam. It becomes all who question that doctrine to look at this passage and consider. Let them observe that seeing Christ’s miracles, hearing Christ’s teaching, living in Christ’s own company, were not enough to make men believers. The mere possession of spiritual privileges never yet made any one a Christian. All is useless without the effectual and applying work of God the Holy Ghost. No wonder that our Lord said in another place, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." (John 6:44.)
The true servants of Christ in every age will do well to remember this. They are often surprised and troubled to find that in religion they stand alone. They are apt to fancy that it must be their own fault that all around them are not converted like themselves. They are ready to blame themselves because their families remain worldly and unbelieving. But let them look at the verse before us. In our Lord Jesus Christ there was no fault either in temper, word, or deed. Yet even Christ’s own "brethren did not believe in Him."
Our blessed Master has truly learned by experience how to sympathize with all his people who stand alone. This is a thought "full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort." He knows the heart of every isolated believer, and can be touched with the feeling of his trials. He has drunk this bitter cup. He has passed through this fire. Let all who are fainting and cast down, because brothers and sisters despise their religion, turn to Christ for comfort, and pour out their hearts before Him. He "has suffered Himself being tempted" in this way, and He can help as well as feel. (Hebrews 2:18.)
We should observe, for another thing, in this passage, one principal reason why many hate Christ. We are told that our Lord said to His unbelieving brethren, "The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil."
These words reveal one of those secret principles which influence men in their treatment of religion. They help to explain that deadly enmity with which many during our Lord’s earthly ministry regarded Him and His Gospel. It was not so much the high doctrines which He preached, as the high standard of practice which He proclaimed, which gave offense. It was not even His claim to be received the Messiah which men disliked so much, as His witness against the wickedness of their lives. In short, they could have tolerated His opinions if He would only have spared their sins.
The principle, we may be sure, is one of universal application. It is at work now just as much as it was eighteen hundred years ago. The real cause of many people’s dislike to the Gospel is the holiness of living which it demands. Teach abstract doctrines only, and few will find any fault. Denounce the fashionable sins of the day, and call on men to repent and walk consistently with God, and thousands at once will be offended. The true reason why many profess to be infidels, and abuse Christianity, is the witness that Christianity bears against their own bad lives.—Like Ahab, they hate it, "because it doth not prophesy good concerning them, but evil." (1 Kings 22:8.)
We should observe, lastly, in this passage, the strange variety of opinions about Christ, which were current from the beginning. We are told that "there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay, but he deceiveth the people." The words which old Simeon had spoken thirty years before were here accomplished in a striking manner. He had said to our Lord’s mother, "This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34-35.) In the diversities of opinion about our Lord which arose among the Jews, we see the good old man’s saying fulfilled.
In the face of such a passage as this, the endless differences and divisions about religion, which we see on all sides, in the present day, ought never to surprise us. The open hatred of some toward Christ,—the carping, fault-finding, prejudiced spirit of others,—the bold confession of the few faithful ones,—the timid, man-fearing temper of the many faithless ones,—the unceasing war of words and strife of tongues with which the Churches of Christ are so sadly familiar,—are only modern symptoms of an old disease. Such is the corruption of human nature, that Christ is the cause of division among men, wherever He is preached. So long as the world stands, some, when they hear of Him, will love, and some will hate,—some will believe, and some will believe not. That deep, prophetical saying of His will be continually verified: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth, I came not to send peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34.)
What do we think of Christ ourselves? This is the one question with which we have to do. Let us never be ashamed to be of that little number who believe on Him, hear His voice, follow Him, and confess Him before men. While others waste their time in vain jangling and unprofitable controversy, let us take up the cross and give all diligence to make our calling and election sure. The children of this world may hate us, as it hated our Master, because our religion is a standing witness against them. But the last day will show that we chose wisely, lost nothing, and gained a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
v1.—[After these things Jesus walked in Galilee.] These Words cover a space of about six months. The events of the last chapter took place about the time of the Passover, in spring. The events of the chapter we now begin took place in autumn, at the feast of tabernacles. What our Lord did in Galilee during these six months John passes over in silence. His Gospel, with the exception of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 6th chapters, is almost entirely taken up with our Lord’s doings in or near Jerusalem. He was, at this period of His ministry, entirely absent from Jerusalem, it would seem, for about eighteen months.
The expression "walked" must be taken figuratively. It simply means, that our Lord "lived, dwelt, sojourned, was going to and fro, and passing His time." The Greek word is in the imperfect tense, and denotes a continuous action or habit.
[He would not walk in Jewry.] This would be more literally rendered, "He did not will, or desire, or choose to walk." The use of the word "Jewry" by our translators is to be regretted, and seems uncalled for. The Greek word so rendered is the same that is rendered "Judæa" in the third verse. (John 7:3.)
[Because the Jews sought to kill Him.] By "the Jews" we must understand the leaders and rulers of the Jewish nation. There is no proof that the lower orders felt the same enmity that the upper classes did against our Lord. "The common people heard Him gladly." (Mark 12:37.) The depth and bitterness of this hatred against Christ may be seen in their wish to kill Him. It seems to have been a settled plan with the Jews from the time when the miracle was wrought at the pool of Bethesda. (John 5:16, John 5:18.) They could neither answer Him, nor silence Him, nor prevent the common people listening to Him. They resolved therefore to kill Him.
Our Lord’s example recorded in this verse shows clearly that Christians are not meant to court martyrdom, or wilfully expose themselves to certain death, under the idea that it is their duty. Many primitive martyrs seem not to have understood this.
v2.—[Jews’ feast of tabernacles.] This expression, like many others in John’s Gospel, shows that he wrote for the Gentiles, who knew little of Jewish customs and feasts. Hence "the Jews’ feast."
The feast of tabernacles was one of the three great feasts in the Jewish year, when, by God’s command, all pious Jews went up to Jerusalem. (Deuteronomy 16:16.) It was held in autumn, after the completion of the harvest, in the seventh month. The time of the Jewish "Passover" answered to our Easter, "Pentecost" to our Whitsuntide, and "Tabernacles" to our Michaelmas. The seventh month was remarkable for the number of ordinances which the law of Moses required the Jews to observe. On the first day was the feast of trumpets, on the tenth day was the day of atonement, and on the fifteenth began the feast of tabernacles.
There are several things peculiar to the feast of tabernacles, which ought to be remembered in reading this chapter, because some of them throw light on it. (1) It was occasion of special mirth and rejoicing with the Jews. They were ordered to dwell in booths, or tabernacles made of branches, for seven days, in remembrance of their dwelling in temporary booths when they came out of Egypt, and to "rejoice before the LORD." (Leviticus 23:39-43.) (2) It was a feast at which more sacrifices were offered up than at any of the Jewish feasts. (Numbers 29:12-34.) (3) It was a feast at which, once every seven years, the law was publicly read to the whole people. (4) It was a feast at which water was drawn from the pool of Siloam every day with great solemnity, and poured upon the altar, while the people sung the 12th chapter of Isaiah. (Isaiah 12:1-6.) (5) It was a feast which followed close on the great day of atonement, when the peculiarly typical ordinances of the scapegoat, and the High Priest going once in the year into the holy of holies, were fresh in the minds of the people. These things should be carefully noted, and remembered, as we read through the chapter.
Josephus calls the feast of tabernacles "the holiest and greatest feast of the Jews." It was a Rabbinical saying, "The man who has not seen these festivities does not know what a jubilee is."
Whether this very year, when our Lord went to the feast of tabernacles, was the precise seventh year in which the public reading of the law took place, we cannot now know for certainty. Whether the custom of dwelling in booths was literally kept up when our Lord was on earth may also be matter of question. It certainly had not been observed for many years in the days of Nehemiah. (Nehemiah 8:17.) But that this feast was kept up with extraordinary festivity and rejoicing in the latter days of the Jewish dispensation is testified by all Jewish writers.
It was in the middle of this public rejoicing, and the concourse of Jews from every part of the world, that the things recorded in this chapter took place. It stands to reason that all that our Lord said and did this week must have been more than usually public, and would necessarily attract great attention.
Wordsworth, Burgon, and others, consider the feast of tabernacles to have been a very significant type of our Lord’s incarnation. I confess that I am unable to see it. If the feast was typical at all, which is not certain, I venture the conjecture, that it was meant to be a type of our Lord’s second advent. My reasons are these:—
(a.) It was the last in order of the Jewish feasts every year, and formed the completion of the annual routine of Mosaic ordinances. It wound up all.
(b.) It was kept at the end of harvest, when the year’s work was done, and the fruits were all gathered in.
(c.) It was an occasion of special rejoicing and festivity more than any of the feasts. The dwelling in booths seems to have been a circumstance of the feast less essential than the rejoicing.
(d.) It followed immediately after the feast of trumpets, and the day of atonement. On that day the High Priest went into the holy of holies and then came out to bless the people. (See Isaiah 27:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:16.)
(e.) It followed immediately after the jubilee every fiftieth year. That jubilee, and proclamation of liberty to all, was in the seventh month.
(f.) It is that special feast which, after the Jews are restored and Jerusalem rebuilt, the nation are yet to keep in the future kingdom of Christ. (Zechariah 14:16.)
I venture this conjecture with much diffidence; but I think it deserves consideration. In the six points I have mentioned, I see much more of the second advent than of the first. To my eyes the feast of passover was a type of Christ crucified;—the feast of pentecost, of Christ sending forth the Holy Ghost in this dispensation;—the feast of tabernacles, of Christ coming again to gather His people in one joyous company, to reap the harvest of the earth, to wind up this dispensation, to come forth and bless His people, and to proclaim a jubilee to all the earth.
v3.—[His brethren.] Who these "brethren" were is a matter of dispute. Some think, as Alfort, Stier, and others, that they were literally our Lord’s own brethren, and the children of Mary by Joseph, born after our Lord’s birth. (See Psalms 69:8.)—Some think, as Theophylact and others, that they were the children of Joseph by a former marriage, and brought up by Mary under the same roof with our Lord.—Others think, as Augustine, Zwingle, Musculus, and Bengel, that the word "brethren" does not necessarily mean more than cousins or kinsmen. (See 1 Chronicles 23:22.) This is the most probable opinion. I take these "brethren" to have been relatives and kinsmen of Joseph and Mary, living at Nazareth, or Capernaum, or elsewhere in Galilee,—who naturally observed all our Lord’s doings with interest and curiosity, but at present did not believe on Him. To suppose, as some do, that these brethren were some of our Lord’s Apostles, is to my mind a most improbable theory, and flatly contrary to the 5th verse of this chapter. (John 7:5.)
If Mary really had sons after the birth of our Lord, it certainly seems strange that our Lord should commend her to the care of John, on the cross, and not to her own sons, His half-brethren. That at the later part of His Ministry He had some "brethren" who were not Apostles, but believed, is clear from Acts 1:14. But whether they were the "brethren" of the text before us, we have no means of ascertaining.
[Depart...go into Judæa, that Thy disciples, etc.] This recommendation, as well as the next verse, looks like the advice of men who as yet were not convinced of our Lord’s Messiahship. The expression "that Thy disciples may see," seems also to indicate that the speakers were not yet of the number of our Lord’s disciples. The language is that of bystanders looking on, waiting to see how the question is to be settled, before they make up their own minds. It is as though they said, "Make haste, rally a party round Thee, show some public proof that Thou art the Christ, and gather adherents." The "works" here mentioned must evidently mean miracles. This speech seems to imply that our Lord had a party of disciples in Judæa and at Jerusalem. Many, it should be remembered, "believed on Him" at the first passover He attended. (John 2:23.)
v4.—[For there is no man, etc.] This sentence is a kind of proverbial saying. Every one knows that if a man seeks to be known openly, it is no use to do his work secretly.
[If thou do these things, show thyself to the world.] There seems to be a latent sneer about this sentence. "If Thou really art doing miracles to prove Thyself the Messiah, do not continue to hide Thyself here in Galilee. Go up to Jerusalem, and do miracles there." That the speakers said this from an honest zeal for God’s glory, and a sincere desire to have our Lord known by others as well as themselves, is a view that I cannot think probable.
Some think that the words "if Thou doest," mean "since Thou doest," and see a parallel in Colossians 3:1,—where "if" does not imply any doubt whether the Colossians were "risen with Christ." Lampe thinks it means, "if Thou really and truly, not illusively, doest miracles."
The false standard of an unconverted man is very manifest in this and the preceding verse. Such an one has no idea of waiting for man’s praise and favor, and being content without it if it does not come. He thinks that a religion should have the praise of the world, and labor to get it. The man of God remembers that true religion does not "cry, nor strive," not court publicity.
v5.—[For neither...brethren believe.] These words appear to me to admit of only one meaning. They mean, that these brethren of our Lord had at present no faith at all. They did not yet believe that Jesus was the Christ. They had no grace. They were not converted. The idea of some that the words mean, "His brethren did not fully and entirely believe in Him," seems to me utterly without foundation. It cannot, moreover, be reconciled with the language that soon follows.—"The world cannot hate you," etc. Such language cannot be applied to disciples. The whole teaching of the Bible shows clearly that it was quite possible to be a relative of Christ according to the flesh and yet not be converted. He that does God’s will is as dear to Christ as "brother, or sister, or mother." (Mark 3:35.)
How frequently even the natural brethren of God’s most eminent saints have been graceless and ungodly, every Bible-reader must often have observed. The cases of the brothers of Abel, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and David, will occur to our minds.
We should learn from a verse like this the desperate hardness of man’s heart, the absolute necessity of grace to make any one a disciple, and the extreme danger of familiarity with high spiritual privileges. We should remember too, that a man may be a truly good and holy man, and yet not have converted relatives. No one can give grace to his own family. "A prophet is not without honor but in his own country." (Mark 6:4.) Even our Lord was not believed by all around Him. He can truly sympathize with all His people who are in a similar position.
v6.—[My time is not yet come.] These words must mean that our Lord did everything during His earthly ministry according to a pre-ordained plan, and that He could take no step except in harmony with that plan. He doubtless spoke with a Divine depth of meaning that none but Himself could comprehend, and that must have been unintelligible at the time to His "brethren." To them His words would probably convey nothing more than the idea that for some reason or other He did not think the present a favorable opportunity for going to Jerusalem.
[Your time is always ready.] This sentence must mean, that to unconverted people, like our Lord’s brethren, it could make no matter what time they went up. All times were alike. They would excite no enmity, and run no risk.
A Christian not possessing foreknowledge can only pray for guidance and direction as to the steps of his life, and the ways and times of his actions; and having prayed, then make the best use of his judgment, trusting that a faithful God will not let him make mistakes.
v7.—[The world cannot hate you.] These words surely settle the question as to the present state of our Lord’s brethren. They were yet unconverted. Our Lord says, in another place,—"If ye were of the world, the world would love his own." (John 15:19.)
[Me it hateth because I testify...works...evil.] The true reason of this enmity of many of the Jews against Christ is here distinctly indicated. It was not merely His claims to be received as the Messiah. It was not merely the high and spiritual doctrine He preached. It was rather His constant testimony against the sinful lives and wicked practices of the many in His day. That adultery, covetousness, and hypocrisy were rife and common among the leading Pharisees, is evident from many expressions in the Gospels. It was our Lord’s witness against these darling sins that enraged His enemies.
The wickedness of human nature is painfully shown in this sentence. Christ was "hated." It is an utter delusion to suppose that there is any innate response to perfect moral purity, or any innate admiration of "the true, the pure, the just, the kind, the good, and the beautiful," in the heart of man. God gave man, 1800 years ago, a perfect pattern of purity, truth, and love, in the person of our Lord while He was upon earth. And yet we are told He was "hated."
True Christians must never be surprised if they are "hated" like their Lord. "The disciple is not above his Master."—"Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you." (Matthew 10:24; 1 John 3:13.) In fact the more like Christ they are, the more likely to be "hated." Moreover, they must not be cast down and make themselves miserable, under the idea that it is their inconsistencies the world hates, and that if they were more consistent and lovely in life the world would like them better. This is a complete mistake, and a common delusion of the devil. What the world hates about Christians is neither their doctrines, nor their faults, but their holy lives. Their lives are a constant testimony against the world, which makes the men of the world feel uncomfortable, and therefore the world hates them.
Let us note, that unpopularity among men is no proof that a Christian is wrong, either in faith or practice. The common notion of many, that it is a good sign of a person’s character to be well-spoken of by everybody, is a great error. When we see how our Lord was regarded by the wicked and worldly of His day, we may well conclude that it is a very poor compliment to be told that we are liked by everybody. There can surely be very little "witness" about our lives if even the wicked like us. "Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you." (Luke 6:26.) That sentence is too much forgotten.
Erasmus used to say, that Luther might have had an easy life, if he had not touched the Pope’s crown, and the monks’ bellies.
Bengel observes, "Those who please all men, at all times, ought deservedly to look on themselves with suspicion."
v8.—[Go ye up...this feast.] These words can hardly be called a command. They rather mean, "If you wish to go at once, go, and do not tarry for Me."
[I go not up yet...my time is not yet full come.] Here the reason already given and commented on is repeated. Our Lord did not say He would not go to the feast, but Not yet. There was "a time" for all His actions and every step of His Ministry, and that time had not yet fully arrived; or, as the Greek literally means, was not "fulfilled." True Christians should remember that, like their Master on this occasion, they and worldly men cannot well work and act and move together. They will often find it so. Their principles are different. Their reasons and motives of action are different. They will often find that "two cannot walk together except they are agreed."
It seems strange that any reasonable person should see difficulty in this passage, as if it threw a color of doubt on our Lord’s veracity. Yet Augustine has a Homily on the subject in defense of our Lord. Surely the simplest and most natural view is, that our Lord meant, "I am not going up yet;" and "am not going, at any rate, in the public caravan with yourselves." This is Chrysostom’s view and Theophylact’s. At an early period Porphyry tried to fasten on our Lord the charge of inconstancy of purpose, out of this passage. An enemy of Christianity must be sadly at a loss for objections, if he can find no better than one founded on this place.
v9.—[When...said these words...abode...Galilee.] This means, that He staid at the place where this conversation took place, while His brethren started on their journey to Jerusalem. What place in Galilee we are not told.
v10.—[But when...brethren...gone up, then went He.] We are not told what interval there was between our Lord’s setting off for Jerusalem, and His brethren’s departure. The words before us would seem to indicate that He set off very soon after them. One reason perhaps for our Lord not going with them was His desire to avoid being made a public show by His relatives. They had very likely a carnal desire to call attention to Him, and to rally a party of adherents round Him, for their own worldly ends. To avoid affording any opportunity for this, our Lord would not go in their company. He had not forgotten, no doubt, that in Galilee there was a party who once would fain have "taken Him by force to make Him a king." (John 6:15.) He wished to keep clear of that party.
[Not openly, but...in secret.] This probably only means that our Lord did not go in the caravan, or large company of His kinsmen, who according to custom when up together from Galilee, but in a more private manner.—How large the caravans or gatherings of fellow-travelers going up to the three great feasts must have been, we may easily see from the account of our Lord being not missed by Mary and Joseph at first, when He went up to Jerusalem with them at the age of twelve. "Supposing Him to have been in their company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance." (Luke 2:44.)—Our Lord never sought publicity but once, and that was when He entered Jerusalem, at the last passover, just before His crucifixion. Then he wanted to draw attention to the great sacrifice He was about to offer up on the cross. The contrast between His conduct on that occasion and the present one is very remarkable.
When it says that "He went in secret," it does not necessarily mean that He went alone. There is no reason to suppose that His own chosen Apostles had gone without Him. It only means that He did not go up publicly in the company of all "His kinsfolk and acquaintance" from Galilee.
v11.—[Then the Jews sought Him.] If, as usually is the case in John, the "Jews" here mean the rulers and Pharisees, there can be little doubt that they sought Jesus in order to kill Him, as the first verse tells us they wished to do. They naturally concluded that, like all devout Jews, He would come up to Jerusalem to the feast.
[Where is He?] Here, as in many other places, the Greek word rendered "he" implies dislike and contempt. It is as if they said, "that fellow" (see Matthew 27:63), "that deceiver."
v12.—[There was much murmuring.] As a general rule the Greek word rendered "murmuring" means an under-current of discontent or dislike, not openly expressed. (Thus, Acts 6:1.) But here, and at John 7:32, it does not seem to mean more than muttering, and private conversation, implying only that people were not satisfied about our Lord, and privately talked much to one another about Him.
[The people.] The word in the Greek is in the plural, and evidently means the multitude, or crowd of persons who were gathered at Jerusalem on account of the feast, in contradistinction to the rulers who are called "the Jews."
[Some...good man: others...deceiveth...people.] These expressions show the feeling of the common people towards our Lord, and are doubtless indicative of the classes from which the two opinions came. The class of simple-minded, true-hearted Israelites, who had sufficient independence to think for themselves, would say of our Lord, "He is a good man." So also would the Galileans, probably, who had seen and heard most of our Lord’s ministry. On the other hand, the class of carnal Jews who thought nothing of true religion, and were led like a mob at the beck of the priests and Pharisees, would probably take their cue from the Rulers, and say, "He deceiveth the people," simply because they were told so. Such, probably, was the feeling of the lower orders at Jerusalem.
Let it be noted that Christ is, and always has been, the cause of division of opinion, whenever He has come or has been preached. To some He is a savour of "life," and to others of "death." (2 Corinthians 2:16.) He draws out the true character of mankind. They either like Him or dislike Him. Strife and conflict of opinion are the certain consequences of the Gospel really coming among men with power. The fault is not in the Gospel, but in human nature. Stillness and quiet are signs not of life but of death. The sun calls forth miasma and malaria from the swamps it shines upon; but the fault is not in the sun, but in the land. The very same rays call forth fertility and abundance from the corn field.
v13.—[Howbeit no man...openly...fear...Jews.] This expression of course applies specially to those who favored our Lord. Those who hated Him would not fear to say so openly. This verse shows the length to which the enmity of the Jewish rulers against our Lord had already gone. It was a notorious fact among the lower orders that the heads of the nation hated Jesus, and that it was a dangerous thing to talk favorably of Him, or to manifest any interest in Him. The fear of man is a powerful principle among most people. Rulers have little idea how many things are secretly talked of sometimes among subjects, and kept back from them. Two hundred years ago, the Stuarts could persecute all open and out-spoken favorers of the English Puritans; but they could not prevent the lower orders secretly talking of them, and imbibing prejudices in their favor.
PREFACE TO SECOND VOLUME.—
IN sending forth the second volume of my "Expository Thoughts on John," I have little or nothing to add to the introduction with which I prefaced the first volume.
In the general plan of the work,— in the style of expositions, notes, and critical remarks,— in the list of Commentators employed and consulted in preparing the whole, the reader will find little difference between this volume and the one which preceded it. I have rigidly adhered to the line which I marked out to myself at first. In the notes I have gone steadily forward through every verse, endeavoring to throw light on the meaning of every word, evading no difficulty, examining every disputable point, trying to untie every knot, and carefully availing myself of help from every quarter.
The doctrinal views of religion to which I gave expression in the first volume, will be found unchanged in the second. The fourteen years which have "passed over" me since I first began writing on the Gospels, I humbly hope have not been thrown away. They have been to me years of many trials, and I may add of much work, much reading, much reflection, and not a little prayer. At the end of these fourteen years, I feel more than ever convinced that what are called "Evangelical" views of Christian truth are thoroughly Scriptural views, and will bear the test of any fair investigation. The longer I live the more firmly am I persuaded that no system of divinity is so entirely in harmony with the Bible, as the system which rightly or wrongly is called "Evangelical."
In short, I am not ashamed of saying once more that in matters of doctrine I am an "Evangelical Churchman," and that I am so because I can find no other doctrinal system in the New Testament, when fairly and reasonably interpreted. Let me add, once for all, that nothing so much confirms me in my opinions, as the broad fact that "Evangelical" views are those to which I see men of all schools of opinion turn for comfort when they leave the world. I observe continually that learned and zealous High Churchmen, after denouncing "Evangelicalism" as a defective system for many years, are only too happy to take refuge in simple Evangelical doctrines when they lie on their death-beds. That fact alone speaks volumes. Give me the doctrines that men cling to, and find soul-comforting in the hour of death!
I now send forth this volume with an earnest prayer that God may bless it and make it useful. Ignorance of Scripture, I feel more than ever, is the curse of these latter days. Men read many books, and yet neglect "the one Book." If I can help to make the Bible more plain and interesting to any man’s soul, I shall be abundantly content.
J. C. RYLE.
22d October, 1869.
P. S. I hope, if it please God to prolong lite, health, and a moderate degree of leisure, to carry on my work on John without delay. A third volume will complete it. If any one will take the trouble to count all the verses in John’s Gospel, he will find that the last nine chapters contain about the same quantity of matter as the first six, and the second six chapters. I have therefore good ground for thinking that the third volume will not exceed in length either of the two which have preceded it.
After finishing "Expository Thoughts on the Gospels," I hope to attempt "Expository Thoughts on the Acts of the Apostles."
WE learn first in this passage, that honest obedience to God’s will is one way to obtain clear spiritual knowledge. Our Lord says, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself."
The difficulty of finding out "what is truth" in religion is a common subject of complaint among men. They point to the many differences which prevail among Christians on matters of doctrine, and profess to be unable to decide who is right. In thousands of cases this professed inability to find out truth becomes an excuse for living without any religion at all.
The saying of our Lord before us is one that demands the serious attention of persons in this state of mind. It supplies an argument whose edge and point they will find it hard to evade. It teaches that one secret of getting the key of knowledge, is to practice honestly what we know, and that if we conscientiously use the light that we now have, we shall soon find more light coming down into our minds.—In short, there is a sense in which it is true, that by doing we shall come to knowing.
There is a mine of truth in this principle. Well would it be for men if they would act upon it. Instead of saying, as some do, "I must first know everything clearly, and then I will act,"—we should say, "I will diligently use such knowledge as I possess, and believe that in the using fresh knowledge will be given to me." How many mysteries this simple plan would solve! How many hard things would soon become plain if men would honestly live up to their light, and "follow on to know the LORD"! (Hosea 6:3.)
It should never be forgotten that God deals with us as moral beings, and not as beasts or stones. He loves to encourage us to self-exertion and diligent use of such means as we have in our hands. The plain things in religion are undeniably very many. Let a man honestly attend to them, and he shall be taught the deep things of God.
Whatever some may say about their inability to find out truth, you will rarely find one of them who does not know better than he practices. Then if he is sincere, let him begin here at once. Let him humbly use what little knowledge he has got, and God will soon give him more.—"If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." (Matthew 6:22.)
We learn, secondly, in this passage, that a self-exalting spirit in ministers of religion is entirely opposed to the mind of Christ. Our Lord says, "He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory; but he that seeketh His glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him."
The wisdom and truth of this sentence will be evident at once to any reflecting mind. The minister truly called of God will be deeply sensible of his Master’s majesty and his own infirmity, and will see in himself nothing but unworthiness. He, on the other hand, who knows that he is not "inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost," will try to cover over his defects by magnifying himself and his office. The very desire to exalt ourselves is a bad symptom. It is a sure sign of something wrong within.
Does any one ask illustrations of the truth before us? He will find them, on the one side, in the Scribes and Pharisees of our Lord’s times. If one thing more than another distinguished these unhappy men, it was their desire to get praise for themselves.—He will find them, on the other side, in the character of the Apostle Paul. The keynote that runs through all his Epistles is personal humility and zeal for Christ’s glory:—"I am less than the least of all saints—I am not meet to be called an Apostle—I am chief of sinners—we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake." (Ephesians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:5.)
Does any one ask for a test by which he may discern the real man of God from the false shepherd in the present day? Let him remember our Lord’s weighty words, and notice carefully what is the main object that a minister loves to exalt. Not he who is ever crying, "Behold the Church! behold the Sacraments! behold the ministry!" but he who says,—"Behold the Lamb!"—is the pastor after God’s own heart. Happy indeed is that minister who forgets self in his pulpit, and desires to be hid behind the cross. This man shall be blessed in his work, and be a blessing.
We learn, lastly, in this passage, the danger of forming a hasty judgment. The Jews at Jerusalem were ready to condemn our Lord as a sinner against the law of Moses, because He had done a miracle of healing on the Sabbath day. They forgot in their blind enmity that the fourth commandment was not meant to prevent works of necessity or works of mercy. A work on the Sabbath our Lord had done, no doubt, but not a work forbidden by the law. And hence they drew down on themselves the rebuke, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment."
The practical value of the lesson before us is very great. We shall do well to remember it as we travel through life, and to correct our estimate of people and things by the light which it supplies.
We are often too ready to be deceived by an appearance of good. We are in danger of rating some men as very good Christians, because of a little outward profession of religion, and a decent Sunday formality,—because, in short, they talk the language of Canaan, and wear the garb of pilgrims. We forget that all is not good that appears good, even as all is not gold that glitters, and that daily practice, choice, tastes, habits, conduct, private character, are the true evidence of what a man is.—In a word, we forget our Lord’s saying,—"Judge not according to the appearance."
We are too ready, on the other hand, to be deceived by the appearance of evil. We are in danger of setting down some men as no true Christians, because of a few faults or inconsistencies, and "making them offenders because of a word." (Isaiah 29:21.) We must remember that the best of men are but men at their very best, and that the most eminent saints may be overtaken by temptation, and yet be saints at heart after all. We must not hastily suppose that all is evil, where there is an occasional appearance of evil. The holiest man may fall sadly for a time, and yet the grace within him may finally get a victory. Is a man’s general character godly?—Then let us suspend our judgment when he falls, and hope on. Let us "judge righteous judgment."
In any case let us take care that we pass fair judgment on ourselves. Whatever we think of others, let us beware of making mistakes about our own character. There, at any rate, let us be just, honest, and fair. Let us not flatter ourselves that all is right, because all is apparently right before men. "The LORD," we must remember, "looketh on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7.) Then let us judge ourselves with righteous judgment, and condemn ourselves while we live, lest we be judged of the Lord and condemned for ever at the last day. (1 Corinthians 11:31.)
v14.—[About...midst of...feast.] This would be about the fourth day of the week, as the feast lasted seven days. Some who consider the feast of tabernacles a type of Christ’s incarnation, think this circumstance is typical of our Lord’s earthly ministry lasting three years and a half, answering to the three days and a half during which our Lord taught publicly here in Jerusalem. I doubt myself whether the circumstance is typical at all. If the feast of tabernacles is typical, I believe it points to the second advent of Christ much more than to the first.
[Jesus went up...temple.] This means the outer court of the temple, where pious Jews were in the habit of assembling in order to hear the doctors of the law and others, and to discuss religious subjects. This is the place where our Lord was, when Joseph and Mary found Him, at twelve years of age, "in the temple." (Luke 2:46.) It was probably a large open court yard, with piazzas or verandas around it, for shelter against heat and cold.
[Taught.] What our Lord taught we are not told. Expositions of Scripture, as Luke 4:17-21, and such lessons as those contained in the Sermon on the Mount, and the parables, were most likely the kind of things that He "taught" first, on such occasions as this. It admits of doubt whether He taught such deep things as those contained in the 5th and 6th chapters of John, unless publicly attacked, or put on His defense.
Alford thinks that this was "the first time" that our Lord "taught publicly at Jerusalem." Yet this seems at least questionable when we consider the 2nd and 5th chapters of John.
v15.—[The Jews marveled.] The wisdom and knowledge of Scripture which our Lord showed must have been the principle cause of wonder. Yet, we may well believe, there was something wonderful in His manner and style of speaking.
[How knoweth this man letters?] The word rendered "letters" here, must probably be taken in the sense of "learning." It is so used in Acts 26:24. In John 5:47 it is rendered "writings." In 2 Timothy 3:15 it is "Scriptures." The original idea is a "written character," a letter of an alphabet. It is thus used in Luke 23:38 of the inscription on the cross, written "in letters of Greek," etc.
[Having never learned.] The Jews must have meant by this, that our Lord had never attended any of the great theological schools which the scribes and Pharisees kept up in Jerusalem,—to which Paul refers, when he says, He was "brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel." (Acts 22:3.) They did not of course mean that any one brought up at Nazareth must necessarily have been totally ignorant. That our Lord could read and write is clear from Luke 4:16, and John 8:6. But the Jerusalem Jews, in their pride and self-conceit, set down any one as comparatively ignorant who had not been trained in their great metropolitan schools. People are very apt to condemn any one as "ignorant" who disagrees with them in religion.
According to Tholuck, it was a rule of the Talmud, "that no man could appear as a teacher, who had not for some years been a colleague of a Rabbi."
v16.—[My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent Me.] Our Lord meant by these words, "My doctrine is not mine only. The teaching that I am proclaiming is not a thing of my own private invention, and the product of my own isolated mind. It is the doctrine of my Father who sent me. It deserves attention because it is His message. He that despiseth it, despiseth not only Me, but him whose messenger I am."—The great truth of His own inseparable and mysterious union with God the Father, is here once more pointed at. It is like, "I can of my own self do nothing," (John 5:30,) and "as my Father hath taught me I speak these things," (John 8:28,) and "I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, He gave me a commandment what I should say and what I should speak." (John 12:49.)
Some think that our Lord only meant, "The sense of Scripture which I give is not my own, but the sense in which God at first gave it." But this is a very meager view of the sentence, though an Arian or Socinian may like it.
Cyril remarks: "In saying that He was sent by the Father, He does not show Himself inferior to the Father. For this mission is not that of a servant, though it might be called so, as he ’took on Him the form of a servant.’ But He is ’sent,’ as a word is out of the mind, or a sunbeam out of the sun."
Augustine remarks: "This sentence undoeth the Sabellian heresy. The Sabellians have dared to say that the Son is the same as the Father: the names two, the reality one. If the names were two, and the reality one, it would not be said, ’My doctrine is not mine.’ If Thy doctrine be not Thine, Lord, whose is it, unless there be another whose it may be?"
Hengstenberg thinks that our Lord had in view the famous prophesy of Moses in which God says of Messiah,—"I will put my words in His mouth." (Deuteronomy 18:18.)
Let us carefully note with what peculiar reverence we should receive and study every word that fell from our Lord’s lips. When He spoke, He did not speak His own mind only, as one of His Apostles or prophets did. It was God the Father speaking with and through Him. No wonder when we read such expressions as this that John calls our Lord "the Word."
v17.—[If any man will do His will.] The English language here fails to give the full force of the Greek. It is literally, "If any man is willing to do,—has a mind and desire and inclination to do God’s will." It is not the simple future of the verb "do." There are two distinct verbs. The stress, therefore, in reading the sentence, must not be laid entirely on "doing" God’s will. It is "if any man is willing to do."
[He shall know the doctrine.] This means he shall know "concerning and about" the doctrine I am proclaiming.
[Whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.] This means "whether the doctrine is from God, as I say it is,—the doctrine of God the Father, which He has commissioned and sent Me to proclaim to man,—or whether I speak from myself, of my own isolated responsibility, without any license or commission." The translation "speak of myself," is unfortunately equivocal. The expression does not mean "about and concerning" myself, but "from" myself.
By "doing the will of God," our Lord must mean, "obeying and performing, as far as in us lies, that will of God," which we have expressly declared to us in the Word of God." (17th Article.) Such "doing" He declares is the way of knowledge. It is the same idea as the "doing truth" of John 3:21.
The principle here laid down is one of immense importance. We are taught that clear knowledge depends greatly on honest obedience, and that distinct views of Divine truth cannot be expected, unless we try to practice such things as we know. Living up to our light we shall have more light. Striving to do the few things we know, we shall find the eyes of our understanding enlightened, and shall know more. Did the Jews profess to feel perplexed, and not to know whether our Lord was sent from God? Let them honestly do God’s will, and seek knowledge in the path of sincere obedience in such matters as were clear and plain.—So doing they would be guided into all truth, and find their doubts removed.
We learn from these words how greatly they err who profess to be waiting till their mental difficulties are removed before they become decided Christians. They must change their plan. They must understand that knowledge comes through humble obedience as well as through the intellect. Let them begin by honestly doing God’s will as far as they know that will, and in so doing they will find their minds enlightened.
We learn, furthermore, that God tests men’s sincerity by making obedience part of the process by which religious knowledge is obtained. Are we really willing to do God’s will so far as we know it? If we are, God will take care that our knowledge is increased. If we are not willing to do His will, we show clearly that we do not want to be God’s servants. Our hearts and not our heads are in fault.
We learn, finally, the great principle on which many will be condemned at the last day. They did not live up to their light. They did not use such knowledge as they possessed, and so were left dark and dead in sins. There is probably not one in a thousand among unconverted people, who does not know far better than he practices. Such men surely, if lost, will have none to blame but themselves!
In interpreting this verse, I believe we must be careful not to lay more meaning on the expression "do His will," than our Lord meant it to bear. I say this because I observe many respectable commentators place such a very wide and comprehensive sense upon "doing God’s will," that they miss entirely our Lord’s purpose in speaking the words. They start with saying, that to "do God’s will," we must have faith in Christ, new hearts, grace reigning within us, and the like, and thus represent our Lord as saying in effect, "If any man will become a true believer, and a converted man, he shall ’know of the doctrine,’ " etc. I venture to think that such interpretation completely misses the mark, and is going round in a circle. Of course any true believer knows true doctrine. I believe that our Lord’s object was simply to encourage the honest-minded, sincere, single-eyed inquirer after truth. To such a man, though at present very ignorant, He says, "If you really have a desire to do God’s will, to please Him, and to follow any light He gives you, you will be taught of Him, you will find out the truth. My doctrine may be hid from the wise and prudent, but it is revealed to babes." (Matthew 11:25.) I hold, in short, that we should take as simple a view as possible of the sentence, "If any man will do His will," and be very careful that we do not mar its usefulness by putting more meaning on it than our Lord intended.
Bishop Hall thus paraphrases the text: "If any man shall, with a simple and honest heart, yield himself over to do the will of my Father, according to the measure of that he knows, God shall encourage and bless that man with further light; so as he shall fully know whether my doctrine be of God, or of myself."
Burgon remarks: "The perception of truth depends on the practice of virtue. It is a favourite maxim of the present day, that increased knowledge will bring with it growth in godliness. Scripture at all events entirely reverses the process. The way to know of the doctrine whether it be of God, is to do His will." (See John 5:44; John 8:12.)
Hengstenberg remarks: "Whosoever would lead souls to Christ, should not tarry long about the specious arguments with which the natural man seeks to disguise the hateful perversion of his state of will, but should above all things try to excite willingness to do the will of God."
v18.—[He that speaketh of himself, etc.] In this verse, as in the preceding verses, "He that speaketh of himself" would be more literally rendered "speaketh from himself." The verse contains a general principle, applicable not only to our Lord’s own case, but to teachers of religion in every age. The meaning seems to be as follows:—"He that undertakes on his own responsibility, and without being sent by God, to speak to men about religion, will naturally seek to advance his own importance, and get honor for himself. Speaking from himself, he will speak for himself, and try to exalt himself. He, on the contrary, who is a true messenger of God, and in whom there is no dishonesty or unrighteousness, will always seek first the glory of the God who sent him." In short, it is one mark of a man being a true servant of God, and really commissioned by our Father in heaven, that he ever seeks his Master’s glory more than his own.
The principle here laid down is a very valuable one. By it we may test the pretensions of many false teachers of religion, and prove them to be unsound guides. There is a curious tendency in every system of heresy, or unsound religion, to make its ministers magnify themselves, their authority, their importance, and their office. It may be seen in Romanism and Brahminism to a remarkable extent.
Alford’s remark, however, is very true: that in the highest and strictest sense, "the latter part of the sentence is only true of the Holy One Himself, and that owing to human infirmity, purity of motive is no sure guarantee for correctness of doctrine;" and therefore in the end of the verse it is not said, "he who seeketh God’s glory," but "he who seeketh His glory that sent him,"—specially indicating Christ Himself.
Burgon thinks that "true" is a word used intentionally, in contrast with the expression, "He deceiveth the people."
v19.—[Did not Moses give you the law?] Our Lord here appeals to the well-known reverence with which all Jews regarded Moses and the law. But it is highly probable that He had in view the practice of publicly reading the law of Moses to the people during the seven days of the feast of tabernacles, which was observed once in every seven years at that feast. (Deuteronomy 31:10-11.) If, as is possible, this was one of the seventh years in which the law was so read, there would be a singular significance and aptness in His appeal. "This very day you have been hearing that law, which you profess to honor so much. But do you honor it in your lives?"
[None of you keepeth the law, etc.] This would be more literally rendered, "none of you doeth the law." It is the same word that is used in the expression, "if any man will do His will," (John 7:17.) The meaning seems to be, "You reject me and my doctrine, and profess to be zealous for the honor of Moses and the law. And yet none of you really obey the law in heart and in spirit. for instance: why do you seek to kill Me? You are full of hatred of Me, and want to put Me to death unjustly, in the face of the sixth commandment. This is not keeping the law."
The Greek word rendered "go about," is the same that is rendered "seek" in verse 1 of this chapter (John 7:1,) and John 5:16, John 5:18.
v20.—[The people answered and said, etc.] It seems probable that those who said this were the common people, the multitude of Jews gathered from all parts of the world, to many of whom our Lord was a stranger. We can hardly suppose that the rulers and leaders of Jerusalem would have spoken in this way.
The expression "Thou hast a devil," may possibly be a repetition of the old charge, that our Lord wrought His miracles by Beelzebub, and was in league with the devil, as John 8:48. In that sense it would be the strongest form of reproach, blasphemy, and contempt. But considering who the speakers were, it is more likely that it simply means, "Thou art beside Thyself, and mad." (So John 10:20.)
The expression, "who goeth about to kill Thee," can easily be understood, if we suppose the speakers to be the common people, and not the rulers. The common people probably knew nothing about the intention of the rulers to put Jesus to death, and would think Him beside himself to say that any one wanted to kill Him.
v21.—[Jesus answered...I have done one work.] Our Lord can only refer here to the miracle He had wrought on a former occasion at the pool of Bethesda. (John 5:1-9.) This was at present the only great miracle that had been publicly performed in Jerusalem: and from its having led to our Lord being brought before the Sanhedrim, or great Council of the Jews, and to His defense made before them, it would be a miracle that all would know.
[Ye all marvel.] This strong present tense seems to mean, "Ye are all still wondering," not only at the greatness of the miracle, but also at my working it on the Sabbath day. Schleusner maintains that the Greek word rendered "marvel" means here, "Ye are indignant, ye take amiss." He thinks the word is used in this sense in Mark 6:6, John 5:28, and Galatians 1:6.
v22.—[Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision.] There is a difficulty in this verse in the expression we translate "therefore." It is literally, "on this account,—for this reason,—on account of this." It is not easy to say how the expression comes in, and with what it is connected. (1) Some, as Theophylact, Beza, Poole, Whitby, Hammond, Maldonatus, Pearce, Doddridge, Bloomfield, Olshausen, Tholuck, Hengstenberg, and Stier, propose to alter the stopping, and to connect it with the end of the preceding verse,—"Ye all marvel because of this one work." (Compare Mark 6:6.) But it is doubtful whether the Greek language will fairly admit this.—(2) Some would connect "therefore" with "are ye angry," in the following verse:—"Are you really angry with me on account of this one work, when you yourselves break the Sabbath, in a sense, by circumcising on the Sabbath day?"—But this connection seems very distant indeed.—(3) Some, as Grotius, Calovius, Jansenius, and Webster, think the expression altogether elliptical, and would fill up the sense after "therefore," by supposing some such connection as this:—"On account of this work and your anger at it, let me remind you of your own practice about circumcision." (See Matthew 18:22; Matthew 12:30; Luke 12:22.)—(4) Some, as Chemnitius, Musculus and De Dieu, interpret "therefore" as "because," and make the sentence mean, "Because Moses gave you circumcision, you circumcise a man on the Sabbath day," etc. But it seems a violent strain to make the Greek word we render "therefore" mean "because."—(5) Some, finally, as Alford, Burgon, Barradius, Toletus, and Lyranus, would connect "therefore" with the middle of this verse, and would have it mean, "For this reason Moses gave you circumcision, viz., not because it was an ordinance appointed first by him, but because it was given to the Fathers,"—i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This last is perhaps as tenable a view as any. But it is undeniably a difficulty, and must remain so. Adopting this view, the whole verse must be paraphrased as follows:—"Moses, whose name and law you highly reverence, gave you among other things the ordinance of circumcision. He gave it, remember, for this reason: because it was an old ordinance, handed down to him by your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and not an ordinance first communicated to him like the Levitical law. Now you, in obedience to the ordinance of circumcision, which ought to be administered on the eighth day after a child’s birth, think it no breach of the fourth commandment to circumcise a child on the Sabbath day. In fact, you postpone the law of the Sabbath to the law of circumcision. You admit that a work of piety and necessity may be done on the Sabbath day. You admit that the fourth commandment which was given on Mount Sinai was not so important as the older law of circumcision."
Burgon shows that "therefore" is used just in the same way as here, at the beginning of a sentence, and pointing forward, in John 5:16, John 5:18; John 8:47; John 10:17; John 12:18, John 12:39.
We should note how here, as elsewhere, our Lord refers to Moses as a real person, and to the Old Testament history as real true history.
v23.—[If a man, etc.] The argument in this verse is as follows:—"Even among yourselves you circumcise a child on the Sabbath day, when it happens to be the eighth day after his birth, in order that the law of circumcision, which your great lawgiver, Moses, sanctioned and re-ordained, should not be broken. You thus admit the whole principle that there is some work which may be done on the Sabbath day. Is it then just and fair to be angry with Me, because I have done a far greater work to a man on the Sabbath, than the work of circumcision? I have not wounded his body by circumcision, but made him perfectly whole. I have not done a purifying work to one particular part of him, but have restored his whole body to health and strength. I have not done a work of necessity to one single member only, but a work of necessity and benefit to the whole man."
I cannot see any ground for the idea suggested by Alford, that our Lord implies in this verse, that the law of the Sabbath is a mere Judaical practice and comparatively a modern ordinance, and that as such it properly gave way to the older and higher law of circumcision, which was "of the Fathers."—It might be replied, firstly, that the Sabbath is so far from being a Judaical institution, that it is actually older than circumcision, and was appointed in Paradise.—It might be replied, secondly, that our Lord seems purposely to guard against the idea by speaking of circumcision as "given by Moses," and as a part of "the law of Moses." In fact, He does this twice with such curious particularity, that one might think He meant to guard against any one wresting this passage into an argument against the perpetual obligation of the Sabbath day. He is pleased for the occasion to speak both of circumcision and the Sabbath as part of "the law of Moses." He did this purposely, because the minds of His hearers were full of Moses and the law at this particular period. And His argument amounts to this,—that if they themselves allowed the Mosaic law of the Sabbath must give way in a case of necessity to the Mosaic law of circumcision, they admitted that some works might be done on the Sabbath day; and therefore His work of healing an entire man on the Sabbath day could not be condemned as sinful.
The marginal reading, "without breaking the law of Moses," instead of, "that the law of Moses should not be broken," appears to me inadmissible and unnecessary. It is inadmissible, because it is a forced and unnatural interpretation of the Greek words. It is unnecessary, because our Lord is evidently speaking of circumcision as part of "the law of Moses."
The idea of some commentators, as Trapp, Rollock, Hutcheson, Beza, and Stier, that "every whit whole" means "wholeness" of soul as well as body, and implies conversion of heart as well as restoration to entire health and strength of the physical man, appears to me unlikely and far-fetched. It is a pious thought, but not apparently in our Lord’s mind. Moreover, it is not quite certain that the man healed at Bethesda was healed in soul as well as body. There is no clear proof of it.
v24.—[Judge not according to the appearance, etc.] The sense of this verse must be sought in connection with the subject of which our Lord has just been speaking. The Jews had condemned our Lord and denounced Him as a sinner against the fourth commandment, because He had done a work on the Sabbath day. Our Lord refers to this, and says,—"Judge not the deed I did according to the appearance. I did a work on the Sabbath unquestionably. But what kind of a work was it? It was an act of necessity and mercy, and therefore an act as lawful to be done as circumcision, which you yourselves perform on the Sabbath day. In appearance the Sabbath was broken. In reality it was not broken at all. Judge fair and just and righteous judgment. Do not hastily condemn an action, such as this, without looking below the surface."
There is perhaps a reference here to Isaiah’s prophecy about Messiah, "He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes." (Isaiah 11:3.)
The principle here laid down is one of vast importance. Nothing is so common as to judge too favourably or too unfavourably of characters and actions, from merely looking at the outward appearance of things. We are apt to form hasty opinions of others, either for good or evil, on very insufficient grounds. We pronounce some men to be good and others to be bad,—some to be godly and others to be ungodly, without anything but appearance to aid our decision. We should do well to remember our blindness, and to keep in mind this text. The bad are not always so bad, nor the good so good as they appear. A potsherd may be covered over with gilding, and look bright outside. A nugget of gold may be covered with dirt, and look worthless rubbish. One man’s work may look good at first, and yet turn out, by and by, to have been done from the basest motives. Another man’s work may look very questionable at first, and yet at last may prove Christ-like and truly godly. From rashly "judging by appearances" may the Lord deliver us!
Whether our Lord meant "judge not persons," or "judge not actions," according to appearance, is a point on which commentators do not agree. If we take the application to be to "persons," the sentence means, "Do not hastily suppose that Moses and I are at variance, and that, therefore, I must be wrong, because Moses, the great lawgiver, must be right." But it seems far simpler and more natural to apply the expression to "actions,"—"Judge not the thing done by the appearance only. Look below the surface and weigh it justly."
WE see in these verses, the obstinate blindness of the unbelieving Jews. We find them defending their denial of our Lord’s Messiahship, by saying, "We know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is." And yet in both these assertions they were wrong!
They were wrong in saying that they "knew whence our Lord came." They meant no doubt to say that He was born at Nazareth, and belonged to Nazareth, and was therefore a Galilean. Yet the fact was, that our Lord was born at Bethlehem, that He belonged legally to the tribe of Judah, and that His mother and Joseph were of the house and lineage of David. It is incredible to suppose that the Jews could not have found this out, if they had honestly searched and inquired. It is notorious that pedigrees, genealogies, and family histories were most carefully kept by the Jewish nation. Their ignorance was without excuse.
They were wrong again in saying that "no man was to know whence Christ came." There was a well-known prophecy, with which their whole nation was familiar, that Christ was to come out of the town of Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:5; John 7:42.) It is absurd to suppose that they had forgotten this prophecy. But apparently they found it inconvenient to remember it on this occasion. Men’s memories are often sadly dependent on their wills.
The Apostle Peter, in a certain place, speaks of some as "willingly ignorant." (2 Peter 3:5.) He had good reason to use the expression. It is a sore spiritual disease, and one most painfully common among men. There are thousands in the present day just as blind in their way as the Jews. They shut their eyes against the plainest facts and doctrines of Christianity. They pretend to say that they do not understand, and cannot therefore believe the things that we press on their attention, as needful to salvation. But, alas, in nineteen cases out of twenty it is a willful ignorance! They do not believe what they do not like to believe. They will neither read, nor listen, nor search, nor think, nor inquire honestly after truth. Can any one wonder if such persons are ignorant? Faithful and true is that old proverb,—"There are none so blind as those who will not see."
We see, for another thing, in these verses, the overruling hand of God over all His enemies. We find that the unbelieving Jews "Sought to take our Lord: but no man laid hands on Him, because his hour was not yet come." They had the will to hurt him, but by an invisible restraint from above, they had not the power.
There is a mine of deep truth in the words before us, which deserves close attention. They show us plainly that all our Lord’s sufferings were undergone voluntarily, and of His own free will. He did not go to the cross because He could not help it. He did not die because He could not prevent His death. Neither Jew nor Gentile, Pharisee nor Sadducee, Annas nor Caiaphas, Herod nor Pontius Pilate, could have injured our Lord, except power had been given them from above. All that they did was done under control, and by permission. The crucifixion was part of the eternal counsels of the Trinity. The passion of our Lord could not begin until the very hour which God had appointed. This is a great mystery. But it is a truth.
The servants of Christ in every age should treasure up the doctrine before us, and remember it in time of need. It is "full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons." Let such never forget that they live in a world where God overrules all times and events, and where nothing can happen but by God’s permission. The very hairs of their heads are all numbered. Sorrow and sickness, and poverty, and persecution, can never touch them, unless God sees fit. They may boldly say to every cross,—"Thou couldst have no power against me, except it were given thee from above." Then let them work on confidently. They are immortal, till their work is done. Let them suffer patiently, if needs be that they suffer. Their "times are in God’s hand." (Psalms 31:15.) That hand guides and governs all things here below, and makes no mistakes.
We see lastly, in these verses, the miserable end to which unbelievers may one day come. We find our Lord saying to His enemies,—"Ye shall seek Me, and shall not find Me; and where I am thither ye cannot come."
We can hardly doubt that these words were meant to have a prophetical sense. Whether our Lord had in view individual cases of unbelief among His hearers, or whether He looked forward to the national remorse which many would feel too late in the final siege of Jerusalem, are points which we cannot perhaps decide. But that many Jews did remember Christ’s sayings long after He had ascended into heaven, and did in a way seek Him and wish for Him when it was too late, we may be very sure.
It is far too much forgotten that there is such a thing as finding out truth too late. There may be convictions of sin, discoveries of our own folly, desires after peace, anxieties about heaven, fears of hell,—but all too late. The teaching of Scripture on this point is clear and express. It is written in Proverbs,—"Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me." (Proverbs 1:28.) It is written of the foolish virgins in the parable, that when they found the door shut, they knocked in vain, saying, "Lord, Lord, open to us." (Matthew 25:11.) Awful as it may seem, it is possible, by continually resisting light and warnings, to sin away our own souls. It sounds terrible, but it is true.
Let us take heed to ourselves lest we sin after the example of the unbelieving Jews, and never seek the Lord Jesus as a Savior till it is too late. The door of mercy is still open. The throne of grace is still waiting for us. Let us give diligence to make sure our interest in Christ, while it is called to-day. Better never have been born than hear the Son of God say at last, "Where I am, thither ye cannot come."
v25.—[Then said some of...Jerusalem, etc.] It is likely that these speakers were some of the lower orders who lived at Jerusalem, and knew what the rulers wanted to do to our Lord. They can hardly be the same as "the people" at John 7:20. They, being probably strangers to the plans of the priests and Pharisees, said, "Who goeth about to kill Thee?" These, on the other hand, say, "Is not this He whom they seek to kill?"
v26.—[But, lo, He speaketh boldly, and they say nothing, etc.] There appears to have been a restraining power put on our Lord’s enemies at this juncture. (See John 7:30.) It certainly seems to have struck the people before us as a remarkable thing, that our Lord should speak out so boldly, openly, and publicly, and yet no effort be made by the rulers to apprehend Him and stop His teaching. No wonder that they asked the question which immediately follows: "Have our rulers changed their mind? Are they convinced at last? Have they really found out that this is truly the Messiah, the Christ of God?"
The Greek words would be more literally rendered, "Have the rulers truly learned that this man is truly the Christ?"
v27.—[Howbeit we know this man whence He is.] This means that they knew that our Lord was from Nazareth of Galilee. This, we must remember, was the universal belief of all the Jews. When our Lord rode into Jerusalem, just before His crucifixion, the multitude said, "This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee." (Matthew 21:11.) When an inscription was put over His head on the cross, in the letters of the three languages, it was, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." (John 19:19. See also Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:22.) Yet we know all this time that the Jews were mistaken, and that our Lord was in reality born at Bethlehem, according to prophecy. (Micah 5:2.) We can hardly doubt that the Jews might have found out this if they had taken the pains to inquire narrowly into the early history of our Lord’s life. In a nation so strict about pedigrees and birth places, such a thing could not be hid. But it seems as if they would not take pains to inquire, and satisfied themselves with the common story of His origin, as it gave them an additional excuse for not receiving Him as the Messiah.
The entire ignorance which appears to have prevailed among the Jews, about all the circumstances of our Lord’s miraculous conception, and His birth at Bethlehem, is certainly rather remarkable. Yet it should be remembered that thirty years had passed away between our Lords birth and His public ministry,—that His mother and Joseph were evidently in a very humble position and might easily be overlooked, as well as all that happened to them,—and that living quietly at Nazareth, their journey to Bethlehem at the time of "the taxing" would soon be forgotten by others.
After all we must not forget that it is part of God’s dealings with man, not to force conviction and belief on any one. The obscurity purposely left over our Lord’s birth place was a part of the moral probation of the Jewish nation. If, in their pride and indolence and self-righteousness, they would not receive the abundant evidence which our Lord gave of His Messiahship, it could not be expected that God would make unbelief impossible, by placing His birth of a virgin at Bethlehem beyond the reach of doubt. In this, as in everything else, if the Jews had honestly desired to find out the truth, they might have found it.
[When Christ cometh, no man knoweth, etc.] It is rather difficult to see what the Jews meant by these words. Most writers think that they referred to the mysterious language of Isaiah about Messiah,—"Who shall declare His generation;" (Isaiah 53:8;) or to Micah’s words,—"Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting;" (Micah 5:2;) and that they had in view the Divine and heavenly origin of Messiah, which all Jews allowed would be a mystery. Yet it is hard to understand why they did not say, "When Christ cometh, He shall be born in Bethlehem," and why they should be supposed to speak of our Lord’s earthly origin in the beginning of the verse, and of Messiah’s Divine origin in the end. There seems no explanation except to suppose that these speakers were singularly ignorant Jews, who did not know that Messiah was to be born at Bethlehem, and only knew that His birth was to be a mysterious thing. This is a possible view, if not a very probable one.—The argument of the speakers before us would then be as follows:—"When Messiah comes, He is to come suddenly, as Malachi foretold, saying, ’the Lord shall suddenly come to His temple,’ (Malachi 3:1,) unexpectedly, mysteriously, and taking people by surprise. This man therefore, who is sitting in the temple among us, cannot be the Messiah, because we know that He came from Nazareth in Galilee, and has been living there for more than thirty years."—The prophecy about Messiah being born at Bethlehem, they conveniently dropped out of sight, and in fact never dreamed that it was fulfilled by our Lord. The only prophecy they chose to look at was the one in Malachi (Malachi 3:1,) and as the Lord did not appear to fulfill that, they concluded that He could not be the Christ. In religious matters people are easily satisfied with very imperfect and superficial reasoning, when they want to be satisfied and to be spared further trouble. Men never want reasons to confirm their will. This seems to have been the case with the Jews.
Rupertus mentions a common tradition of the Jews,—that when Christ came, He would come at midnight, as the angel came at midnight when the first-born were destroyed in Egypt, and he thinks it may have been in their minds here.
Hutcheson observes that "not comparing of Scripture with Scripture, but taking any single sentence that seems to plead for that we would be at, is a very great nursery and cause of error. Such is the Jews’ reasoning here. They catch at one thing, speaking of Messiah’s Divinity, and take no notice of other places."
Besser quotes a saying of Luther’s: "The Jews are poor scholars. They have caught the sound of the prophet’s clock, (Micah 5:2,) but they have not noted the stroke aright. He who does not hear well, imagines well. They heard that Christ was so to come, that none should know whence He came. But they understood not right, that coming from God He was to be born of a virgin, and come secretly into the world."
v28.—[Then cried Jesus...temple...taught.] This is a remarkable expression. We find our Lord departing from His usual practice, when we read that He "cried," or raised His voice to a high pitch. Generally speaking the words in Matthew apply strictly, quoted from Isaiah 42:2,—"He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the street." (Matthew 12:19.) Yet we see there were occasions when He did see it right to cry aloud and lift up His voice, and this is one. The perverse ignorance of the Jews, their persistence in blindness to all evidence, and the great opportunity afforded by the crowds around Him in the temple courts, were probably reasons why he "cried."
Our Lord is only said to have "cried" or lifted up His voice in four other passages in the Gospels:—viz., Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; John 7:37, and John 12:44. The Greek for "cried" in Matthew 27:46 is even a stronger word than that before us.
[Ye both know me, and...whence I am.] This is an undeniably difficult expression; partly because it is hard to reconcile with John 8:14, and partly because it is not clear how the Jews could be said to "know our Lord" and "whence He was." The explanations suggested are various.
(1) Some, as Grotius, Lampe, Doddridge, Bloomfield, Tittman, and A. Clarke, would have the sentence read as a question:—"Do you both know Me, and do ye know whence I am? Are you quite sure that you are correct in saying this?"—In this view it would be rather like the mode of expression used by our Lord in John 16:31,—"Do ye now believe?" where the interrogative forms the beginning of the sentence.
(2) Some, as Calvin, Ecolampadius, Beza, Flacius, Gualter, Rollock, Toletus, Glassius, Olshausen, Tholuck, Stier, and Webster, think that the sentence is spoken ironically:—"Truly you do know me and whence I am, and poor miserable knowledge it is, worth nothing at all."—Bengel and others object to this view, that our Lord never spoke ironically. Yet it would be hard to show that there is no irony in John 10:32, if not in Matthew 26:45, and Mark 7:9.
(3) Some think, as Chrysostom, Cocceius, Jansenius, Diodati, Bengel, Henry, Burkitt, Hengstenberg, Alford, Wordsworth, and Burgon, that the sentence is a simple affirmation:—"It is true that you know me and whence I am. I grant that in a certain sense you are right. You know where I have been brought up, and who my relatives according to the flesh are. And yet in reality you know very little of me. Of my Divine nature and my unity with my Father ye know nothing at all."—On the whole I prefer this last view to either of the other two.
[And I am not come of myself, etc.] This sentence and the rest of the verse are evidently elliptical, and must be paraphrased to give a full idea of the sense:—"And yet ye do not really and thoroughly know me; for I am not come of myself, independent of God the Father, and without commission, but sent by the Father into the world. And He that sent me has proved Himself true to His promises by sending me, and is indeed a real true Person, the true and faithful God of Israel, whom ye, with all your profession, do not know."
Here too, as elsewhere, our Lord’s expression, "not come of myself," points directly to that intimate union between Himself and God the Father, which is so constantly referred to in the Gospel of John.
Here too, as elsewhere, our Lord charges on the unbelieving Jews ignorance of the God whom they professed to serve, and for whose honor they professed to be jealous. With all their boasted zeal for true religion and the true God, they did not really know God.
The word "true," here, is of doubtful interpretation. It means "truthful," according to Cyril, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Lampe, Tholuck. But it is not clear that this is so. Alford maintains that it must mean "really existent." Trench takes the same view in his "New Testament Synonyms."
v29.—[But I know him, etc.] The knowledge of which our Lord here speaks, is that peculiar and intimate knowledge which is necessarily implied in the unity of the three Persons of the Trinity, in the Godhead. There is a high and deep sense in which the Son knows the Father, and the Father knows the Son, which we cannot pretend to explain, because it is far above our capacities. (John 10:15.) The Jews knew nothing rightly of God the Father. Jesus, on the contrary, could say, "I know him," as no one else could. "Neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." (Matthew 11:27.)
The expression "I am from Him," must not be confined and cramped down to mean only that our Lord had come like any prophet of old, with a message and commission from God. It declares the relationship between God the Father and God the Son: "I am from Him by eternal generation,—always one with Him,—always equal with Him,—but always a distinct person;—always the only-begotten Son,—always from Him."
The expression "He hath sent me," is like the preceding one, something far more than the mere assertion of a prophet’s commission. It is a declaration that He was the Sent One,—the Messiah, the Prophet greater than Moses, whom the Father had always promised to send:—"I am the Seed of the woman sent to bruise the serpent’s head. I am He whom the Father covenanted and engaged to send for the redemption of a lost world. I am He whom the Father hath sent to be the Saviour of lost man. I proclaim myself the Sent One,—the Christ of God."
Bishop Hall paraphrases the two verses thus: "Ye mutter secretly that ye know me, and the place of my birth and parentage; but ye are utterly mistaken, for I have a Father in heaven whom ye know not. I came not of myself, but my Father is He that sent me, who is the God of truth; of whom ye, after all your pretences of knowledge, are utterly ignorant. But I do perfectly know Him, as I have good reason; for both I am from Him by eternal generation, and am by Him sent into the world to do the great work of redemption."
v30.—[Then they sought to take him.] This last declaration seems to have raised the anger of the Jerusalem multitude, who were listening to our Lord. With the characteristic keenness of all Jews they at once detected in our Lord’s language a claim to be received as the Messiah. Just as on a former occasion, they saw, in His "calling God His Father," that He "made Himself equal with God," (John 5:18,( so here in His saying "I am from Him: He hath sent me," they saw an assertion of His right to be received as Messiah.
[But no man...hour not yet come.] This restraint on our Lord’s enemies can only be accounted for by direct Divine interposition. It is like John 8:20, and John 18:6. It is clear that they could do nothing against Him except by God’s permission, and when God, in His wisdom, was pleased to let it be done. Our Lord did not fall into His enemies’ hands through inability to escape, but because the "hour had come," when He voluntarily undertook to die as a substitute.
The doctrine before us, let us note, is full of comfort to God’s people. Nothing can hurt them except and until God permits. We are all immortal till our work is done. To realize that nothing happens in this world except by the eternal counsels of our Father, and according to His eternal plans, is one grand secret of living a calm, peaceful, and contented life.
Besser quotes a saying of Luther’s: "God has appointed a nice, easy hour, for everything; and that hour has the whole world for its enemy: it must attack it. The devil shoots and throws at the poor clock-hand, but in vain: for all depends on the hour. Till the hour comes, and the hand has run its course, the devil and the world shall accomplish nothing."
v31.—[Many of the people.] This means the common people—the lower orders, in contradistinction to the Pharisees and chief priests.
[Believed on Him.] There seems no reason to think that this was not a true faith, so far as it went. But it would not be safe perhaps to conclude that it was more than a general belief that our Lord must be the Messiah, the Christ, and that He deserved to be received as such.
[When Christ cometh...more miracles...done.] This language must clearly have been used by people who were familiar with many of our Lord’s miracles wrought in Galilee, and knew a good deal about His ministry. So few miracles probably had been wrought as yet in and round Jerusalem, that the language would hardly be used by Jerusalem people. The word "more" probably means not only more in number, but "greater" in character.
The question raised by these people was a fair and reasonable one:—"What greater evidence could any one give that He is the Christ, than this man has given? He could not work greater miracles, even if He worked more numerous ones. What then are we waiting for? Why should we not acknowledge this man as the Christ?"
v32.—[The Pharisees heard that the people murmured...him.] This would be more literally translated, "The Pharisees heard the people murmuring:" they actually heard with their own ears the common people, as they walked about the temple courts, and gathered in the streets of Jerusalem, at the crowded time of the feast, keeping up their under conversation about our Lord. Here, as at John 7:12, the word we render "murmuring" does not necessarily imply any finding fault, but only a dissatisfied and restless state of mind, which found vent in much conversation and whispering among the people.
[And the Pharisees...sent officers to take Him.] It would seem that the talk and stir of men’s minds about our Lord so alarmed and irritated the rulers of the Jews, that they resolved even now in the midst of the feast to arrest Him, and so stop His preaching. What day of the feast this was, and what interval elapsed between this verse and John 7:37, where we are told of "the last day" of the feast, we are not told. It seems probable that the officers sought an opportunity for taking our Lord, but could find none,—partly because of the crowds that surrounded Him, and partly because of a Divine restraint laid upon them; and that this was the state of things for three days at least.
Full well did these Pharisees justify our Lord’s character of them in another place: "Ye neither go in yourselves into the kingdom: neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." (Matthew 23:13.)
v33.—[Then said Jesus unto them.] The officers of the Pharisees and their supporters seem clearly to be the persons whom our Lord here addresses. Not only were they, through Divine restraint, unable to lay hands on Him, but they were obliged to stand by and listen to Him. They dared not seize Him for fear of the people, and yet dared not go away to report their inability to carry out their orders.
[Yet a little while, etc.] There is probably an under-tone of sadness and tenderness about this and the following sentences. It is as though our Lord said, "Ye have come to lay hands on me, and yet ye might well bear with me. I am only a little time longer with you, and then, when my time is come for leaving the world, I shall go back to my Father who sent me." Or else it must mean, "Ye are sent to lay hands on me, but it is useless at present; Ye cannot do it: because my hour is not yet come. I have yet a little longer time to minister on earth; and then, and not till then, I go to Him that sent me." Alford takes this view.
The Jews of course could not understand whom our Lord meant by "Him that sent me," and this saying must necessarily have seemed dark and mysterious to them.
v34.—[Ye shall seek me...shall not find me.] These words seem addressed both to the officers and to those who sent them,—to the whole body, in fact, of our Lord’s unbelieving enemies:—"A day will come too late, when you will anxiously seek me, and bitterly lament your rejection of me, but too late. The day of your visitation will be past and gone, and you will not find me."
There is a great Bible truth taught here, as elsewhere, which is far too much overlooked by many,—I mean the possibility of men seeking salvation when it is too late, and crying for pardon and heaven when the door is shut for ever. Men may find out their folly and be filled with remorse for their sins, and yet feel that they cannot repent. No doubt true repentance is never too late; but late repentance is seldom true. Pharaoh, King Saul, and Judas Iscariot, could all say, "I have sinned." Hell itself is truth known too late. God is unspeakably merciful, no doubt. But there is a limit even to God’s mercy. He can be angry, and may be provoked to leave men alone. People should often study Proverbs 1:24-31; Job 27:9; Isaiah 1:15; Jeremiah 11:11; Jeremiah 14:12; Ezekiel 8:18; Hosea 5:6; Micah 3:4; Zechariah 7:13; Matthew 25:11-12.
These words very possibly received a most awful fulfillment during the siege of Jerusalem, forty years after they were spoken. So think Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euthymius.
But they were probably found true by many of our Lord’s hearers long before that time. Their eyes were opened to see their folly and sin, after our Lord had left the world.
Burgon remarks, that to this very day the Jews are in a sense seeking the Messiah, and yet not finding Him.
[Where I am, thither ye cannot come.] The place our Lord speaks of here is evidently heaven. Some have thought, as Bengel, that the words, "where I am," should be translated, "where I go." But it is neither a natural nor usual sense to put on the words. Nor is it necessary. There was a sense in which the Son of God could say with perfect truth, "Where I am, thither ye cannot come." As God, he never ceased to be in heaven, even when He was fulfilling His ministry on earth during His incarnation. As God, He could truly say, "where I am," and not merely where "I was," or where "I shall be." It is like John 3:13, where our Lord speaking to Nicodemus, calls Himself the "Son of man which IS in heaven." The expression is one of the many texts proving our Lord’s divinity. No mere man speaking on earth could speak of heaven as a place "where I am." Augustine strongly maintains this view.
[Ye cannot come.] This is one of those expressions which show the impossibility of unconverted and unbelieving men going to heaven. It is a place where they "cannot come." Their own nature unfits them for it. They would not be happy if they were there. Without new hearts, without the Holy Ghost, without the blood of Christ, they could not enjoy heaven. The favorite notion of some modern theologians, that all mankind are finally to go to heaven, cannot possibly be reconciled with this expression. Men may please themselves with thinking it is kind and loving and liberal and large-hearted to teach and believe that all men and women of all sorts will finally be found in heaven. One word of our Lord Jesus Christ’s overturns the whole theory.—Heaven is a place, He says to the wicked, where "ye cannot come."
The word "ye" is emphatical, and in the Greek stands out in strong contrast to the "I" of the sentence.
v35.—[Then said the Jews...themselves.] The expression "Jews" here can hardly be confined to the Pharisees and rulers. It must mean at any rate those among them who heard our Lord say the words in the preceding verse. Whoever they were, they were probably not friendly to Him.
[Whither will He go...not find Him.] This would be more literally rendered, "Whither is this man about to go." They could put no meaning of a spiritual kind on our Lord’s words.
[Will He go...dispersed...Gentiles, etc.] This would be more literally rendered, "Is He about to go to the dispersion among the Greeks, and to teach the Greeks?" The Greek language, and Greek literature, and Greek philosophy, had so thoroughly leavened Asia Minor and Syria and Palestine, that the expression "Greeks" in the New Testament is often equivalent to Gentiles, and stands for any people who are not Jews. Thus Romans 2:9-10; Romans 3:9; 1 Corinthians 10:32; 1 Corinthians 12:13. Yet it is a singular fact that this is the only passage in the New Testament where the word "Greek," standing alone and not in contradistinction to Jews, is rendered "Gentile."
The verse teaches two interesting things. One is the fact that the existence of a large number of Jews scattered all over the Gentile world was acknowledged as notorious in our Lord’s time. The other is the impression that it proves to have prevailed among the Jews that a new teacher of religion might be expected to go to the Jews scattered among the Gentiles, and, beginning with them, proceed to teach the Gentiles. This is in fact precisely what the Apostle Paul and his companions afterwards did. They did "go to the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles." The idea stated here of "teaching the Gentiles" was probably the suggestion of those who hated our Lord. How much the Jews detested the opening of the door of salvation to the Gentiles, we know from the Acts of the Apostles.
Some, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, Hengstenberg, and many others, think that the words "dispersed among the Gentiles" mean the Gentiles themselves dispersed and scattered all over the world, and not the Jews. But our own version seems far more likely. There is an awkwardness in calling the Gentiles "the dispersion," and it is an expression nowhere else used. James calls the Jews "the twelve tribes scattered abroad." (James 1:1.)
v36.—[What manner of saying, etc.] This question of the Jews is the language of people who saw that there was probably some deep meaning in our Lord’s words, and yet were unable to make out which He meant. Hating our Lord bitterly, as many of them did,—determined to kill Him the first opportunity,—vexed and annoyed at their own inability to answer Him, or to stop His influence with the people,—they suspected everything that fell from His lips.—"Do not these words of His imply some mischief? Is there not some evil at the bottom of them? Do they not indicate that He is going to dishonor the law of Moses by pulling down the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile?"
IT has been said that there are some passages in Scripture which deserve to be printed in letters of gold. Of such passages the verses before us form one. They contain one of those wide, full, free invitations to mankind, which make the Gospel of Christ so eminently the "good news of God." Let us see of what it consists.
We have, first, in these verses, a case supposed. The Lord Jesus says, "If any man thirst." These words no doubt were meant to have a spiritual meaning. The thirst before us is of a purely spiritual kind. It means anxiety of soul,—conviction of sin,—desire of pardon,—longing after peace of conscience. When a man feels his sins, and wants forgiveness—is deeply sensible of his soul’s need, and earnestly desires help and relief—then he is in that state of mind which our Lord had in view, when he said, "If any man thirst." The Jews who heard Peter preach on the day of Pentecost, and were "pricked in their hearts,"—the Philippian jailer who cried to Paul and Silas, "What must I do to be saved?" are both examples of what the expression means. In both cases there was "thirst."
Such thirst as this, unhappily, is known by few. All ought to feel it, and all would feel it if they were wise. Sinful, mortal, dying creatures as we all are, with souls that will one day be judged and spend eternity in heaven or hell, there lives not the man or woman on earth who ought not to "thirst" after salvation. And yet the many thirst after everything almost except salvation. Money, pleasure, honor, rank, self-indulgence,—these are the things which they desire. There is no clearer proof of the fall of man, and the utter corruption of human nature, than the careless indifference of most people about their souls. No wonder the Bible calls the natural man "blind," and "asleep," and "dead," when so few can be found who are awake, alive, and athirst about salvation.
Happy are those who know something by experience of spiritual "thirst." The beginning of all true Christianity is to discover that we are guilty, empty, needy sinners. Till we know that we are lost, we are not in the way to be saved. The very first step toward heaven is to be thoroughly convinced that we deserve hell. That sense of sin which sometimes alarms a man and makes him think his own case desperate, is a good sign. It is in fact a symptom of spiritual life: "Blessed indeed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." (Matthew 5:6.)
We have, secondly, in these verses, a remedy proposed. The Lord Jesus says, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." He declares that He is the true fountain of life, the supplier of all spiritual necessities, the reliever of all spiritual wants. He invites all who feel the burden of sin heavy, to apply to Him, and proclaims Himself their helper.
Those words "Let him come unto me," are few and very simple. But they settle a mighty question which all the wisdom of Greek and Roman philosophers could never settle; they show how man can have peace with God. They show that peace is to be had in Christ by trusting in Him as our mediator and substitute,—in one word, by believing. To "come" to Christ is to believe on Him, and to "believe" on Him is to come. The remedy may seem a very simple one, too simple to be true. But there is no other remedy than this; and all the wisdom of the world can never find a flaw in it, or devise a better.
To use this grand prescription of Christ, is the secret of all saving Christianity. The saints of God in every age have been men and women who drank of this fountain by faith, and were relieved. They felt their guilt and emptiness, and thirsted for deliverance. They heard of a full supply of pardon, mercy, and grace in Christ crucified for all penitent believers. They believed the good news and acted upon it. They cast aside all confidence in their own goodness and worthiness, and came to Christ by faith as sinners. So coming they found relief. So coming daily they lived. So coming they died. Really to feel the sinfulness of sin and to thirst, and really to come to Christ and believe, are the two steps which lead to heaven. But they are mighty steps. Thousands are too proud and careless to take them. Few, alas! think, and still fewer believe!
We have, lastly, in these verses, a promise held out. The Lord Jesus says, "He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." These words of course were meant to have a figurative sense. They have a double application. They teach, for one thing, that all who come to Christ by faith shall find in Him abundant satisfaction. They teach, for another thing, that believers shall not only have enough for the wants of their own souls, but shall also become fountains of blessings to others.
The fulfillment of the first part of the promise could be testified by thousands of living Christians in the present day. They would say, if their evidence could be collected, that when they came to Christ by faith, they found in Him more than they expected. They have tasted peace, and hope, and comfort, since they first believed, which, with all their doubts and fears, they would not exchange for anything in this world. They have found grace according to their need, and strength according to their days. In themselves and their own hearts they have often been disappointed; but they have never been disappointed in Christ.
The fulfillment of the other half of the promise will never be fully known until the judgment-day. That day alone shall reveal the amount of good that every believer is made the instrument of doing to others, from the very day of his conversion. Some do good while they live, by their tongues; like the Apostles and first preachers of the Gospel. Some do good when they are dying; like Stephen and the penitent thief, and our own martyred Reformers at the stake. Some do good long after they are dead, by their writings; like Baxter and Bunyan and M’Cheyne. But in one way or another, probably, almost all believers will be found to have been fountains of blessings. By word or by deed, by precept or by example, directly or indirectly, they are always leaving their marks on others. They know it not now; but they will find at last that it is true. Christ’s saying shall be fulfilled.
Do we ourselves know anything of "coming to Christ"? This is the question that should arise in our hearts as we leave this passage. The worst of all states of soul is to be without feeling or concern about eternity,—to be without "thirst." The greatest of all mistakes is to try to find relief in any other way than the one before us,—the way of simply "coming to Christ." It is one thing to come to Christ’s Church, Christ’s ministers, and Christ’s ordinances. It is quite another thing to come to Christ Himself. Happy is he who not only knows these things, but acts upon them!
v37.—[In...last day...great day...feast.] There seems to be an interval of three days between this verse and the preceding one. At any rate it is certain that our Lord went to the temple and taught "about the midst of the feast." (John 7:14.) There seems no break from that point, but a continuous narrative of teaching and argument up to this verse. There is therefore no account of what our Lord did during the three latter days of the feast. We can only conjecture that He taught on uninterrupted, and that a restraint was put by Divine interposition on His enemies, so that they dared not interfere with Him.
Whether this "last day of the feast" means the eight day or the seventh, is a question not decided.
(1) Some, as Bengel, and others, think it must be the seventh day, because in the account of the feast of tabernacles given by Moses, there is no special mention of anything to be done on the eight day; (Leviticus 23:33-43;) while on each of the seven days of the feast there were special sacrifices appointed, a special reading of the law once every seven years, and also, according to the Jewish writers, a solemn drawing of water from the pool of Siloam, to be poured on the altar in the temple.
(2) Others, as Lightfoot, Gill, Alford, Steir, Wordsworth, and Burgon, think it must be the eighth day, because in reality the feast could hardly be said to be finished till the end of the eighth day; and even in the account of the feast in Leviticus, it is said that the eighth day is to be "a holy convocation" and a "sabbath." (Leviticus 23:36 and Leviticus 23:39.)
The point is of no practical importance; but of the two opinions I incline to prefer the second one. The words seem to me to indicate that all the ceremonial of the feast was over, the last offerings had been made, and the people were on the point of dispersing to their respective homes, when our Lord seized the opportunity, and made the grand proclamation which immediately follows.—It was a peculiarly typical occasion. The last feast of the year was concluding, and before it concluded our Lord proclaimed publicly the great truth which was the commencement of a new dispensation, and Himself as the end of all sacrifices and ceremonies.
The objection that no drawing and pouring of water took place on the eighth day, appears to me of no weight. That our Lord referred to it, is highly probable. But I think He referred to it as a thing which the Jews had seen seven days running, and remembered well. Now on the eighth day, when there was no water drawn, there seemed a peculiar fitness in his crying,—"Come unto me and drink. The water of life that I give may be drawn, though the feast is over."
[Jesus stood and cried.] These words must mean that our Lord chose some high and prominent position, where He could "stand" and be seen and heard by many persons at once. If, as we may suppose, the worshippers at the feast of tabernacles were just turning away from the last of its ceremonies, one can easily imagine that our Lord "stood" in some commanding position close by the entrance of the temple. When it is said that "He cried," it means that He lifted up His voice in a loud, and, to Him, unusual manner, in order to arrest attention,—like a herald making a public proclamation.
[If any man thirst...come unto me and drink.] These words can have but one meaning.—They are a general invitation to all who are athirst about their souls, to come unto Christ in order to obtain relief. He declares Himself to be the fountain of life,—the reliever of man’s spiritual wants,—the giver of satisfaction to weary consciences,—the remover and pardoner of sins. He recommends all who feel their sins and want pardon, to come unto Him, and promises that they shall at once get what they want. The idea is precisely the same as that in Matthew 11:28, though the image employed is different.
It is probable, as almost all commentators remark, that our Lord chose this figure and imagery, because of the Jewish custom of drawing water from the pool of Siloam during the feast of tabernacles, and carrying it in solemn procession to the temple. And it is thought that our Lord purposely refers to this ceremony, of which the minds of many would doubtless be full:—"Does any one want true water of life, better than any water of Siloam?—Let him come to me and by faith draw out of me living waters,—even peace of conscience, and pardon of sins."—But it is fair to remember that this is only conjecture. This custom of drawing water from Siloam at the feast was a human invention, nowhere commanded in the law of Moses, or even mentioned in the Old Testament; and it admits of doubt whether our Lord would have sanctioned it. Moreover, it is evident from John 4:10, and John 6:55, that the figures of "water" and "thirst" were not unfrequently used by our Lord.—The figures at any rate were familiar to all Jews, from Isaiah 55:1.
Some have thought, that because the feast of tabernacles was specially intended to remind the Jews of their sojourn in the wilderness, that our Lord had in view the miraculous supply of water from the rock, which followed Israel everywhere, and that He wished the Jews to see in Him the fulfillment of that type, the true Rock. (1 Corinthians 10:4.) The idea is deserving of attention.
The whole sentence is one of those golden sayings which ought to be dear to every true Christian, and is full of wide encouragement to all sinners who hear it.—Its words deserve special attention.
We should note the breadth of the invitation. It is for "any man." No matter who and what he may have been,—no matter how bad and wicked his former life,—that hand is held out, and the offer made to him:—"If any man thirst, let him come." Let no man say that the Gospel is narrow in its offers.
We should note the persons invited. They are those who "thirst." That expression is a figurative one, denoting the spiritual distress and anxiety which any one feels when he discovers the value of his soul, and the sinfulness of sin, and his own guilt. Such an one feels a burning desire for relief, of which the distressing sensation of "thirst"—a sensation familiar to all Eastern nations—is a most fitting emblem. No further qualification is named. There is no mention of repentance, amendment, preparation, conditions to fulfill, new heart to be got. One thing alone is named. Does a man "thirst"? Does he feel his sins and want pardon?—Then the Lord invites him.
We should note the simplicity of the course prescribed to a thirsting sinner.—It is simply, "Let him come unto me." He has only to cast his soul on Christ, trust Him, lean on Him, believe on Him, commit his soul with all its burdens to Him, and that is enough. To trust Christ is to "come" to Christ.—So "coming," Christ will supply all his need. So believing, he is at once forgiven, justified, and received into the number of God’s children. (See John 6:35, John 6:37.)
The expression "drink," is of course figurative, answering to the word "thirst." It means, "Let him freely take from me everything that his soul wants,—mercy, grace, pardon, peace, strength. I am the Fountain of Life. Let him use me as such, and I shall be well pleased."
We do not read of any prophet or Apostle in the Bible who ever used such language as this, and said to men, "Come unto me and drink." None surely could use it but one who knew that He was very God.
v38.—[He that believeth on me, etc.] This verse is undoubtedly full of difficulties, and has received very various interpretations. Not the least difficulty is about the connection in which the several expressions of the verse ought to be taken.
(1) Some as Stier, would connect "He that believeth on me" with the verb "drink" in the preceding verse. It would then run thus:—"If any man thirst let him come unto me, and let him drink that believeth on me."—I cannot think this is a right view. For one thing, it would be a violent strain of all grammatical usage of the Greek language, to interpret the words thus. For another thing, it would introduce doctrinal confusion. Our Lord’s invitation was not made to him "that believeth," but to him that is "athirst."
(2) Some, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, Pellican, Heinsius, Gualter, De Dieu, Lightfoot, Trapp, and Henry, would connect "He that believeth on me," with the following words:—"As the Scripture hath said." It would then mean, "He that believeth on me after the manner that the Scripture bids him believe." I cannot think that this interpretation is correct. The expression, "Believeth as the Scripture hath said," is a very strange and vague one, and unlike anything else in the Bible.
(3) Most commentators think that the words, "as the Scripture hath said," must be taken in connection with those that follow, "out of his belly," etc. They think that our Lord did not mean to quote precisely any one text of Scripture, but only to give in His own words the general sense of several well-known texts. This, in spite of difficulties, I believe is the only satisfactory view.
One difficulty, of a grammatical kind, arises from the expression, "He that believeth on me," having no verb with which it is connected in the verse. This cannot be got over. It must be taken as a nominative absolute, and the sentence must be regarded as an elliptical sentence, which we must fill up.
Another difficulty arises from the fact, that there is no text in the Old Testament Scriptures which at all answers to the quotation apparently given here. This difficulty is undeniable, but not insuperable. As I have already said, our Lord did not intend to give an exact quotation, but only the general substance of several Old Testament promises. Wordsworth thinks Matthew 2:23 a similar case. Jerome also maintains that frequently the inspired writers contented themselves with giving the sense and not the precise words of a quotation. (See also Ephesians 5:14.)
Another difficulty arises as to the application of the words, "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." Some, as Rupertus, Bengel, and Stier, would apply this to our Lord Himself, and say that it means, "Out of Christ’s belly shall flow rivers of living water." But it is a grave objection to this view that it totally disconnects the beginning of the verse from the end,—makes the expression "He that believeth on me" even more elliptical than it needs be,—and throws the latter part of the verse into the form of a precise quotation of Scripture.
I venture to think that the true interpretation of the verse is as follows:—"He that believeth on me, or comes to me by faith as his Saviour, is the man out of whose belly shall flow rivers of living water, as the Scripture hath said it should be." It is a strong argument in favor of this view that our Lord said to the Samaritan woman, that the water He could give, would be in him that drank it "a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:14.) The full meaning of the promise is that every believer in Christ shall receive abundant satisfaction of his own spiritual wants; and not only that, but shall also become a source of blessing to others. From him instrumentally, by his word, work, and example, waters of life shall flow forth to the everlasting benefit of his fellow-men. He shall have enough for himself, and shall be a blessing to others. The imagery of the figure used is still kept up, and "his belly" must stand for "his inner man." His heart being filled with Christ’s gifts shall overflow to others, and having received much, shall give and impart much.
The passages to which our Lord referred, and the substance of which He gives, are probably Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 35:6-7; Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 58:11; Zechariah 14:8, Zechariah 14:16. Of these passages our Lord gives the general sense, but not the precise words. This is the view of Calvin, Beza, Grotius, Cocceius, Diodati, Lampe, and Scott. It is a curious, confirmatory fact, that the Arabic and Syriac versions of the text both have the expression "Scripture" in the plural, "As the Scriptures have said."
It is a curious fact which Bengel mentions, that the 14th chapter of Zechariah was read in public in the temple, on the first day of the feast of tabernacles. If this is correct we can hardly doubt that our Lord must have had this in mind when He used the expression, "As the Scripture hath said." It is as though He said, "As you have heard, for instance, during this very feast, from the book of your prophet Zechariah."
That almost every believer, whose life is spared after he believes, becomes a fountain of blessing and good to others, is a simple matter of fact, which needs no illustration. A truly converted man always desires the conversion of others, and labors to promote it. Even the thief on the cross, short as his life was after he repented, cared for his brother thief; and from the words he spoke have flowed "rivers of living water" over this sinful world for more than eighteen hundred years. He alone has been a fountain of blessing.
Bloomfield quotes a Rabbinical sentence:—"When a man turns to the Lord, he is like a fountain filled with living water, and rivers flow from him to men of all nations and tribes."
The favorite notion of some, that our Lord in this place only referred to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, to be given on the day of Pentecost, is an idea that does not commend itself to me at all. The thing before us is a thing promised to every believer.—But the miraculous gifts were certainly not bestowed on every believer. Thousands were evidently converted through the Apostles’ preaching who did not receive these gifts. Yet all received the Holy Ghost.
Luther paraphrases this verse thus: "He that cometh to me shall be so furnished with the Holy Ghost, that he shall not only be quickened and refreshed himself and delivered from thirst, but he shall also be a strong stone vessel, from which the Holy Ghost in all His gifts shall flow to others, refreshing, comforting, and strengthening them, even as he was refreshed by me. So Peter on the day of Pentecost, by one sermon, as by a rush of water, delivered three thousand men from the devil’s kingdom, washing them in an hour from sin, death, and Satan." Hengstenberg, after quoting this, adds, "That was only the first exhibition of a glorious peculiarity which distinguishes the Church of the New Testament from the Church of the Old. She has a living impulse which will diffuse the life within her, even to the ends of the earth."
v39.—[But this spake...of the Spirit.] This verse is one of those explanatory comments which are so common in John’s Gospel. The opening words would be more literally rendered, "He spake this concerning the Spirit."
Let it be noted that here, at any rate, there can be no doubt that "water" does not mean "baptism," but the Holy Spirit.—John himself says so in unmistakable language.
[Which they...believe...should receive.] This means, "Which believers in Him were about to receive." There is an inseparable connection between faith in Christ and receiving the Holy Ghost. If any man has faith he has the Spirit. If any man has not the Spirit he has no saving faith in Christ. The effectual work of the Second and Third Persons in the Trinity is never divided.
Rupertus thinks that our Lord had specially in view that mighty out-pouring of the Spirit on the Gentile world, which was to take place after His own ascension into heaven, and the going forth of the Apostles into the world to preach the Gospel.
[For the Holy Ghost...not yet given, etc.] This sentence means that the Holy Ghost was not yet poured on believers in all His fullness, because our Lord had not yet finished His work by dying, rising again, and ascending into heaven for us. It was not till He was "glorified" by going up into heaven and taking His seat at the right hand of God, that the Holy Ghost was sent down in full influence on the Church. Then was fulfilled Psalms 68:18,—"Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive: Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them."—Before our Lord died and rose again and ascended, the Holy Ghost was, and had been from all eternity, one with the Father and the Son, a distinct Person, of equal power and authority, very and eternal God. But He had not revealed Himself so fully to those whose hearts He dwelt in as He did after the ascension; and He had not come down in person on the Gentile world, or sent forth the Gospel to all mankind with rivers of blessing, as He did when Paul and Barnabas were "sent forth by the Holy Ghost." (Acts 13:4.) In a word, the dispensation of the Spirit had not yet begun.
The expression, "the Holy Ghost was not yet given," would be more literally rendered, "the Holy Ghost was not." This cannot of course mean that the Holy Ghost did not exist, and was in no sense present with believers in the Old Testament dispensation. On the contrary, the Spirit strove with the men of Noah’s day,—David spake by the Holy Ghost,—Isaiah spake of the Holy Spirit,—and John the Baptist, now dead, was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb. (Genesis 6:3; Mark 12:36; Isaiah 63:10-11; Luke 1:15.)
What the expression does mean is this. The Holy Ghost was not yet with men in such fullness of influence on their minds, hearts, and understandings, as the Spirit of adoption and revelation, as He was after our Lord ascended up into heaven. It is clear as daylight, from our Lord’s language about the Spirit, in John 14:16-17, John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7-15, that believers were meant to receive a far more full and complete outpouring of the Holy Spirit after His ascension than they had received before. It is a simple matter of fact, indeed, that after the ascension the Apostles were quite different men from what they had been before. They both saw, and spoke, and acted like men grown up; while before the ascension they had been like children. It was this increased light and knowledge and decision that made them such a blessing to the world, far more than any miraculous gifts. The possession of the gifts of the Spirit, it is evident, in the early Church was quite compatible with an ungodly heart. A man might speak with tongues, and yet be like salt that had lost its savor. The possession of the fullness of the graces of the Spirit, on the contrary, was that which made any man a blessing to the world.
Alford says: "John does not say that the words were a prophecy of what happened on the day of Pentecost; but of the Spirit which the believers were about to receive. Their first reception of Him must not be illogically put in the place of all His indwelling and working, which are here intended."
I am quite aware that most commentators hold, that the out-pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost was specially meant by John in this passage. But after carefully considering the matter, I cannot subscribe to this opinion. To confine this verse to the day of Pentecost appears to me to cramp and narrow its meaning,—to deprive many believers of their interest in a most precious promise,—and to overlook all the special language about the inward teaching of the Comforter as a thing to come on believers, which our Lord used the night before His crucifixion.
Bengel remarks that the use of "to be" instead of "to be present" is not uncommon in the Bible. (Thus 2 Chronicles 15:3.) When therefore we read "the Holy Ghost was not," we need not be stumbled by the expression. It simply means "He was not fully manifested and poured out on the Church." Peter, and James, and John, no doubt, had the Spirit now, when our Lord was speaking. But they had Him much more fully after our Lord was glorified. This explains the meaning of the passage before us.
We should note, in leaving these three verses, what a striking example they supply to preachers, ministers, and teachers of religion. Let such learn from their Master to offer Christ boldly, freely, fully, broadly, unconditionally, to all thirsting souls. The Gospel is too often spoiled in the presentation of it. Some fence it round with conditions, and keep sinners at a distance. Others direct sinners wrongly, and send them to something else beside or instead of Christ. He only copies his Lord who says, "If any one feels his sins, let him come at once, straight, direct; not merely to church, or to the sacrament, or to repentance, or to prayer, but to Christ Himself."
THESE verses show us, for one thing, how useless is knowledge in religion, if it is not accompanied by grace in the heart. We are told that some of our Lord’s hearers knew clearly where Christ was to be born. They referred to Scripture, like men familiar with its contents. "Hath not the Scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" And yet the eyes of their understanding were not enlightened. Their own Messiah stood before them, and they neither received, nor believed, nor obeyed Him.
A certain degree of religious knowledge, beyond doubt, is of vast importance. Ignorance is certainly not the mother of true devotion, and helps nobody toward heaven. An "unknown God" can never be the object of a reasonable worship. Happy indeed would it be for Christians if they all knew the Scriptures as well as the Jews seem to have done, when our Lord was on earth!
But while we value religious knowledge, we must take care that we do not overvalue it. We must not think it enough to know the facts and doctrines of our faith, unless our hearts and lives are thoroughly influenced by what we know. The very devils know the creed intellectually, and "believe and tremble," but remain devils still. (James 2:19.) It is quite possible to be familiar with the letter of Scripture, and to be able to quote texts appropriately, and reason about the theory of Christianity, and yet to remain dead in trespasses and sins. Like many of the generation to which our Lord preached, we may know the Bible well, and yet remain faithless and unconverted.
Heart-knowledge, we must always remember, is the one thing needful. It is something which schools and universities cannot confer. It is the gift of God. To find out the plague of our own hearts and hate sin,—to become familiar with the throne of grace and the fountain of Christ’s blood,—to sit daily at the feet of Jesus, and humbly learn of Him,—this is the highest degree of knowledge to which mortal man can attain. Let any one thank God who knows anything of these things. He may be ignorant of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and mathematics, but he shall be saved.
These verses show us, for another thing, how eminent must have been our Lord’s gifts, as a public Teacher of religion. We are told that even the officers of the chief priests, who were sent to take Him, were struck and amazed. They were, of course, not likely to be prejudiced in His favor. Yet even they reported,—"Never man spake like this Man."
Of the manner of our Lord’s public speaking, we can of necessity form little idea. Action, and voice, and delivery are things that must be seen and heard to be appreciated. That our Lord’s manner was peculiarly solemn, arresting, and impressive, we need not doubt. It was probably something very unlike what the Jewish officers were accustomed to hear. There is much in what is said in another place: "He taught them as One having authority, and not as the Scribes." (Matthew 7:29.)
Of the matter of our Lord’s public speaking we may form some conception from the discourses which are recorded in the four Gospels. The leading features of these discourses are plain and unmistakable. The world has never seen anything like them since the gift of speech was given to man. They often contain deep truths, which we have no line to fathom. But they often contain simple things, which even a child can understand. They are bold and outspoken in denouncing national and ecclesiastical sins, and yet they are wise and discreet in never giving needless offense. They are faithful and direct in their warnings, and yet loving and tender, in their invitations. For a combination of power and simplicity, of courage and prudence, of faithfulness and tenderness, we may well say, "Never man spake like this Man"!
It would be well for the Church of Christ if ministers and teachers of religion would strive more to speak after their Lord’s pattern. Let them remember that fine bombastic language, and a sensational, theatrical style of address, are utterly unlike their Master. Let them realize, that an eloquent simplicity is the highest attainment of public speaking. Of this their Master left them a glorious example. Surely they need never be ashamed of walking in His steps.
These verses show us, lastly, how slowly and gradually the work of grace goes on in some hearts. We are told that Nicodemus stood up in the council of our Lord’s enemies, and mildly pleaded that He deserved fair dealing. "Doth our law judge any man," he asked, "before it hear him, and know what he doeth?"
This very Nicodemus, we must remember, is the man who, eighteen months before, had come to our Lord by night as an ignorant inquirer. He evidently knew little then, and dared not come to Christ in open day. But now, after eighteen months, he has got on so far that he dares to say something on our Lord’s side. It was but little that he said, no doubt, but it was better than nothing at all. And a day was yet to come, when he would go further still. He was to help Joseph of Arimathæa in doing honor to our Lord’s dead body, when even His chosen Apostles had forsaken Him and fled.
The case of Nicodemus is full of useful instruction. It teaches us, that there are diversities in the operation of the Holy Spirit. All are undoubtedly led to the same Savior, but all are not led precisely in the same way. It teaches us, that the work of the Spirit does not always go forward with the same speed in the hearts of men. In some cases it may go forward very slowly indeed, and yet may be real and true.
We shall do well to remember these things, in forming our opinion of other Christians. We are often ready to condemn some as graceless, because their experience does not exactly tally with our own, or to set them down as not in the narrow way at all, because they cannot run as fast as ourselves. We must beware of hasty judgments. It is not always the fastest runner that wins the race. It is not always those who begin suddenly in religion, and profess themselves rejoicing Christians, who continue steadfast to the end. Slow work is sometimes the surest and most enduring. Nicodemus stood firm, when Judas Iscariot fell away and went to his own place. No doubt it would be a pleasant thing, if everybody who was converted came out boldly, took up the cross, and confessed Christ in the day of his conversion. But it is not always given to God’s children to do so.
Have we any grace in our hearts at all? This, after all, is the grand question that concerns us. It may be small,—but have we any? It may grow slowly, as in the case of Nicodemus,—but does it grow at all? Better a little grace than none! Better move slowly than stand still in sin and the world!
v40.—[Many...people...this saying, said.] The "people" here evidently mean the general multitude of common people, who had come together to attend the feast, and not the chief priests and Pharisees. The "saying" which called forth their remarks appears to be the public proclamation that our Lord had just made, inviting all thirsty souls to come to Him as the fountain of life. That any one person should so boldly announce himself as the reliever of spiritual thirst seems to have arrested attention, and, taken in connection with the fact of our Lord’s public teaching during the latter half of the feast, which many of the people must have heard, it induced them to say what immediately follows.
Brentius, Musculus, and others, hold strongly that our Lord’s words in the preceding three verses must have been greatly amplified, at the time He spoke, and are in fact a sort of text or keynote to His discourse; and that this is referred to in the expression, "this saying." Yet the supposition seems hardly necessary. The words were a conclusion to three days’ teaching and preaching.
[Of a truth this man...Prophet.] This would be more literally rendered, "This man is truly and really the Prophet." These speakers meant that He must be "the Prophet" like unto Moses, foretold in Deuteronomy. (Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 18:18.)
v41.—[Others said, This is the Christ.] These speakers saw in our Lord the Messiah, or Anointed Savior, whom all pious Jews were eagerly expecting at this period, and whose appearing the whole nation were looking for in one way or another, though the most part expected nothing more than a temporal Redeemer. (Psalms 45:3-5; Isaiah 61:1; Daniel 9:25-26.) Even the Samaritan woman could say, "I know that Messiah cometh." (John 4:25.)
[But some said, Shall Christ...Galilee?] This ought to have been rendered, "But others said." It was not a few exceptional speakers only, but a party probably as large as any. They raised the objection, which was not unnatural, that this new teacher and preacher, however wonderful He might be, was notoriously a Galilean, of Nazareth, and therefore could not be the promised Messiah. How utterly ignorant most persons were of our Lord’s birth-place, we see here, as elsewhere.
v42.—[Hath not the Scripture said, etc.] We should note in this verse the clear knowledge which most Jews in our Lord’s time had of Scripture prophecies and promises. Even the common people knew that Messiah was to be of the family of David, and to be born at Bethlehem, the well-known birth-place of David. It may indeed be feared that myriads of Christians know far less of the Bible than the Jews did eighteen hundred years ago.
v43.—[So...division among...people because of Him.] Here we see our Lord’s words literally fulfilled.—He did not bring "peace, but division." (Luke 12:51.) It will always be so as long as the world stands. So long as human nature is corrupt, Christ will be a cause of division and difference among men. To some He is a savor of life, and to others of death. (2 Corinthians 2:16.) Grace and nature never will agree any more than oil and water, acid and alkali. A state of entire quiet, and the absence of any religious division, is often no good sign of the condition of a Church or a parish. It may even be a symptom of spiritual disease and death. The question may possibly be needful in such cases, "Is Christ there?"
v44.—[And some...would...taken Him.] This would be more satisfactorily rendered, "Some out of those" who made up the crowd "were desirous and wished to take our Lord prisoner."—These were no doubt the friends and adherents of the Pharisees, and very likely were the common people who dwelt at Jerusalem, and knew well what their leaders wanted to do.
[No man laid hands on Him.] This must be accounted for primarily by the Divine restraint which was at present laid on our Lord’s enemies, because His hour was not yet come;—and secondarily by the fear in which the Pharisees’ party evidently stood of a rising in our Lord’s defense on the part of the Galileans, and others who had come up to the feast. Thus we read that at the last Passover "the priests and Scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people." (Luke 22:2.) Again: "They said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people." (Mark 14:2, and Matthew 26:5.)
v45.—[Then came the officers, etc.] It is not clear what interval of time elapsed between John 7:32, where we read that the officers were sent by the priests to take our Lord, and the present verse where we are told of their coming back to their masters.—At first sight of course it all happened in one day. Yet if we observe that between the sending them to take our Lord, and the present verse, there comes in the remarkable verse, "In the last day, that great day of the feast," it seems impossible to avoid the conclusion, that an interval of two or three days must have elapsed.—It seems highly probable that the officers had a general commission and warrant to take our Lord prisoner, whenever they saw a fitting opportunity, about the fourth day of the feast. They found however no opportunity, on account of the temper and spirit of the crowd, and dared not make the attempt. And at last, at the end of the feast, when the multitude was even more aroused than at first, by our Lord’s open testimony, they were obliged to return to those who sent them, and confess their inability to carry out their orders.
v46.—[The officers answered, etc.] The answer of the officers has probably a double application. They themselves felt the power of our Lord’s speaking. They had never heard any man speak like this man. It tied their hands, and made them feel incapable of doing anything against Him.—They had besides marked the power of His speaking over the minds of the multitude which gathered round Him. They had never seen any one exercise such an influence over His hearers. They felt it useless to attempt arresting one who had such complete command over His audience. We cannot doubt that they had heard much more "speaking" than the few things recorded between John 7:32 and John 7:46. These are only specimens of what our Lord said, and furnish a keynote to us indicating the general tenor of His teaching.
What it was precisely that the officers meant when they said "Never man spake like this man," we are left to conjecture. They probably meant that they had never heard any one speak such deep and important truths—in such simple and yet striking language—and in so solemn, impressive, and yet affectionate style. Above all, they probably meant that He spake with a dignified tone of authority, as a messenger from heaven, to which they were entirely unaccustomed.
v47.—[Then answered them...Pharisees...ye also deceived?] The word rendered "deceived" means, literally, "led astray," or "caused to err." Have you too been carried off by this new teaching? The question implies anger, sarcasm, ridicule, and displeasure.
v48.—[Have any...rulers...Pharisees believed on Him?] This arrogant question was doubtless meant to be an unanswerable proof that our Lord could not possibly be the Messiah:—"Can a person be deserving of the least credit, as a teacher of a new religion, if those who are the most learned and highest in position do not believe Him?"—This is precisely the common argument of human nature in every age. The doctrine which the great and learned do not receive is always assumed to be wrong. And yet Paul says, "Not many wise, not many noble are called." (1 Corinthians 1:26.) The very possession of rank and learning is often a positive hindrance to a man’s soul. The great and the learned are often the last and most unwilling to receive Christ’s truth.—"How hardly shall a rich man enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23.)
It seems clear from this that at present the Pharisees did not know that one of their own number, Nicodemus, was favorably disposed to our Lord.
v49.—[But this people...knoweth not law...cursed.] This sentence is full of contempt and scorn throughout. "This people,"—a mob,—a common herd,—"which knoweth not the law," is not deeply read in the Scriptures, and have no deep Rabbinical learning,—"are cursed," are under God’s curse and given over to a strong delusion. Their opinion is worthless, and what they think of the new Galilean teacher is of no moment or value.—Charges like these have been made in every age, against the adherents of all reformers and revivers of true religion. the multitude who followed Luther in Germany, our own Reformers in England, and leaders of revived religion in the last century, were always attacked as ignorant enthusiasts whose opinion was worth nothing. When the enemies of vital religion cannot prevent people flocking after the Gospel, and cannot answer the teaching of its advocates, they often fight with the weapons of the Pharisees in this verse. They content themselves with the cheap and easy assertion that those who do not agree with themselves are ignorant and know nothing, and that therefore it matters nothing what they think. Yet Paul says, "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty." (1 Corinthians 1:27.) The poorer and humbler classes are often much better judges of "what is truth" in religion than the great and learned.
The disposition of the Jews to pronounce those "accursed" who differed from themselves in religious controversy is exhibited in this verse. Jewish converts to Christianity in modern times are often sadly familiar with cursing from their own relatives.
v50.—[Nicodemus...he...came to Jesus by night.] This would be more literally rendered, "He that came to Him by night." The omission of our Lord’s name here is very peculiar.—The fact of Nicodemus having come to see Jesus "by night" is always mentioned by John, where his name occurs. (See John 19:39.) It is to my mind a strong proof that he was a coward when he first came to our Lord, and dared not come openly by day.
[Being one of them.] This means that he was a chief man, or ruler among the Pharisees, and as such was present at all their deliberations and counsels. His case shows that the grace of God can reach men in any position, however unfavorable it may be to true religion. Even a chief Pharisee, one of that company of men who, as a body, hated our Lord and longed to kill Him, could believe and speak up for Him. We must never conclude hastily that there can be no Christians among a body of men, because the great majority of them hate Christ, and are hardened in wickedness. There was a Lot in Sodom, an Obadiah in Ahab’s house, a Daniel in Babylon, saints in Nero’s palace, and a Nicodemus among the Pharisees. He was "one out of their number," but not one of them in spirit.
v51.—[Doth our law judge any man, etc.] This was undoubtedly speaking up for our Lord, and pleading for His being treated justly and fairly, and according to law. At first sight it seems a very tame and cautious mode of showing his faith, if he had any. But it is difficult to see what more could have been said in the present temper of the Pharisees. Nicodemus wisely appealed to law. "Is it not a great principle of that law of Moses, which we all profess to honor, that no man should be condemned without first hearing from him what defense he can make, and without clear knowledge and evidence as to what he has really done?—Is it fair and legal to condemn this person before you have heard from His own lips what He can say in His defense, and before you know from the testimony of competent witnesses what He has really done?—Are you not flying in the face of our law by hastily judging His case, and setting Him down as a malefactor before you have given Him a chance of clearing Himself?" (See Deuteronomy 1:17, and Deuteronomy 17:8, etc., and Deuteronomy 19:15, etc.) Nicodemus, it will be observed, cautiously takes up his ground on broad general principles of universal application, and does not say a word about our Lord’s particular case.
The Greek words would be more literally rendered, "Doth our law condemn the man unless it hears from him first."
I think there can be no reasonable doubt that these words show Nicodemus to have become a real, though a slow-growing disciple of Christ, and a true believer. It required great courage to do even the little that he did here, and to say what he said.
Let us carefully note, that a man may begin very feebly and grow very slowly, and seem to make very little progress, and yet have the true grace of God in his heart. We must be careful that we do not hastily set down men as unconverted, because they get on slowly in the Christian life. All do not grow equally quick.
Let us learn to believe that even in high places, and most unlikely positions, Christ may have friends of whom we know nothing. Who would have expected a chief ruler among the Pharisees to rise at this juncture and plead for justice and fair dealing in the case of our Lord.
v52.—[They answered...thou also of Galilee?] This was the language of rage, scorn, and bitter contempt. "Art thou too, a ruler, a learned man, a Pharisee, one of ourselves, become one of this Galilean party? Hast thou joined the cause of this new Galilean prophet?"
The tone of this bitter question seems to me to prove that Nicodemus had said as much as was possible to be said, on this occasion. The temper and spirit of the Pharisees, from disappointment and vexation at our Lord’s increasing popularity, and their own utter inability to stop His course, made them furious at a single word being spoken favorably or kindly about Him. They must indeed have been in a violent frame of mind, when the mere hint at the desirableness of acting justly, fairly, and legally, made them ask a brother Pharisee whether he was a Galilean!
Musculus remarks that Nicodemus got little favor from the Pharisees, though his favorable feeling towards our Lord was so cautiously expressed. He observes that this is generally the case with those who act timidly as he did. People may just as well be out-spoken and bold.
[Search and look.] This seems to be meant sarcastically. "Go and search the Scriptures again, and look at what they say about the Messiah, before thou sayest one word about this new Galilean prophet. Examine the prophets, and see if thou canst find a tittle of evidence in favor of this Galilean, whose cause thou art patronizing."
[Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.] This would be rendered more literally, "a prophet out of Galilee has not been raised." About the meaning of the words there are three very different opinions.
(1) Some think that the words only mean, no "prophet of great note or eminence has ever been raised up in Galilee." This, however, is a tame and unsatisfactory view.
(2) Some, as Bishop Pearce, Burgon, and Sir N. Knatchbull, think that the Pharisees only meant that "THE Prophet like unto Moses, the Messiah, has nowhere in the Scripture been foretold as coming out of Galilee." According to this view the Pharisees said what was quite correct.
(3) Others, as Alford, Wordsworth, Tholuck, and most other commentators, think that the Pharisees, in their rage and fury, either forgot, or found it convenient to forget, that prophets had arisen from Galilee. According to this view they made an ignorant assertion, and said what was not true.
I find it very difficult to receive this third opinion. To me it seems quite preposterous to suppose that men so thoroughly familiar with the letter of Scripture as the Pharisees were, would venture on such a monstrous and ignorant assertion, as to say that "no prophet had ever arisen out of Galilee"! Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Jonah, and perhaps Nahum, are all thought by some to have been Galilean prophets. Moreover Isaiah distinctly prophesied that in Messiah’s times, Zebulon and Napthali and Galilee of the Gentiles should be a region where "light should spring up." (Matthew 4:14-16.)
On the other hand, I must frankly admit that the Greek of the sentence must be much strained to make it mean "the true prophet is not to arise out of Galilee." I do not forget, moreover, that when men lose their tempers and fly into a passion, there is nothing too foolish and ignorant for them to say. Like a drunken man, they may talk nonsense, and say things of which in calm moments they may be ashamed. It may have been so with the Pharisees here. They were no doubt violently enraged, and in this state of mind might say any thing absurd.
The point, happily, is not one of first-rate importance, and men may afford to differ about it. Nevertheless if I must give an opinion, I prefer the second of the three views I have given. The improbability of the Pharisees asserting anything flatly contrary to the letter and facts of Scripture, is, to my mind, an insuperable objection to the other views.
v53.—[And every man...his own...house.] These words seem to indicate that the assembly of Pharisees, before whom the officers had appeared, reporting their inability to take our Lord prisoner, broke up at once without taking any further action. They saw they could do nothing. Their design to put our Lord to death at once could not be carried out, and must be deferred. They therefore separated and went to their own houses. We may well believe that they parted in a most bitter and angry frame of mind, boiling over with mortified pride and baulked malice. They had tried hard to stop our Lord’s course, and had completely failed. The "Galilean" had proved for the time stronger than the Sanhedrim. Once more, as after the miracle of Bethesda, they had been ignominiously foiled and publicly defeated.
Hutcheson remarks, "There is no council nor understanding against Christ, but when He pleaseth He can dissipate all of it. Here every man went unto his own house, without doing anything."
Maldonatus thinks the verse proves that though the Pharisees sneered at Nicodemus, and reviled him, they could not deny the fairness and justice of what he said. He thinks, therefore, that they dispersed in consequence of Nicodemus’ interference. Even one man may do something against many, when God is on his side.
Besser quotes a saying of Luther’s: "Much as the Pharisees before had blustered, they dared do nothing to Jesus: they became still and silent. He goes up to the feast meek and silent, and returns home with glory.—They go up with triumph, and come down weak."
Trapp remarks: "See what one man may do against a mischievous multitude. It is good to be doing, though there be few or none to second us."
Baxter remarks: "One man’s words may sometimes divert a persecution."
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 7". "J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18