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CONNEXION BETWEEN PIETY AND KNOWLEDGE
John 7:17. 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 very enemies of our Lord were constrained to say, “Never man spake like this man.” Yet did many of them persist in representing him as a deceiver: and, because he had not been educated after the manner of the Scribes and Pharisees, they considered him as incapable of instructing them [Note: ver. 12, 15.]. But to what was it owing that they could not receive his word? Was there any thing in his mode of conveying his instructions, which involved them in unnecessary obscurity? The parabolic form in which he taught the people was common in his day; and, if it cast somewhat of a veil over his instructions, it tended to remove the offence which too explicit a statement would occasion, and to convey knowledge to persons precisely in such a measure as they were able to receive it. The real obstacle which his discourses met with arose from the inveterate prejudices with which the minds of his hearers were prepossessed. Hence they rejected his word, and denied that he was divinely authorized to promulgate the doctrines he maintained. To remove this obstacle, he told them what it was which they wanted, and what alone it was which would render his word profitable to their souls. They wanted an integrity of mind, to obey the truth, as far as it should be revealed to them: and therefore he said, “If any man will do God’s will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”
These words will naturally lead me to shew,
The disposition of mind necessary for a profitable investigation of the Holy Scriptures—
Truth, which is merely practical, requires little besides a strong intellectual power to be exercised upon it; but divine truth is intimately connected with the dispositions of the mind, and requires,
A desire to know God’s will—
[We should bear in mind, that there is a superior Being, to whom we are all accountable for our actions. This may be known even from the works of creation: and the knowledge of it should make us anxious to be informed what His will is, and how we may find acceptance with him. When, therefore, a book is put into our hands, purporting to come from him, we should read it, not with mere transient curiosity, nor as a book whereon to exercise our critical skill, but with a real desire to know all that he shall have seen fit to reveal, especially respecting the duties which we owe him, and the way that he has appointed for the conciliating of his favour — — — The state of our minds should be precisely like that of Cornelius and his family, when Peter was sent as a divine messenger to instruct them: “Now are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God [Note: Acts 10:33.].”]
A readiness to do it—
[We must not sit in judgment on God’s word, complaining of this as too strict, and that as too difficult and self-denying. The only point for us to ascertain is, whether it be the word of God or not: and, if we are convinced that it is his word, then must we receive it with the most child-like simplicity, and obey it without either hesitation or reserve. Nothing is to appear to us “an hard saying.” If it be beyond our comprehension, we should be content to say, in relation to it, “What I know not now, I shall know hereafter.” If we see not exactly the reason of God’s commands, we are not therefore to decline obeying them: for, if an earthly parent expects obedience, though the reasons of his commands be hidden from his child, much more may God expect at our hands a ready acquiescence in all that he commands, even when the reasons of his injunctions are far out of sight — — — St. Paul’s prayer, at the time of his conversion, should be ours at all times: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do [Note: Acts 9:6.]?”]
To recommend to you this disposition in perusing the Holy Scriptures, I will proceed to mark,
Its conduciveness to a clear understanding of them—
It will most materially aid us,
In a discovery of its origin—
[When this holy disposition is wanting, almost every truth of Scripture will prove a stumbling-block to us: but when it regulates our researches, we shall find all the deepest and most offensive declarations of God’s word to accord with our real state before him. Does he declare that “the carnal mind is enmity against him?” We shall be ready, from our own actual experience, to admit it: for we shall be constrained to confess, that, whatever others may have been, we have had no delight in him, or in any thing that could lead us to him. When he asserts that there can be no salvation for us but through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall see how exactly that agrees with our own necessities at least; since we are wholly devoid of any righteousness of our own, and incapable of working out a righteousness wherein we can stand before him. When he requires an entire devotedness of heart and life to his service, our own feelings attest that such a surrender of ourselves to him is the duty and happiness of all his creatures. In fact, the whole revelation of God will then appear to us both worthy of God and suited to man: and, though other evidences of the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures have doubtless their weight and importance, and indeed are absolutely necessary for the conviction of others, this will prove the most satisfactory of all to a man’s own mind. The very excellency of the truths of Scripture will mark, to his perfect satisfaction, their divine origin: for none but God could have conceived things so remote from human apprehension, yet so glorious in themselves, and so harmonious in all their parts; harmonious with the perfections of the Deity, and with the necessities of fallen man.]
In an apprehension of its import—
[In “an honest and good heart,” such as alone is fit for the reception of the heavenly seed, there is such a correspondence with divine truth as makes the reception of it easy. To such an one sin appears hateful, and therefore he acquiesces at once in all that is said in condemnation of it: and holiness appears delightful, and therefore he feels no inclination to lower the requirements of the Gospel. He would gladly, if he could, “be holy as God is holy,” and “perfect as God is perfect.” Hence the things which are stumbling-blocks and rocks of offence to a carnal mind, are most acceptable to him, inasmuch as they accord with the convictions of his own mind, and with the desires of his own soul. In a word, the whole plan of salvation, in all its parts and in all its bearings, is such as fills him with delight. He would not but be humbled in the dust: he would not wish to rob Almighty God of his glory in any one particular: “Not unto us, not unto us, O Lord, but unto thy name, be the praise!” is the very language of his soul: and all that is spoken in Scripture respecting God’s free and sovereign disposals of his grace and mercy, so far from being offensive to him, finds a complete counterpart in the dispositions of his mind: and he is then most pleased, when God is most glorified.]
Hence, then, we may see,
Whence it is that the word of God produces so little effect in the world—
[It is not regarded as the word of God. Men sit in judgment upon it; and, instead of taking it with meek submission as a rule of their faith and practice, satisfy themselves with making it a theatre for the display of their own ingenuity and learning. At best, the generality of men give but a feigned assent to it as the inspired volume: they will, perhaps, even contend for it as a whole, and yet dispute against it in relation to all its most important parts. Thus men contrive to evade its force: but when it comes fully upon the heart and conscience, “it is like fire, or like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces.” Let it once reach the heart of man, and it will prove “sharper than any two-edged sword [Note: Hebrews 4:12.],” and “bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.].”]
How we may derive from it all the benefit it is destined to impart—
[We must receive it as the word of the living God, the word of God to us. We must yield ourselves “with meekness” altogether to its influence [Note: James 1:21.]. What is there that it will not then do for us? Verily, “it will do good to him that walketh uprightly [Note: Micah 2:7.].” Yes, all kinds of good: it will quicken, comfort, support, sanctify, and save the soul. Let your souls, then, be turned as the wax to the seal, or as the melted ore to the mould [Note: Romans 6:17. See the Greek.]. Then, through the teachings of the Holy Spirit, shall it perform its whole work upon you, and transform you “into the divine image in righteousness, and true holiness.”]
CHRIST MAY BE SOUGHT TOO LATE
John 7:36. What manner of saying is this that he said, Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come?
FROM the character of our blessed Lord we might well expect, that, in whatever circumstances he should be placed, his words and actions would be such as became an incarnate God. Accordingly we find that he was never discomposed, never disheartened; but that, as well in the prospect of a cruel death as on all other occasions, he preserved a temper unruffled, a patience unsubdued. “The Pharisees had sent officers to take him;” and though the precise hour for his being delivered up into their hands was not yet arrived, it was very near: yet, instead of manifesting the smallest apprehension of his approaching sufferings, he spake of his death as though he had been going a journey; and shewed, that his chief concern was about the judgments that would fall upon his enemies: “Yet a little while am I with you; and then I go unto Him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, but shall not find me; and where I go, thither ye cannot come.” This assertion of his appeared quite inexplicable to them. “They said among themselves, Whither will he go, that we shall not find him?” and then, after some unsatisfactory conjectures about his going to preach among the Gentiles, or destroying his own life, they were constrained to acknowledge, that they could not at all comprehend it; “What manner of saying is this that he said?” Indeed, even his own Disciples were as much at a loss about his meaning as his very enemies [Note: Compare ver. 35 and 8:22. with 16:16–18.].
It is not our intention to justify their unbelief: for it is evident that they were actuated by a proud captious spirit, and not by a sincere desire after instruction. Yet their words will afford us a fit occasion to shew,
The importance of inquiring into Divine truth in general—
It is certain that there are many expressions in the Scriptures dark and intricate—
[This arises in part from the mysterious nature of Divine truth, which relates to subjects remote from the apprehensions of fallen man — — — It is owing also in part to the metaphorical language in which the doctrines of Revelation are often expressed; for, however certain figures may serve to illustrate the particular doctrine contained in them, they cast a veil over the doctrine, till the truth contained in them is understood — — — But most of all, it is owing to the disinclination of man to receive the things which are revealed. The mind of fallen man is blinded by pride, and passion, and interest: it has a corrupt bias: it is averse to the things which the Spirit of God requires and reveals: “it hates the light, and will not come to the light, lest its vile propensities should be reproved:” and therefore it accounts “the things of the Spirit foolishness,” because it is not able to discern their excellency.]
Nevertheless the things contained in the Scriptures are of infinite importance to us all—
[They relate to the everlasting salvation of the soul: they declare the only way in which a sinner can find acceptance with God: they set forth the person, work, and offices of the Messiah, together with the distinct offices of the Holy Trinity in the work of redemption. They make known the characters of them that are saved and of them that perish, together with the states to which both the one and the other will be sentenced. In short, “the word that Christ hath spoken to us, the same shall judge us in the last day.” Now in comparison of these things, the concerns of time and sense are lighter than the dust upon the balance. Earthly things indeed appear of greater magnitude, because they are nearer to us: but if spiritual truths are brought nigh by faith, they eclipse every other object, as the meridian sun hides by its splendour the feebler radiance of the stars.]
They should therefore be inquired into with all diligence—
[We should not be satisfied with a general acknowledgment of their truth, but should examine into the precise import of them, with a view to ascertain what is the state of our own souls before God. When we hear our Lord affirm so solemnly and so repeatedly, that “unless we be born again we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven;” should we not pause, and consider, and inquire what is meant by the new birth, and whether we have ever experienced the change implied in it? When we read, that “except we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, there is no life in us,” should we not use all possible means to understand it, and to learn whether we are in a state of life or of death? Can we suppose, that, because these assertions are conveyed under metaphorical expressions, they mean nothing; or, that we have no concern with them? Will our ignorance of their import make them void? or will our contempt of them prevent the execution of the Divine judgments agreeably to them? We ought, then, as our Lord enjoins us, to “search the Scriptures,” to weigh every expression contained in them, and to seek a conformity to them in the whole of our principles and conduct.]
But not to dwell any longer on general truths, let us consider,
The importance of ascertaining the meaning of “this saying” in particular—
Scarcely any expression so frequently occurs towards the close of our Saviour’s ministry as this; from whence we may be assured, that it deserved the special attention of his followers. Let us then examine its meaning,
In reference to them—
[Our Lord was speedily to be put to death. His death indeed was voluntary on his part; “No man could take his life from him, but he laid it down of himself:” and therefore he said, “I go to Him that sent me.” But on their part, it was the effect of murderous rage: for this their iniquity the whole nation were to be abandoned to utter ruin [Note: Luke 19:42-44.]. “Then,” says our Lord, “ye will seek me, and shall not find me.” He does not mean, that they would cry to him, and humble themselves before him; but that they would seek for their Messiah, and long for him to deliver them: and the fact was, that, when those calamities did come upon them, they were so desirous of the Messiah’s advent, as willingly to receive any impostor that chose to assume that character. But they had slain the true Messiah, and would look for any other in vain [Note: Luke 17:22.].
Besides, the great mass of individuals among them were to be given over to final impenitence; and, when they should come before Christ at the last day, they would desire to find mercy with him: but, as “Esau, having sold his birth-right, desired afterwards to inherit the blessing, and was rejected, and could find no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears [Note: Hebrews 12:16-17.];” so these wicked men would repent too late, and spend eternity in unavailing sorrows.
Whilst our Lord warned them of their impending danger, he taught them to consider their punishment as necessarily connected with their wickedness: “Where I am, thither ye cannot come.” He does not say, “ye shall not;” but, ye “cannot” come: for they would be excluded from heaven no less by their utter incapacity to enjoy it, than by the unalterable decree of God. Heaven, if they were admitted to it, would be no heaven to them, whilst they retained their malignant passions, and rejected the salvation offered them in the Gospel.]
In reference to ourselves—
[Jesus is yet present with us by the preaching of the Gospel; and he will be withdrawn from us as soon as ever death shall separate us from the means of grace. When “the door of heaven shall be shut, we may stand without, and knock, saying, Lord, open to us:” we may even plead with him, and say, “We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets:” but it will be too late: he will say to us, “Depart from me, I never knew you:” ye sought me not, nor believed in me, when ye were yet on mercy’s ground; and now you must have “judgment without mercy.”
But this may be the case whilst yet we are in this lower world. There is an “accepted time, a day of salvation,” which we may irretrievably lose. We may “grieve” and “resist the Holy Spirit,” till we “quench” his gracious motions, and provoke God to say, “He is joined to idols, let him alone.” He may be so offended by our wickedness as to “give us up to a reprobate mind,” and to “swear in his wrath that we shall never enter into his rest.” He has warned us, that he will do so; that “if we refuse when he calls, he will laugh at our calamity, and mock when our fear cometh: that we may even seek him early, and shall not find him; because we hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord [Note: Proverbs 1:24-29. with 2Co 6:2 and Romans 1:28.].”
Indeed, as long as we continue in an unconverted state, that word is true, “Where I am, thither ye cannot come:” for it is impossible for any one to enjoy heaven, without having attained a meetness for it; or to sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven, without that wedding garment in which every acceptable guest is clothed.]
We may see then What manner of saying this is—
It is an instructive saying—
[Many are the valuable lessons which it inculcates. It teaches us, that on the present moment eternity depends — — — That our great concern in life is to obtain the knowledge of Christ, and an interest in his favour — — — That a wilful abuse of our present privileges may provoke God to give us up to final impenitence — — — and that, if we die before we are “renewed after the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness,” we can no more enjoy heaven, than “light can have communion with darkness, or Christ with Belial” — — — Would to God that we might learn these things so deeply, as to be continually influenced by them! Happy will it be for us, if we “seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near.”]
It is a comfortable saying—
[The words of our text are elsewhere addressed to his own more-favoured Disciples [Note: John 13:33.]. They are, in fact, like the pillar and cloud by which Israel were conducted out of Egypt: they have a luminous aspect towards the people of God, whilst they present a dark side towards his enemies. His own dearest children cannot follow him now; but they shall follow him soon [Note: John 13:36.]. He is merely “gone to prepare a place for them; and will come soon to take them to himself, that where he is they may be also [Note: John 14:2-3.].” Moreover, his separation from them at present is only corporeal: for he is still with them, and “they see him,” and enjoy the sweetest “fellowship with him [Note: Joh 14:19-22 with 1 John 1:3.]:” and in a little time they shall enter into his immediate presence, and “be for ever with the Lord [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18.].” Well might the Apostle say, “Comfort ye one another with these words.”
But this saying is peculiarly comfortable in another view; for what our Lord said respecting the unbelieving Jews, the Christian may say respecting all his spiritual enemies: ‘Yet a little while I am with you; and ye may make your assaults upon me: but soon I shall go to my Father, and be out of your reach: then ye shall seek me, and shall not find me; and where I am, thither ye cannot come. No, Satan, thou canst no more molest me there: temptation shall harass me no more; sin shall no more defile me; sorrow shall no more cloud my mind or oppress my spirits: there shall enter nothing that defileth: I may be exposed to you all a little while longer; but soon I shall embrace uninterrupted joy and gladness; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.’ Blessed reflection! Who must not long for death, that he may enjoy such happiness as this? Who must not add his Amen to that petition of our Lord, “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me?” Yes; let all our hearts say, “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly!”]
It is a terrific saying—
[Whilst we see so many living at their ease disregarding all the invitations of the Gospel, and dreaming of happiness without an interest in Christ, how distressing is it to think, that in a little time their day of grace will be passed, and that God may either give them up to judicial blindness, or say, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee!” When we tell them of these things, they are ready to reply, “What manner of saying is this that he hath said? It is a wild enthusiastic dream that shall never be realized.” Ah! would to God it might not be realized! but it will, in spite of all that you can say, or do, to the contrary. If you continue saying to Christ, “Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways;” he will soon take you at your word, and say, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Trifle then no more with the opportunities afforded you; but “redeem the time;” and, “whilst the light is yet with you, walk in the light, lest darkness come upon you [Note: John 12:35-36.],” and “an impassable gulf be fixed” between you and our ever-adorable Emmanuel.]
CHRIST’S OFFER OF THE SPIRIT
John 7:37-38. In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
OUR blessed Lord incessantly laboured for the salvation of men; nor could their ungrateful returns at all divert him from his purpose. His life was sought, and he knew that persons were sent to apprehend him: yet, instead of rejecting them with abhorrence, he sought to win them by love, and importuned them to accept his richest blessings. Let us consider his invitation,
As addressed to them—
The time and manner of his invitation are worthy of notice—
[This was a day of peculiar sanctity, and of uncommon festivity [Note: It was the eighth and last day of the feast of tabernacles, Leviticus 23:34; Leviticus 23:36.]; and it seems that some customs, not required in the original institutions of the law, obtained among the Jews at that time [Note: It is said that on this day they went annually to the pool of Siloam, and drawing water from thence returned with it in procession to the temple, where they poured it out with all possible demonstrations of joy. At what time this custom arose, it is not easy to determine; but probably it commenced after the Babylonish captivity; and was adopted in reference to that prediction, Isaiah 12:3. Nor is the design of it precisely known: but it seems most likely that they then commemorated the giving of water out of the rock in the wilderness; and called upon God for rain, which was so necessary to them at that season. Perhaps the more spiritual among them, might pray also for those spiritual blessings, which their promised Messiah was appointed to bestow. These circumstances served as the foundation of our Lord’s address, and reflect much light upon it.]. Happy to improve the opportunity, Jesus stood in the most conspicuous place, and, with an exalted voice, claimed the attention of the people; and, despising equally the censures of the uncharitable, and the persecutions of the proud, he made them fresh overtures of mercy. While they only panted for his blood, he longed for their salvation. He pointed himself out to them as “the only fountain of living waters,” and assured them of his readiness to impart whatsoever they stood in need of. He excepted none from his offers, provided they did but “thirst” for his blessings.]
Lest, however, his invitation should be slighted, he enforced it with a promise—
[He first explained what he meant by “coming to him.” (It was not a mere outward, but an inward and spiritual application, that he wished them to make to him.) They were to “believe in him,” as possessing all fulness in himself [Note: Colossians 1:19.]: and as the person appointed of the Father to convey blessings to them [Note: Psalms 72:17.]. In a full persuasion of this truth they were to come to him by faith. For their encouragement he promised them a rich effusion of his Spirit. By “living water” our Lord meant the gift of his Spirit [Note: ver. 39. Some, because our Lord’s words are not found in Scripture, connect καθὼς εἶπεν ἡ γραφὴ with ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἑμὲ; (translating εἷπεν, hath required) but there are many passages that speak to the same effect, though not in his express terms.]; and when he said, that “rivers of this living water should flow out of his belly,” he intimated, that the believer should have a constant spring of consolation within him, which should refresh all who came within the sphere of his influence. Of this blessed truth the Scriptures had abundantly testified, and our Lord now confirmed it to them by a most solemn promise. He assured them, as he had before told the Samaritan woman, that his communications to them should prove a source of unutterable and endless joy [Note: John 4:10; John 4:13-14.].]
In this promise he clearly shewed them that he was the promised Messiah—
[The gift of his Spirit in such an abundant measure was that “new thing” which the Messiah was to accomplish [Note: Isaiah 43:18-20; Isaiah 44:3.] — — — And in thus freely offering it to all, he fulfilled the office more especially assigned him [Note: Isa 55:1-3 and Joel 2:28-29; Joel 2:32.] — — —]
But it is time that we consider the invitation,
As addressed to us—
In the very name of Christ, and as his authorized ambassador, I now repeat the invitation to you: “I stand and cry to you,” even as he did to them, and with the very same confidence and assurance.
[Christ is “the fountain of living waters [Note: Jeremiah 2:13.]:” it has pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell [Note: Colossians 1:19.]; and that all we should receive out of it according to our necessities [Note: John 1:16. Philippians 4:19.]. In fact, he has received the Holy Spirit on purpose that he may impart it unto us [Note: Psalms 68:18. with Ephesians 4:8.]. And now I say in the presence of you all, that if you will but “believe in him you shall receive this heavenly gift in the richest abundance.” Whatever you may have been, or whatever you may have done, even though, like his auditors, you may have thirsted for his blood, the offer is to you. If only you thirst for salvation, you shall never be disappointed of your hope: “The Holy Spirit shall be in you as a well of water springing up unto eternal life.” It shall accomplish in you all the good pleasure of your God, and shall enable you to diffuse blessings all around you. In truth, this is your distinctive privilege. A man may possess ever so large a measure of earthly wisdom or power, and never be able to benefit or comfort one soul: but if you be endued with the Holy Ghost, your conversation shall be edifying to all around you; and you shall be the means of imparting to others in rich abundance the consolation and refreshment which you yourself have received. If Christ be as the rock in the wilderness to you, you in your measure shall be the same to many a thirsting soul.]
Let me then invite you all, as it were, separately and by name—
[You who, like our Saviour’s auditors, have no desire after spiritual blessings, what have you ever found that can be compared with the blessings here offered you? What have all those things for which you have laboured proved, but “broken cisterns that can hold no water?” And do you think you contract no guilt whilst you prefer such vanities before the living God? Hear how God himself complains of you [Note: Jeremiah 2:12-13.] — — — And assure yourselves, that, if you continue to treat him thus, the day will come when you will “want a drop of water to cool your tongue.”
If there be any who doubt whether they shall ever obtain such mercy at their Saviour’s hands, “only believe, and according to your faith it shall be done unto you.” See how exactly the Lord has stated your very case, and accommodated to your mind his gracious promises [Note: Isaiah 41:17-18.] — — — Dismiss your fears then, and wait patiently upon him in prayer: and in due season the Rock shall be stricken to quench your thirst; and “your soul shall ere long be as a watered garden, and as a spring of water, whose waters fail not [Note: Isaiah 58:11.].”
But doubtless there are some who have already drunk of the living waters which Christ has given them. It is no wonder that you thirst: for if you had received as much as ever St. Paul himself had, you would only thirst the more, “forgetting what you had received, and panting still for more.” But remember this; if you have ever drunk of these waters, “you will never thirst for any thing else” even to your dying hour [Note: John 4:14.]. Even though you have no earthly comfort whatever, you will be “as one that possesses all things [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.].” Remember too, that you must daily make your profiting to appear. Being watered as the garden of the Lord, you must “abound in all the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.” Remember lastly, that you are to impart to others the blessings which you yourselves have received. From you are to flow rivers of living water for the refreshing of others; and “as you have received freely, you must freely give” to all around you. As “the righteous are a tree of life [Note: Proverbs 11:30.],” that all may eat of their life-giving fruits, so are you to be wells of salvation in your respective spheres, that all who can gain access to you may have the cup of salvation put into their hands, and drink and live for ever. Such is the honour which our blessed Saviour has conferred on you; and such is the improvement of it which he expects at your hands.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on John 7". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany