These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended
Christ’s reasons for present speech and former silence
OUR LORD’S LOVING REASON FOR HIS SPEECH.
1. The two statements of John 16:1; Joh_4:1-54 are separated by a reiteration of the dark prospect that He has been holding out. The world is the apostate Jewish Church. A formal church is the true world, to-day as then. And such a body will do the cruellest things and believe that it is offering up Christ’s witnesses as sacrifices to God. And the bottom of it all is that in the blaze of light, and calling themselves God’s, “they do not know” either God or Christ.
2. But that is all parenthetical. Look now at the loving reasons which Christ here suggests for His speech. “That ye should not stumble.” There could be nothing more productive of intellectual bewilderment and doubt than to find oneself at odds with the synagogue about the question of the Messiah. A modest man might naturally say, “Perhaps I am wrong and they are right.” A coward would be sure to say, “I will sink my convictions and fall in with the majority.” And, says Christ, “the only way by which you will ever get over these temptations is to reflect that I told you it would be so, before it came to pass.”
3. Of course all that has a special bearing upon the apostles, &c., a secondary bearing upon Christians, who live in a time of persecution. But it also has a bearing upon us. For, if we are trying to live like our Master, we, too, shall often be surrounded by people that take such an entirely opposite view of duty and of truth, as that we shall be only too much disposed to say, “Well, perhaps after all it is better for me to hold my tongue.” And then, besides, there are all the cares and griefs which befall each of us. Christ does not try to enlist recruits by highly-coloured pictures. He tells us plainly at the beginning, “If you take My yoke upon you, you will have to carry a heavy burden.” The roadway is narrow and rough, and the gateway is very strait, but it all goes steadily up. Will you accept the terms and come in and walk upon it? Jesus Christ will have no service on false pretences. Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom. And the way by which all these troubles and cares can best be overcome is precisely by this thought, “The Master has told us before.”
II. OUR LORD’S LOVING REASONS FOR PAST SILENCE.
1. “These things” (John 16:4) include the whole of the previous chapter, in which He sets the sorrow as being the consequence of union with Him. In so systematic and detailed fashion our Lord had not spoken in His earlier ministry. And the reason why He had given but passing hints before was because He was there. What a superb confidence that expresses in His ability to shield His poor followers, “as a hen gathereth her chickens,” &c. But He is going away, and so it is time to speak, and to speak more plainly.
2. For us, too, difficulties and sorrows, though foretold in general terms, are largely hidden till they are near. It would have been of little use for Christ to have spoken more plainly before. The disciples managed to misunderstand His plain utterances about His own death and resurrection. There needs to be an adaptation between the hearing ear and the spoken word. And there are great tracts of Scripture dealing with the sorrows of life, which lie dark and dead to us, until experience vitalizes them. The old Greeks used to send messages from one army to another by means of a roll of parchment twisted spirally round a baton, and then written upon. And it was perfectly unintelligible when it fell into a man’s hands that had not a corresponding baton to twist it upon. Many of Christ’s messages to us are like that. You can only understand the utterances when life gives you the frame round which to wrap them, and then they flash up into meaning, and we say at once, “He told us it all before, and I scarcely knew that He had told me until this moment when I need it.”
III. THE IMPERFECT APPREHENSION OF OUR LORD’S WORDS WHICH LEADS TO SORROW INSTEAD OF JOY (John 16:5-6). The one definite idea that they gathered was that He was going. And they said, “Going? What, is to become of us?” If there had been a little less selfishness, and if they had put their question, “Going? What is to become of Him?” then it would not have been sorrow that would have filled their heart, but joy. That gives us a thought that the steadfast contemplation of the ascended Christ is the sovereign antidote against all sense of separation and solitude, the sovereign power by which we may face a hostile world, the sovereign cure for every sorrow. If we could live in the light of that great triumph, then, oh! how small would the babble of a world be. Look up to the Master that has gone, and as the dying martyr outside the city wall “saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing”--having sprung to His feet to help His poor servant--“at the right hand of God,” so with that vision in our eyes we shall be masters of grief and care, and sin, and feel that the absent is the present Christ, and the present Christ is the conquering power in us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Church and the world
I. THE RELATION OF THE CHURCH TO THE WORLD IS THE SAME AS CHRIST’S--one of moral contrast as to character, principle, motive, inward life, whether it be the Jewish world, or the Greek, or the Roman. And it is the same now. Conceive the character of Christ, and place by the side of it that of a thoroughly worldly man, you will have the most striking contrast. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” And marks there are, plain and palpable, between the Church and the world. There are two kinds of changes possible with respect to these.
1. They may be shifted.
2. They may be obliterated
II. THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH IS THE SAME AS THE MISSION OF CHRIST. “As Thou hast sent Me into the world,” &c. “I am the Light of the world,” “Ye are the light of the world.” Christ is represented
1. In the Church’s testimony of truth. The Church is to hold forth the truth, to make a stand for it, to illustrate and enforce it.
2. In the Church’s missionary operations. Christ was the great Missionary, and His work is now to be carried on instrumentally by His Church. “Go ye into all the world.” There are different kinds of missions. There is the lip mission; the pen mission; the hand mission; the foot mission; but chief of all, there is the life mission, and that must be connected with all the rest. Some men have done great things for the cause of Christ by their intellectual power, by pecuniary power, by business power, but I believe there is still more to be done by moral and social power. That connected with the rest makes the rest most effective.
III. THE DESTINY OF CHRIST IN THE WORLD, AND THE DESTINY OF CHRIST’S CHURCH IN THE WORLD IS THE SAME. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own,” &c., and so the text. A great change has been wrought in society by the influence of Christianity; so that the world is not what it was when the prediction was first spoken. And persecution does not exist now in the world as it once did. It is one part of the nominal church persecuting another. But the world is still opposed to what is most truly the spirit of Christianity. The world does not like to hear about the mediation of the Lord Jesus or the work of the Holy Spirit. And then, again, the world is not opposed to some aspects of Christian consistency. When a Christian carries out that in the way of generosity the world will praise him, but when he refuses to connive at deceit and falsehood, the spirit of the world will come out and persecute. Nor is the world so much opposed to moral consistency as to spiritual consistency. Those who oppose forms of amusement which are instinct with evil, such men the world hates. The world, too, may admire specimens of Christianity which are remote, but it does not like specimens of Christianity which are near. Bunyan dead is applauded, but Bunyan alive would not be so. Had Havelock come to England and exemplified his principles in connection with some civil callings at home, there are numbers who would have been ready to persecute the very man whom they applauded to the skies when he was far away. In many cases also the world would be found to admire Christians in spite of their Christianity, but not because of their Christianity. They are praised for their kindness, their generosity, their humility; but their fondness for prayer, their religious strictness, and so on, how often all this is regarded as an abatement! (J. Stoughton, D. D.)
They shall put you out of the synagogues
The best men liable to the worst treatment from mistaken zealots
I. THE BEST OF MEN MAY BE EXCLUDED FROM THE COMMUNION OF THOSE WHO MAY ASSUME TO BE THE TRUE AND ONLY TRUE CHURCH, and that under the notion of very bad and criminal persons. What the Jews did to the apostles hath been too frequently practised since by some of the professors of Christianity towards one another. Witness the case of Athanasius and others, in the reign and prevalency of Arianism, and the ill treatment that whole churches have met with from that haughty and uncharitable church which makes nothing of thundering out excommunication against persons and churches more Christian than herself. But it is our comfort, that the apostles were thus used by a church that made the same pretences that they do, and upon grounds every whit as plausible.
II. THEY WHO ARE THUS EXCOMMUNICATED MAY NEVERTHELESS BE TRUE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST. Men may be put out of the synagogue, and yet received into heaven; for the judgment of God is not according to the uncharitable censures of men, but according to truth and right.
III. FROM UNCHARITABLE CENSURES MEN NATURALLY PROCEED TO CRUEL ACTIONS. This has been the source of the most barbarous cruelties; witness the severity of the heathens persecution, which justified itself by the uncharitable opinion that the Christians were despisers of the gods, and consequently atheists; but they were pertinacious and obstinate in their opinions; i.e., in the modern style, heretics. And the like uncharitable conceit has been thought a sufficient ground (even in the judgment of the infallible chair) for the justification of several bloody massacres; for after men are once sentenced to eternal damnation, it seems a small thing to torment their bodies.
IV. MEN MAY DO THE VILEST AND MOST WICKED THINGS OUT OF A REAL PERSUASION THAT THEY DO RELIGIOUSLY. The great duties and virtues of religion are easy to be understood; and so are the contrary sins and vices: but then they are only plain to a teachable and honest mind; to those who receive the Word with meekness and love. But if men will give up themselves to be governed by any corrupt interest, to be blinded by prejudice, intoxicated by pride, and transported by passion, no wonder if they mistake the nature, and confound the differences of things, in the plainest and most palpable cases; no wonder if God give up persons of such corrupt minds to strong delusions to believe lies. In these cases men may take the wrong way, and yet believe themselves to be in the right and be verily persuaded that they are serving God, and sacrificing to Him. Of this we have a plain and full instance in the Scribes and Pharisees, and in St. Paul. And if God had not checked him in his course, he would have spent his whole life in persecution, and would (with Pope Paul IV. upon his death-bed) have recommended the Inquisition to the chief priests and rulers of the Jewish Church.
V. SUCH ACTIONS ARE NEVERTHELESS HORRIBLY WICKED. To make an action good and acceptable to God, we must do it with a good mind, and to a good end, and it must be good and lawful in itself.
VI. THE CORRUPTION OF THE BEST THINGS IS THE WORST. Religion is certainly the highest perfection of human nature; and zeal for God highly acceptable: and yet nothing is more barbarous, and spurs men on to more horrid impieties, than a blind zeal for God, and false and mistaken principles in the matter of religion (Acts 26:9-11). (Abp. Tillotson.)
Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.
The word “doeth” is the technical word for offering sacrifice (cf. Matthew 5:23; Mat_8:4)
. The word “service” means the service of worship (Romans 9:4; Rom_12:1; Hebrews 9:1-6). A rabbinic comment on Numbers 25:13 is, “Whosoever sheddeth the blood of the wicked is as he who offereth sacrifice.” The martyrdom of St. Stephen, or St. Paul’s account of himself as a persecutor (Acts 26:9; Galatians 1:13-14), shows how these words were fulfilled in the first years of the Church’s history, and such accounts are not absent from that history’s latest page. (Archdeacon Watkins.)
Abuse of conscience
What a rattle and noise hath this word conscience made! How many battles has it fought? how many churches has it robbed, ruined, and reformed to ashes? how many laws has it trampled upon, dispensed with, and addressed against? and in a word, how many governments has it overturned? Such is the mischievous force of a plausible word applied to a detestable thing (Acts 26:9). (R. South, D. D.)
Put you out of the synagogue
was much more than simply to exclude from the place of public worship. It cut a man off from the privileges of his people, from the society of his former associates. It was a sort of moral outlawry, and the physical disabilities followed the sufferer even after death. To be under this ban was almost more than flesh and blood could bear. All men shunned him on whom such a mark was set. He was literally an outcast; in lasting disgrace and perpetual danger. Those familiar with the history of the dark ages, or who are acquainted with the effects of losing caste among the Hindoos, will be able to realize the terrors of such a system. Sometimes this punishment and degradation was a prelude even to death. At all events, the Jews, who since their subjugation by the Romans had lost the legal prerogative of life and death, yet thought it meritorious even by irregular and clandestine measures to compass the destruction of those who were obnoxious. And the men who, in however underhand a manner, carried out the secret sentence of their displeasure were regarded by the rulers with approbation. So that there grew up a desperate and fanatical sect among them, which went by a name which in our adopted term of “zealot” has a very mitigated meaning. (G. J. Brown, M. A.)
Excommunication among the Jews
The three degrees of excommunication among the Jews were
1. Niddui, putting out of the synagogue (Luke 6:22). And the effect of this excommunication was to exclude men from the communion of the Church and people of God and from His service, which was a great disgrace, because after this sentence none of the Jews were to converse with them, but to look upon them as heathens and publicans.
2. Cherem, which extended farther, to the confiscation of goods into the sacred treasury, and devoting them to God, after which there was no redemption of them (Ezra 10:7-9).
when the rebellious and contumacious person was anathematized and devoted, and, as some conceive, according to the law Leviticus 27:29), was to be put to death; though other very knowing men in the Jewish learning think it amounted to no more than a final sentence, whereby they were left to the judgment of God, by some remarkable judgment of His to be cut off from the congregation of Israel. Of the first and last of these degrees of excommunication our Saviour seems here to speak. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
Gratitude for massacre
One of the most horrid circumstances attending the dreadful massacre of the Protestants under Charles IX. of Prance was that, when the news of this event reached Rome, Pope Gregory XIII. instituted the most solemn rejoicing, giving thanks to Almighty God for this glorious victory over the heretics!!
In the Huguenot persecution in Belgium and France in 1562, the inhabitants of the town of Orange fell into the hands of the Catholics. They were hacked to pieces, burnt at slow fires, or left, infamously mutilated, to bleed to death. Noble ladies, first sacrificed to the lust of the soldiers, were exposed in the streets to die--either naked, or pasted over in devilish mockery with the torn leaves of their Geneva Bibles. Old men and children, women and sick, all perished under cruelties unexampled even in the infernal annals of religious fanaticism. (J. A.Froude.)
Religious intolerance dishonouring to God
In one of the Jews’ books it is stated that when Abraham sat at his tent door, according to his custom, waiting to entertain strangers, he espied an old man stooping and leaning on his staff, weary with age and travel, coming towards him, who was a hundred years of age. He received him kindly, washed his feet, provided supper, and caused him to sit down. But observing that the old man eat and prayed not, nor begged for a blessing on his meat, he asked him why he did not worship the God of heaven. The old man told him that he worshipped the fire only, and acknowledged no other God. At which answer Abraham grew so zealously angry, that he thrust the old man out of his tent, and exposed him to all the evils of the night and an unguarded condition. When the old man was gone, God called to Abraham and asked him where the stranger was. He replied, “I thrust him away because he did not worship Thee.” God answered him, “I have suffered him these hundred years, although he dishonoured Me; and couldest thou not endure him one night, when he gave thee no trouble?” Upon this, salts the story, Abraham fetched him back again, and gave him hospitable entertainment and wise instruction. “Go thou, and do likewise,” and thy charity will be rewarded by the God of Abraham. (Jeremy Taylor.)
The fate of the first disciples
Matthew suffered martyrdom by the sword in Ethiopia. Mark died at Alexandria, after being dragged through the city. Luke was hanged on an olive tree in Greece. Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downward. James was beheaded at Jerusalem. James the less was thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple and beaten to death below.
Philip was hanged against a pillar in Phrygia. Bartholomew was flayed alive. Andrew was bound to a cross, whence he preached to his persecutors till he died. Thomas was run through the body at Coromandel, in India. Jude was shot to death with arrows. Matthias was first stoned, and then beheaded. Barnabas was stoned to death by Jews at Salonica. Paul, “in deaths oft,” was beheaded at Rome by Nero. (J. Angus, D. D.)
Because they have not known the Father, nor Me
The tribulation explained
I. TRACED TO ITS CAUSE--ignorance. It is strange how differently Christ and man may view the same action. The Jews imagined they above all men were acquainted with the Father, and knew better than all the world beside what kind of service to present upon His altar. This was not the judgement of Christ.
II. CONDEMNED IN ITS CHARACTER. Though Christ ascribed their behaviour to ignorance, He does not say that for this they were not responsible, if they did not know the Father or Him they might have known John 15:22).
III. COMMISERATED IN ITS ACTORS. One cannot help thinking Christ designed His words to awaken pity in the breasts of His persecuted followers, like that afterwards found in His own, when, hanging on the cross, He prayed for His murderers (Luke 23:34). (T. Whitelaw,D. D.)
But now I go My way to Him that sent Me
Going to God
He says, not that He is going the way of all the earth, because He was not going as all flesh must go, from the necessity of man’s nature, but of His own will. All things which He suffered on earth were a going to His Father, a fulfilment of His mission, and the way by which He was to return to Him that sent Him. By His cross and passion, by His sufferings and death, was His kingdom to be set up and His throne established. And by reminding His disciples of this truth He seeks to assuage their grief, and to prevent their being offended in Him, since, however greatly He should be humiliated, and however many His sufferings might be, they were all but a going to His Father, all but the means by which His glory was to be made known unto men. This thought was the consolation of the Man Christ Jesus, and with the same thought He consoles us. The oil from the head of our Great High Priest flowed down to all His members, even the oil of gladness to comfort them in all their troubles. The whole of this present life of man is one continual going either to God or from Him. All thoughts and deeds of our daily life are either separating us from our heavenly Father or drawing us towards Him in whose presence we are at all times. It is our vocation to pass through life into the glory of our Father; and our duty to remember that whilst all is shifting around us, the Christian’s career is in itself a going the way to Him that sent him. (W. Denton, M. A.)
None of you asked Me, Whither goest Thou?
Misdirected and sanctified curiosity
Curiosity is often reprehensible. It is the fault of many to wish to pry into matters which they had much better never know. But there is one direction in which inquiry is never out of place. We can never be too anxious to know about Christ, the reasons of His movements, and the explanations of His doings (1 Peter 1:10-12). Here anxious interest and casting about for light are not only legitimate, but necessary to our proper instruction, comfort, and salvation (James 1:5). But just here it is that the human heart is most sluggish. People spend their lives searching into questions of political and domestic economy, finance, commerce, agriculture, education. They toil and experiment touching the character, relations, and classifications of rocks, metals, soils, plants, insects, reptiles, animals, birds, and flowers. They explore and labour, at every expense and inconvenience, to make and test theories about the world. They rummage the darkest histories of the past, and exhaust their powers speculating upon the phenomena of human life, and perplex themselves about a thousand things in reference to which the best wisdom is as useless as it is scanty. But when it comes to the great and mighty movements of the Lord of all, the incarnation of Jehovah for the redemption of a world labouring under the curse of sin, and those moral and spiritual administrations, without which all the universe must be as nothing to us, they have no inquiries of living interest to propound. And to many an energetic sage and earnest searcher in departments not a thousandth part the account of this, the wronged and burdened Saviour is compelled to say, “I go My way to Him that sent Me; and none of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou?” And especially in times of affliction, when the good Lord seems to withdraw Himself, and leave us to ourselves and our weaknesses, does the Saviour find occasion to complain of the deadness of men, paralyzed with their griefs, when they ought to be inquiring of Him about the reasons and objects of them. He has His explanations for all our days of darkness, and an antidote for every pain or privation we suffer, if only we had the faith and interest to ask after it. But the human heart is such an inveterate doubter, and so ready to give way before what is afflictive and dark, that we often miss the very consolations which are at hand, just because we are too dull and despondent to make the requisite inquiry. (J. A. Seiss, M. A.)
It is expedient for you that I go away
The absenteeism of Christ
The words must have been very startling to the apostles. They had doubtless come to consider the personal presence of Christ indispensable. He was the principle of cohesion among them, and His departure would be the signal for the dissolution of the brotherhood. He, moreover, gave them what influence they possessed in the nation; for without Him they were but a band of ignorant fishermen.
2. Now if these words were true in the case of the apostles, they are true for all time. The absenteeism of Christ is a help rather than a hindrance to the religious life.
I. It is, of course, true that THE DEATH OF ANY GOOD MAN IS SO FAR A LOSS TO THE WORLD. It is the withdrawal of a beneficent influence. How grand, then, it would have been, to have had Him, the world’s greatest blessing, making one everlasting pilgrimage round the globe. But
1. Such perpetual residence here would have limited His moral influence. No man is understood till he is dead. Absence is the condition of correct insight. Presence either blinds us to greatness, or produces flattery, or that familiarity which begets indifference. It is to be feared that, had Christ remained for ever on the earth, the blindness of the Jews who saw no beauty in Him to make Him desired, would have been repeated by each succeeding generation. We labour under an incapacity for seeing a hero in the man whose hand we can shake. The fault, no doubt, lies in us who live so much in our senses, and look only on the surface of the life. That the valet cannot see a hero in his master is more likely to be due to the valet’s blindness than to the master’s defects. We might have gained in physical happiness from Christ’s perpetual presence, but that would have been but a poor compensation for the loss of reverence, and the inspiring lift our whole nature has received from the ascended and invisible Christ. Why, the physical boon itself would have been but parochial and temporary. And thereon would have arisen dissatisfactions and jealousies.
2. Christ’s perpetual residence here would have been against the growth of the religious life. Instead of living for Christ and God in our hearts, we should have lived for them only in our senses. We should never have hungered for the hour of religious meditation, but rather have complained that He had long delayed to appear in our streets. Newspapers would have been searched to learn His whereabouts; shiploads of the stricken would have travelled the deep, and longed impatiently for the port of their destination; and the rest would have lived on in the restless hope that He would pass their way before they died. Who would have thought of submitting with obedient heart to the afflictions of Providence, of seeking out their Divine purpose when one word from Christ would remove them all at once? Would men ever think of spiritual fellowship with Christ when physical fellowship might be had? Is it not far better that, instead of being the monopoly of a favoured few, He should be ever near to all who call upon Him; that, instead of gazing on Him as a man without, we should feel Him in the background of our hearts?
3. Had Christ dwelt for ever on the earth the good and the bad would have had equal experience and perception of Him. His absence from the earth was indispensable to His manifesting Himself to His people in another way than He could unto the world.
4. Christ’s perpetual residence here would have made impossible the expected distribution of His spirit in the hearts and lives of men, and through all the political, moral, and social organizations of the globe.
II. You will see the expediency of Christ’s departure from the earth, if you consider that HIS CONTINUED RESIDENCE HERE WOULD HAVE SECURED US NO ADDITIONAL BLESSING, except, indeed, relief from physical ills; and, if you admit that these are productive of moral good, and work in us a recompensing glory, it is questionable if their arbitrary removal would have been an unmixed blessing. All the good Christ could do for the world might be summed up under these points
1. In His sacrificing Himself for sin. And here it will be obvious that the satisfactoriness of His death could in but a small measure depend upon any condition of time. As soon as the hour had struck when He would be accepted as our Substitute, it would have availed nothing to have deferred the hour of His triumphal return to God.
2. In impressing on the world’s imagination an ideal of saintliness and nobleness of character that would make for righteousness and protest against evil through all generations. Into the doing of this the condition of time, in a greater measure, did enter; but when He had reached the age at which He spoke of the expediency of His departure, this end had been attained. He has left no more precious legacy behind Him than the memory of what He was. (J. Forfar.)
The departure of Christ
I. HAS SECURED TO THE CHURCH HIS CONSTANT PRESENCE. While dwelling here as our Saviour He was not ubiquitous. This was sometimes an apparent loss. “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” How this wail would have extended itself had He remained. Europe would have cried for Him when He was teaching the millions of Asia, &c. No Church now mourns an absent Lord. When faith looks for Him it sees Him. When love yearns for Him it feels Him near. Only when these are feeble do we seem to be forsaken and alone. We have then one friend to whose memory no tablet will ever be erected, and no tear shed; for the strong arm will never cease to hold us securely, and the loving heart will not fail to keep alive our affection with the fire of its abiding love.
II. PREVENTED, TO A GREAT EXTENT, THE GROWTH OF A SPURIOUS AFFECTION FOR HIM. “We have known Christ after the flesh.” Many have an affection for His person without regard to His character and work. It is one thing to weep over Christ’s sufferings, and quite another thing to weep over our sins. Blessed are they who can say, “Whom having not seen we love.” Their affection is not less strong, while probably it is more spiritual than it would have been had He remained on earth.
III. ENABLES US TO UNDERSTAND HIM BETTER THAN WE COULD HAVE DONE HAD HE REMAINED. Why are we more ready to garnish the graves of dead saints than to praise the virtues of living ones? Not always because we are envious. Mainly, perhaps, because just as we may get too near a magnificent pile of architecture, and thus lose sight of the exquisite harmony of the whole. No man was more unknown than Christ. Even His attached friends misunderstood His plainest teachings. It was well that He went away. Things dimly seen before, shone with unclouded radiance after His departure.
IV. SECURED THE OUT-POURING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. It is very probable that this was the chief cause of His departure. Their views of the Holy Spirit were very indistinct. Nevertheless, the language of Christ concerning Him had kindled a strong desire for His presence. Now they learn the price which must be paid for His advent. “If I go not away,” &c. How essential the Spirit was to them, and to the interests of the kingdom, all their subsequent history shows. And there never has been an age in which the Church could afford to dispense with His presence. If this were the only reason for the departure of Christ, we could not murmur. We have not lost our Lord. “He takes of the things of Christ, and shows them unto us.” He strengthens our faith in Him, deepens our love to Him, enlarges our desires after Him, sanctifies our communion with Him. (H. B. Robinson.)
Christ’s departure and Paul’s abiding
(text, and Philippians 1:24):--Jesus thought that His disciples would gain by losing Him, and Paul thought that his friends could not do without him. A singular contrast--reverses what might have been expected. How strange it must have seemed to them that they, poor sheep in the midst of wolves, would be better without the Shepherd! And the strangeness is brought more home to us by that word of Paul’s in which we recognize the familiar tone of love that cannot face the thought of leaving a life’s work half done and dear ones unhelped. The contrast rests on the absolute difference between the work of Christ and that of all other teachers, friends, and guides, and so may help us to grasp the unique relation which He and it sustain to the world. It was expedient that Christ should go away, for
I. CHRIST’S DEATH IS HIS WORK. It was needful that Paul should abide, for Paul’s death was the end of his. Paul’s words show us how those speak who know that their departure will do nothing to advance the purposes to which they have given themselves. Christ’s are intelligible only in the light of the great truth that He came to give His life a ransom for the many, and that His death has a substantive value all its own.
II. HIS WORK GOES ON AFTER HIS DEATH, WHILE THAT OF OTHERS CEASES. When Paul dies he can no more help his brethren. True, he may leave a holy memory. The great personalities of the world may, in a certain figurative sense, be said to “rule the nations from their urns.” But that reverberation from the past prolonged into the present is but a poor shadowy thing. Christ’s work to-day is no mere influence flowing from activities long since terminated. It is real and continuous--a present putting forth of present power.
III. CHRIST’S PERSONAL RELATION TO US IS WHOLLY INDEPENDENT OF HIS BODILY PRESENCE. His departure aided in the apprehension of His true character and nature. Like some star, that, as long as it is low on the horizon and shrouded by mist, may be mistaken for some earthborn light, but is known for what it is as it climbs the sky, He was discerned when unseen far better than when here. When He ascended to the Father, that withdrawal from the touch of sense gave Him to the touch of faith, and these desolate disciples were nearer Him when the cloud received Him out of their sight. The true personal bond that knits men to Christ is actually helped by His absence. “Jesus Christ, whom having not seen ye love,” is held in the inmost hearts of millions. That is a phenomenon in the history of human affections altogether unique, and standing in the strongest contrast to the feelings with which the most enthusiastic admirers regard the mightiest among the dead. For love, there must be, or must have been, personal intercourse. With earthly teachers and guides that is only possible whilst they live; so their abiding in the flesh is needful for us. With Jesus Christ, who died--yea, rather, who is risen again--it is possible now for us all; therefore it was our gain that He went away, “departing for a season, that we might receive Him for ever.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Christ going away
Our Lord here represents the complex whole of His death and ascension as being His own voluntary act. He goes. He is neither taken away by death nor rapt up to heaven in a whirlwind, but He goes into the region of the grave and thence to the throne. Contrast His ascension with that of Elijah. One needed the chariot of fire and the horses of fire to bear him up into the sphere, all foreign to his mortal and earthly manhood; the other needed no outward power to lift Him, nor any vehicle to carry Him, but slowly, serenely, upborne by His own indwelling energy, and rising as to His native home, He ascended up on high, and went where the very manner of His going proclaimed that He had been before. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
We need not lament Christ’s departure into heaven
Men long for Christ on earth. Christ in heaven is not only faint and dim, but they think a heavenly Being cannot have earthly love. There may be more purity, they think, in heavenly love than in earthly, but less heartiness, and heartiness is what they long for. Now, Christ returned to heaven that He might love more, not less. This was a part of the glory which He had laid aside and was to take again. On earth His soul stood but in the bud. He went to a fairer clime that He might blossom, and now the heavens and the earth are full of the fragrance of His love. Incarnation was limitation. Ascension was expansion. There was not room enough for such a heart while in the body. It came as a seed, and grew, but we saw only the sprouting and the leaves.
Death ripened it back again to the golden fulness of a heavenly state. (H. W.Beecher.)
The departed Christ
The Saviour declared to His disciples that He must leave them. On Him their whole souls had rested. He epitomized to them everything that was sacred; they had forsaken occupation, and had suffered contumely for following this man; and now He was about to be taken from them; and everything in their knowledge, affection, understanding, rebelled against it. They could not comprehend it either in its relations to Him or to themselves. And yet He said, “It is for your own interest that I go away.” That, I think, touches the universal feeling of wonder in men.
I. Is there one of you who has not pondered the question, “WHY DID CHRIST LEAVE THE WORLD? Having once come into it, and brought life and immortality to light, why did He not abide here?”
1. There are multitudes who think that if they could but once have seen Jesus, or laid their hand on His, or heard from Him the history of His life and His instructions, that it would have begotten in them a certainty, an enthusiasm, and a power which would have carried them through a thousand sloughs that otherwise must have engulphed them.
2. Then, again, men think that if once they could pour out their soul’s allegiance to Christ, in His very presence, they could go on all their lives long worshipping and rejoicing in Him. They think it would lay the foundations of piety so strong, that all doubts would flee from them for evermore.
3. Then there is a large number who feel that if Christ were enthroned in Jerusalem, around that sacred Centre would be formed the Church circle in an unbroken unity, and that all the shattered particles of shining truth would be gathered together.
4. Then, again, there is the feeling of certainty which men seek for. This leads men to feel that if they could have a determiner of controversies, it would be a great and desirable thing. They say, “True, we have the Bible; but how can the Bible be a determiner of controversies, when there are a dozen different and warring sects that draw their proofs from it?” There is the vicegerent in Rome; and men say, oftentimes: “We do not believe in a great many things that are claimed in regard to the papacy; but, after all, it is a good thing to have somewhere a centre of faith--one that can determine and put an end to controversies.” I cannot deny that, at the first blush, there is some justification for these fancies; but they will not bear examination. God’s way is always the best.
II. SUPPOSE OUR MASTER HAD REMAINED UPON EARTH, ABIDING IN JERUSALEM
1. How many of the race could have seen Him? The ocean may know ways of circulating its waters; the atmosphere may change and go from place to place without vehicle or expense; but there is no grand current by which the human race may be thus carried hither and thither. So the tribes of the earth would find it difficult to go to a certain place and see the Saviour if He were on earth. Moreover, the mere social and physical disturbances would be enormous. It would break up the household, destroy social intercourse, and subject men to untold perils, and toils, and wastes, and expenses, to say nothing of the destruction of vast multitudes of the human race--witness those fearful pilgrimages in the East, and their fatal results, in famines, slaughters, and the dreaded Asiatic cholera.
2. But let us rise above these considerations of man’s physical circumstances, and go higher. Do you suppose that you would feel any better satisfied if you had seen Christ? When the disciples were with Christ were they more strong and more powerful than afterwards? You know they were not. The inspiration that lifted them above common humanity came by faith, and not by sight. There are realms of knowledge which cannot be reached by vision, and which must be reached by the Spirit. Therefore the Saviour says, “It is expedient,” &c.
3. But, again, would there be any more certainty of unity if Christ could yet be referred to? There are men who say: “If we only had some one in Jerusalem who should be supreme over the Church throughout the world saying: ‘This is the exact way--walk ye in it,’ how much better it would be!” Would it be any better? Why, we do not want mere likeness, sameness, absence of conflict. We have that--in the graveyard; and the race would be but little better than dead men if such unity were to exist, and men did not need to think, to exert themselves, or to make mistakes, which are always incident to investigation and endeavour. Some people are all the time trying to set aside the Divine providence by doing for a man what it was designed that he should do for himself. A Church formed on such principles would be like Babbage’s calculating machine. All that would be necessary would be to turn a crank, the wheels being of just such a diameter, and with just such cogs, but having no volition, no life, individuality, Divinity! I cannot conceive how anybody who has an idea of how the providence of God is unfolding, and has unfolded the world, should stumble on that as the way in which he ought to unfold it. But it is thought that, at any rate, it would determine controversies to have one who could speak authoritatively. Did the disciples believe just what Christ told them? Did the most learned and educated men in the time of the Saviour believe what He taught them? Did not the mind act the same then as it does now? and was it not necessary for men to get at the truth by unfolding themselves, and by educating their inward nature to the thing taught them? And if Christ had lived two thousand years, He would down to this day have taught only those who were competent to understand, by reason of their growth. The earth would have always followed the same law that He pointed out to them then, and we should, have had to learn by stages, and rise accordingly. But we should not even then have come to unity. Even in the consideration of physical truths there is but very little absolute unity. And when you take social and moral truths, still more when you take spiritual truths, they are of such a nature that they report themselves to each individual according to his conformation.
III. CHRIST SAID that it was expedient that He should go away, and THAT IF HE DID NOT GO THE COMFORTER WOULD NOT COME. Blessed word! because if there is anything that we need in this world, it is comforting. There are gods of love, of wine, of war, of government and law, but the world needs a God to comfort it. The Holy Spirit; the One who stands over against those subtle elements in the human soul--which we call the spiritual instinct or sentiment--comes to take the place of Christ, and open the doors of the understanding through the highest intuitions, and give light and direction to our interior nature, and enable us to triumph over death, and crown us sons in the kingdom of God. And this is infinitely better than that Christ should have continued on the earth in His physical form. Now, how blessed it is to feel that the heaven is filled by one who is interpreted to our spirit by historical sympathies as he never could have been interpreted to us in Jerusalem, where He would have had to walk the streets, to eat and drink and sleep as men do. In the spiritland there is not a long day’s journey between us and Him. The distance is not even so great as that which must be gone over to send a letter from the post-office in New York to the post-office in Brooklyn. No thought emerges from your soul that does not go instantly to Him. There are no distances in spirituality. (H. W. Beecher.)
I. LET US SUPPOSE THAT THE SON OF MAN HAD CONSENTED TO REMAIN UPON THE EARTH. He could not thus remain except to die daily, or to be for ever triumphant. On which of these two alternatives must we fix? You know too well.
1. Jesus Christ always equally entitled to be loved, will always be equally hated; so that were Jesus Christ to appear successively in different countries, each of them would in its turn be moistened with His blood. If it accords with piety to believe that the Son of God died once, the just for the unjust, it is impious to believe that the blessed seed of the woman was more than once to allow His heel to be bruised by the angel of darkness.
2. Let us hasten then to reject this alternative, and conceive that He has to enjoy an everlasting triumph. He has conquered; He has put infidelity completely to flight. Jesus reigns King of all the earth. He has no more enemies or rivals. Still this kingdom, glorious as it appears, is but a place of exile. The subjects of this King have an advantage over Him. The servant is more than his Master. For Jesus Christ having suffered once, what can those around Him have to suffer? A single look from Him crowns them with glory. There is no longer either difficulty to be surmounted or struggle to be maintained. It is no longer by fire that men are saved, nor by much tribulation that they enter into glory. Religion is no longer a sacrifice; the blessing of the narrow way, and the kingdom of heaven taken by violence, are henceforth only empty sounds. It only remains to ask why earth is not already transformed into heaven?
II. LET US NOW LISTEN TO JESUS CHRIST. Let us see in what this expediency consists.
1. “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come,” &c. Remain with us, Lord, and we will be comforted. Such would perhaps have been our answer. Who can console better than Jesus? Jesus absent is only one misery more. Jesus might have answered, Are you consoled? does My presence suffice you? No; and yet I am in the midst of you. Thus it appears you still require the Comforter. Two consolations compose the whole new man.
2. If faith and spiritual affection are the life of the Church, it was for the advantage of the Church that Jesus should go away. This has been well proved by fact. Where was the Church before the departure of Jesus? Nowhere; not even in the bosom of that college of apostles who we have reason to believe knew Jesus far less, and loved Him less completely than a poor Christian peasant now knows and loves Him. Why had His lessons less affect on the apostles than those of the apostles themselves afterwards had on others? The facts cannot be disputed. Before the departure of Jesus there was no Church, but there is one immediately after.
3. Could we venture to maintain that it was good for the disciples that Christ should go away, and yet bad for us? The situation, and wants, are still the same, and we cannot dispense with the painful privation. No Christian, however, consents to it willingly. The resolution to do so depends on the measure of his spirituality. But nothing is more universal or more natural than regret for not having seen Jesus Christ. Many imagine that they could do all with Jesus Christ were He to become visible, that there would then be neither doubt nor fear, that they would thenceforth be all ardour for the service of their great Master. But after reflection how can they continue to use this language?
4. “Enough of this,” you say, “None of us have the idea of making Christ dwell a second time in the sad darkness of this life.” But if you presume not to claim the visibility of Jesus Christ’s personal presence, you wish visible signs of His invisible presence. If the signs for which you call are only those fruits of the Spirit, which constitute and manifest Christianity, assuredly you are right; and it is these signs of the presence of Jesus Christ you ought in the first instance to ask from yourselves. But there is another desire less pure, “Make us gods to walk before us.” Anything which will give a tangible shape to the spiritual kingdom which Jesus Christ came to establish on the earth.
5. But Jesus Christ, who cannot permit us either to serve Him as an idol, or to put idols in His place, or to seek indubitable evidence of His presence anywhere but in ourselves, as of old, “withdraws to a mountain.” By this new retreat He extinguishes the bright light which He had kindled; He obliges us to seek Him on the mountain, in other words, in our faith, and constrains us to look at Him with other eyes than those of flesh. Let us with all the strength which God has given resist the dangerous temptations of that “lust of the eye,” which, from our carnal nature, we carry even into the purest of religions. (A. Vinet, D. D.)
Christ’s going away our gain
I. BY HIS DEPARTURE HIS LOCAL PRESENCE WAS CHANGED INTO AN UNIVERSAL PRESENCE. As God, He dwells with us through the Holy Ghost, by His essence, presence, and power. As Man He is always with us in all the truth of His Incarnation. His character--His pity, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, love, tenderness, compassion--is shed abroad throughout all His Church. The kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of the Man Christ Jesus; and the reign of His will, human as well as Divine, is His kingdom. And there are even deeper things than these. The mystery of the Incarnation is not a mere isolated fact, terminating in the personality of the Word made flesh, but the beginning and productive cause of a new creation of mankind. By the same omnipotence which wrought the union of the Godhead and the manhood in the womb of the blessed Virgin, the humanity of the Second Adam is the immediate and substantial instrument of our regeneration and renewal. The Church is Christ mystical--the presence of Christ, by the creative power of His Incarnation, produced and prolonged on earth.
II. HIS DEPARTURE CHANGED THEIR IMPERFECT KNOWLEDGE INTO THE FULL ILLUMINATION OF FAITH. While He was with them, and taught them by word of mouth, their hearts were slow of understanding. Their minds were earthly, and interpreted all things by the rules of earth and sense. But when the Comforter came all things were brought back to their remembrance. Old truths and perplexing memories received their true solution. Words they had mused upon in doubt were interpreted; sayings they had thought already clear were seen to have profounder meanings; a fountain of light sprung up within them, an illumination cast from an unseen teacher unfolded to their consciousness the deep things of God and of His Christ. Their very faculties were enlarged; they were no longer pent up by narrow senses and by the succession of time, but were lifted into a light where all things are boundless and eternal. A new power of insight was implanted in their spiritual being, and a new world rose up before it; for the Spirit of truth dwelt in them, and the world unseen was revealed.
III. HIS DEPARTURE CHANGED THE PARTIAL DISPENSATIONS OF GRACE INTO THE FULNESS OF THE REGENERATION. Our nature, which He had made sinless, deathless, and divine, from the time of His ascension into heaven was glorified. The Second Adam began to give of His own spiritual nature, to multiply the lineage of His elect, and to gather His mystical family into one universal body. The agent In this Divine work is the Holy Ghost dwelling in us. The Incarnation raised man to a higher life, and laid a higher law upon us: the coming of the Holy Ghost endowed man with power to walk in that higher and more perfect path. (Archdeacon Manning.)
Christ’s ascension the Church’s gain
I. THERE IS A NATURAL SENSE IN WHICH LOSSES OFTEN PROVE TO BE GAIN IN THE END. We gain wisdom and knowledge and experience by losses; and we unquestionably gain a very much clearer mental and spiritual vision. And so, perhaps, in this natural and human sense it would be in one way expedient for the disciples to lose their Lord--inasmuch as the loss of Him would tend to open their eyes to a juster and truer estimate of His Person and character. On this very night Philip gave sad evidence of how little he and the others even yet understood of Him. “Have I been so long time with you and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip?” was the Saviour’s reply to Philip’s request that He would show to them the Father. To the very end of His life it was still true of the disciples that “they understood not what things they were that He sake unto them,” and what He did they knew not either as yet--but should only know hereafter. Was this, then, what our Saviour meant in the text when He said “It is expedient for you that I go away:”--“You will be able, after I am gone, to balance and weigh the things that I have said and done better than you can at present, and so, by the exercise of your calmer judgment, arrive at a juster estimate of Me?” This would certainly be a consequence of His departure--but it was not this He meant by the words He used.
II. IF FAITH, HOPE, AND CHARITY ARE THE THREE GRACES WHICH MAKE UP THE SUM OF A CHRISTIAN CHARACTER, HOW VERY MUCH THAT CHARACTER MUST BE STRENGTHENED BY THE GREATER EXERCISE OF THESE SEVERAL GRACES. When the Lord they loved was taken away from them, then their faith would be called into action as it had never been before, for faith begins where sight ends; when they ceased to see the Lord with the natural eye then the spiritual vision--which is only another name for faith--would have to be entirely depended upon. And so, too, with their hope. No longer would they be looking for a temporal and earthly fulfilment of God’s promises. The hope they had been hitherto entertaining of earthly honour for their Lord, and the restoration of an earthly kingdom to His chosen people, would henceforth give place to a wider and better and further-reaching hope. Their treasure henceforth would be in heaven, and they would surely experience in their own case the truth that they had long since heard and learnt by rote--that where a man’s treasure is there will his heart be also.
III. IF I GO NOT AWAY THE COMFORTER WILL NOT COME UNTO YOU--but if I depart I will send Him unto you. Do we understand this? Is it that the Holy Spirit is kinder, more loving, more powerful than He who sends Him? Ah no, we know that the Three Persons are at the same time One God--One in power, and in holiness, and in love. The meaning has already been partly stated. It is better for the Church--it is better for each one of us its members--to walk by faith than to walk by sight. It is better, and it is the work of God the Holy Ghost to lead us on to this higher life. So long as Jesus was present upon earth there could not fail to be something earthly and carnal in the attachment of His disciples to Him; but when He was departed the Holy Ghost would teach men a more spiritual attachment. (John Crofts.)
I. THINGS ARE NOT OF NECESSITY AS THEY APPEAR AT FIRST SIGHT. We are very short-sighted, and we judge just by what is within range of our vision. How should human sight perceive that it ever could be expedient for the well-loved Jesus to depart? Surely nothing could compensate for that; and yet He says it is for their advantage. Let this be a lesson to us, not to be too hasty in taking things” at first sight. Let us not say, when, perhaps, we are on the very road to blessing, “all these things are against me.” It is necessary that we keep our minds in a state of readiness to admit possibilities.
II. THE VALUE OF UNDERLYING AND DEFERRED BLESSINGS IS OFTEN FAR GREATER THAN THAT, OF WHAT WE HAVE LOST, OR ARE ABOUT TO LOSE. The full ear of corn is of much more value than the single grain from which it sprang, from whose death it took its life; but who would have believed as a theory, that it was only under this condition it could come. “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” God is continually sowing for us seed which we would never sow for ourselves, because we could not bear to see it die.
III. THINK OF GOD’S ACTION ON THE WHOLE MATTER. We can never deal with the whole of a matter. All human affairs are like spheres, they can be illumined only on one portion of their surface at a time. Some of them revolve so slowly, that it requires more than a lifetime for a man to see their whole surface. Events are happening to us now, which are the legitimate consequences of certain actions of our youth; or even of our parents; or of their parents; and God is engaged in the whole matter. Is it not an immense relief that we can leave God to deal with things as a whole--that we need not strain ourselves, in endeavouring to compass things beyond our grasp.
IV. CONNECT GOD DIRECTLY WITH EXPEDIENCY. Expediency implies suitability of action to circumstances, of means to accomplish an end--that end being what “seemed meet unto Him.” Man recognizes the meaning of the word, and thinks he acts upon it; but being evil, he often forgets moral principles; moreover, he is so ignorant, he often chooses wrong means; he thinks it is not expedient to do such and such a thing, whereas it is the very thing he should have done; and he does the very thing, which, as it turns out, he should not have done. But with God there are no mistakes; and so, there is no miscarrying; there is absolute righteousness in Him; and so, in His dealings towards us, and others, there can be no wrong. He does the right thing, with the right motive, in the right way, at the right time. There are two considerations, which will help us very much to fall in with God’s arrangements with faith and comfort.
1. The persuasion, that when He deems such and such a mode of action expedient, He sees the end from the beginning. We do not know in what a beginning will end, He does.
2. The belief that He sees the real suitability of operative causes--how certain things are calculated to bring about certain ends. We often think we see this. But all life is full of the history of sad mistakes in this respect. Unforeseen and disturbing influences have come in. The means we put in motion did not go far enough, or they went too far, or, perhaps, were beside the mark altogether. But when God is in action, all this is put far away; and if the causes which He sets in motion are in anyway trying to us, we maybe certain that they will produce the end He desires. And so, though we cannot see it at the time, our heaviest trials are for the best. They are only means to an end. They are expedient. (P. B. Power, M. A.)
Christ more useful within the veil
The high priest was more useful to them within the veil than outside of it; He was doing for them out of sight what He could not accomplish in their view. I delight to think that my Lord is with the Father. Sometimes I cannot get to God, my access seems blocked by my infirmity; but He is always with God to plead for me. Let us joy and rejoice that our covenant Head is now in the bosom of the Father, at the fountain-head of love and grace, and that He is there on our behalf.
It is better for us that Christ should be in heaven than with us upon earth. A woman had rather have her husband live with her than go to the Indies; but she yieldeth to his absence when she considereth the profit of his traffic. (T. Manton.)
The expediency of Christ’s absence
All departures are painful and trying, e.g., the boy to business; the girl to marriage; the friend to sea; the relation over the river of death. Glad that this is true of Christ; that He felt the going away, and needed comforting. But, in His case, that was true which is so often true still--the one who went was the Comforter. His was no ordinary going. He was more to the disciples than they realised.
I. IT WOULD PROVE TO BE A PRESENT SPIRITUAL POWER. Our Lord comforted by giving a two-fold assurance:
1. He would really be always with them.
2. He would give His Spirit to be always with them. But this is confusing, until our hearts learn to hold both these forms of truth in harmony. Our Lord, while here, was always trying to glorify His spiritual relations; and so preparing for the time when His relations should be all spiritual. Is it not infinitely comforting to be assured that temporal relations shall, by and by, give place to those which are spiritual? The comparative value of the temporal and the spiritual we learn in the progress of life. The child-Christian wants a Christ of the flesh. The matured Christian wants a Christ of the spirit. And just that Christ “gone away” has become. He was outside us; He is in us now. We hear of the scene on Olivet, and we say, “He is gone.” We hear of the scene at Pentecost, and we say, “He has come again to abide with us for ever.”
II. IT LOCALISES OUR CONCEPTION OF HEAVEN. The human Christ went to a place, and prepares a place. “This is enough, Jesus is there; and Jesus knows.”
III. IT GIVES US GROUND FOR CHERISHING A HIGH HOPE. Resting upon the promise He has left. Our sorrow is the seeming separation; our everlasting joy shall yet be conscious union, under conditions that involve no separation. One day we “shall be ever with the Lord.” We may reverently fit the influence of Christ’s departed saints into Christ’s own words (as in text). Few of us but have dear friends, “not lost, but gone before.” And they seem to whisper in our souls, and say, “It is expedient for you that I go away.” We cannot see it. We are like the women at the sepulchre. And yet those who are “gone away”--1. Do become a present spiritual power to us. By “going” their characters get glorified, so as to be to us
They live ever in our souls. Among the very highest of the spiritual forces moving us in the godly life, we put the influence of the white-robed host, the sainted dead.
2. They localize heaven for us.
3. They keep alive in our souls a great hope. “I shall go to Him, but He shall not return to me.” The hope of reunion, where they “go no more out for ever.” (Weekly Pulpit.)
Expediency of the Ascension
The Ascension was expedient because
I. IT SECURED AN ADEQUATE SENSE OF THE TRUE PLACE AND DIGNITY OF MAN AMONG THE CREATURES OF GOD. There are great studies, which, as they are sometimes handled, tend to create a degraded idea of man.
1. Look, says the astronomer, at the North Star, the light which falls on your eye left that star some thirty years or more ago; and yet this light travels at a rate of 200,000 miles a second. Or, look at the Milky Way, a collection of worlds more numerous than the sands on the sea-shore, separated often from each other by distances which our figures cannot express, and among these are stars whose light must have taken even thousands of centuries in order to reach us on this earth. Or, look at that Dog Star, Sirius. When it was first known that our own sun was moving round some other centre, just as our earth moves round him, it was a shock to the thought; but this giant sun, Sirius, compared with which our own sun is but a pigmy, is himself in motion around some other central orb, the size and place and distance of which exhaust the capacities of imagination. And then our friend turns our thoughts upon this little home of ours. Astronomy has told man many things, and among others, his insignificance.
2. Comparative physiology takes us into its museums, and we see ranged before us the skeletons of apes. Look at the lower types (so it is said) of the human family; at the Aztecs and the Papuans; and then say how you can trace a sharp line of demarcation between this animal and that animal.
3. Or again, we picture to ourselves a scene which takes place inevitably after a great battle; and as our thought lingers over the ghastly ruin, chemistry passes by, and it suggests that after all all is well, and that these buried and disfigured forms will presently be resolved into their constituent elements; and that the value of man may be appreciated when we have discovered what remains after a human body has been submitted to the verdict of a chemical student. Certainly most of us do not readily acquiesce in these theories of human life. Our reason tells the astronomer that there is a moral as well as a material world, and that bulk and distance are not the main tests of greatness; and it tells the comparative anatomist that no similarity of his skeletons can possibly obliterate the vast interval which parts a being with self-reflecting consciousness, and free will from a being which is governed only by instinct; and as for the chemist, whether he is in the cemetery or in the laboratory, reason protests to him that his analysis begs the tremendous question, whether the most important and vital part of man has ever been before him to be analysed at all. But the Christian falls back upon a distinct fact, which enables him to listen with interest and with sympathy to all that the astronomer, &c., may have to tell him, and withal to preserve the robust faith in the dignity of man. He believes in the ascension of our Lord into heaven. Somewhere in space he knows there is at this moment, associated with the glories of the self-existing Diety, a human body and a human soul. Ay, it is on the throne of the universe. No other creature of God shares that incomparable dignity.
IT MAKES ROOM FOR FAITH IS CHRIST.
It is, of course, conceivable that our Lord might have willed to prolong His life upon the earth through the centuries of Christian history.
Had He done so, there would have been no questions as to the seal and centre of authority in the Christian Church, or as to the true area and contents of the Christian creed; there would have been ever before the eyes of men a living example of what the Christian character was meant to be; and perhaps the conversion of the world would have been completed long ere this.
But one thing is certain, that if Christ had continued to be visibly present, there would have been no room for true faith in Him.
Trust in Christ there might have been; we trust our friends, our elders; but faith “is the evidence of things not seen.
” Think what this would have meant for Christendom.
Why is it that so great a place is assigned to faith in the New Testament? Because faith is the apprehension of an object with ever-increasing clearness on the part of the whole soul, of its thought, of its heart, of its determination.
And such an apprehension of a perfect object means vast moral leverage. We become, more or less, like that on which we continually fix our attention. If we look persistently downwards then we become earthly; if we look upwards then the light of heaven is reflected in o’er souls. For this there would have been no room if our Lord had not ascended; the world would only have “known Christ after the flesh,” would have concerned itself with His outward and human form, rather than with His true and essential divinity, and it therefore was expedient that He should go away, as promoting the moral effect and power of faith.
III. IN THE INTERESTS OF WORSHIP. What is the idea of God which we gain from nature Courage, energy, and intelligence--nature certainly suggests these; but benevolence is in the back-ground of its suggestion respecting its author and its master. It is cold, thin, superficial; like the clear sunlight on a frosty day in January, there is no warmth, no colour, no character about it; it may provoke intellectual interest, admiration, wonder, but not passion of any kind, not devotion, not worship. But we Christians approach God not only through external, non-human nature, but through man. Man, unlike nature, has moral character. When the Old Testament would teach us the awful attributes of the self-existent, it draws upon the ordinary language of human passion and human experience, it describes a being with human feelings of anger, of pity, of jealousy, of love. The revelation through man is a higher revelation; it is one of moral character. “The Lord is long-suffering,” &c. But here, of course, human nature, as we know it, if taken on the average as a guide to the true character of God, may easily mislead us. It is expedient that perfect humanity should thus be associated on the throne of heaven with the infinite and the eternal. And thus, in the worship of the Church, inspired on the one hand, by an awful sense of the inaccessible majesty of God, and, on the other, by a trustful, tender passion, which has its roots in the consciousness of a human fellowship, with its awful object, we find that which we find nowhere else on earth, and we understand the words, “It is expedient for you that I go away.” And a last reason for the expediency
IV. IN CONNECTION WITH HIS WORK OF INTERCESSION. A question which Christians ought to ask themselves more often than they do is this--“What is our Lord doing now?” At His ascension “He sat down at the right hand of God.” It is the posture not merely of the enthroned Monarch of Heaven; it is the posture of the omnipotent Priest. He does not stand to plead; still less does He prostrate Himself, side by side with those highest beings who are ranged around the throne. He sits in His wounded but glorified humanity as the one permanent sacrifice which will for ever avail before the eyes of the All Holy. “Therefore, if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,” &c. This uninterrupted action of our glorified Redeemer should surely be more in our minds. What was He doing when we were born? Interceding. What will He be doing at the moment when we shall be leaving it? Interceding. How was He engaged during the long hours of last night, or when we arose from sleep this morning? What will He be doing when we again lie down to rest? What is He doing now, while I am speaking for Him, and while you are listening? The answer is ever the same. Now, this intercession is the very strength of our Christian life. We claim its power in every prayer when we say, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We associate our poor feeble prayers with His majestic pleading. It is the knowledge that this great work proceeds uninterruptedly, that makes hope and perseverance possible when hearts are failing, when temptation is strong, when the sky is dark and lurid. Surely it is expedient for you and me that He should go away. (Canon Liddon.)
Our Lord’s ascension the Church’s gain
1. Selfishness is never less attractive than when it would leave its imprint on theology. Yet we are not unfrequently confronted by systems in which the satisfaction of the believer is made the centre of a theological panorama, while the revealed nature or economies of God are banished to its circumference. In this way the self-sustaining, infinite, Supreme Being comes to be regarded as chiefly interesting on account of the satisfaction which He yields to the subjective yearnings of a finite and created soul But the manifested glory, the vindicated honour of Jesus Christ must take rank before all other considerations in regard to the Ascension: at length that life of humiliation is over, and the Bridegroom of the Church “girds His sword upon His thigh, as becomes the Most Mighty, and according to His worship and renown.”
2. This, then, is our first tribute of love and duty to the mystery of to-day, and we may now turn to that other and very different point of view which is sanctioned by our Lord in the text. No words that ever fell from the lips of Christ can have at first seemed to those faithful souls who heard them to verge more closely than these on the confines of paradox. Could it be expedient for men who are still pilgrims upon earth that their Guide should be taken from them? For pupils who are still ignorant that their great Teacher should desert them? For spiritual children, still so deficient in the Christian character, that they should be deprived of Him who taught by example even more persuasively than He taught by precept? He might have said “expedient for the spirits of the just made perfect, to whom, after overcoming the sharpness of death, He was about to open the kingdom of heaven; for the angels who had for thirty-three years been” ascending and descending upon the Son of Man,” and who had now higher ministries in store for them: for Myself, who, after finishing the work that was given Me to do, am to be glorified by the Father with that glory which I had with Him before the world was. But He does say, “for you.” My brokenhearted, despairing disciples, it is “expedient for yon,” that I, your Teacher, Friend, Guide, Strength, should leave you. Wherein then, it may be asked, did this expediency lie?
I. THERE WAS A KIND OF NATURAL EXPEDIENCY IN THE ASCENSION, grounded on that law of the human mind which makes the appreciation of present blessings so very difficult. Most men look back with affection on the years of their childhood; and nations have always surrounded their early annals with an atmosphere of poetry. So limited are our powers, that generally speaking, observation must have ceased before reflection can begin to do its work. Had Christ continued to live visibly upon earth, the spiritual force of the Church might have been expended in an indefinitely prolonged observation. The strength even of saintly souls might have been fatally overtaxed. If Jesus is to be seen by His creatures in His relative and awful greatness, He must be withdrawn. Even on the night before the Passion, St. Philip asks a question, which proves that he does not yet know who Jesus really is. “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter,” was an announcement of the self-same principle. He was to be comprehended when He was gone. The life of Christ on earth had first to be brought to a close, ere it could be dropped as a seed that would spring up and bear fruit into the heart of redeemed humanity. And each teacher that has unfolded and enforced the meaning of that life, has, in adding to the illuminated thought of Christendom, attested the truth of our Master’s words--“It is expedient,” &c.
II. THE LIFE OF THE SOULS OF THE APOSTLES JUST HAVE BEEN QUICKENED BY THE DEPARTURE OF THEIR LORD. Faith, hope, and charity are the threefold cord that links the living spirit with its God. These graces were dwarfed in the apostles. Their belief did not materially differ from the creed of the devout Jew. Their hopes were centred on an earthly throne. Their charity was discoloured by the presence of a subtle element of sense, which dimmed its spiritual lustre. Christ left them, and behold, they find springing up within themselves a new and vigorous life. By leaving them our Lord has made room for the full play and power of faith. (1 Peter 1:8).
Hope, too, rivals in its growth the growth of faith. It reaches forth into an eternal future. And when Christ was seated at the right hand of God, love, as a matter of course, would seek simply and constantly those things that are above, and not the things upon the earth.
III. But if the apostles had been altogether left to their own resources, could they have formed so true an estimate of His life, as by their writings to rule the thought and kindle the enthusiasm of all ages? Were faith, hope, love, thrown out, as plants of native growth, from the rich soil of their natural hearts? Are the Epistles of St. Paul, or is the character of St. John to be explained by their natural gifts, educational antecedents, contact with the Redeemer, the circumstances and directions of their lives? Surely not. Even though the Pentecostal miracle had not been recorded, some supernatural interference must have been assumed, in order to account for the apostolic character, and the apostolic writings. Of itself the departure of our risen Lord would neither have permanently illuminated the reflections of the Church, nor yet have quickened the graces of its separate members. WE MUST WAIT UNTIL PENTECOST IF WE WOULD ENTER INTO THE FULL EXPEDIENCY OF THE ASCENSION. Pass the eye over that last great discourse, and mark how it bears with repeated effort and significance upon the statement of the text (chap. 14:3, 12, 16, 26; 15:26, 27; 16:7, 10, 13). While Christ tarried here, His apostles who saw and conversed with Him were further, immeasurably further, from Him than we may be, if we will. To them He was still an external example--voice, force. Christ in us is the hope of glory. Our ascended Lord has sent down upon us that promised and gracious Friend, whose office it is to unite us to Himself. Therefore, united to Christ, man is no longer an isolated unit; he is a member of that spiritual organization which is Christ’s Body. If we feel the expediency of the Ascension, we are men of prayer. “In heart and mind” we “ascend thither” where prayer is not an effort but an atmosphere. It is the instinctive breathing of an informing spirit, the voice of children, who, without doubt or questioning, throw themselves into their Father’s arms. Can we realize, each one for himself, what is involved in this expediency of our Lord’s ascension? Not if we forget the sharp distinction which exists, and which will exist for ever, between the very highest, noblest, purest, truest efforts of nature, and the heavenly action of the Spirit of grace. We shall never understand the expediency of the Ascension, if we forget that we are the subjects of a spiritual dispensation, in which forces more extraordinary are at work, and results more wonderful are produced than any which fall under the cognizance of sense (1 Corinthians 2:7-9). The Ascension reminds us of a life which is higher than this world. So much higher, so much more blessed and glorious is the life of grace, that One who loved us men with the truest and purest affection, yet withdrew Himself, as on this day, from our sight in order to enable us, if we will, to live it. (Cannon Liddon.)
Gain in the Saviour’s loss
1. The parting of friends is always a sad thing; for many things may come to prevent a meeting again. But partings sometimes are among the very saddest things: parting of those who are very dear: of the playmates of childhood: of those who hitherto have kept close together in the race and the warfare of life, but who are now to be severed by long years. And why is it then, that emigrants, e.g., are yet content to part? Because they feel it is better so; that they are leaving a country which will not yield bread, for another where there is work and bread for all. And the friends who remained behind knew all that too.
2. The thing to which people most naturally have recourse to blunt the pang of parting is some such thought as is suggested in the text. The dying wife tries to persuade the husband that it is far better as it is. The reckless and graceless young man, reclaimed by a kindness and a wisdom that were half angelic, as he feels life ebbing away, says: “Perhaps it is as well I should go home pretty soon.” And just with that simple and natural thought did the blessed Redeemer seek to console His disciples.
3. Now we often say and hear such words as these, when they express rather what is wished than what is felt and believed; when we could give no sufficient reason, save that one sheet-anchor of the weary and disappointed heart, the wise and kind decree of God. But it is not merely in this general view, and merely by way of saying a kind word that might cheer up somewhat in a trying hour, that Jesus said this. His departure was the condition of another’s coming, who would more than make up for His loss. Precious indeed, then, must that other be!
4. Now we must all feel that although it is our privilege to love each of the three Persons in the Trinity; still the Saviour we cannot choose but single out for special love. And we should hardly be able to persuade ourselves that even the coming of the Comforter could make up for His absence. But all that He declared was, that for believers so situated as the disciples He was addressing, it was advantageous that the Comforter should be present with them, even at the price of His own departure.
5. But the thought naturally suggests itself, Why might the Church not have had both? Now, we must just take Christ’s word for it, that this cannot be. For some good reason we cannot have both together. Note two or three considerations
I. THE CHOICE LAY BETWEEN CHRIST AS HE THEN WAS, A PERSON DWELLING IN A HUMAN BODY, AND A DIVINE SPIRIT CAPABLE OF BEING UNIVERSALLY PRESENT AT THE SAME TIME. Christ, dwelling in flesh, could be only in one place at a time; while the Comforter, unbound by fleshly trammels, could be in a thousand places, working on a million hearts all at once. And for the grand end of carrying on the government of a Church that is to overspread the world, it was better to have one Divine Being, equally present, working with equal energy everywhere, than even to have Christ Himself dwelling in visible form in some favoured spot, and by the very fact of His being visible there, making those disciples in distant countries who saw Him not, feel as though they were so far overlooked. It is the fancy of Popery, but it is not the purpose of the Redeemer, to have one fixed, localized, visible centre of the Christian Church. If sacred places can even yet warm the Christian’s heart, it is not that Christ is nearer us there than here. And when we call it to mind, how the cares and duties of life tie most of us to one little spot of this world; when we think how vainly most of us might wish to make a pilgrimage of thousands of miles, even though that pilgrimage should bring us into the visible presence of our God, shall we Rot be thankful for the presence here of a Sanctifier and Comforter, who can make our very soul His home.
II. Each Person in the Trinity has His own share in the great task of preparing man for heaven; and A CERTAIN WORK HAS BEEN APPOINTED TO THE HOLY SPIRIT. Now, when we think of the things which it is the Spirit’s occupation to do, we see that this world is the place where they must be done. The Spirit’s work lies mainly with a suffering, struggling, sinful, tempted, imperfect Church. Placed and tried as we are, it is just the Holy Spirit we need; and so it is just the Holy Spirit that we get. We shall need Him less, with reverence be it said, when we shall have entered upon the immediate presence of our God. It is by the working of the Blessed Spirit that we are born again, sanctified, comforted, taught to pray. There is not a point in the soul’s better life, there is not an emergency in the Christian’s earthly pilgrimage, at which the Blessed Spirit does not come in, the very thing we need. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Christ in heaven better than Christ on earth
Christ in heaven instead of on earth means
I. CHRIST’S PERSON NEARER.
II. CHRIST’S CHARACTER CLEARER. One is apt to think the men of Christ’s day were much more advantageously situated for judging of Christ’s Divinity than we are. Yet what were the facts of the case? Now if Christ had never gone away
1. We should want the highest proof, which we now have, of His divinity: viz., His resurrection and ascension.
2. We should feel, and that too increasingly, the difficulty of the Jews. They were acquainted with His parentage, with His upbringing, and with His daily life. Would we have round it easy to believe? The abundance of Christ’s miracles would make them cease to be miracles; the gracious words becoming so common would lose their power; the very character of Jesus would come to be regarded as a product of the earth. What were helps to the men of Christ’s day would become no inconsiderable hindrances to us.
3. Having Christ in our midst, we should have the difficulty, which is felt by every age, of judging of its great men’s characters while they are yet alive. Great men are better appreciated by after generations than by their contemporaries. Sometimes, too, those who die beneath a cloud of shame have their names vindicated by posterity. Many examples might be given, but none more illustrious than that of Christ, who eighteen centuries ago was executed as a malefactor, but now is worshipped throughout the world as God.
III. CHRIST’S WORK SURER. Of course Christ came to reveal the Father; to fulfil the law; to destroy the works of the devil; to bring life and immortality to light; to open heaven for believers. But while these are essential parts of the work of Christ, Scripture invariably assigns the central position to the Cross. All the others are rightly seen only when beheld as radiating from it; as thus--Christ’s sacrificial death upon the cross was the highest revelation of the Father (John 3:16; Ro 1 John 3:16); the perfect pattern of duty (1 John 3:16; 1 Peter 2:21); the absolute destruction of death (Hebrews 2:14-15); the certain opening of heaven to believers (Hebrews 9:12). And all these because it was all expiation of the guilt of men (Ephesians 5:2, &c.).
Yet, of this work the surest evidence would have been wanting had Christ continued on the earth. Had He postponed His dying we should certainly have had the promise of the Father as our guarantee that the work would be accomplished: had He died and risen, but remained on earth, we should have had the double witness of His own word and of the testimony of those who had seen Him. But that evidence would have gradually become obscure by the passing years. His visible presence would always be felt to be a difficulty in assenting to the truth of His decease. But now, Christ having gone away to His Father’s throne, we have, so to speak, been supplied with a sublime public certificate that His great redeeming work has been accomplished.
IV. CHRIST’S CHURCH RICHER that is, by the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Christ’s view the dispensation of the Spirit was a higher gift than the mission of the Son; higher relatively, as being an onward step in the development of redemption and the enjoyment of salvation. What the materials of a building are to the building and the architect; what the light is to the vision which we have by means of the light; what the wisdom in a book is to the same wisdom when apprehended by the mind; what the external revelation of nature is to the intelligent appreciation of it; what the Mosaic economy, with its code of precepts and system of sacrifice, was to the spiritual interpretations and applications thereof, which were given by the prophets; that was the work of Christ to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes of the things that are Christ’s and shows them to the soul. Christ revealed the Father to men; the Spirit reveals the Father in men. Christ gave to men a pattern of life; the Holy Ghost enables men to imitate as well as understand. Christ gave Himself to be a sacrifice for human sin; the Spirit helps men to believe in, and rest upon, that sacrifice. See also John 16:8.
V. CHRIST’S HEAVEN DEARER. To bring to light the reality of a future life was one of the specific objects of Christ’s mission. He came to speak of it in His teachings; to purchase it by His sufferings; to reveal it by His resurrection; to open it and take possession of it for His people by His triumphant ascension. Obviously, then, Christ’s departure into heaven has given the world the surest proof that a heaven exists, and invested it with the strongest and sweetest charm for His people. Christ would not be long absent from the sorrowing disciples before they would come to feel in this respect the benefit of His departure. It would humanize heaven for them. It would no longer seem to them a strange place. Those who have Christian friends there know how that blessed home is all the dearer on that account.
How much, then, should heaven be enhanced by the presence of Christ. Conclusion: What should be the soul’s attitude towards this absent Saviour? “Whom having not seen we love,” &c. Faith. Love. Joy. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The greatest trials leading to the greatest blessings
I. THE GREATEST TRIAL MAY PROVE THE GREATEST BLESSING.
1. The departure of Christ was felt to be a most grievous trial. “Sorrow hath filled your heart.” The Sun of their souls was sinking beneath the horizon and their world left in darkness and desolation.
2. The advent of His Spirit would be the greatest blessing. He was the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, &c. He would enter the inner temple of their nature, reproduce all the impressions that Christ had made, and abide with them for ever. Thus it is and ever will be with the good. “Our light affliction,” &c.
II. THE GREATEST TRIAL MAY BE NECESSARY TO THE GREATEST BLESSING. It seemed expedient in order
1. To give a more real meaning to the life of Christ. Never does the life of a loved friend come with such meaning and might as when death has removed him. He then assumes lovelier forms, and wields a more potent influence. So with Christ. When He ceased to be seen without, He became formed within them the “Hope of Glory.”
2. To dissipate all their material and local perceptions of Him. His departure tended at once to spiritualize and universalize their conceptions of Him.
3. To stimulate them to study the eternal principles of duty. So long as our teacher is with us we are contented to have our duty pointed out to us. Like children, we shall be controlled by verbal rulers and voices from without. But when he is gone there is a sphere and stimulus for the use of our faculties. How inferior is the mind moving by prescriptive rules to one ruled by universal principles.
4. To throw the soul upon the help of its own faculties. Man only grows as he works his own faculties and becomes self-reliant. Up to a certain point parental watchfulness is indispensable; beyond that it becomes an evil. It is a kind law, though painful, which requires the child to withdraw from the parental roof, and rely upon himself. So with the disciples. What a marked change occurred in them after the Ascension. The principle before us admits of a wide application. It may be necessary for a man to lose friends, property, health, liberty to prepare him for eternal life.
III. THE GREATEST TRIALS AND THE GREATEST BLESSINGS ARE ALIKE UNDER THE DIRECTION OF CHRIST.
1. The greatest trial. “I go away.” No compulsion; Christ was free. “I have power to lay down My life.”
2. The greatest blessing. “I will send,” &c. “Him,” not “It”--a Person, not an influence. Our destiny is in the hands of Christ. Let us trust in Him. The whole of our life is made up of loss and gain; but if we are His, He takes away a good thing to give a better. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The work of the Holy Spirit
I. THE EXPEDIENCY OF CHRIST’S DEPARTURE. How could they, poor sheep, be better off in the midst of wolves without a shepherd? A few things remembered may make it a little clearer.
1. The Master has a work to do for us in heaven. His work was not all done on Calvary. His intercession is the sequel and continuation of redemption.
2. His departure prepared the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
3. Be could not be with them in the fullest sense unless He left them.
4. His departure raised and spiritualized their conceptions.
5. His departure made them better men. Even after three years with Jesus they were but children in understanding and power. We have their portraits before and after His departure, and so changed are they that one could hardly believe them the same men.
II. THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. This is twofold.
1. Upon the world (John 16:8-11). The Master mentions three distinct points as to which the Spirit will reprove or convict the world: “sin,” “righteousness,” “judgment.” Then, resuming each point separately, He shows more particularly what the Spirit will do. The first work of the Holy Spirit is to convince of sin--of all sins, but chiefly of the sin of rejecting Christ. All sin has its root in unbelief, and the most aggravating form of unbelief is the rejection of Jesus Christ. This is the one great, comprehensive, all-inclusive sin of ungodly men. He next convinces the world of the righteousness of God’s whole dispensation, but especially of Christ’s personal righteousness. The world accounted Jesus guilty. It would also be the special function of the Spirit to keep alive the idea of judgment. He teaches the world moral and spiritual discernment, and vivifies their views of the final judgment.
2. The mission of the Holy Spirit among believers. As He turns to His disciples Jesus says: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” But they are told of a Guide who shall lead them into all truth. (G. W. Brown.)
Death the interpreter
The advantage to a great cause in the death of its great leader. This is a paradox, but there are many paradoxes that are true.
1. In the first place we never come to know any man while he is with us. The world’s best judgments of men are formed after their death. Christ Himself was not known while He lived. His twelve disciples, while they were in fellowship and companionship with Him and walking by His side, resting even on His bosom, never realized that He was the Son of God. You know that the mother always loves best the child that is dead. It is not because the child that is dead was better than all the children that are living, but because death brings the loved ones nearer to us than life ever brings them. You will never know your wife till she has gone from you. We never realize the meaning of Good-morning until we have said Good-bye.
2. The great truths are never apprehended while the great teachers of those truths are living to expound them. The death of a great teacher deepens and disseminates the knowledge of the truth. It was so with the death of Christ. It has been so with the death of every great teacher since Christ died. And the death of a great leader not only deepens the knowledge of the truth, it disseminates that knowledge. The Reformation is a great deal broader than Luther; and Calvinism is a great deal larger than John Calvin; Methodism is immeasurably more than Wesley; and, in a true sense, Christianity is more than Jesus of Nazareth--not more than Christ, but more than Jesus of Nazareth. There are some persons who look forward with hope to a second coming, in fleshly and visible presence, of Christ. They want to see Jesus of Nazareth descend again to earth, enthroned and crowned, sitting at Jerusalem. This would limit Christianity instead of broadening it, weaken instead of strengthening it, decrease instead of adding to its power. No great truth can be fully made manifest in a single narrow life; and every individual life is narrow. So long as the great leader lives the truth is caged; when the cage is destroyed has the bird liberty to fly out to carry its song everywhither?
3. But, yet more than that, as truth is greater than the teacher, so life and spirit is greater than any manifestation of that life and spirit. Life is more than truth. It is truth vitalized. The life of piety is more than any man’s piety. The life of love is more than any one love. Mother-love? It is infinitely more than the love of any one mother. Patriotism? It is immeasurably broader than the service of any one patriot. The history of the Christian Church is the history of the unfoldings of successive developments of Christian truth, Christian experience, in and through Christian lives. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
The gift of Pentecost
I. THE GREAT DOCTRINE WE COMMEMORATE. The disciples, as yet, knew only the foundation truth of the unity of the Godhead. Doubtless the All-wise, who has evermore proportioned His revelations to the needs and capacity of His creatures, knew that this great truth was all that they as yet were fitted profitably to receive. For this master-truth, when man’s corruptions had multiplied false gods, the Jewish Church was to enshrine and to transmit; and it may be that the full knowledge of the Trinity might have weakened their special witness for the indivisible Unity of God. Now to men trained up to view this as the key-stone of their whole religious system, the trial of faith required to receive the doctrine of the Trinity must have been so great, that nothing but the direct illumination of the Holy One could make them able to receive it. They had indeed been accustomed to hear of the Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2; Exodus 31:3; Nu 1 Samuel 10:10; 1Sa_19:20; 2 Chronicles 15:1). And yet they were amongst those who “did not so much as know whether there were any Holy Ghost.” They doubtless thought of God’s Spirit as of His inward being, or as the breath of His mouth; it was with them but another name for His essence, power, or influence. But the truth, as it was revealed by the Spirit, was
1. That in the Unity of the indivisible Godhead there were not only the Persons of the Father and the Son, but also that of the Holy Ghost.
2. That though the Holy Ghost is One God with the Father and the Son, yet is He not either the Father or the Son.
3. That this was no mere revelation to man of the one Godhead under a threefold aspect, but that it was an eternal and necessary condition of the Godhead itself.
4. That whilst as touching time there was neither before nor after in relation to the three blessed Persons, there was between themselves a priority of order; in that the everlasting Father was the fountain of being; for that the Son was from the Father, whilst the Father was not from the Son; and that the Holy Ghost was from the Father and the Son.
5. His special office in the work of man’s salvation. They now learned
II. THIS GREAT DOCTRINE IS FULL OF PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES.
1. It is this which makes the Church of Christ to be what it is. All the attributes, powers, and blessings of the Church are the consequence of this presence of the Holy Ghost. It is through this that Christ the Lord is ever with it; that it has gifts of light, and understanding, and power, and holiness; that its members are a true living unity; that its prayers mount up acceptably to God; that the Sacraments and means of grace are made real. It is of the utmost moment that again and again we remind ourselves of these great truths, for everything around us tends to rob us of their reality.
2. Its light colours the whole of those lives which each one of us is leading in the Church of the redeemed. It is in this presence and under these influences that our lives are being spent. And see how it must affect them.
Just as we have sometimes seen the setting sun, surrounded by dark and gloomy clouds, and about to plunge into still darker and gloomier, break out for a moment and pour a final flood of light over mountain and sea, so this Sun of the World, about to set amid sombre clouds, sheds upon His Church a glorious beam of light to enlighten and comfort for ever. Notice
I. THE DESCRIPTION HERE GIVEN OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. “Comforter” is a word peculiar to St. John (John 14:16; Joh_14:26; Joh_15:26; Joh_16:7; 1 John 2:1), and means one called to be beside another. In Greek and Roman courts of law it was the custom for an accused person to be accompanied by influential friends. These were not advocates in our sense of the term, paid professionals, but men who out of friendship came to stand by their friend in his time of need, to help him by encouragements and suggestions, and if necessary to take his place. Jesus had hitherto been all this. Now He was going away in order that another Paraclete might take His place, and
1. As the paraclete stood by his friend in the hour of trial, so does the Spirit by us. We are not left alone to face our difficulties and afflictions. “I will not leave your orphans.” The Church is not left alone to face her trials and dangers. The Lord “will help her, and that right early.”
2. As the paraclete suggested to his friend what was best for his defence, so does the Holy Spirit to us. “Take no thought what ye shall speak,” &c. So these fishermen went everywhere, standing before kings, meeting the defenders of deeply-rooted religions and overthrowing them. So also with ourselves. We are not left to go a warfare at our own charges. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One.”
3. As the paraclete pleaded for his friend, so does the Holy Spirit for us. Christ pleads for us in heaven; the Spirit pleads in our hearts (Romans 8:1-39.).
II. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE DEPARTURE OF JESUS AND THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. It is the atonement of Christ that gives His Church a right to the Spirit’s presence and the Spirit’s grace. The atonement was not completed till Christ had gone away. In accordance with this we read John 7:39) that the Spirit was not given because Jesus was not glorified. Not, however, that the Spirit was entirely absent from the Old Testament Church. He strove before the flood, inspired the prophets, &c.; but in His plenitude and power, He did not come till Jesus had gone. Conclusion: Let us
1. Be encouraged by this word of the Master.
2. Realize the blessedness here conveyed. (T. Hamilton, D. D.)
The ministry of the Comforter
1. The teaching of Christ respecting the ministry of the Holy Ghost is so peculiar as to raise the inquiry, Where was the Holy Ghost during the earthly ministry of the Son of Man? Throughout the Old Testament there are the clearest testimonies as to His personal service, and yet Christ speaks of the descent of the Spirit as a new and special gift. Was His ministry suspended? It may be suggested that the fulness of the Spirit had not been realized in the ancient church, which is undoubtedly true; yet it is sufficient to account for the treatment of His descent as a new visitation. The answer would seem rather to be, that the Holy Ghost was in Jesus Christ himself, and could not be given to the Church as a distinctively Christian gift until the first period of the Incarnation had been consummated in the Ascension “if I depart I will send Him unto you.”
2. Christ gives a specific definition of the work of the Holy Ghost. That His work admitted of definition is itself significant; and that the Son of Mary should have presumed to define it is a marvellous instance of His spiritual dominion, if it be not a covert yet daring blasphemy. Let us now see with what simplicity and decisiveness Christ defines and limits the functions of the Holy Ghost.
I. “HE SHALL NOT SPEAK OF HIMSELF.” Why not? Because He would be speaking an unknown tongue. We cannot understand the purely spiritual. Whatever we know of it must come through mediums which lie nearer our own nature. The whole ministry of God is an accommodation to human weakness. When He would teach truth He must needs set it in the form of fact: when He would show Himself, it must be through the tabernacle of our own flesh; when He would reveal heaven, He must illustrate His meaning by the fragments of light and beauty which are scattered on the higher side of our own inferior world. The Holy Ghost does not speak of Himself, because there must be a common ground upon which He can invite the attention of mankind.
II. “HE SHALL GLORIFY ME.” The common ground is the work of the Man Christ Jesus.
1. What is meant by glorifying Christ? We know what is meant by the sun glorifying the earth. The sun does not create the landscape. Yet how wonderful is its work! Everything was there before, yet how transfigured by the ministry of light! In this respect, what light is to the earth, the Holy Ghost is to Christ. The work of the Spirit is revelation, not creation. He does not make Christ, He explains Him. The sun in doing all his wonderful work does not speak of himself; he will not, indeed, allow us to look at him. The Holy Ghost, in like manner, does not speak of himself. He will not answer all our inquiries respecting His personality. We cannot venture with impunity beyond a well-defined line. Yet whilst He Himself is the eternal secret, His work is open and glorious. His text is Christ. From that He never strays. The Christian student sees a Christ which he did not see twenty years ago. This increasing revelation is the work of the Holy Ghost, and is the fulfilment of Jesus Christ’s own promise. This is an incidental contribution towards the completeness and harmony of the mystery that is embodied in Christ Jesus. The beginning and the end are the same--equal in mystery, in condescension, in solemn grandeur. Thus: “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost”--this is the beginning; “He shall not speak of Himself, He shall glorify Me;” this is the end. The incarnation of the Son of God was the work of the Holy Ghost: how natural that the explanation of the Son of God should be the work of the same minister! As He was before the visible Christ, so He was to be after Him, and thus the whole mystery never passed from His own control.
2. The life of the Son of Man, as written in the Gospels, needs to be glorified! He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: He made Himself of no reputation: upon all this chasm we need a light above the brightness of the sun. When that light comes, the root out of a dry ground will be as the flower of Jesse and the plant of renown, and the face marred more than any man’s will be the fairest among ten thousand and altogether lovely. Such is the wizardry of light!
3. This claim to be glorified by the Holy Ghost is without precedent in human history. That is a fact which ought to have some value attached to it. It is the kind of claim which an imposter would have avoided. Besides, for such a man, or for any man indeed, to have had such an idea is most marvellous. Had He merely committed His case to the care of time and the judgment of posterity, He would have taken the course of ordinary sagacity; but instead of that He expressly stated that the Holy Ghost would glorify His person, and complete His meditation on the earth. The work of the Holy Ghost was to be infinitely more than a work of mere explanation: it was to move “forward to the very point of glory, even the glory which the Son of Man had with His Father before the world began. Having spoken of the ministry of the Holy Ghost in relation to Himself, our Lord proceeds to speak of it in relation to His disciples.
III. “HE WILL GUIDE YOU INTO ALL TRUTH.”
1. Not “He will add to the number of miracles which you have seen at My hands,” but “I am the Truth; He will glorify Me, He will show you all My riches.” Our Lord Himself did not guide His disciples into all truth, nor have men even yet been so far guided. Truth is an infinite quantity. At first it may seem to be compassable, but it recedes as it is approached; yet it throws the warm rays of promise upon every honest and loving pilgrim to its shrine. Our Lord’s expression is comprehensive,--not only into truth that is distinctively theological, but into all truth,--scientific, political, social, religious. Is truth not larger than the formal church? Our Lord does not open one department of truth and refuse the key of others. It is not to be supposed that any one man is to be guided into all truth. Some possessions are put into the custody of the whole race. No single star holds all the light. No single flower is endowed with all the beauty. What man is there who knows all things? Every honest student has some portion of truth that is in a sense his own, and every eye sees at least a tint which no other vision has seen so clearly as itself. Men make up man, churches make up the Church, truths makes up Truth, and it is only by a complete combination of the parts that the majesty and lustre of the whole can be secured.
2. “The Spirit of Truth” as such is to “guide into all truth.” The quantity is unlimited; the method assumes consent and co-operation on the part of man. A reference to Old Testament history will show how grave is the error which limits it to thinking and service which are supposed to be purely theological. It may indeed show that “theology” is the all-inclusive term, holding within its meaning all the highest aspects and suggestions both of speculative and practical science. Can anything be farther from theology, as popularly understood, than stone-cutting or wood-carving? Can any two spheres be much more widely sundered than those of the preacher of the gospel and the artificer in iron and brass? Apparently not. But the biblical testimony sets the inquiry at rest (Exodus 31:2-5). Bezaleel was an inspired theologian. More than this, and apparently still farther away from the theological line: “I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire,” &c. Then, intermediately at least, may stand the agriculturalist, of whose treatment of the earth is said: “This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” The rulers and soldiers of Israel were qualified for their work by the Spirit of the Lord. The ministration of the Spirit is various: by it Moses was made wise, Bezaleel was made skilful, and Samson was made strong (1 Corinthians 12:11).
3. Upon the Church itself this promise of guidance into all truth should exert a healthful influence, especially in the direction of enlarging and refining its charity. The danger is that the Church should be content with a limited range of dogma and purpose when it is invited to the mastery and enjoyment of a kingdom that cannot be measured. Men of the most inquisitive mind should be encouraged by the Church to lead the van of inquiry, and subject every doctrine and every spirit to a cross-examination which to minds of an opposite type may become wearisome and even vexatious. The Church should extend to its adventurous sons who go out to shores far away and to lands unmapped and unclaimed, the most ardent and loving recognition. Even when they return with hopes unfulfilled and with banners torn by angry winds, proving the abortiveness of their chivalry, or the mistake of their method, they should be hailed with a still tenderer love. To such men the promise of being guided into all truth becomes a personal torture. They yearn for its fulfilment: they are straitened until it be accomplished.
IV. “HE WILL SHOW YOU THINGS TO COME.” Such a promise would seem to imply that secret communications about the future will be made to the Church; yet this construction must be admitted with extreme caution, for men would in some cases mistake prejudices and frenzies for inspiration, and in others they would inflict needless trouble upon themselves and upon society at large. Limited to the immediate hearers of our Lord, of course the promise is exhausted and the results are to some extent recorded in apostolic history; but it cannot be so limited. Merely to “show things to come” in the sense of prevision is a blessing greater in appearance than in reality; but to prepare the mind for things to come--to show the mind how to deal with new and perplexing circumstances is an advantage which cannot be expressed in human terms. Whatever the premised “announcement” may include, it must involve this supernatural preparedness of mind and heart, or it will merely excite and bewilder the Church. Whatever may come, and with what violence soever its coming may be attended, the Church will be prepared to withstand every shock and surmount every difficulty. Out of this assurance comes rest; the future is no longer a trouble; the clouds that lie upon the remote horizon will be scattered by the brightness of the image of God.
V. “HE SHALL BRING ALL THINGS TO YOUR REMEMBRANCE, WHATSOEVER I HAVE SAID UNTO YOU.” There is an inspiration of memory. Readers of the Gospels must have been surprised by the minuteness of recollection which is shown in their pages. Conversations are reported; little turns of dialogue, which seem to be merely artistic, are not omitted; records of occasions on which the disciples were actually not present, and of which they could only have heard from the lips of the Lord Himself, are presented with much particularity and vividness: how, then, was this done, and especially done by men who certainly were not conspicuous for the kind of learning which is needful for the making of literary statements? The explanation of this artless art, and this tenacious memory, is in this promise. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Of the sending of the Holy Ghost
1. He did go, and He did send, and on this day, so between the text and our feast there is the reciprocation that is between “the promise of the sending” and the “sending of the promise.”
2. There seems to be a question here, whether best the Comforter come or not come? This question grew out of whether Christ best go or not. But Christ resolves this: if they were against the Ascension they were also against a feast which they might not miss out of their calendar, and persuades them to accept the Ascension in hope of Whitsun-tide: one to make amends for the other. This is usual. After Christmas, the poor estate of Christ’s birth, there comes Epiphany with a star and great men’s oblations as by way of compensation; after Good Friday Easter, &c.
3. But Ascension Day, though to Christ a day of glory, could not but be a day of sorrow for the disciples. For
4. Men often grieve, however, at what is for their good. Therefore Christ says, “I tell you the truth.” Your hearts are full of sorrow because your heads are full of error. Your loss will be your gain.
I. THE INCONVENIENCE OF THE SPIRIT NOT COMING.
1. The absolute necessity for His advent. In both the main works of the Deity all three Persons co-operate. As in creation not only the Word of
God was required, but the motion of the Spirit to give life; and as in the genesis so in the palingenesis. It was necessary not only that the Word should take flesh, but flesh also receive the Spirit to give the life of grace to the new creature. So we baptize into all Three.
2. Most expedient is it that the work of our salvation should be brought to full perfection. If the Holy Ghost came not, Christ’s coming can do us no good. Christ said “It is finished,” but only in respect of the work itself. In regard of us and making it ours it is not finished if the Spirit come not too. Fortill the seal be added: that makes it authentic. Christ is the Word, the Spirit, the Seal.
3. As nothing is done for us, so nothing is done by us if He come not. The means avail nothing.
II. THE NECESSITY OF CHRIST’S GOING. But why not Christ stay and the Holy Spirit come? Or if He go, come again with Him. Surely He and Christ are not incompatible. Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost. At His baptism the Spirit rested upon Him. We shall enjoy both together by and by: Why not now? It was necessary that Christ should go.
1. On the Holy Ghost’s part. Otherwise He could not come as He should. The stay of Christ would have been a hindrance of the manifestation of His
Godhead. His signs and wonders would not well have been distinguished from Christ’s, and would probably have been ascribed to Christ.
2. On Christ’s part. Otherwise it had been an impeachment to Christ’s equality with the Father. For He not going to send Him, but staying here, the sending of the Spirit would have been ascribed to the Father alone.
3. On the apostles’ part.
(a) When men grow faint in seeking, and careless in keeping Him Song of Solomon 3:1). It was meet that Christ should go to teach them to rise and seek, to watch and keep Him better.
(b) When men grow conceited and overweening of themselves and their own strength, and say with David, “I shall never be moved,” as if they had Christ pinned to them; and with Peter (Matthew 26:33). Christ goes to teach them to see and know themselves better, that we may be humble, and being humble receive the Holy Ghost who comes to give grace to none but the humble (Bp. Andrewes.)
The superlative excellence of the Holy Spirit
I. THE BODILY PRESENCE OF CHRIST MUST HAVE BEEN EXCEEDINGLY PRECIOUS. How precious those alone can tell who love Christ much. Love always desires to be in the company of the thing beloved, and absence causes grief. Have we not some of us been looking for years for the personal advent of Christ. Think of the advantage it would be in the instruction of His people. No mystery need puzzle us if we could refer all to Him. There would be no discouragement to the Church henceforth in her work of faith and labour of love. Christ would take the personal supervision of His universal Church. He would create unity. Schism would cease to be, and heresy would be rooted out. But I question whether the pleasure of this thought may not have had a leaven of carnality in it, and whether the Church is yet prepared to enjoy the corporeal presence of her Saviour, without falling into the error of knowing Him after the flesh. It may be it shall need centuries of education before the Church is fit to see Him.
II. THE PRESENCE OF THE COMFORTER IS VERY MUCH BETTER THAN THE BODILY PRESENCE OF CHRIST.
1. The bodily presence of Christ would involve many inconveniences which are avoided by His presence through the Holy Spirit.
2. If Christ were still present in the flesh, the life of faith would not have such room for its display as it now has. The least faith the most show. The Romish Church, which has little enough of true faith, provides everything to work upon the senses. The presence of Christ Jesus here would be the bringing back of the saints to a life of sight, and in a measure spoil the simplicity of naked trust. Happy day will it be for us when faith enjoys the full fruition of her hopes in the triumphant advent of her Lord; but His absence alone can train and educate her to the needed point of spiritual refinement.
3. The presence of Christ would materially affect the character of God’s great battle against error and sin. Suppose that all men who would oppose Christ were suddenly devoured, why then it would be rather a battle between physical greatness and moral evil, than a warfare in which only spiritual force is employed on the side of right. But now that Christ has gone the fight is all between spirit and spirit; between the Holy Spirit and Satan; between truth and error; between the earnestness of believing men and the infatuation of unbelieving men. Now the fight is fair. Physical force is left to our enemies, we ask it not. Why? Because by the Divine working we can vanquish error without it.
4. Christ must be here in one of two ways--suffering, or not suffering. If He be a suffering Christ, then we should suspect that He had not finished His work; and, if He be an unsuffering Christ, then it would look as if He were not a faithful High Priest made like unto His brethren.
III. THE PRESENCE OF THE COMFORTER IS SUPERLATIVELY VALUABLE.
1. We may gather this first from the effects which were seen upon the day of Pentecost. Here was an omen of what the Spirit of God is to be to the Church.
The success given was only the first fruits--Pentecost is not the harvest. You must expect and pray for greater things.
2. Without the Holy Spirit no good thing ever did or ever can come into any of your hearts--no sigh of penitence--no cry of faith--no glance of love--no tear of hallowed sorrow.
3. No good thing can come out of you apart from the Spirit. Do you desire to preach?--how can you unless the Holy Ghost teaches your tongue? Do you desire to pray? Alas! what dull work it is unless the Spirit maketh intercession for you! Do you desire to subdue sin? Would you be holy?--you cannot without the Spirit! Conclusion: If these things be sol. Let us, who are believers in Christ, so reverence the Spirit as not to grieve Him or provoke Him. You who are unconverted--never despise Him. Remember, there is a special honour put upon Him in Scripture--“All manner of sin and of blasphemy,” &c.
2. Let us, viewing the might of the Spirit, take courage to-day. Our fathers bore their testimony in the stocks and in the prison, but they feared not for the good old cause, because they knew that the Spirit of God is mighty and will prevail. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The preference due to the Holy Spirit
I. THE RELATION BETWEEN CHRIST’S BODILY PRESENCE AND THE SPIRIT’S INFLUENCE WITH THE CHURCH.
1. Before Christ came the Spirit was little known. In all ages it is true that while Christ is the only foundation, the Spirit is the only architect of religion. But if before the Incarnation Christ was dimly seen, can we wonder that the Spirit was not clearly known? Yet as many received salvation by a Messiah whom they scarcely descried in the distance, they received Him by the grace of that Spirit whose operations they felt rather than understood.
2. While Christ was on the earth the Spirit was better known, but known as resting on the Head rather than descending on the body of the Church. Nothing, in all the preceding ages, could be compared with this for clearness. How natural, after the manifestation of the Spirit at Christ’s baptism, was it for Christ to begin His ministry by selecting this text--“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” &c. The very name, Messiah--Christ--is derived from the sacred unction which Christ here claims to Himself. What a display of the Spirit’s influence was given in the person and ministry of Christ! Still, this was in the Head rather than in the body of the Church, “for the Spirit was not yet received, because Jesus was not yet glorified,” For what do we see of the work of the Spirit on man in general during the ministry of Christ on earth? It is true that we read of above five hundred brethren. But what are a few hundreds, or even thousands, as the fruit of such a ministry as that of Jesus Christ? But, alas t we read of no grand effusions of the Spirit accompanying the preaching of our Saviour. Though Christ spake as never man spake, His audience never cried--“What shall we do to be saved?” And when the unbelieving multitude vociferated, “Away with Him, crucify Him!” there was no counter-cry from an opposing mass who had received life at His lips. No; it was necessary first to show what the Spirit does in the Person of Him from whom the grace descends to us; that the anointing should flow from the Head to the members.
3. But when Christ departed to heaven, then the Spirit descended on the whole Church. For there were sufficient reasons why the Spirit of grace should not descend before.
II. THE PREFERENCE DUE TO THE SPIRIT’S INFLUENCE
1. The value of Christ’s bodily presence is implied when it is said to be expedient for us that He should go away. While He was on earth He was its treasure and its joy. Christ Himself said, “Blessed are your eyes that they see,” &c. The hope of seeing Christ after death makes even that bitter thing sweet. Can we wonder, then, that the disciples who saw Him on earth were reluctant to part with this grateful sight? Nor do we wonder that the hope of His speedy re-appearance should prove a fascinating lure to many who are as much mistaken as the disciples were.
2. The superior value of the Spirit’s presence.
(a) The Head cannot be glorified without shedding lustre on the members; nor can the members see the Head exalted, without feeling a sense of exaltation and delight. While Christ dwelt here He was the Father’s servant. So much humiliation and infirmity entered into His sojourn here, that He might well chide His friends for wishing to detain Him in it, saying, “If ye loved Me ye would rejoice,” &c. But now He has prayed, and has been heard, “Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self,” &c. When He quitted earth for heaven, He exchanged the condition of a servant for that of a king. From the seat of glory He sent down His Spirit as His advocate, as well to glorify Christ as to call and sanctify us. The “Paraclete” should be regarded as conveying the idea of a patron and counsellor, to vindicate
Christ’s rights, and display His glory, and animate the spirits of men to rise to lofty and delightful ideas of the Saviour.
(b) This is more honourable to the Spirit too. Would not the splendour of the glorified Redeemer take off men’s attention from the operations of the Spirit of grace? But should the Spirit be robbed of his honours? Is it not, then, fit that He should work by means less splendid and fascinating--by the ordinary preaching of the Word--by those who have the treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be seen to be of God, and not of man?
III. THE NECESSITY OF ENFORCING THE PREFERENCE DUE TO THE DIVINE SPIRIT.
1. We are exceedingly prone to dote on that which strikes the senses in preference to that which affects the heart. Has not the fatal apostasy of Rome originated in this infirmity of our nature? Perhaps there is scarcely one unconverted person here that does not fancy he would behove if he saw Christ in the flesh. Even the infidel says, “If I saw Jesus Christ as you represent Him, I would hail Him as my Saviour.” But did that sight convert the Jews?
2. We as much undervalue the Spirit’s influence. You have something better than that which you so fondly fancy would vanquish all your love of sin, and triumph over your unbelief. There are more mighty resources provided for us than if the Son of God were to come down. For the Holy Ghost is now sent to be an advocate to plead His cause with the world, and convince it of Christ’s righteousness, and grace, and dominion, and saving power. Conclusion:
1. Beware, lest having lost Christ’s presence, you live without the Spirit’s influence.
2. Aspire to join the spirits of just men made perfect, who, enjoying both these blessings, are at the summit of bliss. (J. Bennett, D. D.)
And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment
The mission of the Comforter
This is the only passage in which the Saviour has expressed the process of the Spirit’s action in regenerating the world.
It forms Christ’s own history of the silent progress of the spiritual life. The first step in the Divine life is the sense of sin. That sense is excited by the conviction of the heart’s unbelief in the Christ who died. Then the sense of sin must pass into the belief in righteousness. The Spirit reveals righteousness in the Christ who rose. And from this twofold revelation must spring the belief that evil is conquered and that sin shall finally pass away; for the Spirit reveals its overthrow in the Christ who lives and reigns. Mark the mission of the Comforter in
I. AWAKENING THE SENSE OF SIN.
1. The ground on which the charge of sin is founded--“because they believe not on Me.” This may seem strange at first sight. But on examination we shall see that no charge but this can awaken a real deep sense of sin. Take the other grounds on which men have attempted to bring home the conviction.
2. Take now unbelief in Christ, and see what the rejection of Him implies. Whatever excuses a man may make for committing sin, he knows that it creates an alienation from God, that its effects on the soul are devastating. Now the Cross stands as the sign of reconciliation with God, and therefore of healing and blessedness. But by unbelief, refusing Christ’s deliverance, I affirm my antagonism to the Divine. There is the revelation of sin. Man defying the supremest love.
II. THE CONVICTION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE ASCENDED SAVIOUR. The first deep glance into life’s evil overcomes a man with hopeless sorrow. It is vain to tell him “to let the dead past bury its dead.” Forgetfulness would not destroy, but only cover with a thin veil the evil He has found--a veil that death would rend in twain. It is useless to say, “Obey conscience, and become righteous.” Conscience has no power to raise; it can only point out the right and condemn the wrong. It is a flaming terror until a man finds Christ. Thus awakened, the great cry of the heart is this, Can I ever be cleansed? Can those memories be banished into eternal forgetfulness by the forgiveness of God? Unless these cries are answered, it were a cruel punishment to convince man of his evil. But the Comforter does answer them. “There is righteousness because Christ is gone to the Father, and ye see Him no more.” It is not, therefore, Christ crucified only, but Christ risen and ascended, who reveals a righteousness for man, Why is this so? and how does the Comforter inspire this conviction? There are three requisites which must be fulfilled before man, as a sinner, can feel the possibility of His righteousness. And these are all met by the truth that Christ has gone to the Father.
1. The assurance of forgiveness for the past. Explain it how we may, there is no conviction more profound and universal than that sin is death, and that its pardon necessitates the death of a pure and unstained life. The world’s altars, laden often with human victims, bear witness to this. There is in conscience an inner witness to the rectitude of the law that condemns, and it gives man no peace till he feels that a Holy Being, who was yet one with Him, has “become obedient unto death,” and thus manifested the sanctity of the commandment. But suppose Christ had vanished in death, who would have known that He had finished the work He had undertaken? But He rises and ascends to “His Father and our Father,” and becomes the eternal Priest, dispensing forgiveness to the world. This is the truth revealed by the Comforter. Touched by the Spirit’s power, we accept Christ’s sacrifice as our sacrifice, and find pardon.
2. The removal of the terrors of the future. It is the double curse of sin that, while it narrows our range of vision, it clothes immortality with terror. We feel sin is barring our entrance into those bright abodes. We need a Deliverer who shall open for us those barred and everlasting doors. Christ ascended to heaven to be our Brother and Intercessor there. The grand assertion, “In My Father’s house are many mansions,” &c., falls like music from the sky that received Him. This, then, is the truth revealed by the Comforter, which, by removing the terrors of the future, deepens the conviction of righteousness.
3. The creation of a new manhood in the present. When the past is forgiven and the future brightened, we want to become righteous men. And here we approach the doctrine of imputed righteous-ness--a righteousness not our’s, but Christ’s. But the idea of a transference of spiritual states is only a figurative expression of a great truth. We become righteous only when we feel that we are nothing, have nothing, can do nothing, and trusting solely on Christ, yield ourselves to Him. Then the old forces of sin die. The love of Christ possessing us recreates us, and God, seeing in that life of faith the first beginnings of a purity which shall become perfect and everlasting, regards us as righteous in Christ Jesus.
III. The belief which completes and renders perfect the new nature--THE BELIEF IN JUDGMENT THROUGH THE CONQUEST OF THE “PRINCE OF THIS WORLD.” This passage is frequently interpreted as though it referred to the final judgment. But this destroys the connection between the three convictions, and the words have a present meaning--“is judged.” The judgment, therefore (see John 12:31), is that conquest which Christ should gain on His cross. Taking it in that sense, we perceive at once why the belief in judgement must follow the belief in righteousness. For when we have been freed from sin, and made righteous in Christ, we find that we have entered on a life-long struggle with evil; and as the one thing to keep us true, we need the assurance of final victory. These words present two thoughts:
1. Christ’s conquest over the kingdom of evil.
(a) Christ must overcome the essence of evil by a means common to humanity. Now, the essence of evil is self-will. Its first expression was the
“I will” of man opposing itself to the “Thou shalt not” of God. Christ must conquer sin through the might of a Divine obedience, and yet occupy a battle-ground common to humanity. And where was this so perfectly accomplished as in His life and death?
(b) Christ must show by His conquest that the facts which seem to prove the perpetuity of evil are really signs of its overthrow. The darkest lie of the evil one is this--that evil is an eternal power. Before the advent of the gospel, the world was beginning to believe in the omnipotence of wrong, and men were losing faith in anything which could conquer evil. Just note the two great facts which, as the results of sin, lay at the root of this state. First, Suffering. It seemed to belie the goodness of God and prove sin to be irresistible. Now suffering, in all its deepest dreadfulness, Christ endured. “He was perfected through sufferings,” and thus revealed it to man as the education of a Father. Secondly, Death--the sign-manual of sin’s dominion. Christ became subject to its power. It seemed to conquer Him. But, rising from the grave, He ascended to the heavens, thus consecrating death for all men as a pathway to the Father’s home. Such was Christ’s conquest. It was the crisis of earth’s history--the judgment and overthrow of the “prince of this world.”
2. Christ’s conquest as a pledge of victory for man. There are three ways in which this is revealed by the Comforter.
The object of the mission of the Comforter
“To reprove the word of sin” is one thing; but (as the original expression implies) “to convince” is quite another. The reproof of sin has been the practice of philosophers, the object of poets, the office of moralists, the aim of satirists, in every age. Parents reprove their children; silent virtue reproves obtrusive vice. But sin may be reproved, and yet not be eradicated; be silenced by exposure, and yet not subdued. Hence the reproofs of the world have fallen upon the sins of the world too often, as the winds fall upon the bleak hill, or the waves of the sea beat upon the solid rock--leaving no impression behind. Now to “convince,” or to “convict” means to bring home sin to one’s judgment, and to render all denial impossible; to one’s conscience, and to render all evasion impracticable; to unveil sin in its own hiding-place; to detect it when it lurks in the core of the most exquisite bud, or when it nestles in the bosom of the most fragrant and beautiful flower; to fix upon it the sinner’s eye so intently, that he shall see it lying where he never suspected it to be before, nestling amidst the affections he thought holy, clinging to the habits he thought beautiful, and staining all his nature so entirely by its venom, that he shall feel that none but the Omnipotent Spirit of God can enable him to get rid of it. It is easy to convince a man of outward offences, none but the Eternal Spirit can convince the honourable, the great, the moral, that all their excellencies are like flowers and leaves torn from the root, and doomed soon to fade, and that the only excellencies that will survive the storm, and bid defiance to the grave, are those which spring from the living principle imparted by the Holy Spirit of God. Many have tried to “convince of sin,” besides the Holy Spirit.
1. Conscience. But it fails to do so with any sensible results. No man sins without hearing the remonstrances of that solemn monitor; but you have defied it, mastered it, bribed it, and now it has become more or less stupefied. Or if not it has recourse to the only other expedient to those atoning efficacies said to be in all the relics and prescriptions of an absurd superstition.
2. Public opinion. But while this reproves some sins, it connives at others.
3. The law of Sinai. This commands, in the accents of thunder, the duties which it reveals by the lighting’s flash; but that law only speaks of outward acts; it lops off branches, it cuts off a main stem--but as soon as it has done so, a thousand shoots start from the root. The only being, then, that can convince of sin savingly, really, deeply, is the Holy Spirit. He shall convince the world
I. OF SIN: of one special sin; not intemperance, avarice, or selfishness. These are of flagrant enormity, but there is one which outweighs them all in its guilt--a sin that lies too at every man’s door--at the door of philanthropist and of the felon, a sin that ties to us all sins, and prevents their forgiveness; unbelief in Christ. This is just the sin of which we have no conception, except by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Conscience does not accuse you of it; society will not denounce you for it.
1. How this can be so heinous a sin? Because it is rejecting the great remedy for all sin; it is suspecting the love, doubting the mercy, disputing the sufficiency of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a sin merely against God as a judge, but against God as a Saviour. And those persons approach more or less to the guilt of this sin, who have doubts whether Christ will have mercy on them that appeal to Him; lest His blood be not adequate to cleanse them; that He would thrust them away if they were to make the experiment. If there be a single obstruction between the greatest sinner and the bosom of God, it is not in God--it is in your hearts alone.
2. “What is it to believe in Christ?” It is to feel that if God were to sink you to the very depths of hopeless ruin, He would not inflict a punishment greater than your sins have deserved; but, on the other hand, it is to feel that if, in the name and through the righteousness of Christ, He were to raise you to a glory too brilliant for mortal eye to look on, God would not bestow upon you a greater boon than Christ’s merits entitle you to.
II. OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. He opens our ears, that we may hear the curse, but He opens our ears, that we may hear the music of the blessing also. “Sin shall not have dominion over you:” “Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” “And when the Spirit convinces of righteousness, it is not that Christ is simply a righteous man”; that would be no comfort to me, but He was righteous for us. Hence our justifying righteousness is not a faint imitation of what Christ is, but an acceptance of what Christ has bequeathed. Imitate what Christ is, and there is your model; but to be justified you must believe on and embrace by faith what Christ has done, and that alone, as your title and your righteousness in the sight of God. Just as Christ was condemned for my sin, so I am justified because of Christ’s righteousness.
III. OF JUDGMENT. The first promise was, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head”; the Spirit of God convinces His people that this process of bruising goes on--that the earth now, while under grace, is also partly under judgment, and that those things which the world cannot explain by what is called the law of nature, are the judgments of God. For instance, disease, decay, and death, the world calls the laws of nature: the Christian calls them the judgments of God. Death does not belong to nature; it is a disruption of nature. It is sin that is the cause of all the headaches and the heart-aches which our mortality is heir to. And therefore the Spirit of God and He only will convince that they are the judgments and decrees of God. Wherever you see a Christian happy amid oppression, there you have an evidence that “the prince of this world is judged.” And is it not still becoming more and more true that humility is dignity, and that holiness is strength? And the time is coming more and more, I trust, when “the prince of this world,” being “judged,” shall be cast forth from the cabinets of queens and from the councils of statesmen, from the press and from the pulpit, from all men’s hearts and from all men’s homes--and the joy and holiness and happiness of God shall, overflow the world, like a mighty and deepening river, Oh! that the Spirit of God may then convince us of this! (J. Cumming, D. D.)
The hardened sinner
Angelo Marie, a Jesuit librarian at the Vatican, made the discovery, many years ago, that some of the ancient MSS. had more than one layer of writing upon them. By certain chemical experiments, he succeeded in making legible the ancient writing. Archbishop Whately has suggested the theory, now generally admitted, that this was done on account of the expensiveness or scarcity of parchment in the middle ages. De Quincy, in his “Confessions,” has given us a chapter on the subject, applying it to signify different layers of thought and emotion that have at different times passed upon the heart, and become apparently covered over completely with some other. So it is with the hardened sinner. How many a layer of conviction after conviction and partial reformations has he known, yet still how thick a case covers his hardened heart!
The spirit of fire
Suppose a blacksmith were sent for to mend a number of old broken iron vessels, and told that he must do it without fire, what would he say to the proposal? Yet sinners’ hearts are as hard and cold! and just as foolish are they who think that all that is needed is to begin and go on hammering at them, and that will convert them. No! heat the iron, and it may be mended and remoulded. Melt the soul with the Spirit of burning, or we are without hope of seeing any saving change.
The awful evil of sin
Oh sirs, if I had a dear brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I valued the knife which had been crimsoned with his blood?--if I made a friend of the murderer, and daily consorted with the assassin, who drove the dagger into my brother’s heart? Surely I, too, must be an accomplice in the crime! Sin murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? Sin pierced the heart of the Incarnate God; can you love it? Oh, that there was an abyss as deep as Christ’s misery, that I might at once hurl this dagger of sin into its depths, whence it might never be brought to light again! Begone, O sin! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The threefold conviction
I. OF SIN--“in that they believe not on Me.”
1. The world’s conduct towards Christ is the decisive proof of its sinfulness. His Cross manifests, as nothing else, what “the bad element in human nature” is capable of. So it must needs be. When the Holy One comes into a world of sinners they must either renounce their sins or contradict Him. And if He endures their contradiction they must hate Him; and if He still braves their hatred it is but another step to slay Him. “If I had not come they had not had sin,” &c. In conflict with the light darkness is known for darkness indeed.
2. Therefore, the gist of the Spirit’s charge lies simply in this: that the world does not believe in Christ. All the rest, the insolence and outrage, &c., was nothing more than the logical outcome of unbelief. Here is the root of the matter. For the rest Christ could say, “Father, forgive them,” &c.
3. On this point the Paraclete has to convince the world. The rejection of Jesus was virtually the act of the race. Herod, &c., were not fiends but men. We can understand them because we are so much like them. All the vices that culminated in the Crucifixion are those of every generation, nay, of ourselves.
4. The present world thinks that it would have acted differently. Let it not be too sure: “Your fathers killed the prophets,” &c., and so the ungodly world may be garnishing the sepulchre of Him whom it treats as a dead Christ, in so far as it does not believe in Him.
5. Just as all good works are at the bottom acts of faith, so every kind of evil doing runs up into unbelief. The first sin began here, “Hath God said?” And so the ripened form of human sin reproduces naturally the seed from which it sprang. And this is the condemnation of the whole world: “They have not believed Me.”
6. One day this conviction of sin will have penetrated to the world’s very heart. It will “look on Him whom it has pierced and mourn,” as it confesses that it has not yet believed on Him.
II. OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. In the thought of sin, man is the central subject, as himself sinful; in the thought of righteousness, Christ as alone righteous.
1. The personal righteousness of Christ was at stake in the controversy between Himself and the world, and everything depended on clearing that first of all. Only as it appreciated that could the world understand righteousness. Of this the world is now convinced. But Christ could not have waited for this vindication, which without other proof would never have been brought about. And besides, the Father was concerned to vindicate Himself and the Son of His good pleasure by some immediate and unanswerable demonstration. This was seen in His going to the Father. So He says, “If ye loved Me ye would rejoice,” &c.
because He would be glorified and the world put to shame, convinced of His righteousness, convicted of its sin.
2. By the death of Christ the case as between Him and the world was transferred to the final court of appeal, “After death, judgment.” His accusers had said, “This Man is a sinner,” and by crucifying Him they invited the Divine judgment. And thither with His dying breath He made His own appeal, “Into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” Those appeals were answered, and in three days Jesus lived again, and in due time went where He was before; and all the angels worshipped Him, and the Father set Him at His own right hand where every word He said is justified, every claim He made established, and where heaven and earth combine to adore Him as “Jesus Christ the Righteous.”
3. And if righteous, then Divine. It is no discrepancy that the Evangelist should report the officer as saying, “This Man was righteous,” and “He was Son of God.” Every one knew that this was the capital charge against Him; and, indeed, if He was a righteous man He was Son of God; if He was not Son of God, He was not even a righteous Man. Therefore He was “declared Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead,” and His righteousness is not simply that of the righteous man, but a manifestation of that of the “righteous Father” whom the world had not known, but of which it had to be convinced.
4. And if tie is righteous, then the great ideal has been realized, the hunger after righteousness may be assuaged; for righteousness has appeared in concrete human form. There is hope of righteousness for the sinful world. “He died the just for the unjust,” &c. “He goes to the Father, and so we have an Advocate with the Father,” &c. Well may we then, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
III. OF JUDGMENT. “Because the prince,” &c. The death of Christ caused a judgment to be passed on Satan, which he and his kingdom felt to be a virtual overthrow. Christ saw again and again behind all human forces another antagonist guiltier and mightier. He who knew what was in man recognized lurking behind Judas, Peter, the Pharisees, &c., him whom He thrice called the prince of this world. It was his “works” that He came to destroy, and His “death-fearing” subjects He meant to deliver. And the “strong man armed” knows who it is that has entered his domain. Calvary is to be the decisive battle-field. He was allowed to reach the height of his apostasy in his lying temptation, and failing that, in his murder of the Incarnate Son, and from this height he fell instantly, utterly, as lightning from heaven. He is judged, has failed, is doomed. Henceforth he waits with fearful expectation till the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God, &c. Slowly, yet surely, this sentence is taking effect. After dispossession comes punishment. What else meant the terror of demons at the voice of Christ, and the dreadful words (Matthew 25:41) re-echoed in the Apocalypse (John 20:10)? He is judged already, butthe day shall declare that judgment. But, alas! he is not the only subject. The judgment that fell upon him cannot but strike those who choose “their part” with him (Revelation 21:8). (Geo. G. Findlay, B. A.)
The Holy Spirit’s threefold conviction of men
Observe what the Holy Spirit did as an Advocate. The passage cannot be fully understood except we give it three renderings. A promise is here made to the servants of Christ, that when they go forth to preach the gospel the Holy Ghost will be with them
I. TO REPROVE MEN. By this is meant, not so much to save them as to silence them. Another advocate appears in court, whose pleadings would make it hard for men to resist the truth. Observe how this reproof was given with regard to
1. Sin. On the day of Pentecost when Peter stood up to preach to the assembled multitude, the signs and wonders wrought by the Spirit in the name of Jesus were a witness which they could not refute. The evidence was brought home to them that they had with wicked hands crucified the Lord of glory: and so they stood reproved. All the subsequent miracles went to prove the same thing.
2. Righteousness. Jesus was gone, and His Divine example no longer reproved their darkness, but the Holy Spirit attested that righteousness, and compelled them to feel it. A fresh standard of morals was set up, and it has never been taken down; it stands in its place to rebuke, if not to improve.
II. TO CONVINCE MEN
1. Of sin.
2. Of righteousness--that is to show them that they have no righteousness of their own, and no means of working it, and are condemned. Thus He leads them to value the righteousness of God which is upon all them that believe.
3. Of judgment. “The Father hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” The true penitent feels that the great enemy of his soul must be dethroned, or else forgiveness itself will afford him no rest. He must be rescued from the power as well as from the guilt of sin, or else he abides in bondage. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil; and on the cross our Redeemer judged Satan, and cast him down. He is now a condemned criminal, a vanquished rebel. His reigning power over all believers is broken. Though it will cost you many a conflict, the Lord shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly, for He has already bruised him under His own feet on your behalf.
III. TO CONVICT MAN.
1. The world stands a prisoner at the bar, and the charge is that it is and has been full of sin. In courts of law you are often surprised with what comes out. The prisoner seems to be a respectable person, and you say, “I should not think he is guilty.” But, as the evidence proceeds, you say to yourself, “That is a villain.” Now hear the Spirit of God. The Spirit came into the world to make all men know that Jesus is the Christ, and He attested that fact by miracles, and by the conversion of myriads. But this wicked world nailed Christ to a cross. By this the world is convicted, its guilt is proven beyond question. The wrath of God abideth on it.
2. What follows? The trial is viewed from another point. The world has declared that the gospel is not righteous, that the system which our Lord has come to establish is not true. But, by sanctifying men through the gospel so that they lead gracious lives, the Holy Spirit proves that the gospel is righteous. This process grows more and more complete as time rolls on. Were not the world unrighteous it would long ago have yielded to the holy message and its holy Messenger. But it will be forced to own the truth one day.
3. When the world shall see Jesus enthroned at last on the clouds of heaven, what conviction will seize on every mind! Not a sceptic will be found in that day! Christ seen at the Father’s right hand will end all unbelief. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Spirit’s threefold conviction
I. THE SPIRIT’S CONVICTION OF SIN. And first, the Spirit’s conviction of sin--“Of sin, because they believe not on Me.”
1. This is not society’s definition of sin: according to society, sin means crime, vice, immorality. Neither is it the philosopher’s definition of sin: according to the philosopher, sin means misdirection, abuse, disease. Neither is it the theologian’s definition of sin: according to the theologian, sin means transgression of God’s law, coming short of God’s glory, hereditary guilt. But it is Christ’s definition of sin: according to Christ, sin means unbelief on Himself, unbelief in Jesus as the Christ and Son and Image and Revealer of the Father. To disbelieve on Jesus, then, is to disbelieve on Deity Himself. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father (1 John 2:23). Christlessness in a Christian land is atheism. Sin, therefore, became a new thing when Jesus came into the world John 15:22).
2. Observe now that of this sin of sins the Spirit is the sole convicter. When He is come, He will convict the world in respect of sin, because they believe not on Jesus. And no other power can. The preacher cannot do it; conscience cannot do it; even holy scripture cannot do it. Remember the difference between sins and sin. A jury may convict me of crimes: conscience may convict me of sins. But no power less than the Holy Spirit can convict me of sin. No barb but His can pierce to the root of my nature; no flash but His can show me to myself as a ruined sinner. And the argument he wields in convicting me of sin is this very fact that I do not believe on Jesus. Calvary, not Sinai, is the Spirit’s mightiest artillery. But what avails it to be convicted of sin, unless at the same time we are also convicted that there is somewhere righteousness, and that this righteousness can be made available to ourselves?
II. THE SPIRIT’S CONVICTION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. “Of righteousness.” What is this righteousness of which our Lord here speaks? Whose righteousness is it?
2. “Because I go to the Father.” This going to the Father involves several profound things. First, it involves Christ’s own death. And why did Jesus Christ die, and so go home? Just because He was righteous, and lived in a world which did not believe on Him. His very righteousness crucified Him. Again: This going to the Father involves Christ’s resurrection. And why was Jesus Christ raised from the dead? Just because He was righteous: He was declared to be the Son of God with power by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). Once more: This going to the Father involves Christ’s ascension and heavenly enthronement. And why was Jesus Christ exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high? Just because He was righteous; His exaltation being the reward of His incarnate obedience. His going to the father was both a revelation and a demonstration of Christ’s righteousness.
3. “And ye no longer behold Me.” Why did not the risen Lord remain on earth? Why is He not here now, to be a terror to His foes, a comfort to His friends? We behold Him no more in order that we may the better understand what righteousness truly is. For righteousness is not a bulk--so many inches cubic; not a weight--so many pounds avoirdupois. Righteousness is a quality, a character.
4. And of this righteousness the Holy Spirit is the sole concictor: “When He is come, He will convict the world in respect of righteousness.” It may also be admitted that the world does in a certain sense admire Christ’s character. Few eulogies are more eloquent, so far as language goes, than the eulogies which eminent unbelievers have pronounced on the Nazarene. But admiration is one thing: loyalty is another thing. There is a tremendous difference between aesthetic admiration and practical devotion; between assent to Christ’s teaching and consent with Christ’s character. And what the world needs is to have such a profound conviction of Christ’s personal, conspicuous, distinctive righteousness as to yearn for it, crying, O Jehovah, be Thou my righteousness (Jeremiah 22:6). And this conviction no power but the Paraclete can effect.
III. THE SPIRIT’S CONVICTION OF JUDGMENT. But what avails it to be convicted of righteousness, unless at the same time we are convicted that righteousness will be victorious?
1. “The prince of this world.” If you ask me why Satan was allowed to enter this world and usurp its throne, my only answer is this: I do not know. Here is one of those secret things which belong to Jehovah our God Deuteronomy 29:29). Of one thing, however, I am only too sure. Satan is the prince of this world. A usurped principality though it is, the principality is nevertheless his. See how he lords it over man’s moral nature, as disclosed in the various religions of the world. Look, for example, at the world’s idolatries: at its Apis, its Baal, its Dagon, its Mithras, its Siva. Look at the Greek and Roman mythologies. Or, to keep within our own land, look at the idolatry of second causes, the worship of antecedent and consequent, the adoration of the powers of nature. What is materialism but a sort of sublimated fetichism? Again: See how Satan lords it over man’s psychical nature--over the capacities and affections and desires of men, instigating to all passions of pride and selfishness and ambition and hate and lust. Once more: See how Satan lords it over man’s bodily nature, driving his thorns in the flesh to buffet us; bringing disease and pain and death and grave. In fine, look at this world as it actually is; its crimes, frauds, robberies, hates, falsehoods, perfidies, oppressions, cruelties, sensualities, blasphemies; its griefs and woes and deaths: look at all these and similar instigations and works of the devil, and tell me, Is not Satan the prince of this world?
2. But is this to be so always? God be praised, no! for the prince of this world hath been judged. To us indeed Christ’s judgment of Satan seems to be a process still going on. But this is only because we are finite: for this idea of process, or succession in time, is one of the tokens of human weakness. But to the eye of the Son of God the overthrow of Satan was a single act, and an act already accomplished (Luke 10:17). But how was this judgment on Satan affected?
3. And this judgment on Satan is a judgment of which the world needs to be convicted: and this, not merely in way of intellectual apprehension, but, especially and emphatically, in way of moral conviction.
4. But how shall this conviction be wrought? By no power less than the Holy Spirit. When He is come, He will convict the world concerning judgment, because the prince of this world has been judged. Conscience cannot work this conviction: all that conscience can do is to make us aware that we are under Satan’s power. Neither can philosophy work this conviction: all that philosophy does is to try to make us believe that there is not, and never has been, any Satan at all; that hell is only the obverse side of heaven, or “heaven seen in a side-light.” The philosopher does, indeed, talk of a golden age. But what kind of a golden age is it? An age when all that is now anomalous and discordant and monstrous shall give way to universal law and order and beauty; in brief, when the world shall develop into a godless paradise, from which Satan and Jesus shall be alike aliens. (G. D.Boardman, D. D.)
The idea is complex. It involves the conceptions of authoritative examination, of unquestionable proof, of decisive judgment, of punitive power. Whatever the final issue may be, he who “convicts” another places the truth of the case in dispute in a close light before him, so that it must be seen and acknowledged as truth. He who then rejects the conclusion which this exposition involves, rejects it with his eyes open and at his peril. Truth seen as truth carries with it condemnation to all who refuse to welcome it. The different aspects of this “ conviction” are brought out in the usage of the word in the New Testament.
1. There is the thorough testing of the real nature of the facts (John Ephesians 5:13).
2. The application of the truth thus ascertained to the particular person affected (James 2:9; 15:22; 1 Corinthians 14:24; 2 Timothy 4:2; cf. Matthew 18:15; John 8:9).
3. And that in chastisement (1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:9; Tit_2:15; cf. Ephesians 5:11); or with a distinct view to the restoration of him who is in the wrong (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:5; Titus 1:13). The Gospel of St. John itself is a monument of the Spirit’s conviction of the world concerning
I. SIN (John 3:19-21; Joh_5:28, &c.; John 5:38-47; Joh_8:21, &c.; John 8:34-47; Joh_9:41; Joh_14:27; Joh_15:18-24).
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS (John 5:30; Joh_7:18; Joh_7:24; Joh_8:28; Joh_8:46; Joh_8:50; Joh_8:54; Joh_12:32; Joh_14:31; Joh_18:37).
III. JUDGMENT (John 12:31; Joh_14:30; Joh_18:15). (Bp. Westcott.)
The facts which convince the world
Our Lord has just been telling His disciples how He will equip them, as His champions, for their conflict with the world. He now advances to tell them that the three-fold conviction which they, as counsel for the prosecution, will establish as against the world at the bar, will be based upon three facts: a truth of experience, of history, of revelation, all three facts having reference to Christ and His relation to men. Now these three facts are--the world’s unbelief; Christ’s ascension and session at the right hand of God; and “the judgment of the prince of this world.” These three facts are the staple and the strength of the Christian ministry. These are misapprehended, and have failed unless they have driven home to our consciences and understandings the triple conviction of my text.
I. THE REJECTION OF CHRIST AS THE CLIMAX OF THE WORLD’S SIN.
1. This is the most striking instance of the gigantic self-assertion of our Lord’s. The world is full of all manner of evils, but Christ passes them all by and points to a mere negative thing, and says, “There is the worst of all sins.”
2. And some of us do not think it is sin at all; that man is no more responsible for his belief than he is for the colour of his hair. Well, what is it that a man turns away from when he turns away from Christ? And what does such an attitude indicate as to the rejecter? He stands in the presence of the loveliest revelation of the Divine nature, and he sees no light in it. Why but because he is incapable of seeing God manifest in the flesh he loves the darkness rather than the light. He turns away from the revelation of the most self-sacrificing love. Why but because he bears a heart cased with selfishness? He turns away from the offered hands heaped with the blessing that he needs. Why but because he does not care for the gifts that are offered? Forgiveness, cleansing, purity, a heaven which consists in the perfecting of all these has no attractions for him. The man who is blind to the first, who has no stirrings of responsive gratitude for the second and who does not care for the third, in turning away, manifests and commits a true sin.
3. Then our Lord here presents this fact of man’s unbelief as a “typical sin.” In all other acts of sin you get the poison manipulated into various forms, associated with other elements, disguised more or less. However unlike they may be to one another--the lust of the sensualist, the craft of the cheat, &c.--all of them have this one common root: a diseased and bloated regard to self. The definition of sin is, living to myself and making myself my own centre. The definition of faith is, making Christ my centre and living for Him. And so, if you want to know what is the sinfulness of sin, there it is; it is all packed away in its purest form in the act of rejecting Christ. When you have summoned up the ugliest forms of man’s sins, this one overtops them all, because it presents in the simplest form the mother-tincture of all sin, which, variously coloured and perfumed and combined, makes the poison of them all. A heap of rotting, poisonous matter is offensive to many senses, but the colourless, scentless, tasteless drop has the poison in its most virulent form, and is not a bit less virulent though it has been learnedly distilled and christened with a scientific name, and put into a dainty jewelled flask.
II. THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST AS THE PLEDGE AND THE CHANNEL OF THE WORLD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS. Christ speaks as if the process of departure were already commenced. It had three stages--death, resurrection, ascension; but these three are all parts of the one departure.
1. The fact of an ascended Christ is the guarantee of His own complete fulfilment of the ideal of a righteous man. Suppose Jesus Christ never rose from the grave, would it be possible to believe that, however beautiful these records of His life, and however lovely the character they reveal, there was really in Him no sin at all? A dead Christ means a Christ who, like the rest of us, had His limitations and His faults. But if it be true that He sprang from the grave because “ it was not possible that He should be holden of it,” and because in His nature there was no proclivity to death, since there had been no indulgence in sin; and if it be true that He ascended up on high because that was His native sphere, as naturally as the water in the valley will rise to the height of the hill from which it has descended, then we can see that God has set His seal upon that life by that resurrection and ascension.
2. And further, with this supernatural fact, stands or falls the possibility of His communicating any of His righteousness to sinful men. If there be no such possibility, what does Jesus Christ’s beauty of character matter to me? I shall have to stumble on as best I can, sometimes ashamed and rebuked, sometimes stimulated and sometimes reduced to despair, by looking at the record of His life. But there can come nothing other in kind, though, perhaps a little more in degree than comes from any other beautiful soul that has lived. But if He hath ascended up on high, then His righteousness is not a solitary, uncommunicative perfectness for Himself, but like a sun in the heavens, which streams out vivifying and enlightening rays to all that seek His face. If Christ be risen, His righteousness may be the world’s; if Christ be not risen, His righteousness is useless to any but to Himself.
III. THE JUDGMENT OF THE WORLD’S PRINCE AS THE PROPHECY OF THE JUDGEMENT OF THE WORLD.
1. The world has a prince. That chaotic agglomeration of diverse forms of evil has yet a kind of anarchic order in it, and, like the fabled serpent’s locks on the Gorgon head, they intertwine and sting one another, and yet they are a unity. We hear very little about the prince of the world in Scripture. Mercifully the existence of such a being is not plainly revealed until the fact of Christ’s victory over him is revealed.
2. That prince is judged. The Cross did that, as Jesus Christ over and over again indicates. Since that Cross, the power of evil in the world has been broken in its centre; God has been disclosed, and new forces have been lodged in the heart of humanity, which only need to be developed in order to overcome the evil. Since that auspicious day when “He spoiled the principalities and powers,” &c., the history of the world has been the judgment of the world. Hoary iniquities have toppled into the ceaseless washing sea of Divine love which has struck against their bases. Ancient evils have vanished, and more are on the point of vanishing. A loftier morality, a deeper conception of sin, new hopes for the world and for men, have all dawned upon mankind; and the prince of the world is led bound, as it were, at the victorious chariot wheels. The central fortress has been captured and the rest is an affair of outposts.
3. A final judgment is coming and that it is, is manifested by the fact that Christ, when He came in the form of a servant and died upon the Cross, judged the prince. When He comes in the form of a King on the great white throne He will judge the world which He has delivered from the prince.
The fixing of impressions
When Daguerre was working at his sun-pictures his great difficulty was to fix them. The light came and imprinted the image; but when the tablet was drawn from the camera the image had vanished. Our lamentations is like his--our want the same; a fixing solution that shall arrest and detain the fugitive impressions. He discovered the chemical power which turned the evanescent into the durable. There is a Divine agency at hand that can fix the truth upon the heart of man--God’s Holy Spirit. (J. Stoughton, D. D.)
Of sin, because they believe not on Me
Ineffectual reproof and effectual conviction of sin
We did not need that the Holy Spirit should come down from heaven to reprove the world of sin.
The words and thoughts of men would have been sufficient to do this. Every preacher of righteousness from the days of Noah has gone about reproving the world of sin. Everybody who in any age has led a just, and holy life has reproved the world of sin, even though he may not have lifted up his voice against it. Nay, the unholy may do so, and the greatest sinners may be the loudest in reproof. Poetry had reproved the world of sin; indeed this is the special business of two of its branches--comedy and satire. Philosophy had reproved the world of sin; and at the time when the Spirit of God had begun His great work, the reproofs of philosophy had become severer and more clamorous than ever. But what is the world the better for all this laborious reproving? How much does the world heed it, or care for it? No more than the crater of Etna cares for the roaring and lashing of the waves at its feet. The smoke of sin will rise up and stain the face of heaven, the flames will still burst forth and spread desolation far and wide, although the waves of reproof should roll around it unceasingly century after century. In fact, the whole history of man has shown that reproof, when there is no gentler and more penetrative power working along with it, instead of producing conviction, rather provokes the heart to resist it. The office of the Spirit, then, was not to reprove but to convince, to teach mankind what sin is, to lay it bare under all its masks, to trace it through all the mazes of its web, and to light on it sitting in the midst thereof, to show it to man, not merely as it flashes forth in the overt actions of his neighbours, but as it lies smouldering inextinguishably within his own bosom, to give him a torch whereby he may explore the dark chambers of his own heart, to lead him into them, and to open his eyes so that he shall behold some of sin’s countless brood crouching or gambolling in every corner. And to convince a man of sin in this way, by proving to him that it lies at the bottom of all his feelings, and blends with all his thoughts, that the bright coloured stones with which he is so fond of decking himself out, and which he takes such delight in gazing at, are only so many bits of brittle, worthless glass, and that what he deems to be stars are earthborn meteors, which merely glimmer for the moment they are falling; to convince the world of sin, by showing it how sin has tainted its heart, and flows through its veins, and is mixed up with its life-blood--this is a work which no earthly power can accomplish, and therefore was our Saviour mercifully pleased to send the Comforter to produce this conviction in mankind. (Archdeacon Hare.)
Sin and its reproof
I. THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT IN PRODUCING CONVICTION OF SIN IN THE CONSCIENCE,
1. Sin is wholly a matter of motives. It is true that sin is the transgression of the law, and we might suppose it to be a matter of action; but we mistake the law. The law of God is to love God supremely and our neighbour equally. Sin is transgression of this law.
2. Now, whatever form of action may tend to good and to blessedness is right. God has a right to good and blessedness; and if we minister to His good and blessedness we respect His right. Man, too, has a right to good and blessedness, and when we confer upon him good and increase his blessedness, we give him that which is his due.
3. But since we do not understand in what way our life may be related to the good and blessedness of God, we must receive instructions from Him as to the manner of expressing our love to Him. And this He has done in His Word, progressively, most fully by His Son, in whom we have not only an instructor, but also a pattern; and it is ours to receive the instruction and apply it. And when we have received it and applied it, we shall furnish ourselves with rules of conduct. Conformity to these is righteousness; nonconformity to these is unrighteousness.
4. That, then, for which the Spirit is come into the world is chiefly to convince the intelligence and convict the moral judgment of a want of perfect love to God and man. You will easily see that it does not need the Spirit to teach a man concerning immorality, or even unrighteousness. For there is in man a natural conscience, and it teaches him that selfishness is wrong, and that generosity, at least, if not love, is right. And at the time the Saviour spoke there had been a revelation. The law of love had been expressed in the life of Jesus, and it had been wrought out into many precepts which He had uttered during His ministry, and which would be repeated by His disciples. But it is in the power of the mind to turn itself away from the inspection of motives, and to set itself so outwardly from itself, as that it will merely try its conduct by the external rule, without searching its recesses and referring its activities to their real sources in the affections. And so men need not only help in order to sound judgment, but a disposition in order to faithfulness with themselves. And if any help shall be given, it must be of a personal sort. It must come from one who can look into the heart, discern the thoughts and feelings, discover the motives, test them, and perfectly judge them. No mere influence proceeding from God could do anything with man in the court of conscience when he determined to stop inquiry and prevent judgment.
II. IN WHAT DOES THE SIN OF THE WORLD CONSIST? Who is this young peasant who gathers about Him a few disciples, and, when He is about to be sacrificed for His enthusiasm, talks about His importance to this degree that the Spirit of the living God is to come into the world to convince all men of their sin--consisting in failure to trust Him? I should not want any other hinge than that upon which to swing the whole doctrine of the divinity of Christ; for here is either infinite assumption, or a consciousness of infiniteness--one or the other. The ages have decided it. I do not think two million two hundred and fifty thousand copies of the history of His life would have been seized by the English-speaking people in forty-eight hours if such talk as this were regarded in the judgment of the nineteenth century as infinite assumption. Now note that, we cannot love a being unless, when we know him, we know him to be such that we can trust him; and we cannot trust a being without loving him.
1. Where, then, is God revealed that we may know Him? Partly in nature, partly in our own constitution, but chiefly in the person of Jesus Christ.
God sent Him into the world--Immanuel, “God with us”; God sent Him to manifest His moral excellence in His character and by His life. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” If we shall know God, it will be by knowing Christ. He said, “I am the Truth.”
2. We could not otherwise come into relationship with God except as He is known, and as He has manifested Himself, in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we love God as we love Him in the Son, and not otherwise; for we can only love where and as we know and trust.
3. Out of this grows the filial spirit, and we at length are able to reach the Father, to come into perfect relations to Him, and by the Spirit of adoption to say, “Abba, Father.” And then, of course, when we are so related to God as that we love Him, and our life is in Him, it is our very nature to love His children.
4. We can now see in what respect it is the work of the Spirit to convince us of sin, namely: that in our hearts we do not purely and perfectly love God and God’s children; and we fail here because we do not know Him and trust Him; and we do not know Him and trust Him because we do not see and approach Him in Jesus Christ. Therefore, as the Lord said, “He will convince the world of sin, because they believe not on Me.”
1. That is the most miserable and powerless religion that has emptied Christ of His divinity. It is of no service to man, and history is proving it, as experience is.
2. That it is not left to a man’s option whether he shall trust Jesus Christ or not. No man with a natural conscience but knows that if He lives, moves, and has his being, and depends for his destiny upon, and must have his good and joy from, the loving and continual agency of God, he ought to render to God what is His due; and if He is the highest object of knowledge, He ought to be known; if He is worthy of perfect trust, He ought to be trusted; and if He is infinitely lovely and loving, He ought to be loved; and our natural conscience would teach us that we ought to know and love and trust God. Very well; there is no other way to do it, except to take God as God comes to us, and He never comes to any man except in the Son, and He never will. (J. T. Duryea, D. D.)
The Holy Spirit convincing of sin
I. WHAT IS CONVICTION OF SIN? It is opposed to the insensibility of the thoughtless; to the vain self-flatteries of those who delude themselves with the hope that it will be well with them, though they are strangers to regenerating grace and unwashed in the blood of atonement; and to the perilous delays of those who defer the concerns of their souls to an uncertain future. Unlike all these, he who is under conviction of sin has awaked to an awful sense of the importance of eternity, of the danger of his state, and of the necessity of instant attention to his dearest, his everlasting interests. His carnal security is terminated. Seeing himself pursued by the curses of the law, and exposed to everlasting agonies, the world diminishes in his esteem; much change is made in his affections, and much reformation in his outward conduct. Such is conviction of sin; that conviction that was felt by Peter’s hearers on the day of Pentecost; by Saul of Tarsus when, “trembling and astonished, he cried, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” by the Philippian jailer.
II. WHO IS THE AUTHOR OF THIS CONVICTION OF SIN? To Him we are indebted not only for grace, but also for all that is preparatOry to the infusion of it in the soul: of this the slightest observation must convince us. Let me add, that the great end and design of the gospel rendered it requisite that conviction should be wrought by the Holy Spirit. The gospel is intended to display the riches of Divine grace, and to remove all cause of glorying in ourselves: and if we could convince ourselves, make ourselves sensible of sin, the glory of the commencement and preparation of the work would belong to ourselves.
III. DO ALL CONVICTIONS TERMINATE IN TRUE CONVERSION? To this question the declarations of the Scripture, as well as our own observation, answer “No.” We are taught that we can “grieve,” can “resist,” can “quench the Spirit” of God. And suppose not that it is improper to attribute these fading convictions to the Spirit of God. “Wherever they fail,” I here use the words of the excellent Dr. Owen, “wherever they fail, and come short of that real conversion to which they have a tendency, it is not from any weakness and imperfection in themselves, but from the sins of those in whom they are wrought. Common illumination and conviction of sin have a tendency unto sincere conversion. They have so, in the same kind as the law hath to bring us to Christ. Where this end is not attained, it is always from the interposition of an act of stubbornness and wilfulness in those enlightened and convicted. By a free act of their own will they refuse the grace which is further tendered to them in the gospel.”
IV. WHAT ARE THE CHIEF POINTS OF DISTINCTION BETWEEN THOSE LEGAL CONVICTIONS WHICH HAVE BEEN EXPERIENCED BY MANY WHO ARE LOST, AND THOSE EVANGELICAL CONVICTIONS THAT ARE PECULIAR TO THE CHILDREN OF GOD? A legal conviction arises from a sense of God’s justice, and power, and omniscience. All this is felt by him who is under evangelical conviction; but his chief sorrow arises from the consideration of other attributes of God: the Divine goodness, holiness, and disaffection to sin. He exclaims, “I have abused the tenderness of a Father, and outraged infinite goodness; I have offended purity, which would have sanctified me.” The one traces the malignity of sin principally by its tendency to produce the death of the soul, and in the agonies of the lost; the other chiefly studies it in the sufferings and death of the Son of God. The one is burdened with the fear of punishment, the other with the sense of his desert of it.
1. This subject teaches us the deep guilt of those who strive to stifle those convictions of sin that are produced in the hearts of their acquaintance and friends. Such persons “do despite to the Spirit of grace,” and unite with the prince of darkness in opposition to God and the souls of men.
2. This subject tenderly and solemnly admonishes those who have stifled the convictions which they once felt. Unhappy men I you once appeared “not far from the kingdom of heaven.”
3. This subject consoles and admonishes those who are under convictions of sin. Fear not the pangs of godly sorrow; it is the Spirit of grace who convinces you, that He may be your Comforter. Though you are pained, it is by Him who is love and tenderness. (H. Kollock, D. D.)
Conviction of sin
I. WHAT IS SIN? Any want of conformity to or transgression of the law of God. This law is the eternal rule of rectitude. It is not merely a revelation of what is right and reasonable, but what we are bound to be conformed to. Of course our views of sin will be determined by our views of the law. If the law is only the law of reason, sin is simply unreasonable. If the law is limited so is sin. If the law is perfect, then all want of perfection is sin.
II. CONVICTION OF SIN IS THEREFORE A CONVICTION OF WANT OF CONFORMITY TO THE LAW. This includes
1. Want of conformity
2. The consciousness of this as guilt, i.e., as justly exposing us to the condemnation of the law.
3. The sense of inability to make atonement.
4. The sense of defilement: that which renders us objects of abhorrence. This stands opposed to self-complacency and self-approbation.
III. THE NECESSITY OF THIS CONVICTION ARISES OUT OF THE FACT THAT THE GOSPEL IS A PLAN FOR THE SALVATION OF SINNERS. It is designed for sinners. If we are not sinners, we do not need the gospel; and if we do not as sinners feel our need of the gospel we shall not embrace it. If we do not feel ourselves guilty and polluted we shall not look to Christ for pardon and cleansing.
IV. WHAT KIND OR DEGREE OF CONVICTION IS NECESSARY? What are the evidences of genuine conviction?
1. Every man is convinced of sin in a certain sense and measure. But only in such a measure as is consistent with indifference or carelessness.
2. Others are so convinced as to create great anxiety and to lead to long and painful efforts to save themselves.
3. Others are so convinced as to be thoroughly persuaded that they can neither atone for their guilt, nor deliver themselves from defilement, or make themselves holy. This is the result to be desired.
V. THIS CONVICTION CAN ONLY BE PRODUCED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Conviction of sin
As John Wesley on a summer evening in 1742 was preaching on his father’s tombstone, he observed a gentleman in his audience, who, he knew, made no profession of religion. “I was informed,” said Mr. Wesley, “that he had not been at public worship of any kind for upwards of thirty years. Seeing him stand as motionless as a statue, I asked him abruptly ‘Sir, are you a sinner?’ He replied with a deep and broken voice, ‘Sinner enough,’ and continued looking upward till his wife and a servant or two, who were all in tears, put him into his chaise and carried him home. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
The convictive work of the Holy Ghost
I. TO CONVINCE THE WORLD OF SIN IS MUCH MORE THAN TO CONVINCE THE WORLD OF CRIME. There may be sin where there is no crime, but wherever there is crime there is sin to account for it. Society is organized to defend itself against crime, yet every member of it is guilty of sin. Thus
1. Society condemns murder; so in His reasoning with us the Holy Ghost begins with this admission, and proceeds to say--You condemn murder, but this is merely a gross and vulgar morality, little better, indeed, than selfishness stimulated by fear; you must find out how murder begins--it begins in unholy anger; that anger may never have spoken one word or shown one sign, yet by so much as you have given way to it in the secrecy of your inmost heart you are guilty of murder in the sight of God! It required a Ghost to teach us that. We could only get so far as to make some difference between murder and manslaughter, or between murder with extenuating circumstances and murder without them. There society paused, being unable to go further; and precisely there the Spirit began His work.
2. Society has made murder penal, but it has not been able to set falsehood amongst punishable crimes, although it is treated more spiritually than murder. We own, for example, that a man may act a lie as well as tell one: that he may use words with two meanings: that he may guard himself and mislead others by mental reservations. What more can the Holy Ghost Himself do? The Holy Ghost says that a form of words may be true, and yet it may express a lie! A conversation may be reported verbatim, yet, by a mere change of tone, by the omission of a facial expression, by a skilful variation of pause or emphasis, the report may be a falsehood from beginning to end. Farther and deeper still, a man may be false to himself. He may actually have treated himself so dishonestly as to have suspended or destroyed the very power by which he knows right from wrong. His conscience is “seared as with a hot iron,” and he “given over to believe a lie.” Under such circumstances the man is something more than a liar, he himself is actually a lie! Who then but the Spirit of God can convince of sin here?
3. But the process becomes still more spiritual. Murder and falsehood are at all events nominally condemned; but what of virtues which are praised as the very security and crown of human society? Take an act of almsgiving, and let it be outwardly the choicest specimen of its class: the gift is large, timely, cordial, and deservedly bestowed. Beyond this point society does not carry its judgment. But where man ends, the all-searching Spirit begins: He holds the candle of the Lord over the secret places of the heart: He tries the motives by the fires of the supreme judgment; and having done so, He says in effect to the applauded man--“Your love went not with your gift; it was an oblation to your own vanity; it was a bribe by which you bought reputation; it was not given to the poor, it was given to yourself.” This conviction may be made so clear to a man, as to cause him pain amidst the general applause.
4. We are now upon the line every point of which adds to our knowledge of spiritual realities as distinguished from formal facts. May our religion be the chief of our immoralities? You prayed in the house of your friend, and made your prayer the medium of personal compliment to his supposed excellencies and deserts; not daring to hint at his sins; would you have so prayed for him if he had not been listening to you? Would you have prayed at all if you could decorously have escaped the duty? Not only does the Holy Ghost ask these questions, He compels you to answer them to your shame.
5. More: even if we are unassailable at any of the great points now indicated, yet there is another kingdom. Every man has two lives--the life of motive, and the life of behaviour, into the first of which none can enter but the Spirit of spirits. “He knoweth our thought afar off;” before it is a complete thought. Through your heart there shot a desire which scorched you, though no human eye will ever see the blister which it left, and the very memory of that desire will make you dumb whilst others sing. Into your mind there came what was only the hint of a thought, yet it struck you like a thunderbolt, so evil did it seem to be even in its incompleteness! These are the visitations which show a man that there is something worse than crime, and make him impatient with the deceitful comforters who would “heal his hurt slightly.”
II. “The Spirit of truth will convince the world of sin, BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE NOT ON ME.” The Holy Ghost will so vividly and thoroughly show the nature of sin, that those who thought themselves the best examples of human society will be afflicted with the keenest compunction because of what they know themselves to be in the presence of God. It will no longer be a question of comparison as between one class of man and another; the judgment will lie wholly between man and God. This personal consciousness is to be so vivid and intense as to become painful; a man will see himself as he never saw himself before, and feel the burden of life with a new and intolerable oppression. Can he in that moment of despair turn to others for help? No; because they are in the agonies of the same experience. What then? When the conviction is so keen and relentless, the heart will begin to know that in turning away from Christ, it turned from the Son of God, the only mediator of the covenant of peace. This is the conviction of sin which the Spirit of God is to work in hearts which have not believed in the Saviour of the world. Christ cannot be understood until sin is understood. So long as sin is regarded from a merely social point of view, the Cross of Christ must appear to be an exaggeration. Why do with blood a work which could be done as well with water? Why sacrifice a man when the blood of a beast would answer every purpose? But the moment that sin is seen under the illumination of infinite holiness, the Cross of Christ alone is equal to the tragic awe and appalling horror of the situation. The first clear view which any man gets of the sinfulness of sin marks the crisis of his life. From that time he elects his destiny.
III. In the light of this exposition we may see the way clear to some PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS.
1. All attempts to establish a satisfactory life on the basis of what is commonly known as morality, must be given up. Morality has become one of the fine arts. It is a fine balancing of calculations, a tacit understanding with evil powers, at best but an armed neutrality. But what if morality be only an art--the most cunning and profitable of tricks? What if the partitions which we call our “rights” be saved from destruction merely because it pays better to repress the fire of passion than to give it free course? The Holy Ghost teaches us that we cannot be right with one another until we are right with God. He says: “You must be born again--you must die unto yourself, that you may live unto God.” This is clearly a magnificent basis of life, supplying as it does eternal guarantees of purity and nobleness.
2. All hopes founded upon what are thought to be different degrees of sin must be abandoned. There are, of course, different degrees of crime, but the question does not turn upon crime at all. For all the purposes of criminal law it may be sufficient to classify men according to the mere accidents of their mischievous behaviour, so that punishment may be assigned with some degree of proportion to the shock which public feeling has sustained; but another standard must be set up when the offence is between man and God. “Would you send a murderer and a speculative sceptic to the same hell?” it may be asked. But stop! The question is one of the heart, not of the hand. According to the teaching of the Holy Ghost it may be that the heart through which has passed an unholy desire may be in a worse condition than the heart whose momentary passion has vented itself in murderous vengeance. The thing to be understood is that sin is spiritual, and that it is to be judged spiritually, without reference to the vulgarity or noise which may make it socially noticeable.
3. Under such realization of sin the work of Christ is seen in its true light. Here it is emphatically true that “they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” But let the boastful man awake to the fact that in his own body there is a slowly developing disease, painless in its early stages, but surely advancing upon his very life; let him come to the conviction that at any moment his pulse may cease, and instantly his attitude towards the medical profession may be totally changed. A new conviction has given him a new feeling and compelled him towards a new policy. Jesus Christ makes use of this very experience to throw light upon His own ministry: “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Everything, therefore, is made to depend upon conviction. Where there is no conviction there will be no pressure of necessity. Where there is no thirst, who cares for the fountain? but in the desert, under an intolerable sun, who can calculate the value of a cup of cold water? Christ awaits the demands of spiritual necessity. He knows that the Holy Ghost will so torment the heart with a sense of sin as to compel the sufferer to pray for mercy, and at that point of anguish he will show himself to the Saviour of the world. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The work of the Holy Spirit in the conviction of sin
I. WHAT IS CONVICTION OF SIN? The word means
1. To reprove, censure, or upbraid.
2. To convict, prove to be guilty.
3. To render manifest. Here it is used in the last two senses.
(1) The people of the world are to be convicted at the bar of their own conscience of being sinners. This act is to be manifest to their own consciousness; and as sin includes two elements--guilt and pollution--the one expressing the relation of sin to justice, and the other its relation to holiness, conviction of sin includes
(a) The conviction of just exposure to the wrath of God on account of our own character and conduct. And this includes the conviction that we deserve punishment and that we certainly shall be punished unless in some way our guilt is removed.
(b) The conviction of moral defilement, i.e., that we are in fact and in our own eyes offensive, degraded, and the proper objects of loathing.
(a) Dread of the wrath of God.
(c) Remorse, including the sense of ill-desert, sorrow for the offence, and craving after satisfaction. It is stilled by punishment or adequate atonement.
II. THE SIN OF WHICH MEN ARE TO BE THUS CONVINCED IS THAT OF NOT BELIEVING ON CHRIST.
1. What is it to believe on Christ? This includes
2. The worst of all sins is unbelief. And men are convinced of sin when convinced that want of faith in Christ deserves God’s wrath and degrades and pollutes the soul.
III. WHY IS THIS UNBELIEF SO GREAT A SIN? That it is the greatest of sins is directly asserted in John 3:18. It is so because
1. It is the manifestation of the greatest depravity. The disbelief of speculative truth is not sinful, except where some moral obligation is violated in rejecting the evidence by which it is supported. But the rejection of moral truth is in its nature sinful, because it implies moral blindness and perversion of moral feeling. This latter unbelief differs in the degree of its sinfulness according to the importance of the truth and the kind of evidence with which it is attended. That the heathen are sinful and without excuse because they do not believe God, as revealed in nature, is asserted by St. Paul. But this sin is slight compared with those who rejected God as revealed in the Old Testament, and their guilt is small compared to that of those who reject Christ. He is God in the clearest and most attractive revelation ever made of the Divine Being. The rejection of Him implies the greatest blindness and depravity.
2. It involves the greatest conceivable ingratitude. It is not only the rejection of God, but the rejection of God humbling Himself to the death of the Cross out of love for us and for our salvation.
3. It involves a preference and deliberate choice of evil instead of good, and the kingdom of darkness instead of the kingdom of God. “He who does not bow to Christ has bowed to Me.”
4. It is the rejection of eternal life for ourselves, and doing what we can to render certain the perdition of others.
IV. THE HOLY SPIRIT ALONE CAN CONVINCE MEN OF THIS SIN.
1. It is certain that human reason or our own nature will not do it.
2. That flesh and blood cannot do it.
3. The Holy Spirit alone can do it, because He alone can open our eyes to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
4. It is His office to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us.
1. It is our first and greatest duty to repent of sin and to believe on Christ.
2. Our next great duty is to labour to convince the world of this sin, and to lead them to faith in Christ. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The work of the Spirit in the conviction of sin
I. THE SPIRIT’S DEFINITION OF SIN. Notice that unbelief in Christ is
1. The radical and essential sin. Christ did not begin to be when He became man, nor did His relation with men begin with the Incarnation. He was in the beginning with God, and was God, and was the light that enlightened every man that came into the world. And so now, every good tendency comes from God through Him. Whoever therefore opposes such tendency resists the influence of Christ, and sin is the result of that resistance.
2. The ultimate form of sin. We need go no further than this to convict a man of being a sinner. Why is it that men are saved or lost? Not by keeping the law of Moses, for “by the deeds of the law shall no man be justified,” &c.; “we are not under law, but grace.” The terms of salvation or damnation are now belief or unbelief. As there is now no other saving righteousness but that of faith in Christ, so there is no other fatal sin but that of unbelief. “This is the condemnation,” &c.
3. The all-inclusive sin. It may be said truly that there are other sins--theft, murder, &c. But note that the law is summed up in two precepts--“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” &c. Now when that love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost we love God and our brother also, and so keep the commandments. When we have not that love we break the whole law; but it cannot come save by faith in Him who is the revelation of Divine love.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE CONVICTION OF THIS SIN IS WROUGHT BY THE HOLY GHOST.
1. It is one thing to convince of a sin and to convince of sin. A man may acknowledge the existence of and remove a fruit or a branch while ignorant of the root.
2. The conviction too in the two cases is distinct. In the one case the impression may be very superficial; in the other it is a deep and awful sense of wretchedness and want.
3. This form of conviction is not easily effected. It comes not from the words or wisdom of men. Though the speaking of the truth by a human messenger may be the occasion, yet the Holy Ghost must be the agent.
4. In this conviction the Spirit
5. It is as the Comforter that the Spirit convinces. He is at once the comforting Convincer and the convincing Comforter. What true comfort can there be for a man, who knows he is a sinner, till the whole matter of his sin has been probed; and what greater comfort is there in any hour of weakness and infirmity than that of knowing that the whole matter has been sifted to the bottom? And then the operation of the Spirit mingles a revelation of the remedy with the revelation of the sin. The Spirit convinces us of the righteousness of that Christ in whom we should believe. (W. Roberts.)
The necessity of the Spirit’s conviction because of the incompetency of the law
The law could not convince the world of sin as sin, a thing to be abhorred on account of its own hatefulness, but merely as a thing to be dreaded on account of the punishments attached to it. So that there was need of another witness who should search the heart and turn it inside out, and bring forward all the abominations contained in it; a witness, too, who should appeal not to its selfish fears, but to every germ of good left in it, to its love, its gratitude, its pity, its hope, its more generous desires and aspirations--a Witness that should pick up every little fragment of God’s image still remaining in it, and should piece them all together, and make a new whole of them. Such was the Witness that God in His mercy sent to convince the world of sin. (Archdeacon Hare.)
The necessity of the Spirit’s conviction because of the incompetency of conscience
We have the voice of conscience sighing through every fresh crack that we make in God’s image in our hearts, and conspiring, with reason and imagination and every other faculty, to admonish us that we are betraying our duty, outraging our better feelings, marring our true, aboriginal nature, polluting our souls, and withering and rotting our hearts. But is this enough to convince a man of sin? Alas! conscience is so wasted by year-long neglect, and crushed by reiterated violation, that it scarcely ever utters its warnings and reproofs, except against overt acts of sin. It seldom takes notice of our habitual sins: still less does it rouse us to contend against that sinfulness which is inwrought in the natural heart. No! when conscience is uttering her most righteous words, she often is only casting pearls before swine. The passions of the carnal mind are fretted and irritated by the sight of what is so unlike themselves, and trample them impatiently in the mire. (Archdeacon Hare.)
Unbelief, the greatest sin
1. The Spirit convinceth of all sins, but chiefly of a state of sin--of unbelief;
2. Unbelief is the greatest sin, because
I. WHAT IS TO BE UNDERSTOOD BY UNBELIEF.
2. Positively it is
II. WHEREIN THE SINFULNESS OF UNBELIEF DOTH CONSIST.
1. It is against God.
(a) It blemishes the truth and veracity of God. He that believes “sets to his seal that God is true” (John 3:33). It makes God guilty of perjuryHeb 6:17, 18; Ezekiel 33:11).
(b) It casts a black aspersion upon the wisdom of God. Unbelief charges God with folly in regard of the unnecessariness of it. If men think they have ability to save themselves, what a needless work was this in God, to make His Son a sacrifice for man’s salvation! Or, if men do account the coming of Christ necessary, and so free God from the charge of folly, they at least charge His wisdom with a mistake in the means of salvation, as if it were undertaken without precedent consideration. And further, by this sin the unbeliever doth, as much as in him lies, frustrate the design of God’s glorious wisdom, in not consenting to that which the wisdom of God hath contrived.
(c) It slights the goodness of God. No greater act of love could spring from boundless eternity, than the parting with His only delight in heaven out of His bosom for the redemption of man (Isaiah 5:4).
(d) It disparages the power and sufficiency of God. First, In not coming to Him. Secondly, In trusting to something else. What then we trust unto, besides God and above God, we render in our thoughts more powerful than God.
(e) It strikes at the sovereignty and authority of God. It is a debt we owe, as subjects, to God as our sovereign, to give credit to what He cloth reveal, and to obey what He cloth command (1 John 3:23). It is a contradiction to the resolute and fixed will of God. All unbelief is a dislike of God’s terms (Romans 10:3). And it renders God, as much as in it lies, unworthy of any sovereignty.
(f) It affronts the holiness and righteousness of God. If the setting forth Christ to he a propitiation for sin was to declare His righteousness Romans 3:25), what doth unbelief signify hut that this act was unrighteous in God?
(g) It is a stripping God, as much as lies in man, of all His delight. The service Christ did, which was delightful to God, is contemptible to an unbeliever. First, It is a refusal of Christ, the “man that is God’s fellow,” His “daily delight.” Secondly, It is a privation of faith, a grace so pleasing to God (Hebrews 10:38). Thirdly, It is a refusal of His mercy in Christ Micah 7:18).
2. It is a sin peculiarly against Christ. It is a piercing Him again Zechariah 12:10).
(a) It renders the design of His coming a vanity, when it receives not the fruits of it (2 Corinthians 6:1).
(b) It is a vilifying the price of redemption (Hebrews 9:28).
3. It is also a wrong to the Spirit of God (Acts 3:51 : Hebrews 3:10; Heb_3:17). (S. Charnock, B. D.)
The sin of unbelief
There are three general forms of unbelief.
1. This consists in either doubting or rejecting the truths of religion and morals in general, or the Divine origin and authority of the Bible in particular.
2. This arises from
3. The sinfulness of this form of unbelief is manifest
II. UNBELIEF, or want of confidence in the doctrines, promises, and providence of God. This may exist even in the hearts of believers. It is a matter of degree.
1. It arises either from
2. The sinfulness of this state is apparent, because
II. UNBELIEF IN REFERENCE TO CHRIST.
1. This is a refusing to recognize and receive Him as being what He professes to be.
2. This is the greatest of sins. It is the condemning sin. Its heinousness consists
The Convincer of sin
I. CONSIDER THE MEANING OF THE WORDS OF THE TEXT. “When He is come, He will reprove the world of sin.” What does this mean?
1. The word reprove is the first that requires explanation. The word so translated has various shades of meaning. It is clear, from the context, that it does not mean merely to accuse or convict, although it has this signification. It must also mean here to teach and demonstrate the matter of the accusation, or the subject under deliberation. We say this is clear from the context, because, although we may speak of convicting a person of sin, we could hardly speak of convicting him of righteousness. Hence we may say, with reference to the part of His work now before us, the Holy Ghost has come to convince of sin, or to convict of sin, according to the result produced in the mind of him to whom the demonstration is afforded.
2. Then, who or what is it, that is to be convinced of sin? It is the world, that is to say, the great power which ever has been and ever is arrayed against Christ and His Church. You will see the comfort which the assurance of our text must have conveyed to the disciples of Christ at the time it was first spoken. They had been prepared for the antagonism of the world, and they might fear for their own weakness in the struggle with the great adversary. One who is all-powerful is on their side.
3. He is to convince the world of sin. This is the first part of His work, for it is a part which is clearly fundamental in a world like ours and among men like ourselves. Other convictions, indeed, must go side by side with this, in order that it may be complete; but this must come first. Sin existed, and yet its existence was denied. Sin was carrying men away like a flood, and it could not be stemmed until its reality and its nature were clearly perceived.
II. THE NECESSITY FOR THE CONVICTION OF SIN BY THE HOLY GHOST. We have seen that this conviction must come first; but what need was there for the Holy Ghost to produce it?
1. Conscience could not do it. We all know by experience as well as observation that the truthfulness of the voice of conscience is affected by the life which we live. Conscience needs education before it can be a guide to us. Even after it has been instructed, it may be darkened and silenced.
2. The law of God will not do it. The law has an important part in the work of conviction; but is not sufficient to effect it by itself. The law, in accordance with its essential character, forbade only the act, and not the thought and the motive.
3. Even the teaching of Christ Himself was insufficient to produce this conviction. It was a mighty advance on anything that had preceded it. Let me not be mistaken. I do not mean that any new Teacher could be sent from God who would undo all that had gone before Him. The light which came from heaven was a true light, even if it was not wholly adequate to man’s requirements. And when Jesus Christ promised to send His Church another Comforter, an inward Teacher, it was not one who should be independent of the instruction which God had given to men before He came. On the contrary, He was to use all that had been revealed in the law and the prophets, all that had been taught by Jesus Himself.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE CONVICTION OF SIN IS PRODUCED BY THE HOLY GHOST. “He shall reprove the world of sin--because they believe not on Me.” This was going to the very root of the matter, and striking at the principle from which all sin proceeded. The Holy Spirit had not so much for His work to produce conviction with respect to any special sinful act. That is undoubtedly a part of His work, and a very important part, inasmuch as there can be no reality in a conviction of sin in general which does not include the sense of special and particular sins. That, however, was not the work which He was peculiarly appointed to accomplish. It is clear that a conviction of this kind could be produced only by One who could go deeper into man’s nature than any previous agent had been able to penetrate. When we examine the testimony of conscience and of the law of God, we shall see how inadequate they were to this task. Conscience, apart from Divine revelation, says nothing at all about faith. The same must be said of the law. We do not forget that it was to the law that St. Paul attributed his own knowledge of sin; and it cannot be too often repeated that the natural conscience or even the influence of the Holy Spirit of God could have affected but little in the moral education of mankind, without that rule of duty which was revealed by Almighty God to the Jewish Lawgiver. Yet St. Paul himself, who so powerfully sets forth the virtue of the law as a revealer of sin, in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, acknowledges in the Epistle to the Galatians that “the law is not of faith; but, the man that doeth them shall live in them” (Galatians 3:12). Yet, although neither the natural conscience of mankind nor the revealed law of God set forth the principle of faith as the very element of all virtue and goodness, it will be clear to any one who places the history of the human family in the light of that revelation which we now possess, that unbelief has been the root and fountain of man’s sin from the very beginning. The law to which Adam was subject in Paradise was in reality a demand which was made upon his faith. Certain privileges were granted to him: one thing only was denied to him. He was required in that one case to exercise his faith in the goodness and wisdom of his Maker. It was through unbelief that he fell. Unbelief was the radical sin of mankind at all times. Every page of the history of the Jews tells us that this was the origin of all their apostacies and idolatries. Either they doubted the promises of the most High, or they “limited the Holy One of Israel.” But this sin of unbelief, which was everywhere and always the root of evil in man, found its climax in the rejection of Jesus Christ. It is indeed clear that the enormity of sin must always be judged by the opportunities possessed of becoming acquainted with our duty. Hence it is, that every fresh disclosure of truth to men has been a disclosure of sin in man. The Jews of the time of our Lord were guilty of many sins, as He Himself plainly showed them; but compared with the sin of rejecting Him, their other sins were but slight. In the rejection of Jesus all the enmity against God which their hearts had harboured was concentrated in a single act. It was a sin against the clearest moral and spiritual light, which had ever shone upon human darkness. “God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ,” said the Apostle. It was unbelief that crucified the Lord of Glory. Jesus put forth claims which if they were not true were blasphemous. To reject His claims was to pronounce Him worthy of death. But we mum not forget that the conviction of sin is produced in the very same manner among ourselves now. Unbelief is the principle of sin, and we are never thoroughly convinced of sin until we have been made to know the guilt of our want of faith in Jesus Christ. Throughout the whole life of those who are now unfaithful and unworthy members of the Christian Church, their defects are traceable to this radical one. The growth of unbelief is the growth of sin; and the climax of evil in the heart and life of man or woman is the deliberate rejection of Jesus Christ as the Son of God crucified for the sins of the world. “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son” (1 John 5:10); and the beginning of a new life of holiness must be laid in the conviction of the guilt of such unbelief. And this conviction, the same substantially in us which was wrought in the hearers of St. Peter on the day of Pentecost, is produced by the same great Agent.
IV. There is a question still remaining to be answered, which is suggested by the words of our text: IN WHAT SENSE CAN IT BE SAID THAT THE HOLY GHOST CONVINCES THE WORLD? It is true the Holy Ghost is said to convince the world of sin, and not only those who are saved. And this will actually take place. Sooner or later, all men will be convinced or convicted; will be convinced of sin, that they may flee from it and be delivered from it; or convicted of sin, that they may be punished for it. The object of the work of the Holy Spirit is the deliverance of man from sin and destruction, by showing him the evil of sin, and thus compelling him to flee from the wrath to come, a work worthy of One who is called the Comforter. But if that aim is disappointed, He will at least produce conviction; and the great result of His work, whether in saving or condemning, will be moral decision. (W. R. Clark, M. A.)
Faith in Christ
I believe on a physician when I put my case into that physician’s hands, and trust him to cure me. I believe on a lawyer when I leave my case in his hands, and trust him to plead for me. I believe on a banker when I put money into his hand, and allow him to keep it on my behalf. I believe on my Saviour when I take Him to be my Saviour, when I put my helpless case into His hands, and trust Him to do what I cannot do for myself--save me from my sin. Have you done so? You believe there is such a Person as Jesus, and that He is the sinner’s Saviour. You do well; but that is only a partial and incomplete faith. To believe that a certain doctor exists and has a large practice is not personally to believe in that doctor. True faith contains a moral as well as an intellectual element, and when the former is wanting the latter can avail but little. Do you repose your moral confidence in Him, as being to you the Saviour that you need, as one whose character and office are congruous to the wants of your nature? You are a sinner, He represents Himself as Saviour. You are a lost one, He has died to find you? You are dead, He presents Himself as the Resurrection and the Life. The point is, Do you take Him by faith to be what He reveals Himself to be? That is believing on Him. If you can say in your heart, “Yes, I believe in Him,” then the Holy Spirit of God can no longer convict you of sin. All your sins were laid on the Lamb of God, who bore the sin of the world. There is no longer a case against you; the summons is dismissed. There is no condemnation; you are pronounced acquitted, and accepted in the Beloved. (W. H. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Of righteousness, because I go to My Father
The world’s false theories of righteousness
The world is examined, convicted, convinced, as to its false theories of righteousness.
In Christ was the one absolute type of righteousness; from Him a sinful man must obtain righteousness. Just as sin is revealed by the Spirit to be something far different from the breaking of certain specific injunctions, so righteousness is revealed to be something far different from the outward fulfilment of ceremonial or moral observances (cf. Matthew 5:20; Mat_7:33; Romans 3:21, &c.; Romans 10:3)
. (Bp. Westcott.)
The conviction of righteousness
It is a fit time for the Holy Ghost to convince God’s people of righteousness when they are convinced of sin before. Then they can relish Christ.
I. THE HOLY GHOST CONVINCES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THIS ORDER
1. There must be a righteousness; for we have to deal with a God who is righteousness itself; and no unclean thing shall come into heaven Revelation 21:7).
2. There is no such righteousness in any creature. Perhaps we may have a righteousness to satisfy the world, because we live civilly. But that will not satisfy conscience. And then there must be a satisfaction to the law, which condemns our thoughts, desires; but God is the most perfect of all.
3. This righteousness is to be had in Christ. The righteousness of Christ is that righteousness that is founded upon His obedience: active, fulfilling the law; and passive, discharging all our debts, satisfying God’s justice. The meritoriousness of both of them is founded upon the personal union of God and man; in reference to which union we may without blasphemy aver that God performed the law, God died for us.
4. This righteousness is our righteousness. The Spirit convinces that this belongs to all believers, and it is better than Adam had. His righteousness was the righteousness of a man, this righteousness is the righteousness of a mediator; and it is such a righteousness, that when we are clothed with it, we may go to the justice of God.
II. HOW DOTH THE HOLY GHOST “CONVINCE” THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST? He presents to the soul the knowledge of this excellent righteousness, and then creates a hand of faith to embrace it. The Spirit doth not tell in general only that Christ is an excellent Saviour, but relates to a Christian soul, God gave Christ for thee. This sways the heart to rest upon Christ. And then as it is in marriage, the persons, by virtue of that relation, have interest in each other’s substance and estate; so when this mystical marriage is made up between Christ and us, we have a right unto Christ by all rights, by titles of purchase and redemption. All that Christ hath is ours; our sins His, and His righteousness ours.
III. WHY IS THE SENDING OF THE SPIRIT NECESSARY FOR THIS? Because
1. It is above the conception of man that there should be such a righteousness of God-man. A devil incarnate may know all things, and yet want to see. Only the Holy Ghost gives inward sight, and works faith to see Christ as mine.
2. He alone must make the conscience quiet, who is greater than the conscience. Conscience will clamour, “Thou art a sinner;” the Holy Ghost convinces, “In Christ thou art righteous.”
3. Flesh and blood are full of pride, and would fain have some righteousness of their own. The Jews were of this temper; and it hath been the greatest question from the beginning of the world till this day, what is that righteousness whereby we must stand before God?
IV. HOW SHALL WE KNOW WHETHER WE BE CONVINCED OF THIS RIGHTEOUSNESS OR NO?
1. By the method Christ uses in convincing. First, He convinces of sin, and then of righteousness. For a man to catch at righteousness before he be convinced of sin is but an usurpation.
2. By our hatred of sin, and the alteration of our bent, and by so making Christ sweet to us.
3. By the witness of the Spirit. The work of the Spirit hath a light of its own; as I know I believe, when I believe. Upon this apprehension that Christ is mine, the soul is constrained to love; whereupon ensues an enlargement of heart, and a prevalency of comfort above all discomfort, for love casteth out fear.
4. By inward peace and great joy suitable to the righteousness. As the righteousness is an excellent righteousness of God-man, so, that peace and joy that comes from it is unspeakable peace and joy (Romans 5:1-3).
5. It answers all objections. The doubting heart will object this and that, but the Spirit of God shows an all-sufficiency in Christ’s obedience; and that sets the soul down quietly in all crosses, and calms it in all storms in some degree (Romans 8:33).
V. THE REASON WHY THE COMFORTER CONVINCES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. “Because I go to the Father.” Wherefore did He go to the Father?
1. To make application of what He had wrought. If Christ should not have gone to the Father, He could not have sent the Holy Ghost to us.
2. To clothe us with a sweet relation, to make the Father our Father (chap. 20:17). (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
The Convincer of righteousness
It has been made a question by men, whether the words “right” and “wrong” have any real meaning. Is there such a thing as right? If there is no right, there is no wrong; the one implies the other. Are they both delusions? Two opposite answers are given to these questions, the answer of the world and that of God. The world knows of expediency and inexpediency, of advantage and disadvantage, as connected with certain actions and courses of conduct; but of nothing beyond, of nothing deeper and more binding than the rules of expediency. God, on the contrary, tells us of good and evil, of right and wrong, apart from the dictates of prudence and expediency. One great object of all God’s dealings with men has been to convince them of the difference between right and wrong. The first part of the work of the Holy Ghost described in these verses is, as we have seen, the conviction of sin. But how can such a conviction be brought about? It is impossible, unless the conviction of righteousness is also produced. Sin is a negation; it is a departure from truth and righteousness; and therefore there can be no real conviction of sin, unless there is a conviction of that which sin denies and contradicts.
I. OF WHAT THE HOLY GHOST IS HERE SAID TO CONVINCE THE WORLD. “Of righteousness.” The expression is obviously incomplete. What must be supplied, in order to complete it? Shall we say, “of my righteousness,” or “of their righteousness”? Of both?
1. Of the personal righteousness of Christ. This must clearly be the first conviction produced by the operation of the Holy Spirit; because it lies at the foundation of the whole work of redemption. No more awful proof could be given of the blindness and depravity of mankind than the possibility of the righteousness of Christ being doubted. The teaching of our blessed Lord was opposed to the conventional morality of the times in which He lived. The popular notions of superior sanctity identified self-righteousness with righteousness, and reckoned a man good according to the outward display which he made. It was needful therefore to convince men of the righteousness of Jesus; needful, because they could bring themselves to doubt it; needful for man’s own sake, because unless there is a righteousness to be discovered in the life of Christ, it is nowhere to be found. The righteousness of Christ is the proof that righteousness is not impossible to man. But it is also the foundation of the Christian religion. How shall He be the Lamb without spot, unless He is personally “holy, harmless, undefiled?” The conviction of righteousness includes next
2. The justifying righteousness of Christ. We come now, from the righteousness which is the personal character of the God-Man, to that righteousness of His which in a sense belongs to the world. And this is clearly implied in the text. The conviction of sin is wrought in the conscience of men, not that they may be driven to despair, but in order that they may be led to amendment; and it is then only that justifying righteousness will be appreciated, when the conviction of sin is produced. We have no righteousness of our own. Such is the testimony of conscience as well as of revelation. In vain it is that men go about seeking to establish their own righteousness. But that which man cannot procure for himself,
God has provided for him. The Holy Ghost convinces men of sin, that He may show them how helpless and lost they are, and He convinces them of righteousness, that they may appropriate to themselves, by faith in Christ and by the grace of the Holy Ghost, the righteousness provided for them in the Redeemer. The Holy Ghost convinces men not only of the personal righteousness of Christ and of His justifying righteousness, but also of
3. The righteousness to be wrought in believers. The process of human salvation would be incomplete, unless this formed a part of it. The Holy Spirit convinces men that there is a righteousness from which they have departed, and thus He convinces them of sin; He tells them of a justifying righteousness in which they are accepted, to which they may flee and obtain the full pardon of all their sins; and He further convinces them of the need of righteousness in themselves, and of the provision which God has made for bestowing it. We are next to consider
II. BY WHAT MEANS THE CONVICTION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS PRODUCED. “Because I go to My Father, and ye see Me no more.” The work of the Comforter still points to the person and work of Christ.
1. Let us remark at the outset that the descent of the Holy Ghost, in itself, was a proof that Jesus had gone to the Father. The promised Gift was bestowed, the promised Spirit was given; and now they had not only their own testimony but His to the resurrection and ascension of their Lord. “We,” they could henceforth say, “are His witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him” Acts 5:32).
2. But what our text reminds us of is not so much, that the Holy Ghost, by His descent, proves the ascension of our Lord to heaven, but that His return to the Father is a vindication of His righteousness, both as a personal attribute, and as the justification and sanctification of His people.
Let us ask, in conclusion, what practical bearing these truths have upon ourselves. And first let us ask
1. Has the Holy Ghost convinced us of sin by showing us the righteousness of Christ? We are sinners. That is not only undeniable: as a general rule, it is not denied. But is it admitted in its full meaning? The patriarch Job felt that there was a moment in his experience in which he came to know God as he had never known Him before. “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). So it is with us.
2. But this is not all. Supposing that such a conviction of sin has been produced, let us ask again, has the Convincer of sin driven us to lay hold of the justifying righteousness of Christ? It is not enough to have a guilty conscience, and to know the deep and dark enormity of our past and our present. Judas was, in some sense, convinced of sin, but he went and hanged himself.
3. Instead of answering that question, let us for a moment consider another, which implies the answer to the former. Are we through Christ new creatures in heart and life? This is the grand proof of our being in a state of grace, of our having the good hope of being saved. (W. R. Clark, M. A.)
Of Judgment, because the prince of this world is Judged
The prince of this world judged
Through His whole life did Christ judge the prince of this world.
When He, who was born King of the Jews, was born in the stable of Bethlehem, and when the shepherds were called to be the first witnesses of His birth, then was the prince of this world judged; and this judgment was made manifest in that he who sat on the throne of Judaea was so troubled with the tidings, and tried to frustrate the purpose of God by the massacre of the children. Hereby the prince of this world laid bare the hell that boiled in his breast; and though he sent forth the fiercest of his servants he was foiled. When He who came to fulfil all righteousness submitted to be baptized by John, the greater by the less, the sinless by the sinful, God by man, then was the prince of this world judged. Then was man taught not to seek his own glory and righteousness, but the glory and righteousness of God--not to seek to be first, but to be last; and therefore were the heavens opened and the voice from heaven heard, “This is My beloved Son,” &c. Again in the whole course of our Lord’s temptation was the prince of this world judged; he was judged in that all his most powerful lures were scattered at once by being brought to the light of God’s Word. Throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount the prince of this world is judged. His most vaunted blessings are declared to be woes, and his woes declared to be blessed. Every time that Christ forgave sins the prince of this world was judged. It was proclaimed in the sight of heaven, God Himself bearing witness that a Man was walking on the earth mightier than the prince of this world, and who could arrest his captives even out of his nethermost prison; and men were taught how they might obtain this deliverance--by faith. By every miracle that Christ wrought, the prince of this world was judged. In that He cast out devils by the Spirit of God it was proved that the kingdom of God had come on mankind, and that among the sons of men there was One who had bound the strong man, and was spoiling his goods; and when the devils took refuge in the herd of swine, and ran down the precipice into the lake, then was it shown what is sin’s only congenial abode, its only rightful doom. Moreover, by every grace in our Lord’s character the prince of this world was judged--by His meekness, His patience, His forbearance, His infinite lovingkindness, His perseverance in well-doing, His spotless purity, His zeal. The judgment of the prince of this world was consummated on the cross, and then when he had thus been finally overthrown, death, the last enemy, was also subdued. In all these manifold ways do they who are convinced of judgment by the Comforter perceive that the prince of this world has been judged. And what ensues? Will they follow him into his judgment, share his condemnation, be confounded with him in his confusion? Surely this cannot be. They who have been truly convinced of judgment will no longer cleave to that which they know their Saviour has condemned. Feelings of justice, honour, compassion, may sometimes urge a man to uphold the cause of the vanquished. But here all honour and right and mercy are on the side of the victor, and the victory consists in this, that the shame of sill has been unveiled, that its hatefulness has been disclosed, and men’s eyes have been opened to discern its malice and its cruelty, its falsehood and its woe. Those whose eyes have been thus opened must needs loathe and turn away from sin. As Christ condemned sin so will all His faithful servants condemn it. They will condemn it in the world, but still more in their own hearts, for until they have condemned it in themselves, in vain will they try to condemn it in the world. (Archdeacon Hare.)
The Convincer of judgment
The judgment of the world is the natural sequel to its being convinced of sin; and the statement in the text assures us that one day a distinction will be made between the good and the evil, the servants of God and the servants of the devil, and that the result of that distinction and separation will be the condemnation and destruction of the wicked.
I. THE NECESSITY OF THE CONVICTION OF JUDGMENT. If men are to be so convinced of sin as to feel that the service of sin is a hopeless one, they must also be convinced of judgment. It is not enough to set forth the beauty of righteousness, and the deformity of sin. All law, whether human or divine, whether it points out a duty, or forbids a transgression, must have its sanctions. It must have something connected with it, in the shape of rewards, or of punishments, which shall make it to be respected. So it is with regard to righteousness and sin in general. Men must be convinced of more than the mere abstract wrongness of sin, of more than the mere deformity of vice, of more than the rightness, and beauty, of virtue and holiness. It is true that the beauty of holiness was illustrated in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that sin was rebuked by the purity and glory of His character; by means of the righteousness of Christ the conviction of righteousness is worked in the hearts of men. Yet in vain would the Holy Ghost set before many men at least that glorious ideal, or show that sin was a departure from it; unless He could also show that righteousness must triumph, and that sin must be put down and overthrown.
II. THIS NECESSITY GOD HAS BEEN MEETING IN THE PAST HISTORY OF THE WORLD.
1. The first chapters of the sacred history contain this lesson in the probation, fall, and expulsion from paradise of our first parents. Here righteousness and sin confronted each other in their simplest forms of obedience and disobedience. Adam and Eve were put upon trial to see whether they would obey or disobey the Divine command. There was discrimination, an examination of the moral character of their conduct; there was condemnation, and there was rejection, and consequently punishment. All this is involved in the idea of judgment. It was the first lesson given by God to man, the first of a long series by which He has sought to convince His creatures of judgment.
2. We find the same repeated in the Deluge. The sins of mankind waxed grosser and more heinous, and the long-suffering of God waited and warned His rebellious creatures, until, it may be, men ceased to believe in judgment, and thought that to-morrow should be as to-day, and the wicked even as the righteous. But their dream was broken in upon and their delusion dispelled. The Flood came and took them all away.
3. We might point next to the history of Sodom and Gomorrah, but we pass on to the illustration of the subject in the history of God’s dealings with the Israelites. In that remarkable history we have not only law, we have not only guidance and direction, we have judgment also. If God revealed Himself to the Israelites as their Teacher and Ruler, He also manifested Himself as the Judge of them and of the whole earth. The Judge of all the earth does right, even when the evil has been committed and the penalty merited by the seed of Abraham. It would not be judgment, it would not be a help towards convincing men of judgment, unless it were the result of discrimination and the just consequence of the act which had been performed. The whole history of the Israelites illustrates these remarks. It abounds in what we should call especial Divine interpositions; and those interpositions are frequently acts of retribution consequent upon the disobedience of the Divine commands, or a refusal to comply with His requirements. When Israel came out of Egypt, the exodus was accomplished by means of a Divine judgment.
4. We dwell upon these illustrations of God’s dealings with mankind, because we possess His own interpretation of them, and are not liable to the charge of presumption which is sometimes brought against us when we seek to trace the hand of God in secular history. But we must not therefore suppose that the same lesson is not taught, and clearly too, in the whole history of nations. The conviction of judgment, in a measure at least, is impressed upon the religious belief of the whole human race, and is reflected in all their mythologies. Its very distortion is often no mean proof of its reality. The foot-prints of the Avenger are never far separated from those of the evil doer.
III. HOW THEN IS THE CONVICTION OF JUDGMENT WROUGHT BY THE COMFORTER? Let us endeavour to understand what our Lord means when He tells us that the Comforter shall convince the world of judgment, “because the prince of this world is judged.” The two principles of good and evil have been contending from the beginning of the world; but since the Incarnation it may be said that the great leaders and representatives of these opposing powers have encountered each other face to face. “The Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” 1 John 3:8). And His whole history tells us, that whenever they met in spiritual warfare, the prince of this world was judged.
1. It was so in the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness. The prince of this world was judged. In that contest from which he departed beaten, he had a pledge of the power and authority of Him who was to be his Conqueror.
2. The prince of this world was also judged in our blessed Lord’s works of Divine power, and especially in His casting out devils. When the disciples of Christ returned with joy to their Master, saying: “Even the devils are subject unto us through Thy name,” His answer was, “I beheld Satan as lightning fail from heaven” (Luke 10:17-18). His empire was overthrown: the prince of this world was judged.
3. The same victory was won, the same act of judgment was performed upon the cross. It is clear that our blessed Lord looked forward to the death of the cross as the consummation of His victory. “Now,” He said in prospect of that hour (John 12:27-31), “Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour: But for this cause came I unto this hour.” And the cause He mentions distinctly directly afterwards, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of the world be cast out.” Blot out the propitiation from the work of Christ, and the judgment of the god of this world is incomplete. That was the great means whereby Satan was cast down; for when the blood of atonement was sprinkled upon the mercy-seat, he had no more claims upon sinful man, and no more hold upon the conscience.
4. And the victory was completed by our Lord’s resurrection and ascension. If the Cross was the victory, this was the triumph. If Satan was defeated by the Conqueror on the cross, the resurrection declared His defeat. Nay more, it declared by the entrance of the Redeemer into the holy of holies that the curse was done away, that man could now enter into the presence of the Most High. This is what is meant by the accuser of the brethren being cast down, when the Man-child was caught up into heaven Revelation 12:5; Rev_12:9-10). Satan falls as lightning from heaven. The prince of this world is judged. We have seen what is meant by the fact of which the Holy Ghost makes use in working the conviction of judgment, we have seen in what sense the prince of this world was judged: let us now ask what use the Comforter makes of this act in producing the conviction of judgment. Evidently the very descent of the Holy Ghost is a witness of the triumph of our Lord. He is the promise of the Father, the gift of the Son. But this not all. He produces this conviction by carrying on the work, by giving effect to the triumph of Christ. In the progress of the Church of Christ, a progress which has been the work of the Holy Ghost, in the triumph of the individual, or of the body over sin and over the opposition of the world, we have seen the conviction of judgment. But the judgment of the prince of this world, which is now being manifested in the overthrow of evil, is the pledge of a future and final judgment. I need not say that the pledge is adequate. The fact of the descent of the Holy Ghost, the mighty works which accompanied, and which since then have followed His descent, the power which He has put forth in human society, all these things are our pledge for the future. And the pledge will be redeemed. We know not when or how; but the time will come when there will be a separation of good and evil, of light and darkness. (W. R. Clark, M. A.)
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.
--The original implies that such teaching as that of the Cross would have been a crushing burden (cf. John 19:17; Luke 11:46; Luk_14:27; Galatians 6:2; Gal_6:5; Acts 15:10)
. The Resurrection brought the strength which enabled believers to support it. (Bp. Westcott.)
The wisdom of delayed revelation
“I remember,” says Dr. Pierre, “on my return to France, after a long voyage to India, as soon as the sailors had discerned the shores of their native country, they became in a great measure incapable of attending to the duties of the ship; some looked at it wistfully, others dressed themselves in their best clothes; some talked, others wept. As we approached their joy became greater; and still more intense was it when we came into port, and saw on the quay their parents and children; so that we had to get, according to the custom of the port, another set of sailors to bring us into the harbour. Thus would it be with God’s children if they saw the full and unclouded glory of eternity before they reach the eternal heaven. ‘I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now’” (John 16:12):
The Guide into all truth
This is our Lord’s last expansion of the great promise of the Comforter. First, He was spoken of simply as dwelling in Christ’s servants. Then, His aid was promised, to remind the apostles of the facts of Christ’s life, especially of His words; and so the inspiration and authority of the four Gospels were certified for us. Then He was further promised as the witness in the disciples to Jesus Christ. In the preceding context we have His office of convicting the world. And now we come to that gracious work which He is to do for all those who trust themselves to His guidance. We have here
I. THE AVOWED INCOMPLETENESS OF CHRIST’S OWN TEACHING (John 16:12).
1. Earlier we have our Lord asserting that all things whatsoever He had heard of the Father He had made known unto His servants. Is it possible to make these two representations agree? Yes! There is a difference between the germ and the flower; between principles and complete development.
All Euclid is in the axioms and definitions, yet when you have learned them there are many things yet to be said, of which you have not grown to the apprehension. And so our Lord, as far as confidence and fundamental and seminal principles were concerned, had declared all that He had heard. But yet, in so far as the unfolding of these was concerned, the tracing of their consequences, the exhibition of their harmonies, the weaving of them into an ordered whole in which a man’s understanding could lodge, there were many things which they were not able to bear. And so our Lord declares that His spoken words on earth are not the completed revelation.
2. We cannot but contrast the desultory, brief, obscure references which came from the Master’s lips with the more systematized and full teaching which came from the servants, especially in reference to the atoning character of His sufferings.
3. What then? My text gives us the reason. “You cannot bear them now,” not in the sense of endure, tolerate, or suffer, but in the sense of carry. And the metaphor is that of some weight--it may be gold, but still it is a weight--laid upon a man whose muscles are not strong enough to sustain it. It crushes rather than gladdens. So our Lord was lovingly reticent. There is a great principle involved here. A wise physician does not flood that diseased eye with full sunshine, but puts on bandages, and closes the shutters, and lets a stray beam, ever growing as the cure is perfected, fall upon it.
4. People tell us, “Your modern theology is not in the Gospels. We stick by Jesus, not Paul.” What then? Why this, it is exactly what we were to expect; and people who reject the apostolic form of Christian teaching because it is not found in the Gospels are going clean contrary to Christ’s own words.
II. THE COMPLETENESS OF THE TRUTH INTO WHICH THE SPIRIT GUIDES (John 16:13).
1. Note the personality, designation, and office of this new Teacher. “He,” not it, He, is the Spirit of Truth. “He will guide you”--suggesting a loving hand put out to lead--“into all truth.” That is no promise of omniscience, but the assurance of gradual and growing acquaintance with the truth which is revealed, such as may be fitly paralleled by men passing into some broad land of which, there is much still to be possessed and explored. “He shall not speak of Himself, &c. Mark the parallel between the relation of the Spirit-teacher to Jesus and the relation of Jesus to the Father. “All things whatsoever I have heard of the Father I have declared unto you.” The mark of Satan is “He speaketh of his own;” the mark of the Divine Teacher is, “He speaketh not of Himself, but whatsoever things,” in all their variety, in their continuity, in their completeness, He shall hear. Where? Yonder in the depths of the Godhead--whatsoever things He shall hear--“there, He shall show to you.” And especially, “He will show you the things that are to come.” Step by step there would be spread out before them the vision of the future and all the wonder that should be, the world that was to come, the new constitution which Christ was to establish.
2. Now, if that be the interpretation, then
III. THE UNITY OF THESE TWO.
1. “He shall glorify Me.” Think of a man saying that! So fair is He, so good, so radiant, that to make Him known is to glorify Him. The glorifying of Christ is the ultimate and adequate purpose of everything that God the Father, Son, and Spirit has done, because the glorifying of Christ is the glorifying of God, and the blessing of the eyes that behold His glory.
2. “For He shall take of Mine, and show it unto you.” All that that Divine Spirit brings is Christ’s. So, then, there is no new revelation, only the interpretation of the revelation. Christ said, “I am the Truth.” Therefore, when He promises, “He shall guide you into all the truth,” we may fairly conclude that the “truth” into which the Spirit guides is the personal Christ. We are like the first settlers upon some great island-continent. There is a little fringe of population round the coast, but away in the interior are leagues of virgin forests and fertile plains stretching to the horizon, and snow-capped summits piercing the clouds, on which no foot has ever trod.
3. “All things that the Father hath are Mine, therefore said I,” &c. (verse 15). What awful words! Is that what you think about Jesus Christ? He puts out here an unpresumptuous hand, and grasps all the constellated glories of the Divine nature, and says, “They are Mine;” and the Father looks down from heaven and says, “Son, Thou art ever with Me, and all that I have is Thine.” Do you answer, “Amen! I believe it?”
1. Believe a great deal more definitely in, and seek a great deal more earnestly, and use a great deal more diligently that Divine Spirit that is given to us all. I fear that over very large tracts of professing Christendom men only stand up with very faltering lips and confess, “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” Hence comes much of the weakness of our modern Christianity, the worldliness of professing Christians.
2. Use the book that He uses--else you will not grow, and He will have no means of contact with you.
3. Try the spirits. If anything calling itself Christian teaching comes to you and does not glorify Christ, it is self-condemned. And if the great teaching Spirit is to come who is to “guide us into all truth,” and therein is to glorify Christ, and to show us the things that are His, then it is also true, “hereby know we the Spirit of God,” &c. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
“Yet many things to say”
There is always a pathos in last words. Those of great men become the inspiration of future generations; those of the humblest become sacred as gospels to those who loved them. Of dying teachers we expect last views of truth; of dying captains last advices for the campaign; of dying leaders some inspiring programme. But it can scarcely be said that Christ’s programme is an inspiring one. He prophesies tribulation, and dies with the fulness of His teaching unexplained, Note
I. CHRIST FORESEEING THE DEVELOPMENT OF HIS OWN TEACHINGS. It must be remembered that the ministry of Christ was not a harvesting. He had only time to cast in the good seed of the kingdom. But then there is a sense in which the man who looks upon the seed virtually is looking on the harvest too. So Christ saw in His teachings the prophecy of their fulfilment. He said that His words were Spirit and life. There are many issues, many harvests of the word of Christ, which He dare not even intimate to us yet. Yet the time will come, for this Galilean peasant dares to stand forth in the light of all the ages, and to say, “Heaven and earth shall pass away; My teachings shall never pass away.” Note, for instance
1. What Christ has to say about war. There is one of the sorest problems of the world, and Christ lived under the domination of the greatest military empire which the world has ever seen. In one sense He says nothing about it, except to prophecy of it when He is gone. What, then, was Christ’s attitude towards it? “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” That is the seed. Ages have trampled with heavy feet above it; and tens of thousands of men, women, and children have been crushed beneath this frightful Juggernaut. But the seed is not dead: now, after eighteen centuries, a tiny spear of green life begins to pierce through the red soil of the battle-field. Men gather round, and, behold, it is the plant of peace at last. Whatever be the wickedness of rulers, or the folly of statesmen, the entire sentiment of Europe towards war has changed; and governments talk of arbitration, and war is dreaded, shunned, hated by every civilized power.
2. What Christ has to say on slavery. Christ was familiar with it, and knew what it meant and would mean. What, then, did Christ say? Well, He did not go up and down Palestine preaching the abolition of slavery or the rights of man. Yet Jesus Christ overturned slavery, and that by recognizing the divinity of human nature--that the lost are worth saving; that the harlot and the publican were created in the image of God; and Christ said: “If any man will be great among you, let him be servant of all.” That is to say, He recognized the dignity and grandeur of service. That was the seed. Ages pass, till at last Macaulay, Wilberforce, &c., are praying, and the heavens seem to open and the authentic voice of Christ reaches them, and in the strength of that vision they begin their great crusade, till, at last, exactly eighteen hundred years after Christ bowed His head on Calvary, England pays down her twenty millions to free her last slave. And thirty years later, at the price of one of the greatest wars in history, America knocks the last shackle off her last slave.
3. He has many things to say to us on such questions as communism, socialism, liberty, sacrifice; for His life was the seed. He was the Divine Socialist, who, being rich, for our sakes became poor. He was the Heavenly Communist, who shared His heart’s blood with us. He was the Great Liberator who made us free with a glorious liberty. He was the Sacrifice who gave Himself “the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God.” Very dimly and feebly have the wisest apprehended the truths that lie in those words. But the time will come when God will send His new teacher; and then that Christianity which began in a commune will end with a brotherhood, which says not, “thine is mine,” but, “mine is thine.”
4. Christ has much to say, too, of the duties that the Church owes to the world; and if we would know how long it takes for men to learn the issues of the words of Christ, just think how long it took England to learn what Christ meant by “Go and preach the gospel unto every creature.” Eleven centuries of Christianity pass in this land, during which the people perish in their darkness; until at last a clergyman against whom the Church doors are closed goes out into the highways and hedges to find his congregation, and says, with magnificent prevision, “The world is my parish.”
II. THIS PRINCIPLE OF GRADUAL ADVANCEMENT IS CHRIST’S PRINCIPLE IN ALL THINGS.
1. For illustration you need go no farther than this very supper chamber. How fast Simon’s heart is beating! He has just said, “I will go with Thee to prison and to judgment.” Hush! Thy Master is about to speak. Where shall He begin? He sees the vision of thee, old and grey, girded by those whom thou knowest not, &c. He knows all the paths of pain thy martyr feet will tread. Shall He tell thee all that? No. It would not make a Judas of thee, but it might make a Demas, who would love the wicked world more than Christ. It would break thy heart. Wait thou. Thou must stand in the blackness and hear that last cry that thrills from that cross of shame, and then, when thou hast wept thine heart out in an agony of penitence, at last the morning will break beside the grey sea when Christ will meet thee, and then He will tell thee everything; but thou couldst not bear it now.
2. There are successive revelations for every age and for every man. They never come too soon; they never come too late. The Church is like a man who sits in a darkened room. He has been blind; he begins to see. Day by day a little more light is let into the chamber. At last the hour will come when the blinds will be rolled right up, and the windows flung wide open. We shall look out. There will be “a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Music has much to say to the little child. He begins snatches of his mother’s lullaby, cradle songs, nursery rhymes. Then, as the years pass by, higher strains engross him. The deep chords of wailing and distress wake the poet in his brain. He bathes himself in the angel joy of Handel. He himself, perhaps, becomes a young Mozart or a Haydn. Music had much to say, but it waited till the heart was deep enough and the brain strong enough to receive the message. So the Church learnt her cradle song at Bethlehem, her hymn of pain on Calvary, her victorious marching music at Pentecost. In the dungeon and the fire her voice has been trained to its noblest use, until at last, without a single jarring discord, she shall sing in that new song which is never old--the praise and glory of the Lamb.
3. Some one says, “I thought that all Christ’s words were in the Gospels. I know all that Christ has said, for I have read them.” I congratulate you, for I do not. I find that Christ’s words are like the sea, which deepens evermore as we go farther into it. I find that Christ has always something new to say. Oh, think of it! For all these centuries men have been preaching out of these fragmentary sketches of biography--these broken words of Christ, and yet they are newer and deeper and Diviner to-day than ever they were before. Therefore, if Christ says nothing to me, I know that it is not because Christ is not speaking, but it is because I am deaf and am not listening. He tells me His truth as I am able to bear it.
4. Or, perhaps, some one says again, “Oh, if Christ had this great foresight, that He would tell me something about my own future.” Let me paint you a little picture. See, out of church there come those two who have plighted their troth each to each until death them shall part; and with what happy pride they step forth into the unknown years. Now, suppose I know their future, and I tell that fair young bride how she will know poverty and trial, and watch by sick children, and weep over little graves; and how he will grow old and grey before his time, vexed with many cares and hurt with many sorrows. Yes, and one of those two must close the other’s eyes in the coffin! Ah! which? Shall I tell them which? Would there be any more joy in marriage mornings, any more music in wedding bells? I will not tell them. And neither will Christ tell me. He has many things to say, but He wants the quietness of the house of sickness to say some, and the more solemn silence of the house of death to say others. “Ye could not bear them now.” Conclusion: So I learn that for much of Christ’s speech you and I must wait for another world. There are so many things that you and I would like to ask Christ about. Why did that great ambition cheat me so? Why did that bright joy crumble into ashes? Why did that fair angel child flit so early into heaven? I cannot tell; but I shall see Christ some day, and He will tell me everything. (W. J. Dawson.)
The reserve of Christ
I. THE SAYINGS OF JESUS.
1. They are the expression of the deepest and purest earnestness. There is no aim at any outward demonstration; yet in reading and reflecting upon them, they sink into your deeper life, they gain upon your reason, sentiment, and conscience, until at last they leaven you with their spiritual life, and you become His disciples through their life-power. This earnestness made Him despise all artifice and cunning concealment, and led Him to present His thoughts and sentiments natural and openly, without varnish and pomp.
2. They are the expression of the highest wisdom. Solomon uttered many wise proverbs; but Christ’s sayings contain the wisdom of life, of salvation, which Solomon and other wise men never pretended. He is the wisdom of God.
3. They are of perpetual and universal power and authority. The sayings of wise men like coins lose their weight and value in their use, because they are not essential for life and happiness, for all times and places; but the sayings of Jesus remain in their weight and authority, because we ever need them to guide and comfort us. Before anything which belongs to men can be of perpetual authority and fitness, it must
4. They are expressions of His love. Love may be shown by tears, by gifts, and by sacrifices, as Jesus showed His; but the most common expressions of rational minds are words; these remain when tears are dried, and gifts and sacrifices are forgotten. Christ spoke as never man spoke, for He spoke from a true heart to the heart of humanity, according to the law of truth and love, which will abide for ever, and so He still speaks.
II. THE RESERVE OF JESUS. It was a reserve
1. In the surplus which was beyond and above the immediate need of His disciples. They had every way more than actually they needed to meet their present necessity. He had already told them more than they understood; He had given them work more than as yet they performed; He had declared already of privileges and blessings greater than they enjoyed; and their difficulties and persecutions were as numerous and heavy as they could well bear without speaking of more. It does not appear requisite on any ground to tell them more at present. They must master their present lessons before they are fit for more.
2. Was dictated by wisdom, to educate their Christian graces and character. He was a wise Master; He did not cram all into one lesson. There may be things which belong to this hour only that demand to be told as complete as they are, and that because we are fit to comprehend and use them now, and shall be unfit at any other time. But a system of spiritual education demands to be revealed little by little. If all the evil of the future were told us, it would discourage and distract all our life; or if all the good, it would partly destroy its enjoyment. The reticence of Christ was intended to keep alive their expectation for future blessings, and thus preserve them from flagging and weariness in their toil and trial, and to preserve their freshness of faith and experience.
3. Was inevitable because of the inexhaustibleness of His resources. Every true teacher has always something more to say. He never says all in any lesson or sermon. How could such riches of knowledge and love be bestowed all at one time, and that to feeble minds and contracted sympathies? The light was greater than their eyes, the cloud was larger than the field, the shower richer than the blades, and the ocean immeasurably greater than their cups.
4. Was a reticence of anticipation. What was unsaid should be declared another day with a comment.
III. THE PRESENT UNFITNESS OF THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD TO BEAR THE SAYINGS OF JESUS. It is the general misfortune of every great teacher to be misunderstood. The unfitness of the present age consists in
1. A want of greater sympathy with His teaching, and more insight into its meaning. As it is in any branch of knowledge, so is it with truth and character; without some sympathy to begin with in the object of our search, or faith, we shall not acquire an insight into it. Sympathy with the things of the Saviour is quite a different thing from certain attachments to certain appellations and certain acquired opinions. What we need is that deep attachment of our spirits with something that is common to all, and unchangeable in all times, in the person, life, and sayings of Jesus.
2. Overweening and preconceived attachment to other and contrary things to His sayings. This may be opinion, pleasure, worldly aggrandisement, self-indulgence, or any other wrong and sinful way. Or it may be some contracted habits, which have sunk into the very root of our nature, so that we have lost the power to renounce them. It may be associates who are loved more than Him; or it may be careless and blind indifference of all truth and goodness. Even what is right, if used in the wrong way, and the truth if misapplied or not used rightly, may unfit for His teaching and truth. Whatever absorbs the attention of the soul, so that it cannot listen fully and impartially to Him, unfits to bear His truth and spirit.
3. The many discordant voices that are heard. There is such a contradictory crying, “Here is Christ, and there is Christ.” Not that these voices are altogether false, for there is some Christ doubtless in all. But their great wrong is in the pretension that He is all with them, and none with others. These things perplex many, and keep them away from listening to the sayings of the Saviour; and until men will love Christianity more than sects, and the spirit of the Saviour more than habits and opinion, they will continue.
4. The materialistic spirit of the age. This world is the kingdom of most; they neither have taste nor time to think and trouble themselves about any other; and the love of the world is enmity against God.
5. An unwillingness to see our own wrong, and be corrected and directed rightly. The teaching of the Saviour is too spiritual, high, and searching, to suit our sensuous desire and self-indulgent view and feeling. This is the condemnation, &c.
6. The breadth and catholicity of His teaching. He is a teacher of truth, and not of party; He claims mankind as His suitable audience, and not a small portion of it. Such teaching is too lofty for men of narrow conceptions and small hearts.
7. The weakness of our powers and the imperfect character of the present state. “For now we see through a glass darkly,” &c. (T. Hughes.)
Christ’s reticence in teaching truth
I. SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS FEATURE OF CHRIST’S TEACHING.
1. Take some of the truths to which we may suppose our Lord made immediate reference.
2. Consider the manner of His revelation of truth to the world in general.
3. In the individual life.
II. SOME OF THE CONCLUSIONS TAUGHT US REGARDING CHRIST AND HUMAN NATURE.
1. In regard to Christ, we have reason to admire
2. Concerning our common human nature.
1. In regard to things which Christ does not tell us, let us be thankful to Him for His silence. The cloud that veils full knowledge “is a cloud of love.”
2. Let us be chiefly concerned about knowing the one great thing which Christ has to say to us. There is a message which stands out in His Word distinct from the beginning to the close--“This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” There are times in the future for learning other truths, but for this our time is always ready. (J. Ker, D. D.)
Divine teaching gradual
I. OUR LORD’S OWN ORAL TEACHING DID NOT EMBRACE ALL NECESSARY CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE.
1. This is a point of great importance. It is not unusual to hear people say: “I accept only the very words of Christ. St. Paul taught some doctrines which Christ Himself did not teach: I do not wish to be bound by these. The Church has in her creeds and elsewhere used language which I do not find in the words of Christ: I may reject that language. The Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s other discourses are enough for me. The rest is superfluous.” This language recommends itself because it sounds at first so loyal to our Lord, just as politeness towards a single individual is more remarkable when the person who shows it is habitually uncivil to the rest of the world. By a confession of faith such as this, men flatter themselves that they can cut down the Christian creed to very narrow dimensions, and at the same time be all the better Christians. And yet here we find Christ saying that He did not undertake to teach in Person all that it was necessary for Christians to know. What the apostles taught would be still His teaching, even although it should go beyond the measure of truth which He had taught Himself (Luke 10:16; Matthew 10:40). John 15:15 would seem at first sight to be at variance with the text.But there is no contradiction. So far as confidence went our Lord trusted His disciples unreservedly. But there was a want of spiritual comprehension on their side. Many a man has a wife or a sister with whom he has literally no secrets whatever, although she is not on that account able to share all his intellectual interests; he does not trust the less because he does not communicate unintelligible secrets; the time will come, perhaps, when whatever is now unintelligible will be understood.
3. Our Lord’s teaching, then, was completed by that of the Holy Spirit. To see how this was done we need not go beyond the limits of the New Testament.
4. Our Lord spoke about Himself, His sinlessness, His claims upon human thought and human affection, His power of enlightening and saving human beings, His future coming to judge all human beings, in a way which we should now-a-days think very extraordinary in any good man, and indeed fatal to his claim to goodness because inconsistent with sober fact. The Holy Spirit took of the words of Christ and showed the truth unto the apostles that the Speaker was Divine (1 Corinthians 12:3). The disciples could not have borne the full splendour of these truths before (chap. 12:16).
II. WHY WAS OUR LORD’S OWN TEACHING THUS INCOMPLETE?
1. The answer is, that the same motive which led Him to teach men at all led Him to impose these limits. He taught men in their ignorance because He loved men too well to leave them in darkness. He taught men gradually, and as they were able to bear the strong light of His doctrine, because He loved men too well to shock or blind them by a sudden blaze of truth, for which they were as yet unprepared. He knew what was in man. He knew what the prejudices of education, the power of mental habits, the associations of youth, the traditions of a great history, could do to destroy the receptive powers, the moral flexibility of the soul. He was too wise and considerate to expect too much. The full understanding of who He was, and what He came to do, was preceded by a twilight; itself His own work, which brightened more and more towards the day.
2. In this He was true to God’s providential action in human history. All along God has taught men gradually. The heathen nations have been taught what little truth, amid their errors, they know by a succession of minds. The old Jewish Scriptures are a long series of revelations: the Patriarchal, the Mosaic, the prophetical. Each is an advance upon its predecessors, and all lead up to the final and complete revelation of God in Christ.
III. TWO PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. The true principle of
2. Remember that until our last day God is teaching us, through the action of other minds, through the events of life. Each stage of life up to the very last leaves some truth untaught. We are daily adding to our expectance. We never complete it. What can the soul do but breathe the prayer--“Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, lead Thou me on,” &c.? (Canon Liddon.)
Christ’s gradual teaching in the Church
This does not mean that during all the coming centuries He would go on adding from time to time new truths to the Christian creed by a process of continuous revelation. The faith was, St. Jude says, once for all delivered to the saints. Later ages might explain what the apostles had taught. This, for instance, is what was done by the great council which authoratively adopted the Nicene Creed in order to defend the truth of our Lord’s Divinity. But when in that creed we confess that Jesus Christ our Lord is of one substance with the Father, we do not say more than St. John says in the introduction to his Gospel, or St. Paul in the Colossians (Colossians 1:16-17). In the same way the word “Trinity” is not itself found in Scripture. But the baptismal formula, and many passages in the apostolic writings, especially in the Epistle to the Ephesians, obviously imply it. If therefore doctrines, having no ground in the teaching of the apostles, have been added to the faith, in whatever quarter of Christendom, these do not rest on the same basis as explanations or restatements of truths which the apostles had already taught. They are newly imported and foreign matter, and as such would have been rejected by the early Christian Church. We cannot, therefore, include additional doctrines proposed after the apostolic age under the head of the “many things” which our Lord had to say to His Church. It is not likely, to say the least, that the holiest and wisest of later divines should know more of His will than did St. John or St. Paul. (Canon Liddon.)
Christ’s gradual teaching by His providence
Consider the history of our own country. What lessons has God been teaching it during its fifteen centuries! Lessons of order to the England of the Heptarchy; lessons of patience and hope to the England of the Norman kings; lessons of the value of freedom to the England of the Tudors and the Stuarts; lessons of the need of seriousness in life and conviction to the England of the Georges. And surely in our time He is saying many things, stern and tender, to those who have ears to hear, in the events amidst which day by day we are living now. He is teaching us that morality should never be divorced from politics; that the duties of property rank higher than its undoubted rights; that races which trifle with the laws of purity are on the road to ruin; that “righteousness exalteth a nation” much more truly than any financial, or diplomatic, or military success. And much that God teaches us of to-day would have been unintelligible to our ancestors. As we look out on the surface of our national life, on its hopes and fears, on its unsolved, to us apparently insoluble, problems, on its incessant movement, whether of unrest or aspiration, we hear from behind the clouds the more or less distinct announcement of a future which will be at any rate as unlike our present as our past. “I have many things to say unto thee, but thou canst not bear them now.” (Canon Liddon.)
Teaching should be adapted to the condition of the mind
A careful mother or teacher will treat a child’s mind with great tenderness and reverence; she will be careful to excite interest before gratifying it, to gratify it in such degree as its capacity will admit. She will not think of the mind of her child as of a large bag into which all the odds and ends of knowledge that are swept up from the table of common life can be thrown at random; she will think of it as a delicate and beautiful mechanism to be handled with tenderness and respect and one mistake in dealing with which may well be fatal. How well a lady writer has told us how she was taught by her mother. “I asked mother one day who God was, and I was told to come again the next day and at the same hour, and I came and repeated the question, and she told me to wait another day and then I should be answered, and then, when my curiosity was raised to the highest pitch and when my sense of the importance of the subject was immensely enhanced by its repeated postponement of an answer, I came once more and my mother explained in words which I shall never forget how great and awful and beautiful a Being God is and what He has told us. And all this she did in simple words and as a child’s mind could bear it.” Such a lesson as that she was not likely to forget, and it was never forgotten. (Canon Liddon.)
Human capacity the measure of Divine communication
I. TO CHRIST’S MIND NO INFORMATION CAN BE IMPARTED. When He says “ask,” He accommodates Himself to human phraseology. Christ’s is the infinite mind--to its perceptions there is no end! This is
1. Consolatory to the good: they can never pass the region of Christ’s knowledge, whether in fiery furnace or lions’ den.
2. Terrifying to the ungodly: they cannot commit sin except under the eye of the Being to whom it is infinitely hateful: there is no secret spot on which they can outrage the laws of purity. Not a leaf stirs, not a pulse beats, without attracting the notice of the Divine eye.
II. CHRIST’S MIND IS THE HIGHEST SOURCE OF MENTAL ILLUMINATION.
1. “Many things” are in Christ’s possession. The phrase is simple, but who can measure its comprehensiveness? What imagination can conceive the number of the “many things”? All that we know of truth, holiness, destiny, we know directly or indirectly from Christ.
2. It follows, therefore, that companionship with Christ must ensure the highest mental attainment. “Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life;” walking with Him we must reach the highest altitudes of knowledge.
3. The mission of the Spirit is to take of the things of Christ and show them to the Church (John 16:13).
III. CHRIST’S MIND REVEALS ITSELF ACCORDING TO OUR MENTAL CAPACITY. Mark here the true majesty of Christ. “Ye cannot bear them,” I can; your intellect is not strong enough--Mine is. For a time these many things must dwell in My own mind. As ye grow in capacity ye shall grow in knowledge. God does not pour His glory on the world in one dazzling blaze, He precedes the splendour of noontide by the ray of dawn. The passage has a bearing
1. On our individual experience. There are many things in the future which we could not bear in our present state. Suppose that God should certify every man of the exact time and precise circumstance of his death, society would be paralyzed. Be thankful for Christ’s forbearance.
2. On the inscrutable mysteries of faith. God has not taken man into His secret counsels.
3. On the perplexities of moral government. I cannot explain why Dives should be in the mansion and Lazarus at the gate. “What thou knowest not now, thou shalt know hereafter.” By and by we shall know enough. Let us calmly wait until it shall please Him to explain. We shall then say, “It is well.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
The new theology
Many persons are alarmed at the idea of a “new theology.” Because God is eternally the same, the science which treats of His Person and of His dealings with men is regarded as stationary. Theology, however, represents man’s thoughts about God, and these may change as knowledge grows from more to more and as the power to understand spiritual things is increased. The elementary substances of nature are the same to-day as when the earth was a mass of fiery vapour; but to-day there is a “new chemistry,” which professors who died a score of years ago would find it difficult to read. So there is a “new astronomy” and a “new geology,” though worlds and the crust of our earth are the same.
I. CHRIST’S WORDS DISTINCTLY FORESHADOWED A PROGRESSIVE APPREHENSION OF HIMSELF AND HIS TEACHINGS ABOUT GOD. Just as men lived for ages on this earth without a suspicion of its being globular, and walked in the light of the sun and yet had no notion that the solid earth was rolling round it in space; as they tilled their fields, without dreaming that the soil was composed of decayed animal and vegetable life; so the disciples were warmed by the love of Christ and guided by His wisdom without understanding the mystery of His Person or the wealth of His wisdom? What, then, does He promise? He does not say the Spirit shall give you a new revelation, but He shall lead you into new views of Me and My words. The theology of the apostles, therefore, was to be progressive; it was to be a journey into truth as a boundless realm whose borders they had crossed, but which still stretched away far out of sight beyond the utmost horizon of their thoughts.
II. HISTORY READ IN THE LIGHT OF THIS INTIMATION STRIKINGLY VERIFIES ITS TRUTH by showing that there have been successive stages of advance in human knowledge and opinion, while the substance of the Christian revelation has remained unchanged.
1. Two disciples set out one evening to walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. That walk gave them most emphatically a new theology. It revolutionized their whole conception of the Divine character and ways with men.
2. Long after the day of Pentecost the apostles thought that faith in Christ must be combined with obedience to the ritual law of their fathers. But when Peter had seen his vision on the housetop, his eyes were opened to see Christ in a totally unexpected light. From that hour the Church began to form a new theology. God was the same; Christ was the same; the discourse by the well at Sychar was the same; the gospel was the same; but the Church was led into previously untraversed regions of truth.
3. Time would fail to mention the various theologies which have had their day since the apostles. There was a Greek theology which prevailed up to the time of Augustine. Then came a Latin theology fathered by him. Later on there arose several scholastic theologies. Then, again, at the Reformation there arose the Lutheran, Calvinistic, and Zwin-glian theologies, all revolting against Rome and yet all of them framed by men influenced by Latin divinity. The confessions of faith drawn up at Wurtemberg, Geneva, Zurich, and Westminster were all new theologies, and all sought to arrange and systematize the doctrines of the Scriptures as observers deal with the facts of nature in the construction of a new science. What, then, shall we conclude? Shall we say that they attained to a final knowledge of the truth and of Christ? It is at least permissible to suppose that the researches, experience, and Divine illumination of later students may have prevailed to eliminate some of their errors, to supply some of their defects, to combine some of their divided excellencies, and so to make some further progress towards that richer knowledge and clearer understanding of the mystery of God in Christ, which, when attained, will bring us all into the unity of the faith.
III. THE GROUND ON WHICH REAL ADVANCES HAVE BEEN MADE. As it was in the days of the apostles and reformers, so it has been since; new visions of truth have come in connection with new outbursts of spiritual life and new acceptances of service. In the latter part of the last century there was a strange movement of compassion for the souls of men. Looking out on heathendom abroad, and spiritual desolation at home, men said: “We must cease our controversial strife, and give these peoples the good news of a Father’s love and a Saviour’s readiness to save. Stirred by these voices, the Church shook herself from sleep, and rose up to do her neglected duty with a vigour unexampled since the days of the apostles. In the course of these ministries she has formed a new feeling of human brotherhood, and this has opened her eyes to see more clearly the Divine Fatherhood. In the service of man, for Christ’s sake, she has learned to read anew Paul’s grand unfolding of the meaning of Christ’s life and death as a ministry of Divine sacrifice. In her own prayers and yearnings over down fallen men she has entered into unison with the pity of the Lord, and the travail of Christ’s soul, to seek and save the lost. This sympathy has touched her thoughts and modified her creed. She can no longer hold with Calvin that babes are deserving of eternal damnation because guilty before God of Adam’s sin. The displacement of that one terrible idea has taken a big stone--a veritable key-stone, out of the arch of Calvinistic theology.
IV. OUR DUTIES AND DANGERS IN THIS AGE OF THEOLOGICAL TRANSITION.
1. To keep our spirits right. Whether we view the movements of our time with fear or hope, let us be patient with all men, charitable, tolerant.
2. To see to it that we neither part with nor refuse any true thing because it happens to be mixed up with something manifestly false. In all times of controversy some men fling away gold because embedded in dross, and other men grasp a needless quantity of dross because they see glittering grains of gold.
3. Beware of allowing religious earnestness to be evaporated by a too exclusive attention to the intellectual elements of religion. The life is more than creed, and the spirit than dogma. 1 meet men who reiterate the stale maxims about conduct being three-fourths of life, and the unimportance of dogma, yet are doing nothing for the good of their fellows but protest in this lordly fashion against the bigotry of men who, however mistaken in their creed, are assuredly spending time, and strength, and means in the practical imitation of Christ. It is possible to be a creed-bound creature, though your only creed be that all creeds are vain. (T. V. Tymms.)
When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come
The Spirit of Truth
What is meant by “all truth?
” It is better to take for granted that the Bible always means what it says--all the truth of nature as well as of the gospel, of science as well as of religion. Aholiab was, doubtless, a skilled mechanic before the effusion of the Spirit; but after he became the best carpenter of the nation. So with Bezaleel. I am glad to acknowledge that the great thinkers of the world have not been wholly unguided by the Holy Ghost. Great discoverers are almost invariably devout: Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato--Kepler, Newton, and Faraday.
Even nature confides her secrets to none except to men of deep piety. Tyndall and Huxley are very brilliant; but they have not yet established their right to be classed with the great. The truth which makes for our salvation is here mainly intended. Note, the Spirit guides into all truth
I. IN RESPECT OF REVELATION. This means that the Spirit will
1. Speak nothing but the truth, “for He shall not speak from Himself,” &c. This is the Saviour’s infallible proof of the trustworthiness of His own teaching, and urges the same in support of the infallibility of the Spirit’s illumination. If you hear any one speaking from himself, boasting much in his originality, you may rest assured that his discovery will turn out to be shallow and worthless. For truth is not a thing that comes from, but to, man. He never strikes it--it always strikes him. Accordingly, great discoverers never claim much credit. “I am but a child,” said Newton, “gathering pebbles on the shore of the great sea of truth.” He felt that all the credit due to him was that of seeing the pebbles--the credit of making them belonged to another. You cannot originate truth--only discover it; you cannot make it--only see it. If you make it, it is no longer truth, but a lie. Wherefore it is averred of the evil spirit that he “speaketh of his own,” and therefore of necessity “speaketh a lie.” But “whatsoever the Spirit heareth” in the exalted fellowship of the Trinity in Unity, “that speaketh He.”
2. Inspire the truth already extant in the world, and only waiting the breath of inspiration to quicken it. True “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” but “every Scripture is God-inspired.” Not only the writers, but their writings, are all alive with the breath of God. “God breathed into it the breath of life, and the Bible became a living book.” The inspired men are dead, but the inspired truths are living. They are warm now with the breath of the Eternal. One of the rare excellencies of the Bible is its warmth. Its temperature is many degrees higher than that of any other book. Whereas the same truths in other religions and philosophies sink down to freezing-point, in Christianity they invariably rise to blood-heat. Here are two bars of steel. They are precisely of the same make, shape, weight, size. But put them on the ground near a heap of rubbish, and the difference will be manifest. Whilst one lies inert, the other exerts a potent influence on the whole mass, disturbing the needles and nails and iron filings. What is the matter? One has been magnetized. And here are two truths, one in heathen philosophy, the other in the gospel. They are as similar as two truths can be. But the truth as contained in
Greek or Chinese philosophy lies barren and inoperative; but the same truth as uttered by Jesus Christ enters as a living quickening force into human life. In Christianity it has been magnetized, inspired.
3. Revealed new truths. “Eye hath not seen,” &c. The truths of nature are only His surface thoughts, and therefore within the range of created intellects. But the truths of the gospel are His “deep things,” too deep for human reason ever to fathom, but which, nevertheless, “God has shown to us by His Spirit.” In the context the “things of God” are called the things of Jesus Christ. As Columbus took possession of the continent of America in the name of Christ, so Christ took possession of the continent of truth in His own name--He has stamped on every truth His own private mark. This is the final test whether any doctrine be of the inspiration of the Spirit. Does it glorify Christ? Many teachers went out in the apostolic age claiming to be Divinely commissioned; but this was the test whereby the spirits were tried. Many novel doctrines are promulgated to-day, labelled with the names of able and scholarly men. “Do they glorify Christ?” If not, beware of them. “What do you think of ‘Ecce Homo?’” asked a lady once of Professor Duncan. “What does ‘Ecce Homo’ think of Christ?” asked the old Rabbi back. “I cannot tell; that it is which puzzles me,” answered the lady. “Well,” deliberately answered the sick professor, “if any book, after a careful perusal of it, leaves you in doubt what it thinks and what you ought to think about Christ, there is something radically wrong in it. Every sound book, doctrine, sermon, glorifies Christ.”
II. IN RESPECT OF EXPOSITION.
1. The nature of the Spirit’s influence.
2. The subjects of His guidance. “You,” not the apostles only. The Spirit influences the mental movements of the weakest saint. The Spirit mysteriously invigorates the mind. The “unction from the Holy One” oils the wheels marvellously. Look at Saul, the son of Kish, and Peter. This, however, does not mean the total extinction of all differences between believers in their scholastic attainments; but it does mean the abolition of all difference in their spiritual apprehension of the saving truths of the gospel. Long sight has no advantage over short sight in examining the heavens. Both can see the sun, neither can see behind and beyond. The dullest, obtusest believer sees as far as the Sun of Righteousness, and your most learned occupants of professorial chairs cannot see an inch behind and beyond.
3. The scope of the Spirit’s influence. “All,” not into some, but into all. Not at once, for guidance is a gradual process.
III. IN RESPECT OF APPLICATION. This suggests that the Spirit
1. Whets the truth, puts edge on the ministry of the Word. “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words,” &c. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts,” &c. Not tickled, amused, entertained, but pierced through. The sermons men like are refined, polished, full of flowers. But read Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost; it bristles like a hawthorn bush. The great need of the modern pulpit is sermons with fewer flowers and sharper pricks.
2. Imparts warmth to the ministry. “He will baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Warmth is an essential element in the Scriptures; it is an essential element in the ministry. The chief difference between genius and talent seems to me to consist, not in the amount of light, but in the amount of heat; not in the knowledge, but in the fire. The erudition of Ben Jonson was profounder than that of Shakespeare; the knowledge of Whewell was more extensive than that of Carlyle; the information of many a Scott was more capacious than that of Robert Burns. Where, then, was the genius? Not in the knowledge, but in the fire. (J. C. Jones, D. D.)
The Spirit of Truth
The Holy Spirit, who was given for the reproof and conviction of the world, was given also for the enlightenment and edification of the Church.
I. THE DESIGNATION OF THE HOLY GHOST. The Father is the absolute Truth, the one eternal source of all truth. The Divine Son reveals, embodies, and bears witness to the truth. But the Spirit, coming into contact with souls, brings the truth home to them with power.
II. HIS COMING. Whilst believing in the eternal existence and activity of the Third Person in the Trinity, Christians apprehend what has been called “the temporal mission of the Comforter.” As there was a time for the advent of the Son, so was there a time for the full gift of the Spirit, viz., when the full truth had been revealed in Christ. The Spirit “came” conspicuously on the Day of Pentecost to remain for ever.
III. HIS OFFICE.
1. Generally--to lead Christians, not into every kind of truth, but the truth as in Jesus. As a master leads a pupil through a picture gallery, as a tutor leads a scholar through a science or a language, so does the Spirit lead us through the realm of spiritual truth.
2. Specially--to reveal what is Christ’s to His people: “He shall take of Mine.” Not only did He inspire apostles to record the facts of Christ’s ministry, and to expound the doctrines growing out of those facts, but He enables every Christian to realize and appropriate the blessings Christ brings to man.
3. Prophetically to unfold things to come. Thus to Peter was unfolded the mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the fold; to Paul the doctrine of the resurrection; to John the glories of the eternal future.
IV. HIS END AND AIM. The glory of Christ, as secured by the achievement of the purposes of our Saviour’s ministry, and as manifested by the praise and fame accruing to Him both on earth and in heaven. (Family Churchman.)
I. OUR CIRCUMSTANCES AS NEEDING A GUIDE.
1. Our entire ignorance of our journey. There is not a man in the world that knows anything of the way to happiness or heaven without this Spirit.
2. Our frowardness. We are rash and heady and obstinate. We rush on heedless of consequences. We hit on some one path or other, and it is sure to be a wrong one; but onward we go. Many tell us that it leads to death, and many times we are told so, but on we go. We therefore need a guide.
3. Our pride. We are by nature full of self-consequence. We think we know the way. If any tell us of it, we soon reply, “We know these things as well as you. We have not lived so long in the world for nothing. We do not want your teaching,” &c. Such never ask for wisdom, lest they should by that request confess their ignorance. We therefore need a guide.
II. THE EXCELLENCIES OF THE GUIDE HERE PROMISED US.
1. He has perfect knowledge of the way. A blind guide will be no guide. We should discard such, should they offer to conduct. This Guide knows the way, every step of the way; knows all truth, and where truth leads.
2. He is faithful. This is essential in a guide. If we trust to a guide we give up ourselves to his care.
3. He is condescending and familiar. This in a guide will make him a pleasant companion. A guide that will describe the surrounding scenery, and lead us into a knowledge of objects as we pass, will endear him and make our journeying easy. This Spirit is a Guide that stoops to converse with us by the way. Sometimes He tells us some sweet truths, as the
Father’s everlasting love, the Saviour’s finished work. Sometimes He shows some instructive objects. “Look yonder, do you see that pillar? That is Lot’s wife: she left Sodom, and left all her furniture behind, and, against the command of God, she turned her head to look as if she hankered after that she left behind, and the Lord turned her into a pillar of salt. Look, there is Demas, who, having loved this present evil world, has left Paul and the gospel that he might embrace it. See, yonder is the place of skulls; that is Golgotha, where Christ fought with principalities and powers, and overcame, having destroyed Death.”
III. THE EXECUTION OF HIS WORK. “He shall guide you into all truth”; wherein we have three particulars to open.
1. The way in which the Spirit leads. That way is the way of truth. Respecting this way of truth there are these particulars which commend it. Gospel truth is a pleasant way to walk in (Proverbs 3:17). There is nothing in this way to grieve or distress: its prospects are all good; it holds up to view a God reconciled in Christ. There is no pleasure equal to that which is found in walking in this way. True it is that Christians are not always happy, but that is not from any gloominess in the path of gospel grace. They step aside or walk carelessly, and so lose their comfort. Gospel truth is also a peaceful way to walk in: “her paths are peace.” Gospel truth, again, is a straight and even way to walk in. Gospel truth is a free way to walk in. Whosoever will may walk there. Gospel truth, in which the Spirit leads, is also a near way to walk in. We often choose the nearest way. It is but a step from misery to mercy, from nature to grace, from a fallen, ruined condition to a state of acceptance with God. Gospel truth, in fine, is a permanent way to walk in. There will never be another.
2. But where does the way of truth lead? We often ask where this or that pathway leads; in what direction or to what place. This leads to three places. To the Christ of God, “the truth as it is in Jesus”; truth centres in Him. This way leads to His person, fulness, work, love, and salvation. To the throne of grace. Truth tends that way. He that follows the word will call upon God. To the heavenly glory. Truth reveals heaven with all its glory, and shows itself the way.
3. How this Spirit, as a guide, leads in the way of truth. By putting us into the way. By nature we are all out of the way. By keeping us in the way when in. We are prone to wander. Did this Guide leave us we should soon leave the way. By upholding in the way. We are in danger of falling. By bringing us to our journey’s end. “He shall abide with you for ever.” And for what but for this very purpose, “to perfect that which concerneth us?” Give up the soul to this Guide. (The Evangelist.)
The Spirit of Truth
This appellation teaches that He is the soul of truth, the life inside the truth, the sap within the gospel doctrines, keeping them fresh and green. But for the Spirit as a circulating, vitalizing sap within them, they would all shrivel up; the tree of life would wither and die, and its leaves would all drop to the ground. Examine the truths contained in other religions--how withered and dry they look. Examine the same truths in the religion of Christ--they throb with life and are clothed with verdure. (J. C. Jones, D. D.)
The Holy Spirit our Guide
People making the journey from earth to heaven need a guide. This they have in the Holy Spirit.
I. THIS PROMISE WAS MADE TO THE APOSTLES TO QUALIFY THEM FOR THEIR OFFICE. It included
1. The coming of the Spirit at a set time.
2. To guide them into all truth.
3. To show them things to come.
II. THIS PROMISE WAS FULFILLED
1. In the Pentecostal baptism.
2. In their preaching the risen Saviour.
3. In their founding the Christian Church.
4. In their writing the New Testament.
III. THIS PROMISE EXTENDS TO US.
1. In our reading the Bible.
2. In our understanding its truths.
3. In our living a life in conformity therewith.
1. We have the power to accept or to reject the Holy Spirit as our Guide.
2. If we reject Him He will reprove us of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
3. If we accept Him He will dwell in us that we may know the things that are freely given us of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-16). (L. O.Thompson.)
The Spirit guiding into all truth
Truth may be compared to some cave or grotto, with wondrous stalactites hanging from the roof, and others starting from the floor; a cavern glittering with spar and abounding in marvels. Before entering the cavern you inquire for a guide, who comes with his lighted flambeau. He conducts you down to a considerable depth, and you find yourself in the midst of the cave. He leads you through different chambers. Here he points you to a little stream rushing from amid the rocks, and indicates its rise and progress; there he points to some peculiar rock and tells you its name, then takes you into a large natural hall, tells you how many persons once feasted in it, and so on. Truth is a grand series of caverns, it is our glory to have so great and wise a Conductor as the Holy Spirit. Imagine that we are coming to the darkness of it. He is a light shining in the midst of us to guide us. And by the light He shows us wondrous things. He teaches us by suggestion, direction, and illumination. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The progressive revelation of truth by the Spirit
In theology, as in every other department of human knowledge, there is a law of progress. Truths which in one age are almost latent, or recognized simply and insulatedly by faith, on the authority of a positive declaration, are brought out more distinctly by subsequent ages, and ranged in their mutual connection--in their position as parts of the system of truth. Not, however, that this progress is always an advance along the line of truth in theology any more than in other sciences. Man’s path bends aside, winds, twists, seems almost to return up on itself. His orbit has its aphelia as well as its perihelia. When he has made a lodgment in a new field of knowledge, he will set about building a tower, the top of which, he fancies, shall reach to heaven; and generations, it may be, will spend their lives in working at such a tower (e.g., the schoolmen)
, until the Spirit of division and confusion comes down among the workmen. Thus, one system after another has passed away, each, however, leaving behind some contribution greater or less, to the general stock of theological truth. Meanwhile, God’s word stands fast, even as the heavens and the earth. To the words of Scripture we cannot add; nor may we take away from them. But truth is set before us livingly, by examples, by principles, in the germ, not by the enunciation of a formal dogmatic system, according to which the thoughts of men were to be classed and rubricated for ever after; nor can any human scheme or system make out a title to the possession of such an absolute conclusive ultimatum. The right theory of development by no means implies that each later age must necessarily have a fuller and deeper knowledge of Divine things than its predecessors, the very reverse having notoriously been often the case. For the world is ever wrestling to draw man away from the truth, and will often prevail, as Jacob did over the angel; and when faith is at a low ebb, when the visible and material predominate in men’s hearts and minds over the invisible, the ideal, the spiritual theology, must needs dwindle and decay. But when there is a revival of faith, if this revival coincides with, or is succeeded by a period of energetic thought, a deeper or clearer insight will be gained into certain portions of truth, especially appropriate to the circumstances and exigencies of the age, and which have not yet been set forth in their fulness--the true doctrine of the Trinity, e.g., in the fourth century, and that of justification in the sixteenth. (Archdeacon Hare.)
The Holy Ghost the Great Teacher
I. AN ATTAINMENT MENTIONED--knowledge of all truth.
1. Nature itself gives us a strong desire to know all truth. What we call curiosity is something given us of God impelling us to search into the knowledge of natural things; that curiosity, sanctified by the Spirit, is also brought to bear in matters of heavenly science. A true Christian is always searching the Scripture that he may be able to certify himself as to its main and cardinal truths.
2. A knowledge of all truth is very essential for our comfort. Many persons have been distressed half their lives from the fact that they had not clear views of truth. Many souls--e.g., under conviction--abide in sorrow because they have no one to instruct them about justification. Give me the congregation whose faces are bright with joy at the sound of the gospel, then will I believe that it is God’s own words they are receiving.
3. This knowledge will keep us out of danger. No doctrine is so calculated to preserve a man from sin as the doctrine of the grace of God. Those who call it a licentious doctrine know nothing about it. A man cannot have an erroneous belief without by and by having an erroneous life. Keep the head right, and especially keep the heart right with regard to truth, and your feet will not go far astray.
4. This knowledge will make us useful. There will be no character, however perplexing may be its peculiar phase, but we shall be able to speak to it and comfort it. Almost every man whom God has blessed to the building up of the Church in prosperity, has been a man who has held firmly free grace through the finished salvation of Christ. The sturdy truth of God touches every chord in every man’s heart.
II. A DIFFICULTY SUGGESTED. We require a guide. Truth is not so easy to discover. Why this? Because of
1. The intricacy of truth itself. Those who fancy they know everything of course see no difficulties; but the most earnest student of Scripture will find things which puzzle him. Truth is a path so narrow that two can scarce walk together in it; we usually tread the narrow way in single file. If you step an inch aside you are in a dangerous error. On the one hand there is a huge precipice, and on the other a deep morass; and unless you keep to the true line, to the breadth of a hair, you will go astray. Truth is like the veins of metal in a mine, it is often of excessive thinness, and runs not in one continued layer. Lose it once, and you may dig for miles and not discover it again; the eye must watch perpetually the direction of the lode. Grains of truth are like the grains of gold in the rivers of Australia, they must be shaken by the hands of patience, and washed in the stream of honesty, or the fine gold will be mingled with sand.
2. The insidiousness of error. It easily steals upon us, and we are often like men in a fog. We think, surely this is the right path; and the voice of the evil one whispers, “That is the way, walk ye in it.” You do so, and you find that you have been walking in the paths of unrighteousness and error. The way of life is a labyrinth; the grassiest paths and the most bewitching are the farthest away from right. There is not a counterfeit coin in the world so much like a genuine one, as some errors are like the truth.
3. We are so prone to go astray. If grace did not guide a man, he would go astray, though there were hand-posts all the way to heaven.
III. A PERSON PROVIDED.
1. Infallible. If I pin my sleeve to another man’s coat, he may lead me part of the way rightly, but by and by he will go wrong himself, and I shall be led astray with him. But if I give myself to the Holy Ghost and ask His guidance, there is no fear of my wandering.
2. Ever present. When we have no commentator or minister, we have still the Holy Spirit. Whenever you cannot understand a text, pray over it, and if it does not open itself, try again. If prayer does not explain it, it is one of the things God did not intend you to know, and you may be content to be ignorant of it. There is no college for holy education like that of the blessed Spirit, for He is an ever-present tutor.
3. Guides “into” the truth. Now, man can guide us to a truth, but it is only the Holy Spirit who can “guide us into a truth.” There are many of my hearers who are brought to the truth of their depravity; but they are not brought into it, and made to feel it. Some of you are brought to know the truth that God keeps us from day to day; but you rarely get into it, so as to live in continual dependence upon God the Holy Ghost, and draw fresh supplies from Him. The thing is, to get inside it. A Christian should do with truth as a snail does with his shell, live inside it, as well as carry it on his back.
IV. A METHOD SUGGESTED. He guides us into all truth
1. By suggesting it. There are thoughts that dwell in our minds that were not born there, but which were exotics brought from heaven and put there by the Spirit. Have you not at times had unaccountably--in the middle of your business--a thought concerning God and heavenly things, and could not tell whence it came?
2. By direction, not so much putting a boat on the stream as steering it when it is there. Time after time have you commenced a meditation on a certain doctrine and, unaccountably, you were gradually led away into another, and you saw how one doctrine leaned on another, as the stones in the arch all hanging on the keystone of Jesus Christ crucified.
3. By illumination. There is nothing like reading an illuminated Bible. You may read to all eternity, and never learn anything by it, unless it is illuminated by the Spirit; and then the words shine forth like stars.
V. AN EVIDENCE. You may know the Spirit’s influence by
1. Its unity. The Spirit never says one thing at one time and another thing at another. It has been always held as a first principle that truth is one thing. But some persons say, “I find one thing in one part of the Bible, and another thing in another, and though it contradicts itself I must believe it.” All quite right, if it did contradict itself; but the fault is not in the wood but in the carpenter. Many carpenters do not understand dove-tailing; so there are many preachers who do not understand dove-tailing.
2. Its universality. The true child of God will not be led into some truth but into all truth. When first he starts he will not know half the truth, he will believe it but not understand it. Certain doctrines take years to develop themselves. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Heavenly Teacher
I. THE NAME HE BEARS “The Spirit of truth” descriptive of
1. His nature--Spirit. In this different from Christ who was God in human form.
2. His character--true. Implied in His designation--Spirit of truth.
3. His intelligence--involved in the fact that He is the possessor of truth.
4. His Divinity--if the possessor of truth He must be Divine.
II. THE SCHOLARS HE INSTRUCTS. The disciples of Christ.
1. The apostles.
2. Pastors (2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Timothy 1:6; 2Ti_1:14).
3. The universal company of believers--the Spirit dwelling in them (1 Corinthians 3:16), helping their infirmities (Romans 8:26), and leading them into all the truth.
III. THE LESSONS HE IMPARTS. All the truth, not ordinary, scientific or philosophic truth, but truth
1. Heard from the Father, therefore Divine.
2. Relating to Christ, hence specifically Christian.
IV. THE AIM HE PURSUES. The glory of Christ. For this end He exhibits Christ
1. As the possessor of the truth (John 16:14).
2. As the substance of the truth (John 14:6).
3. As the end of the truth--persuading men and enabling them to rest on Christ. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The necessity of the Spirit’s teaching to the right understanding of the Scriptures
I. THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF KNOWLEDGE--of faith, of repentance. Simon Magus believed and remained in the gall of bitterness. Paul believed and became a Christian. In both cases there was a persuasion of the truth. Simon believed when he saw miracles; Paul when Christ was revealed in him. Judas repented when he saw the evil consequences of his treachery; Peter when he saw his conduct in its true character. So there is a simple intellectual knowledge of the truth, and there is a spiritual knowledge and discernment.
II. HOW ARE THESE RELATED? How do they agree and differ? The things known and the act of knowing are the same. But the spiritual excellence of the object is not apprehended in the one case, while it is in the other. This may be illustrated by the case of the discernment of beauty. Now, with regard to the knowledge of the Scriptures, there is no reason why the unrenewed man, without any special aid of the Spirit, should not acquire that knowledge, as well as the knowledge of any similar volume under the same conditions.
1. Assiduous study.
2. In the right method and in the use of the right means.
3. Impartiality and honesty. Now, although this is possible, it is in reference to the Scriptures difficult and rare, because of the opposition of the heart to Bible doctrines, and because the judgments of men are so largely determined by their feelings. Therefore, for the attainment of this intellectual knowledge there is great need of the Spirit’s guidance to produce docility, and to prevent opposition to the truth blinding the mind.
III. FOR SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE THE CASE IS PLAIN. The Scriptures teach
1. The absolute necessity of Divine teaching. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” &c. The Bible abounds in prayers for Divine teaching, and Paul declares all external teaching vain without it.
2. The cause of this ignorance, blindness, and inability to know the things of God arises from two sources.
3. It is a solemn fact, therefore, that those only who are led by the Spirit come to a knowledge of the truth. This is His great office, must be recognized and accepted. Correct speculative knowledge and spiritual knowledge experience teaches do not admit of protracted separation. Orthodoxy will not last long without piety. An unconverted ministry forsakes the truth. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
He shall glorify Me
Christ glorified by the Spirit
This is the crowning and has been the constant work of the Spirit.
He glorified Christ in the prophecies, sacrifices and promises of the ancient economy, in the sinless humanity with which He clothed Him; in the public ministry to which He set Him apart; in the holy life He caused Him to live; in the sufferings He enabled Him to endure; in His glorious resurrection, ascension and triumphs in the day of Pentecost. But the text points beyond these. Our Lord referred to the spiritual illumination which would make men acquainted with Him, so that whereas He had before been treated ignominiously would in future be honoured for ever. The Spirit would lead men to glorify Christ
I. BY THE VIEWS WHICH HE WOULD ENLIGHTEN THEM TO ENTERTAIN OF HIM. This implies that there is in Christ that which no eye can discover until opened by the Spirit of God. This our Lord intimated to Peter--“flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee,” &c. The illumination of the Spirit leads to a saving discovery of the glory of
1. Christ’s Person, into the mystery of Godliness.
2. His work of redemption.
3. His offices, as Prophet, Priest and King.
II. BY THE AFFECTIONS WHICH HE CAUSES HIS PEOPLE TO CHERISH TOWARDS HIM, which are highly honourable to Him.
1. Faith. What an honour to receive the trust of a redeemed world.
Men are honoured by these affections; but we can only exercise them in part because of the defectiveness oft he worthiest objects. It is Christ’s glory to be worthy of them and to receive them completely.
III. BY THE SUPREMACY WHICH HE CLAIMS AND SECURES FOR HIM AMONG ALL THE CREATURES OF GOD. Christ is now supreme
1. Over every heart that is given to Him.
2. Over His own Church.
3. Over the world.
4. Over other worlds.
This supremacy will, under the guidance of the Spirit, be eventually acknowledged.
IV. BY THE LIFE WHICH HE INDUCES HIS PEOPLE TO LIVE FOR HIS SAKE. “Let your light so shine,” &c; “Ye are not your own,” &c. In this life the believer joyfully acquiesces. How honourable to Christ the lives of saintly men!
V. BY THE PRAISES WHICH SHALL COMPASS HIM ABOUT FOR EVER.
1. Of angels.
2. His redeemed.
3. Every creature.
Conclusion: If we would glorify Christ we must
1. Be taught by the Spirit.
2. Be quickened by the Spirit.
3. Be sanctified by the Spirit.
4. Submit to a supremacy which the Spirit claims for Christ.
5. Be “made meet for the inheritance of the saints to light.” (J. Morgan, D. D.)
The glory of Christ in the mission of the Holy Ghost
I. CONTEMPLATE THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT
1. He awakens the attention of the thoughtless and slumbering world to the truth of God.
2. He convinces of sin.
3. He regenerates the soul.
4. He is the Comforter.
II. THE GREAT AND DIVINE AGENT IS THE MESSENGER OF CHRIST.
III. HIS MISSION ILLUSTRATES THE GLORY OF CHRIST.
1. Furnishing additional proof of the great facts which form the substance of Christianity.
2. Giving efficacy to the work already accomplished by Christ’s death and resurrection.
3. Enabling us to form some estimate of the blessings Christ bestows.
4. Giving hope to the world, (G. Spring, D. D.)
The Holy Spirit glorifying Christ
We shall use our text
I. AS A TEST. There are a thousand things that claim to be of the Holy Ghost; how can we know whether they are or not? Here is a simple mode. Apply this test
1. To ministries. Now, there are some ministries which clearly are not of the Holy Ghost, because they
2. To doctrine. Any teaching, whatever authority it may claim, which does not glorify Christ, is most assuredly false. Socinianism must be utterly abhorred of us, for it strikes at once at the Deity of our blessed Lord and Master. If, on the other hand, a doctrine layeth man in the dust and lifteth up Christ as a Saviour, the Alpha and Omega of salvation, you may safely say that is the Holy Ghost’s doctrine, for He shall glorify Christ.
3. To the conviction through which a sinner passes. In the first dawn of our spiritual life, a mighty tempest of spiritual influence sweeps over the heart. The Holy Ghost is active, and the Prince of the Power of the air is active too. How, in this confusion, can a man know what part of his conviction is of God, and what part of the devil? You have a thought in your head that you are too great a sinner to be saved. That is not of the Holy Ghost, clearly, because it detracts from the power of Christ as a Saviour. “I am not fit to come to Christ.” Surely this is not of the Holy Ghost. What, are you to make yourself fit to come to Christ? Why that is making you a Christ “But I heard Mr. So-and-So say, that when he was converted, he seemed to be dragged by the hair of his head to the very depths of hell, lost beyond the reach of mercy.” No doubt that was his experience; but do you want to experience every piece of devilry that a good man has known? Much of what your friend felt was not of God, but of his own corrupt heart. If the Lord brings thee to put thy soul just as it is into the hands of the Redeemer, honouring him by a childlike trust, thou hast an experience infinitely more precious than the ravings of thy proud heart could ever yield thee.
4. To what is called experience. Much of the experience of a Christian is not Christian experience. If any person should mount the platform and inform us that he had been five times tried at the Old Bailey, you would say, “Well, you may have experienced that disgrace, but it is not fair to call it human experience.” So, a Christian man may fall into great darkness, and sin. But if he shall set up his darkness and sin as being Christian experience, we say, “No; you may be a Christian and know all this, but we cannot allow you to decide our spiritual state according to your peculiar method of feeling.” When we get to that which cometh from beneath we ought to say “Oh! wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord.” That only which glorifies Christ is true Christian experience.
5. To ourselves. Art thou saved or not? If saved, the tenor of thy life is to glorify Christ. What sayest thou in looking back? And what about the present and the future?
II. A DIRECTION. How are we to glorify Christ? We must have the Holy Spirit. Let our text, then
1. Be sanctified to our humiliation. Here are we saved, and yet such weak things that we cannot glorify Christ without the Holy Ghost. Thou hast ten talents, but those ten talents shall make thee ten times a worse defaulter to thy Master unless the Holy Ghost help thee.
2. Be an excitement to earnest prayer.
3. Teach us entire dependence upon the Holy Spirit. All the farmers in England cannot make it leave off raining, but when it does leave off, and the sun shines, they can get their wheat in as quick as they can. All the sailors on the ocean cannot make a capful of wind; but when the wind does blow they can crowd on every yard of canvas. So all the Christians in the world cannot make the Holy Spirit work. “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” &c., but when we have the Holy Spirit, we can use Him; when He is with us we can work.
III. A STIMULUS. Does the Holy Ghost glorify Christ? Then
1. How should we aim to do it! You have been in a large way of business. Could you say that your object was to honour Christ in it? You have come down in the world; but suppose you can glorify God more. Then you are in a better position than you used to be.
2. While we make this our aim, let us take every opportunity of glorifying Christ. We throw thousands of opportunities away. Whether ye work at a lapstone, or drive a plough, or lay the stones in a building, or are diligent with the pen, or buy and sell, do all, even to your eating or your drinking, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and so, like the Holy Spirit, let it be said of you, “He shall glorify Me.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Holy Spirit the Revealer of Christ
We are living in the dispensation of the Spirit. What does that mean? It means that we are living on a higher plane than ever has been occupied before. We gather this
1. From a comparison of this dispensation with others that have preceded it. True religion is more widely disseminated in this than it has been in any preceding dispensation.
2. We know that this Dispensation is an advance, because God Himself is advance--progress. He never goes backward.
3. The same fact is clear from the structure of Scripture.
4. The whole historic development of man, looked at in the line of the plan of redemption, is clearly enough in this upward direction. The work of God is from matter toward spirit. The child leaves his playthings behind, and comes to despise them. The college student turns his back on the pleasures and games of his boyhood. The professional man has forgotten the rivalries of college life--as narrow as its walls; and the mellowed and matured philosopher “lives already amid the peace and the power of invisible scenes,” and draws from above and beyond him the springs of incentive and action. The same principle holds throughout nature. Time and again our attention is drawn to the fact that there is an invisible world, and that that invisible world bears down upon and overpowers the visible. That thought and feeling and volition are stronger than substance and quality and force, and that from within what is unseen and supersensible and supernatural flow the “upper springs” of all inferior energy and action.
5. But we are not left to gather up an inference from observation, nor speculation, nor from logic. “Our Saviour Himself now assures us, that if we believe in Him we shall do greater works than even those which He performed on earth, and that we shall do them precisely because He goes to the Father.”
I. THE ONE ESSENTIAL TO SALVATION IS THE REVELATION OF CHRIST. How essential this is may be gathered from reason, from conscience, and from the light of the Scriptures.
1. From reason. Nowhere, outside the radius of Christianity, is there either holiness or peace. Look at Africa. Look at China. He who knows anything of the history of moral light knows that it has followed, as its centre, the planting of the cross of Christ--that just as races have receded from the light of God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ, so they have sunken to a brutish level, and have died in the distractions of an utter unrest.
2. Conscience affirms the same truth. Conscience, in every man, says: “You are guilty! You are a sinner! God is holy. He cannot acquit!” Conscience, whatever modern thought may say, cries--“Eternal Justice is Eternal Fact, and God is just; and How can justice clear the guilty?” and to this cry of conscience is no answer but in Christ and in the sacrifice” of Christ.
3. And these deductions of our reason and our conscience are confirmed by Scripture. Now the Bible affirms. It comes straight out and says: “Apart from the knowledge of Christ there is no salvation.”
II. THE HOLY GHOST IS THE ONLY REVEALER OF CHRIST. He alone makes Christ glorious. The Holy Ghost has given us all the knowledge that we have of Jesus Christ. Where do we get that knowledge? How do we know that there is such a thing as a Saviour? From the Bible. Outside the covers of this Book there is not a hint of a Christ. And whence came the Bible? It was inspired. Who inspired it? God, the Holy Ghost. Not only so, but, with the Bible in our hands, how can we know anything of Christ, save as the Spirit reveals Him? Miracle never changed any man. Appearances--like that of the angels to Abraham. Abraham saw Christ’s day. How did he see it? By illumination--by the Holy Ghost. Moses recognized God at Horeb. How? By the fire? No, but by God speaking out of the midst of the bush. Ezekiel was transformed at Chebar. How? By the wheels? No, but “the Spirit,” he says, “entered in me.” Israel was to be revived under Elijah. How? By the wind? By the earthquake? By the fire? By any sensible or ocular demonstration? No; but by the still small voice. That was the lesson taught to the prophet. The same fact comes out in the New Testament. How many saw Christ--touched Christ--said they believed on Christ in the flesh, who never went beyond impressions of their outward senses. What makes a Christian is the spiritual apprehension of Christ, and the Holy Ghost alone can reveal Him. Take the Levitical sacrifices how without these could we explain the Atonement? Yet only a few who read them under the Old Dispensation saw Christ in these Scriptures, and why? Because they needed more than the most perfect description. They needed light on the light. They needed, like David, to have their eyes opened to see wondrous things out of God’s law. The same thing is true of the New Testament. The Holy Ghost reveals Christ. He glorifies Christ. Notice: He does not create Christ; He shows Him. When we were sailing in the Grecian Archipelago we came, at dawn of day, to the Island of Rhodes. At first we saw only a grey indistinctness--the shapeless outline of vast rocks rising out of the water. Then as the sun came up, how glorious! There lay the harbour once bestridden by the famous Colossus, the sapphire ripplings of the water touched with rose and gold--the ships, the flappings of their sails stirred lightly by the morning breeze. There stretched away the green fields and the mountains round which poetry had thrown her charm; midway in the perspective rose the ancient castellated ramparts of the fortress of the Knights of St. John, all flashing, glowing, burning, touched and “transfigured by the ministry of light.” “That which doth make manifest is light.” The Holy Ghost is the only revealer of Jesus. And the Holy Ghost glorifies Christ or reveals Him in His true glory now, as He could not possibly do were Christ present. The apostles loved Christ too much, as the carnal loves the carnal. That is the error of Rome, with her crucifixes, her Mass, and her sensuous ecstasies. Read the memoirs of Santa Teresa and of St. John of the Cross, and you will find the love they express for the Saviour is sensuous--carnal There is something lurid about it. You are afraid of it. It was necessary that that sort of thing should be broken--that there should come an experience, which, permit me to say it, should emancipate Christ--should burst the tomb and the grave-clothes, and set Him Infinite, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Heavenly--working above, as ever in, and through His Church--an experience like that of St. Paul when he says: “Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.” We only know Him as the Spirit reveals Him. You have known a man by his clothes--by his face--now you come to know him by his character. Something reveals him in his abilities, in his integrity, in his truth, as your friend. The Holy Ghost reveals Christ. But let us come closer; the ulterior and special object of the Spirit’s revelation is God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
III. “He shall glorify” “MAKE ME GLORIOUS.” St. Paul expands our Saviour’s statement in these words: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The world without Christ, or Christ in twilight--beneath the dawn-line of the Old Testament--beneath the histories, and types, and prophecies--beneath the horizon of an Arctic winter, and then, and all at once, and for ever, the Sun of Righteousness is visible perfection of His glory--the Mystery of Godliness--the Day-spring from on high! The statement of this point involves, of course, three. That there is such a thing as the knowledge of the glory of God--that this knowledge is unfolded in the face of Jesus Christ, and that it comes by a Divine in-shining.
1. The knowledge of the glory of God. If God be God, He is glorious, for glory is manifested excellence, and God is most excellent, and cannot be hid. The glory of God is not only His greatness, but the equipoise of His character. Satan is great, i.e., in faculties, but he is in no wise glorious, but infamous, because of the defect of his character. God’s glory is the equipoise of His attributes. With Him nowhere is there too much--nowhere a deficit. It is important to put emphasis upon the fact before us, because the effort of to-day is to destroy the balance of the attributes of God--to posit in that justice, for example--and in measurement and in adjustment everything comes back to the straight line--that justice in God is a merely optional attribute. “How can God,” says one of our modem neologians, “how can God be free if He be the slave of His own justice?” As well ask, “How can I be free if I cannot rid myself of my backbone? I am the slave, then, of my backbone. But how can I be a man and have no backbone?” For God to be free from His justice would be for Him to be free from Himself as moral, and therefore immoral; for justice is simply looking on things as they are, and treating them accordingly, and to deny this is to deny rectitude, and to deny rectitude is to deny God and make Him immoral. Justice optional! What should we think of a man to whom it were optional to be just, or to be unjust? The moral grandeur of God is His balance, His poise, that He rights Himself. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
2. The glory of God then, as it stands revealed in vast concentric haloes, circles upon circles of immeasurable excellence, is at its brightest spot--its centre--and when focalized and gathered to one burning-point, nothing more, nothing less than conciliation of justice and grace. “How can God be just and justify the guilty?” lies at the root of the gospel. The answer to that question is the gospel, and Christ on the cross is its sum. Christ on the cross, not Christ in pre-existence, transcending thought as is the mystery of everlasting generation. Not Christ again in all the grand kaleidoscopic aspects of His ministry, as miracles spring up beneath His footsteps like fresh flowers. Not Christ in any, nor in all, these revelations, glorious as they are, but still subordinate, but Christ upon the tree. It was there seen that God could not swerve--that sin must be punished. What is the upshot of this? The upshot is that from the instant you and I look away to Christ as our Substitute, we are eternally saved. Is not that glorious? Bursts there not a glory from that torn flesh which hangs and writhes upon those ragged nails, which challenges all suns to rival it in splendour? Is not here God’s glory focalized, as it swings low and kisses even your and my horizon? When we were at the North Cape, at midnight, a French gentleman took out a sun-glass and burned a hole in his hat with it. Low as the sun was, he was still clothed with all his burning power. So it was with our Saviour on the cross. “For though He was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth.”
3. This glory hath in-shined--that is the third point. It hath shined not historically--not in the face of a physical Christ, although these, of course, are included; but through the veil of the heart. Christ’s glory to mere worldly men is a veiled glory; “the veil” says the Apostle, “is upon their heart.” That veil has been rent--not from our side--from God’s side. God hath “shined in”--not into the world only, that is not enough--could not be, for “the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” Into believing hearts God hath shined. It is not simply knowledge, but it is the light of the knowledge. It is not Church instruction, but heart-work--interior regeneration. “When it pleased God,” says Paul, “to reveal His Son within me, immediately I took no conference flesh and blood.”
How then do we see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?
1. One way, by faith. Faith is the great opened eye of the soul.
2. Another way the light shines in us is by the witness of the Spirit. What is that witness if not a supernatural spiritual emphasis put on the assurances and promises of God, which makes them true to us without a question?
3. A third way light shines in is by consciousness. Consciousness of breathing goes with breathing. Consciousness of walking goes with walking. Consciousness of life and vigour goes with power. A man full of the Holy Ghost knows what he is full of, and that he is not empty. He knows that his light is not darkness--that his joy is not despair, and that his power is something other and more than physical elation or physical energy. “Can He not, through some interior eye which we know not, and for which we have no name, pour into us the radiance of His own infinite glory, though He be the King invisible, whom no man has seen, nor can see?” Can He not manifest Himself to the eye of interior consciousness with a distinctness of spiritual presence as satisfying as that which His bodily form gave to the external vision of His disciples? This revelation of Christ--fresh revelation I mean, satisfying our souls, filling, flooding--enlarging us with the light, and the love, and the joy, and the strength of the Lord is what we need. (G. S. Bishop, D. D.)
The promise of the Spirit--the fulness of Christ
“He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine,” &c., might be liable to misconstruction, and indicate that Christ would have Himself to be glorified, apart from the Father, and His own fulness drawn upon independently. As if to obviate this, Christ hastens to account for His having said it. “It is of the Father’s after all that He takes, when He takes of Mine. It is the Father whom He glorifies when He glorifies Me.” But the Lord had undoubtedly another reason. It is for their sakes, rather than His own, that He announces this truth, “I would not have said that were it not that all things which the Father hath are Mine; for otherwise it would have been poor consolation to you.” We are therefore naturally led, first, to consider what Christ has before examining the promise concerning what the Holy Ghost is to do.
The Lord might say, “All things that the Father hath are Mine,” in respect of
I. HIS ORIGINAL GODHEAD and but for this He could not, without blasphemy, have said it. This the Jews well understood, when, for similar language, “they took up stones to stone Him,” and when they cried out at His trial, “He hath spoken blasphemy.” For it is impossible to explain away this claim of a right of property in all that is the Father’s, or to justify it if made by a creature. Often, during the days of His flesh, do we find Him dwelling with a holy and blessed complacency on thoughts connected with His being “in the bosom of the Father.”
II. HIS SUFFERING MANHOOD. It is this consideration, indeed, which makes the statement practically important in its application to us, viz., as being in our nature. Such is the glory of His person, as combining the Divine nature with the human; and such the value of His work that whatsoever is comprehended in the fulness of the Godhead is centred in “the Man Christ Jesus,” considered as obedient to the Father, “even unto death.” And as the recompense of that work, He receives, in His human nature, an interest in all that the Father hath. Hence the blessedness of His assurance, that “as the Son of Man He has power on earth to forgive sins.” Hence also the value of that deed of grant, by which, “as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself, that the Son also may quicken whom He will.” And hence the importance of the Father’s surrender, as it were, of the right of rule or judgment into the hands of the Son, for this very reason, that “He is the Son of Man.” These are among the things which the Father has, and these He has given to the Son. Now, in respect of His original Godhead, these things cannot be said to be given to Him. They belong to Him by necessity of nature. But as the Son of Man He receives this threefold prerogative as the gift of the Father.
III. HIS HEADSHIP OF THE CHURCH. In one sense, it is true, even as regards the wicked, that all things which the Father hath, He hath given unto the Son. The impenitent and unbelieving are consigned to His disposal; and on Him it devolves to award and inflict eternal judgment. But it is His own people that Christ has chiefly in His eye here.
1. They themselves belong to the Father. “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me.” “All that the Father giveth Me, shall come unto thee.” All that the Father has are dear to Him as belonging to the Father, and as the gift of the Father, pledged to Him in the everlasting covenant, and bestowed in recompense of His making His soul an offering for sin.
2. And taking this people as His own, uniting Himself to them, identifying Himself with them, He says “All things that the Father hath are Mine,” for them, as “His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” For them, “when He ascended up on high, He received gifts.” He has righteousness for them so that in Him the righteous God is well pleased. He has life with the Father, so that “they may live also.” He has the everlasting love of the Father. So that “the love wherewith the Father hath loved Him may be in them.” He has glory that they may “behold the glory which He had with the Father before the world was.” Conclusion: The Father entrusts His all to Christ, and so surely we might venture to entrust our all to Him. The Father’s glory is safe in His keeping; the Father’s riches of wisdom and grace and love are well and wisely expended by Him. Is it to such a Saviour that you, oh sinner, will hesitate about committing your soul? If He can take charge of all that is the Father’s as His own, may He not take charge of all that is yours? (J. S. Candlish, D. D.)
The promise of the Spirit--taking and showing what is Christ’s
In the words, “He shall receive of Mine,” &c., the Spirit stands in a twofold relation and discharges a twofold function--towards Christ on the one hand, and toward His believing people on the other.
I. HE SHALL TAKE OR RECEIVE OF MINE.
1. He is well entitled to take of what is Christ’s, because He is Himself a Divine person. The manner in which the Holy Ghost is here associated with the Father and the Son clearly shows that tie is such. In truth, for any other than a Divine Person to take part in this transaction were a liberty not to be tolerated. But the Holy Ghost, being Himself God, is a party to the whole arrangement by which all things that the Father hath become Christ’s: nay, more, He is a party to the carrying of that arrangement into effect. For consider how large a share the Holy Ghost had in the whole of that mediatorial work of Christ, which is the main ground of His saying, “All things that the Father hath are Mine.” His very coming into the world was by the Holy Ghost, by whom a body was prepared for Him. He was “anointed by the Holy Ghost without measure,” for the doing of His Father’s will. “Through the eternal Spirit He offered Himself, without spot, to God;” and He was “declared to be the Son of God with power, by His resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness.” In all the critical circumstances of His arduous undertaking, in His birth, His baptism, &c., the Holy Ghost stood by Him sustaining His human soul, and conveying to it the Father’s love.
2. Nor is He less qualified and able, than He is entitled, to receive of what is Christ’s. For, having been with the Father and the Son in the ordering of the plan from all eternity, and having been with Christ all along in the accomplishment of it, “He searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God:” and in dealing with what is Christ’s, He is in His element, so to speak, and at home (John 16:13). He can make us know “the things which are freely given to us of God;” past, present, and future; “opening our eyes to behold wondrous things out of God’s law.”
3. He is One whom Christ is, altogether willing to have taking of His. It is not a stranger who disposes of another’s property, or builds on another’s foundation. It is no rash or rude hand, indifferent to His interest or honour, that rifles His treasury and steals from His unsearchable riches. “He shall glorify Me,” says Christ Himself. He is of My council, and His sole aim is to carry out My work and to exalt My name.
II. WHAT THE SPIRIT THUS TAKES OR RECEIVES OF CHRIST’S, HE SHOWS TO HIS PEOPLE.
1. What kind of showing is it that we need? How is it that what the Spirit takes of Christ’s must be revealed? Will it suffice to set before our eyes what is to be shown? Alas! the experience of the Lord’s actual sojourn here below gives but a sad reply. Nor is the case altered now. In the written Word, in the preaching of the gospel, in all the means and ordinances by which Christ and His salvation are brought before the minds of men and pressed upon their regard, the Holy Ghost is “taking of what is Christ’s and showing it,” and every time you open the Bible, or wait on the preaching of Christ crucified, if you continue unaffected and unmoved, you are resisting the Spirit. But there must be a showing of another kind; a work of discovery within, an opening of the eye of the carnal mind; a dispelling of the darkness of the evil heart, that “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” may shine. Now for this kind of showing, the Holy Ghost is the fitting agent. For being pure Spirit, He has access immediately to your spirits: and being almighty, He turns them whithersoever He will.
2. Mark the progress of the Spirit’s work, in showing you what He takes of Christ’s.
3. Observe as an encouragement how this whole work of the Spirit is carried on, not against, but by means of our natural faculties of understanding and conscience. If He shows you must look. It is in the Word that Christ is set forth. Let the Word of Christ then dwell in you richly. Then will the Spirit be ever showing you out of the word by His inward teaching, more and more of what is Christ’s and opening your eyes more and more to “behold wondrous things out of His law.” And this the rather because
4. The work is according to the mind of Christ. He is the Spirit of Christ--the Spirit that dwelt in Him. And if the very Spirit that dwelt in Christ, and was intimately cognisant of all that passed through His soul in all His life of sorrows, and His death of shame, and His resurrection to glory, dwell in you; have you not here a connecting link which will give you a quick understanding and discernment of all that is Christ’s, and cause you to realize it as your own?
1. The doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity is brought out in this, as it generally is in other passages of the Word, not abstractly and in the way of a naked statement of the truth, but practically, and with reference to what they severally do in the economy of grace.
2. The manner of intercourse between heaven and earth is here presented. The chain is formed--fixed on the throne of God at one end, twined round your heart at the other--waiting but the touch of the heavenly fire, the swift and secret influence of the Heavenly Spirit, to make it all instinct with life and meaning, so that signs and tokens may pass between. The ladder is set--reaching from the sanctuary above to the sanctuary of every church, home, and closet. And not angels only are ascending and descending on this ladder, which is none other than the mediation of the Son of Man--but the Lord Himself--the Spirit-As moving to and fro, communicating the fulness of the Father, through the Son. (J. S.Candlish, D. D.)
The Holy Spirit revealing the things of Christ
As the page may bear upon its surface writings traced in viewless ink, which are there, and yet are aa if they were not, until the nearness of the fire shall call them out into a new distinctness, so may all truth be written on the mind of man, and yet be dead and meaningless, until called into power and being by the falling on it of these rays of the heavenly fire; and then every word of Scripture, every voice of God in His Church, every sacrament, comes forth into shape and completeness, as Christ is seen by the soul to be there. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
All things that the Father hath are Mine
The fulness that is in Christ
CHRIST HAS A LEGAL RIGHT TO THE PROPERTY OF THE FATHER. Because He has
1. A natural right to it, as He is God.
2. A federal right as Mediator, i.e., God the Father and God the Son are represented in Scripture as having agreed together in a covenant respecting the salvation of the human race. It was in this agreement that God the Father made over all the blessings that He had unto Jesus Christ.
3. A donative right as Saviour (John 3:35).
4. An acquisitive right as Conqueror. Suppose two individuals are combating for some property or privilege, and this is to belong to the individual who comes off victorious; you say of him afterwards, “he has acquired that.” Just so Christ came into the world to contend with sin and Satan for us, and He came off victorious.
5. A hereditary right as God’s Son and Heir (Hebrews 1:2.)
II. SOME OF THOSE “ALL THINGS” WHICH JESUS CHRIST IS SAID TO HAVE.
1. All the perfections of God. If, as is said, in 1 Corinthians 1:24, He is the power of God and the wisdom of God, then all the rest must be His.
2. The glory of the Father (Hebrews 1:3).
3. All the fulness of the Father (Colossians 1:19; Col_2:19).
III. IN WHAT SENSE ARE ALL THINGS CHRIST’S?
1. Substantially, not figuratively or nominally, but really.
2. Communicatively. Some persons may possess great and inestimable treasures, but they may not have the power of communicating them. But Christ possesses “all things” for the express purpose of communicating John 1:16). He has pardon for our sins, and we have received it;He has justification for our souls, and He has imputed it, &c.
3. Sufficiently (Psalms 107:9).
4. Efficiently. It shall be really applied to the heart, and go to the extent which necessity requires. There may be many things that may be said to be sufficient and yet not efficient. Some of us may have enough for ourselves and others, but it is not efficient unless they partake of it.
6. Eternally. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.”
IV. FOR WHAT REASON IT IS SO ARRANGED THAT THE FATHER’S PROPERTY IS CHRIST’S.
1. The right and the property of no party is lost. The Father has the same property as the Son, and the Son has the same property as the Spirit.
2. Herein is seen the pleasure of the Father, the pleasure of the Son, and the pleasure of the Holy Spirit.
3. Here is God’s honour in choosing His people; Christ’s honour in redeeming them, and the Spirit’s honour in regenerating them. (T. B. Baker, M. A.)
The joint proprietorship of the Father and the children
I once heard a father tell, that when he removed his family to a new residence, where the accommodation was much more ample, and the substance much more rich and varied, his youngest son, yet a lisping infant, ran round every room, and scanned every article with ecstasy, calling out, in childish wonder at every new sight, “Is this ours, father? and is this ours?” The child did not say “yours,” and I observed that the father while he told the story was not offended with the freedom. You could read in his glistening eye that the infant’s confidence in appropriating as his own all that his father had, was an important element in his satisfaction. Such, I suppose, will be the surprise, and joy, and appropriating confidence, with which the child of our Father’s family will count all his own, when he is removed from the comparatively mean condition of things present, and enters the infinite of things to come. When the glories of heaven burst upon his view, he does not stand at a distance, like a stranger, saying, “O God, these are Thine.” He bounds forward to touch and taste every provision which those blessed mansions contain, exclaiming, as he looks in the Father’s face, “Father, this and this is ours.” The dear child is glad of all the Father’s riches, and the Father is gladder of His dear child. (W. Arnot.)
The revealing work of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is given for the purpose of restoring to spiritual truth its natural and reasonable efficiency. It is as though we had our eyes fixed on a book in the deep gloom of twilight. We believe that the page reveals truth, we know the language in which it is written; but the light is so imperfect, that, though here and there we can distinguish a capital letter, and now and then decipher a word, yet we are unable to make out distinctly a single sentence. But let light now fall upon the page, and every word and every letter is instantly revealed, the thought of the writer beams upon our understanding, and the channel of communication between His mind and ours is, for the time, fully established. Very similar to this is the case before us. We read and we hear about God, the Judge of all, and Christ, the Redeemer of men, about sin and repentance, heaven and hell, the wages of guilt and the reward of holiness, and we care so little about them that the words hardly awaken a thought, or leave a trace upon our recollection. But let now the Holy Spirit show these things of Christ unto us, and they are at once invested with the terrors or the joys of a most solemn reality. (F. Wayland, D. D.)
A little while and ye shall not see Me
Christ visible to loving hearts
This was a strange saying, and a stranger reason.
How should His going away be the pledge of their seeing Him again? There have already been three manifestations of our Lord, and there shall be yet a fourth--the three first ascending to the last, which shall be full, perfect, eternal. First, He has been seen by the eye, when He came in our manhood (1 Timothy 3:16; John 1:14). But this is not the manifestation promised here. That was but local, partial, transitory; this is something larger and more abiding. Again, He has also manifested Him-self to the ear. Who has not heard of Him, young and old, high and low, wise and simple? But neither is this the promised manifestation; for this, too, is an exterior revelation, made to all alike, to the good and to the evil, to those that love Him and to those that love Him not. What He here promises is something special and interior, deeper and more intimate, the peculiar gift of those who “keep His commandments.” It is a manifestation, not to the eye or to the ear, but to a sense above both hearing and sight; a spiritual sense, comprehending all powers of perception, to which all other senses are but avenues (John 14:21). And this, “because I go to the Father.” When I am ascended I will return with a presence, not local, but in and above all place; not transient, but abiding; not visible to the eye, but to the heart, by a power of spiritual intuition. Let us take an example. What does the sight of any one, as, for instance, of a friend, bestow upon us? What are its effects?
1. The first effect it produces in us is a sense of his presence. We know what his coming and going awakens. It may be we were waiting for his arrival, full of other thoughts, busy or weary, or musing, or all but forgeful. When he came we were wakened up in every pulse. Our hearts go forth to meet him.
2. Another effect wrought by the sight of a friend is a perception of his character. When Christ shows Himself by the illumination of the heart, then all we have read turns into reality. The holy Gospels rise up into a living person; they live and breath before us. Then we understand and perceive, by a spiritual appreciation, His sanctity and pureness, His lowliness and patience, His meekness and tenderness, His love and sympathy. We “taste that the Lord is gracious.” Now this is a spiritual perception which only spiritual communion can bestow. And by this communion, in a way transcending the senses of our earthly nature, He manifests His character to those who love Him. This spiritual perception of His character by love is the beginning of His likeness in us. Love likens us to each other, and above all to Him.
3. Take one more effect of sight--a consciousness of the love of a friend for us. There is something in his eye, look, and bearing, which is expressive above all words, and emphatic above all speech. When God was made Man, He put on human affections and human sympathies. He loved according to the love of kinsman and of friends. Particular affections, we know, are consistent with perfect love. The very name of “the beloved disciple” is witness enough. Out of His followers He even loves with especial love the children of the beatitudes. He loves, with a distinguishing love of friendship, those who are most like Himself. “I will love Him.” There is a love with which, as God, He loved all mankind eternally; and another deeper love, with which He loved all whom He foreknew would love Him again. But there is a deeper mystery still. The Word was made flesh, and, as Man, comes down in this world of time; He sees, one by one, those whom He foreknew made perfect in actual obedience. As, one by one, they love Him, He loves them, and shows Himself to them. (Archdeacon Manning.)
Our Lord’s two little whiles
I. THE LITTLE WHILES.
1. The little while of vision. Negatively described; rather as an anticipation of non-vision. The words of one conscious of impending death, and the quick completion of aims; but also confident of final triumph.
2. This little while of darkness.
II. WHAT THEY PREPARED FOR. They are evidently related and seem to divide the entire future of Christianity in this world. They led up therefore
1. To a grander conception of Christ and His work. To many He might be lost to view; but to them He was to be as a fixed star, nay, the Sun of a new and eternal day.
2. To a spiritual vision. As they were to look through His words and works His whole manifestation,whilst He was with them, in order to perceive its inner Divine meaning; so, when He disappeared from view, they were still to contemplate Him by faith (John 15:18-19). Have we seen the spiritual Christ? It is He alone that is risen, that liveth evermore, and worketh mightily in them that believe. (St. John A. Frere, M. A.)
Heaven almost in sight
One should go to sleep at night as homesick passengers do, saying, “Perhaps in the morning we shall see the shore.” To us who are Christians, it is not a solemn, but a delightful thought, that perhaps nothing but the opaque, bodily eye prevents us from beholding the gate which is open just before us, and nothing but the dull ear prevents us from hearing the ringing of those bells of joy which welcome us to the heavenly land. That we are so near death is too good to be believed. (H. W.Beecher.)
What is this that He saith
Christ’s going and coming
I. THE DEEP TEACHING OF OUR LORD ABOUT THE TIMES OF DISAPPEARANCE AND OF SIGHT. The words are plain enough; the difficulty lies in the determination of the periods. It is quite clear that the first of the “little whiles” is the few hours that intervened between His speaking and the Cross, and that His death and burial began the period during which they were not to see Him. But where does the second period begin, during which they are to see Him? Is it at His resurrection or at His ascension, when the process of going “to the Father” was complete; or at Pentecost, when the Spirit, by whom He was to be made visible, was poured out. The answer is, perhaps, not to be restricted to any one of these periods; but I think if we consider that all disciples have a portion in all these great discourses, and the absence of any hint that the promised seeing of Christ was ever to terminate, and the diversity of words under which the two manners of vision are described, and, above all, the close connection of these words with those which precede, we shall come to the conclusion that the full realization of this great promise did not begin until that time when the Spirit opened the eyes of His servants, and they saw His glory. But, however we settle the minor question of chronology, the thing that we want to fasten upon for ourselves is this.
1. We all, if we will, may have a vision of Christ as close, as real, as if He stood there, visible to our senses. That is personal Christianity. Oh! how that conviction would
2. And how are we to get it? Remember the connection. It is because there is a Divine Spirit to show men the things that are Christ’s, that therefore, unseen, He is visible to the eye of faith. But besides this there are conditions of discipline which must be fulfilled. If you want to see Jesus Christ
II. THE BEWILDERED DISCIPLES. We find in the early portion of these discourses that twice they ventured to interrupt our Lord with more or less relevant questions, but as the wonderful words flowed on, they seem to have been awed into silence; and our Lord Himself almost conplains of them that “None of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou.” The inexhaustible truths that He had spoken seem to have gone clear over their heads, but the verbal repetition of the “little whiles” and the recurring ring of the sentence seems to have struck upon their ears. The Revised Version is probably correct in omitting the clause in our Lord’s words, “Because I go to the Father.” The disciples seem to have quoted from the clause, “Because I go to My Father and ye see Me no more.” The contradiction seems to strike them. These disciples in their bewilderment represent some very common faults which we all commit in our dealing with the Lord’s words. Note
1. How they pass by the greatest truths in order to fasten upon a smaller outstanding difficulty. They have no questions to ask about the gifts of the Spirit, the unity of Christ and His disciples, the love that lays down its life for its friends. But when He comes into the region of chronology, they are all agog to know the “when” about which He is so enigmatically speaking. Now is not that exactly like us, and does not the Christianity of this day want the hint to pay most attention to the greatest truths, and let the little difficulties fall into their subordinate place? The truth that Christ is the Son of God, who has died for our salvation--that is the heart of the gospel. And why should we make our faith in that, and our living by it contingent on the clearing up of certain external and secondary questions? And why should men be so occupied in jangling about the latter as that the towering supremacy of the former should be lost sight of. What would you think of a man in a fire who, when they brought the fire-escape to him, said, “I decline to trust myself to it until you first of all explain to me the principles of its construction; and, secondly, tell me all about who made it; ands thirdly, inform me where all the materials of which it is made came from.”
2. How they fling up the attempt to apprehend the obscurity in a very swift despair. “We cannot tell what He saith.” And we are not going to try any more. It is all cloudland and chaos altogether. Intellectual indolence, spiritual carelessness, deal so with outstanding difficulties. Although there are no gratuitous obscurities in Christ’s teaching, He said a great many things which could not possibly be understood at the time, in order that the disciples might stretch up towards what was above them, and, by stretching up, might grow. I do not think it is a good thing to break the children’s bread too small. A wise teacher will now and then blend with the utmost simplicity something that is just a little in advance of the capacity of the listener, and so encourage a little hand to stretch itself out, and the arm to grow because it is stretched. Truth is sometimes hidden in a well in order that we may have the blessing of the search, and that the truth found after the search may be more precious. The tropics with their easy luxuriant growth grow languid men, and our less smiling latitude grows strenuous ones.
3. How they have no patience to wait for time and growth to solve the difficulty. They want to know all about it now, or not at all. If they had waited for six weeks Pentecost would, as it did, explain it all. We, too, are often in a hurry. There is nothing that the ordinary mind, and often the educated mind, detests so much as uncertainty and being baffled. And in order to escape that uneasiness men are dogmatical when they should be doubtful, and positive when it would be a great deal more for the health of their souls and their listeners to say, “Well, really I do not know, and I am content to wait.” For our own difficulties, and for the difficulties of the world, there is nothing like time and patience. The mysteries that used to plague us when we were boys melted away when we grew up. And many questions which trouble me to-day, if I lay them aside, and go about my ordinary duties, and back to them to-morrow with a fresh eye and an unwearied brain, will have straightened themselves out and become clear.
So for our own sorrows, questions, pains, griefs, and for all the riddle of this painful world.
III. THE PATIENT TEACHER (John 16:19).
1. He knows all our perplexities. He had not a word of rebuke for the slowness of their apprehension. He never rebukes us either for our stupidity or for our carelessness, but has long patience with us. Yet He does give them a kind of a rebuke. “Do ye inquire among yourselves?” Inquiry “among yourselves” is folly; to ask Him is wisdom. We can do much for one another, but the deepest riddles and mysteries can only be wisely dealt with in one way. Tell Him about them.
2. Christ does not explain to the disciples the precise point that troubled them. Olivet and Pentecost were to do that; but He gives them what will tide them over the time. And so with us there is a great deal that must remain mysterious. But if we will speak plainly to Him, He will send us triumphant hope and large confidence of a coming joy that will float us over the bar and make us feel that the burden is no longer painful to carry. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The relation of Christ to the intellectual perplexities of His disciples
I. HE FREQUENTLY OCCASIONS THEM. He did so here, and He did so elsewhere, by His symbolical and enigmatical language. We see good reasons for this. It would serve
1. To impress them with their ignorance the first step to knowledge.
2. To stimulate their thoughts. It would break the monotony of their minds, and urge them to inquiry. Difficulties are essential to educational work. A school-book mastered becomes obsolete.
II. HE IS ALWAYS ACQUAINTED WITH THEM (John 16:19). No other teacher had such a thorough acquaintance with the unspoken thoughts which coursed through the minds of His hearers. This fact
1. Should encourage us to search the Scriptures. Our difficulties in understanding ancient authors are not known to them, nor have they the power to help us. But Christ is ready, if we ask Him to yield a satisfactory solution when we study the problems of His Word,
2. Urge us to cultivate sincerity in our thoughts. For us to profess to know things of which we am ignorant, to believe in things of which we are sceptical, is to insult His omniscience. Our prayer should be: “Teach me, O God, and know my heart,” &c.
III. HE WILL FURNISH A SATISFACTORY SOLUTION OF THEM IF DESIRED. Because desirous, He gives the disciples the explanation of John 16:20-24; viz
1. That His departure would involve them in great sorrow, whilst the world would be rejoicing.
2. That His return will change their sorrow into high joy. That joy
Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask Him
Christ’s knowledge of our thoughts
CHRIST PERFECTLY KNOWS OUR THOUGHTS. He knew, and knows, “what is in man.”
1. All the evil thoughts of His adversaries. When He forgave the man sick of the palsy He heard the whisper “within themselves, this man blasphemeth.” Beneath every specious pretext and subtle question He detected the hatred that was aiming at His destruction. Was He not the express image of the Father who is kind to the unthankful and the evil. Well may Paul ask, “Despisest thou the riches of His goodness,” &c.
2. He knew all the sorrowful thoughts of sinners about themselves. No one but Jesus knew that the paralytic was more troubled about sin than about sickness. So when the sinful woman fell at His feet, His eye scanned her past history. Hence we may encourage those who have much more consciousness of guilt than they can express, to believe that He knows the worst of them.
3. He knew the half-formed purposes of His disciples. He foresaw that Judas would betray Him, that Peter would deny Him, before either supposed that He would do so. He knew the secret strivings of the brethren as to which should be greatest. But He bore with their imperfections, talked with them as familiarly, and trusted them as completely, as if they could never be disloyal. If we knew all the secret thoughts of our professed friends, and foresaw how they would fail us, how far our feeling would be from Christ’s.
II. THAT CHRIST LOVINGLY SYMPATHIZES WITH OUR QUESTIONINGS. The disciples were entertaining a question they hesitated to ask; but He expressed it for them, and met it not with rebuke, but with teaching. They might have known that He would do this, for when they asked Him, “Why could we not cast him out?” or “Lord, declare unto us this parable,” He had always met their difficulties. Nor was it otherwise during His resurrection life. He “reasoned” with the two going to Emmaus, and gave evidence to Thomas. His own knowledge was absolute, but He recognized that finite minds could only “know in part,” and was satisfied if they were humble and loyal. How unjustifiable, then, for us, with our fallibility, to judge those who do not exactly see with us. This has had disastrous effects on thoughtful inquirers. There are still Thomas’s as well as John’s in the world--and how many of the former may be brought to say “My Lord and my God” by Christly treatment?
III. THAT CHRIST WISELY ORDAINS THE INCOMPLETENESS OF OUR PRESENT KNOWLEDGE. He did not answer the question of the disciples so completely as to clear up all their difficulties. They were left to the twilight till the dawn of the resurrection morning. On all sides now we hear cries for certainty which positivism has harmonized into a song. But these demands are the outcome of the impatience which will not wait, of the self-confidence which would make us gods. “We have but faith, we cannot know. For knowledge is of things we see,” &c. It is well for us this is so. We have a more heroic temper when we have “fought our doubts and gathered strength:” Scripture becomes dearer as we search it to discover the mysteries it alone reveals; and in the growing consciousness that spiritual things can only be spiritually discerned, we are brought to Jesus’ feet to listen to Him and leave much to Him, concerning which He says, “I have many things,” &c. When He refuses to reveal, He only acts as any wise father would do. If your child asks you a question which you cannot answer for his good, you say, “I will tell you some day--trust me to tell you at the right time.” (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Verily, verily! say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament
Sorrow and joy
THE FORETOLD SORROW, arising, i.e
1. From their own sense of loss and bereavement. In the death of Jesus these men lost for a season their dearest, most honoured, and trusted Friend.
2. From their sympathy with their Lord’s sufferings. His betrayal, humiliation, agony, crucifixion, went to their hearts.
3. From the disappointment of their hopes. Looking forward to the establishment of a Messianic kingdom, they were overwhelmed with dismay at what they saw.
II. THE FORETOLD JOY. This, when it came, was, perhaps, all the livelier and brighter by contrast with the gloom from which these sensitive and sympathizing natures emerged. It was the joy of
1. Renewed friendship. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”
2. Hope revived. The cloud was dispersed, the sun shone again. Once more they trusted that He would redeem Israel.
3. Victory. Their Lord was Conqueror, and in triumph there is ever gladness and rejoicing.
4. New humanity. In the resurrection of Christ was born the regenerated race. By the first throes of anguish came into being the Church of the Redeemer, the inheriter of earth and heaven.
5. Eternal, which none could take from them. (Family Churchman.)
Sorrow at the cross turned into joy
It is most instructive that the apostles do not speak of the death of our Lord with any kind of regret. The Gospels mention their distress during their actual occurrence, but after the Resurrection, and Pentecost, we hear of no such grief; on the contrary, there are many expressions which treat of the Crucifixion in the spirit of exalting joy. “God forbid that I should glory,” &c. The “three hours’ agony,” the darkened church, the altar in mourning, the tolling of a bell, and all the other mock funereal rites of superstition, have not the least encouragement from the spirit and language of the apostles.
I. THE DEATH OF OUR LORD WAS AND IS A THEME FOR SORROW.
1. It was so, because to the disciples
2. Now, even at the recollection of what our Lord endured, every Christian feels sympathy with Him. You cannot read the story without feeling that the minor key befits your voice at such a time, if you at all attempt to sing. One of the sharpest points about our sorrow is this--that we were the cause of it. We virtually crucified the Lord, seeing it was because we were sinners that He must needs be made a sacrifice.
II. THIS SORROW IS CHANGED INTO JOY. Not exchanged for joy, but actually transmuted, so that the grief becomes joy.
1. That Jesus died for our sins is a sharp sorrow: and yet this is the greatest joy of all. If each one of us can say, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me,” we are truly happy. Because God hath condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ, therefore He will no more condemn us.
2. Jesus has now suffered all that was required of Him. That He should suffer was cause for grief, but that He has now suffered all is equal cause for joy. When a champion returns from the wars bearing the scars of conflict by which he gained his honours, does any one lament over his campaigns? Let us not mourn, then; for Christ’s agony is all over now, and He is none the worse for having endured it.
3. Our Lord has survived His pains. He died a real death, but now He lives a real life. The Lord is risen indeed. He has lost no dominion, He claims superior rights and rules over a new empire. He is a gainer by His losses, He has risen by His descent.
4. The grand end which His death was meant to accomplish is all attained, viz
5. The greatest possible blessings accrue to us, because He was made a curse for us. Through His death came pardon, reconciliation, access, acceptance, heaven.
6. Because He died there is a kingdom set up in the world, which never can be moved.
7. This joy is
III. THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE INVOLVED IN THIS ONE PARTICULAR INSTANCE, viz., that in connection with Christ you must expect to have sorrow, But whatever sorrow you feel there is this consolation--the pangs are all birth-pangs, they are all the necessary preliminaries of an ever-increasing joy.
1. Since you have come to know Christ you have felt a smarter grief on account of sin. Let it continue with you, for it is working holiness in you, and holiness is happiness.
2. You have felt a keener sensibility on account of the sins of those around you, do not wish to be deprived of it, it will be the means of your loving them more, and seeking more their good.
3. Perhaps you have had to bear a little persecution, hard words, and the cold shoulder. Do not fret, for all this is needful to make you have fellowship with Christ’s sufferings that you may know more of Him, and may become more like Him.
4. You sometimes see the cause of Christ as it were dead, and you are grieved about it, as well you may be. It is well, but in that very feeling there should be the full persuasion that the truth of Christ cannot long be buried, but waits to rise again with power.
5. By and by will come your last sorrow. Look forward to it without the slightest alarm. Death is the gate of endless joy, and shall we dread to enter there? Conclusion: The world shall rejoice: “Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Now, what is implied there to complete the sentence? Why, that the world’s joy shall be turned into sorrow. There is not a pleasure which the ungodly man enjoys but what will curdle into grief and be his sorrow for ever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Joy and sorrow mingled
Joy lives in the midst of the sorrow; the sorrow springs from the same root as the gladness. The two do not clash against each other or reduce the emotion to a neutral indifference, but they blend into one another; just as in arctic regions, deep down beneath the cold snow, with its white desolation and its barren death, you shall find the budding of the early spring flowers and the fresh green grass; just as some kinds of fire burn below the water; just as in the midst of the barren and undrinkable sea here may be welling up some little fountain of fresh water that comes from a deeper depth than the great ocean around it, and pours its sweet streams along the surface of the saltwaste. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Sorrow turned into joy
I. THE PROMISE OF A JOY WHICH IS A TRANSFORMED SORROW, “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy,” not merely that the one emotion is substituted for the other, but, as it were, becomes the other. This can only mean that that which was the cause of the one reverses its action. Of course the historical and immediate fulfilment of these words lies in the double result of Christ’s Cross upon His servants. That Cross, which for some few hours was pain, and all but ruin, has ever since been the centre of the deepest gladness and confidence of a thousand generations.
1. Estimate the value as an evidence of the historical veracity of the Gospel story, of this sudden and complete revolution in that handful of believers. A dead Christ was the Church’s despair; a dead and risen Christ the Church’s triumph.
2. This principle covers the whole ground of devout men’s sorrows. Every thunder-cloud has a rainbow lying in its depths when the sun smites upon it. And our purest and noblest joys are transformed sorrows. The sorrow of contrite hearts becomes the gladness of pardoned children; the sorrow of bereaved empty hearts may become the gladness of hearts filled with God. Every stroke of the ploughshare, and every dark winter’s day are represented in the broad acres waving with the golden grain.
II. THIS IS A JOY FOUNDED UPON THE CONSCIOUSNESS THAT CHRIST’S EYE IS UPON US.
1. “I will see you again,” &c. Elsewhere the form of the promise is the converse--“Yet a little while and ye shall see Me.” “Ye shall see Me” fixes attention upon us and our perception of Him. “I will see you” fixes attention upon Him and His beholding of us. “Ye shall see Me” speaks of our going out after Him and being satisfied in Him. “I will see you” speaks of His perfect knowledge, loving care, tender, ever-watchful eye.
2. And so it requires a loving heart to find joy in such a promise. He sees all men, but unless our hearts cleave to Him, then “I will see you again” is a threat. “I know thy works” brought no joy to the lukewarm professors at Laodicea, nor to the church at Ephesus. But to the faithful souls in Philadelphia and Sardis it was blessedness and life.
3. Is there any joy to us in the thought that the Lord Christ sees us? Oh, if our hearts are really His, then all that we need will be given to us, in the belief that His eye is fixed upon us. “There be many that say, who will show us any good,” &c. One look towards Christ will more than repay and abolish earth’s sorrow. One look from Christ will fill our hearts with sunshine. All tears are dried on eyes that meet His. If one could take a bit of the Arctic world and float it down into the tropics, the ice would all melt, and the grey dreariness would disappear, and a new splendour of colour and light would clothe the fields, and an unwonted vegetation would spring up where barrenness had been. And if you and I will only float our lives southward beneath the direct vertical rays of that great Sun of Righteousness, then all the dreary winter and ice of our sorrows will melt, and joy will spring.
III. NOTE HOW OUR LORD SETS FORTH HIS DISCIPLES’ JOY AS ONE BEYOND THE REACH OF VIOLENCE AND INDEPENDENT OF EXTERNALS. “No man taketh it from you.”
1. Much of our joy, of course, depends upon our fellows, and disappears when they fade. And much of our joy depends upon the goodwill and help of our fellows, and they can snatch away all that so depends. But no man but myself can put a roof over my head to shut me out from God and Christ. And as long as I have a clear sky over head, it matters very little how high may be the walls, and how close, that foes pile around me.
2. And much of our joy necessarily depends upon and fluctuates with external circumstances of a hundred different kinds. But we do not need to have all our joy fed from these surface springs. We may dig deeper down. If we are Christians, we have, like some beleaguered garrison in a fortress, a well in the courtyard that nobody can get at.
3. But remember, though externals have no power to rob us of our joy, they can interfere with that faith which is the essential condition of our joy. They cannot force us away from Christ, but they may tempt us away. The sunshine did for the traveller in the old fable what the storm could not do; and the world may cause you to think so much about it that you forget your Master. Its joys may compel Him to hide His face, and may so fill your eyes that you do not care to look at His face.
IV. THIS LIFE OF JOY IS MADE CERTAIN BY THE PROMISE OF A FAITHFUL CHRIST. “Verily! verily! I say unto you.”
1. He was accustomed to use that impressive and solemn formula when He was about to speak words beyond the reach of human wisdom or of prime importance. He tells these men, who had nothing but His bare word, that the astonishing thing which He is going to promise them will certainly come to pass. He puts His own character, so to speak, in pawn. His words are precisely equivalent in meaning to the solemn Old Testament words which are represented as being the oath of God--“As I live, saith the Lord.” So Christ puts His whole truthfulness at stake, as it were; and if any man that has ever loved Jesus Christ and trusted Him aright has not found this “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” then Jesus Christ has said the thing that is not.
2. Then why is it that so many professing Christians have such joyless lives? Simply because they do not keep the conditions. If you know but little of this joy it is your fault, and not His. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Your Joy no man taketh from you
I. THAT OUR HAPPINESS IS LARGELY IN THE POWER OF OTHER PEOPLE. is a conviction which we reach very early.
1. The child, the merchant, the thinker, the public man, are all illustrations of this. No man can shut his gates and say, “I will find my happiness only in myself, and what I find no man shall take away.” It seems as if all our social arrangements and relationships were not more fitted to make us furnishers of joy to one another than they are to give to every man the chance to pluck away our happiness. Husband and wife, father and child, teacher and scholar, master and servant--how they all hold each other’s pleasures at their will I This view of life, which is perpetually presenting itself, stands up face to face with the thought, which all self-reliant and strong men try to keep hold of, viz., self-suffciency. To have the sources of all happiness in our own lives is a thought which no man can wholly cast away. It never finds its realisation; it always meets the interference of our brethren. Practically, almost all men’s lives vacillate between the two.
II. IN THE MIDST OF A BEWILDERMENT LIKE THIS CHRIST COMES IS WITH THESE WORDS. There is a limit to our power over one another; there is a chamber of our inner selves where we may turn the key and no one can come in. The very fact that there is such a limit interests us.
1. We can see how good it is that, while there should be great regions of happiness which are involved with what others are and do, there should be also others which no one but ourselves can touch. The completest house is one whose outer rooms are hospitably open, but which has inner chambers where only the master of the house and his household have a right to enter. The best stock of ideas which any man can keep is that which, while it is subject to the influence of others, yet has at its heart convictions, which are the man’s own, and which no other can invade. It is the same with regard to happiness. There would be something terrible if each of us held his power of happiness untouchable. Think how much of the finest of our intercourse, how much of the purest motive for self-sacrifice would be lost if we had no power of interfering with each other’s joy. It would be almost a world of chartered selfishness. The necessary condition of your filling your child’s life with sunshine is the power of darkening it with a heavy cloud. What would you care for any man’s sympathy or approbation if all the while you knew that that same man’s sneer or coldness would not give you even a twinge of pain?
2. And yet we can see just as clearly how dreadful it would be if this power reached in to our deepest happinesses. All of us practically insist that there shall be some enjoyments with which no man shall interfere, and which no human malice can poison.
3. Now hear what Jesus says to His disciples.
III. SOME OF THE INTERFERENCES WITH THE PLEASURES OF LIFE WHICH COME FROM OUR FELLOW-MEN, AND OF THE WAY IN WHICH THE SOUL’S LIFE WITH CHRIST PUTS THOSE SAME PLEASURES OUT OF THE REACH OF ANY FELLOW-MAN’S INTRUSION.
1. The pleasure of energetic action, which makes life bright to the best men. Oh, the poor creatures whom their father’s money or their own sluggish wills have robbed of the great human delight of action! But opposition, criticism, and ingratitude are the ways in which other men meet an active man, and make his work a drudgery. Here is a man in public life. The happiness of dealing with the state’s affairs is what his soul is full of; he has dreamed of it while he was a boy, and now all his manhood triumphs in it. But other men have stepped across his path, and hindered him from doing what he meant to do; or have told the world and him how far what he has done is from what it ought to be; or those for whom he laboured have gone away, giving him curses instead of thanks. Now he may still work on from habit or duty, but the joy is departed. Is there any help for that? If not it is a dreadful world to live and work in. But now suppose that Christ had been with that man; that behind every other motive there had been the love of Christ. Would that have made no difference? Like an electric atmosphere poured around the shrine in which a jewel rests, so that no hand can be thrust through to steal it; so round the work, full of its joy, is poured the love of Christ, out of which no man can snatch it.
2. See how all this is true of Christian thought and the struggle after truth. These are the best joys of the best men. To make some few steps forward on the journey which stretches out into eternity; to add some new stone to the structure whose lines already prophesy an infinite height for the far topstone,--he has not lived who has not felt this pleasure. But yet every thinking man discovers that the joy of thought is one that lies peculiarly within the power of our fellow-men. And why? It is not that our fellowmen may contradict and abuse our opinions. If we do really hold it perfectly as true, that is a little thing. But the trouble is that the more one thinks and studies, the more he becomes aware how infinite is truth. The truth which he has learned on any subject, he becomes aware, is not the whole. Every time, then, that any reasoner impugns our truth it starts up this consciousness. We see how far we are, even upon the subject which we know best, from having reached the end of things and laid our faith securely. This is the reason why so many people, when their faith is once attained, keep it not merely as a very precious but as a very frail and brittle thing. They will not talk with any one about it. They will not read anything upon the other side. We know this is not good; and yet we very often do not see how it is to be escaped. The real escape, I think, lies here. The Christian faith is primarily a belief in Christ. All truth which we believe, we believe in and because of Him. We know that though we have taken Him for our Master, He is very far yet from having told us all that He has to tell. That knowledge does not decrease our satisfaction in believing Him; it increases it; for it binds us to Him not merely by what He has already taught us, but by the far greater truth which He is keeping for us, which it is a pleasure to wait for now, as it will be a pleasure to take it when the time shall come. Now, let a believer have this consciousness; and then let the unbeliever come up to him, to pluck away his joy. Always it is the surrounding of the doctrinal faith by the personal faith that keeps the joy of the doctrinal faith safe from attack or theft.
3. Follow our subject into the region of character. Can a man have such joy in his own character that no other man can take his joy away from him? Just as soon as we ask that, how our imperfections and sins start up before us! What idlest chatterer cannot pluck away our self-satisfaction, and steal the last trace of joy in our own characters? And yet, with all this true, it is not all the truth. There are two different conceptions of character, one of which looks at it in itself; the other looks at it as it is involved with the powers which are at work upon it to make it what it is capable of being. A block lying alone upon a hill-top may be uninteresting. The same block brought into a sculptor’s workshop, though his hands may not have touched it, or may have only rudely blocked out his design, may be a thing to reverence. And can we not think that as it lies upon the hil-top it may be ready to accept everybody’s disesteem; but when it comes into the sculptor’s hands, it may gain such new sense of its capacity under that wise and loving power that no man’s sneer can cloud the pleasure that it feels in the new revelation and hope of its true self which, under those hands, have come to it? Row read the parable. I am a poor, weak, wicked man; I know it; I do not need that you should tell me of it. Any small joy in myself which I have been able to conceive, your well-deserved scorn can steal from me in an instant. But now suppose that Christ takes me into His hands. I am a poor dull block still, but I am His, and His great hands have just begun to shape His purpose in me. Is not the whole thing changed? Now there is a joy in character which is not present consciousness, but certain prophecy. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
When Christ is present believers should rejoice
I have been so long away from England that I do not know where our Queen is residing just now; but if I had the wings of a dove, and could mount into the upper air, I would soon find out. I should look for the royal standard. I should see it floating over Windsor or Osborne, and by this token I should espy the royal abode. Fling out the banner to the breeze when the King is within. Is the King at home with you, dear brother? Do not forget to display the standard of holy joy. Hoist it, and keep it flying. Ring the joy-bells! (C. H.Spurgeon.)
And in that day ye shall ask Me nothing
The characteristics of the Christian age
1. The subject: the Father; His nature: God; His character: love; His purpose: salvation.
2. The medium: Christ; the Father’s Son, Ambassador, Revealer.
II. ADEQUATE ILLUMINATION.
1. Clear. No longer in proverbs, parables, or veiled forms is the truth presented by the Spirit, but in plain and easy-to-be-understood propositions (John 16:25).
2. Sufficient. Enjoying the Spirit’s teaching, the Christian needs not to ask of any external authority (John 16:23; cf. Hebrews 8:11).
III. PERFECT CONCLUSION.
1. On the part of the Christian.
2. On the part of the Father.
IV. AUGMENTING EXULTATION.
1. The nature of it. The joy of the Christian is always
2. The cause of it.
1. The superiority of the Christian age to all that have preceded.
2. The increased responsibility of all who live in it. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
What that day wilt bring forth
There are here three jewels which Christ sets in a cluster, the juxtaposition making each brighter, and gives to us for a parting keepsake. Our English word “ask” means two things, either to question in order to get information or to beseech, in order to get gifts. In the former sense the word is employed in the first clause with distinct reference to the disciples’ desire to ask Him a very foolish question a moment or two before; and in the second it is employed in the central portion of my text.
I. NO MORE QUESTIONINGS.
1. Do not you think that the disciples would be tempted to say, “Then what are we to do?” To them the thought was despair rather than advance; but in Christ’s eyes it was progress. It is better for a boy to puzzle out the meaning of a Latin book by his own brains and a lexicon than lazily to use an interlinear translation. Many eager Christian souls, hungering after certainty and rest, have east themselves into the arms of an infallible pope. I doubt whether any such questioning mind has found what it sought; and I am sure that it has taken a step downwards. We gain by losing the visible Christ.
2. For what have we instead?
3. Only remember that such a method of teaching needs that we use that revelation and submit ourselves to the teaching of that Spirit, and make everything that we know a factor in shaping what we do and are. And if we do this we shall not need to envy those that could go to Him with their questions, for He will come to us with His all-satisfying answers.
4. Ah! but you say, look at a divided Christendom and at my own difficulties. Well, as for a divided Christendom, saintly souls are all of one Church. And however they may formulate the intellectual aspects of their creed, when they come to pray they say the same things, and we all sing their songs. So the divisions are like the surface cracks on a dry field, and a few inches down there is continuity. And as for the difficulty of knowing what I am to believe about controverted questions, no doubt there will remain many gaps in the circle of our knowledge and much left obscure; but if we will keep ourselves near the Master, and use the helps that He gives us we shall not walk in darkness, but shall have light enough to be the Light of Life.
II. SATISFIED DESIRES.
1. This second great promise substantially appeared in a former part of these discourses with a very significant difference. “Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name that will I do.” “If ye shall ask anything in My name I will do it.” There Christ presented Himself as the Answerer, because His purpose was to set forth His going to the Father as His elevation to a yet loftier position. Here He sets forth the Father as the Answerer, because His purpose is to point away from undue dependence on His own corporeal presence. But consider how much is involved in that fact, that, as a matter of course, our Lord alternates the two forms, and sometimes says, “I will do it,” and sometimes says, “The Father will do it.” Does it not point to that great and blessed truth, “Whatsoever thing the Father doeth that also doeth the Son likewise.”
2. But passing from that, note the limitation to the broad universality of the declaration. “If ye shall ask anything in My name.” There is the definition of Christian prayer. And what does it mean?
3. Notice how certain such prayer is of being answered. If it is in harmony with the will of God, it is sure not to be offered in vain. Our Revised Version reads, “He will give it you in My name.” God’s gifts come down through the same channel through which our prayer goes up. But, whether that be the true collocation or no, mark the plain principle, that only desires which are in harmony with the Divine will are sure of being satisfied. What is a bad thing for a child cannot be a good thing for a man. If you want to spoil your child you say, “What do you want, my dear? tell me and you shall have it.” God knows a great deal better what is good for us; and so He says: “Delight thyself in the Lord, and He will give thee the desires of thine heart.” He who prays in Christ’s name must pray Christ’s prayer, “Not My will but Thine be done.” To him who can thus pray, every door in God’s treasure-house flies open, and he may take as much of the treasure as he desires. And the Master bends lovingly over such a soul, and says: “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
III. THE PERFECT JOY WHICH FOLLOWS UPON THESE TWO. Is it possible, then, that amidst all changes and the sorrows we may have a deep and stable joy? “That your joy may be full,” says my text, or “fulfilled,” like some jewelled, golden cup charged to the very brim with rich and quickening wine, so that there is no room for a drop more. Was anybody ever so blessed that he could not be more so? Jesus Christ says it may be so, and He tells us how. Bring your desires into harmony with God’s, and you will have nothing unsatisfied amongst them; and so you will be blessed to the full. And though sorrow comes, still we may be blessed. There are some flowers which only bloom in the night; and white blossoms are visible with startling plainness in the twilight, when all the flaunting purples and reds are hid. Conclusion: There are only two courses before us. Either a life with superficial, transitory, incomplete gladnesses, and an aching centre of vacuity and pain, or one which in its outward aspects has much about it that is sad and trying, but down in the heart of it is calm and joyful. “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful,” &c. But the “ransomed of the Lord shall return,” &c. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
All questions answered
Many were the questions which the disciples had put to their Lord in the pride and ignorance of their as yet imperfectly spiritualized hearts (see Matthew 18:1; Luke 9:54; Acts 1:6). But our Lord says that in that day, when He shall have given them the Comforter, they shall ask Him no more such questions, for that He should guide them into all truth.
I. THIS PROMISE HAS COME DOWN TO EVERY DISCIPLE OF CHRIST. What question is there that we need to put to our Lord? The grand question of all--“What shall I do to be saved?” has long ago been distinctly answered. But, for the sake of illustration, let us put this question under some of its particulars. Shall a man ask of Christ
1. “Are my sins forgiven me? answer me by showing me some token of it.” He has been answered already. Instead of asking Christ he has to ask his own heart and conscience before Christ. Have they been truly turned unto Him? Is the heart in communion with the Holy Spirit? Is the conscience directed by Christ’s Word? Are thus sins forsaken? Then there is at once a plain answer.
2. “Wilt Thou be my Helper and Defender?” He has been answered already. Does he make Christ his Help and Defence, his Rock and his Fortress? Does he use the means which He has furnished? If so, then he has received a clear answer, and needs no other.
3. “Shall I inherit eternal life?” He has been answered already. Is he really seeking eternal life, striving with all his strength to enter in? Are his affections set on the things which are above? If his heart and conscience tell him this, he has had an answer sufficient. Will he tempt Christ by asking twice over?
4. And in the last hour shall a man ask of Christ, “Whither am I going?” He has been answered already most distinctly. Let him ask his own heart and conscience upon which road he has been travelling; where has the Lord found him when the fear of approaching death surprised him. Was he on the narrow road of holiness, or on the broad road of sin? If he will ask this of his heart and conscience they will tell him at once, and may warn him to such repentance as may yet be possible. But if he decline this search, then assuredly instead of having an answer from Christ, who is the Truth, he will have it from the father of lies.
II. SEE, THEREFORE, THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE CHRISTIAN.
1. He has no doubts; the words of his Master are yea and amen, and he has heard them. That is surely but an indifferent servant who requires his orders to be repeated from his master’s mouth.
2. He has no perplexities. The direction of the Lord, and the truth and comfort of the Holy Spirit, drive away all darkness and uncertainty.
3. He has no fears, he is a soldier that can both endure hardness and stand in the fight. He is content to await in patience the sign of the Son of Man, and meanwhile gathers clearer and clearer answers from a heart and conscience well questioned, daily examined.
III. THUS WE SHALL PROCEED IN A WAY OF PREPARATION FOR THE LAST SEARCHING EXAMINATION, when we shall have to give answers to our Lord and Judge concerning all that He hath given and taught us. All questioning will then be openly on His side, and all answering openly also on ours. Even the prayer of our petitions will then cease, for there will be nothing left to ask for in that day. Only the prayer of praise, adoration, and thanksgiving shall remain, and that shall remain for all eternity. (R. W.Evans, B. D.)
No want in the presence of Jesus
Why does Christ’s personal presence in heaven, now that He is glorified, take away the necessity for prayer in the case of the glorified? Because--
I. GOD IS IN CHRIST, AND GOD IS AN OPEN FOUNTAIN OF GOOD TO EVERY BEING IN FRIENDSHIP WITH HIM. Who asks for water when he is standing by a fountain? Who asks for light when the summer sun at the meridian is shining upon him? And who asks to be blessed when God fully blesses him?
II. CHRIST’S LOVE FOR HIS DISCIPLES IS SUCH THAT HE CANNOT BE WITH THEM WITHOUT FILLING THEM WITH GOOD. When “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” He could never be with His disciples without blessing them. How much more now in His state of glorification! Because the crown of Christ is as much yours as His Cross. He died for you, and it is an equally glorious truth that He lives for you. So it is utterly impossible that you can lack, when with Christ, any good thing.
III. THE MINISTRATIONS OF THE SAVIOUR, WHEN OUR HEARTS ARE RIGHT, AS THEY WILL BE VERY SOON, CANNOT FAIL TO SATISFY US. At present even God, the Father of all, does not please you. You have made a sort of calculation of what God should give you in the shape of temporal good. If that be given, you are pleased and thankful, but if that be withheld, you murmur. Why? Because you do not trust the Giver. In the degree of your love and trust, you see that “all things work together for good.”
IV. PRAYER CAN ONLY BE MADE IN WANT. Prayer is asking God to supply our need. Now, when all our need is supplied, the necessity for prayer is, of course, taken away. Prayer is not consistent with a perfect state of being. It is the cry of infancy. You will in heaven be men. Prayer is the call of helplessness and the wail of sorrow. But “in that day Christ will open Himself to you as a fountain of good, and then ye shall ask nothing.” Meetness for that place consists in the spirit of praise, and not in the spirit of prayer. Conclusion:
1. Persevere in prayer even when prayer is hard work, for the labour and agony connected with prayer are only temporal. Great burthens are easily carried if we be only told that we have to carry them over a short distance. Shortly, you will have everything you can desire.
2. Anticipate joyously the future. You will have, most likely, a night of tribulation to go through, but born of that night will be the brightest of days. (S. Martin.)
Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name He will give it you
Praying in the name of Jesus Christ
I. WHAT IT IS TO PRAY IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST. Negatively, it is not a bare mentioning His name in prayer, and concluding our prayers therewith (Matthew 7:21). We must begin, carry on, and conclude our prayers in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17). The saints use the words, “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:57); but the virtue is not in the words, but in the faith wherewith they are used. But, alas these are often produced as an empty scabbard, while the sword is away. Positively: we may take it up in these four things.
1. We must go to God at Christ’s command, and by order from Him Matthew 18:20). If a poor body can get a recommendation from a friend to one that is able to help him, he comes with confidence and tells such a one has sent me to you. Christ is such a friend (verse 24). This implies
2. We must pray for Christ’s sake, as our motive to the duty (Mark 9:41). This implies
3. We must in prayer act in the strength of Christ.
(a) That praying acceptably is a work quite beyond any power in us 2 Corinthians 3:5).
(b) That there is a stock of grace and strength in Jesus Christ for our help as to other duties, so for this duty of prayer (2 Corinthians 12:9; Colossians 1:19).
(c) Sinners are welcome to partake of this stock of grace and strength in Christ (2 Timothy 2:1).
(d) We must be united to Christ as members to the head and branches to the vine, if we would act in prayer or any other duty in the strength of Christ (John 15:5). We cannot partake of the stock of grace and strength for duty in Christ without partaking of Himself (Romans 8:32). As the soul in a separate state cloth not quicken the body, so the soul not united to Christ cannot be fitted for duty by strength derived from Him. The graft must knit with the stock ere it can partake of the sap.
(a) The soul’s going out of itself for strength to the duty; that is, renouncing all confidence in itself for the right management of it 2 Corinthians 3:5).
(b) The soul’s going to Christ for strength to duty by trusting on Him for it (Isaiah 26:4; Psalms 71:16).
4. We must pray for Christ’s sake, as the only procuring cause of the success of our prayers.
(a) That sinners in themselves are quite unacceptable in heaven, even in their religious duties (Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 64:6).
(b) Christ is most acceptable there (Matthew 3:1-17.; Ephesians 5:2).
(c) Sinners are warranted to come to the throne of grace in His Hebrews 4:15-16; 1 John 2:1). The petitions put into His hand cannot miscarry.
(a) In general, in our relying on the Lord Jesus only for the success of our prayers in heaven. Consider that we are in this matter to rely on Him only for access to God in our prayers (Ephesians 3:12; John 14:6). For acceptance of our prayers (Ephesians 1:6). For the gracious answer of prayer, and consider how we are to eye Christ as the object of this reliance--viz., as our great High Priest Hebrews 4:15-16). And here we find the infinite merit of His sacrifice (Romans 3:25), and His never-failing intercession to rely on (Hebrews 7:25).
(b) More particularly, praying in the name of Christ, and for His sake consists in renouncing all merit and worth in ourselves, in point of access, acceptance, and gracious answer (Genesis 32:10); believing that however great the mercies are, and however unworthy we are, yet we may obtain them from God through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:15-16). In seeking in prayer the mercies we need of God for Christ’s sake accordingly (John 16:24). In pleading His merit and intercession (Psalms 84:9); in trusting that we shall obtain a gracious answer for His sake (Mark 11:24).
III. WHY ACCEPTABLE PRAYER MUST BE IN THE NAME OF CHRIST. Because
1. Sinners can have no access to God without a Mediator, and there is no other Mediator but He (Isaiah 59:2; 1 Timothy 2:5).
2. The promises of the covenant were all made to Jesus Christ, as the party who fulfilled the condition of the covenant (Galatians 3:16).
3. Our praying in the name of Christ is a part of the reward of Christ’s voluntary humiliation for God’s glory and the salvation of sinners Philippians 2:9-10).
4. It is not consistent with the honour of God to give Sinners a favourable hearing otherwise (John 9:31, with 2 Corinthians 5:19; 2Co_5:21). They dishonour God, His Son, and His mercies, that ask anything but in the name of Christ.
5. Nothing can savour with God that comes from a sinner, but what is perfumed with the merit and intercession of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15; Ephesians 1:6).
6. The stated way of all gracious communication between heaven and earth is through Jesus Christ, who opened a communication between them by His blood, when it was blocked up by the breach of the first covenant John 14:6).
IV. PRACTICAL IMPROVEMENT.
1. From this doctrine we learn
2. Let those stand reproved who
(a) Their own worth in respect of their qualifications and good things done by them (Luke 18:11-12).
(b) The mercy of God considered without a view to the satisfaction of His justice by the Mediator.
(c) The manner of their performing the duty itself (Isaiah 58:3).
(d) Their own necessity (Hosea 7:14).
3. Wherefore rely on Christ, and on Him only, for access to God in, and acceptance of, your prayers; that is, pray in the name of Christ.
Prayer in Christ’s name
I. THE DIFFICULTIES WHICH ALL PRAYER SUGGESTS.
1. One cause of these is to be found in the variations of our inner life, Our faith in the spiritual is at some moments so full of power that thoughts too large for words ascend to the Eternal in unclothed aspirations. And at other times it is so weak and dead that we doubt whether it has not altogether vanished to return no more. Thus there are times when to pray is the hardest of all tasks; when God appears to be far off. Chilled thus by the world of sense, the fire of devotion frequently appears to have almost died out, having left only cold ashes on the altar of the heart.
2. But apart from these changes of the inner life, there are two great difficulties surrounding every act of prayer.
II. THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN PRAYER. We shall perceive how both the difficulties we have noticed vanish before the true meaning of Christ’s promise. The word “whatsoever” must be taken simply and literally. The words “in My name” must be taken as simply and literally; for they explain the “whatsoever.”
1. The words “in My name” refer to the new meaning which Christ had given to prayer.
To them there often seemed to be two great powers in the universe--the divine and the evil, and in their darkness they cried to Him whom they felt was true, though they understood not how. Christ came into the world to reveal what God was and to explain His plan. He showed that God was willing all good to His creatures, and overcoming all evil--that the eternal love was shining behind all the clouds of suffering and sorrow. Here, then, was a new revelation of the meaning of prayer. Men were not to pray because they hoped to change God’s plan, but because God’s plan was the wisest and most loving. They were not to pray with the idea of inducing God to become kind, but because He was kind.
2. Prayer in Christ’s name clears away the two great difficulties to which I have referred.
Prayer in the name of Christ
A wealthy heir presents thee with a cheque, signed with his name, for a sum of money, which thou art to fetch from his father. Without the cheque thou wouldest receive nothing, for the father of the heir knows nothing of thy name; but because he sees written there the name of his son he presents thee with the whole amount which his son has commissioned thee to receive. In like manner has the Lord Jesus given to His people a cheque of prayer upon the love of His Father, which they must present to Him--a blank page (charta blanca) as Spener says. At the bottom His holy name stands written; the upper part we ourselves must fill up with our prayers; the Father will honour the draft to the whole amount for the sake of His dear Son; because whatever we are minded to ask in the name of Jesus, the Father will give us. (R. Besser, D. D.)
Some years ago, a poor woman accompanied by two of her neighbours, came to my vestry in deep distress. Her husband had fled the country; in her sorrow she went to the house of God, and something I said in the sermon made her think I was personally familiar with her case. Of course I had known nothing about her. It was a general illustration that fitted a particular case. She told me her story, and a sad one it was. I said, “There is nothing that we can do but to kneel down and cry to the Lord for the immediate conversion of your husband.” We knelt down, and I prayed that the Lord would touch the heart of the deserter, and convert his soul, and bring him back home. When we rose, I said to the poor woman, “Do not fret about the matter. I feel sure your husband will come home, and that he will yet become connected with our church.” She went away, and I forgot all about it. Some months after, she re-appeared with her neighbours, and a man whom she introduced to me as her husband. He had, indeed, come back, and a converted man. On making inquiry and comparing notes, we found that, on the very day on which we had prayed for his conversion, he, being at that time on board a ship far away on the sea, stumbled most unexpectedly upon a stray copy of one of my sermons. He read it, the truth went to his heart. He repented and sought the Lord, and as soon as possible, returned to his wife and his daily calling. He was admitted a member, and his wife, who up to that time had not been a member, was also received among us. That woman does not doubt the power of prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Learning to pray
We must be taught how to pray just as we must be taught how to walk. Sometimes when a Child comes home from school, after a long and expensive education, the parent finds that he has learnt nothing aright. He has been taught arithmetic, yet he cannot work a single rule properly. He has been taught music, yet he plays without feeling, and incorrectly. He has been taught to draw, yet an artist detects at once that he does not know the very A B C of art. In religion the same thing often occurs. There are people who have “said their prayers” all through life, and, perhaps, never really prayed once. They have got into a habit of using certain words, without thinking of their meaning, and so have become mere machines, like those musical boxes which reel off their fixed number of tunes, and then are silent. There are thousands of letters posted every year which end in the dead letter office, either because they are wrongly directed, or not directed at all, and there are thousands of dead prayers which never reach God for the same reason. Then there are prayers which ask for wrong things, or they ask in a wrong way, and so they are wasted. You know that every man in a high office receives a vast number of letters, many of them very foolish, and even wicked. But he is far too wise to answer them. Think how many improper, foolish, and even downright wicked prayers are addressed to the All-wise God! Can we wonder that He does not answer them?
I. HOW TO PRAY. What is meant by asking in Christ’s name? Well, it means this. If a warrant, or other legal document is to take effect, it must be endorsed by the name of some one in authority, otherwise it is so much waste paper. So our prayers must be endorsed, so to speak, with the name of Jesus. He must consider them fit to be offered in His name., or they are useless. Have not some of you prayed, looking upon God’s mercy and grace as a sort of lottery, where you may draw a prize, but where you rather expect a blank? Such faithless prayers cannot have the name of Jesus attached to them, they cannot be accepted. Our Lord never worked a miracle unless the person asking for help showed faith. Then there are prayers, so full of self that there is no room for Jesus in them. He has given us a pattern prayer--“Not as I will but as Thou wilt.” With us too often it is just the other way: “My will bedone.” We must lighten our prayers by casting out self if they are to rise to the throne of God. Again, there are prayers which seem unanswered because we have asked amiss. If we ask our Heavenly Father for bread, He will not give us a stone. But often, like foolish children, we ask him for a stone, or a scorpion. Instead of allowing our conscience to lead us, we follow conscience as a man follows a wheelbarrow, driving it on before him. Above all, prayer must have love in it. There was a little boy once whose mother lay ill in the hospital. The child fancied his mother would not have left him if she had loved him, and determined to send her a letter, and find out. He was quite unable to write, but he scrawled all over the paper, as little children will, and begged his friends to carry it to his mother, “then,” said he. “I shall see if she loves me.” The messenger laughed at the strange letter, and declared that no one could make it out, “Mother will understand,” said the child. And when Eddie’s scrawl was given to her, she recognized at once the work of her child’s fingers, and understood his meaning. My brothers, our prayers are often as badly put together as Eddie’s scrawl, but the good God knows His children’s meaning.
II. WHEN TO PRAY
1. Always. Do not wait to go to church, or till bedtime, or rising-time; these are special occasions, the general time for prayer is all day long. A Christian man who believes in prayer, ought to be able to speak to God anywhere. We should not hear so much about bad servants, and dishonest traders, if men would only pray over their work. The man who could really pray in his place of business would not be able to tell a lie over the counter. A man with a prayer in his mouth would have no room for an oath, or a bad story. Let the people who lose their temper so easily, and say words which they bitterly repent, pray more frequently, and the bitter words would be turned into blessing.
2. Then there are special occasions when we need to pray for a special object
These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs
Christ in heaven, the Church on earth
CHRIST IN HEAVEN.
1. As the Revealer of the Father. He came to be this here, and did reveal the Father, but chiefly in parables, figures, dark sayings. There was a sort of veil over what He said regarding the Father. But when He departed, all that dimness went. From Pentecost there was the plain and full revelation of the Father. This the Epistles contain. There may be in them things hard to be understood: but they are the plainest and fullest revelation that man has had. This unfolding is what the world needed and needs still. Acquaintance with God removes the world’s darkness, and heals its wounds.
2. As the medium of communication between us and the Father. He is in heaven as Advocate and High Priest. As such He carries on the intercourse between us and God, and through Him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father. “I do not say that I will pray (or make inquiries for you like the high priest with Urim and Thummim) the Father”; i.e., “I need not say that I will act thus as your High Priest, and yet this is not because the Father requires to be persuaded to love you; for He loves you already.”
II. THE CHURCH ON EARTH.
1. Receiving revelations of the Father. He speaks and she listens. As a willing listener to what Jesus speaks of to the Father, she goes on her way here and does the Father’s work. She learns each day more fully the meaning of the marvellous words, “God is love, and he that dwelleth in love,” &c. It is this revelation that she preaches us glad tidings of great joy.
2. Praying in Christ’s name. In a sense, that name had been known from the beginning. The seed of the woman with the bruised heel was known as He through whom all communications were made between the sinner and God. On the credit of His name, prayer got its answer all along. But still that name was but dimly known, and not known as that of Jesus of Nazareth. Hence-forth in that name all prayer was to be presented, and success thus assured. Christ gives us this name to make use of in all our dealings with
God, and we need nothing else. Never, then, let us go to God without it, but going with it, let us be confident. Let us not dishonour that name by distrust.
3. Enjoying the Father’s love. This is no doubtful thing, but as sure as it is blessed. This love is the sunshine of life. But it is love through Christ. God loves us as lovers of, and believers in, His Son,
4. Loving the Son. In an unloving world, the Church loves Him whom the Father loveth. This marks her out from all around. To her He is the “altogether lovely.” “My Beloved” is the name she gives Him. The question He asks is, “Lovest thou Me?”
5. Believing that He came out from God. This is the first thing though it comes last. This brings us into the circle of discipleship and sonship. What think ye, then, of Chirst? (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The day of the Spirit
“That day” is
1. A long day. It began at Pentecost, and will last till the “restitution of all things.”
2. It is the best day that has dawned on humanity since the Fall--better than the prophetic day, or the day of Christ’s earthly ministry.
3. It is a day that will grow brighter and brighter until it floods all souls with the sunshine of infinite love.
4. It is “the notable day of the Lord,” a day in which moral wonders multiply every hour.
5. It runs into the endless day of retribution. The text suggests two thoughts concerning it. It is a day
I. IN WHICH CHRISTLY TEACHING BECOMES MORE AND MORE INDEPENDENT OF WORDS. “Proverbs,” words, language, are not truth; at best they are mere vehicles. They are no more truth than water pipes are water. The pipes may be broken, but the water still flows, and will find other channels. Christ used words to convey truth. Sometimes they conveyed truth to His disciples’ spirits, sometimes not. When He says, therefore, “I will no more speak unto you in proverbs,” He points to a more direct, thorough, and effective way, the way in which the Paraclete would bring all things to their remembrance. The men who are under the influence of this Paraelete are seldom able to trace their most sacred impressions, aspirations, resolves, experiences to any words. No words, e.g., can “plainly show” the Father. He can only be seen by the loving and pure heart.
II. WHEN FELLOWSHIP WITH THE FATHER BECOMES MORE AND MORE INDEPENDENT OF THE MEDIATION, Christ seems to say, in illustration of this
1. That His disciples in this day will pray in His name, and therefore will not require Him to pray for them (verse 26). He had just said, “Hitherto ye have asked nothing in My name.” Why? At that time they had not received the Paraelete; but when He came, they would pray in His name, i.e., the Holy Spirit would so inspire them with the sentiments and purposes of Christ, that they would always pray in the spirit of Christ, and therefore their prayer would be real and effective.
2. That His disciples will have a special sense of the Father’s love (verse 27). Observe
I say not unto you that I will pray the Father for you
No need of an intercessor
Our Lord would teach that the Father is ready to receive our petitions directly, because He loveth us.
We have here
I. A NEW CONCEPTION OF GOD.
1. New to the Jew with his elaborate sacrificial and mediatorial scheme.
2. New to us who, conscious of sin and of God’s anger against it, could never have hoped that He would view us in any other light but that of aliens.
II. THE ANXIETY OF OUR HEAVENLY FATHER TO ESTABLISH AND MAINTAIN CLOSE RELATIONS WITH HIS CHILDREN. The mediation of Christ is a means to the end of bringing us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
III. THE ERROR OF MULTIPLYING THE MEDIATIONS BETWEEN THE SOUL AND GOD. Remove God afar off, confine Him to the heavens, then priests mediating for men, and saints mediating for priests, is rational; but how does it comport with this saying and the whole teaching of Scripture, which reveals a God dwelling in the heart, and jealous of everything that comes between Him and the soul He has redeemed.
IV. THE COMFORTABLE BELIEF THAT CHRIST MAKES INTERCESSION FOR US. Christ does not decline to pray for us. He only makes known God’s willingness to hear us directly. But all the while we know He ever liveth to make intercession for US. (H. M. Jackson.)
The intercession of Christ
1. In three passages from the Epistles, we find a notable consensus of statement on the present work of Christ as our Intercessor. St. John lays stress on the basis of this advocacy; it is His own personal righteousness and His propitiatory atonement. St. Paul makes intercession the climax of that splendid series of facts on which reposes the safety of a believer: Christ not only died and rose, He even ascended to the Father’s side, and there, says he, He “also maketh intercession.” In the Epistle to the Hebrews, emphasis lies on the ceaselessness of that intercession, which is offered not by a mortal priest, but by One who ever liveth, and whose priesthood is unchangeable.
2. How admirably all this fits into the wants of our nature! Even had there been no sin to be dealt with, humanity might have found its way to the Father best through a mediator. As it is, not without some reconciling Go-between to act for him and to speak for him, does the criminal venture to approach his Judge. Even after we know that satisfaction has been made, there still remain the hesitation and the awe of conscious unworthiness. Now, the appropriate and very tender response which God has given to this reserve on our part is the Divine Man. The awful fact of incarnation creates at once a Spokesman, into whose ear we need have less fear to whisper our confessions or our needs, and whose lips are clean enough to speak for us to the Father.
3. But while Christ’s advocacy for us is a valuable part of His mediation and a comfort to timid petitioners, it is exposed to misconception. Jesus is our priestly Suppliant, who entreats mercy on the ground of His sacrifice; our Advocate, who represents our case to the Judge; our powerful Patron, who moves the Father to do at His instance what He would not do for our deserving. The first of these modes of representing the intercession is biblical and harmless. The others suggests false associations. In Asiatic states, and even under Roman law, patronage was nearly everything. To get some one in high position or close friendship with the judge to speak for you, was, as it still is in the East, the only line of safety. It is plain that where men’s minds were steeped in associations of this description, it would be natural to transfer similar ideas to the Divine Advocate in heaven. What a miserably false conception this suggests of the Divine character! How it reduces the righteous and impartial God to the weakness of a corruptible earthly sovereign! How it makes the Saviour’s plea a plea not of equity addressed to righteous love, but of affection addressed to the indulgence of partiality! It splits the Divine character in two, and apportions its features between the First and Second of the blessed Persons, and gathers into the remoter Father, at whose judgment-seat Jesus pleads, all the sterner attributes of anger, rigorous justice, and hardness to be won: while Jesus Christ become the placable and gentle Friend, on whose good offices, with His Father, we have to build our hope.
4. Any one who is familiar with the popular working of Catholicism in modern times will know how, in the Church of Rome, this process has gone even a step further. Having thrust back the Son into the Father’s supposed place, the Church has consistently thrust Mary in the Son’s. For all practical purposes of religious worship, or pious hope, Christ’s mother is now the benignant patroness, to whose maternal persuasions the soul may trust for final mercy. Nay, this generation of Catholics has begun to carry the process one step further still. Since Mary was declared to be immaculate, the Catholic heart seeks now an intercessor with the Virgin. Joseph must plead now with the awful mother, that she may plead with her more awful Son. Horrible as all this sounds in a Protestant ear, yet it is possible to say, “Jesus, pray for us!” and mean what is quite as dishonouring to the infinite charity of the Godhead, as though we said, “Mary, pray for us!” or “Joseph, pray for us!” If the intercession which we solicit means in either case the extorting of boons from an unwilling hand, then the one conception is just as heathenish and unscriptural as the other.
5. None of the apostolic writers has been led to say one word to guard against an abuse so monstrous, but their far-sighted Master had before protested against it by anticipation, in the text which was spoken only a few minutes before He lifted up His voice in that wonderful intercession, and that lest the apostles should suppose the Father’s love to be in the least inferior to His own, or to need any prompting from Him. It was the special work of Jesus to discover to us, not Himself, but His Father; or Himself only as the Incarnate image of His Father. As this was His business, so, being a true Son, it was also His delight. What vexed Him was that the disciples would not, or could not, look through and past Himself to the Greater One, whose Image and Messenger He was. Hence there grew up in Him a consuming anxiety that men would honour the Father, and an alarm lest they should be led to think less of the Father’s love than of His own. This alarm it is which finds vent in the text.
6. How, then, are we to represent to ourselves the intercession of Christ while guarding the spontaneous love of the Father? Take the case of a guilty penitent who approaches the Divine seat for pardon. He is certain that the heart of God is as the heart of a father. He knows, therefore, that the Father Himself loves him, and of His own accord will bend a favourable ear to his request. But he is no less certain that pardon is a judicial act on the part of God, an act which He can only do in consideration of previous satisfaction for sin. The guilty petitioner, therefore, approaches with his mind full of the Atonement, recognizing in it the supreme generosity of God clearing away every obstacle to his forgiveness, and he begs for the Father’s mercy in the name of Jesus. Let him now be told that Jesus Himself is to be thought of as a priestly Advocate by the Father’s side, to sustain each earthly cry for mercy with the plea of His own finished atonement. What does the petitioner learn from that? That the Father cares less about forgiving him than the Son? That forgiveness is not only to be wrung through personal interest? No, but this--that the judicial basis on which the righteous Father can grant the pardon which He longs to grant is now for ever present to the Father’s mind, and for ever avails to sustain the sinner’s plea for mercy. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
The Father Himself loveth you because ye have loved Me
The Father’s love
I. ITS NATURE. It is
1. A redeeming love. “God so loved the world,” &c.
2. A calling love. “No man cometh unto Me except the Father draw him.”
3. An adopting love. “Behold what manner of love,” &c.
4. A protecting love. Babes, children, want guardian care, “Can a mother forget,” &c.
5. A sanctifying love. As we all desire to see our children grow, so our Father desires to see us grow in grace. “Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.”
6. An everlasting love (John 16:31.).
II. ITS CLAIMS. “My Son, give Me Thy heart.” God claims our
1. Supreme love--a love of Him above every creature whatsoever.
2. Practical love (John 14:21; 1 John 3:18).
3. Expansive love. It must embrace all God’s family for His sake. Apply this in the way of
We have here
I. AN AMIABLE CHARACTER. The saint’s love is the love of
1. Of a debtor to his surety.
2. One friend to another.
3. A brother.
4. A wife to her husband.
5. A scholar to his teacher.
6. A servant to his master.
7. A loyal subject to his king.
II. A DISTINGUISHING PRIVILEGE.
1. God’s love to us is prior to our love to Christ.
2. Our love to Christ is not the cause but the effect of God’s love to us.
3. God’s love to us is infinitely superior to our love to Christ.
4. Though God’s love is the same to all the saints, yet the manifestations of it are not so.
1. Serious self-examination, “Lovest thou Me.”
2. Subjects for astonishment, gratitude and praise. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Going to God through Christ
Did you ever observe the difference there sometimes is between father and mother, in regard to gaining the confidence and affection of their children? Here are two equally good parents, but they are very diverse in their dispositions, and the children make an election of one of them in preference to the other. The father is great-hearted and noble, but rugged, firm, stern, and inflexible; and the children do not like to climb up the steep sides of his disposition. If they are in trouble, they say, “Do not let us go to father first: let us go to mother first, and she will tell it to father.” It is a level, grassy, flowery slope to her heart, and the children go to her first because she receives them so kindly. If they want to go to the father, they go to him through her. Now I think it is exactly so in respect to going to God the Father, through Christ, regarded as a Being characterised by love and tenderness and pity and sympathy; but all the gentle elements of disposition which we see displayed in men--only in Him they exist in a state of glorious perfection, while in us they are but imperfectly developed. He invites us to come to Him with our troubles and sorrows, and we feel drawn to Him because He is so placable and, we may say, so persuadable--though no man ever did persuade Christ. No tears or implorations ever persuaded Him. He never was persuaded by anything. There never was a time when His mercy was not ahead of our requests. When a heart comes to Him asking for a blessing, quicker than a flash of lightning the thought of God leaps to the conclusion of mercy. When we plead for the smallest favour, which in His wisdom He sees that we need, before we have half done our prayer, He has granted it. He is always ahead of us in this way. Do you not see such things among men? (H. W. Beecher.)
The love of God
“Mary,” said a missionary to a pious woman, a negro--“Mary, is notthe love of God wonderful?” “Massa, me no tink it so wonderful,” she replied; “it’s just like Him.”
The love of God
A mother, whose daughter had behaved very badly, and at length had run away from home, thought of a singular plan in order to find the wanderer and draw her back to her home. After having exhausted the ordinary means, she had her own portrait fixed on a large handbill, and pasted on the walls of the town where she supposed her daughter to be concealed. The portrait, without name, had these words--“I love thee always.” Crowds stopped before the strange handbill, trying to guess its meaning, Days elapsed, when a young girl at last passed by, and in her turn, lifted her eyes to the singular placard. “Can it be? Yes, truly it is the picture of my mother. Those eyes full of tenderness, I know them from childhood. Why is it here?” She approaches nearer and reads, “I love thee always.” She understood; this was a message for her. Her mother loved her--pardoned her. Those words transformed her. Never had she felt her sin or ingratitude me deeply. She was unworthy of such love. “She loves me always,” she cried. If she had ever doubted that love, if in moments of distress she had feared to return home, those doubts were all gone now. She set out for the house of her mother; at last she crosses the threshold, is in her mother’s arms. “My child!” cried the mother, as she presses her repentant daughter to her heart; “I have never ceased to love thee.” (La bonne Nouvelle.)
I came forth from the Father
From the Father and to the Father
These majestic and strange words are the proper close of our Lord’s discourse, what follows being rather a reply to the disciples’ exclamation.
I. THE DWELLING WITH THE FATHER. The most probable reading is more forcible. “I came forth out of the Father” implies a far deeper and closer relation than even that of juxtaposition, companionship, or outward presence. In these words there is involved that, during His earthly life, our Lord bore about with Him the remembrance and consciousness of an individual existence prior to His life on earth. “Before Abraham was, I am.” But beyond that, they are the assertion of a previous, deep, mysterious, ineffable union with the Father. If this fourth Gospel be a genuine record of the teaching of Jesus Christ (and, if it is not, what genius was he who wrote it?), then nothing is more plain than that. Over and over again He reiterated this tremendous claim to have dwelt in the bosom of the Father long before He lay on the breast of Mary. Note that the meekest, most sane and wise of religious teachers made this claim, which is either true, and lifts Him into the region of the Deity, or else is fatal to His pretensions to be a teacher that it is worth our while to listen to.
II. THE VOLUNTARY COMING INTO THE WORLD. We all talk in a loose way about men coming into the world when they are born; but the weight of the words and the solemnity of the occasion, and the purpose, forbid us to see such a mere platitude as that in the words here. “I am come rote the world There has been a Man who chose to be born. Now this voluntary entrance of Jesus Christ into our human life
1. Underlies the whole value of that life. It underlies, e.g., the personal sinlessness of Jesus, and hence His power to bring a new beginning of pure and perfect life into the midst of humanity. All the rest of mankind, knit together by, that mysterious bond of natural descent which only now for the first time is beginning to receive its due attention on the part of men of science, by heredity have the taint upon them. And unless Christ came in another fashion from all the rest of us, He came with the same sin as all the rest of us, and is no deliverer. The stream is fouled from its source, and flows on, every successive drop participant of the primeval pollution. But down from the white snows of the eternal hills of God there comes into it an affluent which has no stain on its pure waters, and so can purge that into which it enters. Jesus Christ willed to be born, and to plant a new beginning of holy life in the very heart of humanity which henceforth should work as leaven.
2. Unless we preserve this clear in our minds and hearts, the power to sway our affections is struck away from Christ. Unless He voluntarily took upon Himself the nature which He meant to redeem, why should I be thankful to Him for what He did? We talk about kings leaving their palaces and putting on the rags of the beggar, and learning “love in huts where poor man lie,” and making experience of the conditions of their lowliest subjects. But here is a fact infinitely beyond all these legends. And we may learn there what it is that gives Him His supreme right to our devotion and our surrender--viz., that, being in the form of God, He thought not equality with God a thing to be covetously retained, “but made Himself of no reputation,” &c.
III. THE VOLUNTARY LEAVING THE WORLD.
1. The stages of that departure are not distinguished. They are threefold in fact.
2. And thus, by a voluntary death, He became the Sacrifice for our sins; by the might of His self-effected resurrection proclaimed Himself the Lord of death, and the Resurrection for all that trust Him; and by that ascending up on high draws our heart’s desires after Him, so that we, too, as we see Him lost from our sight, behind the bright Shekinah cloud, may return to our lowly work with great joy, and set our affections on things above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.
IV. THE DWELLING AGAIN WITH THE FATHER. But that final dwelling with God is not wholly identical with the initial one. The earthly life was no mere parenthesis. He carried with Him the manhood which He had assumed into the glory in which the Word had dwelt from the beginning. And this is the true consolation which Christ offered to these His servants, and which He still offers to us His waiting children. And if that be so, it is no mere abstract dogma of theology, but it touches our daily life at all points, and is essential to the fulness of our satisfaction and our rest in Christ.
1. Our brother is elevated to the throne, and He makes the fortunes of the family, and none of them will be poor as long as He is so rich. He sends us from the far-off land where He is gone precious gifts of its produce, and He will send for us to share His throne one day.
2. This elevation fills heaven for our faith, our imagination, and our hearts. Without an ascended Christ we recoil from the cold splendours of an unknown heaven, as a savage might from the unintelligible magnificence of a palace. But if we believe that He is at the right hand of God, then the far off becomes near, and the vague becomes definite, and the unsubstantial becomes solid, and what was a fear becomes a joy, and we can trust ourselves and the dear dead in His hands, knowing that where He is they are, and that in Him they and we have all we need. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
From the Father to the Father
I. CHRIST HAS BEEN HERE AND GONE.
1. This is one of the best attested facts in the world’s history. It is attested by contemporaries and by the accumulating moral and social influences of eighteen centuries.
2. It is the most glorious fact in the world’s history. Nothing has so blessed the world. It was the creation of a sun in man’s moral heaven, the opening of a fountain in man’s moral desert. All that is wholesome in the governments, pure in the morals, benevolent in the institutions, holy in the spirit and manners of the world owes its existence to this fact. Insignificant as this planet is compared with other orbs, the fact that Christ has trod its soil has given it a lustre that pales the brightness of them all.
II. CHRIST HAS BEEN HERE AND GONE BY HIS OWN CHOICE. Who else could have said this! All others have been sent, Christ came. He fixed His own time, birthplace, country, parentage, circumstances. In the same way He departed--“I leave”--when I please; now or in the future; how I please; by a natural or violent death--“I have power to lay down My life,” &c. We are sent away, often by means most revolting, and at a time most dreaded.
III. CHRIST IN VISITING THIS EARTH AND DEPARTING FROM IT WAS THE CONSCIOUS MESSENGER OF THE FATHER. The language suggests
1. The life of true souls. Coming from the Father with our motives, inspirations, and directions from His service, and returning with the results of our labours. As rivers have their existence by rolling from ocean to ocean, so the true life of souls is unconsciously moving from God to God--the cause and end of all activities.
2. The interference of the world with this life. Christ speaks as if, when in the world, He was away from the Father. At times the Father’s face seemed eclipsed, “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” So with us the power of the senses, physical suffering, secular enjoyments, and social trials often interrupt Divine communion. But when we leave the world we shall be for ever with Him.
1. With what holy gratitude should we celebrate Christ’s advent and departure!
2. Alas! how many who come into this world depart not to the
Father, but to the devil. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Now speakest Then plainly
The disciples’ confession and the Master’s warning
The first words of these discourses were, “Let not your heart be troubled.
” The aim of all was to bring peace and confidence to the disciples. And this joyful burst shows that the aim has been reached. The last sublime utterance had gathered all the scattered rays into a beam so bright that the blindest could not but see, and the coldest could not but be warmed But yet the calm, clear eye of Christ sees something not wholly satisfactory in this out-pouring of the disciples’ confidence.
I. THE DISCIPLES’ JOYFUL CONFESSION. Their words are permeated with allusions to previous sayings of our Lord, and show how shallow was their understanding of what they thought was plain. He had said to them that in that coming day He would speak to them no more in proverbs; and they answer that the promised day has come. If they had understood what He meant could they have spoken thug, or bare left Him so soon?
1. They begin with what they believed to be a fact, His clear utterance. Then follows a conviction. He had said, “In that day ye shall ask Me nothing.” And from the fact that He had interpreted their unspoken words they rightly draw the conclusion of His Divine Omniscience. And they think that therein is the fulfilment of that great promise. Was that all that He meant, No! He meant, “Ye shall ask Me nothing because you will have an illuminating Spirit.” And so, again, a shallow interpretation empties the words which they accept of their deepest and most precious meaning.
2. They take a further step. They begin with a fact; then they infer a conviction; and now, upon the basis of the inferred conviction, they rear a faith. “We believe that Thou camest forth from God.” But what they meant by “coming forth from God” fell far short of what He meant. And so their confession is a strangely mingled warp and woof of insight and of ignorance.
3. Note the lessons. We learn
II. THE SAD QUESTIONS AND FOREBODINGS OF THE MASTER. He does not reject their imperfect homage, though He discerns its imperfection and transiency; but sadly warns them to beware of the fleeting nature of their present emotion; and would seek to prepare them, by the knowledge, for the terrible storm that is going to break upon them. Note, then, that
1. The dear Lord accepts imperfect surrender. If He did not, what would become of us all? He was willing to put up with what you and I will not put up with; and to accept what we reject; and be pleased that they gave Him even that.
2. The need for Christian men to make sure that their inward life corresponds with their words and professions. Our words and acts of Christian profession and service are like bank notes. And what will be the end if there is a whole ream of such going up and down the world, and no balance of bullion in the cellars to meet them? Nothing but bankruptcy. Do you see to it that your reserve of gold, deep down in your hearts, always leaves a margin beyond the notes in circulation issued by you. And in the midst of your professions hear the Master saying, “Do ye now believe?”
3. Trust no emotions, no religious experiences, but only Him to whom they turn. These men were perfectly sincere, and there was a glow of gladness in their hearts, and a real though imperfect faith when they spoke. In an hour’s time where were they? “We trusted.” Ah! what a world of sorrow there is in those two final letters of that word. “We trusted that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel.” But they do not trust it any more, and so why should they put themselves in peril for One on whom their faith can no longer build? Would you and I have been any better if we had been there? Suppose you had stood afar off and seen Jesus die on the cross, would your faith have lived? Let us all, recognizing our own weakness, trust to nothing, but only to Him, and cry, “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.”
III. THE LONELY CHRIST AND HIS COMPANION.
1. Jesus was the loneliest man that ever lived. All other forms of human solitude were concentrated in His. He knew the pain of unappreciated aims, unaccepted love, unbelieved teachings, a heart thrown back upon itself. Solitude was no small part of the pain of His passion. Remember the pitiful appeals in Gethsemane. Now, some of us no doubt have to live outwardly solitary lives. Physicists tell us that in the most solid bodies the atoms do not touch. Hearts come closer than atoms, but yet after all, we die alone, and in the depths of our souls we all live alone. So let us be thankful that the Master knows the bitterness of solitude, and has Himself trod that path.
2. Then we have the calm consciousness of unbroken communion. Jesus Christ’s sense of union with the Father was deep, close, constant, in manner and measure altogether transcending any experience of ours. But still He sets before us a pattern of what we should aim at in these great words. They show the path of comfort for every lonely heart. If the world with its millions seems to have none in it for us, let us turn to Him who never leaves us. If dear ones are torn from our grasp, let us clasp God. It is not all loss if the trees which with their leafy beauty shut out the sky from us, are felled and so we see the blue. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Faith in the chamber and faith in the world
I. THE DISCIPLES PROFESSED TO BELIEVE, BUT THEY DID NOT KNOW WHY.
1. Here was a great, though natural mistake.
2. And yet they did believe. They believed more than they thought, and better. They knew the Teacher, if not the lesson. While they were basing their faith on knowledge of His meaning, they had a faith already built on a surer foundation than that; and while they were rejoicing in a confidence which had no support but a mistake, they felt a deeper, stronger confidence which rested on no mistake at all. We too feel more than we understand. It were a poor thing if our confidence in Christ and Christianity were based on learning and logic, or even distinct opinions. A man may believe in Christ, and cleave to Him, and follow Him, and yet be miserably at a loss if asked for a scientific or a satisfactory exposition of his faith.
II. THEY BELIEVED, BUT THEY DID NOT KNOW HOW. Christ did not mean to question the reality of their faith but its intensity. They always had believed, and, under the influence of this affecting scene, and thinking that they understood His meaning, believed more than ever. But they little knew how frail and feeble was their faith in comparison with the burden it would have to bear. They felt strong, like a convalescent invalid, but as soon as strain and pressure were on them, their strength was that of a little child. Apply this thought
1. To the faith of contemplation and the faith of action; to man looking on truth as an object, and obeying it as a claim. While the disciples had Christ before them, and had only to listen to and behold Him, they believed; but when they had to follow Him, to show their practical regard, “they all forsook Him and fled.” And still there is a difference between the quiet thought of truth, and its embodiment in act. “Faith worketh by love.” No other faith can save a man. How “can faith save,” if it does nothing? How can it save from sins, if it does not destroy sin? Truth is given us, not to be a pleasant object but a living power. The Word of God is “a lamp to the feet,” not only to the eye. It is very possible to have faith in Christ when beholding the graces of His character, the credentials of His mission, and the glory of His work, and to be sadly wanting in loving and daily obedience to His will; possible to have faith in propositions, with practical unbelief in duties; and yet the faith which is “more precious than gold,” must bear the test of gold.
2. To the faith which receives Christ in peace and prosperity, and that which receives Him when His claims conflict with our fond beliefs and wishes. We can think calmly and speak eloquently of the goodness and equity of Providence when “the lines are fallen to us in pleasant places,” but how mysterious it becomes when He “destroyeth the hope of man.” What was a pleasant study becomes s perplexing, perhaps insoluble problem. We can recommend so persuasively the cheerful drinking of the cup of sorrow when in the hand of others, but what wry faces we make when put into our own! It is as it was in that upper room: Jesus in peace and safety, speaking of a dear Father, His joyful home, His love to His disciples, and great comforts in store for them, is one Christ; but Jesus betrayed and seized is quite another.
3. To faith in enjoyment of strong and stimulating privileges and faith deprived of them. There was everything in that upper room to excite and gratify every religious and Christian feeling. As men, the disciples were with brethren; as Jews, they had observed one of the most solemn and delightful festivals of their nation; as friends of Jesus, they had seen Him open His heart as He had never done before. But when this scene had passed as a dissolving view, and wintry barrenness had taken the place of summer loveliness--when the spell had been broken, and nature was left to its ordinary action--faith failed. We know what times of unwonted spiritual impression and excitement are, when the spiritual world seems opened to our view; when “alone” with Jesus, “He expounds all things to His disciples;” and when they “know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” But these times do not last. And how soon the fair vision vanishes! A return to the worldly lot and the society of man dissipates it all; and it requires all our effort and care not to “leave,” in heart, the Jesus we had felt to be our “Life,” and “Peace,” and “Hope.” Conclusion: The subject teaches us how to try ourselves and others. Not by clearness of views or sensibility of feelings, but life. (A. J. Morris.)
Do ye now believe?
I. A KIND INQUIRY (John 16:31). A question.
1. Authoritative. Put by Him who alone has a right to do so.
2. Necessary. The existence of faith (John 9:35; Mark 4:40) the one thing needful (Luke 18:8; Hebrews 11:6).
3. Urgent. Then the time was short--Christ was on the eve of departure. Now the time is short (1 Corinthians 7:29)--The Lord is at hand Philippians 4:5; James 5:8).
4. Personal. The question was addressed to the disciples individually. So must each soul consider and reply for himself.
II. A GENTLE ADMONITION (verse 32). A warning.
1. Startling. Otherwise it would have been worthless.
2. Painful; intimating the fact of their impending desertion: hence suggesting the propriety of examining whether their faith was capable of enduring the coming strain.
3. Softened. Their dispersion would leave Him alone in the hands of His enemies; yet as if to mitigate the blow of this allusion to their apostasy He adds that the Father would be with Him.
III. A CHEERING PREDICTION (verse 33).
1. The blessing. Christ desired that they might have peace. It was His dying legacy (John 14:27) and His purpose in all His conversation and labours.
2. The sphere. It could only be secured by vital union with Himself Romans 8:6; Rom_14:17; Ephesians 2:14; Philippians 4:7).
IV. A COMFORTING CONSOLATION. Christ had overcome the world
1. For Himself. Hence they need not doubt that He was the Father’s Son and the Saviour of men, or question His ability to support and succour them.
2. For them. If they continued one with Him, in and through Him they would be victorious over all tribulation (Romans 8:37; Revelation 7:14).
1. The gentleness of Christ.
2. The weakness of men.
3. The blessedness of faith. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Rebuke and warning
I. THE REBUKE. The words, “Do ye now believe?” seem to charge the faith, that the disciples had now professed, with a threefold defect
1. That it was late. Why did ye not believe sooner? Have you not had sufficient means of conviction till now?
2. That it was cheap. What does it cost you to believe? What temptation have you to the contrary? Your faith now only lays hold of My promises, and is not at all discouraged by any of your own fears.
3. That it was mistaken. Are you sure that you do believe? Do you not think too indulgently of yourselves? Have you examined your own hearts, and secured the ground of your confidence? A true faith will never be a deserter; but you will by and by desert Me. Perhaps all these three defects were to be found in the present faith of the disciples, at least in some measure: I am sure they are actually and ordinarily found in the faith of common professors.
II. THE WARNING. In the remainder of the text, “Behold, the hour cometh,” &c., we observe, that, as the disciples’ crime was the leaving of their Master, so the occasion of that crime was their scattering; and the reason of their scattering was the concern that each of them had for “his own.” From these two propositions I shall infer
1. That when Christians divide, they leave their Master; and
2. That it is our own things, and not the things of Christ, that make us divide (Romans 16:17-18; Philippians 2:20-21). (Dean Young.)
Ye shall leave Me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me
There are two kinds of solitude--visible and inward. When we are not seen, we say that we are alone; however, it is not always a true isolation. The fisherman does not feel himself alone when he passes his nights on the immense ocean; he thinks of his family quietly sheltered; it is for them he is working, their love fills his heart. The watching soldier, in the lonely picket, does not feel himself alone; for he feels that on him rests the honour of the flag and the safety of his fellow-soldiers. The workwoman, in her garret, is not alone, for the work which she will finish before dawn will procure for those she loves the next day’s bread.
2. One can, on the contrary, be surrounded by the busiest crowd, and feel more isolated than in a desert. There are persons whose contact causes no sympathetic cord to vibrate in the soul. There have been days in which, coming back from the cemetery where you have buried a part of your heart and your life, the noise, the movement of the world seemed empty, cold and derisive.
3. Of these two solitudes I need not say which is the hardest to bear. To feel oneself lost in this vast universe, knowing that there is no one to whom we are dear, is there a more miserable condition? Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged there is a class of men who would willingly take their part in it. To have nothing in common with others, to climb a summit inaccessible, to sit there in pride, is a destiny which attracts them. Such is the greatness of selfishness, of Satan! But the gospel offers us in Christ a greatness of another nature. It does not tread sympathy under foot; it lays claim to it, it needs it. Look at Gethsemane; the Son of Man going three times to His disciples and asking them to watch with Him. How small the solitary pride of the egoist is beside that greatness!
I. WHAT THE CAUSES OF CHRIST’S SOLITUDE ARE.
1. When a man wishes to serve truth or righteousness, he must expect sooner or later to be lonely. Every truth has begun by being misunderstood; it has been a subject of reproach to those who have been its first apostles. This is above all realized in religious truth, which, by its very holiness, humiliates and bruises our pride, and consequently all human passions are leagued against it. The witnesses of eternal righteousness here below have all been at times lonely, misconstrued, slighted. Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and St. Paul. Imagine, then, the holy and the just One and you may well divine that He will be lonely amongst men. He is alone when seeking the glory of God amid people who are forgetting Him; when preaching His spiritual law in the midst of a nation attached to forms; when denouncing iniquity and hypocrisy amid a crowd whom the Pharisees dominate; amongst His disciples who do not understand His sublime mission; and in the last hour. Now, what happens to the Leader must happen to all His disciples.
2. Now, this inevitable solitude brings with it
II. HIS CONSOLATION. “I am not alone,” &c. There is what made the strength of Jesus. What are all the desertions of earth in presence of communion with God? He might well feel that precious communion, for He only wanted, loved, accomplished the Father’s will; but can we forget that there was a mysterious, dreadful day when the Father Himself failed Him? But if Jesus has known that terrible forsaking, it was that we should never know it. When faith united us to Him we obtained the right to come to God, and to call Him our Father; then in our turn we could repeat those words. That is what constitutes the Christian’s strength and consolation.
1. You are alone, and perhaps are doubting. Who are you to oppose your thought to the thoughts of the crowd, to believe what others deny? In that sorrowful anxiety, I know of only one refuge; it is this thought: “The Father is with me.” If it was your thought only the waves of doubt would soon carry you away; but when you have God for you nothing should stop you. It was that which made all God’s prophets strong, when they had to protest against some dominant iniquity? Neither Moses, nor Elijah, nor St. Paul have drawn from their own character that superhuman energy which made them giants in the moral order; they themselves tell us that it is God who calls them and sends them. So Luther. To divine the secret of his strength, he should be seen on his knees before going to the Diet of Worms, saying: “My God, Thou dost know well that I do not wish to resist such great lords, but it is Thy cause not mine.” And behold, he, the son of a peasant, overthrew in his weakness the secular yoke of Rome which philosophy had not been able to move!
2. There is that barrenness which isolation produces. Ah! if the affection of men fail us, do you not believe that the love of God is infinite enough to fill our heart? Is not God the very source of love? Do you believe that God would leave empty, arid, and barren, a heart which the world forsakes?
3. As opposed to discouragement nothing is more powerful than the thought that the Father is with us. “My right is with the Lord, and my work is with my God;” yes, his work, small, hidden, obscure as it may be, if that work is only a prayer, a sigh, a tear, which seems lost. What immense encouragement such a thought is! If I am alone, that work will not perish with me, I have brought my stone to an eternal building which is continued along the centuries; for it is God’s work. (E. Bersier, D. D.)
Many a one is cast down and weary because he feels alone; nought so dispirits as loneliness; add yet one may be more alone in a crowd than anywhere when all unknown and uncured for. All must feel it in some shape: the old who sit and gaze in the fire, and see many a cherished scheme lying in the dull white ash; old friends, loved ones, gone, one by one; new faces and new ways, belonging to a new generation, cluster round, and loneliness pours in upon the soul--a loneliness too deep for human words to describe. When you have a sorrow, you feel that he that hath known a little sorrow will give the warmest sympathy. The memory of the trial, illumined by the after-knowledge of its blessing, will give a loving, tender power to the counsel of the friend. Whose sorrow like that sorrow! Whose loneliness as that of Jesus, when His bitter cry startled the assembled throng! He knows it all. Bring, then, thy care here, and gather comfort. Not very long ago one of our English officers, when riding full speed across the sand after the enemy, saw one of his men laid on the ground with his side torn open by a shell, and fast sinking. Reining up his horse he said, “My lad, you must not think me unkind if I leave you alone in your agony; but you know I must ride on, Duty commands me!” I shall never forget, said that officer, the answer I got. “Sir,” said he, “I am not alone. I have with me the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother!” That brave English soldier knew the glorious truth of the ever-present Jesus, who, by the memory of that bitter cry, would never leave a child of His to be alone in the hour of need. Oh, Jesus, let me glean and keep that precious thought. I am not left as an orphan alone to fight and struggle in the great battle of life. The fierceness of the pain full often makes men long for something to lull the pain; the heart gives way before the long future that seems to stretch on and on without a ray of hope. “Face it,” says the doctor, “the pain may be for a time the fiercer, but the operation will relieve.” Or if it be a soul-agony, and sin to crucify, nails to be driven through our tenderest places. “Face it,” cries the Great Physician, “suffer, but win!” Deluded souls fly to the giddy throng, and try by pleasures to drown thought, or by the fatal wine cup to forget in a momentary false excitement, the hard facts of every-day life. Let us at least meet our trials awake. Meet them in the power of the Crucified and His example. A great Italian bishop was noted for his calm resignation, and when asked how it was, replied, “I look around and think how many are worse off than I am; I look down and think how soon it will all be over; I look up and think how happy it will be there!” (W. H. Jones.)
Charms of solitude
Charles the Fifth, after a life spent in military exploits and the active and energetic prosecution of ambitious projects, resigned, as is well known, his crown, sated with its enjoyment. He left these words, as a testimony behind him: “I have tasted more satisfaction in my solitude in one day than in all the triumphs of my former reign. The sincere study, profession, and practice of the Christian religion have in them such joy as is seldom found in courts and grandeur.”
The loneliness of Christ
1. There are two kinds of solitude: that of insulation in space, and that of isolation of spirit.
2. And there are two kinds of men who feel this last solitude.
I. THE LONELINESS OF CHRIST.
1. This loneliness was caused by the Divine elevation of His character.
2. That solitude was felt by Christ in trial. In the desert, in Pilate’s judgment-hall, in the garden, He was alone--and alone must every son of man meet his trial-hour. The individuality of the soul necessitates that. Each man’s temptations are made up of a host of peculiarities which no other mind can measure. You are tried alone--alone you pass into the desert--alone you must bear and conquer in the agony--alone you must be sifted by the world. And there are trials more terrible. A temptation, in which the lower nature struggles for mastery, can be met by the whole united force of the spirit. But it is when obedience to a heavenly Father can be only paid by disobedience to an earthly one: or fidelity to duty can be only kept by infidelity to some entangling engagement: or the straight path must be taken over the misery of others: or the counsel of the affectionate friend must be met with a “Get thee behind Me, Satan.” It is then, when human advice is unavailable, that the soul feels what it is to be alone.
3. The Redeemer’s soul was alone in dying. The hour had come--they were all gone, and He was, as He predicted, left alone. All that is human drops from us in that hour. “I shall die alone”--yes, and alone you live. No atom in creation touches another--they only approach within a certain distance; then the attraction ceases, and an invisible something repels--they only seem to touch. No soul touches another soul except at one or two points; and those chiefly external. Death only realizes that which has been the fact all along. In the central deeps of our being we are alone.
II. THE SPIRIT OR TEMPER OF THAT SOLITUDE.
1. Observe its grandeur. I am alone, yet not alone. There is a feeble and sentimental way in which we speak of the Man of sorrows. We turn to the cross and the loneliness to arouse compassion. You degrade that loneliness. Compassion for Him! Adore if you will; but no pity: let it draw out the firmer and manlier graces of the soul. Even in human things, the strength that is in a man can be only learnt when he is thrown upon his own resources and left alone. It is one thing to defend the truth when you know that your audience are already prepossessed, and another to hold it when met by unsympathizing suspicion, It is one thing to rush on to danger with the shouts of numbers, and another when the lonely captain of the sinking ship sees the last boatful disengage itself, and folds his arms to go down into the majesty of darkness, crushed, but not subdued. Such and greater far was the strength and majesty of the Saviour’s solitariness. It was not the trial of the lonely hermit. There is a certain pleasing melancholy in his life. But there are the forms of nature to speak to him, and he has not the positive opposition of mankind if he has the absence of actual sympathy. But the solitude of Christ was the solitude of a crowd. In that single human bosom dwelt the thought which was to be the germ of the world’s life: a thought unshared, misunderstood, or rejected.
2. Learn from these words self-reliance. Alone the Son of Man was content to be. He threw Himself on His own solitary thought: did not go down to meet the world; but waited, though it might be for ages, till the world should come round to Him. This is self-reliance--to believe that what is truest in you is true for all: to abide by that, and not be over-anxious to be understood, or sympathized with, certain that at last all must acknowledge the same, and that while you stand firm, the world will come round to you. There is a cowardice in this age which is not Christian. We shrink from the consequences of truth. We ask what men will think--what others will say. He who is calculating that will accomplish nothing. The Father--the Father who is with us and in us--what does He think?
3. Remark the humility of this loneliness. Had the Son of Man simply said, I can be alone, He would have said no more than any proud man can say. But when he added, “because the Father is with Me,” that independence assumed another character, and self-reliance became only another form of reliance upon God. Distinguish between genuine and spurious humility. There is a false humility which says, “It is my own poor thought, and I must not trust it. Is not trust in self the great fault of our fallen nature?” Very well. Now remember something else. There is a Spirit which beareth witness with our spirits--there is a “Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” The thought of your mind perchance is the thought of God. To refuse to follow that may be to disown God. To take the judgment and conscience of other men to live by--where is the humility of that? From whence did their conscience and judgment come? Was the fountain from which they drew exhausted for you? (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Cure of loneliness
A poor woman living alone in a small cottage in the forest was asked if she did not feel the loneliness of the place. “Oh no,” was her reply, “for Faith closes the door at night, and Mercy opens it in the morning.” (Sunday at Home.)
Alone, yet not alone
I. WE HAVE NO REASON TO SAY THAT IT IS WRONG TO RECOIL FROM BEING ALONE.
1. Adam was unfallen when God saw that it was “not good for him to be alone.” Sin has always a tendency to isolate--grace to draw out the social affections. Whoever thinks of solitude in heaven?
2. Therefore, it is nothing strange that Christ should place solitude among His sorrows. The desire which brought Him down here was a longing to have a people with Him. He could not be that “grain of wheat which abideth alone.” No wonder, then, that the first act of His public life was to secure companionship. And there is not a more touching trait of His whole life than that yearning after human sympathy, in the agony of Gethsemane. And, plainly, it was not for His disciples’ sake that He loved to take them about with Him everywhere. Even the transfiguration would have been incomplete without the three. And after the resurrection, the only thought on which we know that He dwelt with pleasure is, “I will meet you in Galilee.” And do you think that it was only for us He said it, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there ye may be also?” We can quite understand, therefore, that in the enumeration of His sorrows, such stress was laid upon the fact that “He trod the wine-press alone;”--and how that desertion of His friends struck so cold and so painfully, that He at once looked out for a refuge, “Ye shall leave Me alone, and yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me.” And then, you remember, presently came that passage which was the most tremendous of all solitude “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” I say, then, that we have the highest warrant to affirm that solitude is to be deprecated, and that one great end of our religion is to provide the exemption.
II. THE GREATEST PART OF HIS LIFE EVERY MAN IS ALONE.
1. Count up the hours of life, and most of them are passed alone. Besides, there is a moral solitude far greater than physical. Who has not felt the deep solitude of a crowd?
2. The most dangerous, because the most subtle, temptations come to us when we are alone. An unoccupied state is sure to foster what is bad in us, and our lonely hours are generally our most unoccupied ones. It was in a solitude that even our Lord had His fiercest attacks. See how it is.
you become dreamy, unpractical--an easy prey to cankerous thought, delusion, doubt, and all unhealthy things
III. IT IS OF IMMENSE IMPORTANCE TO HAVE A REMEDY FOR SOLITUDE. If Jesus Himself, in His perfect innocence, felt it--how much we? What shall we do?
1. Occupy solitude. Never allow sheer solitude for solitude’s sake. Let there, for instance, be a distinct subject of thought. Solitude should always be preparatory to something which is to follow it--never an end, always a means. Jesus’ solitudes appear to have been always preparatory to work.
2. People your solitudes with realized presences; bring in the communion of saints. It is not necessary that they be actually there. And that will make solitude more than safe--holy, helpful.
3. Far more than both, feel the close presence of a living Saviour. Christians do not attach sufficient weight to the actual presence of Christ as a brother. Most minds are occupied with the death of Christ, but it is the few who think as they ought of the actual, living, present Christ. Then, where is solitude? What the Father was to Jesus, that, Jesus, or rather the Father in Jesus, is to you.
IV. LIFE WILL BE A VERY DIFFERENT THING TO YOU FROM THE TIME THAT YOU HAVE LEARNT THIS SECURITY OF SOLITUDE.
1. Your own room will then be another place to you. To go up there will not be to go up to be “alone.” Rather, no other place upon this whole earth so sweetly full--no company so good, no fellowship so rich. It will not be dull, it will not be unwholesome, it will not be perilous, to be there. And it will be a very poor thing, in comparison, to go down from angels, and from saints, and from Jesus, to the common-places, the presences of life.
2. And yet, even in these common-places, the presences will be there.
3. And in things more testing still. If there be a desolating moment, it is when you are first called to do alone something which you have been wont to do with one with whom you can never do that thing again. The pleasant part is gone, for that dear one is gone. But those spirits are not gone--Jesus is not gone. It is a true word--you are “alone;” but it is truer still, “not alone.”
4. And presently you will have to die. And it is a very solitary thing to die. Those who love you may go with you to the brink, but they cannot cross with you. I shudder to think of the solitariness of the feeling of the death of the man of the world. But you will not be “alone”--never so tended, never so encompassed with the loving, the lovely, and the true--“Alone, yet not alone, for the Father is with you.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Alone, yet not alone
I. THE LONELINESS OF JESUS.
1. In the mystery of His person.
2. In the elevation of His Spirit.
3. In the intensity of His suffering.
4. In the character of His work.
5. In the extent of His influence.
II. THE SOCIETY OF JESUS. The Father was with Christ
1. In personal union with His Godhead.
2. In active co-operation with His Divine manhood.
3. In the exercise of spiritual communion.
4. In the manifestation of paternal sympathy. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
These things have I spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace.
These things, or Christ’s secrets
I. The secret of COMMUNION (John 14:25).
II. The secret of JOY (John 15:11).
III. The secret of STEADFASTNESS (John 16:1).
IV. The secret of PRAYER (John 16:25).
V. The secret of PEACE AND VICTORY (text). (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The peace which Jesus promises
I. THE PEACE HERE PROMISED.
1. It is spiritual peace. This is plain from the fact that it was to be enjoyed during tribulation, and it is the peace which Jesus promises in these words: “Peace I leave with you, not as the world giveth.” From the connection in which it is evident that it is a fruit of the Spirit. It flows from a well-grounded persuasion of our reconciliation to God. We can enjoy no true happiness of which God is not both the Author and Finisher. There is an inseparable connection between holiness and happiness.
2. This peace is peculiar to the friends of Jesus. In Me ye shall have peace. He addresses His friends only. They are all united to Christ by the Spirit who dwells in Him and them, and are all furnished with that faith by which they obtain peace. All the wicked are entire strangers to it, because they are separated from the Prince of Peace. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”
3. The enjoyment of this peace is not at all inconsistent with the endurance of tribulation. It is seated in the mind. In his body the Christian may feel sickness and pain; in his estate he may suffer damage and loss; and, in his character and friends, he may suffer injury and loss; and yet the peace of his mind, on the whole, may remain unruffled and undiminished. In the history of the apostles, after the Ascension, we have an ample proof of this delightful truth. Rude and frequent as the tempests were by which they were assailed, they could not even check the growth of that fair plant of heavenly origin, peace of mind, which their Saviour had planted in their souls.
4. The tribulations of the world have a tendency to interrupt, and often do interrupt this peace. This is plainly implied in these words, “Be of good cheer,” &c. The Christian has his days of sweet sunshine, but also his nights of gloomy darkness.
5. This peace shall never be totally or finally taken away from the Christian. “Your joy no man taketh from you.”
II. THE WORDS OF CHRIST ARE FITTED TO MAINTAIN THE PEACE OF HIS PEOPLE AMIDST ALL THE TRIBULATIONS OF LIFE.
1. They tell Christians beforehand what they have to expect in the world, viz., tribulation; and, therefore, teach them to make preparation for it. A principal part of the misery of mankind arises from want of attention to such information. Men suffer the many keen pangs of disappointment, because they will indulge those wishes and hopes which general experience, the dictates of sober reason, and the word of God, pronounce to be groundless and extravagant.
2. In the season of tribulation, the words of Christ direct the mind to effectual sources of consolation. They teach us, that all our afflictions come from God; that God has a gracious design in afflicting us; that the same God, who is our God in the time of health and prosperity, is also our God in the time of trouble and adversity; that all things shall work together for our good.
3. They teach us that the time of our warfare and suffering is but short, and that all our tribulations shall come to a perpetual end, and immortal joy succeed.
Conclusion: From this subject learn
1. To rejoice in all your tribulations. This is, indeed, a very difficult lesson: none but Christ can teach it, and none but a true Christian can learn it. But to learn it is possible; for we hear Paul saying, “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities,” &c.
2. To make yourselves familiarly acquainted with the words of Christ. How can they afford us rich and lasting consolation if we are ignorant of them.
3. Never to forget that you have to contend only with vanquished enemies. (J. Clapperton.)
The believer’s peace
It is often surprising to see how much pain there may be in the sensibility, and yet peace in the depths of the mind. In crossing the Atlantic some years ago we were overtaken by a gale of wind. Upon the deck the roar and confusion was terrific. The spray from the crests of the waves blew upon the face with almost force enough to blister it. The noise of the waves howling and roaring and foaming was almost deafening. But when I stepped into the engine-room everything was quiet. The mighty engine was moving with a quietness and stillness in striking contrast with the roar without. It reminded me of the peace that can reign in the soul while storms and tempests are howling without. (C. G. Finney.)
The Christian above disquietude
A ship’s compass is so adjusted as to keep its level amidst all the hearings of the sea. Though forming part of a structure that feels every motion of the restless waves, it has an arrangement of its own that keeps it always in place, and in working order. Look at it when you will, it is pointing--trembling, perhaps, but truly--to the pole. So each soul in this life needs an adjustment of its own, that amid the fluctuations of the “earthen vessel” it may be kept ever in a position to feel the power of its great attraction in the skies.” (Christian Treasury.)
Victory over tribulation
When Samuel Rutherford was sentenced to imprisonment in the city of Aberdeen “for righteousness sake,” he wrote to a friend: “The Lord is with me; I care not what man can do. I burden no man, and I want nothing. No being is better provided for than I am. My chains are over-gilded with gold. No pen, no words, no engine can express to you the loveliness of my only, only Lord Jesus.”
Peace in Christ
1. There is clearly a negative rolled up in this sentence, viz., that there is no “peace” out of Christ. Every promise involves a negative. There will be no negatives in heaven. And this is the more to be observed, because almost all that we know of heaven itself, as yet, is negative. But where there is nothing but Christ, there can be nothing but “peace.”
2. These words were the last Christ said before His teaching turned, as by a necessary transition, into prayer. Jesus says that the whole of His teaching never swerved from that one end. The duty of the fourteenth, the union of the fifteenth, the coming of the Spirit in the sixteenth chapters all pointed to “peace.” And, beyond those three peerless chapters, it was the property of Christ’s whole doctrine upon earth. No one ever said severer things than Christ; but it was a severity only to “peace.” He saddened to gladden, He stirred the deepest waters of the soul that He might make the greater calm. What a lesson to ministers! And you--see what your religion is!--peace-not fear, not condemnation, not excitement, not controversy.
I. LET US UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS PEACE IS.
1. It is the feeling of being forgiven--a quiet conscience--a stilling sense of the love of God.
2. Then, growing out of that, it is a certain contemplative habit of mind, which lives up high enough not to be anxious much about the matters of this world. For it is the repose of faith, a trust in promises, a sense of a Father’s love, the hush of s little child on the bosom.
II. IT IS OF IMMENSE IMPORTANCE TO HAVE THAT PEACE, because
1. It is the only satisfying of all possessions. Pleasure is man’s delight, but “peace” is man’s necessity. No man knows the capabilities of his own existence, or what enjoyment is, till he is at “peace.”
2. Peace is the root of all holiness. To believe that you are pardoned, to carry a conscience at ease, to take the unruffled reflection of Christ, even as Christ did of the Father, that is the atmosphere of a daily religious life, and that is the secret of every good thing.
3. Peace is the fulfilment of the work of Christ. Then, He “sees of the travail of His soul” in you, “and is satisfied.”
III. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES WHY YOU ARE NOT AT “PEACE.”
1. A want of seriousness and earnestness about your salvation.
2. Or, it may be that you do not see the perfect freeness of this precious gift of “peace.” You are trying to work up to it, when you ought to be trying to work from it.
3. Or, you are grieving the Holy Spirit by some continual sin.
4. Or, you are pre-occupied--your mind is cumbered with care, and a crowd of worldly thoughts oppress you, and “peace” will not, cannot come to dwell with what is so turbid, or breathes so thick an air.
IV. RULES FOR PEACE. Be more decided. Decision is the parent of “peace.”
1. Take some step at once heavenward, and it may be that one step will land you in “peace.”
2. Confess Christ. If you honour Him He will honour you. And “peace” is the seal of an honoured and an honouring Saviour.
3. Go up and down more in Christ--His work, His work, His person, His beauty, His grace. See all your evidences in Him, realize your union with Him, listen for His “still small voice.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Peace and victory
I. THE INWARD PEACE.
1. Peace is not lethargy; and it is very remarkable that, in immediate connection, there are words of tribulation and battle. The Christian life moves in two realms--“in Me” and “in the world.” And the predicates and characteristics of these are opposite. The tree will stand, with its deep roots and its firm bole, unmoved, though wildest winds may toss its branches and scatter its leaves. In the fortress, beleagured by the sternest foes, there may be, right in the very centre of the citadal, a quiet oratory, through whose thick walls the noise of battle and the shout of victory or defeat can never penetrate. So we may live in a centre of rest, however wild may be the uproar in the circumference.
2. But, then, note that this peace depends upon certain conditions.
II. THE OUTWARD TRIBULATION WHICH IS THE CERTAIN FATE OF HIS FOLLOWERS.
1. Of course there is very sad and true sense in which the warning, “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” applies to all men. Pain and sickness, loss and death, and all the other ills that flesh is heir to afflict us all. But our Lord is not speaking here about the troubles that befall men as men, nor about the chastisement that befalls them as sinners, but of the yet more mysterious sorrows which fall upon them because they are good.
2. I have already said that the Christian life moves in two spheres, and hence there must necessarily be conflict. Whoever realizes the inward life in Christ will more or less find himself coming into hostile collision with lives which only move on the surface and belong to the world.
3. No doubt the form of the antagonism varies. No doubt the more the world is penetrated by Christian principles the less vehement and painful will the collision be. No doubt some portion of the battlements of organized Christianity has tumbled into the ditch and made it a little less deep. Christian men and women have dropped their standard far too much, and so the antagonism is not so plain as it ought to be. But there it is, and if you are going to live out and out like a Christian man, you will get the old sneers flung at you. We have all, in our several ways, to bear the Cross. Do not let us be ashamed of it, and, above all, for the sake of easing our shoulders, do not let us be unfaithful to our Master.
III. THE COURAGEOUS CONFIDENCE WHICH COMES FROM THE LORD’S VICTORY. “Be of good cheer.”
1. It is the old commandment that rung out to Joshua on the departure of Moses, “Be strong and of a good courage,” &c. So says the Captain of salvation. Like some leader who has climbed the ramparts, or hewed his way through the broken ranks of the enemies, and rings out the voice of encouragement and call to his followers, our Captain sets before us His own example.
2. Notice, then, how our Lord’s life was a true battle. The world tried to draw him away from God by appealing to things desirable to sense, as in the wilderness; or to things dreadful to sense, as on the cross; and both the one and the other form of temptation He faced and conquered. It was no shadow fight which evoked this pecan of victory.
3. Our Lord’s life is the type of all victorious life. The world conquers me when it draws me away from God, when it makes me its slave, when it coaxes me to trust it, and to despair if I lose it. And I conquer the world when I put my foot upon its temptations, when I crush it down, when I shake off its bonds, and when nothing that time and sense, with their delights or their dreadfulnesses, can bring, prevents me from cleaving to my Father with all my heart. Whoso thus coerces Time and Sense to be the servants of his filial love has conquered them both. And whoso lets them draw him away from God is beaten, however successful he may dream himself to be, and men may call him.
4. Our share in the Master’s victory--“l have overcome the world. Be ye of good cheer.” That seems an irrelevant way of arguing. What does it matter to me though He has overcome? So much the better for Him; but what good is it to me? It may aid us somewhat to more strenuous fighting if we know that a Brother has fought and conquered. But the victory of Christ is of extremely little practical use to me, if all the use is to show me how to fight. You must go deeper than that. “I have overcome the world,” and “I will come and put My overcoming Spirit into your weakness, and be in you the conquering and omnipotent power.”
5. The condition of that victory’s being ours is the simple act of reliance upon Him and upon it. The man that goes into the battle as that little army of the Hebrews did against the wide-stretching hosts of the enemy, saying, “O Lord! we know not what to do, but our eyes are up unto Thee,” will come out more than conqueror through Him that loved him. And “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Peace and victory
I. TRIBULATION IN THE WORLD.
1. Christians may expect to experience the ordinary trials characteristic of the human lot.
2. To these are added those temptations which beset such as earnestly desire to do the will of God, and follow in the steps of Christ.
3. And in the case of some persecutions are encountered for the sake of righteousness.
II. PEACE IN CHRIST.
1. Christ was the author and bringer of peace, which was announced as the result of His Advent, and bequeathed by Him as His legacy.
2. Peace is enjoyed through spiritual union with Christ--“In Me.”
3. Peace with God is followed by peace with men, and produces peace even within the troubled soul.
4. Such inward peace renders its possessor largely independent of adverse external circumstances.
III. VICTORY WITH CHRIST.
1. As a matter of fact Christ did overcome the world. In His life, on the cross, in His resurrection.
2. Through participation with Him Christians share His victory. Conflict is to be maintained, and victory won over the world, self, sin. The victory shall be perfected and manifested when the triumphant soldier of the Cross shall sit down with Christ on the throne.
IV. ENCOURAGEMENT FROM CHRIST. “Be of good cheer!” We hear His voice in the storm, “It is I, be not afraid.” We hear His voice amid the flames, “Fear not for I am with you.” We hear His voice upon the battlefield, “Be thou faithful unto death,” &c. (Family Churchman.)
Worldly and Christian tribulation
In the Pitti Palace, at Florence, there are two pictures which hang side by side. One represents a stormy sea with its wild waves, and black clouds and fierce lightnings flashing across the sky. In the waters a human face is seen, wearing an expression of the utmost agony and despair. The other picture also represents a sea, tossed by as fierce a storm, with as dark clouds; but out of the midst of the waves a rock rises, against which the waters dash in vain. In a cleft of the rock are some tufts of grass and green herbage, with sweet flowers, and amid these a dove is seen sitting on her nest, quiet and undisturbed by the wild fury of the storm. The first picture fitly represents the sorrow of the world when all is helpless and despairing; and the other, the sorrow of the Christian, no less severe, but in which he is kept in perfect peace, because he nestles in the bosom of God’s unchanging love. (S. S. Times.)
The necessity for tribulation
If because you are Christians you promise yourselves a long lease of temporal happiness, free from troubles and afflictions, it is as if a soldier going to the wars should promise himself peace and continual truce with the enemy; or as if a mariner committing himself to the sea for a long voyage should promise himself nothing but fair and calm weather, without waves and storms;--so irrational it is for a Christian to promise himself rest here upon earth. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Need for tribulation
Cloudless skies drop no rain. We may bathe ourselves in the unclouded sunshine for days and for weeks, thinking that, if the blue of the heavens were nevermore veiled by the blackness of the storm, we at least would be perfectly satisfied. But as the unclouded days pass on, the parched earth begins to gape to heaven for water, the flowers fade, the grass is burned up, and men and beasts droop in the merciless heat, which now seems no longer the messenger of life, but the angel of death. For need like that there is no help in cloudless skies; the sign of deliverance rather comes in the livid thunder-cloud, the flashing lightning, and the pouring rain. There is a like need of the rain-cloud in the inner life. There is a parching and deadening influence even here in too much sunshine; and the storm-cloud of pain or of sorrow, which drenches our heart-soil with the rain of tears, alone makes possible the continued growth of that which is best in our heart-culture. We do right to thank God for cloudless days; but we do wrong if we do not thank Him also for days not cloudless. If the one gives the sunshine, the other gives the rain; and without either there would be no increase. (S. S. Times.)
Christ’s conquest of the world
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE WORLD. In St. John’s writings the word occurs more than one hundred times, and mostly from our Lord’s lips. It is used sometimes as equivalent to
1. The universe. “The world was made by Him.”
2. The race of men. “God so loved the world.”
3. But here it cannot mean either of these, because the world in one sense is the revelation of God, and in the other the object of Christian love as the purchase of Christ’s blood.
4. What is it then? It refuses to be described. It eludes our mental grasp. It is not a person, nor a multitude, nor anything on which we can fix responsibility. It is not civilization, though it hangs on its outskirts. It is not sin, though it produces and is produced by it. It is not the wicked, though they are its victims. It is not Satan, though he is its prince. It is an atmosphere, a temper, a spirit, a power most real and energetic, but dead and invisible--a miasma which has arisen from the putrefying corpses if all the sins which have been committed since the Fall. It has hung for ages like a dark, murky cloud over the heart of humanity. It poisons the very air we breathe.
5. But what is it in its essence? It is that warp in the aim and affections of the soul which makes of each of the objects of the visible creation and of the circumstances of life a distinct hindrance to getting to heaven. It is, says St. John, “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the age and the pride of life.” It is putting the creature in the place of the Creator. Friends, business, books, &c., may become incorporate with the world. Solomon has told us how his palace, gardens, slaves, singers, &c., were to him the world. Though Haman had an establishment which rivalled that of Ahashuerus, yet this one object--the humiliation of Mordecai formed for him his world. Dives found a world in his purple and fine linen; the young ruler in his great possessions; Felix in the favour of Caesar.
6. We are all familiar with the phrase, “the spirit of the age,” and know how one line of thought rules in one age, and another in another. Well, then, the world is a mighty tradition of all the thought and feeling that the human race has accumulated round itself since the Fall, and that is hostile to the rights of God. It is like a great river which rolls its dark volume across the ages, while a thousand civilizations and races and nations have poured their successive contributions, like so many rivulets, the tyrant as well as the handiwork of the human soul. It is like the November fog which hangs over our vast metropolis, the product of its countless homes and the proof of its vast industries; and yet the veil which shuts out from it the light of heaven destroys the colour on its works of art; the unwholesome vapour which clogs vitality and undermines health, and from which the Londoner escapes that he may see the sun, and the face of nature, and feels what it is to live. Even thus the world hangs over the soul, flapping its wings like the evil bird in the fable, or penetrating it like a subtle poison to sap its vigour and its life.
II. NOTE THE CHARACTER OF ITS INFLUENCE.
1. It works secretly and without being suspected.
2. Which leads to another characteristic, viz., its marvellous versatility, and power of adaptation to all ages, races, classes. We speak of the Roman, Greek, French, and English world: the truth is, that the great world comprises many worlds or schools, the literary, commercial, political, clerical--each has its special work, but each contributes its quota to the whole. And thus the labourer, needlewoman, crossing-sweeper has as real a world as the monarch or statesman.
3. It is contagious. It may be conveyed by a hint, attitude, fashion, dress. Ancient monarchs lived in fear of the poison which might lurk in every dish, and we may well suspect each object around us of harbouring poisonous attractions.
III. THE RESULT OF ITS INFLUENCES ON THIS AGE.
1. Its view of sin is that of something which interferes with the comfort and well-being of society. Hence it is at times unjustly lax and unjustly severe.
2. It neutralizes the truth that, living or dying, each soul lives in awful solitude beneath the eye of God, by suggesting that we are merely members of a family, town or nation.
3. God is retained just as we might keep a piece of antiquity, or the apex of a theory, or a mere abstraction. From God it turns away to created life and proclaims its supreme importance. What St. John calls sensuality, the world terms enjoying life. What He calls covetousness, the world terms doing the best you can for yourself. What He calls pride, the world calls taking your proper place. Look how it treats the political adventurer, the literary character, the capitalist who have made their way through villainy. It “goes wondering after the beast;” and proclaims the libertine not so very bad after all.
IV. THE ATTITUDE OF CHRIST TOWARDS IT.
1. Between Him and the world of His day there was a profound and necessary hostility. He began with the world of a little provincial town--Nazareth--and passed to what resembled the world of our manufacturing districts, Capernaum, Bethsaida, &c. Then He passed to the London world of Palestine to Jesusalem. Here you see Him receiving deputations from the various sections of the world: from the popular religious teachers, the Pharisees; the sceptical intellectualists, the Sadducees; the political adventurers, the Herodians. He passes to the world of the lower classes, and mixes with publicans, Samaritans, Greeks. He entered into society; for He was at the marriage at Cana, and dined with the Pharisee, &c.; and the world condemned and rejected Him, and He measured the world and condemned it. There was no mistake on either side. It crucified Him, but the Resurrection was a triumph over the power that killed Him. He had conquered the world by His doctrine, His moral beauty, His death; but, in view of His Easter victory, He said, “I have overcome the world.”
2. Only as the ages pass is that victory slowly developing its vast results. You see some of them in the world-wide establishment of His Church, in the ruin of the heathen empire, in the conquest of human thought, power, hearts, new races, and lands. And He is certain of the future. The theatre of the struggle indeed is shifted. It is now the Christian soul. Twice, especially does the world make an effort to dethrone Him--at conversion, and at the period when the soul is moved to dedicate itself to Him perfectly. Meet the world’s enchantment by a greater--that of Christ, His conquest, and the heaven He won for you. (Canon Liddon.)
The world’s conquerors
I. WHAT WORLD DOES HE MEAN?
1. Not this physical world, so well ordered and beautiful. No, that world was made by Him, and every Christian should find in it tokens of His presence. He was “in the world,” and where He was it is an honour to go.
2. The world is that which did not know Him or the Father, which was in antagonism to the authority of Divine law, and the munificence of Divine love. He might have been here not of the world, and the world would, as far as it knew of Him, have admired Him. But He came to the front and manifested His unworldliness; hence the world hated Him.
II. IN WHAT MANNER DID OUR LORD OVERCOME THE WORLD.
1. He overcame the world’s falsehood by the power of His truth. Others were sent to denounce the falsehood, but the world smiled or frowned on them, and silenced them by its seductions or threats, and many of them learned to repeat the wicked shibboleths. The faithful were murdered, one after another, and finally Christ came, born to this end to bear witness to the truth, and sealed His testimony with His blood, and by so doing won a victory such as the Church does not need to win again.
2. He overcame the world’s wickedness by His holiness. Till He came, the idea of absolute holiness was never presented to the mind of man. But He presented to the end an image of perfect purity.
3. He overcame the world’s malice by His infinite love. Only love can be victorious. The measure of malignity is the measure of defeat. Animosity is only roused by those who have in some sense gained an advantage over us. Here, then, is the peculiarity of the Lord’s triumph. He was at war with the world openly and persistently, but the world never had a better friend; and He turned its murderous rage into an occasion for manifesting His most benignant gifts.
III. THE USE WHICH CHRIST TEACHES US TO MAKE OF HIS VICTORY. “Be of good cheer,”--a word of large meaning and frequently on our Lord’s lips.
1. The original thought is courage, which expresses itself in confidence. The Old Testament rendering is “Be of good courage.”
2. The next effect is sure to bring refreshment, when fear is quelled, and agitation has ceased: then the word is “Be of good comfort.”
3. But this passes into the higher domain of gladness, for courage wins the victory, and he who triumphs is clothed with smiles and sings the song: hence the word repeatedly is “Be of good cheer.” Conclusion: The promise is to conquerors. Some of you are fighting on the wrong and losing side. Christ invites you to the winning side of truth, holiness, and love. (J. Aldis.)
1. In addressing His disciples, Christ never concealed from them the difficulties which awaited them. He purchased no discipleship by politic extenuation or concealment. We have therefore placed before us, in unmistakeable terms, the fact that, “through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom.” The modern notion that it is possible without much difficulty to be religious, cannot plead, the sanction of the highest teaching.
2. But Christ never stated a difficulty, without at the same time inspiring with courage to meet it. He has given the true disciple in every age glimpses of the difficulties with which he will have to wrestle, only that He may be induced to turn his inward eye towards a never-failing source of strength.
I. THE DISCIPLE’S TRIBULATION.
1. Taking the term “tribulation” in its widest sense, it is obviously an inevitable condition of human life. “Man is born to trouble as the spark flieth upwards.” What a fearful amount of suffering there is in the world, into which character does not enter as an element!
2. But admit character, and the conflict waxes infinitely more dire. As long as conscience speaks, and any God-ward sentiment impels, there will remain enough to engage the forces of the soul in fiercest conflict.
3. Extending our view to what is called practical life, as long as any considerable portion of mankind remained alien from God, the world must be expected to be, to the earnest disciple of Christ, a scene of conflict.
II. THE MASTER’S VICTORY.
1. That over which the conquest was obtained. The imagination stands appalled and paralysed at its vastness. “The world!” It must consist of all that is alien from God in human nature itself, and as its propensities are embodied in habit, custom, institution, and society.
2. “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world!”
Christ, the overcomer of the world
The Lord Jesus must be more than man from the tone which He assumed. There is a great deal of presumption, pride, egotism, in this man if He be nothing more than a man. We can imagine Napoleon speaking thus when he had crushed the nations beneath his feet, and shaped the map of Europe to his will. We can imagine Alexander speaking thus when he had rifled the palaces of Persia, and led her monarchs captive. But who is this that speaketh in this wise? It is a Galilean, who wears a peasant’s garment. He is about to be betrayed by His own base follower. He is casting an eye to His Cross with all its shame. And yet He saith, “I have overcome the world.”
I. WHAT IS THIS WORLD WHICH HE IS REFERRING TO? The world here meant is that which “lieth in the wicked one.” The invisible embodiment of that spirit of evil, and which now worketh in the children of disobedience; the human form of the same evil force with which our Lord contended when He overcame the devil. The devil is the god of this world, and its prince. It is the opposite of the Church, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Hence it is called “this present evil world,” while the kingdom of grace is spoken of as “the world to come.” “The world” includes
1. The ungodly themselves.
2. Certain customs, fashions, maxims, forces, principles, desires, governments. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world;” and Paul says, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed.”
3. The present constitution and arrangement of all things in this fallen state, for everything has come under vanity by reason of sin.
4. It is a thing out of which tribulation will be sure to come to us. It may come in the form of temporal trial, of temptation, or persecution. We are sojourners in an enemy’s country.
II. HOW HAS CHRIST OVERCOME THE WORLD?
1. In His life. Those thirty years of which we know so little were a wonderful preparation for His conflict. In the patience which made Him bide His time we see the dawn of the victory. When He appears upon the scene of public action, He overcomes the world
(a) When the world smiled. Our Lord was popular to a very high degree at certain times, but He never lost His self-possession. He leaves acclamations to refresh Himself by prayer. He communed with God, and so lived above the praises of men.
(b) When the world frowned. If calumnies were heaped upon Him, He went on as calmly as if they had not abused Him. Point me to an impatient word--there is not even a tradition Of an angry look at any offence rendered to Himself.
2. Christ by His death overcame the world, because
(2) By redeeming man He lifted him up from the power which the world exercises over him.
3. But chiefly has He overcome by His rising and His reigning, for when He rose He bruised the serpent’s head, and that serpent is the prince of this world, and hath dominion over it.
4. He has overcome the world by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has set up a rival kingdom now: a kingdom of love and righteousness; already the world feels its power by the Spirit. Every year the name of Jesus brings more light to this poor world.
III. WHAT CHEER IS THERE HERE FOR US? Why
1. That if Christ has overcome the world at its worst, we who are in Him shall overcome the world too through the same power which dwelt in Him. He has put His life into His people, He has given His Spirit to dwell in them, and they shall be more than conquerors.
2. Besides, He overcame the world when nobody else had overcome it. Now if our great Samson did tear this young lion, and fling it down as a vanquished thing, now it is an old lion, we, having the Lord’s life and power in us, will overcome it too.
3. Remember He overcame the world as our Head and representative, and it may truly be said that if the members do not overcome, then the Head has not perfectly gained the victory. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The prayer of Christ
It was with a shout of triumph that Jesus concluded His conversations with His disciples; but his triumph was an anticipation of faith. To transform the present reality into victory, nothing less than Omnipotence was needed, and to this Jesus appeals. The prayer is generally divided into supplication
I. FOR HIMSELF (John 17:1-5).
II. FOR HIS APOSTLES (John 17:6-19).
III. FOR THE CHURCH (John 17:20-26).
But when Jesus prayed for Himself, He had in view not His own person, but the work of God (John 17:1-2). When He prayed for the apostles, it was as the instruments and continuers of this same work; and when He commended to God all believers it was as the objects of that work, and because their souls were to be the theatre on which the Father’s glory was to be displayed. Thus the leading thought is the Father’s work, or, which comes to the same thing, the glory of God. This prayer is throughout inspired by Christ’s mission and filial affection. He thanks God for what has already been given Him to do for His cause, and asks for the more effectual means which are henceforth indispensable for the completion of the work now begun. The prayer is more than a mere meditation. Jesus had acted (chap. 13.) and spoken (chap. 14-16.); He now used that language which is at the same time action--He prayed. And He not only prayed, but prayed aloud; which proves that while speaking to God, He was also speaking for those around Him. He desired to initiate them into that close communion which He maintained with the Father, and, if possible, to lead them to pray with Him. It is an anticipatory realization of John 17:14. He raises them to that Divine sphere in which He Himself dwells: (F. Godet, D. D.)
Christ’s prayer for His disciples
I. THE PERSONAL ELEMENT IN THIS PRAYER IS VERY NOTICEABLE. It is offered in behalf of His disciples, but it is also His own. His position is most pathetic.
II. This prayer is A MINE OF PRECIOUS TRUTH.
1. The Divinity of our Lord everywhere flashes forth. He is conscious of a pre-existence. To this He twice definitely refers (John 17:5; Joh_17:24).
2. The mission of the Son, in one aspect, is to reveal to men the Father. With “Father” He begins His prayer. God is our heavenly Father. There is heart in God. To Christ He is “Holy Father,” “Righteous Father.”
3. The definition of eternal life is one of the gems of this prayer (John 17:3).
4. This prayer instructs us as to the nature of Christ’s intercession.
III. WHAT IS IT, THEN, FOR WHICH OUR LORD PRAYS IN BEHALF OF HIS DISCIPLES?
1. “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me” (John 17:11). He is about to leave them in a hostile world.
2. “Sanctify them” is His second petition. “I sanctify Myself,” He also says. In both these cases “sanctify” means evidently to set apart for God’s service. In the case of the disciples it means also “make holy,” as a preparation for God’s use.
3. “That they may be one” is Christ’s cherished desire, repeated again and again. “I in them” (John 17:26)--the echo of the prayer--is the secret of this unity.
4. Our Lord’s last petition is very touching. In childlike simplicity, and yet with the confidence of the “well beloved Son,” He says, “Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am,” and then, with the delight of a loving bridegroom who brings to his home for the first time his faithful bride, He adds, “that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me.”
5. It is profitable to note what Christ omits in this most earnest prayer for those He loved so much. He knows that they are likely to be poor, but He prays not that they may have gold or lands or houses or even homes. He knows that they will be reproached, but He prays not that they may receive applause or position. (Boston Homilies.)
Christ’s prayer for His disciples
I. THE PRAYER FOR HIMSELF It was the prayer for the perfect closing of His life-work. The season of His deepest agony was at hand. This was not a petition for mere honour or safety. The glory He sought was the revelation of the Divine love through all the approaching sufferings.
II. THE PRAYER FOR HIS DISCIPLES. This prayer is pathos itself. A brief analysis of a few thoughts in the prayer that contains volumes will reveal its spirit.
1. Their sacred calling. Their hearts must have throbbed in surprise when He confessed: “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me.” He called them “the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world.”
2. The keeping power of Christ. “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy name: those that Thou gavest Me I have kept.’ The meaning of such words was covered in the varied experiences of the past three years. The powers of darkness required a stronger than arm of flesh to ward them back. Man needs God.
3. The place of the disciples in the world. It is not the Divine way to shun the obstacles which lie in the path of duty.
4. The basis of the disciples’ power. Apart from His own presence, Christ placed the hope of His disciples in the Word of God: “I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me I have given them Thy word. Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth.”
5. The disciples’ service. In the oneness of the disciple with the Master, and in Christ’s analogy as to the likeness of His service and our own, we observe the transcendent importance of the Christian’s calling. In a reverent sense, the great utilitarian of the universe is God. His plans are all directed with a purpose. (David O. Mears.)
Analysis of the intercessory prayer of our Lord
Carefully studied, it reveals a clear order of thought. Four petitions in behalf of believers comprehend everything desirable for them, and the order cannot be changed.
I. SECURITY. The same grace that saves from sin saves from falling. God must keep us. We have no greater foe than the world; its antidote is the power of the world to come. Security is to be found in separation. This is demanded by the law of the new nature--for Christianity is essentially unworldly: by God’s design, choosing us out of the world (John 15:19), by the testimony we are to bear (John 7:7), and by theconditions of growth (Matthew 13:22).
II. SANCTITY. The word is the main instrument.
1. It determines our conceptions of truth and duty.
2. Stores the memory.
3. Corrects and enlightens conscience.
4. Moulds practical life.
III. UNITY. Here is a hint.
1. As to its character: such as exists between the Father and Son, a unity of sympathy, love, nature.
2. Its dependence on sanctity. Disciples get nearer each other as they get nearer to Christ.
3. Power as a witness to the world.
4. Perfection of fellowship in heaven.
IV. GLORY consists
1. In being with Jesus, where He is.
2. Beholding and reflecting His glory.
3. Knowing God as revealed in Christ.
4. Sharing His glory and reign. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
The best sermon followed by the best prayer
The best sermon ever preached was followed by the best prayer ever offered. (J. Traill.)
The characteristics of the intercessory prayer
This was a prayer after sermon, a prayer after sacrament, a family prayer, a parting prayer, a prayer before a sacrifice, a prayer which was a specimen of Christ’s intercession. (M. Henry.)
The intercessory prayer used in the hour of death
It was read sixty times to Bossuet on his deathbed. When John Knox come to die he asked for it to be read to him; and Spener, though he had never been willing to preach from it, because it seemed to transcend his powers, had it read to him three times when dying.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany