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After these things Jesus walked in Galilee.
The situation surveyed
I. THE SCENE IN GALILEE: the attitude of Christ’s brethren.
1. The counsel they offered. That Christ should repair to the centre of the theocratic kingdom and make His Messianic claims where they could be competently examined (John 7:3).
2. The argument they used. He could not acquire fame in Galilean obscurity, but only in the metropolis (John 7:4)--a perilous temptation He had twice encountered (Matthew 4:9; John 6:15).
3. The spirit they cherished. They disbelieved in His Messiahship, but could not deny His miracles. Hence they wanted His true character settled. If He was the Christ they wanted to see Him crowned, if not, the bubble should burst.
4. The reply they received. Christ was not going up for the purpose suggested.
(1) His hour for that had not come--there being for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1), much more for this, a seasonable moment.
(2) To go before that time would not secure what they desired--the great world of Jerusalem not being prepared to welcome Him (John 7:7). Any time would do for them, but not for Him.
II. THE SCENE AT JERUSALEM.
1. The bloodthirsty Sanhedrists
(1) Searched for their victim among the city throngs.
(2) With unsleeping hostility, which they had nursed for eighteen months.
(3) With murderous intent.
(4) With eager inquiry.
(5) With contemptuous scorn. “That celebrity who has been dazzling you with His wonders.”
2. The whispering multitudes. These were
(1) Divided in their judgments concerning Him, as Simeon had predictedLuke 2:34Luke 2:34), and Christ affirmed they would be (Matthew 10:34-35), and as history proves they ever have been.
(2) Afraid to speak openly about Him, which betokened insincerity as well. They were prepared to do as their leaders bade them. Miserable crew!
1. It is becoming and right to walk prudently: Christ did so.
2. In religion the wisdom of this world is almost wholly wrong. It was so with Christ’s brethren.
3. A man’s friends are often the last to believe in His greatness and goodness. It was so with Christ.
4. The more a man resembles Christ, the more he will be hated by the world.
5. The best of men may be evil spoken of. Christ was. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
I. SELDOM LACKS EVIDENCE. These brethren must have had ample evidence of Christ’s Messiahship. As boys they must have seen something of His transcendent character. No doubt many had pointed out to them extraordinary phases of His birth and life, and how they had witnessed His public life for a considerable time, with its teaching and miracles. So infidels have plenty of evidence. All nature is full of proofs of God; and as for Christ the congruity of His biography with contemporaneous history, and of His system with the conscience, reason, and wants of humanity, and the immense and growing influence of His gospel upon the sentiment, spirit, and character of mankind are evidence enough. The cause of infidelity is in the heart rather than the head.
II. IS ALWAYS VAIN. His brethren mainly from vanity counsel Him to make a display in Jerusalem on a great national occasion (John 7:4). His life was too obscure and His works too unostentatious. They wanted to share the honour that would accrue. Infidelity is always vain. The vainest speakers, authors, members of society, are those who profess infidel opinions. They are vain of their imaginary intellectual independency, of their superior mental insight and grasp, of their superiority to current creeds. It must be so. The man who believes in nothing greater than himself, will have both space and aliments in his mind in which his egotism can grow to the most offensive proportions. Faith in the infinitely great and good can alone burn out the native vanity of the corrupt heart. Infidelity is a negation. “Light empty minds,” says Leighton, “are like bladders blown up with anything.”
III. IS EVER IN AGREEMENT WITH THE WORLD (John 7:6-7). By the world is meant the prevailing ideas, spirit, and aims of corrupt humanity. And the mind of His brethren was in accord with this, but it was dead against Him. What is the spirit of the world? Materialism--the body is everything. Practical atheism--God is ignored. Regnant selfishness--self is supreme. Infidelity agrees with all this; there is no moral discrepancy, no reason for mutual antipathies and battling.
IV. NEVER THWARTS THE DIVINE PURPOSE (John 7:10). Christ’s plan was not to go up to Jerusalem at the time they requested Him; but in His own time. Their counselling influenced Him not. Infidelity can never modify, check, or retard the decrees of heaven. Conclusion: Such is infidelity in some of its phases. Iris a wretched thing, however enriched with learning, energized with logic, embellished with culture and genius. “I seem,” says Hume, “affrighted and confounded with the solitude in which I am placed by my philosophy. When I look abroad on every side I see dispute, contradiction, and distraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. Where am I? What am I? From what cause do I derive my existence? To what condition shall I return? I am confounded with questions, I begin to fancy myself in a very deplorable condition, surrounded with darkness on every side.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christ and man
I. THE DESPERATE HARDNESS AND UNBELIEF OF HUMAN NATURE. Even His brethren did not believe in Him, who should have been the first to do so. This was worse than the unbelief of the Jews.
1. The doctrine of man’s need of preventing and converting grace stands out here as a sunbeam. Seeing Christ’s miracles, hearing Christ’s teaching, living in Christ’s own company, were not enough to make men believers. The mere possession cf spiritual privileges never made any one a Christian. All is useless without the work of the Holy Ghost (chap. 6:44).
2. Christians in every age will do well to remember this. They are often troubled to find that they stand alone, and are ready to blame themselves because their families remain worldly and unbelieving. But let them look at the case before us. In our Lord Jesus Christ there was no fault either in temper, word, or deed. Yet even Christ’s own “brethren did not believe in Him.”
3. Christ has truly learned by experience how to sympathize with His people who stand alone. He has drunk this bitter cup. Let all who are cast down because relations despise religion turn to Him for comfort Hebrews 2:18).
II. THE REASON WHY MANY HATE CHRIST (verse 7).
1. It was not so much the high doctrines He preached as the high standard of practice; not so much His Messianic claims as His protest against their wickedness. They could have tolerated His opinions if He had spared their sins.
2. This principle is of universal application and holds good to-day. Men dislike the gospel because of its holy demands. Teach abstract doctrines, and few will find any fault. Denounce the fashionable sins of the day, and call on men to repent, and thousands at once will be offended. The reason why many profess to be infidels and abuse Christianity is the witness that Christianity bears against their own bad lives (1 Kings 22:8).
III. THE STRANGE VARIETY OF OPINIONS ABOUT CHRIST, WHICH WERE CURRENT FROM THE BEGINNING (verse 12). The words which old Simeon had spoken thirty years before were here accomplished (Luke 2:34-35).
1. In the face of such a passage as this, the endless modern divisions about religion ought never to surprise us. The open hatred of some towards Christ--the carping, prejudiced spirit of others--the bold confession of the few faithful--the timid, man-fearing temper of the many faithless--the war of words and strife of tongues--are only modern symptoms of an old disease. Such is the corruption of human nature, that Christ is the cause of divisions among men, wherever He is preached. So long as the world stands, some, when they hear of Him, will love and some will hate--some will believe, and some will believe not (Matthew 10:34).
2. What think we of Christ ourselves? This is the one question with which we have to do. Let us never be ashamed to be of that number who believe, hear, follow, and confess Him before men. While others waste their time in vain jangling and unprofitable controversy, let us take up the cross. The world may hate us as it hated Him because our religion is a standing witness against them. (Bp. Ryle.)
Christ an example of prudence
Our Lord’s example recorded in this verse shows clearly that Christians are not meant to court martyrdom, or wilfully expose themselves to certain death, under the idea that it is their duty. Many primitive martyrs seem not to have understood this. (Bp. Ryle.)
How Christians should act in times of danger
The Roman rule in battle was neither to fly from dangers nor to follow them. The Christian’s motto is, “Neither timorous nor temeranous.” We must not basely desert the cause of Christ when called out to defend it. “Either vanquish or die,” the Black Prince’s father said to him. Either live with the gospel or die for it. Yet we may not rashly run ourselves upon unnecessary dangers, but decline them when we can with a good conscience. Christians are permitted to fly when they are sought for to the slaughter, so it be with the wings of a dove, and not with the pinions of a dragon. (J. Trapp.)
We must not seek martyrdom
In Tourney, about 1544, a very noted professor of the Protestant religion, being earnestly sought after, had concealed himself so closely that his persecutors were unable to discover where he was hid. Contrary, however, to the advice and entreaty of his wife and friends, he gave himself up, desirous of the glory of martyrdom; but being adjudged to be burnt, he recanted, and abjured the faith in order to be beheaded. The Papists improved this in order to decoy his fellow-sufferers to the like recantation; but they replied, “He had tempted God by rushing upon danger without a call, but they had to the utmost of their power shunned it, and hoped that, since He had called them to suffer, He would support them under it.” And it so happened they went to the fire in solemn pomp, and were consumed loudly singing the praise of God even in the flames, till their strength was exhausted. We are not to court sufferings; it is enough if we cheerfully endure them when, in the providence of God, we are called to it, Our Lord Himself says to His disciples, “When they persecute you in one city, flee ye into another.”
The Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand
The feast of tabernacles
(Leviticus 23:34-43; Exodus 23:16; Deuteronomy 16:13-15) lasted seven days, from the fifteenth to the twenty-first of the seventh month, Tisri, October. An eighth day was further celebrated as a closing festival, like the first day, with a Sabbath rest and a holy convocation. The feast served as a thankful remembrance of God’s gracious protection of the nation during its desert wanderings, and as a joyous celebration of the harvest then completed with the gathering in of the fruit and wine. It was therefore considered by the Jews after the exile to be the greatest and moss glorious feast, and its celebration was distinguished by various customs.
1. By an arbitrary interpretation of Leviticus 23:40, those who visited the feast carried in the left hand a lemon, and in the right a palm branch, bound with sprays of willow and myrtle.
2. At every morning offering, a priest, amid music and songs of praise, poured into two perforated vessels on the next side of the altar water which he had drawn in a golden pitcher from the fountain of Shiloah Isaiah 12:3).
3. On the evening of the first day of the feast--according to later Rabbinical accounts, on each of the seven days--there was an illumination in the court of the women by means of a great golden candelabra, accompanied by a torch dance before them. (Prof. Luthardt.)
This was perhaps the most joyous of all the Jewish festivals--the great annual holiday of the nation. During this festive period the people all left their houses and lived in tents or booths, which were erected in the streets and market places, and on the flat terraced roofs of the houses. From this circumstance it was called the “feast of tents” (text and Leviticus 23:34). It was likewise named the “feast of ingatherings” (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22), because it took place at the close of the vintage, when the fruits of the year were gathered in. It was designed as a sort of a national praise-offering. The people assembled in the courts of the sanctuary to adore the bountiful providence of God which had crowned their labours with success, to rejoice in His goodness, and to implore His blessing on the following year. Josephus calls it “ a most holy and eminent feast.” (J. T.Bannister, LL. D.)
Let it suffice men of sober minds to know, that the law both of God and nature alloweth generally days of rest and festival solemnity to be observed, by way of thankful and joyful remembrance, if such miraculous favours be showed towards mankind, as require the same; that such graces God hath bestowed upon His Church as well in later as in former times; that in some particulars, when they have fallen out, Himself hath demanded His own honour, and in the rest hath left it to the wisdom of the Church, directed by those precedents and enlightened by other means, always to judge, when the like is requisite. Touching those festival days, therefore, which we now observe, what remaineth but to keep them throughout all generations holy, severed by manifest notes of difference from other times, adorned with that which most may betoken true, virtuous, and celestial joy. (Hooker.)
His brethren.--The family dispute which John relates from personal knowledge, with the frankness and simplicity of a genuine historian, gives us an insight into the domestic trials of our Saviour. The unbelief of His brothers need not surprise us any more than the unbelief of the Nazarenes generally (John 4:44). Not un-frequently the nearest relatives throw more obstacles in the way of God’s children than strangers. Christ entered into the condition of fallen humanity with all its temptations and miseries. Hence His sympathy in this as in all (Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 5:7-8). But the full significance of the passage depends upon the proper view of the brothers of Jesus. Here I must dissent from the cousin theory of Jerome, which assumes that three of them, James, Simon, and Jude, were apostles. This passage is one of the strongest arguments in favour of the more natural view that they were members of the Holy family, and under the care of Joseph and Mary, in whose company they constantly appear.
1. It is plain that John here, as in chap. 2:12, and in harmony with the Synoptists and Acts 1:13, 1 Corinthians 9:5, distinguishes the brothers of Jesus from the apostles.
2. But what is more conclusive, John represents the brothers as unbelievers, and as using irreverent language against Christ, which could not have been the case had they been apostles. Not that they were unbelievers in the same sense as Jews or pagans, but not believers as the apostles must have been, at least from the miracle at Cana (John 2:11; comp. Verse 22; 16:17; 17:8). It would have been easy for John to have said, “some” of His brethren did not believe, had the others been believing apostles. John recognizes different degrees of belief (comp. John 2:23; John 4:39; John 8:31; John 12:42), and of unbelief, but he never confounds the sharp lines between belief and unbelief. Moreover, the language of the brothers contrasts with the reverence shown by the apostles on every occasion, even when they could not understand His conduct (John 4:27).
3. Our Lord characterizes them as men of the world whom the world cannot hate (verse 7); while He says the very reverse of the apostles John 15:18; Matthew 10:5; Matthew 10:22; Matthew 10:40). We infer, then, that all the four brothers were distinct from the apostles, and not converted till after the Resurrection (Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:7). As to the other question whether they were older from a former, otherwise unknown, marriage of Joseph (the Greek tradition defended by Epiphanius), or younger children of Mary and Joseph (the view held by Tertullian and Helvidius, and denounced first by Jerome as heretical and profane, because of its conflict with the tenet of Mary’s perpetual virginity), the passage gives no decisive answer. The patronizing tone of the brothers seems to favour the former view; but may be found also with younger brothers. (P. Schaff, D. D.)
Jesus and His brethren
The injunction was neither inspired by a too impatient zeal for the glory of Jesus, nor by the odious desire of seeing Him fall into the hands of His enemies. The truth lies between both these extremes. They seem to have been puzzled by the claims of their brother. On the one hand, they could not deny the extraordinary facts which they every day witnessed; on the other, they could not decide upon regarding as the Messiah one with whom they were accustomed to live upon terms of the greatest familiarity. They desired, therefore, to see Him abandon the equivocal position in which He placed Himself, and was keeping them, by so persistently absenting Himself from Jerusalem. If He were really the Messiah, why should He fear to appear before judges more capable of deciding on His pretensions than ignorant Galileans? Was not the capital the theatre on which Messiah was to play His part, and the place where the recognition of His mission should begin? The approaching festival, which seemed to make it a duty that He should visit Jerusalem, appeared, therefore, to make a favourable opportunity for taking a decided step. There is a certain amount of similarity between this and Mary’s request (chap. 2.), as there is also between our Lord’s conduct on the two occasions. (Prof. Godet.)
For there is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly
Show thyself to the world
A single word will often lay bare a man’s object, habit of mind, whole bent of nature. This is a revealing sentence involving a perpetual principle of the carnal mind. Christ had been doing and saying great things, but of the latter these people made no account. They fix upon that which struck the eye.
I. THIS IS A SPEECH OF WORLDLY MINDED MEN, and presents to us the worldly mind in its foolishness, making false deductions because unable to understand the things of God. Rising no higher than Christ’s outward deeds, no wonder that they anticipated no nobler result than the world’s praise. It is just the old story “What will the world say?” It is sad to judge and live with a false standard of value. Were a man to go about with a piece of straw and measure men and even principles by his worthless standard we should think him mad; and yet this is the world all over. It takes its own empty opinion as the standard of all things. What did this involve? It put before Christ a false end of action, and had He gone on the principles here suggested, He would have become alienated from the Father, and been “of the world,” and so no Saviour. For there is here involved an entire perversion of His mission. His whole life was a testimony against the world, but His brethren say, “Go and take its admiration by storm with your wonderful deeds.” Note the following lessons
1. How entirely the things of God are mistaken by the world, and not only by the profligate, but by the simply unbelieving.
2. How foolish for the people of God to be led by the world’s opinion.
3. How it requires sympathy with the mind of Jesus to detect and repel the mind of the world.
4. What mischief results from ignorant or bad advice, even when well meant and of friends.
5. What a warning against what is merely colourably good!
6. What little importance is to be attached to the terrible formula, “What will the world say?”
7. Beware of mistaking the end of your position, life, gifts, none of which is given to gain the world’s praise.
8. Beware of reasoning on the world’s principles.
9. Be wary when a course of action has as its simple end your own honour.
10. In all solicitations of the world go down into the mind of God and your relationship with Him, and judge each by the light you have of them.
II. THE WRONG THOUGHTS WHICH, IN CONNECTION WITH THIS MATTER, RISE IN THE MINDS OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
1. Discontent at being put and kept in the background--and hence discomfort and weakness in work. This arises from exaggerated views of our importance, and from not seeing that God will appoint what is best, and from that superficiality which prevents our seeing that show and noise are Dot power, and that many of the greatest processes which issue in manifold results are secret. We do not understand the beauties of the background of the Christian life where Jesus was for many a long year. This background is at least safe, and many of God’s dearest walk there unnoticed of men but honoured by Him.
2. Discontent at there being so little to show. What is this but coming into the world’s court and pleading for a verdict there. The believer must have no care about his work being seen by the world. If he live there will be no occasion for him to thrust himself forward. He must by his life condemn it, and that will create sufficient attention. God’s child must not be discontented at seeing honours and riches flowing in upon those who serve the world. “The world loves its own.” Let us calmly live before God. Here is comfort for those who are laid aside too weak or poor to do aught that can attract observation. They are seen by God in secret and will be rewarded openly. (P. B. Power, M. A.)
Cnidius, a skilful architect, building a watch-tower for the King of Egypt, caused his own name to be engraved upon a stone in the wall in great letters, and afterwards covered it with lime and mortar, and upon the outside of that wrote the name of the King of Egypt in golden letters, as pretending that all was done for his honour and glory. But herein was his cunning, he very well knew that the dashing of the water would in a little while consume the plastering (as it did) and then his name and memory should abide to after generations. Thus there be many in this world, who pretend to seek only the glory of God, the good of His Church, and the happiness of the state; but if there were a window to look into their hearts we should find nothing there within but self-seeking. (J. Spencer.)
For neither did His brethren believe in Him.--The prophecy that the Messiah should be “despised and rejected by men” was here fulfilled to the very letter. His brethren, who should have been the first, were the last to believe on Him.
I. HOW STRANGE THIS WAS.
1. They had heard His doctrine, not as strangers or near neighbours, but in the familiar intercourse of home.
2. They had seen His miracles (John 2:11-12).
3. They had known the circumstances and manner of His life. They had heard no doubt of the marvels attendent on His birth, and had watched His pure and benevolent life for thirty-three years.
II. HOW IT MAY BE ACCOUNTED FOR. This is necessary, for the text is a great favourite with modern Jews and infidels, who hold that His brethren could not have been more incredulous than others. It is singular, however, on this theory, that John should have made so damaging an admission. But
1. It is no uncommon thing for men to disbelieve in the face of the clearest evidence. To the Jews we reply that the Israelites did not believe in the Lord and Moses, though they could not deny the miracles; and to the deists that many deny God and immortality, notwithstanding the variety and strength of arguments in favour of both.
2. These men had strong prejudices against Christ.
(1) Some were common to them as sinful men, arising from the purity of His doctrine and the stringency of His demands.
(2) Some were peculiar to them as Jews arising from their conceptions of a temporal Messiah. They did not contest His miracles but thought that they should be displayed, if Messianic, at Jerusalem, so as to receive the suffrages of the great, and not in the obscurity of Galilee.
3. They were under the influence of an ambitious worldly spirit as Christ intimates in the next verse.
1. Let us not wonder if some, who have enjoyed the greatest religious advantages, do not believe. What advantages these brethren must have had! And yet how little the impression produced. Do not wonder then, Christian parents, if, with the best of training, your children are not yet converted. But do not despair. Remember that Christ’s brethen eventually became His disciples (Acts 1:14).
2. See what an enemy to Christianity a worldly spirit is. With their views Christ’s brethren held that if He were Messiah they would share His temporal glory. A worldly covetous disposition hinders multitudes from believing and obeying Christ. How much better is a relation to Christ by faith than by nature. (J. Orton.)
The unbelief of Christ’s brethren
The subject suggests that
I. CHRIST OWED NOTHING TO MAN’S SYMPATHY. A man’s own relations of all men ought to manifest this. They are his own flesh and blood. To feel for him is only a step beyond feeling for selves. We do for the inner circle of our relatives what we should never think of doing for outsiders. But this common privilege was denied our Lord. We gather that His brethren were aware of His pretentions and of His works in support of them. But all they do is to dare Him to go to Judaea (John 7:4). An enemy might have spoken so, as indeed the Pharisees (Matthew 16:1), the chief priests Matthew 27:41-43), and the soldiers (Matthew 27:29). In all cases He was treated as one who bad His claims to make good, so great was the chasm between those nearest to Him and Himself. There was one world of feeling within Him, and another around Him. How much went out from the One; how little came in from the other.
II. HE OWED NOTHING TO MAN’S HELP. The rare instances in which He received a little sympathy show this. The confession of Peter (Matthew 16:16) fell on His heart like cold water on a thirsty tongue; but like water spilt on the ground, so the next moment it was gone. In Gethsemane the disciples so far sympathized with Him as to catch the infection of His grief, but that which made Him watch made them sleep. It was not by His disciples, or mother, or brethren (Luke 2:49; John 2:4), but notwithstanding them that He effected His great work. Consider the cost of that work to Himself. It was one continuous sacrifice, and through the whole He was unaided and alone. (Mathematicus.)
An unsuccessful ministry
I. THE UNSUCCESSFULNESS OF OUR SAVIOUR’S MINISTRY.
1. The causes of our unsuccessful ministry.
(1) Ignorance of Scripture truths.
(2) Lack of effective expression.
(3) Want of harmony between the minister’s private life and public teaching.
(4) Absence of a prayerful spirit.
2. These causes did not operate in the case of Christ. He knew the Scriptures, spake as never man spake, was blameless, and went about doing good, and was mighty in prayer. Still, His brethren did not believe in Him.
3. The lessons which the Saviour’s unsuccessful ministry suggest.
(1) That a man should not always be held responsible for the unreligiousness of his family.
(2) A true ministry may be unsuccessful when the greatest success may be expected.
(3) Success is no proof of the true value of a ministry.
II. INFIDELITY EXISTING IN THE MOST FAVOURABLE CIRCUMSTANCES TO BELIEF. This must be because of
2. Intellectual pride.
3. Hardness of heart. (D. Lewis.)
Unbelief an obstruction
An empty vessel capable of holding water, if tightly corked none can enter it, though water is poured upon it in abundance; nay, it may be thrown into the sea and still remain empty. So it is with our hearts. Unbelief closes them so that overwhelming evidence can bring no conviction of the truth, and the most powerful influence can secure no entrance for the grace of God.
Want of religious sympathy at home
When Bunyan’s Pilgrim became alarmed about his state he found no sympathy from his friends. He told them of his fears, but “at this his relatives were sore amazed, nor for that they believed what he had said to them was true, but because they thought some frenzy distemper had got into his head, therefore, it drawing toward night, and they, hoping that sleep might settle his brains, with all haste they got him to bed. When the morning was come they would know how he did. He told them worse and worse. They thought to drive away his distemper by harsh and surly carriage to him; sometimes they would deride; sometimes they would chide, and sometimes they would quite neglect him.” (“Pilgrim’s Progress. ”)
My time is not yet come; but your time is alway ready
I. GLORIOUS DANGER.
1. Jesus was in extreme peril. The storm, the first mutterings of which had been heard long before seemed now to concentrate its violence upon Him. Derision had become inveterate hatred. The scribes, etc., now longed to kill Him, and were doing all in their power to compass that end. That end was only a matter of time, and the limit was only imposed by Christ Himself.
2. He might have escaped it all, and been the leader and King of the people had He conciliated, compromised, and compounded.
3. But He would not. “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.” His danger was glorious, because it arose from a persistent refusal
(1) To live any life lower than the highest.
(2) To accept any modification of the supreme law of righteousness.
(3) To become anything less than the Saviour of the world.
II. INGLORIOUS SAFETY. His brethren were safe. They might go when and where they liked. They would meet with no exasperated enemies, lint rather with their true relations--unbelievers They were safe because
1. They were not opposing evil. Their true kinship was with the world, and the world would love and spare its own (John 15:19; cf. 1 John 4:5). They were going with the stream.
2. They were not accomplishing any high mission in life. Having no work of Divine appointment--their “time was alway ready”; they had no “hour,” no climax.
III. IN VARYING DEGREES THE CHOICE BETWEEN GLORIOUS DANGER AND INGLORIOUS SAFETY LIES BEFORE EACH ONE OF US, in regard to
1. Business. Which shall we conform to, tile average standard of commercial morality or the highest?
2. Politics. Shall we merely follow the party, or be true to our deepest conviction of rights?
3. Religion. Shall we accept doctrines and creeds that are simply popular, or stand by that which in our heart we feel to be the truth?
1. To live the high life, to be true to conviction, to dare to stand alone--if need be, oppose evil, breast the stream--this is hard, painful, dangerous, but gloriously so.
2. To live the average life, to accept the present condition of things, to conform, to compromise, to go with the tide; this is easy, generally pleasant, profitable, and for awhile safe, but inglorious. (L. Shackleford.)
The world never ready for Christ’s salvation, but always ready for its own secular pleasures and profit.
I. The ABSORBING EXCELLENCE of Christ’s salvation.
1. We fail to properly esteem it.
2. Or, confessing its excellence, we are too indolent to give it the preference over our other pursuits. Other things take our time and energy.
3. Or, proposing to pursue it, we do not make it our sovereign pleasure.
(1) This is because of our vitiated taste.
(2) We do not acquire the liking for religious duties by sufficient practice of them.
(3) Or, if we give them time, we do not give to them more than half our hearts.
II. HELPFUL RULES.
1. Study the reasons for Christian life until you have a strong conviction regarding them.
2. In all doubt, be reminded that Christian life alone has a hope set before it. Let this determine the scale. (Massillon.)
Limitations of human greatness
1. Those who believe in the Divinity of Christ may wonder that He should be under the limitations of time. It was not until the time appointed that He was born, nor could He die till His hour was come. The Redeemer is put under sharper restrictions than are His disciples, for their time was alway.
2. Here was a focal centre to which preparatory events converged. The promise in the garden; the words of prophecy, the symbolism of ancient days--all were knit into the Redemption’s plan. But why was salvation so circuitous? Why wait so long?
3. We cannot comprehend the secrets of the Infinite Mind, nor argue a priori in the matter. We must move from our standpoint upward. Consider the limitations of human greatness and, by inference, those of Omnipotence itself.
I. INCREASE OF POWER DOES NOT INCREASE THE RANGE OF FREEDOM FROM LAW. It rather hinders. Power can do some things, and some things it cannot do. To weld iron to iron, a man needs a blacksmith’s arm and muscle. To instruct a child’s intellect or develop its moral nature, physical power is not counted.
1. We cannot argue from the almightiness of God, seen in the material creation, that He will force men into heaven. The order of things is a narrowing condition. For example, an act of parliament cannot banish the plague. The disciples would have called down fire from heaven and have honoured God by destroying His enemies. This spirit established the Inquisition. It would break through the order of the universe to accomplish a subsidiary end. But God does not propose to outrage man’s faculties in man’s salvation.
2. Increasing power puts under restraint, by making needful the hiding of power. The crowd would proclaim Christ king. He checked them. So, again and again, He said to those on whom He had wrought miracles, “Tell it to no man,” knowing that the blazing abroad of it at: that time would precipitate His conflict with the civil power. He also guarded these miraculous energies, so as not to paralyze human responsibility. Thousands of hungry ones were fed. Their horizon is opened and they thought, perhaps, that no more labour would be needful, now that the granaries of heaven were open by Divine power. “Gather up the fragments!” How strange, when there is such a power to create supplies! So, too, there was danger of becoming estranged from the practical duties of life, as in the case of Peter, who wished to abide on the mount. This was rebuked by Christ. He kept in the realm of humanity. He laboured to prove Himself human. Men were already convinced that He was Divine.
3. This necessary control and restriction of increasing power is seen among men. A little boat in the river moves hither and thither as its rower pleases, but the huge ocean steamer, with its vast momentum, must be guarded in its movements, lest its iron weight and onward speed send it crashing into other craft, like some blind Polyphemus to devour and destroy. A child’s movements may not affect anything outside its home, but a Napoleon is watched by the nations with fear. How much more the tremendous power of God and His responsibility as related to the order and harmony of the universe!
II. THE INCREASE OF KNOWLEDGE ALSO BRINGS RESTRICTIONS.
1. The child sees no significance in the congeries of forces about him. He moves about freely. He plays with water, and knows not that each drop is a universe, and that every motion of his finger is felt in Sirius. Higher knowledge puts us under sense of higher responsibility.
2. The power and use of speech is another field of illustration. As childhood ripens into manhood, this trust is more appreciated. Christ’s use of parables is a solemn rebuke to those who, had they fully known the truth, would have abused it--would have “held down the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Throw pearls to swine, and they will rend you. Fools rush in where angels dare not tread. Knowledge dwarfs our self esteem. The more wisdom the more modesty. The ignorant look at the sky and see but specks of light, and fancy this globe great. The astronomer reveals a gigantic system. We shrink abashed before the Father of lights, and fear to despise His mercy or trifle away our probation.
III. GOODNESS DOES NOT BROADEN, BUT LIMITS FREEDOM IN SOME RESPECTS.
1. The wicked have “no bands in their death,” and in life they often revel in unlicensed liberty; but men like Paul deny themselves meat if it cause a brother to fall. Christ says, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself.” The good man separates himself from luxury and ease, and from all that hinders his work.
2. The man obtuse through sin or self-will shuts his eyes and ears to the suffering. The good man is sensitive. “If any suffer, I suffer; if any is weak, I am weak.”
3. A pure heart, too, is pained by sin, as a cultured ear is pained by the discords of music. The man who is destitute of musical sensibility is unaffected. Holiness, essentially, is a separating process. A Brahmin cannot touch food or drink prepared by one of lower caste. The shadow of such a one pollutes the air. He must therefore assume the burden of furnishing himself with food.
1. As obedient to the Father’s will, Christ the Holy One was under restrictions the most exacting. Step by step He fulfilled His course. Christ could not wander a vagrant. He steered between those who, on the one hand, said, “Show Thyself,” and those who, like Peter, cried, “Far be it from Thee,” and kept to the lines appointed him. When the clock of the universe pointed to the hour, He must be put upon the cross.
2. Gaze into the heavens where stars are wheeling in courses, the delicacy and exactness of whose curves it takes pages of figures to compute. The safety of worlds depend on their perfect harmony of movement. The astronomer calculates, centuries in advance, their various intersections. But in the moral world there is the same exactness. Jerusalem had her “day of visitation.” You and I have our day of mercy. The hour hastens when it will be said, “It is the last time.” God will not then move back the index on the dial plate. (J. B. Thomas, D. D.)
Your time is alway ready.--Did we see the husbandman dreaming away his time, when all his fields lay uncultivated; or the generals of an army trifling an hour at cards, when the enemy was preparing to storm the camp; or a pilot asleep, when the ship was running directly upon a rock; and did all these allege, as the reason of their behaviour, that they had “nothing to do,” we should think a madhouse the only proper place for them: and we should think right. But why do we not perceive that there is not less of absurdity and madness in the con- duct of that Christian who wastes his precious hours in idleness, and apologizes for it by saying in the same manner, that he has “nothing to do,” when perhaps the work of his salvation, that greatest of all works, the very work for which God sent him into the world, is not yet so much as entered upon, or even thought of John 11:9; 1 Corinthians 4:2). (Bp. Horne.)
Many do with opportunities as children do at the sea shore; they fill their little hands with sand, and then let the grains fall through, one by one, till they are all gone. (T. Jones, D. D.)
Opportunity is like a strip of sand which stretches around a seaside cove. The greedy tide is lapping up the sand. The narrow strip will quickly become impassable; and then how sad the fate of the thoughtless children who are now playing and gathering shells and seaweed inside the cove! (Union Magazine.)
Opportunities of doing good should be seized eagerly
When the earth is soft the plough will enter. Take a man when he is mourning, or newly stirred by some moving sermon, and then set it home and you may do him good. Christian faithfulness doth require us not only to do good when it falls in our way, but to watch for opportunities of doing good. (Richard Baxter.)
Christians may find opportunities of doing good at any time and anywhere
Some persons are so extremely particular as to where they begin to work for Christ that they lose much time in what they think is wise waiting for opportunities. But it was not so with Uncle John Vassar (the American colporteur). He would begin anywhere. One day a minister met him at the railway station and was about to take him home with him before commencing his work. Uncle John proposed that they should work on the way home. “But where shall we begin?” said the minister. “Oh,” he replied, “let us begin at the station-master’s.” They did so, and before ten minutes had passed one poor discouraged backslider had opened her heart to the stranger’s earnest appeals and was kneeling in true penitence at the throne of Divine mercy. (R. Brewin, “Lecture on Uncle John Vassar.”)
The world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth
The antagonism between Christ and the world
I. CHRIST’S POSITION ONE OF ANTAGONISM TO THE GENERAL CURRENT OF HUMAN THOUGHT AND FEELING. The great idol of humanity is self. Every one worships it in one form or other. Christ comes to overthrow this idol and to claim all men for His Father. This claim is resented. In other words, Christ, by His Person, teaching, example, testifies of the world that its works are evil. The light rebukes the darkness. Christ does not say, “You are very nearly right”; but, “You are altogether wrong.” Nor will He rest until His statements are believed and His claims accepted. So He is hated. Men say they are indifferent, but they hate.
II. IT IS THE FACT OF THIS ANTAGONISM WHICH MAKES MANY SHRINK FROM JOINING HIM. They dread running counter to general opinion. They cannot stand opposition or ridicule. They feel instinctively that the dislike with which the worm regards Christ is extended to His disciples; and at this dislike they shudder. But their condition is a very perilous one. It is to Him that “overcometh” that the blessing is given. The “fearful” are cast out with the “false and abominable.” Hence infer
(1) that weakness towards the world is hardness towards Christ; and
(2) that Christ, if we look to Him, will give us the needful strength. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)
The world’s treatment of Christ
The world gave Him a cradle, but it was a manger; a throne, but it was a cross; a crown, but it was thorns; a sceptre, but it was a reed; homage, but it was derisive mockery and bitter scorn; companions, but they were crucified criminals; a kingdom, but it was a grave (James 4:4). (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
The world’s treatment of the Church
In Brazil there grows a common plant, which is called the matodor, or murderer. Its slender stein creeps at first along the ground; but no sooner does it meet a vigorous tree than with clinging grasp it cleaves to it, and climbs it, and as it climbs, sends out at short intervals arm-like tendrils that embrace the tree. As the murderer ascends, these ligatures grow larger, and clasp tighter. Up, up it climbs, one hundred feet, nay, two hundred, if needs be, until the last loftiest spire is gained and fettered. Then, as if in triumph, the parasite shoots a huge flowery head above the strangled summit, and thence from the dead tree’s crown, scatters its seed to do again the work of death. Even thus does worldliness strangle churches. (S. Coley.)
Truth begets hate. (Terence.)
Go ye up to this feast. I go not up yet.--Whether “not yet” or “not’“ be adopted as the true reading, the utterance is not to be explained as an indication of fickleness, or of honest purpose subsequently changed, or of intentional evasion as if He wished to leave His counsellors uncertain how He meant to act, or signified that though He was really going to Jerusalem He was not going just yet--with a mental substitution of a now, or with the public caravans and feast trains, or to attend the feast in a legally prescribed man-nor, all of which have been suggested. The sense Christ desired His words to bear was probably that He was not yet (though afterwards He would), or not (absolutely for the present) going up to manifest Himself unto the world; if He went up, it would not be yet for any such purpose as they contemplated, because His time was not yet fulfilled. The seasonable moment when He would manifest Himself into the world was not to arrive till the next passover. And, having said these things, He abode in Galilee, waiting the signal from His Father which determined all His earthly movements (chap. 11:6). His brethren having gone, then went He also up, not publicly as they desired, but as a private person incognito.
Whether or not Christ travelled through Samaria, thus avoiding the ordinary path, He did not accompany any of the public caravans, but selected a solitary route. The “in secret” shows that this was neither the journey mentioned in Luke 9:51, nor the final departure from Galilee Matthew 19:1-2), both of which were public. Though Christ’s journey was in secret it is not said that His visit to the feast was. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Then the Jews sought Him at the feast
I. BASE COWARDICE AND SUBLIME COURAGE.
1. Base cowardice (John 7:11-13).
(1) For these chief men of the nation to be in cunning search for the life of one lonely man. “Where is He?” We want Him. What for? To listen to His doctrines? honestly to test His merits, to do honour to His person or His mission? No; but to kill Him. Here are a number of influential men banded together to crush one humble peasant!
(2) In the people meeting together in secrecy, and talking about Him. Why not openly? Sin is always cowardly: virtue alone is courageous. Sin’s talk is swaggering, and its attitude often defiant; but it is essentially craven-hearted. “Thou wear a lion’s hide! Doff it for shame, and hang a calf’s skin on those recreant limbs” (Shakespeare).
2. In contrast with this, we have the sublimest courage (John 7:14). When the festival was at its height, and the concourse swollen to the greatest number, and national enthusiasm most intense, this poor peasant Reformer confronted public sentiment when its billows were thundering at high tide. Where in all history have you an example of courage comparable to this?
II. CONVENTIONAL SCHOLARSHIP AND DIVINE INTELLIGENCE.
1. Conventional scholarship (John 7:15). The question breathes contempt. The idea is, He has never been to our seats of learning and studied under our rabbis; what can He know? He is an uneducated man and, forsooth, presumes to teach. There is much of this spirit now. There are those who hold that a man cannot know much unless he has graduated at some university. This is a great fallacy; some of the most educated men have never passed the college curriculum. This idea fills society with pedants, and our pulpits with men who have neither the kind of lore, or genius to preach the gospel.
2. Divine intelligence. Note here that
(1) God is the sole Teacher of the highest doctrine (John 7:16). Although I have not studied under you, rabbis, I have got my knowledge directly from the primal source of all true intelligence. Do not content yourself with sipping at the streams of conventional teachings, go to the fountain head.
(2) Obedience is the qualification for obtaining the highest knowledge (John 7:17). Philosophy and experience show the truth of this. “The essence of goodness consists in wishing to be good,” says Seneca. And well too as Pascal said, that “a man must know earthly things in order to love them, but that he must love heavenly things in order to know them.”
(3) Entire devotion of self to the Divine is necessary in order to communicate the highest knowledge (John 7:18). It is not only as a man becomes self-oblivious, and lost in the love and thoughts of God, that he can reflect the bright rays of Divine intelligence upon his fellow-men. We must allow ourselves to become mere channels through which the Divine will flow. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Why Christ hid himself
To kindle the desire of seeing and hearing Him so much the more; or to discover whether there were any numbers disposed by His first preaching to receive Him, to the end that He might not show Himself in vain. (J. Trapp.)
Where is He.--Jesus went to the feast in secret, and the Jews sought Him. From differing motives they inquire for Him, but they did inquire. No man, having once heard of Jesus, can any longer remain indifferent to Him: he must take some sort of interest in the Lord Jesus. From many quarters come the question, “Where is He?” We will at this time
I. CONSIDER THE WAYS IN WHICH THE QUESTION HAS BEEN ASKED.
1. Hate, ferociously desiring to slay Him, and overthrow His cause. Herod was the type of this school.
2. Infidelity, sneeringly denying His existence, taunting His followers because His cause does not make progress (2 Peter 3:4).
3. Timorous fear, sadly doubting His presence, power, and prevalence (Job 23:8-9).
4. Penitence, humbly seeking Him that she may confess her sin, trust her Lord, and show her gratitude to Him (Job 23:3).
5. Love, heartily pining for communion with Him, and for an opportunity to serve Him (Song of Solomon 3:3).
6. Fear, bitterly lamenting His absence, and craving His return.
7. Desire, ardently aspiring to meet Him in His second advent, and to behold His glory (Revelation 22:20).
II. GIVE THE SAINTS’ EXPERIMENTAL ANSWER. He is
1. At the mercy-seat when we cry in secret.
2. In the Word as we search the sacred page.
3. In the assemblies of His people, even with two or three.
4. At His table, known in the breaking of bread.
5. In the field of service, aiding, sympathizing, guiding, and prospering. In all things glorified before the eyes of faith.
6. In the furnace of trial, revealing Himself, sanctifying the trial, bearing us through.
7. Near us, yea, with us, and in us.
III. RETURN THE QUESTION TO YOU. Is He
1. At the bottom of your trust?
2. At the root of your joys?
3. On the throne of your heart?
4. Near by constant converse?
5. Is His Spirit manifested in your spirit, words, and actions?
6. Is He before you, that to the end of your journey, the terminus towards which you are daily hastening?
IV. ASK IT OF THE ANGELS. They, with one voice, reply that He is
1. In the bosom of the Father.
2. In the centre of glory.
3. On the throne of government.
4. In the place of representation.
5. In the armoury of mercy.
6. Within reach of you and all needy sinners who will now seek Him.
1. Come, let us go and find Him. We will hold no feast till He is among us. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Where is He?
I. IS HE IN YOUR CHURCH ON SUNDAY?
1. Do you thither repair expecting to meet Him?
2. Does His presence banish every irreverent and worldly feeling?
3. Does He meet out to you the Word of Life, and render it sweet to your taste, and nourishing to your soul?
II. IS HE IN YOUR PRAYER-MEETING?
1. Do you, in company with others, meet together weekly and claim the fulfilment of His promise?
2. Is He then causing your hearts to burn within you, and strengthening your grasp on His promises?
3. When you leave does your conduct say, “We have been with
III. IS HE IN YOUR FAMILY?
1. Has he made your home His abode?
2. Does His presence refresh the weariness of toil, loosen the burden of care, and brighten the smile of affection?
3. Does He take your children in His arms and bless them?
4. Does He assure you that you shall form an individual family in heaven?
IV. IS HE IN YOUR HEART?
1. If so He is ever near.
2. If not, seek the Lord while He may be found.
Motives for seeking Christ
How diverse were the motives from which men sought Jesus: the Magi to adore Him; Herod to crush a rival prince; Greeks to satisfy curiosity; Jews to see miracles, or to crown Him a king to promote their carnal interests; only a few hungry souls sought Him as the Bread of Life. Some seek Him to find ground of objection to His mission. How many frequent His church and ordinances but never seek Him. To how many of the earth’s feasters would He prove an unwelcome guest? (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
Many years ago, there was a young man in Birmingham whose dissipation and excess had brought into a condition from which he endeavoured to extricate himself by crime. The fear of detection, exposure, and ruin goaded him on to such a pitch of desperation that he left his father’s house resolutely bent on self-destruction. God’s good providence led him through Bond Street; and, under some inexplicable impulse, he found himself sitting in the Baptist Chapel almost before he was aware. The minister, a Mr. Edmonds, was reading from the Book of Job, occasionally throwing in some shrewd parenthetic remark. Coming to verses 8 and 9, the young man’s attention was irresistibly arrested: “Job, Job,” the preacher cried entreatingly, “why don’t you look upward?” These words were as nails fastened in a sure place, and the young man ever thanked God for the belief that he was unconsciously drawn by the Holy Spirit to enter that place, and that the preacher was impelled to the use of those words, to the end that his life might be redeemed from destruction, and crowned with lovingkindness and tender mercy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Where to find Christ
I saw a young brother last Friday, and, in answer to the question, How were you converted? he said it was through reading Luther on the Galatians. I said, “I am glad to see the man that reads Luther on the Galatians.” He was a young man employed in the city, and I admired him for preferring Luther to the wretched novels of the period. “I read it two or three times,” he said, “and I saw the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace; I saw how man was ruined by his works, and how he must be saved by faith, and I found the Saviour while reading that book.” Oh, if people would but read the Bible, and books about the Bible, with the desire to know what the gospel is, they would soon find Him of whom Moses and the prophets wrote. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
And there was much murmuring among the people concerning Him.
Christ when He comes brings division
Describe the scene, the variety of characters and feelings and opinions, at this most popular of all the feasts; the movement, the stir, all circling round the central figure, Christ. Now discussion about Christ may be allowable enough, but as discussion proceeds the crowd takes sides, and there is a party for, and a party against, Christ. It is so now. The proclamation of truth separates men.
Jesus is either a great foundation or else a stone of stumbling. Men are attracted or repelled, hardened or softened. Let us consider then
I. THE DIVINE INTENTION. This is that all men shall be saved. God so loved the world, and His goodness should lead to repentance. But
II. Such is the mystery that attaches to our creation, that MAN HAS IT IN HIS POWER TO FRUSTRATE THIS INTENTION OF GOD. The Holy Spirit pleads with him, but he resists. He can resist. Were it not so, he would be but a machine. Hearts cannot be compelled; they can only be drawn. Christ knocks at the door; but we can, if we choose, keep it bolted on the inside, and Christ will not force the way in. We must be persuaded to admit Him. He wishes to be a guest. “I will come in and sup with him, and he with me.”
III. GOD DOES ALL IN HIS POWER TO WIN THE HUMAN HEART. To say that He multiplies kindnesses is to say little. He sends, He gives, He spares not His own Son. This is His last effort. Beyond this there is nothing. And if the heart can resist such an evidence of His love, its case is hopeless. There is nothing left that will touch it. How is it with us? Which side are we taking? For Christ? or against Him? “He that is not with Me is against Me.” There is no intermediate region; no neutral ground. Men start in lifo as boys, hand-in-hand, but on opposite sides of a little mountain rill. The widening stream soon compels them to unclasp their hands; and the distance between them increases as they advance. Presently they are out of sight of each other; and at last a broad, impassable gulf rolls between them. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)
Diverse effects of contact with Christ
The coating of our Lord acted as a moral shock upon the existing fabric of thought and life; it broke up the stagnant, fixed modes of feelings and thinking; it set men in movement; it led to anxious self-questionings, to widespread anxiety of mind, to general unsettlement; it destroyed that tranquil satisfaction with things as they were in Israel which had secured so much repose of mind to so many classes. Such an event would reveal above all the true character of the time; it would act as many a flash of lightning on the crew of a wreck; it would dispel illusions somewhat rudely, often at the cost of happiness and temper, and as a result it would be regarded in more ways than one. Those who wish to know the truth and to live in it at all costs, would welcome it, and thank God for it; those who did not wish this would slink away from an influence which made them uncomfortable, even though they might have reason to think that in the end it would make them better than they were. In ordinary life there are occurrences which act upon men in different ways, which bring out unsuspected tendencies for good or for evil. A railway accident, a fire, the outburst of aa epidemic, or the sudden inheritance of a fortune, are each in their own way revelations of character. They break through the ordinary habits, and surprise men for the moment into being perfectly natural, They reveal unexpected beauties in this man’s character, heroism, generosity, etc.; or they bring any little weakness to the surface in that man, and show him to be selfish or cowardly, or in other ways unlike what he was supposed to be. In the same way a great controversy acts as a solvent upon all sorts of persons. It throws them back upon the principles which really rule them; it precipitates a great deal in them which else might have remained undecided; it forces them to take a side, and, by taking that side, to make a revelation of character. And much more is this the case when men are brought into contact with a mind and heart of unwonted greatness. Such a personality is too imperative to leave other men just as they were; such a personality sets feeling, thought, will, all in motion--not always in friendly motion--towards itself, not unfrequently in hostile and prejudiced motion. And this was especially the case with our Lord. Men could not, if they would, regard Him with indifference. They could not escape from some sort of profound emotion at coming into contact with Him. When He made His entry into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” And this was a sort of concrete representation of what took place on a vast historical scale on His entrance into the world. That event produced a varied and prolonged emotion in human souls. It stirred the lowest instincts as well as the highest thoughts of men. It was a fulfilment of that pregnant saying, “Yet once more do I shake, not the earth only, but heaven.” But its result was not, could not be, uniform. It was for the rising or fall of many a human soul. (Canon Liddon.)
Howbeit no man spake openly of Him for fear of the Jews
I. THE FACT--“No man spake openly of Him.” To this there was a large exception. His friends were silent, not His enemies. They were loud enough in their reproaches, etc. This is the case still to a large and lamentable extent. How much there is said and written against Christ which His professed followers allow to pass without protest or counter demonstration! There is no lack of private confession it may be. They that fear the Lord still speak “one to another”; but those who love Him will surely speak to others also. What Christ wants is confession before men, for the defence of His honour, the confutation of unbelief, the extension of His cause.
II. ITS EXPLANATION--“For fear of the Jews.” This fear was and is twofold.
1. Nervous shrinking. To men, e.g., in the position of Nicodemus, there was not much to dread from the hostile majority. So many to-day hesitate to confess Christ and rebuke sin, say, to relatives and intimate friends, not because of consequences, but because of the tax it would make upon a highly-strung nervous organization. Over sensitiveness an enemy to the cause of Christ.
2. Rank cowardice. Taking sides for and with Christ in the case of many then meant pains and penalties, and they were not prepared to pay the cost of their convictions. To some extent discipleship still involves tribulation, but of how much milder a type! Yet men and women seal their lips because they are afraid of being called contemptuous names.
III. THE LESSONS FOR US.
1. Our duty--to make a bold, manly, and decisive stand for Christ.
(1) He deserves it. What a stand He made for us! hie fear of the Jews deterred Him from pleading our cause.
(2) He will reward it with present approval and final blessedness.
2. Our privilege. “God hath not given us the spirit of cowardice,” etc. Christ does not ask us to undertake this or any duty without qualifying us for its discharge.
3. Our warning. “Whoso is ashamed of Me of him will I be ashamed.” (J. W. Burn.)
The folly of moral cowardice
When the passengers gallop by as if fear made them speedy, the cur follows them with an open mouth. Let them walk by in confident neglect, and the dog will not stir at all. It is a weakness that every creature takes advantage of. (J. Beaumont, M. D.)
What would Her Majesty think of her soldiers, if they should swear they were loyal and true, and yet should say, “Your Majesty, we prefer not to wear these regimentals; let us wear the dress of civilians! we are right honest men, and upright; but do not care to stand in your ranks, acknowledged as your soldiers; we had rather slink into the enemy’s camp, and into your camp too, we therefore prefer not to wear anything that would mark us as being your soldiers!” Ah! some of you do the same with Christ. You are going to be secret Christians, are you, and slink into the devil’s camp, and into Christ’s camp, but acknowledged by none? Well, ye must take the chance of it, if ye will be double-minded; but I should not like to risk it. It is a solemn threatening--“Of him will I be ashamed when I come in the glory of My Father, and all His holy angels with Me!” It is a solemn thing, I say, when Christ says, “Except a man take up his cross and follow Me, he cannot be My disciple.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We must openly show our love to Christ
Some time ago, when in a mine, looking through its dark corridors, I now and then saw the glimmer of a moving lamp, and I could track it all through the mine. The reason was the miner carried it on his hat--it was a part of himself and showed where he was. I said, “Would that in this dark world every miner of the Master carried his lamp to show where he walks.” (Dr. Cuyler.)
It is not sufficient to carry religion in our hearts, as fire is carried in flint stones; but we are outwardly, visibly, apparently, to serve and honour the living God. (Hooker.)
Christ must be openly praised
If people are loud in the praise of a physician who has cured them of some deadly malady--recommending others to trust and seek his skill, why should not Christ’s people crown Him with equal honours, commend Him to a dying world and proclaim what He has done for them? (Dr. Guthrie.)
Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple and taught
Christ as a teacher
Whatever theory men hold respecting Christ’s person and work, all regard Him as an unparalleled teacher.
Four things distinguish Him from all His competitors.
I. HE POPULARIZED RELIGION. The common people heard Him gladly. What audiences He drew I When He began to teach religion had lost its hold on the world. People were wearied of the parodies which went by the name. Christ taught that it was not a doctrine but a life; not a speculation, but a love; not conversion to a sect, but change of heart; and that teaching was at once a revelation and a revolution. What, in despair, the people had come to regard as dreary and repulsive, He made them feel was bright and beautiful, and so popularized religion.
II. HE REVOLUTIONIZED THINKING. It is more important to make men think aright than to teach them what is right. You cannot ensure their believing or obeying your instruction, but if you can start them in conscientious search of what is good, you do them enduring service. Christ did both, but pre-eminently He liberated the intellect and rationalized its operations. There was plenty of colossal thinking before Christ, but it was simply constructive speculation or destructive criticism. And when He came, it was not as another philosopher, to build another stagey system. Men complain that His thinking is defective because fragmentary; but this is its strength. When men asked for His principles He threw in a simple sentence, “You must be born again,” “Love your neighbour,” some terse, pregnant phrase which has become the current mental coin of the leading people of the earth. Any other teacher would have said, “Come into my class-room and take my lectures; the curriculum is seven years.” Christ could settle it in seven minutes.
1. He initiated spontaneous judgment. Instead of sending people to books, He sent them to their own hearts.
2. He introduced liberty of conscience. Whoever heard of men demanding freedom to think and judge for themselves before He came? And yet that freedom has been a ruling maxim of society since. Out of these two changes have grown infinite results, and are quite sufficient to prove that He revolutionized thinking.
III. HE REORGANIZED SOCIETY. The liberty He vindicated involved equality and fraternity. It is fashionable to denounce Socialism, and when it becomes Nihilism or Communism it is a senseless burlesque. He meant that men should serve each other, and not that the lazy should share with the diligent; that as there was a common Fatherhood in God there must be a common brotherhood among men. So He reconstructed society on the basis of mutual respect and reciprocal love. This reconstruction meant
1. That He recruited our hopes. He came to a weary world. Then a few proud, petrified men ruled, and the heart of the crowd was crushed and despairing. The Beatitudes fell on their sad hearts like rain on a drooping flower, and they looked up and felt that a new chance was open to them all. So it is wherever Christ comes now.
2. That He verified our aspirations. Men sighed for another world, but they scarcely knew whether or not to look for it. He came and said, “If it were not so I would have told you; I go to prepare a place for you.”
IV. HE DIGNIFIED PASSION. Passion, whether good or bad, is the greatest power in the world. When He came it was everywhere disordered. He purified and released and transformed it into affection. Up to that time men knew not exactly what to make of the emotions implied by such words as sorrow, pain, suffering. He gave them at once a status and vindicated their place in the economy of God. The tendency previously was to stifle pathos, and sneer at sentiment. He sanctified and employed them for the noblest ends. (W. R. Attwood.)
Characteristics of Christ’s teaching
Wherein did its peculiar power consist? The secret of its influence lies in no peculiar excellence of diction. Jesus was no poet, orator, or philosopher. It is not the charm of poetry that attracts us, not the ingenious application which surprises, not flights of eloquence which carry us away, not bold speculation which evokes our astonishment. No one could speak with more simplicity than Jesus, whether on the Mount, in the parables, or in the high priestly prayer. But this is the very reason of His influence, that He utters the greatest and most sublime truths in the present words, so that, as Pascal says, one might almost think He was Himself unconscious what truths He was propounding, only He expressed them with much clearness, certainty, and conviction, that we see how well He knew what He was saying. We cannot fail to see that the world of eternal truth is His home, and that His thoughts have constant intercourse therewith. He speaks of God and of His relation to Him, of the super- mundane world of spirits, of the future world and the future life of man; of the kingdom of God upon earth, of its nature and history; of the highest moral truths, and of the supreme obligations of man; in short, of all the greatest problems and deepest enigmas of life--as simply and plainly, with such an absence of mental excitement, without expatiating upon His peculiar knowledge, and even without that dwelling upon details so usual with those who have anything new to impart, as though all were quite natural and self-evident. We see that the sublimest truths are His nature. He is not merely a teacher of truth, but is Himself its source. He can say “I am the Truth.” And the feeling with which we listen to His words is, that we are listening to the voice of truth itself. Hence the power which these have at all times exercised over the minds of men. (Prof. Luthardt.)
Though criticised and ridiculed we must go on with our work
Suppose a geometrician should be drawing lines and figures, and there should come in some silly, ignorant fellow, who, seeing him, should laugh at him, would the artist, think you, leave off his employment because of his derision? Surely not; for he knows that he laughs at him out of his ignorance, as not knowing his art and the grounds thereof. (J. Preston.)
And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, never having learned.
This testimony of enemies to a fact well known to them strongly confirms what we otherwise must know or must conjecture concerning Christ’s education, or rather the absence in His case of the ordinary ways and means by which other men receive their knowledge. He was neither school-taught, nor self-taught, nor even God-taught (like inspired prophets), in the usual sense of those terms. No doubt He learned from His mother, went to the synagogue, heard and read the Scriptures, studied nature and man, and the Holy Ghost descended upon Him: yet the secret fountain of His knowledge of God and man must be found in His mysterious and unique relation to the Father, and derived from direct intuition into the living fountain of truth in God. He was and continued to be in the bosom of the Father, and explained Him to us as no philosopher or prophet could do. He spent His youth in poverty and manual labour, in the obscurity of a carpenter’s shop; far away from universities, academies, libraries, and literary or polished society; without any help, as far as we know, except that mentioned above. Christ can be ranked neither with the school trained, nor with the self.trained or self-made men; if by the latter we understand, as we must, those who, without the regular aid of living teachers, yet with the same educational means, such as books, the observation of men and things, and the intense application of their mental faculties, attained to vigour of intellect, and wealth of scholarship--like Shakespeare, Boeme, Franklin and others. All the attempts to bring Jesus into contact with Egyptian wisdom, or the Essenic theosophy, or other sources of learning, are without a shadow of proof, and explain nothing after all. He never quotes from books except the Old Testament. He never refers to any of those branches of knowledge which make up human learning and literature. He confined Himself strictly to religion. But from that centre, He shed light over the whole world of man and nature. In this department, unlike other great men, even the prophets and apostles, He was absolutely original and independent. He taught the world as one who had learned nothing from it, and was under no obligation to it. He speaks from divine intuition, as one who not only knows but is the Truth; and with an authority that commands absolute submission or provokes rebellion, but can never be passed by with contempt or indifference. (P. Schaff, D. D.)
The originality of Christ as a teacher
We have a great many men who are original in the sense of being originators, within a certain boundary of educated thought. But the originality of Christ is uneducated. That He draws nothing from the stores of learning can be seen at a glance. Indeed, there is nothing in Him that belongs to His age or country--no one opinion, taste, or prejudice. The attempts that have been made to show that He borrowed His sentiments from the Persians and the Eastern forms of religion, or that He had been intimate with the Essence and borrowed from them, or that He must have been acquainted with the schools and religions of Egypt, deriving His doctrine from them--all attempts of the kind have so palpably failed, as not even to require a deliberate answer. If He is simply a man, as we hear, then He is most certainly a new and singular kind of man, never before heard of, as great a miracle as if He were not a man. Whatever He advances is from Himself. Shakespeare, e.g., probably the most creative and original spirit the world has ever produced, and a self-made man, is yet tinged in all His works with human learning. He is the high-priest, we sometimes hear, of human nature. But Christ, understanding human nature so as to address it more skilfully than he, never draws from its historic treasures. Neither does He teach by human methods. He does not speculate about God like a school professor. He does not build up a frame of evidence from below by some constructive process, such as the philosophers delight in; but He simply speaks of God and spiritual things as one who has come out from Him to tell us what He knows. At the same time He never reveals the infirmity so commonly shown by human teachers. When they veer a little from their point or turn their doctrine off by shades of variation to catch the assent of multitudes, He never conforms to an expectation even of His friends. Again, Christ was of no school or party, and never went to any extreme, words could never turn Him to a one-sided view of anything. This distinguishes Him from every other known teacher. He never pushes Himself to any extremity. He is never a radical, never a conservative. And further, while advancing doctrines so far transcending all the deductions of philosophy, and opening mysteries that defy all human powers of explication, He is yet able to set His teachings in a form of simplicity that accommodates all classes of minds. No one of the great writers of antiquity had even propounded, as yet, a doctrine of virtue which the multitude could understand. But Jesus tells them directly, in a manner level to their understandings, what they must do and be to inherit eternal life, and their inmost convictions answer to His words. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The teaching of Christ the marvel of unbelief
The wisdom of Christ’s teaching has proved a hard problem to infidels for 1,800 years. To this day it stands above the efforts of the mightiest and most trained minds. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
And Jesus answered them and said, My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me
The teaching of Christ
I. ITS CONTENTS.
1. Concerning God.
(1) His nature--spirit (John 4:24).
(2) His character--love (John 3:16).
(3) His purpose--salvation (John 3:17).
(4) His requirement--faith (John 6:29).
2. Concerning Himself,
(1) His heavenly origin--from above (John 6:38).
(2) This higher being--the Son of the Father (John 6:17).
(3) His Divine commission--sent by God (John 5:37).
(4) His gracious errand--to give life to the world (John 5:21; John 6:51).
(5) His future glory--to raise the dead (John 5:28).
3. Concerning man
(1) Apart from Him, dead (John 5:24) and perishing (John 3:16).
(2) In Him possessed of eternal life.
4. Concerning salvation
(1) Its substance--eternal life (John 5:24).
(2) Its condition--hearing His word (John 5:24), believing in John 5:24), coming to Him (John 5:40).
II. ITS DIVINITY. Three sources possible for Christ’s teaching.
1. Others. He might have acquired it by education. But this Christ’s contemporaries negatived. He had never studied at a rabbinical school (John 5:15).
2. Himself. He might have evolved it from His own religious consciousness. But this Christ here repudiates.
3. God. This He expressly claimed, and that not merely as prophets had received Divine communications, but in a way that was unique (John 5:19-20; John 8:28; John 12:49), as one who had been in eternity with God (1:1, 18; 3:11).
III. ITS CREDENTIALS.
1. Its self-verifying character: such as would produce in the mind of every sincere person who desired to do the Divine will a clear conviction of its divinity (John 5:17).
2. Its God-glorifying aim. Had it been human it would have followed the law of all such developments; its Publisher would have had a tendency to glorify Himself in its propagation. The entire absence of this in Christ’s case was a phenomenon to which He invited observation. The complete.absorption of the messenger and the message in the Divine glory was proof that both belonged to a different than human category.
3. Its sinless bearer. This follows from the preceding. A messenger whose devotion to God was perfect as Christ’s was could not be other than sinless. But if the messenger were sinless there could be no unveracity in His message or in what He said concerning it. Lessons:
1. The marvellous in Christianity.
2. The insight of obedience.
3. The danger of high intellectual endowments.
4. The connection between truth and righteousness.
5. The sinlessness of Jesus an argument for His divinity. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine (In connection with John 8:47).
Our Lord asserts--First: That if a man as in a right state of mind, he will know and believe the truth. Secondly: That those who are in a wrong state of mind reject the truth; i.e., the cause of faith, or the reason why a man believes, is to be found in his right moral state, and that the cause of wrong belief and infidelity is a wrong moral state. This, reduced to one proposition, is that the faith of a man, so far as religious truth is concerned, depends on his moral state. Proof that this is true.
1. The declaration of our Lord is sufficient proof. The expressions, “If any man,” etc., and, “He that is of God,” amount to the same. The one means if any one sincerely desires to please God, and the other if any man is godly--i.e., of the same mind as God. Faith in the truth of God, He says, certainly flows from this congeniality with God; and, on the other hand, unbelief is due to, and therefore is the evidence of, a want of this congeniality.
2. This, however, is proved by other declarations. Christ says, “If God were your Father, ye would love Me.” He uniformly refers the unbelief of the Jews and their rejection of Him to their wickedness; it was because they were of their father the devil that they rejected and bated Him. St. John asserts that, “He that knoweth God, heareth us,” and that believers have the witness or evidence of the truth in themselves. The Holy Spirit, or an unction from the Holy One, is given to all God’s people, whereby they know the truth. Paul says that the natural or unrenewed man, and because he is unrenewed, perceives not the things of the Spirit; whereas the spiritual man, and because he is spiritual, perceives all things. He elsewhere says, “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” This is the constant doctrine of the Scriptures.
3. It is also the doctrine of experience. The good uniformly believe the truth; the wicked disbelieve or neglect it. Trace the history of the Church, and you will uniformly find truth and piety united on the one hand, and error and irreligion on the other. The more serious the error, the more clear the evidence of the sinfulness of the errorists. This is true everywhere. The infidels of England, France, and Germany, are uniformly irreligious, and generally immoral. On the other hand, you never find the evidence of godliness without finding with it the firm belief of all truth connected with religious experience. Experience, therefore, is in accord with Scripture.
4. A fourth argument is from analogy. There are different kinds of truth. Some are speculative and addressed to the intellect, as truths of mathematics, science, history. Some are aesthetic, as addressed to the taste or sense of the beautiful. Some are moral and suppose a moral sense for their apprehension. Some are religious or spiritual and suppose a religious or spiritual state of mind for their apprehension. The evidence of any one of these is suited to its nature. The evidence of speculative truths is addressed only to the understanding, and requires only intellectual ability to comprehend and receive it. They force assent. The evidence of aesthetic truth supposes cultivation. If a man denies the beauty of what the mass of educated men pronounce beautiful, it is proof positive of his want of taste. So with morals. A good man inevitably approves of what is morally right and good. If a man pronounce the decalogue evil, or the Sermon on the Mount immoral, it is proof positive that he is immoral. If this is so, why should it not be true that the religious man should receive religious truth and the ungodly reject them?
1. The folly of the opinion that a man is not responsible for his faith. This is transferring a maxim, true in one sphere, to another in which it is not true. Our character is determined by our faith, because our faith depends upon our character. Therefore we should be humbled because of our unbelief; consider it an evidence of a dull and sluggish heart.
2. We see the true way to increase the strength of faith. We must grow in holiness.
3. The consolation and security of believers. No speculative objection can subvert a faith founded on moral or religious evidence. Science can never disprove the decalogue. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Obedience the organ of spiritual knowledge
1. The Jews marvelled at Christ’s spiritual wisdom. The cause of wonder was His want of scholastic education. He said, “My doctrine is not Mine,” etc. The principle whereby He attained spiritual wisdom (John 5:30) He extends to all, “If any man.” Here, then, are two opinions respecting the origin of spiritual knowledge--the popular one relying on a cultivated understanding, “that of Christ which relied on trained affections and habits of obedience.” What is truth? Study, said the Jews. Act said Christ, and you shall know.
2. Religious controversy is fast settling into a controversy between two extreme parties. Those who believe everything, and those who believe nothing, the credulous and the sceptical. The first rely on authority--Romanists and all who receive their opinions because their sect or their documents assert them. The second rely on culture. Enlighten, and sin, which is an error of the understanding, will disappear, and we shall know all that can be known of God. These disciples of scepticism easily become disciples of credulity. It is instructive to see how those who sneer at Christian mysteries believe in the veriest imposture. In opposition to both stands the Christianity of Christ.
I. CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE.
1. Its object, “ The doctrine.” Doctrinal is now opposed to practical. We call the Sermon on the Mount practical, and Paul’s epistles doctrinal. But Christ!s doctrine means His teaching and embraces everything tie taught. In two departments of doctrine the principle of the text will be found true.
(1) In speculative truth. If any man will do God’s will he shall know what is truth and what is error. How is it that men are almost sure to arrive at the conclusion reached by their party? Because fear, interest, and vanity bias them. This hindrance is not to be removed by culture. By removing self-will the way is cleared for an approximation towards unity on points speculative.
(2) In practical truths. Our opinions depend on our lives more than our lives on our opinions. Men think in a certain mode because their life is of a certain character, and opinions are invented afterwards as a defence for their life. “Let us eat and drink,” etc. First they ate and drank, then believed tomorrow we die. Slavery is defended philosophically. The negro on his skull and skeleton, they say, has God’s intention of his servitude written. But did not men first make slaves, and then search for plausible reasons? So too a belief in predestination is alleged in excuse of crime.
2. Its certainty. “Shall know,” not have an opinion. There is a wide distinction between supposing and knowing, fancy and conviction. Whatever rests on authority remains only supposition. You know when you feel. In matters practical you know only so far as you can do. Read a work on “Evidences,” and it may become highly probable that Christianity is true. That is an opinion. Feel God. Do His will, till the Absolute Imperative within you speaks as with a living voice; then you do not think, you know that there is a God.
II. THE CONDITION OF ITS ATTAINMENT.
1. The universe is governed by laws. By submission to them you make them your own. Obey those of the body--temperance and chastity; of the mind--fix the attention, strengthen by exercise; and then their prizes are yours--health, strength, tenaciousness of memory, nimbleness of imagination, etc. Obey the laws of your spiritual being, and it has its prizes too. The condition of a peaceful life is submission to the law of meekness; the condition of the Beatific vision is purity of heart; the condition of spiritual wisdom and certainty in truth is obedience to the will of God. In every department of knowledge, therefore, there is an appointed “organ “ for the discovery of its specific truth. In the world of sense, the empirical intellect; here the Baconian philosopher is supreme. The religious man may not contravene his assertions; but in the spiritual world, the organ of the scientific man, sensible experience, is powerless. If the chemist, etc., say we find in the laws of affinity, in the deposits of past ages, in the human frame no trace of God, no one expected they would. Obedience is the sole organ here. “Eye hath not seen it.” And just as by copying perpetually a master-painter’s works, we get at last an instinctive and infallible power of recognizing his touch, so by copying and doing God’s will we recognize what is His--we know of the teaching whether it be of God, or whether it be an arbitrary invention of a human self.
2. The universality of this law. “If any man.” In God’s universe there are no favourites who may transgress its laws with impunity; none who can take fire and not be burnt. In God’s spiritual universe there are no favourites who can attain knowledge and wisdom apart from experience. See the beauty of this arrangement. If the certainty of truth depended on the proof of miracles, prophecy, etc., then truth would be in the reach chiefly of those who can weigh evidence, investigate, etc.; whereas, as it is, “The meek will He guide in judgment.” The humblest may know more by a single act of charity, or a prayer of self-surrender, than all the sages can teach or theologians dogmatize upon.
3. Part of this condition is earnestness. “Will” here is volition, not the will of the future tense. So it is not a chance, fitful obedience that leads to the truth, but one rendered in entireness and in earnest. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
An obedient spirit the key of truth
In judging the Bible, there is a great diversity of opinion. One regards it as a mass of contradiction and fable, which interest has imposed on credulity; while another receives it as the oracles of God. Some find in it the atonement and the necessity of a vital change, others see nothing of the sort. Yet these men may be of equally sound judgment in other matters. Nay, the same man views the Bible in all these varied lights at different periods. Does this diversity arise from the Bible or from its readers? If a number of men were placed at different heights, and one should declare that the sun had risen, another that he was rising, and a third that he had not risen, we should ascribe this diversity not to anything in the sun, but to the different altitudes of the observers. The varied judgments on the Bible are to be accounted for in the same way; for
1. Our text shows us that there is nothing in the Bible which necessarily leads men to err respecting its doctrines. If our Maker gave a revelation to man, we should expect that it should be attended with such evidences that every man might know that it really came from Him, and that every man might know precisely what it taught. And this has been done. “If any man will do His will, he shall” not be inclined to believe that the Bible is true, but “shall know,” etc. The apostles echo this; they say, “We know.” God does not make this revelation certain and clear, irrespective of character. We might as well expect the sun to be visible alike to the dwellers in caves or the open air. Both the sun and the Scriptures are so placed that all who place themselves in a proper position may know the truth of the one and see the light of the other.
2. What is this position? “If any man will do.” An obedient spirit is the key of Divine truth. The holiest man will best understand the Bible. This is reasonable. Who would think of going to a wicked man to learn religious truth? We feel that he is best qualified to teach who has learnt to practice. The same qualification is necessary in the learner. A rebellious child is more likely to mistake his father’s meaning than one who is obedient.
8. We need the aid of the Holy Spirit in discerning spiritual things. The Bible is clear, but we are dark. A man suddenly emerging from long imprisonment is bewildered by the light; so Bible perplexities are due mostly to our sinful blindness. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to cleanse and strengthen the spiritual vision. To whom, then, will God give His Spirit? Not to him who will not follow the light he has. The universal maxim is that to one who improves, more shall be given. And yet wicked men complain that they cannot understand the Bible. As well might a spendthrift complain because he did not receive his father’s whole estate. Bishop Wilson says, “When religion is made a science, nothing is more intricate; but when made a duty, nothing is more easy.” A French infidel once said to Pascal, “If I had your principles, I should be a better man.” “Begin with being a better man, and you will soon have my principles, was the reply.
4. Our subject shows us what they must do who are troubled with doubts. Shall he read volumes of “Evidences”? The first step is to give up sin.
Having done this, let him read the Bible with a mind open to conviction. Such a person begins to do the will of God, and he will become a believer in the Word. He hears that prayer is necessary ere he can understand the Bible, and consequently prays, and obedience is again rewarded. Admitting the truth of the Scriptures, he yet finds doctrines he cannot understand. Let him do the will of God, and all that is necessary for him to know about the atonement, regeneration, assurance, etc., will be made clear.
5. We need not stop here. In heaven we shall know, because we shall follow on to know the Lord. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
Obedience not compulsion
It would have been as easy for God to fill the world with obedient subjects as it is for a man to fill his garden with flowers. If it is only flowers that he wants, he can get them at once and keep them for ever, without any trouble of raising or tilling. He has but to go to a milliner’s shop, and take home his treasures and plant them. But suppose he wants living flowers. In that case he wants to know something more than the way to the milliner’s shop. He has need of wisdom and patience. Flowers must be cherished and coaxed; they will not grow for tile telling. If all that God wanted were obedience, He could make a splendid world to-day. He has but to will it, and all would be orderly in an instant. Not a thought, word, deed, misplaced. Kings and subjects, masters and men, all at peace. No war, untruth, tears; sin and sorrow all gone. But it would be splendid death. No wrong and no right; no tears and no joy. The world would go as a sewing-machine, because it must. That is not the obedience God wants to see. He wants obedience with a heart in it. And so He waits and is patient. A thousand times He comes, and still the door is bolted and barred; and yet again He comes, if haply He may find it open. (H. W.Burgoyne.)
The ancients tell us that when Jupiter saw men striving for Truth, and pulling her to pieces to secure her for themselves, he sent Mercury, who dressed Error up in the imagery of Truth; and though then men were sure to get but little truth, they were as earnest as ever, and lost peace, too, in their contentions for its image. This is no wonder; but when truth and peace are brought into the world together, to see men contending for the truth to the breach of the peace is the greatest wonder. Disputation cures no vice, but kindles a great many. Christianity is all for practice; and the time spent in quarrelling about it is a diminution to its interest. Christ’s way of finding out truth is by doing the will of God. Consider
I. THE WAYS MEN HAVE PROPOUNDED TO FIND TRUTH, AND ON THAT FOUNDATION TO ESTABLISH PEACE IN CHRISTENDOM.
1. That there is but one true way is agreed upon, and therefore every Church propounds a system, and says that is the true religion; like Brutus and Cassius, of whom one says, “They supposed themselves were the commonwealth.” But of this there can be no end; for divide the Church into twenty parts, and you and your party are damned by the other nineteen.
2. Others conclude that this evil must be cured by submission to an infallible guide; but this can never end our controversies, because the greatest controversies are about this guide, and because
(1) We cannot find any such guide.
(2) Nor do we find one necessary.
(3) Those who pretend to be such are deceived.
(4) They do not believe in their infallibility, for they do not put an end to their own questions.
(5) Given such a one, we should fail of truth, for perhaps he would not perform his duty, or we should at times misunderstand or be perverse. God is an infallible Guide, yet by our faults we are as far off from peace and truth as ever.
3. Some wise men have undertaken to reconcile the differences of Christendom, by projecting that each side should pare away something of their propositions, and join in common terms of accomodation. This has been tried, but has produced nothing but a fantastic peace.
4. Others, observing that many controversies are kept up by ill stating of the question, endeavour to make the matter intelligible; but we find by sad experience that few questions are well stated; and when they are not consented to, and when agreed upon by both parties to be well stated, are simply armies drawn up with skill and waiting to thrust their swords in each others’ sides.
5. Some have propounded a way of peace rather than truth--universal toleration. This relies on a great reasonableness, since opinions cannot be forced; and when men receive no hurt, it is to be hoped they will do none. But there are many who are not content that you permit them; they will not permit you. Their way is not only true, but necessary, and all moderation is but want of zeal for God. What is now to be done? Must truth be for ever in the dark, and the world divided? We have examined all ways but one; and having missed in every other, let us try this. Let every man in his station do the duty which God requires of him, and then he shall be taught of God all that is fit for him to learn (Psalms 111:10; Psalms 119:100). Theology is rather a Divine life than a Divine knowledge.
II. CERTAIN CAUSES OF OUR ERRORS ARE NOTHING BUT DIRECT SINS.
1. No man understands the Word of God unless he lays aside all affections to sin. “Wickedness,” said Aristotle, “corrupts a man’s reasoning,” it gives him false principles and evil measures of things. A covetous man understands nothing to be good that is not profitable. A voluptuary likes your reasoning well enough if you discourse of the pleasures of sense, but if you talk of religion he cries out, “What is the matter?” A man’s mind must be like your proposition before it can be entertained. We understand so little of religion because we are in love with that which destroys it; and as a man does not care to hear what does not please him, so neither does he believe it.
2. He that means to understand the will of God must lay aside all inordinate affections to the world. A veil was on the hearts of the Jews (2 Corinthians 3:14), because they looked for a temporal prince and secular advantages, and so they would not accept the poor, despised Jesus. The argument of Demetrius is unanswerable, “By this craft they get their living.” When men’s souls are possessed by the world, their souls cannot be invested with holy truths, because a man cannot serve two masters or vigorously attend two objects.
3. No man, however learned, can understand God’s word, or be at peace on religious questions unless he be a master over his passions. When a man is mingled with his congenial infirmities of anger and desire, he judges of heavenly things accordingly. Truth enters into the heart when it is empty, and clean, and still; but when the mind is shaken with passion, you can never hear the “voice of the charmer, though he charm very wisely.” But all this while we are in preparation only. When we have cast off sin, the world, and passion, then we may say, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth”; but we are not yet instructed.
III. WHAT IS THAT PRINCIPLE OR MEANS BY WHICH WE SHALL CERTAINLY BE LET INTO ALL TRUTH? Do God’s will and you shall understand God’s truth.
1. This must be taken for a praecognition that every good man is taught of God, and unless He teach us we shall be poor scholars and worse guides. By how much nearer we are to God, by so much better shall we be instructed. This being pre-supposed, we can proceed by wonderful degrees in this Divine philosophy.
2. There is in every righteous man a new vital principle; the spirit of grace is the spirit of wisdom, and teaches us by secret inspirations, effects and energies (1 John 2:27). Which principle divers fanatics, misunderstanding, expect to be conducted by ecstasy. But God’s Spirit does not destroy reason, but heightens it. He opens the heart not to attend to secret whispers, but to hear the Word of God, and gives us a new heart to understand it, otherwise the gospel is a dead letter (1 Corinthians 2:14). When the wicked governor asked of Christ concerning truth, Christ gave him no answer. He was not fit to hear it.
3. A good life is the best way to understand reason and religion, because by the experiences and relishes of religion there is conveyed to us a sweetness to which all wicked men are strangers. When reason is raised by the Spirit of Christ, it is turned quickly into experience. So long as we know God only in the ways of men, by learning and dispute, we shall see nothing but a shadow of Him, but when we know Him with the eyes of holiness, we shall hear what we never heard and see what we never saw.
4. There is a sort of God’s dear servants, who perfect holiness in His fear, who have a degree of charity and Divine knowledge more than we can discourse of. This is to be felt and not to be talked of. A good man is united to God as flame touches a flame, and combines into glory. He is the friend of God and best knows God’s mind.
IV. BY WHAT MEANS IS IT EFFECTED THAT A HOLY LIFE IS THE BEST DETERMINATION OF ALL QUESTIONS, AND THE SUREST WAY OF KNOWLEDGE? Is it to be supposed that a godly man is better enabled to determine the questions of purgatory and transubstantiation? Is a temperate man a better scholar than a drunkard! Answer: In all things in which true wisdom consists, holiness, which is best wisdom, is the surest way of understanding them: And this
1. Is effected by holiness as a proper and natural instrument, fur naturally everything is best discerned by its proper light. As the eye sees visible objects, and the understanding intellectual, so the spirit the things of the Spirit. Who can tell better what is and what is not true reformation, than he who is truly reformed. He knows what pleases God and can best tell by what instruments He is reconciled (Proverbs 10:31-32).
2. Holiness is not only an advantage to the learning all wisdom and holiness, but for discerning what is wise and holy from what is trifling, useless, and contentious. If God’s Spirit be your teacher, He will teach you such truths as will make you know and love God, and become like Him and enjoy Him for ever. But what are you better if any man should teach you whether every angel makes a species, or what place Adam should have lived in if he had not fallen?
3. Holiness is the best way of finding out truth, not only as a natural medium, or as a prudent medium, but as a means by way of Divine blessing (John 14:21). Love is obedience, and we learn His words best when we practise them.
4. When this is reduced to practice and experience, we find not only in practical things, but even in the deepest mysteries, not only the most eminent saints, but every good man, can best tell what is true and reprove an error. He that goes about to understand the Trinity by words of man’s invention, he may talk something, but he knows not what. But the good man that feels the “power of the Father,’’ to whom the Son has “become wisdom and righteousness,” etc., and in whose heart “the love of God is shed abroad by the Holy Ghost,” though he understands nothing of what is unintelligible, yet he only understands the mystery of the Trinity. Experience is the best learning. Application:
1. That is no religion whose principles destroy any duty of religion.
2. It is but an ill sign of holiness when a man is busy in little scruples and fantastic opinions about things not concerning the life of religion.
3. That is no good religion which disturbs governments and shakes the foundation of the public peace. (Jeremy Taylor.)
It is quite possible for any one of us to go out on the street, and by a number of rapid and unnatural revolutions of the body, so to confuse the brain, that all the objects around us, and even the solid earth beneath our feet, will seem to dance before our eyes, and to whirl round and round in a most bewildering confusion. So, also, is it possible for a man to whirl round and round in an unworthy and bad life, until his moral nature is so confused that the most unmoving facts of the moral world will dance before his mental vision, and the very foundations of moral truth be broken up in a mocking, whirling, hopeless maze. But, in both of these cases, the disturbance is within, not without. It is in the eye which sees, not in the things which are seen. So in the case of the sceptic. His disobedience of moral law, the false and unnatural movements of his spirit, have set everything whirling and spinning. Eternal verities now dance before his mind as so many unsubstantial fancies, only because his moral vision has been deranged. And the remedy in both cases is the same. Let the drunken man become sober, and he will see things as they are. Let the sceptic turn to duty, and he will come to know truth. How can the impure man believe in purity? Is it for his interest to do so? Is it for his peace and happiness? Would not such faith work as fire in his veins? Faith fails, and must fail, when life withdraws its support. But a short time ago, I heard of a man whose antecedents were religious and whose own freely formed relations are such also, who publicly, and with all seriousness, questioned the truth of human immortality. Do you ask, What shall be said in explanation of such a phenomenon? Why this--there is no mystery about it. Let that man continue a few years longer in political life (such as he makes it), let him continue a few years longer to grow rich amazingly fast upon an amazingly small salary, and he will have no doubts upon the subjects which he is now debating. He will then be sure that there is no future life; probably also, that there is no God. How can such a man believe in heaven? Has he much interest in it? How can he believe in hell? Has he not too much interest in this? The truth is, the man has so abused his moral nature, so riddled it with transgressions, that it is no longer capable of holding faith--faith in a God who will punish sin. Faith leaks out of such a man, as water runs from the tub which has stood for weeks in the blazing sun. So there are scores around us whose immorality has made them sceptics. They have not grown beyond faith mentally, but they have sunk below it morally. First, the life was lowered, then the creed. First, practice was loosened, and then the creed was liberalized. They first trampled under foot a mother’s example, and then into the q-me mire threw her Bible. The new crew was first received on board, and then the new flag was run up to the mast-head. They never thought of changing their views as to the obligations of the Sabbath until they had violated, or wished to violate, its sanctity. Search these persons out, and you will find that the atmosphere in which they live, and through which they look upon spiritual things, is by no means a pure one; and this is the reason why they do not see moral truth clearly, and hold it firmly. One has thickened his atmosphere with a conscienceless greed for gain. Another, with a fierce and unprincipled desire for power. Still another has poured round her the thickening, dead-sweet nebula of silly and senseless pleasure, and from the midst of this she looks out upon spiritual things; seeing them about as clearly as you see the leaves of the tree or the face of the sun through the medium of stained windows.
I. First--A LARGE PART OF MORAL AND RELIGIOUS TRUTH IS PRACTICAL, AND CANNOT BE KNOWN EXCEPT THROUGH EXPERIENCE; THAT IS, THROUGH LIVING IT. You can believe in London--that there is such a place, without ever having seen it. It is a mere exercise of the intellect to do this. So you can demonstrate that the angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles. There is no need, no place, for experience here But take this declaration--a pure and good life is the happiest. How can you, how can any one, surely know whether this is true or not until by experience you test it? So Christ stands before the world and says, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” But it is not possible for any one to know that this is true or not true until he makes trial--until he actually does come unto Christ. Or, take this declaration--God hears and answers prayer. There is no way of putting this to the test, except by living a life of prayer. And here let me say to those among you who, in the presence of neglected duty, are waiting for more light and stronger faith, that you will wait in vain. You may say, “If I believed all that the Christian does, I would commence.” But I tell you that you shall never have more faith until you bow right loyally to the Right which you now see, to Duty already known. The starving man may not wait for more strength before he takes of the food placed before him. Every day that you deny to moral truth already known the obedience of your life, you do so much to obscure this truth.
II. A second justification of the principle of the text is this--SPIRITUAL THINGS ARE SPIRITUALLY DISCERNED. So it is with scientific things. Newton was living, in the atmosphere of science, with the faculty of observation in fullest exercise, or he would not have seen the apple drop. An accident you may call it. But it was an accident which could only have happened to a Newton. So always scientific things are scientifically discerned. A blind man would never have recognized Frauenhofer’s spectroscopic lines. Now, there is in man a moral faculty which is set into relation with moral truth. But this faculty, like all others, to be useful, must be exercised. The lapidary tells the quality of the stone by the touch of his tongue. So the tea-taster goes from box to box, by a single taste fixing the value of the box. So the moral faculty, exercised in the direction of truth and duty, becomes quick and unerring to detect them. The conscience, like Ithuriel’s spear, discloses falseness and error by a single touch. Many a man who is in no sense intellectually great is yet wonderfully able to disentangle sophistry, to lift the truth which is covered over with error, to cut the path of duty plain and straight through the most tangled maze. You will readily recall here the old phrase of “threading the labyrinth.” The one who desired to visit the dark and winding passages used to take the end of a spool of thread in his hand, unwinding it as he went into the maze. And when he desired to return to the light, all that he needed to do was to follow back his guiding thread. Now, to a good man, to an obedient spirit, conscience is this thread. Out of the darkest windings it leads unto the light. There is not that labyrinth of error on earth in which such a man can be lost. He will reach unto the day, as surely as the blind instinct of the cellar vine turns to the sun. I know faith is spoken of as the gift of God. But, like all other gifts of God, this has its conditions. God can no more give it unto a bad life, than He can give beauty and sweetness to the flower which never sees the light, or bone and muscle and strength to the man who will not allow food to pass his lips, or riches to the idler and the spendthrift. I turn now to make some applications of this subject.
1. First--It furnishes a solution of the scepticism of some men of science. Your power of observation may be good, but human eyes cannot take in God as they can a fossil or a planet. They are not the organ of reception here. A man who would come into the presence of God must walk the path which leads unto this presence. There is a hill of science, and there is another hill. We say not, that the former commands not a noble prospect. It does. Is well worth climbing. All that we affirm, and what the Bible declares is, that the outlook from it is not the same as that from the other hill called Calvary. Right living, not sharp thinking, is the condition here.
2. Again--This subject also helps to discern the origin, and to determine the value, of another very common species of scepticism, which we may term popular in distinction from scientific. Many men who are prominent in public life are more or less sceptical. The explanation of the scepticism which you see is to be found in the life, all of which you do not see. And this thought leads naturally to another application of the truth which we are considering.
3. It is this--the fearful danger which attaches to continued impenitence. This impenitence of yours, this holding back from duty, is the slow murdering of your faith.
4. I only add, as a closing application of this subject, that it is useful for direction to those who would enter upon the Christian life. The way to do this is not to wait for more feeling, not to delay for stronger faith, but to take up that duty or duties already known, already before you. (S. S. Mitchell, D. D.)
The true order of religious knowledge
In this instance “will do” does not express future action simply. The “ will” is not a mere auxiliary, it is an independent verb, and receives the main emphasis of the verse. The revised version correctly renders it: “If any man willeth,” etc. The true order of religious knowledge, then
Such an order, however, does not accord with man’s preconceived notions. The first statement in the process seems to him superfluous, and the last two appear unnaturally reversed. He raises the objection: “I must know a doctrine before I attempt to put it into practice. For me to undertake to do what I cannot understand is absurd.” But how is it in other departments of life and thought? Does theory precede practice, or does practice prepare for theory? Did men never sow and reap until they had analyzed soils and developed the whole system of agriculture? Did they never use wheat until chemistry had taught them just how much gluten, starch, and phosphate there is in that grain, and explained its wonderful adaptation to the human constitution? Did they never lay the four walls of a dwelling until they had reasoned out the geometrical truth that two straight lines cannot enclose a space, and had mastered the entire science of architecture? The question, in fine, resolves itself into this: Is science based upon art, or art upon science? Do children study grammar, or do they learn to talk first? Do they not walk until they have been instructed in the intricate physiological processes and mechanical principles involved in that act? Did men wait until Aristotle had constructed his logic, to reason? Did they write no poetry until the science of prosody had been perfected? Did they never paint pictures until the laws of perspective had been carefully studied, and the theories of combination and contrast in colours were well understood? Now there is a religious art and a religious science, the art of holy living and the science of theology. The relation between the two is most vital. The practice of the one is the indispensable condition of the successful acquirement of the other. As the practice progresses the doctrine develops. Knowledge grows from more to more, and clear conceptions and positive convictions become at length the priceless possession of the soul. But granting the reasonableness of the requirement that doing shall precede knowing, why is it necessary, it may be asked, to make this threefold division and to specify willing? Is not that already implied in the doing? Can there be doing without willing to do? Certainly there can be no rational and responsible action without the forthputting of volition. But this willing means more than that. It means willingness, the moral determination of the mind toward God, the complete submission of the affections and desires to His will, the making of that will our supreme and ultimate choice. Something like this is true of all knowledge. Its attainment is conditioned on the mind’s receptivity and openness to the truth. It is only when the mind has divested itself of prepossessions and prejudices, and is supremely anxious to know the truth for the truth’s sake, and is willing to follow wherever that truth may lead, that it can succeed in its search. Pascal truly says, “The perception of truth is a moral act”; and Fichte, “If the will be steadfastly and sincerely fixed on what is good, the understanding will of itself discover what is true.” Similar testimony is borne by the two great masters of modern science. Prof. Tyndall says of inductive inquiry: “The first condition of success is an honest receptivity, and a willingness to abandon all preconceived notions, however cherished, if they be found to contradict the truth. Believe me, a self-renunciation which has something noble in it, and of which the world never hears, is often enacted in the private experience of the true votary of science.” Prof. Huxley goes so far as to say, “The great deeds of philosophers have been less the fruit of their intellect than of the direction of that intellect by an eminently religious tone of mind. Truth has yielded herself rather to their patience, their love, their single-heartedness, and their self-denial, than to their logical acumen.” Even the pagan poet, Sophocles, saw and stated this truth: “A heart of mildness, full of good intent, Far sooner than acuteness will the truth behold.” This rightness of heart is the one and indispensable condition of all religious knowledge. There the moral disposition is everything. “With a heart man believeth unto righteousness.” An absolute renunciation of self, and an unqualified surrender to the Divine will, must precede and give rise to all right doing and all real knowing. In the heart’s unreserved consent to the will of God lies the secret of all attainment in religious knowledge. Here is the dividing line between the children of God and aliens. Here is the starting point in spiritual experience. Here is the beginning of true wisdom. In the heart’s consent--when that is yielded all else will follow as naturally as noon-day follows the dawn. One who submissively consents to the will of God, will do that will, and in the doing will come to a knowledge of all essential truth. (Christian Advocate.)
Knowing by doing
1. It was a frivolous question those Jews raised. It was not whether there was anything in the teaching worth heeding, but how had Christ learned it. Our Lord turns their thought to the question they ought to have asked: Is this the teaching of God This is the first question that any new teaching should raise now; but now, as then, the question is, What is His school? The Bible test of all teaching is, Is it of God? Never mind the school.
2. The old question suggested by Christ is not yet laid. Teachers are in multitudes with all sorts of credentials. But earnest souls are asking, Whence is the teaching? Much of it is countersigned by the schools, but we find the schools wrangling. And not only rival books and systems make trouble for us. We are pointed to facts, and told that God teaches by providence as well as His Word, and yet many of the facts are ugly. The seething deeps of society throw to the surface horrible practical problems not classified in the canons of Westminster and Dort. The tendency of a good many minds is to set down the whole matter as a hopeless muddle.
3. And yet thus much is plain. Given the Being we are taught to believe in and worship, and obey as God, an intelligible revelation of His will follows of necessity, else loyalty and duty are the veriest farce. And if Christ is to be believed, all the teaching necessary to blessed and useful living is clearly given by God. “The light is with you,” He tells the Jews, “walk while ye have it.” Christ claims to be this light, and to meet the demand for God’s teaching. “My teaching is that of Him who sent Me.” “So far, well,” says the world. “That is a fair response to our challenge; but how shall we test it? How shall we know?” Christ answers, “By experiment. Practice the teaching and it will vindicate itself as Divine.”
4. Christ thus puts practice before knowledge, and as a means to it, and in this lays down no arbitrary or unfamiliar law. The best of our knowledge, all of it that is useful, is gained through practice. So the teaching of Christ will not vindicate itself as of God by merely studying it. No man ever learned to paint or play by mastering the theories of painting and music. He must handle the brush and finger the keys himself. Doing is a mode of study. Practice vindicates theory. Christ thus invites the fairest, simplest, and most decisive test of His teaching. Try and see if it works.
I. THE FIRST STEP TOWARD KNOWING THE TEACHING OF GOD IS A DETERMINATION TO DO IT. Will means, not wish, but resolution. A man says, “I should like to know how to write shorthand.” That is all it comes to. Another says, “I will learn shorthand,” and goes to work at it. There is the difference. There is a great deal of vague wishing and talking about wanting to know God’s will. Not a few take it for granted that the teaching of God is a hazy sort of thing, and rather comfort themselves with this haziness, and take refuge in it from clear dictates of duty. Christ nowhere concedes this haziness. He sets the teaching of God in the light, and says, “Man shall know,” and the first step towards that is determination. Some people take the attitude of willingness to know if knowledge shall be forced on their conviction; but God’s teaching is not brought in that way; it is something to be won, and a man’s professed willingness is a sham if it do not translate itself into the energy of a resolved will.
II. This energy displays itself in subjection. If one wills to do another’s will, he puts himself under that will absolutely, and obeys it, surrendering his own. Christ here lays down no new or arbitrary law. Everywhere obedience is the first step in learning--doing what is told because another wills it. A child sits down to take his first lesson in music, and knows not what it tends to; but the teacher knows. By and by, through the mechanical drudgery, rudimental conceptions of harmony begin to take shape, and so on until he interprets the works of a Beethoven. Many fail in Divine knowledge because they do not like to obey without knowing the reason why. They want God to treat them as equals, not as inferiors. “Except ye become as little children,” etc. There is a system and a plan-book of all the details of obedience, but the way to them is by these details.
III. TEACHING YOU BY PRACTICE, GOD WILL GIVE YOU LESSONS OUT OF MUCH BESIDES BOOKS. You are resolved to follow Christ’s method: well, the practical test is, are you ready to do the first thing Christ tells you? In that case your first teacher will probably be not a robed priest or grave professor, but some troublesome beggar or disturbing child. Your lesson-book may open at that commonplace occasion which calls for a kind word or deed, a restraint of temper or sacrifice of convenience. Through your bearing your brother’s burden, and taking his sorrow on your heart, you have got a look into God’s heart, and a conception of God’s vast tender meaning towards humanity underlying His teaching about love, etc. And so, more and more, you find yourself, not only gaining new knowledge, but gaining it by a new and unsuspected way. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
Knowledge of the doctrine of Christ the fruit of willing to do it
I. THE PROCESS BY WHICH THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE DOCTRINE THAT IS OF GOD IS REACHED.
1. This knowledge, though its propositions are to be received by the intellect, requires before the intellectual a certain moral capacity. The will must be set to do the will of God before the intellect can act without embarrassment, because the doctrine is not the teaching of a philosophy, but the revelation of a person. All the doctrine is impersonated in Him, so that to receive Him is to receive the doctrine, and to reject Him is to reject the doctrine.
2. Acts done by a person receive their truest significance from what we know of himself. The revelation of a person by his acts is often imperfect and misleading. We need to know that hidden link between the act and the motives. This is why historians, admitting the same facts, differ so widely in their estimates of the persons, e.g., Henry VIII., Mary, Elizabeth. This must be so because the mystery of a second personality lies beyond the acts, and because it is apprehended by one possessing the same mysterious gift, and is therefore apprehended, not in its bare proportions, but according to the conditions of the receptive faculty. Even in the more delicate processes of modern art, with what care must the negative surface be prepared which is to receive aright the lines and proportion of the object it is to image forth. Now, in the living recipient of the impress of another’s character the difficulty is immeasurably increased. There is formed a relation of concord or antagonism, and motives, and a meaning is attributed by the observer to the outward actions. The same act is welcome or intolerable as our minds picture the motive, and this affects the whole power of comprehending a character. This is the reason of the solitariness to which the greatest spirits are exposed. Such are almost always misjudged, not because they give occasion for it, but because in those around them the receptive faculty is not qualified to sustain the impress of their great being. It is only some one with a kindred gift of genius who is able to understand them.
3. Here, then, we may see why, from the laws of our own nature, it is true that he who wills to do the will of God comes to know the Lord. It is like which comprehends and is drawn to the like. Now the law of Christ’s being was the doing the will of the Father. When, therefore, the will of any man is set not to do the will of God, there is a repugnancy between him and Christ which forbids his knowing the Lord of Life, and conversely.
II. THE PROMISE OF A REVELATION AND OF POWER TO RECEIVE IT. Christ stood among men not so much their intellectual teacher as their renewer. These words are not only a mapping out of man’s nature, but are also a promise of grace. That first turning of the will was itself, doubtless, in the mystery of the spiritual probation of one gifted with free agency, the yielding to grace already given: and this next step marks the increased gift of that same grace. It is the carrying out of the promise “to him that hath shall be given.” “If any man love God,” even in this first bending of the will to Him, “the same is known of Him,” and such knowledge is but the first beginning of greater gifts; the pledge that forthwith the power of the receptive faculty is increased, and of a greater revelation (chap. 14:21). And in that is all that the soul needs (Revelation 3:20). From its recipient many of the old difficulties which beset his belief melt away, like the mist of the morning before the sun; and even those which do remain, and must remain until faith is exchanged for sight, no longer hide from him the truth they once shut out; he has risen to a loftier elevation, and his eye now ranges freely over the intermediate heights, and takes in the fair proportions of the land which is very far off. Conclusion.
1. Encouragement. To every one who has that will, the text assures a certain grant of all he desires. If the Authorized Version were correct it would not speak in the same tone of comfort; for who would dare to decide that He did the will of the Father? But these words promise the great benediction to him who wills to do the Father’s will; to him who, in the midst of failures and discouragements, still holds on because his will is set; to the beginner in the Christian course as well as to him who has reached furthest in it. And this it proposes to all. If there be one tried by intellectual difficulties concerning the revelation of Christ; if there be hearts longing for this revelation of Him who seems hidden, let them take comfort. The time of granting the revelation rests with Him, bus granted it must be. It may be thou “couldest not bear it now”; that thou hast more to learn of thyself, a deeper self distrust; that thy imperfect graces need a higher training; that He would first strengthen thy spirit by wrestling with Him. But though the vision tarries, wait for it, for it is sure at last.
2. Warning. The text explains why so many miss God, not from lack of any mere power of intellect, not from mental perplexities, not from obscurity of texts or Bible difficulties, but from alienation of the soul, For it is not through a direct act of the will that a man can make himself believe or disbelieve; but under the power of God’s grace a man can by degrees so educate His will that it does one way or the other determine his belief. Any allowed habit of sin is whether we know it at the time or not, really hardening our will against the will of Christ, and so making a true filial trust impossible. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
Duty and knowledge
1. The doctrine here taught is that if a man be sincere and accept the truth that God’s will is to be supreme, he shall be able to determine God’s doctrine. The sufficiency of sincerity in religion is loudly proclaimed. It is supposed to be the solvent of all religious difficulties. It is set up as the antagonist of doctrine, and as performing a function the exact opposite of that assigned to it here. With Christ it was the high road to truth; with some modern thinkers it is its substitute. Where there is such a contradiction of view as to the function of sincerity there must be some difference of judgment as to its meaning.
2. The sincerity which alternates the importance of truth cannot be the same as that meant to find truth. A languid, sentimental desire to be right is far from a purpose to do the will of God. We may desire to be learned and yet not study, and desire to be wealthy without self-denial and enterprize. Consider some of the tests of true sincerity.
I. IF A MAN BE WILLING TO DO GOD’S WILL HE WILL CONFORM HIS LIFE TO SUCH KNOWLEDGE AS HE POSSESSES OF THAT WILL. The text clearly supposes this.
1. No man is in complete ignorance of the Divine will; for no one is in complete ignorance of right and wrong, which have their roots in the Divine nature. Conscience is more or less a Divine witness within all men, and is supported by the facts of life, the consequences of actions; for we learn that that which is injurious cannot be His will, and that that which promotes the general happiness must. Our Saviour is con- templating the case of such as are in doubt whether His teaching on some matters be true, but who have some acquaintance with the will of God. The advice to the same class now-a-days is the same. Do the will of God as far as you know it, and you will know of the doctrine of which you are at present in doubt whether it be of God.
2. This is not exhorting a man to set about the work of saving himself instead of exhorting him to believe. The Saviour is dealing with doubters who think they have reasons for doubting. A man cannot drive out his doubts by a mere act of will. Besides, a man is morally bound to do God’s will whatever the consequences. If he knows it to be the will of God that he should be truthful, sober, etc., it is his duty to eschew the opposite, whether he ever become a believer in Christ or not. If renunciation of evil will not help his salvation it will not hinder it; and it is obvious that no one can earnestly desire to know any doctrine whether it be of God unless he honours God by compliance with what he knows to be His will. For what can be a man’s purpose in desiring to know any doctrine except that he may derive benefit from it? An inefficacious doctrine which impels no man to a Diviner life cannot be of any importance, and no one can sincerely desire to know a doctrine which constrains to a better life unless he is already yielding a loyal obedience to the laws he knows to be from God.
3. The difficulty of gaining admission for truth into the minds of men whose lives are in disconformity with it is proverbial. If a man’s interests or pleasures are involved in his continuance of any course of action, you know what a mass of evidence is required to convince him that he is wrong. If a craft, however iniquitous, be in danger, how hard to convince those who are enriching themselves by its gains! Hence the opinions of men are as frequently the product of their practices as their cause. Thieves do not first excogitate evil maxims and then begin to steal. The worse the man the worse his principles, and the better the man the better his principles, as a rule.
4. If a man be willing to do the will of God he will be watchful against the prepossessions which would hinder him from knowing that will. We may inherit opinions from our fathers, as we inherit property, and there may gather around them a sort of halo. But hereditary beliefs, which are no more than notions, are of no value; and if any man be willing to do God’s will he must be prepared to relinquish all traditions which are merely such. Christ contemplates the man to whom all light is welcome from any quarter. It may disturb old convictions, alter the proportions and relations of truths, but to know the will of God is worth it all.
II. HOW THIS EARNEST PURPOSE OPERATES AND LEADS TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE DOCTRINE WHETHER IT BE OF GOD.
1. Who can set himself to this higher life without a sense of the contrast between it and that which he has been leading. The birth of this heavenly resolution is not unmixed pleasure. The man feels that, however he may do the will of God in the future, the claims of the past are not cancelled by this altered life. What has infinite Justice to say to it? Is it not just here that the soul welcomes the cry “Behold the Lamb of God,” etc., and the assurance that Christ has been set forth as a propitiation? Does he not feel that the doctrine is Of God, whatever its mysteries, because it addresses itself to the awakened conscience and does not sweep justice away that it may find room for mercy, but blends the claims of both.
2. And we can see how this purpose leads to the knowledge of another doctrine--the necessity for the influence of the Holy Spirit. No one knows how much he needs supernatural help until he sets himself to lead a holy life, for not until then is he adequately conscious of the difficulties. But is it not just at this point that we welcome the doctrine that the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and that we can be strengthened with might by that Spirit in our inner man? (E. Mellor, D. D.)
The tendency of religious practice to promote right sentiments
I. THE REQUIREMENT to do the will of God. Included in it is
1. A desire to have just and correct views of that will.
2. A disposition to acquiesce in it, and give it a cordial reception.
3. Practical conformity to it.
4. A willingness to surrender what is incompatible with obedience.
5. A sincere concern about real religion and the salvation of the soul.
II. THE PROMISE--“he shall know,” etc.
1. This alone will break the force of prejudice.
2. It will put restraint upon evil propensities, which, if indulged, cannot fail to obstruct the acquisition of religious knowledge.
3. It will lead to the right use of the necessary means.
4. It will direct the mind towards God, seeking His guidance and blessing.
5. It will give us a due impression of our responsibility.
Honest seeking for the truth
Generally we mean by evidences of Christianity proofs which mostly appeal to the educated. What, then, are the illiterate to do? Have they no sufficient reason for believing the Bible to be God’s Word, beyond the fact that it is received as such by their Church and country? This would be to place their faith on a very precarious foundation; and we know that cottagers and artizans have been as well able to withstand scepticism as “the wise and prudent.” Our text satisfactorily accounts for the matter by declaring that a readiness to do God’s will shall be followed by a discovery of the origin of the doctrine. It sets before us a method of demonstration which may be tried by the ignorant as well as by the learned, inasmuch as it must be worked out by the heart rather than by the head.
I. WHY SHOULD THE BEING READY TO DO GOD’S WILL ENSURE THE ASCERTAINING WHETHER A DOCTRINE BE FROM GOD?
1. This readiness marks honesty of character and freedom from those prejudices which impede the search for truth.
(1) A man who sets himself to investigate a doctrine may see that if established it will entail duties he has no wish to perform; and what chance is there of his deciding that the doctrine is true when he desires to prove it false? It would be greatly for the interest of a worldly-minded man to prove Christianity false; he would get rid thereby of much that menaces him in his pleasures, and secure himself against the pleadings of conscience. His disposition is opposite to that of our text: in place of a readiness to do God’s will, whatever that may be, there is an eagerness to keep it out of sight whenever at variance with his own. How then can it be expected that, prejudiced against Christianity and inclined to its rejection, he could be a fair judge of evidences.
(2) But suppose a man anxious to discover God’s will that he may perform it: we may be sure that he is already striving to be obedient up to the full measure of his knowledge. There could not be this readiness if the conduct were not regulated by such portions of the Divine will as have already been ascertained, it follows from this that he will not be the slave of depraved inclinations, and therefore will search after truth with the clearheadedness of one whose understanding is not darkened by mists which rise from a heart in love with vice. And, further, it is evident that, as he is prepared to obey if he can determine what is truth, he will not be swayed by partialities; he has no private interest to serve, and we may therefore calculate on his conducting his inquiry with that fairness and integrity of purpose which almost ensure that his conclusions will be sound. Is it likely that such a man should fall into fatal error? Impossible, for
2. You must add to considerations drawn from the structure of the human mind that the special assistance of God may be expected. The attributes and Word of God clearly pledge Him to communicate a knowledge of His will wherever faithfully sought. If it be a principle in the Divine dealings to give over to a reprobate mind those who like not to retain God in their knowledge, and allow the understanding to be darkened to believe a lie, when they take pleasure in unrighteousness, it must be equally a principle with God to guide the meek in judgment, and to teach the meek His way, so that they who heartily seek shall assuredly discover the will of God. Therefore we believe that the Holy Spirit will assist every man who, with readiness to obey, proceeds to examine the Bible. What does all this assume? That the Bible is its own witness, and can prove of itself that it came from God. There is an evidence of God speaking in the Bible, which is only to be found and appreciated where certain moral qualities are possessed, and is fully as convincing as the combined testimony of miracles and prophecy.
(1) The Bible sets out with a broad statement of human corruption, and descending into particulars, it speaks of the deceitful heart; of the tendency of the affections to fasten on anything rather than God, etc. As the man of honest mind peruses this stern and revolting picture of himself, and compares what he reads with what he feels, the comparison assures him of the accuracy of the delineation.
(2) The self-evidencing power of the Bible is seen further in what it says of our salvation. The man who has felt himself to be a sinner will be conscious of such a suitableness in the whole scheme of redemption as will be an irresistible argument in favour of its truth. If the adaptation of the material world to our natural circumstances be allowed as good evidence that God made the world, the just as exact adaptation of the gospel to our spiritual circumstances should be received as good evidence that God planned the gospel.
(3) There is yet another evidence, that which results from putting Scripture to the proof, and finding it made good. If I act on the directions, and find myself a partaker of its promises, I am witness that both are of God. If the Bible tells me that if I pray in Christ’s name I shall obtain what I need--if thus praying I receive--if it tell me that through believing in Christ I shall be progressively sanctified, and I find holiness following on faith, etc., there is a growing evidence of the Divine origin of Scripture.
II. THE PRACTICAL INFERENCE--a readiness to perform God’s will is the great security and guide to its discovery. If the doctrines of Scripture remain hidden it is not through deficiency of revelation or defect of intellectual power. The only reason for the rejection of those doctrines is one derived from the heart, not from the head. You would quickly comprehend the truth if you were prepared to make it the rule of your practice. Do I wish to be convinced? would be a hard question for many readers and hearers. Should I like to be taken at my word? would be a hard question in the hour of prayer. Men talk very plausibly of not being answerable for their faith, as though it were not optional to believe or disbelieve; but it is optional whether to mortify or indulge a passion, whether to persist in or abstain from practices which are sure to warp the understanding and influence its decisions. Let what will be said of Bible mysteries and the weakness of human faculties, regulate your life by what you know, and you will be sure to know more. So that in our text lies a principle on which the last Judgment may proceed, one on which every unbeliever may be tried and condemned. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Christ’s method of Christian evidence
The error of the Jews is the error of many to-day. The humblest class falls into it. They say, “We cannot be expected to have much religion; we were not educated.” The intellectually proud make the same mistake. Both classes forget that, as Jesus reminds us, the first condition of certainty in Divine things is formed by the conscience, not by the intellect; and lies not in book learning but in the disposition of the soul, its willingness to do God’s will.
I. THE PRINCIPLE HERE ANNOUNCED. Lay emphasis on each word.
1. “Do His will.” Doing is the way of knowing in things Divine. Lord Bacon discovered the instrument of the physical sciences--careful experiment and observation. Before his time men speculated and dreamed. Since his time men have learned to know. Jesus promises satisfaction in another region, and reveals a method adapted to the end. We are to know the teachings of God not by sensible experiment, “Eye hath not seen”; nor by mental toil, but by being true to God, conscience, life. There is nothing unreasonable in this. Pascal says, “In the things of men, by knowing we come to love; in the things of God, by loving we come to know.” In things moral you cannot suspend action till you have learned. Some of you say that you have not settled, e.g., if God hears prayer, if there be a day sacred to God, if there be a judgment, if Christ be the supreme Lord; and yet you are acting in your prayerless, sinful life as if these questions were settled on the negative side, and thus are daily annihilating your only excuse, viz., that you had not made up your mind whether the doctrine was of God.
2. “If any man be willing.” It would have filled men with despair if Christ had made knowledge contingent on perfect obedience. Then the way of salvation would have been barred for ever to every child of Adam. What He says is, “ If any man have this disposition, if it be his supreme desire to be right with God, then he shall know now. Only observe He requires not a fit of obedience in a life of disobedience, not a mood of willingness when things go well with us, but a constant and cherished disposition.
3. “His will.” What is that? Some say Christianity. But Jesus could not have meant, “first do what I tell you, and then you will know whether to believe what I say.” They were in doubt about whether He was the Christ; but had they been willing to do the will of God as they knew it in their own Scriptures they would have had no doubt at all. “If ye had believed Moses ye would have believed Me.” Now if any man presents himself in our day in this attitude, saying that he wants to be convinced of the truth of Christ and His gospel, the principle touches him exactly. Are you willing to do God’s will as far as you know it? Are you living up to what is binding on conscience, then, fuller light will come and you will know of this doctrine.
II. ITS APPLICATION.
1. To those who are anxious to escape the whirlpool of unbelief. Take some cases.
(1) A man takes religion speculatively, as a thing chiefly of proofs, and says, “I will accept revelation when I am satisfied as to its claims.” Now when a man’s disposition is to throw the burden of proof upon God, and treats his Maker as bound to render him a reason in everything, and remove all possibility of mistake, he is hopelessly distant from salvation. If a man refused to enter upon any enterprise till he was ensured against all failure he would be reckoned a fool. The doubter is never the discoverer. It is the truth seeker that finds the truth.
(2) There are others who are not so much sceptical as captious, and are apt to shift the real question. They think they have decided for “evolution,” not knowing much about it. They have gathered from newspapers, etc., something of the controversies about some of the books of Scripture, and not having much furniture in their minds on the subject, they come more easily to a conclusion, and are inclined to decide against standard beliefs. Now, when such things are presented as serious difficulties we must instantly go deeper. The real question is not one concerning science or criticism, but how a man can be just with God. He has not lived so long in the world without sinning against the will of God as already known. Is his real anxiety to be at peace with God? If God has revealed His will at all it is to bring about this end; and if the end for which he desires to know God’s will be not chiefly to this purpose, it matters very little what a man holds about the Bible or what he rejects. “Seek ye, then, first the kingdom of God,” etc.
(3) Here is another, who seems to be in earnest. He is a truth-seeker who examines as one whose life depends on the issue. So you found him in youth and find him still, giving his whole life so that he may be able to outsoar every doubt; but till then--What? Wasted youth, duty neglected--a vain and sinful dream. “Awake thou that sleepest,” etc. If the truth is to be of any use to me whose life is but a breath, and I am to live by it, I must find it speedily.
2. This method of Christian evidence is of manifold application to believers. There are religious difficulties that all must meet in some form, which arise from the mysterious ways of Providence, the slow progress of the gospel, the fate of the heathen, etc. The principle of our text points to the right solution. “Lord, what shall this man do? What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” “Lord, are there few that be saved?” Be saved, and then thou shalt know as much of salvation as can be understood on earth.
3. The action of this principle on those who have submitted to God is obvious. The longer I love my Friend, the closer I walk with Him, the better I get to know Him; because I learn to sympathize more thoroughly with Him as I grow more like Him. (J. Laidlaw, D. D.)
The certitudes of religion
KNOWLEDGE is not a mere possibility or privilege, but a fundamental, universal necessity. Matter is governed by natural laws, and the brute creature by instinct, but man can become what he ought to be by obedience to knowledge, and by the use of reason. The pebble, the lily, arid the oak are what they are, with no conscious activity on their part. The beaver builds his dwelling place to-day as he did a thousand years ago; but man acts under higher laws. If he ignore knowledge, his powers become his shame. If they do not build him a throne, they will dig him a grave. He will sink even lower than the brute. Therefore it is incredible to suppose that certainty of knowledge is unattainable as to the life that is and that which is to come. Man lives not by bread alone. He must meet the burning problems of a higher life, and Christianity opens the door to certainty. He is not left in doubt, but “he shall KNOW of the doctrine.” Four lines of argument, in the validation of religious truth, may be, though no one test alone may be capable of universal application.
1. The main facts of Christianity lie in the brief compass of the three years of Christ’s public ministry--and these have been subjected to the severest tests of historic criticism. From out the fiery crucible the four gospels come unharmed.
2. The testimony which the conquests of the Cross afford, as those conquests spread throughout the Roman empire. All over the known world the truths of Christ’s death and resurrection were preached, revolutionizing the race by their peaceful triumphs.
3. The present energy of Christ in the world. The fame of Homer grows dim. Men have even questioned His existence; but Christ was never before so truly alive as to-day. We may rest upon the certainty of the gospel that centres in Him.
II. MORAL, that which dwells on the beauty, purity and consistency of the teachings of our Lord. An immoral religion cannot endure. To the matchless glory and beauty of God, and of Christ His Son, the human reason and affections respond immediately. So, too, to the august dignity of the soul and its grand destiny, man’s moral nature answers at once. These sublime, unique ideas are above the range of his unaided thought. They must be of Divine origin. This argument shades into another.
III. HYPOTHETICAL, the argument from probabilities. This has a high place in science. We want a working theory. We collect facts, guess, and then verify, Nature is full of mysteries. We stand before closed doors holding a bunch of keys. We try one after another till we find one that will fit. Then the door swings open to us. How is sinning man to be saved? Theories of education, philosophy and politics have been tried in vain. The monk, ascetic, teacher, and statesman failed. Christianity solved the problem, and it alone. By it the work is done in the world, in society, and in man’s heart. The fact we know, although the methods of God’s Spirit are unknown. We know not how heaven’s mystic fires were lighted, or how they now are fed; nor can we explain the coming or going of the Sun of Righteousness, who scatters the darkness of sin, and gladdens the earth as the garden of the Lord. Peace, hope and courage come where He is heard and heeded.
IV. EXPERIMENTAL. Doing the will of God illumines the pathway of the obedient disciple. Jesus brings peace to the soul that trusts and serves Him. We may not appreciate other arguments fully, but this is both personal and practical. To the doubter we simply say, “Come and see”; “taste and see that the Lord is gracious.” (A. J. Behrends, D. D.)
Scepticism: its cause and cure
Christianity is emphatically a system of truth. But what gives it pre-eminence is that it is a system of saving truth. This being so, it is important that we should know how best to become aquainted with it. Man’s mode differs from God’s, man says “read, study,” etc.; God says, “Obey.” The truths of Christianity can only be understood by those who are willing to obey God, and who are in harmony with Him. Apply this to
I. THE DOCTRINAL TRUTHS OF CHRISTIANITY. No serious person can observe the prevalence of scepticism without asking the cause.
1. The doubters themselves say
(1) The surroundings of Christianity are so mysterious that there seems no way of getting at its truths.
(2) Some of the doctrines are so inexplicable that there seems no possibility of obtaining a rational comprehension of them.
(3) The evidences are defective.
2. These are not the real reasons. The real cause is not intellectual but moral. Christ settles that for us, “Men love darkness rather than light,” “If any man will do His will.” The condition is not perfect obedience; but full purpose to obey God’s will as far as discovered. The sceptic’s will is against Christianity. He does not wish it to be true, and therefore objects to its being proved true. A variety of motives lie behind.
(1) Fear of old companions.
(2) Self interest. A change of opinion would involve loss.
(3) Vanity. A change of opinions would bring the imputation of fickleness.
(4) Party spirit.
(5) A bad heart and life. A true creed is a constant protest against evil.
3. In order to form a right conception of the doctrine of Christ, there are hindrances which must be removed. Self-will must be conquered, and prejudices laid aside. In scientific investigation, if your supreme object be the confirmation of your previous opinions, you will find it an agreeable task to lay aside every evidence that would overthrow them. But if your supreme object be truth, then you will not suffer yourself to be hampered by your old theory, but you will welcome light from whatever source. This is what Christ requires. Test His system by obeying its laws. In Corinth doubts had arisen about the Resurrection, and St. Paul constructs a magnificent argument to meet them. But in the midst he breaks off with “Be not deceived,” etc., a statement around which the whole argument revolves. Corrupted by evil surroundings, their life had become wrong, and hence their creed became wrong. “Give yourselves to righteousness and you shall know of the doctrine.” A young man brought up religiously leaves his rural home for the great city. He yields to temptation--does it a second time and a third, until it becomes a habit. It is thus inconvenient to retain his belief in the Bible because it protests against his wickedness. There may be cases in which creed influences life, but mostly life shapes creed.
II. THE MORAL TRUTHS. These are acknowledged to be the noblest the world has known. We hear no objection against Christianity based on their imperfection, but on their purity. There are commands, says the sceptic, that no man can comply with. The answer to this is not argument but facts. Men have embodied Christ’s precepts. Godless surgeons have witnessed the peace and joy of their agonizing patient with amazement, because they did not themselves know of the doctrine. Men have suffered wrong with patience and returned good for evil, and have confounded their unchristian neighbours for the same reason. How are they to learn the secret? Not by reading essays or hearing orations on submission and forgiveness, but by practising these things in humble dependence on God’s Spirit. “Exercise thyself unto godliness.” Aristotle said, “Things we learn to know we learn by the doing of them.” But men want to learn things without this--patience without being patient, meekness without forgiving, heaven without walking in the way, God without prayer. How can He? Christ’s method is to learn by doing. Virtue must go before knowledge. Grow in grace, etc. (2Pe 1:5, cf. verse 8).
III. THE EXPERIMENTAL TRUTHS.
1. There is in Christianity, not only something to be believed, but something to be felt. Some of its truths are beyond the range of the intellect. There is a “peace which passeth understanding,” “joy unspeakable,” “love which passeth knowledge.” These belong to the heart, and to feel them is to know them. There is a great difference between having an opinion and knowing. You may master the “evidences,” and believe that Christianity is Divine--but that is only an opinion. Feel God, realize His power, do His will until Christ is formed within you, then you know that Christianity is true. Fellow Christian! you are mourning the withdrawal of the Divine favour, your spirit is beclouded, you have faltered in some duty. What is the remedy? Return and run in the way of God’s commandments and the sun will shine upon you again.
2. In a healthy body the organs are fitted for the discharge of their separate functions--the eye for seeing, the palate for tasting. But these are only witnesses, they report to the mind which can please itself about believing the testimony. I am jaundiced to-day and my eye tells me that the grass is yellow; or fevered, and my palate tells me that honey is bitter. So when a carnal man looks at religion he pronounces it sad. But the fault is not in religion but in himself. The fever of sin is in his soul, he has an evil eye. In order to know the truth of God he must have a heart in sympathy with holiness, then he will know of the doctrine.
3. Modern rationalists will not accept this testimony of experience. They judge of Christianity by the eye of reason alone But there is enough to demand both eyes. Take a man who has studied scientifically our coal formations. He can tell you its component parts, and discriminate between different kinds. But suppose that man crossing the Alps in a snow storm, of what avail is his theory when perishing of cold? Look, on the other hand, at the weary son of toil wending his way to his cottage home exposed to the bitter blast. He seats himself before the fire. He cannot tell what that is made of which warms him, but he knows something better. He feels the heat. So it is with religion. Let those who please take the theory; give me to feel the glow.
1. Let us admire the benevolence of God in making this the condition of knowing. It places the proof of Christianity within the reach of all.
2. But the truth is also very admonitory. “The wicked shall not understand.” (R. Roberts.)
Why Christ’s doctrine was rejected by the Jews
I. THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST. This consisted of
1. Matters of belief relating to His person and offices. These seemed such as not only brought a new religion into the world, but to require a new reason to embrace it.
2. Matters of practice, such as were enforced by the Sermon on the Mount--Self-denial, purity of heart, etc. These were what grated hardest onmen. For their religion had degenerated into mere outward action, and when that failed, there was expiation ready. Amongst all their sacrifices they never sacrificed one lust. Bulls and goats bled apace, but neither the violence of the one, nor the wantonness of the other ever died a victim on their altars. No wonder, then, that a doctrine which arraigned the irregularities of the most inward affections raised such a disturbance.
II. MEN’S UNBELIEF OF CHRIST’S DOCTRINE WAS FROM NO DEFECT IN CHRIST’S ARGUMENTS.
1. These arguments were in themselves convincing.
(1) All the Divine predictions received their completion in Christ. In Him they met with such lustre as if the penmen of them were not prophets but evangelists. Could He have all the signs and not be the thing signified? Could all the shadows that were cast from Him belong to any ether body?
(2) He performed miracles, and surely there cannot be a greater reason for belief than for a man to say, “This is the Word of God, and to prove it I will do what nothing can do but the Almighty power of that God who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” And His enemies could not deny His miracles.
2. Their insufficiency, if there could be any, was not the cause of unbelief.
(1) Because those who rejected Christ’s doctrine and arguments believed other things on less evidence. They believed the miracles of Moses, but only by tradition, which, though sufficient, was not equal to that evidence of sense which supported Christ’s.
(2) They believed things which were neither evident nor certain but only probable; for they frequently ventured their fortunes upon a probable belief of the honesty of those they traded with. And interest in worldly matters, especially with a Jew, never proceeds but upon a supposal, at least, of a firm bottom.
(3) They believed in things not so much as probable, but actually false, such as the absurd stories of their rabbins (John 5:43).
III. THE TRUE CAUSE OF THIS UNBELIEF--the captivity of the will and affections to lusts directly opposite to the design and spirit of Christianity. To see this, notice--1. That the understanding in its assent to any religion is very differently wrought upon in persons brought up in it, and in persons converted to it. In the first it finds the mind unprepossessed, and so easily gains upon the assent and incorporates into it. But in persons adult and already prepossessed with other notions the understanding cannot change these without labour and examination.
2. In this great work the understanding is chiefly at the disposal of the will. For though it is not in the power of the will directly to cause or hinder the assent of the understanding, yet it is antecedently in the power of the will to apply the understanding to or take it from consideration of objects to which without consideration it cannot assent. From these two we have the true reason of the Pharisees unbelief; for they could not relinquish Judaism and embrace Christianity without considering both religions. And this their understanding could not apply to if it were diverted by their will, and their will would be sure to divert it, being wholly possessed and governed by their covetousness and ambition which abhorred Christianity. See John Luke 16:14 --in both of which there is an incurable blindness caused by a resolution not to see; and to all intents and purposes, he who will not open his eyes is as blind as he who cannot.
IV. A PIOUS AND WELL-DISPOSED MIND, ATTENDED WITH A READINESS TO OBEY THE KNOWN WILL OF GOD, IS THE SUREST AND BEST MEANS TO ENLIGHTEN THE UNDERSTANDING TO A BELIEF OF CHRISTIANITY. That this is so will appear
1. Upon the account of God’s goodness and the method of His dealing with men; which is to reward every degree of sincere obedience to His will with a further discovery of it. The Psalmist (Psalms 119:10) got the start of the ancients in the point of obedience, and thereby outstripped them at length in point of knowledge. And who in the old time were the men of extraordinary revelation but the men of extraordinary piety? The Enochs, Abrahams, Daniels, etc., who walked with God; and surely he who walks with another is likelier to understand another than he who follows him at a distance.
2. Upon the account of natural efficiency, for as much as a will so disposed will engage the mind in a severe search into the truths of religion, and accompany the search with two dispositions principally productive of the discoveries of truth, viz.,
(1) Diligence. Steady, constant study naturally leads the soul into the knowledge of that which at first seemed locked up from it, and keeps the understanding in that long converse with a subject that brings acquaintance. But the will is the great spring of this diligence, for no man can heartily search after that which he is not very desirous to find. Diligence is to the understanding as the whetstone to the razor, but the will is the hand that must apply one to the other. This is true in science, and it is true also in religion.
(2) Impartiality. It is scarcely possible for him to hit the mark whose eye is glancing upon something beside it. Partiality is the understanding’s judgment according to the inclination of the will and the affections, and not according to the exact truth of things. Affection is a briber of the judgment; and it is hard for a man to admit a reason against the thing he loves, or to confess the force of an argument against an interest. But impartiality strips the mind of prejudice and passion, keeps it right, and even from the bias of interest and desire, and so presents it equally disposed to the reception of all truth. Where diligence opens the door of the understanding, and impartiality keeps it, truth is sure to find both an entrance and a welcome. Conclusion:
1. The true cause of scepticism is not from anything wanting in religion. Men question its truth because they hate its practice. Few practical errors are embraced on conviction, but inclination. It is impossible for one engaged in an evil way to have a clear understanding of it, and a quiet mind in it. If men would change their lives there would be no difficulty in changing their judgments. For, notwithstanding all their empty talk of reason, persuade but the covetous man not to deify his money, etc., and these objections would vanish. For a good man is three quarters his way to his being a Christian whatsoever he is called.
2. We learn the most effectual means for growth in the knowledge of religious truth. It is a knowledge that men are not so much to study as to live themselves into; a knowledge that passes into the head through the heart. And where a long course of piety and communion with God has purged the heart and rectified the will, and made all things ready for the reception of God’s Spirit, knowledge will break in with such a victorious light that nothing shall be able to resist it.
3. If some should object that if these things are so the most pious are the most knowing which seems contrary to experience. So they are as to things necessary to salvation; as the meanest soldier that has fought knows more of war than he who has read or written volumes on it but has never seen a battle. Practical sciences are only learnt in the way of action. It is not the opinion, but the “path of the just,” that shines more and more. The obedient are the “children of light,” that shall outgrow all their doubts and ignorances until persuasion pass into knowledge, and knowledge into assurance, and all at length into the beatific vision. (R. South, D. D.)
The mutual relation of obedience and knowledge
Astronomy is a science. It teaches us the measurement and distances, and the nature and movements of the heavenly bodies. Navigation is astronomy applied to practice, and by the help of what astronomy tells the sailor, he is able to steer his vessel from one port to another, and ascertain exactly from his chart the position of his vessel. Is it not clear that every time out at sea the sailor unfolds his map and is enabled to mark on the chart the very spot where his ship is in the world’s great space--every time he does that he has a fresh proof that astronomy is true. Every time he is able to bring his ship safely into port he has a fresh proof that science is true. (Bishop Magee.)
Importance of the will in religion
The stress is upon “willeth,” which in our version reads as if it were only the auxiliary verb. It is not deed which is the outcome of faith; but will, which precedes it, that is here spoken of. This human will to do the Divine will is the condition of knowing it. The words are unlimited and far-reaching in their meaning. Those who heard them would naturally understand them, as it was intended they should, of the Divine will expressed in the law and the prophets (John 7:19); but they include the will of God revealed, more or less clearly, to all men and in all times. Our thoughts dwell naturally on representative lives such as those of Saul the Pharisee, Cornelius the centurion, Justin the philosopher; but the truth holds good for every honest heart in every walk of life. (“Commentary for Schools. ”)
The highest truths are only revealed under certain conditions
Dr. Taylor, of Norwich, once said to me, “Sir, I have collated every word in the Hebrew Scriptures seventeen times: and it is very strange if the doctrine of the atonement you hold should not have been found by me.” I am not surprised at this. I once went to light my candle with the extinguisher on it. Now, prejudice from education, learning, etc., often proves an extinguisher. It is not enough that you bring the candle: you must remove the extinguisher.
Obedience helps knowledge
If any man will know the will of Christ, let him do that will. When a young man is put to learn a trade, he does so by working at it; and we learn the truth which our Lord teaches by obeying His commands. To reach the shores of heavenly wisdom every man must work his passage. Holiness is the royal road to Scriptural knowledge. We know as much as we do. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Obedience the key of knowledge
There is a kind of Divine oracle within the self-resigning soul, which speaks clearly and plainly, not darkly and ambiguously, as that oracle in Greece. There is a spiritual priesthood, which hath the Urim and Thummim, not upon the breast, as Aaron had Exodus 28:30), but within the breast: light and integrity go together. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant” (Psalms 25:14); or, as it is better in the margin, “and His covenant to make them know it:” that is, it is part of God’s gracious covenant not to conceal from them, but to make them know His will. That which concerns them to know and practice, God will not hide from the sincerely obedient. God makes such “to know wisdom in the hidden part” Psalms 51:6); or, “in the hidden man of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4). (Worthington.)
He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory.
The Jews marvelled that Christ had been educated in no school (John 7:15). This He contradicts (John 7:16), for the conclusion would have been that He was self-taught, and was therefore speaking His own theories, promulgating them on His own authority, and as a further consequence seeking His own glory--faults into which self-taught superficial men often fall, whereas the profoundly learned, recognizing their indebtedness to others, are usually humble and self-abnegating. Whether this doctrine was His own or not could be tested in two ways.
(1) By willingness to do God’s will.
(2) By an observation of His own character and aim. His words and works would show in whose name He spake and by whose power He wrought, and thus prove that His doctrine was of God. The text affords a basis for some remarks on
Conceit and humility
1. Its nature “speaketh of Himself,” which is true in two senses. The conceited man
(l) Speaks out of himself. He is known everywhere by his ostentatious parade of originality and infallibility. His own opinions evolved from his inner consciousness, in proud independence of other thinkers, are the standard of truth and untruth. His predecessors were all very well in their day; but their teaching is now obsolete. His contemporaries are right according to their light, but their light is only one remove from darkness. To raise the least objection against his ipse dixit is only an evidence of “knowing nothing about it.” How many such original geniuses afflict the Church, the state, halls of science and schools of philosophy!
(2) Speaks about himself. The conceited man is impatient of any talk that does not lead up to himself. He is known in the pulpit and literature by his extravagant use of the first person singular or plural. He is known in society by his monopoly of conversation, and his persistent obtrusion of his own opinions, achievements, property, etc. Who has not suffered from the infliction of his senseless and incessant babble!
2. Its aim--“his own glory.” This is the end which the conceited man never loses sight of, and everything he does has as its motive the gratification of his own personal vanity. He dresses and attitudinizes for the purpose of attracting attention; he talks to secure praise for his sagacity or adventures; he schemes and works that he may be talked about, or to obtain gain. And verily he has his reward.
1. Its nature.
(1) Acceptance of a mission from God “that sent Him.” To go because sent is an acknowledgment of servitude and obligation; and the consciousness of being sent by God can only convey the conviction of unworthiness. This is shown by the unvarying testimony of the greatest of God’s servants--Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul. And then the missions on which God sends us are often of the humblest character--to teach in a ragged school, to visit an obscure invalid, etc. But humility accepts them unmurmuringly, and fulfils them diligently.
(2) Giving all the glory to God. Sometimes the faithful discharge of some humble duty secures brilliant results. Here is the great test of humility. Men praise the missionary who, when he emerges from his obscurity, is found to have civilized a tribe of barbarians. Will he accept it or give it to God?
2. Its characteristics.
(1) Truth. Truth is everywhere humble, and the humble man is usually safe from temptations to untruthfulness because he has no appearances to keep up, and no self-interests to secure. He has given himself to God and lives for God. The conceited man, on the contrary, has to resort to very questionable practices and professions to maintain a reputation for consistency, and is haunted with the fear of being found out. The humble man is afraid of nothing and no one.
(2) Righteousness. God gave us our gifts whatever they are, and the opportunity for using them, and by His influence has produced what results crown our efforts. Humility recognizes His righteous due and gives it. Conclusion:
1. “Pride goeth before destruction” often in this life and at the hands of men; always in the next and at the hands of God.
2. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted,” perhaps by men, certainly by God. (J. W. Burn.)
Did not Moses give you the law?
Murder in desire
The desire to kill Christ
I. WAS INCONSISTENT WITH THEIR RELIGIOUS PROFESSION. They professedly believed in Moses, and esteemed him highly. But there was nothing in Moses to sanction their antagonism to Christ.
1. The spirit of their opposition was inconsistent with the moral law of Moses (John 7:19). You seek to kill Me, when your moral master in God’s name has said, “Thou shalt not kill.” None of you keepeth the law in this respect.
2. The proximate cause of the opposition was inconsistent with the moral law of Moses--the healing of the impotent man at Bethesda on the Sabbath day. This was the “one work” which now fired their indignation. But what did Moses do? What might have been considered more objectionable than this. He circumcised children on the Sabbath day--a work that inflicted physical pain and manual labour. And not only did Moses do it, but Abraham, etc, whose authority is of greater antiquity.
Could it be right for them to do, on the Sabbath day, the work of mere ceremony, and wrong for Me to do a work of mercy? The crime and curse of religionists in all ages and lands have been the exalting the ceremonial over the moral--the local, the temporary, and contingent above the universal, eternal, and absolute.
II. IMPLIED A GREAT INACCURACY OF JUDGMENT (John 7:24). Judging from appearance, they concluded
1. That a mere ordinary peasant had no Divine mission. Perhaps most of them knew His humble birthplace and parentage, and concluded from His lowly appearance that He was a poor man and nothing more. They were too blinded to discover beneath such apparently abject forms a Divine spirit, character, and mission. It has ever been so. Men who judge from appearances have always failed to discern anything great or Divine in those who occupy the humbler walks of life. And yet the men of highest genius, divinest inspirations and aims have been counted the offscouring of all things.
2. That a ritualistic religion was a religion of righteousness. Had there been in connection with the ceremonies of the Temple the healing of the sick on the Sabbath day, they would have esteemed the work as sacred. No ceremony could they allow as of secondary importance. But the ritualistic religion is sometimes immoral. When men observe even the divinest ceremonies as a matter of custom and form, they degrade their spiritual natures and insult omniscience. “God is a Spirit,” etc. The religion of righteousness is the religion of love, not of law.
3. That by killing a teacher they would kill his influence. They sought to kill Christ because they knew if His doctrines spread their authority would crumble. Men who have judged from appearances have ever sought to kill unpopular teachers. But facts as well as philosophy show that such judgment is not righteous. The blood of the martyrs has always been the seed of the Church; their doctrines get free force and sweep from their death. It was so with Christ.
III. INVOLVED THEM IN PERPLEXITY (John 7:25-27). There seems much bewilderment here. They thought they knew Him, yet they felt they did not know Him. They wondered, too, how a man whom their rulers desired to kill should speak so boldly without being arrested. Minds under a wrong leading passion are sure to get into confusion. No intellect is clear, and its path straight and sunny, that is not under the control of benevolent dispositions. All the conflicting theories of the world concerning God, spirit, and morals, have their origin in a wrong state of heart. The intellectual confusion of hell grows out of malevolence. What they could not see Christ explains (John 7:28). As they had no love in them, they could not see God; and as they could not see God, they could not understand Him that He came from God and was sent by Him. Observe what Christ asserts
1. That He knows the Absolute. He is the only Being in the universe that knows Him.
2. That He was a messenger from the Absolute. “He that sent me.” This is the great spiritual ministry of the world. What are popes, cardinals, archbishops, to Him? “This is My beloved Son,” says God; “hear ye Him.” Whoever else you disregard, “hear ye Him.”
IV. Their desire to kill Him was DIVINELY RESTRAINED (John 7:30). Why did not their malignant desire work itself out at once? It was wide and strong enough. The answer is, “Because His hour was not yet come.” There was an unseen hand that held them back. He who holds the wind in His fist turns the hearts of men as the rivers of water. With God for “everything there is a season.” Men may wish to hurry events, and to go before the appointed time, but there is a power that holds them back until the hour comes. The power that governs every wavelet in the ocean controls every passing passion of mankind. Conclusion: Learn
1. That being hated by society is not always a proof of hate-worthiness. Here is one, “who did no sin,” etc., hated with a mortal hate. To be hated by a corrupt society is to have the highest testimony to your goodness. The world loves its own, and hates all moral aliens. It worships the Herods, and stones the Stephens. “Marvel not if the world hate you, it hated Me before it hated you.”
2. That being hated by society is no reason for neglecting our mission. Though Christ knew that in the leading men there flamed the fiercest indignation towards Him, yet He enters the Temple on a great public occasion and fearlessly delivers His message. That love for truth, God, and humanity which inspired and ruled Him raised Him above the fear of men, made Him fearless and invincible. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The assailants assailed
I. A FOURFOLD FACT PREMISED.
1. Moses gave the Jews the law, moral and ceremonial, with its statutes against murder, about the Sabbath and circumcision.
2. Moses incorporated circumcision in his statute-book to prevent the law in this item from being broken as it had been prior to his time.
3. The Jews were accustomed to administer this rite upon the Sabbath.
4. They did so that the law might not be broken, as it would have been if delayed, to save the Sabbath.
II. A SIMPLE ARGUMENT CONDUCTED.
1. The Jews were not wrong in their procedure with regard to circumcision. He taught that the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27-28).
2. Christ, a fortiori, could not have been wrong in His work on the Bethesda cripple. If He suspended the law, so did they. If they had a good reason, He had a better.
3. The leaders of the people were wrong in seeking to kill Christ. This was obvious, since He had proved that He had broken neither the Sabbath nor the law.
III. A NECESSARY LESSON TAUGHT.
1. Not to judge according to appearances. Neither men nor deeds can be safely estimated by their external aspects. As it is the man’s interior that constitutes the man (Proverbs 23:7), so the motive enshrined forms the act. Appearances are frequently deceptive; cf. Hannah (1 Samuel 1:15) and Paul (Acts 26:25).
2. To judge according to truth. In every instance there is a judgment of man or deed which corresponds with truth and justice. This is always the characteristic of the Divine (Psalms 67:4; Psa 96:13; 1 Samuel 16:7; John 5:30; 1 Peter 2:23), and ever should be of human Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:16; Proverbs 31:9; Philippians 4:8) judgments.
1. Pretenders to the greatest reverence for Divine law are sometimes its most flagrant transgressors.
2. A man may meditate murder in his heart and yet think himself a saint.
3. It is easier to keep the law in the letter than in the spirit, to circumcise the body than circumcise the heart.
4. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
5. Nothing more attests depravity than to hate Christ and Christianity for their practical beneficence.
6. The only physician who can work a cure upon the whole man is Christ.
7. The propriety of setting in judgment on our own judgments. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The law does not save men
This parlour is the heart of a man who was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the gospel. The dust is original sin and inward corruption that have defiled the whole man. He that began to sweep at first is the law. Now, whereas thou sawest that as soon as the first began to sweep, the dust did fly about, that the room by him could not be cleansed, but that thou wast almost choked therewith; this is to show thee that the law, instead of cleansing the heart by its working from sin, doth revive, put strength into, and increase in the soul, even as it doth discover and forbid it, for it doth not give power to subdue it. (Pilgrim’s Progress.)
How to treat slander;
“Thou hast a devil.” This he passeth by as a frontless slander, not worth repeating. Sincerity throws off slanders, as Paul did the viper; yet, in a holy scorn, it laughs at them, as the wild ass doth at the horse and his rider. (J. Trapp.)
If a man on the Sabbath day receive circumcision.--I healed a whole John 9:34; John 13:10), whereas circumcision inflicts a wound. And that is performed on the Sabbath. Which work is the more sabbatical of the two? Circumcision produces pain, but I have made a man free from pain. This illustrates the question of the relation of the Seventh-day Sabbath to the Lord’s day. The law of the former gave way to the rite which took place on the eighth day. That rite was the typical forerunner of baptism, which is the sacrament of spiritual resurrection from the grave of sin into newness of life. Well, therefore, may the Jewish Seventh-day Sabbath give way to the festival of Christ’s resurrection, which was on the eighth day, i.e., on the octave of the first. (Bp. Wordsworth.)
Every whit whole
I. THE GREAT WANT OF MAN. To be made “whole.” Man is unsound in every part.
1. Corporeally. Some physical organizations are healthier than others; but even the strongest is unsound. The seeds of disease and death are in all. The strongest man is, as compared to the weakest, like an oak to a fragile reed; but ever at the roots of the oak there is a disease that is working its way up.
2. Intellectually. The man who has the strongest mind is subject to some mental infirmity. He lacks elasticity, freedom, clearness of vision, courage, and independency. He cannot see things completely, or hold them with a manly grasp. The strongest intellects are the most conscious of their unsoundness.
3. Socially. Men were made to love their fellow-men and to he loved by them, and thus be harmoniously united in reciprocal affection and services of mutual goodwill and usefulness. But socially man is unsound in every point. The social heart is diseased with greed, envy, jealousy, ambition, and malice. So that the social world is rife with discords, contentions, and wars.
4. Morally. Man has lost at once the true idea of true sympathy with right. His conscience is dim, infirm, torpid, buried in the flesh, carnally sold unto sin. Thus man in every part is unsound. He is lost, not in the sense of being missed, for God knows where he is; nor in the sense of being extinct, for he lives a certain kind of life; not in the sense of being inactive for he is in constant labour; but in the sense of incapacity to fulfil the object of his being. He is lost, in the sense that the gallant ship is lost when no longer seaworthy; that the grand organ is lost that has no longer the power to pour out music.
II. THE GRAND WORK OF CHRIST. To make “man every whit whole.” He makes man whole
1. Corporeally. It is true that He allows the human body to go down to dust; but that dust He has pledged to reorganize “like unto His glorious body.” “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption,” etc., etc. How sound will the resurrection body be!
2. Intellectually. Here He begins the healing of the intellect. He clears away from it the moral atmosphere of depravity, and opens its eyes so that it may see things as they are. In the future world it will be “every whit whole,” free from prejudice, errors, and all depravity.
3. Socially, by filling them with that spirit of true philanthropy which prompts them not to seek their own things, but to labour for the common good of men as men, irrespective of creeds, countries, races, or religions. This He is doing now, this He will continue to do on this earth until men shall love each other as brethren and nations beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks, and hear of war no more. He will make the world, even here, “every whir” socially whole, and in the Heavenly Jerusalem above the social soundness and order will be perfect.
4. Morally, by bringing him under the control of supreme love for the Supremely Good. Thus: He will take away the heart of “stone” and give it a heart of “flesh.” At last He will cause all men to stand before Him without “ spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” Conclusion: What a Physician is Christ! He cures all manner of diseases. No malady can baffle His skill. The world has never wanted men who have tried to make people sound. It has its corporeal, intellectual, social, and moral doctors; but those who succeed most in their respective departments only prove by their miserable failures that they are miserable empirics. Here is a Physician that makes a “ man every whir whole.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Every day is a fit day for doing good
As burning candles give light until they be consumed, so godly Christians must be occupied in doing good as long as they live. (Cowdray.)
Appelles the painter much lamented if he should escape but one day without drawing some picture outline; so ought a Christian to be sorry if any day should pass without doing some good work or exercise. (Cowdray.)
Doing good a blessed work
Dr. Guthrie once said: “I know a man (Thomas Wright) who, at the close of each day’s work, turned his steps to the prison, and with his Bible, or on his knees on the floor, spent the evening hours in its gloomy cells, seeking to instruct the ignorant and redeem the criminal and raise the fallen. The judgment day shall show how many he restored, penitent and pardoned, to the bosom of God; but it is certain that alone and single-handed he rescued and reformed four hundred criminals, restoring them, honest and well-doing men, to the bosom of society.”
Judge not according to the appearance, but Judge righteous Judgment.
Judging according to the appearance led the Jews into error
I. RESPECTING THE LORD HIMSELF.
1. They never got deeper than the surface of His Person. The Christ they were expecting was one pieced up of mere outsides of the reality. What resemblance had that sorrow-stricken prophet of Nazareth to the glare and splendour of the Christ of their imagination? He came poor to look at and poor as He seemed. They had no eyes for the Divinity within.
2. There is the same shutting of the eyes now to the Divinity in His person; the same refusal to receive Him as Lord.
(1) By how many is nature regarded as greater than Christ!
(2) Many accept the opinion of the world for their idea of Christ.
(3) Some habitually exclude from their thoughts the presence of Jesus in providence.
(4) Others, staggered at their sinfulness, are blinded to the fact that in Jesus there is cleansing for all their vileness.
3. Some scriptural views which will counteract these errors and lead to a righteous judgment.
(1) It ought not to seem strange to a human being that a Divine Saviour should be human also. Man cannot draw near to an abstract God. We need one who has dwelt on earth, who has known our sorrows, and is as near to us as our nature is; and such a one is Jesus.
(2) But a merely human Saviour would not meet our need. Only God can save us. This Jesus claims to be, and the Gospels say He was, and prove it on every page.
II. RESPECTING THE WORKS OF THE SAVIOUR.
1. It was one of these that called forth the unrighteous judgment He here rebukes. About six months before He had healed the impotent man John 5:1-9). According to appearance He had violated the Sabbath, But in the strictest sense that was such a deed as the Sabbath was appointed to suggest and promote. And the misjudging eye followed Him wherever He went, and adjudged the miracles, which were manifestations from heaven, to be a sign from hell.
2. Similar errors are found among us.
(1) His work on the cross has been judged according to appearance, and set down as martyrdom and as the last manifestation of that obedience which is a model to us. Neither of these views enter into the inner meaning of the transaction. As for the first, it is not in harmony with the law of Jesus: “When they persecute you in one city, flee ye into another.” But our Lord sought death. As for the next, the Bible leaves no room for doubt that there was more in Christ’s death than that “Christ died for the ungodly.” “We have redemption through His blood,” etc. The primal and essential aim of Christ’s death was atonement for sin.
(2) His work in carrying on His providence. There may be an appearance of evil to God’s people, while we know that “no evil shall happen to them.” The Lord’s dealings with them are transacted beyond the range of the outward eye. Jesus cannot be unkind to them.
III. RESPECTING THEIR OWN SPIRITUAL STATE.
1. They did not suspect their own wickedness, but seemed to themselves to be animated by zeal for God’s law. There was much in appearances to foment this delusion. Had we arrived on the scene when these words were spoken, we should have concluded that some grand act of national worship was going forward; and had we heard this reference to Sabbath violation, we might have thought the people no respecters of persons in their zeal for God’s law. But underneath all that show of worship was hollow unbelief, and all that zeal for “Remember the Sabbath” was a cloak for their transgression of “Thou shalt not kill.”
2. Our circumstances are not dissimilar to theirs. Our Lord’s day is a festival as really as that feast; but is ,our heart in Sabbath worship, and while we bow the head, are we bowing the heart? Excellent though Sabbath-keeping and Church-going are, they are apt to deceive us. And so with other religious acts. We may be very scrupulous outwardly, and yet inwardly be far from God.
1. The world is full of people who seem as though they were all journeying in one direction; yet part is travelling to heaven and part to hell. Whatever the outside of our lives may seem to say, we belong to one or the other. Let us ascertain by the test of a righteous judgment to which we belong.
2. We are all hastening to a day when judgment will not be according to appearance.
3. But why appeal to the future? God is passing His righteous judgments on our state and actions now. Let us be judges with God in this matter, and be satisfied with nothing that will not satisfy Him. (A. Macleod, D. D.)
Hiding behind others
Here is administered a rebuke to the injustice and peril of making the apparent inconsistencies of Christians the apology for delay in beginning a religious life.
I. THE INJUSTICE OF JUDGING THE MERE APPEARANCE OF OTHERS.
1. One cannot always know the actual facts as to another’s inconsistent behaviour.
2. Nor the balances of better behaviour behind it.
3. Nor the unseen spiritual struggle against it.
4. Nor the penitence and prayer which may have followed it.
II. The peril of hiding behind the mere appearance of others.
1. It is itself inconsistent; would men follow Christians who are correct?
2. It is evasive: men only mean to stop appeal.
3. It is illogical: it pays the highest compliment to real religion.
4. It is unreasonable: men know they are independently responsible to God.
5. It is unsafe: it shows men they know the right way of living when they criticize what is inconsistent with it. (Charles
S. Robinson, D. D.)
Judging by outward appearances
I. IS NOT A TRUE WAY OF JUDGING. Some of the most delicious fruits are encased in rough and unsightly coverings; and one who had not tasted them before, would be likely to pass them by, and go on to others which seemed to be better. One day a man dressed in plain, coarse clothes walked into a little English village, carrying a bundle tied up in a handkerchief. No one noticed him, or cared for him. After a while the stage-coach drove up; the little way-side mail-bag was thrown off, and all the idlers of the village assembled about the post-office. The contents of the bag were soon assorted, and there was nothing deserving of notice, except a formidable-looking letter, with a large seal, directed to Lord Somebody. The postmaster examined it, and read its superscription aloud. Everybody was on tip-toe of expectation, and for giving the nobleman a grand reception. Meanwhile, the stranger in the homespun dress sat silently watching the proceedings; and, when the public curiosity had worn itself out over the letter, he claimed it as his own. Astonishment, indignation, and a variety of other emotions, took possession of the crowd. But when the postmaster, who had seen the nobleman some- where before, and now recognized him in his plain clothes, handed him the letter, every one began to try and do away with the unfavourable impression which had been made on the stranger by the cool contempt with which he had been treated so long as he had been thought to be only an ordinary traveller. Lord Somebody, taking his bundle in his hand, left the village, giving the advice contained in the text as his parting legacy to its mortified inhabitants.
II. IS NOT A JUST WAY OF JUDGING. Many hundred years age when the Tabernacle of the Lord was at Shiloh, a good woman, named Hannah, went into pray, and to ask for a special blessing which she greatly longed for. It was in her heart that she spake to the Lord, and no loud word was uttered. But He who knoweth all things could hear her. Eli the priest saw her come in, and, judging from outward appearance, he judged unjustly, rashly concluding her to be tipsy. How Eli’s heart must have been wrung by the reply (1 Samuel 1:15). People who wear the longest faces, and who talk the most religiously, have not always the most of the love of God in their hearts. As Shakespeare has worded it--“A man may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”
III. IS NOT A SAFE WAY OF JUDGING. The ice on the river appears to be as safe as the earth, but how many who venture upon it pay for their temerity! “Oh! how I wish I could ride in a carriage, like that gentleman!” exclaimed a little fellow, one day, as a handsome coach and four dashed rapidly by him, while he trudged along the dusty road. “I am sure that man must be as happy as a king. O that I had been born so lucky!” At no great distance from the spot where the carriage passed him, it suddenly stopped, and the complaining and envious boy arrived just in time to see the happy owner of the carriage descend from it. Alas! little of happiness was to be seen. The rich man was a cripple, and before he could move a step, a pair of crutches had to be brought to him, and, as he cautiously raised himself from the seat, his face was distorted with pain. The little boy was thus taught the lesson of the text. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
A traveller showed Lavater two portraits--the one a highwayman who had been broken upon the wheel, the other was a portrait of Kant the philosopher. He was desired to distinguish between them. Lavater took up the portrait of the highwayman, and, after attentively considering it for some time, “Here,” said he, “we have the true philosopher. Here is penetration in the eye and reflection in the forehead; here is cause, and there is effect; here is combination, there is distinction; synthetic lips and analytic nose.” Then, turning to the portrait of the philosopher, he exclaimed, “The calm-thinking villain is so well expressed and so strongly marked in this countenance that it needs no comment.” This anecdote Kant used to tell with great glee.
Judge not by appearances
At one of the annual Waterloo banquets the Duke of Wellington after dinner handed round for inspection a very valuable presentation snuff-box set with diamonds. After a time it disappeared, and could nowhere be found. The Duke was much annoyed. The guests (there being no servants in the room at the time) were more so, and they all agreed to turn out their pockets. To this one old officer vehemently objected, and, on their pressing the point, left the room, notwithstanding that the Duke begged that nothing more might be said about the matter. Of course suspicion fell on the old officer; nobody seemed to know much about him or where he lived. The next year the Duke at the annual banquet put his hand in the pocket of his coat, which he had not worn since the last dinner, and there was the missing snuff-box! The Duke was dreadfully distressed, found out the old officer, who was living in a wretched garret, and apologized. “But why,” said His Grace, “did you not consent to what the other officers proposed, and thus have saved yourself from the terrible suspicion?” “Because, sir, my pockets were full of broken meat, which I had contrived to put there to save my wife and family, who were at that time literally dying of starvation.” The Duke, it is said, sobbed like a child; and it need not be added that the old officer and his family suffered no more from want from that day. Appearances are often deceptive. We don’t know all. Therefore “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
We must not judge by appearances
Whatever truth there may be in phrenology, or in Lavater’s kindred science of physiognomy, we shall do well scrupulously to avoid forming an opinion against a man from his personal appearance. If we so judge we shall often commit the greatest injustice, which may, if we should ever live to be disfigured by sickness or marred by age, be returned into our own bosom to our bitter sorrow. Plato compared Socrates to the gallipots of the Athenian apothecaries, on the outside of which were painted grotesque figures of apes and owls, but they contained within precious balsams. All the beauty of a Cleopatra cannot save her name from being infamous; personal attractions have adorned some of the grossest monsters that ever cursed humanity. Judge then no man or woman after their outward fashion, but with purified eye behold the hidden beauty of the heart and life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The folly of judging by appearances
Two knights met in a wood one day, and saw between them a shield fastened to a branch. Neither knew to whom it belonged, or why it was there. “Whose is this white shield? “ said one. “White? Why it is black!” replied the other. “Do you take me for blind, or a fool, that you tell me what my own eyes can see is false?” And so words were bandied about until the dispute became so violent that swords were drawn, when a third knight came upon the scene. Looking at the angry men, he said, “You should be brothers in arms. Why do I see these passionate gestures, and hear these fierce words?” Each knight made baste to explain the imposition which the other had tried to practice upon him. The stranger smiled, and riding to one side of the shield, and then to the other, he said, very quietly, “Do not charge with your weapons just yet. Change places!” They did so, and, behold, the knight who had seen the white side of the shield saw now the black side also; and the knight who had been ready to do battle for the black stood face to face with the white side. Ashamed of their hot haste, they apologized one to the other, and rode out of the greenwood as good friends as ever. The lesson taught in this story is very important. Half the misunderstandings and quarrels which disturb the peace and destroy the happiness of families and neighbourhoods might be prevented, if those who engage in these disputes could see both sides of the question at once. How wise, then, are those people who are careful never to form hasty opinions, and who wait until they have seen or heard both sides, before venturing to determine which is right! (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Rabbi Joshua, the son of Chananiah, was a very learned and wise man, but he was ugly. His complexion was so dark that he was nicknamed “The Blacksmith,” and little children ran away from him. One day, when the Rabbi went to court, the Emperor Trajan’s daughter laughed at his ugliness, and said, “Rabbi, I wonder how it is that such great wisdom should be contained in an ugly head.” Rabbi Joshua kept his temper, and, instead of replying, asked, “Princess, in what vessels does your august father keep his wine?” “In earthern jars, to be sure,” replied she. “Indeed,” exclaimed the Rabbi, “why all the common people keep their wine in earthern jars; the Emperor’s wine should be kept in handsome vessels.” The princess, who thought that Joshua was really in earnest, went off to the chief butler, and ordered him to pour all the Emperor’s wine into gold and silver vessels, earthern jars being unworthy of such precious drink. The butler followed these orders; but when the wine came to the royal table it had turned sour. The next time the princess met the Rabbi she expressed her astonishment at his having given her such a strange piece of advice, and mentioned the result. “Then you have learned a simple lesson, princess,” was the Rabbi’s reply. “ Wine is best kept in common vessels: so is wisdom.” The next time the princess met the Rabbi she did not laugh at his ugly face. (W. Baxendale.)
I have heard of one who felt convinced that there must be something in the Roman Catholic religion from the extremely starved and pinched appearance of a certain ecclesiastic. “Look,” said he,”how the man is worn to a skeleton by his daily fastings and nightly vigils! How he must mortify his flesh!” Now the probabilities are that the emaciated priest was labouring under some internal disease, which he would have been heartily glad to be rid of, and it was not conquest of appetite, but failure in digestion which had so reduced him; or possibly a troubled conscience, which made him fret himself down to the light weights. Certainly I never met with a text which mentions prominence of bone as an evidence of grace. If so “the living skeleton” should have been exhibited, not merely as a living curiosity, but as the standard of virtue. Some of the biggest rogues have been as mortified in appearance as if they had lived on locusts and wild honey. It is a very vulgar error to suppose that a melancholy countenance is the index of a gracious heart. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Sometimes hard to judge
An ingenious device is attributed in the Talmud to King Solomon. The Queen of Sheba, attracted by the reputation of his wisdom, one day presented herself before him, holding in her hands two wreaths, the one of exquisite natural flowers, the other of artificial. The artificial wreath was arranged with so much taste and skill, the delicate form of the flowers so perfectly imitated, and the minutest shades of colour so wonderfully blended, that the wise king, at the distance at which they were held, was unable to determine which was really the work of the Divine Artist. For a moment he seemed baffled; the Jewish court looked on in melancholy astonishment; then his eyes turned towards a window, near which a swarm of bees were hovering. He commanded it to be opened; the bees rushed into the court, and immediately alighted on one of the wreaths; whilst not a single one fixed on the other.
Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this He whom they seek to kill?
I. THE OBSTINATE BLINDNESS OF THE UNBELIEVING JEWS. They defended their denial of our Lord’s Messiahship by two assertions, both of which were wrong (John 7:27).
1. They were wrong in saying that they knew whence He came. They meant that He came from Nazareth; but He was born at Bethlehem, and belonged to the tribe of Judah, and was of the lineage of David. The Jews, with their care- fully-kept family histories, could have found this out. Their ignorance was, therefore, without excuse.
2. They were wrong in saying that “no man was to know whence Christ came.” This was in fiat contradiction to Micah 5:2 (see Mt John 7:42), which they found it convenient not to remember (2 Peter 3:5). How common is this habit to-day! “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
II. THE OVER-RULING HAND OF GOD OVER ALL HIS ENEMIES (verse30).
1. Our Lord’s sufferings were undergone voluntarily. He did not go to the cross because He could not help it. Neither Jew nor Gentile could have hurt Him, except power had been given them from above. The passion could not begin until the very hour which God had appointed.
2. Christ’s servants should treasure up this doctrine. Nothing can happen to them but by Divine permission (Psalms 31:15).
III. THE MISERABLE END TO WHICH UNBELIEVERS SHALL ONE DAY COME (verse 34). It is uncertain whether our Lord had in view individual cases of unbelief, or the national remorse at the siege of Jerusalem. There is such a thing as finding out truth too late (Proverbs 1:28; Matthew 25:11). Therefore decide for Christ now. (Bishop Ryle.)
The origin of Jesus
I. THE COGITATIONS OF THE JERUSALEMITES.
(1) The fearlessness of Christ (John 7:26) startled them, considering that He was a marked Man (John 7:25). Being themselves destitute of moral courage (John 7:13), they had no idea of such fortitude as innocence and truth could inspire, and that he whom God shields is invulnerable (Isaiah 54:17) until his work is done (Deuteronomy 33:25) and his hour is come John 9:4; Hebrews 9:27).
(2) The timidity of the rulers (verse 26) puzzled them. They had as little comprehension of the essential cowardice of wickedness (Pr Job 18:7-21) as of the majesty of goodness.
2. Suspicion. Ruminating on the inaction of the authorities, they began to whisper that something had occurred to change their tactics; that perhaps they had ascertained that Jesus was the Messiah (verse 26)--a conjecture that was immediately dismissed, little guessing that truth often presents itself in such seemingly involuntary suggestions.
3. Decision. Who Jesus was they could settle in a moment.
(1) When Messiah came, no one would be able to tell whence He came, or His parentage (verse 27), though His birthplace would be known (verse 42).
(2) Everybody knew Jesus’ birthplace and parentage.
(3) Therefore He could not be Messiah, but only “a man,” like His fellows. Good logic, it is obvious, is not the same thing as sound Divinity.
II. THE DECLARATIONS OF JESUS.
1. A concession. Their knowledge of His origin was
(1) Ostensibly complete.
(2) Essentially erroneous, since they had no acquaintance with His higher nature.
2. A proclamation.
(1) Concerning Himself.
(a) His Divine Mission. “I am not Come of Myself.” “He sent Me.”
(b) His Divine knowledge. “I know Him,” the Sender.
(c) His Divine essence. “I am from Him.”
(2) Concerning them.
(a) Their ignorance of God. “Whom ye know not.”
(b) As a consequence, their non-recognition of Him.
1. The true humanity of Jesus.
2. To know Christ after the flesh only is to be ignorant of Him in reality.
3. No one knows Christ who recognizes not His Divine origin and mission.
4. A knowledge of the Father necessary to a true acquaintance with the Son (Matthew 11:27).
5. It is not possible for wicked men to do all they wish except God wills. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Knowledge of Christ must be more than critical
I heard two persons on the Wengem Alp talking by the hour of the names of ferns; not a word about their characteristics, uses, or habits, but a medley of crack-jaw titles, nothing more. They evidently felt that they were ventilating their botany, and kept each other in countenance by alternate volleys of nonsense. They were about as sensible as those doctrinalists who for ever talk over the technicalities of religion, but know nothing by experience of its spirit and power. Are we not all too apt to amuse ourselves after the same fashion. He who knows mere Linnaean names, but has never seen a flower, is as reliable in botany as he is in theology who can descant upon supralapsaranism, but has never known the love of Christ in his heart. True religion is more than doctrine; something must be known and felt. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Howbeit we know this Man whence He is; but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence He is.--Note the ineffable self-complacency of spiritual ignorance and pride. Although His miracles made Him famous, yet they neither know nor desired to know His real nature.
1. Knowing God’s power, they would not have resisted His Son.
2. Knowing God’s justice, they would not have rejected His warnings.
3. Knowing God’s mercy, they would not have grieved His Spirit.
4. Knowing God’s wisdom, they would not have trusted their folly. So far from knowing, they have never carefully inquired into His life and birth. Indeed, they did not know that He was born at Bethlehem. Had they known Him, they would not have felt angry at Sabbath healing. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
Jewish theories about Christ’s origin and coming
When the wise men came, the scribes at Jerusalem averred that the Messiah should be born “in Bethlehem of Judaea,” and adduced in proof the words of Micah. But here we find that Micah’s words were by no means universally held as conclusive. Some held--and many famous Jewish expositors have since maintained that the Messiah would come suddenly, like a bright and unexpected meteor, as here. The popular opinion, however, agreed with the answer of the scribes above (verse 42). Now it would be erroneous to suppose that the opinion expressed in the text was groundless or fanciful. It rested on all those passages in the Old Testament which refer to our Lord’s Divine origin. To us the doctrine of the Divine and human natures in Christ is a cardinal article of faith; and, trained in this belief, we reconcile by its aid many statements of the prophets which externally are at variance with one another. But this twofold aspect must have been a serious difficulty to those who had only the teaching of the prophets, without the New Testament exposition of that teaching; nor can I see anything absurd in the expectation that, like a second Melchisedek, He would appear suddenly, with no human lineage, and no place of earthly birth and education. More correctly, we may regard this idea as only a confused anticipation of the truth that the Messiah was not only David’s Son, but also “the Son of God.” This very title is more than once given to our Lord (John 1:49;Matthew 16:16; Matthew 26:63). In the latter text, Caiaphas probably put the question contemptuously, as representing what he deemed to be the most extreme form of Messianic doctrine; but there were other and better men who held it devoutly as a truth. But could these noble souls make it harmonize with the equally plain prophetic teaching that the Messiah was to be a Man, a descendant of David, and born at Bethlehem? Many attempts were no doubt made to harmonize this apparent discrepancy. One such we read in Justin Martyr’s dialogue with the Jew Trypho. Trypho there affirms “ that the Messiah at His birth would remain unknown and unacquainted with His powers until Elias appeared, who would anoint Him and proclaim Him as the Christ.” In the Talmud the most conflicting opinions are found respecting the Messiah’s advent. In one place it is said that He will first manifest Himself at Rome; in another, that the place will be Babylon; in a third, that He will not appear at all unless the Jews reform their manners. More frequently, however, it asserts that Jerusalem would be the place of His birth. Who could read such passages as Psalms 87:5; Isaiah 2:3; Psalms 50:2, and not draw from them the conclusion that the Messiah would be born on Zion’s Holy Hill (2Es 13:6; 2Es 13:35, etc.). (Dean Payne Smith.)
Then cried Jesus in the Temple
Christ grieved by misconceptions about Himself
Nathanael had a technical objection (John 1:46); but it was swept away at once by the moral impression produced by Jesus. These Jews had also a technical objection (“when Christ came, no one was to know whence He was”), and this served to neutralize, for them, all the effect of the Saviour’s teaching. They were bond-slaves to the letter; and this not the letter of Scripture, but of their own interpretation of Scripture. Let us consider
I. THE ATTACK UPON CHRIST. Just before His teaching had been assailed; now His person and mission. “He cannot be the Christ, because we know all about Him.” Recall circumstance. The speakers are Jerusalem Jews, who are well acquainted with the animus of the rulers towards Him. “How is it, then,” they ask, “that He is allowed to speak so fearlessly? Are the rulers coming round to believe in Him? But when we think of it, that cannot be. They are aware, as we are, that one over whose antecedents no obscurity rests can be no Messiah.” All neutralized by a notion I This pains and distresses Jesus, and He “cries out” loudly, with emotion, seeking to rectify the mistake.
II. THE DEFENCE. Jesus admits the truth of what they say, so far as it goes; they have an outward knowledge of Him and His origin. But this is only what appears. There is something beyond of which they are ignorant, and that is the Divine mission. But this mission is a fact. “He that sent Me is real”--i.e. (probably), “really exists.” Why, then, do they not recognize the fact? Because they, little as they think it, are ignorant of God. With this ignorance of God, He contrasts His own inward consciousness of God and His relation to Him. “I know Him.”
III. RESULT OF THE DEFENCE. The extreme irritation of the Jews at being told that they did not know God, and their indignation at Jesus’ assumption of a peculiar relationship to the Father. They consider Him to be at least touching upon the confines of blasphemy, and “seek to take Him”; but they could not, because His hour was not yet come.
IV. FOR PRACTICAL INFERENCES, let us Ñ
1. Recur to the thought that Christ is pained by misconception of His person and work, because He knows how ruinous such misconsceptions are to mankind.
2. That He speaks severely, because it is necessary to do so. In no other way could He hope to obtain for the truth admission into the hearts of His hearers. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)
Then they sought to take Him; but no man laid hands on Him, because His hour was not yet come
The hour of destiny
I. CHRIST’S HOUR WAS DIVINELY PREDESTINATED. This is proved by
1. The numerous predictions of Scripture.
2. The long suffering of God in the preservation of the human race.
3. The influences which this hour has exerted on the condition of the world.
II. CHRIST’S HOUR WAS ABOVE ALL CONTINGENCY AND HUMAN INTERFERENCES. This fact shows
1. The universality of Divine providence.
2. The futility of human opposition to the ways of God.
3. The steadfastness of the Divine plan.
III. HIS HOUR DID NOT AFFECT THE MORAL FREEDOM OF HIS CONDUCT.
1. He chose the hour.
2. This choice proves His infinite love for us.
3. The manner in which He submitted to His destiny is a sublime model for us. (P. L. Davies, A. M.)
And many of the people believed on Him.
The favourably disposed, and the malignantly opposed to Christ
I. THOSE WHO WERE FAVOURABLY DISPOSED (John 7:31). The commonalty, who were more or less unsophisticated and free from religious prejudices. These “heard Christ gladly.” This favourable disposition
1. Was founded on facts. There does not seem to be any question, even among His opponents, as to the reality of His miracles.
2. Intensified the opposition of His enemies (John 7:32). They felt that if the people believed in Him their influence, honour, etc., would vanish; and so they were inflamed. Through all Christendom there has always been a large class favourably disposed towards Christ; and this upon a basis of facts. This class still intensifies the opposition of enemies when the atheist, the worldling, etc., mark this disposition they, too, become the more anxious to banish Him from the world. But popular sentiment is our bulwark against infidelity.
II. THOSE WHO WERE MALIGNANTLY OPPOSED. Pharisees and chief priests.
1. They were to be deprived of the fellowship of Christ (verse 83). But six months after this Christ returned to the bosom of the Father. It was only “a little while” He was in their midst, it would have been well had they availed themselves of it. The period of redemptive mercy with all men is but “a little while.”
2. They would vainly seek the help of Christ (John 7:34). The hour was approaching for the fall of Jerusalem, and when the Romans were at the gates they would look for deliverance and not find it. There is a time to seek “ the Lord, while He may be found”; and there is a time when He will be sought and not found. “Many shall say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord!” etc.
3. They misunderstood the meaning of Christ (verses 35-36).
(1) They started from His words an ungenerous conjecture, “Will He go” etc., i.e., amongst the Jews scattered among the Gentiles, or to the Gentiles. In either case He will go to a contemptible class, and leave our glorious country.
(2) They failed to attach to His words the true idea, “What manner of saying is this.” They were carnal and judged after the flesh. Thus is it ever with this class. They are deprived of His fellowship. By their corrupt natures they are excluded from the sublime region of purity and benevolence in which He lives. They must all seek His help when too late. They all misunderstand Him. “They have ears but hear not.”
Conclusion: To which class do you belong?
1. Probably to the former. But to be favourably disposed is not enough; there must be decision, consecration, vital affinity.
2. If to the latter, ponder your condition ere it be too late. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The coming of the bailiffs
I. A HOSTILE EMBASSY.
1. Its occasion--the favourable impression made on the multitude.
2. Its promoters. The chief priests and the Pharisees, who resolved to take a forward step by dispatching their constables to the Temple (verse 82).
3. Its object. To mingle with the crowd, show as much favour as possible, so as to throw them and Christ off their guard, and then embrace the first opportunity of detaching them from Him, or Him from them, and took Him prisoner to the council chamber.
II. AN UNEXPECTED GREETING. Having observed the officers and their intention, our Lord replied to this forward movement by announcing His departure.
1. It,would be soon, “a little while.” “The increasing hostility of the rulers, and the fickle character of the populace, made it apparent that tile final collision could not be long delayed.
2. It would be voluntary. The designs of the rulers would in the providence of God lead to His departure but would not be its cause (John 10:18). “I go.”
3. It would be a homegoing (John 7:33; John 6:62), like an ambassador to report about His mission, or like a Son to the presence of His Father John 14:2).
4. It would terminate their day of grace. His appearance had been a day of salvation (Luke 19:42), which at His departure would be over (verse 34; Luke 17:22).
5. It would place an impassable gulf between Him and them (verse 34). Without foreclosing heaven’s gate upon the crowd, many of whom were probably afterwards converted (Acts 2:41), or upon individual members of the Sanhedrim (John 19:38-39; Acts 6:7), the words announced that when Christ departed their day of grace as a nation would be over for impenitent individuals.
III. A MELANCHOLY RESULT.
1. Perplexity. They failed to understand the Saviour’s meaning, or pretended to do so (verse 36); as the apostles did an analogous expression John 16:17). Yet Christ’s language was plain. But they did not wish Christ’s words to have the sense they conveyed, and so pronounced them nonsensical.
2. Ridicule. They endeavoured to sport with Him and His words. Tomorrow they will ask Him if He purposes to commit suicide (chap. 8:12), to-day they inquire if He contemplates playing at Messiah among the Greeks (verse 35).
3. Rejection. The true reason why they could not understand Him was, that already in their hearts they had rejected Him and them.
1. The day of grace to all is of limited duration.
2. Those who improve that day so as to find Christ will ultimately be with Him.
3. To such as find Christ, death will be going home.
4. Those who reject Christ here will not be able to accept Him hereafter.
5. Christ’s sayings are enigmas to those who do not wish to understand Him.
6. Scoffing at good men marks the last stage of depravity. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The boldness of Christ
The officers were after our Lord, and He knew it. He could spy them out in the crowd, but He was not therefore in the least afraid or disconcerted. He reminds me of that minister who, when he was about to preach, was stopped by a soldier, who held a pistol at his head, and threatened that if he spake he would kill him. “ Soldier,” said he, “do your duty; I shall do mine”; and he went on with his preaching. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Then said Jesus unto them, yet a little while am I with you
One saying with two meanings
(text and John 13:33)
1. No greater contrast can be conceived than between these two groups. The one consists of tile officers sent to seize Christ, but were restrained by an awe inexplicable even to themselves. The other consists of the little company of His faithful, though slow scholars. Hatred animated the one, love the other.
2. Christ speaks to them both nearly the same words, but with what a different tone, meaning, and application. To the officers they exhibit the triumphant confidence that their Maker is omnipotent. When He wills He will go, not be dragged, to a safe asylum, where foes cannot follow Him. The officers do not understand. They think, that bad Jew as they have always believed Him to be, He may consummate His apostasy by going over to the Gentiles altogether; but at any rate they feel that He is going to escape their hands. The disciples understand little more, and though the upper side of the saying seems to be full of separation, there is an underside that suggests reunion.
3. The words are nearly the same, but they are not quite identical.
I. THE TWO SEEKINGS.
1. The enemies are told they will never find Him.
(1) No man with hostile intent seeking for Christ can ever find Him. All the antagonism that has stormed against Him and His cause has been impotent and vain. The pursuers are like dogs chasing a bird which all the while carols in the sky. As in the days of His flesh His foes could not touch His person till He chose, so ever since no weapon that is formed against His cause or His friends shall prosper. All Christian service is a prolongation of Christ’s, and both are immortal and safe.
(2) But it is not only hostile seeking that is vain. When the dark days came over Israel, and amidst the agonies of that last seige, do you not think that many of these people said, “Ah! if we had only Jesus back for a day or two.” They sought Him not in anger any more, nor in penitence, or they would have found Him, but simply in distress, and wishing that they could have back again what they had cared so little for when they had it. And are there none to whom the words apply, “He that will not when he may, when he will it shall be nay.”
(3) There is another kind of vain seeking--intellectual, without the preparation of the heart. Many a man goes in quest for religious certainty and looks at, if not for Jesus, and is not capable of discerning Him when He sees Him because His eye is not single, or his heart is full of worldliness and indifference, or he begins with a foregone conclusion. He will never find Him.
2. The seeking that is not vain. “Ye shall seek Me,” to any heart that loves Christ is not a sentence of separation, but the blessed law of Christian life.
(1) That life is one great seeking after Christ. Love seeks the absent. If we care anything for Him at all our hearts will turn to Him as naturally as when the winter begins to pinch, the birds seek the sunny south. The same law which sends loving thoughts across the globe to seek husband, child, or friend, sets the Christian heart seeking for Christ.
(2) And if you do not seek Him you will lose Him, for there is no way of keeping a person who is not before our eyes near us except by diligent effort--thought meditating, love going out towards Him, will submitting. Unless there be this effort you will lose your Master like the child in a crowd loses his nurse if his hand slips from the protecting hand.
(3) And that seeking in this threefold form is neither a seeking which starts from a sense of non-possession, nor one which ends in disappointment. We seek Him because we possess Him, and that we may have Him more abundantly, and it is as impossible that such a search shall be vain as that lungs dilated shall not fill with air. A mother will sometimes hide that the child’s delight may be the greater in searching and finding; and so Christ has gone away for one thing that He may stimulate our desires after Him.
II. THE TWO CANNOTS. “Whither I go ye cannot come,” says He to His enemies, with no limitation or condition. To His friends He only says, “now,” and “thou shalt follow Me afterwards.” So then Christ is somewhere, He has gone into a place as well as a state, and there friend and enemy alike cannot enter while compassed with “the earthly house.” But the incapacity goes deeper, no sinful man can pass within. Heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. Our power to enter there depends on our union with Christ by faith, and that will effect the preparation. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Three Greek words are thus translated in St. John, and two of them in similar connections. Each expresses a distinct aspect of departure, and its special force must be taken into account in the interpretation of the passage in which it is found.
1. ὑπάγω, which is used here, emphasizes the personal act of going in itself, as a withdrawal (John 8:14; John 8:21; John 13:3; John 13:33; John 13:36; John 14:4; John 14:28; John 16:5; John 16:10; John 16:16).
2. πορεύομαι marks the going as connected with a purpose, a mission, an end to be gained (John 7:35; John 14:3; John 14:12; John 14:28; John 16:7; John 16:28).
3. ἀπεοχομαι expresses simple separation, the point left (John 16:7John 16:7, (“go away”). The differences are very clearly seen in a comparison of John 16:10 (ὑπάγω) with John 14:28 (πορεύομαι) and the succession of words in John 16:7-10. (Bp. Westcott.)
While Christ is near we must cry to Him for pardon
A few years ago, when Pennsylvania had a Christian governor, there was a young man down in one of the counties who was arrested for murder. He was brought before the Court, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. His friends thought there would be no trouble in getting a reprieve or pardon. Because the governor was a Christian man they thought he would not sign the death warrant. But he signed it. They called on the governor and begged of him to pardon the young man. But the governor said “No; the law must take its course, and the man must die.” I think the mother of the young man called on the governor and pleaded with him; but the governor stood firm and said, “No; the man must die.” A few days before the man was executed, the governor took the train to the county where the man was imprisoned. He went to the sheriff of the county and said to him, “I wish you to take me to that man’s cell, and leave me alone with him for a little while; and do not tell him who I am until I am gone.” The governor went to the prison and talked to the young man about his soul, and told him that, although he was condemned by man to be executed, God would have mercy upon him and save him, if he would accept pardon from God. He preached Christ, and told him how Christ came to seek and to save sinners; and, having explained as he best knew how the plan of salvation, he got down and prayed, and after praying he shook hands with him and bade him farewell. Some time after the sheriff passed by the condemned man’s cell, and he called him to the door of the cell and said, “Who was that man who talked and prayed with me so kindly?” The sheriff said, “That was Governor Pollock.” The man turned deathly pale, and he threw up both his hands and said, “Was that Governor Pollock? was that kind-hearted man the governor? Oh, sheriff, why did not you tell me? If I had known that was the governor I would have fell at his feet and asked for pardon; I would have pleaded for pardon and for my life. Oh, sir, the governor has been here, and I did not know it.” Sinner, I have got good news to tell you. There is one greater than the governor here to-night, and He wants to pardon every one. (Moody.)
Seeking in vain
A young policeman was in the Edinburgh infirmary with an injured leg. There was a man lying on the next bed to him exceedingly ill, and his life despaired of by the physicians, but who would not allow any one to speak to him on religious subjects, or pray either for his recovery, or for the salvation of his soul. At first he himself had no idea that death was so near him; but when its ghastly presence could no longer be denied, then this bold impenitent sinner became a victim of despair. Again and again did he cry out for the chaplain to pray for his soul. Of course there were many prayers offered for him, but his day of grace was over, and he continued to shriek aloud for mercy, until finally his voice became too weak for utterance, and full of dreadful apprehensions of “the wrath to come,” he expired. (T. Mahon.)
Resisting the light will prove our undoing
It is related of Jeine, the chief of one of the South Sea Islands, who had offered no small amount of opposition to the introduction of Christianity, that, during a sickness which terminated in his death, he manifested more mental distress than is usually seen in a heathen. He often expressed a wish that “he had died ten years before.” And why? The light of life and love had been shining around him, but he had opposed its entrance into his heart, and its power over his people. And now, having loved darkness, in darkness of soul, stung by an upbraiding of conscience, he must die. (Biblical Museum.)
Those who refuse Christ when offered may soon seek Him in vain
I was once called upon to visit a dying man in Bristol, under the following circumstances: He had not entered the church for many years. At last he made up his mind to go, and on the morning of the Sabbath he and his wife went. But the door was closed, the church being under repair. They returned home disappointed. In the evening they went to another church. But it was so crowded that they could get no farther than the doorway, and were unable to hear a word. On the following Sunday he resolved to make another effort; but while he was dressing he fell down in an apoplectic fit, and never spoke again I He knew me when I entered his chamber. I preached the gospel in his dying ear, but he was speechless, and I could not learn the state of his mind. This case illustrates some paris of the first chapter of Proverbs: “Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me.” The procrastinating sinner may say, “I will serve God by and by. He shall have the services of my age:” and God may say, “No; thou shalt not have old age to offer Me.” (J. East.)
The imperilled condition of the impenitent sinner
Two friends were in the Highlands recently, shooting, and one of them observed an animal on a jutting rock. He inquired, “Is that a sheep?” and looking through his field-glass he saw that it was. In search of herbage the sheep had descended from one grass-covered ledge to another, and found it impossible to return. No shepherd in Scotland dare risk his life by going down the declivity. The sheep must remain there till an eagle observed it, when in eddying circles it would hover over the poor animal, drawing nearer and nearer, until at last the affrighted sheep would take a dreadful leap into space, to be dashed to pieces on the rocks below, and then become the eagle’s prey. (W. HayAitken.)
The dispersed among the Gentiles, or simply the Dispersion was the general title applied to those Jews who remained settled in foreign countries after the return from Babylon, and during the period of the second Temple. The Hebrew word applied to these foreign settlers (see Jeremiah 28:4Jeremiah 28:4; Ezra 6:16) conveys the notion of spoliation and bereavement, as of men removed from the Temple and home of their fathers; but in the LXX. the ideas of “sojourning,” and of a “colony,” were combined with that of a “captivity,” while the term “dispersion” Deuteronomy 28:25; cf. Jeremiah 34:17), which finally prevailed, seemed to imply that the people thus scattered (Deuteronomy 30:4) in bondage (Macc. 1:27), and shut out from the privileges of the human race (text), should yet be as a seed sown for a future harvest (cf. Isaiah 49:6, Hebrews) in the strange lands where they found a temporary resting- 1 Peter 1:1). The schism which had divided the first kingdom was forgotten in the results of the general calamity. The Dispersion was not limited to the exiles of Judah, but included “the twelve tribes” James 1:1), which expressed the completeness of the whole Jewish nation (Acts 26:7). The Dispersion really dates from the Babylonish exile. Uncertain legends point to earlier settlements in Arabia, Ethiopia, and Abyssinia, but these must have been isolated and casual, while the Dispersion was the outward proof that a faith had succeeded to a kingdom. Apart from the necessary influence which Jewish communities, bound by common laws, ennobled by the possession of the same truths, and animated by kindred hopes must have exercised on the nations among whom they were scattered, the difficulties which set aside the literal observance of the Mosaic ritual led to a wider view of the scope of the law, and a stronger sense of its spiritual significance. Outwardly and inwardly, by its effects, both on the Gentiles and on Israel, the Dispersion was the clearest providential preparation for Christianity. But while the fact of a recognized Dispersion must have weakened the local and ceremonial influences which were essential to the first training of the people of God, the Dispersion was still bound together in itself and to its mother country by religious ties. The Temple was the acknowledged centre of Judaism, and the faithful Jew everywhere contributed the half-shekel towards its maintenance Matthew 17:24; Jos. Ant. 16:6). The tribute was indeed the simplest and most striking outward proof of the religious unity of the nation. Treasuries were established to receive the payments of different districts, and the collected sums were forwarded to Jerusalem, as in later times the Mohammedan offerings were sent to Mecca. At the beginning of the Christian era the Dispersion was divided into three great sections, the Babylonian, the Syrian, and the Egyptian. Precedence was yielded to the first. The jealousy which had originally existed between the poor who remained in Jerusalem and their wealthier countrymen at Babylon had passed away. From Babylon the Jews spread throughout Persia, Media, and Parthia; but the settlements in China belong to a modern date. The Greek conquests in Asia extended the limits of the Dispersion. Selencus Nicator transplanted large bodies of Jewish colonists from Babylonia to the capitals of his western provinces. His policy was followed by his successor, Antiochus the Great, and the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes only served to push forward the Jewish emigration to the remoter districts of the empire. In Armenia the Jews arrived at the greatest dignities, and Nisibis became a new centre of colonization. The Jews of Cappadocia (1 Peter 1:1) are mentioned in the Mishna; and a prince and princess of Adiabene adopted the Jewish faith only thirty years before the destruction of the Temple. Large settlements were established in Cyprus, in the islands of the AEgean, and on the western coast of Asia Minor. The Romans confirmed to them the privileges obtained from the Syrian kings; and though they were exposed to sudden outbursts of popular violence, the Jews of the Syrian provinces gradually formed a closer connection with their new homes, and, together with the Greek language, adopted in many respects Greek ideas. This Hellenizing tendency, however, found its most free development at Alexandria. The Jewish settlements established there by Alexander and Ptolemy I. became the source of the African Dispersion, which spread over the north coast of Africa, and perhaps inland to Abyssinia. At Cyrene and Berenice (Tripoli) the Jewish inhabitants formed a considerable portion of the population. But the distinction in language led to wider differences, which were averted in Babylon by the currency of an Aramaic dialect. The Scriptures were no longer read on the Sabbath, and no fire signals conveyed the dates of the new moons to Egypt. Still, the spirit of the African Jews was not destroyed. After the destruction of the Temple the zealots found a reception in Cyrene, and in A.D. 115 the Jewish population in Africa rose with terrible ferocity, and were put down by a war of extermination, and the remnant who escaped established themselves on the opposite coast of Europe, as the beginning of a new Dispersion. The Jewish settlements in Rome were consequent on the occupation of Jerusalem by Pompey B.C.
63. The captives and emigrants whom he brought with him were located inthe Trans-Tiberine quarter, and by degrees rose in station and importance. They were favoured by Augustus and Tiberius after the fall of Sejanus, and a Jewish school was founded at Rome. In the reign of Claudius the Jews became objects of suspicion from their immense numbers; and the internal disputes, consequent, perhaps, upon the preaching of Christianity, led to their banishment from the city (Acts 18:2). But this was only temporary, for in a few years the Jews at Rome were numerous (Acts 28:17), and continued to be sufficiently conspicuous to attract the attention of the satirists. The influence of the Dispersion on the rapid growth of Christianity can scarcely be overrated. The course of apostolic preaching followed in a regular progress the line of Jewish settlements. The mixed assembly from which the first converts were gathered on the day of Pentecost represented each division of the Dispersion, and these converts naturally prepared the way for the apostles. The names of the seven deacons are all Greek, and one was a proselyte. The Church at Antioch, by which St. Paul was entrusted with his great work among the heathen Acts 13:1), included Barnabus of Cyprus, Lucius of Cyrene, and Simeon, surnamed Niger; and among his fellow labourers at a later time are found Apollos of Alexandria, Urbanus, and Clement, whose names, at least, are Roman. Antioch itself became a centre of the Christian Church, as it had been of the Jewish Dispersion; and throughout the apostolic journeys the Jews were the class to whom “it was necessary that the Word of God should be first spoken” (Acts 13:46), and they in turn were united with the mass of the population by the intermediate body of “the devout “ who had recognized in various degrees “the faith of the God of Israel.” (Bp. Westcott.)
On the last day, that great day of the feast
Jesus the Christ
1. Water for the thirsty (John 7:37; Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11; Psalms 105:41Psalms 105:41; Matthew 5:6).
2. Usefulness for the believing (John 7:38; Proverbs 18:4Proverbs 18:4; Ac Romans 14:7; 1 Corinthians 6:20; James 3:10).
3. Divine aid for men (John 7:39; Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28; Zec John 16:7; Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:13).
II. AWAKENING THOUGHT.
1. The prophet (John 7:40; Deuteronomy 18:18Deuteronomy 18:18; John 6:14John 6:14; Acts 3:23; Acts 7:37).
2. The Christ (John 7:41; Matthew 16:16; Mark 14:61; Luke 4:41; John 1:41; John 4:29).
3. The seed of David (.John 7:42; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 33:22; Luke 1:69; Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8; Revelation 5:5).
III. BAFFLING FOES.
1. Bitter enemies (John 7:44; Matthew 21:46; Mark 11:18; Luke 20:19Luke 20:19; John 7:19; John 7:30).
2. Perplexed officials (John 7:46; Matthew 27:24Matthew 27:24; Mk Luke 23:22; Acts 23:9).
3. Raging Pharisees (John 7:47; Luke 7:30Luke 7:30; John 7:32; Acts 23:9). (S. S. Times.)
Jesus the Christ
I. JESUS’ CLAIM TO DIVINE FULNESS (John 7:37-39).
1. It was tabernacles. The last day had come. It was Sabbath. All hearts overflowed with joy. With water from Siloah the priest came, pouring it upon the altar in the presence of all the people. That water was a symbol of salvation (Isaiah 12:3). Seeing it, Jesus makes, regarding Himself, this proclamation: “If any man thirst, let Him come unto Me and drink.” How emphatic the word “thirst!” It means all the needs of the soul and the deep cravings of mankind. The word “drink” is equally strong. Jesus here offers Himself as a complete satisfaction to man. The claim here set forth is one and the same thing with Isaiah 55:1. The same person speaks in both places. Jesus thus declares Himself to be God, i.e., the Christ.
2. The same thing is claimed in verse 38. The believer, having received Jesus, becomes himself a fountain of eternal life--rather is he a channel through which the grace of God flows to bless other hearts. This is the effect of the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit is secured for the sinful world by the atonement of Jesus Christ. The cross has two sides--one turned towards God the Father, reconciling Him to man a sinner; the other turned towards man, securing for him the Holy Ghost. Under these two aspects Christ’s sacrifice is always presented in the Bible. It is to the last of these that verses 38, 39 refer. Hence Jesus declares Himself the Christ.
II. THE PEOPLE CLAIM JESUS AS CHRIST (verses 40-44).
1. Some declared that He was “The Prophet” (Deuteronomy 18:15). The person here spoken of was held by the Jews to be the coming Messiah Acts 3:22-23).
2. Others bolder, pronouncing His name: “This is the Christ” (verse 41).
3. A third party, while they seemingly rejected Him, bore a testimony to His being the true Messiah (verses 41, 42). He had both the lineage and birthplace which they required to convince them. Only their own ignorance stood in the way. Observe:
(1) It was Christ’s strong claim regarding Himself that won Him confessors. So in teaching, we must present the truth in strong terms, leaving results with the truth itself.
(2) A little ignorance often prevents men from receiving the gospel (verse 42).
(3) Anything for an excuse is the motto of some persons. The cry now is, “He is a Galilean!” If not this, then something else, equally untrue.
(4) The plain teaching of the Word is apt to attract the attention of all and cause divisions among the people (verse 43). Nothing is talked about so much as Christianity.
(5) No one can damage the truth, except so far as God gives him permission, and then it is for a wise purpose, as the future will show (verses 32, 44). His hour did come. Then He was crucified. The greatest crime secured the world the greatest blessing!
III. THE OFFICERS CLAIM JESUS AS CHRIST (verses 45-49). Their testimony in His behalf is contained in verse 46. It was the same as saying: “His speaking is that of a Divine person.” Those hard men, that went to arrest Him, were overcome by the love shown in His speech; by the truth which impressed them; by the persuasion His words carried with them and by His authority as a teacher. These all were so marked that, returning, His enemies had to declare. “Never man so spake”--none, save God, could show such love, truth, persuasion and authority.
1. These are all divine qualities, man having them in proportion as he is “endued with power from on high.”
2. The gospel has these four great elements--Love, Truth, Persuasion, and Authority.
3. Those who will not receive the gospel pronounce such testimony as this “deception” (verse 47). The belief of the humble-hearted is foolishness unto the intellectual-proud (verses 48, 49).
IV. Nicodemus claims Him to be Christ (verses 50-53). The charge against Jesus by the Pharisees was that He claimed to be from God, the true Messiah. Nicodemus virtually said this: “You have not disproved this claim; nothing has been done to prove the falsity of Jesus’ words” (verse 51). He might have made His testimony stronger. We must remember that a secret disciple is not bold in word or deed. The reply of the Pharisees was weak, showing that their cause was based on ignorance and prejudice (verse 52). Such is the cause of unbelief to-day. (A. H. Moment, D. D.)
If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink
The thirst of humanity anticipated and met
On the last day of the feast of tabernacles the priests stood near the altar and poured water over it copiously from large capacious vessels. Perhaps the day took its name “the great day” from that circumstance. It was a symbolical act intended to connect itself with the predictions that in the days of the Messiah God would pour out His Spirit, and was something like a prayer that they might live to see those days and share that blessing. It was our Lord’s custom to connect His teaching with occurrences before Him, and so, perhaps pointing to that act, He said, “If any man,” etc., proclaiming His Messiahship.
I. HUMANITY IS THE SUBJECT OF INTENSE SPIRITUAL DESIRES. We know how intense the animal appetite of “thirst” may become. How terrible it has been in the burning desert or the besieged city i That is here taken to indicate the character of spiritual desire, and is an ordinary rhetorical figure used by our poets and philosophers when they speak of the thirst of gold, ambition, etc. But Christ offers no drink for the appetites or passions.
1. There is the thirst of the intellect--the desire for truth. It is very wonderful how soon the mind of a child will begin to speculate about the mystery of life, of death, of God, and the soul.
2. There is the thirst of conscience in two forms.
(1) There is the consciousness of moral weakness. A man feels the moral obligation he is under, sees the beauty of duty, has a conviction of right, but a sense of infirmity of purpose--makes his strong resolutions and scatters them the next day. And so the moral nature thirsts for strength to perform.
(2) The conscience is burdened by a sense of sin, and yearns for its forgiveness and removal. This has given rise to priests. The people create the priests. No priesthood ever yet originated itself for the purpose of trampling on the people.
3. There is the thirst of the heart: not merely a desire for happiness. You are made for something greater than that. There is a thirst in looking at the dislocation of things around us. What tears of soul bereavement and pain let out the waters of bitterness in times of darkness I So the soul wants something to rest upon, to feel that we are not in a neglected and fatherless world.
II. JESUS CHRIST IN THE GOSPEL MEETS THESE DIVERSIFIED WANTS.
1. Christianity professes to be a revelation of spiritual truth. It interprets nature and adds communications of its own about all that it is necessary for us to know.
2. Christianity meets the thirst of conscience in a special way.
(1) By the revelation of the Person of Christ. The gospel does not come as a system of thought, nor are its preachers philosophers; it presents a Saviour, through whom we may obtain forgiveness of sins.
(2) Connected with this is the mission of the Spirit to renew, to strengthen the will, to purify the affections, to make duty a delight, and bring the whole man into harmony with duty and God (Romans 8:3-4).
3. Christianity meets the thirst of the heart by providing a large measure of rational and manly happiness, and that in two ways.
(1) By the life of faith--faith as a daily habit, looking to God in all things; and along with that it gives spiritual consolation and grace.
(2) By the character it creates and sustains, delivering us from the torments which attend passion, sin, disharmony with God.
III. CHRIST NOT ONLY MEETS THE THIRST OF HUMANITY, BUT IS URGENT TO MEET IT. “Let Him come.” Do not mystify yourselves with the metaphysics of the Divine decrees. Take Christ in His plain utterances and remember that secret things belong unto God. He says, “if any man will, let Him come”--believe in His honesty of purpose, and that He means what He says, “It is not the will of my Father that one of these little ones should perish.” “You may perish, but that will be from your own acts, not God’s.”
IV. CHRIST IN MEETING THIS THIRST DOES OF SET PURPOSE MAKE US A BLESSING TO OTHERS. “Out of Him shall flow,” etc. (T. Binney.)
“A word spoken in season how good it is!” Much of the force of an observation depends upon its being well-timed. The orators of Greece and Rome attended to this. But there was One who “spake as never man spake,” who seized all occasions. Here is an instance of it.
I. THE APPETITE SUPPOSED.
1. Let us account for it. When man proceeded from the hand of God he was a stranger to thirst. He was formed for the enjoyment of God, and God became the source of his enjoyment. Then he was in his element. But sin has removed man from the fountain, and he now wanders through a parched wilderness. “My people have committed two evils,” etc.
2. Its nature. It includes
(1) Want and emptiness. The mind has an aching void. We might as well expect light in a beam cut off from the sun, the source of all radiance, as expect satisfaction of mind without God.
(2) Restlessness--the fever of the mind. Hence the anxiety of change, “seeking rest and finding none.”
(3) Misery. Disappointed in the objects of pursuit men turn away in disgust, saying, “miserable comforters are ye all.” Hence despondency and suicide.
3. Its universal prevalence. It is felt more or less intensely, but none are strangers to it.
(1) The inquiries of men prove this. “Who will show us any good.”
(2) The pursuits of men prove this. The toils of the studious, the slumbers of the voluptuary, the cell of the hermit, the hoards of the miser, all.say, “I thirst.”
(3) The regrets of men prove this. “Vanity of vanities,” etc.
II. THE SATISFACTION PREPARED.
1. The person who offers the refreshment. The eternal Son of God who became man, to die for sin and rise and ascend into heaven to “receive gifts for men,” even the Holy Spirit. The “living water.” Christ has the Spirit without measure for the enlightenment and salvation of men. Here is all that can satisfy the thirsty, soul--pardon for the guilty, liberty for the enslaved, peace for the distracted, and finally heaven.
2. The means of getting the living water. Note
(1) the approach of faith, “let him come.”
(2) The application of faith “drink.”
III. THE EXTENT OF THE INVITATION. “If any man.”
1. As to character. There is no description of the persons invited. “If any man,” be he who he may, whatever his age, country, condition. This is better than any specification of name, for others might bear the same.
2. As to the simplicity of the qualification. All men thirst. Don’t say I am not thirsty enough. If you thirst at all you are meant.
3. As to the sincerity of the Inviter. Can we doubt this? Is He not able, and willing to relieve us.
1. Learn why Christ is imperfectly appreciated--because men do not realize their moral condition.
2. If this is not assuaged here it never will be in eternity. Read the parable of the rich man. (G. Clayton.)
Rivers of living water
1. These words were spoken on the last day of the feast--therefore on the last opportunity for doing good to that multitude. The dispersion of a mighty crowd is always affecting, as we forecast that it is a final parting with some, and see in it a foreshadowing of that last separation. Our Lord was sensitive to such feelings, and could not suffer the vast assemblage to break up without giving them something which might reveal itself in their hearts when far from the excitement of the city.
2. It was the great day, when, after the solemnities of the previous week and their august associations and suggestions, all susceptible souls would be open to elevated thoughts. So Jesus, seizing the moment when the metal was molten to give His own impress to it, cried, “If any man,” etc.
3. Christ’s gift is living waters. He speaks to us as subject to desires for which nature has made no provision, and offers Himself as a fountain of relief and eternal satisfaction. His words sweep the entire circle of humanity, for every man thirsts. The only question is, Can His religion do what everything else confessedly fails to do? “Yes,” said Jesus. The Holy Spirit as given by Him is as rivers of living water, because
I. THE SPIRIT IS THE CHANNEL OF GOD’S LOVE TO SOULS.
1. Man thirsts for love. It is the nobleness of our nature that food and raiment and gross pleasures do not satisfy it. What makes childhood’s blessedness, but that its whole atmosphere is love? Yet how far all human love comes short of satisfying our craving all know. But let a man be thoroughly certified that God loves him to save him, and that every moment he has access to God to tell Him all his griefs, what a river of refreshment must this love prove in his heart.
2. God’s love to us is His love in Christ--love, the most ample in its measure, the most intense in its power, the most complete in its adjustments to our condition. But it is not this love in a book that will give us relief. The testimony of the Book must be transferred to the heart to become a living reality there. The Spirit adds nothing to its dimensions, but makes it approved and accepted to the soul. Divine love is the sovereign element of all blessedness: Christ is the Divine Vessel holding that love which flows over with sweet waters, but it is the Spirit which witnesses of this to the soul.
II. THE SPIRIT IS THE CREATOR OF BLESSED AFFECTIONS IN THE SOUL. “Shall be in Him.” Man thirsts for an inward blessedness. Not in his circumstances but in his heart, in noble views, pure affections, generous aspirations, lies the true well-being of man. He may have millions and yet be haunted with fears of starvation. He may allow himself every luxury, and yet his soul be a level of monotonous wretchedness. Malignant self-centred passions are the fever of the soul. Place a man amidst the splendours of royalty, and a jealous spirit will make him miserable. It is from a right state of the heart that its blessedness must flow; therefore the true salvation of man is not outward but inward. It has its outward elements in an alteration of man’s relation to God; but what were it worth for the outcast to be delivered from his rags and poverty, and be received back if he retained all the evil passions which ruined him? He must become an altered man to become blessed. All experience and Scripture bear witness that this is a work not for man but for the Spirit of God. It is the almighty spirit of love, whose living waters flowing into the heart destroy its bitterness and impurity, and make it a fountain of brightness.
III. THE SPIRIT IS THE POWER OF SPIRITUAL COMMUNICATION.
1. As the waters of a fountain gush forth by their own pleasure, so do the living waters of spiritual life impart themselves to all around. Every refreshed soul is constituted a well of refreshment, like a fertile spot in the wilderness. How is this done? By the gifts and service which it prompts. Whenever He is in the heart, our families, neighbourhoods, churches will be refreshed. Stagnant waters which have no outlet become corrupt and bitter like the Dead Sea.
2. Man thirsts for successful, useful action. You are not content with the result which your daily calling gives you. Without despising common duties, you feel that you were made for nobler things. Well, the noblest course is open to all. You need not acquire rank or money. If renewed by the Spirit, you can make your course as a shining river. No other life is worth living: all other is vanity and vexation.
3. This blessedness and usefulness must be habitual, a river not a brook. Nothing can be more remote from the true idea of the Holy Spirit than transcient excitement. Conclusion:
1. This gift of the Spirit is acquired by faith. “Coming” is
2. This gift assumes different forms in different believers.
3. This gift every believer is bound to use. (J. Riddell, M. A.)
While the morning sacrifice was being prepared, a priest, accompanied by a joyous procession with music, went down to the pool of Siloam, whence he drew water into a golden pitcher capable of holding three log (rather more than two pints). But on the Sabbath they fetched the water from a golden vessel in the Temple itself, into which it had been carried from Siloam on the preceding day. At the same time that the procession started for Siloam, another went to a place in the Kedron valley, close by, called Motza, whence they brought willow branches, which, amid the blasts of the priests’ trumpets, they stuck on either side of the altar of burnt offering, bending them over toward it so as to form a kind of leafy canopy. Then the ordinary sacrifice proceeded, the priest who had gone to Siloam so timing it that he returned just as his brethren carried up the pieces of the sacrifice to lay them on the altar. As he entered by the “water-gate,” which obtained its name from this ceremony, he was received by a threefold blast from the priests’ trumpets. The priests then went up the rise of the altar and turned to the left, where there were two silver basins with narrow holes--the eastern, a little wider, for the wine; and the western, a little narrower, for the water. Into these the wine of the drink offering was poured, and at the same time the water from Siloam, the people shouting to the priest, “Raise thy hand,” to show that he really poured the water into the basin which led to the base of the altar … As soon as the wine and water were poured out, the Temple music began, and the Hallel (Psalms 118:1-29Psalms 118:1-29.) was sung … Salvation in connection with the Son of David was symbolized by the pouring out of water Thus the Talmud says distinctly, “Why is the name of it called the drawing out of water? Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, according to what is said: ‘ With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.’”… We can now in some measure realize the event. The festivities of the week of tabernacles were drawing to a close. “It was the last day, that great day of the feast.”… It was on that day after the priest had returned from Siloam with his golden pitcher, and for the last time poured its contents to the base of the altar; after the Hallel had been sung to the sound of the flute, the people shouting and worshipping as the priests three times drew the threefold blasts from their silver trumpets--just when the interest of the people had been raised to its highest pitch, that from the mass of the worshippers, who were waving towards the altar quite a forest of leafy branches as the last words of Psalms 118:1-29, were chanted--a voice was raised which resounded through the Temple, startled the multitude, and carried fear and hatred to the hearts of their leaders. It was Jesus who “stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.” Then by faith in Him should each one truly become like the pool of Siloam, and from his inmost being “rivers of water flow.” “This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive.” Thus the significance of the rite, in which they had just taken part, was not only fully explained, but the mode of its fulfilment pointed out. (A. Edersheim, D. D.)
The significance of the incident and Christ’s use of it
In the latter days of Jerusalem, as we learn from the history of the period, a ceremony was added to those of the ordained feasts of booths, intended, evidently, to commemorate the thirst in the wilderness, and the supply that was provided from the rock in Horeb. On the last day of the feast, towards evening, the priests formed a procession, and, having drawn water from the pool of Siloam, bore it to the Temple, and poured it on the ground, so that it should flow down to the lower streets of the city. This symbol pointed, probably, to Ezekiel’s grand vision of waters issuing from the Temple, small at first, but rapidly increasing, until they became a river that could not be passed over--a river to swim in. The precession of priests has gone to Siloam and returned to the Temple. They have poured the water from the golden vessel, and a rivulet is making its way along the unwonted channel, forth from the hallowed courts towards the city. The assembled crowds are ranged on either side, watching the progress of the mimic stream. The beams of the setting sun strike the water, where in a hollow it spreads into a pool, and golden glory flashes for a moment from the spot that had been dull dry earth before. The multitude gaze in ignorant superstition; but some of the Lord’s hidden ones are there, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and spelling painfully out of these dead letters the name of their living Redeemer. Jesus looked on the crowd as they gazed wistfully on the symbolic water. His heart was yearning for them. He knew what was in man: He knew that the Jews made idols of these significant signs, as they made idols of the scriptures which were printed on their clothing. He saw them drinking that which cannot quench the thirst of a soul. He pitied them, and came to the rescue. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The Preacher’s last sermon for the season
I. THE INQUIRY FOR THE THIRSTY.
1. It is very wide. “Any man” of all that heterogeneous mass.
2. It is anxiously narrowed down. “If”--as if He had said the mass of you do not thirst; do any of you thirst? He reads their genera/indifference only too well. Alas I the thirsty are few: self-content possesses the minds of many, and world content steals over others. They are in a desert; no drop of dew falls about them, and the water-bottle has long since been dry; but they are mocked by the mirage, and they put aside their thirst with the fond idea that they can drink to the full.
3. It is painfully clear. The thirsty know what thirst is. It is a self-explaining pain.
4. It is being continually repeated. It is as urgent to day as then.
5. What is this thirst? Nothing actual or substantive; it is a lack crying out of its emptiness. When our system needs drink, a merciful providence creates a pang which drives us to a supply. Thirst rings the alarm bell, and mind and body set to work to supply the demand. It were a dreadful thing if the system needed water and yet did not thirst; for we might be fatally injured before we knew that any harm was happening to us. So with spiritual thirst.
II. THE ONE DIRECTION FOR THE RELIEF OF ALL SUCH THIRSTY ONES. “Let him come,” etc.
1. Christ who gives the water which quenches spiritual thirst, invites us to Himself personally. What creed you are to believe will do by and by, just now your duty is to come to Christ. At this time Christ had not been crucified, risen, etc., but the text was spoken with a foresight of all that should transpire up to His glorification. Come directly to Him, who by all this has become a fountain of living water--not to creeds, ceremonies, sacraments, priests, services, doings, or feelings. Salvation lies in Him only.
2. All that a sinner wants is to be found in abundance in Him, and all that every sinner wants.
3. In Jesus is a varied supply. The thirst of the soul is not like the thirst of the body which is quenched with one liquid; the soul thirsts for many things--peace in distraction, pardon of sin, purity from pollution, progress ingrace, power in prayer, perseverance; and all this is in Christ.
4. We must come to Christ and bring nothing of our own except our thirst, and that coming is believing.
5. Having come we must drink--the first action of the infant, the easiest act of the man.
III. THE PERMISSION HERE GIVEN FOR THEIR PARTICIPATION.
1. There is no limit as to what thou has formerly done, in the way of sin, unbelief, hardness, denial.
2. There is no limit put as to where thou hast been before. A man went to a merchant to ask the price of a certain article. He then went to others and tried to buy at a cheaper rate, but found that the first had quoted the lowest price. So he went back, but the merchant refused to serve him, not caring for such customers. But if you have been to Moses, to Rome, yea, even to the devil, Christ still says, “Come unto Me.”
3. There is no limit because of any kind of lack. Some think themselves deficient in tenderness, or penitence, or disqualified by age, poverty, illiterateness. Some are locking the door with the very key that was meant to open it. “I am afraid I do not thirst;” “I have not the sense of need I ought to have;” but this means that you are sensible that you are more needy than you think you are. The fact that you need a sense of need proves how horrible is your need. Would you come if you did thirst? Then come and you shall thirst. The more unfit the more you are invited; your very unfitness is your fitness.
4. When Christ says “Come” nobody else can say “Nay.”
IV. THE ENTREATY FOR THEIR COMING. “Jesus stood and cried.” It was the last opportunity, hence the urgency. Surely we ought to entreat Him to let us come. Instead of that we are callous. When a man has charity to give does he entreat people to accept it? How strange that you should be so unwilling and Christ so anxious! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The great invitation
I. WHO THEY ARE WHO ARE INVITED. The thirsty.
1. In all thirst there is
(1) A sense of want. Every man is sensible that he is not self-sufficient.
(2) Desire of supply. The soul of man is ever desiring.
2. The object of this thirsting
(1) The end where the soul may rest, and that is happiness. For this every man thirsts.
(2) The means leading to the end. He that desires refreshment, desires also to drink, though he may by ignorance take a cup of poison.
3. There is a two-fold thirst
(1) Natural and common to all men. It is as natural for a man to desire happiness as it is for him to breathe. But men miss the way and seek it in the world, and hence, disappointed, say, “Who will show us any good?”
(2) Supernatural, experienced by those only whose heart God hath touched. “My soul thirsteth for the living God.” There is no happiness unless this is satisfied.
II. TO WHAT THEY ARE INVITED.
1. To come to Christ, i.e., to believe on Him (John 7:33). Unbelief is a departing from the living God: faith is coming back.
2. To drink, i.e., to actually make use of Christ for the supply of this need. This points out three things in Christ.
(1) The fulness of Christ for needy sinners.
(a) In Him there is a fulness of merit to take off the fulness of our guilt.
(b) A fulness of the Spirit to take away the power of sin, and to actuate us in all good.
(c) A fulness of grace.
(2) The suitableness of Christ. In Him there is a remedy for every disorder.
(3) His satisfactoriness. This drinking also implies three things in us.
(a) The soul going out for a supply of its particular wants, renouncing all confidence in itself or any creature (Jeremiah 17:5).
(b) The soul’s going out in desire after supply from Christ upon His invitation.
(c) Believing application of Christ to the soul in
(i) catching hold of the promise suited to our case.
(ii) Venturing our case upon the promise and proposed supply.
(iii) Confidence in Christ answering our necessities.
III. MOTIVES FOR ACCEPTING THE INVITATION.
1. The supply of the needs of sinners is the great end of the mystery of Christ.
2. He is able to supply all needs however great they may be. Christ is a fountain that is never dry. The creatures are broken cisterns and soon exhausted.
3. Consider your need of Him.
4. If you come now you will drink of the rivers of God’s pleasures for evermore. (T. Boston, D. D.)
We must drink in the gospel
A celebrated minister was once taken ill, and his wife requested him to go and consult an eminent physician. He went to this physican, who welcomed him very heartily. The minister stated his case. The doctor said: “Oh it is a very simple matter, you have only to take such and such a drug and you will be right.” The patient was about to go, but the physician pressed him to stay, and they entered into pleasant conversation. The minister went home to his wife and told her what a delightful man the doctor had proved to be. He said, “I do not know that I ever had a more delightful talk. The good man is eloquent, and witty, and gracious.” The wife replied, “But what remedy did he prescribe?” “Dear,” said the minister, “I quite forgot what he told me on that point.” “What?” said she, “did you go to a physician for advice, and came away without the remedy?” “It quite slipped my mind” he said, “the doctor talked so pleasantly that his prescription has quite gone out of my head.” You must receive Christ by faith. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ a Divine Fountain
“If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. What man would dare to say of merely physical things, “If any man lacks knowledge, let him come unto me.” Neither Humbolt, nor Liebig, nor Agassiz would dare to say this, even of the departments in which they are pre-eminent, how much less of the whole range of learning! yet Christ, disdaining physical things, appeals at once to the soul with all its yearnings, its depths of despair, its claspings--like a mother feeling at midnight for the child whom death has taken--its infinite outreachings, its longings for love, and peace, and joy, which nothing can satisfy this side of the bosom of God, and says, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” He stands over against whatever want there is in the human bosom, whatever hunger there is in the moral faculties, whatever need there is in the imagination, and says, “He that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.” (H. W. Beecher.)
The gospel a general offer of grace
I was travelling some time ago, and I had a little child with me, and I was not acquainted with the law of the railroad respecting children, but I happened to see this announcement, “All children under five years of age free.” I did not ask any questions. My child was under five. Neither did I buy a ticket. I took the announcement to mean what it said, and did not pay a halfpenny. (D. L. Moody.)
We must feel our need of Christ before we come to Him
Suppose a man were to call upon the physician and say, “Well, sir, I want your services.” “Are you sick?” says the physician. “No; not that I know of.” “What, then, do you want of me?” “Oh! I want your services.” “But what for?” The man makes no reply. “Are you in pain?” “No.” “Is your head out of order?” “No.” “Nor your stomach?” “No; I believe not. I feel perfectly well; but still I thought I should like a little of your help.” What would a doctor think of such a case as this? “What must Christ think of those that ask His help, not feeling that they really need it? (H. W. Beecher.)
The thirsty should drink
During a revival in a town in Ohio, a man who had been very worldly minded was awakened, but for some time concealed his feelings, even from his wife, who was a praying woman. She left him one evening in charge of his little girl of three years of age. After her departure his anxiety of mind became so great that he walked the room in his agony. The little girl noticed his agitation, and inquired, “What ails you, pa?” He replied, “Nothing,” and endeavoured to quiet his feelings, but all in vain. The child looked up sympathizingly in his face, and inquired, with all the artlessness and simplicity of childhood, “Pa, if you were dry, wouldn’t you go and get a drink of water?” The father started as if a voice from heaven had fallen on his ear. He thought of his thirsty soul famishing for the waters of life; he thought of that living Fountain opened in the gospel; he believed, and straightway fell at the Saviour’s feet. From that hour he dates the dawning of a new light, and the beginning of a new life.
The patience of Christ
It was the last day of the feast of tabernacles. It was the eighth day which was spent as a Sabbath, but the Saviour did not cease to preach because the festival was almost over. Till the last day He continued to instruct, to invite, to entreat. It is but one instance out of many of the Saviour’s pertinacity of lovingkindness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Faith is easy
Drink! That is not a difficult action. Any fool can drink; in fact, many are great fools because they drink too much of poisonous liquors. Drink! Thou canst surely do that. Thou hast only to be as a spunge that sucks up all that comes near it. Put thy mouth down and suck up that which flows to thee in the river of Christ’s love, open wide thy soul and drink in Christ, as the great northern whirlpool sucks in the sea. If any man thirst let him receive Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The spirit dwelling in, and flowing from, the Christian man
Now was the time of the autumn heats. The effects of the harvest rains had long passed. The crops were just removed from the face of the ground. Above was the burning Syrian sun. Beneath--as with us, now--was the scorched and arid soil. All was dust, and weariness, and heat. It was the time of a great festival--the great autumnal feast of tabernacles, commemorative of the fruits of the earth now gathered in.
I. Here you may observe we have AN INVITATION--“Jesus stood, and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let Him come unto Me, and drink.”
1. There seems to me something emphatic in that word, “stood.” It expresses in a teacher the attitude of prominence, energy, aggression. It was well suited to High, who, as tie was there placed amidst that perishing throng, came “to seek, and to save that which was lost.”
2. And the voice is still more marked than the attitude. “Jesus stood and cried.” This term is applied to those who arc labouring under some strong passion or affection of the mind, whether of grief, fear, desire, or other. Here it expresses earnestness and energy. At least, let ministers shew by their manner that they have a deep interest in the salvation of those they address.
3. But from the attitude, and the voice, turn we to the words themselves, to the gracious invitation of the Lord. Whom does He address? Those who thirst. A large class, as many will testify. For they who thirst include all who are not satisfied.
(1) There, for example, are they who are disappointed. On them life opened fairly and brightly, but its horizon became overcast. Full of joyous anticipation they sprang forward with alacrity in the race of life. But unlooked for difficulties arose, They experienced treachery and falsehood. Life to them lost its charm. They found not what they sought. They thirsted, but were not satisfied.
(2) Then there are the prosperous who cannot be satiated with prosperity. In their fulness they are empty; in their joyfulness they are sad; pleasure pleases not; slumber soothes not.
(3) And there are those, too, who, having tried to slake the thirst of their undying souls with dying things, and discovering their error, are now seeking in things heavenly, unfailing sources, and perennial fountains. These do not, now, thirst for the creature. They have found out their error, and plainly see that the creature cannot satisfy. Now to these, and to all others, unsatisfied, anxious, craving, desiring, thirsting, Jesus cries, “Come unto Me, and drink.” And it is thus that Jesus meets the cravings of our humanity; His providence supplies our bodily wants. “As thy day, so shall thy strength be.” In the same way man’s intellect meets in his God, that on which it can repose. Who should satisfy mind but He who made mind! But, oh! the storms and tempests of thought! Then there is the way in which the Saviour meets man’s spirit. The heart of man must have something whereon to repose, something to love, something wherewith to sympathize. The Saviour in His humanity here meets the heart of man.
II. Nor must we omit to notice THE EXTENT OF THE LORD’S INVITATION--“Any man.” “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.”
III. Having thus spoken of this invitation of our Lord, we have now to notice HIS PROMISE, WITH JOHN’S COMMENT THEREON.
1. “Water.” Refreshment and purification are presented to us in this figure.
2. “Living water.” Not stagnant, much less putrescent. Life belongs to the Christian; and this life he must seek to impart to others.
3. “Rivers of living water.” Here are presented to us ideas of depth, copiousness, perpetuity. Eternal life in believers is not to be scant, or shallow. A joyous and abounding river, it is to flow with waters exuberant and vivifying to all around.
4. They are “flowing waters.” “Out of Him shall flow rivers.” The Spirit which God has given is not to be restrained.
IV. But in WHAT MANNER may this water of the Spirit in a man be said to flow out of him?
1. One main method of the manifestation of the Spirit has already been alluded to--by the words of our mouth. But we would not restrain the symbol of these flowing waters only to a man’s words.
2. His actions also may be included. The Christian’s life should be a continual call to turn from the path of death.
3. Influence we would also name as another most effective mode of making these waters flow to the benefit of our fellow-men. Influence! Influence voluntary, and involuntary! How wide its extent, and how incalculable its power!
V. We have expounded and illustrated the text. Let us conclude by some INSTRUCTIONS drawn from it.
1. See the diffusive character of the dispensation of the gospel I A man is not made partaker of the Spirit of God for His own mere individual salvation, but for the salvation of others also.
2. But let us be careful to avoid a common error. The water of life must be put in us for our own salvation before it can flow out of us for others’ good. It is not like the spider’s web which she spins out of herself.
3. But how encouraging the promise, “He that believeth on Me, out of him shall flow rivers of living water.” Christ here expressly declares that if we believe on Him we shall be made partakers of His Spirit.
4. Holy gracious the invitation! “If any man thirst let him come unto Me, and drink.” If our lips are to feed others, those lips shall themselves be first fed.
5. Contrast here these living waters of the soul with that perishing water of Shiloah of the ceremonial before alluded to. Here is the contrast between religion spiritual and religion ceremonial--between sacraments (or signs) and the things by them signified. The Jewish populace saw nothing but the water--heeded for the most part nothing but the ceremony. (M. Brock, M. A.)
The affinity between God and man in regard of man’s wants and God’s fulness
1. This saying of our Lord’s produced among some the conviction that He was the Christ (John 7:40-41). We gather from hence that it met some instinct of the human heart. He struck a note which vibrated in their inmost souls. What was the secret of this effect. It was no doubt that many of the audience felt that they were spiritually athirst, that there was a craving in them after light, truth, love which nothing on earth met. They felt that He was making an offer of which hey had need to avail themselves. They are convinced of His claims by offering them exactly what they had felt the want of.
2. In order to the existence of love between two parties, there must be a secret affinity between them in virtue of which one supplies what the other needs. Take the case of friendship between the sexes. The man needs sympathy and confidence, which the woman supplies; the woman needs support, protection, counsel, which it is the man’s part to furnish. This principle lies also at the foundation of commercial intercourse. A. produces what B. wants, and B. what A. wants; and this mutual want draws both together. The same mutual interdependence is observable in nature. Plants are fed by the light and air of heaven, and return the perfumes which some of them exhale. It is so with man and God.
I. MAN HAS AN URGENT NEED OF GOD. When this makes itself felt he cries, “My soul is athirst for God,” and then he is arrested by the offer of the Son of God, “If any man thirst,” etc. Of course all things need God for their continuance, but man has needs which distinguish him from the inferior creation.
1. His understanding is never satisfied with the truth it contrives to reach.
(1) There is nothing more interesting than discovery. It is as if God had proposed to us in nature and life certain enigmas, and had challenged human ingenuity to the solution of them. But observe how, upon a discovery being made, it loses its interest, and we immediately go in quest of fresh truth. Just as the pleasure of hunting is not derived from the game which is caught, but from the excitement of the pursuit, so with the quest of truth. You see this restlessness in the pursuit of religious as well as scientific truth. The inbred curiosity of the mind, which desires above all to know where it is precluded from knowledge, is the fruitful source of heresies and fantastic speculations.
(2) But is there nothing corresponding to this restless thirst? Is the mind to fret itself for ever and never reach the goal? Is there no highest truth in which the understanding may at length acquiesce? Not so. The Scriptures say that God is Light, and that in Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. When, therefore, man displays an insatiable desire to know, he should remind himself that God is its only satisfaction, and this Light is to be enjoyed, not by any painful straining of reason, but by entire submission of the will to God’s will.
2. Man craves after Infinite Good.
(1) This is attested
(a) By the mischievous excesses of intemperance. The instinct that prompts man to this is peculiar to him. There is nothing of it among the lower creatures. The real account of it is that by the constitution of his mind man thirsts after a good he finds in no created object. The instinct misdirected by the Fall, goes astray. Having a hungry spirit, he makes a desperate effort to extract from bodily enjoyments what may appease its cravings, but the body, like a people, is impoverished and enfeebled by excessive taxation.
(b) But there are more refined ways in which men endeavour to satisfy this craving. They seek preeminence of ability or position or wealth; the flattering speeches which are a sort of homage to superiority--how dear are these things to the soul! Not that the soul rests on them; having tasted them it immediately craves for new enjoyments, a wider reputation, a higher pre-eminence.
(c) The best of earthly good with which the spirit seeks to satisfy its thirst is human sympathy. It plants for itself a domestic and social paradise, but the trees, alas I like Jonah’s gourd, are apt to be smitten. And, independently of this, no mere natural affection can satisfy the craving for love.
(2) But the Creator can satisfy every craving. Do we long after a joyous exhilaration of the Spirit which shall tide us over our difficulties? “Be not drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit.” Do we thirst after esteem? Human esteem is but a taper; the real sunlight of the soul is the smile of
God’s approbation. Is pre-eminence our aim? He is the Fountain of Honour. Do we long for sympathy? He is Love.
II. DOES GOD DEPEND ON MAN? Yes, as a field of display for the Divine perfections. God longs to surround Himself with intelligent and joyous creatures to lavish on them the resources of His infinite goodness. Here we may catch a glimpse of the reason why evil was permitted. To be bounteous to creatures retaining their integrity is a very inadequate effect of God’s goodness. Mercy could never have poured itself forth, had there not been vessels of mercy to receive it. And vessels of mercy could never have existed had there been no transgression. We may therefore recognize between God and man a natural reciprocity. He is the only Being who can satisfy the deep wants of the soul. And from His intrinsic goodness He longs to satisfy them. (Dean Goulburn.)
Christ our fountain head
I. CHRIST THE CLOVEN ROCK.
1. The smitten rock. Moses smote and Christ was smitten to save a perishing people.
2. The spring of life flowing therefrom.
3. Its inexhaustible fulness (John 4:14). The spring in the desert is now dry.
4. Its wonderful adaptability. Tropical suns cannot evaporate it, nor Polar breezes freeze it. It is adapted to every climate, and wise and foolish, rich and poor, must drink and cleanse themselves here.
II. THE SINNER AND THE FOUNTAIN.
1. The sinner thirsts. Life is a desert, provoking craving for satisfaction.
2. His consciousness of it. Desire for higher, purer experiences will awake in every rational soul. Then do what he will he cannot reason it away.
3. Its evidences. Man’s endeavour to find rest somewhere; unnatural activity of mind and body; oft a desperate effort to drown the voice of God.
4. False waters.
(1) Wilful blindness.
(2) So-called innocent pleasures.
(3) Sinful indulgence--Marahs, or Dead Seas.
5. The thirst assuaged.
(1) By recognizing the terrible malady of sin.
(2) By confessing guilt.
(3) By coming to the fountain. The first draught allays the burning fever of the soul.
III. THE BELIEVER AND THE FOUNTAIN.
1. The disciple’s thirst. Every draught creates a new longing. He thirsts for a sanctified life, for Christian work, for victory over sin, for conformity to Christ.
2. His need for the fountain. Only near the fountain can he live and grow.
3. Its reflecting power. Here he learns to know himself; what he ought to be and what he is.
4. Its purifying power.
5. The visits to that fountain the thermometer of the Christian’s inner life. (H. Dosker.)
Come and drink
I. THE TIME. The last and great day of the feast when Israel’s joy, in appearance, was at the fullest, and when there seemed least need of any other joy.
II. THE PLACE. Jerusalem--the Temple. What need of anything else than what the Temple afforded: particularly through the teachings of this feast.
III. THE GIVER. The Son of God, and not merely a prophet, who knew what they needed, and what He had to give; Himself God’s own gift. To Himself He, as ever, turns their eye. “Come unto Me.” Feasts, altars, sacrifices, doctrines, ceremonies, were all vain.
IV. THE GIFT. Living water; the Holy Spirit; a gift sufficient to fill the soul of the emptiest, and to quench the thirst of the thirstiest, and then to overflow upon others. There are two gifts of God which stand alone in their priceless greatness--the gift of His Son and the gift of His Spirit.
V. THE PERSONS. Not heathen and irreligious, but religious Jews, engaged in Divine worship. Before it was to the Samaritan that He presented the living water. In Revelation 22:1-21. it is to Jew and Gentile alike. So also in Isaiah 55:1-13. But here the thirsty one is the Jew. His rites and feasts cannot quench his thirst, which calls for something more spiritual and Divine. So to those who frequent the sanctuary--who pray and praise outwardly--the Lord now speaks. External religiousness may help to pacify conscience, but it does not confer happiness. Only Christ can do that.
VI. THE LOVE. It is all love from first to last. In love Christ presents the full vessel of living water, and presses to their parched lips. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Christ’s call to thirsty souls
1. These are bold words, and they would be as false as bold if He who speaks them were no more than man. Shall a mere man presume to invite, not a small number for knowledge and sympathy--that we might understand--but the whole race for the satisfaction of their most vehement and spiritual ideas. The presumption would be as blasphemous as absurd. But He who thus speaks has a right to speak, and is conscious of it.
2. All human desire and need is expressed in the one word “thirst.” Consider the different kinds of thirst, and see how coming to Christ will satisfy them.
I. The lowest and commonest of all, the thirst for HAPPINESS.
1. A man may come with a desire which is not gracious, but simply natural, since every creature desires to be happy, and which is universal, since no man is perfectly satisfied, and drink the cooling waters of the gospel. Those who limit the invitation to the graciously thirsty undo the grace they seek to magnify, and take all the freeness from the gospel. The words “any man” shatter such a fancy in pieces. Let him come with the feeling he has. It may be inward disturbance, brooding fear, gnawing heart pain, weariness of disappointment, inner longing--whatever it be he is welcome.
2. If he does not see how Christ can be of any service let him trust Him as he would a man who has the credit of being trustworthy, so far as to try His specific. Two men once followed Jesus because they heard another speak well of Him. They did not know very well what they wanted, so they asked Him about His home. He gave an answer He is giving to all the thirsty, “Come and see.” They went, and never left Him more.
3. But coming so, a man soon begins to be conscious of higher desires.
II. Thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS. If the desire for happiness is to be fruitful it will and must take this form.
1. A moral creature can never be happy without rectitude. If a man has the feeling “let me be happy, but let me enjoy the pleasures of sin,” he either does not come or coming does not drink. The thirst therefore continues, and becomes a pain.
2. But to come to the righteous one is to see righteousness and to become conscious of unrighteousness.
3. Can I be right, and How? How can these stains be cleansed? Christ alone can answer these questions, and satisfy this great desire. His blood cleanses. His righteousness avails. It is to be in them as a principle as well as on them as a garment.
III. The thirst for LOVE--the love that shall love us, and the love that shall go out to those who love us. When this desire is fully aroused it will not rest until it finds Jesus Christ. It is but a little way when you can say, “He or she loves me,” “I am loved of husband, wife, parents, friends.” This will never satisfy an immortal nature. Take the earthly love that is good and pure. It is the gift of God. Rut that you may have that faculty fully developed take first the love that passest knowledge.
IV. There is a thirst profounder and vaster which Christ alone can satisfy--the thirst for LIFE. The others may be traced back to this. It is the deep organic desire which has been implanted by its Author for its perpetuation. Every man has it. The shrinking from annihilation is instinctive. Out towards the realm of life it stretches imploring hands. But where? Reason cannot demonstrate its existence; imagination cannot find it in her loftiest flight. Philosophy says, “You give me no data, and I can give you no conclusion.” Ah, yes! no data; for the departed never return. And yet we thirst for them; and, if we are Christians, we are sure we shall see them again. But how? By His word who is the Life, and drinking of Him we live indeed. “Any man.” That is you. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
I. MAN AS A THIRSTY CREATURE. Every man thirsts.
The soul’s thirst satisfied in Jesus
1. Constitutionally. Not as accidentally excited, but as made by God to thirst. It is in our nature to thirst.
(1) For life. In deep sorrow we may cry, “O that Thou wouldst hide me in the grave!” In unrest we may say, “I would not live alway.” With heaven opened, we may desire to depart and be with Christ. But Satan spake truly, “All that a man hath will he give for his life.”
(2) For pleasure; according to our idea of felicity and our capacity for bliss. Man is not naturally a lover of misery.
(3) For activity. Men are net naturally lazy.
(4) For society. The results of the solitary system in our prisons show that the desire for association is constitutional.
(5) For knowledge. The subjects upon which we seek information vary; but all men desire to know.
(6) For power, from the moment in which we seize and shake the rattle to the hour in which we dispose of our property.
(7) For the esteem and love of others.
(8) For the possession of objects of beauty.
(9) For God. That this thirst is natural is proved by the fact that religion of some kind is universal. There is not a nation of Atheists.
2. There are derived thirsts, dependent upon the particular condition of the individual, and grafted on the natural thirst. Thus a desire for wealth may arise from a thirst for enjoyment, or power, or honour, or social connections. A thirst for freedom may arise from desire for activity, and for religious unity by desire for religious enjoyment. Any natural thirst creates others.
3. The natural, and many of the artificial, thirsts would have existed had man kept his first estate; but the entrance of sin has produced depraved thirsts. Sin itself is a morbid thirst, and actual sin is the offspring of such thirst (James 1:14-15). Covetousness, envy, etc., are depraved thirsts.
4. The return of man to God and his salvation by Christ involve new thirsts. There is the thirst
(1) Of the quickened spirit for particular religious knowledge.
(2) Of the penitent for pardon.
(3) Of the new born for righteousness.
(4) Of the child of God for being filled with all the fulness of God.
5. There are a few facts connected with these thirsts that we may not overlook.
(1) Those thirsts which are natural cannot be evil in themselves; and those which, being artificial, are lawful expansions of the natural are equally good.
(2) The influence of our thirsts is most extensive and important. In some cases our thirst is a ruling passion; but in all cases they govern thought, prompt the imagination, affect the judgment, awaken or quiet the emotions, guide the will, lead to action, and form our characters.
(3) Most potent, therefore, are they. A man is raised or cast down, destroyed or built up by his thirsts.
(4) When a man is sick, he needs not medicine irrespective of its nature, but the specific for his particular disease. Poisoned food is more dangerous than continued hunger. He is blessed, not whose thirsts are for the moment slaked, but whose thirsts are slaked at Divine fountains.
II. JESUS CHRIST AS THE FOUNTAIN OF SUPPLY. Take the invitation in connection
1. With our lawful natural thirsts. We thirst
(1) For continued life, and Jesus says, “Come unto Me and drink” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22; John 11:25-26).
(2) For activity, and Jesus says, “Come,” etc. (John 14:12).
(3) For enjoyment, and Christ gives joy in every gift, and promises it in every promise, and makes every duty its instrument (Matthew 5:1-8; John 16:24; 1 Peter 1:8).
(4) For power, and Jesus makes His disciples the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and kings and priests unto God.
(5) For society, and Christ satisfies it (Hebrews 12:22-23).
(6) For the love of others, and Christ directs streams of kindness to every one who comes to Him by means of His new commandment (John 13:34-35).
(7) For knowledge, and Jesus is Himself the Truth, in the knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life (John 17:3).
(8) For God, and He manifests God’s name to us, and shows us the Father.
2. If we here speak of depraved tastes, it must be to say that they who thirst morbidly cannot come to Christ and drink; but they may come to Him and be cured of their evil craving. As the thirst of a fever may be removed by a physician, so sinful thirsts may be removed by our Saviour.
3. The thirsts of the returning prodigal and repentant sinner are specially recognized in these words (Psalms 51:8-9Psalms 51:8-9; Luke 18:18; Mark 5:34Mark 5:34; John 8:11).
4. All the thirsts of the God-born spirit are here recognized.
Conclusion: From these words
1. We might preach humanity, and show what is in man. We might exhibit him as a dependent, receptive, desiring being; that he is not like his Maker, self-sufficient.
2. But we will rather preach Christ. Here we see
(1) The knowledge which He had of human nature. He knew the thirsts of the multitude in whose midst He spake.
(2) His recognition of all that pertains to man. His words and works meet most entirely all human needs. They are not like flowers given to the starving,.or gauze raiment to the naked in winter; but like bread to the hungry and clothes to the beggar.
(3) But what must be the resources of one who is justified in speaking thus? Can any individual be a fountain of supply to every man? There is One continually named by the sacred writers who is a Sun, Fire, Door, Rock, Bread, Fountain. To Him, who can be represented by these figures, any man may surely come and drink. No creature imparts all, or even many, kinds of good; but God is the spring of all that is beneficial, and Christ is the manifested God. To how few of our thirsty fellows can any of us say, “Come to me and drink”? But Jesus says that, and standing in the centre of all time, as in the midst of all men. Did we need proof of the Deity of Jesus Christ we have it here.
(4) But what shall we say of His love? “Any man.” The man may be Atheist or idolater, broken-hearted because all his cisterns are broken, be conscious that he deserves only to die with thirst; yet Jesus means him.
(5) But the thirsty have to come. The sole condition is coming, and the only limit to the ministrations of the Saviour is our receptivity. (S. Martin.)
Man’s thirst quenched by Christ
1. An artist once painted a famous picture for an altar-piece, and called it the Fountain of Life. It represents the Sacrificed Redeemer stretched in His mother’s arms. From the rock beneath their feet flow the abundant waters of salvation, which are received into a great cistern. Saints, martyrs, apostles, evangelists, are drinking of the water, or filling their vases and handing them to each other. From the cistern flows a stream into a lower place, where a family of poor, humble people are drinking with grateful looks. Then the stream flows away among meadows, where the little children can reach it, and they are taking up the precious water in their tiny hands, and drinking it with smiling lips. We can all see the meaning of that picture, which tells us that the salvation of Jesus is for all who will accept it, high and low, young and old, rich and poor. (H. J. W. Buxton.)
Christ’s satisfactions full and real
Not like a shallow brook, that runs in winter and is dry in summer; but a fountain that the frost never binds, and that the hot, thirsty day never drinks dry, that is ever full and ever flowing. In the regions of the burning desert they tell me that skeletons lie thick, not only in the paths to the fountains, but lie ghastly white and withering, with the naked skulls looking over the banks into the very waters. With the tongue cleaving to the roof of the mouth, they press on, guided by the green pasture that lifts its head above the sand, and shows where the fountain is. They drank the water in anticipation, but will they reach it? Alas! with what horror in their eyes they gaze on the empty bed, and fight with man and beast for some muddy drops that but exasperate their thirst! The desert whirls around them; they stagger, they fall; hope expires, and they expire themselves; and by and by the sky drops, lightnings flash, thunders peal, and rain pours down, and the water rises in that fountain, and plays in mockery with the tresses of dead beauty, and kisses the faces of the dead. Such things happen. But see you yen cross standing up yonder? It marks a fountain where never man went in vain. No dead souls lie around that cross. Calvary was once a Golgotha--a “place of skulls.” It is so no longer. Where men once went to die, men now go to live; and a man never went for mercy there, and for grace to help, and found none. There is now in America a great revival; there was in my own country a great revival. God send us all such revivals I In every church and every country there are times and seasons of revival, when the peace of believers is like a river in glorious flood, rolling beneath bank and ridge; like the sea in a storm, when it sends its waters beyond its common bounds, and overflows the boats that lie highest and driest on the beach. But at all times and in all seasons, I say, that if you will search you will find fulness of mercy to pardon and “grace to help in time of need.” The supply, in fact, is inexhaustible. I know mountains have been exhausted of their gold, mines of their diamonds, and the depths of ocean of their pearly gems; but the riches of mercy and of grace in Christ are inexhaustible. They are no less to you than to those who went before you, and there will be no less for those who come after you; and when unborn millions have come, and the world’s last man, with a dying sun above him add a reeling earth beneath him, comes up to that blessed Fountain, oh! he will find it as full as it is this day, in its fulness inviting you to wash and be clean, to drink and live, to believe and be forgiven. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
He that believeth on Me
I. THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT IS INTIMATELY CONNECTED WITH THE WORK OF CHRIST. It is a great pity when persons preach the Holy Spirit’s work so as to obscure the work of Christ--e.g., by holding up before the sinner’s eye the inward experience of believers, instead of lifting up the crucified Saviour, to whom we must look and live. It is an equal pity when Christ is so preached that the Holy Spirit is ignored, as if faith in Christ prevented the necessity of the new birth. The two works are so joined together that
1. The Holy Spirit was not given until Jesus was glorified. The original has it simply “was not.” Of course this does not mean that He was nonexistent, for He is eternal; but that He was not in fellowship with man to the full extent He now is, and could not be till the redeeming work of Christ was finished. You read of the prophets, etc., that the Spirit of the Lord came upon them and moved them, but He did not dwell in them. His operations were a coming and a going. They knew not the “communion of the Holy Ghost.” But since Christ’s glorification, the Spirit is in His people, and abides with them for ever.
2. The Holy Spirit was given after the ascension of Christ unto His glory, to make that ascension more renowned. “When He ascended on high … He gave gifts to men.” Those gifts were men in whom the Spirit dwelt, and who preached the gospel to the nations. The shedding of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the glorification of the risen Christ upon earth. What grander celebration could there have been?
3. The Holy Spirit was given as an evidence of our Divine Master’s acceptance, the gift being a consequence of Christ’s finished work.
4. It is the Spirit’s work to bear witness of Jesus. “He shall take of Mine.” Hence He comes to convince of sin, to reveal the sacrifice for sin; of righteousness, that we may see the righteousness of Christ; of judgment, that we may be prepared to meet the Judge. He has not come, and never will, to teach a new Gospel.
5. It is by the gospel of Jesus that the Spirit works in the hearts of men. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
6. The Spirit’s work is to conform us to the likeness of Christ, not to this or that human ideal.
7. Evermore it is for the glory of Jesus that the Spirit works--not for the glory of a church, or a sect, or a man “He shall glorify Me.”
II. THE HOLY SPIRIT’S OPERATIONS ARE OF MARVELLOUS POWER. They are
1. Inward. The rivers are to flow out of the midst of a man, from his heart and soul, not from his mouth; the promised power is not oratory, talent, show.
2. Life-giving “living water.” When the man speaks, prays, acts, there shall be going out of him emanations which are full of the life of grace and godliness.
3. Plentiful Not a river, but “rivers.”
4. Spontaneous. “Shall flow.” No pumping is required--the man does not want exciting and stirring up. Does the sun make a noise that men may be aware of his rising? No, he shines and says nothing about it. So does the Christian.
5. Perpetual: not like intermittent springs.
III. THESE OPERATIONS ARE EASILY OBTAINED.
1. By believing in Jesus. It is faith which gives us the first drink and causes us to live, and the more abundant blessing of being ourselves made fountains come in the same way. With Christ is the residue of the Spirit.
2. By prayer. “If ye being evil,” etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christians are not ponds, but spring-heads
I have heard of William Gadsby, that, travelling on a coach one day, he asked two heretical divines to tell him how a sinner is justified in the sight of God. “No,” said they, “you don’t catch us is that fashion. Whatever answer we gave you would be repeated all over Manchester within a week.” “Oh,” he says, “then I will tell you. A sinner is justified in the sight of God by faith in the blood and righteousness of Christ. Go and tell that all over Manchester and all over England as quickly as you like; for I believe nothing that I am ashamed of.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Believers are springs of living water
One summer day, a few years ago, strolling for rest and pleasure near the mouth of the Columbia river, where there is a large rise and fall of the tide, I came, at low tide, upon a splendid spring of pure, fresh water, clear as crystal, gushing up from between the rocks that two hours before had formed a part of the river’s bed. Twice a day the soiled tides rise above that beautiful fountain and cover it over; but there it is, deep down under the salt tide, and when the tide has spent its force and gone back again to the ocean’s depths, it sends out its pure waters fresh and clear as before. So if the human heart be really a fountain of love to Christ it will send out its streams of fresh, sweet waters, even into the midst of the salt tides of politics or business. And the man who carries such a fountain into the day’s worry and struggle, will come again at night, when the world’s tide has spent its force, with clean hands, sweet spirit and conscience void of offence towards God and man. (Sunday School Chronicle.)
Believers have a perennial spring within them
The Christian has a fens perennis within him. He is satisfied from himself. The men of the world borrow all their joy from without. Joy wholly from without is false, precarious, and short. Like gathered flowers, though fair and sweet for a season, it must soon wither and become offensive. Joy from within is like smelling the moss on the tree, it is more sweet and fair, and I must add that it is immortal. (H. G. Salter.)
As the Scripture hath said.
The reference is not to any one isolated passage, but to the general tenor of such passages as Isaiah 58:11;Zechariah 14:18, taken in connection with the original image Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11). (Bp. Westcott.)
Out of His belly shall flow rivers of living water
Water an emblem of the Spirit
Why has He called the grace of the Spirit by the name of water? Because by water all things subsist; because of water are herbs and animals created; because the water of the showers comes down from heaven; because it comes down one in form, yet manifold in its working. For one fountain watered the whole of the garden Genesis 2:10), and one and the same rain comes down upon all the world; yet it becomes white in the lily, and red in the rose, and purple in the violets and pansies, and different and varied in each several kind; so it is one in the palm tree, and another in the vine, and all in all things; being the while one in nature, not diverse from itself; for the rain does not change, when it comes down, first as one thing, then as another, but adapting itself to the nature of each thing, which receives it, it becomes to each what is suitable. Thus also the Holy Ghost being One, and of one Nature, and undivided, divides to each His grace “according as He will,” and in the name of Christ works many excellencies. For He employs the tongue of one man for wisdom; the soul of another He enlightens by prophecy; to another He gives power to drive away devils; to another He gives power to interpret the Divine Scriptures. He invigorates one man’s self-command; He teaches another the way to give alms; another He teaches to fast and exercise himself; another He teaches to despise the things of the body; another He trains for martyrdom: diverse in different men, yet not diverse from Himself (John 5:4John 5:4; 1 Corinthians 12:11). (S. Cyril.)
The abundance and vitality of the Spirit’s operations
Rivers, not river, to show the copious and overflowing power of grace; and living water, i.e., always moving; for when the grace of the Spirit has entered into and settled in the mind, it flows freer than any fountain, and neither fails, nor empties, nor stagnates. The wisdom of Stephen, the tongue of Peter, the strength of Paul, are evidences of this. Nothing hindered them; but like impetuous torrents they went on, carrying everything along with them. (Chrysostom.)
Diversity of the Holy Spirit’s operations
There is one Spirit, but divers operations; one fountain, many rivers. Moses mighty” in miracle, Isaiah glorious in prophecy, apostles convincing in eloquence, Paul powerful in reasoning. A Howard for benevolence, a Luther for reformation, a Calvin for theology, a Huss and a Jerome for martyrs. No place having one believer is without a living well. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
The Holy Ghost was not yet given.--The addition of the word “given” expresses the true form of the original, in which “Spirit” is without the article. When the term occurs in this form, it marks an operation or manifestation, no gift of the Spirit, and not the personal Spirit (comp. John 20:22John 20:22; Matthew 12:28Matthew 12:28; Luke 1:15; Luke 1:35; Luke 1:41; Luke 1:67; Luke 2:25; Luke 4:1). (Bp. Westcott.)
“Because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (comp. John 16:7; John 20:17). The necessary limitations of Christ’s historical presence with the disciples excluded that realization of His abiding presence which followed on the Resurrection. It is impossible not to contrast the righteousness of this utterance with the clear teaching of St. John himself on the “unction” of believers (1 John 2:20, etc.), which forms a commentary gained by later experience upon the words of our Lord. (Bp. Westcott.)
The fulness of the Spirit the gift of the glorified Christ
The Holy Ghost was not yet with men in such fulness of influence on their minds, hearts, and understandings, as the Spirit of adoption and revelation, as He was after our Lord ascended up into heaven. It is as clear as daylight, from our Lord’s language about the Spirit, in John 16:7-15John 16:7-15, that believers were meant to receive a far more full and complete outpouring of the Holy Spirit after His ascension than they had received before. It is a simple matter of fact, indeed, that after the Ascension the apostles were quite different men from what they had been before. They both saw, and spoke, and acted like men grown up, while before the Ascension they had been like children. It was this increased light and knowledge and decision that made them such a blessing to the world, far more than any miraculous gifts. The possession of the gifts of the Spirit, it is evident, in the early Church was quite compatible with an ungodly heart. A man might speak with tongues and yet be like salt that had lost its savour. The possession of the fulness of the graces of the Spirit, on the contrary, was that which made any man a blessing to the world. (Bp. Ryle.)
The glorification of Christ
This is the first distinct reference to the glorification of our Lord. The conception is characteristic of this Gospel John 1:14; John 2:11), and includes in one complex whole the Passion with the triumph which followed. Thus St. John regards Christ’s death as a victory (John 12:32), following the words of our Lord, who identified the hour of His death with the hour of His glorification (John 12:23, etc.). In accordance with the same thought, Christ spoke of Himself as already “glorified” when Judas had gone forth to his work (John 13:31); and so He had already received His glory by the faith of His disciples before He suffered (John 17:10). In another aspect His glory followed after His withdrawal from earth (John 17:5; John 16:14).:By the use of this phrase the Evangelist brings out clearly the absolute Divine unity of the work of Christ in His whole “manifestation” (1 John 3:5; 1 John 3:8; 1 John 1:2), which he does not (as St. Paul) regard as distinct stages of humiliation and exaltation. (Bp. Westcott.)
The Holy Spirit must be received by us
The sea enters into the rivers before the rivers can enter into the sea. In like manner God comes to us before we can go to Him, and heaven enters into our souls before we can enter into heaven. (Drelincourt.)
The Holy Spirit sustains the inward life of believers
Grace in the saints is not like light in the sun, that springs from itself, but like the light of a lamp that is constantly fed with supplies of oil, otherwise the weak light will faint and die. (H. G. Salter.)
Many of the people, therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet
Christ the Prophet
I. HIS FITNESS AS A PROPHET.
1. Foretold (Deuteronomy 18:15; John 1:45).
2. Typified (Deuteronomy 18:18; Acts 3:22).
3. Anointed (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:17-21).
4. Competent (Matthew 11:17; John 3:2; John 3:34).
5. Faithful (John 8:26; John 8:28; John 12:49-50).
6. Wise (Luke 2:52Luke 2:52; Colossians 2:3).
7. Mighty (Matthew 13:54; Luke 4:32).
8. Meek (Matthew 11:29; Matthew 12:17-20).
9. Sympathetic (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15).
II. HIS TREATMENT AS A PROPHET.
1. Rejected by His own people (John 1:11).
2. Rejected at His own home (Luke 4:28-30).
3. Rejected before Pilate (John 18:39-40).
4. Followed by multitudes (Matthew 5:1; John 6:2).
5. Believed by many (John 4:41-42; John 17:8).
6. Trusted by some (Acts 7:59; 2 Timothy 1:12).
7. Commended by some (John 1:26-27; John 1:45).
8. All should hear (Deuteronomy 18:18Deuteronomy 18:18; Hebrews 2:2-3).
9. All should trust Him (Psalms 37:5; 1 Peter 5:7).
III. His LESSONS AS A PROPHET.
1. On sinfulness (John 3:18-19; John 15:22).
2. On salvation (John 3:16; John 5:24).
3. On judgment (Matthew 25:31-32).
4. On reward (John 6:47; Matthew 25:34).
5. On penalty (Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:46).
6. On heaven (John 14:2-3; Matthew 22:30).
7. On victory (Luke 12:32; Matthew 10:22). This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him Matthew 17:5). (Sunday School Times.)
Christ the cause of division
Even when Jesus preached so sweetly His meek and loving doctrine there was a division among the people (John 7:43). Even about Himself there was a schism. We may not, therefore, hope to please everybody, however true our teaching or peaceful our spirit.
I. THERE WAS A DIVISION AMONG THE NEW DISCIPLES. We may view the parties formed in His day as symbolical of those in our own.
1. Some admitted none of His claims.
2. Others admitted a portion, but denied the rest.
3. Certain admitted His claims, but neglected to follow out the legitimate consequences of them.
4. A few became sincere hearers, going as far with Him as they had yet learned of Him. Let us view persons who have thoughts about Jesus with considerable hope. Though they blunder now, they may yet come right. Let us not frighten away the birds with imprudent haste. Let us pray for those who deny His claims, and resist His kingdom. Let us aid those who come a little way towards the truth, and are willing to go all the way if they can but find it. Let us arouse those who neglect holy subjects altogether,
II. THERE WAS A DIVISION OF BELIEVERS FROM NON-BELIEVERS. This is a great and wide difference, and the more clearly the division is seen the better; for God views it as very deep and all-im- portant. There is a great division at this present hour
1. In opinion; especially as to the Lord Jesus.
2. In trust; many rely on self; only the godly on Jesus.
3. In love. Differing pleasures and aims prove that hearts go after different objects.
4. In obedience, character, and language.
5. In development, growth, tendency.
6. In destiny. The directions of the lines of life point at different places as the end of the journey. This cleavage divides the dearest friends and relatives. This is the most real and deep difference in the world.
III. YET WHEN FAITH COMES, UNITY IS PRODUCED. There is unity among the people because of Him.
1. Nationalities are blended. Calvary heals Babel.
(1) Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ.
(2) The near and the far-off as to spiritual things are brought nigh in Him, who is the one and only centre of grace and truth.
(3) Believers of all nationalities become one Church.
2. Personal peculiarities cease to divide.
(1) Workers for Christ are sure to be blended in one body by their common difficulties.
(2) Position, rank, and wealth give way before the uniting influence of grace.
3. Mental specialities feel the touch of unity. Saints
(1) of varying creeds have an essential union in Christ;
(2) of all the changing ages are alike in Him;
(3) of all styles of education are one in Him;
(4) in heaven will be many as the waves, but one as the sea.
Ambitions, which else would disintegrate, are overcome, and laid at Jesus’ feet. Let us divide, if there be a division. Let us closely unite, if there be real union in Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Division of feeling and opinion about Christ
Here we see our words literally fulfilled. He did not bring “peace, but division” (Luke 12:51). It will always be so as long as the world stands. So long as human nature is corrupt Christ will be a cause of division and difference among men. To some He is a savour of life, and to others of death. Grace and nature never will agree any more than oil and water, acid and alkali. A state of entire quiet, and the absence of any religious division, is often no good sign of the condition of a Church or a parish. It may even be a symptom of spiritual disease and death. The question may possibly be needful in such cases, “Is Christ there?” (Bp. Ryle.)
We often speak of the great changes and revolutions which have occurred in the world. But through the long series there may be traced much that is permanent, so that probably uniformity is as truly the characteristic of human history as variety. It may, e.g., be always ascertained that the same principles have pervaded God’s moral government. It may also be perceived that the elements of human character have throughout been the same. Our text, relating as it does opinions of the Jews regarding our Lord, will give us opportunities of observing this sameness in particular cases. We may be compelled to say that men are what they were eighteen hundred years back, on discovering that modern indifference and unbelief borrows from ancient its form and apology.
I. The first parties introduced are THOSE DISPOSED TO RECOGNIZE CHRIST AS A TEACHER SENT FROM GOD.
1. The cause of this conviction was not any action of Christ’s, but a “saying” of His. Then surely the saying must have been one of extraordinary power, some assertion of Divinity, or some verification in Himself of ancient prophecy too complete and striking to be resisted. No; the wonder-working saying was that of John 7:37, which the Evangelist thought so obscure as to require an explanation. Yet simple as it seems to us and dark as it seemed to St. John, it succeeded at once in wringing the confession that He was a Divinely-sent Teacher.
2. The saying is one of those gracious invitations into which are gathered the whole gospel. It demands a sense of want, a feeling of thirst, but proffers an abundant supply, and by adding a reference to Scripture, which could only be interpreted of some measure of supernatural influence, our Lord intimated that His promise was a spiritual gift, satisfying desires after God and immortality.. Here is the moral thirst which is not to be slaked at the springs of human science and theology. And as there must have been many in the crowd dissatisfied with the traditions of the elders, and feeling a need of higher teaching, the promise would come home as meeting their wants, and the suitableness of the offer would pass as an argument for Christ’s Divine mission.
3. There is no difference here between past days and our own, for the argument is but that based on the self-evidencing power of the Bible. A religion may commend itself either by prodigies wrought in its support, or by the nicety, with which it fits in to the mental and moral constitution, to the wants and cravings of a soul which sought in vain everywhere else for supply. And this latter is the standing witness for the Bible. The sinner, conscious of exposure to the wrath of God, and of inability to ward off destruction, will find in Christ the Saviour he needs, and in the aid of the Spirit the help he wants, so that there will seem to him no room for doubt as to the truth of the gospel.
II. Mix again with the crowd and hearken to SOME OTHER OPINIONS.
1. Those who are inclined to conclude that Jesus is the long promised Christ, find themselves met with objections, formidable because professedly grounded on Scripture (verse 42). There is no attempt to depreciate Christ’s teaching, but there was a fatal argument deduced from prophecy which has expressly fixed the birthplace and lineage of Christ. But this is one of the most surprising instances of ignorance or inattention, if we may go no further. It is hardly possible to imagine a fact more readily ascertainable than that our Lord was born at Bethlehem, and was of the lineage of David; for the massacre of the innocents had made His birth so conspicuous, and now there was no one left but our Lord who could prove Himself to have been born at Bethlehem on the expiration of Daniel’s week of years. Therefore either He was the Messiah, or prophecy had failed. Yet so great was the popular indifference or prejudice, that a statement seems to have gone uncontradicted that the pretended Messiah was a Galilean. He passed as “Jesus of Nazareth,” and this was proof that He was not born in Bethlehem; and men were so glad of some specious excuse for rejecting Him, that they made this shallow falsehood a pretext for rejecting Him. It looked very fine to have Scripture on their side; the devil used the Bible in tempting Christ, and they could now use it in justifying their unbelief. The
“Sword of the Spirit,” like every other, may be used for suicide as well as for war.
2. The like of this is of frequent occurrence amongst ourselves. What is that scepticism which is often met with among the boastful and young? Is it the result of careful investigation? No. The fashionable young man, the orator at some juvenile literary club, gets hold of some objection against Christianity which has a specious sound and formidable look--all the better if it come out of the Bible, in the shape of an alleged contradiction and this is enough; he has his “Shall Christ come out of Galilee?” and with so decisive an argument, why should he trouble to search further? This is our quarrel with him. He wishes to continue deceived. The sceptic, like the Jew, has only to look around him and he would find that Jesus did not come out of Galilee, but out of Bethlehem. God suffered infants to be slain that Jewish unbelief might be inexcusable, and He has raised up giants in His Church whose writings render modern unbelief the same. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The wonderful nature of Christ’s teaching
His mode of speaking is like that of a prince, who, having been educated in a splendid court, could speak with ease of many magnificent things, at the sudden view of which a peasant would be swallowed up in astonishment, and would find himself greatly embarrassed in an attempt to explain them to his equals at home. (P. Doddridge, D. D.)
Then came the officers.--It is not clear what interval of time elapsed between John 7:32, where we read that the officers were sent by the priests to take our Lord, and the present verse, where we are told of their coming back to their Master. At first sight, of course, it all happened in one day. Yet, if we observe that between the sending them to take our Lord and the present verse there comes in the remark- able verse, “In the last day, that great day of the feast,” it seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that an interval of two or three days must have elapsed. It seems highly probable that the officers had a general commission and warrant to take our Lord prisoner, whenever they saw a fitting opportunity, about the fourth day of the feast. They found, however, no opportunity, on account of the temper and spirit of the crowd, and dared not make the attempt. And at last, at the end of the feast, when the multitude was even more aroused than at first by our Lord’s open testimony, they were obliged to return to those who sent them, and confess their inability to carry out their orders. (Bp. Ryle.)
The return of the bailiffs
I. THE MAJESTY OF JESUS CONFESSED (John 7:47). One almost wishes that the officers had been more specific. Perhaps it was the same qualities that had affected Christ’s listeners from the first.
1. Openness (John 7:26). No greatness, criticism, danger, daunted Him. Before the hierarchs (John 18:20), the hostile mob (John 18:5), and Pilate (John 18:33), He was ever the same resolute and outspoken preacher of the truth.
2. Authority. There was not a solitary realm in which He did not reign supreme--the kingdom of nature (Matthew 8:26; Matthew 14:32), the world of humanity (Matthew 8:8), the empire of devils (Mark 1:27; Luke 4:36),the region of the dead (Matthew 9:25; Luke 7:15; John 11:44), the innermost domain of the conscience (John 8:9).
3. Graciousness (Luke 4:22).
II. THE FRIENDS OF JESUS SILENCED.
1. The bailiffs rebuked (John 7:47-49). They were reminded that they were only menials, who had no right to think, etc.; hearing which, no doubt, crestfallen, they slunk away; let us hope rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for Him (Acts 5:41) and following up the favourable impression.
2. Nicodemus put down (John 7:50-52). The Sanhedrists could not frown at him as ignorant of the law (John 7:51), but they could sneer at his sympathy with the Galilean Preacher, and stopped his mouth by delicately hinting that he was growing old and did not know his bible as accurately as he should (John 7:52). Exactly so have Christ’s champions in all ages been treated.
III. THE ENEMIES OF CHRIST HARDENED. The hierarchs, determined on Christ’s removal, are henceforth impervious to everything advanced in His favour. The light that was in them became darkness. Lessons:
1. The power of Christ’s words over honest and sincere hearts.
2. The doctrine of Christ an argument for His divinity.
3. The superior religious instincts of the masses as distinguished from the classes.
4. The certainty that Christ and His cause will never lack defenders.
5. The downward course of those who wilfully oppose Christ. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Opposition to the truth
I. GENERALLY SERVES TO ELICIT THE MOST IMPORTANT TESTIMONY IN ITS BEHALF. The officers could have no possible interest in Christ, but were, if anything, prejudiced against Him. Hence their testimony was disinterested. It was
1. To the justice of His claims as a Divine messenger. Unless aided by Divine influence, there was the difficulty the Jews themselves started (John 7:15).
2. To the earnest persuasiveness of His manner. He spoke the truth, but in love. He concealed nothing to soften prejudice, but clothed warnings, etc., so as to win conviction (John 7:46).
3. To the force of His reasoning on conscience. What but this could have induced the officers to risk disapproval?
II. GENERALLY IGNORES MAN’S RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS BELIEF (John 7:48). We are told that we are not competent to judge for ourselves, and therefore should believe what our superiors bid. Some submit from indolence; others for the sake of a good appearance, “willing to be damned for fashion’s sake, and to go to hell out of compliment to the scribes and Pharisees”; others from policy. How is it that so many of the great ones are arrayed against the truth? Because
1. It is independent of their patronage.
2. It is indifferent to their prejudices.
3. It promises no worldly rewards. Hold to your personal responsibility.
III. Is ESPECIALLY CAREFUL TO CONSERVE ADVENTITIOUS DISTINCTION (John 7:48-49). Truth is levelling in its influence. It debases the great and exalts the humble. It destroys caste. Error, on the other hand, preserves it, for it is essential to its continuance.
IV. FREQUENTLY CALLS OUT THE SYMPATHIES OF ITS SECRET DISCIPLES (John 7:50). If we resolve never to do less for Christ than Nicodemus did, we shall be of service. Whatever we are not able to do, we can prevent a vote of censure on Christ unanimously.
V. IS GENERALLY MARKED BY RIDICULE INSTEAD OF ARGUMENT (John 7:52). This method is often successful, or it would not be employed. Truth revolts from levity.
VI. IS GENERALLY CONDUCTED IN VIOLATION OF EVEN ITS SELFCONSTITUTED STANDARDS. These men, who professed to go by the law and sneered at the people as ignorant of it, were themselves convicted of violating it (Deuteronomy 19:15-18).
VII. WILL FINALLY BE SILENCED AND OVERCOME. The assembly, unable to answer Nicodemus, broke up with every mark of haste and confusion. (J. W. L. M.)
The officers answered, Never man spake like this man
Our Lord’s ministry was now nearly completed; the effects of His example and preaching were so manifesting themselves that the Sanhedrim had become desperate. The prey was about to slip from their grasp, and they must either lose their position or silence the Preacher. They accordingly sent their officers to apprehend Him. They were accustomed to obey such orders, and were selected because naturally possessed of more firmness than sensibility, and because the more insensible by having practised the duties of their office. Like other Jews, they had heard much preaching by their rabbis, and therefore expected to find a ranter. The idea they had must have been that the apprehension cf a fanatical preacher, disturbing the public peace, would be an easy task, and rather a pastime. So they may have gone jocularly on from street to street until they had come to the immense multitudes gathered in and around the Temple celebrating the feast of tabernacles. But the chief interest of that multitude seems to radiate from the vast circumference to Christ as its centre. They press through the throng, and approach the hallowed spot. But what checks their rude steps? Why do they not advance to seize their prey, please their masters, and secure an extra fee? They are confounded, not with fear, but with amazement, reverence, and an unwonted human sympathy. There He stands, incarnate Deity! No fierceness of a mob leader is seen in Him, no cringing to formidable enemies, no caressing the populace. He stands alone and lofty in the meek dignity of a descended God. And they might first have said, “Never man looked like that man.” But they felt the attractive force of the very power that disarmed them. There was a presence that annihilated the authority of Sanhedrims; there was a manifest virtue that acquitted Him at the bar of their consciences.
And before it they laid down their vile commission, and joined the devout and admiring hearers. This added to their wonder and reverence. Surely Moses never spake more according to the mind of God. Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, never spake with more authority than this man. He is a prophet of the living God; and surely the elders of Israel never intended to arrest such a man; and they returned, not with a prisoner, but with a nolle-prosequi, a report that there was no ground of arrest. “Never man spake like this man.” (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
Similar but contrasted incidents
Plutarch mentions it as a memorable proof of the extraordinary eloquence of Mark Antony, that, when soldiers were sent to kill him, he pleaded for his life in such affecting language that he totally disarmed them of their resolution, and melted them into tears. But these officers are vanquished, not by the forcible arguments of a man pleading for his life, but by hearing one of the ordinary discourses of our Lord, not particularly directed to them, but to the people at large. (G. Burder.)
In the troublous times that closed the great Republic, amongst the men that arose and made themselves masters of the world there was hardly a greater than Caius Marius. The conqueror of Jugurtha, the conqueror of the Cimbri, he was looked upon as the shield and sword of Rome. Six times he sought and six times he obtained the consulship, and bid fair to die as he had lived, the ruthless lord of the eternal city. But God decreed otherwise. A rival appeared upon the scene, and after chequered fortunes Marius had to fly. In the romance of his wanderings we read that he was once put on shore unattended and unarmed. He was seized and flung into prison, and an edict came from Rome that he must die. A Gaulish slave was sent to the dungeon to do the deed. Marius, sitting in a gloomy corner of the prison, with his bloodshot eyes glared on the man, and with his terrible voice demanded, “Canst thou kill Caius Marius?” And the slave, fearing the prisoner more than the gaoler or the judge, flung down his sword and fled away, crying, “I cannot kill Caius Marius.” Put side by side with this story of a sanguinary life the incident of the life the most submissive and self-denying the world has ever seen, and the very likeness of the latter will make the unlikeness of the spirit greater. In both murder was meant. In both the presence and words of the intended victim postponed the murder. In both the assailants turned craven. But the shield that turned the edge of their sword in the one case was terrific rage, in the other placid mercy. (J. B.Figgis, M. A.)
“Never man spake like this man”
1. Jesus was a popular preacher. The synagogue was full when He spoke, and men went out in crowds into the fields to listen to Him.
2. He was a powerful preacher. Extraordinary changes of character were wrought by His sermons. The tax-gatherer left his money.changing and the fisherman his boats to follow Him. All classes were affected by it, from the most cultured and religious to the most abandoned.
3. Whatever theory men may have respecting His person, there can be no doubt that the world has been revolutionized by His teaching. What, then, were the elements of His power?
(1) He spoke to the common in their vernacular, using illustrations from common life, but He never descended from the high place of a noble instructor. The demagogue flatters the prejudices and appeals to the passions of his audience, but Jesus never did this.
(2) He used no arts of elocution. Men did not flock to Him as they flock to an actor. He told them stories, hut they were simple stories, and not dramatically, for He taught sitting.
(3) Nor did He use the arts of rhetoric. He employed no ornament for the sake of ornament. You find nothing that could be called out and recited.
(4) There are no literary classics in His sermons. His was not the power which comes from scholastic learning or position. Men have shrugged their shoulders at lay preaching, but Christ was a lay preacher who had never graduated and become a Rabbi. His style was simple and transparent. Sometimes the waters are so deep that one cannot see the bottom, but they are never muddy.
4. We must look elsewhere for the sources of the eloquence of Jesus. If we look over the history of oratory, we find that three elements enter into it:
I. A GREAT OCCASION. All the great master-pieces were the offspring of great occasions--the orations of Demosthenes, when Greece was battling for its liberty; of Cicero, when the free institutions of Rome were threatened; of Chatham, at the time of the American revolution, Jesus had a great occasion, The world had reached its lowest ebb--politically, intellectually, socially, morally. Yet there was one little province which kept the light of hope burning, one little people who had an expectation of deliverance. A great need and a hope--these formed the occasion of Jesus.
II. A GREAT THEME. The greatest orators, on the greatest occasions, have broken down, because they have ranged themselves on the wrong side and failed to rise to the occasion with a great message. Not so Jesus. He proclaimed “The kingdom of God is at hand.” This was a message of hope, and one which called men with a trumpet-call to battle. In this kingdom all could take part; it was one that was for all, and one that defied the gates of hell. This message is for all the centuries and for today. When the ship was on the sands at Malta the crew did not stop to study the rhetorical form of Paul’s message. When the soldiers in the Shenandoah valley were in flight they did not stop to study the elocution of Sheridan when, waving sword in air, he bade them turn and follow him to victory. And when the world felt the darkness of night resting upon it, it was not the eloquence of drama; it was the eloquence of this great truth--the hope that there is in God and in immortality--that made Christ eloquent then and has made His words eloquent from that day to this.
III. For behind the words was A GREAT PERSONALITY--a personality so great that when He first rose in the synagogue of Nazareth all eyes were fastened upon Him; that when the mob gathered to stone Him as He passed they parted and let Him go; that when they rose to lead Him to the precipice He passed uninjured through them; that when these police came to arrest Him they went away saying, “Never man spake,” etc. This we cannot analyze, and must therefore leave it. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
Christ a preacher
I. WITH THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES.
1. In the spirituality of His instructions. The Jewish teachers and their modern imitators are distinguished by their degrading conceptions of religion, morality, and worship. The Scriptures are made a cumbrous book of court etiquette; the heart is ignored; judgment and mercy pass for trifles as compared with ritual; and theology is turned into hair-splitting casuistry. But what a Teacher is this! With Him a broken heart is a sacrifice; a believing heart a sanctuary; love to God and man all duty.
2. In the dignity of His instructions. Rabbinical teaching, ancient and modern, is gravely puerile, and as you pass from it to Christ’s you pass from a prison to a mountain top. Contrast with His their notions of
(1) Jehovah--the national patron with the Universal Father.
(2) The Messiah--the Jewish conqueror with the Saviour of the world.
(3) The law overwhelmed with traditional burdens and superstitions, with the law as pointing to and fulfilled by Him.
II. THE POETS. Apart from Christ’s influence, their teaching has no concrete reality nor anything to meet the deepest wants of the soul. Which of the non-Christian poets has sung anything calculated to make men holy, bring God near, secure pardon, lift the veil from the tomb, respond to any one of the queries of the human soul? But Christ says, “God is a spirit,” etc. “There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.” “In My Father’s house are many mansions,” etc. “Come unto Me all ye that labour,” etc. Where in uninspired poetry shall we find lines like these? Christ was a true poet, but He gave truths adapted to meet the urgent necessities of the soul.
III. THE PHILOSOPHERS.
1. They can do no more than conjecture in regard to religious truth. But here we must have authority absolutely Divine. Socrates confessed this necessity but could not meet it. Christ confessed it and met it. “No man hath seen God at any time,” etc. He did not reason, He affirmed.
2. They can only talk of abstractions, such as deity, laws of nature, etc., good words in their place, and so is “humanity,” and if you should call your friend “humanity,” you would deal with him as philosophers deal with God. But Christ teaches a personal God. Abstract teaching has its place, but to teach therapeutics to a man in a fever is as cruel as to mock at disease. Christ was a practical teacher, and told us not only what to believe, but what to do.
IV. THE PRETENDERS.
1. His claim, the loftiest ever made, was put forth under circumstances which fully attested its genuineness. It was open, in the presence of enemies, without human help. These and other tests would have detected imposture.
2. Imposters chiefly address the senses and the imagination, but Jesus’ whole manner is that of one who would win man’s intelligent confidence, and all He said was to give a basis to intelligent faith. (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
Christ the standard of preaching
Long before the Messiah appeared it was foretold that He should sustain the office of preacher. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon Me.” Consequently the Jews expected that He would appear in this character. “When Messias cometh He will teach us all things.” This general expectation Christ did not disappoint. As soon as He appeared He drew the attention of admiring multitudes, but His addresses were too galling not to rouse the resentment of the enemies of truth. Hence the incident before us. But, how did Christ preach to make such impressions on those who had resolved to resist Him.
I. Christ was a PLAIN Preacher. His ideas lay clear in His own mind. He was master of every subject on which He preached. He knew the whole character and counsel of Gee, the frame and constitution of the human mind, the circumstances of all mankind. Upon these subjects He expressed Himself in a style which was not only intelligible but agreeable to persons of every capacity. Sensible that figurative language is the voice of nature, He made free use of images, not borrowed from the arts which are confined to the learned few, but from the air, light, water, etc., which were familiar to all. Hence “the common people heard Him gladly.”
II. Christ was a SEARCHING Preacher. He knew the heart, and so was able to speak to the heart. This gave His preaching irresistible force, and men felt their whole souls to be naked before the all-seeing eye, and as they will feel at the day of judgment. Christ never drew a bow at a venture, but always sent His arrows home. Witness His dealings with the Pharisees, the rich young man, Martha, the woman taken in adultery, etc.
III. Christ was a SENTIMENTAL Preacher. His teaching was replete with interesting truths which not only enlighten the mind, but find the nearest passage to the heart. He urged, e.g., the necessity of disinterested love upon all His followers as the essence of true religion.
IV. Christ was a MOVING Preacher. He is the most moving Preacher, and possesses the power of persuasion in the highest degree, who is best able to convey His own views and feelings to the minds of His hearers. This Christ was able to do, and was thus able to move the minds of His hearers with whatsoever passions He wished to excite. What could equal His language to hardened hypocrites, and what could be more melting than His invitations to penitents! (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The teaching of Jesus Christ
I. ITS OBJECT. There is a primary sense in which Christ taught as never man taught, viz., in that He was Himself its object. Others, even the greatest, convey the truth, but are not that truth. Jesus alone could say, “I am the Truth.” The whole of Christianity is in Christ, neither He nor His disciples taught any other. The two terms of the religious problem are God and man. To know them is the whole of religious truth.
1. An apostle said, “Show us the Father.” Christ responded, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” All that we can know of God Christ has taught, or rather shown us. All His perfections and all His works.
2. In the same way all concerning man, his true nature and high destiny, we see in Him who is the perfect man.
3. Not only so, but He reveals the true relations of God and man. He is the Mediator between the two. On the one hand, by the fact of His mediation He manifests man’s fall and his inability to save himself, and on the other, the love of the Father who gave His Son that whosoever believeth in Him, etc.
4. All that we can know of the work of salvation is bound up in the person of Christ. He is “made unto us wisdom and righteousness,” etc.
5. Christian morality, through sanctification, is entirely referred to Him.
6. As to the future, all depends on Christ, who will raise the dead, judge the world, and bring His own to glory. Are we not justified in saying with Paul, “God forbid that I should glory,” etc. Let us beware of withering this living teaching by our abstractions! Every doctrine, if separated from Christ, is smitten with barrenness.
II. The incomparable excellence of Christ’s teaching results also from its PERFECT FORM. The perfection of human words is measured by the fidelity with which they manifest the human soul. A man may be very eloquent and yet his words be a brilliant lie, because not in harmony with his moral state. Perfectly sincere words are perfect words, and they are only so when it can be said: As are the words so is the life. If this be the case our text is justified, for never was man sincere like Christ. He lived His words and spoke His life. His life was the perfect life of love, and His words were the perfect language of Divine love.
1. The love of Christ rested on His humility, and never man spake like this Man in respect to humility. Compare His words with the despotic authority or pompous solemnity of the Jewish doctors. Their teaching was like their persons, clothed with long robes and phylacteries, and sitting in Moses’ seat. Christ sat not on the benches of a Jewish school, had no official title, spake in the streets or by the sea side, and rendered homage to truth without exercising compulsion. And what could be more simple than His words. They were free from all solemn form. No doctor ever taught more in the style of a layman. He spoke as a friend to friends, without any rhetorical embellishment, and without aiming at effect. The simplicity of Christ’s words is what constitutes their perfection, By resting on external authority He would have confessed that His doctrine needed foreign aid; by enveloping it in solemn forms He would have suggested a doubt of its intrinsic value. Christ knew that nothing is so beautiful or powerful as truth, and He wished that it should appear alone in His teaching.
2. Christ’s love was especially characterized by mercy, which is love to the unfortunate and the poor, and the merciful character of Christ’s teaching is evinced by its popularity. It was admirably suited to the wants of the simple and ignorant many. For Christ never admitted that distinction between the profane and the initiated which is always found in the religions and philosophy of antiquity, but rather gave special attention to the former. Not that He rejected the enlightened; but He knew that a doctrine which suits the poor is a truth for poor and rich, ignorant and learned alike. He could speak, then, to the people without fear of restricting His mission; and who has ever spoken to them like the Saviour? In bringing the truth to the feeblest reason Christ took nothing from the truth, nor subjected it to any alteration. It is very easy to gain the goodwill of men if we flatter their errors and their prejudices, but Christ never employed that accommodation which is treason against the cause of God. If then He rejected this we can only explain the popularity of His teaching by the form He gave to it. He ever found means to connect the truth with some feeling, idea, or fact in harmony with itself. And so He made constant appeals to conscience, conviction of sin, need of deliverance, sorrow and suffering. Nor was He content to rest on general dispositions, He knew what was wanted by each, and He addressed to each the precise teaching that was made for him. Recall the numerous persons who conversed with the Saviour. You will not find a word that is not the most affecting that could have been pronounced. Is He talking to fishermen? He says, “I will make you fishers of men.” Is He addressing a doctor of the law? He makes constant allusion to his dignity. Is He speaking to a great multitude that He has just satisfied with food? He discourses of the bread of life. It was with the same design that Christ multiplied His admirable parables. None of His hearers, after listening to Him, could look on the external world without reading His doctrines there afresh, something to raise the thoughts to God. Never man spake like this man because never man loved our poor humanity like Christ.
3. The teaching of Christ was full of love also in that it was essentially creative and fertilizing to the mind of His hearers. A teacher not impelled by love does not tolerate spontaneity of thought in his disciples; but Jesus’ method was to give men a glimpse of the precious mine of truth that they might dig and search for themselves. He did not hurry anything, wishing to prepare the new bottles for the new wine, and pour it into them drop by drop. With what gentleness did He endure their slowness of understanding and weakness of faith.
4. The words of Christ were the expression of perfect love, because never was there addressed to man language so consoling as His. (E. DePressense, D. D.)
Our Lord as a Teacher
No one can read His discourses without seeing that He differs generically from all other teachers. He is an order by Himself (John 3:11-13).
I. Compare Him with SOCRATES, whom we know well, and have a full record of his teaching and methods. Like our Lord his one aim was moral improvement. His end in discovering truth was conduct. To know, with him, was but the way to live. But when we come to his method it contrasts sharply to that of Jesus. For he affirmed nothing, professed himself ignorant, but thought that by inquiry and consideration it might be possible to find out what ideas were just and what were false, and so to establish a sound healthy knowledge that might be the guide to a sound and healthy life. But he dreaded to say “I have the truth” about anything. This is the method of Acts 17:27. Our Lord’s method is at the opposite pole. It is calm, convincing affirmation. It is entirely unparalleled. It is the word of One who does know; who has not to argue and inquire, but to declare. Its simplicity arises from absolute certainty. Agnosticism, notwithstanding, this is the teaching for which the world yearns, and which can only meet the world’s needs.
II. COMPARE HIM WITH MOHAMMED. Christ dealt only with the highest spiritual truth--with ideas and principles of conduct alone. He did not occupy Himself in marking out safe paths for men; He gave them light that they might see their way (Matthew 11:1-5; John 10:24). This is in striking contrast with Mohammed’s method. The chances are that if any one had asked him, “Speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me,” he would have had a revelation about it. The Koran is full of private direction and legislation, and it is that which has crippled the free development of Mohammedan society. Men go to it, not for principles of guidance, but for particular precepts. With Christ there is always a breadth which transcends the need of the moment, and furnishes a principle which is good for all times. This is the reason for the largeness of the development of Christendom. Christ tells us not what to do, but how to be. Mohammed’s words are full of direction. Christ’s of inspiration. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Christ the incomparable Teacher
BECAUSE IN HIM
I. DOCTRINE AND TEACHER ARE ONE. Other teachers are different from what they teach, and never make themselves the object of their own instruction. Christ is the sole Teacher who is able to say, “I am the Truth,” and as such the substance of His own teaching. Christ’s purpose was not to give a right conception of God, or to lead men to rightly know themselves. We have this in the Old Testament. His purpose was to reconcile men to God. Hence He required not faith in God--this the Jews had long ago--but in Himself.
II. DOCTRINE AND LIFE PERFECTLY HARMONIZE. This can be said of no other. However careful the teacher, his life falls behind his teaching. He could alone say, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” When He said, “Be ye perfect as your Father,” etc. He could also say, “I and My Father are one.” If He exhorted to resignation He said, “Thy will be done.” His requirement of self-denial was illustrated in His actual bearing of the cross. Of His new commandment He was the model, “As I have loved you.” He went about doing good to those who rejected Him, to enforce the duty of doing good to those who hate us, and prayed, “Father, forgive them,” that we might pray for our persecutors.
III. THE DOCTRINE AND THE GROUNDS OF THE DOCTRINE COINCIDE. Other teachers convince their scholars by proofs, and prophets by “Thus saith the Lord”--Christ simply says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” He is the ground of His teaching just as certainly as when the Lord God confirms His words by saying, “As surely as I live.”
IV. HIS DOCTRINE AND ITS EFFECTS ARE IN FULLEST UNISON. Every teacher aims at this, but no one fully reaches it. As the husbandman often finds that his seed does not germinate, so there are many whose teaching has not the desired results. One does not speak intelligibly, another wants impressiveness, a third dies prematurely. But Christ speaks so that even fishermen understand Him; so attractively that crowds press upon Him, and authorities envy Him; so irresistibly that friends cannot be turned from Him by threats. And now He speaks through a thousand tongues, in pulpits, schools, and homes. You who are burdened, do you not find rest in Christ’s teaching? You who suffer, comfort? You who are guilty, pardon? You who are dying, triumph? Verily the result of Christ’s teaching is not to be doubted. Conclusion: If, then, after eighteen centuries we are compelled to confess that, despite all the wonderful advances in knowledge, never man spake like Christ, it must be clear that He was more than a child of man. Were He only this we must have outstripped Him. (R. Nesselmann.)
Incomparableness of Christ’s teaching in
I. ITS MANNER. It was this which struck His hearers when on the mount Matthew 7:29). It is no less striking to us who compare the “I say unto you” with the prophetic “thus saith the Lord.”
II. ITS MATTER. “Never man spake”
1. Such wise words. There have been many wise men, but as Solomon excelled all the children of the East, so may we say of the great Teacher “a wiser than Solomon is here.” His words were those of one who “knew what was in man.” How admirably does He lay open human hearts! With what Divine skill did He answer all questions I How suitably and readily--His enemies being judges (Luke 20:39).
2. Such holy words! He never spoke one that was idle or unprofitable.
3. Such gracious words (Psalms 45:1-17; Luke 4:1-44.)!
III. ITS EFFECT (Luke 4:32).
1. It was a wonder-working voice which Jesus uttered. Devils fled before it, diseases vanished; it called the dead out of their tombs; the winds heard it and were still, the fig-tree and was withered. Yet what was so wonderful as its effect upon men’s consciences! What terror and confusion it struck into His enemies (John 18:4), etc.!
2. It wrought wonders in those whom it called to mercy.
(1) Of conviction (John 4:29; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
(2) Of conversion (John 5:25). Look at the manner in which thedisciples were called.
(3) Of consolation (Matthew 14:26-27).
Conclusion: What, then, is our duty?
1. To hear and obey (Hebrews 12:25; John 12:48;Proverbs 1:24).
2. To imitate (Ephesians 4:29). (A. Roberts, M. A.)
The incomparable ministry
The text is one of the truisms of Christianity, but the confession came from men who were not the disciples, nor particularly the audience of Jesus. They were a band of ignorant men, the mere police of the Sanhedrim. And it is remarkable that not a word was spoken by Christ directly to them why they should not execute their mission. What was said was said to the multitude at large upon subjects entirely independent of His guilt or innocence. The purpose of their coming is simply ignored. There were but two brief utterances after their arrival which the Evangelist has written down, and while it would be an improbable supposition that they were all that gave occasion for the confession, yet they were specimen utterances. They belonged to very different fields of thought and speech, and together go far towards giving an idea of Christ’s teaching as a whole.
I. (John 7:33-34.) Try to hear with the ears of these men, and to imagine the impression. Must not any one have said, “What an independence of human enmity and human power.” “A little while I am with you, and then I go,” asking no questions, dreading no interference. The officers heard, and felt themselves impotent. This man speaks that He doth know; He has His own times and seasons; Sanhedrim and Procurator are alike nothing to Him. But is there not a deeper awe behind? We shall seek Him and not find Him. “Ye will be wanting Me one day. When terrified Jerusalem is crying for pity I shall be beyond the reach not only of violence, but of sight and access. Oh! in this day of your merciful visitation, be ye gathered under My wings.” “Never man spake like this man,” were it but for the DIGNITY. We were born to have some one over us; may it be the right one! Other voices, counterfeiting the true Voice, have had an easy sway. But there is a Voice which moves heaven and earth, and if that Voice makes itself heard in the living world, in conscience we feel that if we had been sent by ten Sanhedrims we, too, should exclaim “never man spake it!”
II. (John 7:37.) Well He knew what was in man when He addressed this language to common humanity. If any man thirst, be it for comfort, rest, knowledge, holiness, or love, let Him come unto Me. Strange words these for these rough police- men to listen to when they came to apprehend this Man for a malefactor. And yet so simple were the words, so strong, so directly did they make appeal to the man within the man, finding him out in memory and conscience, reminding him of so many cisterns of human or sinful desire broken, awakening so many recollections of better impulses and higher aspirations, that they could not lay hands on Him.
III. Dignity alone might be coldness, and tenderness effeminancy, but DIGNITY AND TENDERNESS combined are an irresistible strength; and He who could utter both these sayings had a key to man’s heart as God made it, and as man had corrupted it is sure of a hearing.
1. “A little while,” etc., He says to us, and it is well to hear Him sometimes speak in that tone. It is not true to represent Him as a mere humble suitor. The Voice which pleads is the Voice which made and which shakes heaven, and as He speaks now from heaven in heaven we must seek Him.
2. The dignity of Jesus is the one thought, and if He speaks of that it is to give energy to His tenderness. I will not affront any man by supposing that he thirsts not. He may tell me that he is satisfied--but all in the deep of their several hearts are athirst in one way or another. To how few of us is life as we would have it. Many delights once possessed have been lost. But there is a keener thirst, that of the spirit for the conscious love of its Maker. This Christ can quench. Try Him. (Dean Vaughan.)
The unrivalled eloquence of Jesus
The constables could not take Jesus for He had fairly taken them. Note by way of preface
1. That it is a sure sign of a falling Church when its leaders call in the aid of the secular arm. The Church which cannot maintain itself by spiritual power is dying, if not dead.
2. That in the end the spiritual power will baffle the temporal. The officers are fully armed, the preacher has no weapons, and yet they cannot arrest him. What stays their hand? It has come to be a combat between body and mind, and mind prevails. Abel may be killed, but from the ground his blood continues to cry. Martyrs have a greater power in their graves than in their pulpits.
3. That God can get testimonies to the majesty of His Son from the most unlikely places. Civil authorities do not employ the most refined and intellectual as officers, and the priests would naturally select those least likely to be affected by Christ’s teaching. Yet these rough, brutal men felt his matchless oratory. Not only as in the case of Saul can God direct a high character into the right path. He makes the wrath of men to praise Him, and compels adversaries to do Him homage. Let us note
I. THE PECULIAR QUALITIES of our Lord’s eloquence, as among kings, He is the King of kings, among priests the great High Priest, among prophets the Messiah, so is He the Prince of preachers, the Apostle of our profession. Christ spoke
1. Clearly, and yet His matter is profound. Did ever man speak so simply? Even little children gathered round Him. He never gives forth dark sayings that His hearers may credit Him with vast learning and profound thinking. And yet there is in His teaching a depth that genius cannot fathom, but all the while He speaks in short sentences, with plain words and homely illustrations. The common people with their common sense heard Him gladly,
2. With authority. He was a master dogmatist. It was not, “It may be so,” but “Verily, verily,” etc. And yet side by side with this there was an extraordinary self-sinking. He never assumed official dignity.
3. Faithfully, yet tenderly. Even Nathan could not be more true to human conscience. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,” etc. There was no mincing matters because wickedness was associated with greatness, no excusing sin because it put on sanctimoniousness. He neither fawned on the great nor pandered to the populace. Perhaps no preacher ever used more terrible words with regard to the fate of the ungodly. Yet He did not break the bruised reed. What a Son of Consolation He was!
4. Zealously, yet prudently. He was full of ardour, never preached a cold, dull sermon. Yet His fervour never degenerated into wildfire. He was not afraid of the Herodians, yet how quietly did He allow them to walk into the trap. He was ready to meet the Sadducees, but He was on His guard so that they could not entangle Him in His speech.
5. Lovingly. He was full of tenderness even to tears, but was far removed from that effeminacy which some times passes for Christian love. He was manly all through.
6. His preaching was remarkable for its co-mingling of all the excellencies which are found separate in His servants. He addressed the head and the heart. He aroused the conscience, but was also great in the arts of consolation.
7. The main aspect of His eloquence, however, was that it was the vehicle of the greatest truths.
II. PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS of this eloquence.
1. Do you remember when you first heard Him speak? Recall
(1) His words of pity. “Come unto Me,” etc.
(2) His words of persuasion. “Turn ye, turn ye,” etc., “Come now let us reason together.”
(3) His words of power, “Awake thou that sleepest.”
(4) His word of pardon.
2. Since we heard His pardoning voice, we have heard many a time
(1) His word of promise.
(2) His word of consolation.
(3) His word of fellowship.
3. There are some words spoken long ago which have been so quickened by His presence that we number them among our personal recollections. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love’; “It is I, be not afraid,” etc., etc.
III. PROPHETIC ANTICIPATIONS.
1. AS long as you live you are to speak for Jesus, but your hope for His kingdom lies in His voice. And we expect Him to speak more loudly yet, for “the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth.”
2. We expect Him to speak sweetly to us in the hour of death. “Fear not, for I am with thee.”
3. In paradise.
4. At the judgment. “Come ye blessed of My Father.” Will He say that to you, or “Depart ye cursed.” Anyhow your confession will be then if not now, “Never man spake,” etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The words of Jesus
I. HIS TRIBUNE. Those whose words have moved mankind have for the most part addressed an audience in some chamber selected for the suitability of its construction or for the sanctity of its associations. Not so with the words of Jesus. His tribune was the plank of Peter’s boat, the portico of Jerusalem, any place on which He chanced, to any person whom He met. He not only sought the people, but let the people seek Him; and some of His most striking utterances were addressed to a single auditor. The great orators of Notre Dame called their sermons “conferences.” But they are no such thing, for Lacordaire or Hyacinthe had it all to himself, like the least of us. But the Master’s sermons were “conferences” in truth. He let the people interrupt Him by their questions, by bringing their sick, by leading their little ones to His arms. And yet, in spite of these defects of His audience-chamber, and difficulties with the audience, the golden silence made the silver speech the brighter.
II. CHRIST’S TEXTS are a marvel of beauty for their appositeness. The well of Sychar suggests a sermon on the water of life; the feeding of the five thousand and a reference to the fall of the manna, a discourse of the bread of life; the water in the priest’s pitcher a promise of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. A corn-field was probably in sight when He said, “Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” And a vine may have trellised the window of the upper room, or a vineyard grown on the sunny slopes beneath, when He said,” I am the True Vine.” Thus would the attention of His auditors be riveted while Jesus spoke; they would leave Him astonished and delighted, and they would never forget words founded on facts before their eyes.
III. CHRIST’S TOPICS were as varied as His texts were timely, and the variety was as striking as the timeliness. Some distinguished preachers have really only one topic, and, begin where they will, you soon find them on their favourite subject. But Jesus of Nazareth had no beaten paths, or rather all paths were alike familiar to His feet. A very short index often suffices for a very large volume, but it would require a catalogue of some length to tabulate all the subjects on which even our four brief Gospels tell us that Jesus had something to say. Natural as the singing of the lark was His speech; but His strain, like the lark’s, was never monotonous. The many-stringed harp of human life was in His hands, and He touched every chord, in turn. He has words to speak about Divine love, and words also about human charity. He has something to tell about the holiness of heaven, and something also about the happiness of earth: much about the Jerusalem above, and much about the earthly Zion. But how can we select where every stone is a gem, or to cull where every flower is an exotic? Enough that He touched upon everything in turn, and everything He touched turned to gold.
IV. CHRIST’S MODE OF TREATMENT; we find this as varied as the topics. Sometimes there is the orderly succession of thoughts, built up into a harmonious whole, as in the sermon on the Mount. At other times there is a beautiful carelessness. Just as flowers and forest trees, creepers and mosses, are intermingled in nature, so amid stupendous subjects of appalling grandeur dealt with in the Master’s teaching we find minute touches of gentleness and grace, which give the play of light and shade to the whole.
1. “He taught as one having authority.” He spake as one who dwelt in very deed in the secret place of the Most High. To the question “How hath this man letters, having never learned?” the answer is “My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me.” We do not wonder now that “never man spake like this man.”
2. A very human interest belongs to the words of Jesus from the fact that they are full of illustration. Sometimes it is parable all worked out, like a broad lace of gold, sometimes mere metaphor, like a golden thread flashing through a silken mantle, but at all times instance or illustration is ready to relieve the dry details of doctrine or precept. Since His words were so sparkling, no wonder that “the common people beard Him gladly.”
3. His words affect every faculty in succession.
(1) He speaks to the intellect, His hand the while digging wells in the surface of the earth, in which you can see the stars by day.
(2) He speaks to the heart, striking off appeal after appeal with a fervour that makes His words, not as the cold steel of the armoury, but the flashing iron of the forge.
(3) He speaks to the conscience a simple word, like a seemingly harmless wire, conveying an electric thrill to the soul.
4. Christ addressed mankind in many and varied capacities, but His versatility made Him equal to every occasion.
(1) lie spoke as a king, and never monarch “spake like this man,” whether he is sending his subjects to the field, putting the sword into one hand and the cup of sorrow into the other, or welcoming them home from the war and garlanding their brows with the joy of their lord.
(2) He spoke as a legislator, and never lawgiver spake like this man. Few but lawyers read law books; even the legal parts of the books of Moses are sealed to most men. But the second Moses has given His laws in such language that, while statesmen learn wisdom from their pages, little children linger over their lines. His code was suited to His own age and suitable to every age succeeding.
(3) He spoke as a teacher of morals, and never moralist “spake like this man.” When He told men to mark the secrets of their hearts as the seeds of sin He put His hand upon the plague spot which physicians for ages had been seeking in vain. And when He opened His mouth and taught them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”--the mourners, the meek, the merciful--a new era dawned upon mankind.
(4) He spoke as a teacher of wisdom, and never philosopher “spake like this man.” His apostles, though they knew it not, were the esoteric disciples of a school destined to outlive the most celebrated of antiquity. How few now care to read “Aristotle,” who wrote elaborate treatises, compared with the number of those who love to linger over the reported utterances of Jesus Christ, who never wrote a line I
(5) He spoke as a brother born for adversity, and never friend “spake like this man.” Do you yearn for sympathy? “Come unto Me all ye that labour,” etc. Do you ask for society? “Lo, I am with you alway.” Do you seek for intimacy? “I have not called you servants … but friends.” Do you pant for love? “Greater love hath no man than this.” And His promises are as full as His heart is large. Is your concern about earthly need? “The very hairs of your head, they are all numbered.” About heavenly grace? “I am come that ye might have life.” About death? “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” About eternity? “Where I am there shall also My servant be.”
(6) He spoke as a revealer of secrets, and never prophet “spake like this man,” for man never before or besides had such tidings to tell. He came, He said, because “God so loved the world.” He came to die, giving “His life a ransom for many,” shedding His blood “for the remission of sins.”
1. Go to Him as a child of sin. A sinner went to Him once, and she came away amazed that He who was incarnate purity should notice her. Would not she say, “Never man spake like this man “? And if you, sinner, go you will say the same.
2. Go to Him as a child of sorrow. Jairus went to Him bereaved, and he came away comforted. Mary of Magdala went in trouble, and she.came away at peace. Mary of Bethany went weeping, and she came away rejoicing. The woman who had an issue of blood went trembling, and she came away triumphing. You go too, sufferer, and see if He has not reserved a blessing for thee that shall make thee say, “Never man spake like this man.”
3. Go to Him as a child of man, and He will teach you about earthly duty; for He has words for parents, words for children, words for masters, words for servants, words for friends, words for enemies; and for all words such as “never man spake.”
4. Go to Him as a child of God, and He will teach you about the beginning of the spiritual life, the progress of the spiritual life, and the perfection of the spiritual life, till at length, tired of leaving you to listen at a distance, He shall take you to Himself, and there as He leads you unto living fountains of waters, while you drink in every word you will exclaim, “Never man spake like this man.” (J. B. Figgis, M. A.)
The testimony of sceptics
Is this the tone of an enthusiast or of a mere sectary? What sweetness, what purity of manners! What touching grace in His instructions! What elevation in His maxims! What profound wisdom in His discourses! What presence of mind, what acuteness, what justness in His replies! What empire over His passions! Where is the man, where is the sage who knew in this way how to act, suffer, and die? What prejudice, blindness, or bad faith does it require to compare the son of Sophroniscus with the Son of Mary! What distance between the two? They say that Socrates invented ethics; but others practised morality before he taught it. Aristides was just before Socrates described justice; Leonidas died for his country before Socrates taught the duty of patriotism; Sparta was temperate before Socrates praised sobriety; Greece abounded in virtuous men before he defined virtue. But Jesus--where did He find the lofty morality of which He alone gave both the lesson and the example? Prom the midst of a furious fanaticism proceeds the purest wisdom; among the vilest of the people appears the most heroic and virtuous simplicity. If Socrates lives and dies like a philosopher, Jesus lives and dies like a God. (J. J.Rosseau.)
The benefit of hearing the truth
It is good to come to the Word, though with ill intent; they that come to see only, as Moses did to the bush, may be called as he was. They that come to sleep may be taken napping, as Latimer saith. They that come to catch may be caught as those in the text. (J. Trapp.)
Christ’s matchless teaching
He spake with grace, and with gravity: they were all oracles that He uttered; honey-drops that fell from Him. Of Christ it might better be said than ever it was said of Crassus the Roman orator, “Caetaros a Crassa semper omnes illo autem die etiam ipsum a sese superatum.” (J. Trapp.)
The power of Divine truth
There went a man out of this place one evening who was spoken to by one of our friends, who happened to know him in trade, and had him in good repute. “What I have you been to hear our minister to-night?” The good man answered, “Yes, I am sorry to say I have.” “But,” said our friend, “why are you sorry?” “Why,” he said, “he has turned me inside out, and spoiled my idea of myself. When I went into the Tabernacle I thought I was the best man in Newington, but now I feel that my righteousness is worthless.” “Oh,” said the friend, “that is all right; you will come again, I am sure. The Word has come home to you, and shown you the truth: ye will get comfort soon.” That friend did come again, and he is here to-night: he takes pleasure in that very truth which turned him inside out; and he comes on purpose that the Word of the Lord may search him, and try him, and be to him as a refiner’s fire. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
I knew a man who was of a fierce temper, a troubler to his own household when he happened to fall into his fits; he was so passionate at times that I should not like to tell all the wild things which he would do. I have seen that man since conversion, and he has had things to test him which might, as we say, have provoked a saint, but he bore them patiently, and in a manner which I desire to imitate. The lion has become a lamb, he is gentle and tender; no one could think that he was the same man; indeed, he is not, for grace has made him a new man in Christ Jesus. We have seen persons revelling in licentiousness, who sinned greedily, who could not be satisfied with any common sin; but they have heard the gospel, and become chaste and even delicate in purity, so that the very mention of their former crimes has shocked them and made them weep. Such persons have manifested a watchful care against the fault in which they once delighted. They have been afraid to go near their old haunts, or to mix with their old companions. What has wrought this? What teaching must that be which accomplishes such marvels? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Then answered the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived?
The opponents of the truth
We have here a dramatic sketch of the opposition to Christ and His gospel, which may stand, in part, or as a whole, for every subsequent scene in which error has been pitted against the truth.
I. THE DEBATERS.
1. Their respective standings.
(1) Unequal. The officers were no match for the Sanhedrim in point of social position, religious profession, wealth, and learning. How often in this great controversy has there been a clean cleavage between the masses and the classes, and how often has God chosen, as here, the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty? etc.
(2) Equal. Nicodemus was the peer of his colleagues in all respects, and Christianity has seldom wanted defenders as completely equipped as their opponents, ready to fight them with their own weapons, and to meet them on their own ground.
2. Their qualities
(1) Interest and disinterestedness. The Jewish authorities had everything to lose by the success of Christ. The occupants of Moses’ seat must needs tremble when the seat itself was undermined. The officers, on the other hand, had nothing to gain, except the anger of their masters, and the possible deprivation of their offices; while Nicodemus, from his preeminent position, was in greater danger. These two forces have been conspicuously displayed all through the great struggle. But in every religious crisis the truth has triumphed over the powerful vested interests by which it has been opposed.
(2) Bigotry and candour. Selfishness blinds the eyes to the clearest evidence. The officers related simple facts, Nicodemus recited an incontestible principle. Both were plain, and were urged with obvious sincerity. But the chief priest would not see. The same fault marks the opponents of truth in all ages. There are sincere sceptics, men who cannot see, but these are never antagonists.
(3) Ignorance and knowledge. The Pharisees had not heard these particular words, and had therefore not felt their power. Hence their controversial weakness, which showed itself in the blind rage which ever characterizes the defenders of a lost cause. As for the principle of equity stated by their colleagues, while not theoreti- cally ignorant of it, they were practically unacquainted with it, for they never used it. But both the officers and Nicodemus were fortified with experimental know- ledge, and it is with this weapon that Christianity has invariably conquered. There is no getting over the argument, “Once I was blind, but now I see.”
II. THE METHODS OF DEBATE.
1. As between the Sanhedrim and the officers. To the plain unwarranted report of the latter, the former oppose
(1) An imputation of intellectual weakness. “Are ye also deceived?” This is the standard calumny against Christians. They have weak heads, and so are imposed upon by specious arguments, or unread, and so led astray for want of knowledge. In some circles to be a Christian is quite synonymous with deficiency of intellect and susceptibility to delusion.
(2) An assumption of infallibility--a characteristic of unbelief all through the ages. How can Christianity be true when the “modern, advanced,” “progressive,” “ripe,” thinker does not believe in it?
(3) Scurrilous abuse (John 7:49)--the time-honoured method of argument when there is no case; the well-worn weapon of anti-Christianity.
2. As between the Sanhedrim and Nicodemus. The latter appeals to a simple principle of equity. To this the former oppose
(1) A base insinuation. To belong to Galilee was about the grossest insult that could be perpetrated on a Jewish gentleman--but Christians are by this time accustomed to be accounted the offscouring of the earth. The offence of the Cross, so far as outward profession is concerned, has well-nigh ceased, but let a man in certain circles put its principles into practice, or venture to assert them, and what epithets, such as “fanatic,” “humbug,” “canter,” will be hurled at his head!
(2) A gratuitous assumption. Nicodemus had not said that a prophet had or would arise out of Galilee; nor had Christ asserted a Galilean origin.
Because a man has lived in a certain locality that is not to say that he was born there. How often has the opponent of Christianity fought an enemy of his own making? How many caricatures of the Trinity, the atonement, heaven, hell, etc., pass muster as Christian doctrines, and are criticized as such?
(3) The closure (John 7:53). The Sanhedrim having spoken there was an end of all discussion--a convenient course frequently adopted since. Christianity is not afraid of a patient hearing, but its opponents are. (J. W. Burn.)
Nicodemus saith unto them
1. A timid but honest inquirer after truth (chap. 3.).
2. A calm and decided advocate of justice (chap. 7.).
3. A heroic confessor of the Lord bringing grateful offerings (John 19:39). Here he meets their boasts
(1) That no ruler believes in Jesus.
(2) That they were zealous for the law. (J. P. Lange.)
Nicodemus got little favour from the Pharisees, though his favourable feeling towards our Lord was so cautiously expressed. This is generally the case with those who act timidly as he did. People may just as well be out-spoken and bold. (Musculus.)
Nicodemus and the Sanhedrim
Nicodemus does not announce himself a believer in Jesus but he lays down a general principle sanctioned by the law of Moses (Exodus 23:1); and by the law of nature. His cautious answer may have been dictated by a constitutional timidity, or by a hope that if the Pharisees would only have the fairness to examine the doe- trine and the claims of Jesus before they condemned Him they would not wish to condemn Him; that, like the officers who were sent to apprehend Him, they too would be filled with admiration for Him. But the Pharisees, who are blinded by envy and spite, see not the want of truth, or the falsehood as well as the irrelevancy of their answer to Nicodemus. Many prophets had come out of Galilee. But if not, that was no reason why prophets should not still arise in Galilee. Deborah the Prophetess was from the country of Galilee. She dwelt between Ramah and Bethel in Mount Ephraim (Judges 4:1-24.). Anna the Prophetess was from Galilee, of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36). The prophet Jonah was of Gathhepher, a town of Lower Galilee in Zebulun (2 Kings 14:25). There is also a general consent among commentators that the Prophecies of Hosea were delivered in the kingdom of Israel. It was also anciently believed that Hosea belonged to the tribe of Issachar, which would be included in the more modern district of Galilee. Nahum was born in Elkosh, a small village in Galilee; hence he was called Nahum the Elkoshite (John 1:1), The Prophet Elijah the Tishbite was born, according to some, in Thisbe, in the tribe of Naphtali, in Galilee; according to others in Gilead, on the east side of the Jordan. Elisha was born at Abel-Meholah, in the northern part of the valley of the Jordan. Though neither of these were strictly in the district called Galilee, they were neither of them in the country of Judaea, or in the kingdom of Judah, but both in the kingdom of Israel. Nicodemus simply asks that they should hear Him before they condemn Him. The answer of the Pharisees shows that they had already condemned Him, and unheard. It was impossible, they said, that He could be the Christ, because the Christ should come from Bethlehem, in Judah, and Jesus was born in Galilee. (F. I.Dunwell, B. A.)
Grace cannot remain hidden
Good blood will not belie itself: love, as fire, will not be long hid. Croesus’ dumb son could not but speak to see his father ready to be slain. Nicodemus, though hitherto a night-bird, now shows himself for Christ in a council. Nicodemus was but a slow scholar, Judas was a forward preacher; yet at last, when Judas betrayed Christ in the night, Nicodemus faithfully professed Him in the day. (J. Trapp.)
And every man went to his own house.
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
If we group together the scenes of these chapters we might treat them.
1. A day with Jesus; in which we have not merely His answers to the disputing Jews, but His proclamation of love.
2. A night with Jesus on the Mount of Olives.
3. Dawn with Jesus in the Temple, listening to tits early teaching.
4. Sunrise with Jesus, as pointing to the East, He says, “I am the light of the world.” These two verses suggest--Man at home, Jesus not at home:
The crowd which had surrounded Him all the day gradually drops off,one by one, as the evening draws on, and Jesus is left alone. Each one has a home to go to, and retires to rest with his family; Jesus has nowhere to lay His head; they go one way, He goes another; they keep within the city walls, tie goes without the gate to Olivet, there to spend the night in prayer. He is not at home; even in the Temple which is His Father’s house, He must not stay; its gates are closing, and He is shut out. He can only go to the places where man is not; to the solitudes where, outside of Jerusalem, outside even of Bethany, He can meet with God. This homelessness was for us; that we might have a home in His Father’s house. He went without the gate that we might enter in. He became an exile, taking our place and life of banishment, that we might enter the celestial city, the paradise of God. Hast thou entered in? Or art thou still an exile from God though at home on earth? (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The Saviour and the Sanhedrim
We have here a notable instance of the injury done to the Scriptures by the arbitrary division into chapters and verses. The severance here diverts the attention from the object which the writer had in view. The greater part of chap. 7. is occupied with the conflicting opinions of the populace respecting Christ, and closes with a striking representation of a scene which took place in the council chamber of the metropolis. The officers had returned without their prisoner, and one of their own number dared to protest against their injustice. The distracted council break up and go home to concoct fresh schemes; the tranquil Saviour quietly departs to Olivet to meditate and pray. What a contrast! Those seventy men crossed in their cruel project; that one harmless wanderer, sustained by the conscious rectitude of His life! They seeking new channels for the pent up torrent of their wrath; He calm in the rich tides of peace that filled His soul; they to their luxuriant dwellings, whose enchantments were all marred by the day’s discomfiture; He to the mountain and the midnight, whose dark shadows threw into bold relief the presence of God and His glory. On their side all worldly influence; on His side all heaven. Their purpose, murder, and suppression of the truth; His purpose, salvation, and God’s eternal glory by His own self-sacrifice. (W. G. Lewis.)
The moral tangent
This “parting of the ways” exhibited
I. THE SEPARATENESS OF CHRIST AMID HIS OWN PEOPLE. It bears out chap
1:11. How could it have occurred in a region and amongst a race so notedfor hospitality? Such experiences may have begotten the realization Matthew 8:20). Some offer may have been made, but, if so, it was either too half-hearted to tempt the great solitary, or still, night-wrapped Olivet exercised an irresistible fascination.
1. That the Founder of society in its true conception should have been Himself an outcast; imagination dwells on such a paradox.
2. To take the mildest view of the circumstance it was not to the credit of the social life of Jerusalem. Some defect in those home circles rendered them uncongenial. Hearts there were that hated Him, but the general sentiment was indifference.
3. And how did He regard their attitude? It was impossible for Him to be unconcerned. Not yet was the passionate wail, “O Jerusalem,” etc., but the woeful sorrow of which it was the outcry was even then gathering. Incarnate love could not but desire to be loved by those for whom He had descended to such depths; but it must be on His own terms.
II. A DIFFERENCE IN SPIRITUAL TENDENCY AND AIM.
1. The isolation of Christ did not arise from obscurity or insignificance. His departure must have been observed and felt. That lonely form, the centre of so much observation as with calm dignity it stepped from the wrangling crowd into the quiet fields, did it not judge them?
2. The mere departure convicted them of a lack of moral earnestness. The deadly conspiracy which had been hatched in their midst, and which had been arrested just when success seemed easy ought to have put every true man upon his honour, and made him open his doors to the homeless One. He had disturbed Judaean thought and life to its core. To an onlooker it might have seemed as if a moral revolution were impending. How near they were to the kingdom of God! But assenting to Christ’s lofty truths their hearts were indisposed to receive them. They lacked the courage of their convictions. Good men! it did not impair their digestion nor break the continuity of their “little life.” How trifling the spirit that can shelve the greatest question and stifle the grandest inspiration thus.
3. Not so easy was it for the Son of Man to put behind Him the strenuous controversy in which He had engaged. With Him heart as well as intellect were enlisted. Stung by their indifference, or horror-struck at their villany, the Great Sensitive Soul hurries forth to the only house of prayer where He can be alone with His Father, and to brace Himself for the effort of tomorrow. Yet how incomprehensible it must have been to minds so besotted with earthliness! They knew not that commerce with the skies. Conclusion: In every life there is such a moment quick with spiritual issues. Shall we follow Christ to Olivet or go to our own house? (St. John A. Frere, M. A.)
I. EVERY MAN WENT TO HIS OWN HOUSE. A symbol of the general conduct of humanity. “We have turned every one to his own way.”
1. Our house is where we live, and represents all that we live for.
(1) Some men live for wealth and adorn their noble houses with elegant furniture and costly pictures.
(2) Some men live for pleasure, and their houses will be supplied with all that gratifies the senses--luxurious couches, expensive wines, and elaborate menu’s.
(3) Some men live for learning, and the principal room in the house will be the well-furnished library, and every department will proclaim, “A scholar lives here.”
(4) Some men live for friendship, and keep “open house” for their boon companions.
(5) Some men live for domestic felicities, and consult the comfort and fellowship of wife and children in all the appointments of the house.
2. We may go to our own house without Christ. A Christless house, a Christless life is that in which something else besides Christ predominates. Where wealth, pleasure, etc., are supreme Christ is not. He has gone to the Mount of Olives.
II. JESUS WENT TO THE MOUNT OF OLIVES.
1. Jesus went
(1) To cool His fevered brain and heart after the anxieties and labours of the day.
(2) To pray, and realize more deeply His union and communion with the Father. To brace Himself for the efforts of the coming day.
2. Jesus went alone, yet every member of the crowd He left needed to go with Him--and for the same reason. So do we. Only with Jesus shall we find rest, communion, strength.
3. Jesus came back to judge those who had forsaken Him (chap. 8:16), and will come to judge those who are forsaking Him now.
III. THE ALTERNATIVE
1. Is not house or Christ. He does not require us to break up our homes or desolate our lives. Let it be remembered that one reason for going to Olivet was because there was not a home in Jerusalem that would take Him in. He would have supped with the meanest who would have accorded Him a welcome.
2. The alternative is house without Christ or house with Him. We must take our Saviour into our house, and then take our house to Olivet--make Him the sacred centre round which wealth, pleasure, etc., may cluster, and sanctify all by sympathy with Him, prayer and consecration.
3. Thus the alternative sharply put is self or Christ. Which?
1. If we let Christ alone He will let us alone. Hell in this life and in the next is abandonment by Christ.
2. Christ ascended Olivet--the Jews descended from Moriah. With Christ’s companions it is ever a going up till heaven at last is reached. With Christ-forsakers it is ever down--down until the depths of the bottomless pit are fathomed. (J. W. Burn.)
Introduction to John 8:1-11
These verses, with John 7:53, form, perhaps, the gravest critical difficulty in the New Testament.
I. THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST the passage.
1. That it is not found in some of the oldest and best MSS.
2. That it is wanting in some of the earlier versions.
3. That it is not commented on by Greek Fathers, Origen, Cyril, Chrysostom, and Theophylact, in their exposition of St. John, nor quoted or referred to by Tertullian and Cyprian.
4. That it differs in style from the rest of St. John’s Gospel, and contains several words and forms of expression which are nowhere else used in his writings.
5. That the moral tendency of the passage is somewhat doubtful, and that it seems to represent our Lord as palliating a heinous sin.
II. THE ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR of the passage are as follows:
1. That it is found in many old manuscripts, if not in the very oldest and best.
2. That it is found in the Vulgate Latin, and in the Arabic, Coptic, Persian, and Ethiopian versions.
3. That it is commented on by Augustine in his exposition of this Gospel; while in another of his writings he expressly refers to and explains its omission from some manuscripts; that it is quoted and defended by Ambrose, referred to by Jerome, and treated as genuine in the Apostolical constitutions.
4. That there is no proof whatever that there is any immoral tendency in the passage. Our Lord pronounced no opinion on the sin of adultery, but simply declined the office of a judge.
I lean decidedly to the side of those who think the passage is genuine, for the following reasons:
1. The argument from manuscripts appears to me inconclusive. We possess comparatively few very ancient ones. Even of them, some favour the genuineness of the passage. The same remark applies to the ancient versions. Testimony of this kind, to be conclusive, should be unanimous.
2. The argument from the Fathers seems to me more in favour of the passage than against it. On the one side the reasons are simply negative. Certain Fathers say nothing about the passage, but at the same time say nothing against it. On the other side the reasons are positive. Men of such high authority as Augustine and Ambrose not only comment on the passage, but defend its genuineness, and assign reasons for its omission by some mistaken transcribers. Let me add to this, that the negative evidence of the Fathers is not so weighty as it appears. Cyril of Alexandria is one. But his commentary on this chapter is lost, and what we have was supplied by a modern hand in 1510. Chrysostom’s commentary on John consists of popular public homilies, in which we can easily imagine such a passage as this might possibly be omitted. Theophylact was notoriously a copier and imitator of Chrysostom. Origen, the only remaining commentator, is one whose testimony is not of first-rate value, and he has omitted many things in his exposition of St. John. The silence of Tertullian and Cyprian is, perhaps, accountable on the same principles by which Augustine explains the omission of the passage in some copies of this Gospel in his own time. Some, as Calovius, Maldonatus, Flacius, Aretius, and Piscator, think that Chrysostom distinctly refers to this passage in his Sixtieth Homily on John, though he passes it over in exposition.
3. The argument from alleged discrepancies between the style and language of this passage, and the usual style of St. John’s writing, is one which should be received with much caution. We are not dealing with an uninspired, but with an inspired, writer Surely it is not too much to say that an inspired writer may occasionally use words and constructions and modes of expression which he generally does not use, and that it is no proof that he did not write a passage because he wrote it in a peculiar way. The whole discussion may leave in our minds, at any rate, one comfortable thought. If even in the case of this notoriously disputed passage--more controverted and doubted than any in the New Testament--so much can be said in its favour, how immensely strong is the foundation on which the whole volume of Scripture rests! If even against this passage the arguments of opponents are not conclusive, we have no reason to fear for the rest of the Bible. After all, there is much ground for thinking that some critical difficulties have been purposely left by God’s providence in the text of the New Testament, in order to prove the faith and patience of Christian people. They serve to test the humility of those to whom intellectual difficulties are a far greater cross then either doctrinal or practical ones. To such minds it is trying, but useful, discipline to find occasional passages involving knots which they cannot quite untie, and problems which they cannot quite solve. Of such passages the verses before us are a striking instance. That the text of them is “a hard thing” it would be wrong to deny. But I believe our duty is not to reject it hastily, but to sit still and wait. In these matters, “he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Bp. Ryle.)
The internal evidence in favour of the passage
It bears the same relation to revelation as a ray of light does to the sun. Its consummate knowledge of the human heart; its masterly harmonizing of the demands of the Mosaic law with the gospel; its triumphant turning of the tables in the presence of insolent foes; its matchless teachings of mercy, mingled with the sternest rebuke to sin; its complete and glorious victory in their terrible defeat and shame, all point out and prove the handwriting of God. God’s Word is a great fact in the moral world, as the Alps are in the natural. A fragment of granite taken from the Alps proves God its Creator quite as fully as the mountain range. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
The intrinsic truthfulness of the passage
Were the critical evidence against its genuineness far more overwhelming than it is, it would yet bear upon its surface the strongest proof of its authenticity. It is hardly too much to say that the mixture which it displays of tragedy and tenderness--the contrast which it involves between low, cruel cunning, and exalted nobility of intellect and emotion--transcends all power of the human imagination to have invented it; while the picture of a divine insight reading the inmost thoughts of the heart, and a yet diviner love which sees those inmost secrets with larger eyes than ours, furnish us with a conception of Christ’s power and person at once too lofty and too original to have been founded on anything but fact. No one could have invented, for few could even appreciate, the sovereign purity and ineffable charm--the serene authority of condemnation and pardon--by which the story is so deeply characterized. The repeated instances in which, without a moment’s hesitation, He foiled the crafty designs of His enemies, and in foiling them taught forever some eternal principles of thought and action, are among the most unique and decisive proofs of His more than human wisdom; and yet not one of those gleams of sacred light which were struck from Him by collision with the malice of man was brighter or more beautiful than this. The very fact that the narrative found so little favour in the early centuries; the fact that whole Churches regarded the narrative as dangerous in its tendency; the fact that eminent Fathers either ignore it or speak of it in a semi-apologetic tone--in these facts we see the most decisive proof that its real moral and meaning are too transcendent to admit of its having been originally invented or interpolated without adequate authority into the sacred text. Yet it is strange that any should have failed to see that, in the ray of mercy which thus streamed from heaven upon the wretched sinner, the sin assumed an aspect tenfold more hideous and repulsive to the conscience of mankind. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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