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Jesus went to the Mount of Olives
The habits of Jesus
At the close of the day Jesus withdrew to the Mount of Olives, and it is interesting to trace in Him once more that dislike of crowded cities, that love for the pure, sweet, fresh air, and for the quiet of the lonely hill, which we see in all parts of His career.
There was, indeed, in Him nothing of that supercilious sentimentality and morbid egotism which makes men shrink from all contact with their brother men; nor can they who would be His true servants belong to those merely fantastic philanthropists “who,” as Coleridge says, “sigh for wretchedness, yet shun the wretched, nursing in some delicious solitude their dainty loves and slothful sympathies.” On the contrary, day after day, while His daytime of work continued, we find Him sacrificing all that was dearest and most elevating to His soul, and in spite of heat and pressure and conflict and weariness, calmly pursuing His labours of love amid “the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.” But in the night time, when men cannot work, no call of duty required His presence within the walls of Jerusalem; and those who are familiar with the oppressive foulness of ancient cities can best imagine the relief His spirit must have felt when He could escape from the close streets and thronged bazaars, to cross the ravine, and climb the green slope beyond it, and be alone with His heavenly Father under the starry night. But when the day dawned His duties lay once more within the city walls, and in that part of the city where, almost alone, we hear of His presence in the courts of His Father’s’ house. And witch the very dawn His enemies contrived a fresh plot against Him, the circumstances of which made their malice more actually painful than it was intentionally perilous. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Praying must alternate with preaching
Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives. His usual oratory. There He prayed by night, and then early in the morning He came unto the Temple to preach. Thus He divided His time betwixt praying and preaching. So must all that will do good of it (see 1 Corinthians 3:6). (J. Trapp.)
Preachers must pray much
Look at Baxter! he stained his study walls with praying breath, and, after he got anointed with the unction of the Holy Ghost, sent a river of living water over Kidderminster, and converted hundreds. Luther and his coadjutors were men of such mighty pleading with God, that they broke the spell of ages, and laid nations subdued at the foot of the cross. John Knox grasped in his strong arms of faith all Scotland: his prayers terrified tyrants. Whitefield, after much holy, faithful closet pleading, went to the devil’s fair, and took more than a thousand souls out of the paw of the lion in one day. See a praying Wesley turn more than ten thousand souls to the Lord! Look at the praying Finney, whose prayers, faith, sermons, and writings have shaken the half of America, and sent a wave through the British churches. (C. D. Foss.)
And early in the morning He came again unto the Temple
We have in our version only one word, “Temple,” with which we render both ἰερόν and ναός, but there is a very real distinction between the two, and one the marking of which would often add much to the clearness and precision of the sacred narrative.
Ἱερόν (= templum) is the whole compass of the sacred enclosure, the τέμενος, including the outer courts, the porches, porticoes, and other buildings subordinated to the Temple itself. But ναός (= aedes), from ναίω, habito, as the proper habitation of God (Acts 17:24; Acts 17:24; 1 Corinthians 6:19): the οι (Matthew 12:4; cf. Exodus 23:19) is the Temple itself, that by especial right so called, being the heart and centre of the whole; the Holy, and the Holy of Holies, called often ἀγίασμα. (1Ma 1:37; 1Ma 3:45). This distinction, one that existed and was acknowledged in profane Greek, and with reference to heathen temples, quite as much as in sacred Greek, and with relation to the Temple of the true God (see Herodotus 1.181-3; Thucydides 5.18; Acts 19:24-44.19.27) is, I believe, always assumed in all passages relating to the Temple at Jerusalem, alike by Josephus, by Philo, by the Septuagint translators, and in the New Testament … The distinction may be brought to bear with advantage on several passages in the New Testament. When Zacharias entered “into the Temple of the Lord” to burn incense, the people who waited His return, and who are described as standing “without” (Luke 1:10) were in one sense in the Temple too--that is, in the ἱερόν, while he alone entered into the ναός, the “Temple” in its more limited and auguster sense. We read continually of Christ teaching “in the Temple” (Matthew 26:55; Luke 21:37; John 8:21), and perhaps are at a loss to understand how this could have been so, or how long conversations could there have been maintained, without interrupting the service of God. But this is ever the ἱερόν, the porches and porticoes of which were eminently adapted to such purposes, as they were intended far them. Into the ναός the Lord never entered during His earthly course: nor, indeed, being made under the law, could He do so, that being reserved for the priests alone. It need hardly be said that the money changers, the buyers and sellers, with the sheep and oxen, whom the Lord drives out, He repels from the ἱερόν, and not from the ναός. Irreverent as was their intrusion, they yet had not dared to establish themselves in the Temple properly so called. (Matthew 21:12; John 2:14). On the other hand, when we read of another Zacharias slain “between the Temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:35) we have only to remember that “Temple” is ναός here, at once to get rid of a difficulty, which may perhaps have presented itself to many--this, namely, Was not the altar in the Temple? How, then, could any locality be described as between these two? In the ἱερόν, doubtless was the brazen altar to which allusion is here made, but not in the ναός, “in the court” of the House of the Lord (cf. Josephus, “Antiq.” 8.4, 1), where the sacred historian (2 Chronicles 24:21) lays the scene of this murder, but not in the House of the Lord, or ναός, itself. Again, how vividly does it set forth to us the despair and defiance of Judas, that he presses even into the ναός itself (Matthew 27:5), into the “adytum” which was set apart for the priests alone, and there casts down before them the accursed price of blood. Those expositors who affirm that here ναός stands for ἱερόν should adduce some other passage in which the one is put for the other. (Abp. Trench.)
And He sat down and taught
Christ as a religious Teacher
I. HE WAS DEVOUTLY STUDIOUS. It was from the solitudes of Olivet where He had spent the previous night that He goes into the Temple. To preach the gospel three things are essential, and these can come only by solitude.
1. Self-formed conviction of gospel truth. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation; but how is it to be wielded--by Bible circulation, recitation of its contents, or repeating the comments of others? All these are useful, but conviction is indispensable. Heaven has so honoured our nature that the gospel, to win its victories, must pass as living beliefs through the soul of the teacher. The men who teach it without such convictions--conventional preachers--can never enrich the world. They are echoes of old voices, mere channels through which old dogmas flow. But he who speaks what he believes and because he believes, the doctrine comes from him instinct and warm with life. His individuality is impressed upon it. The world never had it in that exact form before. Now, devout solitude is necessary to this. Alone with God you can search the gospel to its foundation, and feel the congruity of its doctrine with your reason, its claims with your conscience, its provisions with your wants.
2. Unconquerable love for gospel truth. There is an immense practical opposition to it. Men’s pride, prejudice, pleasures, pursuits, and temporal interests are against it. It follows, therefore, that those who think more of the favour of society than of the claims of truth, will not deal with it honestly, earnestly, and therefore successfully. The man only who loves truth more than even life, can so use it really to benefit mankind. In devout solitude you can cultivate this invincible attachment to truth, and you may be made to feel with Paul, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ,”
3. A living expression of gospel truth. Our conduct must confirm and illumine the doctrines which our lips declare. For this there must be seasons of solitude. When Moses talked with God the skin of his face shone. But in devout seclusion our whole nature may become luminous. John the Baptist gained invincible energy in the wilderness; Paul prepared for apostleship in Arabia; and in Gethsemane Jesus was prepared for His work.
II. HE WAS SUBLIMELY COURAGEOUS. On the previous day His life had been threatened and His arrest attempted, yet with a noble daring He goes “early in the morning” to the same scene. Distinguish this spirit from what the world calls courage.
1. Brute courage is dead to the sacredness of life. Soldiers hold life cheaply, and their courage is an animal and mercenary thing. But Christ deeply felt and frequently taught the sanctity of life. He came not to destroy men’s lives, etc. “What shall it profit, etc.”
2. Brute courage is indifferent to the grand mission of life. The man of brute valour is not inspired with the question, What is the grand object of my life? Am I here to work out the great designs of my Maker or to be a mere fighting machine? On the contrary, Christ’s regard for the grand mission of His life made Him courageous. He came to bear witness to the truth; and to fulfil this work He willingly risked His own mortal life.
3. Brute courage is always inspired by mere animal passion. It is when the blood is up the man is daring, the mere blood of the enraged tiger or the infuriated lion. When the blood cools down the man’s courage, such as it is, collapses. Not so with the valour of Christ, which was that of deep conviction of duty. “As Luther,” Dr. D’Aubigne informs us, “drew near the door which was about to admit him into the presence of his judges (the Diet of Worms), he met a valiant knight, the celebrated George of Freundsberg, who, four years later, at the head of his German lansquenets, bent the knee with his soldiers on the field of Pavia, and then, charging to the left of the French army, drove it into the Ticino, and in a great measure decided the captivity of the King of France. The old general, seeing Luther pass, tapped him on the shoulder, and shaking his head, blanched in many battles, said kindly, ‘Poor monk, poor monk! thou art now going to make a nobler stand than I or any other captain have ever made in the bloodiest of our battles. But if thy cause is just, and thou art sure of it, go forward in God’s name and fear nothing. God will not forsake thee.’ A noble tribute of respect paid by the courage of the sword to the courage of the mind.” Nothing is more necessary for a religious teacher than courage, for his mission is to strike hard against the prejudices, self interests, dishonesties, etc., of the masses. No man without valour can do the work of a religious teacher. The popular preacher must more or less be cowardly conciliatory. Dead fish swim with the stream; it requires living ones with much inner force to cutup against the current.
III. HE WAS SUBLIMELY EARNEST. Early in the morning He did not indulge Himself sleep--“I must work,” etc. Two things should make the preacher earnestly diligent.
1. The transcendent importance of His mission--to enlighten and regenerate is perishable spirits that are in a morally ruinous condition. What is involved in the loss of one soul?
2. The brevity of life. How short the time, even in the longest-lived for this greatest of human understandings.
IV. HE WAS BEAUTIFULLY NATURAL. “He sat down,” etc. There was nothing stiff or official. All was free, fresh, and elastic as nature.
1. He was natural in attitude. Modern rhetoric has rules to guide a public speaker as to his posture, etc. All such miserable directions are not only unlike Christ, but degrading to the moral nature of the speaker, and detrimental to his oratorio influence. Let a man be charged with great thoughts, and those thoughts will throw his frame into the most beseeming attitudes.
2. He was natural in expression. He attended to no classic rule of composition; the words and similes He employed were such as His thoughts ran into first, and such as His hearers could well understand. To many modern preachers composition is everything. What solemn trifling with gospel truth!
3. He was natural in tones. The tones of His voice, we may rest assured, rose and fell according to the thoughts that occupied His soul. The voice of the modern teacher is often hideously artificial. Just so far as a speaker goes away from his nature, either in language, attitude, or tone, he loses self-respect, inward vigour, and social force. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
We must do good against great opposition
That is a poor engine that can only drive water through pipes down hill. Those vast giants of iron at the Ridgway waterworks, which supply this city day and night, easily lifting a ton of water at every gush, so that all the many thirsty faucet mouths throughout our streets cannot exhaust their fulness; those are the engines that I admire. (H. W. Beecher.)
And the Scribes and the Pharisees brought unto Him a woman taken in adultery
The scene and its significance
It is probable that the hilarity and abandonment of the feast, which had grown to be a kind of vintage festival, would often degenerate into acts of licence and immorality; and these would find more numerous opportunities in the general disturbance of ordinary life caused by the dwelling of the whole people in their little leafy booths.
One such act had been detected during the night, and the guilty woman had been handed over to the Scribes and Pharisees. Even had the morals of the nation at that time been as clean as in the days when Moses ordained the fearful ordeal of the “water of jealousy”--even had those rulers and teachers of the nation been elevated as far above their contemporaries in the real as in the professed sanctity of their lives--the discovery, and the threatened punishment of this miserable adulteress could hardly have failed to move every pure mind to a compassion which would have mingled largely with the horror which her sin inspired. They might then have inflicted the penalty with a sternness as inflexible as that of the Pilgrim Fathers; but the sternness of a severe and pure-hearted judge is a sternness which would not inflict one unnecessary, pang and is wholly incompatible with a spirit of malignant levity. But the spirit of these Scribes and Pharisees was not by any means the spirit of a sincere and outraged purity. In the decadence of national life, in the daily familiarity with heathen degradations, in the gradual substitution of a Levitical scrupulosity for a heartfelt religion, the morals of the nation had grown utterly corrupt. The ordeal of the “water of jealousy” had long been abolished, and the death by stoning as a punishment for adultery had long been suffered to fall into desuetude. Not even the Scribes and Pharisees, for all their external religiosity, had any genuine horror of an impurity with which their own lives were often stained. They saw nothing but a chance of annoying, and endangering One whom they regarded as their deadliest enemy. It was a curious custom among the Jews to consult distinguished Rabbis in cases of difficulty; but there was no difficulty here. It was long since the law of death had been demanded; and even had this not been the ease the Roman law would have interfered. On the other hand, divorce was open to the injured husband, and the ease of this woman differed from that of no other who had similarly transgressed. And even if they had sincerely desired the opinion of Jesus there was not the slightest excuse for baling this woman into His presence, and thus subjecting her to a moral torture, all the more insupportable from the close seclusion of women in the East. And therefore to subject her to the superfluous horror of this odious publicity--to drag her fresh from the agony of detection into the sacred precincts of the Temple--to subject this unveiled, disheveled, terror-stricken woman to the cold and sensual curiosity of a malignant mob, and this merely to gratify a calculating malice--showed a brutality of heart and conscience which could not but prove revolting to One who was infinitely tender because infinitely pure. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
This remarkable story is a signal instance of the magical passing of virtue out of the virtuous man into the hearts of those with whom he comes in contact, and illustrates the difference between scholastic or scientific and living or instinctive virtue. It occurred to the religious leaders that the case afforded a good opportunity of making an experiment on Christ. They might use it to discover how He regarded the Mosaic law. That He was heterodox on this subject they had reason to believe, and to satisfy themselves and the people on this point they asked Christ whether He agreed with Moses on the subject of adultery. A judgment He gave them, but quite different from what they had expected. In thinking of the “case” they had forgotten the woman and even the deed. What became of the criminal appeared to them wholly unimportant; towards her crime or her character they had no feeling whatever. If they had been asked about her they might probably have answered, with Mephistopheles, “She is not the first”; nor would they have thought their answer fiendish--only practical and business-like. Perhaps they might on reflection have admitted that their frame of mind was not strictly moral, that it would have been better if they could have found leisure for some shame at the scandal and some hatred for the sinner. But they would have argued that such strict propriety is not possible in this world, that we have too much on our hands to think of these niceties, that a man who makes leisure for such refinements will find his work in arrears at the end of the day, and probably also that he is doing injustice to those dependent upon him. Thus they might fluently have urged. But the judgment of Christ was upon them, making all things seem new and shining like the lightning. The shame of the deed itself, and the brazen hardness of the prosecutors, the legality which had no justice and did not pretend to have mercy, the religious malice that could make its advantage out of the fall and ignominious death of a fellow creature--all this was rudely thrust before His mind at once. The effect upon Him was such as might have been produced upon many since, but perhaps upon scarcely any man that ever lived before. He was seized with an intolerable sense of shame. He could not meet the eye of the crowd. In His burning embarrassment He stooped down so as to hide His face and began writing on the ground. His tormentors continued their clamour until He raised His head for a moment and said, “He that is without sin,” etc., and then instantly returned to His former attitude. They had a glimpse, perhaps, of the glowing blush upon His face, and awoke suddenly with astonishment to a new sense of their condition and conduct. The older men naturally felt it first and slunk away; the younger followed their example. The crowd dissolved and left Christ alone with the woman. Not till then could He bear to stand upright; and then, consistently with His principle, He dismissed the woman, as having no commission to interfere with the office of civil judge. But the mighty power of living purity had done its work. He had refused to judge a woman, but He had judged a whole crowd. He had awakened the slumbering conscience in many hardened hearts, giving them a new delicacy, a new ideal, a new view and reading of the Mosaic law. And yet this crowd was either indifferent or bitterly hostile to Him. Let us imagine the correcting, elevating influence of His presence upon those who were bound to Him by the ties which bind a soldier to his officer, a clansman to his chief, a subject to a king ruling by Divine right, aye, and by ties far closer. The ancient philosophers were accustomed to inquire about virtue, whether it can be taught. Yes! it can, and in this way. But if this way be abandoned, and moral philosophy be set up to do that which in the nature of things it can never do, the effect will appear in a certain slow deterioration of manners which it would be hard to describe had it not been described already in well-known words: “Sophistry and calculation” will take the place of “chivalry.” There will be no more “generous loyalty,” no more “proud submission,” no more “dignified obedience.” A stain will be no more felt like a wound, and our hardened and coarsened manners will lose the “sensibility of principle and the chastity of honour.” (Ecce Homo.)
The woman taken in adultery
I. That the VILEST SINNERS ARE OFTEN THE GREATEST ACCUSERS. Were there a worse lot of men in Judea or on the round earth than these Scribes and Pharisees, and members of the Sanhedrim, who now accused this woman? It is ever so: the more base and corrupt a man is, the more ready to charge crimes on others and the more severe in his censures.
II. That the SEVEREST JUDGE OF SINNERS IS THEIR OWN CONSCIENCE. “They which heard Him, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one.” Observe two things
1. Christ’s method of awakening their conscience.
(1) He expresses by a symbolical act His superiority over their malignant purposes. He stoops down as if He were utterly indifferent.
(2) He puts the question of the woman’s punishment upon their own consciences. “He that is without sin,” etc. Observe
2. The force of their awakened consciences. They were convicted, and went out one by one. Ah! there is no judge so severe and crushing in his sentence as that of a guilty conscience.
III. That THE GREATEST FRIEND OF SINNERS IS JESUS CHRIST. The accusers are gone, but the accused remains with Jesus alone. Observe
1. He declines pronouncing a judicial condemnation upon her. “Neither do I condemn thee.” He does not mean that He did not disapprove of her conduct and condemn her morally, but judicially. He declines to pronounce judgment.
2. He discharges her with a merciful admonition. “Go, and sin no more.” An expression, this, implying
(1) That she had sinned. Adultery is a terrible moral crime.
(2) That He forgave her. “Go.” I absolve thee.
(3) That her future should be free from sin. “Sin no more.” Let bygones be bygones; let oblivion cover thy past; let virtue crown thy future. Thus Jesus deals with sinners. Desolate, branded, forsaken of all, He alone will stand by thee. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The judges judged
Parts of this story are not fitted for public discourse. But if we may not preach about the woman, we may and ought about her accusers, and the sin of fault finding of which they were guilty.
I. CENSORIOUSNESS GROWS FROM AN EVIL EAGERNESS. Many forms of eagerness are invaluable--diligence in business, promptitude in doing good, in giving, helping, etc. Here was an occasion in which eagerness of kindness was much needed. “If ox or ass fall into a pit, straightway pull him out”--if man or woman, be quicker still. But this was an evil eagerness, as seen
1. In the needless number of accusers--one or two would have done.
2. In their want of delicacy, disregarding the crowd and the woman’s feelings.
3. In their unfairness. The law of Moses awarded the same penalty to man and woman; probably the fear of the knife of the man makes them more content with the capture of the woman, and so they come with no thoughts of her shame and painful future, but clamour for her condemnation. How common is this evil eagerness. Some lose languor with scandal as if it were a tonic. Some faces are never so full of interest as when telling or investigating something which the generous heart would cover and for which the devout heart would pray. Perhaps like these men you would find your fault finding has its root not in virtuous indignation, but in an evil eagerness.
II. CENSORIOUSNESS GENERALLY HAS OTHER GRAVE FAULTS CONNECTED WITH IT. It is quite a mistake to suppose that the more faults a man finds the less he has. On the contrary, the censorious are never faultless. “Being convicted in their own consciences” means convicted of having committed similar crimes. Their bitterness was not the indignation of the innocent against the guilty, but of the “not found out” against the “found out.” Purity does not clamour for vengeance, but the worse we are the less patient are we with others as bad. It is hard to conceive of such hypocrisy, but a little thought will show how it would grow.
1. They want credit for character, and denunciation is the cheapest way of getting it: therefore are frequently taken. By condemning evil they are the more likely to be taken for good.
2. They had, like us, two standards of goodness--one for themselves and one for their neighbours. Divers weights are an abomination to God, but a comfort to us. We weigh our duties by one set and our neighbours by another. “If I am angry it is nervous irritability, or a habit of speaking my mind; but if you are, you are ill-mannered.” So we all reason. So these men did. Their delinquencies were “gaieties,” “hot blood of youth,” “occasional excesses unimportant in their character,” balanced by superior virtues. But for a woman to so act was intolerable. We like a monopoly of our vices: no one must poach on our preserves. So we dislike men of our own faults with an intensity the innocent never feel. You will learn the faults men have by listening to their favourite charges. It is the proud who judge most severely the proud; so with the greedy, the dishonourable, the selfish. Are you censorious? Take it as a sign of faultiness, and let severity begin at home.
III. CENSORIOUSNESS DISTRESSES THE HEART OF CHRIST. He stooped down as though He heard them not, distressed at sinners accusing a fellow sinner. He is the Great Judge, and soon all will be gathered at His bar; and yet they come accusing one another to Him. He sees how much each needs mercy, but instead of supplicating it, here are eleven sinners asking condemnation to the twelfth. No wonder he was shocked at the incongruity. Astonished that so few use their neighbours’ faults as mirrors, and that for the mercy they could get there are so few applicants, and for the censure He was so slow to give, so many. This unseemliness attaches to all severity! He still, though unseen, overhears the slighting speech, etc., and turns His head from one of the most grievous activities that dishonour human nature.
IV. CENSORIOUSNESS SOONER OR LATER IS GRIEVOUSLY PUT TO SHAME. There is more hare than the shame of unholy censure--there is failure of a snare laid for Christ, and the awful rebuke of the Saviour’s glance and speech. They came secure in being unknown to Him, forgetting that every fault leaves a mark--vice, some coarseness of feature as well as thought; pride, some line of scorn; falseness, some restlessness of eye. The Son of Man had only to look and see. Their souls wither beneath His strange words, “He that is without sin,” etc. What a terrible rebuke in the Temple; in the presence of the people whose reverence they had won by hypocrisy; and it wrought no relenting. No one says “I perceive Thou art a prophet,” or “Depart from me for I am a sinful man,” or “Whence knowest Thou me? Thou art the Son of God, the King of Israel.” Only shame and bitterness fill them. Doubtless all made excuses. One had a committee requiring immediate attendance; another willing to be the expositor declines to be the executioner of the law; another vaunted his exemption from any such vice, but had come to get the law sanctioned; another was going to Jericho and wanted to catch the caravan--but all suddenly abandoned the charge and in confusion left the place.
V. CENSORIOUSNESS AND ITS METHODS STANDS IN UTTER CONTRAST WITH CHRIST AND HIS METHODS. The Scribes have a zeal for public welfare and so has Christ. In their case coarse sin mixed with cruel anger unite to destroy a poor sinner; in His infinite purity mixed with tenderest love unite to destroy sin and save the sinner. He does not pardon because she has not yet repented; but, declining to condemn her, He bids her “go and sin no more.” (R. Glover.)
Christ and woman
It has been often urged, to the disparagement of Christianity, that modern civilization lacks a certain severity of tone and simplicity of manners very observable in classic antiquity; and the charge is not without a plausible foundation. But to argue that the lack is a loss or a step backward is quite another thing. In ancient times woman occupied a very inferior position; her influence upon society was hardly perceptible; consequently she scarcely entered as a moulding power into education and civilization. There was a certain severe hardness, or hardiness, if you like, characterizing men of classical lands. But Jesus Christ came into the world “made of a woman,” reproducing in His person and life the finer features of a woman. By His means female influence became a factor in the history of the world, and entered as a softening, transforming element into education and civilization; and as an inevitable result the severe manly hardness of olden times has been much tempered. The equipoise has not hitherto been definitely fixed, for the world is only in its transition state; but the recognized ideal of Christianity is indisputable--it is the happy union of masculine simplicity and firmness with feminine delicacy and grace. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
Paraded piety unreal
In the olden times, even the best rooms were usually of bare brick or stone, damp and mouldy, but over these in great houses, when the family was resident, were hung up arras, or hangings of rich material, between which and the wall persons might conceal themselves, so that literally walls had ears. It is to be feared that many a brave shew of godliness is but an arras to conceal rank hypocrisy; and this accounts for some men’s religion being but occasional, since it is folded up or exposed to view as need may demand. Is there no room for conscience to pry between thy feigned profession and thy real ungodliness, and bear witness against thee? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
An adulteress and murderess detected
When Dr. Donne took possession of his first living, he walked into the churchyard as the sexton was digging a grave; and on his throwing up a skull, the doctor took it into his hands, to indulge in serious contemplation. On looking at it, he found a headless nail sticking in the temple, which he secretly drew out, and wrapped it in the corner of his handkerchief. He then asked the gravedigger whether he knew whose skull it was. He said he did, adding it had been a man’s who kept a brandy shop--a drunken fellow, who one night, having taken two quarts of ardent spirits, was found dead in his bed the next morning. “Had he a wife?” “Yes.” “Is she living?” “Yes.” “What character does she bear?” “A very good one; only her neighbours reflect on her because she married the day after her husband was buried. This was enough for the doctor, who, in the course of visiting his parishioners, called on her. He asked her several questions, and, among others, of what sickness her husband died. She giving him the same account, he suddenly opened the handkerchief, and cried, in an authoritative voice, “Woman, do you know this nail?” She was struck with horror at the unexpected question, instantly acknowledged that she had murdered her husband, and was afterwards tried and executed.
Moses in the law commanded that such should be stoned. This is the legitimate conclusion of the two texts, Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22, when compared. There seems no ground for the comment of some writers, that Moses did not command an adulteress to be put to death by stoning. (Bp. Ryle.)
They knew His clemency and expected He would showy it. A noble testimony from His enemies to His well-known mercy. He had hinted that publicans and harlots might find forgiveness (Matthew 21:31). They hoped that He, professing to be Messiah would contradict Moses. They knew that Messiah, was bound to sustain Moses’ law. If He bade them stone her, He would give two-fold offence
1. He would condemn a laxity of morals sadly and widely prevalent.
2. He would infringe on Roman authority and offend the rulers, as Jews had no longer the right of capital punishment. They challenged Him to carry out a law which prevailing license had rendered a dead letter. They expected a very favourable decision from the past (Luke 7:47; Matthew 11:28; Luke 15:11). Thus the trap was cunningly laid. If He say that the law must be executed the Roman authorities would object; if that the law must be waived, then Moses would be sacrificed. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
Death by stoning
The offender was led to a place without the gates, two cubits high, his hands being bound. From hence one of the witnesses knocked him down by a blow upon the loins. If that killed him not, the witness lifted up a stone, being the weight of two men, which chiefly the other witness cast upon him. If that killed him not, all Israel threw stones upon him. The party thus executed was afterwards, in greater ignominy, hanged on a tree till towards the sunset, at which time both he and the tree were buried. (Godwin.)
Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.--A sense of all their baseness, their hardness, their malice, their cynical parade of every feeling which pity would temper and delicacy repress, rushed over the mind of Jesus. He blushed for His nation, for His race; He blushed not for the miserable accused, but for the deeper guilt of her unblushing accusers. Glowing with uncontrollable disgust that modes of opposition so irredeemable in their meanness should be put in play against Him, and that He should be made the involuntary centre of such a shameful scene--indignant that the sacredness of His personal reserve should thus be shamelessly violated, and that those things which belong to the sphere of a noble reticence should be thus cynically obtruded on His notice--He bent His face forward from His seat, and, as though He did not or would not hear, stooped and wrote on the ground. For any others but such as these it would have been enough. Even if they failed to see in the action a symbol of forgiveness--a symbol that the memory of things thus written in the dust might be obliterated and forgotten--still any but these could hardly have failed to interpret the gesture into a distinct indication that in such a matter Jesus would not mix Himself. But they saw nothing and understood nothing, and stood there unabashed, still pressing their brutal question, still holding, pointing to, jeering at the woman, with no compunction in their cunning glances and no relenting in their steeled hearts. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
The significance of the writing on the ground
As St. John gives no explanation, we are left to conjecture.
1. Some think, as Bede, Rupertus, and Lampe, that our Lord wrote on the ground the texts of Scripture which settled the question brought before Him, as the seventh commandment, and Leviticus 20:10, and Deuteronomy 22:22. The action would then imply, “Why do ye ask Me? What is written in the law, that law which God wrote with His own finger as I am writing now?”
2. Some think, as Lightfoot and Burgon, that our Lord meant to refer to the law of Moses for the trial of jealousy, in which an accused woman was obliged to drink water into which dust from the floor of the Tabernacle or Temple had been put by the priest (Numbers 5:17). The action would then imply, “Has the law for trying such an one as this been tried? Look at the dust on which I am writing. Has the woman been placed before the priest, and drank of the dust and water?”
3. Some think, as Augustine, Melancthon, Brentius, Toletus, and a Lapide, that our Lord’s action was a silent reference to the text, Je
17:13: “They that depart from Me shall be written in the earth.”
4. One rationalist winter suggests that our Lord “stooped down” from feelings of modesty, as if ashamed of the sight before Him, and of the story told to Him. The idea is preposterous, and entirely out of harmony with our Lord’s public demeanour.
5. Some think, as Euthymius, Calvin, Rollock, Chemnitius, Diodati, Flavius, Piscator, Grotius, Poole, and Hutcheson, that our Lord did not mean anything at all by this writing on the ground, and that He only signified that He would give no answer, and would neither listen to nor interfere in such matters as the one brought before Him. Calvin remarks: “Christ intended, by doing nothing, to show how unworthy they were of being heard; just as if anyone, while another was speaking to him, were to draw lines on the wall, or to turn his back, or to show by any other sign that he was not attending to what was said.” I must leave the reader to choose which solution he prefers. To my eyes, I confess, there are difficulties in each view. If I must select one, I prefer the last of the five, as the simplest. Quesnell remarks: “We never read that Jesus Christ wrote but once in His life. Let men learn from hence never to write but when it is necessary or useful, and to do it with humility and modesty, on a principle of charity, and not of malice.” (Bp. Ryle.)
The literary silence of Christ
Most religious leaders have given important writings to their followers--Moses the Law, Mohammed the Koran. The reformers, Wiclif, Luther, Calvin, etc., wielded as much power by their pen as by their tongue. But the only writing ascribed to Jesus is that of the text, and now doubt is thrown even upon that. Consider the significance of this. It could not be to discourage literature, because
1. Christ was a great teacher, and dealt with ideas as well as conduct.
2. His disciples wrote under His commission. What, then, may we learn from the literary silence of Christ?
I. CHRIST WAS CARELESS OF FAME. It came, but unsought. Among those Galilean hills Jesus spoke words which make the most brilliant sayings of the Greek philosophers and poets look commonplace. Yet He had no thought of attracting the world’s admiration. His words are like wild flowers. We set our plants in conspicuous beds in trim gardens where our friends can admire them. God scatters His flowers in pathless woods, on lonely moors, etc. They bloom in the wilderness, but fade in the city. Consider how some of the best of Christ’s words were spoken to one individual--to Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria, Martha, etc. True they have been reported; but
1. There is no reason to suppose that Jesus thought of any record being made of them.
2. He must have said many other similarly great and beautiful things of which there is no report (John 21:25). Learn simplicity, humility, andself-forgetfulness from this literary silence. Let it silence the pretensions of literary vanity.
II. CHRIST WAS MORE CONCERNED WITH THE SUBSTANCE THAN WITH THE FORM OF HIS TEACHING. He did not only speak for the benefit of His contemporaries; He entrusted His teaching to apostles. No doubt memory was stronger then than now we have injured it by the use of memoranda. Moreover, Christ promised the Spirit to help the memories of His apostles. Nevertheless, they did not report their Master’s sayings with that absolute verbal accuracy which would have marked His writing of them. This is proved by differences in the records. Hence learn
1. That Christ condemns worship of the letter. “The letter killeth.”
2. That the method of studying Scripture by means of the minute pedantic analysis of texts and the building of ponderous arguments on small phrases--unstable as inverted pyramids--is wrong. We should seek rather forthe broad lessons of a passage.
3. That distress and doubt, occasioned by various readings, changes in the Revised Version, alternative marginal renderings, etc., are due to a mistaken idea of Scripture. In the essence of revelation no vital truth is shaken by these variations.
III. THE PERSON OF CHRIST IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HIS WORDS. People say the Press is crushing the pulpit. The work of Christ is the greatest proof of the power of a living personal presence. Some men put their best selves in their books; but it is better to be loved by one friend than admired by ten thousand readers. Jesus was loved best by those who knew Him most. His influence is still powerful because personal.
1. We have to note in the Gospels not merely the words of Christ, but His whole life, death, resurrection; and for us the words are chiefly valuable as revealing the soul of speaker.
2. We have a living Christ, unseen but present.
IV. THE WORK OF CHRIST IS GREATER THAN HIS TEACHING. Christ’s claims are essentially different in kind as well as degree from those of Socrates. He is the grandest of Teachers, but He is more; He is the Saviour of the world and the King of the new heavenly kingdom. His chief mission lay not in His preaching, but in His doing the work of the kingdom of God. It does not centre in the Sermon on the Mount, but in the death on Calvary.
V. THE TRAINING OF MEN IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE PUBLICATION OF IDEAS. Socrates resembles Christ in writing nothing and being chiefly concerned with the work of training the characters of disciples.
1. All Christian work must have this practical aim. In the mission, the Church, the Sunday school, the kind of teaching must be the training of souls. The teacher who simply propagates ideas is as sounding brass.
2. Christ’s work in us is personal and spiritual. We may study His sayings, but we shall be no Christians till our lives are quickened by His life. (W. F.Adeney, M. A.)
Christ’s mission non-literary
No thoughtful Christian can fail to have been struck by the fact that except these few words Christ wrote nothing. He did not bow down over a table piled with manuscripts, and in hours of meditative thought, during which He outwatched the stars, erect a monument which might be admired by a succession of sages and critics; He did not write out the complete text of an elaborate system of theology. He went out into the throng of men. He spoke by the highways and the lake side, in words which, if they were high as heaven and deep as the transparent lake, were in form broad and popular. When we consider the analogy of the “tables which were the work of God” and “the writing which was the writing of God” (Exodus 32:16), and the value of books in excluding error and securing permanence, we ask why He did not write. There is one reason derived from His nature. In great books the truest element of greatness is the conviction that we can trace the pathway of a superior mind in pursuit of truth. When he seems to have found it, the writer quivers with delight. With the Word made flesh, truth cannot be an effort and a conquest--the conclusion toilfully drawn from premises laboriously acquired. Rather the truth dwells in Him. He does not say: “After long communion with Divinely-inspired books, after long self-questioning, prompted sometimes by voices that seemed to come from the ancient hills, and the glory of the sunlit heaven, I gradually worked out My system.” He does not say: “I have found the truth.” He does say: “I am the Truth.” We may answer the question why Christ did not write--His thought is preserved in a Diviner way. “I will put My law in their mind, and write it in their heart.” (Bp. Alexander.)
Why Christ wrote no book
1. It might seem that Christ ought to have written; for
(1) Writing is best for an immortal doctrine (Luke 21:33).
(2) Analogy of old law (Deuteronomy 31:18; Deuteronomy 31:18;
(3) Exclusion of error.
2. Christ wrote nothing because
(1) The more excellent mode suited the most excellent Teacher Matthew 7:1). The greatest teachers--Socrates and
Pythagoras, e.g.--wrote nothing.
(2) Most excellent doctrine cannot be cramped into books John 21:25).
(3) Due order through disciples to people (Proverbs 9:3).
(1) What was done by the members (apostles, evangelists) was done by the Head.
(2) Old law might be written, but 2 Corinthians 3:3.
(3) Those who believed not apostles would not have believed
Christ. (T. Aquinas.)
The writing in the dust
Perhaps He thus wrote to show that sin, which is written before God, and graven, as it were, with a pen of iron, and with the pane of a diamond, is pardoned and blotted out by Christ as easily as a writing slightly made in the dust. (J. Trapp.)
So when they continued asking Him, He lifted Himself up.--Jesus is writing as one in an office, absorbed in some account, might write, not hearing the question another had put to Him. They think He will answer directly, but He continues writing. They continue asking, and press Him for a reply. Possibly they enlarge on the heinousness of the offence--an easy task and a sort of solace for a bad conscience. These men knew that they had committed sin enough, which should have made them charitable, but it did not. Christ is never in a hurry to condemn; hence His silence. Moreover, He had no wish to be judge. “Who made Me a ruler and a judge over you?” They think Jesus is pondering a reply; He has no need, for one is ready. He keeps it back for some time, knowing that silence up to a certain point is more powerful than speech. They ask Him the more vehemently, for the silence now becomes painful. How they wish He would cease that writing and say something! They could bear an open accusation. That could be rebutted with all the force of aggrieved innocence. But to be treated as though unworthy an answer, as though uncharitable in wishing to have the woman condemned, or as though mean in trying to entrap Christ--this is terrible! a taste of Gehenna. They press Him further; and now, rising, He glances first on the accused and then on the accusers. Slowly, quietly, witheringly, He utters a vivid sentence: “He that is without sin,” etc. He looks away from law to conscience. Again He stoops and writes. Was it imagination that deceived them? His look was a lightning flash, quickly gone. His voice was as the blare of the judgment trumpet, echoing to the innermost recesses of their souls. They realized now the report of their officers--“Never man spake,” etc.
and were almost as overpowered as the armed band in Gethsemane. The power of Christ’s words lay in His character. He alone could say, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” He was therefore the only one who had a right to condemn. We have in this a foreshadowing of Christ’s power at the Day of Judgment. How silently, surely, quickly, we shall be judged! Suppose now we had heard these words. Are we without sin? We must not hear for others, but listen for self. It is necessary to isolate each one, as I once saw the prisoners in the chapel of a prison. Each one was in a wooden enclosure, and no one could look at them but the chaplain. His eye could almost see into the heart of each. Thus we have to be isolated by the Word of Christ. As we feel His eye resting upon us, can we say that we are without sin? Enter those long-locked chambers of memory! Can you now blame others? Whatever we do, we should beware of playing the critic. The critic in society or in the house is a disagreeable person, and harms himself most by his criticisms. If manners or persons or utterances do not please, we may hide our dislike. We may take persons as we find them. Those who cannot please soon cease to try. Oh, that fault finders would remember these words! It is good to look to ourselves. We shall find failings enough to make us charitable. There is an old parable of a rusty shield that prayed, “O sun, illumine me,” to which the sun replied, “First, polish yourself.” We need to remember this and be pure ourselves. In men’s eyes those respectable, well-dressed, pious-looking priests appeared of enviable purity, but a keen Eye saw their sin and sees ours. (F. Hastings.)
And again He stooped down
It is with sins as with men, some have pedigree and some have not; for some are, and have always been, held in respect and others in contempt. The sins of place, power, bravery, genius, and those of felony, vice, brutality, are judged differently. These distinctions had little weight with Christ, and He deals with the hypocrisies of religion, the impostures of learning, and the gilded shows gotten by extortion in terms of abhorrence. Hence the jealousy with which He was watched, and the endeavours of the rabbis to draw Him into some kind of treason in His doctrine, because they feared His influence with the people, and lest He might head a revolution which would subvert the present social order. Hence the plot here so signally frustrated. And now look upon these scribes, etc., as they withdraw and follow them as Christ add the whole assembly did. Observe the orderly manner of their shame, “beginning at the eldest,” etc. See how carefully they keep the sacred rules of good breeding and deference to age: even in their sniveling defeat, and you will find how base a thing may take on airs of dignity, and how contemptible these airs of dignity may be.
I. TO CLEAR THE INFLUENCE OF A FALSE OR DEFECTIVE IMPRESSION GROWING OUT OF THE FACT THAT WE LIVE SO ENTIRELY IN THE ATMOSPHERE OF DECENCY. Our range of life is so walled in by the respectability of our associations, that what is on the other side of the wall is a world unknown. Hence we have no such impression of sin as we ought to have. It is with us in all our associations much as it is with us in church. Sitting here how can you suffer any just impression of that evil which wears a look so plausible? If there came in a fair representation of the vice and drunkenness, etc., of the town, how different it would be for me to speak of sin and for you to hear. And so of the associations of life generally. Sin in its revolting forms seldom gets near enough to meet your eye.
II. WE NEED ALSO TO CLEAR ANOTHER WRONG IMPRESSION GROWING OUT OF THE TENDENCY TO IDENTIFY SIN WITH VICE, and therefore to judge that whatever sin is respectable is no sin at all. All vice presupposes sin, but sin may be the reigning principle of the life and never produce one scar of vice or blameable injury. Indeed, virtue, as the term is commonly used, classes under sin--conduct approved irrespectively of any good principle of conduct--a goodness wholly negative and consisting in abstinence from what is base. But sin is the negation of good as respects the principle of good, anything which is not in the positive power of universal love. Virtue, therefore, which consists in barely not doing is sin, because not in any positive principle of love or duty to God--respectable indeed, but having the same root with all sin, viz. the not being in a state of positive allegiance to God.
III. RESPECTABLE SIN IS NOT LESS GUILTY BECAUSE IT HAS A LESS REVOLTING ASPECT. Even those who blame themselves for not being Christians think their blame of a higher quality than it would be under the excesses which many practise, whereas all sin is of the same principle. There are different kinds of vice, but only one kind of sin, viz. the state of being without God. Respectable sin shades into the unrespectable as twilight shades into night. The evil spirit may be trained up to politeness and be elegant, cultivated sin, exclusive and fashionable sin, industrious thrifty sin; it may be a great political manager, commercial operator, inventor; it may be learned, eloquent, poetic sin; still it is sin, and has the same radical quality which in its ranker conditions produce all the most hideous crimes. There is, of course, a difference between a courteous and an ill-natured man, a pure and a lewd man, etc., yet both are twin brothers; only you see in one how well he may be made to look, and in the other how both would look if that which is in both were allowed to work unrestrained.
IV. RESPECTABLE SIN IS OFTEN MORE BASE IN SPIRIT THAN THAT WHICH IS DESPISED. This is not the judgment of those who are apt to rule the judgments of the world. The lies of high life, e.g., are the liberties asserted by power and respectable audacity; those of commoners are fatal dishonour. The conqueror who desolates a kingdom will be named with respect by history, when probably God will look upon him with much greater abhorrence than if he had robbed a hen roost. How very respectable those learned imposters and sanctimonious extortioners! How base those publicans and sinners. But Christ, who regarded no man’s appearance, was of a different opinion. It is not a show of sin that makes it base, but what is in motive, feeling, thought.
V. RESPECTABLE SIN IS COMMONLY MORE INEXCUSABLE. The depraved classes have to a great extent been trained up to the very life they lead. They are ignorant by right of their origin, accustomed only to what is lowest. Sometimes the want of bread makes them desperate. They are criminal, but who does not pity them? It is incredible to you that in your own decent life of sin, taken as related to your high advantages, there may even be a degree of criminality, which as God estimates crime is far more inexcusable than that for which many are doomed to suffer the penalties of the law.
VI. RESPECTABLE SIN IS MORE INJURIOUS. The baser forms of vicious abandonment create for us greater public burdens in the way of charity and justice, and annoy us more. But have they not a wholesome influence? They tempt no one but warn away. They hang out a flag of distress upon every shoal of temptation. We should never conceive the inherent baseness of sin if it were not shown us in their experiment; revealed in their delirium, rags, bloated faces, etc. Meanwhile, respectable sin--how attractive its pleasures, gay hours, courteous society--even its excesses are only a name for spirit! Nay, church-going sin is the most plausible, and therefore the most dangerous; for if a man never goes to a place of worship, we take his sin as a warning, but if he is regular at church, a sober, correct character, then how many will be ready to imagine that there is one form of sin that is about as good as piety itself.
1. With how little reason are Christians cowed by the mere name and standing of those who are living under the power of sin. Doubtless it is well enough to respect them, but, however high they are, allow them never to overtop your pity. How can a true Christian ennobled by the glorious heirship be intimidated by what is only respectable sin. If he goes to God with boldness, how much more should he stand before them and speak of Christ and His salvation. To falter is a great wrong to our Master’s gospel, which puts the humblest far above the most honoured sinner.
2. It is impossible in such a subject as this not to raise the question of morality.
(1) Morality, apart from religion, is but another name for decency in sin. There is no more heart of holy principle in it than in the worst of felonies. It is the same thing as respects denial of God or His claims as reprobacy, only well dressed. Will that save you?
(2) A far greater danger is that the decent character of your sin will keep you from the discovery of its real nature as a root of character. How difficult is true conviction when its appearances are so fair, when it creeps so insidiously into our amiable qualities.
(3) How necessary it is, then, to make a study of this subtle, cunningly veiled, reputable sin long enough to fashion its real import. Ask how, if unrestrained, it would look.
(4) Another motive is, no matter how respectable, you can never tell where it will end. You may be confident that virtuous irreligious living will not lead to murder. Perhaps not. Avoiding what is bloody, you may fall into what is false or low, or if you keep your decency here, the proper end will show itself hereafter, and then it will be seen how deep in criminality is every soul becoming, even under the fairest shows, coupled with neglect of God.
3. Advancing a step, observe that it is on just this view of human character under sin that Christianity is based. Christ makes no distinction of respectable and unrespectable as regards the common want of salvation. Hence the declared impossibility of eternal life even to a Nicodemus or a young ruler save by a radical change of character, but the most fallen, like this woman, Christ wants to raise.
4. And so, when you go to stand before God, it will not be even your virtues, however much commended here, that will give you an entrance among the glorified. Respectable sin will not pass there as here, and as both forms are the same in principle, the world of retribution must be a world of strange companionships. The spirits of guilty men will not be assorted by their tastes, but by their demerits. Those now pleasing themselves in the dignity of their virtues may fall into group with those now avoided with revulsion. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
Being convicted in their own conscience
I. PRELIMINARY DISTINCTIONS AS TO CONSCIENCE ITSELF. It may be considered as
1. Ignorant or enlightened. The former, being vitiated by error or corrupted by prejudice, is an unsafe guide. It may condemn virtue and canonize vice. Hence the Jews persecuted Christians, thinking to do God service, and Christians have persecuted one another. But the latter, freed from corrupt influence and acquainted with the rule of duty, distinguishing between things that differ and approving those that are excellent, is a great blessing Hebrews 13:8).
2. Unnecessarily scrupulous or daringly presumptive. The former makes that a sin which God has not declared sinful, and is a weak conscience 1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Corinthians 10:12). The latter has no scruples, and bids defiance to the laws and vengeance of heaven (Deuteronomy 29:19).
3. Pure or defiled. The one is purged by the blood of Christ from guilt, and is thus pacified; the other is contaminated by sin, and lays no restraint on the appetites, nor reproves the motions of sin (1 Timothy 3:9; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Timothy 1:15).
4. Tender or seared. The one is a faithful monitor, and trembles at the Divine threatenings (Proverbs 20:27); the other is free from all fear, and too stupid to perform its functions (Zechariah 7:12).
5. Peaceable or troublesome. The one conscious of pardoned guilt and mortified corruptions is one of the greatest mercies this side of heaven. It clans us against the most virulent reproaches and supports under the most agonizing afflictions. The other is a worm at the root of all our comfort; there can hardly be a greater calamity (Proverbs 18:14).
6. Natural and renewed. The first does not entirely neglect its duty, but performs it in an imperfect manner (Romans 2:1-45.2.29); but the other fulfils its functions more perfectly. The conscience here spoken of is the former, awakened for a time, and then falling asleep again.
II. WHEREIN CONSISTS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CONVICTIONS WHICH ARISE FROM CONSCIENCE AND THOSE IMPRESSED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD. There is a great difference in spiritual convictions. Some are sudden Acts 2:37), others more gradual; some visible and violent, others invisible and easy, as in the case of the jailor and Lydia. But the distinction between these and natural lies in such things as these.
1. Natural convictions respect only the guilt of sin, spiritual are attended with a painful sense of inherent pollution. The former are illustrated in the cases of Cain, Lamech, Pharaoh, Ahab, and Judas; the latter in the case of the Prodigal, Peter, and Paul.
2. In natural convictions the soul is actuated by slavish fear of temporal and eternal punishments. Persons may dread the consequences of sin, and yet be addicted to it. But spiritual convictions have a respect to the honour and love of God, hence “against Thee, Thee only have I sinned.” Godly sorrow proceeds from this.
3. Natural convictions extend only to some sins, and those generally of a more gross and heinous nature, as Achan and Judas. It is true that the Spirit of God in conviction fastens some particular sin, often, on the conscience; but He does not stop there, but leads to the corrupt fountain of sin in the heart, and to those spiritual sins which are beyond natural convictions, pride, avarice, etc.
4. Natural convictions are temporary and vanishing, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar and Felix. The unclean spirit quits its abode, but not its claim, and returns with seven other spirits, etc. It is otherwise with the truly awakened. He not only lies under conviction, but yields to the force of it, and acts permanently under it.
5. Natural convictions may consist with the love of sin. The legal convict is as much an enemy to real holiness as ever; but spiritual convictions are always attended with an abhorrence of sin. (B. Beddome.)
Conviction of conscience
I. NOTWITHSTANDING A BOLD AND CONFIDENT APPEARANCE. Innocence has boldness, so has guilt. Hides in imaginary concealment. But let there be a sense of impossibility of prevarication, as under the searching eye of God, and conscience condemns
1. As to any special sin: Achan, David.
2. Sill generally. What a spectacle would the hearts of an assembly possess under the full persuasion of Divine omniscience l
II. OFTEN BY THE SIMPLEST THING. No fierce reprobations necessary. Calm, quiet words, enough, e.g
1. “Son, remember.” The burial places of memory give up their dead.
2. “Even thou wast one of them.” Christ rejected.
3. “What dost thou more than others?” Slothful professor. When the rocks out of the “hell gate” in New York harbour were to be cleared away, the explosion of dynamite required no army to effect it, only the touch of a child on the battery.
III. LEADS TO WITHDRAWAL FROM OTHERS.
1. Sometimes for sullenness and anger, as probably here.
2. Sometimes for disastrous results, suicide, e.g., Judas.
3. If wise, for penitence and prayer.
1. The helplessness of the law admits no excuse or escape.
2. The method of the gospel begins with forgiveness.
3. The blessedness of the mission of Christ. He came not to hear accusations, but to save. (G. McMichael, B. A.)
The penitent’s gospel
I. THE SINNER’S WAY OF TREATING SIN. It is a terrible thing for a sinner to fall into the hands of his fellow sinners. There is little hope for the sinner at hands like these. They may send him to the judge and the officer; to the gaol or the reformatory. They may make the case one for light gossip and casuistical distinctions, studying it as an anatomical deformity.
II. THE LAW’S WAY OF TREATING SIN.--“Moses said that such an one should be stoned.” It is with the moral, as with natural law--the least violation of its provisions is immediately and terribly avenged.
III. THE SAVIOUR’S WAY OF TREATING SIN. In that bowed head and hidden face we get a slight indication of how much it costs Him. Sin cannot change His royal heart, or staunch His pity, or freeze the fountains of His compassion. Nay, it makes Him more careful to show His tender, pitying, pleading love. He sometimes seems to wait ere He utters the words of peace. But this is from no tardiness in His love. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The awakening of conscience
King Richard I of England, on his way to the Holy Land, was taken captive, and thrown into an unknown dungeon. He had a favourite minstrel named Blondel, who knew only that his master was imprisoned somewhere in a castle dungeon among the mountain forests. From one to another of these he travelled, playing some well-known airs before the dungeon bars, till at last his music without was answered by the voice of his king within. This discovery led to Richard’s return from exile, and restoration to his throne. “Thus the spirit of man sits like a captive king in a dungeon, until the voice of divine music wakes echoes hitherto unknown along his prison house, and stirs him with new knowledge, new consciousness.”
More than one hundred years ago there graduated at Harvard University a man by the name of Grindoll Rawson, who subsequently settled in the ministry at Yarmouth, on Cape Cod. He used to preach very pointed sermons. Having heard that some of his parishioners were in the habit of making him the object of their mirth at a tavern, he one Sabbath preached a discourse from the text, “And I was the song of the drunkard.” His remarks were of a very moving character--so much so that many of his hearers rose and left the house in the midst of the sermon.. A short time afterwards the preacher delivered a discourse still more pointed than the first, from the text, “And they, being convicted out of their own conscience, went out one by one.” On this occasion no one ventured to retire from the assembly, but the guilty ones resigned themselves, with as good a grace as possible, to the lash of their pastor. (W. Baxendale.)
It is related of Mr. Richard Garratt that he used to walk to Petworth every Monday. In one of these walks a country fellow that had been his hearer the day before, and had been cut to the heart by somewhat he had delivered, came up to him with his scythe upon his shoulders, and in a mighty rage told him he would be the death of him, for he was sure he was a witch, he having told him the day before what no man in the world knew of him but God and the devil, and therefore he most certainly dealt with the devil. (W. Baxendale.)
Where is there a power to be found comparable to that of an accusing conscience, which, with its condemning voice, fills even heroes with dismay, who otherwise would not have trembled before thousands; and, stronger than death, deprives mighty men, who are accustomed to fear nothing and no one, and even to look death in the face, of the brazen armour of their courage, and their confidence in a moment; which is able to make us feel the validity of its sentence, even though the whole world should deny it, and applaud and eulogize our names in opposition to it; and which transmutes into gall that which is the most valuable to us in the world, if we are obliged to enjoy it under the thunder of its reproaches? (Krummacher.)
The danger of silencing conscience
You may dim the surface of the glass, so that it shall no longer be painfully bright, like a little sun lying on the ground; but your puny operation does not extinguish the great light that glows in heaven. Thus to trample conscience in the mire, so that it shall no longer reflect God’s holiness, does not discharge holiness from the character of God. He will come to judge the world, although the world madly silence the witness who tells of His coming. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The two convictions
The Pharisees, convicted by their conscience, go away from Jesus; the woman, convicted by her conscience, remains with Jesus; the Pharisees conceal and withdraw from the Saviour their sin, which yet they cannot deny; the woman surrenders her sin to Jesusfor the burden of it she cannot bear. In short, the woman is penitent--the Pharisees are not. Thus it came to pass that the proceeding which the Pharisees were led to adopt through malignity only served to drive a lost sheep into the arms of the good Shepherd. (R. Besser.)
Conscience a provision of mercy
A man may be saved from death by seeing the reflection of danger in a mirror, when the danger itself could not be directly seen. The executioner with his weapon is stealthily approaching through a corridor of the castle to the spot where the devoted invalid reclines. In his musings the captive has turned his vacant eye towards a mirror on the wall, and the faithful witness reveals the impending stroke in time to secure the escape of the victim. It is thus that the mirror in a man’s breast has become in a sense the man’s saviour, by revealing the wrath to come before its coming. Happy they who take the warning--happy they who turn and live! (Dr. Arnot.)
Father Andre, preaching one day at Paris against the vices of gallantry and intrigue, threatened to name a lady present as being one of the guilty. He, however, corrected himself, saying, in Christian charity he would only throw his skullcap in the direction where the lady sat. As soon as he took his cap in his hand every woman present bobbed down her head, for fear it should come to her. (W. Baxendale.)
And Jesus was left alone and the woman standing in the midst
Mercy and misery met together
A sinner and the Saviour in the temple of God, face to face and alone. How solemn the interview! How suggestive the incident! Note
I. THAT SINNERS NEED NOT DREAD A PERSONAL INTERVIEW WITH JESUS NOW. Her accusers had placed the woman “in the midst,” and now they had departed, and she might have gone, there she still stood. Solitary woman, guilty sinner, ashamed and awed by her situation, she is strangely bound to the spot. Not an effort made to escape His judgment. Condemned already by the law of Moses, what has she to fear from Him? If the worst should happen, she could but die; but perhaps her misery may find mercy. How instructive to sinners this conduct!
1. From the hour of the first transgression sinners have feared a personal interview with God. Jacob thought Bethel a dreadful place; Moses did exceedingly fear and quake; Monoah thought he would die because he had seen God. And now sinners try to do what Adam and Eve failed to do--“hide themselves from the presence of the Lord.”
2. But to exorcise this demon of guilty dread God was manifest in the flesh. The Son of Man came to seek and to save, and to be the Friend of sinners. None has cause to shun Jesus. He does not repel, He invites. Known to Him is my sinful history; and whither shall I flee from His presence? There is no need, for He is a just God and a Saviour.
II. THAT “JESUS ALONE” IS THE SINNER’S COURT OF APPEAL FROM ALL ACCUSERS. These men never dreamed of the gospel truth they were signally illustrating. The woman was under legal penalty of death. The representatives of the law arraigned her, quoting the Mosaic statute, and by asking Jesus to adjudicate, perhaps in irony of His Messianic claims, they appealed from Moses to Christ. And when the accusers, themselves condemned, had left, she allowed her case to remain where they had lodged it, in the supreme court of appeal, and from His lips only would she receive her doom. Our case is parallel
1. Our sinfulness is indisputable. The penal sentence in the law has been promulgated: “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” Moses indicts us, and demands judgment.
2. But our appeal is lodged in the gospel court. We are “come to Jesus and the blood of sprinkling.” He satisfies the demands of the law and silences the accusers of all whom He shields with His mercy.
III. THAT WHEN A SINNER TRUSTFULLY LEAVES HIS CASE WITH JESUS ALONE THE ISSUE CANNOT BE DOUBTFUL. By tarrying she signified a wish that Christ should adjudicate, and thus gave evidence of her trust in His mercy. The verdict was not delayed: “Neither do I condemn thee,” etc. Primarily the words refer to the civil penalty of death, which Jesus had been asked to confirm, and which, not being a magistrate, He declined to do. But this carried with it religious reprobation, and therefore Christ could not pronounce the words of judicial doom, “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn,” etc. If there be no man to cast the stone, the merciful Redeemer will not do so; He will save. There is no questionable leniency here. A more decisive censure could not have been uttered. Yet while there was in the admonition “sin no more” an emphatic reproof of her former sin, the words “Neither do I condemn thee: go,” must have brought Divine absolution. “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.” Let sinners be encouraged to come to Jesus. This woman, who was brought to Him as a Judge, found Him a Saviour; the bar of judgment became the throne of grace. We are invited to come. The coming is a confession of need, an indication of penitence, a confession of trust. (A. A. Ramsay.)
Sin and its treatment
“How do you make your living?” “I hang about the drinking saloons,” she replied. Not quite taking in the meaning of her answer, I asked her again, “What are your means of life?” But she laughed and gave no other answer. Hereupon the master of the lodging came in, and, casting a stern look at her, said, “She is a prostitute, sir!” After saying that to me, he turned to the woman as though she was a dog. “You hang about the drinking saloons. Well! give the answer you ought to give--prostitute. She does not know her own name.” His tone pained me. “We have no right to insult her,” I said. “If we men lived as God would have us live, there would be no prostitutes. We ought rather to pity them than to blame them.” I had no sooner said this than I heard the boards of the beds creaking in the next room. Above the partition (which did not reach to the ceiling) there appeared a curly head, with little swollen eyes, and a dark red face; then another head popped up; and still another. These women had doubtless got on their beds to look over, and all stared at me earnestly. There was an awkward silence. The master of the lodging cast his eyes down in confusion. The women drew in their breath and waited. I felt more confused than any. I had never thought that a word dropped thus casually could have produced such an effect. It was almost like the movement of the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision. I had uttered without thought a word of love and pity, and that word had thrilled them all. They all looked at me as if they expected me to speak the words and do the deeds whereby these bones might come together, cover themselves with flesh, and live again. (Count Tolstoi.)
When Jesus had lifted Himself up, and saw none but the woman
I. THE FACT OF SHAMEFUL LIFE ITSELF.
1. In the midst of the great city, with all its grandeur and luxury, there hangs the dark shadow of one prevailing sin, the presence of which everyone knows and feels, but of which no one dare speak. We deprecate the contamination of the statement, while we suffer the curse of the fact. It is an ancient shame, coeval with the earliest corruption of the human heart; stalking in its painted abominations amongst the most splendid refinements; mingling its polluted stream with the foremost tides of civilization; moving with colonies; as sure to be found in every city as crime or death.
2. As in this passage, so everywhere, it is woman who stands in the foreground, and upon her the malediction falls. Consider this army of six thousand women, so many of them mere children, some of them from homes of sanctity where grey hairs have gone down, through them, in sorrow to the grave. Some indeed were born so low that they could not fall; but to many it has been a fall as awful as that of a star from its sphere. It may be easy to forget a lower state in rising to a higher, but never in the profoundest degradation the condition from which we have lapsed. Remorse can never abandon the human soul. This remorse accompanies the lost girl in her descending career. In the early stages there is an incongruity between that “soul’s tragedy” and the gay welcome into the world of the lost; but as with rapid descent the steps go downward God’s violated law of purity makes known its awful vindications. On that pallet of straw, in that damp, dark cellar reeking with the miasma of debauchery and death, the woman dies.
3. If the sufferings of the victim furnishes no reason for calling this fact before us, the peril of the young and innocent should. Silence and apathy are not justified by any motives of delicacy. The curse is in having a social cancer, not in talking about one. The only possibility of curing a wrong is to become clearly conscious of it. To prevent talk there is on the one hand a morbid sensitiveness, and on the other frivolity, which only finds the subject an occasion for jest or an insinuation that the reformer knows more about it than he ought. At least there is an unconsciousness of danger which cries, “Don’t disturb this matter; let it rest as something that cannot be helped, or with which we have nothing to do.” Is it so that innocent lives are in no danger? Is there a moral swamp whose foul vapours ever spread? We must have quarantine for pestilence. We break laws and burn buildings if it come too near. But a moral evil that oozes its damnation through brick walls, and saps the city with corruption, that breaks the hearts of good women--this we must not speak about, but let alone. So, then, it is a safe danger, is it? Who is safe? Are you in your respectability, O father I while this temptation waits for your sons? Are you in your honour, O mother! while mothers are broken-hearted for their daughters’ shame? Are you, O citizen l with this many headed fountain of poverty and crime? Preach to the heathen, but this devil worship--as to that walk about in silence. This is neither delicacy nor sense. No! bring into open view the shame, even as this woman was; let it be marked, that the full light of Christ’s truth and purity may stream upon it.
II. THE RELATION OF IT TO THOSE WHO ARE NOT PERSONALLY INVOLVED IN IT.
1. The accusers felt by the Saviour’s reply that in some way they were related to the woman’s guilt. Not by that, it may be, but by some sin. But how many are conscious of this special crime? People think the text a lesson of charity, but it is a lesson of justice also. But what justice is there in our modern custom that scarcely frowns on the guilty man--sometimes laughs at and even patronizes him--and pours all its vials of wrath upon the woman, the victim of his falsehood and meanness? What justice, honour, and delicacy, O refined woman! who, recoiling with virtuous scorn from that fallen sister, will welcome him by whom she fell? I suppose the mantle of Christian charity should cover everybody; but if there is anybody that it won’t cover, and that ought to have the privilege of lying outside the hem of it in the cold blast and biting frost, it is that man who trades in a woman’s affections, and leaves her to suffer in the guilt, and goes on to new conquests, and boasts of his victories--smooth, flattered, welcomed in refined society, when his only use in the world seems to be to make men feel that any particular devil is unnecessary. No! I insist that the shame should be divided, and that the sinning man should be branded as distinctly as the sinning woman.
2. The accusers went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, being convicted by their conscience. Yes, conscience, if nothing else, convicts
(1) The aged of participation in the shameful life. It is most awful to contemplate--a profligate old man without even a sinful excuse for his corruption.
(2) And youth. Vain attempt to paint a picture which needs not to be painted, so terribly is every lineament of it drawn in thousands of faces, in hundreds of homes, in ruined character, in diseased manhood, in beautiful life recklessly thrown away into untimely graves.
3. What are the causes? Well, one is want. Thousands have struggled to the last thread of subsistence before yielding to temptation, and have, poor wretches I resorted to the streets to eke out a living. If you ask what you have to do with this matter, you have to cease to glory in buying cheap, which involves starvation wages.
III. CHRIST’S TREATMENT OF IT.
1. The first idea of all Christian treatment is to get rid of sin--not to palliate it. How? The very least we can do is to recognize our obligation of personal purity.
2. The other point of treatment is mercy, giving a chance of repentance and reformation to the sinner. This was what Christ did, and if He did, who shall refuse? But Society makes a Dante’s hell of the state of shameful life; closes its doors and writes over them, “No hope.” Consider the words of a poor girl: “Now I have once done wrong, I can’t get anyone to give me work, and I must either stay here or starve.” Have we any right to establish such an inexorable barrier? Conclusion: We hardly comprehend the full meaning of “Ye scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites--the publicans and harlots enter the kingdom of heaven before you.” The Christian idea is to seek and to save the lost. Some one may suggest that those we may save are only like a drop in the ocean. But every drop is a soul. Mercy is justice in this case. Christ has proposed the true test: “Let him that is without sin,” etc. No one can do that. But He interposes with His more excellent way--of hope and new life; and He says, and requires us to say, “Go and sin no more.” (E. H. Chapin, D. D.)
Neither do I condemn thee
Sin not palliated though pardoned
What? does our Lord favour sin? No; observe what follows: “Go and sin no more.” Therefore He condemned sin and pardoned the sinner. Let them who love Christ’s mercy also fear His truth, for “gracious and righteous is the Lord” (Psalms 25:7). Observe also that this acquittal was pronounced by Christ under special circumstance, viz., when the teachers of the law were breakers of the law, as was shown by our Lord’s test: “He that is without sin,” etc.; and consequently great indulgence was due to those who were subject to their teaching and looked to their example. Hence our Lord’s merciful reply. But let it not be abused by misapplication to the times of the gospel, when the sin of adultery has been made more heinous by the Incarnation, and by clearer teaching on the sanctity of marriage (Ephesians 5:32), and by still more awful denunciation on the sins of uncleanness (1 Corinthians 6:9; Ephesians 5:5; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:5-52.4.7; Hebrews 13:4; Revelation 21:8). Christ is the Lion of the tribe of Judah as well as the Lamb of God. Let us not presume on the meekness of the Lamb, lest we feel the wrath of the Lion. (Bp. Wordsworth.)
Tenderness to the erring
Perhaps the most eminently practical grace which could be given to a man or a woman is the gift of tenderness in dealing with the erring. Where pitiless severity would harden, where cold contempt would embitter, a few words of tender human sympathy will often open the heart of one not yet wholly depraved to the teaching, and to the grace of Christ. Nothing thaws the frozen ground more quickly than the warm rains of spring; nothing will thaw a frozen heart like the warm rains of a Christian sympathy that can weep for the sins, as well as the woes, of others. Nearly ten years ago a minister was invited to address the inmates of a home for those who had been saved out of an infamy worse than death. As be rose to his feet, and saw, upturned to his, a hundred faces marred by the blight of lost innocence, a great wave of emotion surged over his soul, and he found himself unable to utter a word. For a moment he faced his audience; then he bowed his head on the reading desk with a great sob. During that moment’s hush all held their breath, wondering at his silence. When he bowed his head to hide his tears, the strong wave of emotion surged from his heart to theirs, and in a few seconds, while yet no word had been uttered, nothing could be heard but the sobs of those bewailing their lost innocence. That wordless sermon was, in its results, the most effective sermon that had ever been preached in that institution. The sympathetic tenderness of that minister had done more than his logic could have done. Perhaps some of us would have more of his success in reaching the lost if we had more of that loving and sorrowing regard for the sinner which enabled him to realize so profoundly the pathos and the tragedy of those wrecked lives before him. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
If Christ condemn us not, we need not fear men
A prisoner standing at the bar in the time of his trial seemed to smile when heavy things were laid against him. One that stood by asked him why he smiled. “Oh!” said he, “it is no matter what the evidence say, so long as the judge says nothing.”
Care for the fallen
A writer relates that during a conversation with George Eliot, not long before her death, a vase toppled over on the mantelpiece. The great authoress quickly and unconsciously put out her hand to stop its fall. “I hope,” said she, replacing it, “that the time will come when we shall instinctively hold up the man or woman who begins to fall as naturally and unconsciously as we arrest a falling piece of furniture.” (W. Baxendale.)
Then spake Jesus again unto them
The connection of Christ’s discourse with the previous incident and the feast
The feast of tabernacles was over.
The water of Siloah was no more poured out by the altar; the golden lights no longer burned in the forecourt of the Temple. But like as Jesus Christ, the True Well of salvation, offered from His inexhaustible spring living water to all who were athirst, so also as the True Light, He shone with a never-dying lustre, in order that He might lead sinners out of the darkness of death into the light of life. What power the perishable, earthly light of the Temple had, how impotent it was to enlighten the hearts of those who participated in the festival, had been exhibited to all in the narrative of this morning. In the midst of the bright shining of the tabernacle lights, that woman was wandering in the darkness of adulterous lust, and her accusers in the darkness of arrogant self-conceit. Not until the light of Jesus broke in upon the woman’s heart did she become a penitent sinner, or forsake the love of darkness; whilst on the other hand, the Pharisees, when shone upon by the light of the Searcher of hearts, became convicted sinners, and went out because they loved darkness rather than light. And the requirement that the Lord made of the woman upon whom the light of His grace had shone, “Go and sin no more,” is now included in the word of promise: “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Once upon a time, the people had followed the light of the pillar of fire in the wilderness; and of this they were reminded by the light of the feast of tabernacles. But now many in the wilderness followed that light and yet wandered in darkness, because the light of life was not theirs!--they had it not! How many, too, were there now who rejoiced in the lustre of the tabernacle light, yet were wandering in darkness, because they too had not the light of life! Yes, how many heard the law read aloud in the assembly of the feast of tabernacles, and yet learnt it not (Deuteronomy 31:10, etc.), because they would not learn the End of the law, which was Jesus Christ! Thus they were shone upon by the light of Divine revelation, and boasted of being a people of light, and yet remained in darkness. Different is the case with the true followers of the light. Their fellowing consists in faith, and faith makes Christ to dwell in their hearts (John 12:36; John 12:46;Ephesians 3:17); and because they then have the light of life, they no longer walk in darkness, neither in the love, nor in the terror of it; they no longer walk in sins, nor in death, no more according to the pleasure, no more in the power of the devil. (R. Besser, D. D.)
I am the Light of the world
When these words were spoken it was early morning. They had parted last night, after a day of commotion and danger; but at daybreak Jesus was back again in the midst of the people. “And early in the morning He came again into the Temple, and all the people came unto Him; and He sat down and taught them.” We can picture to ourselves the unfolding splendours of the new morning. The eyes of the people gazed as, without wave or sound, as with increasing vigour and unsullied purity, the light streamed in from the east. It disclosed the green fields and well kept vineyards and pleasant groves of the valleys; it lit up the city and its splendid palaces and gorgeous Temple; and it revealed all around them the majestic forms of the mountains. How it gilded everything, and beautified the pinnacles of the Temple, and touched the hills with gold! How it aroused the wicked, who then as now turned night into day, and worked deeds of violence and wrong under cover of black night! How it cleansed the earth, and lifted the thick veil of mist, and drove away the pestilential vapours! Even the beasts, savage and dangerous, who through the night had been seeking and securing their prey, owned its power, and retired from the light into the caves and dens of the earth. All this was present to the thoughts of the people, and standing there in the midst of them Jesus said, “This is the emblem of My mission: I am the Light of the world,” (C. Vince.)
The force of the allusion
He was seated at that moment in the Treasury--either some special building in the Temple so called, or that part of thecourt of the women which contained the thirteen chests with trumpet-shaped openings, called shopheroth, into which the people, and especially the Pharisees, used to cast their gifts. In this court, and therefore close beside Him, were two gigantic candelabra, fifty cubits high and sumptuously gilded, on the summit of which nightly during the feast of tabernacles, lamps were lit which shed their soft light over all the city. Round these lamps the people, in their joyful enthusiasm, and even the stateliest priests and Pharisees, joined in festal dances; while, to the sound of flutes and other music, the Levites, drawn up in array on the fifteen steps which led up to the court, chanted the beautiful psalms which early received the title of “Songs of Degrees.” In allusion to these great lamps, on which some circumstance of the moment may have concentrated the attention of the hearers, Christ exclaimed to them, “I am the Light of the world.” (Archdeacon Patter.)
The Light of the world
I. THE GREAT ASSUMED TRUTH WHICH LIES UNDERNEATH THE WHOLE VERSE is the fall of man. The world is in a state of moral and spiritual darkness. Naturally men know nothing rightly of themselves, God, holiness, or heaven. They need light.
II. THE FULL AND BOLD MANNER OF OUR LORD’S DECLARATION. He proclaims Himself to be “the Light of the world.” None could truly say this but one, who knew that He was very God. No prophet or apostle ever said it.
III. HOW OUR LORD SAYS THAT HE IS “THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.” He is not for a few only, but for all mankind. Like the sun He shines for the benefit of all, though all may not value or use His light.
IV. THE MAN TO WHOM THE PROMISE IS MADE. It is to him “that followeth Me.” To follow a leader, if we are blind, or ignorant, or in the dark, or out of the way, requires trust and confidence. This is just what the Lord Jesus requires of sinners who want to be saved. Let them commit themselves to Christ, and He will lead them safe to heaven. If a man can do nothing for himself, he cannot do better than trust another and follow him.
V. THE THING PROMISED TO HIM WHO FOLLOWS JESUS--deliverance from darkness and possession of light. This is precisely what Christianity brings to a believer. He feels and sees, and has a sense of possessing something he had not before. God “shines into his heart and gives light.” He is “called out of darkness into marvellous light” (2 Corinthians 4:4-47.4.6; 1 Peter 2:9). (Bp. Ryle.)
The Light of the world
Christ as Light is
I. WONDROUSLY REVEALING. Light is a revealing element. When the sun goes down and darkness reigns, the whole of the beautiful world is concealed, all on ocean and land is hidden. The sun arises, and all stands forth to view. What does Christ reveal? God, a spiritual universe, a moral government, a future state of retribution, a remedial system by which fallen humanity can be restored to the knowledge, the image, the friendship, and the enjoyment of the eternal Father. Men have appeared here in different ages and regions who have been called lights. Prophets; John the Baptist; the apostles; some of the heathen sages; and many of the modern philosophers and scientists. But Christ is the Light. Other lights are borrowed; He is the original Fountain. Other lights only reveal dimly a few things in some narrow space; He reveals all things fully through all regions of moral being. Other light shone a little, and, like meteors, went out; He burns on forever--the “Light of the world.”
II. HUMANITY GUIDING. “He that followeth Me,” etc. The sun may shine in its noontide radiance, and yet men may walk in darkness; they may shut their eyes or keep in cells or caverns. It is so with Christ. Though He is the moral Sun of the world, the millions “walk in darkness.” Christ is to be followed
3. Spiritually. Men who follow Him thus will always be in the
III. SPIRITUALLY QUICKENING. The natural sun is the fountain of life to the world; his beams quicken all. Christ is the Life of the world. “In Him was life.” He quickens the intellect, the conscience, the soul. There is no spiritual life apart from Him. Conclusion:--How great the obligation of the world to Christ I What would this earth be without the sun? Its condition would be wretched beyond conception; and yet it would be better off than humanity without Christ. Were all that Christ has been to humanity, and still is, to be withdrawn, into what a Stygian condition it would sink. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!” (Homilist.)
The Light of the world
Light and life are intimately associated. “Let there be light” was the first creative act--essential for the life that was to follow. How true of the scull A chaos of death and darkness--then the shining of the life-giving Sun of Righteousness.
I. IN WHAT SENSE IS CHRIST THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
1. The light He communicates is not derived. Christ is not a reflector, but the Spring and Source. None ever taught Him wisdom; eternity did not increase His knowledge, “God is Light” and Christ is God.
2. He is the Medium through which it is revealed to men. When the world through sin had become exposed to the withdrawal of all heavenly light, then by Christ’s interposition was a gentle ray preserved. This grew till in His own Person He brought the full and living manifestation of glory.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE LIGHT.
1. Christ brought into the world knowledge. No small advance had been made in knowledge before Christ came--art, science, and philosophy had flourished. But the knowledge of God and futurity had almost died out. And the advances of the human intellect would seem to have been permitted to prove that men by searching could not find out God.
2. Christ brought into the world holiness. Light and purity, darkness and unholiness are synonymous terms. “Ye were once darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.” The wisdom of the world may exist with the grossest passions, but the “Light of the world” cleanses as well as instructs.
III. THE RELATION OF THE LIGHT TO THE INDIVIDUAL SOUL. “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Following the course of the sun, we cannot but have the “light of life.” As the flowers, drawn by the attracting power of the sun’s rays, turn round and follow the great light of day in his course in the heavens, drinking in with avidity every beam, developing new beauties, giving forth fresh odours with every ray of light received, so the Christian, drawn by the magnetic influence of Divine love, living in constant intercourse with the source of all inspiration, following closely the light of truth which radiates from the eternal sun, develops fresh beauties of character, gives forth the sweet perfume of true nobleness of life, adorning the doctrines of Christ the Saviour. (T. Mirams.)
The Light of the world
All that the sun is to the natural world Christ is to the moral and the spiritual. It is not He that is like the sun, but rather the sun that is like Him. Thus understood, the words of the text recall the prophecy “The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” What a marvellous assertion it is l In the mouth even of an extraordinary man it would be ridiculous, and no intellectual eminence could redeem it from the charge of vanity. We can save it from the accusation only by regarding it as the utterance of Incarnate Deity. And it is only in the same way that we can harmonize it with those qualities of truthfulness and humility by which at all times the Man Christ Jesus was distinguished. The text suggests
I. THE PURITY OF THE LORD’S PERSONAL CHARACTER. A ray of light is the cleanest thing we know, and though it may pass through the most polluted medium, it comes out of it as immaculate as when it entered it. Christ was from the very first “a holy thing.” There are spots on the sun, but nothing ever appeared to mar the beauty of His holiness, by the constant emanation of His own purity, he kept the evil from approaching Him. Now this purity consisted not so much in the absence of all sin as in the presence of all excellence. Just as the white light of the sun is composed of the seven primary colours, each in its own proportion, and having its own properties, so the holiness of Christ, when analyzed, reveals the presence in its normal degree of each of the virtues. His love contributed warmth, His truth imparts its sharp actinic influence, whereby the correct outlines of all subjects on which He shone were clearly defined! His humility gave its violet beauty to mellow the lustre of His character; His courage lent its yellow tinge to complete the harmony; while His meekness contributed its soft green hue, and His justice brought the fiery red, which burned in His withering denunciation of all hypocrisy and wrong. Peerless as the sun in the firmament shines the character of Jesus Christ. No keen-eyed sceptic has ever been able to detect in it a flaw.
II. THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE REVELATION WHICH HE MADE. His advent chased away darkness, and brought new truths into view. We have been so long accustomed to the lustre of His beams, that it is difficult to estimate how much we owe to Him in this respect, for the things which we now teach to children were far beyond the reach of the educated minds of antiquity.
1. Look at the views which He has given us of God. By that one utterance “God is a spirit” etc. He threw a flood of light on questions which had puzzled the wisest heathens. That we are not idolators we owe entirely to the light which Christ has shed for us, on the spirituality, omnipresence, supremacy, and fatherhood of God.
2. Look at the matter of atonement, and see what radiance He has cast on that dark subject. When He came into the world, victims were smoking daily upon altars, and everywhere they were at once the expression of a want and confession of a failure. They gave inarticulate witness to the longing of men’s souls for acceptance with God, on the ground of expiation, while their continued repetition acknowledged that they who offered them could not rest long in their offering. But Christ offered Himself, and it was at once seen by all who believed on Him, that His sacrifice met the case, for His resurrection demonstrated that it was accepted by God, and so they could rest perfectly content. This accounts for the fact, that wherever Jesus was received sacrifices disappeared.
3. Look how the revelation brought by Christ has illuminated the future life. He has “brought life and immortality to light by the gospel.” The immortality of the soul was a wish rather than an object of faith among the most of the ancients, and they knew nothing whatever about resurrection. But when Christ rose from the tomb He left its portal open; and when He ascended He took possession of heaven in His people’s name. Absence from the body is now presence with the Lord.
III. THE BENEFICENT INFLUENCES THAT RADIATE FROM CHRIST. There are few natural agents more valuable than the light.
1. It ministers largely to health. Even the plants cannot thrive without the sunshine, and a shrub taken to the bottom of a mine speedily withers; while the very weed that grows in the cave turns ever with a wonderful instinct towards the light. So it is a common aphorism that the sunny side of the street or house is healthier. Christ gives health to the soul by bestowing upon it regeneration, while the influence of His instructions strengthens the intellect, gives sensitiveness to the conscience, stiffens the will, settles and centres the affections, and broadens and deepens the character.
2. It contributes materially to happiness. Everybody knows a difference between a clear and a dull day. The one, as it were, electrifies the system, and we go forth into it with joyous exhilaration; the other is heavy and depressing. We are ill at ease with ourselves and cross with everybody else. So again, we know a difference between day and night. The light has that in it which somehow keeps us up, but darkness has become a common metaphor for heaviness of heart. Now Jesus is the Author of joy. He takes away from us sin which is the source of all sadness. He adds the gladness of fellowship with Himself to all our other delights; and when the joys of earth grow dim, He remains to be to us as full of satisfaction as He was before.
3. It contributes to our safety. Unless we see where we are going we may stumble or fall, to the serious injury of our bodies; and so, especially when the way is rough and dangerous, it is always better to travel in the daytime. In moral things, it is just as essential that we see what we are doing. We must mark the tendencies of things, lest we should take a wrong direction. We must look well to our little steps of daily conduct, lest we should be tripped up, and bring dishonour on our Lord and on ourselves. And for this reason it is of the greatest importance that we keep near to Jesus. Safety lies in walking in His light. It is not earthly philosophy; it is not worldly prudence; it is not caution or canniness that will keep a man secure. All these are in the main but modes of selfishness, and selfishness is always like a mole burrowing in the dark and trapped at last by the higher art of the hunter. But Christ’s light is love, the love of God and our neighbour.
IV. THE MANNER IN WHICH WE BECOME PARTAKERS OF THE BLESSINGS WHICH CHRIST BRINGS. We are enlightened by opening our eyes to the light. In the morning we raise our blinds, and let in the blessed sunbeams, whereby our hearts are gladdened and our homes are brightened. And in the same way we are to become illuminated by the rays of the Sun of Righteousness. We must open our eyes and behold His glory; we must open our intellects to receive His instructions; we must open our hearts to let Him into our affections; we must open our lives to let Him rule over our actions. Here our great duty, as also our great difficulty, is to be simply receptive. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The Light of the world
Christ was His own great theme. What He said about Himself was very unlike language becoming a wise and humble teacher. This is only reconcileable with our conception of His nature that He is God manifest in the flesh. Are such words as these fit to be spoken by any man conscious of his own imperfections. They assert that Christ is the only source of illumination for the whole world, that following Him is the sure deliverance from error and sin and gives the follower a light which is life. And the world, instead of turning away from such monstrous assumptions, has largely believed them and has not felt them to mar the beauty of meekness, which, by a strange anomaly, this Man says He has.
I. THE SYMBOLISM. What was the meaning of those great lights that went flashing through the warm autumn nights of the feast of tabernacles. All the parts of that feast were intended to recall some feature of the wilderness wanderings; and the lights by the altar were memorials of the pillar of cloud and fire. Jesus, then, declares Himself to be in reality, for all, and forever what that pillar was in outward seeming to one generation.
1. It was the visible vehicle of the Divine presence. It manifested and hid God, and was thus no unworthy symbol of Him who remains after all revelation unrevealed. The fire is ever folded in the cloud, and the thick darkness in which He dwells is but the “glorious privacy” of perfect light. That pillar, a cloud to shelter from the scorching heat, a fire to cheer in the blackness of night, spread itself above the sanctuary, and “the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle,” and when that was replaced by the Temple “the cloud filled the house of the Lord,” and there, dwelling between the cherubim, types of all creatural life; and above the mercy seat that spoke of pardon, and the ark that held the law; and behind the veil where no feet trod save those of the priest bearing the blood of atonement once a year--shone the light of the visible majesty of present Deity.
2. But centuries had passed since that Light had departed. Shall we not, then, see a deep reference to that awful blank, when Jesus, standing before that shrine which was in a most sad sense empty, pointed to the quenched lamps which commemorated a departed Shekinah, and said, “I am the Light of the world.” He is that because in Him is the glory of God. The cloud of the humanity “the veil, that is to say, His flesh,” enfolds and tempers; and through its transparent folds reveals while it swathes the Godhead. Like some fleecy vapour flitting across the sun and irradiated by its light, it enables our weak eyes to see light and not darkness in the else intolerable blaze. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt,” etc.
II. THE PRIVILEGE AND DUTY.
1. Christ, like that pillar, guides us in our pilgrimage. Numbers 9:1-4.9.23. dwells upon the absolute control of all the marches and halts by the cloud. As long as it lay spread above the tabernacle, there they stayed. Impatient eyes might look and impatient spirits chafe--no matter. And whenever it lifted itself no matter how short had been the halt, footsore the people, or pleasant the resting place--up with the tent pegs immediately, and away. There was the commander of their march--not Moses nor Jethro.
2. We have in Christ a better Guide through worse perplexities than theirs. By His Spirit, example, Word, providence, Jesus is our Guide--gentle, loving, wise, sure. He does not say “Go,” but “Come.” “I will guide thee with Mine eye”--not a blow, but a look of directing love which heartens to and tells duty. We must be near Him to catch it and in sympathy with Him to understand it, and be swift to obey. Our eyes must be ever toward the Lord, or we shall be marching on unwitting that the pillar has spread itself for rest, or dawdling when it has gathered itself up for the march. Do not let impatience lead you to hasty interpretations of His plans before they are fairly evolved. Take care of “running before you are sent.” But do not let the warmth of the camp fires or the pleasantness of the shady place keep you when the cloud lifts.
3. All true following begins with or rather is faith (chap 12:46). Faith the condition and following the operation and test of faith. None but they who trust follow Him. To follow means the submission of the will, the effort to reproduce His example, the adoption of His command as my law, His fellowship as my icy; and the root of this is coming to Him conscious of darkness and trustful in His light.
III. THE PROMISE. In the measure in which we fulfil the duty the wonderful saying will be verified and understood by us.
1. “Shall not walk in darkness” refers
(1) to practical life and its perplexities. Nobody who has not tried it would believe how many difficulties are cleared away by the simple act of trying to follow Christ. It is a reluctant will and intrusive likings and dislikings that obscure the way oftener than real obscurity in the way itself. It is seldom impossible to discern the Divine will when we only wish to do it. And if ever it is impossible, that is the cloud resting on the Tabernacle. Be still, wait and watch.
(2) But “darkness” is the name for the whole condition of the soul averted from God. There is the darkness of ignorance, impurity, sorrow, thickening to a darkness of death. To follow Christ is the true deliverance, and the feeblest beginnings of trust in Him, and the first tottering steps that try to tread in His bring us unto the light.
2. “Shall have the light of life,” a grander gift--not the light which illuminates the life, but like similar phrases, “bread of life,” “water of life,”--light which is life. “In Him was life,” etc. “With Thee is the foundationof life, etc.” The pillar remained apart, this Guide dwells in our souls. Conclusion: Christ, like His symbol of old, has a double aspect--darkness for Egypt, light to Israel. Trusted, followed, He is light; neglected, turned from, He is darkness. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Light of the world
(In conjunction with Matthew 5:14):--A startling combination! The two ends of a chain of teaching, of which the middle links are supplied by the apostle who speaks of “Christ in you,” and of the saints as “light in the Lord.”
I. WHEREIN DOES CHRIST’S LIGHT DIFFER FROM OURS?
1. As ordinary white light--the light of the sun--is an exquisite blending of all hues of light, so Christ combines all the varied features of goodness in Himself. He is the Unity of all enlightening, cheering, quickening qualities.
2. But as the light is broken up and reflected, so the scattered rays of goodness are reflected from each disciple in his own character and ministry amongst his fellows.
II. WHEREIN IS OUR REFLECTED LIGHT AS CHRIST’S?
1. It may reveal, as He did, the Father.
2. It may guide and cheer, as He did, the sons of men.
3. As His exposed the evil in men, so may ours expose and shame those who come into contact with us.
4. As He, like light, coaxes the plant to thrive, causes men’s natures to bloom and bear fruit, so may we develop men’s latent capacities for goodness by contact with us.
5. As His light was diffused, so may ours go forth-upon unknown ministries. (W. Hawkins.)
Light for us
I. CHRIST IS THE LIGHT FOR LIFE WHICH GUIDES.
1. Christ is such grading light because He is the Light. Moral guidance shines from Him, because He is the one perfect specimen of moral living.
2. Christ is such a guiding Light because He is a light so placed that all may see it.
II. CHRIST IS THE LIGHT WHICH NOURISHES AND MAKES STRONG THE TRUE LIFE IN EVERY MAN. Christ promises, if He be followed, a man shall have the light of life. Here is a pale leaf. Why is it so pale? It has been denied the sunlight. Put it in the sunlight, and it will grow green and strong. Here is a leaf of noble resolution. But it is very pale and sickly. What will give it strength and colour? Bring it into the shining of Him who is the Light.
III. HOW WE MAY ENTER INTO THIS GUIDANCE AND INVIGORATION. “He that followeth Me,” etc. Some one has said: “Nobody who has not tried it would believe how many difficulties are cleared out of a man’s road by the simple act of trying to follow Christ.” No doubt there will still remain obscurities enough as to what we ought to do, to call for the best exercise of patient wisdom; but an enormous proportion of them vanish like mist, when the sun looks through, when once we honestly set ourselves to find out where the Light is guiding. It is a reluctant will and intrusive likings and dislikings that obscure the way for us, much oftener then real obscurity in the way itself. It is seldom impossible to discern the Divine wilt, when we only wish to know it that we may do it. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
Chest the Light of the world
Do you see what I mean? When the sun rose this morning it found the world here. It did not make the world. It did not fling forth on its earliest ray this solid globe, which was not and would not have been but for the sun’s rising. What did it do? It found the world in darkness, torpid and heavy and asleep; with powers all wrapped up in sluggishness; with life that was hardly better or more alive than death. The sun found this great sleeping world and woke it. It bade it be itself. It quickened every slow and sluggish faculty. It called to the dull streams, and said, “Be quick”; to the dull birds and bade them sing; to the dull fields and made them grow; to the dull men and bade them talk and think and work. It flashed electric invitation to the whole mass of sleeping power which really was the world, and summoned it to action, It did not make the world. It did not sweep a dead world off and set a live world in its place. It did not start another set of processes unlike those which had been sluggishly moving in the darkness. It poured strength into the essential processes which belonged to the very nature of the earth which it illuminated. It glorified, intensified, fulfilled the earth; so that with the sun’s work incomplete, with part of the earth illuminated and the rest lying in the darkness still, we can most easily conceive of the dark region looking in its half-life drowsily over to the region which was flooded with light, and saying, “There, there is the true earth! That is the real planet. In light and not in darkness the earth truly is itself.” That is me parable of the light. And now it seems to me to be of all importance to remember and assert all that to be distinctly a true parable of Christ. He says it is: “I am the Light of the world.” A thousand things that means. A thousand subtle, mystic miracles of deep and intricate relationship between Christ and humanity must be enfolded in those words; but over and behind and within all other meanings, it means this--the essential richness and possibility of humanity and its essential belonging to Divinity. Christ is unspeakably great and glorious in Himself. The glory which He had with His Father “before the world was,” of that we can only meditate and wonder; but the glory which He has had since the world was, the glory which He has had in relation to the world, is all bound up with the world’s possibilities, has all consisted in the utterance and revelation and fulfilment of capacities which were in the very nature of the world on which His Light has shone. Do you see what I mean? Christ rises on a soul. Christ rises on the world. I speak in crude and superficial language. For the moment I make no account of the deep and sacred truth--the truth which alone is finally and absolutely true--that Christ has always been with every soul and all the world. I talk in crude and superficial words, and say Christ comes to any soul or to the world. What is it that happens? If the figure of the light is true, Christ when He comes finds the soul or the world really existent, really having within itself its holiest capabilities really moving, though dimly and darkly, in spite of all its hindrances, in its true directions; and what He does for it is to quicken it through and through, to sound the bugle of its true life in its ears, to make it feel the nobleness of movements which have seemed to it ignoble, the hopefulness of impulses which have seemed hopeless, to bid it be itself. The little Lives which do in little ways that which the life of Jesus does completely, the noble characters of which we think we have the right to say that they are the lights of human history, this is true also of them. They reveal and they inspire. The worthless becomes full of worth, the insignificant becomes full of meaning at their touch. They faintly catch the feeble reflection of His life who is the true Light of the world, the real illumination and inspiration of humanity. Let us then leave the figure, and try to grasp the truth in its complete simplicity and see what some of its applications are. The truth is that every higher life to which man comes, and especially the highest life in Christ, is in the true line of man’s humanity; there is no transportation to a foreign region. There is the quickening and fulfilling of what man by the very essence of his nature is. The more man becomes irradiated with Divinity, the more, not the less, truly he is man. The fullest Christian experience is simply the fullest life. To enter into it therefore is no wise strange. The wonder and the unnaturalness is that any child of God should live outside of it, and so in all his life should never be himself. And yet how clear the Bible is about it all! How clear Christ is! It is redemption and fulfilment which He comes to bring to man. Those are His words. There is a true humanity which is to be restored, and all whose unattained possibilities are to be filled out. Let us see how all this is true in various applications. Apply it first to the standards of character. We talk of Christian character as if it were some separate and special thing unattempted, unsuggested by the human soul until it became aware of Christ. The Christian graces are nothing but the natural virtues held up into the light of Christ. They are made of the same stuff; they are lifted along the same lines; but they have found their pinnacle. They have caught the illumination which their souls desire. Manliness has not been changed into Godliness; it has fulfilled itself in Godliness. As soon as we understand all this, then what a great clear thing salvation becomes. Does this make smaller or less important that great power of God whereby the human life passes from the old condition to the new--the power of conversion? Certainly not! What task could be more worthy of the Father’s power and love than this assertion and fulfilment of His child? Great is the power of a life which knows that its highest experiences are its truest experiences, that it is most itself when it is at its best. For it each high achievement, each splendid vision, is a sign and token of the whole nature’s possibility, What a piece of the man was for that shining instant, it is the duty of the whole man to be always. When the hand has once touched the rock the heart cannot be satisfied until the whole frame has been drawn up out of the waves and stands firm on its two feet on the solid stone. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The Light of the world
Christ is this because
I. HE BRINGS GOD NEAR AND MAKES HIM REAL TO MAN. Every scientific discoverer half acknowledges that He interprets the arrangements of a single intelligence. And yet it is easy to leave out of view the higher relations of scientific thinking; to stop with force and law, and not go on to the Agent who is assumed in both. But this Atheism, now so fashionable, brings darkness into the mind. It may not interfere with a limited department of research, but it is always held at the expense of liberal thinking. It may now and then perfect man as an observing machine, but it has never yet brought a ray of light to the intellect or glow to the heart. Christ teaches no science, no philosophy, and yet He is a Light to both, not by what He teaches but by what He is. He simply manifests God as living and personal, and fills the universe to the believing mind and loving soul with a sense of His presence. He not only tells us of a Father in heaven, but says: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” And thus Christ holds the attention of men in every science to truths concerning God which science assumes and confirms.
II. HE CONFIRMS MAN’S CONFIDENCE IN MAN’S POWER TO KNOW THE TRUTH. Christ teaches caution, docility, and a certain quality of self-distrust; but He couples with it the quality of clear and tenacious conviction. He knows nothing of that fashionable scepticism which suggests that knowledge is but uncertain guess work, that thinking is a changing product of a material organization, that the truths of one generation are the dreams of the next. The capacity of man to know the truth, his obligation to defend it, and if need be to die for it is positively enforced by Christ. It is said that Christians are committed to a creed and therefore incapable of new ideas. To one conviction they are committed, viz., that truth is possible and that man is bound to attain it.
III. HE ASSERTS FOR MAN HIS TRUE DIGNITY AND HIS RIGHTFUL PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE. In nothing has Christ wrought so signal a revolution as in this, and that not by teaching a new philosophy, but by living a new life and consecrating that life by His death. He came to save man because man was lost, yet could be exalted to wisdom and holiness, and therein declared the intrinsic worth of the lowliest in the judgment of God. He consorted with publicans and sinners, not because He sympathized with what they were, but because He knew what they might become. Before Christ man’s insignificance was contrasted with Nature’s greatness; or when set in other relations the old thinkers argued “the state, the race remains; the individual perishes--let Him go. What is one among so many when God will forget every one of us?” Christ has reversed all these estimates. He emphasized each man’s personality by recognizing his responsibility. As responsible he is capable of personal rights as the condition of the exercise of his moral freedom, and the development of his character. As such he is king over nature, being made in God’s image. His education is the supreme end for which nature exists and society goes on; and this education is the story of redemption. What we call Christian civilization is either flower or fruit of faiths in respect to man’s place in nature and the plan of God. It is proposed to change all this. Man is the product and slave of nature, and at length its victim. Personality and character are poetic abstractions; right and wrong are the outcome of social forces; conscience the reflex of average judgments of our community; the right of the individual nonexistent as against society; our protests against injustice irrational. That this new philosophy must be inhuman in its tendency need not be argued. May God spare us when insane enthusiasts or maddened criminals act it out. After the scenes of horror shall be over and society begin to reorganize itself, Christ will be the light of its schools of thought.
IV. HE IS THE LIGHT OF HUMAN CULTURE IN THAT HE BOTH STIMULATES AND REFINES IT. So far as art and literature are concerned, we may concede that Greece gave to the world the perfection of form; but Christ breathed into those forms a living soul. In manners Christ has done still more. The graces of modem life are the products of the unselfish, sympathizing, forgiving, patient, Son of Man. No sooner is Christ received into any community than the unbought graces of life are a natural consequence. But culture has its dangers. It degenerates as soon as it becomes an end and not a means. It is substituted for duty or made an excuse for sin often with terrific results. Some of its devotees are too dainty in their tastes to do the work of life, and not a few sink into unmanly fastidiousness. Christ reforms these abuses; in His school no man liveth or dieth to Himself, and man is refined by the presence and approval of his Maker.
V. HE MAKES CLEAR AND POSSIBLE TO MAN ANOTHER AND A BETTER LIFE. He has not demonstrated it to reason, but has verified it as a fact “Because I live,” etc. In former times men were esteemed profound, aspiring, brave and strong according as they reflected about another life. In these, man is counted shallow if he accepts it; sordid if he derives motives from it; cowardly if he cannot brave death without it; and weak if he cannot substitute for it the immortality of his thoughts as repeated in other minds. This seems unnatural and inhuman. It is the cant of a clique to attempt to silence the outcry of every longing of man with the sneer of sentimentalism. All this is a striking proof that the risen and personal Christ is as much needed as ever as the Light of the world. And when science becomes more simple and earnest, and culture more sincere and humane, both will turn to Him.
VI. HE GIVES WORTH AND SIGNIFICANCE TO THE LIFE WORK OF EVERY MAN. There is a strong tendency to depreciate the present life; and if there is no God but nature, and he locked in the bands of fate; if knowledge is guesswork, and man the sport of agencies that feel not, life is at best a dull farce or a weary tragedy, and the sooner the play is over the better. But Christ teaches differently. Under the light which He cast no event is insignificant, no joy empty, no sorrow to be spared. The hopes and regrets, the successes and defeats are all steps of discipline for immortality. To every individual a place in life is assigned, if he will occupy it, and success assured if he will rightly estimate success. Every life which Christ guides by His light, and cheers with His smile, and crowns with His reward is thoroughly worth living for its experience and its rewards. (Noah Porter, LL. D.)
The Light of the world
Compare the impression the text must have produced when first uttered and that which it produces now. In a despised country, among a conquered people, speaking a degenerated language, a humble man from an obscure village, says “I am the light,” etc., not one more light, but light in the absolute sense. What would a contemporary thinker of Athens or Rome have said? Just what the Pharisees in their language said. Now let 1,800 years pass by. Look at the world, not as Christians, but as impartial witnesses, and you are obliged to acknowledge that the saying which seemed senseless is an historical fact. Jesus is so much the light of the world that outside the regions over which His brightness is shed there is no more progress. Today millions salute Jesus as the Sun of souls, and those who are at one in nothing else are at one in this. In what sense is Jesus what He said, and what is the domain in which He sheds His light?
I. BY LIGHT WE GENERALLY MEAN SCIENTIFIC TRUTH when the word is used in other than a material sense. But one of the most original features of Christ’s teaching is that He never learnt science nor professed to solve its problems.
1. Christians have been often mistaken here, and the irritation of scientists, when Christians interfere with their demonstrations, is legitimate. They demand independence, and the demand should be conceded. But they must also grant independence in the domain of the moral and religious order which has its own laws and evidences. Christianity is never called upon to anathematize science--rather let it increase under the Divine benediction.
2. But we cannot be mistaken--the whole progress of science has not shed one ray of light on the problem of problems. We are told that we should be indifferent here, and Positivism enjoins humanity to enclose itself between the cradle and the tomb, and know nothing beyond. But it cannot succeed. In our time, when all that can distract, absorb, enchant is multiplied, man doggedly raises the problems of the invisible world. All become acquainted with anguish and need consolation, and ask, therefore, for light.
3. An answer is necessary, and that answer the intellect reduced to its own forces is incapable of finding. With what courage and perseverance it has striven all history attests. Has science ever consoled anyone? When your conscience is troubled will you ask for a philosophical consultation? When you are near a death bed will you call in a savant? This century has made an idol of science with the inevitable result (Psalms 115:5-19.115.6).
II. HERE CHRIST APPEARS. His light has not been poured on scientific problems--that domain God has left to the intellect--but He has illumined the spiritual world. How? By His teaching? What then does He teach? Himself. He is not so much the Prophet as the Truth; the light bearer as the Light.
1. He has revealed what God is. Not that He delivered discourses about God, or gave metaphysical definitions of God; but He has shown Him to us
- “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (Hebrews 1:8; Colossians 1:15). Moses had revealed the only, the holy, the all-mighty, the just God; Jesus reveals the God who is Love. What could be added to the idea?
2. A new ideal of humanity has appeared in Jesus. He never taught a systematic and scientific morality; but simply replaced the moral world on its right axis--the love of God and the love of man. For the first time was seen in Him a life absolutely fulfilling the moral law--a life in which there is not a word, thought, movement, which is not inspired and filled by the love of God and man. In Him was seen for the first time the admirable assemblage of all the virtues which seem opposed and which ordinarily exclude one another; authority and simplicity, majesty and humility, strength and gentleness, horror of evil, and tender mercy, purity without asceticism, and familiarity without vulgarity, so that, as the diverse colours which the prism decomposes--red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet--form the splendid white, to all these diverse traits, which make up the figure of Christ, are blended into so vivid a harmony that it is imprinted on the conscience of humanity forever. In Him is seen man as he ought to be.
3. He has thrown light on the abyss which separates man from God. The more luminous His holiness, the more obvious our imperfection. He makes us discern the evil we have done, and the good we have neglected. Never before Him was our nature so surely judged (Luke 2:35).
4. But the light would leave us without hope, did it not reveal a love in God greater than our revolt, a pardon greater than our iniquity; but the text nowhere is truer than as it falls from the Cross, at whose foot the sinner divines and receives a grace worthy of God, because it secures His justice while revealing His mercy; he there sees sin both judged and remitted. All other religions and philosophies must compound with evil and attenuate it; the religion of the Cross alone dares to see it, because it alone can crush it. (E. Bersier, D. D.)
The Light of the world
In a physical sense this is the sun, and with it Jesus may be compared. The sun is
I. ONE, and throughout the extent of our planetary system, it is the one source of light. Towards it each planet, with its satellites, turns every portion of its surface to receive light. There is but one Saviour--without whom every soul is wrapt in darkness, but from whom all believers obtain all blessings.
II. THE BRIGHTEST LUMINARY. In His splendour the moon and stars pale. Jesus in all things has the preeminence, and is “the chiefest among ten thousand.” The man of the world walks by taper light; the Christian by sunlight. What are 10,000,000 tapers to the sun?
III. OF PRODIGIOUS MAGNITUDE. Our earth Isaiah 25:0 miles round and has a surface of 200,000,000 square miles. But what is it to the sun? about one to a million! The highest mountain bears the proportion to the whole earth of a grain of sand to an 18-in. globe; man less, animals still less. What then the tiny flower and the insects that float in the sunbeam. Yes the light that streams 97,000,000 miles gladdens and enlightens all. But greater still is its Creator--Jesus--who is rich in mercy to all who call upon Him.
IV. EMINENTLY BEAUTIFUL AND BEAUTIFYING. Pure light is proved to consist of seven opposite colours--so in Jesus there is a combination of all excellences. He is “all fair.” The beauties of the landscape are derived from the sun; the variety of hues that meet the eye are painted by Him. So saints are beautiful through the comeliness that Jesus puts upon them, varying as it does in character, differing as it does in position.
V. MOST BENEFICIAL. Light, heat, and fertility flow from his beams. Blot out the sun and our earth would be destroyed. Without him what would be the blessing of sight? So without Jesus we should have no spiritual knowledge, no happy love to God or man, no fruitfulness. Conclusion
1. We may gather some thoughts of Jesus from the laws of light, or the modes of its operation. Is the sun an unexhaustible fountain of light? In Jesus there is an infinite fulness of grace. Does the light travel with amazing rapidity? How swiftly do the thoughts of Jesus flow out towards His servants--“Before they call I will answer.” Does light travel only in straight lines? Jesus is a holy Saviour; His eyes look straight before Him in the prosecution of His Father’s purposes. Is the angle of reflection always equal to the angle of incidence? The Christian knows that the light he receives from heaven, he will find it his honour and happiness to reflect on earth. Is light a radiant force, and does a small approximation to its centre bring an increase of influence? So in proportion to our nearness to Christ will be our realization of His grace.
2. Reflect on what is popularly called the rising of the sun. See how he climbs higher and higher. Even so was it with Jesus. Mark the first streak of light in the first promise--broader streaks in those succeeding to Abraham, Jacob--then the types and ceremonies; then the great prophecies, until Christ could proclaim the text. So with the preaching of Christ to nations, and His reception by individuals. (J. M. Randall.)
The Light of the world
1. Every morning it removes the dark veil from the face of nature, and enables us to go wherever our duty calls us.
2. What blanks there would have been in science, philosophy, and poetry, if there had been no Newton, Bacon, Milton; but what a famine of knowledge there would have been regarding God and man, etc., without the Bible. Other books speak to us on these subjects, but, like the light of every star, their light is borrowed. The Bible has been the means of suggesting more thoughts, and expanding more minds, than all other books combined. The artist, historian, poet, novelist, scientist, traveller, are all indebted to it. Every syllable has been carefully examined, and out of this examination vast libraries have been formed. If all the rays of mental light which have streamed from it could be brought back to it, and if it were to be totally eclipsed, as the sun has been, what would be the condition of the world of mind?
3. To whom are we indebted for the Bible? To Christ! If He had not lived and died the New Testament could not have been written, nor the Old, since the latter is to the former what the germ is to the fruit. He is the Alpha and Omega of its subject matter, and the cause of its existence.
1. In the morning it appears to come from the east, it travels at the rate of 90,000,000 miles in eight minutes; and in the evening seems to retire in the west. Where does it come from and go to? How shall we account for its inconceivable speed? For thousands of years it has punctually visited our planet; why does it continue as fresh as on the day of its creation? What is it? Newton says that luminous particles actually proceed from the sun; and Huyghens, that the sun only occasions a disturbance of the ether which extends in the same manner as a wave spreads itself on the surface of a lake; but no one can give a thoroughly satisfactory answer. It is a mystery.
2. Christ was human--but He was also Divine; and as we think of Him existing from eternity, as incarnate, as swaying the sceptre of the universe, and upholding all things, the mystery is deep indeed. We are advised to renounce His Divinity as a means of clearing the mystery; but that would only deepen it. A mere boy astonishing learned rabbis, a mere man stepping into the first rank of the world’s teachers, working miracles, penetrating the future, giving away His soul for sinners as willingly as He gave them advice, bursting the barriers of the tomb!--to reject His Divinity is to plunge into Egyptian darkness!
3. What then shall we do? Because of the mystery turn infidels, or stand in suspense--perplexed and miserable? The mystery of light does not disturb our equanimity; we place it among matters which our reason cannot just now grasp. Inasmuch, however, we cannot live without it, we welcome it. In the same way let us do with the mystery of Christ--a human leader, saviour, will not do for us; He must be Divine or we are lost. Let us trust Him and leave the mystery till removed by the perfect light of heaven.
1. Who loves the darkness? Not the little child, who fears it. Not the virtuous youth, who, although he may have nothing to do, when evening comes wishes for a light; not the righteous old man. Those only love the darkness whose hearts are set on evil deeds. “Truly the light is sweet,” etc. In its presence flowers open themselves, landscapes smile, and birds sing.
2. It is thus an emblem of that felicity the blessed God wishes every man to have; but it will never come to us as pleasure comes to the beasts of the field. We must go in quest of it. Whither? To wealth, honour, fame, etc.? These will only disappoint; but if we go to Christ He will give us every element of happiness in abundance--pardon, comfort, strength, heaven.
1. The water as it proceeds from its distant home is clear as crystal, but becomes impure; the snow in a little time becomes mixed with the muddy soil; the winds, pure in their origin, become unwholesome passing through pestiferous regions; but the light--stainless it comes to us, chases away the darkness from St. Giles’s as freely as from Windsor Palace, enters abodes of sickness as cheerfully as abodes of health, and having brightened and beautified every object pursues its way as pure as when it came.
2. What a true image of Jesus! For twenty-eight years He resided in Nazareth, a place proverbial for wickedness. He was tempted of the devil, and mingled with the most sinful, yet what was the result? The nearer we approach a work of art the less we admire it, and the closer we come to some men the more imperfect they appear; but the more we inspect the character of Jesus the brighter does it shine. He came into the world pure, continued in it pure, and returned pure. This was the testimony of His enemies, His friends, Himself.
3. To resemble Jesus in this is the principal duty of His followers--Ye are the light of the world,” “Let your light so shine,” etc. Were this duty discharged the moral darkness of the world would be swiftly chased away. (A. McAuslane, D. D.)
The relation of the Light of the world to the Incarnation
Light within, by His Godhead enlightening the mind; light without, by His manhood guiding, by miracles, by word, by example. (I. Williams, B. D.)
By this Light the sun’s light was made; and the Light which made the sun, under which also He made us, was made under the sun for our sake. Do not despise the cloud of the flesh; with that cloud it is covered, not to be obscured, but to be moderated. (Augustine.)
Revelations of light
As dust in a chamber cannot be seen until light is let in, so no man can know himself until this Light reveals him to himself. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
Light the emblem of gladness
A little child dislikes the darkness instinctively, and at night, as soon as the candle is put out, it hides its head under the bed-clothes, shuts its eyes resolutely, and tries to forget all about the darkness. But when the morning comes the light streams in through the window, the little child awakens, rejoicing that the night has gone. It shakes its little spirit free from fear, and comes out of its sepulchre of clothes; for its heart is full of gladness which the light has brought. Jesus is the Light of the world in this sense also. He came not to condemn but to forgive, and to save those who were lost. And so He brought gladness and peace and great joy into the world. (C. Vines.)
The saving and health-giving influence of light
The inscription on Eddystone lighthouse is, “To give light and to save life.” This is a motto that also may be used to show the purpose of our Saviour Jesus Christ. He came to give light and to impart life. We erect a lighthouse on rocks that have been proved to be dangerous to life--we put it on the rocks--and, likewise, when souls were wrecked by the corruption of human nature, the Light of the world shone from the human nature of Christ Jesus. His sacred light warns us from the sin and corruption that have been proved to be so fatal to the peace and life of human souls; and, like a lighthouse, it also shows the safe path to the harbour of heaven. God is Light; and the body of Jesus is the lighthouse from which the fulness of the Almighty shone forth on a dying world. The sun is spoken of as an angel with healing in its wings. You may not be aware that persons who live in a room which opens only to the north, are more in danger of sickness than if they lived in a room which faced the opposite point of the compass. Statistics tell us that the unsunned rooms of a barracks or hospital are much less healthful than those parts on which the sun shines through the day. It is said that the absence of the direct rays of the sun increases the mortality twenty percent, as compared with the places on which it shines continually. The sun is our best doctor and sunshine is our cheapest and most efficient physic. Narrow streets, blind alleys, and back slums in which the rays of the sun never shine are a disgrace to our humanity. In such places you see, like as you see in that part of your garden on which the sun does not shine, stunted and diseased human plants. If you give the people wide streets and good houses, and provide three times the number of gaslights at night, you will have a more healthful and a more holy city than we have just now. The sun shines away disease, and a powerful light scares away sin. (W. Birch.)
Light brings power
The day closed with heavy showers. The plants in my garden were beaten down before the pelting storm, and I saw one flower that I had admired for its beauty and loved for its fragrance exposed to the pitiless storm. The flower fell, shut up its petals, drooped its head, and I saw that all its glory was gone. “I must wait till next year,” I said, “before I see that beautiful thing again.” And the night passed, and morning came, the sun shone again, and the morning brought strength to the flower. The light looked at it, and the flower looked as the light. There was contact and communion, and power passed into the flower. It held up its head, opened its petals, regained its glory, and seemed fairer than before. I wonder how it took place--this feeble thing coming into contact with the strong thing, and gaining strength! By devout communion and contact a soul gains strength from Christ. I cannot tell how it is that I should be able to receive into my being a power to do and to bear by this communion, but I know that it is a fact. Is there a peril from riches or from trial which you are afraid will endanger your Christian consistency? Seek this communion, and you will receive strength and be able to conquer the peril. (C. Vines.)
The effects of sunlight
In autumnal mornings mists settle over the Connecticut Valley, and lie cold and damp upon the meadows and the hill sides, and it is not till the sun rises and shines down warm upon them that they begin to move; and then there are swayings, and wreathings, and openings, till at length the spirit which has tormented the valley can stay no longer, but rises and disappears in the air. So is it when the Sun of Righteousness shines upon the troubles which brood over our souls. Shining but a little, they only fluctuate; but if the Sun will shine long, they lift themselves and vanish in the unclouded heaven. (H. W. Beecher.)
The light of life
He declares that to all the pilgrim hosts of men, He is what the cloud with its heart of fire was to that race of desert wanderers Exodus 13:21 and Numbers 9:15-4.9.23).
I. AS TO ITS NATURE. That fire in the heart of the cloud was prophetic of our Lord’s Deity, enfolded and enshrined in His humanity.
II. AS TO ITS FUNCTIONS. The work of the fire-cloud was threefold.
1. It led.
The wilderness was a trackless waste to the hosts of Israel, and they were absolutely dependent on the cloud to show their path, and to find out a resting place each night.
2. It shielded.
3. It gave light.
III. AS TO THE CONDITIONS. “He that followeth Me … ” We must put Christ first. He must hold the position of Leader and Guide. Which way is He taking? We may generally ascertain this as we endeavour to answer one of the following questions:
1. What is the law of Christ?
2. What is the will of Christ?
3. What would Christ do under the circumstances? If we are not sure, we must wait till we are; but knowing, we must follow at all costs.
We cannot follow Jesus except we leave all--our own judgment and wisdom, our schemes and preferences, our predilections and fancies.
1. Shall not walk in darkness.
2. But shall have the light of life. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
We must not refuse the light
I once happened to be on a visit to a great castle situate on the top of a hill. There was a steep cliff, at the bottom of which was a rapid river. Late one night, there was a person anxious to get home from that castle, in the midst of a thunderstorm. The night was blackness itself. The woman was asked to stop till the storm was over; but she declined: next they begged her to take a lantern, that she might be able to keep upon the road from the castle to her home. She said she did not require a lantern, but could do very well without one. She went. Perhaps she was frightened by the storm (I know not the cause); but in the midst of the darkness she wandered from the path, and fell over the cliff: the next day that swollen river washed to the shore the poor lifeless body of this foolish woman. (Bp. Villiers.)
Rays from the Sun of Righteousness
All the light that comes to us from the sun is made up of the beams, which he is continually pouring forth. When this light is decomposed, it is found to be made up of seven different coloured rays. There are blue, and red, and orange, and yellow, and so on. These rays differ from each other in other things. The red has more heat in it; the yellow is the coldest; and the violet is the quickest in its motion. And if we wish to understand the light, we must find out all we can about the different rays. And so, if we would have a right knowledge of Jesus, we must study the different rays that shine from Him as the Sun of Righteousness. We are dependent on the sun for
I. LIFE. The light of the sun has no power to make dead things alive by shining upon them. Suppose we take a dead body, or plant, and lay it down where the light of the sun can shine on it; the light has no power to give life when it does not exist; but it can help to preserve it. The light of the sun is needed in order to keep everything alive. If the light were taken away, everything would die. And for this reason, Jesus might well say of Himself, “I am the Light of the world.” He is more necessary for the life of our souls than the light of the sun is for the life of our bodies. The light which shines from Jesus is made up of the truths taught us in the Bible about His character and work. The light which shines from Jesus has the power of giving life to souls that are dead, as well as of keeping them alive when it is given. When ministers preach the gospel, or when Christian people read it, or preach it to others, they are scattering light from Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness. And the light thus scattered has the power of giving life to souls that were dead in sins.
II. GROWTH. If the light were taken away from plants, and they were kept in the dark, they would not grow, Suppose you have a lot of potatoes in your cellar. If there is no window the potatoes will rot. But if there is a window those potatoes will begin to grow over towards the window. As you see them straggling across the cellar floor, it looks as if the potatoes were stretching out their arms towards the light, and begging it to come and help them to grow. And it is the same with the flowers and the trees, and with every other kind of vegetable. Each, in its place, is dependent on the light. None of them can grow without it. Here is an acorn. What a tiny little thing it is! Yet, there is a big oak tree stowed away in this little cup. But, then, that tree can never get out of the acorn and grow up to its proper size without the help of the sunlight. It needs the light to make it begin to grow. Then it springs up a tender little sprouting thing, which an infant’s foot could crush. But every year it grows higher, and broader, and stronger. And, as it goes on increasing in size and strength, the trunk depends on the branches, and the branches depend on the leaves, and the leaves depend on the sunlight for all they need to make the tree grow. And just in the same way our souls depend for their growth on the light that Jesus gives. A young Christian, just converted, is like an acorn just beginning to grow. A mature Christian, who has reached what the Apostle Paul calls “the stature of a perfect man in Christ,” is like the tree that has grown up to its full size out of the little acorn. The tree can only grow by the help of the light which the sun gives, and the soul can only grow by the help of the light which Jesus gives.
III. BEAUTY. Light is one of the most beautiful things that God has made, and it makes other things beautiful. All the beauty that we see in the world around us we owe to the light. Suppose you go into a garden full of flowers on a dark night. How many colours will you see among the flowers? Only one. Black. Suppose you go and look at a gallery of beautiful paintings in the dark. How many colours will you see? Only black. Suppose you look at a great mass of clouds in the western sky at the close of the afternoon. They are all of one colour; and this is a dark grey, almost black. There is very little beauty in those clouds. But presently the sun gets behind them. He pours a flood of light over them and through them; and what a change takes place in a moment. What different colours are there! How beautiful they are! And what has made this change? The light has done it. All those beautiful colours are made by the light. And Jesus may well be called “the Light of the world” on this account. Like the light, He is beautiful in Himself, and He makes others beautiful. Jesus is a glorious sun, and the light that He gives comes to us like sunbeams, that spread brightness and beauty everywhere.
IV. SAFETY. There is danger in darkness. We cannot see the evils that threaten us then, nor how to escape them. It is under the cover of darkness that thieves go forth to rob, and murderers to kill, and all sorts of wicked people to do bad things (John 3:20), Our merchants and shopkeepers have found out there is safety in light; and they are putting this knowledge to a good use. When I was a boy, I remember that at night the jeweller’s stores, and others that had valuable things in them, used to have heavy wooden or iron shutters to the windows; and these would be fastened with locks, or great iron bolts or bars. And all this was done for safety. But now many of those stores have no shutters at all to them; and others only have a thin wire grating over them. But, if you stop and look through one of those windows at night, you will find that the gas is lighted in the store, and kept burning. If a thief should get in there and begin to steal, he would be seen by the watchman, or the people going by. And so the thieves stay away. They are afraid to go into a shop where the gas is burning. This shows us that there is safety in light. And Jesus may well be called “the Light of the world,” because He brings salvation wherever He comes. And salvation means safety. When we learn to know Him, and trust in Him, we are safe Proverbs 18:10; Psalms 91:4; Matthew 23:37). But He does this for all who love Him. When we learn to know Him and trust Him, it is just as if a beam of light had shined down on our path to show us the way to a safe hiding place. (Richard Newton, D. D.)
What a poor and contemptible light bearer does the sun seem when barely discerned through a fog. Is it any wonder, therefore, that those who behold the Sun of Righteousness only through the mist of prejudice and misrepresentation can discern nothing wonderful either in Himself or in the light wherewith He lightens the world? But we who have seen the Sun on a bright day know that He is, indeed, the Light of the world, and we are not troubled because those deny it who have only seen Him through the mist; nor yet are we disheartened when our own view of Him is partially obscured through a temporary phase of our local atmosphere. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. Strong and full of hope as these words are in the English rendering, the Greek is more emphatic still. The negative is in its strongest form, “shall by no means,” “shall in no wise; possibility is excluded from the thought. “God is light,” etc. If a man makes a false step in life, it is because he seeks other guides in his own thoughts or in subjection to the thoughts of other men. He that seeks to follow the true Light--to follow, not precede it; to follow always, not only when it coincides with his own will; to follow patiently and trustfully, step by step, wherever it may lead--cannot walk in darkness, for he is never without the presence of theLight. Here, as so often, stress is laid on the certainty and universality of the Divine love on the one side, and the action of the human will on the other.
1. There can be no doubt, “shall by no means walk,” etc.
2. There can be no limit, “he that followeth.”
3. There can be no halting, “he that followeth.” The light ever points the way; it is he who day by day follows it who cannot miss the way. Perception of truth attends its practice. The true journey of this life is here presented as a constant activity; in John 7:37 the source of this action is found in a constant receptivity. (Archdeacon Watkins.)
Here is a summary of the Christian life; its rules and its promises; its duties and its joys; its sacrifices and its recompenses. The two great objects of Christ’s life were salvation and example. Let us consider the latter. Christ the model Man. The way to follow is to have the eye constantly on the pattern, not so much on the copy. Most persons do exactly the reverse. Note that our Lord’s life was a life of
I. CONCENTRATION. He came for one great end--the glory of God and the good of man--and from that He never turned His eye. It was a life with one grand master idea; and that is what every life requires. Few lives are dedicated to one object which satisfies our aspirations. Give your life a goal, a worthy one, the one Christ had. Without this your life will be weak, desultory, wasted.
II. HUMILITY. From first to last it was a descent--from heaven to the grave--yet all the while it was a constant ascent. The secret of men’s want of peace, influence, and power, is that they do not go low enough. Follow Christ in His continual self-abasement.
III. SYMPATHY. This was intense. He threw Himself into every heart, every circumstance. That sympathy was the key of His influence and the basis of His power. Follow that. Live less in your own narrow and selfish circle; go out into the larger sphere of other people’s hearts.
IV. LABOUR. Christ never played with life. From early morning to late evening, in private and public, physically and mentally, Christ worked, not as a duty merely, but as a privilege. None can be said to live indeed who do not work, like Him, for God and man.
V. LOVE. Life and love with Christ were one and the same--from him who lay upon His bosom to His very murderers--all were the objects of His love. What we have to do is to put more love into life, not dreamy love, the love that is only felt, but is silent and inactive, but love that shows and sacrifices itself, in the home, church, business, all life. Conclusion: Wherever two ways meet, and you cannot tell which to take, ask yourself honestly, “Which would the Master take?” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
1. Every promise has its condition. Here light is the promise; following is the condition.
2. The promise exactly meets our need. In every point life wants brightness--more light--the mind clearness, the will definiteness, the pathguidance, the heart joy, the hope vividness.
3. All nature teaches the essential union between “light” and “life.” Take away light and all creation pines. Therefore “light” was the first creation because necessary to all else. And as at the beginning so at the end. “No night there.”
4. Following Christ gives the light of life. The measure of the light we receive will depend on the nearness of the following. All who follow Christ will catch some rays; but only those who keep very close may claim the promise in its fulness. The secret of this is that Christ Himself, not His doctrines, is the fountain of life and light; and note that the rays which are in Christ attract as much as they emit--draw the follower while they cheer and vivify him--just, in fact, as the sun acts on the tangible system, and is at once its magnet and its light.
5. Remember that there are latent beauties in everything. What they need is some ray to bring out to view the hidden grace and delicate colours. But how does following Christ bring this light to life?
I. THE IMITATION OF CHRIST BRINGS LIGHT TO THE PRACTICAL LIFE. We have but to copy the great Pattern and this alone would make the path so clear that we should never be left in the dark as to what we ought to do.
II. FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST BRINGS LIGHT TO THE INTELLECTUAL LIFE. Persons who become more religious become more intelligent. Minds naturally weak and dull are made tolerably clear by the simple power of their piety. It may be through the habit of concentration of thought on the beauty of Christ, through the tendency of the Christian life to disencumber the intellect from the carnal hindrances and obscurity of sin; from the power of Christ’s Spirit; but in some way the process is sure.
III. LOVING CHRIST BRINGS LIFE TO THE EMOTIONAL LIFE. There is a talent in love, and love to Christ clears it of imperfection and strengthens it. He who follows Christ follows a path which is all love, and this love exercises and refines all the other affections, and directs them towards their true objects.
IV. FAITH IN CHRIST BRINGS LIGHT TO THE RELIGIOUS LIFE. How many real Christians are in darkness because of the imperfection of their faith! This only can bring the consciousness of pardon and acceptance, make hope bright, and kindle joy, and this consciousness, etc., will be in proportion to the quantity and quality of faith.
V. COMPANIONSHIP WITH CHRIST WILL BRING LIGHT TO THE LIFE OF HEAVEN. “The Lamb is the light thereof.” “In Thy light shall we see light.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Walking in the light
Thomas a Kempis, shut in the monastery of St. Agnes, in the fifteenth century, began his immortal treatise “On the imitation of Christ” with the sentence, “He that keepeth My words shall not walk in darkness, saith the Lord.” And according to his faith was it unto him. In the superstitious darkness of that day, leading an obscure life, celebrated for his skill and diligence in copying pious books, Kempis did not walk in darkness. His devout book shows that he walked in light; and the Father, who sees in secret, set the candle upon a candlestick, so that the light of the German monk’s meditations has enlightened the hearts of men in every nation of Christendom unto this day. It was in Bedford gaol, with no hope of release, that John Bunyan drew that noble portrait of the brave Christian, who kept heart in the Shadow of Death, and overthrew Apollyon; and there he had that vision of the Delectable Mountains. No circumstances can darken the soul of him who walks in the light. (Clerical Library.)
Following Christ the path of life
If we will only have patience with God’s leading, He will always show us the way as fast as we are really ready to go on. The trouble with most of us is that we want to see the path through to the end, before We take the first step. We want to know, before we start, how we are to come out. But this is not God’s way for us. A man who is travelling in a dark night on a country road, does not have the whole way lighted at once by the lantern he carries. It shows him only one step; but as be takes that, the lantern is borne forward, and another step is lighted, and then another and another, until in the end the whole has been illumined, and he is safe at his destination. God’s Word, as a guiding light, is a lamp unto our feet, not a sun flooding a hemisphere. In the darkest night it will always show us the next step; then, when we have taken that, it will show us another; and thus on, till it brings us out into the full, clear sunlight of the coming day. We need to learn well the lesson of patience, if we would have God guide us. Many of us cannot wait for Him, but insist in running on faster than He leads, and then we wonder why there is no light on the path, and we complain, and are discouraged because we stumble so often. If we stay back with the lantern, it will be all right with us in our journeying. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Perpetual daylight for the Christian
If a man could continually follow the sun, he would be always in broad daylight in every part of the globe. So with Christ and believers. Always following Him they will always have light. (Brentius.)
Christ an unsetting light
It seems to thee, suppose, that thou must follow the sun, and thou also travellest thyself towards the west, whither it also travels; let us see after it has set, if thou wilt not walk in darkness. See, how, although thou art not willing to desert it, yet it will desert thee. But the Lord Jesus is a sun which never sets: if thou wilt not fall off from Him He will not fall off from thee. (Augustine.)
The believer’s life is a walk
Walking implies activity; but it must be of a continuous kind. Neither this step, nor that, nor the next, can make a walk. We must be moving onward and onward, and remain in that exercise, or we cease from walking. Holy walking includes perseverance in obedience, and continuance in service. Not he that begins, but he that continues is the true Christian; final perseverance enters into the very essence of the believer’s life: the true pilgrims of Zion go from strength to strength. This suggests that walking implies progress. He that takes one step, and another step, and still stands where he was, has not walked. There is such a thing as the goose step, and I am afraid many Christians are wonderfully familiar with it: they are where they used to be, and are half inclined to congratulate themselves upon that fact, since they might have backslidden. They have not advanced in the heavenly pilgrimage, and how can they be said to walk? My hearer, is your life a walk with God and towards God? If so, our subject has to deal with you. May the Spirit of all grace lead us into the heart of it! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We must walk in the light
Not only must the light be around us, but in us, before we can be said to live in it and walk in it. A blind man is surrounded by the sunlight as anyone else is, but he does not live in it; he does not walk in it; he cannot enjoy it. Why not? Simply because it is not in him. We must have eyes; and these eyes must be opened to receive the light into the body, so that we may live in it, walk in it, and enjoy it. And in the same way must the eye of faith be opened to receive the heavenly light into the soul before we can even be aware of its presence; and it must be kept open in order that we may “walk in the light as He is in the light.” Christ must be in us by His Holy Spirit in order that we may live in Him.
We must follow Christ
If a man, whose body was radiant and bright as the sun, were walking through a land of Egyptian darkness, all who followed him would actually walk in the light, and the closer they kept to him the clearer their light would be and the safer their road. He who follows Christ follows one from whom light streams upon the road we are to go--an illuminated man--laying bare its hidden pitfalls--discovering its stumbling stones--showing all its turnings and windings, and enabling us to walk safely, surely, and cheerfully on our way (chap. 8:12).
The safety of light
Our steamer was crossing the Gulf of Mexico and approaching the mouth of the Mississippi river. As the sun went down a cold and furious blast from the north came down suddenly upon us. The darkness became intense. Here and there were shoals and other dangers. Great anxiety prevailed among all on board. Suddenly came a shout from the sailor on the forward, “There’s the light.” The joyful sound rang through the ship, to the great relief of every passenger. The true position of the steamer was now known. Anxiety was over, and quietness in a sense of safety was restored. We were soon in the quiet waters of the river. (H. B. Hooker.)
Though I bear record of Myself, yet My record is true
The self-evidencing power of the Sun of Righteousness
The sun pours forth his beams so that it becomes bright day, and we question not his being the sun, because he bears witness of himself; and shall we say to the eternal Sun, who is shedding His light upon us, “Thou bearest record of Thyself, Thy record is not true?
” Be that far from us! A light not only reveals other things, but itself also. Therefore the light bears witness of itself; the eye, if healthy, it brightens up and is its own witness that we may know it as being the light. (Augustine.)
Christ’s witness to Himself
Consider what this witness is. If any of us know a holy man, we know a humble man. The holiest are the most conscious of their sinfulness. It is not a fashion of speech. It is not cant or hypocrisy. The writer who is perfectly satisfied with his lines is not a poet. The painters or sculptors who have no noble dissatisfaction with their work may be ingenious and dexterous, but they are not artists. They have none of that straining forward to an unattained ideal of beauty which is the heritage of genius. So, too, the man who is perfectly content with his own spiritual condition may have a mechanical regularity of habit. He may be a respectable Pharisee; but he is utterly without saintliness, which is, as it were, the genius of goodness. Now Jesus had the loftiest idea of duty. He was also the meekest and humblest of men. Yet in His life there is one fundamental difference from the lives of the saints. They are full of burning words of penitence; they are burdened with cries of confession. But we have long discourses of Jesus. We have one soliloquy with His Father in chap. 17. Yet there is no confession of sin. He can bare His noble breast to His enemies, and say, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” He can go further: He can declare, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.” Farther yet--in those solemn moments when death is near; when moral natures, seemingly made of the strongest granite, crack and crumble before the fire of eternity--He can lift His calm and trustful eyes to heaven and say, “I have glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.” And with this we know that His spiritual insight was so keen and piercing, that not one mote could have floated on the tide of his purity without being detected by that eagle eye; that one speck or stain could not have rested on the very skirts of the garment of His humanity without soiling in His sight the raiment that was white as snow. This holy Man, with the highest idea of duty; this humble Man, who prays falling upon His face; this keen-sighted Man, who sees further into sin than any other, declares that His life and the perfect rule of goodness are in unbroken harmony. What witness is comparable to this witness of Jesus to Himself? (Bp. Alexander.)
Ye judge after the flesh: I Judge no man.--Is this not in conflict with John 5:22, and with the whole tenor of the New Testament, viz., that Christ is the present and final Judge of all men? No. Christ was indeed Judge; but there were some manner of judgments which He never exercised, and had no commission to execute; for He did all His Father’s will.
1. Christ usurps no man’s jurisdiction; that were against justice.
2. Christ imputes no false things to any man; that were against charity.
3. Christ induces no man to desperation; that were against faith: and against justice, charity, and faith, Christ judges not. Christ, then, judgeth not
I. IN SECULAR JUDGMENTS.
1. In civil matters (Luke 12:13).
2. In criminal matters (John 5:11). When Christ says this, may we not ask of His pretended vicar, “Who made you judge of kings that you should depose them? or proprietary of kingdoms that you should dispose of them?” If he says, Christ; did He it in His doctrine? If so, where? Did He do it by His example? Yes, when He whipped the traders out of the Temple and destroyed the herd of swine. But these were miracles; and though it might seem half a miracle that a bishop should exercise so much authority, yet when we see his means, massacres, assassinations, etc., we reply that miracles are without means.
II. BY CALUMNY, as did the Pharisees when they judged Him.
1. Calumny is
(a) To lay a false imputation.
(b) To aggravate a just imputation with unnecessary circumstances.
(c) To reveal a secret fault when not bound by duty.
(a)To deny expressly some good in another.
(b) To smother it in silence when our testimony is due.
(c) To diminish his good parts.
2. These Pharisees calumniated Jesus with the bitterest of all calumny--scorn and derision.
3. Since Christ, then, judges no man as they did, judge not you.
(1) “Judge not, that ye be not judged”--i.e., when you see God’s judgments fall upon a man, do not judge that he sinned more than others, or that his father sinned and not yours.
(2) Especially speak not evil of the deaf that hear not (Leviticus 19:14)--i.e., calumniate not him who is absent and cannot defend himself. It is the devil’s office to be the accuser of the brethren.
(3) Always remember David’s case, who judged more severely than the law admitted, which we do when in a passion. But Christ judges no man; for Christ is love, and love thinks no evil.
III. SO AS TO GIVE A FINAL CONDEMNATION HERE. There is a verdict against every man in the law, the consequence of which men might well despair; but before judgment, God would have every man saved by the application of the promises of the gospel (John 3:17). Do not, therefore, give malicious evidence against thyself; do not weaken the merit or lessen the value of the Saviour’s blood, as though thy sin were greater than it. Can God desire thy blood now, when He hath abundantly satisfied His justice with the blood of His Son for thee? (J. Donne, D. D.)
Judging “after the flesh” is often altogether misleading
Were men to be guided by the appearance of things only in forming their judgment, how erroneous and deceptive it would be! The sun would be no more than a few miles distant and a few inches in diameter; the moon would be a span wide and half a mile away; the stars would be little sparks glistening in the atmosphere; the earth would be a plain, bounded by the horizon a few miles from us: the sun would travel and the earth stand still; nature would be dead in winter and only alive in summer: men would sometimes be women, and women men; truth would often be error, and error truth: honest men would be rogues, and rogues honest men; wealth would be poverty, and poverty wealth; piety would be wickedness, and wickedness piety. In fine, there is scarcely any rule so deceptive as the rule of appearance; and there are multitudes who, in many things, have no other rule by which they form their judgment. Hence the errors of their speech and life; ridicule and blunders into which they plunge themselves before the world. (John Bate.)
If you go into a churchyard some snowy day, when the snow has been falling thick enough to cover every monument and tombstone, how beautiful and white does everything appear! But remove the snow, dig down beneath, and you find rottenness and putrefaction, “dead men’s bones, and all uncleanness.” How like that churchyard on such a day is the mere professor--fair outside; sinful, unholy within! The grass grows green upon the sides of a mountain that holds a volcano in its bowels. (Dr. Guthrie.)
Judging by appearances fallacious
We are shallow judges of the happiness or misery of others, if we estimate it by any marks that distinguish them from ourselves; if, for instance, we say that because they have more money they are happier, or because they live more meagrely they are more wretched. For men are allied by much more than they differ. The rich man, rolling by in his chariot, and the beggar, shivering in his rags, are allied by much more than they differ. It is safer, therefore, to estimate our neighbour’s real condition by what we find in our own lot, than by what we do not find there … Surely, you will not calculate any essential difference from mere appearances; for the light laughter that bubbles on the lip often mantles over brackish depths of sadness, and the serious look may be the sober veil that covers a Divine peace. You know that the bosom can ache beneath diamond brooches; and how many blithe hearts dance under coarse wool! (E. H. Chapin, D. D.)
And if I Judge, My Judgment is true
The concurrent judgment of the Father and the Son
The Mosaic law required at least two or three witnesses to make a testimony valid Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15). Jesus declared that He satisfied this rule because the Father united His testimony to that which He bore of Himself. Where the fleshly eye saw but one witness, there were in reality two. It is usual to refer this testimony to miracles, in accordance with John 5:36.But John 5:16 sets us on the road to a far more profound explanation. Jesus was here describing an inward fact, applicable both to the judgments He pronounced on others and the statements by which He testified to Himself. He was aware that the knowledge He possessed of His origin and mission was not based wholly on the fact of consciousness. He felt that it was in the light of God that He knew Himself. He knew, moreover, that the testimony by which He manifested His inward feeling bore, in the eyes of all who had a sense for the perception of Deity, the seal of this Divine attestation. An anecdote may perhaps better explain this. About 1660, Hedinger, chaplain to the Duke of Wurtemburg, took the liberty of censuring his sovereign--at first in private, but afterwards in public--for a serious fault. The latter, much enraged, sent for him and resolved to punish him. Hedinger, after seeking strength by prayer, repaired to the prince, the expression of his countenance betokening the peace of God and the feeling of His presence in his heart. The prince, after beholding him for a time, said, “Hedinger, why did you not come alone, as I commanded you?” “Pardon me, your highness, I am alone.” The duke, persisting, with increasing agitation, Hedinger said, “Certainly, your highness, I came alone; but I cannot tell whether it has pleased God to send an angel with me.” The duke dismissed him unharmed. The vital communion of this servant of God with his God was a sensible fact, even to one whom anger had exasperated. (F. Godet, D. D.)
I am one that bear witness of Myself.
The witness of Christ as seen in some contradictory phenomena of His life and character
The conflict of Christianity is ever being narrowed to the question of the person of Christ. Unitarians have either abandoned their old positions and Christianity with them, or returned to views not easily distinguished from orthodox. Both friends and foes write lives of Jesus, and seek in that for proof of Lordship or evidence of delusion. Men have largely forsaken metaphysical arguments. “What think ye of Christ?” is the question of apologist and infidel. The issue here is vital. Victorious at this point all the rest is easy; defeated here the Christian Church expires. In this line of argument it is natural to ask what testimony Christ gives of Himself, and we propose to point out certain paradoxes and find their explanation.
I. THE PHENOMENA. A candid observer will notice in Jesus
1. His sublime self-consciousness of Divinity, together with His ceaseless subjection to God.
(1) Compare Him with all religious teachers, and we find Him dreaming no dreams, seeing no visions. We never hear Him saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” but “I say unto you.” He consoles His disciples. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Why. “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me.” “Show us the Father,” says one: the response is, “He that hath seen Me,” etc. In discussion with Jews He says, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day”--wild words to scribe and Pharisee. “Thou art not yet fifty years old”; the rejoinder is, “Before Abraham was I am.” There is an endeavour to explain away the simple meaning of all this. Much greater force will therefore be found in the indirect words of Christ. Take one, “If I go not away the Comforter will not come,” etc. What must He claim who says He will send God’s Spirit? and who must He believe Himself to be?
(2) On the other hand, a young man asks, “Good Master, what good thing,” etc. Jesus replies, “Why callest thou Me good,” etc.? Although He said, “I and My Father are one,” He also says, “The Father is greater than I.” “I came not to do My own will.” Nowhere does the contrast appear more distinctly than in that scene in the Temple, “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business;” and then He meekly places His hand in His mother’s and becomes “subject unto Joseph and Mary.”
2. His pronounced self-assertion and His humility and self-abnegation.
(1) He appeals to no authority but His own as the ground on which men should accept Him. When He propounded His law on the Mount, He contrasts His teaching with that of the ancient law, although Divinely given, with the words, “I say unto you.” What a significant scene is that in which He upbraids the cities for their unbelief, and then hearken to the words which follow, “Come unto Me all ye that labour,” etc. From His disciples He learns how men misunderstand Him; and how calm, resolute, inspiring, the words in which He replies to these misapprehensions, and rewards the confession of Peter. “On this rock I will build My Church,” etc. Is this arrogance, egotism? It is the sublimest ever witnessed. If true, the noblest; if unfounded, the wildest and most vain.
(2) But what a contrast. The child of a carpenter’s wife; He is fitly born in the outhouse of an inn, and moved for thirty years amidst the humblest surroundings. When He came into public life His career opened to Him no affluence or dignity. “The foxes have holes,” etc. His moral characteristics were in keeping with His circumstances. “I am Meek and lowly of heart.” “He is led as a lamb to the slaughter,” and prays for His murderers.
3. Infinite power combined with noteworthy weakness.
(1) Mark the works of Jesus--how easily performed. “Let there be light,” says God, “and there was light.” He opens the windows of heaven and a race is overwhelmed. And thus Christ works. It is in a storm; the Master sleeps. The disciples cry, “We perish!” He rises, speaks, and there is a great calm. In His dealings with disease, a touch upon the eyelid pours daylight on the darkened orb. “Be clean,” He says to the leper, and the loathsome disease is gone. Another word, and the man who had become a wild beast is sitting at His feet in his right mind. Here is no paraphernalia of the magician, or the exercise of delegated power.
(2) In contrast with this is Christ’s meekness. Take the supernatural out of His life, and what feebleness! He who can multiply the bread is familiar with hunger. “Give me to drink,” He says to one to whom He gives living water. With His hand upon a universe He is as helpless as a child.
4. The complete absence of any sense of sinfulness or moral defect. The religious life of the leaders of human thought has been marked by a profound sense of personal unworthiness, but there is no trace of this in Jesus. “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” asks Jesus of the ages. “I find no fault in Him,” re-echo well nigh two millennia.
5. In these series of contrasts we have noted two contradictory qualities--infinity and limitation. The last scenes of His life exhibit these. Our Lord comforts His disciples. Calm and helpful, He promises them Divine strength. But see Him a few moments after in His agony. Where in all literature is an artistic contrast so striking? And this only the simple story of the unlettered, who tell the story as they knew it best. But what is this. An armed hand approaches, and at a word from Him they fall to the ground--yet He submits to be led away.
II. SOME OF THE EXPLANATIONS WHICH HAVE BEEN GIVEN.
1. That Christ is a natural product, the outgrowth of the ages; that all preceding generations gathered in Him, and produced the ideal man. But where in Judaea, Greece, or Rome, can be found the elements from which the nature of Christ could be compounded? And if one Christ could be produced why not others?
2. That Christ is a literary product, the ideal of an individual mind--the grandest triumph of human imagination, but altogether fictitious. But who was the romancer who must have been greater than His romance?
3. That Christ is a mythical product; that a remarkable individual did exist who founded a school, and after death was slowly changed by the loving regard of His followers into the heroic, and at last into the Divine. Granted that such a myth may have grown up in a century, how is it that we have the unique Divine nature of Jesus made the ground of a finished argument in the Epistle to the Romans, published within a generation from the time of Christ, by one whose life overlapped His?
4. The theory that Christ was a deceiver or deceived hardly merits notice. A knave ought to recognize that Christ was truthful, and a fool, would he open his eyes, might see that He was perfectly self-possessed.
III. THE THEORY WHICH ALONE SATISFIES ALL THE CONDITIONS OF THE CASE. In these phenomena
1. We find evidence of a personality altogether unique. There are contrasts, but there is a unity about the Person, and a consistency in the life which make us feel confident of the truthfulness of the Bible record. All things fall into their place when we are taught that Christ is at once the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is Divine, and all the Divinity of His being is thus accounted for. He is human, and all the humanity of His lot is wholly explained.
2. The origin of this unique personality must be traced to God. The human race could produce no such being. Even were the ideal conception possible, which is doubtful, a person who had formed the idea could never have realized it. But with God all things are possible.
3. The purpose for which such a unique being was sent by God must have been to accomplish some special work.
(1) A mere teacher or reformer might have been only man.
(2) God would not have become man for His own sake. He can require nothing which He cannot supply.
(3) Christ is evidently not the first of a new species, for He has no successor.
(4) His mission therefore must have been for man, to establish some new, or modify some old relation between God and man. Such an object is declared by Scripture to have been sought by God and accomplished by Christ, and for this such a Personality as has been described was suited and designed. (Ll. D. Bevan, D. D.)
Then said they unto Him, Where is Thy Father?--The question indicates assumed ignorance of Christ’s meaning, or a scornful fling at His ever imagining that God was His Father. How different to the child-like simplicity of Philip (John 14:8)! Their earthborn idea was, “If you are visible, can’t we see something of your Father?” They ask about the Father, He replies as to Himself; and when asked about Himself He (verses 25-27) replies concerning the Father. The primitive Christians were called atheists because they could not show their God. In every age the sneering challenge is repeated. At Orleans the Papists asked the Huguenots in the flames, “Where is now your God?” Mary Queen of Scots, having by French mercenaries forced Protestants into the bleak hills, cried, “Where is John Knox’s God?” In Fotheringay Castle she had time to answer her own question. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
These words spake Jesus in the Treasury
From Mark 12:41 and Luke 21:1 it is clear that this word was applied to the brazen trumpet-shaped chests placed in the Court of the Women for the reception of alms.
There were thirteen of them, and each bore an inscription showing to what purpose the alms placed in it would be devoted. Here the word is apparently used of the place itself, in which the chests were deposited. This notice is interesting in many ways. The Court of the Women was one of the most public places in the Temple area. Christ taught there openly and fearlessly. The chamber in which the Sanhedrim held their session was between the Court of the Women and that of the Men. They had on that or the previous day been assembled to take counsel against Him (chap. 7:45-52). This gives point to the words which here follow. (Archdeacon Watkins.)
No man laid hands on Him; for His hour was not yet come
I. EXERTS A RESTRAINING POWER ON WICKED MEN. “No man,” etc. Why? Jewish rage was almost at its height; the Sanhedrims lacked neither disposition, muscular power, nor public cooperation. It was because “His hour was not yet come.” There was a mysterious power holding them back, an invisible hand restraining them. In relation to this restraining power of God’s moral government of the world, note
1. It is not always a matter of consciousness. Sometimes, it may be, men feel that they are reined in, some mysterious power preventing them from doing what they desire. History presents us with monsters that have felt themselves like caged lions. But as a rule the restraining force is so subtle, so delicate, that men are unconscious of it.
2. It interferes not with human freedom. A man is not free from the guilt of a wrong act because he has not the power or the opportunity to embody it. The guilt is in the desire, the volition. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” At first sight it seems morally absurd that God should restrain a man from committing a crime, and yet hold him guilty for it. The solution is here: the crime is in the wish.
3. It is an incalculable advantage to the race. What was in the Alexanders, the Caligulas, the Napoleons, the Lauds, and the Bonners, is for the most part in every unregenerate soul. Were there no restraining hand upon depraved hearts, all social decency, order, peace, and enjoyment would be at an end. The world would be a Pandemonium. We rejoice that He who reigns in the ocean and keeps it within bounds, holds in the passions and impulses of the depraved soul. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord,” etc.
II. HAS SETTLED PERIODS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF EVENTS. “For His hour was not yet come.” Christ recognized that there was a particular hour or crisis for everything He had to do. There was an hour for the commence, merit of His miracles, for His baptism, for His death. His death was the hour of hours. “Father, the hour has come.” God has appointed scenes in space and in duration for all things that occur in His vast dominion. Nothing He allows to be done in one scene that is intended to occur in another, nothing in one season that is fixed for another. “To everything there is a season.” Every orb that rolls through immensity has a point it is bound to reach, and an “hour”; it is never behind its time. So it is not only in the epochs and eras of human history, but in all the events of individual life. Man’s decrees and purposes often fail from the fickleness of his own mind, from his want of foresight, and from his want of power. It is altogether otherwise with the designs of the Almighty. When His set time for working comes, not all the power in the universe can stay His hand. When we first look abroad, indeed, upon the busy field of human affairs, and observe the numerous actors, all moving, planning, arranging, we may be tempted for the moment to imagine that destiny itself is in their hands. But when we have looked a little longer and have seen all their schemes deranged, and a result emerging the very opposite, it may be, we begin to discover that there is a power out of sight mightier than all--“One whose purposes are from everlasting to everlasting, whose counsel shall stand, and who will do all His pleasure.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I go My way, and ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sins.
Sin here means the departure of the heart from God, general alienation from Him, and in John 8:24 the particular manifestations of such a disposition. In John 13:33 Jesus speaks to the apostles of theimpossibility of following Him in the same terms as at the end of this verse; but for them this impossibility would be but temporary, for He will return to fetch them (John 14:6). For the Jews, on the contrary, there will be no longer a bridge between earth and heaven; their separation will be consummated by their rejection of Him without whom no man cometh unto the Father. (F. Godet, D. D.)
Christ and men
I. THE WITHDRAWMENT OF CHRIST FROM MEN.
1. Christ had a way--undoubtedly that through the Cross to His native heavens. What a way! It will be the study of eternity.
2. Christ pursued His way voluntarily. “I go.” You cannot force Me.
(1) This is no extenuation of the guilt of His murderers. “The Son of Man goeth … but woe unto the man by whom He is betrayed.”
(2) This is the glory of His history. Why has Christ’s death the power not only to save humanity but to charm the universe? Because it was free. “I have power to lay down my life,” etc.
(3) A more terrible calamity cannot happen than this--far greater than the withdrawment of the sun. There is a sense in which Christ withdraws from impenitent men now.
II. THE FRUITLESS SEEKING OF CHRIST BY MEN. This is a repetition of John 7:34. When I am gone, and the judgments of heaven will descend on your country, you will be seeking Me, but you will not find Me; you will have filled up the measure of your iniquity, the things that belong to your peace will be hid from your eyes.
1. The fruitless seeking is possible. The day of grace closes with some men even while they are in the world. In the judgment He will be earnestly sought, but shall not be found. “Many shall say unto Me on that day,” etc., etc.
2. This fruitless seeking is lamentable. “Ye shall die in your sins.” Sin is like quicksand, the man who walks on it must ultimately sink and be lost. “It sometimes happens on the coast of Britain or Scotland that a person walking on the sand will suddenly find a difficulty in walking. The shore is like pitch, to which the soles of his feet cling. The coast appears perfectly dry, but the footprints that he leaves are immediately filled with water. Nothing distinguishes the sand which is solid and that which is not. He passes on unaware of his danger. Suddenly he sinks. He wishes to turn back, but it is already too late. The slow burial of hours continues: the sand reaches to his waist, to his chest, to his neck; now only his face is visible. He cries; the sand fills his mouth, and all is silent.” What a striking emblem of the danger of sin!
III. THE ETERNAL SEPARATION OF CHRIST FROM MEN. “Whither I go ye cannot come.” The separation will be complete and irreversible. “Ye cannot come.” Christ had said this before (John 7:34), and He refers to it again (John 13:33). So that to Him the words had a terrible meaning. More terrible words than these could not be sounded in human ears, “Ye cannot come.” It means incorrigible depravity, hopeless misery. Separation from Christ is hell. The commission of every sin contributes to the construction of the impassable gulf. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
From the time that our Lord left the world down to this day, the expression has been peculiarly true of the Jewish nation. They have been perpetually, in a sense, “seeking” and hungering after a Messiah, and yet unable to find Him, because they have not sought aright. In saying this we must carefully remember that our Lord did not mean to say that any of His hearers were too sinful and bad to be forgiven. On the contrary, not a few of them that crucified Him found mercy on the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached (Acts 2:22-44.2.41). But our Lord did mean to say, prophetically, that the Jewish nation, as a nation, would be specially hardened and unbelieving, and that many of them, though an elect remnant might be saved, would “die in their sins.” In proof of this peculiar blindness and unbelief of the Jewish nation we should study Acts 28:25-44.28.27, Romans 11:7, and 1 Thessalonians 2:15-52.2.16. The Greek expression for “sins” in this verse confirms the view. It is not, literally rendered, “sins,” but “sin”: your special sin of unbelief. Let us note that
I. IT IS POSSIBLE TO SEEK CHRIST TOO LATE, OR FROM A WRONG MOTIVE, and so to seek Him in vain. This is a very important principle of Scripture. True repentance, doubtless, is never too late, but late repentance is seldom true. There is mercy to the uttermost in Christ; but if men wilfully reject Him, turn away from Him, and put off seeking Him in earnest, there is such a thing as “seeking Christ” in vain. Such passages as Proverbs 1:24-20.1.32; Matthew 25:11-40.25.12; Luke 13:24-42.13.27; Hebrews 10:26-58.10.31; Hebrews 10:26-58.10.31, ought to be carefully studied.
II. THAT IT IS POSSIBLE FOR MEN TO “DIE IN THEIR SINS,” and never come to the heaven where He has gone. This is flatly contrary to the doctrine taught by some in the present day, that there is no future punishment, and that all will finally be forgiven. It is worthy of remark that our Lord’s words, “Ye shall seek Me,” and “Whither I go ye cannot come,” are used three times in this Gospel--twice to the unbelieving Jews, here and at John 7:34, and once to the disciples, John 13:33. But the careful reader will observe that in the two first instances the expression is coupled with, “Ye shall not find Me,” and “Ye shall die in your sins.” In the last, it evidently means the temporary separation between Christ and His disciples which would be caused by His ascension. (Bp. Ryle.)
Observe the infinite difference between dying in our sins, and dying not in our sins. Lazarus, and Dives the rich man, both died--one in his palace, but in his sins; the other famished at the gate, but not in his sins. Stephen was stoned to death, but not in his sins, for he could say Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” “I see the Son of man,” etc.; but Judas, in his sins, went and hanged himself. Ananias and Sapphira died in their sins, but the thief upon the cross cast his last look upon the Saviour, and his sins, though many, were instantly forgiven.
I. Let us contemplate THIS FEARFUL PREDICTION OF THE CERTAIN END OF ALL UNBELIEVERS.
1. They die under the sentence of Divine condemnation for their sins.
2. They die under the dominion or power of them.
3. Under the guilt and misery of sin.
4. They die to experience the immediate and everlasting punishment denounced upon them.
II. THE EXCLUSIVE CONDITION UPON WHICH THIS FEARFUL AND IMPENDING DOOM CAN BE AVERTED. It is involved in the converse of the text--if ye believe not, ye shall die--but if ye believe, ye shall not die.
1. The object of their believing.
2. The nature of their belief. Must be cordial, entire, practical, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”
3. The spiritual importance and efficacy of such faith. Saving in its effects by divine appointment.
1. Let those who have faith exercise it on the glorious object. Appreciate the glory and grace of that Saviour by faith in whom they have life everlasting.
2. Let those who believe not in Jesus remember--.” They are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (The Evangelist.)
To die in sin is the most terrible death
This is a heavy doom, and the very door of damnation. It is a sad thing to die in prison, to die in a ditch, but far worse to die in your sins. Death to the wicked is as a trapdoor to let them into hell; so that it is a just wonder that, foreseeing their danger, they do not go roaring and raving out of the world. (J. Trapp.)
Dying in sin
Charles IX (who gave order for the massacre on St. Bartholomew’s day, 1575) expired bathed in his own blood from his veins, whilst he said, “What blood--what murders--I know not where I am--how will all this end? What shall I do? I am lost forever. I know it.” Francis Spira, an Italian apostate, exclaimed, just before death, “My sin is greater than the mercy of God. I have denied Christ voluntarily; I feel that He hardens me, and allows me no hope.” Hobbes--“I am taking a fearful leap into the dark.”
Sinners warned of death
On a very dark, stormy night, out West, the wind blew down a part of a railroad bridge. A freight train came along, and it crashed into the ruin, and the engineer and conductor perished. There was a girl living in her father’s cabin near the disaster, and she heard the crash of the freight train, and she knew that in a few moments an express train was due. She lighted a lantern, and climbed up on the one beam of the wrecked bridge, and then on the main part of the bridge, which was trestle work, and started to cross amid the thunder and the lightning of the tempest and the raging of the torrent beneath. One misstep and it would have been death. Amid all that horror the lantern went out. Crawling sometimes and sometimes walking over the slippery rails and over the trestle work, she came to the other side of the river. She wanted to get to the telegraph station where the express train did not stop, so that the danger might be telegraphed to the station where the train did stop. The train was due in five minutes. She was one mile off from the telegraph station, but fortunately the train was late. With cut and bruised feet she flew like the wind. Coming up to the telegraph station panting, with almost deathly exhaustion, she had only strength to shout, “The bridge is down!” when she became unconscious, and could hardly be resuscitated. The message was sent from the station to the next station, and the train halted, and that night the brave girl saved the lives of hundreds of passengers, and saved many homes from desolation. But every street is a track, and every style of business is a track, and every day is a track, and every night is a track, and multitudes under the power of temptation come sweeping on and sweeping down toward perils raging and terrific; God help us to go out and stop the train. Let us throw some signal. Let us give some warning. By the throne of God let us flash some influence to stop the downward progress. Beware! Beware! The bridge is down, the chasm is deep, and the lightnings of God set all the night of sin on fire with this warning, “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” (De Witt Talmage.)
Then said the Jews, Will He kill Himself?--Afterwards at the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, many of the desperate Jews did the very thing they here said of our Lord--they killed themselves in madness of despair. (Rupertus.)
Self-murder was, by the Jews, esteemed the most aggravated of crimes--a crime which sent everyone after death to Gehenna, the place of damnation. Josephus, in the weighty speech wherein he warns his companions in war, who had been hemmed in by the enemy, to refrain from self-murder, says of suicides, “a darker hell receives the souls of such.” The Jews, no doubt, perceived very well what Christ meant to say. But, instead of permitting themselves to be humbled, their only purpose was to retort upon Christ the cutting expression, “Ye shall die in your sins,” and, therefore, they contemptuously utter the taunt, “Well, if He is determined to take His own life and go to Gehenna, He is indeed correct when He says that no one will follow Him thither.” (Tholuck.)
Ye are from beneath: I am from above.--An abyss separates heaven, life in God, the home of Jesus, and earth the life of this world, the natural and moral home of the Jews; and faith in Jesus could alone have bridged over this abyss. Hence their perdition is, if they refuse to embrace Him, certain, since He alone could have raised them to heaven. (F. Godet, D. D.)
Jesus lived and moved in a different world. His motives were pure, honest, kind, self-sacrificing. His joys were holy, spiritual, expanding, enduring, Divine. He had heaven in His soul, and they had hell begun in theirs. A gulf impassable between them, except by repentance. One must think with Christ, will with Him, toil with Him, endure with Him, and die with Him, so as to dwell with Him forever. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
Christ’s moral elevation
The expression is susceptible of two interpretations.
1. Physical or local, in which sense Christ must have meant that He came from the heavenly world, and they had their origin on the earth. But the latter is only true of their bodies; all souls, as did the Divine personality of Christ, come from God.
2. Moral. The language must apply to character, its elevation and degradation. Christ’s moral character was from above--lofty, divine: theirs from beneath--mean, selfish, low as hell. In this sense Christ was as distant from His age and all unregenerate mankind as heaven from hell. Concerning this distance, note
I. IT WAS MANIFESTED IN HIS EARTHLY LIFE.
1. It was seen in the conduct of the Jews and others in relation to Him. The Gospels abound with instances illustrative of the felt disparity between Christ and the people with whom He lived (Luke 4:14-42.4.27; Matthew 21:12; Matthew 21:12; John 8:1-43.8.11). It was thus with the soldiers in Gethsemane, Pilate, the spectators of the Crucifixion. Whence arose this felt distance? It cannot be accounted for on the grounds of
(1) Social superiority: He was a humble Peasant.
(2) Non-sociality: He mingled with the people. It was
(3) Simply distance of character. His incorruptible truthfulness, immaculate purity, calm reverence, warm and overflowing benevolence struck them with awe.
2. It was seen in the conduct of Christ in relation to the people. He felt and manifested a moral loneliness. The crowd had nothing in common with Him. What they honoured, He despised; what He loved, they hated. Hence, He only felt akin to those who had kindred sympathy. “My mother and brethren are those who do My will.” Hence, too, His frequent withdrawal from the people to pour out His sorrows to the Father. And in His lonely hours He bewails the moral character of His age: “O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee.” He was morally above them. They were mere flickering lamps, dim and sooty; He rolled as a bright star above them.
II. IT WAS DEMONSTRATIVE OF HIS REAL DIVINITY. Whence came such a character as this?
1. Intellectually there was nothing, either in Jewish or Gentile mind, to give rise to such a doctrinal system as that propounded by Jesus of Nazareth. His revelation of God’s love transcended all human conception.
2. And morally there was nothing in His age to produce such a character. How could immaculate purity come out of an age of corruption--incorruptible truth come out of a world of falsehood--self-sacrificing love out of a world of selfishness? Men’s characters are formed on the principle of imitation; but Christ’s character could not be thus formed. He had no perfect form to imitate. Even the best of the patriarchs and the holiest of the prophets were imperfect. How can you account for the existence of such a character as His? Tell me not it came of the earth. Do grapes grow on thorns? Did the flaming pillar in the wilderness grow out of the sand?
(1) His perfect moral excellence was universally felt, not because there was no effort employed to discover imperfections in Him; the keen eye of His age was always on the watch, to descry some moral defect. And Pilate, who had every facility for knowing Him, and every motive for condemning Him, said, “I find no fault in Him.”
(2) This moral excellence was retained to the last, not because He was not assailed by temptation. Never came the great tempter to any man in a more powerful form than to Christ. How then shall we account for such a character as this? Only on the principle that He was indeed the “Son of God.”
III. IT WAS ESSENTIAL TO HIS REDEEMERSHIP. Had He not been thus morally above mankind, He had lacked the qualification to redeem souls. Holiness has the power to convict, to renovate, to sanctify, and to save. A man who is one with sinners, morally standing on the same platform, can never save them. Because Christ is “above” them, He rolls His moral thunders down to alarm the careless: pours His sunbeams to quicken the dead; rains His fertilizing showers to make moral deserts blossom as the rose. As the well-being of the earth depends upon the heavens, so the spiritual progress of humanity depends upon that Character that is stretched over us like the sunny skies. Conclusion: The subject predicates
1. The way to true elevation. Men are endowed with aspirations. But what altitudes should they scale to reach true dignity? Commerce, literature, scholarship, war? No; from all these heights man must fall--fall like Lucifer, the sun of the morning. The altitude of imitating Christ is that which conducts to glory. Seek the things “above.” Press on to assimilation to that character that is above you. It will always be above you, and so far it meets the unbounded moral aspirations of your heart. “Be ye holy, even as God is holy.” Christ’s character is everlastingly saying to you, “Come up hither.”
2. Reveals the only way by which we can regenerate the world. Keep at a moral distance from mankind. Let the people amongst whom we bye feel that we are morally above them. In this age, what is called the Church is morally so identified with the spirit that moves the world, that it is on the same moral plane as the market, the theatre.
3. Presents motives for the highest gratitude. The grandest fact in the history of our planet is, that a perfect moral character has been here, wearing our nature. Though His physical personality is gone, His character is here still. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Methods of living
There are three methods of living--from beneath, from within, from above. We none of us live after one single method. There has been but one self-consistent man, Jesus, who followed one method throughout. But no other man is either wholly good or consistently bad. Three distant principles, however, of the formation of character are clearly manifest.
I. LIFE FROM BENEATH we can easily recognize. The world has received Christian education enough to lead it publicly, at least to repudiate the method of the devil, even though they may follow it privately.
II. LIFE FROM WITHIN is good so far as it goes. It is the effort to live as a human being may best live in the powers of his own reason, and out of the motives of his own heart without seeking help from above. And it is fair to say that some who follow it reach admirable results. Christian faith need not make us blind to natural virtues.
III. BUT SCRIPTURE FAILS TO RECOGNIZE THIS INTERMEDIATE METHOD OF LIVING. Yet Jesus must have looked out upon life with as quick an appreciation of anything fair in it as any of us can ever feel, and was always ready to see good where we cannot. Nevertheless, He admits of only two sharply defined principles and tendencies--one of this world and tending towards that which is beneath; and the other like His own higher life rising towards that which is above. This is admittedly a difficulty. We observe a good deal of loveableness and goodness in the world growing out of men’s hearts without any religions vitality in it; Christ recognized nothing of the kind. Which is right?
1. Remember that Jesus went beyond all that is temporary in human conduct, and that His judgments have reference to radical principles and final issues. When, therefore, He distinguishes two opposite methods of life only, while human experience shows us a third, the question arises whether life can go on much farther in the halfway fashion? Is not this intermediate way a path that must break off somewhere, and he who follows it be compelled to scale the height or plunge into the abyss? Is it anything more than a provisional method, and so cannot be justified as a necessary and reasonable expedient for a life?
2. It is a great presumption against it that it is an expedient, and cannot possibly be the full, final method of an immortal soul. It is a serious disadvantage that the plan must be held subject to death, and will have to be dropped in the grave. As thinking, acting beings, we want to plan our lives for ages, not for years; and who of us expect to live one single day after death without finding ourselves obliged to take God and the whole kingdom of righteousness into our account of life? I cannot live fifty, one hundred, one thousand years hence, still drifting on in unconcern about the greatest and final realities of the universe.
3. Some will admit this disadvantage, but, however they may wish to believe as their mothers have, say, “I must build my life upon known facts and truths which experience can substantiate.” So be it, give me facts to build into the substantial arch of a life, but let me not neglect the Keystone, because life can be carried so high without it, and the temporary scaffolding hold all in place for the present. And if the gospel brings the facts which are necessary to make life entire we ought at once to use them. Is faith in Christ, this Keystone, which completes and secures all, and that with no temporary scaffolding of our own construction, but with the righteousness of God?
4. Let me ask you who are trying to live honourably without religion to search the scriptures of your heart, and of providence, and see if the present fact of a living God is not everywhere pressed upon you? But beside this there is a whole range of Divine facts in the world called Christianity, as positive facts of history as the rocky mountains are facts of geography; and one might as reasonably attempt to engineer a railroad across America without taking the mountains into account as to seek to stretch a purpose across this life without taking Christianity into his plan. From these facts let us specify
(1) The person of Christ. Pilate did not know what to do with it and would wash his hands; but the world cannot evade its responsibility. Christ stands before the judgment throne of every soul, and the final question of our lives, whether we will or no, becomes, “What shall I do with Jesus?” etc.
(2) The power of the Holy Ghost in the lives of men. This is a fact which runs through the whole range of Christian history, and is not unknown outside it, or whence those instinctive prayers, great ideas, visions of better things?
5. We must allow that a provisional way of living is justifiable only on the supposition that it is necessary. One may live as well as he can in a tent, provided there is no material of which he can build a house. One may camp out under a mere moral theory of life, provided a religious home is an impossibility. But there are materials sound and ample for a Christian home in life in the Christian Church. Do not then camp out, but come in.
Conclusion: Note some considerations which show the completeness of the Christian method of living and the incompleteness of the best method which is not clearly Christian.
1. The Christian method is life from above. Christ finds the lost child and sets him in the midst of the Divine Fatherhood, and thus brings life into union with God.
2. It harmonizes everything in and around us, and the growing harmony of life is the sure proof that the method cannot be wrong.
3. Without these reconciliations the best life must be imperfect, and its method therefore to be eschewed. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.--Our Lord spoke as One having authority, as a king from the throne, a judge from the tribunal.
I. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN OUR BELIEVING IN CHRIST.
1. A deep sense of our need of Him as the only and all-sufficient Saviour. “They that are whole need not a physician” (Isaiah 27:13; Matthew 9:12).
2. A giving full credit to the gospel revelation concerning Him in His Person, offices, and work.
3. A full conviction of conscience arising
(1) From a discernment of the excellency of what is revealed.
(2) From the manner in which it is revealed.
4. A removal of all enmity and aversion to Christ.
5. A. powerful attraction of the whole soul to Christ, a closing in with the gospel way of salvation, and a cleaving to Him with full purpose of heart.
II. THE AWFUL CONSEQUENCES OF UNBELIEF (Ezekiel 3:18). Unbelievers
1. Die in a state of guilt and under condemnation. Their conscience condemns them because they have defiled it; the law, because they have broken it; the gospel, because they have rejected it. This condemnation is now (John 3:18).
2. Die under the power and dominion of sin (Revelation 22:11).
3. Dying in their sins, they sink under everlasting punishment. Those who sin against the remedy perish without it. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The greatest calamity
I. TO DIE IN ONE’S SINS IS THE GREATEST CALAMITY. To die is a terribly solemn thing, for it involves separation from home, business, acquaintance, world, the very body itself, and introduction into a mysterious, untried, spiritual state of retribution. But to die in sin adds immeasurably to its solemnity. Sin is the sting of death. To die in one’s sins means
1. To die having misused this life with all its blessings. Life’s grand purpose is the cultivation of a holy character. For this
(1) All physical blessings are given: health, time, nature.
(2) All social pleasures and happy interchanges of thought, feeling, and soul
(3) All mental blessings, literature, science, poetry, schools, etc.
(4) All redemptive blessings--the gospel with its soul-saving appliances. He who dies in his sins has abused all.
2. To die with all the conditions of misery-conflicting passions, tormenting conscience, a dreaded God, foreboding anguish. It this is not hell, what is it? Better a thousand times to die in a pauper’s hovel or in a martyr’s tortures than to die in sin.
II. UNBELIEF IS CHRIST READERS THIS GREATEST OF CALAMITIES INEVITABLE. Belief in Christ, as the Revealer of God, is essential to the deliverance of man from the guilt, power, and consequence of sins.
1. This deliverance requires the awaking in the soul of a supreme affection for God. Love to God only can destroy the old man.
2. A supreme affection for God requires a certain revelation of Him. In what aspects must the Eternal appear to man before this love can be awakened? He must appear personally, forgivingly, and sublimely perfect.
3. This certain revelation is nowhere but in Christ. Belief in Him therefore is essential to a deliverance of the soul from sin. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Unbelief is a sin
1. Heavy with the burden of ingratitude (Luke 17:17).
2. Heavy with the burden of a broken law (Galatians 3:10).
3. Heavy with impending wrath of God (John 3:36).
4. Crimsoned with blood (Isaiah 1:18; Hebrews 10:26; Hosea 1:2). (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
I. IS THE THING THAT SPECIALLY RUINS MEN. All manner of sin may be forgiven. But unbelief bars the door against mercy (Mark 16:16; John 3:36.
II. WAS THE SECRET OF THE JEWS BEING SO THOROUGHLY “OF THE WORLD.” If they would only have believed in Christ, they would have been “delivered from this present evil world.” The victory that overcomes the world is faith. Once believing on a heavenly Saviour a man has a portion and a heart in heaven (Galatians 1:4; 1 John 5:4-62.5.5).
III. THERE IS NOTHING HARD OR UNCHARITABLE IN WARNING MEN PLAINLY OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF UNBELIEF. Never to speak of hell is not acting as Christ did. (Bp. Ryle.)
Unbelief will destroy the soul
If but one sin be unrepented of, the man continues still a bond slave of hell. By one little hole, a ship will sink into the bottom of the sea. The stab of a penknife to the heart will as well destroy a man as all the daggers that killed Caesar in the senate house. The soul will be strangled with one cord of vanity as well as with all the cart ropes of iniquity: only the more sins, the more plagues and fiercer flames in hell; but he that lives and dies impenitent in one, it will be his destruction. One dram of poison will despatch a man, and one reigning sin will bring him to endless misery. (R. Bolton.)
Dying in sin
A dying woman, after a life of frivolity, said to me, “Do you think that I can be pardoned?” I said, “Oh, yes,” Then, gathering herself up in the concentrated dismay of a departing spirit, she looked at me and said, “Sir, I know I shall not!” Then she looked up as though she heard the click of the hoofs of the pale horse, and her long locks tossed on the pillow as she whispered, “The summer is ended.” (T. DeWitt Talmage.)
We must believe or perish
Unbelief stops the current of God’s mercy from running; it shuts up God’s bowels, closeth the orifice of Christ’s wounds, that no healing virtue will come out. “He could not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). (T. Watson.)
Judgment overtakes sin suddenly
The Rev. F.W. Holland in 1867 was encamped in Wady Feiram, near the base of Mount Serbal. He says: “A tremendous thunderstorm burst upon us. After little more than an hour’s rain the water rose so rapidly in the previously dry wady (valley), that I had to run for my life, and with great difficulty succeeded in saving my tent and goods, my boots, which I had not time to pick up, being washed away. In less than two hours a dry desert wady, upwards of 300 yards broad, was turned into a foaming torrent from eight to ten feet deep, roaring and tearing down, and bearing everything before it--tangled masses of tamarisks, hundreds of beautiful palm trees, scores of sheep and goats, camels, donkeys, and even men, women, and children, for a whole encampment of Arabs was washed away a few miles above me. The storm commenced at five o’clock in the evening, and at half-past nine the waters were rapidly, subsiding, and it was evident that the flood had spent its force. In the morning a gently flowing stream, but a few yards broad and a few inches deep, was all that remained of it. But the whole bed of the valley was changed. Here great heaps of boulders were piled up, where hollows had been the day before; there holes had taken the place of banks covered with trees. Two miles of tamarisk wood, which was situated above the palm grove, had been completely washed away, and upwards of a thousand palm trees swept down to the sea. The change was so great that I could not have believed it possible in so short a time had I not witnessed it with my own eyes.” So sudden, and greater far will be the final ruin of those who build their hopes of eternal life on the sand of human doing, and not upon the “Rock”--Christ Jesus.
Then said they unto Him, Who art Thou?
…Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning.
By thus expressing Himself, Jesus evidently declared Himself to be the expected One. He avoided, however, the term “Messiah,” as subject to too much misunderstanding among the Jews. It was, however, just this term which His hearers desired to extort from Him, and it was with this object that they asked the question: “Who art Thou?” In other words: “Have at least the courage to speak out plainly.” In fact, an express declaration on this point might have furnished them matter for a capital accusation. The answer of Jesus is: Absolutely what I also declared unto you--neither more nor less than My words imply. He appeals to His own testimony as the adequate expression of His nature. They have only to fathom the series of statements He has made concerning Himself, and they will find therein a complete analysis of His mission and essence. The application of this reply of Jesus was that, to discover His true nature and the position He filled towards Israel and the world, it was sufficient to weigh the testimony which He had for some time borne to Himself. Neither more nor less was to be expected from Him than He Himself stated. In this manner He would be successively recognized as the true Temple (chap. 2); the Living Water (chap. 4); the true Son of God (chap. 5); the Bread of heaven (chap. 6); etc. And thus His name of Christ would be spelt out in some sort, letter by letter, in the heart of the believer, would there take the form of a spontaneous discovery, which would be infinitely more advantageous than if learnt by rote under external teaching. In fact, the confession “Thou art the Christ,” to be a saving one, must be as with St. Peter (chap. 6:66-69), the fruit of the experience of faith (Matthew 16:17). Jesus never sought or accepted an adherence arising from any other principle. This reply is one of the most characteristic traits of our Lord’s wisdom, and perfectly explains why He so frequently forbade the twelve to say that He was the Christ. (F. Godet, D. D.)
Christ’s teaching is
I. CONSISTENT (John 8:25). Probably it was desired that He should make a proclamation of Himself inconsistent with His former utterances; if so it was disappointed. All His utterances meet in Him as rays meet in the sun. This is remarkable if we consider
1. The various and trying circumstances under which He spoke. It was often under intense suffering and great provocation, and often in answer to men who did their utmost to make Him contradict Himself.
2. The diversity in the minds and circumstances of those who reported His speeches. How different in faculties, taste, culture, habits, and angles of observation were His four biographers; and yet their reports agree.
II. PROGRESSIVE (John 8:26). Christ suited His teaching to the capacities and characters of His hearers. In His mind there was an infinite treasury of truth; but His administration of it was gradual. Indeed no finite intelligence could take in all that was in the mind of Christ; it would take Eternity to unfold all His wonderful thoughts. This progressiveness
1. Supplies a motive to stimulate human inquiry. Christ will teach you according to your capacity. The more you learn of Him, the more He will teach you.
2. Shows His suitability as a Teacher for mankind. Men have naturally a craving for knowledge; and the more they know, the more intense their craving becomes. They therefore want a teacher of boundless resources.
III. DIVINE. “He that sent Me,” etc. (John 8:26). He taught not human things, but the things of God--absolute realities--concerning the Divine nature, government, claims, etc.
IV. NOT ALWAYS UNDERSTOOD (John 8:27). In this they represent an enormous class in every age, who understand not Christ, but misinterpret Him. Conclusion--Have we put to Christ in earnest the question, “Who art Thou?” and have we received in docility, faith, and love back into our own hearts an answer from Him? (D. Thomas, D. D.)
When ye have lifted up the Son of Man.
--As instruments they would lift Him to the cross; as a result He would ascend to His throne. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
Christ forecasting His death and destiny
Christ’s language here
I. REVEALS HIS SUBLIME HEROISM IN THE PROSPECT OF A TERRIBLE DEATH. “When ye have lifted up,” an expression more than once used to signify His crucifixion. This was
1. The culmination of human wickedness. This could reach no higher point than the putting to death of the Son of God.
2. The culmination of human suffering. Crucifixion involved ignominy, insult, torture. Yet how calmly Christ speaks about it--“He endured the
Cross and despised the shame.” There was no faltering note, no complaint, no perturbation, dismay.
II. EXPRESSES HIS UNSHAKEN FAITH IN THE TRIUMPH OF HIS CAUSE. “Then shall ye know,” etc.
1. He was not discouraged by apparent failure. To the world His life ending in crucifixion would appear a stupendous failure: to Him it was a success. His death was as a seed falling into the earth.
2. He did not despair of man’s improvability. He believed that there would come a reaction in men’s minds concerning Him. When He was gone they would begin to think, recognize, and give Him credit for excellency, which they did not when He was amongst them.
3. He was not doubtful of ultimate success. He saw the day of Pentecost, the result of apostolic labours, the triumph of His truth through all successive ages, and at last His character moulding the race to His own ideal.
III. IMPLIES A PRINCIPLE OF CONDUCT COMMON IN ALL HISTORY: viz., that good men undervalued in life are appreciated when gone. We see this principle
1. In the family. Members may live together for years, and through infirmity of temper, clashing of tastes, collision of opinion, etc., excellencies may be entirely overlooked. One dies--father, mother, brother, sister--and then attributes of goodness come up in the memory that never appeared before.
2. In the State. Public men, devoted to the common good, and loyal to conscience, clash with popular opinions and prejudices and are bitterly denounced. They die, and their virtues emerge, and fill the social atmosphere with fragrance. Burke, Hume, and Cobden are examples of this.
3. In the Church. A minister labours for years among a people--too thoughtful to be appreciated by the thoughtless, too honest to bow to current prejudices--so that his work passes unacknowledged and unrequited. He dies, and has a moral epiphany. It was so with Arnold and Robertson.
IV. INDICATES A CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS PECULIAR RELATION TO THE ETERNAL FATHER. “As my Father hath taught me,” etc. (John 8:29).
1. He was the Pupil of the Father.
2. He was the Companion of the Father.
3. He was the servant of the Father. “I do always those things that please Him,” though I displease you.
1. This subject reveals the sublime uniqueness of Christ. Who, amongst all the millions of men that have appeared, could use such language as this? Who could forecast such a terrible future with such accuracy and composure? Who could proclaim such a Divine relationship? As our system has but one sun, our universe has but one Christ.
2. This subject suggests the Christ verifying force of human history. What Christ here predicts history has established. Through His crucifixion ever increasing multitudes have been convinced that He is the true Messiah. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
He that hath sent Me is with Me
1. Unity of essence.
2. Communion of spirit.
3. Consciousness of favour.
4. Present help.
5. One in eternal plans.
Jehovah was ever at His right hand in might, majesty, and love. To be with God is to have light without darkness, truth without falsehood, power without weakness, love without limit. The sunbeams spread their golden wings over us, and yet abide with the sun, from whence they flow. He who sent His Son into the world was so with Him, that He shared, so to speak, all the opprobrium and enmity with which His mission was met. In the same manner is Christ with His people. (Matthew 25:40). (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
The exemplary life
I. LIFE COMMISSIONED BY GOD. “Sent me.” Christ was appointed by God to His Work (1 John 4:14). Every life is a plan of God. Cunning workmen in building the Temple were inspired by Him. He sends to all kinds of lawful work. Lowly workers realize this, it will exalt and encourage you.
II. LIFE APPROVED OF GOD. Our Lord’s life and work were ever well pleasing to God. So may our life and work be if, by His help, we are diligent, faithful, unselfish, and do all as unto Him.
III. LIFE ACCOMPANIED BY GOD. Please God in your life and you will realize His gracious presence. His presence is an assurance of support in trial, victory in conflict, guidance, progress, etc. (W. Jones.)
The Father hath not left Me alone. Let us not think holiness in the hearts of men here in the world is a forlorn, forsaken, and outcast thing from God, that He hath no regard of. Holiness, wherever it is, though never so small, if it be but hearty and sincere, it can no more be cut off and discontinued from God, than a sunbeam here upon earth can be broken off from its intercourse with the sun, and be left alone amidst the mire and dust of this world. The sun may as well discard its own rays, and banish them from itself, into some region of darkness, far remote from it, where they shall have no dependence at all upon it, as God can forsake and abandon holiness in the world, and leave it a poor orphan thing, that shall have no influence at all from Him to preserve and keep it. Holiness is something of God, wherever it is; it is an efflux from Him, that always hangs upon Him, and lives in Him, as the sunbeams, though they gild this lower world, and spread their golden wings over us, yet they are not so much here, where they shine, as in the sun, from whence they flow. God cannot draw a curtain betwixt Himself and holiness, which is nothing but the splendour and shining of Himself. He cannot hide His face from it; He cannot desert it, in the world (Matthew 28:20; Acts 9:4-44.9.5; 2 Timothy 4:17). (R. Cudworth.)
I do always those things which please Him.--Eternally, past, present, and future at all times, everywhere, in all ways, He requires from all, and teaches all those things which please God. Of whom but the eternal Son and Spirit can this be said? (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
The Christian’s motto
Observe Christ as
I. THE MEDIATOR. Our text is true of our Lord every way.
1. Of His incarnation we read, “Lo, I come … I delight to do Thy will.” He did the thing which pleased the Father during His obscure life as the carpenter’s Son. He was “The holy child Jesus.” At the end of His retirement the Father set His seal upon His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased at His baptism, when He fulfilled all righteousness, a type of the perfect obedience He intended to render. His temptation and victory were well pleasing to God, the token whereof was the ministration of angels. Throughout His life He fulfilled Isaiah 42:21. He magnified the ceremonial law by coming under it and observing it until the time when it passed away; and the moral law by such obedience as enabled Him to say, “Which of you convinceth him of sin.” Hence the same attestation at the Transfiguration as at the Baptism, and the answer to His prayer, “Father, glorify Thy name.” The miracles were tokens of the Father’s pleasure Acts 2:22). In His death “it pleased the Father to bruise Him.” It pleased God that He should ascend, for “He received gifts for men.” God is pleased with His intercession, for it is all prevalent. It will please that He should come again; for all judgment is committed to His hands.
2. The saving works of Jesus are lovely in the Father’s eyes. “The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper,” etc. “I have no pleasure in the death,” etc.
3. The benefits which Christ confers on the saints please the Father; “for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell,” and it pleases Him when of His fulness we receive grace for grace.
II. THE MODEL. In taking Christ as our example
1. It implied that we ourselves are rendered pleasing to God. As long as a man is obnoxious to God, all he does is obnoxious. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
2. Included in this is the avoiding all things that displease Him.
(1) Pride, whether of talent, self-righteousness, wealth, dress, rank. “The Lord resisted the proud.”
(2) Sloth--which God couples with wickedness.
(3) Unwatchfulness, carelessness, indifference, neglect.
(4) Anger, oppression, craftiness, covetousness, worldliness.
(5) Unbelief--doubts of His power and faithfulness.
3. It should be our intent and earnest design to please God. We shall not do this by accident; we must give our whole souls to it.
4. The text is positive and practical. “Do.”
(1) Christ was prayerful, and it cannot please the Father for His child not to speak to Him.
(2) Christ loved God and man.
(3) Christ pleased not Himself, and to please God we must deny ourselves.
(4) Christ was separate from sinners, and we must not be conformed to the world.
(5) To please God note Psalms 69:30, and Hebrews 13:16, and learn to cultivate a thankful spirit; note--1 John 3:22; 1 John 3:22, and Hebrews 11:5-58.11.6. and believe; note Colossians 1:10, and learn that resignation is pleasing to God.
5. These things must be actually done. “I do.” It will not suffice to talk or pray about them or to be charmed with them.
6. “Always.” At home as husband or wife, etc.; at business as master or servant. There must not be at any moment anything that we should not like God to see, nor be where we should not like Christ to find us.
7. By doing the things that please God.
(1) We shall enjoy and retain the presence of the Father, not otherwise.
(2) We shall be girded with strength; otherwise we shall be impotent.
(3) The Lord will be with us in our work.
1. Is this too high a model? Would you prefer an example that would let you be contented with a measure of sin? Do you think it an impossible ideal? But what about the promised help of the Spirit?
2. Have you failed? Then grieve over it, and try again. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We must please God always
It will not suffice to say I do the things which please God when I go out to worship. The Christian must aim to say “I do always.” I have known some persons take a holiday from Christ’s service sometimes. They say “Once a year surely one may indulge.” If holiness is slavery then surely you are the slave of sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Conduct insisted by love
A child had a beautiful canary, which sang to him from early morning. The mother of the child was ill--so ill that the song of the little bird, which to the boy was delicious music, disturbed and distressed her so that she could scarcely bear to hear it. He put it in a room far away, but the bird’s notes reached the sick bed, and caused pain to her in her long, feverish days. One morning, as the child stood holding his mother’s hand, he saw that when his pet sang, an expression of pain passed over her dear face. She had never yet told him that she could not bear the noise, but she did so now. “It is no music to me,” she said, as he asked her if the notes were not pretty. He looked at her in wonder. “And do you really dislike the sound?” “Indeed I do,” she said. The child, full of love to his mother, left the room. The golden feathers of the pretty canary were glistening in the sunshine, and he was trilling forth his loveliest notes; but they had ceased to please the boy. They were no longer pretty or soothing to him, and taking the cage in his hand he left the house. When he returned he told his mother that the bird would disturb her rest no more, for he had given it to his little cousin. “But you loved it so,” she said; “how could you part with the canary?” “I loved the canary, mother,” he replied; “but I love you more. I could not really love anything that gave you pain. It would not be true love if I did.” (Quiver.)
As He spake these words many believed on Him
The force of truth
A woman in Scotland, who was determined, as far as possible, not to have anything to do with religion, threw her Bible and all the tracts she could find in her house into the fire. One of the tracts fell down out of the flames, so she picked it up and thrust it in again. A second time it slipped down, and once more she put it back. Again her evil intention was frustrated, but the next time she was more successful, though, even then only half of it was consumed. Taking up the portion that fell out of the fire, she exclaimed, “Surely the devil is in that tract, for it won’t burn.” Her curiosity was excited; she began to read it, and it was the means of her conversion. It was one of my sermons. Verily that sermon, and the woman too, “were saved, yet so as by fire.” What wondrous ways the Lord has of bringing home the truth! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A word in season
Lady Huntingdon once spoke to a workman who was repairing a garden wall, and pressed him to thoughtfulness on the state of his soul. Some years afterwards, she was speaking to another man on the same subject, and said, “Thomas, I fear you never pray, nor look to Jesus Christ for salvation.” “Your ladyship is mistaken,” answered the man; “I heard what passed between you and James at such a time, and the word you designed for him took effect on me.” “How did you hear it?” “I heard it on the other side of the garden, through a hole in the wall, and shall never forget the impression I received.”
Then said Jesus unto those Jews which believed on Him.
A glorious liberator
I. FREEDOM PROFFERED.
1. Sin makes bondage (John 8:34; Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13; Romans 6:16-45.6.17; Galatians 4:25; 2 Peter 2:19).
2. Truth brings freedom (John 8:32; Romans 7:6; Romans 7:6; James 1:25; 1 Peter 2:16).
3. Christ gives freedom (John 8:36; Psalms 118:5; Psalms 118:5; Rom 6:23, 1 Corinthians 7:22; Galatians 5:1).
II. BONDAGE DEMONSTRATED.
1. By doing evil deeds (John 8:44; Genesis 6:5; Genesis 6:5; Matthew 13:38; Mark 7:23; Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:8).
2. By disbelieving the Lord (John 8:45; Isaiah 53:1; Luke 22:67; John 4:48; Joh 5:58; John 6:36; John 8:24).
3. By not hearing truth (John 8:47; Isaiah 6:9; Matthew 13:15, John 5:47; John 5:47, 1 John 4:6).
III. DEATH VANQUISHED.
1. A dying race (John 8:53; Genesis 3:19; Psalms 89:48; Ecclesiastes 12:5; Zechariah 1:5; Romans 5:12; Hebrews 9:27).
2. A life-giving obedience (John 8:51; Deuteronomy 11:27; Acts 5:29; Romans 6:16; Hebrews 5:9; 1 Peter 1:22).
3. An ever-living Saviour (John 8:58; Psalms 90:1; John 17:5; John 17:5; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:10; Revelation 1:18). (Sunday School Times.)
Bondage and freedom
I. PHYSICAL BONDAGE.
1. An ancient institution (Genesis 9:25-1.9.26).
2. Called bondmen (Genesis 43:18; Genesis 44:9).
3. Some born in bondage (Genesis 14:14; Psalms 116:16).
4. Some captured in war (Deuteronomy 20:14; 2 Kings 5:2).
5. Subject to sale (Genesis 17:27; Genesis 37:28-1.37.36).
6. Debtors sold into bondage (2 Kings 4:1; Matthew 18:25).
7. Thieves sold into bondage (Exodus 22:3).
8. Bondage of Israelites not perpetual (Exodus 21:2; Leviticus 25:10).
II. SPIRITUAL BONDAGE.
1. Is to the devil (1 Timothy 3:7; 2 Timothy 2:26).
2. Is to fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-58.2.15).
3. Is to sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:16).
4. Is to corruption (2 Peter 2:19; Romans 8:21).
5. Is to iniquity (Acts 8:23).
6. Is to the world (Galatians 4:8).
7. Is to spiritual death (Romans 7:24).
8. Is unknown by its subjects (John 8:33).
III. SPIRITUAL FREEDOM.
1. Promised (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 24:7; Isaiah 61:1).
2. Typified (Exodus 1:13-2.1.14 with Deuteronomy 4:20),
3. Through Christ (John 8:36; Romans 7:24-45.7.25).
4. Proffered by the gospel (Luke 4:17-42.4.21).
5. Through the truth (John 8:32).
6. Testified by the Spirit (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5-48.4.6).
7. Enjoyed by saints (Romans 6:18-45.6.22).
8. Saints should abide in it (Galatians 5:1).
(Sunday School Times.)
The Kingdom of the Truth
I. THOSE WHO ARE NOT ITS SUBJECTS THOUGH THEY SAY THEY ARE.
1. Accepting a mere dead orthodoxy does not constitute one a genuine subject of the Kingdom of Truth (John 8:31-43.8.33). This declaration is levelled against the traditional faiths and old maxims which those Jews were holding as their birthright blessing.
2. Nor being born of respectable and even believing lineage. Our Lord was confronted with the dry statement that they descended from Abraham, and that they were never slaves even in morality. “Professing themselves wise, they became fools.” Christ answered with directness that the plain reason why they did not believe in Him, was that they were not born of God. All there was of good in their boasted ancestor was due to his having by faith seen Christ’s day. And when this maddened them, He raised His word to an imperial utterance, such as only the King of the Kingdom of Truth could make (John 8:58). There are two things in this:
(1) He that is not in Christ’s kingdom is in Satan’s.
(2) He who is not a Christian cannot be a true man in life, thought, temper, etc.
3. Nor following mere blind formulas of performance. Education has value; but the truest men in an age like ours must sometimes turn back upon their training with a free judgment. Antiquity is no proof of soundness in the right. The devil has all the force of the argument in that direction, and Jesus told these Jews that Satan was their first father.
4. Nor insisting on mere sincere convictions. One may have honest preferences for an absolutely false standard. It is possible that the affections have grown perverted. The later history of Turner can be explained only on the supposition of a disease in his eyes; this threw all his work out of drawing. He was as honest and industrious as ever; his sense of colour was as fine as in his early days, but his eyes had become mechanically untrustworthy. The men, arguing here with our Lord, did not believe in Him, not because what He told them was not true, but because they, in their innermost hearts, were not true; there was a distorted image upon their souls.
II. THOSE WHO ARE ITS SUBJECTS.
1. A true man will accept true doctrines. “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The two grand divisions of our race have always been ranged around Christ and Anti-Christ (1 John 4:2-62.4.6).
2. A true man will cherish true principles. Joseph said he must refuse sin because he could not offend against God. Hazael had no more to offer in objection than that he was afraid he might be thought only a dog. Expediency is not enough, genuineness of principle is needed.
3. A true man will cultivate true tastes. He may not always get in love with some forms and phases of religion. He may find that 1:8 has to get himself into a more amiable and trustful frame of mind before he is anything but the artificial being that training for a bad lifetime has made him. If he does not love gentleness, or humility, or charity, or temperance, or godliness, when he sees it, it is a task for him to set about to grow to love it as soon as he can. For a critic who does not like a true painting is not himself true. If one prefers Turkish jargon to a harmonious tune, he is not true. And when one turns away from a true child of God, it is because he is not true.
4. A true man will manifest true consistency. Christ gave us the Word of God as the standard of reference. The New Testament is the book of manners in the social circle of the Kingdom of Truth.
5. A true man will live a true life. There will be a fine, high unconsciousness that anything else could be expected of him. He never will seek to pose; he means to be. Pure and noble, he wishes only for a career “without fear and without reproach.” Can anyone tell why the old college song still thrills us when we are quite on in life? There is a wonderful power in the famous “Integer Vitae” of our early days. We would like to be reckoned as integers--whole numbers--when the world adds up the columns of its remembered worthies (Psalms 15:1-19.15.4). (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)
Jesus and Abraham
I. THE RELIGION OF THESE JEWS.
1. It was a matter of blood and ancestry. There were, it is true, certain ceremonies to be observed, but it was enough to be “Abraham’s seed” to secure the favour of Jehovah. Without that the most diligent piety could not avail. Good parentage no one will despise. If we have got our vigour from virtuous ancestors, we may well be thankful. Even if prodigal of such an inheritance, we shall still have an advantage in the battle of life. Aaron Burr was a stouter sinner because his mother was Jonathan Edward’s daughter. Robert Burns exhausted himself at thirty-eight, but what did he not owe to an honest and frugal parentage? The first generation of sinners lasts longer than the second; much longer than the third. But it will not do to trust blood as a substitute for religion. “Who is your father?” may be the first question, but “Who are you?” comes next. Many a boy disclosing his father’s name has excited surprise in the police court, but the father’s good name does not keep him out of prison. Absalom was David’s son, and Judas Abraham’s.
2. Christ told the Jews that this dead faith in our ancestor was really a bondage to the devil (John 8:34-43.8.44). Their ancestors had been slaves in Egypt and Babylon, and now the Roman Eagle had them in its talons. Yet by some legerdemain of logic they reasoned that to be a Hebrew was to be a free man. At once Jesus set them on a deeper search (John 8:44). What a hard master the devil is! For Paradise Eve gets an apple. See this illustrated in the case of Cain, Esau, Samson, Saul, Judas, Agrippa. The prodigal is sure to be set on the lowest tasks, and left to crave even husks. Nor has the devil grown kinder since.
3. Of course the bondsmen of Satan “cannot bear” the truth (John 8:43; John 8:45; John 8:47), neither receive nor recognize it. Paul thought he was doing God service when killing Christians, and perhaps these Jews were sincere, but with the maladroitness of those who give themselves to the service of evil they reserve their criticisms for that which was most fair, and direct their assaults when the line was most secure. Our Lord’s treatment of the woman was apparently the cause of their hostility. The truth and goodness which angered them angers sinners now.
II. CHRIST’S DISCIPLES.
1. They are those who abide in Christ’s Word. The dead religion was a mere name, an accident of birth; the new religion laid hold of the soul and was light and life (John 8:31-43.8.32; John 8:47). What the mind must have is truth. A man who believes a lie warms a serpent in his bosom. Christ’s heel has crushed the head of the serpent of falsehood, and for His disciples its charm is broken. Having come to the light the real children of Abraham continue in it. Bartimaeus has no wish to return to his blindness. The Christian’s love of the truth is one that lasts. And Christians obey the truth (John 8:31; cf. Proverbs 1:22; Galatians 3:1; Galatians 3:5; Galatians 3:7). The truth not only touches their intellect, judgment, conscience, but quickens, guides and establishes their will (John 8:39).
2. Yet they enjoy a real freedom--a further contrast (John 8:36; John 8:36; cf. Romans 6:14-45.6.22). Subjection to Christ’s word is not slavery. Freedom does not destroy law nor overturn authority. The best liberty finds its satisfaction within the limits of a law which is loved. Note the Divine order; first a change of heart, then morality and piety. To require these bloodthirsty children of Abraham to do his works would be to put an intolerable yoke upon them. The Bible is a weary book to a bad man. Prayer to the worldly is a burden. For the dissolute no shackles so heavy as the rules of virtue. But change a man’s mind, and his world is changed. Obedience becomes a song. Besides this, there is the liberty from the penalty of sin by Christ’s Cross.
3. As a result of all comes an assurance of endless life (John 8:51, etc.). (H. A.Edson, D. D.)
The grace of continuance
I. A PREPARATORY STAGE OF DISCIPLESHIP. The mind, heart, will, moved, but the soul not yet made new in Christ. The vestibule of salvation. All depends on holding on. The seed is in the soil, but needs to get root and grow. Satan then tries to check it.
II. THE RESULTS OF CONTINUANCE.
1. Confirmation of discipleship.
2. Revelation of truth.
3. Emancipation from sin.
III. OUR LORD GIVES HIS FOLLOWERS SOMETHING
1. To do.
2. To prove.
3. To know.
4. To become. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
I. THE CHARACTER OF A DISCIPLE INDEED. Let us look at Christ’s first disciples.
1. They forsook all they had. See the case of Paul (Philippians 3:7-50.3.8). Every sin, idol, circumstance inconsistent with Christ’s claim must be renounced.
2. They were docile. Christ taught them as they were able to hear. They had much ignorance and many prejudices, but they willingly sat at Christ’s feet. This is requisite in all true disciples (Matthew 18:2-40.18.3).
3. They had a spiritual knowledge of Christ (John 17:6-43.17.8), although the world knew Him not. So it is still (2 Corinthians 4:6).
4. They enjoyed the friendship of Christ (John 15:15). The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him (1 John 1:3).
5. They were engaged in Christ’s service (John 15:16). “None of us liveth to himself.”
II. THE PRIVILEGE PROMISED TO CHRIST’S DISCIPLES. “Ye shall know the truth.”
1. The truth referred to. Christ is the truth (John 14:6). We read Ephesians 4:21) of the truth as in Jesus--the truth full of Christ’s personal glory, love, power to save. There is truth in His holy character, in His sublime life, in His vicarious death. He speaks here of the redemptive truth of which He Himself was the sum and substance!
2. The knowledge spoken, of “Ye shall know,” not as mere theory, but living power, spiritually, experimentally. The inner eye is opened, the inner car is unstopped, the heart is melted, the soul is subdued. Truth must be engrafted in the soul (James 1:21).
3. The result predicated. The truth in Jesus emancipates the soul from the
(1) Condemnation (Romans 8:1);
(2) the power and depravity of sin (Romans 6:23; Romans 8:30);
(3) harassing fear of the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9-52.1.10);
(4) the depressing anxieties of life;
(5) from the dark and gloomy forebodings of death (Hebrews 2:14-58.2.15).
III. THE CROWNING EVIDENCE THAT ONE IS A DISCIPLE INDEED. “If ye continue in My word.” Many of Christ’s professing disciples do not continue in His word. See the parable of the sower. But all Christ’s true disciples do.
1. His word is engrafted in their souls. The gospel is a living shoot that produces fruit of its own. That soul thus Divinely operated on continues in Christ’s word, and Christ’s word continues in it.
2. They are joined to the Lord in an everlasting covenant. Every true disciple has entered into a perpetual covenant to be Christ’s, having found that he is interested in God’s everlasting covenant, ratified and established forever by the blood of the Surety! His motto is, “I am not My own!”
3. They are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. Without the indwelling, ever-abiding Spirit, there is no spiritual life, power, worship or service; without Him there is no safety. He comes as our life, and He seals us as God’s forever and ever.
4. They are kept by the power of God through faith unto final salvation (1 Peter 1:5; John 13:1-43.13.2). His Almighty arms of unchanging love areplaced underneath, and round about (Deuteronomy 33:27; Isaiah 27:3). God’s true people are kept not in mere safety, but in a life of holy love and devotedness; not in sloth and indolence, but in holy activity and spiritual diligence. (T. G. Horton.)
Continuous piety is piety indeed
It is the evening that crowns the day, and the last act that commends the whole scene. Temporary flashings are but like conducts running with wine at the coronation, that will not hold, or like a land flood, that seems to be a great sea, but comes to nothing. (J. Trapp.)
Constancy a severe test of piety
Many who have gone into the field, and liked the work of a soldier for a battle or two, soon have had enough, and come running home again; whereas few can bear it as a constant trade: war is a thing that they could willingly woo for their pleasure, but are loath to wed upon what terms soever. Thus many are easily persuaded to take up a profession of religion, and as easily persuaded to lay it down. Oh! this constancy and persevering is a hard word; this taking up the cross daily; this praying always; this watching night and day, and never laying aside our clothes and armour, indulging ourselves to remit and unbend in our holy waiting upon God, and walking with God, this sends many sorrowful from Christ; yet this is the saint’s duty, to make religion his every day’s work, without any vacation from one end of the year to the other. (J. Spencer.)
The best service is constant
After a great snowstorm a little fellow began to shovel a path through a large snow bank before his grandmother’s door. He had nothing but a small shovel to work with. “How do you expect to get through that drift?” asked a man passing along. “By keeping at it,” said the boy, cheerfully. “That’s how.” That is the secret of mastering almost every difficulty under the sun. If a hard task is set before you, stick to it. Do not keep thinking how large or how hard it is, but go at it, and little by little it will grow smaller, until it is done. If a hard lesson is to be learned, do not spend a moment in fretting; do not lose breath in saying, “I can’t,” or “I don’t see how;” but go at it, and keep at it--steady. That is the only way to conquer it. If you have entered your Master’s service and are trying to be good, you will sometimes find hills of difficulty in the way. Things will often look discouraging, and you will not seem to make any progress at all; but keep at it. Never forget “that’s how.”
Evidence of discipleship
A soldier’s confidence in his commander is evidenced by the soldier obeying his commander’s orders. A patient’s trust in his physician is shown by the patient following the physician’s directions. A disciple’s sincerity in his professions of discipleship is proved by the disciple walking according to the Master’s teaching. It is not that there is any merit in the obedience itself; but it is that there is no sincerity in a profession of faith where there is no obedience. (H. C. Trumbull.)
Truth and liberty
Faith cometh by hearing (John 8:30). It is in connection with the word of truth that the Holy Spirit works in us.
I. THE RECEPTION OF CHRIST’S WORD BEGINS DISCIPLESHIP. There may be alarm, disquietude, inquiry, before this, but these are not discipleship. They are but inquiries after a school and a teacher which will meet the wants, capacities, and longings. All men are saying, “Who will show us any good?” Discipleship begins, not with doing some great thing, but with receiving Christ’s word as the scholar receives the master’s teaching. What does He teach?
1. The Father.
2. Himself. From the moment that we accept this we become disciples--taught not of man, but of God.
II. CONTINUANCE IN THAT WORD IS THE TEST OF TRUE DISCIPLESHIP. This is not continuance in general adherence to His cause; but continuance in the word by which we become disciples. As it is by holding the beginning of our confidence that we are made partakers of Christ, so by continuing in the word we make good the genuineness of our discipleship. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”--in that word is everything we need.
1. It is an expansive word: ever widening its dimensions; growing upon us; never old, ever new; in which we make continual discoveries; the same tree, but ever putting forth new branches and leaves; the same river, but ever swelling and widening--loosing none of its old water, yet ever receiving accessions.
2. It is a quickening word: maintaining old life, yet producing new--“Thy word Lord hath quickened me.”
3. It is a strengthening word: nerving and invigorating us; lifting us when bowed down; imparting health, courage, resolution, persistency.
4. It is a sanctifying word: it detects the evil and purges it away, pouring holiness into the soul. Let us continue in this word; not weary of it, not losing relish for it.
III. KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH IS THE RESULT OF DISCIPLESHIP. All that enter Christ’s school are taught of God. Consequently they know the truth; not a truth or part of it, but the truth--not error--Him who is the Truth. They shall know it; not guess at it, speculate on it, get a glimpse of it; but make choice of it, realize it, appreciate it. Blessed promise in a day of doubt and error!
IV. THIS TRUTH IS LIBERTY. All truth is, so far, liberty, and all error bondage; some truth is greater liberty, some error greater bondage. Bondage, with many, is simply associated with tyranny, bad government, evil or ecclesiastical despotism. Christ’s words go deeper, to the root of the evil. The real chains, prison, bondage are within--so true liberty. It springs from what a man knows of God and of his Christ. Seldom do men realize this. Error, bondage! How can that be if the error be the man’s own voluntary doing--the result of his intellectual effort? But the Master is very explicit. The truth shall make you free. There is no other freedom worthy of the name. “He is a free man whom the truth makes free; and all are slaves besides.” (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free
1. Three mighty thoughts--knowledge, truth, freedom.
2. Men claim to be free born or to attain freedom at a great price; yet he who sins is a slave of sin.
(1) Political freedom is but the bark, intellectual freedom but the fibre, of the tree spiritual: freedom is the sap. Men contend for bark and fibre, Christ gives the sap. Sometimes we have political freedom, but formal, sapless, as dead as telegraph poles strung with the wires of politicians.
3. Circumstances cannot fetter freedom or confer it. Joseph was as free in the dungeon as on the throne. “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.” The Israelites in the desert were a nation of slaves despite their liberty. It matters not where I place my watch, so I wind it, it is really free; if I interfere with the works, wherever it may be, it is in bondage. So of man--bind, chain, imprison; if the soul be in sympathy with God, sustained by truth, you have a free man; if the reverse, you have a slave. John, though in prison, was free; Herod, though on the throne, was a slave--Christ and Pilate. Freedom, like the kingdom of heaven, is within. Thetext teaches a threefold lesson--man may know; truth is: the knowledge of the truth brings freedom.
I. The word KNOW carries us back to the dawn of history.
1. Two possibilities are placed before man--life or knowledge. Full of life, he chooses knowledge at the risk of life.
2. The race is true to its head--exploration, geographical, scientific, philosophical.
3. Yet men were then setting up altars to the unknown God: men now to God unknowable. The great Teacher says: “Ye shall know.”
4. The promise implies that man can trust himself and the results of his research and experiences.
II. THE SUBJECT OF KNOWLEDGE IS TRUTH. Truth stands in contrast
1. With a lie. Christ accuses His hearers of being children of the devil. Today as then men lie; wilfully misrepresent in business, political, and social life. Truth is consistency between what we
2. With veracity, think and say and what is. Veracity is consistency between what we say and think; but we may think wrongly.
3. Truth is reality as opposed to a lie and to appearance. Christ, as Son of God and Son of Man, sets forth certain realities regarding both, and the relation between the two. That God is, what God is, and what man is: alienation and possible reconciliation; regeneration by the Spirit; the results of separation from and reconciliation with God. These facts, relations, results, are truth, and may be known,
III. THE RESULTS OF SUCH KNOWLEDGE IS FREEDOM.
1. Freedom from the past, “Son, remember;” but the knowledge of God’s reconciliation blots out the sin-stained past as a cloud.
2. Freedom from fears for the future based upon the past.
IV. THE ONE CONDITION OF ALL THIS IS BELIEF IN CHRIST. Faith as a grain of mustard seed grows into knowledge, etc. (O. F. Gifford.)
Freedom by the truth
1. The greatness of Christ’s aim--to make all men free. He saw around Him man in slavery to man, race to race; men trembling before priestcraft, and those who were politically and ecclesiastically free, in worse bondage to their own passions. Conscious of His Deity and His Father’s intentions, He, without the excitement of an earthly liberator, calmly said: “Ye shall be free.”
2. The wisdom of the means. The craving for liberty was not new, nor the promise of satisfying it; but the promise had been vain. Men had tried
(1) Force: and force in the cause of freedom is to be honoured, and those who have used it have been esteemed as the world’s benefactors--Judas Maccabaeus, etc. Had Christ willed so to come, success was certain. Men were ripe for revolt, and at a word, thrice three hundred thousand swords would have started from their scabbards; but in that case one nation only would have gained independence, and that merely from foreign oppression.
(2) Legislative enactments. By this England could and did emancipate her slaves; but she could not fit them for freedom, nor make it lasting. The stroke of a monarch’s pen will do the one--the discipline of ages is needed for the other. Give a constitution tomorrow to some feeble Eastern nation, and in half a century they will be subjected again. Therefore Christ did not come to free the world in this way.
(3) Civilization. Every step of civilization is a victory over some lower instinct; but it contains elements of fresh servitude. Man conquers the powers of nature, and becomes in turn their slave. The workman is in bondage to his machinery, which determines hours, wages, habits. The rich man acquires luxuries, and then cannot do without them. Members of a highly civilized community are slaves to dress, hours, etiquette. Therefore Christ did not talk of the progress of the species; he freed the inner man that so the outer might become free. Note
I. THE TRUTH THAT LIBERATES.--The truth Christ taught was chiefly about:
1. God. Blot out that thought and existence becomes unmeaning, resolve is left without a stay, aspiration and duty without a support. Christ exhibited God as
(1) Love; and so that fearful bondage to fate was broken.
(2) A Spirit, requiring spiritual worship; and thus the chain of superstition was rent asunder.
2. Man. We are a mystery to ourselves. So where nations exhibit their wealth and inventions, before the victories of mind you stand in reverence. Then look at those who have attained that civilization, their low aims and mean lives, and you are humbled. And so of individuals. How noble a given man’s thoughts at one moment, how base at another I Christ solved this riddle. He regarded man as fallen, but magnificent in his ruin. Beneath the vilest He saw a soul capable of endless growth; hence He treated with respect all who approached Him, because they were men. Here was a germ for freedom. It is not the shackle that constitutes the slave, but the loss of self-respect--to be treated as degraded till he feels degraded. Liberty is to suspect and yet reverence self.
3. Immortality. If there be an idea that cramps and enslaves the soul it is that this life is all. If there be one which expands and elevates it it is that of immortality. This was the martyrs’ strength. In the hope and knowledge of that truth they were free from the fear of pain of death.
II. THE LIBERTY WHICH TRUTH GIVES.
1. Political freedom. Christianity does not directly interfere with political questions, but mediately it must influence them. Christ did not promise this freedom, but He gave it more surely than conqueror, reformer, or patriot. And this not by theories or constitutions, but by truths. God a Spirit, man His redeemed child; before that spiritual equality all distinctions vanish.
2. Mental independence. Slavery is that which cramps powers, and the worst is that which cramps the noblest powers. Worse therefore than he who manacles the body is he who puts fetters on the mind, and demands that men shall think and believe as others have done. In Judaea life was a set of forms and religion--a congeries of traditions. One living word from Christ, and the mind of the world was free. Later a mountain mass of superstition had gathered round the Church. Men said that the soul was to be saved only by doing what the priesthood taught. Then the heroes of the Reformation said the soul is saved by the grace of God; and once more the mind of the world was set flee by truth. There is a tendency to think, not what is true, but what is respectable, authorized. It comes partly from cowardice, partly from habit. Now truth frees us from this by warning of individual responsibility which cannot be delegated to another, and thrown off on a church. Do not confound mental independence with mental pride. It ought to co-exist with the deepest humility. For that mind alone is free which, conscious of its liability to err, and, turning thankfully to any light, refuses to surrender the Divinely given right and responsibility of judging for itself and having an opinion of its own.
3. Superiority to temptation. It is not enough to say that Christ promises freedom from sin. Childhood, paralysis, impotence of old age, may remove the desire of transgressions. Therefore we must add that ode whom Christ liberates is free by his own will. It is not that he would and cannot; but that he can and will not. Christian liberty is right well sustained by love, and made firm by faith in Christ. This may be seen by considering moral bondage. Go to the intemperate man in the morning, when his head aches and his whole frame unstrung: he is ashamed, hates his sin, and would not do it. Go to him at night when the power of habit is upon him, and he obeys the mastery of his craving. Every more refined instance of slavery is just as real. Wherever a man would and cannot, there is servitude.
4. Superiority to fear. Fear enslaves, courage liberates. The apprehension of pain, fear of death, dread of the world’s laugh at poverty, or loss of reputation, enslave alike. From all such Christ frees. He who lives in the habitual contemplation of immortality, cannot be in bondage to time; he who feels his soul’s dignity cannot cringe. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Spiritual and scientific truth
There is a well-known picture by Retzsch, in which Satan is represented as playing at chess with a man for his soul. The pieces on the board seem to represent the virtues and the deadly sins. The man is evidently losing the game, while in the background stands an angel sad and helpless, and statue-like. We need not stay to criticize the false theology implied in that picture, because our immediate concern is with a meaning which has been read into that picture by a great scientific teacher of our day. We have been told by Professor Huxley, that if we “substitute for the mocking fiend in that picture a calm, strong angel who is playing, as we say, for love, and would rather lose than win,” we shall have a true picture of the relation of man to nature. “The chessboard is the world; the pieces are the phenomena of the universe; the rules of the game are what we call the laws of nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us, We know that his play is always fair, and just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance.” Such is the modern reading of the picture. And here there is a great truth, or at least one side of a great truth, expressed. It puts before us in a very real and concrete form the fact that, in our mere physical life, we are engaged in a great struggle. We must learn to adapt ourselves truly to the physical conditions of our life, or we must perish in a fruitless opposition to natural laws. But that physical life which we live is not our whole life, nor are what we call the laws of external nature the only laws which we need to know. We are surrounded by spiritual forces in which our moral life is lived. In that more real life we have relations with spiritual beings, some like ourselves and some above us, and One whom we love to call our Father, which is in heaven. Are there no laws in that spiritual world? No truths there, the knowledge of which will make us free? If the violation of physical law is death, is there no death in the moral and spiritual sphere? Is the life of the soul less real, its death less terrible than that of the body? And if not, what do we know of the great spiritual realities which environ life?
1. All truth gives freedom. To know nature is to gain freedom in regard to her; to know her fully is to conform ourselves to her. And to know God is to cease to be afraid of Him, to know Him fully is to love Him perfectly, and to conform ourselves to His likeness.
2. Why, then, is there such fear and jealousy of dogma amongst men who gladly welcome every new truth about their physical life? If all truth is from God, and every truth sets us free, why is it that men hesitate to allow these characteristics to that which, above all, claims to be from God, and to give us perfect freedom? It is here that we touch the characteristic difference which exists between the laws of the spiritual and the laws of the material world. The laws of nature are discoveries; the laws of the spiritual world are revelations. The former are found out; the latter are given. The former are confessedly imperfect, added to continually as years go by; the latter are complete, the same yesterday, to day, and forever. The former lay claim to no finality; they may be challenged, put upon their trial, called upon to justify themselves. The latter, if they are from God, claim our reverence, our obedience, our willing submission. (Aubrey L. Moore, M. A.)
Freedom only to be found in God
Last summer the good ship Wieland brought over a large number of caged birds. When we were about mid-ocean one restless bird escaped from his cage. In ecstasy he swept through the air, away and away from his prison. How he bounded with outspread wings! Freedom! How sweet he thought it! Across the pathless waste ha entirely disappeared. But after hours had passed, to our amazement, he appeared again, struggling towards the ship with heavy wing. Panting and breathless, he settled upon the deck. Far, far over the boundless deep, how eagerly, how painfully had he sought the ship again, now no longer a prison, but his dear home. As I watched him nestle down on the deck, I thought of the restless human heart that breaks away from the restraints of religion. With buoyant wing he bounds away from Church the prison, and God the prison. But if he is not lost on the remorseless deep, he comes back again with panting, eager heart, to Church the home, and God the home. The Church is not a prison to any man. It gives the most perfect freedom in all that is good and all that is safe. It gives him liberty to do what is right, and to do what is wrong, there is no rightful place to any man in all the boundless universe. (R. S. Barrett.)
Freedom by the truth
The truth shall set us free from
I. PHYSICAL SUFFERING. The laws of nature are the laws of God, and to know and obey them will liberate us from every sickness except that of death. There is
1. The law of heredity, This is a Bible law; for it states that the sins of the fathers shall be carried down to the third and fourth generation, Know that, and care for the health of your bodies, and your posterity will be free from the taint of hereditary disease.
2. The law of sanitation. Know that, and obey it, and you free your cities from fevers and infectious diseases. Much suffering is entailed by ignorance, apathy, or wilful negligence about this truth.
3. The law of temperance; that obeyed will make you free from the suffering of bodily anguish and the sense of degradation.
II. SOCIAL DISARRANGEMENT. This is one of our most rampant evils. Contrast the suburbs with their villas and the slums with their hovels. These extremes should not exist in a Christian country. What is the cure? The truth that humanity is one.
1. The strong should help the weak. The rich, who enjoy their libraries, drawing rooms, gardens, should not be satisfied that the poor should have to tramp long distances to see a tree or read a book. Parks, museums, baths, libraries, should be within reach; and by recognising the truth on this matter, the wealthy should lend a helping hand.
2. The weak should help themselves. Too much help would pauperize. The poor must be taught and encouraged to raise themselves. Much can be affected by cooperation. If the money spent in beer were utilized for this purpose, the millennium would be hastened.
III. CHRISTIAN ANTAGONISM. What a pity it is to see the strife of sects over nice doctrinal or ceremonial points. Christ wants His Church to be one, and so do good men. But the truth only will unify; and there is enough truth held in common by all churches, which, if recognized, would soon bring Christian unity. All are agreed that Christ’s life should be lived by His followers. Surely this is a good working truth; and as all hold it, all should act upon it, and be one.
IV. ALIENATION FROM GOD. What a slave was the prodigal, and all his degradation arose from his distance from God. But when the vision of his father arose before his mind, he arose and went back. What sinful men want to know is, the truth about God as revealed by Christ; how He loves the sinner, and would save him from his sins. (W. Birch.)
Freedom by the truth
It is no strange thing for truth to set people free. What delivers men from terror--e.g., over prodigies, etc.--but the truth about them? In the darkness, which invests harmless objects with weird appearances, the imaginative man is as timid as a child. But let the day dawn, and the truth of things be revealed, and fear vanishes. The truth sets us free from
I. THE DREADS OF LIFE.
1. Those which belong to our physical life--dreads of want, disease, poisoned air, accidents. Christ frees us from these by revealing the providence of God (Matthew 6:26-40.6.28).
2. Social fears--fears of what men can do unto us. Christ says, “Fear not them which kill the body,” etc. Their wrath is restrained by our Father; and at their worst they can only drive man closer to God, and bring him nearer home.
3. Spiritual fears--about God. Christ frees from this by His truth--“Our Father.”
II. THE SINS OF LIFE. These make the real bondage. Our fears weaken us, but our sins corrupt, and lead to death. They bind in two ways.
1. By spreading their shame through our soul (Ezra 9:6). Christ frees us by His declaration (John 3:17), and His own treatment of a sinner in shame (John 8:3-43.8.11).
2. By weakening our will, so that when we would do good we cannot. Christ brings not only pardon to banish shame, but power to put away sin 1 Timothy 1:13).
III. DWARFED CONDITIONS OF LIFE.
1. In church life--from the tyranny of forms and places (John 4:21-43.4.23).
2. In individual life. The truth of Jesus liberates the highest faculties--faith, hope, love, conscience. (J Todd.)
Freedom by the truth
Christ, by His truth, delivers man
I. From the bondage of IGNORANCE. That truth enlightens, invigorates, instructs.
II. From the bondage of ERROR.
1. Intellectual--scepticism or superstition.
2. Practical; for with it He gives His example and His guiding spirit.
III. From the bondage of ream
1. The fear of death and judgment.
2. Of God’s conscience-searching word.
3. Of the supernatural.
IV. From the bondage of sin.
1. As a fitter.
2. As a service.
V. From the bondage of the LAW.
1. The ritual, which is abolished.
2. The moral, which by grace becomes perfect freedom. (P. N.Zabriskie, D. D.)
Truth and liberty
God’s grace reveals itself in endless diverse forms. The thousand changing colours which play upon sea, land, and sky, in the high day of summer, are but variations of the one clear and transparent light which comes down from above; and the same water of the sea is the same water of the sea, whether it is called ocean, gulf, or strait. A recognition of this truth is essential to the understanding of what Christian liberty is. It is the liberty of the light which, always opposed to darkness, yet reveals itself in constantly new tints and shades of colour; it is the liberty of the water, ever cleansing and ever essential to life, which yet takes its shape from the vessel into which it is poured. It is the liberty of the tree to be green, of the sea to be blue, of the sunset to be crimson, of the sand to be yellow--each obtaining its own tint from God’s clear light, and no one quarrelling with the beauty of the other. So God’s grace reveals itself in the lives of God’s true children. In each it is the same grace, yet in each it takes a special form and colour--that of the individuality in which it reveals itself. And the liberty for which Christ has made us free, is the liberty for each of us to grow into that special manifestation of grace for which his nature is most fitted. It is freedom for us to grow in our own way, without conforming at all points to the growth of another; and (what we are more likely to forget) it is liberty for others to grow in their way without conforming at all points to our way of growth. If we compare the Church to “a garden shut up,” we ought to remember that the wise cultivator does not expect the tender vine to grow in the same way as the sturdy oak, nor does he expect the apple or the pear tree to bring forth grapes or figs. (H. G. Trumbull, D. D.)
Liberty is a matter which interests everyone. But it is sadly limited. By it men mean political, intellectual, physical, and some, alas! sinful freedom. Christ proclaims real liberty--that of the soul. Secure this, and all that is worth the name of liberty will follow. Christ effects this emancipation by the truth. We must accept the truth, not as theory in our minds, or sentiment in our hearts, but by experience and practice; then we shall be free. The truth thus received liberates from
I. THE FETTERS OF IGNORANCE, SUPERSTITION, AND PREJUDICE--three links in a mighty chain.
1. We have but to pass the line of Christendom to behold a world ignorant of God and Divine truth. What follows? The most debasing superstition, idolatry, witchcraft, etc. Hence the almost invincible prejudice there is at first against the reception of the gospel.
2. But within Christendom and in its most cultivated circles, how many men learned in this world’s wisdom are utterly ignorant of the things of God? And what can result here but superstition, the worship of the idols of the mind, and putting light for darkness, bitter for sweet? The consequence is sceptical prejudice.
3. The same holds good in regard to Popery. The Bible-prohibited people are in gross darkness; believe what they are told to believe, however irrational; bow to images, and worship the creature above the Creator; and therefore bitterly oppose, and, where they can, persecute the gospel.
4. From all this Christ’s truth sets us free.
(1) By throwing light on the darkness of ignorance, and bringing knowledge to mind and heart.
(2) This knowledge removes the grounds of superstition and prejudice.
II. THE THRALDOM OF SATAN. However manifold the links bound round the soul led captive by the devil, the last link is in his hand. Men are either slaves of Satan or free men of Christ. Christ comes as a strong man armed to break the links of the chain, which are mainly three.
1. Guilt, and the consequent curse of God. For this Christ provides pardon, and secures God’s blessing.
2. Corruption, and consequent moral impotence. For this Christ provides the grace of the Holy Spirit.
3. The world and the fear of man, that bringeth a snare. But “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
III. THE BONDAGE OF THE FEAR OF DEATH. Spite of his boasting, no man is so hardy but he shrinks from death. Why? Because “after death the judgment.” This is seen in the mad recklessness of the profligate, and the unspiritual service of the moralist, the religious inventions of the devotee. Momentary oblivion of the dread spectre is all that these can produce. But he who receives the truth of Christ triumphs over death. Conclusion: This liberty includes a service, but it is perfect freedom. (Canon Stowell.)
These words suggest
I. THAT A KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH MAY BE SECURED.
II. THAT THIS KNOWLEDGE IS MENTAL AND EXPERIMENTAL.
III. THAT EXPERIMENTAL KNOWLEDGE IS ALONE SAVING.
IV. WHAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TRUTH, THE EXPERIMENTAL KNOWLEDGE OF WHICH MAKES FREE.
1. We may know the truth as we know language, science, etc.; as a mass of doctrines; Christ a historical character like Pilate. All this knowledge may have no effect on the heart or life.
2. The new man obtains his knowledge by a different process. He experiments, verifies, proves. Truth becomes the prevailing principle of action, and enthrones itself. To be sure a man must become possessed of Christian facts and doctrines. These are the bones for the body of holiness.
3. An experimental knowledge of the truth frees man morally, and from the bondage of merely human views, and introduces man into the broad province of ideas world wide in their grasp and extending back to the Creation.
4. The condition of the freedom promised by Christ is belief in His Divine sonship, “as many as received Him,” etc. The emancipating power of this truth is made to us
(1) Wisdom, by enlightening us and thus freeing the mind;
(2) Righteousness, by justifying us and thus freeing us from the law;
(3) Sanctification, by purifying us and thus freeing our hearts:
(4) Redemption by the union of them all, thus purchasing us into blessed immortality. (J. M. King, D. D.)
The hour of emancipation
August 1, 1834, was the day on which 700,000 of our colonial slaves were made free. Throughout the colonies the churches and chapels were thrown open, and the slaves crowded into them on the evening of the 31st of July. As the hour of midnight approached they fell upon their knees and awaited the solemn moment, all hushed in silent prayer. When 12 o’clock sounded, they sprang upon their feet, and through every island rang the glad sound of thanksgiving to the Father of all, for the chains were broken and the slaves were free. (Heroes of Britain.)
The freedom which Christ gives
It is a freedom from the servitude of sin, from the seduction of a misguided judgment, and the allurement of any ensnaring forbidden object: consisting in an unbounded amplitude and enlargedness of soul towards God, and indetermination to any inferior good; resulting from an entire subjection to the Divine will, a submission to the order of God, and steady adherence to Him. (John Howe.)
They make a great fuss when they give a man the freedom of the City of London. There is a fine gold casket to put it in. You have got the liberty of the New Jerusalem, and your faith, like a golden box, holds the deeds of your freemanship. Take care of them and rejoice in them tonight. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man
Note that its subjects
I. ARE UNCONSCIOUS OF IT (John 8:33). This was an interruption of Christ’s discourse on freedom. As much as to say “Why talk of freedom to us? We are free men.” But in the eye of Christ they were in the most miserable captivity. It is common here in England to hear men
1. Boast of religious liberty who have no religion. Some of its most strenuous advocates are destitute of reverence to God, and charity to men. These will repeat the boast while they are in bondage to their own prejudices, exclusiveness, love of fame or gain.
2. Boast of civil freedom who are moral slaves. Men who are under the tyranny of their own lusts and greed, who are even governed, as Carlyle says, “by a pot of heavy wet” and a clay pipe, peal out in thunderous chorus “Britons never shall be slaves.” The worst part of this bondage is that men are unconscious of it. Hence they are mere creatures of circumstances. It is the more sad because it precludes any aspiration for self-manumission; and it is only self-effort that can liberate. Other men may deliver the prisoner from his dungeon, or the slave from his tyrant, or the serf from his despot; but no one can deliver him from bondage but himself, “He who would be free, himself must strike the blow.”
II. ARE THE AUTHORS OF IT (John 8:34). It is not the sin of another man that makes me a slave, but my own. Solomon says, “His own iniquities shall take the wicked.” Paul says, “To whom ye yield yourselves to obey his servants ye are,” etc. Shakespeare says, Vice is imprisonment. Every sin a man commits forges a new link in the chain that manacles his soul. The longer a man pursues a certain course of conduct the mere wedded he becomes to it, and the less power he has to abandon it. Habit is a cord strengthened with every action, at first it is as fine as silk, and can be easily broken. As it proceeds it becomes a cable. Habit is a momentum, increasing with motion. At first a child’s hand can obstruct the progress, by and by an army of giants cannot arrest it. Habit is a river, at its spring you can divert its course with ease, as it approaches the ocean it defies opposition.
III. CAN BE DELIVERED FROM IT (John 8:36). How does Christ make the soul free? By generating in the heart supreme love to the supremely good. It is a law of mind to have some permanent object of affection, and that object limits its field of operation. The man who loves money most will have all his faculties confined to that region. The same with him who loves fame, or pleasure, etc. But all these objects are limited; hence the soul is hemmed in as in a cage. In order to have freedom the heart should be centred on an infinite object, and this Christ does. And with God as the centre of the heart all the faculties have unbounded scope. Conclusion: All souls not made free by Christ are in slavery. Even the heathen considered the virtues essential to true freedom. Cicero said “The wise man alone is free.” Plato represents the lusts as the hardest tyrants. Seneca speaks of the passions as the worst thraldom. Epictetus said “Liberty is the name of virtue.” And this virtue is obtained only through Christ. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The vain boast of the Jews
The whole past history of their nation was the record of one bondage following hard on another, they for their sins having come at one time or another under the yoke of almost every people round about them. They have been, by turns, in bondage to the Canaanites, in bondage to the Philistines, in bondage to the Syrians, in bondage to the Chaldaeans; then again to the Greece-Syrian kings; and now, even at the very moment when this indignant disclaimer is uttered, the signs of a foreign rule, of the domination of the stranger, everywhere met their eye. They bought and sold with Roman money; they paid tribute to a Roman emperor; a Roman governor sat in their judgement hall; a Roman garrison occupied the fortress of their city. And yet, with all this plain before their eyes, brought home to their daily, hourly experience, they angrily put back the promise of Christ, “The truth shall make you free,” as though it conveyed an insult: “How sayest thou, ye shall be made free? We were never in bondage to any man.” (Abp. Trench.)
Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin
Sin is spiritual slavery
Sin is the suicidal action of the human will. It destroys the power to do right, which is man’s true freedom. The effect of vicious habit in diminishing a man’s ability to resist temptation is proverbial. But what is habit but a constant repetition of wrong decisions.
The will cannot be forced or ruined from outside. But if we watch the influence upon the will of its own yielding to temptation, we shall discover that the voluntary faculty may be ruined from within. Whatever springs from will we are responsible for. The drunkard’s powerlessness issues from his own inclination and therefore is no excuse. “If weakness may excuse, what murderer, what traitor, parricide, incestuous, sacrilegious, may not plead it? All wickedness is weakness.” Sin is spiritual slavery, if viewed in reference
I. TO MAN’S SENSE OF OBLIGATION TO BE PERFECTLY HOLY.
1. The obligation to be holy as God is rests upon every rational being, and he is a debtor to this obligation until he has fully met it. Hence even the holiest are conscious of sin, because they are not completely up to this high calling. This sense is as “exceeding broad” as the commandment, and will not let us off with the performance of a part of our duty. It is also exceeding deep, for it outlives all others. In the hour of death it grows more vivid and painful as all else grows dimmer. A man forgets then whether he has been prosperous or unsuccessful and remembers only that he has been a sinner. It might seem that this sense would be sufficient to overcome sin, and bring man up to the discharge of duty; but experience shows that in proportion as a man hears the voice of conscience, in this particular does be become aware of the bondage of his will.
2. In our careless unawakened state we sin on, just as we live on without being distinctly aware of it. A healthy man does not go about holding his fingers on his wrist, neither does a sinner as he goes about his business think of his transgressions. Yet the pulse beats, and the will transgresses none the less. Though the chains are actually about us they do not gall us. “We are alive without the law.” But as the Spirit of God awakens the conscience, that sense of the obligation to be perfectly holy starts up and man begins to form an estimate of what has been done in reference to it. Now the commandment comes, shows us what we ought to be and what we are, and we die (Romans 7:9-45.7.11). The muscle has been cut by the sword of truth, and the limb drops helpless, and we learn in a most affecting manner that “whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin.” But suppose after this discovery we endeavour to comply with the obligation: this only renders us more painfully sensible of the truth of the text.
II. TO THE ASPIRATIONS OF THE SOUL. All those serious impressions and painful anxieties concerning salvation, which require to be followed up by a mighty power from God to prevent their being suppressed again by the love of sin and the world. For though man has fallen into a state of death in sins, yet through the common influences of the Spirit of Grace, and the workings of rational nature, he is at times the subject of aspirations which indicate the heights from which he fell The minds of the greatest of the ancient pagans were the subjects of these aspirations, and they confess their utter inability to realize them. The journals of the missionary disclose the same in modem heathenism. All these phenomena show the rigid bondage of sin. The drunkard in his sober moments longs to be free and resolves never to drink again. But the sin is strong and the appetite that feeds it is in his blood. Temptation comes before the enslaved will. He aspires to resist but will not; and never is he more conscious of being a slave to himself than when he thus ineffectually aspires to be delivered from himself. This applies to all sin. There is no independent and self-realizing power in mere aspiration, and when, under the influence of God’s common grace, a man endeavours to extirpate the inveterate depravity of his heart, he feels his bondage more thoroughly than ever.
III. TO THE FEARS OF THE SOUL.
1. The sinful spirit fears the death of the body, and therefore we are all our lifetime subject to bondage. We know that bodily dissolution can have no effect on the imperishable essence, yet we shrink back from it.
2. The spirit fears that “fearful something after death”--eternal judgment. We tremble having to give an account of our own actions, and to reap the harvest, the seed of which we have sown.
3. The spirit has an awful dread of eternity. Though this invisible realm is the proper home of the soul, never is the soul stirred to so great depths as when it feels the power of an endless life. Men will labour convulsively day and night for money, power, fame, pleasure; but what is the paroxysm of this activity compared with those throes, when the startled sinner sees the eternal world looming into view.
4. If, now, we view sin in relation to these three great fears we see that it is spiritual slavery. Our terror is no more able to deliver us than our aspirations. The dread that goes down to hell can no more save us than the aspiration that goes up to heaven.
1. This bondage is self-inflicted, and therefore the way of release is not to throw the burden of it upon God.
2. The way out of it is to accept the method of deliverance afforded by Christ. (Prof. Shedd.)
The progress of the lost soul to destruction
I. Note OF WHOM OUR LORD SPEAKS. “He that committeth sin”--i.e., he who has become a doer of sin; the habitual, conscious, wilful sinner. He is the bondslave, the absolute thrall, the hopeless subject of an overmastering tyranny. It will help us to obtain a completer view of what this implies if we trace the steps by which the end is reached.
1. We must begin by having a clear idea of what temptation is. It is the suggestion to our mind of the pleasure or good to be got by doing or allowing something which is against the will of God, and so against the perfectness of our own true nature. Such suggestions are innumerable and take their peculiar colour from the temperament of our own mental and bodily constitution. For as there is a special excellence to which we may attain, so there must be, in the perversion of that excellence, a special character of evil to which we are most prone. In the mere entrance of this suggestion there is nothing sinful. Such were east into the mind of our Lord. Sin begins when the mind rests with pleasure upon the evil suggestion, but if this is resisted there is no sin. But when the sweet morsel is rolled under the tongue, the acting of sin has begun, and the next step is near the consent of the will to the suggestion.
2. How the bond is wound around the soul, the contemplation of the progress of sin suggests to us. One impure thought cherished, still more one impure act allowed, is the certain cause of after suggestions of impurity: and so it is of every other sin. The harbouring of anger opens the mind to new suggestions of wrath; the allowance of one wandering thought in prayer, invites the disturbing presence of a crowd of others: the nursing one doubt multiplies after its kind.
3. He who has allowed his spirit to rest on the conscious sweetness of sin has made that indulgence a necessity to him: and then, as this, like all other sweetness, soon palls upon the taste, he has made it needful in order to obtain the same gratification, to yield himself more completely to it, and to seek it in its larger measures and fiercer qualities. And so his taste becomes degraded and his gratifications coarser; until the power of relishing purer pleasures is rapidly becoming extinguished; they seem used up and insipid; and thus he is led to the one step further of consenting to the evil which has miserably become his good. Then indeed the chain is bound about him. For though every indulgence lessens the pleasure of indulging, yet the growing power of habit more than supplies the place of the energy of enjoyment, nay, the pleasure of sin may not only be lessened, but be gone; the chain may even gall him, but he cannot break it.
4. Other bonds besides those of habit are winding themselves around him.
(1) There is from the conscience, commixing continually with pollution, a daily lower ins of the standard of the soul, which makes it with less consciousness of its degradation bow itself to greater evils, until the infirmity is such that it can in no wise lift itself up.
(2) With this growing disorder of the conscience the other faculties sympathize. The will which was once calm, ready, resolute, grows vehement and irresolute, passionate and yet tardy, an uncrowned king, the helpless sport of insolent menials.
5. Even this is not all. For higher powers and greater endowments have been passing from his soul in the sad process of its enchaining; it has been denying its fellowship with Christ, resisting and grieving the Holy Spirit; and as that free Spirit withdraws itself, all true liberty for the soul is lost, and the evil spirit comes in and dwells there, making the slavery complete.
6. All this is true of spiritual sins. The suggestion of doubt--e.g., involves no sin; for into the mind of Jesus was thrown the question, “If Thou be the Son of God?” But if the suggestion, instead of being cast out, is gloated on; if the pleasant thought is indulged of being a great thinker, and being able to manifest a certain shallow ability by the utterance of petulant flippancy, then assuredly sin enters, and the assent of the soul to that which at first startled or offended it soon follows. Then comes boldness and rudeness of spirit in dealing with heavenly mysteries. The mind becomes darkened, and the eyes blind, and then comes the end of the dungeon and the chain. The lamentations which sometimes break forth from the prison are the saddest to be heard on earth; the voice of the despairing soul crying aloud for its early power of believing, sad echo of this note of warning, “He that committeth sin is the servant of sin.”
II. THE CHIEF PRACTICAL GUARDS AGAINST THE ENEMY.
1. Guard especially against the beginnings of temptation. Galling as is the end of the sinner’s captivity, the separate bonds by which it is secured are seldom heavy. The soul is the giant who is being manacled unawares, by the winding round him of a multitude of threads; those painted gossamers which float so brightly in the dewy morning will grow into fetters, and you will lose the power of resisting before you know that it is threatened. Moreover, temptations in their early stages are mostly to little sins, which severally do not alarm the conscience, and thus men grow to sin securely. The snowflakes, with their feathery lightness, choke the highway with an immovable barrier, whilst the giant tree which falls across it, is but the obstruction of an hour. A waterspout bursts, makes a moment’s inundation, and disappears; whilst the small but numberless drops of rain furnish the deep floods which fill the banks of mighty rivers.
2. Realize your own place in the kingdom of grace. Despair is destruction; and self-trust only despair in its early unsuspected actings. Only in the strength of God’s grace can we resist sin.
3. Seek a living union with Christ. If thou art one with Him, thou canst not be enslaved. But for this, more is needed than profession, or baptism; there must be personal surrender to Christ. He must be the centre round which thy life moves. (Bp. Samuel Wilberforce.)
The servant abideth not in the house forever, but the Son abideth ever
1. Our Lord is speaking of servant and son generically. A son is a natural inalienable part of the family; a slave is not. He may be acquired, sold, given away, set free. There was in Jewish servitude provision against the slaves continuing “in the houses forever,” at the Jubilee, unless he gave himself to his master, in which case bondage was exchanged for consecration: he was free. But a son is bound to his father’s household by a tie which no distance breaks, and no time wears away.
2. The application of this is not that the servants are the Jews, who were such because of their constrained obedience, and would, therefore, forfeit their national privileges, and be cast out of the house; for in John 8:34 the master of the slave is distinctly specified “Sin,” and therefore cannot be “God” in this verse.
3. The force of the thought, “Slave’s sin does not abide in sin’s house,” is that, however hard the bondage of sin, the slave is not in his true home, nor incorporated hopelessly into his taskmaster’s family.
4. Into the midst of this tyrant’s household there has come one who is a Son, and abides forever in the household of God, even Christ. Sin’s house, in so far as that expression denotes this fair world, belongs to God, and the tyranny is usurpation. Into the midst of human society He comes who is a Son forever, and the emancipation He effects is adoption.
I. THE POSSIBLE ENDING OF THE TYRANNY OF SIN. “A slave abides not in the house forever.” All the world has dimly hoped that it was so; but no man has been sure of it, apart from revelation. Christ has shown that sin is not natural to man, as God meant him to be, howsoever it may have twined around his life.
1. We see that from our own constitution. Look at these minds of ours, originating thoughts, born for immortality; these hearts with their rich treasures of transcendent affections; these wills so weak, yet so strong, craving for authority, and yet striving to be a law unto themselves; these consciences so sensitive and yet so dull, waking up only when the evil is done, voices which have no means of getting their behests obeyed, and yet are the echo of the supreme Lawgiver’s voice; the manifest disproportion between what we are, and might, and ought to be; and then say whether the universal condition of sinfulness is not unnatural, a fungus, not a true growth.
2. Then there is no such relation between a sinner and his sin as that deliverance should be impossible. It must be possible to part them, and to leave the man stronger for the loss of what made him weak. We may be brought to our true home in our Father’s house. Howsoever the fetters may have galled and mortified the limbs they may be struck off.
3. Men have always cherished these convictions, and in spite of history and experience. They have tried to set themselves free, and their attempts have come to nothing--and yet after all failures this hope has sprung immortal. True, we cannot effect the deliverance. It is like some cancer--a blood disease. We may pare and cut away the rotting flesh--the single manifestations of evil we can do something to reduce; but a deeper surgery is needed. Sin is not our personality, and so we may have it removed and live, but sin has become so entangled with ourselves that we cannot undo it. The demoniac, who, in his confused consciousness, did not know which was devil and which man--“my name is legion, for we are many”--could not shake off the demon. But the voice that said “Come out of him” has power still.
II. THE ACTUAL DELIVERER. “The Son abideth ever,” while a general statement, has a specific reference to our Lord, and if so the two houses must be the same, or at least the Son, who is ever in His Father’s house, must yet be in the midst of the bondsmen in the dark fortress of the tyrant. That is but a figurative way of putting the necessity that our freedom must come from outside humanity, and yet be diffused from a source within. Unless it come from above it will not be able to lift us, but unless it be on our level we shall not be able to grasp it. The Deliverer must Himself be free, therefore must be removed from the fatal continuity of evil; but he must be a sharer in their condition whom He would set free. These contradictory requirements meet in Him who has been anointed to proclaim liberty to the captives (John 3:13). Two things are required, that the Deliverer should be the Son of God, and that He should be the Son forever Galatians 4:4-48.4.5). We have to trust to a living Saviour who is as near the latest generations as to the first. “This man because he continueth ever is able to save to the uttermost.”
III. THE ABIDING SONSHIP WHICH CONSTITUTES THE SLAVE’S EMANCIPATION. The process of deliverance is the transfer from the one household to the other. We are set free from our bondage when through Christ we receive the adoption, and cry, “Abba! Father!” This filial spirit, the spirit of life which was in Christ Jesus, “makes us free from the law of sin and death.” Conclusion: There are but two conditions in which we can stand--slaves of sin or sons of God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The son and the slave contrasted
This contrast between the position of the slave, who is a chattel that maybe bought or bartered or sold, and has no affinity with the members of the house, and no permanent right in it; and the son, in whose veins is the master’s blood, and who is heir of all things, is obvious and general; but here, again, the present meaning is special. They claim to be the seed of Abraham. Did they remember the history of Isaac and Ishmael? The son of the freewoman abideth in the house; the son of the bondmaid is cast out. (Archdeacon Watkins.)
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.--In Rome, and in other ancient communities, it was no unusual occurrence for a son, on coming into his inheritance, to set free the slaves who had been born in the house. The form of setting a slave free was very picturesque. The master, the slave, and some third person, appeared before one of the higher magistrates. This third person touched the slave’s head, saying, as he did so, “I claim that this man is free.” The master then took hold of the slave, turned him around, and said: “I concede that this man is free.” The slave was then pronounced free by the magistrate, and thenceforth he was free indeed. Man being a slave, and not having any permanent authority--not abiding in the house forever--cannot endow others with freedom that endures to eternity; but that freedom the Son can give, who abideth in the house forever with the Father. (S. S. Times.)
The English slave; or, the man who was afraid of his neighbours
A common objection of workingmen to going to church is that they will be brought into subjection to the priesthood. They stay away therefore to protect their freedom. Now let us look at
I. THE ENGLISH SLAVE WHO GOES TO CHURCH. He is a man who dares not think for himself, or dares not say what he thinks.
1. No one can deny that some forms of religion frighten people from the use of their faculties on religious subjects; hence they give themselves over to a priesthood who tell them how they must and how they must not think. And so wherever we find religious teachers organized into a priesthood, we find a mighty instrument for the enslavement of the mind. It was so of old. Whenever there was an organized national priesthood, the nation lost its senses, and became slaves to caste, as in Egypt and India; but wherever the priests of the different temples had no organic connection, or the monarch was priest, as in Greece, and Rome, there the people retained some of their freedom. The same holds good in England today. In proportion as priests congregate in councils, unchecked by the laity, to issue decrees, candid thought is extinguished. But to what a miserable condition is the man reduced whose soul is a sort of parrot, kept by a priest to repeat the phrases authority has taught him.
2. But there are slaves who are not under the thumb of the priesthood, but dare not think or speak for themselves for fear of their congregation or party. Thus it is that so many persons never grow wiser. In order to grow wiser you must drop some old opinion or form some new one; and to do either of these you must defy the world and use your faculties without asking anyone’s leave. And this is what many are not prepared to do, because it might involve loss of repute, friends or position.
3. Now, whatever they may profess, neither the priest or party ridden are true worshippers of God. True worship is based on personal conviction--“In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
II. THE ENGLISH SLAVE WHO DOES NOT GO TO CHURCH. The influence of men upon each other is at its maximum where there is the closest association and the freest speech. This is the case among the working classes. Here, therefore, it requires most courage for a man to stand on his own feet and be true to his own conscience. And there is a large proportion of skilled artizans who are not strong minded enough to resist the dictation of their leaders or equals. Suppose a man who works in a large factory finds himself in the midst of a system of drinking and conversation which disgusts his better nature, and where his conscience commands him not to go with this multitude to do evil, but to assert his manhood; does every skilled workman obey that inward voice? Is it not notorious that thousands dare not? And is it not as bad to be in slavery to bad people as to good? Or if an intelligent workman finds himself surrounded by men who have resolved that the clumsy and idle shall be paid at the same rate as the industrious and skilful, and who in his heart abhors this part of the system, has he the courage to say so and to act accordingly? There is in some parts a reign of terrorism, so that few would dare to say that the present exaggerated system of combination and intimidation in strikes is crushing the spirit of personal liberty, and the chivalrous, independent character of the old English artificer. Now such, notwithstanding all their other excellencies, are the last who ought to point to the enslavement of men’s minds in the churches. The secret of national greatness and dignity is the setting free of thought, labour, trade, capital. Combine voluntarily for trade purpose as much as you please, but intimidate no man.
III. THE TRUE METHOD OF BECOMING FREE.
1. Slavery requires two parties--the tyrant who domineers, and the slave who submits. The true remedy therefore is to teach men not to submit to unlawful authority; and this is what Christ came to do. All external slavery proceeds from internal. When men dare to think and speak honestly, and act out their convictions, the tyrant’s occupation is gone. To set free the thinking power, therefore, is the secret of all other liberties. But this is enslaved. What is freedom? To have the proper use of one’s powers and faculties. The condition of the free action of the understanding is that the animal appetites be restrained within certain limits. If a man give way to his thirst for drink, then his intellect ceases to act freely, and thus he is a slave. And so with the other passions.
2. Christ offers to set us free.
(1) By setting before us the only Being who has a right to control our thoughts, and by demanding that we should fear Him and no one else. Out of this springs all true freedom. This is what gave boldness to the early Christians. “We ought to obey God rather than man.”
(2) By supplying the only adequate motive--love to God and man. (E. White.)
The spiritual slavery of man
I. THE AFFECTING REPRESENTATION WHICH GOD’S WORD GIVES OF MEN AS SINNERS. The text goes upon the supposition that freedom is required. The idea of bondage represents
1. Our relation to God as sinners. We have violated the law, which consequently has its hand upon us. We are therefore convicted criminals, shut up until the judgment shall be executed.
2. Our moral condition, which is under the control of diabolical powers who reign in the children of disobedience. This spiritual slavery may differ much. There are some who have practised upon them, and who practise on others, a splendid imposition. Their chains are gilded. Their tyrants put on the appearance of virtue. But others are slaves to the lowest and most degrading appetites.
II. SCRIPTURE GIVES US A CONTRAST--LIBERTY.
1. With respect to our relation to God. The law takes off its hand, the man is loosened, and he comes forth to the liberty of the child of God, forgiven, justified.
2. With respect to the bondage of the devil. As the man once gave up his members, servants of unrighteousness, he now yields himself to God as a servant of holiness.
III. HOW THIS EMANCIPATION IS EFFECTED. It is evidently of such a nature that it could not effect itself. Observe that bondage may be a matter of justice or of usurpation. Then freedom in the former case must be a matter of righteous arrangement, in the latter of force.
1. With respect to bondage as a matter of justice, the case of the sinner in relation to God, the law has a righteous demand on the sinner, for it is holy and good and cannot be violated. Hence we find there is a righteous arrangement--a consideration, a ransom--the atoning death of Christ. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law,” etc.
2. With respect to the usurpation. Sin and Satan are usurpers. Man was made for God, not for sin; for truth, not for error. Hence there is a positive operation of mind. God comes down upon a man’s heart by the power of His Spirit and renews him.
3. All this is accomplished in consistency with our rational nature. There is something to be observed in the mind of man. The ransom being paid, the mind of man must be brought to harmonize with the mind of God. There are three stages in the process of delivery from the bondage which is matter of justice.
(1) The offended Moral Governor admitting an arrangement at all; it is matter of grace entirely.
(2) This arrangement being effected is acknowledged and accepted by God, and then published to the individuals concerned, that they may know that their loss will henceforth be their own.
(3) Repentance, and faith in the means, thus harmonizing with the arrangement of God. But this faith which justifies also sanctifies. Faith leads to the acceptance of the proffered Deliverer, who frees us from the bondage of corruption.
IV. THE PERFECTION AND REALITY OF THE GOSPEL--“free indeed.”
1. Freedom from bondage by ransom is complete in every sense.
2. Freedom by power brings the highest liberty of a rational and moral nature.
3. When God gives the one He always gives the other. You may emancipate the slave, but you cannot give him the virtues of a freeman, but when God sets you free He operates on the character, and thus we are free indeed.
V. PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS.
1. We rejoice in the liberty of the slave, and we do well, but how dreadful to think that many who do this are slaves themselves. The slave often fixed his hope on death, which would terminate his agony, but if you die in slavery it will continue forever.
2. Let your minds be affected by the splendour of that ransom which has been paid for your freedom. We talk about the twenty millions that we gave for the liberty of the slave, but “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things,” etc.
3. If you profess to be the subjects of God’s delivering mercy, walk worthy of your profession. “Ye are debtors, not to the flesh to live after the flesh.”
4. Rejoice in that which is to come.
(1) The liberating kingdom of Christ.
(2) The deliverance of the whole creation from bondage. (T. Binney.)
The Great Liberator
Blessed is that word “free,” and blessed He who lives to make men so. Political slavery is an intolerable evil, and blessed the man who hurls down the despot and gives men their true rights. But men may have political liberty and yet be slaves, for there is religious bondage, and he who cringes before the priest is a slave. Blessed are our eyes that see the light of gospel liberty, and are no longer immured in Popish darkness. Yet a man may be delivered from the bond of superstition only to become a slave to his own lusts. He only is a free man who is master of himself by the grace of God.
I. FREEDOM IS POSSIBLE. The Son of God can make the prisoner free.
(1) From past guilt which weighs so heavily upon many--for His blood “cleanseth from all sin.”
(2) From the punishment of sin, the fear of which is grievous bondage, for He has borne it in our place,
(3) From the power of sin, the same blood which purifies enables a man to overcome. They in heaven washed their robes and overcame through the blood of the Lamb.
(4) From the fear of death, which keeps many “all their lifetime subject to bondage.” When sin is pardoned the law is satisfied, and the strength of sin therefore broken and the sting taken out of death. If we believe in Christ we shall fall asleep, but never die.
2. Positively. We are not only free from, but free to. When persons receive the freedom of a city certain privileges are bestowed. To be made free by Christ is to be free to call oneself God’s child, to claim His protection and blessing, to sit at His table, to enter His Church, and at last to be free of the New Jerusalem.
II. BEWARE OF FALSE LIBERTY. Every good thing is imitated by Satan. There is
1. Antinomian liberty. “I am not under the law, therefore I may do as I like.” A blessed truth followed by an atrocious inference. To be under the law is to give God the service of a slave who fears the lash, but to be under grace is to serve God out of pure love.
2. National professional freedom, based upon baptism, and regular attendance at religious ordinances, and performance of outward religious duties. But a good many people dream that they are what they are not. Christ must have come and shown you your slavery, and you must have found through Him the way of escape or you are enslaved.
3. The liberty of natural self-righteousness and the power of the flesh.
III. TRUE FREEDOM COMES TO US THROUGH HIM WHO IS IN THE HIGHEST SENSE “THE SON.” No man gets free but as he comes to Christ; otherwise he will only rivet on his fetters. This liberty
1. Is righteously bestowed. Christ has the right to make men free.
2. Was dearly purchased. Christ speaks it by His power, but He bought it by His blood. He makes free, but by His own bonds.
3. Is freely given. Jesus asks nothing of us for it. He saves sinners just as they are.
4. Is instantaneously received. The captive has often to pass through many doors--but the moment we believe we are free, although we may have been fettered at ten thousand points.
5. Is done forever. When Christ sets free no chains can bind again.
IV. ARE WE FREE? If so, then
1. We have changed our lodging place, for the slave and the Son sleep not in the same room. The things which satisfied the servant will not satisfy the Son.
2. We live not as we used to do. We go not to slaves’ work, to toil and sweat to earn the wages of sin; but now as a Son serveth His Father we do Son’s work.
3. We strive to set others free; if we have no zeal for the emancipation of others we are slaves still.
4. We hate all sorts of chains, all kinds of sin, and will never willingly put on the fetters any more. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Free indeed! Really free! Then there must be an unreal, imaginary freedom.
1. A whole family or nation in bondage is a sad sight, but it is sadder if their eyes are out, so that they fondly dream themselves free.
2. The most melancholy thing in a madhouse is the poor patient who weaves a crown of rags and gives orders as a king, casting all the while stolen and startled glances on the iron bars, and trembling under the keeper’s glance.
3. You have lain down wearily to sleep, and dreamt that you soared in the upper air; but when you awoke your limbs were stiffer and heavier. Flying was a dream; the cold reality was only a painful dragging of benumbed limbs.
4. In literary and political circles liberty is plentiful as a profession, but scanty as a power. Independence is frequently a term of sarcasm when men desire to make sport of bondage.
5. But the cases are most numerous of men loudly boasting of their liberty, while vice, like a possessing spirit rules in the heart, and lashes to a degrading task. Apart from Christ, redemption and the Spirit’s renewal, the struggles of a sinful race to shake off their bonds are like those of Samson when his locks were shorn and his eyes put out, with the Philistines making sport.
6. The Jews took it ill that Jesus should propose to make them free. “We were never in bondage,” and yet the Romans held them in their grip.
7. Our inherited and actual bondage has two sides, corresponding to the two sides in Christ’s liberty. Spiritual slavery is guilt on the conscience and rebellion in the will. Like the relation between perpendicular pressure and horizontal motion is the relation between these two. Sin and the wrath it deserves constitute the dead weight which presses the spirit down, and thus it cannot go forward in duty. When God’s anger is removed we yield ourselves willing instruments of His righteousness. When the Son, by redeeming us from the guilt and power of sin, has made us free, we are free indeed.
I. THE MAIN ELEMENT OF THE BONDAGE IS GUILT AND APPREHENSION OF JUDGMENT.
1. The book in which our debt is registered lies far above, out of our sight; but the charge against a man is led by an electric wire from God’s secret book right into the man’s own bosom, disturbing his rest and blighting all his joys. Conscience is a mysterious, susceptible instrument, bringing the man in close and mysterious connection with the great white throne and the living God. The pain is in practice deadened more or less by a hardening of the instrument, so that it loses a measure of its susceptibility; but mysterious beatings sometimes thrill through all its searings and compel the sinner to realize the presence of the living God.
2. It is natural that the slave, wearied of such inspection, should cast about for means of becoming free. To quench this burning of the unclean conscience all the bloody sacrifices of the heathen were offered, all the efforts of self-righteousness are directed. They are so many blows to sever the connecting rod, so that the Judge’s anger may not be felt; but “there is no peace to the wicked.”
3. But a real liberty is possible. The Son can open the seven-sealed book and blot out the reckoning: “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” The Mediator has placed Himself in the line of communication between the Judge and the culprit. The frown of justice due to sin is changed into love as it passes through the Mediator, no longer a consuming fire, but the light of life. On the other side, my sins are absorbed in the suffering Saviour as they pass, and His righteousness ascends as mine and for me.
II. THERE IS A FALSE FREEDOM WITH WHICH MEN DELUDE THEMSELVES AND A REAL FREEDOM WHICH CHRIST BESTOWS UPON HIS OWN.
1. The essence of slavery lies in the terror of the master, that sits like a stone upon the heart. After the slave has accomplished his task, something occurs that he ought to have done, and he asks tremblingly, “What lack I yet?” There may be a good deal of work without reconciliation, but there is no liberty in it and no love. It is the heavy weight of unforgiven sin that prevents a man bounding fleetly on the errands of his Lord. When condemnation is taken away obedience begins (Psalms 116:16).
2. Those who are strangers to the liberty of dear children misunderstand this obedience. Here is a man who lives for pleasure. He is good-natured, and if he would not suffer much to promote the happiness of others he would not injure them. He knows another who denies himself, and prosecutes some difficult line of benevolence, and cannot understand him. If the Christian were morose and gloomy he could explain his conduct, but he is precisely the reverse. He counts that liberty which the Christian counts bondage, and that bondage which the Christian counts liberty. But the disciple of Christ has changed, and therefore cannot be understood: he has been made willing in the day of God’s power, which the worldling has never felt. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
It is impossible to mistake the charm and power which attach to the word “liberty.” There is something in our nature which at once responds to it. It appeals to sympathies which are universal and profound. Liberty is itself, in one particular sense, the excellence of man as man, i.e., of man as endowed with a free will. As man compares himself with the inanimate creation and the lower animals he knows that he is what they are not. The sense of this prerogative is the ground of human self-respect. To attempt to crush the exercise of this endowment is regarded, as a crime against human nature, while the undertaking to strengthen its vigour and enlarge its scope appeals to man’s profound desire to make the best of that which is his central self. But when in this connection we use the word two different things are often intended. The liberty to choose between good and evil, with an existing inclination in the direction of evil is one thing; the true moral liberty of man is another. Man’s true liberty may be described as the unimpeded movement of his will towards God; but the only liberty with which many speakers and writers trouble themselves is a liberty to choose between good and evil, as though we could not conceive of a liberty which did not include the choice of evil--as though the power of choosing evil was an integral element of real human liberty. Let us rid ourselves of this miserable misconception. True liberty is secured when the will moves freely within its true element, which is moral good. Moral good is to the human will what the air is to the bird, what water is to the fish. Bird and fish have freedom enough in their respective elements. Water is death to the bird as air is death to the fish. A bird can sometimes drown itself; a fish can leap out of the water and die upon the bank; but the liberty of fish and bird is sufficiently complete without this added capacity for self-destruction. And so it is with man. Moral good, the moral law of God, is the element within which the human will may safely find room for its utmost capacities of healthful exercise and invigoration; and when a man takes it into his head that his freedom is incomplete if it does not include a license to do wrong, he is in a fair way to precipitate himself out of his true vital element, to the enslavement and ruin of his will. Every Christian will understand this. He knows that he would gain nothing in the way of moral freedom by a murder or a lie. He knows that our Lord, who did no sin, was not, therefore, other than morally free, since it was His freedom in giving Himself to death, which is the essence of His self-sacrifice for the sins of the world. Nay, a Christian knows, too, that God could not choose evil without doing violence to His essential nature. But is God, therefore, without moral freedom? And does it not follow that the more closely man approaches the holiness of God, the more closely does he approach to the true idea of liberty. (Canon Liddon.)
The liberty of believers
I. WHAT BELIEVERS ARE NOT FREED FROM IN THIS WORLD.
1. From obedience to the moral law. It is true that we are not under it as a covenant for justification, but we are still under it as a rule for direction. Its matter is as unchangeable as the nature of good and evil is (Matthew 5:17-40.5.18). Its precepts are still urged under the gospel to enforce duties Ephesians 6:12). It is therefore a vain distinction of the Libertines that it binds us as creatures, not as Christians; the unregenerate part, but not the regenerate. But this is a sure truth that they who are freed from its penalties are still under its precepts, and though no more under its curse, Christians are still under its conduct. The law sends us to Christ to be justified, Christ sends us to the law to be regulated (Psalms 119:4-19.119.5).
2. From the temptations and assaults of Satan. Even those who are freed from his dominion are not free from his molestation (Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 12:7). Though he cannot kill them, he can and does afflict them (Ephesians 6:16).
3. From the motions of indwelling sin (Romans 7:21-45.7.24). Corruptions, like Canaanites, are still left to be thorns in the side.
4. From inward troubles and exercises on account of sin (Job 7:19;Psalms 88:14; Psalms 88:16; Psalms 38:1-19.38.11).
5. From the rods of affliction. God in giving us liberty does not abridge His Psalms 89:32). All God’s children are made free, yet what son is there that his father chasteneth not (Hebrews 12:8). Exemption from affliction is rather the mark of a slave.
6. From the stroke of death, though they are freed from its sting Romans 8:10).
II. WHAT THAT BONDAGE IS FROM WHICH EVERY BELIEVER IS FREED BY CHRIST.
1. From the rigour and curse of the law, which is replaced by the gentle and easy yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:28). The law required perfect working under the pain of a curse (Galatians 3:10), accepted of no short endeavours and no repentance, gave no strength. But now strength is Philippians 4:13), sincerity is reckoned perfection (Job 1:1), duty becomes delight, and failings hinder not acceptance.
2. From the guilt of sin. It may trouble, but it cannot condemn them Romans 8:33), the handwriting against them is cancelled Colossians 2:14).
3. From the dominion of sin (Romans 6:14; Romans 8:2).
4. From the power of Satan (Luke 11:21-42.11.22).
(1) By price. The blood of Christ purchases believers out of the hand of justice by satisfying the law for them, which being done, Satan’s authority fails of course, as the power of a jailer over the prisoner when he has a legal discharge (Hebrews 2:14).
(2) By power (Act 26:18; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Colossians 2:15).
5. From the poisonous sting and hurt of death (1 Corinthians 15:55-46.15.56). Where there is no hurt there should be no horror.
III. WHAT KIND OF FREEDOM THAT IS WHICH COMMENCES UPON BELIEVING. There are two kinds of liberty.
1. Civil, which belongs not to the present business. Believers are not freed from the duties they owe to their superiors, whether servants Ephesians 6:5) or citizens (Romans 13:4).
2. Spiritual. That which believers have now is but a beginning--they are free only in part--but it is growing every day and will be complete at last.
IV. THE EXCELLENCY OF THIS STATE OF SPIRITUAL FREEDOM.
1. It is a wonderful liberty never enough to be admired.
(1) We owed God more than we could pay.
(2) We were in the possession of the strong man, armed.
(3) We were bound with many chains--the understanding with ignorance, the will with obstinacy, the heart with hardness, the affections with bewitching vanities. For such to be set at liberty is a wonder of wonders.
2. It is a peculiar freedom--one which few obtain, the great multitude abiding still in bondage (2 Corinthians 4:4).
3. A liberty dearly purchased. What the captain said (Acts 22:28) may be much more said of ours (1 Peter 1:18).
4. A growing and increasing liberty (Romans 13:11).
5. A comfortable freedom (1 Corinthians 7:22). It ranks the slave above the noble.
6. Perpetual and final (Acts 26:18). Improvement.
1. How rational is the joy of Christians above the joy of all others in the Psalms 126:1-19.126.2; Luke 15:24).
2. How unreasonable and inexcusable the sin of apostasy. Will a delivered captive return to his shackles (Matthew 12:44-40.12.45).
3. How well-becoming is a free spirit in believers to their state of liberty.
4. Let no man wonder at the opposition of Satan to the preaching of the gospel (Acts 26:18).
5. How careful should Christians be to maintain their spiritual liberty Galatians 5:1; 2 Corinthians 1:24).
6. Let Satan’s captives be encouraged to come to Christ. (J. Flavel.)
Only in the Son does human nature come to liberty, to the free use of all its powers to the realization of all its privileges, to the full satisfaction of all its desires Christ gives us freedom from sin.
I. AS SIN REVEALS ITSELF IN UNBELIEF.
1. Peter says of some, “they cannot see afar off.” They are short-sighted, they can only see what is close to them: food on the table, a five-pound note, title deeds, the earth and the stars, but they cannot see the highest universe, its grandeurs, its treasures, its delights. Thousands of men apparently free are really the poorest of slaves--the slaves of the senses. Some of these look round and think it a big cage, but the physical is only a cage, ample as it may seem. Many contrive to make themselves comfortable in their captivity; they trim their feathers, peek their sugar, sing their song, yet is the earthly life at its best but a captivity. It is only when man emerges into the spiritual element that he gets into the sky, stretches his wings, and tastes the pleasures for which he was born.
2. The truth as it is in Jesus makes us free from the tyranny of the senses; it opens our eyes and causes us to see the world behind the world, the sun behind the sun; it strengthens us that those heavenly places become accessible to us. Oh! how the walls of the prison house of sense would close in upon us quite if it were not for Jesus Christ. How the Lord’s Prayer brings us into the full presence of the spiritual universe--the Divine Father, the Divine kingdom, the Divine will, the Divine grace, the Divine and everlasting goal! With that prayer realized in our heart, we feel there is something more than physiology, mechanism, and victuals; we have dropped the fetters of sense, we have got our feet out of the clogging bird lime of earthliness, we are free, gloriously free, like Tennyson’s eagle “ringed round with the azure sky!”
3. We hear much in these days about “free thought,” but free thought in the truest, noblest sense is realized only in Jesus Christ. The bondage of thought is the tyranny of materialism. Christ frees us from the most terrible illusions of all, the illusions of time and sense, and causes us to see that real universe, that glorious city of God of which this earth is but the shadow.
II. AS SIN REVEALS ITSELF IN DISOBEDIENCE.
1. “Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin.” Sin makes slaves of us in a variety of practical irregularities. Some of these are coarser, some more refined, but how impossible thousands find it to shake off the tyranny of those evil habits which have established themselves through years! One man is the victim of vanity, another of covetousness, another of ambition, another of appetite. A man’s will can do much, but it sadly fails here. You will see sometimes a performer at a fair with an electric machine. At length a bumpkin comes up, and at the invitation of the professor smilingly seizes the handles. In a moment the poor fellow is convulsed, dances in pain, and cries for deliverance. Why does he not drop the thing? He cannot. Does not the crowd help? No; the crowd grins--the crowd always grins. The poor simpleton is at the mercy of the operator, and he goes on grinding. So it is today with thousands of men in sin; they are ashamed of themselves, horrified at themselves, filled full of torment and remorse; but they are powerless under the mysterious spell, and do again and again the thing they execrate.
2. But here again Christ can make you free indeed. Some of you think you will have to be buried in your fetters. Let me assure you Christ, by His mighty truth, and love, and grace, can strengthen you to burst these miserable bonds as Samson burst the green withes wherewith he was bound. Where is the proof? I will give you the best logical proof in the world--thousands of living men and women who have attained full mastery by the spirit of Christ. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God?…And such were some of you,” etc.
III. AS SIN REVEALS ITSELF IN LUST.
1. Christ does not repeal the moral law. He does not accommodate it to our weakness; on the contrary, He brings out more fully its deep, wide meaning, making it more imperative than ever. One of our sceptical writers tells us that when she got rid of Christianity she felt she emerged on “the broad breezy common of nature.” Well, we are bound to accept her testimony. But, is there anything so very desirable about “breezy commons?” I never understood that the best things grew there; ferns and furze bushes are there, brambles, and crab apples; but the ripe orchards, the golden corn, the purple clusters, the richest blooms and blossoms, these are not found on breezy commons. I never understood that breezy commons were very desirable places to live on. And I never understood that the picturesque parties who usually pitch their tents and live on breezy commons constitute the cream of the world’s population. There was far more truth in that lady’s words than she suspected. To get rid of Christianity, its laws, its hopes, its fears, its inspirations, its reverence and love, is to emerge on a breezy common, all the best things lost forever. If our countrymen are to repudiate Christ, our country will emerge on that breezy common, and we shall dwell there as our Druidical fathers did before us. It has taken us more than a millennium to get off that breezy common, and find the goodly heritage of our present civilization, and every step of our progress has been through self-denial, self-limitation, renunciation, subordination, obedience. We have nothing to gain by license.
2. Christ does not give us liberty by modifying the law to suit our weakness. He destroys in us the element of lust or irregular desire. We find in ourselves what the theologian calls our fallen self, what the evolutionist calls our animal self, and this contradicts our best reason, and brings us into bondage. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit,” etc. A man is a real slave when he is a slave at heart, when he cannot follow out delightfully the noble impulses and aspirations of his nature, and such slaves are we all by birth. Christ makes us “free indeed” by putting God’s laws into our heart and writing them in our mind; by filling us with high, pure, bright, strong, expansive feeling; by making us to say with Himself, in His strength, “I delight to do Thy will O God.” This is the true liberty, to will the good, to delight in it, to follow it passionately, to find our only heaven in it. And this is the freedom wherewith Christ maketh free.
IV. AS SIN REVEALS ITSELF IN FEAR.
1. The slave serves in fear. Now Christ, the Son, makes us sons, and, filling our heart with love to our heavenly Father, makes all life’s duty light. In the power of a sublime love we accomplish the loftiest law, and taste the utmost freedom. Science tells us that the atmosphere presses upon us to the extent of something like fifteen pounds to the square inch, and an average sized man carries about with him something like fifteen tons weight. But we feel the atmosphere no burden--it is a pleasure to breathe, to feel it around us; “light as air” is a proverb. Why is this? The inward pressure of gases in our body is equal to the external weight, so we suffer no inconvenience--the air is no burden, it is life, joy, to all healthy organizations. So, as John shows, when we love God “His commandments are not grievous.” The inward pressure, joy, power, hope, are equal to every exaction of the outward law, and so far from the commandment being a burden to us, it is a delight and glory.
2. And then, as to the future, sin fills us with fear. As Christ shows us in this place, sin disinherits us. “The slave has no permanent place in the household.” And so we look forward with dismal apprehension. We are all our lifetime subject to the fear of death. Here Christ, by making us sons, changes fear to hope, and so gives us precious liberty. “The sting of death is sin,” etc. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Ye shall be free indeed
or in reality:--The word is not the same as in John 8:31. The Jews claimed political freedom, but they were in reality thesubjects of Rome. They claimed religious freedom, but they were in reality slaves to the letter. They claimed moral freedom, but they were in reality the bondmen of sin. The freedom which the Son proclaimed was in reality freedom, for it was the freedom of their true life, delivered from the thraldom of sin and brought into union with God. For the spirit of man, that in knowledge of the truth revealed through the Son can contemplate the Father and the eternal home, there is a real freedom that no power can restrain. All through this context the thoughts pass unbidden to the teaching of St. Paul, the great apostle of freedom. There could be no fuller illustration of the words than is furnished by his life. He, like St. Peter and St. John (Romans 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Revelation 1:1), had learned to regard himself as a “bondservant,” but it was of Christ, “whose service is perfect freedom.” We feel, as we think of him in bonds before Agrippa, or as a prisoner at Rome, that he is more truly free than he himself was when armed with authority to bind men and women because they were Christians. The chains that bind the body cannot bind the spirit whose chains have been loosed. (Archdeacon Watkins.)
The method of Christian freedom
A ship outward bound has struck on a sunken rock ere she has well cleared out of the harbour. There she lies in the water, a mile from land, with the ocean all clear before her from that spot to her journey’s end; but she moves not. What will make her move? The mechanical resources of our time could bring an enormous accumulation of force to bear upon her, but under all its pressure she will remain stationary. If you increase the dragging power beyond a certain point, you will wrench her asunder limb from limb, but you will not win her forward on her voyage. No; not this way--not by any such method can the ship be set free to prosecute her voyage. How, then? Let the tide rise, and the ship with it: now you may heave off your hawsers and send home your steamers. Hoist the sail, and the ship will herself move away like a bird on the wing. It is thus that a soul may be set free to bound forward on the path of obedience. Dragging will not do it. A soul cleaving to the dust is like a ship aground--it cannot go forward until it be lifted up; but when it is lifted up, it will go forward without any violent drawing. Further: the soul cleaving to the dust is lifted, as the ship was, by a secret but mighty attraction in the far-off heaven. Elevated by a winning from above, it courses over life with freedom. “I will run in the way of Thy commandments, when Thou hast enlarged my heart.” (W. Arnot.)
Freedom aided by God
Three hundred years ago, in Holland, about one million of people stood for Protestantism and freedom in opposition to the mightiest empire of that age, whose banners the Pope had blessed. William, the Prince of Orange, a man who feared God, was the champion of the righteous cause. In the heat of the struggle, when the young republic seemed about to be overwhelmed, William received a missive from one of his generals, then in command of an important post, inquiring, among other things, if he had succeeded in effecting a treaty with any foreign power, as France or England, such as would secure aid. His reply was, “You ask me if I have made a treaty for aid with any great foreign power; and I answer, that, before I undertook the cause of the oppressed Christians in these provinces, I made a close alliance with the King of kings; and I doubt not that He will give us the victory.” And so it proved.
Freedom and responsibility
Every man because he is free has the responsibility laid upon him by the hand of God of using His freedom in finding out the truth of duty, the obligations of conduct, the conditions of character. It is not enough to reject the authority of the Church; it is not enough to reject the authority of the minister; it is not enough to rail at the past; it is not enough to separate yourself from sects. You are to exercise this prerogative of liberty, not for the sake of forming systematic views, but for the sake of so shaping your life as to prepare yourselves for your eternal destiny. I lay that responsibility upon your liberty. Use, then, your liberty of judgment and conscience, but in God’s name I enjoin you to use it for your salvation. (H. W. Beecher.)
Bondage and deliverance
Take your stand on the margin of the ocean, on the western coast of this island, where the shore is a bold rugged rock, and when a long blue ground swell is rolling towards the land. I know not any aspect of merely inanimate nature that tends so strongly’ to make one’s heart sad. I have stood and gazed upon it until I was beguiled into a painfully tender sympathy with a mute struggling captive. Slowly, meekly, but withal mightily, the sea wave comes on in long, regular array, and striking with its extended front at all points simultaneously against the pitiless rock, is broken into white fragments and thrown on its back all thrilling and hissing with expiring agony. Sullen and sore the broken remnants of the first rank steal away to the rear, and hide themselves in the capacious bosom of the mother sea. Again, you perceive another long blue wave gathering its strength at a distance; with gloomy, unhopeful brow, as if warned by the fate of its predecessor, and hurried onward to its own, it rushes forward and delivers another assault against the rocky shore. It shares the fortune of the last. Again, and yet again, the water wearily gathers up its huge bulk, and again strongly but despairingly launches itself upon its prison walls, to be again broken and thrown back in utter discomfiture. You weep for the great helpless prisoner, who cannot weep for himself year after year, century after century, era after era, that prisoner toils and strikes upon the walls of his prison, but never once succeeds in clearing the barrier and flowing across the continent free. That mighty creature, with its sublime strength, and dumb, patient, unceasing labour, never succeeds in breaking its bonds--never leaps into liberty. Here you find a picture, such as no artist could ever make, of a sinner, or a worldful of sinners in the aggregate, as they lie in their prison, ceaselessly striving for enlargement, but never attaining it. “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest.” And can this water never get freedom? Is it doomed to lie weltering forever in its prison? Cannot the prisoner by any means be ever set free? The captive may be set at liberty; the captive is set at liberty day by day. Above the firmament are waters, as well as in the hollow which constitutes the ocean’s bed. They are higher up--nearer heaven--as you see, these aerial waters; but being high in heaven, they are therefore free to move across the earth. Nothing conveys a more lively idea of quick, soft, unimpeded motion, than a flying cloud. Here is none of the effort visible even in the flight of birds. Absolutely free they are; and sweetly swiftly do the free run on the errands of their Lord. In this respect there is a sublime contrast between these waters that have been made free and those that are still enslaved--held down by their own dead weight within their prison walls. It is thus that human spirits advance in fleet, gladsome obedience, when the weight is lifted off, and they are permitted to rise. It is when you are raised up into favour that you can go onward to serve. “O Lord, truly I am Thy servant.” That is a great attainment, David; how did you reach it? Hear him give the reason: “Thou hast loosed my bonds” (Psalms 116:16). (W. Arnot, D. D.)
What a thrifty, robust plant is the potato when out in the field it grows beneath the sun! Its leaf so coarse and green, its stem so stout and succulent, it is a pleasure to look upon a thing which seems so to take hold of all the elements of life. But when it has sprouted in the cellar, which has but one north window, half closed, it is a poor, cadaverous, etiolated, melancholy vine, growing up to that little flicker of light; sickly, blanched, and brittle. Like the cellar-growing vine is the Christian who lives in the darkness and bondage of fear. But let him go forth, with the liberty of God, into the light of love, and he will be like the plant in the field, healthy, robust, and joyful. (H. W. Beecher.)
What a difference must a Christian and a minister feel, between the trammels of some systems of divinity and the advantage of Scripture freedom, the glorious liberty of the sons of God. The one is the horse standing in the street in harness, feeding indeed, but on the contents of a bag tossed up and down; the other, the same animal in a large, fine meadow, where he lies down in green pastures, and feeds beside the still waters. (W. Jay.)
Freeing the slave
In early British times the ceremony of freeing slaves was very striking. They were usually set free before the altar or in the church porch, and the gospel book bore written on its margins the record of their emancipation. Sometimes his lord placed him at the spot where four roads met, and bade him go whither he would. In the more solemn form of the law his master took him by the hand in full shire meeting, showed him open road and door, and gave him the lance and sword of the freeman.
Spiritual freedom a gift
A poor slave who has never seen any diamonds but those that are worn upon the breasts of his master, his mistress, and their family and friends, is sent to the mines. Working away there, he picks up a large stone, which looks as if it might be a diamond, if it was only bright; but the negro don’t know what to think of it. He says it can’t be a diamond; but a companion thinks that it is one. The slave takes it to his master, who seizes it with exclamations, and declares to the slave, “You are a free man. There never before was such a diamond found in these mines!” “What, massa!” says the trembling slave, in great trepidation and bewilderment of joy--for bad as freedom is for negroes, it always excites in them powerful emotions of pleasure--“what, massa! dat dull stone a diamond? It don’t look like what massa wear in his shirt bosom.” “But, don’t you know, Sambo, that diamonds have always to be taken to the lapidary, and ground and polished, sometimes for two or three years, before they are ready to wear? This is a most valuable diamond; and you are, from this very moment, a free man.” It is not so that spiritual freedom is obtained. It is in no sense earned or merited; it is Christ’s free gift.
Christ sets free the sinful
I have heard that a great English prince on one occasion went to visit a famous king of Spain. The prince was taken down to the galleys, to see the men who were chained to the oars, and doomed to be slaves for life. The King of Spain promised, in honour of the prince’s visit, that he would set free any one of these men that the prince might choose. So the prince went to one prisoner and said, “My poor fellow, I am sorry to see you in this plight; how came you here?” “Ah! sire,” he answered, “false witnesses gave evidence against me; I am suffering wrongfully.” “Indeed!” said the prince, and passed on to the next man. “My poor fellow, I am sorry to see you here; how did it happen?” “Sire, I certainly did wrong, but not to any great extent. I ought not to be here.” “Indeed!” said the prince, and he went on to others, who told him similar tales. At last he came to one prisoner, who said, “Sire, I am often thankful that I am here; for I am sorry to own that if I had received my due I should have been executed. I am certainly guilty of all that was laid to my charge, and my severest punishment is just.” The prince replied wittily to him, “It is a pity that such a guilty wretch as you are should be chained among these innocent men, and therefore I will set you free.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
My Word hath no place in you.--Where the Word of Jesus ought at once to be received, it is often rejected. These Jews were Abraham’s seed, but they had not Abraham’s faith. Jesus knows where His Word is received, and where it has no place. He declares that all else is unavailing: it was in vain that they were of the favoured race if they did not admit the Saviour’s Word into their hearts. The practical result appeared in their lives: they sought to kill Jesus. Let us honestly consider
I. WHAT PLACE THE WORD SHOULD HAVE IN MEN’S HEARTS. The Word comes from Jesus, the appointed Messenger of God; it is true, weighty, saving; and therefore it must have a place among those who hear it. It ought to obtain and retain
1. An inside place: in the thoughts, the memory, the conscience, the affections. “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart” (Psalms 119:11. See Jeremiah 15:16; Colossians 3:16).
2. A place of honour: it should receive attention, reverence, faith, obedience (John 8:47; Luke 6:46; Matthew 7:24-40.7.25).
3. A place of trust. We ought in all things to rely upon the sure Word of promise, since God will neither lie, nor err, nor change (Isaiah 7:9;1 Samuel 15:29; Titus 1:2).
4. A place of rule. The Word of Jesus is the law of a Christian.
5. A place of love. It should be prized above our daily food, and defended with our lives (Job 23:12; Jude 1:3).
6. A permanent place. It must so transform us as to abide in us.
II. WHY IT HAS NO PLACE IN MANY MEN. If any man be unconverted, let us help him to a reason applicable to his case.
1. You are too busy, and so you cannot admit it. There is no room for Jesus in the inn of your life. Think of it--“You are too much occupied to be saved!”
2. It does not come as a novelty, and therefore you refuse it. You are weary of the old, old story. Are you wearied of bread? of air? of water? of life?
3. Another occupies the place the Word of Jesus should have. You prefer the word of man, of superstition, of scepticism. Is this a wise preference?
4. You think Christ’s Word too holy, too spiritual. This fact should startle you, for it condemns you.
5. It is cold comfort to you, and so you give it no place. This shows that your nature is depraved; for the saints rejoice in it.
6. You are too wise, too cultured, too genteel, to yield yourself to the government of Jesus (John 5:44; Romans 1:22).
7. Is the reason of your rejection of the Word one of these--That you are not in earnest? that you are fond of sin? that you are greedy of evil gain? that you need a change of heart?
III. WHAT WILL COME OF THE WORD OF CHRIST HAVING NO PLACE IN YOU.
1. Every past rejection of that Word has involved you in sin.
2. The Word may cease to ask for a place in you.
3. You may yourself become hardened so as to decline even to outwardly hear that Word.
4. You may become the violent opponent of that Word, like these Jews.
5. That Word will condemn you at the last day (John 12:48). Conclusion: Let us reason with you.
1. Why do you not give place to it?
2. All that is asked of you is to give it a place. It will bring with it all that you need.
3. Open wide the door and bid it enter. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
No place for the Word
Only a short time ago a friend of mine was preaching in one of our cathedral churches. As he was going to select for his text a prominent passage in one of the portions for the day, he thought it expedient to inquire of the clerk, “What did the Canon preach from this morning?” The clerk became very pensive, seemed quite disposed to cudgel his brains for the proper answer; but, somehow or other, he really could not think of it just then. All the men of the choir were robing in the adjacent vestry, so he said that he would go and ask them. Accordingly, the question was passed round the choir, and produced the same perplexity. At length the sagacious clerk returned, with the highly explicit answer, “It was upon the Christian religion, sir!” I think those good people must have needed a reminder as to how we should hear; don’t you? (W. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
The only reason why so many are against the Bible is because they know the Bible is against them. (G. S. Bowes.)
The effects of the rejection and the reception of the Word
The Bible has been expelled for centuries, by atheistic or sacerdotal hate, from the dwellings of many of the European nations. As a matter of course, the domestic virtues have declined; the conjugal relation is disparaged; deception and intrigue have supplanted mutual confidence; and Society has become diseased to its very core. The very best thing we can do--the only thing which will be efficient--to arrest these evils, is to restore to those nations the Word of God; to replace in their houses that Bible of which they have been robbed. Only do for France and Italy, Belgium and Spain, Portugal and Austria, what has been attempted, and to a great extent accomplished, for our country; put a Bible in every family, and a mightier change will pass over Europe than can be effected by all the diplomacy of her statesmen, or all the revolutions projected by her patriots. (The Leisure Hour.)
I speak that which I have seen with My Father; and ye do that which ye have seen with your Father
The marks of Divine and diabolic relationship
Christ had admitted (John 8:37) that the Jews were the seed of Abraham: He now proceeds to show that they had another Father.
Those who degenerate from a virtuous stock forfeit the honours of their race. “These are your forefathers if you show yourselves worthy of them.”
I. THE MARKS OF THE CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL.
1. Hatred of the truth (John 8:40; John 8:44-43.8.47). This was the real ground of their unbelief. They disliked Christ’s doctrines. Had He spoken so as to gratify their pride, they might have been disposed to accept Him. The same principle operates in all opponents of the gospel. The tendency of Christ’s truth is still to humble, and so it is still hated. The Jews said, “We are Abraham’s seed; we are no idolaters.” And so many think it sufficient to belong to a pure Church, to be outwardly moral; hence where the necessity of Christ and His salvation?
2. Enmity against God and His people. The Jews were not content with rejecting Christ; they went about to kill Him. In every age he who is born after the flesh persecutes him who is born after the Spirit. Stephen asked the Jews which of the prophets their fathers had not persecuted. They themselves murdered the Just One; and as they treated the Master so they treated His servants. The heathen followed their example, and these, again, were succeeded by the persecutors of Popery. And in spite of the Reformation, the offence of the Cross has not ceased. Godly persons in the nineteenth century find foes in their own households, and that their religion stands in the way of worldly advancement.
II. THE MARKS OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD.
1. Hearing the Word of God. This the Jews could not do, because they were prejudiced against it. But those who are born of God do not dictate to Him what He should say; but, conscious of their own ignorance, they gladly listen to and learn from Divine teaching.
2. Doing the works of Abraham. His distinguishing work was faith. He believed God, and it was counted to Him for righteousness. And what a practical faith it was! Obedient, he left his father’s house and offered his only son. Faith expressed in obedience is the special characteristic of the child of God.
3. Loving Christ
(1) Because the Father loves Him. Can the children of God do otherwise than love whom their Father loves.
(2) For what He is in Himself--the altogether lovely. (J. Fawcett, M. A.)
Abraham is our father If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham
The works of Abraham and the works of the Jews
Abraham believed God; they disbelieved God’s testimony on behalf of Christ. Abraham was just and merciful; they strove to compass the death of One whose only offence was that He told them the truth. Abraham honoured Melchisedec; they insulted, rejected, and killed Him of whom Melchisedec was a type. Abraham interceded for Sodom; they shut the kingdom of God against men.
Hereditary and spiritual interest in the covenant
The Jew was to have a double being in the covenant, an hereditary, a possessary; the hereditary was nothing but the birthright, which gave him jus ad rem; he, that lineally descended from Abraham, might claim to be admitted into the covenant which God made with him. The possessary consisted in his personal grace, which gave him jus in re, when he did not only descend from Abraham, according to the flesh, but communicated also with him in the graces of the Spirit. These two beings in the covenant were to concur in every Jew; and they could not be severed without danger, danger not to the covenant, but to the Jew (Romans 2:25-45.2.29; Galatians 3:9; Galatians 3:29). (Bp. Lake.)
The true children of God
We have our spiritual affinities, and these determine our true relations and standing. The Jews were not the children of Abraham’s good qualities; they were not the children of faith and love; they were the children of the spirit of untruth and murder. These were qualities of the devil and not of Abraham. The devil is the father of untruth. He lied to Eve in the garden of Eden and to Christ on the mountain of temptation. The devil is the father of the spirit of murder. He tried to murder the whole human race spiritually. The disposition which the Jews manifested toward Christ was altogether un-Abrahamic; it was Satanic, and Christ told them so. He traced their pedigree back to Satan and then He offered them freedom from the Satanic. True family likeness consists in character and in actions, not in bearing the same name. Sometimes descendants are a spiritual burlesque upon ancestors. The life which they live makes the name which they bear a laughable farce. Think of a puny sickly dwarf bearing the name of Goliath! Think of a man bearing the name of Jonathan Edwards writing an exultant treatise upon the decline of Calvinism and sending it broadcast through New England! Think of a man bearing the honoured name of Stephen or Paul or James, men who died for the Church, and yet living outside of the Church and despising it! We often burlesque the names we wear; by our lives and principles and characters we often slander the men whom we delight to call our fathers. We are often un-Abrahamic, while we boast that we are the children of Abraham. Let me ask a practical question at this point. Just what is the liberty which Christ gives men through the truth? Paul may be chosen as an answer to the question. As we become acquainted with Paul’s life through his words, we find it full to overflowing with the spirit of freedom. He had freedom from false theologies, and from the condemnation of the law, and from the fear of death, and from anxieties with regard to the things of this life, and from caste prejudices, and from the tyranny of the world, and from the power of evil habits, and from low and carnal views of the Christian’s privileges and of the Christian’s Christ. Now this is not picture painting, this is not declamation, this is simply the assertion of fact taken from the life of Paul. Here is the life of Paul, full and broad and manly, built up after magnificent ideals, replete with the peace of God, beautiful with the reproduction of Christly characteristics, and magnificent with noble sacrifices for the elevation of the human race. The Jews thought that they were already free, they were not. This is the mistake which many in the Christian Church make. Are you free? Your Christian profession says, Yes. But what does your life say? How do you perform the duties of the Christian life? To the free Christian, everything is a privilege; church going, Bible reading, prayer, religious contributing. There is a great difference between doing things under compulsion and doing the same things because they are privileges. Privileges are duties transfigured. (D. Gregg.)
The children of God and of Satan
I. THE CHILDREN OF GOD (John 8:31-43.8.36). What do these verses teach us concerning the children of God? God has His children in this world, and some of their traits are here presented to our notice.
1. They believe in Christ (John 8:3). To believe in Christ is more than simply to conclude in a general way that He is worthy of credence. It means belief, confidence, submission, obedience, all in one. This believing is the condition of all blessings under the gospel.
2. They abide in Christ’s word (John 8:31). They manifest their faith by their fidelity. There is no “six weeks’ religion” during a warm revival, dropping into coldness and deadness when the meetings cease. It is a continued service proceeding from a constant faith.
3. They know the truth (John 8:32). The word in the original for “know” is the verb meaning “to have full knowledge.” He who learns the truth by fellowship with Christ receives it at fountainhead, and understands it thoroughly.
4. They have freedom (John 8:32-43.8.36). Every sinner is a slave, for a power outside of himself directs his action. The drunkard says, “I can’t help myself; an appetite drives me to drink.” The passionate man says, “I am not my own master when I get angry.” Are they not slaves to a power above their own will? The free man is the disciple of Christ.
II. THE CHILDREN OF SATAN. Then there is a devil who would make men believe that he is not, and that consequently they need not fear him. The Scriptures are as clear concerning the existence of Satan as they are concerning the existence of God. The traits of Satan’s children, as here set forth, are
1. They are slaves (John 8:33-43.8.36).
2. They are enemies of Christ (John 8:37). These slaves of Satan were ready to kill Christ.
3. They show a likeness to their father (John 8:39-43.8.44). These Jews claimed to be the children of Abraham. “Not so,” said Jesus. “If you were the children of Abraham, you would be like Abraham. But you show the traits of your true father, the devil.”
4. They have no affinity with God. (John 8:45-43.8.47). They do not like God’s truth (John 8:45); they will not hear God’s words (John 8:47). Just as oil and water will not mix, so the children of Satan have an aloofness of nature with respect to God. (J. L. Hurlbut, D. D.)
Pious relatives or friends cannot save us
It was poor comfort to Dives, in flames, that Abraham called him “son”; to Judas that Christ called him “friend”; or to the rebellious Jews that God called them His people. (J. Trapp.)
Now ye seek to kill Me.--Notice here the gradation.
1. To kill a man.
2. A man who is an organ of the truth.
3. Of the truth which comes from God. (F. Godet, D. D.)
The fate of the truth teller
When the Egyptians first conquered Nubia, a regiment perished thus: The desert was long, water failed, and men were half-mad with thirst. Then arose the mirage, looking like a beautiful lake. The troops were delighted, and started to reach the lake to slake their thirst in its delicious water; but the guide told them that it was all a delusion. Vainly he appealed to them and warned them. At last he threw himself in the way, and pointing with his finger in another direction, said, “That is the way to the water”; but they answered him with blows, and leaving him dead on the sand, rushed after the phantom lake. Eagerly they pressed on for several days, when their goal disappeared and mocked them. One by one they died--far from the path on which their faithful guide lay murdered.
Unregenerate souls do not love the truth
The nature of the soil must be changed before the heavenly plant will thrive. Plants grow not upon stones, nor this heavenly plant in a stony heart. A stone receives the rain upon it, not into it. It falls off or dries up, but a new heart, a heart of flesh, sucks in the dew of the Word, and grows thereby. (S. Charnock.)
Men hate the truth
As the friar wittily told the people that the truth he then preached unto them seemed to be like holy water, which everyone called for apace, yet when it came to be east upon them, they turned aside their faces as though they did not like it. Men love truth when it only pleads itself: they would have it shine out into all the world in its glory, but by no means so much as peep out to reprove their own errors. (Senhouse.)
The thief hates the break of day; not but that he naturally loves the light as well as other men, but his condition makes him dread and abhor that which, of all things, he knows to be the likeliest means of his discovery. (R. Smith.)
Noble minds welcome the truth
If Archimedes, upon the discovery of a mathematical truth, was so ravished that he cried out,” I have found it, I have found it!” what pleasure must the discovery of a Divine truth give to a sanctified soul! “Thy words wore found of me,” says Jeremiah, “and I did eat them; and Thy word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.”
Truth lies deep, as the rich veins of gold do: if we will get the treasure, we must not only beg, but dig also. (J. Fletcher.)
We be not born of fornication.--The Jews, having nothing effectual to object, take advantage of the moral sense in which Jesus had spoken of parentage, and try to cite it in their own favour: If Thou wilt have it so, we will leave off speaking of Abraham; for after all in that spiritual sphere, of which it seems Thou art thinking, God is our Father. To understand these words, which have been so variously interpreted, it must be remembered that marriage with a heathen woman was, after the return from Babylon (see Nahum and Malachi), regarded as impure, and the children of such marriage as illegitimate, as belonging through one parent to the family of Satan, the god of the heathen. The Jews, then, meant to say: “We were born under perfectly legal conditions; we have no idolatrous blood in our veins; we are Hebrews, born of Hebrews (Philippians 3:5), and are hence by our very birth protected from all pagan and diabolic affiliation.” As truly as they are pure descendants of Abraham, so certainly do they believe themselves to be descended, in a moral point of view, from God alone; and even when rising with our Lord to the moral point of view, they are incapable of freeing themselves from their own idea of natural parentage. (F. Godet, D. D.)
These words have been explained as signifying that the Jews were not descended, like Ishmael, from any secondary marriage like that of the patriarch with Hagar--which, however, could scarcely be called “fornication”--or from Sarah through another man than her lawful husband; but are probably to be understood as asserting that their pure Abrahamic descent had been corrupted by no admixture of heathen blood, or better, that their relation of sonship to Jehovah had not been rendered impure by the worship of false gods, in which case they had been “children of whoredom” (Hosea 2:4), but that, as they were physically Abraham’s seed, so were they spiritually God’s children. This interpretation seems to be demanded by the next words: “We have one Father even God.” By this they signified, not that “God alone” in opposition to heathen divinities was their Father, but that spiritually as well as corporeally, they traced their descent back to one parentage, as in the latter case to Abraham, so in the former case to God (Malachi 2:10). (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
If God were your Father ye would love Me
Love to Jesus the great test
The order of salvation is first to believe in Christ. By this we become sons of God, and the proof of our sonship is loving what God loves--Christ.
I. LOVE TO CHRIST IS IN ITSELF ESSENTIAL. The absence of this love is
1. The loss of the greatest of spiritual pleasures. What a loss is that of the sense of taste and smell? The fairest rose cannot salute the nostrils with its perfume, nor the most dainty flavour delight the palate. But it is infinitely more terrible not to perceive the fragrance of the name of Jesus, and to taste the richness of the bread and wine of heaven.
2. A sign of very grievous degradation. It is the mark of an animal that it cannot enter into intellectual pursuits, and when man loses the power to love his God he sinks to a level with the brutes. We greatly pity those poor creatures who cannot reason, but what shall we think of these who cannot love? Yet not to love Jesus reveals a moral imbecility far worse than mental incapacity, because it is wilful and involves a crime of the heart.
3. A clear proof that the whole manhood is out of order.
(1) The understanding, were it well balanced, would judge that Christ is before all, and give Him the preeminence.
(2) If the heart were what it should be it would love the good, the true, the beautiful, and nothing is more so than Jesus.
4. A sure token that we have no part in His salvation.
(1) The very first effect of salvation is love to Jesus.
(2) This love is the mainspring of the Spiritual life. It “constraineth us,” and is the grand power which keeps us back from evil and impels us towards holiness.
(3) Without this love we incur the heaviest condemnation--“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ,” etc.
II. LOVE TO CHRIST IS THE TEST OF SONSHIP. Our Lord plainly declares that God is not the Father of those who do not love Him. The Jews were by nature and descent, if any were, the children of God. They were the seed of Abraham, God’s chosen, had observed God’s ceremonies, bore the mark of His covenant, were the only people who worshipped one God, and incurred the greatest obloquy in consequence--yet as they did not love Christ they were no sons of God.
1. The child of God loves Christ because he loves what his Father loves: his nature, descended from God, runs in the same channel, and since God loves Christ supremely so does he.
2. He sees God in Jesus--the express image of His Person.
3. He is like Christ. Every man loves what is like himself. If you are born of God you are holy and true and loving, and as He is all that you must love Him.
4. He is essentially divine. “I proceeded and came forth,” etc.
5. Of His mission
(1) We must love that which comes from God if we love God. It matters not how small the trifle, you prize it if it comes from someone you revere. How much more should we love Him who came from God; and came not as a relic or memorial, but as His living, loving voice.
(2) Remember the message Christ brought--a message of pardon, restoration, acceptance, eternal life and glory.
6. He came not of Himself. When a man lives only to serve himself our love dries up. But Jesus’ aims were entirely for the Father and for us--so our heart must go out towards Him.
III. THIS TEST IT IS IMPORTANT FOR US TO APPLY NOW. Do you love Him or no? If you do then, you will
1. Trust Him and lean on Him with all your weight. Have you any other hope besides that which springs from His Cross?
2. Keep His Word. How about your neglected Bible? How about those parts of Scripture you have never understood, because afraid they were different from the creed of your church and family?
3. Keep His commandments. Do you obey Christ? If His commands are of little importance, then your heart is not with Him.
4. Imitate Him. It is the nature of love to be imitative. Are you trying to be Christ-like?
5. Love His people--not because they are sweet in their tempers or belong to your denomination, but because they are His.
6. Sympathize with His objects. Whenever we love another we begin to love the things which he loves. He delights to save men, do you?
7. Serve His cause. Love that never leads to action is no love at all. Are you speaking for Him, giving to Him?
8. Desire to be with Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
If we love God we shall receive Christ
If a child were far away in India, and he had not heard from home for some time, and he at last received a letter, how sweet it would be! It comes from father. How pleased he is to get it! But suppose a messenger should come and say, “I come from your father,” why, he would at once feel the deepest interest in him. Would you shut your door against your father’s messenger? No: but you would say, “Come in, though it be in the middle of the night, I shall always have an ear for you.” Shall we not thus welcome Jesus? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Men ought to love Christ as coming from God
I know when I left the village where I was first pastor, and where I had loved the people much and they had loved me, I used to say that if I saw even a dog which came from that parish, I should be glad to see him for I felt a love to everybody and everything coming from that spot. How much more should we love Christ because He came from God! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I proceeded forth and came from God
The inner life of Christ
Notwithstanding the multitude of books written on the life of Christ we want one more. We have outward lives more than enough that tell us about places and date and occurrences. We want an inner “life” of thoughts, purposes, feelings. Until we study this inner life, all the outward life will be a plague to our intellect and a mortification to our heart. The inward always explains the outward.
1. Suppose we saw one of the miracles of Christ, the raising of the dead. Here is the dead man, there the living Christ, yonder the mourning friends; presently the dead man rises. But how? Is it trick or miracle--an illusion or a fact? I cannot determine, because my eyes have been so often deceived. I saw a man get up--but the conjuror comes along and says, “I will show you something equally deceiving.” I see his avowed trick; it does baffle me; and if then he says, “It was just the same with what you thought the raising of the dead,” he leaves me in a state of intellectual torment.
Then what am I to do? Leave the outward. Watch the miracle Worker--listen to Him. If His mental triumphs are equal to His physical miracles, then admire, trust, and love Him. Take the conjuror: when on the stage he seems to be working miracles, but when he comes off and talks on general subjects I feel my equality with him rising and asserting itself. So when I go to Christ as a mere stranger and see His miracles, I say, “This Man may be but the cleverest of the host.” But when He begins to speak His words are equal to His works. He is the same off the platform as on. I am bound to account fur this consistency. All other men have been manifestations of self-inequality. We know clever men who are fools, strong men who are weak, etc., and this want of self-consistency is a proof of their being merely men. But if I find a Man in whom this inequality does not exist, who says that if I could follow Him still higher I should find Him greater in thinking than is possible for any mere man to be in acting, then I have to account for this consistency, which I have found nowhere else, and listen to His explanation of it. “I proceeded forth and came from God.” That explanation alone will cover all the ground He permanently occupies.
2. It will be interesting to make ourselves as familiar with His thoughts as we are with His works. We shall then come to value His miracles as He did. Did He value them for their own sake? Sound a trumpet and convoke a mighty host to see them? Never. He regarded them as elementary and introductory--examples and symbols. Why? Because He was greater within than without. Had He performed them with His fingers only, He might have been proud of them, but when they fell out of the infinity of His thinking they were mere drops trembling on the bucket. We might as well follow some poor breathing of ours, and say, “How wonderful that sighing in the wind!” It is nothing because of the greater life. It is very remarkable that this Man once said, “Greater works than these shall ye do,” but never “Greater thoughts than these shall ye think.” Let us look at this inner life of Christ from two or three points.
I. I watch this man, struck with wonder at His power, and the question arises, WHAT IS THE IMPELLING SENSE OF HIS DUTY? He answers, “I must be about My Father’s business.” Never did prophet give that explanation before. In working from His Father’s point of view, He gives us His key. Put it where you like, the lock answers to it; and is no credit to be given to a speaker, who at twelve years of age, put the key into the hands of inquirers, and told them to go round the whole circle of His life with that key. Can he keep up that strain? Listen, “My Father worketh hitherto and I work.” Can He sustain that high key when He is in trouble? “Father, into Thy hands I commend my Spirit.”
II. Arguing from that point, if this Man is about His Father’s business, WHAT IS HIS SUPREME FEELING? Concern for the dignity of the law? Jealousy for the righteousness of God! No; from beginning to end of His life He is “moved with compassion,” and when people come to Him they seemed to know this sympathetically, for they cried, “Have mercy on us.” He speaks like a Son and is thus faithful to His Father’s message. What explanation does He give of His own miracles, “Virtue hath gone out of Me.” He did not say “I have performed this with My fingers”--no trickster, but a mighty sympathizer. Whatever He did took something out of Him. Behold the difference between the artificial and the real. The healing of one poor sufferer took “Virtue out of Him.” What did the redemption of the world take out of Him when He said, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” The last pulse is gone and He is self--consistent still.
III. TO WHAT ARE ALL HIS TRIUMPHS EVENTUALLY REFERRED? Not to intellectual ability, skill of finger or physical endurance, but to His soul--“He shall see of the travail of His soul,” etc. You know the meaning of the word in some degree. One man paints with paint, another with His soul. One man speaks with his tongue, another with his soul; they are the same words, but not the same, as the bush was not the same before the fire came into it. Thus Christ shall see the travail of His soul, etc. He was often wearied with journeying, when was He wearied with miracles? His bones were tired, when was His mind enfeebled--when did the word ever come with less than the old emphasis--the fiat that made the sun? (J. Parker, D. D.)
I. WHAT DID HE CLAIM FOR HIMSELF?
1. God announced Himself to Moses as “I AM”--a marvellous name, which seemed as if it were going to be a revelation; but suddenly it returned upon itself and finished with “THAT I AM,” as if the sun were just about to come from behind a great cloud, and suddenly, after one dazzling gleam, hide itself before one denser still--God’s “hour” was not yet. He had said “I am,” but what He did not say.
2. Does Jesus connect Himself with this mysterious name? We cannot read His life without constantly coming across it, but He adds to the name simple earthly words, everything that human fancy ever conceived concerning strength, beauty, sympathy, tenderness, and redemption--“I am the vine.” What a stoop! Could any but God have taken up that figure? Forget your familiarity with it and then consider that One has said without qualification, “I am the Vine,” “I am the Light.” We know what that is: it is here, there, everywhere--takes up no room, yet fills all space; warms the plants, yet does not crush a twig. The “I am” fell upon us like a mighty thundering, “I am the Light” came to us like a child’s lesson in our mother’s nursery. “I am the Door.” That is not a mean figure, if we interpret it aright, a door is more than a deal arrangement swinging on hinges. It is welcome, hospitality, home, honour, sonship. “I am the Bread, the Water, the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, the Life.” How any man could be a mere man, and yet take up these figures, it is impossible to believe. It is easier to say “My Lord and My God.”
II. WHAT DOES HE CLAIM FROM MAN? Everything. In mean moods I have wondered at His Divine voracity. Once a woman came to Him who had only one box of spikenard and He took it all. Would your humanity have allowed you to do it? Surely you would have said, “Part of it; I must not have it all.” And another woman--she might have touched His heart, for she wore widows’ weeds. I expected Him to say, “Poor soul, I can take nothing from you.” But He took her two mites--all that she had. He is doing the same to day. How many things has that only boy been in his father’s dreams! One day the mother feels that something is going to happen, and what does happen is a proposal that the boy should become a missionary! He must go. Humanity would have spared him--but Christ takes him.
III. HOW DID THE BETTER CLASS OF HIS CONTEMPORARIES REGARD HIM. Here is a typical man--a man of letters and of local renown--who says, “Rabbi, Thou art a teacher come from God.” Evidence of that kind must not go for nothing. Send men of another type--shrewd, keen men of the world: what say they? “Never man spake like this Man.” Here are women coming back from having seen the Lord: what will they say? Never yet did women speak one word against the Son of God! Mothers, women of pure souls! sensitive as keenest life: what saw ye? “The holiness of God.” Pass Him on to a judge--cold, observant, not easily hoodwinked. What sayest thou? “I find no fault in Him.” What is that coming? A message from the judge’s wife, “Have thou nothing to do with this just person. Let Him go.”
Crucify Him; will anybody speak about Him now? The centurion, accustomed to this sight of blood, said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” Put these testimonies of observers, accumulate them into a complete appeal, and then say whether it be not easier for the imagination and judgment and heart to say, “My Lord and my God,” than to use meaner terms.
IV. FROM SUCH A MAN WHAT TEACHING MAY BE EXPECTED?
1. Extemporaneousness. He cannot want time to make His sermons, or He is not what He claims to be. Does He retire and compose elaborate sentences and come forth a literary artist, leaving the impression that He has wasted the midnight oil? No; His is simple graphic talk.
2. Instantaneousness of reply. God cannot want time to think what He will say? Does Christ? He answers immediately and finally. He had just thrown off the apron; rabbinical culture He had none, and yet there was an instantaneousness about Him to which there is no parallel but in the “Let there be light, and there was light.” Give every man credit for ability, and give this Man credit for having extorted from His enemies, “Never man spake like this Man.”
3. What do I find in Christ’s teaching? Incarnations of the Spiritual. He Himself was an incarnation. He had to embody the kingdom of God, and hence He said, “It is like unto”--To embody the bodiless was the all-culminating miracle of the Peasant of Galilee.
4. Christ’s is seminal teaching--that which survives all the changes of time. Where are the grand and stately sermons of the great Doctors? Gone into the stately past.
V. DID THIS MAN LIVE UP TO HIS own principles? Some people say that the teaching of Jesus conveyed high theories, but too romantic to be embodied in actual behaviour. What said He? “Bless them that persecute you.” Did He do it? “When He was reviled He reviled not again.” What said He? “Pray for them that despitefully use you.” Did He do it? “Father forgive them,” etc. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Ye are of your father the devil
The children of the devil
I. WHO IS THE DEVIL? With regard to that remarkable being termed elsewhere “Satan,” “the tempter,” “the old serpent,” “the destroyer,” our information, though limited, is distinct. He is a being of the angelic order, formed, like all intelligent beings, in a state of moral integrity, who, at a period anterior to the fall, in consequence of violating the Divine law, in a manner of which we are not particularly informed, was (along with a number of other spirits who, in consequence of being seduced by him, were partakers in his guilt) cast out of heaven, placed in a state of degradation and punishment, and reserved to deeper shame and fiercer pains, at the Judgment. Through his malignity and falsehood man, who was innocent, holy, and happy and immortal, became guilty, depraved, miserable and liable to death. Over the minds of the unregenerate he exercises a powerful, though not irresistible, influence, and hence is termed “the prince,” “the god of this world,” etc., who leads men captive at his will. He exerts himself, by his numerous agents, in counterworking the Divine plan for the salvation of men, throwing obstacles of various kinds in the way of their conversion, and spreading his snares for, and aiming his fiery darts at, those who have thrown off his yoke. Error, sin, and misery, in all their forms, are ultimately his works; and his leading object is to uphold and extend the empire of evil in the universe of God.
II. WHAT IS MEANT BY HIS BEING THE JEWS’ FATHER. The term is figurative. That being is, in a moral point of view, my father, under whose influence my character has been formed, and whose sentiments and feelings and conduct are the model after which mine are fashioned. These Jews instead of having a spiritual character formed under divine influence, had one formed under a diabolical influence; and instead of being formed in God’s likeness, or in the likeness of Abraham his friend, they resembled the grand enemy of God and man.
III. WHAT IS IT TO BE OF THE DEVIL? “Of” expresses a relation of property. To be “of the world,” is to be the world’s own. “The world loves its own “--those who are “of it.” To be “of God,” or “God’s,” is to belong to God,to be God’s property and possession. To be “of Christ,” or “Christ’s,” is to belong to Him. To be “of the devil,” or “the devil’s,” is to belong to him, to be, as it were, his property. All created beings are, and must be, in the most important sense, God’s property. The devil himself is God’s, subject to His control, and will be made to serve His purpose. But in another sense, the Jews, and all who possess the same character, are the property of the wicked one,| they practically renounce their dependence on God; they deny His proprietorship, and they practically surrender themselves to the wicked one, yielding themselves his slaves. It is as if our Lord had said, “Ye say that ye are God’s peculiar people, but ye are really the devil’s self-sold slaves.”
IV. WHAT ARE THE LUSTS OF THE DEVIL? “Lust” signifies not merely desire, properly so called, but the object of desire. “The lust of the eye” is a general name for those things which, contemplated by the eye, excite desire--what is splendid or beautiful. “The lusts of the devil” are to beunderstood in this way, not of his individual desires or longings--for how could the Jews do these?--but of the things which are the object of his desires--such as the establishment and permanence of error, vice, and misery among men--whatever is calculated to gratify his impious malignant mind, a mind of which, as Milton powerfully expresses it, “evil is the good.” To do the things which the devil desires is to oppose truth and to increase sin and misery. These things the Jews did--habitually did.
V. WHAT IS IT TO WILL THOSE LUSTS? The term “will” is not here the mere sign of futurition--it denotes disposition, determination, choice. “Ye will do the evil things which your infernal father wishes for.” It is a phrase of the same kind as: “If any man will be My disciple” (John 7:17). TheJews were not merely occasionally by strong temptation induced to do what is in accordance with the devil’s desires, but their desires were so habitually consentaneous with his, that in seeking to gratify themselves they produced the result which he desired. They were cheerful servants--voluntary slaves. (J. Brown, D. D.)
Children of the devil
It is said of Mr. Haynes, the coloured preacher, that, some time after the publication of his sermon on the text, “Ye shall not surely die,” two reckless young men having agreed together to try his wit, one of them said, “Father Haynes, have you heard the good news?” “No,” said Mr. Haynes, “what is it?” It is great news indeed, said the other; and, if true, your business is gone. What is it? again inquired Mr. Haynes. Why, said the first, the devil is dead.” In a moment the old gentleman replied, lifting up both hands, and placing them on the heads of the young men, and in a tone of solemn concern, “Oh, poor fatherless children! what will become of you?” (W. Baxendale.)
The devil a liar and a murderer
King Canute promised to make him the highest man in England who should kill King Edmund, his rival; which, when he had performed, and expected his reward, he commanded him to be hung on the highest tower in London. So Satan promises great things to people in pursuit of their lusts, but he puts them off with great mischief. The promised crown turns to a halter, the promised comfort to a torment, the promised honour into shame, the promised consolation into desolation, and the promised heaven turns into a hell. The lusts of your father ye will do.
It is a frightful “will,” and as frightful a “must,” which governs the soul of an ungodly man. Such a soul either is a slave of the “must,” or a free agent of the “will”; and the most fearful feature of all is that it is guilty as being a free agent, and the more guilty it is so much the more enslaved, and therefore the more it is free to will by so much the more enslaved. (Augustine.)
Satan hath no impulsive power; he may strike fire till he be weary (if his malice can weary); except man’s corruption brings the tinder, the match cannot be lighted (Acts 5:4; James 1:13-59.1.16). (Thos. Fuller.)
He was a murderer from the beginning (comp. Wis 2:23-24; Romans 5:12).--The Fall was the murder of the human race; and it is in reference to this, of which the fratricide in the first family was a signal result, that the tempter is called a murderer from the beginning (comp. 1 John 3:8-62.3.12, where the thought is expanded). The reference to the murderer is suggested here by the fact that the Jews had been seeking to kill our Lord (John 8:40). They are true to the nature which their father had from the beginning. (Archdeacon Watkins.)
He abode (Revised Version, “stood”) not in the truth because there is no truth in him
Standing in the truth
1. This chapter shows Jesus’ power of bringing men out of their fictions of life, and of discovering the essential thing in life. Here He discloses the condition under which it is possible for a created being to stand in the truth. It is no little thing to stand in the truth. You may have stood on some rare evening upon a mountain top. The mists had been lifted from the valleys, the villages, etc., were etched on the map before you; on the far horizon sea and sky met, the few lingering clouds showed their upper edges turned to gold, while the whole air seemed to have become some clear crystal to let the sun shine through. So it is to stand in the truth, and to do so were worth the effort of a lifetime. So without long climbing Jesus stood.
2. Thus more is meant than is suggested to us by “stand fast in the truth.” Men may only mean by that--Be obstinate on our side, standing steadfastly in some limited conception of truth; or merely to stand where we are without inquiring how the mind is to find its place, sure, serene, and sunny in the truth; or when men are debating it may be some battle call to fight for some truth at the expense of abiding in all truth.
3. Jesus shows the real thing to be desired in our anxiety to stand in the truth--the truth must be in us. Having no truthfulness within the Evil One lost his standing in the truth of God’s universe without. This extremest case illustrates the whole process of descent of some from truth.
I. THIS UNIVERSE IS A MORAL UNIVERSE AND A MAN TO STAND IN IT MUST BE MORALLY SOUND. An immoral man can have no permanent standing in a moral universe.
1. There is no untruthfulness, dishonesty, or vice in the constitution of things. Nature invariably gives the same answer. The creation made in truth continues in truth. The ocean tides keep true time and measure; the sun is steadfast; Nature throughout is one piece of honest work, and its veracity lies at the foundation of our industries. Every railroad is built upon it, and every man works in faith that earth and sky will keep their primal covenant.
2. Now when a man born to stand here takes up some lie into his soul, what happens? That fate which befell the father of lies. He cannot stand. Suppose a man conceives a fraudulent thought and says I will succeed in my business with that fraud in my mind, what is the end? Defaulters behind prison bars might answer. Defalcations always begin in a man himself, sometimes years, before they begin at the office. The fall began when he let some falsehood come into his life; when he sought to keep up an appearance that was not true. At last men were shocked to discover that he stood not in the truth because the truth was not in him.
3. Perhaps the end has not come yet, and men who are not truthful within seem to stand as though the universe were in their favour. Nevertheless, sooner or later, the end of inward untruthfulness is as certain as the law of gravitation. The moral universe can be relied upon to throw out eventually every immoral man. “Without is everyone that loveth and maketh a lie.” And we do not have to wait till the last day.
(1) A man cannot stand long in the world’s credit if the truth of personal integrity is not in him.
(2) A rich or popular man cannot stand always in good society if his heart is becoming rotten--in the end it must cast him out.
(3) Even in polities many a leader has not stood in the truth of the people’s final judgment because the truth was not in him.
(4) The same condition pertains to the realm of science. Nature wants character in her pupil even when teaching her laws of numbers. Clerk Maxwell’s character was part of his fitness for high scientific work.
(5) And certainly this same law has been confirmed over and over again in the history of literature. What a poet for the coming years Byron might have been, had there been in him higher and holier truth!
II. THE UNIVERSE IS A DIVINE UNIVERSE AND NO MAN CAN STAND IN ITS TRUTH WHO WISHES TO SAY IN HIS HEART, “THERE IS NO GOD.” There is some Divine reality behind all these shifting appearances of things. There is an expression of Divine intelligence playing over the face of Nature. And what is seen and touched is not half of the glory of the kingdom of God. Faith is standing in this Diviner glory. We would all like to stand in this truth, but John says, “If a man says, ‘I love God,’ and hateth his brother, he is a liar.” When a man is thinking a hateful thought, he does not then believe in God, though he be making an argument to prove one, and saying, “Lord, Lord!” And it is no avail for any of us to try and believe in God or the unseen universe simply by thinking about them or discussing their natural probabilities, unless we are first eager to have some truth of God in ourselves, and so by the truth within us find that we stand in the Divine truth of the world. Live like a brute, and believe like a son of God? Never. Does any man want to prove the existence of God? Let bin search the book of his life, and if he finds that he did some truth of God, then find God and worship Him.
III. THIS UNIVERSE IS A CHRISTIAN UNIVERSE, AND IF A MAN HAS NOT THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST, HE CANNOT STAND IN ITS FULL, FINAL CHRISTIANITY. All things were made by Christ, and in Him all things consist. The universe is Christian because created for Christ, and reaching its consummation in Him; because God has shown Himself to be Christian in His eternal thought and purpose towards the world, and because its last great day shall be the Christian judgment. Hence if we would stand in this full and final truth, we must have some Christian truth in us which shall answer to the Christian character of the universe. If we should fail of this, how could we hope to stand when whatever is not Christian must eventually be cast out, for Christ must reign until all enemies be put under His feet. Sin must go, and death, and all uncharitableness, and all deceit, to make room for a new heaven and a new earth. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
He is a liar and the father thereof.--Lying is well-nigh universal in the East. It is not only practised, but its wisdom is defended by Orientals generally. “Lying is the salt of a man,” say the Arabs. The Hindoos say that Brahma lied when there was no gain in lying; and so far they are ready to follow Brahma’s example. Yet Orientals recognize the truth that lying is essentially sinful, however necessary it may seem. The Arabs today will trust a Christian’s word when they would not believe each other. They also admit that a liar cannot long prosper. And the Hindoos have a saying that the telling of a lie is a greater sin than the killing of a Brahman. It was an appeal to the innermost consciences of His Oriental hearers when Jesus charged them with showing in their practice that they were children of the father of lies. (S. S. Times.)
Because I tell you the truth, ye believe Me not.--Generally, the reason why a man is believed is that he speaks the truth. But the experience of Jesus was, in the case of the Jews, the opposite. They were so ruled by the lies with which their father had blinded their hearts, that it was just because He spoke the truth that He obtained no credence from them. (F. Godet, D. D.)
The rationale of unbelief
I. REPUGNANCE TO THE TRUTH (John 8:45). Had He given them popular dogmas or speculative disquisitions, they might have believed Him; but He gave them truth that addressed itself with imperial force to their central being. They were living in falsehood, appearances, and shams, far away from the awful region of spiritual realities. The truth came in direct collision with their prepossessions, pride, interests, habits; and they would not have it. This repugnance
1. Reveals man’s abnormal condition. His soul is as truly organized for truth as his eyes for light. Truth is its natural atmosphere, scenery, food.
2. Suggests his awful future. The soul and truth will not always be kept apart. The time must come when the intervening falsehoods shall melt away and the interspacing gulfs bridged over, and when the soul shall feel itself in conscious contact with moral realities.
II. THE PURITY OF CHRIST (John 8:46). Christ is the Truth, and His invincible intolerance of all sin repels the depraved heart. “Men love darkness,” etc. The first beams of the morning are not half so repulsive to a burglar as the rays of Christ’s truth are to a depraved heart. Purity makes the hell of depravity.
III. ESTRANGEMENT FROM GOD (John 8:47). Divine filial sympathies are essential to true faith. The more a child loves his parent, the more he believes in his word. Unregenerate men have not this sympathy, hence their unbelief. They do not like to retain God in their thoughts. “He that loveth not knoweth not God.”
IV. PRIDE OF INTELLECT (John 8:48). They had said this before, and here they pride themselves on their sagacity. “Say we not well?” Are we not clever? What an insight we have into character! Infidels have ever been too scientific to believe in miracles, too philosophic to require a revelation, too independent to require Christ, too moral to need inward reformation. “Say we not well?” is their spirit. It comes out in their books, lectures, converse, daily life. “We are the wise men, and wisdom will die with us.” This pride is essentially inimical to true faith. “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child,” etc.
V. UNCHARITABLENESS OF DISPOSITION (John 8:48). Suppose He was a Samaritan, are they all bad? Yes, said they, and because thou art a Samaritan thou hast a devil. This uncharitable reasoning has ever characterized infidelity. All Christians are hypocrites, all preachers crafty mercenaries, all churches nurseries of superstition; hence we will have nothing to do with it. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Which of you convinceth Me of sin?
The Christ of history the revelation of the perfect man
This sinlessness of Jesus stands alone in history in that
I. JESUS CLAIMED IT FOR HIMSELF. Even those who have rejected His Divinity admit that He was preeminently holy; yet no ether man has ever claimed or had claimed for him this sinlessness. On the contrary, in proportion to a man’s saintliness he realizes the exceeding sinfulness of sin. It is the guiltiest who do not feel guilt. The cry of the sin-wounded heart is wrung from a David, not from a Herod; from a Fenelon, not from a Richelieu. We hear its groaning in the poems of a Cowper, not of a Byron; in the writings of a Milton, not of a Voltaire. That Jesus should have claimed to be sinless, and to have acted all through on that assumption, can never be explained except upon the ground of His Godhead. Ii He were not sinless and Divine, He would be lower than His saints, for then He would have made false claims, and been guilty of presumptuous and dishonouring self-exaltation.
II. THIS CLAIM HAS NOT AND CANNOT BE IMPUGNED.
1. The Jews could not meet His challenge. It was not from want of desire. There is a vein of natural baseness in fallen natures which delights in dragging down the loftiest. Whom has not envy striven to wound? And has it not ever been at the very highest that the mud is thrown? Even Francis of Assisi, Vincent de Paul, Whitefield, did not escape the pestilent breath of slander. Yet, though Jesus lived in familiar intercourse with publicans and sinners, not even His deadliest enemies breathed the least suspicion of His spotless innocence. They said, in their coarse rage, “Thou art a Samaritan,” etc., but none said, “Thou art a sinner.” “Have nothing to do with that just Man,” exclaimed the Roman lady. “I find no fault in Him,” declared the bloodstained Pilate. “There is no harm in Him,” was the practical verdict of Herod. “This Man has done nothing amiss,” moaned the dying malefactor. “I have shed innocent blood,” shrieked the miserable Judas. His most eager accusers stammered into self-refuting lies; and the crowds around the cross, smiting on their breasts, assented to the cry of the heathen centurion, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
2. Subsequent ages have conceded this sinlessness. The fierce light of unbelief and anger has been turned upon His life, and the microscope of historical criticism and the spectrum analysis of psychological inquiry, without finding one speck on the white light of His holiness. The Talmud alludes to Him with intensest indignation, yet dares not invent the shadow of a crime. Outspoken modern rationalists seem as they gaze at Him in dubious wonder to fall unbidden at His feet. Spinoza sees in Him the best symbol of heavenly wisdom, Kant of ideal perfection, Hegel of union between the human and the Divine. Rousseau said that, if the death of Socrates was that of a sage, the death of Jesus was that of a God. His transcendent holiness moved the flippant soul of Voltaire. Strauss wrote whole volumes to disprove His Divinity, yet he calls Him “the highest object we can imagine with respect to religion; the Being without whose presence in the mind religion is impossible.” Comte tried to find a new religion, yet made a daily study of the “Imitation of Christ.” Renan has undermined the faith of thousands, yet admits “His beauty is eternal, and His reign will never end.” How can all this admiration be justified if He, of all God’s children, claimed a sinlessness which, if He were not Divine, was a sin to claim?
III. MIGHT NOT HIS VOICE ASK US ACROSS THE CENTURIES, “TO WHOM WILL YE LIKEN ME AND SHALL I BE EQUAL?” I do not ask what religion you would prefer to Christianity. Christianity is the true religion, or there is none. No man would dream of matching the best thoughts of the world’s greatest thinkers, or the highest truths of the best religion, with Christianity. Not, certainly, the senile proprieties of Confucianism, the dreary, negatious, and perverted bodily service of Buddhism, or the mere retrograde Judaism of the Moslem; and if not these, certainly no other.
1. But compare the founders of these religions with our Lord, The personality of Sakya Mouni is lost in a mass of monstrous traditions; but his ideal, as far as we can disentangle it, was impossible and unnatural. The life of Confucius is tainted with insincerity; and he not only repudiated perfection, but placed himself below other sages. Mohammed stands self-condemned of adultery and treachery. Socrates and Marcus Aurelius were the noblest characters of secular history, but those who know them best confess that the golden image stands on feet of clay.
2. If you turn to sacred history, which will you choose to compare with Him whom, in dim Messianic hope, they saw afar off? Adam? but he lost us Paradise. Moses? but he was not suffered to enter the promised land. David? but does not the ghost of Uriah rise again?
3. But are there not in the long Christian centuries some as sinless as He, since they have had His example to follow and His grace to help? Look up to the galaxy of Christian examples, and it is but full of stars, of which each one disclaims all glory save such as it derives from the sun. Many have caught some one bright colour, but in Him only you see the sevenfold perfection of undivided light. And none have been able to appreciate the many sided glory. All see in Him the one excellence they most admire. The knights saw in Him the model of all chivalry, the monks the model of all asceticism, the philosophers the source of all enlightenment. To Fenelon He was the most rapt of mystics, to Vincent de Paul the most practical of philanthropists, to an English poet “The first true gentleman that ever breathed.” His life was the copy over which was faintly traced the biography of all the greatest saints, but each of them presented but a pale image of His Divine humanity. The wisdom of apostles, the faith of martyrs, the self-conquest of hermits, were but parts of Him. In the tenderness of Francis, the thunderings of Savonarola, the strength of Luther, the sincerity of Wesley, the zeal of Whitefield, the self-devotion of Howard, we but catch the single gleams of His radiance. His life was not the type of any one excellence, but the consummation of all. No mind has been large enough to comprehend its glorious contradictions--its clinging friendship and its sublime independence; its tender patriotism and humanitarian breadth; its passionate emotion and unruffled peace; its unapproachable majesty and childlike sweetness.
IV. WE HAVE NOT FOUND HIS EQUAL--CAN WE IMAGINE OR INVENT IT? Has this ever been done? The greatest poets and thinkers have striven to picture characters faultlessly ideal. Have they--Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton--done so? No. Why? Because the ideal of every man must be stained more or less with his own individuality, and therefore imperfection. Had the evangelists invented the character of Jesus, it must have been so in their case, too. Christ transcends the utmost capacity of the combined apostles. In the apocryphal gospels invention and forgery were at work--and with what result? The “Imitatio Christi” is a precious and profound work, yet even that realizes but one phase of the Redeemer’s holiness. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
The perfect character of Jesus Christ
The persons thus challenged would have been glad enough to accept the challenge had the least hope existed of their being able to convict of sin, or even of fault, one whom they so thoroughly hated. Surely in no respect were the aged Simeon’s words more true respecting our Lord than this: Christ’s moral and religious character is “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel.”
1. In the first place, we may notice its gradual even growths. Like the gentle unfolding the bud or blossom of a tree, even in spite of obstacles, Jesus went on from day to day, and year to year, showing more and more of that inward perfection of heart and mind which won for Him the approbation first of His earthly guardians, then of His Heavenly Father, and, in the end, of those who condemned and executed Him. What, we ask, was the one quality which marks every period of His life, and which secured this marvellous agreement in His praise and favour? It was innocence--simple, guileless, childlike innocence. He is everywhere, and at all times the same, “in malice a child,” “the Lamb of God,” gentle, pure, and innocent. But with this innocence, this simplicity, what strength, what manliness, what courage are combined! In word and deed, in teaching and in conduct, the tenderest soul that ever drew the breath of heaven, the man whom children loved, and the common people delighted to listen to, and the sick welcomed, and publicans and sinners were attracted by; was also forward and energetic in action, unceasing in labour, inured to hardship, bold in declaring truth, uncompromising in speech, fearless in opposing wrong. How are we to account for this remarkable union of qualities which general experience has shown to be so rare that men had come to think it incredible? Next to this comes another and a deeper aspect of this part of His character on the side of religion. For
2. whereas in all ordinary cases repentance forms a great part of religion, Jesus owns to no sin, breathes no word of repentance, and on no occasion expresses, however faintly, the least consciousness of imperfection in His relations and behaviour towards God His Father. Advancing a step, we shall be able to observe how there is exhibited in the person and character, the works and teaching of Jesus Christ, a kind of universality, which connects Him with mankind generally. By race He is a Jew, reared up in the traditions and hopes of Israel, bred up from infancy to Jewish customs, steeped in the spirit of Hebrew literature; nevertheless, He does not reflect the peculiar dispositions of the Jew. But in Him there blend all the common traits of humanity. The Gentile finds his true ideal in Jesus Christ equally with the Jew. And, what is more, the men of every race and clime, and of every degree of culture and civilization not only may, but have regarded and do regard Him as their own, recognize Him as their brother, and follow Him as their guide. Nor ought we to forget the words which Christ Himself has spoken respecting His proper relation to mankind in general; words which, while they give emphasis to that aspect of His moral character and teaching which I have dwelt upon, do in effect state claims of the widest extent (see John 6:51; John 8:12; John 12:32; John 14:6; John 16:28; John 17:3;Matthew 10:37; Matthew 11:28). Now these sayings, with many others of like nature, have a two-fold bearing. In the first place, they assert claims so exalted, so imperial, so exacting, that nothing short of the most literal and entire correspondence, in fact, can be admitted in justification of their being laid down. Either they are simply, literally, exactly, and absolutely true, or they must be regarded as the ravings of a maniac or the blasphemies of an impostor. They can only be true on condition that the utterer is truly a Divine person. On the other hand, such sayings, being at the time of their utterance entirely novel in themselves and admitted to be hard to accept, must certainly have excited in the minds of all who heard them a keen curiosity respecting the private life and character of Jesus, both amongst His disciples and His opponents. And both these classes enjoyed abundant opportunities for scrutiny. What, then, is the result? All the watching of His adversaries can detect no flaw in His life or conversation. The banquet hall and the synagogue, the mountain top and the seashore, the market and the
Temple, are searched in vain for a just record against Him. On the contrary, the better He is known by His friends, the more highly is He appreciated. That familiarity which scorches and shrivels so many reputations in the estimate of those who are admitted to close intimacy left His untouched with damage. No little weaknesses took off the edge of His grand public discourses. No infirmities of temper lowered His just claims to men’s admiring homage. He shared human pain but not human impatience. A calm evenness of soul accompanied Him everywhere, the offspring not so much of self-restraint as of a perpetual sunshine beaming with love and devotion. Hardship fails to ruffle Him. The most factious opposition provokes Him indeed to a holy severity, but a severity entirely free from personal resentment or bitterness. The terrible knowledge that one of His own chosen companions is ready to betray Him haunts and oppresses His spirit, but He has no threatenings. Even the tortures of the cross extracted no complaints from those sacred lips, but only prayers for His murderers, and the cry of His extreme desolation is blended with a holy confidence and subsides into hopeful resignation. Looking back upon this poor outline of the character of Jesus Christ, we are entitled to ask of all who admit the facts, How do you account for such a phenomena? under what classification will you bring it? Is it of the earth, earthy? or is it superhuman, supernatural, heavenly? The Catholic Church, with her doctrine of incarnation, points to her Lord’s character, as delineated in the Gospels, with triumphant certainty. All who share that belief experience no difficulty in discerning a Divine personality through the veil of His human perfection. Jesus is Divine. (D. Trinder, M. A.)
Does Christ here assert His own sinlessness
The doctrine of Christ’s sinlessness rests on foundations far too strong to be shaken by the removal of one stone which has been generally supposed to form part of them. When we read concerning Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 3:5), what need have we to demand further documentary demonstration of a truth so explicitly stated, and so implicitly believed by every genuine Christian? It has been held, however, with considerable unanimity that in this passage Christ Himself bears witness to, and calls upon His adversaries, the Jews, to impugn, if they can, that sinlessness of His. Yet I would submit that this is not the meaning of our Lord’s question. The whole argument is concerned, not with action, but with speech. In John 8:43, Jesus says: “Why do ye not apprehend My language? Because ye cannot hear My word.” Then, describing the devil, He declares: “There is no truth in him; when he speaks falsehood, he draws out of his own store, for he is a liar and the father of it (falsehood). But as for Me, because I say the truth, ye do not believe Me.” Then comes the question under consideration, with the words immediately following (John 8:46-43.8.47): “If I say truth, why do ye not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; therefore ye hear not, because ye are not of God.” And so the discourse for the moment closes. And we see that it is the language of Jesus which is on the rack; that truth which, as God’s Prophet, He declares to unwilling ears, and tries to drive home to sin-hardened hearts. They will not listen to Him that they may have life. They cannot confute, yet they cavil. Though He tells them the truth, and they cannot deny it, they wilfully refuse to believe Him, for to do so was to condemn themselves. (W. S. Wood, M. A.)
Christ’s language about sin
“Which of you proves Me mistaken in My language about sin?” What had He said of sin? It is the prophet’s place to rouse the conscience of the sinner, to show him his guilt in its true light. And this Jesus had done. He had striven, alas! for the most part in vain, to clear away the film from the eyes and hearts of these self-righteous, self-deceived Jews, who would have all men to be sinners save themselves. He had charged them, using the pitiless logic of facts, with being neither true descendants of upright Abraham, nor genuine children of God, but in reality the devil’s brood, and the natural heirs of his false and murderous disposition and designs. For sin is of the devil; and “the works of your father ye do” (John 8:41). Moreover, He had spoken to them of sin’s necessary issues. Like an echo of the old prophet’s sentence (Ezekiel 18:4; Ezekiel 18:20), had rung out His awful warning, “By (means of) your sin ye shall die”; and “Ye shall die by your sins; for if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die by your sins” (John 8:21; John 8:24). But not only had He warned them. He had also made known to them the one possible means of escape from the threatened fate (John 8:34-43.8.36). Sin brings death in its train. Freedom from sin, and so from death, is the gift of Jesus Christ to all who put their trust in Him. It is with such declaration as to sin, its nature and genesis, its consequences, its cure, still sounding in their ears, and their own self-accusing conscience ready, unless silenced, to bear Him witness, that Christ asks the Jews: Which of you proves Me wrong in My account and judgment of sin? If I say truth, why do ye not believe Me?” No answer to this appeal is possible. They know that He is right, but decline to own that they are wrong. (W. S. Wood, M. A.)
Christ’s challenge to the world
He who was the Word of God never spoke words which involved consequences so momentous as these. This challenge was uttered in the presence of those who had known Him from the first; of others who had walked up and down with Him every day since His ministry began; of not a few who were watching for His halting. But one and all were silent. This was much, but there lay in the challenge not merely a confidence that He had given no occasion which any man could take hold of, but His consciousness that He had no sin. We cannot suppose that He took advantage of the partial acquaintance of His hearers with the facts of His life to claim for Himself freedom from all sin, which prerogative they could not impugn, but which all the time He knew was not rightfully His own. In this challenge He implicitly declared that, being conformed in everything else to His brethren, He was not conformed to them in this; that He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and, in the matter of sin, separate from all his fellow men. He everywhere asserts the same. He teaches His disciples to say, “Forgive us our trespasses”; but no word implying that He needed forgiveness ever escaped His lips. Many words and acts, on the contrary, are totally irreconcilable with any such assumption. He gives His life a ransom for many, which it could not be if a life forfeited. He forgives sins, and that not in another’s name, but in His own. He sets Himself at the central point of humanity, an intolerable presumption, had He differed from others only in degree, not in kind. In every other man of spiritual eminence there reveals itself a sense of discord and dissatisfaction. He sees before him heights of which he has fallen infinitely short. If he has attained to any exemplary goodness, it has only been through failure and error; he is at best a diamond which, if polished at all, has been polished in its own dust. And the nobler the moral elements working in any man’s life, so much the more distinct and earnest are confessions of sin and shortcoming. But no lightest confession ever falls from His lips. There is in Him a perfect self-complacency. He is, and is perfectly, and has always been, all which He ought to be, or desires to be. Christ presented Himself to the world as the absolutely sinless One, demanded to be recognized as such by all, and bore Himself as such, not merely to men, but to God.
I. WHAT ARE THE EXPLANATIONS OF THIS? Three only are possible.
1. That He had sin and did not know it. But this sets Him infinitely below the saints of the New Testament, of whom one of the saintliest has declared, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves”; below the saints of the Old Testament who cried out with anguish when in the presence of the Holy One; below any of the sages of this world, for which of these has not owned and lamented the conflict of good and evil within him!
2. That conscious of His identity, in this matter, with other men He concealed it; nay, made claims on His own behalf which were irreconcilable with this consciousness; and, setting Himself forth as the exemplar to all other men in their bearing to God, omitted altogether those humiliations which every other man has felt at the best moments of his life to constitute the truest, indeed the only, attitude which he can assume in His presence. You will hardly admit this explanation.
3. But then, if you can accept neither the one nor the other of these explanations, you are shut up by a blessed necessity to that which the Holy Catholic Church throughout all the world has accepted, that which it utters in those words of adoration and praise, “Thou only art holy, Thou only art the Lord; Thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father.”
II. THE INEVITABLENESS OF THE CHRISTIAN EXPLANATION.
1. Are any of us prepared to render unto Christ every homage short of this, to honour Him with an affection and a reverence yielded to no other, to recognize Him as nearer to moral perfection than every other, with sin reduced in Him to a minimum, the greatest religious reformer, the most original religious genius, the man most taught of God whom the world has ever seen; but here to stop short. There is no standing ground here. If the Gospels are a faithful record, and unless in all their main features they are so, the whole superstructure of Christian faith has no foundation whatever--they leave no room for any such position as this, halfway between thecamps of faith and unbelief, which now divide the world. When the question of questions, “What think ye of Christ?” presents itself, and will not go without an answer, you must leave this equivocal position and declare that He was much more than this, or that He was much less.
2. You will not deny that He said He was much more. If this He was not, then in saying this, He deceived others, or else that He Himself was deceived. But allowing to Him what you do, you have no choice but to reject them both. Take Him, then, for that which He announced Himself to be, the one Man who could challenge all the world, “Which of you conceiveth Me of sin?” the one champion who entering the lists, and having no blot on his own scutcheon, no flaw in his own armour, could win the battle which every other man had lost; the one physician who could heal all others, inasmuch as He did not need Himself to be healed; sole of the whole Adamic race who had a right to say, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.” (Archbishop Trench.)
The absolute sinlessness of Christ
1. It has been inferred from the context that “sin” here means intellectual rather than moral failure. But the word means the latter throughout the New Testament; and our Lord is arguing from the absence of moral evil in Him generally to the absence of a specific form of that evil--viz., falsehood. As they cannot detect the one they must not credit Him with the other.
2. It has been also thought that He only challenges the detective power of the Jews. But the challenge would hardly have been made unless the Speaker had been conscious of something more than guiltlessness of public acts which might be pointed out as in some measure sinful. Sin is not merely a series of acts which may be measured and dated; it is a particular condition of the will and its presence is perceptible where there is no act of transgression. Our Lord then claims to be sinless in a very different sense from that in which a man might defy an opponent to convict him in a court of law.
3. But is sinlessness possible? It has been affirmed that experience says no, as does Scripture also. But this is not at variance with the existence of an exception to the rule. And man’s capacity for moral improvement leads up to the idea of one who has reached the summit. That God should have given man this capacity points to a purpose in the Divine mind of which we should expect some typical realization. Now
I. ALL THAT WE KNOW ABOUT OUR LORD GOES TO SHOW THAT HE WAS SINLESS. The impression that He was so was produced most strongly on those who were brought into closest contact with Him.
1. After the miraculous draught of fishes St. Peter exclaims, “Depart from me, for I am”--not a weak and failing, but--“a sinful man.” It is not Christ’s power over nature but His sanctity that awes the apostle. Again, after the denial, a look from Jesus sufficed to produce the keenest anguish. Had St. Peter been able to trace one sinful trait, he might have felt in the tragedy the presence of something like retributive justice. It was his conviction of Christ’s absolute purity which filled him with remorse.
2. This impression is observable in the worldly and time-serving Pilate, in the restless anxiety of his wife, in the declaration of the centurion, and above all in the remorse of Judas, who would gladly have found in his three years’ intimacy something that could justify the betrayal.
3. In the hatred of the Sanhedrists the purity of Christ’s character is not less discernible. It is the high prerogative of goodness and truth that they cannot be approached in a spirit of neutrality. They must repel where they do not attract. The Pharisees would have treated an opposing teacher in whom there was any moral flaw with contemptuous indifference. The sinless Jesus excited their implacable hostility.
4. This sinlessness is dwelt upon by the apostles as an important feature of their message. St. Peter’s earliest sermons are full of it. The climax of Stephen’s indictment was that they had murdered the Just One, the very title that Ananias proclaimed to the blinded Saul. In his epistles St. Paul is careful to say that God sent His Son in the “likeness” of sinful flesh. St. Peter dwells on our Lord’s sinlessness as bearing on His example and atoning death. In St. John Christ’s sinlessness is connected with His intercession (1 John 2:1); with His regenerating power (1 John 2:29); with the real moral force of His example (1 John 3:7). Especially is this sanctity connected in the Epistle to the Hebrews with His priestly office. Although tempted as we are it was without sin. Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.
II. THIS SINLESSNESS HAS BEEN SUPPOSED TO BE COMPROMISED.
1. By the condition of the development of His life as man.
(1) He learned obedience by the things that He suffered, and consequently it has been argued must have progressed from moral deficiency to moral sufficiency. But it does not follow that such a growth involved sin as its starting point. A progress from a less to a more expanded degree of perfection is not to be confounded with a progress from sin to holiness.
(2) A more formidable difficulty, it is urged, is presented by the temptation. A bona fide temptation, it is contended, implies at least a minimum of sympathy with evil which is incompatible with perfect sinlessness. Either, therefore, Jesus was not really tempted, in which case He fails as an example; or the reality of His temptation is fatal to His literal sinfulness. But the apostles say, “He was tempted in all points without sin.” What is temptation? An influence by which a man may receive a momentum in the direction of evil. This influence may be an evil inclination within, or a motive presented from without. The former was impossible in the case of Christ; but the motive from without could only have become real temptation by making a place for itself in the mind. How could that be while leaving sinlessness intact? The answer is that an impression on thought or sense is possible short of the point at which it produces a distinct determination of the will towards evil, and it is only when this point is reached that sinlessness is compromised. So long as the will is not an accomplice the impressions of the tempter do not touch the moral being, and it is perfectly clear in both temptations that our Lord’s will throughout maintained a steady attitude of resistance.
2. By particular acts, such as
(1) His cursing the barren fig tree. But that our Lord betrayed irritation is disposed of by prophetic character of the act--the tree being a symbol of the fruitless Jewish people.
(2) His expulsion of the buyers and sellers from the temple was not the effect of sudden personal passion, but strictly in the prophetical and theocratic spirit.
(3) His driving the devils into the swine was an interference with the rights of property only on the denial that Jesus is God’s plenipotentiary, and of His right to subordinate material to moral interests.
(4) His relation to Judas, it is said, shows a want of moral penetration to say nothing of superhuman knowledge; or if not, why was He chosen? The answer is that Christ was acting as God acts in providence, not only permitting it but overruling it for final good.
3. By His denial, “Why callest thou Me good,” etc. But this was merely a rejection of an offhand, unmeaning compliment. God alone is good: but the Divinity of Jesus is a truth too high for mastery by one whose eyes have not been turned away from beholding vanity. But Christ again and again places Himself in the position of this “good God,” and claims man’s love and obedience as such. This claim, indeed, would be unjustifiable unless well grounded. But the ground of it is His proved sinlessness, and words and works such as we should expect a superhuman sinless one to speak and do.
III. THE SINLESS CHRIST SATISFIES DEEP WANTS IN THE HUMAN SOUL.
1. The want of an ideal. No man can attempt a sculpture, a painting, without an ideal; and an ideal is no whit more necessary in art than in conduct. If men have not worthy ideals, they will have unworthy ones. Each nation has its ideals, each family, profession, school of thought, and how powerfully these energetic phantoms of the past can control the present is obvious to all. There is no truer test of a man’s character than the ideals which excite his genuine enthusiasm. And Christendom has its ideals, But all these, great as they are, fall short in some particular. There is One, only One, beyond them all who does not fail. They, standing beneath His throne, say, “Be ye followers of us as we are of Christ”; He, above them all, asks each generation of His worshippers and His critics, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?”
2. The want of a Redeemer. He offers Himself as such, but the offer presupposes His sinlessness. Let us conceive that one sin could be charged upon Him; and what becomes of the atoning character of His death? How is it conceivable that being consciously guilty, He should have willed to die for a guilty world? He offered Himself without spot to God--the crowning act of a life which throughout had been sacrificial; but had He been conscious of inward stain, how could He have dared to offer Himself to free a world from sin? But His absolute sinlessness makes it certain that He died as He lived, for others.
3. As our ideal and Redeemer, Christ is the heart and focus of Christendom. (Canon Liddon.)
If I say the truth, why do ye not believe Me?
Nominal Christians--real Infidels
We mourn over the professed unbelief of the age, but the practical unbelief of professed Christians is more dangerous and lamentable. This is seen in the number of theoretical believers who are still not converted, and in those Protestant Churches who say, “The Bible alone is our religion,” and yet adopt practices which are not found in it or which it condemns. To deal with the former class:
I. THE TEXT SETS FORTH YOUR INCONSISTENCY. If you say,
“I am not converted because I do not believe in the mission of Christ and in the inspiration of Scripture, your position is consistent though terrible, but where you believe in both and remain unconverted, your position is extraordinarily inconsistent. Remember that
1. Christ has revealed your need
(1) Of regeneration.
(2) Of conversion.
(3) Of returning to God. And you believe it all. Why, then, not act upon it?
2. Christ has set forth His claims. He demands:
(1) Repentance--change of mind with reference to sin, holiness, Himself.
(2) Faith which will accept Him as the sole Saviour and possessor of the soul. Are these demands hard? If they be just, why not accede to them?
3. Christ provides the remedy for your soul. He did not preach a gospel out of the reach of sinners, but a real, ready and available salvation. You profess this is true. Why not then receive it? The medicine offered will cure you, and you will not receive it, although you know its healing virtue.
4. Christ reveals the freeness of His grace. You say “Yes.” Why then stand shivering and refusing to lay hold? If the gospel were hedged with thorns or guarded with bayonets, you would do well to fling yourself upon them, but when the door is opened and Christ woos you to come, how is it you do not enter?
5. Christ points out the danger of unregenerate souls. No preacher was ever so awfully explicit on future punishment. You do not suspect Him of exaggeration. Why then do ye not believe Him? Ye do not; that is clear. You would not sit so quietly if you really believed that in an instant you might be in hell.
6. Christ has brought life and immortality to light. What glowing pictures does the Word of God give of the state of the blessed. You believe that Jesus has revealed what eye hath not seen, etc. If you believed it you would strive to enter into the straight gate. If Christ’s word be no fiction, how can you remain as you are?
II. YOU OFFER SOME DEFENCE OF YOUR INCONSISTENCY, BUT IT DOES NOT MEET THE CASE.
1. “I do not feel myself entitled to come to Christ, because I do not feel my need as I should.” This is no excuse. In matters relating to the body we feel first, and then believe. My hand smarts, and therefore I believe it has been wounded. But in soul matters we believe first and feel afterwards. A mother cannot feel grief for the loss of her child till she believes she has lost it, and it is impossible for her to believe that and not to weep. So if you believed in your heart sin to be as dreadful as God says it is, you would feel conviction and repentance necessary.
2. “I do not see how faith can save me.” Here, again, is no excuse. Who says that faith saves? The Bible says Christ saves whom faith accepts.
3. You think the good things promised too good to be true; that conscious of being a lost sinner you have not the presumption to believe that if you were to trust Christ now you would be forgiven. What is this but to think meanly of God? You think He has but little mercy, whereas the Book which you allow to be true tells you that “though your sins be as scarlet,” etc.
4. You are not quite sure that the promise is made to you. But God did not send you the Bible to play with you, and do not the invitations say, “Whosoever will?”
5. You will think of this, but the time has not yet come. If you believed as the Bible describes that life is short, death certain, and eternity near, you would cry out, “Lord, save, or I perish.”
III. THE REAL REASON WHY SOME DO NOT BELIEVE (John 8:45). Some of you do not believe the truth.
1. Simply because it is the truth. Some make it because it is too severe, e.g., “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
2. The Pharisees hated God’s truth deliberately. You say, “I do not do that.” But how long does it take to make an action deliberate. Some of you have heard the gospel forty years, and prove that you hate the truth by living in sin. You, young man, were impressed the other Sunday that you must yield to God. A companion meets you, and you did deliberately choose your own damnation when you chose sin.
3. But the Pharisees scoffed at it. Yes; and is your silent contempt any better. Conclusion: If these things be true, why not believe in them? What hinders? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The courage and triumph of truth
Truth has nothing to fear from the fullest investigation. Error may well deprecate all searching and sifting processes; but truth, like gold, can not only stand any fitting test, but welcome it. He who fears for Truth has scarcely so much as gazed on her majestic countenance, nor does he know the might of that more than diamond mirror which she flashes on the mental eye that is not willingly closed to her light. Give but a fair field, and then when Truth and Error encounter, what loyal heart can fear for the result. (H. H. Dobney.)
Conditions of belief of the truth
The condition of arriving at truth is not severe habits of investigation, but innocence of life and humbleness of heart. Truth is felt, not reasoned out; and if there be any truths which are only appreciable by the acute understanding, we may be sore at once that these do not constitute the soul’s life. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Some men are physically incapacitated for perceiving the truth. A man who is colour blind, e.g., is unable to distinguish the red rays of the spectrum. A danger signal on the railway would convey no warning to a man so constituted, and a rose for him would have little beauty. There is an analogue to this in the moral world. While the converted man perceives the warning of God’s judgments and the beauty of the Rose of Sharon, the carnally-minded perceives neither.
The need of spiritual insight to the discernment of the truth
“Any tyro can see the facts for himself if he is provided with those not rare articles--a nettle and a microscope.” These words are Mr. Huxley’s. But why the microscope? Suppose the tyro should be provided with a nettle only? These inquiries point in a direction which materialists are not willing to pursue. The introduction of the microscope is an admission that even the keenest eyes cannot see certain substances, forms and movements, and great store must be set by it. It requires in material investigation precisely what is demanded in spiritual inquiry. Suppose anyone should insist upon examining the nettle without the aid of the microscope, and should declare that he is unable to verify Mr. Huxley’s observations. Mr. Huxley would properly reply that the inner structure and life of the nettle could not be seen by the naked eye for they are microscopically discerned. Nor can the inquirer into spiritual truth discern and understand without a spiritual organ adapted to the investigation. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Love of the truth essential to its reception
To whom will nature reveal herself? To the clown or the poet? The poet gets something out of “the meanest flower that blows.” The wise man hears music in the wind, the stream, the twitter of birds. What does the clown hear, or the sordid man? Noises--tongues unknown and uninterpreted. Nature says precisely what Christ says: “I will manifest myself to Him that loveth me.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
Unbelief, its cause
Scepticism is not intellectual only, it is moral also--a chronic atrophy and disease of the whole soul. A man lives bybelieving something, not by debating and arguing about many things. A sad case for him when all he can manage to believe is something he can button in his pocket--something he can eat and digest. Lower than that he will not get. (T. Carlyle.)
The folly of unbelief
What would you think if there were to be an insurrection in a hospital, and sick men should conspire with sick men, and on a certain day they should rise up and reject the doctors and nurses? There they would be--sickness and disease within, and all the help without! Yet what is a hospital compared to this fever-ridden world, which goes on swinging in pain through the centuries, where men say “we have got rid of the Atonement and the Bible?” Yes, and you have rid yourselves of salvation. (H. W. Beecher.)
“Can you tell me anything about the revision of the Bible?” asked an intelligent working man the other day. “Because I’ve been told they’re taking out all the contradictions in it.” The same man another day expressed his inaptitude for faith in these words: “Why, to look at them stars and think they’re all worlds, and to believe there’s something beyond all that again--it’s more than I can believe.” Could the attitude of unbelief have expressed itself better? The very sight that to some minds forces home the conviction that a God exists--the sight of the star-sown fields of heaven--was to this man only a stumbling block and rock of offence. (C. C.Liddell.)
He that is of God heareth God’s words
I. HEARING GOD’S WORDS. What is implied?
1. Attention of the body.
2. Intention of the mind.
3. Retention of the memory.
II. NOT HEARING GOD’S WORDS.
1. Some defiantly refuse to come where they may hear.
2. Others intend to disregard, loving the present world (2 Timothy 4:10).
3. Others hear for a while, but continue not in well doing.
(1) Truth is rejected, but it does not keep silence.
(2) Truth is reviled, but it wearies not.
(3) Truth is persecuted, but it does not yield.
III. THE TEST. “Not of God.” “Of God.”
1. He loves God, and so loves His Word.
2. He is in sympathy with the Word, and so delights to hear it.
3. He wants to obey the Word, and so listens to it. But the carnal mind cannot receive the things of God. The Word rebukes him, threatens him; he hates it. (Family Churchman.)
The hearer of God’s Word
The word “hear” signifies serious attention and regard (Matthew 17:5; Leviticus 16:29; John 10:3 : Revelation 2:3). It is clear that all other hearing must be unprofitable, and in respect to the Word of God condemnatory. When man speaks, to hear without attending is useless; when God speaks, sinful.
I. WHO THEY ARE WHO HEAR THE WORD. “He that is of God.”
1. All God’s true children. Not all who are brought into covenant with God, for such were the Pharisees. Holy ordinances do not necessarily convey the continuance of sonship.
2. All who are girded and governed by God’s Spirit (Romans 8:14).
3. All who love God (Luke 10:27).
II. ALL SUCH OF NECESSITY HEAR GOD’S WORDS.
1. It is not merely because they know them to be words of wisdom and life, bringing happiness here and hereafter: there is rooted in their hearts an intense desire for all good and holy things, a profound respect for all that belongs to God. It would be repugnant to their new nature to do otherwise.
2. Their own mind immediately draws a distinction between the Word of God and that of man. The latter has to be considered before it is received; the former permits no consideration.
3. Nor can there be the least evasion or compromise, no distinguishing between great and small.
4. There is no consultation of flesh and blood. It is the Word, and that is sufficient (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
III. THEY WHO ARE NOT OF GOD NECESSARILY NEGLECT GOD’S WORD.
1. It condemns many worldly pursuits and pleasures, and insists upon self-denial and the daily cross. Assuredly none who are not of God will listen to this, and follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.
2. They do not understand the nature of spiritual truth; its promises and threatenings appeal to them in vain (1 Corinthians 2:14).
3. In proportion as men are governed by natural maxims and feelings and principles, and by their own self-will, they deprive themselves of the capacity of appreciating God’s Word. (J. Slade, M. A.)
Say we not well that Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil
The Anti-diabolism of Christ
CHRIST HONOURS THE FATHER; THE DEVIL DOES NOT (John 8:49).
1. How does Christ honour the Father?
(1) By a faithful representation of the Father’s character. The revelation of the Infinite in the material creation is dim compared with His who is the “faithful and true witness” and “the express image of” the Father’s “Person.”
(2) By supreme devotion to the Father’s will. He came to this world to work out the Divine will in relation to humanity, to substitute truth for error, purity for pollution, benevolence for selfishness, God for the devil--in one word, to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
2. Now this is what the devil does not do. He seeks to dishonour God
(1) By misrepresenting Him, calumniating Him.
(2) By opposing His will.
II. CHRIST SEEKS NOT HIS OWN GLORY; THE DEVIL DOES (John 8:50).
1. Ambition and self-seeking had no place in Christ. “He made Himself of no reputation,” etc. Love to the Infinite Father seemed to swallow up His ego-ism. He was self-oblivious. Often does He say, “I seek not my own will.” Had He sought His own glory, He would have been the Leader of all armies, the Emperor of all nations, instead of which, He was born in a stable, lived without a home, and died upon a cross.
2. All this is Anti-diabolic. Ambition is the inspiration of Satan. His motto is, “Better reign in hell than serve in heaven.” He cares for no one else, and would kindle hells for a thousand generations in order to maintain his own dominion and gratify his own ambition.
3. Just so far as a man loses his own ego-ism in love for the Infinite, He is Christlike. Just so far as he is self-conscious and aiming at his own personal ends, he is devil-like.
III. CHRIST DELIVERS FROM DEATH; THE DEVIL CANNOT (John 8:51). What does He mean by death here?
1. Not the dissolution of soul and body, for all the millions that “kept His sayings” have gone down to the grave.
2. Does He mean extinction of existence? If so, it is true, All genuine disciples of Christ will inherit perpetual existence. This He Himself has taught (John 6:40).
3. Does He mean the destruction of that which makes death repugnant to man’s nature? If so, the dying experience of millions demonstrates its truth. The sting of death is sin. Take sin away, and the dissolution of soul and body becomes the brightest prospect in the pilgrimage of souls. It is a mere step over a river from a wilderness into a Canaan; the mere opening of the door from a cell into a palace. Now the devil cannot deliver from death; and if he could he would not. Destruction is the gratification of his malignant nature. He goes about seeking whom he may devour. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christ’s controversy with the Jews
I. THE ACCUSATIONS.
1. “Thou art a Samaritan,” and not only worthy of the contempt of a Jew, but one whose declaration on a matter of faith was unworthy of regard, inasmuch as He was a heretic. The charge has reference
(1) To the fact that He followed not the rigid traditions of the elders, which constituted in the minds of the people, the very essence of their religion.
(2) Because He had held intercourse with the Samaritans, had preached to them, and had been received by them.
(3) Because in one of His recorded parables, as doubtless in others not recorded, He had commended one of this nation for his charity, and had held him up as an example to His Jewish hearers.
(4) Because, as the Samaritans had mingled their own Gentile traditions with the law of Moses, so our Blessed Lord, in expounding the law, had drawn out its spiritual meaning, which was as alien to the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees as the traditions of the Samaritans.
(5) There may have been also a special reference to the circumstance, that Nazareth, where He had been brought up, was nigh to the country of the Samaritans. By this first term of reproach they declared that He had no interest in the promises made by God to Israel.
2. “Thou hast a devil.” They denied that He had any fellowship with the God of Israel. He had a devil
(1) Because, as they said, He did His miracles by the power of Beelzebub, the chief of the devils.
(2) Because, as the devil attempted to make himself equal with God, so did Christ declare Himself to be equal to and one with the Father.
(3) The seeming folly of His words and pretensions was another reason for attributing His actions to the inspiration of the Evil Spirit. He hath a devil, and is mad, why hear ye Him?
II. THE DEFENCE.
1. To the first accusation He made no reply.
(1) It was personal, and did not concern His life and doctrine, and so He passes it by. One mark of His sinlessness is the absence of all anger at personal slights. It is the mark of a mind enfeebled by sin not to be able to bear personal affronts, as it is the mark of a diseased body to shrink from touch.
(2) Since He came to break down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile, He would not, by replying to this charge, sanction the contempt of the Jews for the Samaritans, a people called to salvation equally with themselves.
(3) He passes over this charge, it may be also, in tenderness to the Samaritans, amongst whom were many who believed on Him. When Christ would abate the pride of those who flocked around Him, which was the cause of so much of their blindness of heart, He at times used roughness; now, when He had to suffer rebuke, He answers with the greatest mildness, leaving us a lesson to be strict and uncompromising in everything that really concerns God, whilst we are indifferent to all things that merely regard ourselves.
2. “I have not a devil,” He says. None of us are free from having a devil, for all sin in some measure comes from him; so that here again we have a declaration of the perfect sinlessness of the Son of Man. He, and He only, never had a devil. Again, His words reach beyond this; I cannot, He says, do these things by the power and assistance of Satan, for I at the same time honour My Father, who is the enemy of Satan
(1) By the holiness of My life; for which of you convinceth Me of sin?
(2) By condemning the works of the devil--murder, and lying, and all those other sins which are his special works.
(3) By not attempting to do what Satan is always striving to do in seeking to usurp to himself the glory which belongs to the Father. Our Blessed Lord’s argument to those who blasphemed Him is this: No one who has a devil honours God or can honour Him, but on the other hand he dishonours Him; but I honour my Father--God: therefore I have not a devil. (W. Denton, M. A.)
The force of the accusation
The rendering “devil” cannot now be improved. Wiclif’s word is “fiend,” which in this sense is obsolete. But every reader of the Greek must feel how little our English word can represent the two distinct ideas represented by two distinct words, here and in John 8:44. “Demon,” used originally for the lower divinities, and not unfrequently for the gods, passed in the Scriptures, which taught the knowledge of the true God, into the sense of an evil spirit. Thus the word which could represent the attendant genius of Socrates came to express what we speak of as demoniacal possession, and the supposed power of witchcraft and sorcery. Socrates is made to say: “For this reason, therefore, rather than for any other, he calls them demons, because they were prudent and knowing.” The history of Simon Magus reminds us that the people of Samaria, from the least to the greatest, had been for a long time under the influence of his sorceries (Acts 8:9, etc.), and it is probable that there is a special connection in the words note, “Samaritan” and “devil.” (Archdeacon Watkins.)
A hard name easy
A hard name is easier than a hard argument. (Van Doren.)
If any man keep My saying he shall never see death.
I. THE CHARACTER DESCRIBED.
1. The “saying” of Christ means the whole system of truth which He has taught, and includes
(1) All the doctrines and precepts publicly inculcated by Himself as reported by the Evangelists.
(2) Those which He taught more privately to His apostles, the meaning of which was disclosed after His departure. Reserve on certain points during His lifetime was necessary. Had He explicitly avowed His divinity, e.g., it is hard to conceive how those prophecies which foretold His sufferings and death would have received fulfilment. After Pentecost the apostles were guided into all the truth.
(3) The inspired sayings of the apostles, because dictated by the Spirit of Christ.
(4) The whole canon of Scripture, for the Old Testament was written under the influence of the Spirit of Jesus.
2. To keep this “saying” implies
(1) A knowledge and belief of the Divine truth by the understanding. A man cannot keep what he does not know. This involves careful study with the use of every help, and prayer for the illumination of the Spirit.
(2) Retention of it in the memory. “Ye are saved, if ye keep in memory”2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 2:3). This is accomplished only by continuous and diligent study and meditation.
(3) Love of it. No knowledge of Christ’s doctrine is of any utility, unless the heart be interested.
(4) A practical attention to its requirements: its adoption as the rule of life.
(5) A stedfast adherence to the cause of truth, and a profession of it according to our opportunities. To “keep” is opposed to desertion. Hence we must “abide in Christ’s word.”
II. “Never see THE PRIVILEGE ATTACHED TO THIS CHARACTER “Never see death” means
(1) Not exemption from natural death. This is “appointed unto all men.” Enoch and Elijah were exempted: so will those be who are alive at Christ’s coming. And God could easily have extended the benefit of translation, but there are good reasons why He has not
(a) Such a course would have involved a perpetual miracle, and so have involved a waste of Divine power.
(b) By death Christ’s people become more exactly conformed to their Head.
(c) Death maintains a constant memorial of the evil of sin.
(d) The present abolition of death would deprive Christ’s second advent of half its splendour, and render the last judgment practically useless.
(2) Not continued existence merely to good men in opposition to annihilation. In this sense none shall see death. Continued existence will be the curse of the ungodly. They shall seek death, but death shall flee away from them.
2. Positively. Christ’s faithful people shall not see death
(1) In its natural horrors. Apart from the gospel death is a fearful enemy; but grace transforms it into a blessing, and makes it one of the things which work together for good. “Death is yours” if “ye are Christ’s”--a friendly messenger of deliverance. Hence the happy deaths of many Christians.
(2) Inasmuch as the prospect of death is neutralized by that of a joyful resurrection. (Jabez Bunting, D. D.)
Christ’s saying and the reward of keeping it
I. WHAT IS CHRIST’S SAYING?
1. The law, promulgated in spirit and effect in Paradise, republished at Sinai, and reinforced by the Sermon on the Mount. This law was given to create a sense of sin and of the necessity of a Saviour, and so prepared the way for
2. The gospel (Romans 8:2-45.8.3). The law is the storm that drives the traveller to the shelter, the condemnation that makes the criminal long for and use the means for securing a reprieve.
II. WHAT IS IT TO KEEP CHRIST’S SAYING?
1. Reading it carefully and constantly.
2. Hearing it, “Faith cometh by hearing.”
3. Understanding it. What we thoroughly understand we do not easily forget.
4. Obeying it. This fixes it in the memory.
III. THE REWARD OF KEEPING CHRIST’S SAYING. He shall never see
(1) Spiritual death. The word which is spirit and life is the seed of regeneration.
(2) Eternal death. Christ’s saying is a promise of a blessed immortality which the keeper thereof by faith has made his own. (I. Saunders.)
What saying is it to which our Lord refers?
Our Lord uttered multitudes of sayings while He was upon the earth. He was a great speaker; no man spake like Him. He was the greatest of talkers; and hence innumerable sayings dropped from His lips--parables, proverbs, criticisms, invitations, exhortations, warnings, commandments, remonstrances, encouragements, and exceeding great and precious promises. To which of His sayings, then, is it that He here refers? I would say in reply, that it is not to any single saying in particular, any detached or separate “saying,” that our Lord had reference. To hit at random on any one of His multitudinous sayings would indicate an utter ineptitude for the grasp of the Saviour’s ideas, or indeed for the grasp of anyone’s ideas. What then? The saying referred to is manifestly that grand multiple message from God to men which constituted the sum total of our Lord’s teaching. Or we might put it thus: It is the sum total or condensed essence of all the revelations that were divinely made by our Lord, in our Lord, and through our Lord. And what is that? It is evidently the glorious gospel of God’s grace, the good news and glad tidings coming from behind the veil of all terrestrial things, and manifesting to men a living, loving, compassionating, sin-hating, yet sin-forgiving God. It is, in short, the joyful announcement of free and full salvation for the chief of sinners. That, that is the “saying,” the life-giving “saying,” of Christ Jesus, which, if a man keeps, he shall never see death. “Whosoever liveth,” said our Lord to Martha, “and believeth in Me shall never die.” (J. Morison, D. D.)
Would you wish to be in the blissful condition depicted in our Saviour’s language? Then keep His saying. Keep His words. Keep His Word. Keep the truth about Himself; keep Himself, the living Word, the living gospel. Keep Him in your thoughts, affections, mind, heart. Let everything slip and pass away from you which you cannot keep side by side with Him. (J. Morison, D. D.)
Immunity from death
What means the Saviour? Death is. It is a reality. It exists far and wide over the length and breadth of this world, in which we are all tenants at will. But in the profounder and only “awful” acceptation of the term, “death” will never come nigh the man who keeps Christ’s saying.
1. The grave is dark: Death to the unbeliever is like a sky with neither sun, nor moon, nor stars overhead, and no prospect of a dawn on the morrow. Is it not so? Is not that the death that is looming over the impenitent? If it bet never shall the man who believes in Jesus, and who keeps the saying of Jesus, never shall he see death, never shall he die. The true believer of Christ’s gospel dwells in true “light”; and lives in it. Contact with Jesus insures his illumination; and all the way along life’s highways and byways he enjoys the light.
2. Many regard death as the total and final rupture and cessation of all further possibilities of sweet companionship and friendship. He who dies enters inevitably, according to their anticipation, into utter loneliness and dreariness. He is deserted forever. But, most assuredly, there is no such death to the believing. Their true life is not cut short at the end, or arrested midway, or otherwise impaired. It has no end and no interruption. It is “life everlasting.” And one of the many true elements that enter into the blessedness that is its nature is everlasting companionship with the holy and the happy in glory.
3. To multitudes death means violent removal from all their carefully accumulated treasures, all their most highly-prized possessions. Death to the unbeliever is the loss, not only of all these things, but likewise of all possibility of the enjoyment of them, and of the enjoyment of any possession whatsoever. But if so, if all this be death, then the believer in Jesus will never see it; for that which men call death, in their common parlance with one another, will only translate the believer into the possession of the fulness of life and joy. Neither things present, nor things to come, neither things below, nor things above, no depth, no height, no length, no breadth, will be able to separate the believer from that love of God and of Jesus which is the never-failing source and fountain of inextinguishable bliss. (J. Morison, D. D.)
The unimportance of death to a Christian
It is a matter of small importance how a man dies. If he is prepared, if he is a Christian, it matters not how he goes to his crown. There have been some triumphant deaths, some wonderful deaths, before which the gates of paradise seem to swing open and flood them with light, and the superior splendour of the invisible turned the dying hour into the soul’s nuptials. Such were the deaths of St. Stephen and Polycarp, of Latimer and Payson and Hervey, and of some known to you and to me. But such angels’ visits to the dying couch are few and far between. Most souls go out in clouds or storms; in unconsciousness or pain. But what does it matter? The only sinless soul that ever descended the valley of the shadow of death cried from the Stygian darkness and solitude, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” But in that hour He conquered! He vanquished death and robbed the grave of its victory. What does it matter, then, if we follow Him through the darkness to the light, through the battle to the triumph? What does it matter if I tremble? Underneath me are the everlasting arms. What does it matter if I cannot see? He is leading me through the ebon shades. What does it matter if I seem alone? He goes with me, as He has gone so often with others before, through what seems the untrod solitudes of death. The last hour of the labourer’s summer day may be hot and weary, but the rest of eventide will be sweet, and the night will be cool. The last mile of the homeward journey may burn the traveller’s bleeding feet, but love and welcome will soothe the pain and wipe the pilgrim’s brow. As we approach the land, the winds may be boisterous, and the waves break loud upon the rocky coast; but the harbour will throw its protecting arms around the home-bound ship, and we shall be safe. (R. S. Barrett.)
The antidote of death
I. THE ANTIDOTE ITSELF. The text suggests
1. The life-giving power of the Word of Christ. We all know something of the power of a word--of an orator on his audience, of a general on his army, of a friend on his tempted or afflicted associate. Hence, we may conceive how a saying of Christ may have power. He in fact is “the Word,” and His “words are spirit and life.” Thus we read that we are born again by it, and that it must dwell in us richly, which shows that the Word of Christ is the seed corn of the soul’s life, which sown in the heart germinates into the tree of righteousness.
2. The reception which the Word of Christ requires. It is necessary that it should be listened to, understood and remembered: but all this may be done without the experience of its life-giving virtue. It must as seed be hid in the soul accompanied by the energy of the Holy Ghost. We do not keep it unless we live in Christ, walk in Christ, and have our whole being fashioned after Him. Without this literary knowledge and controversial defence of it are worthless.
3. Here we see
(1) The proof of the conscious Divinity of our Lord. None else ever dared to say this.
(2) The extent of His life-giving power. This wonderful saying is confined to none.
(3) The necessity of a Christian life here. The antidote must be applied before the mischief has done its last and fatal work.
II. THE OPERATION OF THIS ANTIDOTE.
1. Negatively. Not exemption from the common lot.
(1) Constantly occurring facts forbid this. The righteous man dies as well as the sinner.
(2) The necessities and frailties of our own frame forbid this. We no sooner begin to live than we begin to die.
(3) Scripture forbids this.
2. Positively. The leading thought is brought out fully in John 5:24.
(1) The penalties of the second death will be avoided.
(2) The terrors of physical death will be mitigated.
(3) The consequences of physical death will be overcome.
(4) The soul’s highest life will be perfected.
1. See the power of Christianity. Nothing else can conquer death--no philosophy, morality, religion.
2. Hence the importance of keeping the saying of Christ--not admiring it merely.
3. What solace does this truth afford a dying world? (H. Gammidge.)
This is part of Christ’s answer to the charge of John 8:48. The latter portion of the charge was answered in John 8:49-43.8.50; the former, “Thou art a Samaritan,” answered here. The Samaritans held the Sadducee’s doctrine of annihilation. Christ proves that He is not a Samaritan, but He proves far more.
I. A DUTY OF THE PRESENT. “If a man keep,” etc.
1. The “Word” of Christ is a comprehensive term for the substance of His teaching: repentance; trust in the saving grace of God in Christ; response to the love of God; the practice of holiness, philanthropy, etc.
2. Keeping His Word implies that it is
(1) A revelation to be retained in the mind.
(2) A stay and comfort for the heart.
(3) A rule of conduct for the life.
3. “If a man” makes the statement universally applicable. Therefore its efficacy is essential, not accidental or arbitrary.
II. A DOCTRINE OF THE FUTURE. “He shall never,” etc. One interpretation is that certain persons mortal by nature are to be made immortal. The meaning to be preferred is that to such the earthly experience of dying will not be the same as to the unrighteous, that for them there is and will be the realization of a deathless life. Look at this
1. As a revelation. It is of the first magnitude. The Rig Veda--oldest of Hindoo sacred books--does not even hint this. Moses is silent, at least oracular. There gradually grew up in Judaism a hope of it. In Christ’s time Jewish opinion was divided. Christ speaks clearly, authoritatively. The words are best taken simply, and mean that what makes death truly death will be removed. The sting of death, and consequent separation from God will no longer exist. As this involves a continuity of experience from the present to the heavenly state, it is obvious that the believer is conceived of as at once entering into eternal life with the first act of faith that unites him to Christ. The life thus begun and continued is one life, and must signify, therefore, more than mere duration, viz., a spiritual relation and condition.
2. As a conditional promise. “If a man keep,” etc., discovers
(1) The basis of this life--a “Word,” or Christ Himself as the Word, i.e., a spiritual, intelligible entity (Is not this mortal life built upon and out of ideas?). “My Words, they are spirit and life.” The Divine life of the spirit of man is
(a) Word created.
(b) Word sustained and continued.
(c) Word enlarged and glorified.
(2) That it is a contingent and not an absolute possession. “Keep.” With what earnestness ought we to lay hold on this life, and so guard and cultivate it that we shall never lose it! He that keeps Christ’s word will be kept by it. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)
Death invisible to the Christian
He who follows the light of life which shines from the words of Jesus, does not see death, just as one who goes to meet the sun does not see the shadows behind him. (Rieger.)
Christians do not taste of death
A daughter of Mrs. Gov. Wright recently passed away amid Tabor splendour. As she approached death, she said, “I’m going up! I’m going up! You see I’m going up on the ineffable glory. What a glorious approach!” To her husband she said, “Oh! if you could only see what I see, you would know why I long to go.” To her pastor, who was reading of the “valley of the shadow of death,” she said, “There is no valley.” The night preceding her death, she abode in the third heaven of rapture. Being informed that her feet were in the Jordan, she said, “Oh, I am so glad!” Her last words were, “Jesus is peace.” (C. D.Foss.)
“Oh what has the Lord discovered to me this night! Oh the glory of God! the glory of God and heaven! Oh the lovely beauty, the happiness, of paradise! God is all love, He is nothing but love. Oh, help me praise Him! Oh, help me to praise Him! I shall praise Him forever! I shall praise Him forever.” (Robert Wilkinson.)
“Glory to God in the height of His Divinity! Glory to God in the depths of His humanity! Glory to God in His all-sufficiency. Into His hands I commend my spirit.” (Edward Perronet.)
Believers never see death
His (John Wesley’s) death scene was one of the most peaceful and triumphant in the annals of the Church. Prayer, praise, and thankfulness were ever on His lips. Many golden sentences, worthy to be had in everlasting remembrance, were uttered during his last hours. “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.” “He is all! He is all!” “There is no need for more than what I said in Bristol; my words then were--‘I the chief of sinners am, But Jesus died for me!’” “We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” “That is the foundation, the only foundation, and there is no other.” “How necessary it is for everyone to be on the right foundation!” “The Lord is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.” “Never mind the poor carcase.” “The clouds drop fatness.” “He giveth His servants rest.” “Be causeth His servants to lie down in peace.” “I’ll praise: I’ll praise.” “Lord, Thou givest strength to those that can speak, and to those that cannot. Speak, Lord, to all our hearts, and let them know that Thou looseth the tongue.” “Jesus! Jesus!” His lips are wetted, and he says his usual grace, “We thank Thee, O Lord, for these and all Thy mercies. Bless the Church and king; and grant us truth and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, forever and ever.” Those who look out of the windows are darkened, and he sees only the shadow of his friends around his bed: “Who are these?” “We are come to rejoice with you: you are going to receive your crown.” “It is the Lord’s doing,” he calmly replies, “and marvellous in our eyes.” “I will write,” he exclaims, and the materials are placed within his reach; but the “right hand has forgotten her cunning,” and “the pen of the once ready writer” refuses to move. “Let me write for you, sir,” says an attendant. “What would you say?” Nothing, but that God is with us. Now we have done all. Let us all go.” And now, with all his remaining strength, he cries out, “The best of all is, God is with us!” And again, lifting up his fleshless arm in token of victory, and raising his failing voice to a pitch of holy triumph, he repeats the heart-reviving words, “The best of all is, God is with us!” A few minutes before ten o’clock on the morning of the 2nd of March, 1791, he slowly and feebly whispered, “Farewell! farewell!”--and, literally, “without a lingering groan,” calmly “fell on sleep, having served his generation by the will of God.” (H. Moore.)
“I am so far from fearing death, which to others is the king of terrors,” exclaimed Dr. Donne, “that I long for the time of dissolution.” When Mr. Venn inquired of the Rev. W. Grimshaw how he did, “As happy as I can be on earth, and at sure of glory as if I were in it: I have nothing to do but to step out of this bed into heaven.” The fear of death destroyed:--Fox relates, in his “Acts and Monuments,” that a Dutch martyr, feeling the flames, said, “Ah, what a small pain is this, compared with the glory to come!” The same author tells us that John Noyes took up a faggot at the fire, and kissing it, said, “Blessed be the time that ever I was born, to come to this preferment.” When an ancient martyr was severely threatened by his persecutors, he replied, “There is nothing visible or invisible that I fear. I will stand to my profession of the name and faith of Christ, come of it what will.” Hilary said to his soul, “Thou hast served Christ this seventy years, and art thou afraid of death? Go out, soul, go out!” An old minister remarked, a little before his death, “I cannot say I have so lived as that I should not now be afraid to die; but I can say I have so learned Christ that I am not afraid to die.” A friend, surprised at the serenity and cheerfulness which the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine possessed in the immediate view of death and eternity, proposed the question, “Sir, are you not afraid of your sins?” “Indeed, no,” was his answer; “ever since I knew Christ I have never thought highly of my frames and duties, nor am I slavishly afraid of my sins.” (Religious Tract Society Anecdotes.)
Contrasts in death
One of our old Scottish ministers, two hundred years ago, lay dying. At his bedside were several of his beloved brethren, watching his departure. Opening his eyes, he spoke to them these singular words: “Fellow passengers to glory, how far am I from the New Jerusalem?” “Not very far,” was the loving answer; and the good man departed, to be with Christ. “I’m dying,” said one of a different stamp, “and I don’t know where I’m going.” “I’m dying,” said another, “and it’s all dark.” “I feel,” said another, “as if I were going down, down, down!” “A great and a terrible God,” said another, three times over; “I dare not meet Him.” “Stop that clock!” cried another, whose eye rested intently on a clock which hung opposite the bed. He knew he was dying and he was unready. He had the impression that he was to die at midnight. He heard the ticking of the clock, and it was agony in his ear. He saw the hands, minute by minute, approaching the dreaded hour, and he had no hope. In his blind terror he cried out, “Stop that clock!” Alas! what would the stopping of the clock do for him? Time would move on all the same. Eternity would approach all the same. The stopping of the clock would not prepare him to meet his God.
Realizations of the text
“Throw back the shutters and let the sun in,” said dying Scoville M’Collum, one of my Sabbath school boys. (Talmage.)
“Light breaks in! light breaks in! Hallelujah!” exclaimed one when dying. Sargeant, the biographer of Martyn, spoke of “glory, glory,” and of that “bright light”; and when asked, “What light?” answered, his face kindling into a holy fervour, “The light of the Sun of Righteousness.” A blind Hindoo boy, when dying, said joyfully, “I see I now I have light. I see Him in His beauty. Tell the missionary that the blind see. I glory in Christ.” Thomas Jewett, referring to the dying expression of the English infidel, “I’m going to take a leap in the dark,” said to those at his bedside, “I’m going to take a leap in the light.” While still another dying saint said, “I am not afraid to plunge into eternity.” A wounded soldier, when asked if he were prepared to depart, said, “Oh yes; my Saviour, in whom I have long trusted, is with me now, and His smile lights up the dark valley for me.” A dying minister said, “It is just as I said it would be, ‘There is no valley,’” emphatically, repeating, “Oh, no valley. It is clear and bright--a king’s highway.” The light of an everlasting life seemed to dawn upon his heart; and touched with its glory, he went, already crowned, into the New Jerusalem. A Christian woman lay dying. Visions of heaven came to her. She was asked if she really saw heaven. Her answer was, “I know I saw heaven; but one thing I did not see, the valley of the shadow of death. I saw the suburbs.” A young man who had but lately found Jesus was laid upon his dying bed. A friend who stood over him asked, “Is it dark?” “I shall never,” said he, “forget his reply. ‘No, no,’ he exclaimed, ‘it is all light! light! light!’” and thus triumphantly passed away. (American Messenger.)
Abraham is dead and the prophets
Abraham and Jesus
THE GREATNESS OF ABRAHAM:
1. The ancestor of the Jews. “Our father,” said they (John 8:53); “Your father,” conceded Christ (John 8:56). It was no small distinction to be the progenitor of so renowned a race.
2. The father of the faithful. He believed in God’s promise (Ge Romans 4:20), and became the head of a spiritual progeny who will far outnumber the natural.
3. A conqueror of death. Christ’s word (John 8:51) signified that to all His believing people, who were Abraham’s children, and therefore to Abraham himself who had kept God’s word, death was practically abolished Matthew 22:32).
4. A beholder of Christ’s day. Not an exultant anticipator, but an actual witness either prophetically from Moriah or from Paradise.
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF JESUS.
1. Of loftier calling. Abraham, a prophet; Christ, a Saviour; Abraham, the ancestor of the promised seed; Christ, the promised seed; Abraham, the progenitor of Christ, according to the flesh; Christ, the redeemer of Abraham, according to the Spirit. The Jews exulted in their physical connection with Abraham; Abraham in his spiritual connection with Christ.
2. Of nobler name. Abraham, a servant; Christ, the Son. Abraham called the Divine Being “God”; Christ addressed Him as “Father.”
3. Of older existence. Abraham was not before He came into this world; Christ was before Abraham was born.
4. Of higher being. Abraham began to be; Christ always was. Abraham was a creature; Christ the Creator, “I am.”
1. The Supreme Divinity of Christ.
2. The power of faith.
3. The certainty of existence after death.
4. The true secret of soul joy.
5. The one object of faith in all ages and for all peoples--Christ’s day. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Christ and Abraham
I. CHRIST IS GREATER THAN ABRAHAM (John 8:52-43.8.53). Notice:
1. The implied denial of the Jews that Christ was greater than Abraham. In this we see
(1) a sensuous interpretation, “Abraham is dead.” They took death in its mere material sense; they had no profounder idea of it than the dissolution of mind from matter. The dissolution of mind from truth, virtue, happiness, God--which is of all deaths the worst, and of which corporeal death is but the palpable--type, had not entered their carnal souls.
(2) Their ancestral pride (John 8:58). This led them to believe that Abraham was the greatest man in the universe, and themselves consequently as the greatest people. These two have always been among the greatest obstructions to the spread of truth.
2. The reply of Christ to this implied denial.
(1) He asserts that He honoured the Father, which they did not (John 8:54).
(2) He knew the Father, which they did not (John 8:55).
(3) He served the Father, which they did not (John 8:55).
3. The declaration of His superiority to Abraham (John 8:56).
II. CHRIST IS OLDER THAN ABRAHAM (John 8:58). This declaration struck them:
1. As absurd (John 8:57).
2. As blasphemous, and to be punished as such (John 8:59). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
If I honour Myself, My honour is nothing
The Father honouring the Son
To honour is to do or to speak of a person so as not only to show our esteem, but to make others esteem.
Thus God honoured Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, David, etc. This is specially seen in His dealings with His Son--the purpose of His delight in Him is to secure for Him the delight of all in earth and heaven.
I. THE BESTOWER OF THE HONOUR. The value of the honour depends on him who bestows it. Honour bestowed for price, or by self, unworthy hands, or those incapable of judging, is worthless. It was no honour for Felix to be flattered by Tertullus. The Father, however, knows what He is bestowing, and Him on whom He is bestowing it. He is a fit judge of both the Person and the honour. We may be well assured, therefore, that the honour received by Christ is well bestowed.
II. THE RECEIVER OF THE HONOUR. The Son--very God and very Man. The God-Man in whom the two natures meet. A new thing on earth and in heaven. One in whom all created and uncreated perfection meet. The only one without flaw.
III. THE NATURE OF THE HONOUR.
1. It is Divine honour; but it is more. It is not only all the honour which the Father and the Spirit receive, it is something arising out of the superadded humanity, and which neither the Father nor the Spirit can receive.
2. It is human honour--honour in connection with His perfect manhood, of which He is the only example, and as such is entitled to all the honour which God intended for the race. Nay, more; honour such as Adam could not receive, because arising from His manhood’s connection with the Godhead. Thus the Godhead gets an honour such as it could not have got save in virtue of its connection with the creaturehood, and vice versa. There is in this way a peculiar honour created, and a peculiar vessel for receiving it. From this too springs peculiar honour to the Father such as no one else can give.
IV. THE TIMES AND WAYS IN WHICH THIS HONOUR IS BESTOWED. At His birth, baptism, transfiguration, resurrection, ascension, second coming. Every day, dishonoured by man, the Father honoured Him when here. At present, in heaven, He receives glory and honour. Hereafter ill His kingdom, the honour is to be fully bestowed.
V. THE RESULTS OF ALL THIS. The bearings of this honour on the universe are inconceivable. It is the pledge and measure of all the blessings the universe shall receive forever. The results are:
1. To the Father. Through this honour the Father is more fully manifested and glorified; for all that the Son receives and does is to the glory of God the Father.
2. To the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit’s office to glorify the Son, and by means of this His Godhead is declared and illustrated, and His wisdom and power displayed.
3. To the whole Godhead.
4. To the Church. Christ’s honour is hers; for all that He has is hers. The Bridegroom’s glory is not for Himself alone. She shares His riches, His inheritance, His kingdom, by faith now, in reality by and by.
5. To heaven. The greatness of the King’s honour adds to the glory of His palace, and metropolis.
6. To angels. He is their head as well as ours, though not so closely knit to them as to us. They are His hosts, His servants, His royal retinue, and each shines more brightly from the glory put upon Him.
7. To earth. At present we do not see any change, but the curse is to pass away, and earth to be made more fair than Paradise. For was it not His birthplace, and His body of its dust?
8. To the universe. Every planet and fragment of creation shall receive fresh lustre from this newly lighted sun. Conclusion: Let us honour Christ now. He will be honoured hereafter, but now that He receives so much dishonour let us honour Him. Sinner, honour Him by coming to Him for salvation. The honour which the Father puts upon Him is the security for a present pardon, and God honours Him by blessing you. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Ye have not known Him; but I know Him
THE JEWS’ IGNORANCES.
1. They knew Him not in His majesty, His infinity, His mercifulness, since they conceived of Him only after a low and material idea.
2. They knew Him as the Maker of the world, but not as the Almighty Father of mankind; they saw in Him only their own God, and refused to think of Him as the God of the whole human race.
3. They knew Him not as He is, one in essence though three in person; as the Eternal Father, by whom the Eternal Son was begotten, and from both of whom proceeds the one Sanctifying and Eternal Spirit. Hence their blindness to the meaning of the words of Christ and their rejection of Him as the Messiah.
4. They knew Him not through the way of obedience to His laws, without which there can be no real knowledge of the Father. Thus, although their faith came from God, and was based upon His revelation of Himself, their works were from Satan, and in this way they proved that they knew not God who is One in His faith and in His works. Thus were they liars, not because they said He had a devil, which is not the meaning here, but because they declared that they knew God whilst every one of their actions declared that they had no true real knowledge of Him.
II. CHRIST’S KNOWLEDGE.
1. As being Himself God, of the same substance and nature with the Father, dwelling from all eternity in the bosom of the Father, and so always beholding Him as He is in His essential Godhead.
2. As the man Christ Jesus He knew Him, since He had the knowledge of Divine things by impartation from the Father.
3. As man, again, He knew Him through His perfect obedience to the whole will of the Father, and His doing all things which were well pleasing in the sight of the Eternal Father. We also, if we would receive and retain
God in our thoughts, and come to the knowledge of Him, must receive and keep His saying. (W. Denton, M. A.)
Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day
Abraham’s vision of Christ’s day
(Christmas day Sermon):--Here is joy, joy at a sight, at the sight of a day, and that day Christ’s, and no day is so properly His as His birthday.
First, Christ has a day proper to Him. “My day.” Secondly, this day is a day of double joy--“rejoiced,” “was glad.” Thirdly, this was so to Abraham. Lastly, all this nothing displeasing to Christ, for it is spoken to the praise of Abraham that did it, and to the dispraise of the Jews who did it not. We are now disposing ourselves to this, and have a three-fold warrant.
1. We have Abraham for our example. We do but as he in making Christ’s day a day of joy.
2. Abraham’s example approved by Christ, who commends the patriarch, not that he rejoiced at the sight of Him, but of His day. Verily, the speech is in honour of Christmas.
3. He reproves the Jews for not doing herein as Abraham, which is against them that have a spleen at this feast, and think they can joy in Him and yet set by His day. Nay, love Him, love His day. They tell us that to keep it they would Judaize (Galatians 4:10), but the context shows not to keep it is to Judaize.
I. THE OBJECT. “My day.”
1. Not as the Son of God. He has no day.
(1) Day and night are parts of time, but His goings forth are from eternity Micah 5:2).
(2) If we would improperly call it a day, no day to be seen (1 Timothy 6:16).
(3) If we could see it and Him in His Deity, yet there is small joy.
2. But as the Son of Man He hath more days than one; but this notes one above the rest, a day with the double article. There are two such eminent days. Of His Genesis, and of His Exodus; of His nativity and His passion.
(1) Not of His passion; for that was none of His (Luke 22:53), but ours: and no day, but rather night; and no day of joy (Luke 23:48).
(2) But of His birth, and so the angel calls it (Luke 2:11). And His day because every man has a property in His birthday; as kings in the day of the beginning of their reigns; as Churches, when they are first dedicate; as cities, when their first trench is cast. And a day of joy in heaven and earth Luke 2:10-42.2.14): to all people, not only on and after it, but before, and so to Abraham. Of course “day” must be taken for the whole time of Christ’s life; yet that time had its beginning on a day, and that day even for that beginning may challenge a right in the word.
II. THE ACTS.
1. Abraham’s first act--his desire.
(1) The cause of it. Why should Abraham so desire two thousand years before! What was it to him? You remember Job’s Easter (19:25). The joy of this was the same as Abraham’s Christmas; oven that a day should come when his Redeemer should come into the world. For a Redeemer he needed, and therefore desired His day (Isaiah 29:22). The time when hehad this day first shown him he complains of his need (Genesis 18:27).
(2) The manner of it. We may take measure of the greatness of the day by the greatness of his desire. The nature of the word is, “he did even fetch a spring for joy,” and that not once but often. He could not contain his affection, it must out in bodily gesture. Think of a staid, discreet man being so exceedingly moved; and to do all this only in the desire.
2. Abraham’s second act. “He saw it,” though “afar off” (Hebrews 11:13), “as in a perspective glass” (1 Corinthians 13:12). He did not know precisely the day, but that such a day should come. How did he see it?
(1) Not as if he could not see it unless Christ had been in the flesh in His day. So Simeon saw (Luke 2:30). But better than this, for if Simeon had not seen in Abraham’s manner, he had been no nearer than the Jews who stoned Christ.
(2) If not with the eyes, then how? There is in every man two men--outward and inward. Now if there be an inward we must allow him senses, and so eyes (Ephesians 1:18); it was with these that Abraham saw, and by no other do we see.
(3) By what light saw he? He was a prophet, and might be in the Spirit, and have the vision clearly represented before him; but he was a faithful man Galatians 3:9), and saw it in the light of faith (Hebrews 11:1; Hebrews 11:27).
(4) Where was this and when? The text is enough, but the Fathers hold that he saw his birth at Mature, His passion at Moriah (Genesis 17:19; Genesis 18:10). But this day he saw at Mature. Christ was in person there, one of the three.
3. Abraham’s third act. He that was glad that he should see it must needs be glad when he did see it; accomplishment is more joyful than desire. And what grounds (Genesis 26:4)!
Conclusion: The reference to us.
1. Our desire. We have greater cause to desire this day because we have greater need.
2. Our sight is much clearer than his. For though we see as he, and he as we, by the light of faith; yet he in the faith of prophecy yet to come, we in the faith of history now past.
3. Our joy is to be above his, as we have the greater cause and the better sight. Rules for our joy.
(1) Here are two sorts
(a) Our exultation, a motion of the body.
(b) The other, joy, a fruit of the spirit. Let the former have its part, but should not have so large an allowance of time and cost as to leave little or nothing for the spirit.
(2) That our joy in Christ’s day be for Him. We joy in it as it is His. The common sort wish for it and joy in it as it is something else, viz., a time of cheer and feasting, sports and revelling, and so you have a golden calf’s holiday. (Bp. Andrewes.)
Abraham’s sight of faith
I. THE GROUND OF ABRAHAM’S FAITH--the promise of God. (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18). To open this promise we must inquire
1. What was this seed? We must distinguish of a two-fold seed; that to whom the blessing was promised, and that in whom both Abraham, his seed, and all nations were to be blessed (Genesis 17:7). Now this promise was either to his carnal seed or to his spiritual seed (Galatians 3:7). But then there was another seed--the Messiah.
2. What was this blessedness? All the good which results to us from God’s covenant.
(1) Our reconciliation with God consisting of
(a) remission of sins (Psalms 32:1-19.32.2), which is included in the blessing of Abraham (Galatians 3:8).
(b) Regeneration (Acts 3:25-44.3.26).
(2) Eternal life.
(a) The patriarchs sought it by virtue of this promise (Hebrews 11:13-58.11.15).
(b) Unless this had been included God could not act suitably to the greatness of His covenant relation (Hebrews 11:16; Matthew 22:31-40.22.32).
II. THE STRENGTH OF HIS FAITH.
1. His clear vision of Christ. “He saw my day.” Three things argue the strength of bodily sight.
(1) When what we see is far off. Thousands of years intervened, yet they went to the grave in full assurance. The nature of faith is that it can look upon things absent and future as sure and near, but without it man looks no further than present probabilities.
(2) When there are clouds between. Now when the promise was made it was impossible in the course of nature for Abraham to have a son; but when the son was miraculously given he was commanded to sacrifice him. Now to strive against these and other difficulties argues strong faith Romans 4:18).
(3) When there is little light to see by. The revelation was obscure; the patriarchs had only Genesis 3:15; Abraham’s was a little clearer, but it was a small glimmering compared with what we enjoy. Yet they could do more with their faith than we with ours.
(1) As to Christ there is a sight of Him
(a) Past. To see Him whom we have not seen, as if we had seen Him in the flesh, is the work of faith (Galatians 3:1).
(b) Present. To see Him so as to make Him the object of our love and trust (John 6:40; Acts 7:56).
(c) Future. We must be assured of His second coming and that we shall see Him (Job 19:25-18.19.27).
What, then, is this clear vision of Christ to us? How shall we judge of the strength of our faith by this? Ans
(2) As to the glory and blessedness of the world to come. Faith is the perspective of the soul, by which it can see things distant as present Hebrews 11:26; Hebrews 6:18; Hebrews 12:2).
2. His deep affection or rejoicing in Christ.
(1) No other affection will become Christ but great joy (Luke 2:10, Acts 13:48; Acts 8:39; Acts 16:34).
(2) The reasons for this joy.
(a) The excellency of the object in Himself and His work (John 3:16); in His necessity to us (Micah 6:6-33.6.7; Psalms 49:7-19.49.8; Job 33:24); in His benefit (1 Corinthians 1:30-46.1.31).
(b) The subjects are delivered from their misery and find their happiness in God.
(c) The causes--the Holy Ghost and faith as His instrument Rom 14:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Romans 15:18; 1 Peter 1:8).
(3) The nature of this joy and its solid effects.
(a) It enlarges our hearts in duty and strengthens us in the way of Nehemiah 8:10; Psalms 119:14).
(b) It sweetens our calamities (Hebrews 3:17-58.3.18).
(c) It draws us off from the vain delights of the flesh (Psalms 4:7; Psalms 43:4). (T. Manton, D. D.)
Abraham beholding Christ’s day
I. THE DAY OF CHRIST. Not a period of twenty-four hours, but, as is usual in the Bible, a dispensation.
1. Some of the remarkable days that Abraham saw.
(1) Looking back he saw the day when the Everlasting Father embraced Abraham and all His chosen in Christ and designed their salvation (Proverbs 8:28).
(2) The day of Christ’s incarnation. “In thy seed,” etc.
(3) The day of Christ’s oblation.
(4) The day of Christ’s resurrection.
(5) The day of Christ’s ascension.
(6) The day of Pentecost.
(7) The day of judgment as winding up the dispensation and completing the fulfilment of the promise.
2. The characteristics of this day. It was a day of
II. THE BLESSED VIEW WHICH FAITH TAKES OF THIS DAY.
1. It could not have been a sensible view--for sense never can discover God. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.
2. It was a spiritual view--a sight by faith. Faith, like the bodily eye, is
(1) A recipient organ.
(2) An assuring organ. When a man sees a thing he cannot be mistaken if his sight is good, so a man cannot believe without knowing he is saved.
(3) A directing organ. By the eye we are guided in our daily life, and by faith we walk in the light.
(4) While a small, the eye is a capacious organ. What a wide prospect it can take in! So the least faith pierces the invisible.
(5) An impressible organ. As scenes are impressed on the retina, so is Christ on faith.
III. THE JOY AND GLADNESS ARISING OUT OF THIS SIGHT. It was not carnal but spiritual joy, including
1. Spiritual health (Psalms 33:1).
2. Soul satisfaction (Psalms 36:8).
3. Enlargement of soul.
4. It is cordial, hidden and unknown to the world, lasting, matchless and transcendent. (T. Bagnall-Baker, M. A.)
Christian piety in relation to the future
I. TURNS THE SOUL TOWARDS THE FUTURE. Piety seems to have turned Abraham’s mind to the “day” of Christ. This refers, undoubtedly, to Christ’s incarnation, personal ministry, and spiritual reign. Nineteen long centuries rolled between. Still he saw it. In relation to the future, Christian piety
1. Gives an interesting revelation of it. Science, poetry, literature, shed no light on the on-coming periods of our being; but the Bible does. It opens up the history of the race.
2. Gives a felt interest in the blessedness of the future. It gave Abraham a felt interest in the day of Christ. It gives the good a felt interest in the glories that are coming. And what glorious things are on their march!
II. FASTENS THE SOUL UPON CHRIST IN THE FUTURE. “My day.” To the godly Christ is everything in the future. Do the rivers point to the sea, the needle to the pole, the plants to the sun? Does hunger cry for food, life pant for air? Even so does the heart of piety point to Christ in the future. He has a “day,” a universal day of His glorious revelation to come.
III. BRINGS JOY TO THE SOUL FROM THE FUTURE. Abraham was “glad”
1. With a benevolent gladness; he knew the world would be blessed by Christ’s advent.
2. With a religious gladness; he knew that God would be glorified by His advent. Several reasons might make us glad as we think of the coming day of Christ.
(1) There will be a solution of all difficulties.
(2) A termination of all imperfections, physical, mental, spiritual.
(3) A consummation of unending blessedness.
1. The congruity of Christianity with the prospective tendency of the soul. The soul is always pointing to the future. Christianity meets this tendency and satisfies it.
2. The antidote of Christianity to the forebodings of the soul. Some souls are always boding evil, and well all the ungodly may. Christianity lights up the future.
3. The fitness of Christianity to the aspirations of the soul. Wonderful is the good after which some souls are aspiring in the future. The present and the material have lost for them their attractions. Man cannot aspire after anything higher than that which Christianity supplies. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christ seen afar off
A very lofty mountain, rising in lonely grandeur on the horizon to cleave the blue sky with its snowy pinnacles, is descried from afar. We see it a long way off--from where hills and heights, shaggy forests, silent uplands, and busy towns, and all other individual objects that lie between, are lost in distance, and present the appearance of a level plain. So, just so, Adam and Eve descried a child of theirs rising above the common level of mankind, at the long distance of four thousand years. Of the millions who were to spring from them and people the earth of which they were the lonely tenants, this distinguished child was the only one on whom, on whose birth, and life, and death, and works, their weeping eyes and eager hopes, were fixed.
Christ before Abraham
But how did Abraham see Him and His day? One answer is, Abraham was in heaven when the Son of God left the seat of glory and came to earth. He saw the return of the trooping bands of angels whose faces flashed out in the sky above the plains of Bethlehem, and whose voices sang the anthem of incarnation, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” All heaven was stirred from its centre to its outermost rim over the coming of Christ to earth and over the great work which brought Him among men. Abraham was in the midst of this stir. There is another answer. You find it upon the page of Old Testament history. There we are taught that the Son of God did not always maintain invisibility prior to Bethlehem. Under the former religious economy He fellowshipped with men. He walked with Adam in Eden and communed with him in the cool of the day. There is quite a long chapter in the Old Testament concerning His visit to Abraham: how He found his tent; what Abraham was doing; how He was received; how a kid was dressed and cakes were baked; how He ate and refreshed Himself at Abraham’s table; even a report is given of the conversation which passed between them. From the declaration of superiority to Abraham, the Jewish ideal of superior human greatness, Jesus passes to the declaration of His equality with God. Christianity’s Christ is a distinct and a well-defined person. Everything about him is sharply cut and fearlessly stated. He speaks for himself. He entraps no man into discipleship. He is not afraid of the light, nor of the witness-stand, nor of the crucible. He asks no blind faith, but submits himself to scrutiny. The man with a true Christ is a true man. The Christ and the man always correspond. (David Gregg.)
Before Abraham was, I am.
Here the Saviour claims with a double “Amen” the Incommunicable Name (Exodus 3:14). It signifies unchangeable essence and everlasting duration. This is the name which the Jews for centuries had not dared to utter. Silently they had read it, used another in its stead, revered and adored it. Now the humble Nazarene openly assumes and claims it. God’s word to Moses implies the impossibility of a full definition of the name, or that finite creatures could not comprehend it if given. He does not say, “I am their Light, Life, Guide, Strength, or Tower.” He sets His hand to a blank, that faith may write her prayer. Are believers weary? I am their strength. Poor? I am their riches. In trouble? I am their comfort. Sick? I am their health. Dying? I am their life. I am justice and mercy, grace and goodness, glory, beauty, holiness, perfection--all-sufficient through eternity. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
This title teaches us
I. THE SELF-EXISTENCE OF CHRIST. The creature is a dependent being; God alone is independent and self-existent.
II. HIS UNCHANGEABLENESS. Change is written on everything earthly. The billows of a thousand generations may sweep over the rock, but it is steadfast. Jesus is “the same today, yesterday, and forever.”
III. HIS ALL-SUFFICIENCY. We are at liberty to write what we like after “I am.” Whatever you want to make you happy, put in there. (J. M. Randall.)
The eternity of Christ
With filial pride the Jew thought of “Father Abraham.” So hearing of our Lord’s lofty claims they asked, “Art thou greater than he?” “Yes. He rejoiced to see My day.” With prophetic vision, doubtless; but surely more than this is meant. When did Christ’s “day” begin? Away back at the time of the first promise it broke. God, called also “the Angel of the Lord,” or Christ Himself temporarily assuming human form, appeared to Abraham more than once, and perhaps here is a reference to a revelation of Christ, brighter than the rest, but made known to none other. Then the Jews said, “Thou art not fifty years old,” etc. Our Lord replied (literally), “Before Abraham was brought into being, I exist.”
The statement is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham, but that He never came into being at all. The Jews understood this as a Divine claim, and took up stones against Him as a blasphemer.
1. Then we think of the eternity of Christ. There never was a point when He began to be. Not so with man, angels, the universe. Go back eighteen hundred years to the time of Abraham; back further still to the time of Noah, Enoch, Adam; back before any creature existed: “In the beginning was the Word,” etc. Meet Him anywhere in eternity past or in eternity to come, and He says, “I am.”
2. How can we think of the eternity of Christ? What know we of eternity? Suppose the patriarchs were living now, with what awe should we listen to their words weighty with the experience of millenniums. But they had a beginning. Let the ages be reckoned back to when the world was not, and added to those which shall follow till it shall cease to be, and what shall we pay for the stupendous sum total? But this is not eternity. Call in angelic numeration, and gather into one gigantic aggregate the sands of the shore, the drops of the ocean, and the stars of the sky; what would it be? Only a spot of spray to the immeasurable ocean.
3. But the eternity of Christ is a doctrine most blessed and practical, because related to the Divinity of Christ. We need a Divine as well as human Saviour, and we have one in the “I am.”
I. Is Christ eternal? THEN ASSURED IS THE LIFE OF ALL LIVING THINGS, “By Him all things consist.” Because He is eternal, the stars wax not dim; they are as bright to us as they were to Abraham. Because He is eternal, the flowers of each coming spring are as fair as their blooming ancestry in the dawn of the world. Because He lives, “While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest … shall not cease.” Because He lives man lives. How sweet and fresh the beauty of the newborn child! The hand of the Eternal has moulded it. And so come the successive generations of children. The years bring changes, and the man is unlike the child. Yet the soul that lives in Christ is never old; it is “renewed day by day.”
II. Is Christ eternal? THERE IS HOPE, THEN, FOR EVERY MAN. Withdrawn from human sight, He ever liveth to make intercession for us. Stephen saw Him, and Paul, and John; and now He reaches forth His invisible hand to save.
III. Is Christ eternal? THEN WE HAVE ONE ABIDING FRIEND. We can lose much here; much, thank God, that it is well to lose--ignorance, bad habits, sin. But there are some bereavements that impoverish us, through injustice, misfortune, accident, loss of friends. But if Christ is ours we have an eternal possession. He loves us to the end. Lose what we may, who can be poor with Him. “Who shall separate us,” etc.
IV. Is Christ eternal? THEN HIS KINGDOM THOUGH DELAYED SHALL COME. We wonder at the tardy steps of Truth. But what are the millenniums to Christ? His name shall endure forever. (G. T. Coster.)
The pre-existence of Christ
Does it appear that Christ was conscious of having existed previously to His human life? Suppose that He is only a good man enjoying the highest degree of intercommunion with God, no reference to a pre-existent life can be anticipated. There is nothing to warrant it in the Mosaic revelation, and to have professed it on the soil of Palestine would have been regarded as proof of derangement. But believe that Christ is the Only-begotten Son of God, and some references to a consciousness extending backwards into a boundless eternity are to be looked for. Let us then listen to Him as He proclaims, “If a man keep My saying He shall never see death” (John 8:52). The Jews exclaim that by such an announcement He assumes to be greater than Abraham. The response to this is, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day,” etc. Abraham had seen the day of Messiah by the light of prophecy, and accordingly this statement was a claim on the part of Jesus to be the true Messiah. Of itself such a claim would not have shocked the Jews; they would have discussed it on its merits. They had latterly looked for a political chief, victorious but human, in their expected Messiah; they would have welcomed any prospect of realizing their expectations. But they detected a deeper and less welcome meaning. He had meant, they thought, by His “day,” something more than the years of His human life. At any rate, they would ask Him a question, which would at once justify their suspicions or enable Him to clear Himself (John 8:57). Now if our Lord had only claimed to be a human Messiah He must have earnestly disavowed any such inference. He might have replied that if Abraham saw Him by the light of prophecy, this did not of itself imply that He was Abraham’s contemporary. But His actual answer more than justified the most extreme suspicions, “Before Abraham was, I am.” In these tremendous words the Speaker institutes a double contrast in respect both of the duration and the mode of His existence, between Himself and the great ancestor of Israel. Abraham had come into existence at some given point of time, and did not exist until his parents gave him birth. But “I AM.” Here is a simple existence, with no note of beginning or end. Our Lord claims pre-existence indeed, but not merely pre-existence; He unveils a consciousness of Eternal Being. He speaks as one on whom time has no effect, and for whom it has no meaning. He is the “I AM” of ancient Israel; He knows no past as He knows no future; He is unbeginning, unending Being; He is the eternal “Now.” This is the plain sense of his language, and perhaps the most instructive commentary on its force is to be found in the violent expedients to which Humanitarian writers have been driven in order to evade it. (Canon Liddon.)
Then took they up stones to cast at Him.
Stones of the visible Temple cast at the cornerstone of the Temple of God. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
The Jews and Jesus
Followeth now the issue of this long dispute, and particularly of this last contest. They look upon Him as so absurd in what He had just spoken that they will reason no more, but seek to cut Him off as a blasphemer; and He takes no more pains to convince them, but delivers Himself miraculously from their fury. Whence learn
1. Malicious persecutors will not hearken to truth, though never so clearly told them; but when all arguments fail them, they will betake themselves to violence; for “then they take up stones to cast at Him,” wherein they were injurious, in returning Him the reward of a blasphemer, who had told them the truth, and unjust, in their tumultuous procedure, and not taking a legal way. And this is it which may be expected of all contradictors of Christ’s doctrine, if they get power and be not bridled.
2. It is lawful for God’s servants to withdraw from the fury of bloody persecutors, when the persecution is personal, as Christ’s example doth teach.
3. Our blessed Lord did condescend to sanctify all the weak means prescribed to His people in hard times, in His own person; for, He who could have destroyed them, “hid Himself,” and made use of fleeing, “He went out,” etc.
4. Christ can disappoint persecutors, and deliver His people, even in greatest extremity; for, when they have Him among their hands in the Temple, He first “hid Himself,” and then “went out of the Temple, going through the midst of them,” etc. Either he dazzled their eyes, and made Himself invisible, both when He hid Himself, and went away; or having done so for a while, while he hid Himself, He did bind up their hands that they could not touch Him when He went openly through them out of the Temple. And so He evinced His great power even in His infirmity, and so also doth He make His people prove strong while they are weak, and perfects His strength in their weakness. (G. Hutcheson.)
Hatred of the truth
Truth is hated because
I. IT SEES TOO DEEPLY.
II. SPEAKS TOO PLAINLY.
III. JUDGES TOO SEVERELY. (Schnur.)
Jesus hid Himself and went out of the Temple
Christ and His Church in a bad world
The escape of our Lord was no doubt a great miracle. As an old Divine remarks on it, “Christ here hides Himself, not by shrinking behind partition walls, nor by interposing anything else between them and His own Body, but by the power of His Godhead making Himself invisible to those who sought Him.” Once before, as it seems, He had wrought the same wonder, but not in the same place, nor among the same people (Luke 4:29-42.4.30). Thus, as another old writer observes, “you may understand that our Lord’s passion was endured not of constraint, but willingly: that He was not so much taken by the Jews, as offered by Himself. For when He will, He is taken; when He will, He escapes; when He will, He is hanged on a tree; when He will, they can lay no hold on Him.” St. John says, He hid Himself; St. Luke does not say so--therefore it may be, that in the one case His enemies could not see Him, any more than Balaam could the angel; in the other ease, that though they saw Him, the hand of God was on them in some remarkable way, to keep them from laying hands on Him. Another circumstance much to be observed, in our Lord’s manner, in both these two several miracles, is His passing immediately from His danger and the midst of His enemies, to the performance of works of mercy among worthier and more thankful people. When He became visible again, it was to heal those who had need of healing. The particular way in which at present I wish to consider this great miracle is the following: How it throws light on the true condition of Christ and His servants here in this evil world. It shows us what the true Church of Christ and what true Christians must expect; and it shows us also how they may behave themselves, in such trials, worthy of Him whom they serve. The plain doctrine of Scripture is, that as affliction is the lot of all men--for man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward--so persecution is the lot of Christians. They declare themselves in baptism bound to be always at war with the world and the devil; and the world and the devil for their part will never leave them alone. But further: the attack on our Lord on this occasion seems to show what way of thinking it is, and what particular part of the Church’s doctrine, which is most apt to draw on itself the censure and enmity of the world. Why did the Jews try to stone our Lord? because He represented Himself as having been before Abraham. So a while after, when He plainly said to them, “I and My Father are one,” they presently took up stones to stone Him. And His final condemnation to death by the High Priest went on no other ground. Thus it has ever been between Christ and the wicked world. They would hear him teach many things--speak in praise of love and charity, or utter His great unspeakable promises. But when it comes to this, You are members of Christ, walk worthy, then, of the vocation wherewith ye are called; Christ, who accounts you part of Himself, is the Most High God; you, as united to Him, are partakers of the Divine Nature; therefore you must really keep the commandments, you must be inwardly and really holy as He is holy: when this kind of doctrine is put forth, and urged home to the hearts of men, they grow uneasy, and start objections, and make difficulties, and say it is requiring too much; they never can come up to so high a standard, and they take people to have become their enemies, who talk to them in such a tone. This of course makes our duty, in respect of God’s Truth and worship, harder to perform; but it does not in the least make it obscure or doubtful. We must not neglect, or forget, high and mysterious doctrines, or severe rules, because those with whom we are concerned are impatient of being put in mind of them; yet again, we must so teach them as they may be able to bear--tempting them as little as possible to irreverent hearing and careless forgetting. Jesus Christ, His hour being not yet come, retired out of the way of His enemies, and gave them time to consider and repent. So it becomes us, when we bear witness to the truth, to be full of that great charity, which will make us put ourselves in the gainsayers’ place, and always consider what is most likely to do them good, and bring them to a better mind. As for example: if a bad or profane word is spoken in our hearing, it can never of course be right to seem amused at it, or in any way to become partaker of the sin; but it may often be best not openly to rebuke it at the time, but rather to turn the discourse for the present, and await some opportunity, when we can speak with the offender alone, and he is otherwise more disposed to listen to us. This is withdrawing the name of our Lord out of the way of reproach, as He did His Person from the stones that were cast at Him. Only we must be very careful, that we do not so retire through cowardice or sloth, or out of care what men may say of us: and the proof of this will be, if we seek anxiously afterwards for opportunities of doing the good, which we thought we could not do at that time; and if we deny ourselves something for the sake of doing it. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times. ”)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent