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Here commences the second division of the Gospel (John 5:1)
II. THE CONFLICT WITH THE CHOSEN PEOPLE IN JERUSALEM, GALILEE, AND JERUSALEM, TO THE DEATH SENTENCE RECORDED BY THE SANHEDRIN.
1. Christ proved, by signs and wonders and testimonies, to be Source of life.
(1) A sign on a paralyzed body and an unsusceptible soul.
The journey to Jerusalem is said to have taken place at the time of "a feast," or "the feast of the Jews."£ After these things (μετα ταῦτα). Suggesting a number of events, not necessarily connected with each other. (For the latter idea of a period expressed by μετα τοῦτο see John 2:12 and John 11:7, John 11:11; for μετα ταῦτα, see John 6:1 and John 21:1. etc.) There was the feast of the Jews. Now, "the feast" of the Jews could hardly be any other than the second Passover, while John 6:4 would indicate a third. "The feast" referred to in John 4:45 undoubtedly means the first Passover. "A feast" would leave the question open, though by no means excluding positively the second Passover, as the anarthrousness of the word might be chosen with a view to call special attention to it. However, the indefinite ἑορτη has been identified by commentators with every feast in the calendar, so there can be no final settlement of the problem. If the feast be the Passover, then our Lord's ministry lasted a little more than three years. If not, it must be one or other of the feasts that elapsed between the Passovers of John 2:1-25 and John 6:1-71 Edersheim, with many others, refuses to accept any chronological hint in John 4:35, and therefore throws the journey from Jerusalem to Galilee a few weeks after the first Passover, in the early summer, and supposes that Jesus returned to the unnamed feast in the autumn. Several critics say of John 4:35, one part of the sentence must be parabolical and the other literal, and that the disciples might be anticipating a spiritual harvest after four months, and Jesus drew from the physically ripening corn fields his comparison. This seems to me entirely contrary to our Lord's ordinary method; and that the disciples were in too carnal a mood to be credited with an anticipation of spiritual results in Samaria at all. Those who think that John 4:35 does give a hint of four months preceding harvest, place the journey between the middle of December and the middle of January. To my mind there is consequently no difficulty in imagining that when those four months should have been spent, and before the regular calling and appointment of the twelve apostles, our Lord should have gone up to the feast—one of the feasts which did summon the adult men to the metropolis. This is the view of Irenaeus, Luther, Cretins, Lampe, Neander, Hengstenberg, Conder, and many others. Wieseler, Hug, Meyer Lance, Godet, Weiss, Farrar, Watkins, think that the Feast of Purim, celebrated on the 15th of Adar (2 Macc. 15:36), in commemoration of the deliverance of the people from the evil intention of Haman (Esther 9:21, etc.), was that national fast and feast which Jesus thus honoured. Purim was not one of the divinely appointed festivals, but it is also stated that the Lord undoubtedly attended one of the national and recently appointed festivals, that of Dedication (John 10:22). The more serious objection is that it could, if desired, have been celebrated quite as well in Galilee as in Jerusalem, and that the method of celebration seemed contrary to the whole spirit of the Master, and the whole tone of the discourse which followed. It is said that part of the ritual of the feast was the free and frequent gifts made spontaneously by one to another. Westcott prefers the autumn Feast of Trumpets as more suitable on several grounds than the Passover,
(1) because of the absence of the article,—this, however, is very problematical (see Tischendorf, 8th edit.);
(2) because when at the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2) the incident described in John 5:1-47 is still in lively recollection;
(3) because the great events of the Feast of Trumpets, the commemoration of the Creation and the Law giving, correspond with the theme of the Lord's great discourse. The fact that this particular miracle on the sabbath should be referred to a few mouths later in Jerusalem, on Christ's third appearance there, is not improbable, if we bear in mind that Judaean emissaries in Galilee had been bitterly assailing Jesus, on the ground of his persistent determination to heal sickness and hopeless maladies on the sabbath day. This Jerusalem "sign," and the claim he made on the ground of it, had roused the cry, and was still the matter of contention. The claims of the Purim feast turn principally on the fact that, since it occurred, about a month before the Passover, on the 14th or 15th of Adar, this visit might have taken place in the course of the four months referred to in John 4:35, and therefore between the sojourn in Samaria and the Passover of John 6:4, which Jesus diet not attend. Dr. Moulton (assuming the anarthrous form of the ἑορτη) thinks that the feast is left undetermined because there was nothing in it typical of our Lord's work, and fulfilled in his Person. Such a position renders the visit itself strange and apparently unealled for. These long gaps, silences, during which there is no record of event or discourse, constitute a leading feature of the gospel history, and indeed of most of the history of both Old and New Testaments. To my mind there is advantage rather than otherwise in supposing more time than a few months to have been consumed in the Galilaean ministry described in Mark 2:1-28 and Mark 3:1-35 Tregelles and the Revisers, with Westcott and Hort, have relegated the δευτεροπρωτω of Luke 6:1 to the margin, but; Tischendorf (8th edit.) and Canon Cooke, etc., retain the remarkable expression, on the overwhelming evidence of a host of authorities. If it stand, which we believe it must, then during the Galilaean ministry, and in the interval which preceded the Passover mentioned in Luke 6:4, there is a reference to the proximity of a previous Passover and a previous harvest; the Galilaean opposition to Christ on this question of ritual being at its very height. If so, the feast must have been the Passover. The question cannot be finally settled, and commentators are in hopeless conflict with one another. It must be admitted that the majority of modern critics assume the Feast of Purim to be that intended, and thereby reduce the length of our Lord's ministry from Cana to Calvary to two short years. And Jesus went up to Jerusalem. This was before the formal call of the twelve apostles, and there is no proof that he was accompanied by his disciples. Many of the commentators (and see Weiss, 'Life of Christ,' vol. 2:321) urge that not even John himself was present on the occasion, from the absence of lifelike touches and particularity of incident. There is, however, much detail in the first fifteen verses. The great discourse that follows is not broken into dramatic dialogue, and does certainly present more of the biographer's subjective treatment than other portions of the narrative. It is more conceivable, however, that John did, on grounds mentioned by Caspari (see Introduction), accompany his Lord, and learned, by what he heard of these great words, and by subsequent converse with Jesus, the burden of the mighty revelation. Thoma sets to work in the most dogmatic way, and Weiss with a perfectly different spirit, to demonstrate the identity of the narrative which follows, with the famous story of the cure of the paralytic "borne of four" which occurs in the synoptic narrative. Thoma goes further, and imagines that the supposed healing of the paralytics by both Peter and Paul are also here idealized.
Now there is in Jerusalem. A phrase denoting intimate acquaintance with the topography of the city, and the present tense suggests either a hint of a ruin yet existing after the fall of Jerusalem, or it may betray the fact that the evangelist wrote down at the very time some details of the incident which formed the occasion of the following discourse, and never, in his later editing of the document, omitted or altered the form of his sentence. At the sheep (market) or (gate) a pool, surnamed in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes or porches. The adjective προβατικῇ requires some substantive to be introduced, and since there is no reference to any sheep market in the Old Testament, little justification can be found for the gloss contained in the Authorized version. There was a "sheep gate" mentioned in Nehemiah 3:1, Nehemiah 3:32 and Nehemiah 12:39. There is no reason against this method of supplying the sense, except this, that there is no other instance of the word πύλη, or "gate," being omitted after this fashion. The "sheep gate" stood next. in Nehemiah's recital, to the "fish gate," and it was built by the priests. The old "sheep gate" is now known by the name of St. Stephen's Gate, to the north of the Haram es-Sherif, or temple area from which the path leads down into the valley of the Kedron, and if "gate" be the proper term to add to προβατικη and we have its site fixed by the modern St. Stephen's Gate, then we must look for the pool surnamed Bethesda in that vicinity. Eusebius and Jerome speak of a piscina probatica as visible in their day, but do not determine its site. Robinson did not accept the identification of the sheep gate with St. Stephen's Gate, and places the former more to the south, and nearer to what is now called the Fountain of the virgin. This fountain, on Robinson's visit, displayed some curious phenomena of periodical and intermittent ebullition, receiving a supply of water from another source. It was found by Robinson to be connected by a tunnel with the fountain of Siloam, and the relations of these wells have been quite recently submitted to fresh examination. Robinson identified this pool with "Solomon's Pool" of Josephus and "King's Pool" of Nehemiah, and thought it might be the original pool of Bethesda. Neander and Tholuck incline to agree with him. The observations of Robinson have been confirmed by Tobler, and at least show that what certainly happens now in some of these fountains may have been phenomena constantly expected at some other fountain bearing the name now before us, on the northeastern side of the Haram area. Within the (sheep gate) St. Stephen's Gate the traditional site of Bethesda is pointed out. The modern name is Birket lsrael, and this tank, from the accumulation of rubbish, does not now show its original extent; neither does it now hold water, but receives the drainage of neighbouring houses. A church, near that of St. Anne, was built by the Crusaders over a well, in this immediate vicinity—a spot which was supposed to be the site of the angelic disturbance. Colonel Wilson prefers this traditional site to that fixed upon by Robinson. So also Sir G. Grove, in Smith's 'Bible Dict.' The five porches, or porticoes, may have been a columnar structure of pentagonal form, which sheltered the sick and the impotent folk. At present no indubitable relic of this building has been discovered. Alford (7th edit.) quotes a letter which makes it probable that Siloam was Bethesda, and the remains of four columns in the east wall of that pool, with four others in the centre, show that a structure with five openings or porches might easily have been erected there. Bethesda, which is said to be the Hebrew (that is, Aramaic) surname of the pool, is very doubtful. Probably this is the correct form of the text, though there are many variants, such as Bethzatha, in א, 33, Tischendorf (8th edit.); Bethsaida, in some versions and Tertullian. It seems generally allowed that its significance (אדָּסְחֶ תיבֵּ) is "house of grace or mercy," and that it derived its reference from the dispensation there of God's providential gifts. The healing virtue of waters charged with iron and carbonic acid and other gas is too well known to need reference, and the remarkable cures derived from their use may account forevery part of the statement which was here written by John. Eusebius speaks of these waters as "reddened," so he thought, with the blood of sacrifices, but tar more probably by chatybeate earth.
John 5:3, John 5:4
In these (porches) lay a multitude of sick folk, blind, lame, withered, [waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel went down season by season into the pool, and troubled the waters: he then that first stepped in after the troubling of the water became whole of whatsoever disease he had].£ The interesting gloss discussed below conveys the idea of magical cure, without moral significance, and attributes such cure to angelic ministry. This is the natural and popular explanation of the Bethesda healings, and would easily occur to a copyist who has not taken pains to use New Testament diction. Wunsche quotes from 'Chullin,' fol. 105, b, a testimony that "deadly qualities of water were attributed to demons, and healing ones to the angels." The crowds which gather in all countries round medicinal and intermittent springs are still unable to explain their curative quality by scientific analogies; and there is nothing more likely to have suggested itself to the mind of a copyist than the intervention of an angel. The absence from Scripture elsewhere of non-moral miracles is powerful internal reason for the lack of authenticity for the poetic gloss. The text. when deprived of this dubious gloss, loses all character that is inconsistent with the authenticity of the narrative. The close of John 5:3, "waiting for the moving of the waters," is far better attested than John 5:4, and, moreover, is consistent with John's manner, and with well ascertained matters of fact; and the clause would give authentic ground for the gloss that fellows. Hoffmann and Hengstenberg defend the passage, and believe that the angel at "the waters" in the Apocalypse betrays the same hand. But there can be no fair comparison between an historical fact and a symbolical figure.
And a certain man was there, who had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity. He had not lost all his powers—he crawled probably from some near home to the healing well; but for thirty-eight years be had been dragging out his impotent existence. The length implies the inveteracy of the disease. Hengstenberg, Wordsworth, Westcott (in part), imply a marked correspondence between these thirty-eight years and the similar period of time during which Israel was compelled to wander in the wilderness. It is not said how long the man had lain in the five porches waiting listlessly for healing, but that the malady was of old standing, and to all human appearance incurable. Thoma finds allegorical meaning in "Bethesda"—a synonym of the metropolls, and keeps up a series of comparisons with Acts 3:1-26.
When Jesus saw him lying there, and perceived (came to know by his searching glance and intuitive knowledge of the history of others) that he had during a long time already been (in that condition, or in sickness,) said unto him—spontaneously, in the royalty of his benefactions, not demanding from the man even the faith to be healed, and dealing with him almost as he did with the dead—Wilt thou be made whole? The leper came beseeching him, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." The leper was quite sure of his own intense desire for cleansing, and all he questioned was the will, not the power, of Jesus. The admission of the power was a tacit cry for healing. The questioning of Jesus on this occasion involved an offer of mercy. "Dost thou veritably wish for health and strength?" The question implies a doubt. The man may have got so accustomed to his life of indolence and mendicancy as to regard deliverance from his apparent wretchedness, with all consequent responsibilities of work and energy and self-dependence, as a doubtful blessing. He whined out, with professional drawl, his oft-told story, reflecting very much upon his lovelessness and quarrelsomeness, and ugly temper. There are many who are not anxious for salvation, with all the demands it makes upon the life, with its summons to self-sacrifice and the repression of self-indulgence. There are many religious impostors who prefer tearing open their spiritual wounds to the first passerby, and hugging their grievance, to being made into robust men upon whom the burden of responsibility will immediately fall. In this case the sign of his palsied nature was written upon his face, and was probably known to every passerby.
The sick (impotent) man answered him: Sir,£ I have no man, when the water has been troubled, to put me £ into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. This implies that some special advantage accompanied the troubling of the water. The sudden escape of the medicinal gas may have soon subsided, and, with it, the special virtue of the well. The difficulty which the sick man found in reaching the point of disturbance may be accounted for in many ways. The steps which led into the water; the weakness of the sufferer, which made it an impossible task without help; the eagerness at many other impotent folk to take advantage of the supposed cure, jostling one another with selfish haste; or the absence of any personal friend to fight his battle for him, and cast him (βάλῃ) with the required plunge into water. The last point may be explained on the supposition that he was a comparative stranger in Jerusalem, and had made no friends; or by another, which several other allusions justify, viz. that he was a man who, from some reason or other, could neither make nor retain friendship. The melancholy recital of his frequent disappointment is given with an air of mendicant resignation—a kind of morbid satisfaction with his lot. The phrase, "while I am coming, another," etc., implies that he could move, if slowly, without help. The moroseness of self-dependence characterizes some sufferers, who rather glory in isolation than lament it. Still, the words express the hopelessness of thousands who, for lack of human help, are jostled out of life, peace, and salvation.
Jesus smith to him, Rise, take up thy bed (κράββατόν σου)—thy mattress or pallet; the word is said to be of Macedonian origin, it is Latinized in the vulgate into grabbatus, and is not unfrequently found in the New Testament; the ordinary Greek word σκίμπους σκιμπόδον—and walk. These are in part the identical words which Jesus addressed to the paralytic (Mark 2:9). He did not touch him or use any other means than his own life-giving word to confer the cure. He put forth, in royal might and spontaneous unsolicited exertion, the miraculous force.
The energy of the Lord's will mastered the palsied will of the sick man, and infused into him the lacking energy. Archdeacon Watkins supposes that the man did possess incipient and recipient faith, moved by the generous tenderness and sympathetic interest of the Stranger in his ease. The very striking fact mentioned in the synoptic cure of the paralytic, viz. that he was borne into the presence of Jesus by four friends, ought to have prevented Thoma's caricature of criticism, which makes this narrative a mere idealization of that.
And immediately £ the man became whole (well, sound in health), and took up his bed, and walked. This act of obedience was an act of faith, as in every other miracle upon paralyzed nerves and frames. The imagery of the sign explains the rationale of faith. The impotent man, the paralytic, and the man with withered hand, were severally called by Christ to do that which without Divine aid seemed and was impossible. The spiritual quickening of the mind was communicated to the ordinary physical volition, and the bare act was a method by which the palsied sufferer took hold of God's strength. Faith always lays hold thus of power to do the impossible. The words and the result are similar to those adopted on the cure of the paralytic. This is another instance of the identity of the Christ of John and of the synoptists. The various efforts of Strauss, Baur, and Weiss to identify this miracle with that wrought on the paralytic is, however, in defiance of every condition of time, place, character, and consequences. The energy of faith and love which led the Galilaean sufferer to secure the services of four stalwart friends, not only to carry him, but to make strenuous efforts to bring him into the presence of Jesus, contrasts powerfully with the loneliness and friendlessness of the impotent man; and the method adopted by the Lord to convey his grace, and the discussion that followed on that occasion touching the power of the Son of man to forgive sins, all suggest profoundly different circumstances. Nothing but the claim of the critic to be entirely superior to the document he is interpreting can account for so wild a conjecture.
(2) The outbreak of hostility due to the breach of the sabbatic law.
Now it was the sabbath on that day. The form of the expression implies that it was one of the festival sabbaths rather than the weekly sabbath. These days, however, received the same reverence, and were observed with nearly the same rites and restrictions, as the ordinary sabbaths. This statement is the keynote of the great discourse which fellows, and it is made to prepare the way for the subsequent incidents. The Jews; i.e. the authorities, either the rabbis or Sanhedrists who were present in the crowd which gathered round the pool of Bethesda, or filled the neighbouring courts, are to be distinguished from "the multitude," or from the people generally. The designation evidently means the leading folk, the social censors, the hierarchy, who very soon displayed in marked fashion their jealousy and hatred of Jesus. The Jews therefore said to the man who had been healed, It is sabbath, and £ it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. Judging by the letter of the Law (Exodus 20:10 and Exodus 35:3), and by the precedents of Scripture (Numbers 15:32-35), and by the special injunctions of the prophets (Jeremiah 17:21-23; Nehemiah 13:15, etc.), the man was infringing a positive command. Rabbinism had indeed declared that, in cases affecting life and health, the law of the sabbath was legitimately held in abeyance; but this relaxation was so hedged about with restrictions that the poor man and the layman were unable to apply the rules. The rabbinic interpretations of the sabbatic law concerning burden bearing were so intricate and sophistical that the entire majesty of the law, and the merciful intent of the prohibition, were concealed and vitiated. Apart from these complications, the man was prima facie disobeying the letter of the law. 'Shabbath,' fol. 6, a, declares that if unwittingly a burden was carried on the sabbath, the transgressor was bound to bring a sin offering; if with knowledge, he must be stoned.
And he answered them, He £ that made me whole, that very same man (ἐκεῖνος,, "even he;" cf. for this use of the pronoun, John 1:18, John 1:33; John 14:21, John 14:26, etc.) said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. This was justification for him. The Prophet-like Healer must know what was right, and upon his shoulders the responsibility must rest. There was a rabbinic saying, which the cured man may or may not have heard, that conferred a dispensing power upon a prophet; but the marl could not have known with any certainty that such was Christ's official character. It is, moreover, clear that he did not know at this moment either the face, the voice, or the name. Meyer hears a ring of defiance in these words. The other hints we obtain touching the man's character do not sustain such an idea.
[Then] £ they asked him, Who is the man (contemptuous use of ἄνθρωπος, as distinct from God's great messengers, or the legislators and prophets of the olden time, who have laid down the eternal Law of God) that said unto thee, Take up [thy bed], £ and walk? "The Jews" here ignore the work of healing and mercy, and seek to fasten a charge of overt criminality against some person unknown. A technical offence has been clone against the honour of their sacred place. The work of healing is an insignificant compensation for such a disgrace. They would be even with the heretical healer. Saving men by questionable methods is not to be endured. "Who is the man?" "Men and women lying in moral helplessness, not helped by God's priests and rulers, are now standing and moving in the strength their new Teacher has given. They cannot deny it; but can they prevent it? The rabbinic precept which he has crossed shall be applied to stamp out his work and kill him" (Watkins).
Now he that was healed—in this place ὁ ἰαθεὶς takes the place of τεθεραπευμένος of John 5:10. £ The fundamental idea in the verb θεραπεύω to render kindly and useful, even noble, service to another—to do the work and act the part of a θεράπων. The ministry rendered may be that of a δοῦλος or ὑπηρέτης, a θάλπων or ἰατρὸς. The "service" successfully rendered by a physician is more often expressed by ἰάομαι, which has no other meaning than restoration to health, and its use here may imply this positive fact (see the use of both words in Matthew 8:7, Matthew 8:8)—knew not who it was (was at that time and for a while ignorant of the person of his Healer): for Jesus withdrew—after the healing. Ἐκνεύω is "to nod or bend the head and avoid a blow," but comes to mean "withdraw" or "retire." Some have supposed that, like ἐκνέω,, to "escape by swimming from a danger," ἐξένευσε means here "stealthily escaped"—a sense that it has in Eur., 'Hipp.,' 470, and elsewhere; but (as Grimm says) Jesus did not withdraw to avoid a danger which had not yet proclaimed itself, but to evade the acclamation of the multitude (see also Lange)—a crowd being in the place where the miracle had been wrought.
After these things (see John 5:1). Westcott thinks that a looser connection between the foregoing and subsequent events is denoted by μετὰ ταῦτα than by the expression μετὰ τοῦτο.. Consequently, the persecution referred to in the remainder of the chapter may have occurred several days after the foregoing conversation. Jesus found him £ in the temple. Some have inferred from this, the recognition by the healed man of the hand of God in his cure, and his desire to express his gratitude in the house of God by some appropriate conduct or service; and, granting this explanation, much charm is observable in the tact that Jesus found him. and found him there. The Lord's habit of visiting the temple, and the penetrating glance which he casts over all the frequenters of his Father's house might then fairly be deduced from the passage; but the motive of the man is quite conjectural. From the words of Jesus one might as reasonably suppose that the man was treading at the time on dangerous moral ground, making some kind of gain from his notoriety. The healing was, at least, imperfect until the man had learned its spiritual significance. Every gift of God is doubled in value when its source is recognized. God's signature on his own mercies gives them their true meaning. Christ found the healed man in the precincts of the temple, whether his motive was pure or mixed in going thither. And he said unto him, Beheld, thou art made whole (hast become sound and healthy throughout thy physical system; cf. for the form of this description of his case, the query, John 5:6): no longer continue to sin. The form of the sentence points to something special and persistent in this man's habits, rather than to the general corruption of human nature. Christ's penetrating glance discovered all the hidden misery and bleeding wound and putrefying sore of the man's soul. Apart from the obliteration of the consequences of his bad life, and without a clean and free condition of things, the future would have proved hopeless, and deliverance from the yoke of fear and concupiscence impossible; but now this new chance is given. He was made whole, born again physically. As Naaman's flesh became like that of a little child, so this man—once bent, crippled, distorted by his self-indulgence, and now made whole—is to "sin no longer." It would not be reasonable to conclude from this that Christ's doctrine, like that of Job's friends, involved the indissoluble connection of sin with sickness, or made the amount of pain in any case the criterion of individual sin. Our Lord repudiates this position in John 9:3 and in Luke 13:1-5; but special calamities have unquestionably followed wrong doing, and can, in many instances, be referred to obvious transgressions, to specific acts, or inveterate habits. The man's own conscience would respond to the charge. Jesus added: Lest a worse thing befall thee. There is, then, something worse than thirty-eight years of apparently hopeless wretchedness! Jesus said, even as reported by the apostle of love, the most terrible things that ever fell from human lips. The "sin no longer" makes it seem as though man's will could accomplish much (cf. Isaiah 1:16, "Cease," etc.), and as though all the future of our life were, so far as human responsibility goes, dependent upon ourselves. We are to act as if it were. Let it be noticed that he who said, "Sin no more," said, "Rise up, take thy bed, and walk." Three things, which appeared utterly beyond the power of the impotent man, were, nevertheless, done by him through the grace of Christ, which he then and there appropriated.
John 5:15, John 5:16
The man departed, and told £ the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him whole. Therefore the Jews persecuted Jesus, (and sought to slay him £), because he was doing these things on the sabbath. The motive of the man may have been one of gratitude, or may have arisen from a sense of duty, seeing that he had not answered the question of the Jews, and had been himself charged with doing the unlawful thing (Weiss). He may have sought to win from his interlocutors some reverence for his Healer; but everything points the other way. He was a loveless being; he seems to have been nettled by the charge and warning he had just received, and went with the name of his Benefactor on his lips to those who in his hearing had already condemned the Saviour's conduct. The connection is close between the two facts, viz. the man's eager implication of his Healer in the responsibility of his own act, which was said by "the Jews" to be unlawful; and the course of cruel persecution and deadly hate which was there and then inaugurated against the Saviour of the world. The sixteenth verse represents a course of conduct on the part of the Jews which led to open conflict with the dominant party. Christ's view of the sabbath lay, indeed, in the heart of the old Law, and was even recognized by some of the wisest and noblest spirits of Judaism; but it ran counter to the current traditionary interpretation, and cut as with a sharp sabre through the knots and entanglement of the schools. It was the unpardonable sin that ideas and rules which sustained and fed the authority of the hierarchical party should be swept away as valueless and perilous accumulations, and as fungoid encrustations upon the Law of Moses. Weiss justly remarks that there is no colour for the charge that the fourth evangelist antedated the sabbath controversy, for Mark (Mark 3:6) shows that it had already commenced in Galilee. In John 4:1-3 we see that the Pharisaic party distrusted Jesus; here we see that the authorities are in arms against him.
(3) The reply of Jesus to the hostile Jews. The discourse of the Lord Jesus, in reply to the persecuting spirit and deadly purpose of the Jewish authorities, is now given at length. There is a fulness and order and progress observable throughout of immense importance as establishing the sacred origin of the words. The simplicity of the style, quite Hebraic in its freedom from conjunctive forms, discriminates it from the Philonic presentation of certain analogous but different ideas. If, as Godet has remarked, we venture on the hazardous speculation that the prologue to the Gospel merely places before us the Philonic conception of ΘΕΟΣ and ΛΟΓΟΣ, making God to be the inconceivable, unapproachable, impersonal Essence, coming into activity in the ΛΟΓΟ who is self-dependent, but who exhausts all the vitality and activity of the supreme Θεος, we may, with Reuss, find hero what is contrary to both the prologue and to the views of the Divine Being, which repudiate the correlative subordination of the Son of God. But the prologue is based on the identity of nature between ΘΕΟΣ and ΛΟΓΟΣ, and the subordinate and yet eternal relation of the latter to the former. There is an infinite fulness of being and activity in the Father, who yet is and loves and energizes in all things through the ΛΟΓΟΣ, the ΜΟΝΟΓΕΝΗΣ. It appears to us that precisely the same truth is taught here, but it is taught in terms derived from the consciousness of the Logos incarnate, and with reference to a part only of the operations of the Logos, viz. in the providential, redeeming, and quickening work of the Son. This narrative shows how actual revelations of the Logos were made through the human consciousness of him who was lifted up into the being of the Son of God, and who became the Interpreter of the Son to men. The prologue is built upon the discourse—is an inspired and transcendental generalization of the truths here and elsewhere announced. The discourse is the basis of the prologue in the thought of the evangelist. The originality of the discourse is conspicuous. Its theme shows it to be closely allied with the discussions which shortly after this created such fierce animosities in the synagogues of Galilee, whither his Jerusalem enemies pursued him. We shall find that there Jesus declared that "the Son of man was Lord of the sabbath," and was competent in that capacity to assert what was contained and involved in the sabbath. On another occasion he vindicated for his disciples the right to food on the sabbath (Mark 2:23-28),
(1) on the historic ground that the royal hero of the Old Testament was at liberty, in dire emergency, to eat the priest's shewbread, which narrow ritualism would have refused to starving laymen;
(2) that his Person was a temple, and his service a temple service, which would be a further justification of the conduct of the disciples, as priests in the temple, in their submission to the higher law of duties, "profane the sabbath and are blameless." The cures he persistently wrought on the sabbath were justified by the principle that it is lawful to do acts of kindness, to save life, to release the sin- and Satan-bound daughter of Abraham on the sabbath; and that such sabbath keeping was part of the original significance of the day. Here the Lord takes the higher ground that he and the Father, in works of providence, healing, and life giving, are one.
John 5:17, John 5:18
(a) The claim of special relation with the Father.
But Jesus answered them "that God never ceases to create, nor takes a holiday from his works;" and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews
(4) had grasped, as an echo of Christ's own teaching, the perpetuity of Divine rest through all the ages of work; but the naked thought here soars far above them both. The dawning of every clay, the opening of the flowers, the flowing of the rivers, the sustenance of vegetable, animal, and human life, reveal through every moment of the agelong sabbath rest, and on every sabbath day, his intense and constant activity.
On this account (the διὰ τοῦτο is still further defined by the ὅτι) therefore the Jews were seeking the more (μᾶλλον, i.e. more than they had sought before he made use of this sublime expression) to slay him, because not only in their opinion, though very falsely, he was violating (i.e. dissolving the authority of) the sabbath. Jesus was actually placing the sabbatic law where it has remained ever since, giving it sanctions, beauty, and hold on conscience it had never known before. He was abrogating the petty restrictions and abolishing the unspiritual somnolence by which it had been characterized and misunderstood. But there was another and more staggering charge which they were not at that moment able to condone. They sought the more to slay him because he was calling God his own (ἴδον) Father, making himself equal to, on a level with, God. He did use the phrase, "my Father," with a marked emphasis. He did not say, "our Father, or your Father;" he assumed a unique relation to the Father. The inmost centre of the Divine consciousness in him thrilled through the human. Though he did not wear now the "form of God," but the "form of the Servant," yet the Servant knew that he was Son and Lord of all. The Divine Personality which had always wrought out the eternal counsels of the Father's will was working now on identical and parallel lines in the human sphere. There were senses in which the Lord Jesus was the own and only begotten Son of God. This was a hard saying. This placing of himself on a level with God was the blasphemy which the Jews resented. Jesus knew what he said, and saw the impression his words produced, and took no steps to correct it. Two classes of result naturally followed. Some said, "He blasphemeth," "He hath a devil," and the high priest subsequently, in reply to a similar utterance of the Lord, rent his clothes; but other some felt concerning him that the relation between him and the Father was, so far as they knew, absolutely unique. The author of this Gospel exclaimed, "He who 'was with God and was God' has been manifested in the flesh, and we saw his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father."
(b) Christ vindicated his equality with the Father.
John 5:19, John 5:20
(a) He declares himself to be "the Sore"
Jesus therefore answered and said to them; i.e. replied to their secret thoughts, and to the sentiments of animosity and hostility which they did not conceal. He spake in language of extraordinary solemnity and august claim. The verily, verily, with which he prefaced the opening sentence, and which he repeated (cf. John 5:24, John 5:25, as in John 3:3 and elsewhere) on subsequent occasions, denoted the high ground of authoritative revelation on which he took his stand. He proceeded, without a break or interruption, to assert, on the authority of his own consciousness, the true relation subsisting between the Son and the Father—the deep, eternal, sacred link between them; in essence and in affection, in work and function; and gave several illustrations of these matters, the verification of which was not beyond the capacity of his hearers. These he made the basis of the argument of John 5:23, "that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father." What did he wish "the Jews" to understand by "the Son"? Did he identify himself with the Son of whom he here speaks? Surely this is unquestionably the case, for the "answer" here given is one addressed to those who were seeking to slay him because he claimed for himself that God was "his own Father." He had said," My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." He justified the true reverence he felt for the Father when using this language, by describing in various ways the functions, privileges, and work of "the Son." Is "the Son," however, here the Eternal Son, the Logos, before and independently of his incarnation? and are the doctrines here announced an appeal to a pre-existing belief in such a sonship on the part of his enemies, so that he is dealing, at least from John 5:19-23, with the internal relations of the Godhead? The references to the recent ἔργον, and the moral effects which are to be produced upon his hearers by further activity, make this view doubtful. Does he here speak simply of "the Son of man" in his purely dependent, servile capacity, and earthly manifestation? (Watkins). We think not; for the deeds and functions of "the Son" are here so lofty and far reaching that this interpretation is inadmissible. Therefore we conclude, with Meyer and others, that by "the Son" he did mean "the whole subject, the God-Man, the incarnate Logos, in whom the self-determination of action independently of the Father cannot find place." This view of "the Son" involves the continuity of the Logos-consciousness, and not its obliteration; nor is this (as Reuss urges, and even Godet appears in part to concede) incompatible with the Logos-doctrine of the prologue. The Son is not able to do anything from himself, in the great work of healing, life giving, and redemption, except that which he seeth the Father doing. The Logos made flesh, the Son who has taken humanity up into his own eternal being, is ever in full contemplation of the Father's activity. He is in intimate and continuous and affectionate relations with the Father, who in this capacity has sent his Son to be the world's Saviour. He sees the Father's healing grace and omnipresent energy and ceaseless activity in regions where "the Jews" fail to discern them. The incarnate Son does not set up a rival throne or authority. He moves, lives, has his being, from the Father and not from himself.
For—the Lord introduces a reason, states a fact, which is calculated to make this vision of the Father's activity apprehensible to his hearers—the Father loveth (φιλεῖ expresses strong personal, natural affection, amat rather than the ἀγαπα or diligit of many other passages.
See notes, John 21:15 and John 3:35) £ the Son, and he loveth him to such an extent that he showeth him, making it therefore possible for him "to see"—all things that himself doeth. The Son has been from eternity and is now, notwithstanding his incarnate lowliness, the continuous Spectator of all the Father's doing in all hearts and lives, in all places of his dominion. "O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee." So stupendous a claim was never exceeded or transcended. "All things that himself doeth," shown and visible to One walking this world. The mind either rebels against or succumbs before such sublime and all-embracing knowledge. No neutrality is possible. If these were his words, then there is justification for the generalizations of the prologue.
(b) The greater works.
And greater works than these works of healing will he show him. Here the term ἔργα is used for the first time in this Gospel. It becomes the recognized phrase by which Christ describes what the world regards as "signs and wonders," "miracles" of power or grace; but it actually connotes the simple activity of God, the normal operation of his hand. Greater manifestations than physical quickening or revival namely, the mighty changes of thought and life, the gifts of grace and peace, eternal life itself, are evermore proceeding. The Father will so show them that the Son will see and do them, and so bring them by revelation to your consciousness that ye may marvel. Christ will not say here that ye may believe, but that ye may look on confounded and astonished. This was the first effect of Christ's work—Christ's revelation of the Father's heart, Christ's demonstration of the Father's nearness and character. Westcott quotes the apocryphal saying of our Lord preserved by Clement of Alexandria, 'Str.,' John 2:9. 45, "He that wonders shall reign, and he that reigns shall rest." The wonders of grace will never be exhausted. New combinations, new transformations, new discoveries, new insight into the eternal love, will be effected by him whom God hath sent, whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world (but see verse 28).
Greater works: (1) the resurrection of the dead.
For as the Father raiseth the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. This is the most exhaustive expression of the Father's love and revelation to the Son. This thing the Son sees, and this same thing he will do, whether these Jews attempt to put any arrest upon his will or not. The majority of commentators regard John 5:21-27 as descriptive of the moral and spiritual resurrection of dead souls, and hold that a transition is made in John 5:28, John 5:29 to the resurrection of dead bodies and the final consummation. There are some, however, who regard the whole passage—even John 5:28, John 5:29—as referring, with the previous verses, to moral resurrection, although the words, "in their tombs" (μνημείοις) are there added to give distinctness and explicitness to that future resurrection; and though "now is" of John 5:25 is not there predicated or repeated. Others (with many of the older expositors) refer the entire passage to the final resurrection, which, however, is incompatible with John 5:20 and with the "now is" of John 5:25. Others, again, see in John 5:21, in ἐγείρει and ζωοποιεῖ,, the whole process of resurrection and renewal, both physical and moral, bodily and spiritual. They suppose that in John 5:25 Christ refers first to the spiritual renovation, to be affirmed and consummated in the universal resurrection and judgment of the last day. The generality of the terms ἐγείρει and ζωοποιει, attributed to the Father, makes it possible that the Lord was referring to the numerous events of uplifting from the pit, from the lowest sheol, which formed the staple religious nutrition of the Jewish race. The history of Divine revelation is one lengthened series of interpositions and deliverances, of resurrections of the people of Israel, and of the theocracy from bondage, exile, and spiritual and civil death, and of references to the wonderful transformations of saints and prophets and kings from the depths of despair to the light of life and Divine favour. Ezekiel (37) had likened the most memorable of these resurrections to the uprising of a huge army from a valley of vision, strown with the dry bones of both houses of Israel. "So also," says Jesus, "the Son quiekeneth." including under this term, it may be, the physical healing which is often the precursor and condition of spiritual awakening and moral health and vigour. The Son, the incarnate Logos, revealing himself on earth, both as Logos and Son of man, is now quickening after the same fashion whom he will. The will of Christ is in such entire harmony with the Father's will that there is no rivalry here. The will of the Son is in spontaneous accord with the Divine purpose of resurrection and quickening. He is already doing thus here on earth, as the great organ of the Father, that which makes his will the revelation of the Father. There is no arbitrary decree, such as Calvin found here, nor such as Roues insists upon. The emphasis is simply upon the subject of the verb θέλει; and we have in the expression a vindication of the nineteenth verse, "The Son doeth that which he sees the Father doing." His own θέλημα being the origin and revealed centre on earth of Divine manifestations.
That οὕς θέλει is the point of connection with what follows, and that the Son quickeneth whom he willeth, is more clear, seeing that (γὰρ) the Father even judges no man; judges no man apart from the Son. "Pater non judicat solus nec sine filio, judicat tamen (John 5:45; Acts 17:31; Romans 3:6)" (Bengel). The word κρίνει does not mean exclusively either "condemn" or "acquit," but the exercise of judicial functions which will either acquit or condemn. As in John 3:17, the "condemnation" is rather inferred than asserted. Moreover, we are there told that the Son was not sent into the world for the purpose of judgment, but for the larger purposes of salvation, and "to give eternal life." Nevertheless, "life" to some is judgment to others, and judgment even unto death is the obverse of the gift of life when the conditions of life are not found, in John 1:39 Christ declares that one solemn consequence of his coming was εἰς κρίμα, "unto judgment"—to reveal the final decisions of the Judge. How, then, shall we reconcile these apparently incongruous statements? Judgment unquestionably results from the rejection of the proffer of mercy. The judgment rests on those who say, "We see." Their sin remaineth. Those who are not willing to be made whole remain unhealed. Those who love darkness rather than light abide in the darkness. This is the judgment, but this judicial process was (not the end, but) the consequence of his mission. The Father's ordinary providence, which is always passing judgment upon the lives of men, is now placed in the hands of "the Son." Howbeit he hath given the whole judgment—i.e. the judgment in all its parts—to the Son. He has made the entire juridical process which brings to light the essential tendencies of human hearts, issue from the reception given by man to the Son. The whole question of right against wrong, of life versus death, acquittal against condemnation, is determined by the attitude of men towards the Son. In many passages this plenipotentiary endowment of "the Son" with functions, powers, authorities, is expressed by this same word (δέδωκε), "he hath given" (John 1:36; John 3:35; John 6:37, John 6:39; John 10:29; John 17:2, John 17:4). Meyer limits the meaning of κρίνει to "condemnation," and Slier includes in it the separation of sin from the life of believers; but surely the judgment of the world is effected by the light that shines upon it, and the essence of the judgment (κρίσις) is the discrimination which infailibly follows the revelation of the Father through the Son.
The purpose of the entire commission of judgment to the Son, a bestowment which illustrates the quickening results that he (who does the will of the Father) wills to effect, is now gathered to a lofty climax, abundantly vindicating the right he had claimed to call God his own Father. It is as follows, in order that all may honour the Son. Τιμῶσιν, not προσκυνῶσιν ("honour," not "worship"), is the word used; but seeing that the identical sentiment of reverence due to the Supreme Being, to the Father, is that which is here said to be due to the Son, and is here declared to be the reason why all judgment is entrusted to the issues of his will,—we are at a loss to know how loftier attributes could be ascribed to the Son. It is surprising that Weiss should declare it "impossible to find any statements here as to the metaphysical unity and equality of the Son and the Father, although current apologetics believe it has succeeded in doing so" ('Life of Christ,' vol. 2:326, note). Luthardt asks, "What other form of τιμη than that which calls him 'Lord and God' shall belief now assume, than that which the Christian Church cherishes toward Jesus?" Thoma points to Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:11-13, and other great parallels in the New Testament. We gladly accept them, not as proof that the Johannist framed Christ's discourse from them, but as proof that the ideas of St. Paul were not originated by him. but came from the direct assertions of Christ, of which we have the historic trace.
In this verse the discourse turns from the relations between the Father and the Son, to deal with the relations of the living Christ (the "I," who is speaking throughout) with men. In John 5:21-23, indeed John 5:19-23, the Lord had been speaking prominently of the ideal sonship, of "the Son" on the Divine side of his consciousness. The use of the first person, which is here resumed, calls more express attention to the consciousness of his human manifestation, which again reaches its climax in John 5:27. Verily, verily, I say unto you—I, whose voice you now hear, whom you are misunderstanding, rejecting, and seeking to slay. I say with most solemn emphasis—He that heareth my word—this term, ἀκούειν, suggests moral as well as physical hearing, and means whosoever allows my thought to penetrate his nature, hears and understands, hears and acts accordingly (cf. Matthew 11:1 πιστεύειν 5; Matthew 13:9, Matthew 13:18; Revelation 2:7, Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:22)—and further believeth him that sent me; believeth i.e. that he has borne and is continually bearing true witness concerning me. There is a different meaning conveyed by πιστεύειν, with the simple dative, and πιστεύειν εἰς τινα, or ἐπὶ τινι, or ἐπὶ τινα, and again ἐν τινι; these prepositions convey a gradually deepening sense of intercommnnion and dependence; the simple accusative is found in 1 Corinthians 9:17; Ellicott on 1 Timothy 1:16). To believe on a person, or in one, conveys a different idea from believing that person with regard to any special assertion he may make. Here the belief of God has emphatic reference to the testimony the Father is bearing to the claims of Jesus. Such a hearer, such a believer, hath eternal life; even here he has entered into the "eternal now;" on earth he is in possession of the blessed consummation. Such belief in words authenticated by the Father's commission is eternal life (cf. John 17:3). It lifts a man out of the reach of corruption and condemnation, it ushers him into eternity, it is an eternal blessedness in itself; and he cometh not to judgment, but has passed from the death, into the life. He is already translated from the death state to the renewed, quickened state. The decision and discrimination between him and the world have taken place. The judgment is over, the books are closed, the condemnation is no longer possible. He will not perish, he has eternal life. "The believer is tree from the judgment which executes itself in the exclusion inflicted on the unbeliever, by the revelation of Jesus as the Light, because he is already in possession of the saving blessing" (Luthardt). Judgment, being completed, does not require repetition" (Godet). "When that confidence in Christ has illumined the heart wherein we recognize that we have been verily accepted, listened to, ruled, and defended by God, peace follows, and high joyfulness, which is the realization of eternal life, and which covers the sins that erewhile had clung to our weakness" (Melancthon). In this life of faith "we taste the powers of the world to come," "our citizenship is in heaven." "This eternal life is a veritable resurrection of the dead".
Once more the solemn asseveration, Verily, verily, I say unto you, is repeated, when our Lord still further emphasized the authority of his own word, the Father's confirmation of its accuracy, and the Divine signature and testimony to its power. The hour is coming, and now is. There will be more wonderful attestations to the truth than any which as yet have broken the silence of the grave. Not only will the physically dead rise from their bier or their grave in the fulness and strength of resume, life, but the spiritually dead in vast multitudes will pass from death into eternal life, will know that the bitterness of death is over, and that there shall be no more condemnation for them. The Holy Spirit was, when Jesus spake, about to convict the world of sin, and to unveil the glory of Christ to the eye of faith. Pentecost would confirm the word of Jesus, for the Spirit will bear witness to the reality of the risen Lord. But whereas that hour was only "coming," that marvellous day had yet to dawn upon the world, Jesus added it now is—while I am speaking the reality of this vast spiritual change is taking place. There are proofs enough already. "Now," already, at this very moment, the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God. The spiritually dead shall be disturbed in their slumber and roused from their indifference, be made to know that the summons of supreme power and authority is addressed to them. Emphasis is laid upon the Divine force which is at work upon heart and conscience. "The Son of God," not "a son of man" merely, is uttering his voice. And they that have heard—accepted the summons, "heard the word," and believed, not merely him that sent me (the teaching of John 5:24), but that he who has been sent is none other than the "Son of God"—these, said Christ, shah live. The form of the expression ἀκούσαντες can only designate those who give ear, and by this the literal resurrection of all the dead is excluded. £ The teaching of this verse reasserts the teaching of John 5:24, and adds to it, and clothes the truth in the imagery of the general resurrection. The awful suggestion is involved that many of these dead ones will hear the voice of the Son of God, and not give heed to it. Hengstenberg endeavours to overthrow this general interpretation of the verse, making it equivalent to John 5:27, John 5:28 rather than an expansion of John 5:24. The "now is," according to him, covers the whole period to the second advent, and the future ἀκούσονται points to a future epoch in the ὥρα. But the emphatic omission of the νῦν ἔστι in the later and more explicit statement is against such a view, and the ἀκούσονται is best explained by its adaptation to the whole clause. "The hour is coming" as well as "now is." The ζήσονται "shall live," rather than shall be "made alive," is far more applicable to the resurrection of dead souls than of defunct bodies. It is equivalent to "have eternal life" of the previous verses.
This verse, introduced by γὰρ, shows that the statement about to follow will sustain some portion of the previous one. Which portion? As it seems to me, the coming clause justifies the alteration of the term "the Son" into "the Son of God;" and declares, more fully than any other passage in the New Testament, the lofty and unique character of the Sonship which he claimed. For even as the Father hath life in himself—the sublime assumption of the self-existence and eternal being of the Father, the absolute Possessor of life per se, the Source ultimate and efficient of all that is connoted by life, the eternal Fountain of life—in like manner also he gave to the Son to have Life in himself. "He generated," as Augustine has it, "such a Son who should have life in himself, not as a participator in life, but one who should be as he himself is—Life itself." It is the bona fide expression of community of nature, attribute, quality, and possession of Godhead. In virtue of this utterance, the evangelist, learning from the consciousness of Christ through long years of meditation, under the power of the Spirit, eventually formulated the doctrine of the prologue, "In him was life." "The Son," or the God-Man, is, so far as this Sonship is concerned, the veritable Son of God with such a fulness of life power and such a fountain of life flowing from him, that his voice is the voice of the Eternal Son. This is the primary meaning, though since the Lord returned to his use of the word "the Son," and since the word "gave" is also employed to denote the stupendous conception, there is also involved in it the declaration that the God-Man, seeing he is both Son of God and Son of man, is endowed with all the functions of both. In his incarnation he has not lost the infinite fulness of life giving power. "He quickeneth whom he will," having life in himself. His voice is the voice of the Son of God. The glory of the Word who became flesh was the glory of the Only Begotten. The part which this great passage took in the Arian controversy is well known (see Athanasius, 'Discourses against Arians,' John 3:3, translated by J.H. Newman). Archdeacon Watkins emphasizes the position that the Lord here speaks of "life in himself," which was given to the Son (God-Man) in virtue of, and as the reward of his sacrificial work. He points to Philippians 2:6, etc. But Jesus here speaks of a gift already made.
(2) Second "greater work"—judgment of the world.
And he gave him (i.e. the Son, the God-Man) authority to execute judgment, £ because he is Son of man. He has vindicated his power to confer life upon the dead by asserting the possession by "the Son" of the Divine Sonship. He now adds, so far as the relation to man is concerned, his fitness and authority to administer justice, to preside over the entire juridical process, to lift the scales, to determine the destiny of the human race. The fitness is seen in this, that he, "the Son," is "the Son of man." The one term, "THE SON," entirely covers the twofold Sonship. The proof of his humanity is assumed to be complete. The fact of it is the ground that he who knows what is in man should be the Judge of men. By personal experience of man's temptations and frailties; by knowing every palliation of our sins, every extenuation of our failures, every aggravation of our weakness; by gazing through human eyes with human consciousness upon our mysterious destiny, he is competent to judge; whereas by being Son of God as well as Son of man, he is entrusted with power to execute the judgment of the Eternal. The principle involved is based upon perfect justice. The honour thus conferred on the God-Man is infinite, the consolation thus held out to man unspeakable. We are being judged by Christ, not by impersonal law. The entire incidence upon every individual of the Law is in the hands of the Redeemer. The Saviour, the Life-giver, the voice which quickens the dead, assigns the judgment. We must be careful, in any inference we draw from this grand utterance, to avoid all suspicion of schism or rivalry between the Father and the Son. The Son is not more merciful than the Father. For the Father of the Old Testament pitieth his children, and knoweth their frame (Psalms 103:13, Psalms 103:14), and the Father of Jesus Christ loves the world, and counts the very hairs of our heads. The Son will not exercise this judgment with less regard to the claims of eternal justice than the Father; but his knowledge of humanity is, by the nature of the case, a guarantee of such application of the justice of God to the case of every individual, that man's knowledge of himself will be able personally to justify and verify it. The Divine judgment will go forth from the heart of man himself.
John 5:28, John 5:29
It is impossible not to draw a distinction between the theme of these verses and that of John 5:24, John 5:25. The Lord announces an event which is in the future altogether. The "and now is," which characterized the first resurrection of which he spoke, is here omitted. The description of the subjects of the resurrection as those "in their graves," contradistinguishes them from "the dead" of John 5:25—a phrase which will suffer several interpretations. The universality of the summons, and the impossibility of neglecting it or ignoring it, form another marked contrast to the resurrection already referred to. Marvel not at this! At what? Clearly at the entire statement that the resurrection of dead souls will be the undoubted issue of accepting Christ's word and identifying it with the word of God. Marvel not that the judgment of the world is entrusted to "the Son," because he is both Son of man as well as Son of God. "Marvel not" is a relative word. It means obviously that there is a greater marvel still in store. Because the hour is coming; always coming, though it seemeth long—coming swiftly, measured on the great clock face of the universe. Geological time, astronomical aeons, should before this have rebuked our impertinence about the delays of God, and our shallow criticism of the fulness of the times. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." As compared with geological annals, still less with God's eternities, it is only the day before yesterday when Adam fell; it is only yesterday that Jesus died and rose again, and tomorrow that he will come in his glory. The hour is coming when all who are in the graves shall hear his voice. The same voice that wakes the spiritually dead shah pierce the clods, shall find the buried dead, shall bring once more into the world of the visible and tangible the long forgotten lived. Every solitary life lives with him and before him. The organic clothing of the spirit, which goes on, as St. Paul suggests (2 Corinthians 5:1) from the death of the physical body till the coming of the Son of God with glory, does not render this statement more difficult, but more comprehensible. As far as this world is concerned, those who are clothed upon with the house not made with hands—those who are with Christ, are to all appearance dead, and in their "graves," in their memorial places; but they will all hear the voice of the Son, and they will come, forth; they that have done £ good things, to the resurrection of life; they that have practised evil things, to the resurrection of judgment. They will come forth from these hiding places of fading memories. Even tombs of prophets and kings are themselves buried, covered by the graves of the many generations that have followed. The grave hidden will come forth into what we call the reality, visibility, tangibility, of things. The hour is coming on apace when Death himself shall be dead, and the mystery of time be finished. They that rise will divide themselves into two classes. The anastasis will have two forms. There is a "resurrection of life" and a "resurrection of judgment." Those who have indeed passed from spiritual death to life will not come into "judgment" (not κρίμα or κατάκριμα, but κρίσις) when their anastasis is complete, their judgment is over, their life is secure. When those who have not heard the voice of the Son of God, have not come to the light, who are not of God nor of the truth—men who have deliberately practised "evil things" without compunction or amendment,—when these are called from their tombs, from their shadowy hiding places, into the presence of him who executes judgment, it will be to undergo the (κρίσις) judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10). We must, indeed, all be made manifest before the judgment throne of Christ, to receive the consequences of "the doing of well" and "the practice of evil." The issue of the one is life, and of the other is judgment. The suggestion seems to be that such judgment may issue unfavourably, but the thought is centred upon the process of the judgment. The effort of Reuss and others to draw a marked distinction between the eschatology of the synoptists and of John fails. Christ does not represent the spiritual resurrection as "greater work" than the physical resurrection. On the contrary, white he speaks of the marvelling of his hearers at his claim to quicken the spiritually dead, yet the ground of their marvel is emphatically arrested (see verse 28) until they should recognize to the full the fact that, as Son of God and Son of man, he would call all the dead from their graves. Thoma finds admirable justification for this representation by the Johannist of the Messianic Judge, alike in the Book of Daniel, in the synoptic Gospels, in the Pauline Epistles, and Apocalypse!
(c) The witness borne to these claims.
The Lord, still preserving the consciousness of his own ego, continues to speak through human lips to human ears. He deprecates the criticism, "Who and what canst thou be, that thou shouldst execute judgment, or bring us to thy bar, or compel us to come from our hidden places to thy judgment seat?" It is not as mere man that he will judge the world; God will judge through trim. Moreover, the equality of "life" and "honour" and "authority" that he has with the Father, as the veritable Son of God, is nevertheless a life derived, a being generated, an honour given. He here opens up on this basis a new class of instruction, and proceeds to explain the threefold nature of the testimony borne to his present claim to be the Representative and coAgent of the Father. He goes back in these words to the great text of the discourse, viz. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:19). I (the ἐγώ is very emphatic, the individual standing before them associates himself, and is identified, with the one Being who, as Son of God and Son of man, has done, is doing, and will yet do, wonderful things)—I can of mine own self, from any separate or self-originating source in myself, apart from the Father, do nothing. He subsequently said to his disciples, "Without me ye can do nothing." He claims a higher source than himself for all his own power (δύναμις). When referring to the same subject (John 5:19, John 5:20), he drew his illustration from the sense of sight. The Father "shews" to him, and he "sees" all things that the Father doeth. Here he adds, with special reference to the last and consummating manifestation of relation with the Father, As I hear, I judge: and my judgment of men is righteous; because I seek not my own will, but the will of him £ who sent me. Christ refers to his judgments of absolution or condemnation upon things or men, positively declaring them to be either right or wrong; e.g. he claimed the power to say, "Thy sins be forgiven;" "The faith hath saved thee;" "It is better for this man that he had never been born;" "Come unto me;" "Depart from me;" "I never knew you." These and all his other judgments on scribes and Pharisees, on devils and hypocrites, on Pilate and Herod, on Jerusalem and the world, are revelations of the Father's mind—are in themselves just judgments, absolutely free from any selfhood, from any reflex influence or reaction from men to himself. They are the true and infallible expression of the Divine will. Because of the entire conformity of his will and himself to the Divine will, the judgment must correspond to that which is, in its very nature, right and true. If this be so, we can scarcely refrain from asking, "Wherein, then, lies the consolation and encouragement derivable from the fact that the execution of judgment is placed for man's sake in the hands of the Son of man?" It lies here, that the Incarnation is perfect; that the manhood has not obliterated the Divinity, nor the Godhead absorbed the manhood, of the Christ. The human consciousness of the Son becomes the basis for the Father's judgment, which is uttered thus absolutely and finally through human lips. It is impossible to imagine thoughts like these arising in the mind of some thinker of the second century. Great as the prologue to this Gospel unquestionably is, this unveiling of the heart of the Son of God incarnate is immeasurably greater. The consciousness of Christ is unique. Neither legend nor imagination, to say nothing of history, has ever transcended it. Here, too, the enormous difference between the Johannine Christ and the Philonic Logos comes into startling prominence.
At this point the Lord proceeds to meet the clamour which most probably arose, the doubt and questioning which broke the silence with which his solemn defence had been received. We can hear between the lines the cries of an excited crowd, declaring that these words are simply his own. Such testimony as this to himself must be sustained and sanctioned. Why and how can this Teacher take such ground as to assert about himself what no prophet, no rabbi, no chief priest of the people, not even the greatest man of men, Moses himself, had ever dared to claim? Christ admits that such assumptions as these need justification and approval over and above his ipse dixit. The words that follow are startling: If I bear witness concerning myself, my witness is not true. At first sight this is in direct contradiction to John 8:14, where, in reply to the Pharisees' "Thou bearest witness concerning thyself; thy witness is nor true," he replied, "Though I bear witness of myself, my witness is true; because I know whence I came, and whither I go." The absolute unison with the Father, which he was not only conscious of, but had also revealed to the Pharisees, lifted his own word to the grandeur of a word of God. The Divine beamed through the human, the infinite through the finite. Here he says, "If I bear—if I and I alone were bearing witness to myself," then—supposing a ease, which, as a matter of fact, is impossible—"my witness is not true." If he were acting alone, which is an inconceivable supposition, seeing that in the depths of his consciousness he knew that he was one with the Father, then for his human nature to break away thus from the Father and disdain his testimony would nullify and falsify his witness. He is not bearing witness alone.
John 5:32, John 5:37, John 5:38
(a) The witness of the Father.
It is another that witnesseth concerning me; and £ I know that the witness which he witnesseth concerning me is true. It is a mistake, with Ewald, De Wette, and many others, to suppose that this refers to the testimony of John the Baptist. By Augustine, Hengstenberg, Luthardt, Godet, Meyer, etc., it has been perceived that the "other" (ἄλλος) refers to the Father. Jesus expressly declines to receive John's testimony as his justification or sufficient vindication, and he contrasts it with the higher confirmation which in three distinct ways is already and continuously vouchsafed to him. The present tense, μαρτυρεῖ, is in striking contrast to the testimony of John already silenced by imprisonment or death. The methods of this testimony are subsequently analyzed and described. The Father's witness includes—
(b) The temporary witness of John.
Ye have sent to John, and he hath borne witness to the truth. The sending to John was probably a reference to the official transaction described in John 1:19. This is not the "other" whom he referred to, for in the next clause he made solemn disclaimer of resting his claim upon John or upon any individual man. The witness of the forerunner was a true one. The function of the prophet is to bear witness to the Light, to strip off the veils which hide it, to call attention to its most solemn realities, to quicken vision, to stimulate conscience, to disturb apathy, to discern the coming and prepare the way of the Lord (see John 1:4, John 1:5, notes), He was not the Light; but he did call attention to a testimony immeasurably more precious than any word proceeding merely from human lips. The testimonies of John, both before and after he came into contact with Christ, were very wonderful and were adapted to exert and did produce a deep impression upon the people for a time; but by themselves they would not have given sufficient ratification to the Lord's words. We may welcome still all Johannine, ministerial testamonies to the Lord. but the power of God himself must assert itself to the inner consciousness bet, re any man receives the gospel. No mere human testimony to such claims as these rises to the dignity of the occasion. Unless the Father's witness can be discerned, supreme, convincing, and final, John's witness would be insufficient. It may arrest attention, it may impress the apathetic, it may overawe the gainsayers; but it is not final, nor does it leave the hearers without excuse. All the rhetoric, all the threatening, all the irony, of Elijah would have failed if the fire of the Lord had not fallen to consume the sacrifice.
But I for my part receive not the witness which affirms my Sonship from a man; or, yet the witness which I receive is not from man. Some have given the stronger meaning of "take hold," or "snatch," or "strive after," to λαμβάνω. But this is unnecessary, for emphasis is laid on the article, "the witness," which is real, infallible, convincing, commanding, must come from the highest source of all. Yet, though Christ cannot depend upon John's testimony, it ought to have had weight with his hearers. It called them to repentance, to holy living, to faith in the Coming One. It discounted their pride in Abrahamic birth, and their false notions of race purity; it made personal and individual that which had been looked at as a national monopoly of privilege. Nay, more, it had testified that he was the "Lamb of God" and the "Son of God" and the "Bridegroom of the Church." Therefore he continued: Howbeit, these things I say—I call attention to the sum total of his message, the testimony he bore to truth—that ye may be saved; for all that John said was true. "John did no miracle: but all things that he said concerning Jesus were true" (John 10:41; see notes). If the Jews had accepted the testimony of John, they wound not now be cherishing angry and rebellious thought, and have been so blinded to the truth and reality of things.
He was the lamp (λύχνος, not φῶς) that burneth and shineth. He was not the Light, but came to bear witness to the Light (John 1:8). The glory of his appearance was a derived or kindled illumination (cf. Matthew 6:22; 2 Peter 1:19). (It is not against this inference that in Revelation 21:23 the Lamb is the Lamp of the New Jerusalem.) The household lamp or torch, when kindled, burns with more or less brilliance, but burns itself out, exhausts itself. One may walk in the light of it, see the way one should take, discharge duties that would otherwise be impossible, avoid perils that might without the lamp prove disastrous or destructive; but the capacity of the torch is soon reduced to a minimum. Bengel, Stier, Alford, think that the celebrated passage in Ecclus. 48:1 may be referred to: "Then stood up Elijah the prophet like as a fire, and his word burned as a lamp." This is not impossible, though it would stand alone as a distinct reference in the Gospels to any apocryphal book. Lunge has given a long series of the lamp and fire symbols of the Old Testament; the group of events in which the Lord appeared in flames of fire and clouds of glory, from Exodus 3:1-22 to Malachi 3:2, affirming John to be "the flame signal of Messiah, the last Old Testament form of the pillar of fire and candlestick of the temple, therefore the lamp at once flaming and shining." More than this, and more to the point, we find that, under the figure of lamps of fire, the messengers of God, the activities of the Church, here repeatedly set forth (cf. Matthew 5:14-16; Matthew 25:1-8; Revelation 1:20; Philippians 2:15). John was the burning lamp, not the archetypal Light. Ye desired for a season to rejoice in his light. Many interpretations have been suggested, such as the exultation of a wedding party in the brief light of the torch bearer, announcing the approach of the bridegroom; or the dancing of ephemerides in the glitter of a lamp. The metaphor is lost in the solemn memory of the high gratification for a season which the populations of Judaea, Galilee, and the wilderness had manifested on the apparition of the great prophet. The universal acclaim soon subsided. The leaders of the people fell back when they heard John's call to repentance. Publicans and harlots pressed into the kingdom before the scribes and Pharisees. "The generation of vipers" did to John "whatsoever they listed." The secular power hushed his voice and crushed the man. "For a season" only did they listen to his word or respond to his challenge. His great testimony, though given to him by God, and by no means proceeding from his mere human consciousness, had been in the main unheeded. Wunsche quotes from 'Sota,' fol. 21, a, "Rabbi Menahem said that Solomon (Proverbs 6:23) compares 'prayer' with 'lamp,' and 'teaching' with 'light,' because the one flashes for the twinkling of an eye, comforts in the moment during which it shines; while the other, like the shining of the sun, burns evermore, and leads to eternal rest."
(g) The witness of the works. But the witness which I have is greater £ than [that] of John. The testimony of John was memorable and uoteworthy in many respects. If the people had accepted it, they would have admitted the Divine authority of One who was "mightier" than John. The synoptic Gospels show that Jesus made a similar appeal to the conscience of his critics on a later occasion (Matthew 21:25, and parallels). Though John's baptism was "from heaven," and though John's testimony was "great," yet that which accompanied the ministry of Jesus was "greater" still. The words of John were not merely John's words, or they would have been valueless. Moreover, "the testimony that I have" is in itself convincing; it has a Divine, self-evidencing force, which, added to my word, confirms and establishes my claim. The proof or illustration of this is as follows: For the works which the Father hath given me that I should bring them to completion, the very works, which I am doing, bear witness concerning me, that the Father hath sent me. The works of Christ are his normal activities—the deeds which express the nature and compass of his will, and indicate the qualities of his Person. They would be τέρατα and θαύματα, should any other perform such things or live on such a platform of exalted activity. They are his "works." This term is often used for the special manifestations of his alliance with the supernatural, Divine realm (John 7:3; John 9:3; John 10:25, John 10:32, etc.; John 14:10 : John 15:24). They are in their fulness and summation the ἔργον of the Lord (John 4:34; John 17:4). They are, moreover, "given" to him to "do" or to "finish." This idea is frequently expressed. "All things are given into his hand" (John 3:35), all judgment is given him to execute (John 5:22, John 5:27). The Father hath given him self-existence (verse 26; cf. John 17:2, John 17:6, John 17:9, John 17:12, John 17:24; John 18:9). It is impossible to dissociate these "works "from those great miracles which ought to command assent to his claims, even if, alas! his bare words are not sufficiently convincing. John's Gospel makes numerous references to these proofs of the Divine commission, these illustrations as well as evidences of his right to speak. But the "works" are not limited to the miraculous healings, to multiplication of breed and wine, and resurrection from the dead. The whole of his work, from his baptism and temptation to his own resurrection from the dead, was his ἔργον. This was made up of all the self-revelation of his life, of all his consecration and sympathy, of all his character, of all the resuscitation of dead souls, of all the joy he was pouring into broken hearts, and all the life he was evoking in moribund humanity. "These works that I am doing bear witness concerning me, that the Father hath sent me." They are of such a character that he confidently declares about them that they proclaim his Divine commission. The entire work, reaching special expression in certain typical acts and deeds, was greater than the verbal testimony which John bare to his mission. All that John said was true, but Christ's "works" prove it.
John 5:37, John 5:38
The witness of the Father further elucidated. (See John 5:32.)
And the Father (himself £), who sent me. (he) hath borne witness concerning me. If the "himself" be the genuine reading (and it is defended by Godet, M'Clellan, and Meyer), there would seem to be a special or direct and additional form of the Father's testimony. And several ancient and modern critics (Chrysostom, Bengel, Paulus, Godet) have seen in it a reference to the special "voice and shape" which were heard and teen by John and Jesus at the baptism, when heaven was opened, when a voice from heaven proclaimed him to be the well beloved and only begotten Son of God, and when the Spirit of God descended as a dove and abode upon him. This testimony was only given to the world through the consciousness and word of John, who, after receiving it, bore record that this was the Son of God. Meyer and many others, rather following the suggestion of De Wette that the inward drawing of the Father to the Son was that to which the Lord referred, would thus complete the testimony of the "works." This testimony, then, which is cited against the challenge, "Thou bearest witness concerning thyself," would be a purely subjective one. Westcott thinks it refers to the whole of the Old Testament ministry and prophetic and typical anticipation of the Christ, culminating in John the Baptist. This particular series of testimonies is referred to in verses 39 and 47, etc. Moulton, who rejects the αὐτὸς sees no new, no direct, testimony in addition to that of the works, but the assertion that they are the voice of the Father—in a sense the very form of the Father, for the conviction of those who might if they would come to him. If the αὐτὸς must be retained, I think that we must suppose our Lord referring to the whole of those objective manifestations of the Father's will and mind concerning Christ which were outside of his own act or work; and all that shining through his face, that whispering through his word of what was the eternal Father's face and voice, and plainly distinguished from the work of the Son; e.g. the angels' song, the miraculous providence which protected his childhood, the opening of heaven at his baptism, the Divinity which attended him and which made his ministry so strange and strong an influence. Nor could he who had the whole of his life before him fail to be conscious of further testimonies from heaven and from Providence which, though unrecorded, would continue to set their seal upon his character and work. We must never forget that our Lord himself was a revelation of the Son. But the revelation of the Son in his ἔργα was accompanied throughout with another manifestation—that of the Father. The glory of the Lord shone round about him. Nevertheless, a difficulty is conceded as arising out of the unsusceptibility and limited opportunities of his hearers. Never have ye heard a voice of him, or seen a form of him. These voices and these sounds need opened ears and unsealed eyes. You (says Christ) have not heard that which you might have heard. You have not seen that which you might have seen. On a subsequent occasion he said to one of his disciples, "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father. How sayest thou, then, Show us the Father?" So that there was, indeed, the condition of adequate revelation of the Father provided for the disciples in the life of Christ, in the ministry of the Son of the Father. Moreover, it far exceeded the vision of God which was granted to patriarchs and prophets under the Old Testament dispensation. Doubtless the voice of Jehovah had been heard (Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 4:12), the face of Jehovah had been seen (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 24:10; Numbers 12:8; Deuteronomy 5:4, Deuteronomy 5:24). Isaiah saw the glory of the Angel of the Lord (6; cf. John 12:41), and Ezekiel likewise by the river of Chebar (Ezekiel 3:23). Nevertheless, the evangelist, on the credit of the great utterance before us, has laid down, as the very climax of the prologue, "No man hath seen God at any time (πώποτε); the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." This language of the prologue shows that the true revelation of the Father's heart was not even granted to the noblest of the seers and patriarchs. Such manifestations as the visions of the Old Testament saints were not the veritable voice or form of the Father. Should mankind ever obtain vision or audition of the Father, it must be through the presence among them of him who had been forever in the bosom of the Father. Though these captious critics were in a position to have received this revelation of the Highest, they had not done so. "Ye hare neither heard a voice of him, nor seen a form of him. You might have seen and heard and handled if you had chosen, but You will not come to me, you will not believe me, you will not yield to my claims as One sent to you from the Father!"
And further, you have not his Word (ΤΟΝ ΛΟΓΟΝ ΑΥΤΟΥ) abiding in you. The Word of the Father (for the αὐτου refers to the Father), i.e. the full expression of the Father's heart, was sounding through the voice of the Son of God, and might have entered into and become an abiding power in their inmost conscience and their spiritual life; but they had not received the "Word" of the Lord through the "Voice" of the Lord. The reason given is, Because him whom he (the Father) sent, him (this One) ye believe not. In other words, "Your lack of faith in me accounts for your perverse misconception, for your inability to see and hear all that there is of the Father's personal testimony to me." Some suspect a petitio principii in this argument, but the reasoning seems to be this; there is abundant evidence, corroboration, and cooperative glory, affirming the truth of all that Christ has said about himself as the Source of life and Judge of man; but the moral susceptibility of his hearers is paralyzed, and their faith in the most fundamental facts of their own experience is at fault. They seem impervious, not only to Christ's Word, but to the corroborative testimonies themselves.
John 5:39, John 5:40
(d) The witness of the Scriptures.
Ye search the Scriptures. A large number of commentators, from Chrysostom and Augustine to Luther, Tholuck, Hengstenberg, M'Clellan, Luthardt, and Ewald, with the Authorized version, regard this as an imperative command. This is grammatical, and corresponds to the language of Isaiah 34:16; but with Cyril, Bengel, De Wette, Meyer, Godet, Lange, Westcott, Plummer, Watkins, we think the whole context demands the indicative. The second clause, "because in them," etc., follows far more obviously upon an assertion than upon a precept. The "ye will not" that follows is far more in harmony with the indicative than with the supposed command. The Lord says, "You have a third great testimony to my claim, and yet you are not prepared to accept it." Ye search the Scriptures. The verb ἐρεῦναν is used (Joh 7:52; 1 Peter 1:11; Romans 8:27; 1 Corinthians 2:10) for minute, prolonged search. The kind of investigation which the rabbis spent upon the text and letter of the Holy Scriptures is a proverb, and led to the allegorical mystical meanings of the Genesisaras and other Hebrew literature. "Ye search the Scriptures" rather than the living Word, rather than the Divine meaning and message from the living God which they do contain. This is one term out of many which the Lord employed for the sacred literature which was the great heritage of the Hebrew people. Elsewhere he called it "the Law," "the Law and prophets," "Moses and the prophets," "your Law," "the wisdom of God." He admits their study, prolonged and eager, of the sacred writings, and he justifies the ground and motive of such search, viz.: because ye think in them ye have eternal life; or, ye shall have, or shall find, eternal life. Some powerful critics, like Meyer, urge that our Lord agrees so far with the Jews, that he sympathizes with their search, and that censure or ironical language would be inconsistent with the Saviour's reverence for the Scriptures. But the expression is very unusual on that hypothesis, "Ye think [or, 'imagine'] ye have in them," rather than "ye have through them." Surely our Lord is here condemning the superstitious idea that, in the mere possession of the letter, they were possessors of the eternal life; that, apart from the indwelling Word, apart from the heart of the message itself, some magical advantage was springing. Hillel, whoso view of Scripture may be expressed in a saying ('Aboth,' Isaiah 2:8), "He who has gotten to himself words of the Law hath gotten to himself the life of the world to come," here differs utterly from the Lord, who, on the doctrine of Holy Scripture, takes ground similar to that which he had taken with reference to the temple and the sabbath. It is not the bare possession of the Scriptures, nor the prolonged examination of its mere letter, that is the condition of eternal life. "Search" which is originated and stimulated by a vague idea of the life-giving force of the letter, is illusive. We may think that in them we have eternal life, but our Lord would undeceive us. Moreover, from the depths of his own consciousness and knowledge of his own mission, he adds: And they are they which testify concerning me. This is one of the keynotes of New Testament teaching, viz. Christ's idea of the Old Testament, that it was a sketch or portraiture drawn in successive ages and on various material of himself—that it was an outline of great principles which he was about, not to rub out, but to fill in, not "to destroy, but to fulfil." The histories, the experiences, the ceremonial, the dynasties; the offices, the songs and prayers, the predictive and typical sorrows there depicted, were all prelibations and unconscious prophecies of himself. "They testify concerning me," and, together with my works and with my forerunner and, more than all, with my Father's own voice speaking and my Father's own face shining through all, they complete the manifold testimony to the fact that I have come to do his will, to work with him, to deliver, to restore, to give life, and to execute judgment also, when my hour is come. If this be so, then strange, inconsistent, and tragic is the ultimate issue—
And ye will not come to me, that ye may have life. This fearful conclusion of the whole matter is charged upon the responsibility of man. Doubtless, elsewhere, the will is described as itself made willing by the Divine attraction, by the grace of the Father. "He that hath seen and heard of the Father [seen, i.e. his shape and heard his voice—seen his shape and heard his voice in my ministry and manifestation], cometh unto me." Yet the grace of God working directly on character or indirectly by other revelations, never obliterates the sense of responsibility. The appeal of God is made to the will of man, whether we consciously or unconsciously are made "willing in the day of his power" (cf. John 7:17; John 6:44, John 6:67; John 8:44). The sad tone of this solemn charge corresponds with and does much to explain the pathetic cry, "O Jerusalem... how often would I have gathered thy children … and ye would not!" while the entire passage suggests that this appeal was only one specimen out of many such discourses, one hint of the numerous sayings and self-manifestations, one of many accumulated proofs of his Divine commission, out of which the belief of the evangelists and the invincible assent of the Church arose, that he was indeed "the Word made flesh," "the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
(d) The effect of the revelation of the Son upon the Jews.
John 5:41, John 5:42
This appeal to the will of man was apparently entirely misunderstood, and ended for the time in failure. "They would not come." Everything was prepared, but none were ready or willing to accept even so rich a blessing as life itself. This is the refrain of the whole Bible: "Ye will not; … Ye would not;" "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" "I called, and ye refused;" "I wrote the great things of my Law; ye have counted them as strange things." Our Lord proceeds in the closing words to account in some respects for this unwillingness. I receive not glory from men, but I know you (ἔγνωκα, I have come by experience or intuition to such knowledge of you), that you have not the love of God in you. The love of God is the principle of all obedience; and Christ elsewhere declares it to be the first and great commandment of the Law. But love is the principle of all knowledge. "He that loveth not knoweth not." This principle reaches its fullest expression when we learn the greater truth that "God is love." It is true of all objects of love, the highest kind of knowledge is not possible without love. This is pre-eminently the case when we think of knowing God. Since God is essential Love, without experiencing love we cannot realize that Divine essence. Again, there is an elementary faith that precedes elementary love, but when love is once awakened, faith again deepens, and love grows by what it feeds upon, until the faith becomes vision and the love rapture. But why the opening words, I receive not glory from men? Probably they intimate opposition and questioning to some such effect as this: "Thou hast declared thyself the Giver of life and resurrection, and charged our lack of spiritual life upon our unwillingness to believe these claims and to submit ourselves to these exalted assumptions or to go to thee for life. Thou art eager, after all, for our approval and glory." To this Christ replied, "Glory from men I receive not. It is not for my sake, but for yours, I say, 'Come unto me and live;' but, alas! having searched you through and through, I discern no love, none of the spirit out of which the forces of faith can be evolved. The reason why you are unwilling to come to me for life is that you are measuring me by yourselves, and have not that self-emptying and abnegation and distrust out of which faith and love, love and faith, must ever spring."
I have come in the name (i.e. in the power, with the credentials, with the encompassing revelation) of my Father, and ye receive me not. Your idea of the Father's glory is so profoundly different from the reality, that you do not recognize it when it is offered you and shining over you. Christ did not profess to have come in his own name. He was not a mere evolution of humanity, or of Israel, or of the house of David. He was the Only Begotten of the Father, born from above, sent down from heaven. The language of the world was, "This is not Divine;" "It is too gentle, too gracious, too sympathetic for God!" The religious world listened eagerly for some echo of the trumpet peals of Sinai. It desired a king greater than Solomon, a prophet more terrible than Elijah. When he came with the real glory robes of the love of God, and with the majesty of the Name of the Lord, there was widespread disappointment and cruel rejection of his commission. Should another come in his own (proper, peculiar) name, that is, with no testimony from heaven, seeking "honour (δόξα, glory) from men," creating a sovereignty by enlisting the voices of men, compromising with evil, making no warfare against the power of the world, allowing the legitimacy of the throne of the prince of this world;—should he come in his own name, alas! him (that one) ye will receive. The eagerness on the part of the Jews to find the Messiah has led them to accept in some sort no fewer than sixty-four false Christs (Schudt, 'Judische Merkwurdigkeit,' John 6:27-30; Bengel and Meyer). Nor must the Christian Church take the flattering unction that it is free from this charge. The teacher that can utilize to the widest extent the fashionable worldliness, and can mingle the pungent human condiment with the princely food of the King's banqueting house, is he who at the present hour meets with the loudest response and the readiest reception. There is solemn warning here for statesman and author, artist and preacher.
How can ye believe, seeing that ye receive glory one from another, and ye seek not the glory that cometh from the only God? The difficulties of faith in himself multiply as he proceeds. First, he insisted that he had searched their hearts, and found there none of that elementary "love of God" which is the prime condition of knowledge or faith. Then he showed that an appreciation on their part of the type of character antithetic to his own, i.e. of the man who comes in his own name and seeks his glory from men, must blind them to that which is most characteristic of himself. They will receive the prophet, the pseudo-Christ, for the very reason that makes his own mission so unpalatable. He strikes right across their taste, their passion, their prejudice. He now lays down a new or modified statement of one of the prime conditions of spiritual faith. There is a universal desire for δόξα, glory, of some sort. The original meaning of δόξα here almost forces itself into the text. Δόξα "opinion," thought, and the good opinion which one person may entertain with reference to another. The glory of a Greek citizen was the good opinion of his fellow citizens or fellow countrymen. God's "glory" is the universal judgment of all intelligences, including his own concerning himself. The highest "glory" of man is the approval of Almighty God; the "opinion" which is absolutely true and is not mingled or contaminated with any flattering fictions. The minds which deliberately ignore this highest and only true source of glory, and substitute for it the glory of the ignorant plaudits and unreal approval, and unhesitating homage of the clique to which they belong, are m a moral condition incapacitating them to believe in the Christ. How should they? How can they? It is not possible for that man to believe Christ at all whose mind is so befogged, whose moral judgments are so dislocated. "The only God (παρὰ τοῦ μόνου Θεου), (see John 17:3; Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 6:15). The use of this epithet in the Fourth Gospel is of singular value. Moreover, in this very connection the Son is so exalted above the world, and the Father comes so close to man in Christ, that we cannot wonder that Gnosticism and Arianism rapidly evolved a Ditheism of great peril to the conscience. The Lord, notwithstanding the lifting of his humanity to the throne of universal judgment, and the lifting of his Sonship into the bosom of God, on more than one occasion reminds his hearers of the unity, the solity, of Almighty God.
Think not, he added, with one concluding and sweeping exposition of their relation to the old covenant and to himself—Think not, as ye might be disposed to do, that I will accuse you to (before; see Syriac k'dom) the Father (not referring to the judgment day, where he will appear as Judge, but now), as One in intimate and awful relation with the Father, or as One whose words have set up a standard which is much loftier or severer than that which you are prepared to allow. He has charged them already with having missed the deepest teaching of their own Scriptures, with fastening on the letter rather than on the spirit of the Divine Word; that, though the prima article of t heir creed was the doctrine of "the only God," they had no love of God, no appreciation of God as the only Source of worthy glory, and therefore neither faith nor knowledge. They were snapping up worthless pretenders, and drinking the flattery of men rather than the approval of God. They were blind to the glory and deaf to the voice of the Father, and so would not come to him for life. These sad facts need not be, will not be, pressed against them, seeing that there is a primary accusation already laid. He that (or, there is one that) accuseth you, Moses, on whom ye have set your hope (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:10); Moses himself, in that very Law which you are now making the ground of the rejection of my claims—Moses is your accuser; Moses appears against you. "This," says Lange, "is the last and mightiest stroke." "Elenchus maxime aptus ad conclusionem" (Bengel); i.e. "The spirit of Moses is my vindication, the teaching of Moses is typical of mine, the institutions of Moses were symbolic of my coming and work. The predictions of Moses pointed out my coming. The mighty words of Moses will not save you, unless you penetrate to their inner meaning."
John 5:46, John 5:47
For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me. The reason for the previous saying is introduced by γάρ. The form of the conditional sentence shows that the protasis is a supposition of an event contrary to the fact. They were not believing Moses, though they were putting a vain and illusive confidence in him; and hence they were not believing in Christ. Here is the secret of the antagonism to the Lord. A deeper understanding of their own Scripture would involve an acceptance of the claims of Christ. For he wrote of me. The old saying contains Christ's utterance: Novum Testamentum in vetere latet, Vetus Testamentum in Novo patet. Reference is made to the great place which Moses gave to the first promise, to the typical deliverances of a fallen world, to the hopes of a redeeming Seed. Christ referred to the Mosaic type involved in the spirit willing to sacrifice the Only Begotten, to the creation of the birthright blessing, the visions of the dying Israel, to the blessings on Judah; to the significance of the Law, of the tabernacle, of the Passover, of the Day of Atonement, of prophet, priest, and king, and the very special prophecy concerning a Prophet like unto himself. More than this, Moses had set forth in the Decalogue the portrait sketch of the perfect Man, of the Divine life which the Lord Jesus proceeded to fill out, to fulfil. He awakened by the Law that sense of sin and sinfulness which the Lord Christ had come to soothe and obliterate. but if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? "They are easier for you to understand; you have them ever on your tongue. If their meaning is missed, the deeper truths of my words will be more inaccessible to you." The antithesis is rather between the "his" and "my" than between the "writings" and "words." "This charge of not believing Moses, addressed to people who were put in a fury by the pretended violation of one of the Mosaic commandments, recalls other words of Jesus (Matthew 23:29-32), 'Ye build the tombs of the prophets, wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves that ye are children of them that killed the prophets'" (Godet).
The cure of the impotent man.
The scene changes once more to Jerusalem. There unbelief develops very rapidly, and. there is a foreshadowing of the dread reality: "It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." Jesus finds himself once more in the very focus of controversy.
I. THE TIME OF THIS MIRACLE. "After these things there was a feast of the Jews." It is generally believed that this was the Feast of Purim.
1. It was not one of the three great feasts.
2. It was a feast in which the Jews gave presents to one another. Jesus would signalize it by a deed of miraculous beneficence.
II. THE SCENE OF THE MIRACLE. "Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches." This was a thermal, intermittent spring, such as are still to be found at Jerusalem, possessing rare curative properties in cases of disease. "The blind, the halt, the withered," gathered round it, seeking shelter in the porches while they were awaiting "the moving of the waters."
III. THE CASE OF THE IMPOTENT MAN.
1. He had been for eight Had thirty years afflicted will impotence in his limbs.
2. Perhaps his impotence had some connection with youthful sins and follies. (John 5:14.)
3. He had no strength to enable him to plunge into the bubbling springs as they arose with healing power.
4. He had no money to hire a carrier.
5. The bystanders, whether sick or hale, had no mercy or sympathy for him.
6. Yet he came from day to day in the hope of a cure.
IV. OUR LORD'S COMPASSION FOR HIM. "Wilt thou be made whole?"
1. The question was designed to shake off the long apathy of years, and revive the hopes of the afflicted man.
2. It was designed to withdraw his mind from the Bethesda waters, and bring him into contact with the Saviour himself.
V. THE ACTUAL CURE. "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk."
1. The command was accompanied by the exercise of Divine power on Christ's part, and of faith on the part of the impotent man.
2. The impotent man walked in the joy of his recovered power.
3. The miracle was done on the sabbath day. It was a deed of mercy, and therefore suitable to the day.
4. The miracle was one not to be gainsaid, as this man had been long known to resort to the Bethesda springs in search of cure.
Outbreak of Jewish hostility.
It is not against the miracle, but against an imagined infringement of Mosaic law.
I. THE CHARGE AGAINST THE IMPOTENT MAN. "It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed."
1. It seemed justified in the letter by the Divine commandment. "Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day" (Jeremiah 17:21).
2. But the command related to matters of trade, not of mercy or comfort. (Nehemiah 13:15.)
3. The Jews, however, must have their cavil where they cannot deny the working of miracle.
4. Formalists affect an extreme reverence for the letter of a law which they neglect and despise in its inmost spirit.
II. THE ANSWER TO THE CHARGE. "He that made me whole said to me, Take up thy bed, and walk."
1. It was a serious charge, for it involved the punishment of death by stoning.
2. The cured man shelters himself under the authority of the Miracle worker, implying that he who was able to do such a work must have authority to give him such a command.
3. He was still ignorant of the name of the Divine Person who had cured him. "And he that was healed wist not who it was." He had hardly time to make inquiry before Jesus "had conveyed himself away," making an easy escape through the thronging multitude.
III. THE DISCOVERY OF HIS BENEFACTOR.
1. The cured man is found by Jesus in the temple. His first act is to thank God for his cure. It marks the reality of his faith.
2. Our Lord's admonition to him. "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee."
(1) It is implied that his lifelong affliction had its origin in his sins.
(a) There is an invariable connection between sin and suffering established by the moral government of God.
(b) Yet it is not possible for man to trace this connection at all times in the midst of the complicated and mysterious dispensations of his providence.
(2) It is implied that the Lord proportions his chastisements or his punishments to the degree of sinful provocation attained by transgressors. "Lest a worse thing come upon thee."
(a) The lighter chastisement is often sent in mercy to warn against sin and folly.
(b) The Lord does not afflict willingly, but for our profit (Hosea 12:10).
IV. THE MIRACLE WORKER MADE KNOWN TO HIS ENEMIES. "The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus that made him whole." What was his motive in giving this information to the Jews?
1. It was not a malicious denunciation, which would only argue the deepest ingratitude on his part.
2. It was not prompted by the mere instinct of obedience to the authorities.
3. It was not designed to shift the responsibility of sabbath breaking from himself to Jesus. He here emphasizes the miracle rather than the sabbath breaking. "It was Jesus that made him whole."
4. It was prompted rather
(1) by gratitude to our Lord,
(2) by the desire to make him known to others in a similar distress,
(3) and to bring the Jews to recognize him in his true character. His faith seems to imply a motive of this kind.
V. THE EFFECT OF THE DISCLOSURE UPON THE JEWS. "Therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus … because he had done these things on the sabbath day."
1. Their action had a double root. "These things"—the healing and the burden bearing on the sabbath.
2. They had no true sympathy with suffering, nor had they any true conception of the nature of their own sabbath.
3. The spirit of persecution often springs from ignorance.
Our Lord's vindication of his conduct.
It is summarized in a single significant sentence: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."
I. THE TRUE MEANING OF OUR LORD'S DECLARATION.
1. His Father's life is characterized by unceasing activity. He may have ceased to put forth power in the way of creative energy, but he is still active in the spheres of providence and redemption.
2. Christ's work is coordinate with that of the Father, and not merely dependent upon it. The assertion implies equality of operation.
3. The sabbath miracle just performed was part of his Divine activity, but not on that account inconsistent with the sabbath law.
(1) As One "born under the Law" (Galatians 4:4); John 4:12) as a "Minister of the circumcision" (Romans 15:8), he could not repudiate the Law, which was only to cease with his death; but
(3) the work of mercy done on the sabbath was really included in the spirit of the Law.
II. THE JEWISH INTERPRETATION PUT UPON OUR LORD'S DECLARATION. "Therefore sought they the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God." The interpretation was perfectly just, and, accordingly, Jesus, instead of repudiating it, uses four arguments to confirm its truth.
1. First argument. His perfect Sonship involves identity of will and operation with the Father. "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise."
(1) The Arian infers from the words, "The Son can do nothing of himself," that Christ is not equal to the Father.
(2) But the Lord asserts that separate action is impossible on account of the unity of the Father and the Son; and
(3) that the action of Father and Son is coextensive in virtue of the sameness of nature.
2. Second argument. The love of the Father to the Son leads to his communicating to the Son "all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel."
(1) The Father's love to the Son is based on their essential nature.
(2) Love is the perfect revelation of the Father, and is therefore communicative in its very nature.
(3) It is through the Son this love of the Father streams downward to believers (John 16:27).
(4) The greater works yet to be done might excite the wonder of the Jews, and leave them without excuse in their unbelief. Wonder ought to excite to faith.
3. Third argument. The Son is joined with the Father in quickening the dead. "For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will."
(1) This work is an act of omnipotence possible to God only. If Christ can do it, he must be God.
(2) The work is impossible to man, whether it be regarded as referring to the resurrection of the dead at the judgment day, or to the spiritual resurrection of sinners in the present life.
(3) Christ's power was manifest
(a) in raising Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, and the daughter of Jairus;
(b) in the conversion of many souls during his ministry;
(c) and will be still more gloriously manifest in the final resurrection of the dead.
(d) He is sovereign in the exercise of his power: "The Son quickeneth whom he will."
(α) Yet his will is not independent of the Father's will, for he quickeneth all whom the Father hath given to him.
(β) But the salvation that springs out of this quickening is not of works, nor of him that runneth, but of him that showeth mercy.
4. Fourth argument. Judgment belongs to the Son. "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son."
(1) The Father is, in a true sense, Judge of all the earth, but he does not judge without the Son; for he will yet judge the world in righteousness by his Son (Acts 17:31).
(2) Yet he has committed the judgment to the Son of man. This prerogative of judgment implies equality of Father and Son.
(3) The design of this arrangement. "That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father." This text condemns those Socinians who refuse to worship Christ as they worship the Father.
(4) The Jews of our Lord's day, like the Socinians of our day, dishonour the Father in the very act of refusing due homage to the Son. "He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father who hath sent him." Divine honour can only be given to a Divine person. "My glory will I not give to another," saith God.
The two resurrections and the two judgments by the Son.
The views hitherto expressed in a summary form are now exhibited at length in their concrete aspects.
I. THE NATURE AND RESULT OF THE SPIRITUAL RESURRECTION. "He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life."
1. The two conditions of eternal life.
(1) Knowledge of Christ's will. "He that heareth my word."
(a) Christ is the Author of revelation; as the Word, he makes known the Father's mind and will for our salvation.
(b) It is a word for hearing, because "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17). "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." "The Word first began to be spoken by him, and afterwards by them that heard him" (Hebrews 2:3).
(2) Faith in God.
(a) This implies more than belief in God's existence.
(b) It implies a heartfelt trust in him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(c) Faith in God implies faith in Christ (John 14:1);
(α) because the Father speaks through the Son;
(β) because the Father's love reaches man through the Son;
(7) because "our life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).
2. The result of this knowledge and faith.
(1) Positively: eternal life.
(a) It is a present possession. He "hath eternal life."
(b) He has a right and claim to it by virtue of Christ's work, as involving a justification to life.
(c) He has meetness for it and the earnest of it in the Holy Ghost (2 Corinthians 1:22),
(2) Negatively: "He cometh not into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."
(a) He is not condemned for original sin, though judgment did pass upon all men to condemnation for it.
(b) Nor for actual transgression; for "there is no condemnation to him that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
(c) But is "passed from death unto life."
(α) He has escaped from spiritual death;
(β) from the second death;
(γ) for he has become alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
II. THE EPOCH OF THIS SPIRITUAL RESURRECTION. "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live."
1. His words, which were spirit and life, were already preparing the way for Pentecost.
2. The coming hour of abounding blessing was to date from Pentecost.
3. The blessing of the epoch.
(1) The persons included in the blessing. "The dead."
(a) The spiritually dead, alienated from the life of God, dead to all spiritual good;
(b) who hear the voice of the Son of God; to whom the Word comes in power, and works effectually in them, receiving, believing, obeying it.
(2) The saving voice. "The voice of the Son of God."
(a) It is a voice of love, grace, mercy, righteousness, peace, and salvation;
(b) it is a voice of power, because it is the voice of the Son of God.
(3) The blessing. "They shall live."
(a) It will be a life of faith;
(b) a life of communion with God;
(c) it will be eternal in its duration.
III. THE GROUND OF THIS SPIRITUAL RESURRECTION. "For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself."
1. The Son has a self-sufficient life, essentially and originally like the Father.
2. But he has a life given of the Father, in virtue of which it is divinely secured for those whom the Father has given him (1 John 5:11). Eternal life is what the one gives and the other receives in the economy of Divine salvation.
3. There is thus a double security for eternal life.
IV. THE JUDGMENT IN THE HANDS OF THE SON OF MAN. "And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man."
1. The judgment implies omniscience, perfect holiness, perfect justice, and all other Divine perfections.
2. It is committed to the Son of man as a sharer of the nature that is to be judged for the deeds done in the body.
V. THE FINAL RESURRECTION AND THE FINAL JUDGMENT. "As by man came death, so by man shall come the resurrection of the dead." It was a marvellous truth to proclaim to the Jews, that he who addressed them would raise up the dead and judge them at the final assize.
1. Mark the certainty and the universality of the resurrection. "The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice."
2. The means by which the resurrection shall be accomplished. "The voice of the Son of man."
(1) Sinners may shut their ears to that voice on earth, but it will be heard in the judgment day.
(2) It is a voice which, re-echoed by the voice of the archangel and the last trump, will have power to awake all the dead without exception.
3. The twofold end of the resurrection. "They shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."
(1) There will be a judgment of all as surely as a resurrection of all. Believers must appear before the judgment seat of Christ as well as unbelievers, to receive according to the deeds done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10). But they will receive the judgment of acquittal in virtue of their union with Christ in righteousness and life, while their rewards will be proportioned to "the deeds done in the body."
(2) The judgment will proceed upon a test practically applicable to the whole human race—"the deeds done in the body," whether they shall be the deeds of the righteous, issuing out of faith in Christ; or the deeds of the unrighteous, issuing out of an evil heart of unbelief.
(3) There will be a final division of the human race into two classes. There will be the sheep and the goats, the saved and the lost, saints and sinners.
VI. THE CONCLUSION OF THE WHOLE MATTER. "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." Our Lord carries the Jews back to the starting point of his discourse: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." He has now justified his original statement.
1. Jesus repeats his declaration of a Divine Sonship.
2. He announces the principle of his judgment—"as I hear, I judge"—which is the principle of all true judgment.
3. He declares his judgment to be true, because it is based on his perfect knowledge of the Father's will, to which his own will is infallibly conformed.
The witness to the Son.
The Jews might retort that all Jesus affirmed respecting himself had no other support than his own words. His answer is that there is a threefold witness in his favour.
I. OUR LORD ADMITS THE NEED OF A DIVINE SANCTION. "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true."
1. This Witness is God himself, though his name is not yet mentioned.
2. It is not John the Baptist. "Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive not testimony from man."
(1) Our Lord, by this reference to the Baptist, implied that the Jews ought to have regarded his testimony as decisive upon the mission of Jesus.
(2) His object in quoting the Baptist's testimony at all was the salvation of the Jews; for John proclaimed Jesus to be "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." "But these things I say, that ye may be saved."
(3) He treats John's testimony as merely provisional. "I receive not testimony from man"—even though he be a prophet; for I have higher testimony.
(4) The Jews are without excuse for rejecting Christ, for they delighted themselves for a time in John's ministry, which was essentially preparatory to that of Christ. "He was a burning and a shining lamp: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light."
(a) John was a lamp that was joyous for a time, for the light and hope he diffused through Israel;
(b) but a dying lamp, necessarily decreasing (John 3:30). The Jews regarded him with a strange curiosity, but rejected his solemn warnings of repentance.
II. THE FIRST OF THE THREE WITNESSES TO THE SON. "But I have greater witness than John: for the works which my Father gave me to finish, the same works that I do bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me." His miracles were his first witness.
1. The Jews could not deny the fact of the miracles.
2. The miracles were gifts of the Father to Jesus, and yet works of Jesus himself.
3. They were signs to authenticate the Divine Messenger.
III. THE SECOND OF THE THREE WITNESSES. "And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape." Jesus here refers to the Father's testimony at his baptism, "This is my well beloved Son."
IV. THE THIRD OF THE THREE WITNESSES. "And ye have not his Word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not." This is the revelation contained in Old Testament Scripture. Jesus implies that he is mirrored in that Scripture.
1. Consider the importance of searching the Scriptures. "Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me."
(1) The Scriptures are to be made the object of deep search, not mere casual reading. They contain many deep mysteries to task the intellect of man.
(2) They contain the knowledge of salvation.
(a) The way of salvation was the same under both dispensations.
(b) It was attained through knowledge; for "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."
2. There is a possibility of men studying the Scriptures and yet rejecting the salvation offered in it. "Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life." Man possesses the dread power of rejecting life.
The cause and the end of Jewish unbelief.
Jesus has just declared that the Jews will not come to him, and now he reveals its cause.
I. THE CAUSE OF THEIR UNBELIEF. "I know that ye have not the love of God in you."
1. This love would oblige them to seek honour only from God, and thus appreciate the glory the Father has given to the Son.
2. Jesus has no concern for man's praise or report, for the Father's testimony is all-sufficient. "I receive not honour from men."
3. The Jews could not receive this testimony, because human considerations had blinded their eyes. "How can ye believe, who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh from God only?"
4. Mark the readiness of the Jews to receive false Messiahs. "If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive." Sixty-four false Messiahs have appeared at various periods to receive the temporary homage of the Jews.
II. THE END OF JEWISH UNBELIEF—CONDEMNATION THROUGH MOSES HIMSELF.
1. The true accuser of the Jews.
(1) Not Jesus, for he is Judge, not accuser. "Do not suppose that I will accuse you."
(2) But Moses, their liberator and advocate. "There is one that accuseth you, even Moses, on whom ye have set your hope."
2. The connection between faith in Jesus and faith in Moses. "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me."
(1) Our Lord implies that Moses was the writer of the Pentateuch.
(2) He implies that the whole system—promises, types, symbolic institutions of the Law, as presented in the Mosaic writings—found their true fulfilment in himself. Moses truly wrote of Jesus in the memorable prophecy, "I will raise them up a Prophet like unto thee" (Deuteronomy 18:18).
(3) Disbelief in Moses carried with it a necessary disbelief in Christ. "If ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?"
(a) The writings of Moses might be regarded as possessing greater weight, because they were contained in a book, than mere words of mouth.
(b) They had all the prestige of age and usage. If, therefore, they were rejected in their true import, how could the Jews be expected to receive the oral teaching of him to whom the writings bore witness?
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The will to be healed.
This miracle is indeed a parable. The pitiable condition of the sufferer, the prolonged duration of his calamity, his utter helplessness and despondency, all have their analogues in the spiritual state of the sinful. And, on the other hand, the exercise of Christ's Divine authority, the condition of blessing imposed upon the infirm man, and the immediateness and completeness of the cure, are all suggestive of the terms, the process, and the results of salvation. The language in which Christ addressed the sufferer, with a view to elicit his faith, is especially instructive: "Wouldest thou be made whole?"
I. IT DOES NOT FOLLOW THAT WHEREVER THERE IS A SPIRITUAL MALADY THERE IS ALSO A CONSCIOUSNESS OF IT AND A DESIRE TO BE DELIVERED FROM IT. Jesus did not take it for granted that, because the man had an infirmity of long standing, he was therefore anxious to be relieved from it. As a matter of fact, he was so anxious; and the presumption is that men do wish to be delivered from bodily and temporal ills. It is not so in all cases with spiritual disorders. It was a reproach against the self-righteous that they knew not that they were poor, naked, blind, and miserable. Sin is not always accompanied by consciousness of sin. Long familiarity with vice and crime, and still more with that alienation of heart from God which is the essence of sin, is often found to render the nature insensible to its own wretched condition and prospects.
II. EVEN DIVINE MERCY DOES NOT ACT INDEPENDENTLY OF HUMAN CONFESSION, FAITH, AND DESIRE. The truth is that it cannot; for God cannot override the nature with which he has himself endowed his creatures. He may annihilate that nature; but, whilst it remains, he cannot contradict himself by acting independently of it. And, further, he will not dispense with the appointed human conditions, for the sake of his own moral government, whose sacredness he will surely maintain, and for the sake of the spiritual welfare of those whom he governs. It may appear, on a superficial glance, that in taking this view we magnify the free will of man above the sovereignty of God; but reflection convinces us that this is not the case. There is nothing arbitrary in the Divine government; and infinite Wisdom has decided that without the voluntary cooperation of man the highest blessings must be unattainable.
III. WHERE THERE IS A DISPOSITION AND DESIRE ON THE PART OF MAN, DIVINE MERCY WILL NOT WITHHOLD THE GRACE OF SPIRITUAL HEALING. There is no place for human power; we can do nothing to heal our spiritual diseases. There is no place for human merit; we can do nothing to deserve a Divine interposition. Yet he who will be made whole, who accepts the Deliverer and welcomes the promised deliverance, shall experience the healing power of Immanuel. Let there be willingness, let there be faith in Christ, let there be submission to Divine plans and order, and there is no sin for which pardon cannot be obtained, no character for which it shall be found that there is not provided renewal and spiritual health.—T.
Christ who saves is Christ who rules.
This poor sufferer excited the Saviour's sympathy and pity, and Christ healed him without delay. And it is noticeable that the word of healing was also a word of command: "Take up thy bed, and walk." The authority of the Divine Physician was acknowledged by the patient who had received the benefit. That authority was felt to be capable of overriding the letter of the ceremonial law. And the man who had been made whole, when censured by the formalists for carrying his couch on the sabbath day, naturally enough fell back for his vindication upon the command of the great Healer. He was bound to do the bidding of him who had set him free from a protracted infirmity, and had thus established a claim upon his grateful obedience.
I. OBSERVE THE TWOFOLD NATURE AND NEED OF MAN.
1. Human nature is distinguished by a capacity for feeling and by a faculty of energy.
2. Consequently a Divine Saviour must both relieve him of his pains and infirmities, and at the same time give a new direction to his practical powers. The double need requires a double grace.
II. REMARK IN CHRIST THE DISPOSITION TO PITY THE SUFFERER, TO PARDON THE SINNER, TO RESTORE THE DISORDERED TO MORAL HEALTH AND HARMONIOUS ACTIVITY. The miracles of healing which Christ wrought (in number more than two-thirds of the whole, as recorded by the evangelists) are an abundant proof both of his compassion and of his power to save. The variety of human ills with which he dealt may be taken as symbolizing the sympathy of Jesus with all the sorrows and errors of humanity, and his power to heal, to harmonize, and to bless.
III. REMARK NO LESS IN CHRIST THE HABIT OF RIGHTEOUS AND AUTHORITATIVE COMMAND. Christ's was the authority of holiness, of helpfulness, of love. This authority was acknowledged by nature, by demons, and especially by men. He was felt to speak as One "having authority;" he drew forth the exclamation, "What manner of man is this!" When he spoke the word of command, rigid Jews broke without compunction the tradition of the elders, and helpless cripples willed to use their hitherto powerless limbs. All this denoted the right of the Son of God to rule over human hearts and consciences, over individual conduct, and over social life.
IV. CONSIDER THE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE SAVED AS WITNESSING TO THE LORDSHIP OF THE SAVIOUR, OVER THOSE WHOM HE HAS REDEEMED.
1. So far as the Lord himself is concerned, his healing grace witnesses to his Divinity, and his Divinity involves his control over his own subjects.
2. So far as they are concerned who are healed by the Redeemer, it may be said that gratitude and love give efficacy to those purposes of obedience which are formed in the presence of his rightful authority and power. The heart responds gratefully and affectionately to the interest exhibited and the healing mercy exercised by Jesus, and looks up to its best Friend for guidance and for help. There is no law so powerful as the law of love, and no obedience so thorough and cheerful as that of gratitude.—T.
The incessancy of Divine ministry.
Healing is work. The sabbath is for rest. Thus the Jews, in their rigid formality, objected against Jesus that, in restoring the infirm and sick man to health and vigour, he had transgressed the Law, because he had wrought the cure upon the sabbath day. The calumnies and persecutions of his enemies were met on the part of Christ by these simple and significant words: "My Father worketh even until now, and I work." There is no pause in the Creator's beneficence, none in the Saviour's ministrations.
I. HERE IS TEACHING UPON THE RELATION OF THE FATHER AND THE SON. The Jews were quick to discern the claim implicitly contained in the language of Jesus. He was "making himself equal with God." This he did, both by speaking thus of his "Father," and by asserting of himself what was true of no mere man, but of God only.
II. HERE IS TEACHING UPON THE UNINTERMITTING CONTINUITY OF THE DIVINE OPERATIONS. Christ gives no countenance to the very common notion that God created the universe, as a mechanic may a machine, leaving it when wound up to do its work, with no energy exercised, no interest shown, no interference taking place on the part of the Creator. God is ever working. In all the laws of nature, in all the movements of society, we are justified in tracing his ever-present and most beneficent hand.
III. HERE IS TEACHING UPON THE PARAMOUNT AUTHORITY OF THE LORD CHRIST. What dignity is there in the assertion of our Master, "I work"! He came to this earth in order to work; his life among men was a life of toil. "I must," said he, "work the works of him that sent me, while it is day." Especially did he work in the vanquishing of human ills, and in the promotion of human purity and well being. His work was not only wise; it was effective. Satan worked; Christ counter worked. Christ worked with Divine efficiency.
IV. HERE IS TEACHING UPON THE RELATION BETWEEN CHRIST AND MEN'S VIEWS AND PRACTICES WITH REFERENCE TO RELIGION. The Jews cavilled and quibbled, made much of trifles, were strict in ceremonial observances. How did the Lord and Saviour act in view of Jewish formalities? "I work!"—such was his reply, his rebuke. They might talk and find fault, they might forget the sufferer and the sinner in their exaltation of the Law. The Lord showed them a more excellent way, when he quietly but assiduously did the work for which he came into the world.
V. HERE IS TEACHING UPON THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH'S MINISTRY. If the Father and the Son concur in working, and if their work is incessant, what must be the vocation of the representatives of Christ, the servants of God? Surely their ministry must needs he one of toil. And if even the sabbath was a suitable occasion for the performance of a miracle of healing and of mercy, can Christians put the Lord's day to a better use than they do when they spend its hours in seeking the salvation of mankind?—T.
Offence with Christ.
It might have been expected that a Saviour so compassionate and so beneficent as, even from an ordinary human point of view, Jesus undoubtedly was, would have met with a warm and grateful reception. Especially, it might have been expected, would his own countrymen, the neighbours and acquaintances of those who were benefited by his kindness, have encompassed him with honour, confidence, and affection. But it was not so; and Jesus was not surprised, for he well knew what human nature is. Again and again in the Gospel narrative do we meet with statements regarding the offence taken at Jesus by the Jews, and the hostility they cherished towards him.
I. THE OFFENCE WAS USUALLY TAKEN WITH SOME WORD SPOKEN BY JESUS WHICH HAD A PECULIAR PRECIOUSNESS, OR WITH SOME DEED THAT DESERVED ESPECIAL HONOUR. Those who in their life and work moved upon familiar lines, who fell in with the prejudices of their country and their times, escaped censure and commanded confidence. But the discourses of Jesus were paradoxical, and the deeds of Jesus were novel and surprising. It was when he said something altogether above the spiritual level of his contemporaries, when he wrought some work worthy of God himself, that the hostility and malice of the Jews was aroused. And if any one will observe upon what grounds the unbelievers of our own time take offence at Christ, he will find that the "scandal," the stone of stumbling, is something deserving of admiration and of reverence.
II. OFFENCE WAS TAKEN WITH JESUS BECAUSE HE WOULD NOT CONDESCEND TO THEM PETTY AND FORMAL NOTIONS OF RELIGION. The sabbath was a divinely instituted ordinance, and one obviously beneficial and beautiful. But the Jews confounded the means with the end, and attached a superstitious sanctity to the seventh day. Jesus was the Lord of the sabbath, and held that the day was hallowed by the performance of a deed of mercy and helpfulness. This was a view alien from the formal and ceremonial habits of the Jewish leaders. The ways of Jesus were too high, too spiritual, for these narrow-minded hypocrites, and accordingly they were offended with him.
III. OFFENCE WAS TAKEN WITH JESUS BECAUSE HIS OPPONENTS COULD NOT RISE TO HIS GLORIOUS BUT JUST REPRESENTATION OF HIS OWN NATURE AND MISSION. The claim which Jesus made to identity of purpose and to closest intimacy of nature with the Divine Father should have awakened in the minds of the Jews, at least, a spirit of inquiry, and have suggested, at least, the hope that in this gracious Being God might be visiting and redeeming his people. This, however, was far from being the case. The higher Christ's claim, the ruder the resentment of his adversaries. It may be questioned whether they really believed in God at all; had they done so, how could they have avoided the conclusion that God was "in Christ"?
IV. THE OFFENCE WITH JESUS LED TO THOSE PURPOSES AND PLOTS WHICH ISSUED IN HIS DEATH. The impression produced upon the Jewish leaders by our Lord's ministry in Jerusalem was one of hostility; and this hostility was deepened by every great act of Divine authority he accomplished, and by every bold and sublime utterance which either explicitly or implicitly rebuked their formality and unspirituality. Thus their "offence" deepened into malice and rage. They "stumbled" at the miracles by which the Lord asserted and explained his claims. Repeated "offence" issued in resolute plots against his life. And Jesus thus came to the cross not because of his faults, for he had none; but because of his righteous claims and his peerless beneficence. His death was a witness against his foes as fully as it was a witness in his own favour.—T.
John 5:19, John 5:20
The Father and the Son.
Most of our Lord's discourses concern man and his spiritual life, are moral and practical. But this passage is, in the true and proper sense of the term, theological, informing us of the relations between the persons of the Godhead, and revealing, so to speak, the inner springs of our Saviour's ministry, by giving us a glimpse into the Divine nature and purposes.
I. THE FATHER IS EVER CARRYING ON BENEFICENT OPERATIONS IN HUMAN SOCIETY. The whole discussion originated in the cure of the infirm man at Bethesda; this being wrought on the sabbath occasioned the murmurings of the Jews, and elicited the defence of Jesus. Now, an ordinary physician, had he effected such a cure, would have been rightly satisfied to fall back upon the fact that the man's sufferings were relieved, and that human strength and comfort are an abundant justification for any measures not morally wrong. But the Divine Physician fell back upon the working of God in the world and among men. What he says does not remove all mystery, for he tells us nothing to explain the existence of sin and of suffering. But he does give us to understand that God is ever working among men in the very way in which he—Jesus himself—had been working, when he had healed the infirmities of the sick.
II. THE FATHER, LOVING THE SON, SHOWS HIM WHAT THINGS HE IS EVER DOING. This language is, of course, accommodated to our powers of comprehension. However the world, or the Jews in particular, might hate Christ, he was the beloved of the Divine Father, and as such was admitted to the Father's intimate and affectionate confidence. What a qualification for him who came to this earth as Prophet, Priest, and King of humanity! How wise a provision was thus made for our salvation! A perfect sympathy exists between the Personal Power of beneficence in the universe and the Teacher, Saviour, Lord of man.
III. THE SON, SEEING THE FATHER'S WORKS, DOES THE SAME IN HIS EARTHLY MINISTRY AND IN THE EXERCISE OF HIS MEDIATORIAL SOVEREIGNTY. Here was the all-sufficient vindication of our Lord's miracles themselves, and also of their manner and circumstances. The Father is ever working for man's welfare, on the sabbath as on other days. Every day of the week his sun shines, his air passes gently over the earth, his streams flow, his flowers bloom, his birds sing, his creatures rejoice in his bounty and kindness. He is all day long and every day promoting not only the bodily, but the intellectual and spiritual welfare of his dependent children. And what the Father does, that the Son does, moving amongst men, seen or unseen, a Presence of grace and comfort, of inspiration and of peace. Thus he ever works his Father's works, and forwards the cause which is dear to the Father's heart. Where we see the triumphs of the Gospel in individual hearts, in human society, let us recognize the tokens of the Saviour's holy and benevolent ministry, and be assured that this is the work of God himself.
IV. THE PAST OPERATIONS OF DIVINE MERCY ARE A PLEDGE OF GREATER AND MORE MARVELLOUS WORKS IN THE FUTURE. Our Lord, unlike a human teacher or leader, always represented what he did as only the promise of greater and better things to come. This assurance of his foreknowledge was verified in the marvels of Pentecost, and in the fruits which have been yielded throughout the long centuries of the spiritual dispensation.—T.
The human Judge upon the Divine throne.
Many are the offices which it is appointed for the Son of man to hold. Yet they are all consistent one with another, and only a complete view of them can present Christ as he really is, and can elicit towards him all those sentiments which are justly due to him. If he is the Saviour of sinners and the Friend of his people, he is also the Lord of the earth and the Judge of all mankind.
I. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF CHRIST AS JUDGE. As represented by himself, these are two.
1. His Divine ability of knowledge, of authority, of justice, in virtue of his nature as Son of God. This is asserted in the claim he makes in John 5:22 of equality with the Father, and of a consequent right to the same honour which is accorded to the Father.
2. His participation in our human nature implied in the designation "Son of man" in John 5:27. This true humanity of our Lord ensures that all judgment shall be conducted not only with Divine knowledge and equity, but with human sympathy and consideration.
II. THE PERSONS OVER WHOM CHRIST EXERCISES HIS JUDICIAL FUNCTIONS. All mankind must stand at his bar; God hath committed all judgment unto him, and a day is appointed in which God will judge all men by the Man Christ Jesus. Friends and subjects, enemies and rebels, alike must receive sentence from his lips.
III. THE PRINCIPLES WHICH DIRECT CHRIST'S JUDGMENT. Of these two may be mentioned.
1. The thoughts and intents of the heart are considered as well as outward actions.
2. With respect to those who have been privileged to hear the gospel, the all-important question is—Did they receive or reject the Divine Mediator, the offer of Divine mercy?
IV. THE INSTINCT PERIODS OF CHRIST'S JUDGMENT.
1. There is judgment here and now, as seems implied in John 5:22. Christ is ever passing judgment upon men, criticizing their character and their action, discriminating between the evil and the good, making allowance for human infirmities on the one hand, and for human endeavours on the other. It is well for us that Christ judges his people now; that when necessary he has a controversy with them; that he has words of reproach for the unfaithful, and words of encouragement for the depressed; that he chastens his people in kindness and with purposes of love. It is for them to submit themselves to their Lord, to bow before his chastising hand, to profit by his correction.
2. There is judgment hereafter. Life has to be considered, not only in detail, but as a whole. When it is finished, then is the time for it to be duly estimated and justly recompensed. Now, our Lord himself assures us that retribution in the life to come is his peculiar work. The anticipation of this process should quicken our spiritual diligence and solicitude. The sinner may well repent and seek acceptance, so that he may recognize his Saviour upon the judgment seat; and the Christian may well prepare to render in his account "with joy and not with grief."—T.
The voice that reaches the dead.
The dispute between Jesus and the unwilling and unbelieving Jews was a dispute as to our Lord's authority, dignity, and power. The attitude of his enemies constrained the Lord to adopt language the boldest and most uncompromising with regard to himself and his offices. Thus it was that he was led in the course of this discussion to advance his claim of authority over such even as were spiritually dead.
I. THE STATE OF SPIRITUAL DEATH. I. Its cause is sin, wicked departure from the God of life.
2. Its tokens are—insensibility to spiritual realities, incapacity for spiritual exertion, and unfitness for spiritual society.
3. Its effects are apparent both here in this world, and hereafter in the future state of retribution.
II. THE SUMMONS OF THE SON OF GOD.
1. It is the summons of One who has life in himself; as is apparent from his power, several times exercised in the course of his ministry, to raise the dead, and even more strikingly from his own glorious resurrection.
2. It is conveyed in a voice in itself authoritative and Divine; and yet a voice of invitation and of promise.
III. THE RESPONSE OF HEARING AND REVERENT ATTENTION AND OBEDIENCE.
1. This is by no means universal, being rendered only by those who are awakened by the influences of the Holy Spirit to some susceptibility to the spiritually authoritative tones and language of the Son of God.
2. It is the hearing of the soul which our Lord requires as the condition of life. The Old Testament admonition and promise are appropriate in this connection: "Hear, and your soul shall live." The frequent invitation, or rather summons, addressed to the people by the Saviour should be borne in mind: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Many listened to his discourses who never really heard him; and it is so now with His gospel.
IV. THE GIFT OF LIFE.
1. This life which is conferred by the Son of God is spiritual. In a subsequent part of the discourse, Jesus claims to be endowed with authority to raise the dead to the life of the future state; but here the life which is promised is of the spirit. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The spiritual character of this life appears from the references to that with which it is in contrast: "You hath he quickened, who were dead through trespasses and sins."
2. It is dependent life, derived from the source of spiritual vitality. Of himself the Lord Jesus says, in the following verse, that he possessed life, as his own, "in himself," by the appointment of the Father. But Christians derive their new life from him, who came "that they might have life, and might have it more abundantly."
3. It is immortal life, in this being distinguished from that of the body. In the preceding verse Christ describes it as "eternal," by which we may understand that it consists in participation in the Divine nature and in the Divine immortality. Thus the new life in Christ is independent of that of the body, whose dissolution indeed is the occasion of its higher development and true perfection.—T.
The Scriptures and the Christ.
Jesus is expostulating with the Jews, who refuse to admit his claims, to accept his salvation. The course of his argument and censure is somewhat thus: "You revere and examine the canonical Scriptures. You profess to think of them so highly that you regard them as the source of eternal life for men. Yet you will not yield faith and allegiance to me. What inconsistency is here! The true value of the Scriptures lies just in this, that they bear witness to me, that they are intended to lead you and all who read them to me. The fact is, that you rest in the Scriptures, instead of being led by the Scriptures to me, who am Life Eternal. Thus the Word fails to fulfil in your case its intended purpose."
I. THE SCRIPTURES WITNESS TO JESUS AS THE CHRIST.
1. This is so with the Old Testament, which was in our Lord's mind when he used this language. In the Old Testament there are recorded some explicit and direct predictions which are fulfilled in Jesus; whilst the symbols, sacrifices, and services of the old economy in many instances point to him who should come. No Christian can read certain of the psalms, or certain passages from the writings of Isaiah and of Daniel, without tracing prophetic outlines of the sufferings and of the reign of the Messiah.
2. It is obvious that this is still more strikingly the case with the New Testament, to which, of course, our Lord could not be referring here, but which we are bound to search, and in which we are sure to find abundant witness to Jesus as the Christ of God and the Saviour of men. The Gospels and Epistles are full of Christ; they relate facts, they offer doctrinal explanations, they draw practical inferences, all of which have a bearing upon human salvation.
II. THE SCRIPTURES ARE THUS THE MEANS OF ETERNAL LIFE TO MANKIND. By "eternal life," the most comprehensive of all phrases employed to denote spiritual enrichinent and blessing, we are to understand the life of the soul, the life which is Divine. Now, this is a boon which the knowledge of the mere letter of Scripture can never impart. It must be communicated by the quickening Spirit of God, and is conveyed through that Mediator, who is in himself the life of God, and who becomes, by his humiliation, obedience, and sacrifice, the life of man. tie himself professed and promised to bestow this boon: "Come unto me, that ye may have life;" "This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." If we know Christ in and through the Scriptures, we may be justly said to owe to them the incomparable gift of life eternal.
III. THE SCRIPTURES SHOULD THEREFORE BE STUDIED AND SEARCHED BY EVERY ONE DESIROUS OF SPIRITUAL BLESSING.
1. In what spirit? With a reverent sense of their Divine origin and authority, and with a high conviction of their priceless value.
2. With what intent and view? Not for curiosity's sake, nor for secular ends, but for spiritual improvement.
3. In what manner? Systematically, and not in a desultory fashion; with all accessible human aids, and with prayer for Divine enlightenment and assistance.—T.
HOMILIES BY B. THOMAS
The Help of the helpless.
Here we have—
I. JESUS ATTRACTED BY MISERY. Why was Jesus found at Bethesda? Because there were such misery and need. He was ever found where he was most wanted, and where he might do most good. He was not found in places of luxury, but in the haunts of misery.
1. The misery was great. There was presented to the eye of Jesus there such pain, degradation, poverty, and misery, physical, mental, and moral, as could scarcely be described, and all presented to him together in one scene.
2. The misery was various. It was not confined to one disease, but embraced many classes—"the impotent, the halt," etc. The diseases were various in their kind and history, but all baneful branches from the common stem of physical and moral disorder.
3. The misery was distributed among a great number. There was a multitude. The porches were full, and doubtless many could not be admitted for want of room. Physical suffering is the heritage of the human family, and the special heritage of some. It is a mercy that suffering is distributed. We only know of One who could and did bear all in himself "the Man of sorrows," etc.
4. All were waiting and struggling for the same blessing, viz. restoration to health. With what anxiety they would watch the moving of the waters, and what efforts they made to have the first bath! To this place Jesus was attracted. Being the incarnation of mercy, he was attracted by misery. The whole scene was such as would naturally excite his compassion, and stood forth as a picture to him of a more terrible and universal malady, that of sin, which he came to take away.
II. JESUS SPECIALLY ATTRACTED BY THE MOST MISERABLE. They were all miserable enough, but there was a certain man standing alone in misery and helplessness.
1. He was impotent, perhaps paralytic, thoroughly helpless, and unable to plunge into the healing pool, and had no one to help him in.
2. He had been a long time in this condition. Thirty-eight years. The best part of his life was spent in pain and misery. He had only just sufficient life left to feel his pain and woe.
3. He was almost in the grip of utter despair. Impotent in mind and will as well as in body. He had been there for years, and doubtless was the sport of the more fortunate, and the prey of despair. Still he mechanically crawled there day after day, with an occasional glimmer of hope that some good chance would turn up. And it turned up at last. Jesus, the Son of God, was there, and this poor man became the chief object of his pity. He doubtless pitied the multitude, but the most miserable riveted his compassion. The most helpless and miserable became the most fortunate.
III. JESUS HELPING THE MOST MISERABLE. We have here:
1. A wonderful question. "Wilt thou," etc.? We see:
(1) The importance of the consent of the will in physical as well as spiritual recovery. Christ did not choose to help people against their will. The consent of the will is essential to the efficacy of even Divine influences, especially in spiritual restoration. It is the first step towards it.
(2) Christ was anxiously willing to help every one who had the wish for it, and even more, he was anxious to create and encourage the will so as to be able to lay hold on the help. In consequence of long and repeated failures to get relief, even the will for it now in this poor cripple seemed to be weak; but Jesus fans the smouldering embers with the question, "Wilt thou," etc.? This is a vivid picture in the physical domain of the indifference and apathy of men with regard to spiritual recovery. But this is an exceptional picture, for as a rule men are intensely anxious for health of body. Look at the multitude at Bethesda; what struggle they make to be the first in the moved water! But in a lamentable contrast to this is the conduct of men with regard to the water of life; they seem to struggle to be the last there. The appeal is made by the physician to the sick, and not as usual by the sick to the physician. God in grace first prayed to man, and thus teaches man to pray to him, and create in him an interest in his own welfare. "Wilt thou," etc.?
(3) The question brings from the man a sad tale. A tale of human helplessness on the one hand, and of human selfishness on the other. The "will" was not entirely gone, but it was very weak through his own helplessness and the stolid selfishness of others. "Sir, I have no man," etc. "Every one for himself" was the rule then. A picture of life. "The survival of the fittest" seems to be the law of nature under sin; but there is a law of grace by which the seemingly unfittest may survive, and its question is, "Wilt thou," etc.? There is a gracious power on which the weakest may lay hold.
2. A wonderful command. "Rise," etc. In this command we distinctly hear:
(1) The voice of Divine power. "Rise." This he was utterly unable to do. "Take up thy bed." As well tell the bed to take him up. Every human power had failed even at earlier stages of the disease. And human power never speaks thus under such circumstances but in madness. But is natural in the Divine.
(2) The voice of Divine authority. Divine power and authority go together. There is here a Divine will, and a Divine right and power for its immediate execution. There is no hesitancy, no timidity, but full and serene Divine consciousness of power to carry out his will, and make the man whole.
(3) The voice of Divine mercy. Power alone, or swayed by justice, could kill and perform any miraculous feat of destruction, as in the case of Lot's wife; but infinite power, under the guidance of mercy, heals and saves, and that most completely. "Whole." Amidst the thunders of power and the majestic lightnings of authority we hear the genial voice of mercy answering its own question, "Wilt thou?" etc., by the command, "Rise," etc.
3. A wonderful effect. "Immediately the man was made whole." Consequent upon the command an effort was made; strength came with the effort. The effect was instantaneous; the miracle was complete and thorough. The man rose and walked away; a wonder to ethers, not less to himself, and an unmistakable monument of Divine power as well as Divine mercy.
1. Jesus selected his own object. The most helpless and miserable. This was a most gracious act to the man himself. And this most helpless and furthest from the reach of human aid, answered well the purposes of Jesus in revealing himself as the Son of God. Among the suffering throng there was not one who answered this purpose so well. The greatest misery attracts most of the relieving compassion of Jesus, and when relieved will redound most to his glory.
2. Jesus often helps in a manner and degree which we should not expect. This poor cripple never expected more than to he helped to the pool; but Christ made him whole by his mere word and will. "He is able to do exceeding abundantly," etc.
3. What Christ did physically to this man, he is ready and willing to do spiritually to the human race. The human family by sin are spiritually impotent and helpless. Christ, in the gospel of his love and power, asks the question to each, "Wilt thou," etc.? If they are willing, he is willing and able.
4. There is much suffering in the world, but there is mercy here as well. The world is a Bethesda, the house of mercy; Jesus has made it so. Every healing spring in nature, as well as the river of life, is from him.—B.T.
Suffering alleviated by the removal of sin.
I. THAT IT WAS THE GREAT AIM OF JESUS TO ALLEVIATE THE SUFFERINGS OF THE HUMAN FAMILY, AND MAKE THEM WHOLE. We see:
1. That the human family are subject to great sufferings. This is too patent to require proof. It is the universal experience of all. These are various and great.
(1) Physical sufferings—those arising from the infirmities, diseases, and ultimate mortality of physical life.
(2) Mental sufferings—those arising from personal and social afflictions, bereavements, disappointments, slander, failures of every description, and the mysterious problems of being.
(3) Moral sufferings—arising from a sense of guilt; the unreconciliation of the soul with God, and its consequent unsettled and painful spiritual state.
2. It was the great object of Christ to alleviate and remove these. To this he devoted his life and energy. He did this by sympathizing and guiding words, by merciful deeds, and by his vicarious death. In all his life and death, "surely he bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows."
II. TO ATTAIN THIS AIM IT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY THAT SIN SHOULD BE DONE AWAY WITH. "Sin no more."
1. Sin is the direct or indirect cause of all sufferings. All the sufferings of the human family, whether physical, mental, or moral, are traceable to sin. "The wages of sin is death" in all the departments of human being. The sufferings of this poor cripple were the direct consequence of his sin. Physical and spiritual nature invariably punishes the violation of its laws with suffering.
2. The cause must be removed in order to remove the effects. You must dry the fountain before you can dry the stream. As long as there is a fountain there must be a stream. As long as there is sin there must be suffering. Effects must follow causes.
3. The removal of the cause must be followed with the removal of the effect. Dry the fountain, there will be no stream. "Sin no more," there will be no suffering. We have a practical illustration of this in this world. In the degree sin is lessened suffering is lessened, and even with regard to the extent of suffering for which we are not directly responsible the pain is not unnatural. We have a revealed illustration of this from the other world. In heaven there is no sin, and there is no suffering. In hell there is unmixed sin, and there is unmixed suffering. Suffering must end with sin, not before; but then it will.
III. TO DO AWAY WITH SIN REQUIRES DIVINE AND HUMAN COOPERATION. "Sin no more." This is the Divine voice appealing to man for his consent and cooperation against sin.
1. This appeal presupposes two things at least.
(1) That to resist sin effectually is a possibility. In connection with what Christ has done and is doing, and what man can do, this is possible. We are not asked to perform impossibilities. A similar help which accompanied the effort to rise and walk, wilt accompany the effort to resist sin.
(2) That to resist sin is a most binding duty. It is each man's duty to God, to himself, and to others.
2. This Divine appeal is made to man's moral nature.
(1) To his individual consciousness. "Sin no more." Men are to be restored, not in the abstract, but in the concrete. Not as multitudes, but as individuals. Each man is directly appealed to.
(2) To his individual sinful consciousness. "Sin no more." Thou hast sinned, thou art a sinner. The Divine voice appeals to man as a sinner; thus his sin is brought home to him. This is an essential step to its removal, and unless an assenting echo comes from within, the Divine power has nothing to work upon.
(3) To the powers in man which can distinguish and resist sin. His conscience and will. The one can distinguish between good and evil, and the other can say yes or no to its dictates, as well as to the dictates of Heaven. Conscience is ever on the side of good, and against evil and such. The will is not; hence to educate the conscience, and stir up and gain the human will to the right side, is the chief aim of Christ and his gospel.
3. This Divine appeal is made through the most powerful motives.
(1) Those arising from considerations of sin itself.
(a) Experience of its evil consequences in the past. "Lest a worse thing come unto thee"—implying that its consequences in the past were bad. The sin of this man had cost him thirty-eight years of untold suffering and misery; only a taint shadow of its spiritual consequences. Every hell is against sin, and sin really is against itself. Man should learn from his failures, and grow wiser by experience.
(b) Its certain worse consequences in the future. "Lest a worse thing," etc.
(α) However bad has been the experience of sin, its worst has not been yet felt; there is something worse in store.
(β) A repetition of sin tends to its final issue.
Every repetition fixes it deeper in the character, and makes it more difficult of cure. It is in the very nature of sin to go from bad to worse, and the next step in it may lead to the worst of all—to utter inability to resist, and the consequent impossibility of relief. This should be a strong motive against sin, and a mighty influence to incline the will against it.
(2) Those motives arising from considerations of the Divine goodness. "Behold, thou art made whole."
(a) Deliverance from the painful consequences of sin is not a sufficient guarantee against falling into it again. The danger may be greater. It will be a point at which the man will be specially attacked; and if it becomes strong, it must become so by special watchfulness and prayer.
(b) Deliverance from the painful consequences of sin should be a strong motive not to commit it again. "Behold, thou," etc. This should awake
(α) a sense of special duty—not to sin.
(β) A sense of special obligations to the Deliverer.
(γ) A sense of special gratitude to him for the deliverance. And this can never be manifested while sin is wilfully committed, for it is as detestable to God as it is ruinous to man.
(c) All the special and general goodness of God in providence and grace is in order to keep us from sin. With Divine eloquence it tells each man, "Sin no more." This is the case especially with regard to our personal deliverances. And if these will not keep us from sin, what will?
1. Christ cured bodies in order to cure souls. His physical cures were introductory to the spiritual. He performed the miracle of Bethesda in order to teach the lesson of the temple: "Sin no more."
2. No cure is complete unless the soul is cured of the disease of sin. Jesus sought the man in order to finish his work. At Bethesda it was incomplete. How many are satisfied with the introduction! But Divine goodness is wasted unless it is carried out to its natural issues, the restoration of the soul.
3. To keep away from sin is better than to be delivered from it. Prevention is easier and safer than cure. Prevention is ever possible, cure is not. It is possible to be in the palsy of sin where there is no Divine Physician.
4. Jesus helps man in order that man should help himself. He helped this man and did for him what he himself could not do. He made him whole. He was then in a position and under an obligation to do something for himself. "Sin no more."
5. In order to keep away from sin, we should ever remember its terrible consequences and our gracious deliverances. We should be reminded of these, for we are very forgetful. There was a danger that this man should forget this between Bethesda and the temple; therefore the first thing Christ did was to remind him, "Thou hast been made," etc.—B.T.
I. ITS NATURE AND IMPORT.
1. It is the spiritual life of the soul. It is called "eternal life," not merely as distinguished from temporal and fading, but also from material and carnal. The soul by sin has lost its spiritual life, its primitive purity, harmony and happiness arising from the peace and friendship of God. The soul left God like an erratic star from its central sun, and is truly described as being dead—dead to God and its highest interest. This life is the life of God within. His Law written in the heart, and his image restored in the soul. A life having its roots in God, its vitality from him, germinating and budding in the genial soil of his peace and friendship, growing and blooming in the sunshine of his love, and under the reviving dew of his presence and influence. This is the highest life of which the soul is capable. It is its true life—real, and not a mere form.
2. This life is in and through Christ. Having lost our spiritual life by sin, it is evident that we must have it from a Divine source, and through a Divine medium, and under a new and Divine arrangement. Christ is this Source and Medium. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. "I am come that they might have life," etc. As we derive our natural life from Adam, we derive our spiritual life from Christ, the second Adam.
3. This life is a blessing to be attainted. It comes not with us into the world. We have many things in consequence of birth. We are here with all the privileges of manhood; but not with eternal life. This we must attain, and to attain it is the chief end of life. If we had eternal life simply as men, we would not be urged to get it, seek it, and make every effort to lay hold of it.
4. It is to be had on certain conditions. These conditions are as set forth here—knowledge of and faith in the Divine Father and the Son: "He that heareth my word," etc. Every life from the lowest to the highest has its conditions, and these must be complied with ere that life can be enjoyed. Eternal life has its conditions. To know and believe the Author, the Source, and the Giver of this life is essential to its enjoyment. This natural, reasonable, and gracious as the conditions are suitable, easy, and within the reach of all.
5. It is to be had on these condition, s now. As soon as its conditions are complied with, eternal life is begun in the soul. "Hath eternal life." Some speak of it as if it were entirely future, whereas it must be had in the present or never. This world is the only birthplace, and the season of salvation is the only birthday of eternal life. All those who enjoy it in heaven found it on earth.
6. It can only be fully enjoyed in the future. Being eternal, it must have eternity to develop itself fully. What is eternal in duration cannot reach maturity in time; what is spiritual in nature cannot be fully enjoyed under material conditions. All terrestrial life reaches a climax under terrestrial laws and circumstances; but spiritual life requires spiritual conditions, and naturally demands eternity in its full length to expand and develop its beauty, fruition, and happiness.
7. It is a life without end. "Eternal life." Every life here has an end, but one—spiritual life—Christ-life in the soul. This is eternal, and worthy of being so. The life of the body has an end: and when we consider its vanity, emptiness, privations, and sufferings, we are glad that it has. There is nothing in it, as a whole, to make endlessness desirable. There is no life, but that of God in the soul, worthy of being qualified by the word "eternal;" this has all the elements to make it worthy of eternal continuance. Eternity in the possession of this life will make up the sum of all the happiness man is capable of.
II. ITS BLESSED RESULTS.
1. There is a wonderful immunity. "Shall not come into judgment." Much of the blessings of redemption consist, not in what we shall enjoy, but in what we shall evade; and this will be a great evasion. "Shall not come," etc. And why? Because it is passed. Eternal life and judgment are opposed to each other, and are respectively the results of faith and no faith in Christ. Judgment is in the region of death, but the believer has come out of that. There can be no real judgment for the possessor of life. "Who can lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" in this case the final examination is in the preliminary. Pass this, and you pass all.
2. There is a wonderful transition. "From death unto life."
(1) This transition is wonderfully great. Death and life are diametrically opposed. The moral distance between them is immeasurable; the change involved is, therefore, great. There is a change of nature, of condition, of sphere, of character, of prospects, of world. The passage from death unto life is morally long, and the transition wonderful.
(2) The transition is Divine. Every one who undergoes this transition must undergo a Divine process. The voice of God alone can make the dead in trespasses and sins hear. His power alone can bring them back to life. His infinite love can warm and quicken the soul into spiritual vitality; cause the heart to beat, and the blood to course so as to result in a new and Divine life. What is human in the process is lost when compared with the Divine, and God is all in all.
(3) The transition is real. It is not a passing dream, but a glorious reality; a genuine passage of the soul from a state of spiritual death to that of spiritual life. That it is real is evidenced:
(a) By the believer's experience and consciousness; He does not feel the same man. And he is right; for he is a new man. "I live, but not I," etc. His experience is quite different. "Who was before a blasphemer," etc.
(b) There are the ordinary proofs of life. It is not very difficult to distinguish between a dead and a living body, and not much more difficult is it to distinguish between a dead and a living soul. Mark the difference in the man—in his habits, his temper, his character, his language; they are unmistakable evidence of the transition.
(c) The emphatic testimony of Christ. "Verily, verily," etc.
(4) The transition is free. It cost infinitely to God. Before a single soul could be transmitted from death unto life, God's only begotten Son bad to suffer the most ignominious death. But what we have to do in the transition is only to believe and submit; only to jump on board the ship of life, and the passage is free.
(5) The transition, though great, is quickly made. We hear of quick passages made across the oceans, but they are all physical distance. To the moral distance between death and life, they are the moral poles of the universe; but the passage is quickly made. Only believe in Christ. The quickest passage, perhaps, on record is that of the thief on the cross. In the morning and even at midday he was in the empire of death and one of its extreme regions; but by an act of faith in Christ he was, before the close of that day, with Christ in one of the regions of life—in Paradise.
(6) The transition is a most happy one. "From death," etc.
(a) The happiness of the greatest deliverance.
(b) The happiness of the highest promotion.
(c) The happiness of perfect safety.
(d) The happiness of an ever-increasing enjoyment—the enjoyment of a holy, spiritual, and ever-young and growing life.
(e) The happiness of a never-ending gratitude.—B.T.
John 5:28, John 5:29
The two resurrections.
1. The effect of Christ's preceding discourse on his hearers was wonder. "They marvelled."
2. The teachings and deeds of Christ were well calculated to produce this emotion in all.
3. Each manifestation of his power and glory was only introductory to something greater still. "Marvel not at this," etc. The two resurrections—the resurrection of life and that of judgment. Notice—
I. THEIR SIMILARITY.
1. In the physical condition supposed. The subjects of both are dead, and described as being in their graves. The good die as well as the bad. They lie down and sleep together; their graves are often in close proximity to each other, and their dust is mingled together. They are under the same physical condition, that of mortality and complete dissolution.
2. Both are similar in their wonderful effects. Both are resurrections. There wilt be a quickening into life, into full conscious existence. There will be a reunion of body and soul after a long separation; the physical effects will be similar in both. The good and the bad shall hear, and come forth.
3. Both are the result of the same Divine power.
(1) The Agent is the same in both. "The Son of God." To raise the dead is the prerogative of Divinity, and by the power of the Son of God shall the good and the bad be raised. As the resurrection forms a most important part of the great scheme of redemption, it most befittingly falls to the Redeemer's lot to do it. He has the right and the power; and it will be exercised on this occasion on all, irrespective of character.
(2) The process in both is the same. "Shall hear the voice of the Son," etc. There will be an outward manifestation—a voice—and there will be a response. The same voice can awake the good and the bad. They would sleep on forever unless called by him. The voice of angels would be ineffective. But all will hear and know his voice, and come forth. Even the Son of God never addressed such a vast congregation before at once, and never with such unexceptional success. How many of his sermons missed the mark! But this grand resurrection sermon will not fail in a single instance. All shall hear and come forth.
4. The subjects of both resurrections shall come forth in their own and true character. As good or evil. Neither the sleep of death nor the Divine process of the resurrection can produce any change in character. Whatever a man soweth that shall he reap. The resurrection will not change this law, but help to carry it out. Character will cling to us forever.
5. The subjects of both shall come forth in their true character—according to the character of their deeds. "They that have done good, and they that have done evil." Character in both cases is formed by actions; so that the resurrection will be the same in its process to both classes. It will be fair to both—a faithful reproduction, not merely of the physical and mental, but also of the moral and spiritual self. Identity will be preserved intact. No one will have any reason to complain.
6. Both are similar in their certainty. The resurrection of the good and bad is equally certain. "All that are in the graves shall hear," etc. There is an absolute necessity for both, and there is an adequate power. Divine physical power is irresistible; Divine moral power is not so. What is absolutely necessary must come to pass. The good must be raised for the purposes of grace, the bad for the purposes of justice.
II. IS THEIR DISSIMILARITY.
1. Dissimilar in the character of their subjects. The subjects of one are those who have done good, the subjects of the other are those who have done evil. And between good and evil there is an essential and an eternal difference—a difference which neither eternity nor omnipotence can efface. Good will be good and evil will be evil at the last day, and the difference will be more strikingly seen.
2. Dissimilar in their results.
(1) One is the resurrection of life, the other is that of judgment. Those who have done good will not be raised to judgment, for they have passed from death unto life. Therefore they must rise unto life; the highest, the truest life of the soul—a life like that of Christ himself. The other is the resurrection of judgment, of condemnation—the opposite of life.
(2) The one is a reward, the other is punishment. Life is the natural consequence of goodness and faith in Christ; still it is a reward and a Divine favour. The resurrection and its consequences will be a reward to the good, but punishment to the wicked. It would be mercy to them to let them sleep on; but justice demands their resurrection to receive the wages of sin, which is death.
(3) The one will be followed by a glorious ascension, the other by horrible descent. Those who have done good will come forth to rise forever in the ever-increasing enjoyment of a pure, happy, and endless life; while those who have done evil will rise to sink deeper in spiritual death. The reunion of body and soul to the good must intensify their happiness. To the wicked it must intensify their misery. What a difference there is between the good man being awaked to join his family at the breakfast table and at the mercy seat, and the culprit being awaked in the morning to undergo the terrible sentence of the law! This is but a faint illustration of the difference between the resurrection of life and that of judgment.
1. We have passed through many important crises, but the most important and marvellous one is yet in store. "The hour is coming," etc. A most important and wonderful hour! Time and eternity in an hour! We should live continually in that hour.
2. The inseparable connection between the present and the future. Our future is in our present, and our present will be reproduced in the future.
3. The importance of well doing in the present. Let us hear the voice of the Son of man, now that we may welcome the voice of the Son of God in that hour. The physical process of the resurrection is entirely future, with which we shall have nothing to do. The spiritual process is going on now, and by Divine help we can shape our own resurrection and determine whether it is to be one of life or of judgment.—B.T.
John 5:39, John 5:40
A commendable search and a sad failure.
We have here—
I. A COMMENDABLE SEARCH. Commendable because:
1. It is a search for the proper object. "Eternal life."
(1) This is man's greatest spiritual need. This he lost by sin. When he sinned, he died spiritually. He became dead to God and virtue. But when he lost his spiritual life, the craving for it remained. Eternal life is felt by man to be his greatest spiritual need.
(2) This is man's highest good. It is his greatest spiritual need, and is calculated to develop all his spiritual capacities and satisfy all his spiritual wants. This is the climax of being. Nothing higher can be given, nothing higher can be desired.
(3) This is the most important object that can engage the attention of man. His greatest need, his highest good, and any attention bestowed upon it and any effort put forth to secure it is praiseworthy.
2. It is a search for the proper object in the proper field. "The Scriptures."
(1) Eternal life is a subject of revelation. This is natural and essential; it must be so. It is evidently beyond human discovery. "Eye hath not seen," etc. Eternal life and the way to obtain it must come from the source of life.
(2) Men in all ages have looked for it in connection with some kind of revelation, either oral or written. The human race have instinctively looked for it in the direction of the Divine; they searched for it in every voice and book purporting to be Divine communications, as instanced in the oracles of the Greeks and Romans, the Shasters of the Hindoos, etc.
(3) This search for it is made in the true revelation. "Ye search the Scriptures." All other revelations are false and imaginary, but the Scriptures are the true revelation of God's will and gracious purposes—a revelation of eternal life. They are "they which testify of me."
3. The chief object is sought in a praiseworthy manner. "Ye search," etc. The Scriptures, as the revelation of God's will, are worthy of the most diligent search. No search can be too minute and no effort can be too thorough. Eternal life is a pearl to be found by search. These people searched the Scriptures, and in the time and efforts they bestowed on this, they were patterns to the present age.
II. A SAD FAILURE.
1. They failed to recognize Christ as the great Theme of the Scriptures.
2. They failed to learn the testimony of Scripture to Christ as the Life of the world.
(1) As the Source of life.
(2) As the Author and Giver of life.
(3) As the Support of life.
(4) As the perfect Pattern of life, in its development, progress, struggles, and final triumph.
The very Scriptures which they searched emphatically and unitedly bear witness to Christ as the Life of the world, and as the Author and Giver of spiritual life in the soul. This witness they failed to recognize, this testimony they failed to understand.
3. They failed to come to Christ to have life. Our Lord suggests the reasons for this.
(1) Want of inward religious integrity. "I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you." "You have not the Word of God abiding in you;" and, having neither his love nor his Word in them, they failed to accept his most precious gift.
(2) Want of spiritual discernment. They could not see through the letter to the Spirit; could not see the Son of God in the Son of man, nor the Divine Saviour in Jesus of Nazareth.
(3) Want of self-surrender. "Ye wilt not," etc. Surrender of their prejudices, of their carnal notions, and of their wicked conduct. This was the chief reason of their terrible failure in relation to Christ and eternal life.
4. This failure is very sad. Because:
(1) Their best energies were wasted. There was much search, but all in vain. Their labour was spent for that which satisfieth not, and their money for that which is not bread. This is life wasted, energies misapplied.
(2) The chief good was lost. "Eternal life." How sad, after so much search!
(3) Lost while so near to them. In the very Scriptures they so diligently searched. The Author and Giver of eternal life was in their nature, in their midst, preaching in their streets, teaching in their synagogues, performing mighty deeds before their very eyes, and uttering the words of eternal life in their ears. Still they lost the highest good. They were in the field, but missed the pearl; they had the casket, but missed the jewel.
(4) Lost while they ought to find it. They had the best advantages—the testimony of Scriptures, of John, of the Father, and of the mighty works of Christ himself. To lose an important thing through misfortune, or through something which could not be helped, is sad enough, but to lose eternal life while it could be easily attained is sadder still. This was the case with the Jews, as well as with all who have the gospel.
1. The chief good may be very near and yet missed. This was the case with regard to the majority of Christ's hearers, and this is the case still. It is so near, but how often missed!
2. Much commendable search of Scripture may be made in vain. Many students of the Bible are scripturally rich but spiritually poor. "Ever learning," etc.
3. It is not enough to search the Scriptures, but we must search them with the proper end in view—with open eyes and open hearts. We should not stop with the letter, but dive down to the spirit and drink of the living water, accept the Life—the Christ of the Bible.
4. How little is enough to keep us from the chief good! A want of will is sufficient. Look at the rich young man; only one thing was lacking. And look at these Jews; it was only the "will not" that stood between them and eternal life.
5. In Christ alone eternal life is to be found.
6. We must come to him, for it, or be without it.
7. The importance of the subject and the Divine aids should ever decide the will in favour of Christ. To know the Scriptures and not know the Christ of the Scriptures is very sad.—B.T.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
A remarkable question of Jesus.
A remarkable question, truly! and if we did not know who asked it, it would be reckoned a thoughtless and somewhat silly question. But Jesus, we know, must have had weighty reasons for asking it. It looks plausible to assume that a man who had been thirty and eight years ill must assuredly have wanted to be cured; but, after all, the assumption is badly founded. It was certainly better to make the man whole than to leave him impotent, but it does not at all follow that the man would feel it to be better amid the experiences of his new state. Thirty and eight years would fasten a man down to the habits of a dependent invalid, and the perfect recovery of physical strength by no means guaranteed that he would be fit in all other respects to use the strength he had gained. Those who had willingly helped him in the days of his incapacity would now say, "Get you gone and seek work; earn your bread as others do, by the labour of your hands." Who can doubt that the man soon had cause to reflect over the question of Jesus, and admit that it was a question full of meaning? The question, then, we see, was just the question to put to this man; and more than that, it is a question which all need to answer.
I. IT REMINDS US OF THE UNIVERSAL SPIRITUAL MALADY. Jesus is the great Physician, and comes to benefit the sick. When he talks so much of himself as the Giver of new life, what does this mean but that the old life is not sufficient? When men are ill in body they know that they are ill, and are quick to seek for remedies. But men take a deal of persuading and humbling and emptying of self before they can see the need of healing from Christ.
II. IT REMINDS US HOW WE MUST TAKE THE TRUE WAY TO SPIRITUAL HEALING. Notice the answer the impotent man gives to Jesus. He proceeds to explain that he is doing his best according to his light and opportunity. The only thing he knows of is to wait at Bethesda till his chance comes, and it is plain it never will come. And so to us, taking all sorts of traditional ways to ease the troubles of the breast, Jesus comes, and in the midst of all our failures says there is real healing if only we take the right way.
III. IT REMINDS US OF THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE NEW AND BETTER STATE. From this poor man in his helplessness little was expected. When he was healed he would have to enter on a life of struggle, duty, and self-reliance. When Christ lays down before us of the riches of his grace, a great deal more is thereby expected from us.—Y.
The Healer's warning.
I. HE WHO WARNS HAS THE RIGHT TO SPEAK. It is not a mere stranger who comes up. He who speaks has rendered the greatest services to the man he addresses, and his warning for the future is based on his service in the past. So to speak, the healing would have been incomplete but for the giving of the warning. There are diseases the origin of which is not traceable; there are other diseases distinctly traceable to the evil doing of those who suffer from them. This man might surely have said, even as did the Samaritan woman, "Here is One who told me all that ever I did." Many would speak to the healed man, and their utterances would only move him to say that they knew not what they were talking about. "Sin no more," says Jesus. That seemed to point back to. some act or course of evil doing far away in the past, forgotten by most who had ever known it, and to many not known at all. But he who had the power to heal had also the power to know. If in after years this man neglected the warning and fell into suffering, all the bitterer would that suffering be in recollecting that he was so clearly forewarned against it.
II. JESUS WOULD HAVE HEALTH RESTORED, WHATEVER THE CAUSE OF ITS LOSS MIGHT BE. Jesus did not come first of all to the impotent man, reminding him that all these long years of infirmity were the consequence of his own evil doing. The man knew that well enough, and in all likelihood lamented bitterly over his folly. All sufferers demand sympathy; sufferers through their sin most of all. Jesus did not bean lecturing the impotent man as he lay by the pool. He healed him first, and then spoke plainly, even severely, to him after.
III. WHAT JESUS GIVES MAN MUST GUARD. While this poor man lay helpless, many temptations passed him by. Now that he was well again, temptations would crowd in upon him. The tempter says, "You are getting old; the years are few: make up for what you lost all the time you were so helpless." Jesus could easily make fresh physical energy pour into every organ and member of this disabled man. But when it; was a question of making him spiritually strong, then he had to be appealed to in a very warning way. What a dreadful possibility Jesus presents to the man! "A worse thing may happen to thee." What can be worse than a life of physical suffering? And yet there are degrees even in that. More sin might mean even worse bodily suffering, though it is almost certain Jesus meant the ruin of the whole nature.
IV. THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF HEALTH. Those in full vigour of body and mind must not be astonished when they are spoken to plainly. If they are not careful, their very strength and capability work out all the more evil. When we mourn over promising lives made useless by bodily infirmity, we must remember another aspect of bodily infirmity, namely, that people who might have done great mischief have thereby been made harmless.—Y.
The witness bearing works of Jesus.
I. THOSE TO WHOM THE TESTIMONY WAS OFFERED. Jesus had done two things which exceedingly shocked and horrified the Jews of Jerusalem. On the sabbath day he had healed an impotent man, and told him to take up his bed and walk. He had also said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. The words, the deeds, and the appearance of Jesus seemed contradictory to those who would not wait to look under the surface, but judged everything by their own traditions and prejudices. And when Jesus was confronted by all this prejudice and narrow-mindedness, all he could do was to go on with his work and his witness bearing. Not for himself he needed to fear anything, but he did fear for those who were blind to his claims. The hearts of men had got so hardened and their minds so twisted, that the true was reckoned to be the false, and the right to be the wrong. It did no harm to Jesus that he should be called sabbath breaker and blasphemer, but; it did great harm to those falsely calling him so. Hence he tries, quietly and patiently, to get them to examine into the evidence for his claims. Jesus never wanted people to take his bare word. He knew that false Christs would go out into the world, and therefore he would furnish ample and comforting evidence that he was the true Christ. Somehow or other, there were immense difficulties in the way of people receiving Jesus as the Christ of God. But they were not difficulties that Jesus made. Jesus is on our side against the difficulties. The works of Jesus, going on from day to day, gradually mounted up to a body of testimony, on which the faith of a sincere heart could build as on a foundation of rock.
II. THE WITNESS BEARING WORKS. John was a witness, but Jesus had greater witness than that of John. Jesus did not speak in any way depreciatory of John. The best of men may not be the best of witnesses. John told people where to look. He fixed their attention on Jesus, and they were then to watch what Jesus would do. From our own observation of Jesus we know far more than ever John could have told. us. The deeds of Jesus speak with unsurpassed power and tenderness to those who are disposed to listen. There they lie in their simple beauty and depth of suggestion, waiting till we look at them and search into them and put them together, investigating to their very depths, so that whatever witness bearing power is in them may be brought out to the full. What men say about Jesus is all very well in its way, but what we can see Jesus himself doing is far better. He means that we should, as it were, see him with our own eyes.
III. OUR RESPONSIBILITY BEFORE THIS WITNESS BEARING. We may neglect to examine into these witnesses, but that does not prove them unworthy of our closest study. Jesus knows his own. What you are disinclined to look at just now, you may be eager to search into by and by. Thousands pooh pooh the reality and possibility of the works of Jesus, measuring the possible and the impossible by their little experience. Supposing what happened to Martha and Mary happened to them, and one of their dearest was raised from the dead, where would their incredulity be then? Those Jews who so savagely charged Jesus with breaking the sabbath must surely have been men whose own persons and dearest friends had been untouched by suffering. We are responsible, too, for examining into all the works of Jesus—works in the spiritual sphere as much as in the natural; works like the conversion of Saul of Tarsus as much as the resurrection of Lazarus. It is indeed a great responsibility to be face to face with the testimonies from more than eighteen centuries of Pentecostal power.—Y.
A special hindrance to faith.
Jesus deals with the numerous obstacles to faith one by one, as they rise up. And observe, too, that Jesus is here dealing, not only with unbelievers, but with mortal enemies. Some looked on Jesus and listened to him, and then went away, as little touched by hate as by love; others were so filled with falsehood and pride, and zeal of God not according to knowledge, that almost every word of Jesus caused a fresh and violent irritation. Such could do nothing but oppose Jesus, and make their unbelief hideously manifest in their works. And Jesus knows the reason for all this violence in unbelief. These opponents of his have wrong views as to the true glory of human nature. Jesus could never have a glory that would please them.
I. MAN'S TOUCHING CONSCIOUSNESS THAT HE COMES SHORT OF HIS GLORY. For it is glory rather than honour that Jesus is here speaking about. The word is δόξα, not τιμη. Glory is the manifestation, the full bringing out of what is inside. Honour is the value, the price, so to speak, which others put upon us. These enemies of Jesus, according to the judgment he expresses upon them, were men seeking a glory which would not come by any natural development. If it came, it had to come by their wishing and seeking. The glory of the lily in its clothing comes by the mystery of its creation; the glory of Solomon comes by what he gathers to himself. Jesus looked upon men, every one of whom was conscious he had done something, had achieved for himself a position of sanctity and success which made it right for others to honour him.
II. MAN LETTING HIS GLORY BE DETERMINED BY FRAIL HUMAN JUDGMENT. When ambition gets into our hearts, we crave for those eminences and splendours which the world, in its fondness for the outward and visible, will readily recognize. Jesus could not be recognized for what he was, because he could not be measured by the standard to which his enemies habitually appealed. It was not that he came short of the standard; he could not be measured by it at all. It was as if a man who had nothing but liquid measures should be asked to determine the length of a piece of cloth. These enemies of Jesus could not even understand him. He set at nought the glories, the aims, and the sanctities they held dearest. They let glory be determined by human traditions and the self-seeking notions of the natural heart.
III. HOW SEEKERS OF GLORY CAN COME TO A REAL FAITH IN JESUS. They must see how in Jesus there is the real, abiding, everlasting glory of humanity. In Jesus there was the glory that cometh from God—the glory of a pure heart, a gentle spirit, a perfect integrity; the glory of a life that best shows forth the glory of God. This was the glory of Jesus, that he glorified the Father. In the Son, those who had eyes to discern could see all of the eternal glory that was within the reach of human perceptions. As long as these enemies of Jesus remained in the same mind and clung to their cherished standards, so long Jesus would be impossible to their faith. Our attitude to Jesus infallibly determines our real worth. We are unconsciously judging ourselves in judging him.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on John 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension