(8) The pericope adulterae. (a) Excursus on the genuineness of Jn 7:53-8:11. It is our duty to examine the various grounds on which this passage has been almost universally concluded to have formed no portion of the original Fourth Gospel; and then the internal grounds on which it has been rejected, and some of the speculations as to its origin and value.
Doubts have beset the authenticity of the passage from the fourth and fifth centuries in the Eastern Church, both on external and internal grounds. The authority and practice of Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome gave it a secure resting place till the criticism of Erasmus re-awakened doubt. Calvin expressed a more favourable opinion concerning it. Jansenius rejected it. Grotius considered it as an addition to John's Gospel from the hand of Papias or one of his friends and fellow disciples of John. Wettstein, Semler, Griesbach, and Wegscheider seemed to leave for it no place in Scripture. Lachmann omitted it from his text. It has been condemned as spurious by the great bulk of modern critics, even of different schools and on somewhat different grounds. Some have rejected it as a spurious forgery (see Hengstenberg, in loc.); Keim derives much the same conclusion from its supposed teaching; others have admitted that, though it is not without a powerful apostolic ring about it, yet its proper place was probably at the close of Luke 21:1-38., where it is found in cursive 69 and three other cursives. Others (Scrivener) that, from its interruption of the narrative, it has no place here, but may be possibly regarded as an appendix to John's Gospel, or a part of the later edition of that Gospel which contained John 21:1-25. There is no sufficient ground on which to build this hypothesis of two editions (cf. notes on John 21:1). There are, however, manuscripts which preserve the paragraph in this position, viz. the cursive 1, and the majority of the Armenian manuscripts. A very damaging note accompanies it in 1 (see Tregelles, who gives it at length). The following critical editors have either displaced it or entirely rejected it from this place in John's Gospel, though many among them admit its virtual authenticity as a record of a genuine occurrence in the life of our Lord: Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf, Alford, Lucke, Meyer, Godet, Milligan, Scrivener, Moulton, Westcott and Hort, the Revised Text, and even Weiss and Wordsworth. On the other hand, it has been defended by Mill, Lampe, Michaelis, by Bengel, Scholz, Wieseler, Ebrard, Lange, Stier, M'Clellan, and by some of the Tubingen school like Hilgenfeld, who, attaching it to the Gospel, have made use of it to destroy the historic character of the Gospel itself. Griesbach retains it with double marks of doubt. Farrar, summarizing Lucke's discussion of the evidence, inclines rather in its favour, and thinks it may have been early admitted into the Fourth Gospel from that according to the Hebrews, or from some Ur-marcus (Holtzmann). M'Clellan and Stier vehemently maintain it on both internal and external grounds. Edersheim says that it presents "insuperable difficulties in the 'un-Jewish' account given of the accusers, the witnesses, the public examination, the bringing of the woman to Jesus, and the punishment claimed." Renan, 'Ecce Homo,' and Farrar have made very powerful biographic use of the narrative.
The evidence against it is:
1. That א, (A), B, (C), (L), X, ( δ), 33, 131, and 157 omit it. A and C are here defective, but they leave no sufficient space for its insertion; L and δ leave gaps, to notify some omission, which the copyist for some reason did not or dared not fill. Though found in D, E, F, G, H, K, M, S, V, T, δ, λ, π, and numerous cursives, it is nevertheless obelized in some of the former as doubtful.
The first Greek writer in the twelfth century (Euthymius Zygadenus) who in this portion of the Gospel refers to the passage distinctly says that from John 7:53 to John 8:11 the passage was not found, or it was obelized in the most accurate copies; wherefore, he adds, it was first a gloss, and then an appendix ( παρέγραπτα, "written alongside of," καὶ προσθήκη, "added to"), and "a token of this is seen in the fact that Chrysostom had made no mention of it."
2. It was found in different places, even in several of the manuscripts which contain it (see above).
3. Ancient versions, such as some of the Italic, AEgyptian, Old Syriac, Gothic, early manuscripts of the Peschito and Armenian versions, omit it.
4. It was not read by Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Theodore of Mopsuesfia, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, and Theophylact, where it might have been expected.
5. Though found in D (Codex Bezae), yet this testimony, without confirmation, throws doubt over it, by its adoption of the paragraph. D has given us several other additions (such as Matthew 20:28; Luke 6:5), which have never passed into authentic Scripture. Moreover, the text of D here differs from that of the later uncials in which it occurs, as well as from the body of cursives which contain it. Lucke powerfully argues, from the silence of Chrysostom and Origen, that they were in positive ignorance of the existence of the passage. The defenders of its authenticity allege that Origen's commentary and homilies are lacking or mutilated over the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters. While this is true, Origen ('Tom.,' 19.) points out the connection between John 7:40 and John 8:12 without making the faintest reference to this pericope. "No catenae as yet examined contain notes on any of these verses" (Westcott and Hort).
6. The nature of the text differs from that with which it is supposed to be imbedded, as, for instance, in the use of the particle δὲ in place of οὖν (John's favourite particle), and of other words which are peculiar to itself, and certain expressions, such as "Mount of Olives," "sat and taught," etc., which are current in Luke and elsewhere (but see further for the value of this evidence).
7. The Constant. lection for Whit Sunday consists of John 7:37-52, followed immediately by John 8:12. Such an omission from John's Gospel is only noticeable elsewhere where special reason can be assigned for it.
8. With the exception of the 'Apostolic Constitutions,' the Greek writers and commentators are ignorant of it, and there is no proof of its existence in any extant manuscript earlier than the sixth century.
The sum of this is that the most ancient known authorities are, from one cause or other (whether necessary, accidental, or prudential), silent concerning the passage; that mutilations of Scripture cannot be common offences, even though a strong ascetic spirit might be tempted to refuse a public reading of this paragraph, and to abstain from public comment on so difficult a passage.
The evidence for the paragraph is:
1. First and foremost, the Codex D and the later uncials (E), (F), G, H, K, M, γ, (S), T, U, λ (but in E, F, and S great doubts are expressed; F has a space to verse 10; γ ends at verse 3). D probably belongs to the fifth or sixth century, K to the eighth or ninth, and the remaining uncials belong to the tenth, eleventh, or twelfth century. The whole group is, with the exception of T, representative of the Syrian Recension. Some of the best manuscripts of the vulgate contain it, and the AEthiopic and Memphitic versions. Griesbach enumerates a hundred cursives—Alford says three hundred—and especially in Latin manuscripts referred to by Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome.
2. The supposed presence of it in the 'Gospel according to the Hebrews' turns on the statement preserved by Eusebius in his account of Papias (of which we have other reasons for doubting the accuracy), 'Hist. Eccl.,' 3.40, "He exhibits also another history concerning a woman ( διαβληθείσης) calumniously accused before the Lord of many sins, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews." On the credit of this statement, that apocryphal Gospel has been supposed to contain the famous passage. The idea is thrown out that John or his earliest editors may have sought to find a place for it, and imagined that the event preceded the solemn assertion of John 8:15, "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no one." This ingenious supposition tells both ways. If the passage is an importation from the 'Gospel according to the Hebrews,' Eusebius becomes a witness that, in his day, and by him, it was not regarded as an integral portion of John's Gospel. The very early existence of the narrative is, however, avouched, and the possible method suggested by which either John or the Ephesian presbyters adopted it. But there is no proof that this narrative is identical with a story no details of which are preserved. The slanderous or secret accusation of a woman is not parallel with the antoptic, uncontradicted assertion of John 8:4, that she was "taken in the very act." Nor is the accusation of "many sins" identical with the charge of one revolting crime. It is significant that Ruffinus, in his version of Eusebius, substitutes "a woman, an adulteress," for "a woman accused of many sins." This may have been due to his acquaintance with Jerome's translation of the 'Gospel according to the Hebrews.' Moreover, on the supposition of identity, the story would more probably have been found in the cognate Gospel of Matthew than in the numerous manuscripts of the Fourth Gospel.
3. The testimony of ancient writers can be set over against the silence of Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, etc. Thus, 'Apost. Const.,' 2.24, refers to the narrative, in vindication of the true reception of penitents. After referring to Luke 7:1-50., the writers say, "Another woman who had sinned, the elders placed before him, and left the judgment in his hands, and went out; but the Lord, who knoweth the hearts, having inquired of her whether the elders had condemned her, and she having said 'No,' said, 'Go, then; neither do I condemn thee.'" This testimony cannot be positively made to show that the passage was in any Greek text earlier than the third century, and no reference occurs in it to the Gospel of John. The reference is valuable for the antiquity of the Gospel, if other reasons establish this passage as an integral portion of that Gospel.
4. The passage was undoubtedly admitted as part of the Gospel by both Jerome, Augustine, and Ambrose, and many later Fathers of the Western Church. Jerome did not discard it from the vulgate version, and distinctly says that it was found "in multis et Graecis et Latinis codicibus," and that it was read on the Feast of St. Pelagia. Ambrose quoted from it ('De Spir. Sancto' 3.2, 15), and reproached those who made a bad use of it. Augustine ('Adv. Pelag.,' 2.17) admits that some were afraid of the passage, lest it should lead to laxity of morals, and so had erased it (auferrent) from their codices. Augustine comments on it verse by verse, and preached from several texts found in it.
5. The internal evidence in favour is the weakness of the objections which are said to arise:
Our conclusion is that the passage, whether written as it stands by John or not, was introduced, in very early times, into the Western text as a gloss on John 8:15); that the external evidence is extremely unsatisfactory and conflicting; yet it must be admitted that the silence of the great Greek Fathers concerning it is accountable without disbelieving in its existence. While Chrysostom ignores it, Ambrose insists upon its teaching, and Jerome does not see sufficient reason to expunge it. The profound originality of the lessons it conveys, and the difficulty involved in a careless reading, may account for the non-appearance of it in the curliest manuscripts, and make the motive which could have maliciously devised or imagined such a scene inconceivable. Lucke, in his elaborate treatment, Tregelles, and Alford, Godet, in loco, Lightfoot (Contemporary Review, vol. 26.), Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, declare against it in the most positive way. Meyer urges that it is not to be for a moment referred to an oral Johannine source, while it is in keeping, he says, with the tone of the synoptic Gospels. This is open to criticism. Scathing denunciations of every kind of corruption are far more frequent in the synoptic Gospels (cf. Matthew 5-7, Matthew 23:1-39, etc.) than in the Fourth Gospel.
The most formidable objection is the state of the text, which, in addition to its deficiency of first-class testimony, is unusually discrepant in the authorities which preserve it. Thus there is the abridged form of the narrative in Codex Bezae (D) and the text of T.R., which rests on a large number of later uncials and cursives; and a third text, which seems like a mixture or conflation of the two texts. Lucke and Godet have suggested that the passage contains an extra-scriptural fact preserved by oral tradition that was first placed at the end of the Gospels, and therefore at the end of John's Gospel, and was by some editors and copyists inserted in this particular connection, and by others in Luke 21:8, in the midst of the testing to which the Sanhedrin and the sectional parties submitted our Lord during the last week of his life. Bishop Lightfoot (Contemporary Review, vol. 26:847) thinks it may have been one of the illustrative anecdotes in the Collectanea of Papias. The only other illustration to which he refers is the supposed saying of our Lord preserved in Eusebius's account of Papias, with reference to the extraordinary fertility of the vine in the latter days—a passage which Lightfoot thinks may have been originally attached to Matthew 26:29. That such an event did happen, and that we have here an authentic record of what occurred, is accepted by the great bulk of critics, who, nevertheless, expunge it from the text of John, on the combined ground of its internal difficulty and deficiency of external attestation. The difficulty, however, is one indication of the surpassing originality of the narrative. It is hard to imagine the motive which should induce any of the followers of Christ or of John to have invented it, while there are reasons, drawn from the ascetic tendencies mightily at work in certain sections of the Church, for its omission or the silence of homilists.
Though the spirit, atmosphere, and phrase suggest the synoptic tradition rather than the Johannine, yet it must not be forgotten that there are many synoptic passages in John's Gospel, and Johannine phrases in the synoptists. The criticism proceeding from moral timidity has failed to recognize the grandeur of the entire proceeding. It contains no palliation of incontinence, but; a simple refusal of Jesus to assume the position of a civil Judge or Executor of the law in face of the established political supremacy of Rome; while the Lord made a demand for personal holiness, and an appeal to conscience so pungent that, in lieu of condemning to death a sinful woman, he judged a whole crowd of men, convincing them of sin, while he gave the overt transgressor time for repentance and holier living.
(b) The plot against the honour or loyalty of the Lord Jesus foiled.
And everyone went £ to his own house. If the plural be here taken, it more obviously refers to the breaking up of the assembly, of the divided groups, as well as of the angry Sanhedrin for the day now drawing to its close. The strong opponents of the passage see in the clause the mark of an interpolator who makes use of a phrase strictly applicable from its presumed place to the Sanhedrin, but intended clumsily to refer to the crowds who had been taking part in the dramatic scene. There would, however, be no impropriety in the reference to the cessation of an extraordinary session or committee of the Sanhedrin, when the officers had returned without their prize.
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. This resort of our Lord is not elsewhere referred to in John's Gospel, although it was mentioned by St. Luke (Luke 21:37; Luke 22:39) as the scene of the Lord's retirement during the nights of the last week of his life. John's mention of such a habit as this at an earlier period would in almost any other literature be regarded as mutual confirmation of the two documents, while the fact that "Bethany" lay on the opposite side of the hill, and the "garden" was, as a matter of fact, hidden on its slopes, and that both of these facts are known to the writer (John 11:1-57. and 19.) deprive the bare mention of the name of any inauthentic character.
Now at daybreak. The word ὄρθρου does not occur in John; πρωί and πρωία are our evangelist's words for "early morning," though ὑπὸ τὸν ὄρθρον is found in Luke 24:1 and Acts 5:21. He came again to the temple (the temple courts— ἱερόν, not ναός, is here used); and all the people came to him. The form πᾶς ὁ λαός is a deviation from John's usual phrase, although λαός is found in John 11:50 and John 18:14. There is some ground for the deviation. The scenes of the previous day had been broken up into various groups. The favouring crowd from the provinces sympathized with a portion of the Jerusalem populace; then the hostile crowd at the beck of the authorities had been checked by the "officers" who had been themselves baffled and thunderstruck with the dignity and claims of Jesus. Great excitement had prevailed, and before the stormy scenes and recriminations of the previous day recommenced, the whole temple throng came unto him. If the eighth day of the feast was referred to—i.e. if the great day of the feast were the eighth day—the difficulty of the whole people having gathered about him is diminished, because there were special gatherings for the eighth day (see notes, John 7:37). It might have seemed that they had composed their differences, and were now waiting some symptom and signal of the great Leader's will. [And he sat down, and was teaching them.£] This expression is synoptic rather than Johanninc; i.e. it belongs to the methods of the Galilaean ministry rather than to the hostile encounters of the metropolis (but see Matthew 23:2). He was prepared for long discourse and various instruction. Here, as in John 7:14, the word ἐδίδασκε is used without specifying the topic or theme on which he dwelt. The calm morning was soon overclouded, and the people violently excited, by a very ominous disturbance, planned with subtle care and malicious intention on the part of the authorities, who were ready at all costs and by any device to break the spell which Jesus was exerting over some of the people.
And the scribes and Pharisees are bringing—dragging by main force—(to him £) a woman taken in adultery; £ and, having caused her—forced her, notwithstanding the hideous shame of her discovery—to stand in the midst, they say unto him, Master. £ The "scribes" are not elsewhere referred to in John's Gospel, although the phrase, "scribes and Pharisees," is very frequently used in the synoptic Gospels for the opponents of our Lord and the subjects of his invective. They come together in the final scenes as combining to thwart and tempt him. John refers to "Pharisees" twenty times, and four times in connection with the "priests;" but never with the "scribes." The scribes are elsewhere in the New Testament spoken of as νομικοί or νομοδιδάσκαλοι, and also as "rabbis" in the Mishna. The scribes and Pharisees are no deputation from the Sanhedrin, nor are they representatives of the party of Zealots, as some have pretended. There is no indication of any mere sectional animosity or of any genuine desire to receive an authoritative or prophetic response to their inquiry. The Sanhedrin itself would certainly not have condescended at this epoch to have submitted any question of its own action to the arbitrament of Jesus. Numerous witnesses of the act of adultery are inconceivable, though in the excitement and confusion of the Feast of Tabernacles in a crowded city and suburbs, this may have been more feasible than might otherwise be supposed. The probability is that the act was undeniably committed in such a way as to bring this woman under the cognizance of these reformers or defenders of the theocracy who cropped up on all sides, and that a group of bigots scow at once that capital might be made for their antagonism to Jesus by proposing to him a query which would, however it might be answered, lower his prestige. According to verse 10 (omitted in Codex B), these scribes and Pharisees were, if not the "witnesses" of adultery, the "accusers" ready to take the case before the highest court. Considering the long desuetude of the Law, and the impossibility of even the Sanhedrin legally inflicting the penalty of stoning, even if it were so disposed, the whole question looks like a subtle but ill-considered plot to entangle the Lord in his judgments, and to induce him to sacrifice his influence with the people. The absence of the guilty man is noteworthy (Le John 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22).
Master—Teacher—this woman has been taken committing adultery, in the very act. ἐπαυτοφώρω originally meant in ipso furto, "in the very theft;" afterwards more generally in the commission of this particular sin. The burning shame and bestial bluntness of the charge make no excuse or palliation possible.
Now Moses in the Law commanded us, that such should be stoned (or, to stone such); but what sayest thou? £ The Law (Deuteronomy 22:23, etc.) prescribed stoning for both parties when the woman is the betrothed bride of another man, and if she make no sufficient attempt to foil the purpose of her seducer. For ordinary adultery the death penalty is left indefinite (Le John 20:10). It is no proof that strangulation was the method of punishment in the days of our Lord because the Talmud and Maimonides thus express it. £ Meyer concludes that the woman was a betrothed bride. This offence is, broadly speaking. "adultery" of an aggravated kind. The reference to the method of the punishment is not demonstrable proof of this, because it would be easily feasible to transfer the method of the death from the extreme case to the ordinary ease of nuptial infidelity (cf. Exodus 31:14 for the punishment of unspecified death for sabbath violation (repeated Exodus 35:2), interpreted of "stoning" in the special illustrative case, Numbers 15:32-36). This is Moses' Law—"what sayest thou?" This query involves an ascription to Jesus of the right of authoritatively interpreting the Law. thus attributing to him the functions of a new legislator. Some have objected to the bare possibility of such an appeal being made to Jesus by any species of Jewish authority. The whole context shows that the process was malicious, ironical, crafty. The entire audience knew that this law had never been accepted or applied literally; that the Sanhedrin had not enforced it; and that, if they had endeavoured to do so, the Roman power had taken from the nation the jus gladii. The question, therefore, became one of casuistry inflamed by a concrete case, and having as its ally a secret sympathy with the offenders. It was not uncommon for the rabbis to discuss the incidence of obsolete laws. Many of the glosses upon the ancient law, and laborious trifling with specific regulations of the so called oral law, turn upon customs that were absolutely impracticable under the new conditions of the Jewish life. This, however, was no mere quibble of words about possible duties. The query was put with dramatic force and in concrete form. The shame and life of a fellow creature were the materials which this eager and bloodthirsty group were utilizing for their vile purpose.
But this they said tempting him, that they might have (whereof) to accuse him. They sought a ground of formal accusation against Jesus. This implies some court before which the charge they desired to formulate it might be brought. The precise accusation is difficult to determine, and sundry distinguished scholars, Lucke, De Wette, and Alford, declare the problem or question insoluble. Augustine has been followed by a great body of expositors, who have supposed that an affirmative reply would have been inconsistent with the gentleness and mildness of our Lord's treatment of sinners, while a negative reply would at once have given them a charge to bring before the Sanhedrin of such a relaxation of the Law as would endanger his position as a Rabbi, still more as the Prophet like unto Moses. Almost all critics agree as to the use to which Christ's enemies were ready to put a negative reply, and therefore they coincide with Augustine in this part of his explanation. But the interpretation put upon the affirmative reply would not furnish the ground of any accusation before any court. An apparent inconsistency would be no civil charge, and would have no weight before any legal tribunal. The condemnation of adulterers to death by stoning would have been Christ's allowance of the letter of the Law to stand. The Romans could take no umbrage at this until the act had been carried into execution. It may probably have been known that, let the Sanhedrin record what verdict and punishment they pleased, the Roman magistrates would not have carried it into capital execution. How, then, could the scribes and Pharisees have carried an accusation or information before a Roman tribunal? The solution was suggested by Baumgarten-Crusius and Luthardt, and adopted by Moulton, that Christ was asked to say "Aye" or "No" to an instant, tumultuous act of vengeance upon the adulteress. Let him say "No," they would accuse him of deliberately ignoring and repudiating the authority of the Law of Moses; let him say "Yes," they were ready to stone the woman there and then, and subsequently to throw the responsibility of such violation of Roman jurisdiction upon the Lord Jesus as its instigator. Meyer's objection, that no question at all had been put to Christ on this supposition, is not clear. It was this. Clearly apprehending that adultery is a capital offence, and that there was a case before them upon which no doubt could be thrown, they ask him, with the stones in their hands, "Shall we kill this damsel or not?" If he says "No," then they were prepared to denounce the Prophet for his dogmatic trifling with the Law; if "Yes," they are ready to do the deed, and fasten upon Jesus all the shame and guilt of the proceeding before the Roman governor. It was a very analogous problem to that concerning the tribute money recorded in Matthew 22:1-46. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger was writing on the ground ( εἰς τὴν γὴν, into the earth). Some manuscripts, E, G, and about ninety cursives, add, μὴ προσποιούμενος, "not troubling himself with them"—"as though he beard them not" (Authorized version). £ This act is unparalleled in Scripture, even if the custom is still occasionally practised in the East. Mr. O'Neil, in his instructive volume, 'Palestine Explored,' records a curious instance of a youth, who, after playing some practical joke upon an old man, feigned utter ignorance of the surprise and cry of the old man by instantaneously assuming the position of one entirely abstracted from all sublunary thought, in fact, by sitting on the ground and scribbling with his finger in the dust, "as though he heard and saw nothing of what had happened." Such an intention can only be attributed to our Lord on the understanding that it was a current method of indicating an indisposition to have anything to say to the intruders. He was seated; he turned aside from the excited crowd, and by a significant symbol expressed his displeasure at their proceedings, and his perception of their craftiness. Conjecture has been busy, but vainly, with the inquiry as to what our Lord wrote on the ground, and some have urged (Godet) that he wrote the memorable sentence which follows, as a judge might write the verdict upon the case submitted to him. This is not probable, and it would detract from the symbolism of the act.
John 8:7, John 8:8
But when they continued asking him; he lifted up himself, £ and said unto them, He that is without sin, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and with his finger £ was writing on the ground. The imperfect tense of ἔγραφεν, twice repeated, seems more in harmony with the symbolic meaning of the act than with the record on his part of any special sentence of his supreme wisdom. Christ refused to act the part of the civil magistrate, or to countenance stormy outbreak of murderous passion against this flagrant sinner, to save himself from their bitter malice. He rose, when the appearance of indifference could not be maintained, and at once arrested the outbreak of their unscrupulous fury without presuming to repudiate the letter of the Law. He lifted the discussion from the judicial to the moral sphere. He does not mean that none but the sinless can condemn, or pronounce verdict upon the guilty; but he calls for special freedom from similar offence on the part of any man who should wish or dare to display his own purity by taking part in the execution. The narrative would not suggest that every one of these accusers had been in his time guilty of like offence, but ἀναμάρτητος must at least mean that he was free from the desires which might lead to the commission of such sin, and Christ calls for inward saintliness and freedom from all irregular propension. He calls for personal chastity as the only possible moral condition for precipitately executing this ancient and severe law. The question before the crowd (asked so craftily) was, not whether Moses' Law was to stand or not, but whether these particular men, with their foul hearts and spurious zeal, were or were not at that particular moment to encounter the displeasure of Roman power by dashing the stones at the head of this poor trembling creature of sin and shame; whether they were morally competent to condemn to immediate death, and carry the verdict into execution. Before this tremendous summons from the Holy One, conscience could sleep no longer. The hypocrisy of the entire manoeuvre stared them in the face.
And they when they heard it (being convicted by their £ own conscience), they went out one by one. Their conscience convinced them that the spirit of the Law is greater than its letter. The phrase expressing the action of conscience was probably an explanatory and true gloss, which accounted for the sudden change of front. It was a proof of the ally which Divine law has within the human breast. The whole crowd, rather than the humbled woman, is condemned, but self-condemned and silent. This event speaks for the moral sense which had been paralyzed rather than obliterated in this people. (The expression, "one by one," εἱς κὰθ εἱς, in which εἱς is treated as indeclinable, is occasionally found in later Greek, but only once in the New Testament (Mark 14:19), is not in D, but in several of the codices and cursives, and it is retained in R.T.) The slow rather than simultaneous disappearance of the gang of accusers is a highly dramatic touch, and the remaining clause, beginning from the eldest, even unto the last, heightens the impression. The phrase πρεσβυτέρων need not refer to office, but to age, and the "last" need not necessarily mean the youngest, but those that were left when the most responsible men found that they had carried their question too far, and had retired. And Jesus was left alone; i.e. so far as these accusers were concerned. The multitudes who had gathered round him were still waiting for his words (see John 8:2). This fact is involved in the substance of the narrative, whether the pericope belongs to the Gospel of John or not. And the woman where she was, £ in the midst of the assembly that remained, more likely cowering in shame and mortal fear than standing brazen-faced or daring before that awful Presence. These two, "Misery and Pity," face one another, and in the presence of a multitude of disciples and other listeners, Misery waits for Pity to speak—for perfect holiness and perfect mercy to do its will. There is One seated there who is without sin. He is at liberty, on his own showing, to condemn, and even to execute his fierce displeasure against a sin which he had, in his great inaugural discourse, charged upon the ill-regulated desires and evil glances of men.
John 8:10, John 8:11
And Jesus lifted up himself, £ and said to her, Where are they? (these thy accusers). £ The question (with or without the additions) implied that our Lord had not seen the obvious effect of his words upon the accusing party. There was no triumph in his eye, no flush of victory over his enemies. Hath no one condemned thee? pronounced upon thee the sentence of condemnation? Has no one declared that thine is a case of stoning?—No one? Then the judgment has yet to be uttered, if it be left with him. Shall he cast the first stone; and leave the multitude, having tasted blood, to complete the terrible work? She said, No one, Lord. And he said (to her), Neither do I condemn thee. He had not come to condemn, but to save. A time is coming when the Father would commit all judgment into his hands—when his awful word, "I know you not," or "Depart from me," will be the signal of doom. But now his mission is to heal, not to wound; to comfort, not to punish; to reveal the heart of God, not to execute the crude judgments of men; to soothe, not to stone. He does not say, "Be of good courage; thy sins are forgiven." he does not say, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; Her faith hath saved her;" but, Go, and henceforth sin no more. £ He justifies the position that he will not quench the smoking flax nor break the bruised reed. He condemns the sin, but for a while spares the sinner. He refuses to set up his judgment against Moses, or take into his human hands the administration of civil or political law. He does not say, "Go in peace," or "Go to peace;" but from this moment, this awful "now" ( ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν), "sin no more." The reticence and abruptness of the narrator are not like the style of apocryphal writers. Such a narrative could not have been invented by the second-century disciples, by docetic Ebionites, by the ordinary fabricators of apocryphal literature. If the text is so varied, conflicting, and ill-sustained as to envelop it in doubt; if the place in the gospel narrative be uncertain; if the use of a few words suggests a non-Johannine source; and if the position between John 7:52 and John 8:12 be difficult to accept;—there is yet nothing inconsistent with the Johannine teaching, or the sublime and unapproachable originality of the character of the Johannine Christ. The narrative will remain for all time an illustration of the blending of judgment with mercy, which has received its highest expression in the life work and Person of the Christ.
Christ the Light of the world, with consequent discussions.
(1) The solemn and formal assertion. If the passage we have just reviewed were an integral portion of the Gospel, and in its right place, the reference to the breaking of the morning, the first eye of the sun over the purple hills suddenly transforming their dark outline into the aspect of semitransparent jewellery, and their misty hollows into luminous folds of light, would be the obvious meaning or reason of the new imagery which he adopted: "I am the Light of the world." If, however, the entire pericope is not in its correct place, we must link John 8:12-20 with the discourses of the previous chapter. On the great day of the feast, in obvious allusion to the mystic drawing of water in Siloam, and transference of it to the temple court, Jesus had said, "If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink." Many critics imagine that now he refers to the habit, on the first evening of the Feast of Tabernacles, and probably, though not surely, on the other evenings, of kindling the golden candelabra in the court of the women, giving the signal for a brilliant illumination which was visible over the city and surrounding hills. As the water was a symbolic memorial of the smiting of the rock, so the sudden blaze in the temple court was a similar reminder of the fiery pillar in the wilderness, and commentators have found in such ceremonial and memories an occasion for our Lord's words. Surely they go much deeper, and have a wider signification. The creation of light by the Word of the Lord, and St. John's own statement in the prologue that in the Logos was life, and the Life was the light, and the Light shone into the darkness before the Incarnation, is a more adequate interpretation. "The Word was made flesh," and this was the grand occasion for the revelation of the glory of God. "We beheld his glory," says the apostle, "that of an only begotten Son of the Father." The gospel narrative supplies the material which induced the evangelist to preface it with imposing words. The life of men produced by him who is Life lightens the world with its glory. He is the Light of the world, because he is the Source of its life. This inversion of the sequences belonging to modern science and even to Mosaic cosmogony, partly shows what is meant by "Light," and the Light of life. Life in the Johannine thought is Divine blessedness, the very essence of Divine activity and essential being. The Father hath it in himself, and he has given to the Son to be similarly self-complete. He can confer this life on others, communicating his own perfection to some of the creatures of his hand, even bestowing upon them some of the essential elements of his own being. There are varied emanations and forth-puttings of this life—vegetable, animal, psychical, spiritual—and in each ease the life becomes a luminous source of direction, a self-revelatory force, a light. The highest Life of all is the brightest Light—the true Lamp of all our seeing (see John 1:9 and John 11:9, John 11:10). Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world," illuminating its darkness far more impressively than temple fireworks, or even pillars of radiant cloud, nay, more than the sunbeams themselves; and that because he was the Holder and Giver of life. Again therefore Jesus spake to them, saying, I am the Light of the world. The "again" may point back to the discourses of the previous chapter, or to the disturbance of the audience and the teaching of that early morning. If it were the morning of the departure of thousands from the holy city, peculiar appropriateness is felt in the continuation: He that followeth me shall not (by any means) walk in the darkness—shall not start off along the defiles of his pilgrimage in the murk of the night and the heavy hiding mists, but he shall, in my companionship, have the light of life. My follower will see his way. Those who have entered into living fellowship with the living One awake from all death slumber and darkness, "walk in the light, as he is in the light;" "become light in the Lord;" "being made manifest are light;" being with the Lord become φωστήρες, torch bearers to the rest; and, more than all (Matthew 5:14), are themselves "the light of the world." The Messiah had been anticipated as "Light," as the Light of Gentiles as well as Jews (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; Malachi 4:2; cf. Luke 2:32, where Simeon had caught the spirit of the ancient prophets). Edersheim (quoting 'Bemidb. R.,' 3 and 15, and 'Yalkut on Isaiah 60:1-22'): "The rabbis speak of the original light in which God had wrapped himself as in a garment, which was so brilliant that it could not shine by day because it would have dimmed the light of the sun. From this light that of sun, moon, and stars had been kindled. It was now reserved under the throne of God for the Messiah, in whose days it would shine once more." (The Logos was, in the language of Philo, the Archetype and the Outflow of the light.) But the entire meaning of the manifestation of the Divine life in the Messiah is the diffusion of it in others. All Christ's teaching about himself has this practical and ethical bearing. The ἕξει—"will have," "will be in possession of," light—harmonizes with all the wonderful teaching which blends the Christ and his followers in one entity, "I in them, they in me," of John 15:1-27., 17.; and Paul's "Christ formed in you," "Christ liveth in me" (Colossians 1:27; Galatians 1:20). "Light," says Augustine, "reveals other things and its own very self, opens healthy eyes, and is its own witness."
(2) The refusal of the Pharisees to accept this claim on his unsupported testimony, and Christ's reply.
The fact that the Pharisees respond shows that the circumstances of the previous day are changed. They have been the secret and organized opponents of Jesus throughout. The synoptic Gospels show with what perverse ingenuity and doggedness they followed him from place to place, venturing to assail him through his disciples, through his omissions of ritual, and by reason of his Divine freedom in interpreting the sacred Scripture; nor did they refrain from attributing his miracles to the power of the evil one (Matthew 9:1-38.). They were the nucleus of the bitter opposition to him current among the rulers in Jerusalem, and they reveal here a reminiscence of the discussion which had taken place in the temple or its neighbourhood after the healing of the impotent man (John 5:31, etc.). There the Lord had said that if he bore witness of himself, without any corroboration, his witness, thus isolated and deprived of evidence, would, on the ordinary grounds of a prima facie testimony, not be true; but be went on to say, further, that his testimony was variously corroborated by the manifest presence and cooperation of the Father. Forgetting thus his own vindication of himself—which many months of varied proof of his personality had confirmed for candid minds—they assail his comparison of himself to the Light of the world, with: Thou bearest witness of thyself; thy witness—according to the canon he had himself admitted and supplemented; but they forgetting the supplement, add—(thy witness) is not true. "If thou art simply making such exalted claims as this, in forgetfulness of the well known maxim about self-witness, we take the liberty to dispute and reject it."
Jesus answered and said to them, Even if I bear witness concerning myself—in case I bear testimony, I, being who and what I am, and surrounded by Divine attestations, charged with a consciousness of a whole army and legion of approving witnesses, and, above all, with the Father's own testimony to me—my witness is true—I satisfy in superlative fashion your own demand and also my own conceded test—because I know— οἶδα, with clear undisturbed self-consciousness I know, absolutely, invincibly, with perfect possession of the past and future—whence I came, and whither I am going. The whole of our Christian verities turn upon the consciousness by Jesus of that which lay before and after that human life of his. He embraced the two eternities in his inward self-consciousness. That "whence" and that "whither," with all their infinite sublimity and solemnity, give adequate evidence and sufficient weight to his personal claim to be the Light of the world, because he is the temporary Embodiment of the eternal life which was with the Father, but is manifest to men (cf. 1 John 1:4). But ye know not whence I come—am ever coming forth to you with Divine judgment and calls of mercy—nor £ whither I am going. "Neither the one nor the other;" not that Christ had not repeatedly told them in various and most expressive form. They could neither grasp the origin of his Personality, nor the method in which, as Messiah, through suffering, through an equation of his lot with man's (through the form of a slave and the death of a cross), he was doing the Father's will (cf. notes, John 7:27, John 7:28; John 9:29).
You judge—i.e. you condemn me, you repudiate my claim to be the "Living Water" and the "Light of the world"—after the flesh ( κατὰ τὴν σάρκα), according to the outward appearance; you look at my mere humanity. Our Lord did not accuse them of the fleshly, blinded, unjust judgments of unregenerate men. The article τὴν, and not the well known formula κατὰ σάρκα, prevents such an interpretation. He rather reasons and pleads with them. He suggests that they might, if they would, look below the surface of his flesh. Tim evangelist, who reports the substance of this discussion, has written. "The Word was made flesh." So if the incarnate Word had always been judged "after the flesh," we should never have seen his glory, nor recognized the nobler part of his Personality. I judge no man. Numerous efforts have been made to find the underlying modification of this assertion. Augustine, Chrysostom, Cyril, and many moderns add, "after the flesh," or "as you do" (the latter is the suggestion of Lucke, which, as Meyer says, comes to the same thing), or "now," pointing on to the actual assumption of his judiciary powers at the consummation of all things, and contrasting his earthly ministry of mercy with the ultimate majesty of his judgment throne (Westcott). Storr, Moulton, Godet. suggest "I by myself"—I alone, independently of the Father, judge no man. Meyer rejects all these attempts to add to the text, and maintains that our Lord is claiming the lofty position of Saviour rather than Judge. He came with that as his primary aim, purpose, intent; to heal, not to wound; to save, not to destroy; to give time for repentance, not to hurry sinners to their doom; to illumine, not to cover with darkness. Yet even Meyer admits a practical exception of great importance to be involved in the next clause, which does not differ from Westcott's interpretation.
And yet (the καὶ δέ, equivalent to atque etiam—so Meyer, Luthardt, etc.—"This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light;" "The light shineth, and the darkness comprehendeth it not." The prince of this world is judged by the simple uplifting of the Son of God; and so, though he did not come to judge or condemn, yet judgments did, by the very necessity of his nature, proceed from him) even if I judge—if by the mere contact of his purity and love and healing power with those who will not come to him for life, judgment is pronounced—my judgment is true; £ i.e. trustworthy. The reading of Tischendorf, ἀληθινή, would mean that it "answers to the fundamental conception of a judgment." This thought would make the apparent paradox of the sentence more difficult to resolve. Because I am net alone, but (or, because, on the other hand) I and the Father who sent me, together deliver this judgment; i.e. it does not rest on my mere human consciousness, on what you who judge after the flesh might suppose it would rest, but on the eternal decisions of him who gave me my commission. The Father is in me and with me. I think the Father's thoughts and do the Father's will. Christ's testimony concerning himself, his implicit judgments on human nature, his indirect condemnation of the whole crowd, by his gracious refusal to condemn the sinful woman to immediate doom, all issue forth with the sign manual of Almighty God, with whom and in whom he dwells as the only begotten Son.
Having laid down the principle on which he was justified in maintaining the truthfulness of the assumption which the Pharisees impugned, he proceeded to vindicate, for these Jewish legalists, its agreement with the very letter of the Law. He adopted here the identical ground which was taken by him when first of all he claimed this fellowship with the Father. Yea, and in your Law it has been written, that the witness of two men is true. Many have said that here Jesus puts himself on one side as in hostility to the Law; Baur and some others plead, from the very phrase "your Law," that Jesus could not have used such an expression, and that John could not have recorded it; and Reuss urges that this expression agrees with the "standpoint of the gospel,which aims at lowering and degrading the old dispensation." Nothing could be less in harmony with the facts (see Introduction, § VII. 2). Even Meyer says, "The words are anti-Judaic … though not antinomian." Surely our Lord was simply appealing to his bitter enemies to recognize the application of the principle found in their own Law, of which they were continually making a proud boast. He simply goes to common ground of argument, and is ready to show that even the letter of the Law sustains his claim for the sufficient reason that he is not alone, but the Father is manifestly with him. Just as he never said "our Father" when addressing his disciples, but either "my Father" or "your Father" (John 20:17), because God is not the Father of men in the full sense in which he was Father to the only begotten Son; so he could not say "our Law" or "Moses gave us the Law" without derogating from the unique relation he sustained to the Law (compare Paul's language, Romans 2:17, Romans 2:21, Romans 2:23). The quotation from Deuteronomy £ is not verbally exact; it even carries the statement of Scripture to a broader generalization, and is so worded that it applies to the case in point, by carrying the position to a legitimate consequence—"the witness of two men is true." By using the word "men," Christ suggests the contrast between two men on one side and the God-Man and the Father on the other. Lightfoot ('Horae Hebraicae') quotes 'Rosh-Shanah,' 1.2, 3, "that two persons well known must testify to the supreme court that they had seen the new moon! If these were unknown persons, they must bring proof that they were credible witnesses." Upon these common principles of jurisprudence the Lord was willing, in purely Jewish fashion, to rest his claim.
I am the (one) that bears witness concerning myself—I have said it, and abide by it, and I know what I say and how fully I am fulfilling these words—and the Father that sent me heareth witness concerning me. His words reflected his own Divine self-consciousness. They bore one witness to his unique position. They brought out the inner thoughts of Christ, and revealed the life that was light. The word, the speech, of Christ was a fire kindled which would never be extinguished—it was the formal utterance of the eternal reality but it did not stand alone. The Father that sent him, by a long chain of events and revelations, by miracles and mighty energies, by the conference of the spirit of conviction upon the minds that gave candid attention to his verbal testimony, by the providential concurrence of facts with prophetic anticipation, was bearing witness concerning him. The argument is sufficient, so soon as we admit the terms used by Jesus, so soon as we recognize the ideas of the Son of God and of the Father, both alike revealed in the Person of Christ. We can understand, and to some extent sympathize with, the perplexity of the Pharisees. Later experiences have made it easier for us to understand the testimony of the Father, the presence and witness of God over and above the testimony of men and coincident with it (cf. John 15:27; Hebrews 2:4). All great spiritual revivals have given ample proof of the twofold testimony (see 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 8:17, where Paul, the writer of the Epistle, shows himself familiar with this "Johannine" thought; cf. Hebrews 2:4).
They said to him, in angry, wilful irony, Where is thy Father?—that he may bear to thee the witness which thou art appropriating. "Thou hast freed thyself from the charge of bearing unsupported testimony to thyself, by assuming the coordinate testimony of thy Father? Let thy Father manifest himself!" There is no need to explain this of the absence or insignificance of the earthly father of Jesus, or to suppose that they looked for some human attestation of such a kind. They rather scoffed at his claim of unique relation to the Father, and asked with mockery," Where is he?" not "Who or what is he?" What proof has he given of any special relation to thee? Jesus answered this taunt with sublime patience and pity, with distress at the resolute and judicial blindness they were fastening upon themselves: Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye knew me, ye would know my Father also. Another stupendous utterance, implying the most intimate relation between his own personality and the Father's. Any fair or adequate knowledge of himself must reveal to them that he is in the Father and the Father in him; must bring forth to their consciences the overshadowing presence, the Divine glory. "You are wrapping yourself in impenetrable mists; you are refusing the light of life, and all the evidence given to you that I am the Light of the world. You do not see less recondite truths, nor perceive ideas far more elementary still; you cannot, in your spiritual blindness, apprehend the outline of my human character. If you had done this, you would have known my Father at least enough to prevent the utterance of so crude and disheartening a query. You know me not: why should I talk to you? All this ministry of mine has left me, so far as you Pharisees are concerned, perfectly unknown." There is awful severity and unutterable pathos in these closing words of the discourse.
(3) Further controversy with different groups, ending in partial admission of his claims by some.
These words—an expression which emphasized the foregoing interview, and shut it off from the following context—spake he (Jesus £) in the treasury, as he taught in the temple courts. The γαζοφυλακίον (Mark 12:41; Luke 20:1) may be the chamber in which the thirteen chests, with trumpet like orifices for the reception of alms, were erected. If so, it was in the "court of the women," or the place of public assembly most abundantly frequented by the multitude, and beyond which the women could not penetrate into the "court of the priests." Edersheim disputes Westcott's suggestion, that the gazith, or session house of the Sanhedrin, was close by, and that the language of Jesus was within earshot of them. This chamber, gazith, was in the southeast corner of the "court of the priests," and therefore far away from the treasure chamber. Supposing that the word γαζοφυλακίον was the treasury itself. the ἐν τῷ may point to the neighbourhood of the sacred enclosure. The reference shows that the locality even of the discourse had made profound impression on one of the disciples, and implies great publicity and imminent peril from these bold avowals. The clause added by the evangelist, And no man seized him; because his hour was not yet come, is a phrase repeated frequently, and one which delays, by a strange refrain, the tragic consummation (see Introduction, § VII. 5 (4)). Here it shows that some further attempt was made to lay violent hands on him, which for the moment failed. Seeing that avowals of his Divine nature wrought to a frenzy the passions of soma of his hearers, and finally led to his condemnation for a capital offence, the evangelist again and again shows that the Lord—who made these claims on his trial, as given in the synoptists—had frequently reiterated them at peril of his life. The language of the high priest shows how bitterly the ecclesiastical authorities resented this assumption. The Fourth Gospel makes the synoptic account of this matter more intelligible by showing us that it was not an isolated occurrence.
This verse introduces a new scene and place, and perhaps a new day. The audience may have greatly changed, even if it had within it some of the same bewildered and exasperated enemies. Again he said, therefore. The οὖν refers to the fact that his liberty had not been infringed. The providence of God, the fear of the people, the inadequacy or confusing nature of the reports of his speech which had been taken to the authorities, had for a while arrested the tragedy. "No one laid hands on him." In consequence of this circumstance he said unto them again (i.e. on a subsequent occasion), I go away, and ye shall seek me. So much he had said before to "the Jews," adding, "Ye shall not find me" (John 7:34). Thus also he spake, later on, to the disciples, adding, "Thither ye cannot come" (John 13:33). On all three occasions he was misunderstood. His departure was a mystery to the Jews, who thought, or at least said, that he, a pseudo-Messiah, might be contemplating a mission to the Greeks and to the Dispersion. His departure to the Father by a bloodstained pathway, by violent death, was unspeakably perplexing to his most intimate friends. The bare idea utterly conflicted with the current notion of the Christ; but it was in the last case (John 14:1-31.) modified by the promise that, though he was about to leave them and to return to his Father, yet he would come again—they should once more beheld him, and he would provide a place for them. Still, they would not be able for a while to follow him, even though willing to lay down their life for his sake (John 13:33, etc.). But in the face of a more bitter misunderstanding and an utter inability to perceive and know either him or the Father, Christ said not only, "Ye shall seek me," but ye shall die in your sin. The ἐν here indicates rather the condition in which they should die than the cause of their death. "In," not "of" (so Hengstenberg, Meyer, and Luthardt). He did not say, "perish by reason of this sin," but "die in this sin." They will die looking vaguely, hopelessly, for the Saviour whom they have, in such an hyperbole of spiritual dulness and of bitter malice alike, misunderstood and rejected. They will pass through the gate of death with no deliverance from sin secured. Knowing neither the Father nor the eternal life and light manifested in himself, they will seek and not find, they will die unsanctified, unatoned, unreconciled No gleam of light will play over the dark ness of the grave. Whither I go, ye cannot come. The eternal home of the Father's love will not open to such angry search. Such utter misunderstanding as they had evinced, such point blank refusal to walk in his light, will impede and block the way to the heart of the Father, whose perfect revelation and sufficient pleading they steadily resist. The language of this verse is probably the condensation and conclusion of s much longer debate.
The Jews therefore said (were saying one to the other), Will he kill himself, that (because) he saith, Whither I go, thither ye cannot come? This query was one of harsh mockery, and can hardly be exaggerated in malign intent. The suicide was supposed to have his place in Gehenna, According to Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' John 3:8. 5), "the darkest regions of Hades would receive the souls of such." The Jews then scoff at his departure as a spontaneous resort to a fate towards which they did rot care or mean to follow him. Edersheim declares this passage of Josephus not to be sustained by rabbinical authority, and he doubts this aspect of their scorn. He limits it to the Jewish guess that Jesus must be contemplating self. murder, and as putting deliberately such a distance between them and him that they could not traverse it. The very fact that they had it in their hearts to destroy him makes it probable that they were looking beyond the act of suicide, either to the hell of popular belief or the hatred of contemporaries. They obviously thought that none but a suicide can determine the time of his departure. Christ proceeded to show them that the reason why his death would separate them from him was a fundamental difference of nature.
Yet this essential divergence is not based on fatalistic grounds, but on moral ones. The argument of the twenty-fourth verse explains the description of vers 23. The ground of this utter alienation is the lack of belief, which will leave them in their sins to die. He said to them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above. You spring from the lower as opposed to the higher world; you are influenced by considerations drawn from the earthly, sensual, superficial, and transitory. It is not necessary to suppose that our Lord is clenching the Jews' harsh speech about the underworld with a tu-quoque, as though they verily belonged to the Gehenna to which they were consigning him; for the next pair of clauses are in parallel apposition with the former. In the words, Ye are of this world; I am not of this world, "This world" corresponds with the τῶν κάτω of the previous clause, and the "not of this world" corresponds with the τὰ ἄνω, the heavenly regions from which he has continually declared, in many varieties of phrase, that he had come, or descended, or been sent. Certainly and broadly speaking, this is true, as a contrast between Christ and all other men before their regeneration. Our Lord especially charges home upon these earth-bound souls, on these purely human, selfish, unspiritual, unrenewed, unbelieving men, this antagonism to himself, this refusal to walk in his light or receive his life. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6). They are flesh. He does not exclude them forever from such participation in his own heavenly life as would reverse the descriptive and characteristic features of their being. The reason why they have not seen the kingdom or the King is that they are not born of the Spirit.
Therefore I said unto you, Ye shall die in your sins: for if ye shall not have believed that I am (HE), ye will die in your sins. This last clause, "for," etc., gives our Lord's reason in full for the terrific fact. It is a virtual reference of the unregenerate, earthly, low-born condition of his hearers to the fact of their unbelief in him. This fleshly, worldly state may be, might be, reversed by their faith in his essential character, an adequate moral surrender to his claims. Let them believe him to be that which he really is, the separation would then cease, and, like himself, they too might be "called out of the world." They might be "born of the Spirit," enter into the fellowship of the Son of God, become "not of this world," "even as he is not of this world." They might "arise, and go to their Father." There is no impassable chasm between them, though it is an appalling one to be crossed only by a faith which is itself the form and essence of regeneration. The faith is especially defined. Three times in this chapter our Lord represents the object of faith, the central focus of the Divine revelation, to be "I AM." The predicate is unexpressed here, and the same may be said in John 8:28 and John 8:58. Elsewhere the predicate may easily be gathered from the context. Meyer and many others have said, "The true predicate here is 'the Christ:' 'I am the coming One,' 'the promised One,' 'the Sent of God.'" It is a somewhat dubious proceeding to draw the central idea of this chapter from an unexpressed ellipsis. The "I am" of these passages cannot be regarded as equivalent to the "I am that I am" of Exodus, or to the incommunicable name of the eternal One, but it is analogous to it. Throughout the prophets the unique and solitary grandeur of the Divine nature in its special covenant relations with Israel is expressed by the phrase, "I AM HE." This was the sum of the object of the Old Testament faith (Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 41:13; Isaiah 43:10, etc.). In like manner, the fulness of the Divine Ego in the incarnate Word is inexpressible by any one predicate. His entire revelation of himself had given this amplitude and indefinable breadth to his Personality. He had called himself the Son of God, the living Water, the veritable Bread, the Bread of God and of heaven, the Light of the world. He was indefinitely more than the current, popular idea of the Christ, immeasurably different from that which they persisted in expecting. Faith in that he is, in what he is, and in what he has revealed to them, is the germ of the life eternal. To refuse this faith is to refuse the hope that breaks over the gloom of Sheol, and to leave the full burden of sin upon the conscience. Compare St. Paul's words (1 Corinthians 15:17, 1 Corinthians 15:18), "If Christ be not risen … ye are yet in your sins."
Then said they to him—the hostile Jerusalem party—in scornful mockery, σὺ τίς εἶ; Who art thou? "Define thyself more closely; make thy claims clear and categorical. Give now a direct answer to a plain question." It is very remarkable that the Lord often refuses to respond in the precise form in which his interlocutors demand an answer. He sees the multitudinous sides of every truth, and frequently gives to his questioners the means of answering their question from the ground of deep spiritual conviction, rather than furnishes them with a formula which might easily be abused. Who art thou? How profoundly pathetic! How confirmatory of his own words, "Ye have not known me, nor my Father"! The reply which our Lord gave to the question has occasioned greater variety of interpretation than, perhaps, any other sentence in the Gospel: τὴν ἀρχὴν ὅτι (or ὅτι,) καὶ λαλῶὑμῖν. The meaning of the words taken separately is disputable; the relation to the context has been very variously understood.
I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you. Hitherto, when the Lord uttered his great words of self-revelation, which always had an ethical end and were meant for the advantage of his hearers, they interrupted his speech and disputed his claims. They refused these testimonies to himself which, if true, would necessitate their instantaneous submission. He seems to have gathered all his self-witness together in the word, "I am," verify altogether, absolutely, from the beginning onwards, just what my words convey; but I have much more to say concerning you, even if I should have nothing more to say concerning myself. The testimonies and the judgments may be profoundly distasteful to you, but I dare not therefore withhold them. I am come to deliver them at any cost to myself or you. But he that sent me is true, whether you hear or forbear; and I am his Mouthpiece, so the truth has to be told. The thought of God, if we can only approach it, is the absolute truth about every thing and about every man. Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, and the Utterer of irreversible judgment. The things which I heard from him, these speak I into the world. εἰς τὸν κόσμον, is a remarkable expression. "Speak into, so that the words may reach as far as and spread through the world" (Westcott). The expression seems to have left him above or outside the world, so that he appears as "the Mediator between two worlds."
They understood (perceived) not that he spake to them of the Father. This difficult parenthesis of the evangelist calls attention to the fact that, during the immediately preceding discourse and controversy, Jesus had dropped his references to the Father, and had used the periphrasis, "he that sent me," probably suggesting to this strangely excited populace, fed with weird fancies and wild expectations, that the mysterious Being with whom they were conversing was but the Delegate of One mightier than he, who was hidden in the secret place of God's providence until the hour of his own manifestation should appear to have struck. They might have remembered the utter deference which the great prophet John had displayed before a Messiah whom as yet they knew not. They may have heard that even John himself, at a later date, sent from the prison two of his disciples to propound the query, "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" in other words, "Art thou the final Manifestation of all that I have predicted and believed? or is another to make his appearance with fire and axe and available force to compel obedience and to secure universal homage?" It is more than probable that the evangelist, being personally alive to the cross currents of passion, enthusiasm, and hostility which were at work in the hearts of the populace, saw by the very blankness and confusion on their faces, and the "asides" of the multitude, that they had not perceived that Jesus was throughout in these references speaking of the Father of all—the supreme Source of all power, the Lord of hosts. Even when he had said, "Ye have not known me, nor my Father," they had not risen to such a conception of the Lord's meaning as to suppose that the supreme Father himself was being suggested to them and cited as the corroborative Witness, as the supernatural Aid and Divine Presence which was giving validity to all that Christ has said about himself. Their ignorance and lack of perception need not astonish us when we reflect upon the obscurity and non-receptivity of the apostles themselves, and the like obtuseness of theologians and cultivated men of the world in every age from that day to this. The remark is, moreover, added doubtless to interpret the following verses, in which the ideas of verse 26 are repeated, with the difference that, whereas he had already spoken of him that sent him, and who had authorized his words and judgments, Jesus now gives to him the beloved name of "the Father."
But when Jesus turns to them again he calls special attention to the main source of their continuous misconception and rejection. Not only is he "the Son," and "the Son of God," but indubitably he is also "the Son of man." He has come down from heaven and is before them as a Man among men—"one Jesus." He has taken upon himself the form of a slave, the fashion of man. That the manifestation of the Divine should be perfectly realized in the human, though a fundamental truth lying at the heart of all revelation, is nevertheless not the alphabet of Divine teaching; nay, it is the very highest and most recondite of all truths. This humbled humanity of the incarnate Logos led on to other issues of enormous significance. The eternal Son in the form of God would become, as "Son of man," obedient unto death. The highest revelation of the Son of God, and therefore of the Father, would be effected by the surrender of that mysterious life of his for the world's behoof. The previous announcements of this truth, which we now see to be the very crown and culmination of the gospel, had greatly offended his hearers of all kinds, and on distinct grounds. In the words that follow a touch of deeper meaning than any which had preceded is supplied when he proceeds to associate this death of the Son of man with the wilful act of the ecclesiastical authorities in Jerusalem. Jesus therefore said (unto them £), When ye shall have lifted up the Son of man (compare here notes on John 3:14; John 6:62; John 12:32). The word ὑψόω is used with the twofold sense of exaltation on the cross'' signifying by what death he should glorify God"—and also of the issues of that lifting up by means of the tree of ignoble torment and mortal agony to the throne of glory. The twofold meaning of the word cannot be excluded here. £ Then ye shall come to know—then the process of proof will be completed—that I am (he)—that I am that which fundamentally I am declaring to you, that my testimonies have unique but trenchant confirmation £—and that I am doing nothing from myself, but that even as the Father taught me, (so) these things I speak. The "he that sent me" (John 8:26), is here replaced by "the Father." "The things which I heard from ( παρὰ) him" is replaced by "even as the Father taught me," and the ταῦτα λαλῶ are repeated. "The cross and the crown" will be the proof to the most obtuse and bigoted "that I am that which I say I am." The forecast is here given of the conversion of his murderers, the overwhelming effects produced by the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:36; Acts 4:4; Acts 6:7; Romans 11:11). Bengel: "Cognoscetis ex re, quod nunc ex verbo non creditis."
And he that sent me—of whom I now plainly speak to you as "the Father"—is with me. He is not in some inaccessible region of indifference to my mission or my word, but with me. He encompasses the Son of man, finds willing, unswerving response to his will in my words. He sent me, and commissioned me to undertake this work. He is affirming in his own way all my message, and corroborating my testimony. You have asked, "Where is thy Father?" and I now tell you, "He is with me." He (the Father £) hath not left me at any moment of my career alone. He has confirmed and sustained my word, and upheld my life; and you can see the signs of this abiding communion: Because (i.e. Christ does not account for the abiding companionship by the fact of his own obedience, but refers to the reasons which his hearers might find for his great assertion; cf. Luke 7:47) I do always the things that are pleasing to him. I do this because he has never left me to my mere human nature. This self-consciousness of Christ is one of the loftiest and most entirely unique phenomena recorded in history. This absolute confidence with reference to his whole course lifts our Lord to a pinnacle of the loftiest elevation. He declares himself absolutely free from sin, and even in thought or deed to have left undone nothing that seemed good to the Father. If such an utterance had not flashed the conviction of his Divine nature upon some of his hearers, it is impossible to conceive what would or could have done so
As he spake these words, many believed on him. This is another interjected comment or connecting link supplied by the evangelist, revealing intimate knowledge of the state of feeling and changeful emotions of the people. Another hint of the eyewitness and ear witness of this memorable scene; and, supposing that we read here a correct transcript of words that proceeded from his lips, we can do no ether than cry with Thomas, "My Lord, and my God!" The remark is intercalated, as though St. John wished to emphasize the accuracy with which he had reported, on this occasion, the very words of his Lord, conveying their ambiguous phrase, and asserting in fresh form what had convinced St. John, on subsequent reflection, that he was what he said. The phrase, πιστεύειν εἰς, to believe in or on, a person, is to close with him, to accept all the collateral consequences of such trust, to be content to wait for fuller explanation, to east self upon the object of faith, and allow the object of such trust to bear all the responsibility of the act. It is the form most frequently adopted by St. John (John 2:11; John 3:16, John 3:18, John 3:36; John 4:39, and many other places; cf. John 14:1, John 14:12; John 17:20); only once in the synoptic narrative. The form πιστεύειν ἐπί occurs occasionally with the accusative (1 John 3:23, and frequently in the Acts); and πιστεύειν ἐπί with the dative, also! πιστεύειν ἐν, are used, implying even a closer and more intimate communion still with the Object of faith (see John 16:30). With these forms must be compared the more common one with the simple dative, πιστεύειν τινί, which occurs in verses 31, 45, and John 14:11, etc., which implies acceptance of the saying, promise, or fact there propounded, and falls short of the moral surrender involved in the fuller form. John here asserts that many of his hearers, those who had hitherto refrained from full acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God, yielded to his claims there and then. This faith on the part of "some" is almost more wonderful than the unbelief of others. The difficulties in their way were appalling in comparison with the perplexities which beset our minds. The Lord appealed to his own inner consciousness, to his supernatural aid in speech, to the spotless, sinless character of his hidden life. It was remarkable that any strangers or enemies should have surrendered themselves to them. The event shows that the surrender could not stand the test.
describe a further conversation, not with the same audience. The words record a vivid conflict between the Lord and the Jews who believed him, who accepted the Messianic claims, but persisted in interpreting them, not by his word, but by their own ideas of the theocratic kingdom, by their privileges as children of Abraham, by their national animosity to their nearest neighbours the Samaritans, by their inability to press behind the veil of his humanity to his Divine nature. Their faith was of the most imperfect kind; but such as it was, it was made manifest to the observation of the apostle, and this throws light upon the fact that, among the many who believed on him, or rather alongside of these, there was a certain section of "the Jews," of the chief rulers and rabbis, who made a definite movement towards him. This doubtless excited the intense enthusiasm of the disciples, who might at once hope and almost expect that Jesus would with open arms accept their homage. But he at once puts this faith of theirs—perhaps ignorantly expressed—to a proof absolutely necessary for the salvation of his hearers.
John 8:31, John 8:32
(4) The test Christ supplied to those who admitted his testimony—true discipleship and freedom. Jesus therefore said to the Jews who had believed him—or, had become believing, and were now waiting for some special sign that their belief of his words was to be immediately rewarded by some closer conformity between his next step and their own prepossessions—If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples. Short of making the word of Jesus the resting place for both heart and intellect, full discipleship would be impossible. The true disciple receives and continues in the word of his Master. The expression expands and illustrates the difference between believing Christ to speak the truth, and believing in him. Many ancient Jews and modern Christians believe so much of Christ's word as is verified by their moral consciousness, and dispute or dispose of the rest as Aberglaube. The genuine disciple continues, abides, in the word of him who is the incarnate Word, yielding to it entire acquiescence, as the absolute reality of things, as the truth about God and man. He adds, And ye shall come fully to know the truth; i.e. to realize in the very depths of your being the trustworthy character of my word. "The Truth" (see John 14:6) is one of the distinguishing names which Jesus takes to himself. He is the Truth, and "full of grace and truth." So far this statement corresponds with John 7:16, John 7:17. The "Jews" who had believed him would not feel the fiery ordeal and touch of flame applied to the sensitive skin of their pride and self-importance; but when he added, And the truth shall emancipate you, the case was altered. Truth only can set the mind free from its bondage under ignorance and prejudice and evil habit. If the Light of the world shines into the dark places of the heart, the chains erewhile misunderstood will not only become visible, but will be broken. Godet beautifully says that "the empire of sin in a human heart is based upon an illusion, a fascination. Let truth shine, and the spell is broken, the will is disgusted with that which seduced it—'the bird escapes from the net of the fowler.'" But this proffer of freedom to his disciples by continuing in his word was too startling a suggestion for their nascent and imperfect faith. He had told them that without faith in him they would die in their sins (John 7:24); now he assures them that, unless they abide steadfastly in his word, they will not escape from a bondage manifest enough to his eye, if not to theirs. This brings from them an angry response.
(5) The offer of spiritual freedom to the seed of Abraham provoked bitter hostility and misapprehension.
They answered him, We be Abraham's seed—taking the highest position of national grandeur and racial pride. Vast were the pretensions which the Jews often assumed from this lofty ancestry. "They were all children of kings;" "Solomon's feast was not too good for them;" "He was heir of the world;" "They were the inheritors in him of all the nations." They had rung this cry into the ears of John the Baptist, when this last prophet had called upon them for repentance. Their following boast is difficult to understand: We have never yet been enslaved to anyone; and great difference of opinion has prevailed over the meaning of. these words. It is incredible that John should represent: the Jews as ignorant of their national political history. The first word of their Decalogue included a reference to the "house of bondage" from which Jehovah had delivered the seed of Abraham. Moreover, their political humiliation at the hand of the border kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon, and Syria was the perpetual theme of prophet and psalmist.
The terrible reverses that they had subsequently experienced at the hand of Antiochus and of the Roman power, and the galling submission to Rome which at the moment was rousing their fiercest passion, would render any such boast simply preposterous. Godet's suggestion, that they were making a boast of their personal civil freedom, that Abraham's seed were not sold into positive slavery, however mortifying their political servitude had proved, is far fetched and too far away from the facts of the case; neither does it harmonize with the character of this angry retort. Probably a reference is made to the ideal freedom from slavery and from dependence which they had, in their hour of deepest depression from all and every form of tyranny whatsoever, religiously maintained. They did, as their wonderful psalter shows, cherish a conviction that David's throne and Abraham's inheritance ideally stood through all the ages, lustrous and magnificent to the eye of faith. When the holy and beautiful house was burned with fire, when their exile was complete, they still saw all visible things, even "heaven and earth," departing or rolled up like a scroll, while their Creator and redeeming King was seated still on his eternal throne. From St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, they clearly held that the mere possession of the Law, whether they kept it or not, was their much-prized pledge of independence from all other authority or servitude. If so, they may have been on this occasion boasting of their ideal freedom in virtue of their he reditary privileges, and forgetful of the lessons even of the agelong story of Ishmael and Esau, and the deportation and abolition of Israel as a nation. One can scarcely refrain a momentary thrill of admiration at the hardihood of their eager faith, and the overwhelming strength of confidence they manifested in their destiny as a people. All the spiritual salvation and ideal freedom which they desired they possessed as children of Abraham. How sayest thou—"Upon what possible principle dost thou promise to us that which we already are proud of possessing, viz. glorious liberty?" Is it from the emancipating power of truth? We have the truth; we are the depositaries of infallible truth. We already possess as our birthright what thou art offering to us as the full result of discipleship. How sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
Jesus answered them; £ i.e. those "Jews who believed him," but whose retort showed their faith to be of the most feeble and imperfect kind, and which, if it were momentarily assumed, was ready to disappear at the first touch of trial. A promise of Divine love had been treated by them as an insult, not so much to their national history, as to their religious triumph over their civil and political disasters. There is no reason to believe that in these, or in the following words, the unbelieving Jews had once more become the interlocutors, as Tholuck and Hengstenberg have done on different grounds. Meyer, Ellicott, Lange, and many others agree with the view here advanced. The answer to them ( αὐτοῖς, those who were the subjects of ἀπεκρίθησαν) is introduced with peculiar solemnity: Verily, verily I say unto you, every one ( πᾶς) that doeth sin— ὁ ποιῶν ἁμαρτίαν is different from πράσσων φαῦλα of John 3:20; it is the precise opposite of ποιῶν ἀλήθειαν of John 3:21, and does not mean "everyone who committeth separate acts of transgression," but it means "everyone who is living a life of sin"—is the bond slave (of sin). Godet is strongly disposed, on the ground of the exceedingly small authority of D and b alone (and certain quotations of Origen), to believe that the τῆς ἁμαρτίας is a gloss. Certainly the whole passage would be easier to interpret if our Lord had simply said that the man under the habitual power of sin is a slave, and had then, in John 3:35 and John 3:36, advanced to the contrast between the slave and the Son. But there is great unanimity among all the authorities as to the accuracy of the Received and Revised Texts, though Westcott and Hort place it in brackets. The interpretation, consequently, is simply this, that Christ did "pass from the idea of bondage under sin to that of bondage generally, and from the idea of sonship to the Son" (Westcott). The notion of personal transgression producing a bondage, and enfettering the soul and the will, and separating it from the glorious liberty of true sonship, lay outside of their notion of discipleship. They were not requiring deliverance from sin or its bondage; what they wanted was the full realization of the national hope. The language of this verse can be paralleled from the writings of the classics and rabbis, £ and is largely handled by St. Paul (Romans 6:1-23. and 7.). The relation between sin as a principle and sins as acts of the will is a great New Testament revelation. The personal commission of sin augments the force of the corrupt tendency which leads to and facilitates fresh transgression. Every compliance with evil forges a new fetter, and imposes it on the will of the transgressor. "The strong man guards his house, and his goods are in peace" (Luke 11:21).
This being the fact as to sin and its servitude, the Lord proceeds to deal with servitude in God's house. Servitude and its spirit are manifested in the house of the Father. The bond slave abideth not in the house forever. So long as he is a bond slave and not emancipated from the fetters of mere race, so long as he is ruled by the servile spirit, there is no perpetuity about his relation to the Father. He can be sold away (Genesis 21:10; Galatians 4:30). An involuntary subject of the Law, who belongs to the theocracy as a slave merely, and because he cannot help himself, and occupies a position which a slave does in the family of sin, has lost all freedom and spontaneity in his service, and will find himself cast out at last. But the son abideth forever. Sonship is the only principle on which continuance in the house can be secured. It has been much debated whether the ὁ υἱός of the thirty-fifth verse goes beyond the idea of sonship, the generic antithesis to the idea of slave. Certainly this seems the primary reference. In the following verse, the Son, in his loftiest functions, and as identifying himself with "the truth" of John 8:32, entirely fulfils the conception of "Sonship" and eternal abiding in the Father's house, and therefore is entrusted with the power of emancipating all slaves, of adopting sons into the Father's royal house. Thus we may suppose that the first use of the term "son," though laying special emphasis on the spirit and conditions of sonship, yet points to him who entirely embodies, enshrines, and has from before all worlds realized the Divine idea of Son—the only begotten Son—in the bosom of the Father.
Therefore if the Son—who abideth ever in the Father's bosom, and fills the house with his glory, and is the Heir of all things—make you free, ye shall be free indeed ( ὄντως, "essentially," only here used by St. John, who elsewhere uses the word ἀληθῶς, verse 31; John 1:48; John 4:42; John 7:40; John 6:14). The Son is he who gives power to become the sons of God. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus frees from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2). Only by acquiring the true spirit and regenerated life of a son can any man be delivered from the bondage induced by ignorance of the actual truth about God, about man, and about the relation between God and man. This knowledge is produced by the Son of God, who is the Truth. A full and believing apprehension of the Son of God, a realization of what he is, confers a new life and reveals the wonderful possibilities and relations of human nature. The incarnation of the Son of God as a veritable Son of man emancipates the soul fettered by the tyranny of nature and baffled by the mastery of time and sense, inasmuch as it discloses the august majesty of its own origin. Essential freedom accrues to him who knows that sin is pardoned, that death is vanquished, that the prince of this world is cast out. The eager Jew might look through the battered walls of Zion and the charred fragments of its gorgeous temple, and still see the adamantine structure and its agelong triumph. But the disciples of Jesus, with John as their leader, when these words were recorded by him as they fell from the Lord in their true connection, saw the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband, with its open gates, its crystal stream, and the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb as the Light of it. The freedom of a perfect service and the glorious liberty of the sons of God was theirs, in proportion as they accepted their emancipation from the Son himself (1 Corinthians 7:22; Romans 8:35, Romans 8:36; 2 Corinthians 3:18). The sons are "free indeed," whatever the world, or the Hebrew Christians, or the philosophers might think or say.
I know ( οἶδα, I know absolutely, I do not come to know it from your retort) that ye are the seed of Abraham. They belonged to the noble race, "whose are the fathers;" they were the σπέρμα of him who received the promises. Christ admitted the pedigree, but he proceeds to show that mere hereditary descent would be of no avail to them apart from moral considerations. These ideas, these revolutionary conceptions, so far as Judaism was concerned, were not the evolution of Christian ideas in the second century. It is most instructive to see how clearly St. Paul had already grasped them, and woven them into a powerful argument when dealing with the Judaizers in Galatia, many years before this Gospel was written (see the entire argument of Galatians 3:1-29., which thus rests on the teaching of the Christ himself). But ye seek to kill me. This charge is certainly difficult to suppose applicable to those who "had come to believe in him" (John 8:31). One of three suppositions must be made—either
I speak the things £ which I have seen with the (my) Father: £ and do you therefore the things which ye heard £ from the £ (your) father; or, and you therefore do the things which ye heard from your father. We need not, with Meyer, limit the Lord's vision of the Divine things which he saw with the Father to his premundane Personality. He describes himself in constant communion with the Father. The Father is with him. He knows the mind and will and good pleasure of the Father. His is the perfectly pure heart, which is as an eye forevermore beholding the Father. That the Only Begotten sees and knows what no other sees, is constantly taught in this Gospel (see John 3:32; John 6:46). In Christ, moreover, the disciple may verily see the Father (John 14:7, John 14:9; 1 John 2:23). The probable textual reading given above would draw a species of contrast between Christ's "seeing" ( παρὰ τῷ) with the Father, and the Jews' "hearing" ( παρὰ τοῦ) from the Father, as though such communication were less intimate than "seeing." This must not be pressed (see John 8:40). If the ποιεῖτε be imperative, the language would be an appeal to the Jews to act out that which, from prophets and teachers and interpreters of the Divine will, they had heard. Moulton treats the clause as one more, one last, exhortation. The word of Christ had not advanced within them—it remained as a barren formula; let them give it free course now. Their opposition had not as yet been malignant or hopeless; one more chance is given them. The more ordinary interpretation is to make the ποιεῖτε indicative. If it be so, and still more if the ὑμῶν (omitted by B, L, P) be genuine, "the father" to whom reference is made as theirs, is in contrast with the Father of Christ, and, without pointedly saying so, Jesus implies that it is another father altogether. In John 8:44 Christ does indeed declare that the father with whom they are in ethical relation and sympathy is not God, but the devil—the very opposite of the God of Abraham, the very antithesis of the Father of infinite love. At this point he simply suggests, "Therefore the things which ye heard from your father ye do," ye habitually do, ye are now doing in your hatred and murderous sentiments towards myself. Surely this implies a severity which is hardly compatible with an address to Jews who believed him. The interpretation of the following verse is governed by that of this.
They answered and said. If the second interpretation be accepted, then, irritated by the suggestion that "the Father" whose properties and claims he saw and revealed to them was different from "the father" whose nature and ways they "heard" and practised, and counting, moreover, on the concession of the fact that they were Abraham's "seed," they cried, Our father is Abraham; we are spiritually, ethically, related to him, and if we are doing that which we have heard from our father, then we can claim that all we are doing is along the lines of our Abrahamic dignity. But if John 8:38 be regarded as a final expostulation, according to the first of the interpretations of ποιεῖτε, then the Jews merely disclosed their determination to misapprehend the plain words of the Divine Lord, and when he was reminding them of the Father, of their Father, they at once stood back upon their hereditary pride, and declared that they were doing the works of their great ancestor. Jesus saith to them, If ye are £ Abraham's children, as you say—for the position of "children" is involved in the idea and claim of spiritual Fatherhood which ye boast—then, with such spiritual and ethical relations as these, ye would do the works of Abraham—works of faith; you would be open to the access of spiritual revelations with childlike simplicity; you would have accepted the heavenly voice; you would have known whence it came; you would have resembled him in his moral sensitiveness, in his gentle loving kindness, in his victorious faith; but—
But now, as things are, ye are seeking—plotting, contriving, in subtle ways and by false charges—to kill me. The entire discourse is made more obvious by our Lord's discovery of the plot of the last few days, and by his allowing his friends and opponents to know that he had penetrated the thin, subtle disguise under which this murderous plan was veiled. The excitement produced by this bold charge among his own true disciples, and those who now for the first time heard of it, by our Lord's then and there lifting the veil from many a specious question; the look of guilt on the countenances of some, of truculent admission of the charge in the gesture of others; the loud murmurs and confused cries of the crowd,—must all be realized to apprehend the tremendous crisis which had now arrived. He aggravated the charge by describing himself as a man who hath declared to you the truth which I heard from God. This is the only place where the Lord speaks of himself as "a man" (cf. Acts 17:31; 1 Timothy 2:5). He here describes himself as One who is subject and liable to their murderous passion—a man, seeing that his eternal Personality has been presented to his antagonists in the form of man. His manhood was the link of relation between the God who sent him, taught him, surrounded and enveloped him, and the consciousness of his hearers. This is the highest representation of the very conception of a Divine commission and a Divine message. They were seeking to stamp out a Divine fire, to drown a heavenly voice, to refuse and trample upon a sacred Messenger. This did not Abraham. The father of the faithful was susceptible to the heavenly voice, he heard and obeyed the voice of Jehovah with childlike docility (Genesis 12:1-20., 14., 18., 22.). The visions, the commands, the messengers, the manifestations, of God to Abraham were so readily accepted that his faith is a proverb, and his greatest name is "friend of God." The wilful, hurried, malicious treatment of both the Divine Messenger and the sacred message, both of which Jesus declared to have come directly from God, proves the lack of relation with the Life of Abraham. They might be Abraham's "seed" ( σπέρμα) but not his ( τέκνα) children, and he in this sense could not be their "father."
Instead of doing the works of Abraham, you are doing the works of your father. That is, you have a father with whom you are, nevertheless, in living, ethical relation. If you persist in boasting of your father, who is neither "the Father" nor Abraham, I must soon tell you who that father is. Loud interruption followed. Abrupt and startling was the retort: We are £ [were] not born of fornication; we have one Father, God. Many expositors think that these Jews began to babble against the possibility of their being bastard children of Sarah, or to protest that they were not Ishmaelites or any collateral branch of the seed of Abraham, like the Idumaeans or the sons of Keturah. This is far away from the context, and unworthy of the controversy. The idea is sufficiently explained by the second clause. The covenant relation between Jehovah and Israel is so constantly referred to in the Old Testament (Hosea 1:2; Hosea 2:4; Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20) under the image of marriage and the unfaithfulness of particular generations to Jehovah; and their false worship and idolatry are so often regarded as "fornication" and "adultery" from God, the Husband of the dedicated spouse, so that nothing is more probable, when Jesus charged them with doing the works of their father, that they should have exclaimed, "Surely we have no idolatrous sympathies. None but Jehovah is our God. Thou must not charge us with any compromise with the accursed thing." The wild rage which the Jews had shown to Pilate in the matter of the shields, their abhorrence of the defilement of idols in the matter of food, their avoidance even of the supreme court of Roman justice under fear of idolatrous contamination, explain the outflash of this indignant rejoinder. This view is, in the main, advocated by De Wette, Lampe, Lucke, Lange, and Hengstenberg; but opposed by Meyer, Westcott: "We do not owe our position to idolatrous desertion of Jehovah. We are the offspring of the union of God with his chosen people. Our spiritual descent is as pure as our historical descent." Godet modifies it: "We have no idolatrous blood in our veins; we are Hebrews of the Hebrews." They claim to be the children of God, as well as children of Abraham (Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16; Malachi 2:10).
But Jesus will not allow them to claim the full privilege of sons of God. Said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would be loving me, not seeking to slay me. Seeing that you do not love me, God is not your Father in the sense in which you are boasting such relation to him. The reason is: For I came forth out ( ἐκ) of God. This expression only occurs in one other passage (John 16:28), and there the texts vary between ἐκ ἀπὸ, and παρά. It points to the momentous and unique fact of his incarnation, as the projection from the very essence of God involved in the essence of his being. The Father is the eternal Source of Christ's Divine nature. There are two ether forms of expression used by our Lord. In John 13:3 and John 16:30 ἐξελθεῖν ἀπό is adopted, which describes rather the act of the incarnated One; and in John 16:27 and John 17:8 ἐξελθεῖν παρά, whereby is suggested the procession of Christ into the condition of fellowship with the eternal Father or that of being πρὸς τὸν θεόν or εἰς τὸν κόλπον. By ἐξελθεῖν ἐκ he implies an even sublimer conception of the prenatal glory, and that, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it, "he was the Effulgence of his glory, and the express Image of his substance." And I am come. I am hero face to face with you. Meyer and others would make both verbs depend on ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ: but if we are right in the special meaning of the preposition, the force of it would be lost in the second clause. The ἐξῆλθον refers to his eternal procession from the very nature of God, and special indication of it when he took our human nature up into his own; and the ἤκω refers to his presence and appearance in their midst as a "Man who told them the truth." For neither have I come. The perfect tense here is used in contrast to the present ἥκω, to show that he has the whole past of his career as a divinely sent Messenger present in his consciousness. And he establishes the fact that he has proceeded from God by the dismission of every other alternative. I have not come from myself, as an act of self-determination; I have not come to do my own will, but the Father's. I have not come on any self-chosen, self-honouring path, with motives of self-interest; but in strict obedience to the Father's injunction—he sent me. You would have loved me, not hated me, you would have trusted me and rejoiced in me, and not sought to kill me, if God were your Father; for you would then have felt all through my career that that One Father, of whom you boast an intimate knowledge, was revealing himself as One near to you, close to you, in the bare fact of my presence among you.
Why do ye not understand—come to appreciate and penetrate the significance of—my speech? There is delicate subtle distinction between λαλιά and λόγος, corresponding to that between λαλέω and λέγω. The former word connotes the form, manner, and tone of utterance, and the latter its inner substance and power. λαλιά is a, word used for any manifestation of sound, a voice, the babble of children, the cries and songs of beasts or birds, for which purpose λὲγω and λόγος are not used (Trench, 'Syn. of N.T.'). Peter's λαλιά betrayed him to the Jerusalem crowd (Matthew 26:73). λόγος is the substance of the message, the burden of the revelation. The speech ( λαλιά) of Christ refers to the appropriate and significant clothing which he gave to his word ( λόγος). He mournfully asks why they had failed to get to understand the method of his converse; why they perpetually failed to appreciate his discourse; why they persistently put wrong constructions upon his phrase, and imagined him to be speaking of earthly things when he was discoursing to them of heavenly ones. Why? Because ye cannot hear my word—the Divine communication I have made to you. They were morally so far from him that they could not listen so as to receive his revelation. The inward organ of receptivity was lacking, and "so the spiritual idiom in which he spake was not spiritually understood" (Alford). The Divine significance of the whole word of Christ, the new and strange doctrines of Messiah, of redemption, of the Father, of a sacrifice and death on the part of the Son of man for the salvation of the world excited their animosity and bitter antipathies. They were not conscious of any of the need he came to satisfy, and so they failed to apprehend the entire manner of his revelation. They were from beneath (John 8:23). He is disclosing heavenly things. "Their ears have they closed, lest they should hear."
Ye are of the father who is the devil. In this way the great bulk of the best commentators translate this difficult clause, Hilgenfeld, Volkmar, and Davidson translate, "You are of the father of the devil;" and suggest that here the evangelist betrays his fierce Gnostic (Ophite) antagonism to the Jews, and adopts the view that the God of the Old Testament, the "Creator," was the Father of the serpent. This is surely untenable. The Creator of all things, in the prologue, is none other than the Father acting through the Logos. In the third, fourth, and fifth chapters, the greatest honours are ascribed to the God of the Jewish people, and not the faintest hint given of such radical divergence from the standpoint of Judaism. In this very passage the father of the faithful Jews is spoken of with profound reverence. "The second-century Gnostic" must have so cleverly concealed his sentiments, and have refuted his position so frequently, that it is inexcusably inept for him to have shown his cloven foot on this occasion. Thoma ignores the wild conjecture of Hilgenfeld. Our Lord was not dealing with the parentage of the devil, but with the moral and religious parentage of those Jews who were manifesting the most bitter antagonism to himself and plotting his destruction. For them to claim spiritual kinship and childlike feeling to the Father whose holy nature and whose love to them he was revealing, was a strange contradiction in terms. Our Lord repudiated it in this terrible language. He had worsted the seductive suggestions of the devil, and when he saw and heard them repeated and set forth as Divine proposals, he gave them their true name. "You disclaim the faintest sympathy with other gods; you resent the bar sinister on your escutcheon; you say that religiously as well as historically you are not born of any fornication—there is no taint in your theological position; but I tell you plainly that you are from, you are manifesting the very essence and substance of, the father who is the prime enemy of God and man. The phrase is in perfect keeping with many synoptic phrases (Matthew 13:38; Matthew 23:15; cf. John the Baptist's language, Matthew 3:7). And the lusts of your father—those of falsehood and murder, lying and slaughter, being the top and chief of all his evil passions—ye are willing, desirous to do. He has engendered these very lusts within you. The paternity of your angry passions, your incapacity to see and accept my word, are both alike explained. There is no more terrible rebuke in the whole compass of revelation. The disciple whom Jesus loved, in preserving these words, shows very decidedly that he was a "Son of Thunder," and calls down fire from heaven (a very storm) which has been ever since descending upon the heads of these and all other bitter antagonists of the Son of man. He was a murderer (literally, a manslayer) from the beginning. This has often been referred to the spirit which animated Cain in the slaughter of his brother Abel. There is some corroboration of such a reference in 1 John 3:12, "Cain was ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ of that wicked one, and slew his brother;" and in the language of 1 John 3:15, "Whoso hateth his brother is a murderer." (So Lucke, Reuss, De Wette, and others.) But the narrative of the death of Abel makes no reference to the agency of the devil, but rather indicates that the sin of Cain was originated by his having been begotten in the image of the fallen Adam. The better interpretation and reference of the words may be seen in 1 John 3:8, "He that doeth sin is from the devil ( ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου), for the devil sinneth from the beginning ( ἀπ ἀρχῆς)." And sin entered into the world through the seduction and false statements of the devil, by which the first man was veritably slain, his moral nature killed outright. Grace was not shut out, but Adam died. In the day that he ate of the forbidden tree, man most surely and in the deepest sense died. "God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. Nevertheless, through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of its side do find it" (Wis. 2:23, 24; Revelation 12:9); "Sin entered into the world, and death by sin" (Romans 5:12). The work of destruction at the beginning of humanity upon earth has never been exhausted. In murderous propensity, in lying and seductive words and ways, the children of wrath are ever showing their parentage. To this statement our Lord added what has by many been regarded as a distinct revelation of the fall of Satan himself from the condition of rectitude (cf. Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4). He stands not; continues not—in the truth. Jesus presupposes the fall of this mighty and murderous spirit from a previous condition of rectitude, and the dictum of our Lord ought never to have been charged with the admission of an eternal principle of evil. The fall of the lost angels is not explicitly stated. Because there is no truth in him. The absence of the article before "truth" shows that in the previous clause the objective truth is meant, that the reality of things as known by him is referred to. The truth was that region or sphere of action in which he elected not to stand, and, as a matter of fact, does not stand nor find place. By "truth" is meant subjective truth or "truthfulness," the spirit which repudiates falsehood in all its forms and manifestations. There is no consistency with himself, no inward harmony with reality. This is given as reason why the devil stands not in the truth. Whensoever £ he speaketh a lie, he speaketh ( λαλεῖ) from ( ἐκ, out of) his own resources—from what is most entirely his own, revealing the depth of his truthless, loveless, fatal, godless nature. Schaff quotes from Gothe's 'Faust' the account which Mephistopheles gives of his own being. Here it is in Kegan Paul's translation—
"I am the spirit, who aye deny!
And rightly so; for everything
Is only good for perishing;
So better 'twere that nought had been,
And, therefore, all that you call sin
Ruin, whate'er with evil's rife
Is my true element of life."
Gothe exactly expressed the ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων by "mein eigentliches element." Because he is a liar, and the father of the liar. This translation makes the αὐτοῦ refer to τεύστης, which is the most natural antecedent (so Bengel, Meyer, Lange, Godet, etc.), notwithstanding the difficulty of the construction. This language asserts not only the agelong proof which history gives of the falsehood of this terrible personality, but declares that he exerts an evil paternity in the life of every liar. "Brood of vipers" is a phrase used by John Baptist and Christ himself when addressing Pharisees. The well known imagery of the first promise, "I will put enmity between her seed and thy seed," etc., suggests the same thought. There is an awful significance in this power of the devil to sow his deadly seed in human life, and to produce thus, on the soil of human nature, "children of the wicked one" (cf. Paul's language, Acts 13:10, addressed to Elymas, υἱὲ διαβόλου, "son of the devil"). Another translation makes αὐτοῦ refer to ψεῦδος: He is a liar, and the father of falsehood, or thereof (Revised version); thus drawing an abstract out of the concrete ψεύστης, or possibly referring to the first he which slew the spiritual life of men—to the "Ye shall not surely die" of Genesis 3:4. It is against this view that our Lord is here dealing with persons rather than with abstractions. Westcott and Moulton and Revised version in margin have given indefiniteness to the subject of the verb λαλῇ, and translate, "Whensoever one [or, 'a man'] speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for his father also is a liar;" the idea being that the evil inheritance from the father of lies has even made falsehood the essential element, the proprium, of the liar. This, however, appears to involve a very complicated thought. The ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων, if strictly spoken, contradicts the idea of the liar's peculiarities being the result of inheritance. Still less satisfactory is the vain endeavour of the Gnostics, who found here a second reference to the father of the devil. They discovered in some Italic versions, and in the usage of some of the Fathers, καθὼς καί, in place of καὶ, and so took it to mean, "he is a liar, as also his father." Higenfeld and volkmar have fastened upon this text also, and thus found further proof of Gnostic (Ophite) heresy in the Gospel. Riggenbach and Godet have remarked that, if the father of the devil was spoken of in the previous clause, "his father" would mean "the father of the father of the devil"! We have already seen how groundless such a charge against the Gospel is, and how such a rendering would throw the entire context into confusion. If we accept the first translation, we find that our Lord announces a doctrine concerning the devil, and conveys more information than can be obtained from any other source. This is not mere accommodation to the consciousness of a daemoniac or the prejudices of the Jews, as some have interpreted Christ's language in the synoptic Gospels, but it is distinct dogmatic teaching about the personality, character, and method of the devil.
Then, turning to these children of the wicked one, Christ delivered a tremendous denunciation: But because I say the truth—because I am the Organ, Utterance, and Incarnation of the truth—ye believe me not. If he spake lies to them, they would greedily receive them. The very cause of their lack of credence is the utterance of truth. The "I" is emphatic, and set over against the "you" of the second clause. There is a tragic force about this charge almost unparalleled, implying the most wilful estrangement from God, a rejection of known truth because it was truth, a love of darkness because it was darkness, a moral obtuseness which answers to the terrible language, "Lest they should see with their eyes," etc.
Which of you convieteth me of sin? ἐλέγχω is used in the sense of John 16:6-8 (see note)—Which of you can justify a charge of sin against me? can bring it home to me or others? Sin ( ἁμαρτία) is not mere "error," as Erasmus and some others have urged, because the word throughout the New Testament (and in the classics when not accompanied by some explanatory term) always means "contrariety to the will of God," moral offence not intellectual defect (so Meyer, Luthardt, Godet, Westcott). Nor is it sound exegesis to limit ἁμαρτία to one particular form of sin (such as "false doctrine," Calvin, Melancthon, Tholuck). There is no need to limit its reference; and in the unanswered query, while we cannot say that by itself this passage is sufficient to demonstrate the sinlessness of Christ, it reveals a sublime depth in his translucent consciousness that places him—unless he were the most deluded or self-sufficient of human teachers—on a different position from all other Divine messengers. In proportion as other great moral prophets have set their own standard high, they have become conscious of their own defects; and from Moses to St. Paul, from Augustine to St. Francis, the saintliest men have been the most alive to their own departures from their ideas of right. The standard of Jesus is higher than that of any other, and he appears nevertheless absolutely without need of repentance, above the power of temptation, beyond the range of conviction. True, the Jews brought a charge of madness and folly upon him immediately; but, so far from convincing him or mankind, they stand forever covered with the shame of their own incompetence to apprehend his message or himself. He being, then, without sin, and assuming that he stands in the eternal truth, and is the absolute Truth of things, and that he cannot from his moral purity deceive or misinform them, and that his testimony to himself is final, sufficient, and trustworthy, asks, If I say the truth—without your having convicted me of sin or brought any moral obliquity or offence against me—if I say (the) truth, why do ye not believe me? The reason is in them rather than in him. Their non-belief discloses no flaw in his revelation, but makes it evident that they and he are on different planes of being, with a discrepant, opposed, moral paternity. "Why do ye not believe me?" He marvelled at their unbelief! He is from God; they are from God's great enemy. The moral perfection of Jesus as the God-Man is absolutely necessary to his character as "God's Lamb," as "the Only Begotten," "the Son," and as "the Judge," of the human race. As he subsequently said, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing fit me." To account for this sinless, perfect humanity, the entire conception of the Divine nature blended in indissoluble union with his own is found imperative at every epoch of Christ's life. At every development of his official character, in every new combination of circumstance, in conflict and sorrow, when smarting from treachery and dying alone upon the cross, he is "perfect," he fulfils the perfect norm, he reaches the standard of Divine humanity. There is no discrepance here with even Mark's account of his language to the young ruler (Mark 10:18), for he does not there say that he is not good, nor does he do other than suggest that he is identified with the One who is good.
(6) THE I AM. The claim to be the Source of liberty and life, in reply to those who appealed to their Father God and their father Abraham, led Jesus to assert his anteriority to Abraham.
There was some pause after this searching inquiry. Silence showed that, if they could not convince him of sin, they were ready with no answer to his question. He assumes that his word is unanswerable; he is what he says he is, and is able to set men free from sin and to give them eternal life. Their position is still further explained by a distinct syllogism, of which the major premiss is: He that is of God heareth the words of God; words which it is obviously taken for granted he is freely, surely uttering. Who are the persons referred to? Some, like Hilgenfeld, discover here a Manichaean, Gnostic sense—"those who are essentially of a Divine origin and spiritual nature," are absolutely different from those who are of the psychic or hylic nature. Thus they cut away all force from the moral reproof which follows. Others insist that here Jesus speaks of the regenerated man, the true child of God, who has power to believe, who has come to the Father, being predestinated unto eternal life. Even this interpretation does not leave sufficiently ample play to the human freedom, and the personal self-responsibility, which pervades the teaching of the gospel. Elsewhere he speaks of these who are "of the truth" and "hear his voice," of "those whom the Father draws" to him by the very love and grace which he, the Son, lavishes upon them (see notes, John 6:37, John 6:44; John 18:37; John 17:6, John 17:9, John 17:11). He also speaks of those who come to him being given to him. He is here contemplating this wide class, who are scattered through all time and places, with susceptible minds capable of hearing freely, and believing when they hear, the words of God. For this cause ye hear them not, because ye are not of God; i.e. seeing that ye do not hear the words of God, it is evident that ye are not of God. They are not excluded from becoming so by any irreversible fate, but their present obtuseness of spiritual perception, their refusal to accept truth on its clearest exposition, shows that they are not born of God; they are not being drawn to him by inworking of the Father's grace. The very form of the expression was once more meant to touch their conscience.
But it brought from them a shout of derision and a burst of scornful mockery. The Jews answered and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a daemon? They imagine that the bare charge that they, the leaders of Israel, are "not of God," and that they reveal the fact by their inability to hear the words of God then sounding in their ears, was flat heresy, a gross lack of patriotism, and proved that, in his lofty self-assertion, he was no better than a Samaritan—the most hated of their neighbours. They return a harsh tu-quoque to our Lord's refusal to admit their Abrahamic descent, and his condemnation of their utter moral dissimilarity from their putative father. The sentence, "a Samaritan art thou!" is singularly insulting in its tone and form. We cannot measure the exact amount of insult they condensed into this word, whether it be of heresy, or alienation from Israel, or accusation of impure descent. It is remarkable that our Lord had shown special kindness to Samaritans (John 4:1-54.), and had made in his parable "the good Samaritan" the type of neighbourly love; but these very Jews had, in the height of this controversy, accused him of being a "Galilaean," and it is not probable that they used the term otherwise than as a soubriquet of scorn. Edersheim would translate into Aramaic the language here cited, and finds in its form Shomroni the real interpretation of its meaning. Shomron is, according to him, used in rabbinical writing for Ashmedai, and in the cabbalists is used for Sammael or Satan. Arabian traditions are brought in to confirm this interpretation of the speech, which he regards as equivalent to "Thou art a child of the devil," thus retorting upon Jesus the charge that they were doing the works of their father, the devil. The one expression is thought by Edersheim equivalent to that which follows, thou hast a daemon; and his explanation is thought to cover our Lord's silence respecting it. In our opinion this is far-fetched and unnatural. Christ's silence is better justified by his refusal to regard such a term as conveying opprobrium, tic had risen above the distinction of race, and could afford to despise the taunt. In John 7:20 (see note) a similar charge had been made by the angry Jews. The Lord is accused of being mastered by some daemon, who is perverting his mind and confusing his speech. Some further force is added to the charge from the language of the Talmud, 'Jebamoth,' fol. 47, a: "R. Nachman, son of Isaac, said to a Samaritan, 'Thou art a Cuthite, and testimony from thy mouth has no validity.'"
To this Jesus answered, in calm and patient remonstrance, I have not a daemon. No strange or evil power haunts me; I am perfectly clear in my consciousness. Once before, when accused of complicity with Beelzebub, he had retorted with awful solemnity, and an appeal to the conscience of his enemies and to the patent facts of his own warfare with all the kingdom of Satan. It is interesting to observe that he takes no notice of the charge, "Thou art a Samaritan." If the above suggestion of Edersheim were accepted, the silence would be explained; but it was more probably occasioned by Christ's unwillingness to repudiate fellowship with this persecuted nationality. The parable of the good Samaritan was probably delivered about this time. Here he simply repudiated the second charge, and added, But I honour my Father, in declaring that these words of his would be acceptable to you if you were of God (John 8:47), and (the καὶ strengthens the contrast between the two clauses rather than between: the "I" and "you")—and, while I am doing honour to my Father, ye are dishonouring me; for you are casting these reproaches upon me, refusing my offers of mercy, freedom, and life, veritable revelations though they be of the heart of the Father.
But, in honouring my Father, and in quietly bearing your unjustifiable reproaches, I am not seeking my glory (cf. John 8:28, John 8:42; John 7:18). The claim of Christ to be and do so much is made because he has the happiness of the world, the salvation and life of men, and the glory of the Father as his consuming passion. He is not seeking his own glory; he is only crowning himself with the crown of utter self-abnegation. But, while he repudiates all care for his own glory, he knows that, there is One to whom that glory is dear, who seeketh his glory, and with whom it is perfectly safe, and who judgeth with absolute impartiality and infinite knowledge. Westcott quotes in illustration of ὁ ζητῶν, Philo on Genesis 42:22, "He that seeketh [maketh inquisition for blood] is not man, but God, or the Logos, or the Divine Law" ('De Jos.,' 29).
Verily, verily. This impressive recommencement of discourse implies that a new turn is given to the conversation, and that the gravest solemnity and importance is attached to the utterance. It is impossible that the Jews should have listened unmoved to Christ's rejoinder on their rude taunt, or been unimpressed by the self-composed and lofty way in which the honour of our Lord was calmly entrusted by him to the Father. The Jews may say what they please, call him by any opprobrious name they choose; "there is One that seeketh" his glory, and he is content. He has, in earlier portions of this discourse, promised freedom and sonship to those who abide in his word; and now to those who believed on him he says, with extraordinary emphasis, If a man (any one) have kept my word, he shall never behold death. This "keeping" is more than "abiding" in the word. There is the additional notion of intently watching the "keeping," which issues in "fulfilling" and "obeying" (Meyer and Tholuck); see John 8:55; John 14:15, John 14:21, John 14:23; John 15:20; John 17:6. The opposite of τηρεῖν would be "to disregard;" the opposite of φυλάσσειν would be "to let slip" (Westcott). The promise is dazzling: "He shall never behold," i.e. steadily or exhaustively know by experience, what death means and is. He may pass through physical death, he may ( γεύσηται) taste of dissolution, he may come before the judgment seat, he may see corruption ( ἰδεῖν διαφθοράν); but he will not behold ( θεωρεῖν) death. He will never know what death is (cf. here; John 4:14; John 5:24; John 6:51, where the Saviour speaks of the "living water," and "life eternal," and "living bread," which whoso partaketh shall never die.. See also John 11:26). He does not tell his disciples that they shall not see the grave, but that in the deepest sense they shall never die. "Death" and "life" are words that are lifted into a higher connotation. Death is a moral state, not an event in their physical existence.
The Jews—the adverse dominant party, ready always to misunderstand his words—(then
The woman caught in adultery.
This narrative, if not inspired Scripture, bears all the traces of a genuine tradition.
I. THE PLOT OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES. They brought to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery, and demanded his judgment concerning her act. "They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the Law commanded us, that such should be stoned: what sayest thou?"
1. Theft conduct was not dictated by their abhorrence of this sin; for all evidence goes to show flint Roman looseness had penetrated into every part of the Jewish community. Besides, if they had been sincere, they would have taken her to the lawful judge.
2. It was not due to any extreme respect they entertained for the Law of Moses; for they had on this question made it practically void by their traditions. Instead of putting the adulteress to death, they deprived her of her dowry and divorced her.
3. Their true motive was "that they might have to accuse him."
(a) If he answered that the woman should be stoned, he brought himself into collision with the Roman government, which retained the power of life and death in its own hands, and in any case did not punish adultery with death.
(b) If he answered that she should not be stoned, he would be charged with opposing the Law of Moses, and would thus be represented by the Sanhedrin as a false Messiah; for the true Messiah was to establish the supremacy of the Law.
II. MARK HOW OUR LORD BAFFLED HIS WILY QUESTIONERS.
1. He appears at first to disregard their appeal to his judgment; for he began to write upon the ground, and appeared to be absorbed in the act. His silence provokes them to insist upon an answer.
2. The answer is at once definite and effective. "Let him that is without sin first cast a stone at her."
(a) He does not arrogate the right of a civil magistrate either to decree or inflict punishment. He once before declined to become a divider between two brothers in the matter of their inheritance.
(b) He disarmed the self-constituted judges of the woman, by carrying the question into a sphere in which they were themselves brought into judgment. Accordingly, they shrank in his presence from asserting their sinlessness; and they disappeared, one by one, from the scene, leaving the woman alone with Jesus.
III. OUR LORD'S TREATMENT OF THE WOMAN. "Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said to her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."
1. Our Lord's question does not excuse her sin, nor imply any connivance at it, but is designed to lead her to serious thoughts of it.
2. The woman does not deny her sin.
3. Our Lord's saying does not imply forgiveness. "It is a declaration of sufferance, not of justification," and is designed to lead her to repentance and faith.
Jesus the Light of the world.
As he had applied to himself one of the typical miracles of the wilderness, so here he represents himself as the antitype of the fiery pillar that led the Israelites during their long pilgrimage.
I. JESUS AS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. "I am the Light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of life."
1. Jesus was a Light to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. (Isaiah 42:6.) Like the sun, his light is diffused through all nations of the earth.
2. He is the Light of truth to the understanding. "In thy light shall they see light" (Psalms 36:9). The Light of truth to the understanding, the Light of love to the heart, the Light of righteousness to the conscience.
3. He is the Light of glory. "The Lamb is the Light thereof" (Revelation 21:23). Happy, therefore, are they who are his followers now!
II. THE BLESSING OF THOSE WHO FOLLOW THE LIGHT.
1. It is a blessing for those who are moving forward, not for those who are going backward into darkness.
2. The believer will not walk in darkness.
(a) There is danger in darkness.
(b) There is discomfort in darkness.
(c) There is fear in darkness.
(a) of ignorance, for once he knew not what he was, where he was, or whither he was going;
(b) of error, for he walks in the truth of the gospel;
(c) of unbelief, for he walks by faith in Christ;
(d) of sin, for he sees Christ and enjoys the blessed promise, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."
3. The believer shall have the Light of life.
The objection of the Pharisees, and the answer of our Lord.
"Thou bearest testimony to thyself; thy testimony is not true."
1. Superficially regarded, the objection was one of which Jesus himself had admitted the force. "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true" (John 5:31). In that case he had spoken of himself as mere man. Now he speaks of himself in his Divine nature.
2. But the essential characteristic of Christ's being was that he was, as the Light, self-manifesting. He was himself his own evidence. The Jews were standing in the light of day; they did not need any proof that the sun had risen.
3. Our Lord's answer claims his true position.
(a) He knows that he came from heaven—that the "Son of man descended from heaven;"
(b) that he is "to go away" to heaven as his home.
(a) They imagined him robe the Son of Joseph and Mary.
(b) They interpreted his words about "going away" to mean his departure among the Gentiles, or to mean suicide itself.
(c) Their judgment was based upon appearances. "You judge after the flesh." They deemed him to he no more than an ordinary man, a sinner like themselves. If they had any spiritual discernment, they would have recognized his Divine nature.
(d) His judgment was not single and alone. "I judge no one. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: because I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me." The Pharisees formed their judgment without seeking higher guidance; but he did not judge apart from his Father. He but delivers to the world the judgment of his Father.
(e) His judgment followed the full prescription of the Mosaic Law. "And it is moreover written in your Law, that the testimony of two men is true." There was the double witness of himself and his Father. "I am One that bear witness concerning myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me."
( α) His miracles and his words were his own witnesses.
( β) The Father's witness was borne in prophecy, in the voice at the baptism and at the transfiguration, as well as in all the miracles of his personal ministry.
John 8:19, John 8:20
The scornful rejoinder of the Pharisees.
"Where is thy Father?"
I. THE APPEAL TO AN UNSEEN AND ABSENT WITNESS DOES NOT SATISFY THE ENEMIES OF JESUS. They ask not, "Who is thy Father?" but "Where is thy Father?" that he may be produced before us as a witness to thy claims.
II. OUR LORD'S ANSWER. "Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye would have known my Father also."
1. Their ignorance of Christ's Divine nature was patent all along.
2. Their ignorance of the Father was necessitated morally by their ignorance of the Son; for it is he who reveals the Father. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" "No man can know the Father, but he to whom the Son reveals him." The eye of faith needed to supplement the eye of sense.
III. THE PUBLICITY AND BOLDNESS OF OUR LORD'S TEACHING. "These words spake Jesus, as he taught near the treasury in the temple."
1. Therefore in the very centre of Jewish life, under the very eyes of the Sanhedrin.
2. The Jews, though ready to destroy him, were restrained by conscience and by public opinion from "laying their hands upon him."
3. The hour of our Lord was not yet come.
A warning to the Jews of the importance of the present hour.
It was, probably, in the last day of the feast that our Lord uttered this warning.
I. THE SOLEMN ISSUES THAT HUNG UPON HIS CONTINUED SOJOURN WITH THE JEWS. "I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and ye shall die in your sin: whither I go, ye cannot come."
1. Their rejection of him would close heaven against them. They could not possibly enter into that "rest" on account of their unbelief.
2. His death was a matter fixed by the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." Through death he is to pass upward to his kingdom and glory.
3. The Jewish search after him would be in the day of their overwhelming despair, and would be fruitless because not in the way of faith.
4. The separation between Jesus and the Jews would be made perpetual by their sin. "Ye shall die in your sin." The sin was that of unbelief, in "departing from the living God." "If ye believe not that I am, ye shall die in your sins."
II. THE SPIRIT OF SCORNFUL LEVITY WITH WHICH THESE ISSUES ARE TREATED BY THE JEWS. "Will he kill himself? for he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come?"
1. There is an evident increase in Jewish bitterness. Lately they asked—Would he go as a Messiah to the Gentiles? now they ask—Would he go to the dead?
2. They insinuate that to follow him to the grave is out of the question. If he killed himself, he would find himself in hell; they, on the ether hand, expected to find themselves at death in Abraham's bosom.
3. The question reveals the deepening moral separation between Jesus and his enemies.
III. THE CAUSE OF THEIR INABILITY EITHER TO FOLLOW OR TO UNDERSTAND HIM. "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore said I unto you, that ye shall die in your sins."
1. They belonged to a different sphere from himself. His origin and nature were from heaven; their origin and nature were from earth. There could, therefore, be no moral understanding between them. "They were alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that was in them" (Ephesians 4:23).
2. Fatal effect of this worldly nature. "For if ye believe not that I am, ye shall die in your sins." As following the course of this world, as minding earthly things, but, above all, as refusing to recognize his essential Divinity, they were separated from him who was the true Source of life, and were doomed to die in their sins.
IV. THE RENEWAL OF THEIR SCORNFUL QUESTIONING. "Then said they unto him, Who art thou? Jesus saith to them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning."
1. How indurated was the unbelief of the Jews! They had received "line upon line, precept upon precept," and yet they rejected Christ.
2. How utterly without excuse was their unbelief! They had heard but one consistent declaration of truth, ever growing in clearness and fulness; yet there was no spiritual or intellectual response to this teaching.
A still clearer revelation in store for them.
I. JESUS HAS A STILL FULLER REVELATION TO GIVE THEM OF THEIR MORAL CONDITION. I have many things to say and to judge concerning you."
1. His judgment is true. "But he that sent me is true." He only declares the judgment of his Father concerning their actions.
2. The Jews could not recognize the Divine origin of this judgment. "They understood not that he spake to them of the Father."
II. HIS CRUCIFIXION WOULD MAKE MANY THINGS CLEAR TO THEIR MINDS. "When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself." That dreadful event would reveal the secrets of many hearts.
1. He recognizes the Jews as the future instruments of his crucifixion. Verily it was "with wicked hands" they slew him (Acts 2:23).
2. Though he was to be crucified in weakness, yet he was to live by the power of God.
3. His death was the gateway to his ascension glory.
4. His death would establish the absolute unity of purpose and action that existed between himself and his lather.
5. The effect of the Son's obedience to his Father's will. "The Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him." The Father's presence is not accounted for merely by the Son's active and perfect obedience, but is the spring and principle of it.
The bondage of the Jews, and the source of true liberty.
The effect of the previous discourse was remarkable.
I. THE INTELLECTUAL ACCEPTANCE OF JESUS BY THE JEWS. "As he spake these words, many believed on him." They accepted his statements, and believed him to be the Messiah. They were not, however, true believers, because Jesus afterwards represents them as seeking to kill him (John 8:37).
II. THE COUNSEL OF OUR LORD TO THE NEW CONVERTS. "If ye continue in my Word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
1. The necessity of steadfastness in the truth.
2. The blessed privilege of steadfast disciples. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
(a) This was more than freedom from Roman rule, which was expected to fall with the advent of the Messiah.
(b) As evil has its stronghold in darkness, the light of truth destroys it, and thus the Christian is freed from ignorance and error, and the indisposition to all good.
Misapprehension of the disciples corrected.
I. THEIR STRANGE MISCONCEPTION. "They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?"
1. We cannot imagine the speakers to be capable of the absurdity of making a historical misstatement. The facts of Jewish history were universally known at Jerusalem. The Jews could not deny the Egyptian, Babylonian, Syrian, and Roman conquests. They either referred to the civil liberty which they had long enjoyed, or they meant to assert that they had never recognized their conquerors or acquiesced in their dominion.
2. Yet there was a serious misunderstanding springing from their prevailingly carnal tone. They seemed as yet unable to recognize the inner bondage of soul which is dissolved by grace.
II. OUR LORD'S ELUCIDATION OF THE MYSTERY. "Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin."
1. He refers to the habitual sinner, not to the man who commits an individual act of transgression. Such a man gives himself to sin, sells himself to work wickedness, and takes pleasure in sin.
2. Every sinner has a master, who has dominion over him, and gives wages to his servants. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:22), because he obeys it in the lusts thereof.
3. Perfect freedom is only to be enjoyed in perfect harmony with the Divine will, inasmuch as slavery to sin implies a false relationship to God.
4. Mark the contrasted situations of the servant and the Son. "And the servant abideth not in the house forever: the Son abideth ever."
(a) from guilt and condemnation;
(b) from the dominion of sin;
(c) from the accusing voice of the Law;
(d) from the darkness of ignorance and error;
(e) it is freedom of access to God at all times (Ephesians 2:18);
(f) it holds out the expectation of the glorious liberty of sons of God hereafter (Romans 8:21).
The spiritual parentage of the faithless Jews.
Jesus does not deny their legitimate descent from Abraham. Truth must be conceded to an adversary.
I. THEIR MORAL PARENTAGE CANNOT BE TRACED TO ABRAHAM. "But ye seek to kill me, because my Word makes no progress in you."
1. Our Lord concedes that his Word had somehow made an entrance, but national prejudices hindered its thorough acceptance in heart as well as mind.
2. The explanation of the resistance given to the full power of the truth. "As for me, I speak that which I have seen with the Father: and ye do the things which ye have heard from your father."
(a) perfect and
(a) The devil is actively engaged in misleading those who have accepted the truth even intellectually.
(b) The unstable nature is very open to evil guidance.
II. THE PERSISTENCY OF THE JEWISH CLAIM TO A PURE ABRAHAMIC DESCENT. "Abraham is our father."
1. The Jews already claimed an interest in the Abrahamic inheritance. "We be Abraham's seed." They now claimed the dignity and security of a personal relationship.
2. We are all too prone
(a) to pride ourselves on our external privileges,
(b) and it is a danger to souls to rely upon them.
III. THE PRACTICAL TEST APPLIED TO THIS CLAIM. "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham."
1. The child is supposed to bear the ethical stamp of the father's character. Moral descent is inconsistent with contrariety of action. Abraham was remarkable
2. The Jews practically repudiated their Abrahamic relationship by their conduct. "But now ye seek to kill me, a Man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard from God?" There was an evil gradation in their conduct.
IV. OUR LORD ASSERTS A DIFFERENT PARENTAGE FOR THE JEWS. "Ye do the deeds of your father." The Jews begin to discern that a spiritual father is meant, and accordingly shift their ground to meet the new contention of our Lord.
1. The Jews claim a, Divine fatherhood. "We are not born of fornication; we have but one Father, God."
2. Our Lord manifests the groundlessness of their claim. "If God were your Father, ye would love me."
(a) of Christ's Divine Sonship and his incarnation—"For I proceeded forth and came from God;" and
(b) of his mission as Mediator—"Neither came I of myself, but he sent me." Had the Jews loved Christ, they would have recognized the Divine character of his Person and his work.
3. Our Lord expiators their ignorance of his language. "Why do ye not recognize my language? Because ye cannot understand my Word."
V. OUR LORD ASSERTS THE TRUE PARENTAGE OF THE JEWS WITHOUT DISGUISE. "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye desire to do."
1. It was an act of courage as well as faithfulness to make such an assertion.
2. It was an assertion founded on truth, for it was justified by a right interpretation of their conduct. The Jews manifested the two traits of the devil's character—hatred of man and aversion. to the truth. Let men pretend what they will, their conduct must be taken as the test of their character.
3. The character here assigned to the Jews is not due to the parent, but to the children; for they "desired to do the lusts of their father."
VI. THE PORTRAIT OF THE DEVIL. "He has been a murderer from the beginning, and stood not in the truth, because there is no truth in him."
1. The words imply that the devil is an evil spirit, and not a mere personification of evil.
2. The existence of the devil is no more inconsistent with the holiness or goodness of God then the existence of evil men on earth.
3. There are two characteristics of the devil.
(a) He brought death into the world by his subtlety and falsehood (2 Corinthians 11:3).
(b) He has had a long history as a murderer. His first act was in Paradise. He instigated Cain's murder of his brother. He prompted the act of Judas Iscariot to secure the death of Christ. He still tempts sinners to their destruction.
(a) Because he fell from the truth himself, and from that holiness that marks the realm of truth.
(b) The reason of his fall is his utter falseness. "There is no truth in him." He does not dwell in the sphere of truth, because he is subjectively out of all sympathy and relation to it.
(c) The effect of his falseness. "When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh from his own resources: for he is a liar, and the father of the liar."
( α) The devil, in contrast with the Holy Spirit, who speaketh not of himself, but of the things given him of God. elaborates his lies out of the immense storehouse of his own creative ingenuity.
( β) He was the first liar, as he was the first murderer; he was a liar first, because by his lies he deceived our first parents to their destruction. He was the first author of a lie. The first lie, "Thou shalt not surely die," was uttered by the devil.
( γ) He is the father of a large family—he is "the father of the liar"—a character
(i) full of deceit,
(ii) odious to God and man,
(iii) doomed to feel the bitterness of distrust in this life,
(iv) and to be "cast into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone" (Revelation 20:10).
VII. THE PROOF OF THE DEVIL'S INFLUENCE OVER THE JEWISH MIND. "And as for me, because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not."
1. As the opposition between Christ and the devil is the opposition between truth and falsehood, it manifests itself in the children of the two respectively.
2. If Jesus had spoken falsehood, the Jews would have believed him.
3. The unbelief of the Jews had a moral ground. It is true psychologically to speak of "the evil heart of unbelief."
4. Christ's moral conduct afforded no suggestion unfavourable to the truth of his doctrine. "Which of you convinceth me of sin?"
5. The unreasonableness of continued unbelief. "And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?' If I am no sinner, and nothing in my conduct injures the purity of my testimony to the truth, you are still more obstinately unreasonable in refusing to believe me.
6. The final explanation of Jewish unbelief. "He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God."
The indignant retort of the Jews.
Our Lord's last words inflamed their spirits beyond endurance.
I. THEIR INSOLENT RETORT. "Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?"
1. The words suggest that they regarded Jesus as their national enemy, estranged from the hopes of Israel, and withal a rejecter of the full revelation made by God. The term "Samaritan" was always used by the Jews in an insulting sense.
2. The imputation that he had a devil implied that he was a fanatic and misguided enthusiast, influenced by essentially evil principles.
II. OUR LORD'S REPLY TO THE RETORT. "I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me."
1. Jesus takes no notice of the imputation of his Samaritanism. That was pure insult, for the Jews knew that he was a Galilaean. "He, when he was reviled, reviled not again, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23). He teaches soon after that a Samaritan may be more truly a child of God than either priest or Levite. He thus makes light of the distinction of race which breathed so largely in Jewish conceptions.
2. He denies the imputation that he has a devil, because it was important to assure them that his words were those, not of wild or dark fanaticism, but of truth and soberness.
3. The true motive of his mission is not hatred to the Jews, but the honour due to his Father.
4. The union of Father and Son involved, through their faithless attitude, a deep dishonour to himself; for by refusing to honour the Father, they withheld the honour due to him, who is the Son and the Sent of the Father.
5. Yet the insults offered to himself would be divinely judged. "And I seek not mine own glory: there is One that seeketh and judgeth."
Deliverance of the believer from death.
The dialogue now takes a new turn.
I. THE BLESSED PROMISE MADE TO THE OBEDIENT DISCIPLE. "If a man keep my Word, he shall never see death." he evidently now addresses those Jews who believe in him.
1. The character of discipleship. It
2. The blessed destiny of discipleship.
II. FRESH MISAPPREHENSION OF THE JEWS. "Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? whom makest thou thyself?"
1. The Jews argued that Abraham and the prophets had kept God's Word, yet were not exempted from the bitter experience of death. Therefore the declaration of Jesus seemed to prove his utter self-delusion.
2. Their question "Art thou greater than our father Abraham?" implies that they refused to regard Jesus as the Messiah, or as the Son of God, or even as a divinely sent Prophet.
III. JESUS DECLARES THERE IS NO COMPARISON BETWEEN ABRAHAM AND HIMSELF. "If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God."
1. The question of the relative dignity of himself and Abraham is not due to any personal ambition on his part, but in obedience to the will of his Father.
2. His higher dignity was due to his complete knowledge of his Father, and his perfect obedience to his will.
3. The true relation of Abraham to Christ. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad."
(a) to himself,
(b) to the Jews,
(c) to the world.
4. The joy of Abraham contrasts strangely with the hatred and malice excited by the visible presence of the same Redeemer among Abraham's descendants.
IV. A FRESH MISAPPREHENSION OF OUR LORD'S WORDS. "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?"
1. The Jews did not believe in Christ's preexistence. He was only the Son of Joseph and Mary.
2. His allusion to his age exaggerates the actual years of his life, probably because, as "the Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," he had aged fast in the hard stress of daily anxieties, caused by the increasing signs of Jewish hostility.
3. Our Lord's answer is an explicit revelation of his Divinity. "Before Abraham was, I am."
V. EFFECT OF THIS DECLARATION UPON THE JEWS. "Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple."
1. The Jews at last understood the meaning of our Lord's words.
2. Their attempt to stone him implied their definite rejection of him.
3. Jesus placed himself at once out of their reach, as "his time was not yet come."
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The accusers condemned and the accused absolved.
Whatever view be taken of the genuineness of this passage of the Gospel, there can be little doubt as to the authenticity of the narrative, and no doubt as to the justice of the picture it presents of the ministry and character of Jesus Christ.
I. HERE IS A REPRESENTATION OF THE SINFUL SOCIETY IN WHICH THE SAVIOUR DEIGNED TO MIX. The scene was the temple; the company gathered together were composed of those who wished to hear Jesus discourse, the motive of some being good, and that of others evil; the centre of the group was the Prophet of Nazareth, who claimed to be the world's Light and Salvation. The audience and the Speaker were interrupted by an incident which, however, afforded a remarkable opportunity for most characteristic and memorable teaching on the part of our Divine Lord.
1. We see a picture of human frailty. As the poor, trembling, shame-stricken woman was dragged into the temple precincts, she furnished a sad instance of the moral weakness of humanity. For although her seducer was probably a hundredfold guiltier than she, it cannot be questioned that the adulteress was to blame, as having infringed both Divine and human laws.
2. We see a picture of human censoriousness. Sinful though the woman was, it does not seem that those who were so anxious to overwhelm her with disgrace were impelled by a sense of duty. They seem to have been of those who delight in another's sin, who, instead of covering a fault, love to drag it into the light.
3. We see a picture of human malice. They sought to entrap Jesus into some utterance which might serve as a charge against him. It was impelled by this motive that they referred the case of the adulteress to him, who came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. Their concern for the public morals was trifling when compared with their malignant hatred of him who was morality incarnate.
II. HERE IS A REPRESENTATION OF THE MANNER IN WHICH THE SAVIOUR DEALT WITH HUMAN SIN.
1. He convinced the morally hardened and insensible, arousing their conscience, and compelling them to admit their own sinfulness. If the cunning of the Pharisees was great, the wisdom of the Saviour was greater still. He confounded their plot, and turned their weapons against themselves. Their own consciences witnessed against those who had been so anxious to condemn a fellow sinner.
2. He pardoned the penitent offender. The woman could not but feel how heinous had been her transgression, and in bow black colours it appeared to all who considered it aright. And all we know of Jesus assures us that he would never have forgiven, and dismissed in peace, one insensible of sin. She sorrowed over her fault; the presence of the pure and perfect Jesus was itself a rebuke and reproach to her, while his demeanour and language awakened her gratitude and restored her hopes, if not her self-respect.
3. He condemned and guarded against a repetition of the sin, in the admonition he pointedly addressed to her as she left him, "Sin no more."—T.
The world's true Light.
Whether this figurative language was suggested by the morning sun, as it rose in the east over the crown of Olivet, or by the great lamps which were, during the Feast of Tabernacles, kindled in the temple court at evening, in either case its appropriateness and beauty are manifest.
I. THIS SIMILITUDE EXHIBITS THE GLORY AND POWER OF CHRIST IN HIS OWN NATURE. Light is a form of universal force, proceeding from the sun, the vast reservoir of power, and acting by the motion of the ethereal medium in wave-like vibrations. Artificial light is only the same force stored up in the earth, and liberated for purposes of illumination. The sun may therefore be regarded as, for us, the centre and source of all light. By its rays we know the glories and beauties of earth and sea; and to them we are indebted, not only for knowledge, but for much enjoyment and for many practical advantages. If, then, anything created and material can serve as an emblem of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, this majestic luminary may well fulfil this purpose. He who first said, "Let there be light!" gave to mankind the great Sun of Righteousness who has arisen upon the world. None but the Divine Lord and Saviour of mankind could justly claim to be "the Light of the world."
II. THIS SIMILITUDE EXHIBITS THE BLESSINGS WHICH CHRIST BRINGS TO THE WORLD.
1. The world of humanity is in the darkness of ignorance, and the Lord Jesus brings to it heavenly knowledge. Christ is the true Light, instructing men who are very ignorant of God, of his designs of mercy, of the prospects of the future, and indeed of everything that is most important for man as a spiritual being to be acquainted with.
2. The world of humanity is in the darkness of sin, and the Lord Jesus brings to it the light of forgiveness and holiness. As when a dark dungeon is thrown open, so that the sunlight streams into it; so was it with the world when Christ came to the dark places of the earth, and irradiated them with his holy presence. They who sometime were darkness now became light in the Lord.
3. The world of humanity lay in the darkness of death; the Lord Jesus brought to it the light of life. Vitality is hindered by darkness, and is fostered by daylight; the plant which is pale and sickly in the cellar grows green and healthy when exposed to the sunshine. Mankind when in sin are liable to spiritual death. Christ introduces the principle of spiritual vitality, and they who partake of it, and pass from darkness into glorious light, bear in abundance the blossom of piety and the fruit of obedience.
4. The world of humanity is in darkness and danger; the Lord Jesus brings the light of safety. He is a Lamp to guide the searchers, a Lantern to light upon the path of safety, a Torch to those who explore the cavern, a Pharos to those who sail the stormy seas, a Harbour light to guide into the haven of peace, a Pole star to direct the wanderer's course, a Pillar of fire to light the nation's desert march. So our Saviour warns men of spiritual perils, directs their steps into spiritual safety, directs in circumstances of difficulty and perplexity, brings to eternal peace.
III. THE SIMILITUDE REMINDS US OF OUR DUTY WITH REFERENCE TO CHRIST.
1. To admire and adore the light. The old Persians worshipped the rising sun; Christians may well worship their glorious Lord.
2. To walk in the light. Let it be remembered that the sun shines in vain for those who conceal themselves from his beams; and that even to admire is not enough, if we fail to make use of the heavenly shining to guide our steps aright.
"Thou Sun of our day, thou Star of our night,
We walk by thy ray, we live in thy light;
Oh shine on us ever, kind, gracious, and wise,
And nowhere and never be hid from our eyes."
"Who art thou?"
The startling and authoritative language in which the Lord Jesus, in conversation and discussion with the unfriendly Jews of Jerusalem, spoke both of himself and of them, not unnaturally prompted this blunt yet pertinent inquiry.
I. THE QUESTION. The spirit in which this inquiry is urged makes all the difference as to the light in which it must be regarded.
1. It may be a spirit of mere idle curiosity.
2. It may be a spirit of historical inquiry, such as on the part of one for the first time brought into contact with Jesus would be becoming.
3. It may be prompted by perplexity and doubt. Many in our own day have listened first to one and then to another explanation of our Lord's nature and mission, until their minds have been utterly bewildered, and they know not what to think of him. It is welt that such disturbed souls should repair to the Lord himself, and, neglecting all that men say of him, should seriously and earnestly put to him the question, "Who art thou?"
4. Some put this question for the satisfaction of their spiritual needs. Quickened from spiritual deadness, and alive to their own inability to save themselves, such earnest inquirers repair to Christ in the hope of finding in him a Divine Saviour and Friend. From their burdened, anxious heart comes the entreaty for a gracious revelation. Not so much to solve a speculative doubt, as to satisfy a practical necessity and inner craving, they come to Jesus with the imploring cry, "Who art thou?"
II. THE REPLY OF THE REFLECTING OBSERVER. Inattention, prejudice, malice, may in various ways answer the question proposed; but none of these answers can be deemed worthy of our consideration. But the candid student of Christ's character and life comes to conclusions which, though in themselves incomplete and insufficient, are, as far as they go, credible and reasonable.
1. Jesus is the faultless, blameless Man, the holiest and the meekest of whom human history bears record. He alone could in conscious innocence make the appeal, "Who of you convicteth me of sin?"
2. Jesus is the perfect Model of benevolence and devotedness to the welfare of others. He "went about doing good;" and his ministry was not only a rebuke to human selfishness, it was an inspiration to self-denying beneficence. Thus much even the student of Jesus' character, who does not acknowledge his Divinity, will be prepared to concede, and will perhaps be forward to maintain. But the Christian goes further than this.
III. THE REPLY OF THE BELIEVING DISCIPLE. Such a one takes the answers which Jesus gave in the course of his ministry, as they are recorded by the evangelists, and deems our Lord's witness to himself worthy of all acceptation. Thus his reply is that of Christ himself. Proceeding upon this principle, the Christian believes Jesus to be:
1. The Son of God, who, according to his own statements, stood in a relation to the Father altogether unique.
2. The Saviour and Friend of man, who gave his life a ransom for many, dying that men might live in God forever.
3. The Lord and Judge of the moral universe, empowered and commissioned to reign until all foes shall be beneath his feet.—T.
Teaching and learning are the condition alike of the intellectual and of the moral life of humanity. All men who live do both, and good men do both well. Of the scholar of Oxenford, Chaucer says, "And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach." Christianity, being a Divine religion, accepts and adapts itself to this condition of our existence.
I. THE MASTER. Christ was acknowledged to be a Hebrew Rabbi, even a Prophet. But the enlightened knew him to be the Teacher and the Master of mankind. Witness his ministry, his sermons, his parables, his conversations and discourses. As a Master, he was wise, winning, patient. His vocation of teaching he continues to fulfil through human history. He is still and ever teaching men who are prepared to learn from him. And those who know him first as Teacher, come to know him afterwards in the other great mediatorial offices he sustains to man.
II. THE SCHOLARS. As the Pharisees had their disciples, and as John had his, so the Prophet of Nazareth gathered around him those who were docile and sympathetic, and communicated to them his truth, and bestowed upon them his spirit. Thus the twelve, the seventy, learned of him. Wherever Jesus went, he made disciples: women, as the woman of Samaria and Mary of Bethany; scholars, as Nicodemus; persons counted socially inferior, as Zacchaeus. After our Lord's ascension, "disciples" became a common designation of Christian people, as much as "saints" or "brethren," It justly remains such throughout this spiritual dispensation.
III. THE LESSONS. Christ himself has always been his own chief Lesson, far greater than any words can embody and convey. This appears from his own language, "Learn of me," and from the apostolic appeal, "Ye have not so learned Christ." His character and his Word are truth. In Christ his disciples learn
IV. THE STRAIT OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
1. Lowly, as regards ourselves, the learners.
2. Reverent, as regards him, the Teacher.
3. Diligent and persistent, as regards the lessons to be acquired.
4. Interested and appreciative, sympathetic and receptive.
V. THE CULTURE OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP. Learning is a means to an end. To what end is Christian discipleship the means? To what discipline of blessing do Christ's pupils attain?
1. The culture of knowledge—Divine and precious knowledge.
2. The culture of character—Christ-likeness.
3. The culture which qualifies for usefulness. As school and college fit a youth for business or professional life, so Christ's discipline qualifies for Christian service.
4. The culture for immortality. This is Christ's school; above is Christ's home, the scene of perfect service and of lasting joy.—T.
Our Lord Christ, who brings truth to the understanding and love to the heart, brings also the highest freedom to the active nature and life of man, and thus secures the prevalence of holiness, of willing and cheerful obedience to God.
I. THE BONDAGE IS PRESUMED WHICH RENDERS NECESSARY THE ADVENT OF THE DIVINE LIBERATOR. Man is by nature, whilst in this fallen state, under bondage to law, to sin, to condemnation.
II. PRETENDED FREEDOM, OF WHICH SINFUL MEN ARE FOUND TO BOAST, IS EXPOSED. The Jewish leaders, our Lord's contemporaries, asserted a certain liberty. Relying upon their descent from Abraham, and their consequent privileges in connection with the old covenant, the Jews claimed to be free men. The worst cases of bondage are those where there is the pretence of liberty, and nothing but the pretence. Free-thinkers, free-livers, are names given to classes who are utter strangers to real liberty, who are in the most degrading bondage to error and to lust.
III. TRUE FREEDOM IS EXPLAINED.
1. It is deliverance from spiritual chains and bondage.
2. It is liberty which reveals itself in the willing choice of the highest and noblest service. They are spiritually free who recognize the supreme claims of the Divine Law, who evince a preference for the will of God above their own pleasure or the example of their fellow men.
IV. THE SON OF GOD DECLARES HIMSELF THE DIVINE LIBERATOR. As such be has all the requisite authority, and all the requisite wisdom and grace. Political freedom may be secured by a human deliverer; but in order to enfranchise the soul a Divine interposition is necessary. Christ has the mastery of all spiritual forces, and can accordingly set free the bound and trammelled soul. He smites the tyrant who lords it over the spiritual captives; he cancels our sentence of slavery; he breaks our fetters; he calls us freemen, and treats us as such; he animates us with the spirit of liberty.
V. THE BLESSED RESULTS OF FREEDOM ARE PROMISED. The enfranchised from Satan's service become God's willing bondmen. Then, from being God's servants, they become his sons. As his sons, they are his heirs, and being such, they in due time enjoy the inheritance. This is liberty indeed—to pass from thraldom unto Satan into the "glorious liberty of the sons of God."—T.
The sinlessness of Christ.
Had our Lord Jesus been guilty of sin (the very thought is to a Christian mind inexpressibly shocking!), he could not have been all that he actually is to us. As God manifest in the flesh, as the ideal Man, as the all-sufficient Saviour, Christ must needs have been without sin.
I. THE WITNESS OF MEN TO OUR LORD'S SINLESSNESS.
1. That of his friends and apostles. Peter designated him "the Holy One and the Just," "who did no sin;" John, "Jesus Christ the righteous," of whom he says, "In him was no sin." Paul, writing to the Corinthians, speaks of Christ as of him "who knew no sin;" and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews refers to him in these words, "Though without sin."
2. That of others. Thus Judas, his betrayer, spoke of the "innocent blood" he had been the means of shedding; Pilate found "no fault in him;" the centurion testified, "This was a righteous Man."
II. OUR LORD'S OWN ASSERTIONS CLAIMING THE PREROGATIVE OF SINLESSNESS. Jesus said, "I have kept my Father's commandments;" "The prince of this world cometh, and findeth nothing in me;" "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" If he were not sinless, either his hypocrisy must have been frightful, or he must have been the subject of the most monstrous delusion that ever possessed an egotistical fanatic.
III. AS A MATTER OF FACT AND HISTORY, OUR LORD'S LIFE WAS SINLESS.
1. Regard the matter negatively. Was there one of the ten commandments which Jesus broke? From his temptation in the wilderness down to his death upon the cross, he eschewed every evil, and proved himself victorious over every instigation to sin to which others—even good men—would probably in some cases have yielded.
2. Regard the matter positively. There is often presented to men an alternative between vice and virtue, disobedience and obedience to God. Wherever an opportunity occurred for our Lord to do that which was best, he did it. There was unfailing consistency between his teaching and his life; he mixed with sinners, unharmed by the contact; he exhibited all moral excellences in his own character; in holiness he stands supreme and alone among the sons of men.
1. This fact points to, and agrees with, a belief in the Divinity of Jesus.
2. Here is a faultless, perfect Example for all men to study and copy.
3. Here is evidence of our Lord's perfect qualification to be the Saviour and the Lord of man.—T.
Obedience and immortality.
The phase of our Lord's ministry brought before us in this part of St. John's Gospel is a combative, a controversial, phase. The Jews were perpetually opposing Christ, carping and cavilling at every work he performed, and almost at every word he uttered. Jesus took up the challenge, and met the objections and the allegations of his enemies. He defied them; he turned upon them with an unanswerable question or a startling paradox. There is not always apparent even an attempt to conciliate his adversaries—to win them over. He did not even stop to explain, when he knew perfectly well that explanation would be unavailing; he left his words to be instructive to the enlightened, and an enigma to the unspiritual.
I. THE CONDITION HERE PROPOUNDED. "If a man keep my word."
1. This implies upon Christ's part a special revelation and authority. By his "word" doubtless Jesus meant the whole manifestation of his character and will; his doctrine relating to the Father and to himself; his precepts relating to his disciples.
2. It implies upon the part of his followers a reverent, loyal, and affectionate obedience. They keep, i.e. they retain in memory and observe in practice, the word of their Master. As a faithful servant keeps the word of his lord, as a diligent scholar keeps the word of his teacher, as a loyal soldier keeps the word of his officer, his general, as a reverent son keeps the word of his father, so the Christian keeps the word of his Saviour.
II. THE PROMISE HERE RECORDED. "He shall never see death."
1. The death from which Christ promises exemption is not the death of the body, as was understood by the Jews; it is the spiritual death which is the effect of sin, and which consists in insensibility to everything Divine. This should be more dreaded than physical death.
2. The way in which Christ fulfils this promise. He died in the body that those who believe on him may not experience spiritual death. The redemption of our Saviour is a redemption from death and sin. And Christ communicates the Spirit of life, who quickens dead souls, imparting to them the newness of life which is their highest privilege, and which is the earnest and the beginning of an immortality of blessedness.—T.
Christ's superiority to Abraham.
The honour in which Abraham was held among the Jews who lived in the time of our Lord, is unquestionable. Their grounds for so honouring him may not be satisfactory. There is little reason for supposing that they appreciated his moral grandeur. Probably there was more of national pride than of religious feeling in their reverence for their great progenitor.
I. ABRAHAM'S GREATNESS. That the great sheikh who came from beyond the Euphrates, and who traversed the soil of Palestine with his retinue of dependents and of cattle, was one of the greatest figures in human history, none will deny. But only those who look below the surface can discern the real grounds for holding this patriarch in honour so high.
1. We know, from the Scripture record, that Abraham was the friend of God. Amidst idolaters he was a worshipper of the supreme and only Deity, and was upon terms of peculiar intimacy with Jehovah.
2. He was also the father of the faithful, and that not so much in the sense that he was the ancestor of the nation who worshipped the Eternal alone, but in this sense, viz. that his character and life were in many respects a model of faith. He maintained, on the whole, his confidence in the righteous and faithful Ruler of the universe.
3. He was also the progenitor of many nations, and especially of that one nation whom God set apart to preserve the knowledge of his Name and his Law, and to prepare the way for the advent of the Messiah.
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST. Our Lord did not question Abraham's greatness, but, upon the occasion on which the words of the text were spoken, he both implicitly and explicitly claimed to be greater even than the ancestor of the chosen people. This superiority consists in:
1. His nature and character. Abraham was the friend of God; Christ was the Son of God. Abraham was great as a man; Christ was distinguished by superhuman greatness.
2. His work for humanity. Abraham set a glorious example of faith; but Christ came to be the Divine Object of faith. Abraham was an intercessor, e.g. for Sodom; Christ was the Advocate of man. Abraham was a great leader; Christ was the great Saviour.
3. In the commonwealth and kingdom which he founded. Abraham was the father of many nations, and is to this day thought of with reverence among Eastern peoples, whilst the Jews, in the time of Jesus, and even now, rejoice in tracing their descent from him. But Christ's kingdom is a universal kingdom, and the Israel of God throughout earth and heaven are called after him.
4. In the perpetuity of his dominion. It annoyed and angered the Jews that Jesus claimed immortality for himself and for his disciples, whilst they were constrained to admit that Abraham was dead. They could not understand Christ's claim, and the time had not come for him to make that claim fully intelligible. But we can see that Abraham was a pilgrim and a stranger upon earth, whilst Christ is an abiding and eternal King!—T.
HOMILIES BY B. THOMAS
A miserable sinner and a merciful Saviour.
Notice on this occasion—
I. THE CONDUCT OF HIS ENEMIES.
1. It was brutally gross.
2. It was utterly hypocritical. Hypocrisy is to speak or do one thing but mean another. If so, the conduct of these men was utterly hypocritical.
3. It was utterly irreligious. Religion, if it means anything, means true respect for man and profound reverence for God. Their conduct manifested neither, but the very reverse; they made light of an erring soul, and lighter still of a loving Saviour. If they had any reverence for God, the Creator and Father of all, and any true regard for their fellow creatures, they would lovingly hide the guilt of this fallen woman, and tenderly try to heal and restore her. But so impious and light was their conduct, that they trifled with an erring sister in order to entrap a gracious Saviour.
4. It was cunningly and maliciously cruel. It was a cunning and cruel plot to bring Jesus into trouble, into public disrepute, into court, punishment, and if possible into death. Knowing his reputation for forgiveness and tenderness as well as purity, they bring the case of this erring woman before him, satisfied in themselves that it would of necessity bring him as an heretic before the Jewish council, or as a seditionist before the Roman tribunal, it was a cunning and cruel plot, inspired by hatred to destroy him. What they could not do openly they attempted to do clandestinely.
II. THE CONDUCT OF JESUS. His conduct here brings forth certain features of his character into bold relief.
1. His perfect knowledge.
2. His consummate wisdom. This is seen:
3. His supreme power over spiritual forces in man.
4. His pure and burning holiness. This is seen:
5. His Divine tenderness and mercy. This is seen:
1. The most depraved and wicked really are the most harsh and censorious. The servant which has been forgiven a hundred pounds by his master is the most likely to abuse his fellow servant who owes him fifty. He who has a beam in his own eye is the first to charge his brother with having a mote. The witness box is more sinful often than that of the criminal.
2. The most holy are the most merciful. Jesus was so purely holy that he could afford to be abundantly merciful, he is the foe of sin, but the Friend of sinners. The climax of holiness is love and mercy.
3. Outward morality may stand the test of a human judge, but not that of the Divine one. The Law is spiritual; the Judge is omniscient. What is real and immortal in man is spiritual; what he is spiritually he is really to God. Jesus was more tender to tempted and fallen sinners than to self-righteous hypocrites. The former he helped, the latter he denounced. A scar on the skin is more easily cured than cancer on the vitals. The accused fared better than her accusers.
4. The greater the opposition to Jesus the more brightly his character shone, and the more unfortunate and impenitent sinners are benefited. The character of Jesus never shone more brightly than in this cunning and dark plot. His superior knowledge, wisdom, authority, holiness, and mercy shone so brilliantly that in the fiery furnace we see One not like unto, but the very Son of man and the very Son of God; and the poor woman derived a great advantage. On the tide of hatred she was carried into the lap of infinite love, and by the seething wave of human vindictiveness she was thrown into the warm embrace of Divine forgiveness.
5. The sinner and the Saviour are best alone. Jesus alone, and the woman in the midst. Spellbound by his authority, and more by the secret and magic influence of his Divine compassion, she stood still. Her accusers all were gone, and she was the only one that remained in the Divine society—a dumb suppliant at his feet. No one should go between the sinner and the Saviour, between the sick and the Physician. Let them alone. A sound advice will be given, and eternal benefit derived.—B.T.
The Light of the world.
Our Lord was now in the temple. A crowd was around him. It was early in the morning. The sun rose over Olivet and looked through the porticoes of the temple on its Creator teaching the people within. The sun is an old and eminent missionary of God in nature. It was as seraphic and ready to convey new ideas and truths now as ever. The people naturally turned to greet its appearance. Our Lord took advantage of the occurrence to reveal himself as the world's Light. What the sun is to the physical world, he is to the moral. "I am the Light," etc. Notice—
I. CHRIST AS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. "I am," etc. This implies:
1. That the world was morally dark. It became so by the early sin of its first inhabitants. Its moral condition was like that of its physical at the beginning—without form and void, and darkness brooding on the face of the abyss. It deviated from its original and proper centre, and wandered into moral gloom; it became spiritually ignorant of God, of immortality, and of its highest good, spiritually impure, depraved and dead, lying in wickedness, and in the valley of the shadow of death.
2. That Christ became its Light. "I am," etc. He is the physical Light of the world. The sun is but the dazzle of his presence, the stars are but the smiles of his face, and the day is but the placid light of his countenance, he is the mental Light of the world. Intellect and reason are the emanations of his genius. If he hides his face, they are eclipsed; if he withdrew his support, they would be extinguished, he is the spiritual Light of the world, the Light of the heart and conscience. By the Incarnation he is specially the spiritual Light of the world, he is the Sun of the spiritual empire.
3. That he is the only true Light of the world.
4. That he is specially the Light of this our world. As God, he is the Light of all worlds and systems—they all revolve around his eternal throne, and receive their light and life from his Presence; but as God-Man he is peculiarly the Light of this world. This world is a platform on which the Almighty has acted a special part, taught special lessons, performed a special work, and shone with special brilliancy. But far be it from us to limit the influence of the incarnate life of Jesus. We know not to what extent what he did in our world affected even thrones, principalities, and powers; how high or low or wide the "It is finished!" echoed. It may affect, and probably does affect, the remotest confines of his vast empire; but enough it is for us to know that he is the Light of this world. In this comparatively small mansion of his Father's house the matchless drama of Divine mercy was acted, and here Divine love blazed in sacrifice, and in our sky "the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in his wings."
5. That he is the Light of the whole of this world. Not of a part of it, not of a certain number, but of the whole human family. There is no sun for Europe, and another for Asia; but one sun for the world, and one is sufficient. Jesus is the one Light of the moral world, and he is enough. As a Prophet, the whole human family may sit at his feet at the same time and be taught of him; as a King, his sceptre ruleth over all; as a High Priest, he holds the world in his arms, and successfully pleads for it. The sacrifice he presents is for the whole world, and it is sufficient; the world's prayers may ascend in the incense and be answered. He has given "the heathen for his inheritance," etc. He is the world's Light, and it has a right to him.
6. That this is a well attested fact.
II. CHRIST AS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD IN THE CONDITIONS OF ITS ENJOYMENT AND BLESSINGS,
1. In its conditions. The enjoyment of all mercies is conditional The simple existence of light will not ensure its enjoyment. It has conditions. The condition of enjoying the Light of the world is to follow Christ. This involves:
2. In its blessings.
1. Jesus was the greatest or the most selfish and deceptive the world ever saw. The world has had its philosophers and poets, men of learning and sages, but none of them professed to have more light than was sufficient to see the gloom within and without, and to sigh for more light; but here is a carpenter's Son, saying with the greatest confidence and naturalness to a mixed audience in the gorgeous temple of his country, "I am the Light of the world." He could not be selfish and deceptive. This would be diametrically opposed to his whole life and character. He must be what he professed to be, for there is light. The evidence of the ages is on his side. For upwards of eighteen centuries, none have eclipsed him and none have approached him, only a few of his most eminent followers.
2. Although the Light of the world, yet he is the Light of every individual soul. He is great enough to be the Light of the world, yet his rays are subtle enough to enter every human heart and conscience. Angels may forever learn of him, but Mary may sit at his feet. Bright seraphim bask and blaze in his light, still his gentle beams will cheer the lowly heart and contrite spirit.
3. Being the Light of the world, its destiny is very hopeful. In spite of darkness, ignorance, vice, death, and misery, we may well hope for better things. "Through the shadows of the globe we sweep into a younger day."
4. Being the Light of the world and of life, let the world and life have their own. Let not the world, let no human life, grope in darkness for want of light. Through enlightened souls alone can the light of Christ be transmitted to the world; if we are enlightened, it is our duty to bear the light abroad.
5. Being the Light of the world, it is the solemn duty of the world to follow him. The only way to avoid darkness. Apart from Christ there is no light but the weird flames of misery and lurid fires of torture. Follow him, and all the dark circumstances of life will be radiant; follow him, and the valley of the shadow of death will become bright as day, and introductory to a day without a cloud or ending.—B.T.
John 8:31, John 8:32
True Christian discipleship.
I. IN ITS CONDITIONS. These are:
1. The possession of Christ's Word.
2. A vital possession of Christ's Word. The possession is not merely outward and intellectual, but inward and spiritual. The Word must be in the soul, and the soul in the Word. Christ is in the Christian, and the Christian is in Christ. Christ's Word is in his disciple, and the disciple is in his Word. Both mean the same, only in the latter prominence is given to the Word. This implies:
3. An abiding possession of Christ's Word. "If ye abide," etc.
II. IN ITS BLESSED RESULTS. There are:
1. Knowledge of the truth.
2. Spiritual freedom.
(a) The truth is the efficient means of spiritual freedom. It is based on and produced by the great facts of redemption.
(b) The truth is the efficient incentive to spiritual freedom. The revelation of sin, in its enormity, debasing effects, and ultimate consequences, and the revelation of God's loving, costly, and self-sacrificing provisions for sinners, are calculated to inspire the captive soul to struggle for and accept the offered liberty.
(c) The truth experimentally known brings the fact of spiritual freedom to the consciousness. No sooner the facts of redemption, such as justification, forgiveness, and reconciliation by faith, are experimentally known than the soul begins to realize in itself the blessings of spiritual freedom. Christ lives in the disciple's consciousness, and he feels that he is a subject of the spiritual empire and a free born citizen of the new Jerusalem.
1. The weakest faith has the sympathy and care of Jesus. The faith of these Jews was very weak and imperfect, hence this address to them. He despised not the day of small things—"A bruised reed shall he not break," etc.
2. The weakest faith by continuance in Christ's Word will reach perfection. "If ye abide," etc. The quality of faith at first is more important than quantity; quantity will follow. Spiritual millionaires commenced with a very little capital. The apostles properly addressed as, "Ye of little faith." Lean sheep thrive in green pastures. It is surprising how a weak faith is improved and strengthened in the society and under the tuition of Jesus.
3. The weakest faith by abiding in Christ's Word shall enjoy the richest blessings. We say—Know all first, and then believe. But the Christian order is rather—Believe first, and then know. The little knowledge required to precede faith is nothing to that which follows. It leads to true discipleship, and to the highest knowledge—the knowledge of the truth. It opens the door of the temple of redemptive truth, and thus opens the portals of eternal freedom. Ignorance is captivity, knowledge is liberty. Let the scientific facts of the world be known, and men will be intellectually free; let the Divine facts of redemption be experimentally realized, and men shall walk in the glorious liberty of the sons of God.—B.T.
I. TRUE FREEDOM INVOLVES THAT OF THE SOUL.
1. A man may be physically free without being free indeed.
2. A man may be socially free without being free indeed. He may be in the full enjoyment of social and political privileges and yet a captive.
3. A man may be mentally free without being free indeed. His intellect may be sound and grasping, his mental vision clear and far reaching, and still be a prisoner.
4. True freedom involves that of the soul. For:
II. TRUE FREEDOM INVOLVES THAT OF THE SOUL FROM SIN.
1. Sin makes the soul captive to the Divine Law. Sin is a transgression of Divine Law, and must be punished. "The wages of sin is death." The sinful soul is under the just condemnation of the Law and the displeasure of the Lawgiver, a prisoner of the Law and justice.
2. Sin makes the soul captive to itself. "Whosoever committeth sin," etc. In the degree a man is under the control of sin, he is its slave. Sin enslaves the soul.
3. All souls by nature are in the bondage of sin.
4. In order to be truly free, the soul must be liberated from sin. A state of wilful sin is a Stats of willing captivity, and deliverance from it is essential to true freedom.
III. TRUE FREEDOM OF THE SOUL FROM SIN IS EFFECTED BY CHRIST.
1. He can liberate the soul from sin.
2. The freedom effected by Christ is most real.
1. The importance of having right views of freedom. False views on this subject are so prevalent; we are so prone to make mistakes on this. They are so dangerous.
2. The importance of having right views of the enslaving influence of sin. Without this we cannot obtain true liberty. So important is this that Christ calls special attention to it: "Verily, verily," etc.
3. The importance of obtaining true freedom. Man is so prone to be satisfied with false freedom, to be self-deceived. True freedom is the only one worth having.
4. The importance of being made free by Christ. He alone can make us free.
5. The duty of gratitude to him. He is the great Liberator of humanity. Those who are made free indeed should be indeed thankful. A view of Christ as the Liberator will make heaven all ablaze with gratitude—ought to make earth.—B.T.
True spiritual paternity.
I. THEIR MISTAKEN SPIRITUAL PATERNITY. "We have one Father, even God." This in a sense is true.
1. They failed to recognize his connection with God.
2. They failed to understand his message. Although
3. They failed to believe him and his message. Although:
4. These sad failures flatly contradict their pretended relationship to God. (John 8:42-47.)
II. THEIR TRUE SPIRITUAL PATERNITY. "Ye are of your father," etc. Look at the picture of the father and the children and their likeness.
1. Look at his murderous propensities.
2. Look at his lying propensities.
1. Man in this world is capable of the highest and the lowest spiritual affinities. He may partake of the Divine or a devilish nature, may become the child of God or the child of the devil. Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
2. Man in this world is capable of the most serious self-deception with regard to his spiritual paternity. These Jews thought that they were the children of God, while they were really the children of the devil. Such a self-deception is very characteristic of him, whose chief delight is to lie and deceive, and is perhaps the climax of his evil genius with regard to men. He cares but little about the name, only let him have the game. Of all self-deceptions this is the most miserable and disappointing!
3. No one can claim God as his Father who despises and rejects his Son. Our conduct towards him and his gospel decides our spiritual fatherhood at once.
4. To Christ our spiritual paternity is quite evident, which he will reveal sooner or later. And in the light of his revelation this is not difficult for each to know for himself.
5. Nothing can explain the conduct of some men towards Christ and his gospel but a true statement of their spiritual paternity. Let this be known, and the sequel is plain.
6. Even the children of the devil condemn him, for they do not like to own him as their father. State the fact, they are insulted. The alliance must be unholy and unnatural. Many of them claim God as their Father—the compliment of vice to virtue. A compulsory admission and a full realization of this relationship will be painful in the extreme.
7. Let his children remember that they are such by their own choice. For spiritual generation, for good or evil, is by and through the will. It is not fate, but deliberate and voluntary selection. "His lusts it is your will to do." All are either the children of God or of the devil by their own choice. Hence the importance of a wise choice.—B.T.
Christ and Abraham.
"Whom makest thou thyself?" In answer to this question and to the objections made by his opponents, our Lord further reveals himself.
I. IN RELATION TO THE FATHER.
1. His entire devotion to him. This includes:
2. Some of the features of his peculiar honour.
3. His entire contrast with his foes.
II. IN HIS RELATION TO ABRAHAM, AND ABRAHAM TO HIM. These Jews claimed Abraham as their father, and attempted to cause a discord between him and Christ; but he reveals himself in relation to the patriarch.
1. In relation to his highest interest.
2. In relation to Abraham's age. "Before Abraham," etc. This implies:
III. HIS REVELATION OF HIMSELF IN RELATION TO HIS OPPONENTS.
1. They understood it. It was intellectually intelligible to them. They were too acquainted with the attributes and designations of Jehovah to misunderstand the language of Christ, and their application to himself was felt by them, as their conduct proves.
2. It became to them unbearable. "They took up stones," etc. A proof of:
3. It widened the gulf between him and them. It was wide before—wider now. As he revealed himself in the sublimest manner as their promised Messiah and the Son of God, they in consequence revealed themselves in stone throwing as his most implacable and deadly foes.
4. His revelation was suitably appended by his apparently miraculous escape. "But Jesus hid himself," etc. Hid himself in the folds of his glory. A suitable sequel to his revelation of himself as their Divine Deliverer. How easily and effectively could he defend himself, and retaliate in their fashion! But he preferred his own. He had a royal road. He departed as a King. He could walk through the crowd unobserved, and through the stones unhurt. The weak are more ready to attack than the strong, but there is more majesty in the retreat of the strong than in the attack of the weak. When stone throwing begins, it is time for the messenger of peace to retire. The stones may kill his person, but cannot kill his published message, and he may be wanted elsewhere.
1. Natural relationships often survive the spiritual. The natural relationship between these people and Abraham, and even between them and God, still remained, while the spiritual was all but gone. This is true of God and evil spirits.
2. When the spiritual relationship is destroyed, the natural availeth nothing. It is only the foundation of an empty boast and hypocritical self-righteousness, and at last the source of painful reminiscences and contrasts.
3. The best of fathers often have the worst of children. This is true of Abraham, and even of God—the best Father of all.
4. Much of the religious capital of the present is derived entirely from the past. Many claim relationship with, and boast of, the reformers and illustrous men of bygone ages, and this is all their stock-in-trade. Their names are on their lips, while their principles are under their feet.
5. It was the chief mission of Christ to explain and establish the spiritual relationship between man and God. To establish it on a sound basis—the basis of faith, obedience, and love. To be the real children of God and of our pious ancestors, we must partake of their spiritual nature and principles. This Jesus taught with fidelity, although it cost him at last a cruel cross.
6. We are indirectly indebted to the cavils of foes for some of the sublimest revelations of Jesus of himself. It was so here. Their foul blasphemies, after all, served as advantageous backgrounds to his grand pictures of incarnate Divinity and love; so that we are not altogether sorry that they called him a "Samaritan" and a demon, as in consequence he shines forth with peculiar brilliancy as the Friend of sinners, the Son of God, and the Saviour of mankind.—B.T.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Excluded from the destination of Jesus.
In one sense Jesus was very near to men, very closely connected with them. At the same time he was very far from them, separated in many ways. The Gospel of John abounds in indications of this felt difference and superiority. Yet there is much to help and cheer even in words like these: "Whither I go, ye cannot come." The truth of Jesus is the same, spoken to friends or to enemies, and everything Jesus said on the earth has something of gospel in it. If we are born again and take shape after the new creature, then we also shall be from above.
I. THE DESTINATION THAT JESUS HIMSELF ASSUREDLY WILL REACH. Jesus is on a definite journey, knows where he is going, and that he will get there. His life is not an aimless wandering. In all his goings backwards and forwards between Galilee and Judaea his face was set towards Jerusalem, because there for him the door was to open from the seen to the unseen, from the life of time to the life of eternity. His enemies speak of him as if his thoughts were running in the same direction as those of Job. When Job sat among the ashes, despoiled of his property, bereaved of his children, smitten with pain all over the body, he thought death and the grave his best friends, where the wicked would cease from troubling and the weary be at rest. But Jesus was thinking of what he would attain, not what he would escape. The heavenly state, with its security, glory, and blessedness, was not an unexpected thing to Jesus. Jesus speaks as knowing for himself that the end depends on the way. Jesus knows where he is going, for he has been there already. In the autumn of 1492 three Spanish ships are making their way over the Atlantic, in waters where ship has never been known to pass before. Christopher Columbus of Genoa commands those ships, and he is going on an enterprise of pure faith. He believes there is a land ahead, but he has never been there. At present thousands go over that same Atlantic, returning home. And so Jesus was going back whence he had come. Every step took him nearer that day when he would pray the prayer, "Glorify thou me with thine own self, with that glory which I had with thee before the world was."
II. THE DESTINATION THAT SOME MOST CERTAINLY WILL NOT REACH. Most of the listeners would trouble very little about what Jesus meant. They would say, "Let him go, or let him stay; it is no great concern of ours." But if we do really believe that Jesus has gone into a state of glory, that he individually can no longer suffer pain, no longer be exposed to temptation, must it not be serious for us to reflect that possibly we cannot go where he has gone? Heaven is not to be earth over again. The mixtures and conflicts of the lower world are not to be known in the upper one. Good people have no monopoly of transit to any place on the face of the earth; but there is a state to which the evil cannot reach. A man may say, if he likes, that he will have a garden without weeds, but that will not keep the weeds out. But Jesus is the great and effectual Excluder. Beyond the veil there are divisions more intense and more manifest than any that obtain here. Jesus came amid the unions of time to make the separations of eternity.
III. THE DESTINATION THAT ALL MAY REACH. Speaking of exclusion is the strange work of Jesus. Even while he said, "Ye cannot come," at the same time he said, "Come." Any one can come who will enter in at the strait gate and tread the narrow way. Any one can come who will give the seed ground of his heart as good ground for the seed of eternal truth.—Y.
The Light of the world.
We shall hardly be wrong in assuming that Jesus said these words in the full warmth and radiance of a most sunshiny day. Surely the sun speaks so every day in his rising, "I am the light of the world." Sometimes he says it more emphatically. More emphatically in summer than in winter, more emphatically on a bright day than a cloudy one, but always saying it afresh every morning with the return of daylight to the earth. Jesus means that just as the sun gives light to the world in one way, so he gives light in another. When the light of the Lord Jesus Christ comes in all its fulness, then the night passes from our life. There is a darkness that is not banished with the dawn, unless Jesus banishes it; and if Jesus stays with us, then there is a light that will not vanish with the sunset. In him we get securities, comforts, and opportunities, such as make us independent of unfavourable times and seasons. Take this declaration in connection—
I. WITH SAFETY. Night is the time of danger. The thief comes by night. Daylight gives a freedom of movement which at once ceases with the darkness. So he who is the true Light of the world brings a safety that is impossible without him. Who can tell into what depths of destruction and misery they plunge who refuse the light of the Lord Jesus? After all, the only real destruction is self-destruction. When Jesus lodges the light of his truth in our hearts, then our notions of danger get turned upside down. So it was with the jailor of Philippi. Jesus shows to us spiritual peril and saves us from it. To any one who has clearly seen what a terrible thing spiritual peril is, and what a real thing spiritual salvation is, how absurd and exaggerated much of the world's prudence must appear. The moment Christ begins to rise upon the heart, spiritual danger and spiritual salvation will cease to be mere words. All spiritually anxious ones are where they are just because Jesus is the Light of the world. None can tell into what light he may be travelling. To see one's peril is half one's salvation.
II. WITH HUMAN IGNORANCE. What can a man know of the scene round him in the dark? Take him to some elevation from which in daylight there is a spacious and charming prospect, and he is none the better. But what a change a few short hours will make—a change going all the way from ignorance to knowledge! Visible objects are not properly known till seen in daylight. In the light that streams from Jesus how different we seem to ourselves! The duties, the possibilities, and the associations of life become altogether different. Life is as full of interest as ever, yea, fuller; but we are interested in different things, or in old things in a different way. No one knows so much of permanent and comforting value as the Christian.
III. WITH PRACTICAL PERPLEXITIES. Many have made great mistakes in life, and had to go through toils and trials they might well have been spared, if only they had been practical Christians, completely at the disposal of the Lord Jesus. Jesus knows well what poor guesses we can make at consequences and probabilities. He who claims to rule us will never leave us in doubt as to what we are really to do. The continuance of serious perplexity comes not from want of light, but want of disposition to make use of the light.
IV. WITH WORK. "The night cometh, when no man can work." Jesus gives the light whereby we may be useful down to the very end of our present life. Jesus must show how best to employ our time, how best to serve the world. Never yet did true Christian look back on wasted life. The miserable retrospects, the terrible confessions, belonging to the men of this world are not his.—Y.
In the earlier part of his ministry Jesus probably had a great many disciples. At all events this might be suspected. He taught a great deal, and the testimony is that he spoke "with authority, and not as the scribes." We may be sure he was always ready to speak concerning the things of the kingdom of heaven. In synagogue, in temple, in the homes of the people, out in the open air, he lost no opportunity. He that soweth sparingly, reapeth sparingly. Thus a large company of nominal disciples would be gathered. But Jesus did not care for mere quantity as such, He was quite prepared for desertions and backslidings. Only a hundred and twenty were gathered in the upper room to wait for the Day of Pentecost.
I. THE DIFFICULTY OF DISCIPLESHIP. Nominal Christianity is easy enough, but to be a real disciple is as hard as ever. Jesus made it hard for those who first thronged round him, and the same tests, the same requirements, the same difficulties, face us still. The would-be disciple has to contend with his own indolence, impatience, self-indulgence. What changes in our thoughts and ways there must be, so that our thoughts may become as the thoughts of Jesus, our ways as the ways of Jesus! We are not to be known by distinctions in outward appearance, but by deep distinctions in character and purpose. He who wants an easy, smooth, level life will not indeed find it anywhere; least of all will he find it with Christ. It is not mere attendance at school that makes the scholar—it is learning; and in the school of Christ learning by practice.
II. SEE JESUS TESTING DISCIPLES. The man who said he would follow Jesus wherever he went. The man who said he would follow when he had buried his father. The man who said he would follow after saying farewell to his friends. The disciples in the storm, who deemed they trusted Christ, and yet could, not trust him till they had wakened him from sleep. Faith in Jesus as a Teacher must rise above the difficulties of any particular single demand of his. You must learn to look at Jesus, not in any one single action, not in any one single word, but in the sum total of all his actions and all his words. Jesus is always teaching, and we have to be always learning. What others reckoned to be discipleship he did not so reckon. Departure from old associations does not make discipleship. Departure into new circumstances does not make discipleship. He is the disciple indeed who breaks from an old life into a new one—into that new life which gets nearer perfectness the nearer it gets to perfect trust in Jesus. Diogenes went about Greece with his lantern, looking for an honest man; and so Jesus goes about among us with his tests and with his searching, undeceivable eye, looking for a disciple indeed. He looks to see whether we abide in his Word, whether we carry it into every thought, every transaction, every temptation, every trouble. He would lead us on from lesson to lesson, deepening our faith, marking us off as his disciples more and more distinctly—those ever learning and ever able to come more and more to knowledge of the truth.—Y.
The liberating truth.
There are two kinds of freedom: the freedom of the liberated prisoner and the freedom of the manumitted slave. Living in a country like England, we are most likely to think of the former kind. But it is quite evident that Jesus was thinking of servitude rather than captivity. Many may have to be under restraint because they have broken laws; it is right that they should be prisoners for a time, perhaps even for all their lives. But servitude never can be right; it has had to remain awhile because of the hardness of men's hearts, and as men have got more light upon human equality, they have seen that no man should be legally compelled into the service of another, whether he would or not. In the time of Jesus there were many bond slaves, and he had no magic process whereby he could liberate them. But there were bond slaves besides, unconscious of their servitude, deluded with the notion that they were already free, and therefore all the harder to liberate. To such Jesus spoke here. He spoke to slaves, and told them what would liberate them.
I. THE PROCESS OF LIBERATION MAY BE REAL, THOUGH FOR A WHILE WE ARE NOT CONSCIOUS OF IT. The prisoner is free when no longer in prison; the slave is free when no longer under the legal control of his owner. But Christian liberty cannot thus be made up of negations; it would be a poor thing if it could. It is of no use to attempt a definition of Christian liberty; it is a thing into which we must grow. We must grow until, even as Paul did, we look back on the days once counted free as days of the worst servitude. Going where Christ wants us to go, being what Christ wants us to be, we shall see in due time what a real and blessed thing spiritual freedom is. Still, though it must be a time before we know this properly, yet we may know something of it at once in studying the very greatest illustration of real liberty we can find, namely, the Lord Jesus himself. It is not abstract truth that liberates, but truth as embodied in the wisdom and power of Jesus.
II. TRUTH BRINGS US INTO THE LIBERTY OF DOING GOD'S WILL. Christ's own liberty was not that of doing as he liked. He went by the likings of his Father in heaven. He did nothing without liking to do it; yet he also did nothing just because he liked to do it. To desire what God desires, that is liberty, without a check, a jar, or a fret. Sowing just what we like, we shall certainly reap what we do not like. Christ wants to liberate us from the thraldom of our own strong, foolish desires. The psalmist exactly expresses the Christian's privilege and attainment, when he says so cheerfully. "I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart."
III. TRUTH BRINGS US INTO THE LIBERTY OF SEEING THINGS WITH OUR OWN EYES. The reputed wise in Jerusalem would only have led Jesus into a bondage of falsehoods and delusions. What a Pharisee they would have tried to make him! Really freethinking is the only right thinking, and our Teacher was the freest thinker that ever lived. It is our duty as much as our right to judge everything in connection with Christ for ourselves. By that rule we shall be judged at last. Others may help us in the way when chosen, but they are not to choose it for us.
IV. TRUTH BRINGS US INTO THE LIBERTY OF A LOVING HEART. The heart of Jesus could not be kept within rules and precedents and prejudices. It was a Divine love, shed abroad in his heart, that kept him safe, pure, and unspotted, in a world abounding with things to pollute.
V. TRUTH BRINGS US INTO THE LIBERTY OF A GRACIOUS LIFE. That is, the liberty of Jesus never interfered with the true liberty of others, but increased and established it. He never broke away from the beaten track for the mere sake of doing it.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on John 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter