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The point at which we have arrived gives me an opportunity of saying a little on the beginning of this chapter, and the end of the last; for it is well known that many men, and, I am sorry to add, not a few Christians, have allowed appearances to weigh against John 7:53 John 8:11 a very precious portion of God's word. The fact is, that the paragraph of the convicted adulteress has been either simply left out in some copies of Scripture, or a blank equivalent to it appears, or it is given with marks of doubt and a good deal of variety of reading, or it is put in elsewhere. This, with many alleged verbal peculiarities, acted on the minds of a considerable number, and led them to question its title to a place in the genuine gospel of John. I do not think that the objections usually raised are here understated. Nevertheless, mature as well as minute consideration of them fails to raise the slightest doubt in my own mind, and therefore to me it seems so much the more a duty to defend it, where the alternative is a dishonour to what I believe God has given us.
In its favour are the strongest possible proofs from such a character in itself, and such suitability to the context, as no forgery could ever boast. And these moral or spiritual indications (though, of course, only to such as are capable of apprehending and enjoying God's mind) are incomparably graver and more conclusive than any evidence of an external sort. Not that the external evidence is really weak, far from it. That which gives such an appearance is capable of reasonable, unforced, and even of what seems almost to amount to an historical solution. The meddling was probably due to human motives no uncommon thing in ancient or modern times. With good and with bad intentions men have often tried to mend the word of God. Superstitious persons, unable to enter into its beauty, and anxious after the good opinion of the world, were afraid to trust the truth which Christ was here setting forth in deed. Augustine,* an unimpeachable witness of facts, nearly as old as the most ancient manuscripts which omit the paragraph, tells us that it was from ethical difficulties some dropped this section out of their copies. We know for certain that dogmatic motives similarly influenced some in Luke 22:42-42.22.43. One of the considerations, adverted to already, ought to weigh exceedingly with the believer. The account, I shall show, is exactly in harmony with the Scripture that follows it not less so than the Lord's refusal to go up to the feast and show Himself to the world, with His words which follow on the gift of the Holy Ghost in John 7:1-43.7.53; or, again, the miracle of the miraculous bread, with the discourse appended on the needed food for the Christian inJohn 6:1-43.6.71; John 6:1-43.6.71. In a word, there is here, as there, an indissoluble link of connected truth between the facts related and the communication our Lord makes afterwards in each instance respectively.
* The suspicion that some weak believers or enemies of the faith omitted the section, as the Bishop of Hippo suggests, would expose the passage to be tampered with. It is very likely that the Christians who read the Shepherd of Hermas in their public services would omit John 8:1-43.8.11. Similar unbelief inclines critical judgment in that direction now. Judgment of facts is apt to be swayed and formed by the will.
For, let me ask, what is the salient divine principle which runs through our Lord's conduct and language when the scribes and Pharisees confront Him with the woman taken in adultery? A flagrant case of sin was produced. They manifest no holy hatred of the evil, and certainly feel no pity for the sinner. "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: but what sayest thou?* This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him." Their hope was to ensnare Christ, and to leave Him only a choice of difficulties: either a useless repetition of the law of Moses, or open opposition to the law. If the latter, would it not prove Him God's adversary? If the former, would He not forfeit all His pretensions to grace? For they were well aware, that in all the ways and language of Christ, there was that which totally differed from the law and all before Him. Indeed, they counted on His grace, though they felt it not, relished it not, in no way valued it as of God; but still they so expected grace in our Lord's dealing with so heinous a sinner as the one before them, that they hoped thereby to commit Him fatally in the eyes of men. Enmity to His person was their motive. To agree with Moses or to annul him seemed to them inevitable, and almost equally prejudicial to the claims of Jesus. No doubt, they most expected that our Lord in His grace would oppose the law, and thus put Himself and grace in the wrong.
* It is the remark of a critic unfriendly to the passage, that this question belongs to the last days of our Lord's ministry, and cannot well be introduced chronologically here. Unconsciously, however, this is really a strong confirmation; for morally John starts with the rejection of Jesus, and gives at the beginning even (as in the cleansing of the temple) similar truths to those which the rest attest at the close.
But the fact is, the grace of God never conflicts with His law, but, on the contrary, maintains its authority in its own sphere. There is nothing which clears, establishes, and vindicates the law, and every other principle of God, so truly as His grace. Even the proprieties of nature were never so made good as when the Lord manifested grace on the earth. Take, for instance, His ways inMatthew 19:1-40.19.30; Matthew 19:1-40.19.30. Who ever developed God's idea and will in marriage as Christ did? Who cast light on the value of a little child till Christ did? When a man left Himself, who could look so wistfully and with such love upon him as Jesus? Grace therefore is in no way inconsistent with, but maintains obligations at their true height. It is precisely thus, only still more gloriously, with our Lord's conduct on this occasion; for He weakens not in the least either the law or its sanctions, but contrariwise sheds around divine light in His own words and ways, and even applies the law with convincing power, not merely to the convicted criminal, but to the more hidden guilt of her accusers. Not a single self-righteous soul was left in that all-searching presence none indeed of those who came about the matter, except the woman herself.
Choose for me in all Scripture a preface of fact so suited to the doctrine of the chapter that follows. The whole chapter, from first to last, beams with light the light of God and of His word in the person of Jesus. Is not this undeniably what comes out in the opening incident? Does not Christ present Himself in discourse just after as the light of the world (so continually in John), as God's light by His word in Himself, infinitely superior even to law, and yet at the same time giving the law its fullest authority? Only a divine person could thus put and keep everything in its due place; only a divine person could act in perfect grace, but at the same time maintain immaculate holiness, and so much the more because it was in One full of grace.
This is just what the Lord does. Therefore, when the charge was brought thus heartlessly against outward evil, He simply stoops down, and with His finger writes on the ground. He allowed them to think of the circumstances, of themselves, and of Him. As they still continued asking, He lifted up Himself, and said unto them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the stone at her." And again, stooping down, He writes on the round. (Verses John 8:6-43.8.8) The first act allows the full iniquity of their aim to be realized. They hoped, no doubt, it might be an insuperable difficulty to Him. They had time to weigh what they had said and were seeking. When they continued to ask, and He lifted Himself up and spoke to them those memorable words, He again stoops, that they might weigh them in their consciences. It was the light of God cast on their thoughts, words, and life. The words were few, simple, and self-evidencing. He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the stone at her." The effect was immediate and complete. His words penetrated to the heart. Why did not some of the witnesses rise and do the office? What! not one? "They which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last.; and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst." (v. John 8:9) The law had never done this. They had learnt and trifled with the law up to this time; they had freely used it, as men do still, to convict other people. But here was the light of God shining full on their sinful condition, as well as on the law. It was the light of God that reserved all its rights to the law, but itself shone with such spiritual force as had never reached their consciences before, and drove out the faithless hearts which desired not the knowledge of God and His ways. And this a waif tossed haphazard on the broken coast of our gospel! Nay, brethren, your eyes are at fault; it is a ray of light from Christ, and shines just where it should.
It was not exactly, as Augustine says, "Relicti sunt duo, misera, et misericordia" ( In Jo. Evang. Tr., xxxiii. 5); for here the Lord is acting as light. Therefore, instead of saying, Thy sins are forgiven, He asks, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."* It is not pardon, nor mercy, but light. "Go, and sin no more" (not, "Thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace"). Man invented such a story as this! Who since the world began, had he set to work to imagine an incident to illustrate the chapter, could or would have framed such an one as this? Where is there anything like it, that poet, philosopher, historian ever wrote, ever conceived? Produce the Protevangelion, the gospel of Nicodemus, or any other such early writing. These, indeed, are the genuine productions of man; but what a difference from that before us! Yet is it in the truest sense original, entirely distinct from any other fact, either in the Bible, or anywhere else, not, of course, excepting John himself. Nevertheless, its air, scope, and character can be proved, I think, to suit John, and no other; and this particular context in John, and no other. No theory is less reasonable than that this can be either a mere floating tradition stuck in here by some chance, or the work of a forger's mind. I do not think it harsh, but charitable to speak thus plainly; for the course of incredulity is now running strong' and Christians can hardly avoid hearing of these questions. I therefore do not refuse this opportunity of leading any simple souls to see how truly divine the whole bearing of this portion is how exactly apposite to that which the Lord insists on throughout the chapter. For, immediately after, we have doctrine unfolded which, no doubt, goes farther, but is intimately connected, as no other chapter is, with the story.†
*The fact that κατακρίνω is found here twice, and here only in John, is of no weight against the genuineness of the passage. It is the strict judicial term for passing an adverse sentence among men. How, where, could this be anywhere else in John? It is not true that κρίνω is ever used in this sense anywhere in John. It means, and should always be rendered, "judge," not "condemn," though the effect for the guilty (and man is guilty) be necessarily condemnation.
†Among the detailed objections to the genuineness of the passage (John 7:53; John 8:1-43.8.11), it is contended that the evidence of Augustine and Nicon (who distinctly tell us that it was expunged wilfully on account of the supposed license it gave to sin) does not account for the omission ofJohn 7:53; John 7:53. But this is short-sighted. For the going of each to his home is in evident connection with, and contra-distinction to, the going of Jesus to the mount of Olives. He was ever the stranger here. And what gospel, or whose style, does this simple but profound contrast suit so much as John? (Compare John 20:10-43.20.11) We know, fromJohn 18:2; John 18:2, that this neighbourhood was the frequent resort of Jesus with His disciples.
Next, the idea of many distinct and independent texts (as distinguished from abundance of various readings) seems an evident exaggeration. Take the fact, that this is eked out by putting the Received Text as one; the text of D (or Beza's Cambridge Uncial) as another; and that of most of the MSS. E F G H K M S U, etc., as a third. Now, what right has the Received Text to be thus ranged? It was formed by collating some of those very manuscripts which are thrown together as a third text. The true conclusion, therefore, is simply the not at all unprecedented phenomenon that D differs considerably from almost if not all other manuscripts, and that the Received Text is but a poor approximation to a text based on a collation of manuscripts. A really standard text, which gives just but discriminating value to an worthy witnesses, is as yet a desideratum.
Thirdly, what the contents of the passage are which countenances the notion that there is some inherent defect in the text to invalidate its claim to a place in the sacred narrative I cannot divine, as it is not here explained.
The fourth objection is the very general concurrence of the MSS. that contain the passage in placing it here. Why this place, of all others, should have been selected, will be no difficulty to those who feel with me; but, on the contrary, in my judgment, it refutes the "desperate resource" (as it is even allowed to be, strange to say, by those who adopt it), that the evangelist may have in this solitary case incorporated a portion of the current oral tradition into his narrative, which was afterwards variously corrected from the gospel to the Hebrews, or other traditional sources, and from different diction put in at the end ofLuke 21:1-42.21.38; Luke 21:1-42.21.38, or elsewhere. I am convinced, that where there is a real understanding of John 8:1-43.8.59 as a whole, the opening incident will be felt to be a necessary exordium of fact before the discourse which, to my mind, manifestly and certainly grew out of it, as surely as it happened then, and at no other time. Lastly, the mind which could conceive that the fact, as well as the tone or the moral drift of this incident, fits in to the end of Luke 21:1-42.21.38 rather than to the beginning ofJohn 8:1-43.8.59; John 8:1-43.8.59, seems so decidedly imaginative, that reasoning is here out of place, particularly as it is allowed, along with this, that its occurrence here (spite of the evidence of some cursive MSS. for Luke 21:1-42.21.38) seems much in its favour. Lastly, I have examined with care, and satisfied myself, that the alleged weightiest argument against the passage, in its entire diversity from the style of John's narrative, is superficial and misleading. Some peculiar words are required by the circumstance; and the general cast and character of the passage, so far from being alien to the evangelist's manner, seems to me, on the contrary, in his spirit, rather than in any other inspired writer's, no matter in which of the manuscripts we read it. D is the copy which makes the chief inroads; this is a common thing with that venerable, but most faulty document.
Jesus spoke again to them (the interrupters having disappeared). "I am the light of the world." He had just acted as light among those who had appealed to law; He here goes on, but widens the sphere. He says, "I am the light of the world." it is not merely dealing with scribes and Pharisees. Further, "He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." The life was the light of men, the perfect display and guide of the life He was to His followers. The law never is this good if a man use it lawfully, but not for a righteous man whose Christ is. So Christ tells the Pharisees who objected that He knew whence He came, and whither He was going: they were in the dark, and knew nothing of it. They were in the unrelieved darkness of the world, they judged after the flesh. Not so Jesus: He did not judge. Yet, if He did, His judgment was true; for He was not alone, but His Father was with Him. And their law bid them bow to two witnesses. But what witnesses? His testimony was so decided, that the reason why they did not then lay hands on Him was simply this His hour was not yet come. (Verses John 8:12-43.8.20)
The Lord throughout the chapter speaks with more than usual solemnity, and with increasing plainness to His enemies, who knew neither Him nor His Father. They should die in their sins; and whither He went, they could not come. They were from beneath of this world; He from above, and not of this world.
The truth is, that throughout the gospel He speaks as One consciously rejected, but morally judging all things as the Light. He therefore does not scruple to push things to an extremity, to draw out their real character and state most distinctly; to pronounce on them as from beneath, as He Himself from above; to show that there was no resemblance between them and Abraham, but rather Satan, and not the smallest communion in their thoughts with His Father's. Hence it is, too, that later on He lets them know that the time is coining when they should know who He was, but too late. He is the rejected light of God, and light of the world, from the first, and all through; but, more than this, He is the light of God, not only in deed, but in His word; as elsewhere He let them know they would be judged by it in the last day. Hence, when they asked Him who He was, He answers them to that effect; and I refer to it the more, because the force is imperfectly given, and even wrongly, in verse 25: "Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning." Not only is there no need of adding "the same," but there is nothing that answers to "from the beginning." And this, again, has involved our translators in a change of tense, which is not merely uncalled for, but spoils the true idea. Our Lord does not refer to what He had said at or from any starting-point, but to what He speaks always, as then also. In every respect the sense of the Holy Ghost is enfeebled, changed, and even destroyed in the common version. What our Lord did answer is incomparably more forcible, and in exact accordance with the doctrine of the chapter, and the incident that begins it. They asked Him who He was. His answer is this: "Absolutely that which I also am speaking to you." I am thoroughly, essentially what I also speak. It is not only that He is the light, and that there is no darkness in Him as there is none in God, so none in Him; but, as to the principle of His being, He is what He utters. And, indeed, of Him only is this true. A Christian may be said to be light in the Lord; but of none, save Jesus, could it be said, that the word he discourses is the expression of what he is. Jesus is the truth. Alas! we know that, so false is human nature and the world, nothing but the power of the Spirit, revealing Christ to us through the Word, keeps us even as believers from departure into error, misconduct, and evil of any kind. None but One could say, "I am what I speak." And this is precisely what Christ is showing throughout the scene. He was the light to convict the doers of darkness, however hidden; He was the light which made others no matter what they might have been in the world to be light, if they followed Himself, God manifest in flesh. He manifested God, and made man manifest also. Everything was manifested by the light. Who is He? "Absolutely ( τὴν ἀρχὴν ) what I speak." What He utters in speech is what He is. There was not the smallest deflection from the truth; His every word and way declared it. There was never the appearance of what He was not. He is always, and in every particular, what He speaks.
How entirely this falls in with what we have elsewhere, does not need to be pressed. We see farther on the same doctrine, only ever expanding; revelation clearer, and more antagonistic to more and more determined unbelief. He lets them know, that when they have lifted up the Son of man, then they shall know that Jesus is He (the truth would be thoroughly out), "and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." It is not miracles here, but the truth. He not only is the truth in His own person, but He speaks it. He speaks it to the world also; for all through John's gospel, although it be the eternal life that was with the Father, the Word that was with God in the beginning, still, He is also (from John 1:14) a man on earth a real, true man here below, however truly God. And so it is in this chapter. It began by showing that He is so in act; then it opens out that He is so in word. He said to the world what He heard from Him that sent Him as they rightly understood, from the Father.
He pursues the same line in dealing with the Jews who believed in Him (verse John 8:31): "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. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Thus His word (not the law) is the sole means of knowing the truth and its liberty. It was not merely a question of commands, or of something God wanted from man. That had been given, and tried; and what was the end of it for them and Him? Now much more was at stake, even the manifestation of God in Christ to the world, and this also in His word, in the truth. It became a test, therefore, of the truth; and if they continued in His word, they should be His disciples indeed; and should know the truth, and the truth should make them free.
But then there is another thing required to set free, or rather which does à fortiori set free. The truth learnt in the word of Jesus is the only foundation. But if received, it is not merely that I have the truth, so to speak, as an expression of His mind, but of Himself of His person. Hence it is that He touches on this point in verse 36: "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." It is not merely, then, the truth making free, but the Son. He who pretends to receive the truth, but does not bow before the glory of the Son, proves that there is no truth in him. He that receives the truth might at first be very ignorant; the truth may be, then, nothing more than that which lets in the light of God graciously, but in a limited measure. It is rarely that all at once the full glory of Christ bursts in upon the soul. As with the disciples, so it might be with any soul now. There might be real, but gradual perception; but the truth invariably works thus, where God is the teacher. Then, as light increases, and the glory of Christ shines more distinctly, the heart welcomes Him; and so much the more rejoices as He is exalted. On the contrary, where it is not the truth, but theory or tradition a mere reasoning or sentiment about Christ, the heart is offended by the full presentation of His glory, stumbles at it, and turns away from Him, just because it cannot bear the strength and brightness of that divine fulness which was in Christ: it knows not God, nor Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Eternal life is unknown and unenjoyed.
Further, the Lord brings out here another thing worthy of all attention; especially as the same principle runs through from the incident at the beginning of the chapter. It is not merely light, truth, and the Son known in the person of Christ, but also as contrasted with the law. Did they boast in the law? What place had they under it? Slaves! Yes, and they were faithless to it; they broke the law; they were slaves of sin. It is not the slave, but the Son, who abides in the house. Thus the law is not in any way lowered, but at the same time there is the bright contrast of Christ with it. The law has its just place; it is for servants, and deals with them justly. The consequence is, there is no permanence for them, any more than liberty. Law could not meet the case; nothing, and none short of the Son. "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." Was not this precisely what He had brought home to the conscience at the beginning of the chapter? Before God (and He was God) it was not what the poor woman had done that was all, but what they were, and they were convicted of sin; they were not without sin. He had said, "The servant abideth not in the house;" and this was precisely the case with them; they were obliged to go.* "But the Son abideth ever," and so He does in the best, and highest, and truest estate. Thus the doctrine entirely harmonizes with the fact, and in a way that does not appear at first sight, but only as we look into it a little more closely, and search into the depths of the living word of God, though none of us can boast of the progress we have made. Nevertheless, we may be permitted to say, that the more closely we are given of God to apprehend the truth, the more the divine perfectness of the entire picture becomes manifest to our souls.
*"They were struck by the power of the word of Christ," says an opponent of the claim of the commencing section to a genuine and divinely given place in the chapter, unconscious that he is thereby illustrating its connection with the whole current of the chapter.
I need not go through the particulars which the Lord brings out in laying bare the condition of the Jews, the seed (not the children) of Abraham, but really of their father the devil, and manifesting it in the two characters of liar and murderer. They did not know His speech, because they could not hear His word. The truth meant is the key to the outer vehicle of it just the reverse of man's knowledge. In fine, all is shown in its true essential character here, the convicted one and her accusers, the Jews, the world, the disciples, the truth, the Son, Satan himself, God Himself. Not only is Abraham* seen truly (not as misrepresented in his seed), but One who was greater than "our father" Abraham, who would say, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing; but who could say (with a verily, verily), "BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS, I AM." He is the light in deed and word. He says so. Then He deals with them, convicting them more and more. He shows that the truth is found here only in His word. He, the witness, testifies that He is the Son. But the chapter does not end before He announces His eternal Godhead. He is God Himself, yet hides Himself when they took up stones to stone Him. His hour was not yet come. This is the truth of them, as of Him. He was God. Such is the truth. Short of this, we have not the truth of Christ. But it is the growing rejection of Christ's word that leads Him on step by step to the assertion that He was very God, though a man upon the earth.
* I apprehend that by "my day" He means the day of Christ's glory; not vaguely the time of Christ, but the day when He will be displayed in glory. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day." He looked for that day of Christ's appearing in glory, and he "saw it, and was glad." It was the day when the promises would be accomplished, and very naturally he who had the promises looked for the time when they are to be made good in Christ.
Like the preceding, John 9:1-43.9.41 shows us the Lord rejected here in His work, as there in His word. The difference a little answers to what we have seen in John 5:1-43.5.47; John 6:1-43.6.71. In the fifth chapter He is the quickening Son of God; but all testimonies are vain, and judgment awaits the unbeliever a resurrection of judgment. In John 6:1-43.6.71. He is seen as the suffering Son of man, who takes the place of humiliation, instead of the kingdom which they wanted to force on Him. But no; this was not the purpose for which He had come, though true in its own time; but what He took, and took because His eye was ever single, viewed as man, was for God's glory, not for His own; and the real glory of God in a ruined world is only met by the service and death of the Son of man dying for sinners and for sin. Somewhat similarly in John 8:1-43.8.59 He is the rejected Word, who confesses Himself (when most scorned and men are ready to stone Him) to be the everlasting God Himself. As man becomes more hardened in unbelief, Christ becomes more pointed and plain in the assertion of the truth. Thus the more it is pressed down, the more the brightness of the truth makes its way out, that He is God. They had fully heard now who He was, and therefore must He be ignominiously cast out. His words brought God too close, too really; and they would not bear them.
But now He is rejected in another way, and in this it is as man, though declaring Himself and worshipped as Son of God. We shall see that there is stress on His manhood, more especially as the necessary mould or form which divine grace took to effect the blessing of man, to work the works of God in grace on the earth. Accordingly, here it is not merely that man is seen to be guilty, but blind from his birth. Doubtless there is light that discovers man in his evil and. unbelief; but man is sought and met by His grace; for here the man had no thought of being healed never asked Jesus to heal him. There was no cry here to the Son of David. This we hear most properly in the other gospels, which develop the last offer of the Messiah to the Jews. In every one of the gospels, indeed, we have Him finally presented as the Son of David; and therefore, although it be the proper province of Matthew, yet inasmuch as all the synoptic gospels dwell on our Lord at the close as Son of David, all the gospels give the story of the blind man at Jericho. Matthew, however, gives blind men over and over again, crying to Him, "Son of David." The reason is, I suppose, that not merely is He so presented at the last, but all through in Matthew. In John this case does not appear at all; no blind man cries to the Son of David throughout. What is brought before us in the man, blind from his birth, is a wholly different truth. It was, indeed, the most desperate case. Instead of the man looking to Christ, it is Christ that looks at the man, without a single cry or appeal to Him. It is absolute grace. If it be not the Father seeking, at any rate it is the Son. It is One who had deigned to become man in love to man. He is seeking, though rejected, to display the grace of God toward this poor blind beggar in his abject need: "As Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?"
They had nothing better than Jewish thoughts about the case. But all through the gospel of John Christ is setting aside these thoughts on every side, whether in enquirers outside, or more particularly in disciples, who were under this pernicious influence like other people. Here the Lord answered, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents." The ways of God are not as man's; and their revelation stands in contrast with Jewish notions of retributive justice. The reason lay deeper than what his parents deserved, or the foresight of what he would do amiss. Not that the man and his parents were not sinners; but the eye of Jesus saw beyond nature, or law, or government, in the man's blindness from his birth. To divine goodness, the inner and true and ultimate reason, God's reason if one may be permitted such a phrase was to furnish an opportunity for Christ to work the works of God on the earth. How blessedly grace operates in, and judges of, a hopeless case! That it was wholly outside the resources of man made it just the occasion for Jesus, for the works of God. This is the point of the chapter Jesus working the works of God in free unconditional grace. In John 8:1-43.8.59 the prominent feature. is the word of God; here, the works of God made effectual and manifest in grace. "I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day." Therefore can one say, that it is unqualified grace, because it is not merely God mercifully answering man's appeal, and blessing man's work, but God sending, and Christ working. "I must work the works of him that sent me." What grace (save in Jesus all through) can be compared with this? Jesus, then, was doing this work "while it is day." Day was while He was present with them. Night was coming, which would be, for the Jew, the personal absence of the Messiah; indeed, such for any would be the departure of the Son of God. "The night cometh when no man can work." (Verse 4) Higher things might follow in their season, and brighter light suited to them when the day should dawn, and the day-star arise in hearts established with grace. But here it is the time of the absence of Jesus in contrast with His presence on earth as He then was. "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (Verse 5)
This establishes very plainly the fact, that these two chapters are so far linked together, in that they look at Christ as light, and the light of the world too. But, far from being confined to Israel, it rather sets aside the Jewish system, which assumes to order things justly now according to man's conduct, thus ignoring man's ruin by sin, and God's grace in Christ as the sole deliverance. Here it is not so much the light by the word convicting man, and bringing out God's nature and the reality of His own personal glory, but "the light of the world" as manifesting God graciously working in power contrary to nature. It was a question not of light for eyes, but of giving power to see the light to one wholly and evidently incapable of seeing as he was. Hence we do well to remark the peculiarity in the Lord's manner of working. He lays clay upon the man's eyes; an extraordinary step at first sight. In truth, it was the shadow of Himself become man, an apt figure of the human body which He took in order therein to do God's will. He was not simply Son of God, but Son of God possessed of a body prepared of God. (Hebrews 10:1-58.10.39) He became man; and yet the fact of the body of Christ of God's Son being found in fashion as a man only and greatly increases the difficulty at first sight, because nobody, apart from the word of God, would look for a divine person in such a guise. But when faith bows to the word, and accepts the will of God in it, how precious the grace, how wise the ordering yea, how indispensable it is learnt to be! So with the man already blind before. Putting the plaster of clay over his eyes did not at once mend his blindness in the least; but, if anything, the contrary would have hindered his seeing, had he seen before. But when he goes at the word of Jesus, and washes in the pool of Siloam that is, when the word is applied in the Holy Ghost to his case, revealing Jesus as the sent One of God (compareJohn 5:24; John 5:24), all was so far plain. It was not a mere man who had spoken; he apprehended in Jesus One Sent (for the pool to which the Lord directed the man to wash his clay-covered eyes in was called "Siloam;" that is, it bore the very name of "sent"). It was then understood that Jesus had a mission on earth to work the works of God. Though, of course, man born of a woman, He was more than human: He was the Sent One the Sent of the Father in love into this world, to work effectually where man was entirely incapable even of helping in any way.
Thus the truth was in process of application, so to speak. The man goes his way, washes, and comes seeing. The word of God explains this mystery. The Son's taking humanity is ever a blinding fact to nature; but he who is not disobedient to the word will assuredly not fail to find in the acknowledgment of the truth Christ's glory under His manhood, as well as the need of his own soul met with a power and promptness which answers, as it is due, to His glory who wrought in grace here below.
Nevertheless, the word of the Lord tried him as ever; other hearts were tested by it too. The neighbours were astonished, and questions arise; the Pharisees are stirred but divided (for this miracle, also, was wrought on a sabbath). The parents being summoned, as well as himself questioned, all stand to the great and indisputable fact: the man just healed was their child, and he had been born blind. The man indeed witnessed what he believed of Jesus, and the threat of the consequences was only made the clearer, even though there was a total avoidance of all dangerous answers on the parents' part, and a determination to reject Christ and those who confessed Him in the Pharisees. The work of grace was hated, and especially because it was wrought on the sabbath day. For this bore solemn witness, that in the truth of things before God there was no sabbath possible for them: He must work if man was to be delivered and blessed. Of course, there was the holy form, and there was no doubt as to the duty; but if God revealed Himself on earth, neither forms nor duties, paid after a sort by sinful men, could hide the awful reality that man was incapable of keeping such a sabbath as God could recognise. The day had been sanctified from the beginning; the duty of the Jew was unquestionable; but sin was man's state; after every remedial measure, he was thoroughly and only evil continually.
In fact, so far the Jew quite understood, as far as that went, the moral meaning of the Lord's working thus both either on the impotent man before, and now on the blind man. For such deeds on the sabbath did pronounce sentence of death on that whole system, and on the great badge of relationship between God and Israel. If Jesus was true God as well as man, if He was really the light of the world, yet wrought on the sabbath day, there was plain evidence on God's part of what He thought of Israel. They felt it to be a matter of life and death. But the man was led on by these conscienceless attacks, as is always the case where there is simple faith. The effort to destroy the person of Christ and to undermine His glory only developed, in the goodness of God, that divine work which had already touched his soul, as well as given him eyes to see. Thus was his faith exercised and cleared, side by side with the unbelief and hostility of the enemies of Christ. The consequence is, that we have a beautiful history in this chapter of the man led on step by step; first owning the work the Lord had wrought with simplicity, and therefore in force of truth: what he does not know he owned with just the same frankness. Then, when the Pharisees were divided, and he was appealed to once more, "He is a prophet" was his distinct answer. Then, when the fact was only the more established by the parents, spite of their timidity, the hypocritical effort to honour God at the expense of Jesus draws out the most withering refutation (not without a taunt) from him who had been blind. (Verses 24-33) This closed, they could not answer, and cast him out. (Verse 34)
How beautiful to mark the Spirit's love, dwelling fully and minutely on a blind beggar taught of God, thus gradually and evermore beating their in credulous objections smaller than when they cast him out as dirt in the streets! What a living picture of the new witness for Christ! A character plain, honest, energetic, not always the most gracious, but certainly confronted with the most heartless and false of adversaries. But if the man finds himself out of the synagogue, he is soon in the presence of Christ. The religious world of that day could not endure a witness of divine power and grace which they themselves, feeling not the need, denied, denounced, and did all they could to destroy. Outside them, but with Jesus, he learns more deeply than ever, so as to fill his soul with profound joy and gladness, that the wondrous healer of his blindness was not merely a prophet, but the Son of God just object of faith and worship. Thus clearly we have in this case the rejection of Jesus viewed, not in open attack on His own person, as in the. chapter before, where they took up stones to stone Him, but here rather in His friends, whom He had first met in sovereign grace, and did not let them go till fully blessed, ending in Jesus worshipped outside the synagogue as the Son of God. (Verses 38-40)
Then the Lord declares the issues of His coming. "For judgment," He says, "I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind." In this gospel He ]lad said before, that it was to save and give life, not to judge, that He came. Such was the aim of His heart, at all cost to Himself; but the effect was moral in one way or the other, and this now. Manifest judgment awaits the evil by-and-by. And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth." They were offended at the notion of their not seeing. Did they insist that they saw? The Lord admits the plea. If they felt their sin and shortcoming, there might be a hope. As it was, then, sin remained. The boast, like the excuse, of unbelief is invariably the ground of divine judgment.
John 10:1-43.10.42 pursues the subject and opens out into a development, not of the spiritual history of a sheep of Christ, but of the Shepherd Himself, from first to last, here below. Hence, the Lord does not rest in a judgment extorted by their unbelief, and in contrast with the deliverance of faith, but develops the ways of grace here, as always in marked antithesis with the Jewish system, though connected with the man for His sake turned out of the synagogue, then found by Himself, and led into the fullest perception of His own glory outside the Jews, where alone real worship is possible. Accordingly our Lord traces this new history His own from the beginning.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." It was not so with Jesus. He had entered in by the door, according to every requisition of the Scriptures. Although Son, He had submitted to each ordinance which God had laid down for the Shepherd of His earthly people. He accomplished the work that God had marked out for Him in prophecy and type. What had been required or stipulated, according to the law, that had He not rendered in full tale? He was born at the measured time, in the due place, from the sworn stock, and of the defined mother, according to the written word. God had taken care beforehand to make each important point plain, by which the true Christ of God was to be recognised; and all had been fulfilled thus far in Jesus thus far; for it is quite allowed that all the prophecies of subjugation and judgment, with the reign over the earth, remain to be accomplished. "To him," He says, "the porter openeth." This had been realized. Witness the Holy Ghost's action in Simeon and Anna, not to speak of the mass; and, above all, in John the Baptist. God had wrought by His grace in Israel, and there were godly hearts prepared for Him there.
"And the sheep hear his voice." (VerseJohn 10:3; John 10:3) So we find in the gospels, particularly Luke's, from the beginning. And he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out" an evident allusion to what had befallen the blind man. No doubt he had been turned out of the synagogue; but Christ imprints, on this, their wicked act, His own interpretation, according to divine counsels. Little did the man know at that painful moment, that it was in reality grace which was leading him out. If it was a little before His own public and final rejection, it was, after all, the same principle at the bottom. The disciple is not above his master; but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. "He goeth before them." This seems to refer to the manner in which it had been, and should be, accomplished. Already had the Lord tasted the enmity and scorn of man, and especially of the Jews; but He also knew the depths of shame and suffering which He must soon pass through, before there was an open separation of the sheep. Thus, whether it were done virtually or formally, in either case Jesus went before, and the sheep followed; "for they know his voice." This is their spiritual instinct, as it is their security not skill in determining or refuting error, but simple cleaving to Christ and the truth. See this exemplified in the once blind man. What weight had the Pharisees with his conscience? None whatever. They, on the contrary, felt he taught them. "A stranger will they not follow," any more than he would follow the Pharisees. For now, by the new eyes which the Lord had given him, he could discern their vain pretensions, and their hostility against Jesus so much the worse, because coupled with "Give God the praise." "A stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him" not because they are learned in the injurious jargon of strangers, "for they know not the voice of strangers." They know the Shepherd's voice, and this they follow. It is the love of what is good, and not skill in finding out what is evil. Some may have power to sift and discern the unsound; but this is not the true, direct, divine means of safety for the sheep of Christ. There is a much more real, immediate, and sure way. It is simply this: they cannot rest without the voice of Christ; and that which is not the voice of Christ they do not follow. What more suitable to them, or more worthy of Him?
As these things were not understood, the Lord opens out the truth still more plainly in what follows. Here (verse John 10:7) He begins by taking the place of "the door of the sheep;" not, be it observed, of the sheepfold, but of the sheep. He had entered in Himself by the door, not of the sheep, of course, but by the door into the sheepfold. He entered in according to each sign and token moral, miraculous, prophetic, or personal which God had given to His ancient people to know Him by. But enter as He might, the people who broke the law refused the Shepherd; and the end of it was, that He leads His own sheep outside, Himself going before them. Now, there is more, and He says, "I am the door of the sheep." The contrast of pretended or merely human shepherds is given in the next verse, which is parenthetical. "All that ever came before me [such as Theudas and Judas] are thieves and robbers [they secretly or openly enriched themselves by the sheep]: but the sheep did not hear them."
In verse 9 He enlarges. "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." The portion He gives the sheep is a contrast with the law in another way; not as light simply, as in the beginning of John 8:1-43.8.59, in detecting all sin and every sinner. Now, it is grace in its fulness. "By me," He says not by circumcision, or the law "By me if any man enter in." There was no question of entering in by the law; for it dealt with those who were already in a recognised relation with God. But now there is an invitation to those without. "By me if any man enter in, he shall be saved." Salvation is the first need of a sinner, and certainly the Gentile needs it as much as the Jew. "By me if any man" no matter who he may be, if he enter, he shall be saved. Nevertheless, it is only for those that enter in. There is no salvation for such as abide outside Christ. But this is not all; for grace with Christ freely gives, not salvation alone, but all things. Even now, too, "he shall go in and out." It is not only that there is life and salvation in Christ, but there is liberty, in contrast with the law. "And he shall find pasture." Besides, there is food assured. Thus we have here an ample provision for the sheep. To him that enters by Christ there is salvation, there is liberty, there is food.
Again, the Lord contrasts others with Himself. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy." By their fruits they should know them. How could the sheep trust such shepherds as these? "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." There had been life when there was only a promise; there had been life all through the dealings of law. Clearly Christ had ever been the means of life from the day death entered the world. But now He was come, it was not only that they might have life, but that they might have it "more abundantly." This was the effect of the presence of God's Son in this world. Was it not right and becoming, that when the Son of God did humble Himself in this world, even to death, the death of the cross, dying also in atonement for sinners, God should mark this infinite fact and work and person by an incomparably richer blessing than ever had been diffused before? I cannot conceive it otherwise than the Word shows it is, consistently with the glory of God, even the Father.
Further, He was not only the door of the sheep, and then the door for others to enter in, but He says (verse John 10:11), "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." It is no longer only in contrast with a thief or a robber, with murderous intent or evidently selfish purposes of the worst kind, but there might be others characterised by a milder form of human iniquity not destroyers of the sheep, but self-seeking men. "He that. is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep." Christ, as the good shepherd, does nothing of the kind, but remains to suffer all for them, instead of running away when the wolf came. "I am the good shepherd, and know those that are mine, and am known by mine, as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father." Such is the true sense of the verse. The John 10:14 th andJohn 10:15; John 10:15 th verses really form one sentence. They are not divided as we have them in our Bibles. The meaning is, that He showed Himself as the good Shepherd because He knew the sheep, and was known of them, just. as He knew the Father, and was known of the Father. The mutuality of knowledge between the Father and the Son is the pattern of the knowledge between the Shepherd and the sheep. In what a wondrous. place this puts us and the character of knowledge we possess. The knowledge which grace gives to the sheep is so truly divine that the Lord has nothing to compare it with, except the knowledge that exists between the Father and the Son. Nor is it merely a question of knowledge, intimate and perfect and divine as it is; but, moreover, "I lay down my life for the sheep." Other sheep, too, He intimates here, He had, who were to be brought in, that did not belong to the Jewish fold; He clearly looks out into the world, as always in the gospel of John. There was to be one flock (not fold), one Shepherd.
Moreover, in order to open yet more the ineffable complacency of the Father in His work abstractedly, He adds, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life." Not here "for the sheep," but simply, "that I might take it again." (VerseJohn 10:17; John 10:17) That is to say, besides laying down His life for the sheep, He laid down His life to prove His perfect confidence in His Father. Impossible for another, or all others, to give so much. Even He could not give more than His life. Any other thing would not be comparable to the laying down of His life. It was the most complete, absolute giving up of Himself; and He did give up Himself, not merely for the gracious end of winning the sheep to God from the spoiler, but with the still more blessed and glorious aim of manifesting, in a world where man had from the first dishonoured God, His own perfect confidence in His Father, and this as man. He laid it down that He might take it again. Thus, instead of continuing His life in dependence on His Father, He gives it up out of a still profounder and truly absolute dependence. "Therefore," says He, "doth my Father love me." This becomes a positive ground for the Father to love Him, additional to the perfection which had ever been seen in Him all His pathway through. Even more than this; although it is so expressly an act of His own, another astonishing principle is seen the union of absolute devotedness on His own part, in perfect freeness of His will, with obedience. (Verse 18) Thus the very same act may be, and is (as we find it in all its perfection in Christ) His own will, and yet along with this simple submission to His Father's commandment. In truth, He and the Father were one; and so He does not stop till we have this fully expressed in verse John 10:30. He and His Father were one one in everything; not only in love and gracious counsel for the sheep, but in nature, too in that divine nature which, of course, was the ground of all the grace.
But, besides this, the unbelief of the Jews brings out another thing; that is, the perfect security of the sheep a very important question, because He was going to die. His death is in view: what will the sheep do then? Would the death of Christ in any way imperil the sheep? The very reverse. The Lord declares this in a most distinct manner. He says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." (VersesJohn 10:27-43.10.28; John 10:27-43.10.28) First of all, the life is everlasting. But then it is not merely that the thing itself is eternal, but they shall never perish; for it might be pretended, that though the life lasts for ever, this is conditional on something in its recipients. Nay, "they shall never perish" the sheep themselves. Thus, not merely the life, but those who have it by grace in Christ, shall never perish. To conclude and crown all, as far as their security was concerned, the question is answered as to any hostile power. What about some one external to them? Nay; there again, as there was no internal source of weakness that could jeopard the life, so there should be no external power to cause anxiety. If there was any power that might do so righteously, surely it must be God's own; but, contrariwise, they were in the Father's hand, no less than in the Son's hand none could pluck them out. Thus the Lord fenced them round even by His death, as well as by that eternal life which was in Him, the superiority of which over death was proved by His authority to take it again in resurrection. This was the life more abundantly which they derived from Him. Why should any one wonder at its power? He was, for the sheep, against all adversaries; and so was the Father. Yea, "I and the Father are one." (VersesJohn 10:29-43.10.30; John 10:29-43.10.30)
As there had been a division among the Jews for His sayings, and their appeal in doubt to Him had drawn out both His treatment of them as unbelievers, and the security of the sheep who heeded His voice and followed Him, as He knew them (ver. John 10:19-43.10.30) so our Lord, in the presence of their hatred and still growing enmity (ver. John 10:31; John 10:31), convicts them of the futility of their objection on their own ground. Did they find fault because He took the place of being the Son of God? Yet they must allow that kings, governors, judges, according to their law, were called gods. "If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" A fortiori had He not a place which no king ever had? Did He, on their own principles, blaspheme then, because He said He was the Son of God? But He goes far beyond this. If they regarded not God's word, nor His words, He appeals to His works. "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him." This connects, as I apprehend, the tenth chapter with the foregoing, and is in contrast with the eighth. They had thus repeatedly sought to kill Him, and He abandons them for the place in which John first baptized. In the face of total rejection, and in every point of view, both as the expression of God in the world, and of His working the works of grace in the world, the result was plain. Man, the Jew especially, settles down in resolute unbelief and deadly hostility; but, on the other hand, the indefeasible security of the sheep, the objects of grace, only comes out with so much the greater clearness and decision.
Nevertheless, though all was really closed, God would manifest by a full and final testimony what was the glory of Christ, rejected as He was, and previous to His death. And accordingly, in John 11:1-43.11.57; John 12:1-43.12.50 is given a strikingly rich presentation of the Lord Jesus, in many respects entirely differing from all the others; for while it embraces what is found in the synoptists (that is, the accomplishment of prophecy in His offer of Himself to Zion as the Son of David), John brings in a fulness of personal glory that is peculiar to his gospel.
Here we begin with that which John alone records the resurrection of Lazarus. Some have wondered that it appears only in the latest gospel; but it is given there for a very simple and conclusive reason. The resurrection of Lazarus was the most distinct testimony possible, near Jerusalem, in the face of open Jewish enmity. It was the grandest demonstrative proof that He was the Son of God, determined to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Who but He on earth could say, I am the resurrection and the life? Who had ever looked for more in Messiah Himself than Martha did raising up the dead at the last day?
Here I may just observe, that Romans 1:4 does not restrict the meaning to the fact that He was determined to be the Son of God with power by His own resurrection. This is not what the verse states, but that resurrection of the dead, or the raising of dead persons, was the great proof that defined Him to be the Son of God with power. No doubt His own resurrection was the most astonishing instance of it; but His raising of dead persons in His ministry was a witness also, as the resurrection of His saints by-and-by will be the display of it. Hence the verse in Romans 1:1-45.1.32 expresses the truth in all its extent, and without specifying any one in particular. So Lazarus, as being the most conspicuous case of resurrection any where appearing in the gospels, except Christ's own, which all give, was the fullest testimony that even John rendered to that great truth. Hence, then, as one might expect from its character, the account is given with remarkable development in that gospel which is devoted to the personal glory of Jesus as the Son of God. To this attaches the revelation of the resurrection, and the life in Him as a, present thing, superior to all questions of prophetic time, or dispensations. It could be found nowhere else so appropriately as in John. The difficulty, therefore, in its occurrence here and not elsewhere, is really none whatever to any one who believes the object of God as apparent in the gospels themselves.
But, then, there is another feature that meets us in the story. Christ was not only the Son of God, but the Son of man. He was the Son of God, and a perfect man, in absolute dependence on His Father. He was not to be acted upon by any feeling, except the will of God. Thus He carries His divine sonship into His position as a man on earth, and He never allows that the glory of His person should in the smallest degree interfere with the completeness of His dependence and obedience. Hence, when the Lord hears the call, "Behold, he whom thou lovest is sick" the strongest possible appeal to the heart for acting at once on it He does not go. His answer is most calm, and, if God be not before us, to mere human feeling it might seem indifferent. It was not so, but was utter perfection. "This sickness," He says, "is not unto death." Events might seem to contradict this; appearances might say it was to death, but Jesus was and is the truth always. "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." And so it was. "Now, Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." Whatever, therefore, it might appear, His affection was unquestionable. But, then, there are other and even deeper principles. His love for Mary, for Martha, and for Lazarus weakened in no respect His dependence on God; He waited on His Father's direction. So, "when he heard that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again. They say, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night he stumbleth, because there is no light in him." In Jesus there was nothing but perfect light. He was Himself the light. He walked in the sunshine of God. He was the very perfection of that which is only partially true with us in practice. "If, then, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." Indeed, He was the light, as well as full of it. Walking accordingly in this world, He waited for the word of His Father. At once, when this came, He says, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth, but I go that I may awake him out of sleep." There was no darkness in Him. All is plain, and He go" forth promptly with the knowledge of all He is going to do.
Then we have the ignorant thoughts of the disciples, though not unmixed with devotedness to His person. Thomas proposes that they should go to die with him. How marvellous is the unbelief even of the saints of God! He was going really to raise the dead; their only thought was to go and die with him. Such was a disciple's sombre anticipation. Our Lord does not say a word about it at the moment, but calmly leaves the truth to correct the error in due time. Then we have the wonderful interview with the sisters; and, finally, our Lord is at the grave, a consciously divine person, the Son of the Father, but in the perfectness of manhood, yet with such deep feeling as Deity alone could produce not only sympathy with sorrow, but, above all, the sense of what death is in this world. Indeed, our Lord did not raise up Lazarus from the dead, until His own spirit had just as thoroughly taken, as it were, the sense of death on His soul, as when, in the removal of any sickness, He habitually felt its burden (Matthew 8:1-40.8.34); not, of course, in a low, literal, physical manner, but weighing it all in His spirit with His Father. Of us it is said, "with groanings that cannot be uttered." If Christ groaned, His could not but be a groan in accordance with the Spirit justly and perfectly uttering the real fulness of the grief that His heart felt. In our case this could not be, because there is that which mars the perfectness of what is felt by us; but in the case of Christ, the Holy Ghost takes up and groans out that which we cannot fully express. Even in us He gives the sorrow a divine expression to God; and, of course, in Christ there was no shortcoming, no mingling of the flesh, but all was absolutely perfect. Hence, along with this, there comes the full answer of God to the divine glory and perfection of Christ. Lazarus comes forth at the word of Christ.
This seems to me of deep interest; for we are too apt to look on Christ merely as One whose power dealt with sickness and with the grave. But does it not weaken His power if the Lord Jesus Christ enters into the reality of the case before God? On the contrary, it better manifests the perfectness of His love, and the strength of His sympathy, to trace intelligently the way in which His spirit took up the reality of the ruin here below to bear and spread it before God. And I believe that this was true of everything in Christ. So it was before and when He came to the cross. Our Lord did not go there without feeling the past and present and future: the atoning work is not the same as the anguish of being cast off by His people, and the utter weakness of the disciples. Then the sense of what was coming was realized by His spirit before the actual fact. It is not true, but positively and wholly false doctrine, to confine our Lord Jesus to the matter of bearing our sin, though this was confessedly the deepest act of all. Of course, the atonement was only on the cross: the bearing of the wrath of God, when Christ was made sin, was exclusively then and there. But to find fault with the statement that Christ did in His own spirit realize beforehand what He was going to suffer on the cross, is to overlook much of His sufferings, to ignore truth, and despise Scripture either leaving out a large portion of what God records about it, or confounding it with the actual fact, and only a part of it after all.
It is true that many Christians have been absorbed with the bare exertion of power in the miracles of Christ. In His healing of disease they have passed by the truth expressed inIsaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:4, which Matthew applies to His life, and to which I have referred more than once. It seems undeniable, that not only was the power of God exhibited in those miracles, but that they afforded opportunity for the depth of His feelings to display itself, who had before Him the creature as God made it, and the deplorable havoc sin had wrought. Thus Jesus did perfectly what saints do with a mixture of human infirmity. Take again the fact that the Lord is pleased at times to put us through some exercise of heart before the actual trial comes: what is the effect of this? Do we bear the trial less because the soul has already felt it with God? Surely not. On the contrary, this is just what proves the measure of our spirituality; and the more we go through the matter with God, the power and blessing are so much the greater; so that when the trial comes, it might appear to an outside observer as if all was perfect calmness, and so indeed it is, or should be; and this because all has been out between ourselves and God. This, I admit, increases the pain of the trial immensely; but is this a loss? especially as at the same time there is strength vouchsafed to bear it. Thus the principle applies even to our little trials.
But Christ endured and did everything in perfection. Hence, even before Lazarus was raised up at the grave, we do not see or hear of One coming with divine power and majesty, and doing the miracle, if I may so say, off-hand. What can be more opposed to the truth? He who has such a meagre notion of the scene has everything to learn about it. Not that there was the smallest lack of consciousness of His glory; He is the Son of God unmistakably; He knows that His Father hears Him always; but none of these things hindered the Lord from groans and tears at the grave which was about to witness His power. None of them hindered the Lord from taking on His spirit the sense of death as no one else did. This is described by the Holy Ghost in the most emphatic language. "He groaned in spirit, and was troubled." But what was all this, compared with what. was soon to befall Himself when God entered into judgment with Him for our sins? It is not only granted, but insisted, that the actual expiation of sin, under divine wrath, was entirely and exclusively on the cross; but thence to assume that He did not previously go through with God the coming scene, and what was leading on to it, and everything that could add to the anguish of our Lord, is defective and erroneous teaching, however freely it is allowed that there was in the scene itself the endurance of wrath for sin which separates that hour from all that ever was or can be again.
Then, before the end of the chapter, the effect of all this divine testimony is shown. Man decides that the Lord must die; their intolerance of Jesus becomes now more pronounced. It was well known before. The giddy multitude may never have realised it till it came; but the religious folk, and the leaders at Jerusalem, had made up their minds about it long before. He must die. And now he who was high priest takes up the word, and gives though a wicked man, yet not without the Spirit acting the authoritative sentence about it which is recorded in our chapter. The resurrection power of the Son of God brought to a head the enmity of him who had the power of death. Jesus might have done such works at Nain or elsewhere, but to display them publicly at Jerusalem was an affront to Satan and his earthly instruments. Now that the glory of the Lord Jesus shone out so brightly, threatening the dominion of the prince of this world, there was no longer a concealment of the resolution taken by the religious world Jesus must die.
In John 12:1-43.12.50, accordingly, we have this, the under-current, still, but in a beautiful contrast. The Spirit of God here works in grace touching the death of Jesus, just as much as Satan was goading on his children to hatred and murder. God knows how to guide a beloved one of His where Jesus was abiding for a little season before He suffered. It was Mary; for John lets us hear the Lord Jesus calling His own sheep by name; and however rightly Matthew and Mark do not disclose it, it was not consistent with John's view of the Lord that she should be called merely "a woman," In his gospel such touches come out distinctly; and so we have Mary, and Mary's act with greater fulness as to its great principles, than anywhere else the part Mary took at this supper, where Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table. Everything, every one, is found in the just place and season; the true light makes all manifest as it was, Jesus Himself being there, but about to die. "Mary took a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus." She did anoint His head, and other gospels speak of this; but John mentions what was peculiar. It was natural to anoint the head; but the special thing for the eye of love to discern was the anointing of the feet. This was specially shown in two ways.
The woman in Luke 7:1-42.7.50 did the very same thing; but this was not Mary, nor is there any good reason to suppose that it was even Mary Magdalene, any more than the sister of Lazarus. It was "a woman that was a sinner;" and I believe there is much moral beauty in not giving us her name, for obvious reasons. What could it do but become an evil precedent, besides indulging a prurient curiosity about her? The name is here dropped; but what of that, if it be written in heaven? There is a delicate veil cast over (not the grace shown by the Lord, but) the name of this woman who was a sinner; but there is an eternal record of the name and deed of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who at this much later moment anoints the feet of Christ. Yet, as far as this goes, both women did the same thing. The one, in the abasement of feeling her sin before His ineffable love, did what Mary did in the sense of His deep glory, and with an instinctive feeling withal of some impending evil that menaced Him. Thus the sense of her sin, and the sense of His glory, brought them, as it were, to the same point. Another point of analogy is, that neither woman spoke; the heart of each expressed itself in deeds intelligible, at least, to Him who was the object of this homage, and He understood and vindicated both.
In this case the house was filled with the odour of the ointment; but this manifestation of her love who thus anointed Jesus brought out the ill-feeling and covetousness of one soul who cared not for Jesus, but was, indeed, a thief under his high pretensions of care for the poor. It is a very solemn scene in this point of view, the line of treachery alongside of the offering of grace. How often the self-same circumstances, which draw out fidelity and devotedness, manifest either heartless treachery or self-seeking and worldliness 1
Such, in brief, was the interior of Bethany. Outside Jewish rancour was undisguised. The heart of the chief priests was set on blood. The Lord, in the next scene, enters Jerusalem as the Son of David. But I must pass on, merely noting this Messianic witness in its place. When Jesus was glorified, the disciples remembered these things. The subsequent notice we have is the remarkable desire expressed by the Greeks, through Philip, to see Jesus. Here the Lord at once passes to another testimony, the Son of man, where the introduction of His most efficacious death is couched under the well-known figure of the corn of wheat falling into the ground and dying, as the harbinger, and, indeed, the means, of much fruit. In the path of His death they must follow who would be with Him. Not that here again the destined Head of all, the Son of man, is insensible at the prospect of such a death, but cries to the Father, who answers the call to glorify His name by the declaration that He had ( i.e., at the grave of Lazarus), and would again ( i.e., by raising up Jesus Himself).
The Lord, in the centre of the chapter just after this, opens out once more the truth of the world's judgment, and of His cross as the attractive point for all men, as such, in contrast with Jewish expectation. There is, first, perfect submission to the Father's will, whatever it may cost; then, the perception of the results in all their extent. This is followed by their unbelief in His proper glory, as much as in His sufferings. Such must ever be for man, for the world, the insuperable difficulty. They had heard it in vain in the law; for this is always misused by man, as we have seen in the gospel of John. They could not reconcile it with the voice of grace and truth. Both had been fully manifested in Jesus, and above all, would be yet more in His death. The voice of the law spoke to their ears of a Christ continuing for ever; but a Son of man humbled, dying, lifted up! Who was this Son of man? How exactly the counterpart of an Israelite's objections to this day! The voice of grace and truth was that of Christ come to die in shame, yet a sacrifice for sinners, however true also it was that in His own person He should continue for ever. Who could put these things together, seemingly so opposed? He who only heeds the law will never understand either the law or Christ.
Hence the chapter concludes with two closing warnings. Had they heard their own prophets? Let them listen also to Jesus. We have seen their ignorance of the law. In truth, the prophet Isaiah had shown long before that this was no new thing. He had predicted it inJohn 6:1-43.6.71; John 6:1-43.6.71, though a remnant should hear. The light of Jehovah might be ever so bright, but the heart of the people was gross. "Seeing they saw, but they did not understand." There was no reception of the light of God. Even if they believed after a sort, there was no confession to salvation, for they loved the praise of men, Jesus the Son of God, Jehovah Himself stands on earth and cries His final testimony. He pronounces upon it claims once more to be the light. He was "come a light into the world." This we have seen all through, from John 1:1-43.1.51 down toJohn 12:1-43.12.50; John 12:1-43.12.50. He was come a light into the world, that those that believed on Him should not abide in darkness. The effect was plain from the first; they preferred darkness to light. They loved sin; they had God manifested in love, manifested in Christ. The darkness was thus rendered only more visible in consequence of the light. "If any man hear my words, and believe not. I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." Christ had not spoken from Himself, but as the sent One from the Father, who had charged Him what to say and what to speak. "And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak."
Time does not admit of more than a few words on the next two chapters (John 13:1-43.13.38; John 14:1-43.14.31), which introduce a distinct section of our gospel, where (testimony having been fully rendered, not indeed with hope of man, but for the glory of God,) Christ quits association with man (though supper time was come, not "ended" ver. 2) for a place suited to His glory, intrinsic and relational, as well as conferred; but alone with this (blessed to say), to give His own a part with Him in that heavenly glory (instead of His reigning over Israel here below).
Before concluding tonight, this I can notice but briefly, in order to bring my subject within the space allotted for it. Happily there is the less need to dwell on the chapters at the length they might claim, since many here are familiar with them, comparatively speaking. They are especially dear to the children of God in general.
First of all, our Lord has now terminated all question of testimony to man, whether to the Jew or to the world. He now addresses Himself to His own in the world, the unwavering, abiding objects of His love, as one just about to leave this world actually for that place which suits His essential nature, as well as the glory destined Him by the Father. Accordingly our Lord, as one about to go to heaven, new to Him as man, would prove His increasing love to them, (though fully knowing what the enemy would effect through the wickedness of one of their number, as well as through the infirmity of another,) and hence proceeds to give a visible sign then of what they would only understand later. It was the service of love that He would continue for them, when Himself out of this world and themselves in it; a service as real as any that He had ever done for them while He was in this world, and if possible, more important than any they had yet experienced. But, then, this ministration of His grace was also connected with His own new portion in heaven. That is, it was to give them a part with Him outside the world. It was not divine goodness meeting them in the world, but as He was leaving the world for heaven, whence He came, He would associate them with Himself, and give them a share with Himself where He was going. He was about to pass, though Lord of all, into the presence of God His Father in heaven, but would manifest Himself the servant of them all, even to the washing of their feet soiled in walking here below. The point, therefore, was (not here exactly suffering for sins, but) the service of love for saints, to fit them for having communion with Him, before they have their portion with Him in that heavenly scene to which He was going at once. Such is the meaning suggested by the washing of the disciples' feet. In short, it is the word of God applied by the Holy Ghost to deal with all that unfits for fellowship with Christ in heaven, while He is there. It is the Holy Ghost's answer here to what Christ is doing there, as one identified with their cause above, the Holy Ghost meanwhile carrying on a like work in the disciples here, to keep them in, or restore them to, communion with Christ there. They are to be with Him alone; but, meanwhile, He is producing and keeping up, by the Spirit's use of the word, this practical fellowship with Himself on high. While the Lord, then, intimates to them that it had a mystical meaning, not apparent on the face of it, nothing could be more obvious than the love or the humility of Christ. This, and more than this, had been abundantly shown by Him already, and in His every act. This, therefore, was not, and could not be, what was here meant, as that which Peter did not know then, but should know hereafter. Indeed, the lowly love of His Master was so apparent then, that the ardent but hasty disciple stumbled over it. There ought to be neither difficulty nor hesitation in allowing that a deeper sense lay hidden under that simple but suggestive action of Jesus a sense which not even the chief of the twelve could then divine, but which not only he, but every one else, ought to seize now that it is made good in Christianity, or, more precisely, in Christ's dealing with the defilements of His own.
This should be borne in mind, that the washing meant is not with blood, but with water. It was for those who would be already washed from their sins in His blood, but who need none the less to be washed with water also. Indeed, it were well to look more narrowly into the words of our Lord Jesus. Besides the washing with blood, that with water is essential, and this doubly. The washing, of regeneration is not by blood, though inseparable from redemption by blood, and neither the one nor the other is ever repeated. But in addition to the washing of regeneration, there is a continual dealing of grace with the believer in this world; there is the constant need of the application of the word by the Holy Ghost discovering whatever there may be of inconsistency, and bringing him to judge himself in the detail of daily walk here below.
Note the contrast between legal requirement and our Lord's action in this case. Under the law the priests washed themselves, hands as well as feet. Here Christ washes their feet. Need I say how highly the superiority of grace rises over the typical act of the law? Then follows, in connection and in contrast with it, the treachery of Judas. See how the Lord felt it from His familiar friend! How it troubled His spirit! It was a deep sorrow, a fresh instance of what has been referred to already.
Finally, at the end of the chapter, when the departure of Judas on his errand brought all before Him, the Saviour speaks again of death, and so glorifying God. It is not directly for the pardon or deliverance of disciples; yet who does not know that nowhere else is their blessing so secured? God was glorified in the Son of man where it was hardest, and even more than if sin had never been. Hence, as fruit of His glorifying God in His death, God would glorify Him in Himself "straightway." This is precisely what is taking place now. And this, it should be observed again, is in contrast with Judaism. The hope of the Jews is the manifestation of Christ's glory here below and by-and-by. What John shows is here in the immediate glorification of Christ on high. It does not depend upon any future time and circumstance, but was immediately consequent on the cross. But Christ was alone in this; none now could follow no disciple, any more than a Jew, as Peter, bold but weak, would prove to his cost. The ark must go first into Jordan, but we may follow then, as Peter did triumphantly afterwards.
John 14:1-43.14.31 (and here, too, I must be brief) follows up the same spirit of contrast with all that belonged to Judaism; for if the ministration of love in cleansing the saints practically was very different from a glorious reign Over the earth, so was the hope here given them of Christ just as peculiar. The Lord intimates, first of all, that He was not going to display Himself now as a Jewish Messiah, visible to the world; but as they believed in God, so they were to believe in Him. He was going to be unseen: quite a new thought to the Jewish mind as regards the Messiah, who, to them, always implied One manifested in power and glory in the world. "Ye believe in God," He says, "believe also in me." But then He connects the unseen condition He was about to assume with the character of the hope He was giving them. It was virtually saying that He was not going merely to bless them here. Nor would it be a scene for man to look on with his natural eyes in this world. He was going to bless them in an infinitely better way and place. "In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you." This is what the Son tells. Very different is the burden of the prophets. This was a new thing reserved most fitly for Him. Who but He should be the first to unveil to disciples on earth the heavenly scene of love and holiness and joy and glory He knew so well? "If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." This is the turning-point and secret "where I am." All depends on this precious privilege. The place that was due to the Son was the place that grace would give to the sow. They were to be in the same blessedness with Christ. It was not merely, therefore, Christ about to depart and be in heaven, maintaining their communion with Himself there, but wondrous grace! in due time they, too, were to follow and be with Him; yea, if He went before them, so absolute was the grace, that He would not devolve it on any one else, so to speak to usher them there. He would come Himself, and thus would bring them into His own place "That where I am, there ye may be also." This, I say, in all its parts, is the contrast of every hope, even of the brightest Jewish expectations.
Besides, He would assure them of the ground of their hope. In His own person they ought to have known how this could be. "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." They were surprised. Then, as ever, it was the overlooking of His glorious person that gave occasion to their bewilderment. In answer to Thomas, He says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He was the way to the Father, and therefore they ought to have known. because no man comes to the Father but by Him. By receiving Jesus, by believing in Him, and only so, one comes to the Father, whom they had seen in Him, as Philip should have known. He was the way, and there was none other. Besides, He was the truth, the revelation of every one and everything as they are. He was also the life, in which that truth was, by the Spirit's power, known and enjoyed. In every way Christ was the only possible means of their entering into this blessedness. He was in the Father, and the Father in Him; and as the words were not spoken from Himself, so the Father abiding in Him did the works. (Verses 1-11)
Then our Lord turns, from what they should even then have known in and from His person and words and works, to another thing which could not then be known. This divides the chapter. The first part is the Son known on earth in personal dignity as declaring the Father imperfectly, no doubt, but still known. This ought to have been the means of their. apprehending whither He was going; for He was the Son not merely of Mary but of the Father. And this they then knew, however dull in perceiving the consequences. All His manifestation in this gospel was just the witness of this glory, as they certainly ought to have seen; and the new hope was thoroughly in accordance with that glory. But now he discloses to them that which they could only do and understand when the Holy Ghost was given. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." This supposes the Holy Ghost given. First, it is the Son present, and the Father known in Him, and He in the Father. Next, the Holy Ghost is promised. When He was given, these would be the blessed results. He was going away indeed; but they might better prove their love by keeping His commandments, than in human grief over His absence. Besides, Christ would ask the Father, who would give them their ever-abiding Comforter while He Himself was away. The Holy Ghost would be not a passing visitor on the earth, even as the Son who had been with them for a season. He would abide for ever. His dwelling with them is in contrast with any temporary blessing; and besides, He would be in them the expression of an intimacy which nothing human can fully illustrate.
Observe, the Lord uses the present tense both for Himself and for the Comforter the Holy Spirit in this chapter, in a way that will be explained shortly. In the early part of verse 2 He says about Himself, "I go to Prepare a place for you." He does not mean that He was in the act of departure, but just about to go. He uses the present to express its certainty and nearness; He then was on the point of going. So even of coming back again, where likewise He uses the present, "I come again." He does not precisely say, as in the English version, "I will come." This passage of Scripture suffices to exemplify a common idiomatic usage in Greek, as in our own and other tongues, when a thing is to be regarded as sure, and to be constantly expected. It seems to me an analogous usage in connection with the Holy Ghost "He dwelleth with you." I apprehend that the object is simply to lay the stress on the dwelling. The Holy Ghost, when He comes, will not come and go soon after, but abide. Hence, says the Lord, Jesus, "He abideth with you" the same word so often used for abiding throughout the chapter; and next, as we saw, "He shall be in you:" a needful word to add; for otherwise it was not implied in His abiding with them.
These, then, are the two great truths of the chapter: their future portion with Christ in the Father's house; and, meanwhile, the permanent stay of the Holy Ghost with the disciples, and this, too, as indwelling on the footing of life in Christ risen. (Ver. 19) I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." Thus, having the Holy Ghost as the power of life in Him, they would know Him nearer to them, and themselves to Him, when they should know Him in the Father, than if they had Him as Messiah with them and over them in the earth. These are the two truths which the Lord thus communicates to them.
Then we have a contrast of manifestation to the disciples, and to the world, connected with another very important point the Holy Ghost's power shown in their obedience, and drawing down a love according to the Father's government of His children. It is not merely the Father's love for His children as such, but Father and Son loving them, because of having and keeping the commandments of Jesus. This would be met by a manifestation of Jesus to the soul, such as the world knows nothing of. But the Lord explains further, that if a man loves Him, he will keep His word, and His Father will love him, "and we will come to him, and make our abode with him." (v. 23) This is not a commandment, but His word a simple intimation of His mind or will; and, therefore, as a more thorough test, so followed by a fuller blessing. This is a beautiful difference, and of great practical value, being bound up with the measure of our attentiveness of heart. Where obedience lies comparatively on the surface, and self-will or worldliness is not judged, a commandment is always necessary to enforce it. People therefore ask, " Must I do this? Is there any harm in that?" To such the Lord's will is solely a question of command. Now there are commandments, the expression of His authority; and they are not grievous. But, besides, where the heart loves Him deeply, His word* will give enough expression of His will to him that loves Christ. Even in nature a parent's look will do it. As we well know, an obedient child catches her mother's desire. before the mother has uttered a word. So, whatever might be the word of Jesus, it would be heeded, and thus the heart and life be formed in obedience. And what is not the joy and power where such willing subjection to Christ pervades the soul, and all is in the communion of the Father and the Son? How little can any of us speak of it as our habitual unbroken portion!
* It is difficult to say why Tyndale, Cranmer, the Geneva, and the Authorised Versions give the plural form, which has no authority whatever. Wiclif and the Rhemish, adhering to the Vulgate, happen to be right. His word has a unity of character which is of moment. He that loves Christ keeps His word; he that does not love Him keeps not His words; if he observes some of them only, other motives may operate; but if he loved Christ, he would value His word as a whole.
The concluding verses (25-31) bring before them the reason of the Lord's communication, and the confidence they may repose in the Spirit, both in His own teaching them all things, and in His recalling all things which Jesus said to them. "Peace," He adds, "I leave [fruit of His very death; nor this only, but His own character of peace, what He Himself knew] with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you." "Not as the world," which is capricious and partial, keeping for itself even where it affects most generosity. He alone who was God could give as Jesus gave, at all cost, and what was most precious. And see what confidence He looks for, what affections superior to self! "Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I." Little remained for Him to talk with them. Another task was before Him not with saints, but with Satan, who coming would find nothing in Him, save, indeed, obedience up to death itself, that the world might know that He loves the Father, and does just as He commands. And then He bids the disciples rise up, and go hence, as inJohn 13:1-43.13.38; John 13:1-43.13.38. He rose up Himself (both being, in my opinion, significant actions, in accordance with what was opening out before Him and them).
But I need and must say no more now on this precious portion. I could only hope to convey the general scope of the contents, as well as their distinctive character. May our God and Father grant that what has been said may help His children to read His word with ever deepening intelligence and enjoyment of it, and of Him with whose grace and glory it is filled!
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on John 12". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent