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In John 15:1-27 our Lord substitutes Himself for Israel, as the plant of God, responsible to bear fruit for Him on earth (not merely for man, as such, openly sinful and lost). He takes the place of that which most put itself forward as being according to God here below. As our Lord Himself said (in John 4:1-54), "Salvation is of the Jews:" this place of privilege and promise made their actual condition so much the guiltier. Our Lord, therefore, sets aside openly, and for ever, as regards those that He was now calling out of the world, all connection with Israel. "I am the true vine," He says. We all know that Israel of old is called the vine the vine that the Lord had brought out of Egypt. But Israel was empty, fruitless, false: Christ was the only true vine. Whatever might be the responsibility of Israel, whatever their boasted privileges (and they really were much every way), whatever the associations and hopes of the chosen people, all outside Christ had fallen under the power of the adversary. The only blessing for a soul now was found in Christ Himself; and so He opens the discourse (or, as we saw, closes what went before) with "Rise up: let us go hence." There was an abandonment, not only for Himself, but for them, of all connection with nature, or the world, even in their religion. It was Christ now, or nothing. As in the beginning of John 13:1-38, He had risen up anticipatively as a sign of His work for them on high; so here He calls them to quit all their earthly belongings with Himself; they were now definitively done with. Thus we have the Lord taking now the place substitutionally of all that had exercised religious power over their spirits. It was now proved to be neither a blessing nor even safety for a soul on earth.
"I," He says, "am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman." He puts Himself in the place of all to which they had been attached and belonged here below, and the Father in lieu of Almighty God, or the Jehovah of Israel. So had He been known. to the fathers and the children of Israel; but it was His Father, as such, to whose care He commends them now. "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit;" for fruit was what God looked for, not merely acts or obligations, but bearing fruit: "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." This is the general statement. There is a two-fold dealing with those who took the place of being branches of the true vine. Where no fruit was borne, there was judgment in excision; where fruit appeared, purging followed, that there might be more.
The Lord applies this truth particularly: "Already ye are clean through the word that I have spoken to you. Exhortation follows in verses 4, 5; the results distinctively for "a man," for any one ( τις ) who does not abide, and for the disciples who do, are found respectively in verse 6, and in verses 7, 8.
In this chapter it is never simply a question of divine grace saving sinners, blotting out iniquities, remembering sins and transgressions no more; but the power of the word is morally applied to judge whatever is contrary to God's character displayed in Christ, or, rather, to the Father's will revealed in Him. No standard less than this could be entertained, now that Christ was revealed. They then (for Judas was gone) were already clean through the word Christ had spoken to them. The law of Moses, divine as it was, would not suffice: it was negative; but Christ's word is positive. "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me." It is not what God is in grace towards those that are outside Him and lost, but the appraisal of the ways of those associated with Christ, the dealings of God, or more strictly of His Father, with those who professed to belong to the Lord. I say "professed," because it is to me evident that He does not contemplate in His view those exclusively who really had life everlasting. Still less do branches of the vine mean the same thing as members of Christ's body, but His followers, who might even abandon Him, as some in the earliest days walked no more with Him. This alone explains our chapter, without forcing it.
The Lord, then, has in view those who then surrounded Him, already branches in the vine, and, of course, in principle, all that should follow, including those that would nominally, and at first to all appearance really, abandon Israel and all things for Him. It was no light matter, but one of much seriousness; and surely, therefore, if a man did thus come out from all that claimed his affections and conscience, from his religion; in short, if a man came out at the cost of every thing, finding most of all foes in those of his own household, there was that which presumed sincerity of conduct, but had still to be proved. The proof would be abiding in Christ. There is no word more characteristic of John than the very word "abiding," and this in the way both of grace and of government. Here it is the disciples put to the proof. For Christianity is the revelation, not of a dogma, but of a person who has wrought redemption; doubtless, also, of a person in whom is life, and who gives it. Thence flows a new sort of responsibility; and a very important thing it is to see this most strikingly kept up in him, who, of all the evangelists, most strongly brings in the absolute unconditional love of God. Take the early part of the gospel, where the gift of Jesus in divine love, the sending Him into the world not to judge, but to save, makes known what God is to a lost world. There we have grace without a single thought of any thing on man's part, save the depth of need. "For God," He says, "so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:16-17) But here the ground is different. We see those who had come out to Christ from all that they had previously valued in the earth. Alas! flesh is capable of imitating faith; it can go a long way in religiousness, and in renunciation of the profane world. Soon there would be multitudes who would come out from Israel and be baptized unto Christ; but still they must be fully tested. None would stand by baptism, or by any other ordinance, but by abiding in Christ.
"Abide in me, and I in you." Here He always puts man's part first, because it is a question, as we have seen, of responsibility; where it is the grace of God, His part is first necessarily, and, further, it necessarily abides. Whereas, if man's responsibility is before us, it is evident that there can be no necessary permanence here: all turns on dependence on Him who always abides the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Thus the reality of God's work in the soul proves itself, so to speak, by continual looking and clinging to Christ. In verse 4 it is not, "Except I abide in you," but, "Except ye abide in me."
"I am the vine, and ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (Verse 5) It is not here believing, but "doing," though faith be the spring, of course. The Lord would have us bear much fruit, and the only way in which fruit is to be borne is by abiding in Him in whom we believe. What can be a weightier consideration for us, after receiving Christ! Do you go after some other thing or person in order to bear fruit? The result in God's sight is bad fruit.
Thus Christ is not only everlasting life to the soul that believes in Him, but He is the only source of fruit-bearing, all the course through, for those that have received Him. The secret is the heart occupied with Him, the soul dependent on Him, Himself the object in all trials, difficulties, and duties even; so that, though a given thing be a duty, it be not done now barely as such, but with Christ before the eye of faith. But where there is not a life exercised in self-judgment and in enjoyment of Christ. as well as prayer, men get tired of this; they turn away from Him to the nostrums of the day, whether novel or antique, moral or intellectual. They find their attraction in religious feelings, experiences, frames, or visions; in imagining some new good self, or in anatomizing the old bad self; in sacerdotalism, ordinances, or legalism, of one sort or another. Thus they really return, in some shape or degree, to the false vine, instead of cleaving to the true. They lose themselves thus. It may even be a slip back into the world, into the open enemy of the Father; for this is no uncommon result, where there is for a time an abandonment of the old fleshly vine, the religion of ordinances, of human effort, and of assumed privilege. All this was found in its fulness and apparent perfection in Israel; but it was now discovering its utter hopeless hollowness and antagonism to the mind of God; and this was manifested, as we shall find later on in this chapter, in their causeless hatred of the Father and the Son. Christ is ever the test, and this the close declares, as much as the beginning sets Him forth as the only power of preparing for, and producing fruit.
This appears again in the sixth verse, and remarkably too: "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch." Apply such language to life everlasting, or, still more, to union with Christ, and there is nothing but endless confusion. Where Scripture speaks of union with Christ, or, again, of life in Him, you never have such a thought as a member of Christ cut off, or one that had eternal life losing it. It is very possible that some who have accurate knowledge might give it, or plunge into all; and this is what Peter speaks of in his second epistle. There is no preservative energy in knowledge ever so full. Such might allow stumbling-blocks, disappointments, etc., to hinder their following Christ, and so practically abandon what they know, the result of which would be the surest and most disastrous ruin. They are worse even than before. So Jude speaks of men twice dead; and, in fact, experience proves that men who have no life in Christ, after having professed awhile, become fiercer adversaries, if not grosser sinners, against the Lord than before any such profession was made.
This is the case our Lord describes here: "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." It was one who had come out from the world, and had followed Christ. But there was no attraction of heart, no power of faith, and consequently no dependence on Christ; and this is the Lord's sentence pronounced on all such, whether in that day or in any other.
On the other hand, He says, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." Not only is the heart occupied with Christ, but also His words weigh there. The Old Testament alone would not suffice. It had been used of God when there was nothing more. Blessed of God at all times it would surely be; and he that valued Christ's words would never slight those that witnessed of Christ before He came. But the soul that would make light of the words of Christ, or do without them, after they were communicated, would evince its own faithlessness. The Christian that really prizes the word of God in the Old Testament would still more set his heart on that in the New. He that had no more than a naturally reverent attachment to the law and the prophets, without faith, would prove his real condition by inattention to Christ's words. Thus, to this day, the Jews are themselves the great witness of the truth of our Lord's warning. They are clinging to the empty vine; and so all their religious profession is as empty before God. They may seem to cleave to the words of Moses, but it is mere human tenacity, not divine faith: else the words of Christ would be welcome above all. As the Lord had told them at an earlier moment, had they believed Moses, they would have believed Christ. for Moses wrote of Christ: in truth, there was no divine persuasion as to either. Again, the great test now is Christ's words abiding in us. Old truth, even though equally of God as the new, ceases to be a test when new truth is given and refused, or slighted; and the same thing is true not merely of God's word as a whole, but of a particular truth, when God reawakens it at any given time for the actual exigency of the Church or of His work. It is vain, for instance, to fall back now on the principles put forward and acted on two or three hundred years ago. Of course it is right and of God to hold fast all He gave at any time; but if there be real faith, it will be found out ere long that the Holy Ghost has before Him the present need for the Lord's glory in the Church; and those that have real confidence in His power will not merely hold fast the old but accept the new, in order so much the more to walk in communion with Him who ever watches and works for the name of Christ and the blessing of His saints.
In this case, however, it is the larger subject the all-importance of Christ's words abiding in us: "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you." There is first the person, then the expression of His mind. Prayer follows: "Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." It is not prayer first (for this should not take the place either of Christ or of intelligence in His mind), but Christ Himself, the prime object; then His words, as forming fully the heart, according to His thoughts and will; and, lastly, the going out of the heart to the Father, on the ground both of Christ and of His revealed mind, with the annexed assurance that so it should come to pass for them. (Verse 7)
The prayer of Christians is often far from this. How many prayers are there where nothing seems to be done! This way be true, not merely of poor failing souls, such as any of us here; but even an apostle might find the same thing in his course, and God Himself be the witness of it. Indeed, the apostle Paul is the chronicler of the fact to us, that his prayers were not always in this communion. We know he besought the Lord thrice to take away that which was an immense trial to him, making him despicable in the eyes of the less spiritual. We can understand this: nothing is more natural; but, for that very reason, it was not all in the power of the Spirit of God, with Christ as the first object. He was thinking of himself, of his brethren, and of the work; but God graciously brought him to Christ, as the One sustained and sustaining object to abide in Him, as it is said here, and to have Christ's words abiding in himself, and then all the resources of God were at his command. "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (Compare also Philippians 4:6-13) It is only so that there is the certainty of the answer, at least, of what we ask being done.
The object is to show how God the Father answers and acts in accordance with those who are thus practically associated in heart with Christ. And so it is written, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, and ye shall become my disciples." (Verse 8) "Disciples," be it noted; for we must carefully bear in mind that we have not the Church as such here, and, indeed, we have never the Church, strictly speaking, in John. The reason is manifest, because the object of this gospel is not to point out Christ in heaven, but God manifesting Himself in Christ on the earth. I do not mean that we have no allusion to His ascent or presence there; for we have seen that there is here some such allusion, especially when the Holy Ghost replaces Him here, and we shall have it repeatedly in what follows. At the same time, the main testimony of John is not so much Christ as man in heaven, but God in Him manifest on the earth. It is evident that, He being the Son, the special place of privilege found in the gospel of John is that of children not members of Christ's body, but sons of God, as receiving and associated with the Son, the only-begotten Son of the Father.
Here He speaks of them as disciples; for, in point of fact, the relationship of which John 15:1-27 speaks was already true. They had already come to Christ; they had forsaken all to follow Him, and were then around Him. He was the Vine now and here. It was not a new place He was going to enter. They, too, were branches then, and more than that, they were clean through the word He had spoken to them. Not that they were then cleansed by blood, but, at least, they were born of water and of the Spirit. They had this cleansing, this moral operation, of the Spirit wrought in their souls. They were bathed or washed all over, and henceforth needed not save to wash their feet.
"As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue [abide] ye in my love." (Ver. 9) It is all a question of the Father's government and the disciples' responsibility; not of a people having to do with a governor nationally, as Jehovah was to Israel, but of Christ's disciples in relation with the Father, according to the revelation of Himself in Christ. Nor is it here His grace delivering souls, but, what is true along with that, the full maintenance of individual responsibility, according to the manifestation of His nature and relationship in Christ here below. Thus, as compared with the past, the standard is raised immensely. For when once God had brought out Christ, He neither could nor would go back to anything less. It is not merely that He could not own anything short of Christ as a means of salvation, because this is always true; and never was any one brought to God at any time since the world began save by Christ, however scanty the testimony or partial the knowledge of Him. Under the law there was, comparatively speaking, little or no acquaintance with His work as a distinct thing, nor could there be, perhaps (at any rate there was not), even after He came, till the work was done. But here we have God's ways and character as manifested in Christ, and nothing less than this would suit His disciples, or be agreeable to the Father. As already remarked, the application of this to life everlasting only induces contradiction. Thus, if we suppose that the subject of the chapter is, e.g., life or union with Christ, just see into what difficulties this false start plunges one at once: all would be made conditional, and those united to Christ might be lost. "If ye keep my commandments" what has that to do with life eternal in Christ? Does union with Christ, does life eternal, depend on keeping His commandments? Clearly not; yet there is a meaning, and a most weighty meaning for those that belong to Christ, in these words. Apply them, not to grace but to government, and all is plain and sure and consistent.
The meaning is, that it is impossible to produce fruit for the Father, impossible to keep up the enjoyment of Christ's love, unless there be obedience, and this to Christ's commandments. I repeat, that he who values the Master will not despise the servant; but there are many who do acknowledge their responsibility to the law of Moses without appreciating and obeying the words of Christ. He that loves Christ will enjoy all truth, because Christ is the truth. He will cherish every expression of God's mind; he will find guidance in the law, the prophets, the psalms everywhere; and so much the more where there is the fullest revelation of Christ Himself. Christ is the true light. Therefore, as long as Christ is not the One in and through whose light the Scriptures, whether old or new, are read, a man is but groping his way in the dark. When he sees and believes in the Son, there is for him a sure way through the wilderness, and also a bright way in the word of God. The darkness passes away; bondage is no more; there is no condemnation, but, on the contrary, life, light, and liberty; but, at the same time, it is a liberty used in the sense of responsibility to please our God and Father, measured by the revelation of Himself in Christ.
So the Lord says, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." The consequence is, that where there is carelessness in one who belongs to Christ, in a living, branch of the vine, the Father as the husbandman deals in purging judgment. Where habitual obedience is found, there is habitual enjoyment of Christ's love. "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."
Supposing that for a time there is a departure from Christ, what is the effect of it? No matter how really a man may be a child of God, he is miserable; the more real, the more miserable. One that had not a conscience exercised before God might sleep over sin and accustom himself to evil for a while; and an unreal disciple would grow. tired of carrying on the profession of Christ along with indulged evil; nor would God allow it to go beyond a certain point as an ordinary rule. But for a saint, true-hearted in the main, nothing is more certain than that Christ would deal with him, and that he would lose meanwhile all sense of the love of Christ as a present practical thing. It is a matter of communion, not of salvation. And surely it ought to be so, and we would not desire it to be otherwise. Who would desire an unreal thing the keeping up an appearance, the parade of words and sentiments beyond the heart's state? There is nothing more calamitous for a soul than to be going on badly, and withal keeping up a vain, exaggerated semblance of feeling, where there is a scanty answer to it within.
With the enjoyment of Christ's love, then, goes obedience; and where the disciple fails in obedience, there cannot be a real abiding in His love. Here it is not a question of love everlasting, but of present communion. He only abides in Christ's love who walks in His will faithfully. We must discriminate in the love of Christ. Unconditionally, of pure grace, He loved them that were His. Again, there was love, in a broad sense even for those that were not His, as we have seen more than once. Besides, there is the special personal love of approbation for him who is walking in the ways of God.
Some there are a little sensitive on these subjects. They do not like to hear, save of eternal love of the elect; and certainly, if this were weakened or denied, they might have reason to resent it. But as it is there cannot be a more painful proof of their own state. The reason why they cannot bear this farther truth is because it condemns them. If these things are in Scripture, (and deny them who dares?) our business is to submit; our duty is to seek to understand them; our wisdom is to correct and challenge ourselves, if peradventure we find insubjection within us to anything that concerns Him and our own souls. Not to speak of Christ, even on the lowest ground, we are depriving ourselves of what is good and profitable. What, indeed, can be more ruinous than putting aside that which condemns any state in which we find ourselves?
I need not enter into all the details of our chapter, though I have rather minutely gone over it thus far, believing it to be of special importance, because it is so much and generally misunderstood. Here the Lord presents Himself as the only source, not of life, as elsewhere, but of fruit-bearing for disciples, or His professed followers. What He shows is, that they need Him just as much for every day as for eternity; that they need Him for the fruit the Father expects from them now, just as much as for a title to heaven. Hence He speaks of that which pertains to a disciple on the earth; and accordingly the Lord speaks of having Himself kept His Father's commandments, and of His own abiding in His love; for, indeed, He had ever been here below the dependent man, to whom the Father was the moral source of the life He lived; and so He would have us now to live because of Himself.
I entreat any who have misread this chapter to examine thoroughly what I am now urging on my hearers. It is incalculable the quantity of scripture that is passed over without distinct exercise of faith. Souls receive it in a general way; and too often one reason why it is received so easily is, because they do not face the truth, and their conscience is not exercised by it. If they thought, weighed, and let into their souls the real truth conveyed, they might at first be startled, but the way and the end would be blessed to them. What a return for these wondrous communications of Christ, just to slip over them perfunctorily, without making the light our own! Our Lord then clearly shows that He, as man here below, had Himself walked under the government of His Father. It was not merely that He was born of a woman, born under the law, but, as He says here, "Even as I have kept my Father's commandments." It went much farther than the ten words, or all the rest of the law; it embraced every expression of the Father's authority, from whatever quarter it came. And as He could not but perfectly keep His Father's commandments, He abode in His love. As the eternal Son of the Father, of course He was ever loved of the Father; as laying down His life (John 10:1-42), He was therefore loved of His Father; but, besides, in all His earthly path, He kept His Father's commandments, and abode in His love. The Father, looking upon the Son as man walking here below, never found the slightest deflection; but, on the contrary, the perfect image of His own will in Him who, being the Son, made known and glorified the Father as He never was nor could be by any other. This was not simply as God, but rather as the Man Christ Jesus here below. I admit that, being such an One, there could be no failure. To suppose I will not say the fact, but the possibility even, of a flaw in Christ, either as God or as man, proves that he who admits the thought has no faith in His person. There could be none. Still, the trial was made under the most adverse circumstances; and He who, though God Himself, was at the same time man, walked as man perfectly, as truly as He was perfect man; and thus the Father's love rested governmentally upon Him fully, unwaveringly, absolutely in all His ways.
Now we, too, are placed upon the true ground as the disciples, strictly speaking, who were then there; but, of course, the same principle applies to all.
Another thing comes in after this. Gathered round Christ, the disciples were called on by Christ to love one another. (Ver. 12) Loving one's neighbour was not the point now; nor is it so here. Of course, loving one's neighbour abides always, but this, no matter how accomplished, ought not to be enough for a disciple of Christ. Such a demand was right and seasonable for a man in the flesh for a Jew especially; but it could not suffice for the heart of a Christian, and, in fact, he who denies this, quarrels with the Lord's own words. A Christian, I repeat, is not absolved from loving his neighbour nobody means that, I trust; but what I affirm is, that a Christian is called to love his fellow Christian in a new and special manner, exemplified and formed by the love of Christ; and I cannot but think that he who confounds this with love to his neighbour has a great deal to learn about Christ, and Christianity too.
The Lord evidently introduces it as a new thing. "This is my commandment." It was His commandment specially. He it was that first gathered the disciples. They were a distinct company from Israel, though not yet baptized into one body; but they were gathered by Christ, and round Himself, severed from the rest of the Jews so far. "This is my commandment, that ye love one another." But according to what measure? "As I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Shall I be told that any man ever loved, before Christ came into the world, as He loved? If a man will be ignorant, let him be ignorant, and show his unbelief by such an assertion, if he will. Now I say that there is a love looked for, such as could only be since Christ manifested it, and that His love fills and fashions after its own nature and direction. The disciples were now to love one another according to the pattern of Him who laid down His life for them as His friends. Indeed, He died for them when they were enemies; but this is out of sight here. They were His friends, if they did whatever He commanded them. (Ver. 14) He called them friends, not slaves; for the slave knows not what his master does; but He called them friends, for He made them His confidants in all He had heard of His Father. They had not chosen Him, but He them, and set them to go and bear fruit, abiding fruit, that He might give them whatsoever they asked the Father in His name. 'These things I command you, that ye love one another." (Verses 15-17)
And truly they would need the love of one another, as Christ loved them. They had become objects of the hatred of the world. (Verses 18, 19) The Jews knew no such experience. They might be disliked of the Gentiles. They were a peculiar people, no doubt, and the nations could ill brook a small nation raised to such a conspicuous place, whose law condemned them and their gods. But the disciples were to have the hatred of the world, of the Jew as much or more than of the Gentile. They had this indeed already, and they must make up their minds to it from the world. The love of Christ was on them, and, working in them and by them, would make them the objects of the world's hatred, and after that sort which He had Himself known. As He says here: "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." I refer to this for the purpose of showing, that the revelation of Christ has brought in not merely a total change in the consciousness of eternal life and salvation when the work was done, as well as the overthrow of all distinctions between Jew and Gentile, which we find, of course, in the epistles but, besides that practically, has 'brought in a power of producing fruit that could not be before, a mutual love peculiar to Christians, and a rejection and hatred from the world beyond all that had been. In every way possible Christ gives us now His own portion, from the world as well as from the Father. "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." (Verse 20)
Fully do I admit that there were works of faith, deeds of righteousness, holy, wise, obedient ways, in saints of God from the beginning. You could not have faith without a new nature, nor this again without the exercise practically of that which was according to God's will. Therefore, as all saints from the beginning had faith, and were regenerate, so also there were spiritual ways in accordance with it.
But God's revelation in Christ makes an immense accession of blessing; and the consequence is, that this brings out the mind of God in a way that was not and could not have been before, just because there was no manifestation of Christ, and nobody but Christ could bring it adequately out. With this revelation the hatred of the world is commensurate; and the Lord puts it in the strongest possible way. "But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin." (Ver. 21, 22) What can be plainer than the enormous change that was coming in now? We know that there had been sin all along, in the dealings of God with His ancient people; but what does the Lord here mean? Are we to fritter away the meaning of His language? Are we not to believe that, whatever there was before, the revelation of Christ brought sin to such a head, that what had been before was, comparatively speaking, a little thing when put beside the evil that was done against, and measured by, the glory of Christ the Son, the rejection of the Father's love; in short, the hatred shown to grace and truth yea, the Father and the Son fully revealed in the Lord Jesus? Clearly so. It is not, then, a question of judging sin by right and wrong, by law, or by conscience all well and in place for Israel and man as such. But when One who is more than man comes into the world, the dignity of the person sinned against, the love and light revealed in His person, all bear on the estimate of sin; and the consequence is, there could be no such character of sin till Christ was manifested, though, of course, heart and nature are the same.
But the revelation of Christ forced everything to a point, sounded the condition of man as nothing else could, and proved that, bad as Israel might be, when measured by a law a holy, just, good law of God, yet, measured now by the Son of God, all sin previously was as nothing compared with the still deeper sin of rejecting the Son of God. "He that hateth me hateth my Father also." (Ver. 23) It is not merely God as such, but "my Father" that was hated. "If I had not done among them" not now His words only, but works "if I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father." (Verse 24) There was a full testimony, as we have seen already, in John 8:1-59; John 9:1-41. (His words in John 8:1-59, His works in John 9:1-41); but the manifestation of His words and of His works only brought out man thoroughly hating the Father and the Son. Had they only failed to meet the requirements of God, as man had done under the law, there was ample provision to meet him in mercy and power; but now, under this revelation of grace, man, and Israel most of all, the world (for in this they are all merged now) stood out in open hostility to, and implacable hatred of, the fullest display of divine goodness here below. But this dreadful hopeless hatred, evil as it was, ought not to surprise one who believes the word of God; it was, "that the word might be fulfilled which was written in their law, They hated me without a cause." (Verse 25) There is nothing that so demonstrates man's total alienation and enmity. This is precisely what Christ here urges. The disciples accordingly, having received this grace in Christ, were called into a like path with Him, the epistle here below of Christ who is above. Fruit-bearing is the great point throughout John 15:1-27, as the end of it and John 16:1-33 bring before us testimony. "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning." Here is a twofold testimony that of the disciples who had seen Christ and heard His words. Hence they were called to bear witness of Him "because ye have been with me from the beginning." It was not only the great manifestation at the end, but the truth from the beginning, grace and truth always in Him. Dealing differently, no doubt, according to that which was before Him; still it was in Christ ever the value of what came, not what He found, which was the great point. And to this testimony (for He is showing now the full testimony which the disciples were called to render) the Holy Ghost would add His, (wondrous to say and know it true!) as distinct from the witness of the disciples. We know right well that a disciple only renders testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost. How, then, do we find the Holy Ghost's testimony spoken of as distinct from theirs? Both are true, especially when we bear in mind that He would testify of the heavenly side of truth. In John 14:26, it was said, "The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." There the Holy Ghost is both a teacher and helper. As it is said, "He will teach you all things" what they never knew, besides bringing to remembrance things that they had known.
In the end ofJohn 15:1-27; John 15:1-27 there is a good deal more. The Holy Ghost, "when he is come," (not "whom the Father will send," but) "whom I will send from the Father." (Ver. 26) The Holy Ghost was both sent by the Father, and sent by the Son; not the same thing, but quite consistent. There is a distinct line of truth in the two cases. You could not transplant from John 15:1-27 into John 14:1-31, nor the reverse, without dislocating the whole order of the truth. Surely it all deserves to be weighed, and demands from us that we should wait upon God to learn His precious things. In John 14:1-31 it is evidently the Father giving another Comforter to the disciples, and sending Him in Christ's name: Christ is looked at there as One who prays, and whose value acts for the disciples. But in John 15:1-27 it is One who is Himself everything for the disciples from on high. Here He was the one spring of whatever fruit was borne, and He is gone on high, but is the same there; and so not merely asks the Father to send, but Himself sends them from the Father the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from with the Father, if so literal a turn may be allowed. His own personal glory on high is in full view, and so He speaks and acts, while the connection with the Father is always kept up. Still, in the one case it is the Father who sends; in the other, the Son; and this last, where the point is to show the new glory of Christ above. "He shall testify of me, and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning." There would be the testimony of the Holy Ghost sent from the Son, and bearing witness of Him according to the place whence He came to replace Him here. The Holy Ghost, sent thus from above, would bear witness of the Son in heaven; but the disciples also would bear witness of what they knew when He was upon the earth, because they had been with Him from the beginning ( i.e. of His manifestation here). Both we have in Christianity, which not only maintains the testimony of Christ, as manifested on the earth, but also the Holy Ghost's witness of Christ known on high. To leave out either is to strip Christianity of half its value. There is that which never can make up for Christ on the earth; and certainly there is that revealed of Christ in heaven which no manifestation on the earth can supply. They have, both of them, a divine place and power for the children of God.
John 16:1-33 seems to be based rather on this last. The main difference is, that the Holy Ghost is more spoken of here apart from the question of who sends. It is more the Holy Ghost coming than sent here; that is, the Holy Ghost is looked at not certainly as acting independently, but yet as a distinct person. He comes, not to display His own power and glory, but expressly to glorify Christ. At the same time, He is looked at in more distinct personality than in John 14:1-31; John 15:1-27. And our Lord had the wisest reason for making known to the disciples what they had to expect. They were now entering on the path of testimony, that always involves suffering We have seen what should befall them in bearing fruit as Christ's disciples and friends. This is enough for the world, which hates them as Him, because they are not of it, but are loved and chosen of Christ. These two things unite the disciples. The hatred of the world and the love of Christ press them so much the more together. But there is also the hatred which befalls them in testifying, not as disciples so much as witnesses. Witnessing as the disciples did of what they had known of Christ here, witnessing of what the Spirit taught them of Christ on high, the consequence would be, "They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service." It is clearly religious rancour created by this full testimony, not the world's general ill-feeling, but special hatred to their testimony. Hence, it would be putting them, not merely into prisons, but out of the synagogues; and this under the notion of doing God service. It is religious persecution. "And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. How perfectly the truth shines here on Christian as well as on Jewish hatred of all full testimony to Christ! Spite of the liberalism of the day, this peeps out where it dares. They talk about God; they speculate about the Deity, providence, fate, or chance. They may even be zealous for the law, and tack on Christ to it. There a great deal of the world's religion ends. But they know not the Father nor the Son. It is irreverence to draw near and cry, Abba, Father! It is presumption for a man in this life to count himself a child of God! The consequence is, that wherever there is this ignorance of the Father and the Son, there is inveterate hostility against such as are joyful in the communion of the Father and the Son. This hatred every true witness, without compromise, and separate from the world, must more or less experience. The Lord would not have them surprised. Jewish brethren might have thought that, having received Christ, everything was to be smooth, bright, and peaceful. Not so. They must expect special and increasing, and, worst of all, religious hatred. (Verses 1-4)
"But now I go my way to him that sent me." The path lay through death, no doubt; but He puts it as going to Him that sent Him. Let them be comforted, then, as surely they would if they rightly thought of His Father's presence. But "none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?" (Ver. 5) They felt natural sadness at the thought of His departure. Had they gone a step farther, and asked whither He was going, it would have been all right, they would have felt glad for Him; for though it were their loss, it was most surely His gain and joy the joy that was set before Him, the joy of being with His Father, with the comfort for His own of an accomplished redemption (attested by His thus going on high). "But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you." (Ver. 7) It is the Comforter coming. No doubt Christ sends; and there lies the connection with the end of John 15:1-27. Still there is the special form of presenting Him as one that comes, which is confirmed in the next verse. "And when he is come, he will reprove [or convince] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." (Ver. 8) This is a sentence much to be pondered. It is now God's Spirit dealing according to the gospel with individual souls, which is perfectly true and most important. Conviction of sin is wrought in all who are born of God. What confidence could there be in a soul professing to have found redemption, even forgiveness of sins, through His blood, unless there were an accompanying sense of sin? The Spirit of God does produce this. Souls must be simple and distinct in it as truly as in believing in Christ Jesus. There is a real individual work in those, yea, in all brought to God. For a sinner, repentance remains an eternal necessity.
Here, however, the Holy Ghost is not spoken of as dealing with individuals when He regenerates them and they believe, but as bringing conviction to the world of sin because of unbelief There is no real conviction of sin unless there be faith. It may be but the first working of God's grace in the soul that produces it. There may not be faith so as to have peace with God, but assuredly enough to judge of one's own ways and condition before God; and this is precisely the way in which He does ordinarily work. At the same time there is also the conviction of which the Lord speaks: the Holy Ghost, when He is come, will convince the world of sin. Why? Because they have broken the law? Not so. This may be used, but is not the ground nor the standard when Christ is the question. The law remains, and the Spirit of God often employs it, specially if a man be in self-righteousness. But the fact is clear, that the Holy Ghost is sent down; as it is also clear, that the Holy Ghost, being here, convicts the world i.e., what is outside where He is. Were there faith, the Holy Ghost would be in their midst; but the world does not believe. Hence Christ is, as everywhere in John, the standard for judging the condition of men. "When he is come, he will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, [not when they begin to believe in me, but] because they believe not in me." Again, the conviction of righteousness is equally remarkable. There is no reference even to the blessed Lord when on earth, or to what He did here. "Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more." (Verses 8-10)
Thus there is a twofold conviction of righteousness. The first ground is, that the only righteousness now is in Christ gone to be with the Father. So perfectly did Christ glorify God in death, as He always did in life the things that pleased His Father, that nothing short of putting Him as man at His own right hand could meet the case. Wondrous fact! a man now in glory, at the right hand of God, above all angels, principalities, and powers. This is the proof of righteousness. It is what God the Father owed to Christ, who had so perfectly pleased and so morally glorified Him, even in respect of sin. All the world, yea, all worlds, would be too little to mark His sense of value for Christ and His work nothing less than setting Him as man at His right hand in heaven. But there is another though negative, as that was the positive, proof of righteousness that the world has lost Christ, "and ye see me no more." When Christ returns, He will gather His own to Himself, as inJohn 14:1-31; John 14:1-31. But as for the world, it has rejected and crucified Christ. The consequence is, that it will see Christ no more till He comes in judgment, and this will be to put down its pride for ever. Thus there is this double conviction of righteousness: the first is Christ gone to be with the Father on high; the second is Christ seen no more consequently. The rejected Christ is accepted and glorified in the highest seat above, which condemns the world and proves there is no righteousness in it or man; but more than this, the world shall see Him no more. When He returns, it is to judge man; but as far as concerns the offer of blessing to man in a living Christ, it is gone for ever. The Jews did and do look for Him; but when He came, they would not have Him. The best of the world, therefore, the choicest and most divinely privileged of men, have turned out the most guilty. A living Messiah they will never see. If any have Him now, it can only be a rejected and heavenly Christ.
But there is another thing the Spirit will convince the world "of judgment." What is the conviction of judgment? It is not the destruction of this place or that. Such was the way in which God manifested His judgment of old; but the Holy Ghost bears witness now, that the prince of this world is judged. He led the world to cast out the truth, and God Himself, in the person of Christ. His judgment is sealed. It is fixed beyond hope of change. It is only a question of the moment in God's hands, and the world with its prince will be treated according to the judgment already pronounced. "Of judgment," He says, "because the prince of this world is judged." (Verse 11) In John we have the truth, without waiting for what will be manifest. The Spirit here judges things at the roots, dealing with things according to their reality in God's sight, into which the believer enters.
Thus everywhere there is absolute opposition between the world and the Father, expressed morally when the Son was here, and proved now that the Spirit is come. The great mark of the world is that the Father is unknown. Hence, like Jews, or even heathen, they can pray to Almighty God to bless their leagues, or their arms, their crops, their herds, or what not. Thereby they flatter themselves perhaps that they may do God service; but the Father's love is unknown never in such a condition can He be fully known. Even when we look at children of God, scattered here and there in the waste, they are trembling and fearful, and practically at a distance, instead of consciously near in peace, as if it were God's will that His children should now stand off in Sinai distance and terror. Who ever heard even of an earthly father, worthy of the name, so sternly repelling his children? Certainly this is not our Father as we know Him through Christ Jesus. Brethren, it is the spirit of the world which, when sanctioned, invariably tends to destroy the knowledge of the Father, and of our proper relationship, even among His real children, because it necessarily slips more or less into Judaism.
But the Holy Ghost has another work. He convinces the world of the truth they do not know, by the very fact that He is outside the world, and has nothing to do with it. He dwells with the children of God. I do not deny His power in the testimony of the gospel to souls. This is another thing not spoken of here. But, besides, we have His direct immediate action among the disciples. "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth." (Verses 12, 13) Thus the disciples, favoured as they were, were far from knowing all that the Lord desired for them, and would have told them if their state had admitted of it. When redemption was accomplished, and Christ was raised from the dead, and the Holy Ghost was given, then they were competent to enter into all the truth, not before. Hence, Christianity awaits not only Christ's coming, but the accomplishment of His work, and also the mission and personal presence of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, consequent on that work. But He would take no independent place, any more than the Son had. "He shall not speak from himself; but whatever he shall hear, he shall speak: and he will report (or announce) to you things to come. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall report it to you." (Verses 13, 14)
It is not said, as some think, that He shall not speak about Himself; for the Holy Ghost does speak, and tells us much concerning Himself and His operations; and never so much as under the Christian revelation. The fullest instruction as to the Spirit is in the New Testament; and, pray, who speaks of the Holy Ghost if it be not Himself? Was it merely Paul? or John? or any other man? The fact is, that the Authorised Version gives rather obsolete English. The meaning is, that He shall not speak of His own authority, as if He had nothing to do with the Father and the Son. For He is come here to glorify the Son, just as the Son, when here, was glorifying the Father. And this explains why, although the Holy Ghost is worthy of supreme worship, and of being, equally with the Father and the Son, personally addressed in prayer, yet, having come down for the purpose of animating, directing, and effectuating the work and worship of God's children here, He is never presented in the epistles as directly the object, but rather as the power, of Christian prayer. Therefore, we find them praying in, and never to, the Holy Ghost. At the same time, when we say "God," of course we do mean not only the Father, but the Son, and the Holy Ghost too. In that way, therefore, every intelligent believer knows that he includes the Spirit and the Son with the Father, when he addresses God; because the name "God" does not belong to one person in the Trinity more than to another. But when we speak of the persons in the Godhead distinctively, and with knowledge of what God has done and is doing, we do well to remind ourselves and one another, that the Spirit has come down and taken a special place among and in the disciples now; the consequence of which is, that He is pleased administratively (without renouncing His personal rights) to direct our hearts thus towards God the Father and the Lord Jesus. He is thus (if we may speak so, as I believe we may and ought reverentially) serving the interests of the Father and the Son here below in the disciples. The fact we have noticed, the administrative position of the Spirit, is thus owing to the work He has voluntarily undertaken for the Father and the Son, though, of course, as a question of His own glory, He is equally to be adored with the Father and the Son, and is always comprehended in God as such.
The rest of the chapter, without entering into minute points, shows that the Lord, about to leave the disciples, would give them a taste of joy a testimony of what will be. (Verses 16-22) The world might rejoice in having got rid of Him; but He would give His own joy, which would not be taken from them. In measure, this was made good by our Lord's appearing after He rose from the dead; but the full force of it will only be known when He comes again.
Then there is another privilege. The Lord intimates a new character of drawing near to the Father, which they had not yet known. (Verses 23-26) Hitherto they had asked nothing in His name. "In that day," He says, "ye shall ask me nothing." 'We are in "that day" now. "In that day" does not mean in a future day, but in one that is come, Instead of using Christ's intervention as Martha proposed, instead of begging Christ to ask* the Father, demanding each thing they needed of Christ Himself, they might reckon on the Father's giving them whatsoever they should ask Him in Christ's name. It is not a question of a Messianic link to get what they wanted, but they would be able to ask the Father in His name themselves. How blessed to know the Father thus hearkening to the children asking in the Son's name! It is of children on earth now the Lord speaks, not of the Father's house by-and-by. Evidently this is a capital truth, bearing powerfully on the nature of the Christian's prayers, as well as on his worship.
*It is remarkable that Martha puts a word ( αἰτήσῃ ) into Christ's mouth (that is, uses an expression for asking the Father), which is never used nor warranted by Himself. It makes the Lord a mere petitioner, lowering the glory of His person, and obscuring, if not denying, the intimacy of His relationship with the Father.
It is exactly what accounts for the fact, that we are here on ground quite different from that of the precious and blessed form of prayer which the Lord gave His disciples when they wanted to know how to pray, as John taught his disciples. The Lord necessarily gave them that which was suited to their then condition. Now, I believe, it is little to say that there is not, nor ever was, a formula of prayer comparable with the Lord's prayer. Nor is there, to my thinking, a single petition of that prayer which is not a model for the prayers of His followers ever since; but all remains true and applicable at all times at least, till our Father's kingdom come. Why, then, was it not employed formally by the apostolic Church? The answer lies in what is now before us. Our Lord here, at the end of His earthly course, informs the disciples that hitherto they had demanded nothing in His name. They had, no doubt, been using the Lord's prayer for some time; nevertheless they had asked nothing in His name. In that day they were to ask the Father in His name. What I gather from this is, that those who had even used the Lord's prayer, as the disciples had done up to this time, did not know what it was to ask the Father in the Lord's name. They still continued at a comparative distance from their Father; but this is not the Christian state. By the Christian state I mean that in which a man is conscious of his nearness to his God and Father, and able to draw near in virtue of the Holy Ghost even. On the contrary, prayers that suppose a person to be an object of divine displeasure, anxious, and doubtful whether he is to be saved or not such an experience supposes one incapable of speaking to the Father in Christ's name. It is speaking as still tied and bound with the chain of their sins, instead of standing in known reconciliation, and, with the Spirit of adoption, drawing near to the Father in the name of Christ. Who can honestly, or at least intelligently, deny it? Thus, whatever the blessing through the Lord's ministry, there was certainly an advance here foreshown, founded on redemption, resurrection, and the Spirit given. Why should men limit their thoughts, so as to ignore that incomparable blessing to which even in this gospel Christ was ever pointing, as the fruit of His death and of the presence of the Comforter who would bring in "that day"? It was impossible to furnish a prayer which could reconcile the wants of souls before and after the work of the cross, and the new place consequent on it. And, in fact, the Lord has done the contrary; for He gave the disciples a prayer on principles of everlasting truth, but not anticipating that which His death and resurrection brought to view. Of these new privileges the Holy Ghost sent down was to be the power. Be assured this is no secondary matter, and that traditional views slight unwittingly the infinite efficacy and value of what Christ has wrought, the results of which the Holy Ghost was sent down to apply to our souls. And the gift of that divine person to dwell in us is this, too, a secondary matter? or is there no radical change which accompanies the work of Christ when accomplished and known? If, indeed, everything be secondary to the supply of man's need, if the unfolding of God's glory and ways in Christ be comparatively a cipher, I understand as much as I hate a principle so base and unbelieving.
It appears to me that the Lord Jesus Himself clearly sets forth the new thing at the highest value, which no general reasonings of men ought to weaken in the least. That immense change, then, let us accept on His authority who cannot deceive us, assured that our brethren, who fail to see how full association with the efficacy of His work and the acceptance of His person, made good in the presence of the Spirit, accounts for the difference between prayer before and prayer after, put no intentional slight on His words in this chapter, or on His work of atonement. But I beseech them to consider whether they are not allowing habits and prejudices to blind them to what seems to me the mind of Christ in this grave question.
In the close ofJohn 16:25-33; John 16:25-33, the Lord puts, with perfect plainness, both their coming position in His name, and as immediate objects of the Father's affection, and His own place as coming from and going to the Father, above all promise and dispensation. This the disciples thought they saw distinctly; but they were mistaken: their words do not rise higher than "We believe that thou camest forth from God." The Master thereon warns them of that hour, even then come in spirit, when His rejection should prove their dispersion deserted, yet not alone, "because the Father is with me." He spoke, that in Him they might have peace, as in the world they should have tribulation. "But be of good cheer: I have overcome the world." It was an enemy of the Father and of them, but an enemy overcome of Him.
On John 17:1-26 I must be brief, though its treasures might well invite one to devote ample space to weigh them. A few words, however, may perhaps give the general outline. The Lord, lifting up His eyes to heaven, no longer speaks to the disciples, but turns to His Father. He lays a double ground before Him: one, the glory of His person; the other, the accomplishment of His work. He seeks from the Father for His disciples a place of blessing in association with Himself suitable both to His person and work.
Be it observed, that from verse 6 He develops the relationship of the disciples with His Father, having manifested the Father's name to those who were the Father's, and given them the words which the Father gave Him, and spoken as He did now that they might have His joy fulfilled in them. From verse 14 He develops it with the world, they being not of it, and wholly sanctified from it, while sent into it like Himself. And observe, here, that He has given them the Father's word ( λόγον ) for their testimony (as before His words, ῥήματα ), but sanctifies them, not by this only, which kept them from the evil of the world, but by Himself, always separate from sin, but now made higher than the heavens, so as to fill them with an object there that could engage and expand and purify their affections. From verse 20 He extends this place of privilege and responsibility to those who should believe on Him through the word of the apostles, the moral unity of verse 11 being now enlarged into a unity of testimony, that the world might believe that the Father sent the Son; and carried onward, even to the display of glory "I in them, and thou in me" when they shall be perfected into one, and the world shall know (not then "believe") that the Father sent the Son, and loved them as He loved Him. (Compare 2 Thessalonians 1:10)
Lastly, from verse 24 to the end, we have, if possible, deeper things than even these; and here the Lord expresses His heart's desire, for it is no longer, as before, in the form of a request ( ἐρωτῶ ) but, "Father, I will," or desire ( θέλω ). This word indicates a new character of plea: "I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am." The earlier section laid His person and His work as the ground for His being glorified on high, according to the title of the one, and in the accomplishment of the other. Verse 24, as it were, takes up that position of glory with the Father before the world was, into which Christ has gone, with His heart's expression of desire that they should be with Him where He is, that they might behold His glory, which the Father gave Him; "for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." Thus, if the central portion gave us the disciples on the earth in relation with the Father on the one hand, and in total separation from the world on the other, with subsequent believers brought into one, both in testimony and in glory by-and-by before the world, the closing verses take up Christians, as it were, with the Father in an unearthly, heavenly glory, and His desire that they should be with Him there. It is not merely sought for them, that they should be thoroughly, as far as, could be, in His own place of relationship with the Father, and apart from the world, but also that they should be brought into intimacy of nearness with Himself before the Father. Then, in verse 25, the breach between the world and the Father and the Son being complete, He says, "O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me." There is always this opposition between the Father and the world, proved by His person in the world. But the disciples had known that the Father sent the Son, as the Son knew the Father. He had made known to them the Father's name, and would yet more, "that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them;" this last verse bringing into them, as it were, the Father's love, as the Son knew it, which was the secret source of all the blessing and glory, and Christ Himself in them, whose life by the Spirit was the sole nature capable of enjoying all. Thus they should have a present enjoyment of the Father, and of Christ, according to the place of nearness they had as thus associated with Him.
On the concluding chapters of our gospel I cannot speak particularly now. Yet I must, in passing point out that even in these solemn closing scenes the glory of the Son's person is ever the prominent figure. Hence we have no notice of His agony in the garden, nor of God's forsaking Him on the tree. Matthew depicts Him as the suffering Messiah, according to psalms and prophets; Mark, as the rejected Servant and Prophet of God; Luke, as the perfect and obedient Son of man, who shrank from no trial either for soul or body, but even on the cross prayed for His enemies, filling a poor sinner's heart with the good news of salvation, and committing His spirit with unwavering confidence to His Father. The point here is the Son of God with the world, the Jews especially being His enemies. Hence, John tells us (John 18:1-40) what no other gospel does, that when the band came to take Jesus, led by one who knew too well the spot where His heart had so often, poured itself out to the Father, at once they went backward, and fell to the ground. Do you suppose Matthew let it slip? or that Mark and Luke never heard of it? Is it conceivable that a fact so notorious the very world being the objects of the divine power that cast them prostrate to the ground could be hidden from, or forgotten by, friends or foes? Or if even men (not to speak of the Spirit's power) would forget such a thing, did the rest think it too slight for their mention? All such suppositions are preposterous. The true explanation is, that the gospels are written with divine design, and that here, as everywhere, John records a fact which falls in with the Spirit's object in his gospel. Did these men come to seize Jesus? He was going to be a prisoner, and to die; in the one case, as much as in the other, He would prove it was not of man's constraint, but of His own will and in obedience to His Father's. He was a willing prisoner, and a willing victim. If none could take His life unless He laid it down, so none could take Him prisoner unless He gave Himself up. Nor was it simply that He could ask His Father for twelve legions of angels, as He says in Matthew; but, in John, did He want angels? They might and did ascend and descend on Him as Son of man; but He had only to speak, and it was done. He is God.
The moment He said, "I am he," without lifting a finger, or even audibly expressing a desire, they fell to the ground. Could this scene be suitably given by any other than John? Could he leave it out who presents his Master as the Son and the Word who was God?
Again, we have our Lord's calm rebuke to Peter, who had cut off the ear of Malchus. Let Luke alone tell us of the Lord's gracious healing (for Jehovah's power to heal was not absent); John alone adds, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" He preserves throughout His personal dignity and His conscious relationship, but withal in perfect submission to His Father.
Then follows the notice of Peter's sad history with that other disciple which was known to the high priest. Next, our Lord is before the high priest, Caiaphas, as previously before his father-in-law Annas, and, finally, before Pilate. Suffice it to say, that the one point which meets us here, as distinct from the other gospels, is His person. Not that He was not King of the Jews, but His kingdom is not of this world, not from hence, and He Himself is born and come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Here it is the Jews insist He ought by their law to die, because He made Himself the Son of God. (John 19:1-42) Here, too, He answers Pilate, after scourging and mockery, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin." (Verse 11) It was the Jews, led on by Judas, that had this greater sin. The Jew ought to have known better than Pilate, and Judas better than the Jew. The glory of the Son was too bright for their eyes. Afterwards there is another characteristic scene, the blending of the most perfect human affection with His divine glory He confides His mother to the disciple whom He loved. (Verses 25-27)
The gospel which most of all shows Him to be God is careful to prove Him man. The Word was made flesh.
"After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst." I know not a more sweet and wonderful proof of how completely He was divinely superior to all circumstances. He had before Him with perfect distinctness all the truth of God. Here was a scripture which He remembers as unaccomplished. It was a word in Psalms 69:1-36. It was enough. "I thirst." What absorption in His Father's will! "Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished." (Verses 29, 30) Where could such a word as this be but in John? Who could say, "It is finished," except Jesus in John? Matthew and Mark both give our Lord saying, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This could not be in John. Luke gives us, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," because there the perfect man never abandons His perfect reliance on God. God must, in the judgment of our sins, forsake Him, but He would never forsake God. The atonement would not have been what it is unless God had thus forsaken Him. But in Luke it is the sign of absolute trust in His Father, and not God's abandonment. In John He says, "It is finished," because He is the Son, by whom all worlds were made, Who but He could say it? Who but John could mention that He delivered up ( παρέδωκε ) His spirit? In every point of difference the fullest possible proof of divine glory and wisdom appears in these gospels. Put to death no doubt He was but at the same time it was His own voluntary will; and who could have this about death itself but a divine person? In a mere man it would be sin; in Him it was perfection. Then come the soldiers, breaking the legs of the others crucified with Him; but finding Jesus dead already, one pierces His side, land forthwith came thereout blood and water. And he that saw it bare record."
Thus a double scripture is fulfilled. The apostle John does not quote many scriptures; but when he does, the person of the Son is the great point. Accordingly this was the case now; for not a bone was to be broken. It was true. Nevertheless, He was to be pierced. He was singled out from the others, even while dead between the dying thieves. He has a place even here that belonged to Him alone.
Joseph charges himself with the body too; and Nicodemus, who came first by night is here by day, honoured by association with Jesus crucified, of whom he had been ashamed once, spite of the miracles He was doing.
In John 20:1-31 is the resurrection, and this in a remarkable light. No such outward circumstance is here as in Matthew, no soldiers trembling, no walk with disciples, but as ever the person of God's Son, though disciples prove how little they entered into the truth. Peter "saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the Scriptures, that He must rise again from the dead." (Verses 8, 9) It was evidence; and there is no moral value in accepting on evidence. Believing the word of God has moral value, because it gives God credit for truth. A man gives up himself to confide in God. Believing the Scriptures, therefore, has another character altogether from a judgment formed on a matter of fact. Mary Magdalene, with as little understanding of the Scriptures as they, stood without at the sepulchre weeping, when they went to their own homes. Jesus meets her in her sorrow, dries her tears, and sends her to the disciples with a message of His resurrection. But He does not permit her to touch Him. In Matthew the other women even retain Him by the feet. Why? The reason appears to be that in the earlier gospel it is the pledge of a bodily presence for the Jews in the latter day; for whatever be the consequences of Jewish unbelief now, God is faithful. The gospel of John has here no purpose of showing God's promises for the circumcision; but, on the contrary, sedulously detaches the disciples from Jewish thoughts. Mary Magdalene is a sample or type of this. The heart must be taken off His bodily presence. "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father." The Christian owns Christ in heaven. As the apostle says, even if we had known Christ after the flesh, "henceforth know we him no more." The cross, as we know it, closes all connection with even Him in this world. It is the same Christ manifested in life here upon earth. John shows us, in Mary Magdalene contrasted with the woman of Galilee, the difference between the Christian and the Jew. It is not outward corporeal presence on earth, but a greater nearness, though He is ascended to heaven, because of the power of the Holy Ghost. "But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." (Verse 17) Never had He put Himself and His disciples so together before.
The next scene (verses 19-23) is the disciples gathered together. It is not a message individually, but they are assembled on the same first day at evening, and Jesus stands, spite of closed doors, in the midst of them, and showed them His hands and His side. "Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." It is a picture of the assembly that was about to be formed at Pentecost and this is the assembly's function. They have authority from God to retain or to remit sins not at all as a question of eternal forgiveness, but administratively or in discipline. For instance, when a soul is received from the world, what is this but remitting sins? The Church again, by restoring a soul put outside, puts its seal, as it were, to the truth of what God has done, acts upon it, and thus remits the sin. On the other hand, supposing a person is refused fellowship, or is put away after being received, there is the retaining of sins. There is no real difficulty, if men did not pervert Scripture into a means of self-exaltation, or cast away truth, on the other side, revolting from the frightful misuse known in popery. But Protestants have failed to keep up consciously the possession of so great a privilege, founded on the presence of the Holy Ghost.
Eight days after we have another scene. (Verses 24-29) One of the disciples, Thomas, had not been with the others when Jesus had thus appeared. Clearly there is a special teaching in this. Seven days had run their course before Thomas was with the disciples, when the Lord Jesus Christ meets his unbelief, pronouncing those more blessed who saw not, and yet believed. Of what is this the symbol? Of Christian faith,? The very contrary. Christian faith is essentially believing on Him that we have not seen: believing, "we walk by faith, not by sight." But the day is coming when there will be the knowledge and the sight of glory in the earth. So the millennium will differ from what is now. I deny not that there will be faith, as there was faith required when Messiah was on earth. Then faith saw underneath the veil of flesh this deeper glory. But, evidently, proper Christianity is after redemption was wrought, and Christ takes His place on high, and the Holy Ghost is sent down, when there is nothing but faith. Thomas, then, represents the slow mind of unbelieving Israel, seeing the Lord after the present cycle of time is completely over. What makes it the more remarkable is the contrast with Mary Magdalene in the previous verses, who is the type of the Christian taken out of Judaism, and no longer admitted to Jewish contact with the Messiah, but witnesses of Him in ascension.
Mark, too, the confession of Thomas; not a word about "My Father and your Father," but, "My Lord, and my God." Just so the Jew will acknowledge Jesus. They shall look on Him whom they pierced, and own Jesus of Nazareth to be their Lord and their God. (See Zechariah 12:1-14) It is not association with Christ, and He not ashamed to call us brethren, according to the position He has taken as man before His and our God and Father, but the recognition forced on Him by the marks of the cross, which drew out the confession of Christ's divine glory and Lordship.
In John 21:1-25, the appended scene is the fishing. After a night of failure, a vast multitude of fish is taken in the net, without breaking it or risking the ships (Luke 5:1-39), or the need of gathering the good into vessels and of casting the bad away. (Matthew 13:1-58) This I conceive to be a gathering in from the Gentiles. The sea is continually used in contrast to the land in prophetic Scripture. Thus, if the last was the Jewish scene when the Church state closed, this is the figure of the Gentiles in the great day of the earth's jubilee, the age to come contrasted with this age. From verse 15 to the end is the deep personal dealing of our Lord with Peter; also John's place. As I have no doubt there is a significance typically in what we have just glanced at, so it appears to me with regard to this also. The intermediate ministry of Paul is, of course, not here noticed; for he was the witness of Christ glorified in heaven Head of the Church His body, wherein is neither Jew nor Gentile. To Peter, the Lord, thoroughly restoring his soul after proving him to the core, commits His sheep and lambs (His Jewish flock, as we know from elsewhere). A violent end comes, though to God's glory. But if the full heavenly testimony is left for its own due place in Paul's completing the word of God that hidden mystery, John is seen witnessing in principle to the end. (Compare verses 22, 23 with the Revelation) However, I do not enlarge here, but rather apologise for the time that I have occupied in going over so large an extent of God's word. I pray the Lord that even these suggestions may be blessed of God in stirring up fresh desire to study, and weigh, and pray over these precious gospels. Surely it will be sweet reward now, if God deign thereby to give some of His children to approach His word with more reverence and a more childlike trust in every word He has written. May He vouchsafe this through Christ our Lord.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on John 21". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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