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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
John 14

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-31

The Self-revelation of Christ

John 14 , John 15

We cannot understand the opening of the fourteenth chapter unless we read it in immediate connection with the close of the thirteenth. "Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice." "Let"—notwithstanding all cowardice and recession and loneliness—"not your heart be troubled": life does not end in a cloud; all appearances will be against me and against you, but the issue will be right. "Ye believe in God, believe also in me," and wait with sweet prayerful patience until the dawn; when the light comes all things will be seen as they are. There are many imperatives in the speeches of Christ which do not instantly appear. It is better that this verse, so full of comfort, should be read with three imperatives, thus: Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God; believe also in me. It is singular that in this gospel, which is supposed to be the very gospel of life, Jesus Christ should be delivering commandments in the voice of Sinai, yet with a subtle and suggestive accent of Zion. Again and again he uses the words "command," and "commandment." Has it come to this? Does history thus recur upon itself? and is there an all but impalpable line connecting Sinai and Zion, the mountain of thunder with the mountain of peace?

In these chapters Jesus Christ speaks pastorally; so to say, he excludes all who cannot understand him, and reducing the number of those to whom he will speak to a minimum, he says even to them, Come nearer: I do not want to lift up my voice above a whisper. A tone might destroy this music; it needs the finest whisper; if we increase the volume of sound beyond that, we shall lose much. Let none stand away; let each come closely to me. This is the pastoral relation, when the voice of the teacher is lowered, when he does not want the misunderstanding public to hear him, but only those who are in closest fellowship with his soul; the very attitude is pastoral, the very voice is charged with solace. Yet there will be more than sentiment; even in the impartation of this comfort there shall be rousing appeals, great promises, somewhat now and then of military strain; for the disciples are not about to be lulled to rest, to be put to bed at an untimely hour; they are to be fed with comfort, and then sent out to fight life"s great battle. We have seen in our expositions that the word "comfort" in the New Testament is a singular word, often misunderstood or too narrowly applied: we have resisted the notion that it simply means soothing, lulling, caressing. We have seen that when Barnabas was called a "son of consolation," he was really designated a rousing preacher. That is an idea which is seldom attached to the word. Hence many men are called sons of consolation who know nothing about comfort; they have no power to sustain the human heart by the right quality and range of solace; they think if they say nothing, if they put out the hand in a patting and caressing manner, if they sigh, if they aspire, that they are comforting the heart. There is nothing which a man in grief dreads so much as uncomforting comfort; he cannot bear to be spoken to by those who do not know what comfort really is. He comforts who rouses; makes life more conscious of itself and its powers; enlarges the scope of vitality; brings up in a man the self that was going down in sleep. An awakening is a comforting teacher. We shall find as Christ reveals himself that he means out of all this consolation to make an army invincible.

Look at the twelfth verse as a proof—

"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." ( John 14:12)

Jesus Christ thus indicated a period of working. He never made anything of his miracles. Other people were surprised at them, he was never amazed; beholders exclaimed, What a worker of wonders!—Jesus went out that he might pray. To pray is the greatest wonder of all; to touch heaven by right of love and faith is the supreme token of filial fellowship with God. As to quieting storms, and soothing seas, and raising dead bones, these are infantalities, trifles, things hardly to be accounted of at all; but to hold God by the violence of prayer is the great end and aim of spiritual education, to be consummated in the other world by an exchange of prayer for the delight and the satisfaction of praise. When did Jesus Christ ever call his Church to less and less work? When did he say, By-and-by, all this necessity will cease, and then the whole week will be be one hymn-singing Sabbath day? Never. He said, You have worked well today, but to-morrow with what sinew, with what strength, will you ply the vocation of God! You have done well this week, but next week you will not know your former selves; you will be giants refreshed, you will have new programmes, new enterprises; you will see new heavens, new earth, new possibilities, and there will be no holding you back. This is the mission I open to you, this is the reason why I comfort you; if I give you a moment"s sleep it is that when you are waken out of it you may be the better qualified to prosecute your noble toil.

"Greater works than these" there are always to be done. Work begins on a small scale, enlarges, increases, develops, and you enlarge and consolidate along with your service, and thus you are proceeding upon an ever-enlarging line of service. There is no end to Christian culture; there is no period in the literature of sacrifice; whilst anything has been withheld nothing has been given; whilst one pulse has been kept back from God"s altar the whole life has also been kept back. Never believe any men who think their work is done; even if they think their own personal work is done, the work is being carried on by braver men, keener minds, larger hearts, and more perfect fidelity. No man has ever imagined with any approach to completeness what God means humanity to be. This word must always resound in our soul, "Greater works than these." What we do is nothing compared to what we shall yet do. Is there not need, then, after such a revelation of the future, of a word of special comfort and encouragement? Trust the divine artist; he knows where the light should be, and where the shadow should fall.

Having thus called his disciples to greater labour, Christ says:—

"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 anything in my name, I will do it" ( John 14:13-14).

They might well wonder how the greater works were to be done. Here is the answer. Ask, and ye shall receive. What a marvellous combination of limitation and illimitableness we find in these words! Never man spake like this man! "And whatsoever,"—that is bold, almost to recklessness. Who can tell what human fancy may crave, what human imagination may suggest? But the word does not end with "whatsoever," but proceeds thus—"ye shall ask in my name." Everything must be sanctified by the name, limited by the name, defined and designated by the spirit of Christ. Here, then, you have obedience, surrender to God, confidence in the divine Wisdom of Solomon , an asking that is not bold, but that is made humble and reverent by the completing expression—"Not my will, but thine, be done."

Again the revelation comes. The disciples had to receive "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." They are to become new men, under new dominion, the subjects of new impulses; they are to be controlled, and yet to be emancipated; to have an enlarged liberty, and yet an ennobled discipline. Is not another word of comfort there specially needed? It is; and it is given—"I will not leave you comfortless." This is an unfortunate translation, because it seems to connect the word "comfortless" with the word "Comforter"; whereas, there is no connection between them in the thought of Christ. The tenderer translation is this: "I will not leave you orphans." In an ancient translation of the Bible into English the quaint translator says, "I will not leave you faderless"—without a father. This connects the thought of Christ with the words, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." I will not leave you orphans or fatherless: I am your Father; but you did not know it. All definitions of family relationship are merged in the supreme relation fatherhood and sonship. I will not leave you fatherless—"I will come to you"; and when I come the Father comes: "I and my Father are one; in my Father"s house are many mansions: I go to prepare a place for you": I am always engaged upon your service; wherever I Amos , I am doing something for the redeemed humanity: you shall never know the cold, the loneliness, the sorrow of orphanhood.

So Christ proceeds to speak to the heart, quietly, whisperingly, sympathetically, culminating in this benediction, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you"—an expression that is rarely properly understood. "Not as the world giveth" is not a reflection upon the manner in which the world gives, but a characteristic of the kind of things the world gives. "Not as the world giveth "—gold, and silver, and horses, and chariots, and estates, and social status; in this line of bequest I do nothing; I will not operate as the world operates; I give what the world cannot give—heart-calm, the balm of tranquillity, the jewel of peace, the eternal Sabbath Day. Thus he always separates himself from, the world, and from all rivalry, and all attempt to approach him along his own line; whenever men think they are going to do what Christ does, he steps away to the invisible height, and leaves them grovelling in the valley of darkness below. He will have no rivalry; he will not pluralise himself, and be like other redeemers and gods; he is Christ by virtue of his uniqueness; "only begotten" marks him off from all the tribes and families of men, but never prevents his coming down to them with fruit plucked from heaven"s trees and water drawn from the river of God. When, therefore, we read about his not giving as the world giveth, we are to understand that he is speaking not of manner but of quality, not of limitation but of contrast: the world can give gold, but not wisdom; the world can give estate, but not peace. The devoutest father that ever died never gave his son one atom of his reverence that could be accounted his in addition to those things which were comprehended within his own personal responsibility. Thus Christ gives as the world cannot give, and the world can never be a substitute for Christ; and the things the world gives can never make up for the things which Christ gives. It is not in number to touch the region of quality. The worldling and the Christian live in different universes.

Drawing nearer to the disciples by way of figure and emblem—for they still needed the miracle of symbol in order to make them understand even in an approximate degree the deeper mysteries of this new life—he said,—

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman" ( John 15:1).

Is it not important in all life to know who is the principal, the head Prayer of Manasseh , the lord of the occasion? We make much of this, in our business; why should we make little of it in our religion? Why should we be content to talk to a servant when we can talk to the Lord? We say in business, with some show of shrewdness, Let me see the chief man; I do not want to deal with intermediaries; I want to see the head of the firm. A man will say that with some pride of a commercial kind, as if he were not easily to be put off; yet that same man plays false with his own reasoning when he comes into the highest matters of all. The contention of the Christian teacher is this, that men ought to inquire who is the principal, who is Lord, where is the fountain, the origin, the secret spring of all vitality? Jesus Christ addresses himself to this question, and answers it by anticipation, "I am the true vine"; "I am the vine, ye are the branches."

"If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" ( John 15:6-7).

Is there anything unreasonable, then, in Christianity, when its principal quest is to know the head and origin, the fountain and spring, of things? This is indeed Christianity. It will not be content with minor explanations, with any work of men"s hands; it cannot sit down at the outer line of phenomena and say, These will do: they are very wonderful! Christianity does not send us to create a museum of specimens of curiosities, oddities, and eccentricities; Christianity says, To the fountain, to the origin, to the all-supplying force of things—where is that? Having found that all the rest will come, by naturalness of development; but until you have found the well-head, the spring, and the fountain, you have found nothing that may not perish in your hand, and disappoint you even in the moment when you thought you had touched the height of victory. This is the supreme characteristic of the New Testament; this is the supreme characteristic of Christianity. Christ reveals the Father: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Song of Solomon , which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." Jesus Christ proceeded forth, and came from God: hence the mysteriousness of his speech, hence the uniqueness of his personality, hence the unapproachableness of his morality. It is not an affair that springs out of the earth, and is to be tested by geometric appliances; it is a revelation from heaven, a descent of the Holy Ghost, and is only to be understood even in a partial degree by those who walk with God. Here, then, at once we find an encouragement and a standard.

What will be the reward of this, the faithful prosecution of Christ"s commandment? The answer is given in John 15:15"Henceforth I call you not servants," but "friends." That is the line of promotion. We shall know when we are called friends by Christ; a new consciousness will dawn within, a larger sense of life will possess us; we shall know, when the lifetide rises, when a nobler enthusiasm inflames our nature, when mightier impulses stir within us,—we shall know that we have gone up in the grade of Christian relationship, and that we who began as slaves have been promoted to the rank of friends. In this school we must graduate. Herein we may all take the honours of the school, and the meekest will take the most. We have read in Isaiah that Abraham was called by Jehovah, "my friend." When Augustus called Virgil his friend it was thought he had conferred an honour upon the singer—as if an emperor could confer an honour on a poet! Jesus Christ calls us friends. Why does he change the designations—"for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth "—is not in the innermost secret of things; he only waits at the door, and beholds from afar—"but have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." I have created you trustees, I have invested you with the dignity and the responsibility of stewards; you have in you, did you but know it, the manifold wisdom of God; so then, ye are no more your own souls. This is the reasoning of the Apostle Paul—"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature": he has not got some new faculties, aptitudes, opportunities, but he himself is a new Prayer of Manasseh , a new soul. "Old things have passed away, all things have become new," and amongst the new things are the new and abiding honours: the lesser name has been exchanged for the greater name; the servant has blossomed into the friend. This honour is open to all who love the Saviour. Say, is there any honour compared with that when a man can truly say to himself, I am the friend of Christ? Once I beheld him afar off; I was once in the infantile region of wonder, open-eyed amazement, uninstructed surprise and astonishment, always admiring him, but never really approaching him in any sense of kinship; but now I have laid my head upon his shoulder, and have wept myself into a new relationship. I understand things now I never understood before; I do not want to hear now about miracles, signs, tokens; I want nothing but to feel him breathe. This is the ecstasy so transcendent as to be calm; this is the peace of God.

Then Christ changes his tone, and begins to "command" the disciples and say,—

"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you;... These things I command you, that ye love one another" ( John 15:14, John 15:17).

He is Lord as well as Paraclete; he is Sovereign, as well as Redeemer; he is Lord of all. Yet, who thinks of Jesus Christ giving commands? We often think of him as the Creator of the beatitudes, the Poet of benefaction, the Man who had fine fancy enough almost to invent characteristics for separate qualities; we read his beatitudes, and bless him for his gentle words; but the Author of the beatitudes is the Author of the Christian commandments: Follow me; believe God; believe me; love one another. These are not proposals that may be modified; these are not suggestions that are open to compromise; these are the living commandments of the living Christ. We bless this mighty speaker for his eloquence on the mountain which all men might hear, but with a tenderer praise we thank him for these other words, spoken in the privacy of love, uttered in the secrecy of heart-to-heart intercourse. We might know more of Christ if we loved him more. To love he will ever manifest himself—to criticism he will seldom speak. From love he will never withdraw.


Verse 2

The Prepared Place

John 14:2

There are two remarkable things about this statement. First of all, that the master should prepare for the servant. This upsets the ordinary course of procedure. You are expecting to entertain some chosen friends. All your appointments are made; you have sent before your face servants in whom you have confidence, and have told them to do as you have commanded, that all things may be in readiness for the invited guests. This is customary; this is considered right. But Jesus Christ says to his servants—such poor, incomplete, and blundering servants too—"I, your Lord and Master, go to prepare a place for you." This is quite in keeping with the method which Jesus Christ adopted in his ministry. This is no exceptional instance of condescension, self-ignoring, self-humiliation. "He took a towel, girded himself, and began to wash his disciples" feet." And having finished this lowly exhibition, he said, "If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another"s feet. I have given you an example." So his whole life was a humiliation. Wherever he was on earth he was, so to speak, out of place; if his method be measured by his original and essential dignity, his whole life was a stoop, his whole ministry a Godlike condescension. Song of Solomon , why did we begin our discourse by saying it was a remarkable thing that the servant should be prepared for by the Master? Only remarkable when looked at in the light of our little standards and false relations; but quite in keeping, perfectly and purely in harmony, with that divine condescension which marked, ruled, and glorified our dear Christ"s ministry.

The second remarkable thing about the text Isaiah ,—That the divine Being, God the Song of Solomon , should ever have occasion to "prepare" anything. To prepare may signify to get ready, to put things in order, to look after arrangements, appointments, and the like, so as to have all things in due proportion and relation, that the eye may be pleased, that the ear may be satisfied, and that all our desires may be met and fulfilled. Why, Jesus Christ talks in the text as if there was a great deal of work for him to do somewhere, and he must make haste and get it done. Go to prepare? Can he who fills infinitude and breathes eternity have anything to do in the way of arranging and ordering and getting things ready for his servants? He accommodates himself to our modes of thinking. He does not always throw the infinite at us. He often steps out of his tabernacle of glory and talks our own speech,—makes a child of himself that he may be understood in this little rickety nursery of a world. He knows we are all in the cradle still; that the mightiest speaker amongst us is only a lisping babbler, and that he must continually break up his words and turn himself downwards, in order that he may convey the very dimmest hint of his unutterable meaning!

There are some things which the Master only can do. Will you go and prepare summer for us? You might try. You have seen half a hundred summers: now you go, and try to make the fifty-first! Come! You are an artificer; you have the organ of form largely developed; you have an eye for beauty; you can buy oils and paints and colours and canvas and brushes of all kinds. Why do you not go and prepare summer for us? The great Master, looking down upon this little under-world of his—this basement story of his great building—says, "I am going to prepare the summer for you." And he makes no noise, he makes no mistake in his colours, never gets things into discord. He continually renews the face of the earth, and not a man in all the busy boastful world can do it! If the servant cannot prepare the summer, how could he prepare heaven? If the saint exhausts himself when he lights a candle, how could ho fill the great heavens with the morning that should never melt into sunset?

Observe, therefore, that always the servant has to wait for the master. He can only go as he has example set before him. The servant has no original ideas. The servant is not a voice,—only an echo, muddled, indistinct. I would that we could reflect very deeply on that point,—that every now and then in life we have to stand back, and let the Master go out before us. We can do a hundred and fifty little things, and multiply the hundred and fifty by ten, and double that number, and we actually get into the notion at last that we can do anything. When you have made one little rosebud, advertise it, and we will come and look at it. When you have made one new plant, let us hear where it is to be seen, and we shall examine it. "Canst thou command the morning?" "Canst loose the bands of Orion?" Art thou known by the Pleiades? Canst thou open the gate of the Milky Way? What art thou?

This text gives three intensely gratifying, comforting, and inspiring views of the Christian believer"s position and destiny. The Christian believer is the object of Jesus Christ"s zealous and tender care. When Jesus Christ was going away he said to his wondering disciples, "It is expedient for you that I go." When he addressed them on the occasion of the text he said, "I go to prepare a place for myself"? No! "For you." And the Apostle Paul, catching his Master"s sublime tone, said, "All things are yours." And Peter, thunder-tongued, cried out, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you!" Yet we hang our heads, and moan and cry and fret and chafe as if we had nothing, not knowing that a man"s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

Wherever you find Jesus Christ you find him working for his people,—doing something for those who believe in him and love him. "He ever liveth to make intercession for us." There is a beautiful necessity of love about this arrangement. For if he were to fail here,—fail in training, educating, sanctifying the Church,—he would fail altogether. What if he has made countless millions of stars: can the stars talk to him? Can he get back the idea which he gave? Can he have sympathy with form, substance, glory, majesty, as found in mere matter? If he does not get us—poor, broken things—right into his blue, glad heaven, he has failed! That is the one work which he set himself to do. If he drops one poor little child out of his great arms because he has not capacity and strength, he could never be happy in his heaven. Think of this: Christ always thinking for us, caring for us, going out in all the passion of his love after us, and then say whether the Church ought always to have tears in her eyes and never to have peace in her heart?

Not only are Christian believers constant objects of Jesus Christ"s most zealous and tender care, but they are to be eternally his joy. "I go to prepare a place for you." The plain meaning of that Isaiah ,—Fellowship, residence together in common. He said afterwards, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I Amos , there ye may be also"—giving us the idea of permanence, continuity of residence, and fellowship. We do some things for the moment. It is enough for God if he limits April to thirty days; he does not want it on the thirty-first day; it ceases, and goes back into his great heaven, and May begins. He does not bring back any one year that has passed, and say, "There, I have brushed it up for you, and made the best of it I can: you must try it again." No. He takes the years, blows them away; creates new ones; never gives you an old leaf, or tells you to put a faded flower into water and try to restore its colours and its fragrance again. "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." "He fainteth not, neither is weary." As for these heavens, he will one day dismiss them. He will create a new heaven and a new earth. He will burn up and utterly destroy what he has made. He makes some things for the time being; but wherever we read of the place prepared for Christian believers, we have the idea of continuous, enduring time—never-ending fellowship. All true life is in the heart. Love alone is immortal. "God is love." We shall drop argument, logic, controversy, letters, technicalities, pedantries of all sorts, tongues, prophecies, hope, faith itself, and only Love shall live for ever!

The world is made poor whenever it loses pathos. Whenever the emotional goes down, man goes down. Logic is but intermediate help; it is but a poor ladder compared to heart, love, pathos, sensibility. Love must endure as God endureth. This is it which binds Christ and Christians—love. Love is knowledge. Love hath the key of interpretation. Love can explain what learning can never fathom. Love knoweth the Lord afar off,—beyond the stormy deep, in the far-away desert, in the night-time dark and cold. Love can see the invisible, and touch the distant. Do we love Christ, or are we still in the beggarly region of mere controversy and cold intellectual inquiry? If we love him we shall be with him for ever.

Seeing that Christ makes the Christian believer the object of his constant and zealous care, and that the Christian believer shall be for ever with his Lord, the Christian is entitled to look at the present through the medium of the future. The more we can bring the power of this love to bear upon the passing moments, we can look into the things which are seen and at the things which are not seen, and step out of eternity morning by morning, do our little paltry day"s work, and go back again into God"s pavilion. If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Moses endured as seeing the invisible. Jesus Christ teaches this most beautiful doctrine: That the Christian heart is not to be troubled, because in his Father"s house are many mansions. So he brings down heaven to help up earth. He says, "When you are weary of the present, look forward to the future; when the road is steep and difficult and tortuous, think of the end and be thankful and glad." It is by this power we draw ourselves onward. We lay the hands of our expectant love on the golden bars of heaven and draw ourselves forward thereby. Some will know what I mean by that expression. You who have been in sickness and sorrow and loss—you who have been tired of looking downwards, and feel the very heart dying within you, when you saw nothing but this earth"s narrow circumference, and then have had sudden visions of God"s eternity and Christ"s blessed immortality, you draw on yourself through all the care and sorrow and bitterness and unrest of time by loving, intelligent anticipation of eternity.

Now, if Christ has gone to prepare a place for the Christian believer—what then? The place will be worthy of himself. Send a poor creature to prepare a place for you against to-morrow, and the place will be prepared according to the capacity and resources of the messenger. It is a poor person who has gone to prepare a place for you, therefore you will not see gold and silver, you will not have a sumptuous reception; but if the poor person has done all that she could, it is enough. You will see the intent of the preparation everywhere; every speck of dust that has been removed means, "I would put down gold there if I could." Every little thing, even a wild flower out of the hedgerow, put into a little glass that can hardly stand, means, "I would give you paradise, if I could." Every little deed that is done ought to be amplified by your grateful love, because it means so much more than it looks. But Jesus Christ says, ""I go to prepare a place for you. I have made worlds, stars, planets, comets; I have sent forth the lightning and uttered the thunder. Now I am going to do my greatest deed of all. I am going to get a place ready for those whom I have bought with my blood and glorified by my Spirit." What kind of place will he get ready for us, who has all things at command,—when the silver and the gold are his, when he can speak light and command worlds to fashion themselves and shine upon his children? What kind of place will he get ready? You like to be prepared for. If the person preparing for you is poor, you take every little deed as a great deed. If the person preparing for you has ample resources and receives you as if—"Really, well, you have come after all; but, at the same time, it would have been quite as well if you had lost your way,"—you naturally feel indignant, dissatisfied, resentful, because it might have been done nobly. Jesus Christ has gone to prepare a place. We judge men by the capacity of their resources. We have seen what he has done. If he has loved us with unutterable love, he will enrich us with inconceivable glory. The riches which he has are called "the unsearchable riches of Christ." "Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, what God hath prepared." "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you."

Preparation implies an interest in us, an expectation of us. He is waiting for his guests; he will open the door presently, and we shall go straight in. God has prepared nothing for the bad man. There is a place,—the pit of damnation, the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched! But it was not prepared for him. It was prepared, Christ says, for "the devil and his angels." That is the only place he has for the bad man! He made no preparation for him,—thought, perhaps, that at the very last moment he might turn and say, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Christ did not get anything ready for you! All that there is is the devil"s pit—never, never got ready for man—man who was redeemed by the precious blood of Christ!


Verse 21

On Christ Manifesting Himself

John 14:21

Here is a promise of divine manifestation to the human mind, and of divine indwelling in the human heart. "He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father." "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." Song of Solomon , then, God need not be unto the human soul as a far-off and unapproachable King—he may be in the heart as a gracious Father; his presence need not be as a coldly glittering star away in the inaccessible heights, but as a summer filling the heart with fire, working in the life all the strange enchantments of intermingling colours, and covering the soul with abundant fruitfulness. Thus we have distinctly set before us the highest possibility in spiritual life—the possibility of being temples of the Holy Ghost, of having fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, and of being made partakers of the divine nature. This thought should silence the clamour of all earthly appeal to cur affections, and give us the true idea of our susceptibilities as children of God. We can do the daily business of life, yet through it all can have shining upon us the most holy and transfiguring image of the Son of man; we can be in the city of men, yet hidden in the sanctuary of God; our feet may be in the dust, but our heads among those who worship day and night; we may carry with us him whose name is Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God. So being and so doing we are no longer of the world; we are only waiting to pay it back the dust it lent us, and then we shall be free of it for ever; our true life is hidden; it is in God"s keeping; it is never seen drawing water from this world"s muddy wells, nor eating the base food of the beasts that perish; it lives on the living word, it draws water from the wells of salvation; it has meat to eat that the world knoweth not of. "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and his Church "—and I invite you to follow me, in a prayerful and quiet spirit, in an endeavour to show first the condition on which divine manifestation is granted; and, secondly, some of the blessed evidences by which we may know that such manifestation has been realised in our own experience. O Spirit of Light, shine upon us, that we may see every step of the ascending and glorious way!

(1) The condition on which divine manifestation is granted to man.—That condition is distinctly asserted in the text, and in other Scriptures, to be love. "The Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me." "If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him." Where love is wanting, all is wanting; there may be rough interpretations of the divine presence as seen in the wonders of creation; for he would be a fool who could mistake the sun as having been written by any other hand than God"s; he who reads only the writing on the face of nature is as the letter-carrier, who reads only the outward address, not the wise and tender words written for the heart. Love Isaiah , so to speak, the faculty by which we apprehend God, without which we can never know more of him than that he is a dread mystery. Love is the fulfilling of the law: thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy strength; Nor need it appear strange that love is the only interpreter of God. In all our education and intercourse we find again and again that love sees farthest, hears quickest, feels deepest. God has not set up an arbitrary test of manifestation, he has taken the common course of our life, and given it applications to himself. I might challenge the worshipper of Nature to say whether his god does not demand precisely the same condition of manifestation? The mountain is saying, If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him; the sun holds the same language, so does the sea, so does every leaf of the forest. Two men shall walk along the same road; the one shall see nothing of beauty, and hear nothing of music. When he reaches his journey"s end he may, perhaps, have a dim impression that there was a hedge on one side of him and that there was garden land on the other; he may not be prepared absolutely to deny that a bird or two might have been singing in the air as he came along; he may not be ready to take an oath that now and again he passed a wayside flower; but he knows nothing, he is not in the slightest degree enriched by reason of his walk through the enchanting scenery. To such an eye as his Nature refuses to reveal herself in any but her most outward forms, and even they are misunderstood by so blind a reader. The companion who walked with him has, on the contrary, enriched his mind with many a picture; he has heard voices which will linger in his ear for many a day; the wayside flower has spoken to him some tender message, and the whole scene has been to him as the distinct handwriting of the great Creator. How are we lo account for the difference? The road was the same, the two men travelled the same path at the same moment; yet the one was poor at his journey"s end, and the other was filled with a sweet delight. The explanation is easy: the one loved Nature, and therefore Nature manifested herself to his admiring eye; the other cared nothing for Nature, and Nature in return cared nothing for him. What I wish to insist upon Isaiah , that even in your sanctuary, O worshipper of Nature, the same law holds good as in the sanctuary of the living God; in both we hear the words, "If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him."

The same rule holds good with Art. Every great picture is saying to those who look upon it, If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him. It is not every man who can read a picture. To some men a picture is only so much canvas and so much paint, without life, without idea, without poetry; there the great work hangs, having no message to those who look upon it with unappreciative eyes. You have heard persons who knew nothing of works of art, who, in passing great pictures, have said, "That is not so bad," or, "What a glorious frame that is!" but into the soul of the painter they have not seen at all; they have not appreciated the expenditure of mind which has been lavished on that costly work. On the other hand, there have been men who have stood before a great picture dumb with amazement, quivering with inexpressible delight, moved to the very depths of their being! The picture is the same, the light in which it is viewed by both parties is the same; yet to the one mind the picture is representing truths too deep for utterance, and to the other nothing but the coarsest exterior. Here again, therefore, we are thrown back upon the law of the text, and are shown that it is no arbitrary law which Almighty God has set up. Art unites with Nature in saying in the most distinct manner, If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him. Nor do we come to a change of this law if we enter into the circle in which human nature is most deeply studied. You can never know a man deeply until you love him. If you wish to know what is in your friend, sound his depths by entrusting him with more and more of your friendship. As flowers expand in the sunshine, so character discloses itself under the genial radiance of trustful affection. All character, indeed, does not reveal itself in the same way, but some men, and probably the grandest men, do not show themselves fully except under the influence of love. We may make many happy conjectures concerning the disposition of men. By putting one thing and another together which we may have seen in their character, we may come to some tolerably correct conclusion regarding the life of those whom we carefully study; but to know a man deeply and truly, to know him as he knows himself, we must test him by our own love, we must develop him by the fulness and reality of our special trust. The mother often knows more about the child than the father does. You may remember that in your childish days you were able to go to your mother with a very broken story, and she was patient and wise enough to put it together for you and make something of it; but you did not care to go to your father until you had a straightforward story to tell, and were prepared to stand a close cross-examination upon it. Perhaps some little girl may say that in her case it was precisely the contrary, for she could go to her father better than to her mother. I am glad to know it; such an instance does not at all destroy the validity of my position; it still remains true that where there is the most love there will be the highest power of interpretation, and that love will draw from its object most surely all that it requires. What we have found in Nature, in art, and in the family circle, we find in the whole course of our general study. The poet is saying, If any man love me, I will manifest myself to him. He will not speak to the prosaic reader. His poem will be but so many lines to the man who has no poetic faculty. The poet will only speak to the poet. Two men shall read the same poem—one will feel it tedious and wearisome exceedingly; the other will feel as if it ended too soon, so rich, so inspiring, so grand he felt it to be. What is this but the application of the principle of the text? So with the musician: to some men (men, indeed, who are to be sincerely pitied) music is nothing; it does not come to them with interpretations which could never be expressed in common words; they are lost in what, to them, is a terrible discord—the clash of instruments, the throbbing of great drums, the roll of stupendous organs, the blending of many voices—to them it is all confusion, without spirit, without figure, without signification. To others, music is as a voice from heaven: in the grand compositions of the masters they see, as it were, the very spirit of music walking upon the wings of the tuneful wind, and beckoning them away to higher scenes and nobler delights than earth can afford. How is this? Music will not visit the silent chambers of the soul that gives it no loving invitation; music, on the contrary, will never cease to sound in the hearing of those who pray that her voice may continue to soothe and inspire them.

We come, therefore, again and again upon the principle of the text. Whatever be your god—be it Nature, be it Art, be it humanity—you will find in it the same law that you find in the text, namely, that without love there can be no true manifestation. It is the same with reading books. All authors are not the same to us; we must take something to an author before we can get from him all that he will give. The "Stones of Venice" must be hard reading to a man who cares nothing for Gothic, Byzantine, bases, jambs, and archivolts; Shakespeare is uninteresting to the man who brings nothing of the dramatic in his own nature to the interpretation of the great poet; such a man will flee to Euclid"s Geometry, as to an ark of refuge. Yes, even geometry itself insists upon the application of the law which we find in the text. Euclid is dull reading to the man who does not love mathematics; but to him who has, so to speak, a geometrical mind, even straight lines and circles are apt to become things of beauty. You will not regard these illustrations as tedious if they help you in any degree to realise the principle, that love is the secret of manifestation. In setting up love as the condition of divine fellowship, God does not set up an arbitrary law. This, indeed, is the common law of the universe. Like ever goes to like. He who loves the devil most, knows most of the devil. To love vice is to be a learned scholar in the school of the infernal spirit; is to be really clever at wickedness, to be refined in iniquity, to be a genius in abomination. Some men are so little learned in the arts of the devil as to expose themselves to the interference of the policeman and the magistrate; they are such clumsy servants of their bad master as actually to be imprisoned, and to be otherwise punished by the laws of their country; others, again, are such adepts in the art of doing that which is forbidden, that they can manage to build up a reputation for respectability while they are actually engaged in practices which cannot bear the light of day,—so silent are they, so skilful, so deeply do they love the devil, that they receive from him the most secret manifestations, whilst they can look abroad upon the world With a face which simulates the appearance of innocence. The law is impartial. To love is to know; to love is to have; to love is strength; to love is life.

(2) I intended to say something about the blessed evidences that we have realised this divine manifestation; but why attempt to explain what must of necessity be too great for utterance in words? When God is showing himself in the heart, there are many signs of his presence. In our deepest intercourse with the Father our souls enter into an ecstasy in which language is felt to be powerless. You cannot have God in your heart without knowing that he is there. You cannot always explain, in common language, how it is that you are assured of his presence; yet there are flashes of light upon your mind, there are surgings of love in your heart, which tell you most unmistakably that you are enjoying immediate fellowship with the Father and his Christ. If I were to enter into an enumeration of the evidences by which any man can be assured that God is manifesting himself to the human heart, I should put, first and foremost, this—namely, where God dwells there will be increasing hatred of sin as sin. I do not say that there will be mere dread of consequences; I do not teach that men will avoid sin simply because they fear the terrible rod which never fails to follow the evil-doer. I insist rather, that where God is reigning in the heart there will be an ever-deepening detestation of sin on its own account; of sin because it is sin, because it is so infinitely hateful to God himself. Where the spirit of order is in a Prayer of Manasseh , he does not require to go with a square and compasses, and other mathematical instruments, in order to test whether this or that is out of order, or out of proportion; he detects it instantly, by reason of the very spirit that is in him. Where the spirit of honesty is in a Prayer of Manasseh , he docs not retire in order to consult an Act of Parliament before he completes his transactions with those who have entered into business relations with him. He does not say, "If the Act will allow me to get off for elevenpence three-farthings, certainly I shall not pay one shilling." He is himself an Act of Parliament; he is the incarnation of the spirit of honesty—he represents the great law of divine righteousness, and, because of the spirit of integrity which is in him, it is utterly impossible for him to go astray from the path of rectitude. And even thus it is with regard to the very highest attainments of the divine life. When the spirit of holiness is in a Prayer of Manasseh , his whole life will be made holy thereby; he will not care to consult rules and codes as determined by human critics; the spirit of holiness that is in him will lead him into truth, into purity, into the very holiness of the all-holy God. Let us then put ourselves to the test on this point: if we would really know whether God is manifesting himself to us, let us each say, Do I hate sin as sin, or would I roll it under my tongue as a sweet morsel if I could do so without suffering evil consequences for it? Do I abominate sin because it is opposed to the nature of God, or do I profess to hate it merely because such profession will secure for me a better standing in society? Would I sin if I were left alone, or if the most perfect secrecy could be granted to me? These are the piercing questions by which a man may test whether he is really enjoying divine manifestation, or is living a superficial and perhaps a hypocritical life.

Next to insisting upon this proof of divine manifestation to the human heart, I should point out that where God really dwells with men there will be on the part of men supremacy of the spiritual over the material. The flesh will be servant, not master. Christianity indeed does not destroy human passions, but gives them a higher direction. Where God dwells in the soul, and fills the mind with heavenly light, and stirs the heart with blessed expectation, the passions will, of necessity, take their order from reason. As the material universe is under God"s control, so will the human body be under the control of the human spirit, where God dwells in the heart. As in nature we find occasional outbreakings of storm—as the winds now and again threaten to rock the world and shake it out of its place—as the volcano bursts forth in devastating fire—as the sea roars tumultuously, so there may be in our bodily experiences proofs that we are yet in a region where the enemy has some power over us; yet as God sits above the floods, and controls all the forces of creation, so will he give our spirit ability to overmaster all the agitation and turbulence which show that even yet we are more or less strangers in a strange land. Out of this hatred of sin and this spiritual supremacy there will, of course, come perfect trust in God"s government of the world. The world becomes quite a new study when the heart is renewed in Christ"s love. The world is no longer a threatening mystery; it is still, indeed, a problem, but there is the most perfect assurance in the heart that the solution will bring nothing but glory to the divine name. When God manifests himself to Prayer of Manasseh , man is delivered from the terrors of the present world; he ceases to see mere accident in the courses of daily life that perplex him and distress him. He says, I do but see part of the divine movement in this; so far as these events that appear to be disastrous are concerned, I see that which is fragmentary, and I must patiently and confidently wait until God has completed his whole purpose. This is a sure sign that God is in the heart, for the world is displaced, its power is thrown down, and, even in the most threatening circumstances, there is a calmness which was never wrought in the human mind by carnal philosophy or unassisted reasoning. The world becomes less and less to a man who enjoys divine fellowship. To some men the world Isaiah , of course, everything; they have but one little world in their tiny universe—of course they are bound to make the most of it; to the man who is the temple of the Holy Ghost there is a great and indeed immeasurable universe, in view of which this speck of dust, on which some men would live for ever, dwindles into its proper insignificance. The Christian and the worldling are not, as they ought not to be, able to look upon the events of life with the same composure. The worldling must, of necessity, live in a constant state of alarm, because he is exposed to the mercy of what he calls accident, chance, misfortune. The Christian, on the other hand, by reason of taking wide views of things, by reason of associating himself with that which is infinite and absolute, enters into a profound and imperturbable peace. Yes, this peace is a sure sign that God is revealing himself to the heart Where grace Isaiah , there will be the most blessed peace. "Great peace have they that love thy law." The Lord will bless his people with peace.

Is any man in search of the Holy Grail? Here it is. "If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him." Hast thou been on the holy quest in many countries? Pause. The answer is here, "If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him." After many heartaches, many blighting disappointments, many cruel mockings, art thou still sighing for the Holy Sangreal? I have the answer, "If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him." We must begin with love, the love which comes of earnest desire to know that which is heavenly, and then, in due time, will come a still tenderer affection. We must get to the point of love. All our self-sufficiency, all our high notions, and mighty imaginings, must be cast away as things unclean and unsatisfying, and then we shall see the Father. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Love is the brightest purity. Purity is the divinest love. I cannot tell you how wondrously God reveals himself to love! He can never do enough for it. It moves him to lavish upon us unsearchable riches. Nor is love on our part a fixed quantity; we may grow in love for ever, constantly going out after God, never exhausting his grace, yet ever increasing in capacity to receive it. As for your god, O ye idolaters of Mammon, your love is a vanishing quantity, though it may appear to increase; you are daily impairing your very power of love; you are letting your greedy god eat up your hearts, and yet suffering him to delude you with the notion that you are independent and high-minded thinkers. Mammon! accursed god! never satisfied, never thankful, never beneficent, thou dost slay all to whom thou dost reveal thyself! Men of business, let me warn you against this flattering and mocking money-god; he will deceive you at last; he will stir you with most exciting promises—he will show you the kingdoms of this world, and the glory of them; he will throw open the doors of enchanting palaces, and give you visions of temples in which all is golden—but at last he will laugh you to scorn! Yes! he will surely reveal himself to you; he will grin as devils only can grin; and when you see him as he is you shall be like him. Blessed are they who have turned with loathing from his jewelled altars, and sought the Sangreal in the blessed Cross! Blessed is their life—blessed is their peace—blessed is their hope. Daily they draw themselves through the discipline of earth, by the inspiring expectation of heaven, and by the sweetness of grace they overcome the bitterness of sin.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on John 14:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/john-14.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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