1. The Springing Well (John 4:1-42)
I suppose there are not many scriptures which, as far as the letter goes, are better known than this one, but it may be a question if it be so well known in the spirit and power of it. The utter misery, guilt, and wretchedness of the poor sinner stands out in contrast with the moral glory and greatness of Him who sits upon the well, weary with His journey. He speaks to her of living water, which would be in her a fountain of water, springing up into everlasting life. What was it that had been springing up in that poor sinner all her life long? Only bitter water, polluted and foul, the waters of death. The fountain of her life was only evil. No good could come out of her, for there was no good in her. But here was One who could put in her a new, pure, fountain. Who was He? The Son of God.
But she must learn Him as the heart Searcher. She might have still thought, in spite of her evil life, that there was some good amid all the rubbish. But He will not deceive her. He puts His finger upon the plague spot of her life of sin, and a flood of light breaks in upon her conscience, and she sees her past history as it appears under the eye of God. He tells her all that ever she did. There is no covering up of anything. The grace is there to meet her every need, but the truth is there to let her see things as they really are. Everyone must see this sooner or later; some, perhaps, not until the day of judgment. But He who shall sit upon the great white throne, and shall open the books, was there sitting on that well, and He opens the book of her lawless life, and there is not one commendable act recorded from the beginning to the end. But it was in a day of grace, and there is no imputation. He speaks to her of living water—the gift of God.
He was the Omniscient One, and from Him nothing can be hid. At the end of chapter 2 we are told, He knew all men, and needed not that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. Until Jesus came into the world no man ever knew what was in man, but when He was here there was a Man in the world who did not need to wait until man declared himself in his actions, for He knew what was is man. And the solemn part of it is, that He who knew what was in man would not trust him. He was the true Light, which coming into the world, exposed all men. In the presence of Christ every man was seen just as he is, Himself being utterly unknown.
Yet why was He in the world? He did not enter it merely to expose man, and leave him in his nakedness. Ah, no, He came to bring God to man; to place the grace and love of God before the eyes of men, and this He did in every word that proceeded out of His lips, and in every work and miracle that was done by Him. He was the word of God to men; by Him God was speaking to His erring creature, bringing Himself before men, that He might win the confidence of their hearts. In Him the Creator was in His own creation where He was unknown, declaring Himself on behalf of His poor creature who was in darkness, and in rebellion against His authority. If He healed the sick, cleansed the leper, opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame walk, fed the hungry, or raised the dead, by these means He was directing men’s attention to the goodness of the God from whom they had departed. Every miracle that He wrought, as well as every word that He spoke, was the word of God to His erring creature. God was telling them by Jesus what He was on their behalf, in spite of their sinfulness.
There were people who saw these miracles, and yet did not view them as evidences of the grace of God to man. They looked upon them as great works of power, which indeed they were, but not as bearing testimony to the grace of His heart. These believed in His name when they saw the miracles, but their hearts remained insensible to grace. Jesus would not trust such men. But there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, into whose mind the light of the goodness of God had penetrated. These miracles were to him the witnesses of the intervention of God on behalf of His earthly faithless people. He saw the kingdom—the activity of God amongst His people for their deliverance from every evil thing that oppressed them. Peter speaks of this to Cornelius, and tells him that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with him.” Nicodemus says, “No man can do these miracles that Thou doest except God be with him.” This I take to be the way in which one sees the kingdom—God at work amongst men for their deliverance. Jesus says, as it were, “If you were not born again, you never would have seen this.” Nicodemus although himself the subject of new birth does not understand about it, and he raises all sorts of questions, but the Lord tells him not to marvel, for so it must be. The flesh was worthless; as worthless in a religious Jew as in a profligate woman of Samaria.
But there is something greater in the mind of God for man than even new birth, and this the Lord proceeds to speak of. He was to take the place of life-giving Head to man, and if He was to do this, the judgment which rested upon man must be borne. Hence the necessity of the cross: “the Son of Man must be lifted up.” The man after the flesh has to be set aside in the judgment of God. But the love of God was such toward the human family that He gave His only begotten Son to bear in His body that judgment. In His cross the judgment which lay upon man has been borne, and the love of God has been expressed.
In the end of chapter 3 we read, “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” This, I think, carries us to the present glory of Christ, as I suppose the last two verses of chapter 3 are the words of the writer of the gospel, and not of John the Baptist. Everything is put under Christ in resurrection. All power is given unto Him. He has power over all flesh. But the way in which He exercises that power is by giving eternal life to those who submit themselves to His authority in this day of His rejection. So we read, “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life, and be that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” I suppose it ought to be, “he that is not subject to the Son.” It refers to one whose heart remains obdurate in spite of the grace of God, and who will not have Christ. Upon such the wrath of God abides. It is no question of one who has heard of grace, and has been inattentive, and puts off coming to Jesus, but its reference is to one who has heard, and who definitely and finally rejects Christ. He shall not see life. He rejects the only means of salvation, and his rejection is final; he shall never see life. It is not a question of a careless soul, however dreadful and dangerous it may be to be careless, but to one whose mind is made up, and who never can be saved.
Now, in this chapter 4 Christ presents Himself as the Fountain of life. He has borne the judgment, flesh has been set aside in His cross, and He can now communicate the Spirit. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that says to thee give me to drink.” This is the great thing to apprehend. God is a giver, and everything that a poor mortal needs is placed in Christ for Him. In the past dispensation He spoke as a Demander. It is not so today. He presents Himself in this day of grace as a Giver. And He has living water for man. The Spirit was the great gift God had for man. He has the same gift today. The Baptist says that it was told him that He upon whom he would see the Spirit descending and remaining was the One who baptises with the Holy Ghost. Jesus was baptised with the Holy Spirit at Jordan, and now that He is risen and glorified, He can baptise others with that same Spirit and thus link them up in life and blessing and power with Himself.
He says, “If thou knewest . . . thou wouldst have asked.” He will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. A poor sinner comes for forgiveness. What does be get? Perhaps some one says forgiveness. He does, but how does he get it? He gets it in the gift of the Spirit. Peter says to the Jews, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Also, “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins.” And “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10:43-44). The living water is what man needs. God does not pledge Himself to give a man the very thing he comes for; He will give him what he requires, and man must have a new fountain of life within. The Spirit is in the believer a fountain of living water. He is now independent of the flesh. The fountain is pure and the stream is pure. The Spirit brings the love of God into the heart, and the love of God becomes the life of the soul; it springs up into everlasting life. His affections are pure and holy.
What a change the blessed Lord proposes to effect in that poor degraded creature! To think that the fountain of her life was now to be in the holy love of God, that love that was expressed in His cross. And this is what He proposes to do for all. This poor woman had been the slave of sin. She had found herself in a selfish world and her heart was hard and wicked. She had lived for herself, and the world had by its selfishness and cruelty taught her to do so. But the Son of God had come and He had drawn near to her and had let her see her guilty life in some measure as God saw it, had taught her at the same time that her religion had no virtue in it, but had brought before her the grace of Him against whom she had offended, in such a way that her heart was won. He had found her in her sins far away from God and utterly regardless of Him, but He was there to bring her back, and to bring her to the Father as a worshipper in spirit and in truth, for the Father sought such to worship Him. Marvellous grace! And what a wonderful Person this is who can give us living water that all this may be effected in us!
2. The Life-Giver and the Living Bread (John 5:1-29; 6:53-58)
On the last occasion we were occupied with Christ as the One who gives living water, a fountain which, in the one who drinks, would spring up into everlasting life. But before this water could be given, He must be lifted up, for flesh must be set aside in the judgment of God. The Spirit is not given to help the flesh, but to be a new fountain of life in the believer. Everything secured for us by the death of Christ is made good to us in the power of the Spirit, and we receive the Spirit on the principle of faith. There are two things in the cross, first the removal in judgment of the flesh, and second the declaration of the love of God to the world—man universally. This is brought into our hearts when we receive the Spirit, and “we love Him because He first loved us” is the way in which the water springs up into everlasting life.
The Son of God brought all the love of the heart of God down to earth, and lit up the domain of death with its glory. This is, I do not doubt, what is spoken of in verse 25 of this chapter as the voice of the Son of God. The love of God has been declared in this, that He sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him; but if that was to be brought about, I mean if we were to be caused to live through Him, it was necessary, not only that He should come into the world, but that He should be the propitiation for our sins. This, when we receive the Spirit, He sheds abroad in our hearts, and the fountain is in us, and springs up into everlasting life.
I have a very decided objection to connect life with what has been called the initial work of God in the soul—new birth, and the reason I object to it is this, it disconnects life from Christ. If life is in Christ, and only in Him, I cannot have it without coming under His quickening power, and I do not doubt the way I come into His quickening power is by His Spirit. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His” (Rom. 8); and I dare not think that anyone can be living in His life and at the same time be “none of His.” If you had life in new birth, you would have it before you came to Christ, (for I do not think any man will come to Christ unless God has begun a work in him, and the beginning of His work I take to be new birth), and it is impossible to possess life apart from the fountain of life. The Lord charges the Jews with thinking that in the scriptures they had eternal life, when the scriptures themselves testified that it was only in Him, and they would not come to Him that they might have it.
You get the power to live in chapter 4, and in this chapter 5 you get the ground upon which you are to live—the ground of resurrection. The Father raises up the dead and quickens them, and the Son quickens whom He will. To this end the Father and Son had been working in this world of death. The Son was working ceaselessly when He was here upon earth. He had no Sabbath in which to rest, He was ever at work, and His work was to place man beyond the power of death. Hence we find Him on the Sabbath wending His way to the sheep market, to where the poor sheep of Jehovah lay suffering from the consequences of sin. They were blind, halt, withered. It was at the house of mercy they lay; this is the meaning of Bethesda. The mercy of God by means of angels, had not wholly deserted His people. But it was useless for those who had no strength. One man had lain there thirty and eight years, but it had done nothing for him. But the true house of mercy had drawn near to them in the person of Jesus. It was not those who had a little strength He came to help. There was no demand for anything. The mercy that was in Him (and how boundless it was!) was available for the weakest. None need now despair. The blind were there, but the light of the world was there also. The hast were there, but the power of God was present to heal them The withered were there, but the resurrection and the life had come among them that Sabbath day, in the person of Christ.
These people were blind, halt, withered as to their bodies, but in their bodily condition was set forth the spiritual state of God’s earthly people; I might add, the spiritual state of the whole godless race of mankind. Who could meet this condition? Only one Person, Jesus, the Son of God. Who but the Light of the world could open the eyes of a blind man? This wonderful miracle was reserved for Christ to perform. No one had ever done this work till Jesus came. Not that in itself it was a greater work than raising the dead, but it set forth the knowledge of God being brought into a man’s soul, and who could do this but Jesus? Who could tell man what God was but the One who knew Him? Moses and the prophets, and even angelic beings could bring a message from God; but the Son did not bring a mere message, He came forth from the Father, and He brought the light of the Father into this dark world. His words, His works, His ways amongst men set the Father before them, that men might see the Father, that they might believe on Him, and that their dark hearts might be illuminated by the true light of God.
There were halt people waiting at the pool. Who could give them power to rise and walk to the glory of God but Jesus? What glory was it to God that His people were in this dreadful state? No glory whatever. Jesus came to glorify Him, to glorify Him in His grace and love to man. This man who had lain so many years at this pool had desire enough to walk, else he had not been found at Bethesda, but he was not able to put his desires into execution. He had no power. The man described in Romans 7 has desire enough to tread the path of righteousness, but he lacks the power. Such was the condition in which those poor sheep were found on that Sabbath morning.
But the Good Shepherd was after them, and He was able to give them strength to walk, and He was there to do it, and to lead them in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake. He can make a man fulfil the righteous requirements of the law; to use the figure, He can enable you to carry your bed.
But the withered were there also. The blight of death was on them. Sin had accomplished its dread work, and while men waited for the moving of the water, it was busy paying its unwelcome wages. Who could meet it in its work of destruction? No one surely but the Life-giver. Who could send the warm pulse of life bounding through the withered frame, and bring the bloom of health upon the pallid cheek but the Son of God, the author of life? God’s Bethesda was in Jesus. His poor sheep were in the market. They were being bought and sold; they were being killed, stolen, and destroyed, under the very eyes of the Good Shepherd. And He is moved with compassion, and comes amongst them with thoughts of deliverance, His great love making Him, as it were, regardless that it was the Sabbath day, a day in which at least the letter of the law said, “Thou shalt not do any work.”
Life and strength, and light and healing were come in His Person. Hence there is no question to ask but one, and that is, “Wilt thou be made whole?” Would the proud heart of man allow him to submit himself to be a subject of the work of God? God was speaking by Jesus. It was difficult for this poor impotent creature to lift his thoughts from the pool. For thirty-eight years he had lain beside it. It had been continually in his thoughts. All his expectations were from it. It had been of no service to him, but he knew no other means of deliverance. He cleaved to it, as men cleave to the law, and the fulfilment of their obligations. God is directing attention to Jesus and to His grace in Him, but all to no purpose as far as the great mass of men is concerned. If salvation is spoken of, they cannot think of arriving at in any other way than by their works of righteousness; if forgiveness is declared, they hope to merit it. And yet they are often conscious that they have got no relief on such lines. They are no nearer blessing than ever they were. But they are unwilling to think that God will have them as they are, and that His grace alone can save.
“Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” What powerful words! The man is strengthened. Power thrills through his long enfeebled frame. In figure he is placed on the footing of resurrection. He had known what the weakness of death meant. He is now in the vigour of life. He carries his bed; that which was an evidence of his weakness, becomes the witness of the power given to him by Christ.
But the exhibition of this power is made on the Sabbath day, and this is utterly offensive to the legal man. The Jews tell him he is doing that which is not lawful. Lawful! How not lawful?
Is it not lawful to use the strength given according to the directions of the One who gave it? Would anything else have been lawful? It was not lawful according to the law of Moses, but the strength he was using to carry his bed was not obtained from the law, and therefore could not be controlled and directed by the law. He is no longer under law, but he is not lawless, he is subject to Christ. Such are we when we have received His Spirit. He becomes law to us. We come under the control of Christ.
In chapter 6 He is the support of life, the living Bread which came down from heaven, and gives life to the world. The world is always in view in John; the Jews are not God’s people. In chapter 1 He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; in chapter 3 He declares the love of God to the world; in chapter 4 He is the Saviour of the world; and in chapter 6 He is the Bread which is for the life of the world. The Israelites had eaten manna in the desert, and were dead. It had no virtue to preserve them in life; they died in spite of the fact that they had eaten angels’ food, but here was Bread given from the Father, that they might eat and not die. It had not come to sustain the life of flesh, but that in the appropriation of this Bread, they might part company with the life of flesh and live to God in the power of the Spirit. Hence we begin by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. To eat is to appropriate and make the thing my own. I look at His death, and I say, that is my death. I have a right to do this, because God has given it for all. I eat it, and make it my own. It is death to all that I am in the flesh, but I can very well afford to let the flesh go in death, because in the power of the Spirit I live in Christ. I can let the Adam life go, and be thankful it is gone, for in the life of Christ I am beyond all that death applies to. In eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood, I have life eternal. Death can only touch the life of flesh, but let it go, it is gone already in the judgment of the cross, and I appropriate it as mine, and in the life of Christ death is powerless to touch me; and in the power of that same life my mortal body shall be quickened, or raised up at the last day. But more than this, it is given to me in the fathomless love of God. My soul is nourished by the love expressed in it, so that I abide in Hun in the conscious sense of this great love, and He abides in me, lives in me, and gives character to me in this godless world.
But there is not only the eating His flesh and drinking His blood, but also the eating Himself. He says, “As the living Father has sent Me, and I live by the Father, so he that eats Me even he shall live by Me.” Men live by this world, and when the world fails them they pine away and die. One has often seen it. Men have their objects in this life, things for which and by which they live, and when these things fail them they die of sheer starvation. But He is Bread for us. “He that comes to Me shall never hunger, and he that believes on Me shall never thirst.” He is enough for us, and we need nothing else, and no other. The Father was enough for Him. He did not live by the power of the world. Things might turn out most adversely, and His circumstances might be, according to the estimation of men, most wretched; but He was independent of them, for He lived on account of the Father. And we live on account of Him, that is, if we are eaters of Him.
How blessed all this is. He is the fountain of living water, but we may drink from Him, and have within us a new fountain of life. He is also the quickener of the dead, and the Bread by which the life He gives is sustained. May we know what it is to eat Him, and live forever.
3. Rivers of Water (John 7:37-39)
On two former occasions I was speaking on what comes before us in chapters 4, 5, 6 of this gospel. The Lord proposes to give to the poor sinner of Samaria, living water. This looked forward to the day when He would be glorified. He can now give the Spirit, because He has accomplished righteousness, having been made sin on the cross. The Spirit had been promised in the past dispensation. It was to be poured out upon all flesh. John the Baptist points out the One who would baptise with the Spirit. He came baptising with water, but he was told that the One upon whom He should see the Spirit descending and remaining would be the One who baptises with the Holy Spirit. For this One he looked among those who came to be baptised of him. He says, “I knew Him not.” But he looked for this sign which would indicate to him this great Personage. Jesus is the One distinguished in this way. As Aaron the High Priest was anointed with oil (the figure of the Spirit), apart from blood, so was Christ anointed with the Spirit before the infliction of death as the judgment of God. But if Aaron’s sons were also to partake of that holy oil, blood must be shed, and he and they together are sprinkled with blood and oil mingled. So must Christ die and rise again before He can communicate the Spirit to others. It is from a risen Christ we get the Spirit.
This is to be a well of water in us, so that there may be no thirst, though we may have to pass through a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.
In chapter 5 He speaks as life-giver and as judge. He quickens dead sinners in His own life, places them on the footing of resurrection, and assures us that there will be a resurrection of life as well as one of judgment. In the sixth chapter He is the Bread of life come down from heaven to give life to the world, and that he who eats Him shall live forever.
In chapter 4 there is no danger of thirsting, for the drinker of the water which He gives has eternal satisfaction. In chapter 5 there is no danger of coming into judgment, for the one who hears His word, and believes Him who sent Him has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life. Such a person as is described as a hearer of His word and a believer of Him who sent Him has everlasting life. Who says so? The Life-giver. Who else could speak with any kind of authority or certainty on the question? But more than that, he shall not come into judgment. Who says so? The Judge. Who but the Judge could pronounce authoritatively on the matter?
In chapter 6 there is no danger of hunger or of death. Who says so? The One who is Himself the Bread of God come down into this famine-stricken world: “He that comes to Me shall never hunger and he that believes on Me shall never thirst.” “If any man eat of this bread he shall live forever.”
As the Fountain of living water He has come down into this waste and barren desert to put an end to the consuming fever of vacant and disappointed hearts, who restlessly pursue after things which not only do not satisfy, but fill the soul with dark forebodings of judgment and eternal wrath; and as the One who has with mighty voice declared in death’s stronghold the measureless love of God, He causes our souls to live in that love and gives us the consciousness that in His life we have passed out of death and are forever beyond its reach; and as the living Bread come down from heaven He nourishes our hearts, and sets us free from the world, so that we live by Him and not by it There is no danger of thirst in chapter 4 nor of judgment in chapter 5, nor of hunger in chapter 6. The fever is quenched by the living water, the fear by the love of God declared in death, which is His voice, and the famine by the living bread. We have the fountain within us in chapter 4, we are passed out of death into life in chapter 5, and we are beyond death’s power in chapter 6.
But now I come to the passage read in chapter 7. It has often been noticed that these feasts which are called feasts of Jehovah in the Old Testament, are here called feasts of the Jews; they had lost their true character. It was all dead and lifeless formality. What was the good of keeping the Passover? They might celebrate their deliverance from the bondage of Pharaoh, but was their bondage so much less bitter under the iron heel of Roman oppression? Had there been any life remaining in their religion they would not have been paying tribute to Caesar, but indeed it would have been the very reverse, Caesar would have been tributary to them. They had not rendered to God that which was God’s, and hence in His government all they had was Caesar’s.
This feast of tabernacles will have its fulfilment when Christ appears, after the earth has been reaped and the harvest gathered in, God’s precious wheat brought safely into His barn, and after the vintage, when Christ shall have trodden the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God: then He will show Himself to the world, and Israel gathered from the four corners of the earth shall rest in peace under the sceptre of David’s Son, the true king and heir to the throne. The heavens shall hear the earth, and the earth shall hear the corn and the wine, and the corn and the wine shall hear Jezreel. Heaven and earth, long disconnected and estranged, shall be brought together, and the heart of redeemed Israel shall throb with the love of God, that very people to whom He has to say, “I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.”
His brethren desired that He should now show Himself to the world and bring about this glorious dispensation, but His time for this had not yet arrived. Things were not yet prepared for this marvellous event. All that has been going on during the last 1900 years has been in view of that day when He shall show Himself to the world. Moreover, that system of blessing which is to be manifested when He shows Himself to the world must be founded on His sacrifice. If blessing such as will be commanded in the world to come is to be brought about for man, the power of death must be broken, righteousness must be accomplished, and added to this a vessel is needed in which the glory of God may be displayed. All this necessitated the putting off of that day when He will show Himself to the world.
But if that day was to be put off for nigh 2000 years, man may not be a loser thereby, for all the blessing of that day was treasured up in the Person who was then in their midst. In that day living water will flow out from the temple of Jehovah with healing virtue and life-giving power. But now Jesus stands and cries, saying, “If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink.” There could be no question but that there would be thirsty souls at that feast, for it must have been very apparent to many that the people were far from being in the favour of Jehovah. There must have been those who could not help feeling in spite of the solemn festivities going on in their midst, that there was even a tinge of mockery in the splendour of those great solemnities.
But in Jesus there was endless satisfaction, and not only that, but whoever believed on Him would himself become a source of blessing to others. The believer’s body was to become a temple of the Holy Spirit. It was not now to be one temple in one given place upon earth, sending forth rivers of refreshment, but from the body of each believer rivers of living water were to flow. There were to be streams in the desert, by which the valley of Baca would become a well.
What a place the believer’s is in the thought of God! It may be, and most surely it is, that we are little up to our privileges, but we are not likely to arrive at any good by self-occupation. We need only to get hold of the thought of God for His people, and seek from Himself the power to be here according to that thought. Jesus is now glorified. The Spirit has been given. The body of the believer is His temple. And this I am persuaded is a greater thing than any blessing the earthly saint can be placed in in the world to come.
Let us draw near to a glorified Christ. Let us drink deeply from His fullness, not a draught on rare occasions, and between, seeking to satiate our souls at the cisterns of the world, but remaining at the Fountain, drink deeply and continuously, and as surely as we do this our cup will be made to run over in rivers of living water.
4. Light (John 9)
We come in this chapter to a different subject from that which occupied us on the previous evenings. From chapter 4 to 7 it is largely the question of life which came before us, but in chapters 8 and 9 the subject is light. In chapter 4 the subject is living water, in chapter 5 life and resurrection, in chapter 6 the Bread of life, and in chapter 7 it is the gift of the Holy Spirit and the superabundance of the blessing flowing from this great gift. But when we come to chapter 8 the subject is light. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” In chapter 8 the light is presented more in its exposing and blinding power, but in chapter 9 in its illuminating and life-giving character. In the latter part of this ninth chapter he says, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see (this is chapter 9), and that they which see might be made blind” (this is chapter 8). In the beginning of the chapter the Pharisees are convicted of sin; they were not able to bear the light. Out in the dark world, where only flagrant acts of wickedness were taken account of, they could condemn the poor woman, but when they dragged her to Christ, they dragged her into a place where the true light shone, and exposed both them and her in all their nakedness and sin. In the presence of any other, they might have accepted the challenge thrown down to them, and declared themselves quite competent to carry out the sentence of the law, but not in the presence of Him whose eye at that moment scanned the volume of their hypocritical lives, and brought their sins to their memories. They have to leave His presence convicted; the eldest goes first, but the youngest cannot remain. All are exposed. The woman may be bad, and her sin is not hidden, but her accusers are little or no better. And what was, if anything, more solemn, they would die in their sins (v. 21). Their case was hopeless; they were from beneath, morally of hell (v. 23). They were slaves of sin (v. 34). They were of their father the devil (v. 44), and bore his moral features, murder and falsehood. They were liars all of them; murder was in their hearts, and what was so galling to their miserable pride, they could not conceal it, for the Heart Searcher was there, and it could not be hid.
Their hypocrisy was discovered, their wisdom baffled, their understanding blinded. Perplexed, bewildered, maddened to desperation by the terrible exposure to which they were subjected, they take up stones to stone Him. But that which irritated those men was that which is so sweet to the poor sinner who has no pretension to human excellence. The clay was on their eyes, provoking and irritating. Had they only been less pretentious, and had they stood forth in the confession of their deep failure and incompetency, how different all would have been! But in their own estimation they were those that saw, and therefore are they made blind.
But how bright and blessed was that light which had visited them! He speaks of Himself as the light of the world, and declares that he who followed Him should not walk in darkness, but should have the light of life. The Father and the Son were there in grace. The Father had sent Him, borne witness to Him; and He spoke what He had heard of the Father. And the Son was there able to make free, so that they might be in liberty and blessing forever. And if they kept His saying they would never see death. His day was coming; Abraham had seen it and it had gladdened his heart. And lastly, “Before Abraham was I AM.”
What powerful light radiates from His glorious person! But it is valueless to them. They will not believe in it. Their minds are in conflict with all He says. They were puzzled, and full of questions. Where was His Father? Where would He go that they would be unable to find Him? Who was He? In their estimation He was a Samaritan and had a devil, and they were shocked to hear Him say that he who kept His sayings would never see death. And how could it be possible that a man not fifty years old could have seen Abraham? The light was too strong for them, and they were blinded by its fierce glare.
In chapter 9 we get the opposite effect produced by His presence. If in chapter 8 we get those who saw made blind, in chapter 9 we get one who saw not made to see. Here there was no pretension to light; the man had been blind from his birth, and came before Jesus in the confession of his condition. He had never enjoyed the light of heaven. The bright rays of the sun had never penetrated the deep darkness that enveloped his long and lonely pathway through the world. For him everything was draped in impenetrable gloom. But the fault lay only in himself. The light was there, and shed forth its beams with lavish kindness. Others might enjoy it, and walk without stumbling in its heavenly radiance, but this blessed privilege had not been his. It had been a long, dreary night for him. But at length in his lonely pathway he is met by the One who had made that bright orb of day, and had placed it high in the azure dome to give light to all; and his morning was near at hand.
His disciples ask, “Who has sinned?” It was all wrong. The question now was, “Who is at work?” God was there in the person of the Son, at work to bring men out of darkness into light. And there was no time to be lost for the night was coming in which no man can work. It was the Sabbath day, but the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, and it must stand aside and give place to the mercy of God, of which this man was to be a subject. The works of God were to be made manifest in Him. His night had been already too long. The compassions of God are aroused. He never made the Sabbath to stand between Him and the blessing of His poor creature. He makes clay of a spittle, spreads the clay upon the eyes of the blind man and tells him to go to Siloam and wash. The poor blind creature makes no delay, raises no questions, but does what he is told, and his night of gloom gives place to the glorious light of day.
But this is only a figure of the work He does for us in a spiritual way. He has brought the love of God into this dark, cold world, that our hearts might live in the light of it. He has declared God that we might know Him, and that our joy might be in Him. How good it was for this man that he had been born blind, that he might be the subject of the work of God; that he might feel upon his eyes the hands of Jesus, and get sight directly from Him. No doubt he had many a time previously been heard to bewail his hard lot, but now his murmurings are forever silenced. Better to be born sightless, and have God intervene for him in this way, than have all his faculties, and never to know the compassion of God.
And is it not so with us spiritually? God, although not the author of evil, has allowed it to come into the world, and unutterable miseries have followed in its wake. But His intervention in grace has done infinitely more than remedy the evil, the knowledge of His love has come to us in the very way in which the evil has been met and dealt with, and instead of being innocent creatures rejoicing in His goodness, His love has been declared to us in the death of His Son, and our eternal place is to be “holy and without blame before Him in love.”
But let us pursue this man’s history a little farther. Now that he sees, he gets into all kinds of difficulties with those proud leaders who reject the light, and he knows not yet the greatness of the Person who has opened his eyes. He says, “He is a prophet,” and a very extraordinary prophet, for he adds, “since the beginning of the world was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.” Jesus had done a work that no other man had ever done. Until Christ came God remained shrouded in the thick darkness, but the only begotten Son declared Him. Who else could? No one had ever seen Him but the Son, and no one but the Son could declare Him. This the poor man learns, when for the Lord’s sake he is excommunicated. They cast him out of the synagogue, but in his isolation and rejection he learns Jesus as the Son of God, and falls down in the presence of that glorious Person as a worshipper.
What a contrast between him and those who judged, reviled, and cast him out! The light made them miserable, provoked, and filled them with fury and madness, so that they would have stoned Jesus; but the same light, filling the heart of the poor unpretentious, afflicted, persecuted, and rejected man, makes him a worshipper. How very wonderful! This poor creature was not one of earth’s great ones; he was but a blind beggar. By coming into contact with Jesus he loses every earthly friend, becomes an outcast from the society of men, and is shunned as a leper; but the hands of the Son of God have been upon his eyes, he has felt the touch of a divine person, and with the light of God in his soul he is well compensated. He can now no longer be considered an object of compassion for his fellow men, he is enriched by the knowledge of God, and belongs to a system where all things are of God, for he is God’s workmanship.
Is it not so with ourselves? The Son of God has come, and has not only declared God, but has also opened our eyes, that we might be in the light of that revelation, and that we might live in that light. And we know He has come. We know it, not because it is a matter of history that Jesus has been upon earth, but because of the work He has wrought in us. He has given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true. We have felt, as it were, the touch of His hands upon the eyes of our hearts, and we have looked upon His glory and excellence, and the world and the glory of man have lost their power over us. If we be cast out by the men of this world, we have the company of the Son of God in our rejection, and we are infinitely more than compensated. And the truth is it is only apart from the system of this world and all fleshly religion, and bearing in some measure the reproach of Christ, that He is learned as the Son of God. That He is the Son of God is a dogma of the orthodox in Christendom, and this may be held as a mere dogma where there may be no grace in the heart, but to know Him as the Son of God involves separation from the whole old earthly order. The man who had his eyes opened was able to confess Him as a prophet, while connected with the synagogue, but that He who had opened his eyes was the Son of God had never entered his mind. And so may we today be greatly enlightened, and have our hearts in some measure in the benefit of the grace that has come to us in Him without knowing the greatness of the Person who has brought the light to us, and enabled us to enjoy it. It is a great day for us when we learn Him as the Son of God. Self is then lost sight of, and we live by the faith of Him. May we be able truly to say, “We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”
5. The Shepherd (John 10)
In chapter 8 Jesus speaks of Himself as the Light of the world, and this thought is carried through chapters 9 and 10. We see in chapter 8 the light exposing to the very roots of the moral being, the origin and character of His enemies; they were of their father, the devil, and apostasy, falsehood and murder characterized them as these things did him; he abode not in the truth, he was a liar and a murderer, so were those Jews who resisted Jesus. But in contrast with them, Jesus was from above, the living expression of the doctrine He taught; with Him there was no falsehood, and he who followed Him would not walk in darkness, but would have the light of life. The one who continued in His word would know the truth, and the truth would make him free, for whom the Son made free would be free indeed, for the Son makes free by placing man in sonship before the Father’s face, and in the light of His eternal love.
But the light was too strong for their eyes. They were blinded by its glory, and so maddened by the way it searched and exposed them that they took up stones to stone Him. What an answer to all that was brought to them in this blessed Person! All the good of heaven was there, the love of God come down to sinful man, the grace of the Father’s heart, forgiveness for the chief of sinners, salvation for the perishing and lost, and life for those under the judgment of death. How inexpressibly sad and disappointing to see all this questioned, rejected, hated, and persecuted by those who needed it most, and who without it must be eternally miserable!
In chapter 9 we have seen the same light bringing into the heart of a poor unpretentious blind beggar the knowledge of the compassion and mercy of God, and the apprehension of the true lineage, dignity, and greatness of the One who had wrought in him this mighty work. And this is his compensation when cast out by those whom he once accounted as perfect in knowledge. They cast him out of the synagogue, and chapter 10 is the answer of the Lord to this act which manifested the unmitigable evil of their wretched hearts.
Whatever opinion they might form of Him, or however they might judge and condemn Him, He had entered the sheepfold by the door. He had come in the appointed way. He was of the house and lineage of David, the Son of a virgin, born in Bethlehem of Judea, and He waited upon God to give Him access to the sheep. He was not come to kill and to steal and to destroy, and if no one else acknowledged His right to the sheep, the Porter did, for He opened to Him and gave Him access, and the sheep turned to His voice a willing ear. Thieves and robbers had often invaded the fold, climbing up some other way, but the sheep paid no attention to these. Gamaliel speaks of some who professed to be great, and who drew many after them, only to be dispersed and destroyed; but the sheep waited patiently upon the voice of the Good Shepherd, for they knew not the voice of strangers.
But the Good Shepherd was come to lead out of the fold. He calls His own sheep by name, and leads them out. He has a way of speaking to His own. To His sheep His voice is intelligible, and there is music in it. No other voice has any charm for them. Most here tonight—I trust all—know what I am saying. He gives you to know that He knows you. He has a way of pronouncing your name that makes you feel He knows you better than you know yourself. But His voice is attractive. There is no resisting its persuasive power. He leads them out. He Himself is the door by which they come out of the fold. He goes before them. The great ones amongst the Jews had (so they thought) put out this bright witness to His power, but the real truth was this, the Jewish system could not hold him; the new wine had burst the old bottle. If he found himself outside the Jewish enclosure, he was there through having to do with the Son of God. Had the blessed Lord passed him by and left him alone in his blindness, he might have remained in the fold until the day of his death. But the good Shepherd was there on behalf of His sheep, and better, as some one has said, to be in the isolation of light than in the isolation of darkness.
It is a very serious thing to get a little light. The poor blind beggar had had many a trial and sorrow before he met the Son of God, and perhaps his greatest sorrow was that he was compelled to sit solitary in the gloom of hopeless night, and be dependent upon the compassion of the world for his subsistence; but whatever his sorrows had been, he had always known the sympathy of his neighbours, the tender consideration of those with whom he came into contact, and he could always have reckoned upon the kindness and love of his parents, and as to the Pharisees he never had known anything of their deadly malice and unreasonable and merciless hatred. But now all is changed; his neighbours have him dragged before the authorities, his parents will no longer shield him from danger; they suddenly find out that he is of age, and must answer for himself; if he has been having to do with Jesus he must abide the consequences; and the Jews, led by the Pharisees, revile him, rail on him, taunt him with the stigma of his birth (although it had been now removed by the merciful intervention of God), and cast him out of the synagogue.
But Jesus was thus at work, putting forth His sheep out of the old legal system; a system of bondage, darkness, distance, and death. And He was the door of the sheep, the way out of that old earthly order. There was no way out but by Him. In His death the old order has been brought to an end in the judgment of God, and the man to whom that covenant had its application, He has gone before the sheep. By His death He has parted company with flesh, and His death was for His sheep, to make a way for them to leave the fleshly system.
But He is not only the door out. He is also the door in (v. 9). He says, “I am the door; by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” He is the door out of the old order into the new, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of bondage into liberty. There was neither salvation, liberty, nor pasture in the Jewish enclosure. It was a very imperfect system, but it served as a test for the flesh. But God was shut up within the veil, undeclared and unknown in His nature. But the Son of God has come and God has been brought to light in His very nature, and into this light the good Shepherd brings His sheep. In this light the soul finds salvation. Satan’s authority is maintained in the darkness, but we have been delivered from this, and have come under the rule of the Son of His love, and this is where salvation is realized. The effect of this is that we show forth the virtues of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9); we come out descriptive of Christ (Phil. 2:14-16). Upon this revelation of God in Christ our souls feed; we find ourselves in free pasture. And this light being the light of His love, dispels our guilty fear, awakens in us new and holy affections, causes us to love God, and raises the cry of Abba Father in our hearts, so that we delight to draw near to Him in holy liberty. So you see that as we are led into the light of the revelation of God in Christ we find in that light salvation, food, and liberty.
But life is found there also, and life in abundance. The light is in us, the light of life, it has come to us in the Son of God in all its mighty volume, and it has quickened our dead souls. We have it by virtue of the death of the good Shepherd; we have it in the risen Son of God, who is forever beyond the reach of death; we have it in the love displayed in the death of Jesus; we have it in the knowledge of the Father and Jesus Christ His sent One; we have it in the blessedness of the house of God; in the witness of the Spirit; in the love of the brethren, and in fellowship with divine Persons.
I could well understand any one of us saying, how little we know of these blessed realities. I suppose they are only very feebly in the soul of any one, but it is into the light where these things are that the Shepherd conducts His sheep, and were we more habitually basking in the light which radiates from the face of Jesus, we would know more of these wondrous things. We will never rise up to any blessing by self-occupation. Christ must be continually before our souls, and we must keep ourselves in the warmth and comfort of the love of God, and if we do this, we will not be so lean and starved and miserable as we sometimes appear to be.
The purpose of the Father was to place everything upon the footing of resurrection. The old order has been invaded and spoiled by sin and death. God could not go on with it, neither was it His mind to do so. Jesus came to die and bring to an end in death the old sinful state of things, and in resurrection to furnish new and firm ground upon which every divine thought could be established. What a joy to the heart of the Father to find One who could and would do this for His eternal glory! “Therefore,” He says, “doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.” He is on the other side of death now. He has passed through it, and dried up its waters. He has now no more to do with sin, or death, or sorrow, or the world, or persecution, or betrayal. Where He has gone there is nothing to occupy Him but the Father’s love. He was a Man of sorrows here in a hostile world, in an atmosphere poisoned by the fumes of death, but now in the place into which He is gone there is the entire absence of all these things, there is only the Father’s presence and the Father’s love.
And He calls His sheep after Him. They follow the Ark of the Covenant. He has gone before, but He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father which gave them Me is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” What a sense of security and rest is ministered to us by these blessed words! He leads us safely along to the place where He has gone, and no evil thing can touch us by the way. We are safe in His hand, and His voice so sweet, so tender, encourages our hearts in the way, and directs us to that land where dwell fullness of joy and everlasting pleasures. We are in the Father’s hand, and in the Shepherd’s hand also, and in their interest for us they are of one mind, for “I and My Father are one.”