1. Introduction (John’s Epistles)
The first epistle of John is the sequel to the Gospel, and shows us the believer walking in the light that came into this world in the person of the Son, who is the subject of the Gospel. In the Son we see the Father declared, and this revelation brings eternal life into the midst of a fallen race, as free for every human being as is the light of the sun in the heaven above. In the epistle the believer is contemplated as partaking of that life. The Word was the Word of that life which was the eternal thought of God for man (Titus 1:2). It was the old commandment in the Gospel, for it was ever in the Son; it is the new commandment in the epistle, for it is now in the believer.
The Gospel opens with a beginning beyond which no human mind can travel. We are so constituted that without some stepping-stone upon which our mental foot may find support, we cannot move in any direction from the present moment. We can move forward in thought to the consummation of all things, for the sure word of prophecy has laid a highway upon which we may securely travel; and we can go back in thought to days long passed away, for incidents connected with those days are indelibly written upon the table of the heart. We may also travel along the highway of profane history, and journey back upon the page of inspiration, until we come to the hour in which God created the heavens and the earth, but beyond that there is no resting-place for the mind, only we are allowed just to touch that which is eternal, for “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him.”
The Word had been spoken by Prophets from the earliest ages, who called upon men to obey it, lest they should incur the displeasure of God.
But those prophets were not the Word themselves. They spoke it, but they were no more it than were the people to whom it was addressed. Here, however, was One in the midst of men, who not only spoke the Word, but who was Himself the Word. He Himself was all that God had to say to men, and all that God is in His approach to men. Prophets had said, “Thus says the Lord,” but Jesus said, “I say unto you.” They could only pronounce blessing upon those who believed in God, but Jesus said, “He that believes on Me has everlasting life.” He was the expression of the essential being of the Godhead. He says, “He that sees Me sees Him that sent Me.” Not, surely needless to say, as to outward form, for He was in the form of a servant, and in the likeness of men; but as to the inward distinctive qualities that manifested themselves in His practical life down here, it was God declared.
In Him the Creator was here, having taken part in that which was the work of His own hands. No longer does He make the prophets the media of His communications to men, but comes personally into their midst; and He comes in a form not in the least calculated to strike terror into the human heart; He is a Man amongst men. He could well have said, like Elihu the daysman between God and Job, “Behold, my terror shall not make thee afraid, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee” (Job 33:7). Meekness and lowliness, tenderness and goodness, grace and truth, were in the most perfect harmony and infinite equipoise with the holiness and righteousness that characterized His whole deportment in this evil world.
“And the Word became flesh.” No other way could God have been made known. The creature cannot by searching come to the knowledge of his Creator. The gap between the Creator and the creature is infinite. Only God could make God manifest. If He would be known by the creature, He must find a way by which He shall make Himself known. His eternal power and divinity may, and do, come to light by means of creation, but His essential being, His nature, and not merely His attributes, cannot be declared by the works of His hands. To manifest the inherent principle of life and nature, from which the activities of a being proceed, requires something more than an exhibition of wisdom and power. To bring the nature to light requires a circumstance that shall test to the very centre of the soul the secret springs and depths that by their activities alone can be shown the being as he is.
And this occasion for the setting forth of all that God is in His very nature was furnished by the fall of the creature on whom He had set His heart before the world’s foundation. Nothing now was open to God but a choice between two alternatives: the judgment and utter destruction of the whole human race, or His most merciful intervention in power in His erring creature’s behalf, and that by means which shall touch to the very quick His sensitive and holy soul, and bring His only-begotten Son, the well-beloved Object of His heart, into unspeakable depths of sorrow. His righteousness demanded the condemnation of the sinner. His holiness could do nothing but put man, the unclean creature, at an immeasurable distance from His presence. Satisfaction must be rendered to His outraged majesty. His word, that pronounced sentence of death on the sinner, must be honoured. Yet His love, that had been set upon the sons of men, cannot be disregarded. What is to be done?
Here the deepest depths of His being are sounded; the fountains of that unfathomable ocean are in activity against the destruction of the creature made in His image and likeness; but His wisdom and His power come to the service of His unspeakable love. His holiness, His righteousness, His truth, His majesty, must be glorified; but His love, His nature, cannot be made to suffer through the maintenance of the claims of His attributes. His counsels, eternal counsels, counsels of love, counsels that had man as their object, cannot be allowed to perish, every thought must be established; in short, all that God is in nature and attribute must be glorified in manifestation. How was all this to be accomplished?
The answer is found in the eternal Word, who becomes flesh, declares the Father, and in His person as Son is indicated an entirely new order of life and relationship for men. He goes to the cross, where the depths of the evil that characterized the old order are discovered, and where in His holy flesh God condemns sin, which had its seat in our unholy flesh; and thus is the nature and character of God declared, the infinite perfections of the eternal Son in manhood brought to light, and a basis laid in the blood of that cross, on which every thought and counsel of eternal love shall unshakeably be established.
The special aspect of the death of Christ found in John’s writings is that of the brazen serpent; and the reason of this is, that the subject of life and nature, rather than the putting away of our sins, occupies his mind. The types in which the death of Christ is in its various aspects set forth are exceedingly interesting. We have types that are connected with the redemption of the people from the hard bondage under which they suffered from the power of Pharaoh, there are those that refer to their passage through the wilderness, and there are others that refer to their coming into the land. The blood sprinkled on the door-posts and lintels of their houses sheltered them from the sword of the destroying angel. It is the blood of Christ as His justification in justifying the ungodly sinner who believes in Jesus (Rom. 3). The Red Sea divided is Christ delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification (Rom. 4). This brings us out of the devil’s kingdom (Egypt) into the wilderness with God. Then in the song of Moses we get the warfare of God with the powers of evil, His triumph over them on behalf of His people, and the boast of the people, that He having brought them out would be sure not to fail to bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of His inheritance. This song should have been sung throughout their whole wilderness journey, but, alas, the rest of the way was given, not to singing but to murmuring (Heb. 3:14; 10:23). Next we come to the bitter water which, though not in itself a type of the death of Christ, is our application of that death to the will of the flesh throughout our wilderness journey. It is indeed bitter to the soul, for it is the result of sin and abhorrent to our human nature; but if we have been saved by His death, it is not that we may henceforth live to ourselves and to the will of the flesh, but to Him who died for us, and rose again; and because of this we must bring His death to bear upon all that we are as in the flesh. But His cross has made death sweet to us, for His love has been by means of it expressed, and by means of it have we been brought to God, our sins and our sore bondage to sin and Satan left behind for ever.
After this, when their wilderness journey had practically come to an end, and when it was seen that the flesh was unmendably evil, and however faithfully and tenderly God had cared for all their wants during their forty years, while they lived on His bounty, and when apart from His continual interest and ceaseless care on their behalf they would have perished to a man, they were found as disobedient and gainsaying as they had been at the very first, we come to the fiery serpents and the remedy against their poisonous bite. The brazen serpent lifted up on the pole was the unfailing remedy. The Son of Man upon the cross is the antitype of this serpent of brass. The serpent on the pole was exactly like the serpents that had brought death into the camp; the Son of Man came in the likeness of sinful flesh. The serpent on the pole was sinless; the Son of Man was also sinless. The serpent on the pole was a serpent of brass, and brass is the symbol of the judgment of God according to the responsibility of man; the Son of Man lifted up on the cross bore the judgment that lay on the responsible man, and in that judgment that man was ended before God, and now the believer righteously partakes of the life and nature of Him who died for us and rose again; and this is the life of Canaan.
Our words and our ways with our fellow men set forth what we are in our nature, the spring and fountain of our spiritual being. The Word who was God set forth God in His ways here among men, for the life that shone forth in Him was Divine, and therefore was it the light of men. Moreover it had a quickening power with it; it was the light of life. True, it shone in the midst of the darkness of this world, and the darkness apprehended it not; but this was because man was by nature blind, blind morally. He was blind, because he had no desire to see; he hated the light. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:19-20).
2. Introduction (cont) — Light and Life
In the beginning of this Gospel we have the Creator, but spoken of as the Word; in the epistle we have the same person in the creation, having taken part in it, and spoken of as the Word of life. We read: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have contemplated, and our hands have handled of the word of life.” A Man in flesh and blood, the perfect revelation of the whole mind and thought and heart of the unseen God! And that revelation a Word of life! Not death to the sinner! Not destruction to the rebellious child of fallen man, but life brought near to men under death! How wonderful! How attractive! How inspiriting! A Man amongst men! Here to be heard, here to be seen, here to be contemplated, here to be handled! Come from the very heart of the Father, and on His way to the heart of the earth!
In the Epistle we find souls in the light. They are in the sphere of light that was created by the coming of the Son. He says: “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” Therefore is it said that God is in the light (1 John 1:7); that is, He has been manifested; and, as I have said, the sphere of light has been created by that manifestation. And it is in that sphere the believer walks. His eyes have been opened, he has apprehended the great truth that the Son is the sent One of the Father. Hence his thoughts of God are altogether altered. The light of the Father’s love has come into his heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, and his soul is in the light of the perfect revelation of God. And in this light he walks.
“If we walk in the light” is not to be understood as if it said “If we walk according to the light,” but altogether the sphere in which we walk. We can say we know that the Son of God has come (1 John 5:20). How do we know this? A person might say: “I know it because the Scriptures say so, and I believe them.” Very good! But that is not the whole truth on the subject, nor is it the way in which we know it as set forth in the verse, part of which I have quoted. When we awake in the morning, how do we know if the sun has risen? You will say that we can tell by the light that it brings. But has the Son of God brought no light into this world? The first epistle of John tells us that “The true light now shines.” And do we not know that it shines? Are its beams so feeble that we cannot tell whether it shines or not? We know that the Son of God has come, because we are in the light that He brought. He who made the sun to shine in the heavens gave us a capacity for taking in the light; and He who made the true light to shine has opened the eyes of our hearts to receive the light; He 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, He is the true God, and eternal life.
This brings me to the question of life. The question of life was raised at the very beginning of the history of man. When man was made he was set in a very exalted position, but was to maintain himself in life and blessing by his obedience. There was one tree that would have preserved him in life as long as he had access to it. Severed from partaking of the fruit of that tree of life, decay that resulted in the death of the body set in. There was another tree that tested his obedience, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of this tree he was not to eat. He had nothing to do with that question, which was already in the creation, but not yet on earth. The key of the door by which it could enter, however, was placed in the hand of the innocent being who was made in the image and likeness of God, and he was well warned as to the consequence of his using that key. He opened the door, sin came in, and death followed.
Hence life became a very important question in a world of human beings over whom death reigned. Was there any way back to life? If there was, where was it? Cherubim and a flaming sword guarded the tree of life. There was no way back to it. Was it in the law? Death and the curse were there. No man could discover any better way of life than by the fulfilment of his obligations. But as no one could fulfil his obligations, no one could arrive at life.
Now that we know the truth, we might think it strange that it did not dawn upon every inquiring mind, that only by the settlement of the question raised by man’s partaking of the forbidden tree could life be reached. The judgment incurred by that transgression could not be cancelled, and as the erring creature could never exhaust that judgment, so that he might stand before God as though he had never sinned, lost he surely was from the outset of his sinful career.
But we see the judgment has been executed in the cross of the lifted up Son of Man, and in that judgment, and by means of that judgment, man, as after the flesh, has disappeared. The serpent of brass indicates the judgment of God upon the serpent that bit the people, and is a type of sinful flesh receiving its judgment in the holy and righteous Saviour, who gave Himself to bear that judgment, and glorify God in bearing it.
And this work was undertaken and accomplished in order that the believer in Jesus might not perish, but have eternal life. Not that he might return to innocence, for that is impossible now that he has the knowledge of good and evil, nor that he might be immune from death in the life of fallen Adam, but that he might be partaker of the life of the risen Son of God, divine life, eternal life, life that has no ending, but life also that never had a beginning; life never taken by the Son, for it was His own eternal life; not like the life of flesh and blood, which He took in order to make atonement for our souls, and which, when He had made atonement, He gave up, and resumed not again, it is His own life, the life that is now in Him, the life of divine persons, the life of Godhead, that has been communicated to us in the power of the Holy Spirit. What an inestimable blessing!
This is the life of the children of God, as viewed in the first epistle, and by the display of the beautiful characteristics of that life are they made manifest. In the last verse of chapter 2 we read: “If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one that does righteousness is born of Him.” Then again, we read in chapter 4, “Every one that loves is born of God, and knoweth God.” These two characteristics mark and manifest those born of God. And “Whosoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loves not his brother.” Let us lay to heart these words.
Therefore new birth is a necessity for man. It was always a necessity since the fall, and in the sovereign grace of God there were always those who were subjects of it. But until the coming and rejection of Christ it was not plainly stated. It has been asked, If this was essential to the salvation of souls, why was it not stated? What would have been the benefit of the communication to men while man in the flesh, as a child of Adam, was under probation? There was always God to turn to. There was always grace for the guilty. There was always pardon for the penitent. What more was needed? New birth was not a thing that man could bring about, for it is of God we are born again. Why then tell us now? Man is now told because his trial is over, and he is pronounced God’s enemy in nature, and in an utterly lost condition. Man thought he could gain righteousness and life by his own works, and it pleased God to give him a long and favourable opportunity in which to make trial, but the longer the trial was continued, and the more help he received from God, the more clearly was it manifested that he was a sinner by nature, and could be nothing else by practice. Therefore when the trial was over, and he was proven to be a hater of God, he is told the truth about himself, his lost condition, and the necessity that exists that he should have a new life and nature.
But it would be a great mistake to suppose that new birth solved the whole question of life eternal; for this exists in the power of God. It is not only a work wrought in man, which new birth is; but it is a new life communicated to man, the life of the Father and the Son; of the Son before He became incarnate, but brought into humanity in His person by incarnation. He was that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; and being the life of divine persons it was ever in divine power. Therefore it is in us in connection with the Holy Spirit, who is the vital union between the glorified Christ and His own.
I do not in the smallest degree desire to convey the impression that in new birth life is not communicated. We are born again by the living Word of God, and where new birth is there is life. Nor do I question that that life is essentially the life of Christ; but when I come to the truth of eternal life, as set before us in the Word, I find it connected with knowledge of the Father, and all the new relationships into which we are brought by faith in the gospel, and only those who have the Spirit know anything of these relationships. We have to keep in mind that everything we know in an objective way, with reference to the truth of Christianity, we know by the revelation God has been pleased to make to us; and as it is repentance and remission of sins that the gospel brings to us on the ground of the work of Christ, we cannot know more until more has been communicated to us. We receive the Holy Spirit when we believe that Christ died for our sins, and that He was buried, and that He was raised the third day. But this says nothing about new birth, children of God, or the relationship in which believers stand to one another as brethren. These blessings are made known to us after we have received the Spirit. But even the babes in Christ know the Father, and the Father is not known until we have received the Spirit of adoption. Now John, the only writer in the New Testament who credits the believer with eternal life in this world, does not include in the family of God one who does not know the Father. For these reasons, as well as others, I could not accept that new birth carries with it the blessing of eternal life.
“That which was from the beginning.” With regard to the subject on which the apostle was occupied, everything previous to the appearance of the Son on earth goes by the board. In the Son we have a new beginning of a new order of things. Old things were in decay, and fast disappearing. Soon they shall have passed away for ever. The darkness must disappear before the true light which now shineth; the old race with its sinful and rebellious history must pass away, and the last Adam and His holy and righteous race must subsist in blessing to the glory and praise of God; the earthly must give place to the heavenly, and the old order to the new. The advent of the Creator into His own creation rang the death knell of that creation in the condition in which He found it. “Behold, I make all things new” might not be said until thousands of years after, but the new heavens and the new earth were in the thought of God before the present earth and heavens were called into being.
And the fathers had learned this important truth: “I write unto you fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning.” He does not say this to the babes or to the young men. He has other things to say to them, and warnings to give them; but the fathers had come to the understanding that God had made a new beginning in sending His Son into the world.
And not only had the fathers known that He was “the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14), but they had known Him who was this. They had “come to the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:13). Something of the greatness of the person who was this beginning had dawned upon their souls. Through the Word of God they had learned of the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of the making of the earth into a habitable place for man, before he was formed who was to take the position of head over the work of God’s hands; and now before all things have been made new, they have seen the Head to which everything in the universe is to be made subject. This is the reverse order to the old; there the man was the end of the old, here the Man is the beginning of the new.
And for this, need I say, there is a grand and glorious necessity. In the new everything derives from the Head. Everything must put on the heavenly character. And when that day comes it will not be, “When I look up into the heavens, the work of Thy fingers,” but it will be the work of His heart, and all founded on the blood of His cross. Neither will it be a scene that may be favoured by the uncertain visitations of the beneficent Creator, as the innocent creation seems to have been, but it shall be a creation in which God shall be pleased to take up His abode; for the tabernacle of God shall be with men, and He will dwell among them (Rev. 21).
3. Introduction (cont) — Eternal Life
How marvellous are all the works of God! How perfectly are His creatorial wisdom and power displayed in the things that He has made! Whether we consider the sun in the heavens, or the dust that comes to light in its glorious beams; the innumerable host of shining worlds that, when the darkness gathers over the face of heaven, comes forth to watch over the safety of a slumbering world; or the restless seas whose mad waves dash themselves to spray against the rocks that buttress the earth from the fury of their attack; the well-balanced gravitation of the earth and the attraction of the sun and the heavenly bodies with respect to animal life and vegetation, or the various seasons with their wealth of blessing for the health and sustenance of all, and the providence that over all presides and makes provision for the well-being of the work of His hands: shall we not say with the prophet: “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all” (Ps. 104).
But if His creatorial wisdom and power are displayed in the things that He has made, and if these awake the admiration and praise of our hearts, so that we with enraptured souls declare: “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being,” how much higher shall be the praise and adoration of our hearts when we are led to contemplate by the power of His Holy Spirit the counsels and purposes of His eternal love! If the glory of the universe, that cost Him but the utterance of a word, draws forth the worship of our moral being, what an eternal volume of praise shall the glory of the new creation call forth! a creation that never could have had an existence had it not been for the sorrows and sufferings of the Son, become incarnate in order that He might lay in the blood of His cross an unshakeable foundation upon which the whole superstructure of the new heaven and earth might be righteously and holily erected! In that creation righteousness shall dwell for ever, and evil shall find no place by which it might enter. There shall be both peace and—
“Safety—where no foe approaches;
Rest—where toil shall be no more;
Joy—whereon no grief encroaches;
Peace—where strife shall all be o’er.
“Where deceiver ne’er can enter,
Sin-soiled feet have never trod;
Free, our peaceful feet may venture
In the paradise of God.
“Drink of life’s perennial river,
Feed on life’s perennial food,
Christ the fruit of life and giver,
Safe thro’ His redeeming blood.”
Peter says to Jesus: “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” What was there in the words spoken by Him that drew from Peter such a confession? What did he know about words of eternal life? Had he not heard in the Scriptures the words of the prophets? What power compelled the officers, that were sent to the temple to take Him prisoner, to return without Him, and to give the apparently lame excuse for their failure: “Never man spake like this Man”? His words came warm from the heart of the Father, and lost nothing of their unspeakable grace, freshness, fervour, or life-imparting strength in their journey through the lips of Jesus. Speaking to the Father, He says: “I have given unto them the words that Thou gavest Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send me.” And, again, He says: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” And, again: “If any man hear My words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, has one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” The rejection of His words was the rejection of everlasting life; and so it is as regards the Gospel, for the Gospel is the Word of life.
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.” What else was there to declare? All that God had to say to men was vested in the Son of His bosom. He had come forth from the Father, and was here in this world, a light in the midst of moral darkness. He spoke of the Father, from whom He had come. The leaders of this world speak of the world, for they know nothing else, and the world hears them, for heavenly things have no charm for them. Jesus said to the leaders of the People: “I speak that which I have seen with My Father; and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.” Everything was in this way brought to light. Man’s origin came to light by his manner of life in this world; righteousness, truth, and love pointing out the children of God; and sin, falsehood, and hatred proclaiming the children of the devil.
The true light, that shone in the words and works done by Jesus in the midst of this dark world, had a life-giving power with it, bringing men out of moral death into life. “The hour comes, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.” The words that He spoke came forth from the heart of the Father, and lost none of their infinite and heavenly fragrance and power of blessing on their way to the ears of men through the lips of Jesus.
Where there was no previous work of the Father the resistance with which the word was met turned it aside from its life-imparting mission, and like the dove that was sent out of the ark, it returned rejected to the heart from which it came, to await the last day, the day of retribution, when it shall rise up in judgment against its miserable rejecter: “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”
“The just shall live by faith” was plainly stated in the past dispensation; but with the Gospel ringing in the ears of men today, we are made to see how difficult it is to get the thoughts of men turned away from their own profitless doing. This simple statement is the Divine denial of the notion that men can gain either righteousness or life by their own works. The principle upon which a man is justified must be the principle upon which he lives; and the principle upon which he lives must be that upon which he is justified. Fulfil your obligations, and as long as you do so you will live in the life of flesh; but if you are justified in Christ, it is in Him your life is found. And as Christ is of another order than Adam, then it is another order of life that is yours who are justified in Him. He cannot be your life and not your righteousness; He must be both righteousness and life to all, or if neither of these, then Judge.
Neither can one be justified by faith, and live by works. If one is justified by faith, it is evident he is not justified by law; and if he is not justified by law, he is not under it, for it is the measure of his obligations toward God and men. If he keeps it, it will justify him, but if he breaks it it will curse him and slay him. Under law he cannot be justified in any other way than by keeping it; he cannot appeal to grace to make up his deficiencies; and faith does not count in the least, for “The law is not of faith, but the man that does these things shall live in them”; that is, he will live as long as he does them; breaking one commandment he becomes guilty of all.
Then, again, if one were justified by law, his righteousness would be of a human order. Our righteousness must be either man’s or God’s. There must not be any mixture about it. It must be either human or Divine. It must be altogether that which I have done, or altogether that which God has done, supposing that He intervenes in grace. I must be accepted in my own best, or it must be God’s best that covers me. But if I fulfil my obligations, so that I cannot justly be numbered with transgressors, I am immune from death; I am entitled to live upon earth, but have no title to heaven.
But if I have taken the place of a sinner before God, and by faith in Christ have found righteousness in Him, then I am made partaker of His life, and am numbered amongst those who are of His race, and whose origin and destiny are of a heavenly character, and who are strangers in this world, and who are only passing through this world as pilgrims to their heavenly home. I am no longer “in the flesh,” but “new creation in Christ Jesus.” The present condition of the body, that still connects us with this old creation must, by the mighty power of God, undergo a change, and the earthly give place to the heavenly, mortality be swallowed up of life, and not a remnant of the old order be left to link us up with the former state of things; the old shall have passed altogether away, and all things shall have become new.
That eternal life that had been with the Father was the life that was declared to us by the apostles. That life had ever been with the Father, for it was the life of Divine persons, but, never till the Son took flesh and blood had it come into manifestation. The disciples saw it, when they saw His glory, the glory of an only-begotten Son with His Father. Before the beginning of the works of God this life in all its strength, sweetness, and glorious characteristics, existed in the holy Trinity in Unity. Nothing was, or could be, added to it by the incarnation of the Son. That which was manifested was that which had ever been. It was with the Father in the Son of His love. It was no creation of God: it was His own life, but in the Son for us in the counsel and purpose of God. It would be a fatal mistake to suppose that it had its beginning when it became manifest. It is as eternal as the Son and the Father, and to these Divine persons no beginning can be attributed.
It will not do to say that Father and Son are but names taken in connection with the revelation, for the revelation is of that which exists. The Son has declared the Father. He says: “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world.” It will not do to say that He came forth from another Person of the Deity, who took the name of Father with relation to Him in incarnation. I may be told that the very name Father denies eternity to itself, as also does that of Son, for it is manifestly impossible for such relationships to have eternal existence. But such an argument is founded upon the knowledge that we possess from creature relationships, and not from the revelation given to us of God. If the point of His departure was the Father’s side and that He the Son was with the Father before He gave up the form of God, we had better make no attempt to fit this mystery into the mould of human relationships. We do not know Divine relationships by knowing them as found in this fallen world. We know them by Divine revelation, though the Spirit of God may use the earthly to help us to understand the heavenly; but we must not think that they are alike in every particular.
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” If we have the life and nature of the Persons of the Godhead we cannot but have fellowship with them. Having the moral nature of fallen men our fellowship with them is of the most intimate character. Our thoughts, desires, and affections, flow from the life and nature that we possess, “They that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh,” and that is all corruption. But “They that are after the Spirit mind the things of the Spirit,” and that is life and peace.
4. Introduction (cont) — Fellowship with the Father and His Son, and John 1 and 2
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These Divine Persons have been revealed, and we who have believed the Gospel have been brought to the knowledge of them. It is not only that we have been turned to God, have received forgiveness of sins, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, but we have been brought to the knowledge of the Father and of His Son Jesus Christ; and in this knowledge lies eternal life for us. Jesus says: “I am the good Shepherd; and I know mine own, and mine own know me, even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father.” We have been brought into intimacy with Divine Persons, and we have the life and nature that is Theirs, and thus is this vital fellowship established; and our affections, thoughts, and actions flow in harmony with the Divine mind. We love the things that are loved by Him, and we hate the things that are to Him abhorrent. His interests are our interests, and His honour and glory are sacred to our hearts.
In our complicated condition, as having the flesh in us down here, this may, alas, be, in our practical lives, greatly modified; for the flesh in a true believer is no better than the flesh in an enemy of Christ; and we may, if not very watchful, find ourselves in practical fellowship with the man of the world. But this necessitates our going down to his level, for he cannot rise up to ours. We have in us that which loves the things that he loves, and therefore must we keep a vigilant eye upon our movements, lest we be led away by the error of the wicked, and be found asserting by our general behaviour that we “know not the Man.” But if we bring the judgment of the cross to bear upon the old Adam nature, which is in us all, and if God, as revealed in the Son, is kept before the vision of our souls, we shall go on in uninterrupted communion with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, and our joy shall be full.
We have the cross for the flesh, and the power of the Spirit for the new nature, therefore we are privileged and enabled to view the flesh in us as a foreign element, not in the least ourselves nor part of ourselves, but an element that, though not ourselves, has a seat in our members, causing us no end of annoyance, and which would control our every movement if we would allow it. But it is our unspeakable privilege to view the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ as the means by which the flesh has received its condemnation, and to apply that judgment to all its movements in ourselves, to have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts, and to bring out in our practical ways the beautiful traits of the life of Jesus (2 Cor. 4). This is the brazen serpent aspect of the death of Christ, and is found in John 3 as necessary to our possessing eternal life. And, as I have said before, it is the life, not of Egypt, nor of the wilderness, but of Canaan; and therefore have we the brazen serpent at the close of the desert wanderings of Israel. After that we have “the springing well,” which is the living water that springs up into everlasting life (John 8:4); then the Jordan, which is the realization of risen with Christ; then Gilgal, the putting off the body of the flesh. It is not only that Christ has died for us and is risen again, but we are dead and risen with Him: dead with Him from the elements of the world, so that we do not appear as living men in connection with this world’s system; and risen with Him by faith of the operation of God, who has raised Him from the dead, our life being hid with Him in God, but the beautiful traits of that life coming out here in our desert pathway on earth.
There can be no mingling of the new life and nature with the old. They are in every way opposed to one another. The old is the life of Adam, the man made of dust; the new is the life of Christ, the Man out of heaven. There is no affinity between the two. Their thoughts, affections, desires and aspirations are utterly opposed to one another, as opposed as righteousness and sin, love and hatred, truth and error, darkness and light, Christ and Belial. It was not the life of Adam even in innocence, however pure that life was, nor is it the life of angels, however holy they may be; it is that life that we shall enjoy to the full in the Father’s house when we are there, and which the children of God enjoy now in the power of the Holy Spirit; for in the writings of John we have the life of the Father’s house brought down to earth.
It is of the utmost importance to apprehend that it is by means of the Mediator that we come into the rich and eternal blessings of the Gospel. The eternal life is, that we should know the Father, and Jesus Christ His sent One. It does not say, the Father and the Son, and leave it there. We can only have to do with Divine Persons in the way in which They make Themselves known to us. God has approached us in the Mediator, and only in the Mediator can we approach Him. “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” In this first epistle we are told that by the teaching of the Spirit we shall abide in the Son and in the Father, but it is always the Son in Manhood that is kept before us. “We are in Him that is true, in His Son, Jesus Christ.” It is by means of the Son on the human side that we are in Divine and eternal relationship and blessing, and not with these Divine Persons in absolute Deity. It was necessary that the Son should become a Man if we were to stand in those intimate relations with God. In the Gospel we have things presented objectively, that is, in the Son and for faith to lay hold of. In the Epistles we have things viewed more in a subjective way, that is, in the saints, and in them by the work of the Divine Spirit. “Which thing is true in Him,” this we find in the Gospel; “and in you,” this is found in the Epistles: God revealed in the Gospel, saints in the light of that revelation in the Epistles; the Son in the Gospel, the Spirit of the Son in the saints in the Epistles; the old commandment in the Gospel, the new commandment in the Epistles.
In chapter 1 we have God come into this world to manifest Himself in all the grace and love of His heart to men, but that glorious light unapprehended, because of the blindness of the human heart: “The darkness apprehended it not.” Never previously had such light entered into the universe. It was seen of angels, but it was not for them that it had shone forth: “The life was the light of men.” It shone on behalf of men here in this benighted world. And by it everything was made manifest. Nothing now could be hidden. Everything was seen just as it really was. It revealed the hitherto thoughts of the human heart. There was no hiding place from its powerful rays. Its brilliant beams penetrated to the deepest depths of the human soul, and brought all that was there into evidence. There was no escape from it, and therefore was it hated by all who desired to make a fair show in the flesh. It could not be otherwise, for in the light of God everything must appear in its true character.
When questioned as to his mission, John the Baptist has nothing to say for himself other than that he is a voice crying in the wilderness: “Prepare ye the way of Jehovah.” Surely no man is anything in the presence of the Son of the living God. Later he announces Him as “The Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world”; and later still as “He that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” Whether John entered into the true import of his testimony it is impossible to say, but his words indicate to us, that the universe shall be freed from the presence of sin, and a way of salvation opened up for the sinner, for it is the “LAMB” of God that shall take the sin away. He shall also baptize with the Holy Spirit those who submit themselves to the way in which God can righteously save the lost.
Next, we find that those who follow Him are led to where He dwells. The desire of every heart that knows Him is to be where He is, and it is His desire to have us with Himself. They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day. And surely the instruction that He gave them while they continued with Him in His temptations was His way of leading them to where He had His dwelling, in the Father’s love. He says: “If ye keep my commandments ye shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” Next, we see Him as the gathering point for all, and indicating to Nathaniel who confesses Him as Son of God and king of Israel, that He shall be in the day of His glory the connecting link between heaven and earth, the object of the ministry of angels.
Chapter 2 opens with a marriage in Cana of Galilee. It is said to have taken place on the third day. We have John’s testimony, and then the testimony of the Lord Himself which brings us to the glory of the Son of Man, and after these two days we have the third; and here is foreshadowed Jehovah’s resumption of relationship with Israel in the coming day. The water of purification is changed into the wine of earthly joy for His redeemed people. The temple also is cleansed, and when He is challenged as to His authority for doing such things, He indicates by the answer He gives, that all the future blessing of the people will be established on the ground of His death and resurrection.
5. John 3
The subject of chapter 3 begins at verse 23 of chapter 2. Beholding the signs that He wrought, many believed in the report that they had heard concerning Him. They were convinced that the report had not been exaggerated. But though they seem to have been convinced that there was something supernatural about Him, their consciences do not seem to have been aroused in the least, and without this it was only a passing tribute of homage bestowed upon One whose works were of such a character as silences either criticism or unbelief. But to these Jesus does not commit Himself, because the convincement of the human mind in things relating to God, where the conscience was not reached, was neither lasting nor reliable. “He needed not that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” They go away, and think no more about it.
But with this superficial belief in Jesus, Nicodemus is not satisfied. He cannot drop the inquiry at this early stage, nor does he seem to have possessed the moral courage necessary to acknowledge the divine mission of Jesus under the eyes of his associates. He will venture into the presence of the heavenly light veiled by the cloud of night. He is quite certain that Jesus is a teacher sent from God, and yet he is afraid of the Pharisees finding out that he harbours such thoughts in his mind. Poor Nicodemus! But he is just like the rest of us, who fear before worms of the dust to confess the lowly and rejected Son of Man.
In chapter 1 the light of God is in the world unknown and unapprehended. God in His own world cold-shouldered and despised! But here the felt need of Nicodemus, and divine light, cause him to risk the possibility of discovery, and the loss of human prestige. “He that does truth comes to the light.” Come he must, whatever be the result of his coming.
The first ray of light that enters his heart must be that which reveals to him his lost condition: “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is a revelation that lays in dust the son of Abraham and ruler of the Jews. His natural birth will not do if he desires to be in vital relations with God. He was born blind. The kingdom was there before his eyes, but he could not see it. He saw a Man doing great works of power, and of such a character that he rightly judged that God was with Him. But the kingdom of God, which was the power of God vested in Jesus for the delivery of man from the consequences of his sinful condition, he saw not that. He was thoroughly convinced of the Divine mission of Jesus, and he will not admit that anyone can have the slightest doubt on the subject. He says: “We know.” If others refuse to admit that which is confirmed by abundant and overwhelming testimony, it is a sin against light: “We know that Thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him.”
Feeling the darkness that was about him, and the darkness that was in his own soul, he comes for light to the Divine Teacher. But he was little prepared for the powerful light into which, through the dark clouds of night, his feet had carried him. And yet it was only that which was always true that he has for the first time in his history to learn. It was humbling for him to learn that all men, himself included, were born blind to all that concerned their vital relations with God. But he had come into the light, and he must not shirk the consequences of his daring venture, whatever those consequences might be.
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He had, like all other Jews, looked for the kingdom as the open and public government of God, established in the Messiah enthroned on the hill of Zion, and in the midst of the Jewish nation. Now he has to learn that the kingdom is already established, but that unless a man is born again he cannot see it. That man will not do as he is is learned by this ruler of the Jews, as the first ray of this heavenly light breaks upon his inquiring mind.
But how can a man be born when he is old? Is he to begin again as he had previously begun in flesh and blood? Manifestly that would not do, for he would just be the same Nicodemus over again. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” and the flesh has been proven worthless for God. No, he must now be born of water and the Spirit, and when this takes place, he can not only see but enter the kingdom. The “water” is the Word which, as the seed of God in the soul, communicates a new nature, and judges all that is of the old, cleansing thus the heart of man, who is the subject of it, from all its impurities, so that the Lord could say of those who were the subjects of such: “He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.” The reference seems to be to Ezekiel 36, where the Lord speaks of gathering them out from among the heathen, and bringing them into their own land, then, He says: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you.” This, the Lord seems to say, Nicodemus should have known.
We sometimes unwittingly hinder our own understanding of the Word by supposing that, when natural things are taken up as figures of things spiritual, the former must be a distinct image of the latter. Therefore, with this erroneous notion in our minds, everything regarding the spiritual that does not closely conform to the natural is rejected. But really there is nothing in the natural that is the very image of the spiritual. We who believe are members of that body of which Christ is the head, but when our own bodies are taken up to illustrate that wondrous mystery, eyes and ears, which are really in our head, are viewed as members; and even the head itself is said to be a member, not able to say to the feet: “I have no need of you.” We see, therefore, that the human body is taken up as a faint shadow of the mystery, and not the very image, though exceedingly helpful in the way in which the Holy Spirit uses it.
It is so also in regard of new birth. We must be born again to see the kingdom of God, but we must be born of water and of the Spirit to enter it. We have seen in the first chapter of this Gospel that only those born of God received Christ when He came into the world. The flesh will not receive Him. If it would I fail to see how new birth could be said to be a necessity. All that was needed when our Lord was here was that He should be received by men. He was not received, and therefore judgment comes upon the world, both on the Jew and on the Gentile. The flesh never did anything nor shall it ever do anything, but reject Christ. “Ye believe not because ye are not of My sheep.” “No man can come to Me except the Father who has sent Me draw him.” “Every one that has heard and learned of the Father comes to Me.” “No man can come unto Me, except it were given to him of My Father.”
Now, what is that work that is wrought in the soul, without which no man will receive Christ? Flesh neither will nor can come to the Saviour. But man’s inability to come shows in his innate enmity against God, and his determination to have nothing to do with Him, if he can avoid it. He hates the light, even when that light is the light of eternal love, and he will murder his brother rather than allow him to bring God under his notice.
What a strange thing is this hatred of God! How dark and mysterious! How difficult to understand! Why should the creature hate his Creator? Why, even when fallen, should he resist the gracious intervention of God on his behalf? Men may talk about the mistakes of Moses, mock at the story of the garden, the serpent, and the fall, speak of the holy Bible as a compendium of folk-lore and fable, but let them explain the open and shameless devotion of idolatrous nations to their gods, the boldness of every man who confesses a false religion on earth, but when the fringe of Christianity is touched, there is a cowardly shrinking from the danger of being considered too religious, and the nearer you get to the heart of the matter, and therefore the nearer to having to do with Christ, you find too many suffering from the disease that afflicted Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathæa. Why is it that of all the religionists upon earth, it is only the true believer in the Son of God who has need to guard against being ashamed of his Master? There is no explanation of it, except this fact that it is the only light that shows man up as he is, a moral ruin, in whom there is not one element of good from head to feet, fit only for the judgment of a holy and righteous God, and who, if he is to escape judgment, must be a subject of sovereign mercy and grace. Within the sphere of Christian profession, the farther you get away from that which is true and spiritual, or, I may say, from Christ, into that which lies in forms and ceremonies, and heathenish ritual, the sense of timidity decreases. No one is ashamed to confess himself a good churchman, or anything denominational, as long as he has not to say that he is Christ’s.
Cain was as religious as Abel, but Abel was in vital relations with God, and in the confession that he was a poor sinner who needed a Saviour of God’s providing. This Cain denied, not only for himself, but refused to tolerate such a testimony to be maintained upon earth. The flesh is incorrigibly evil, and man must be born again, and born by the living Word of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Word of God is a living and mysterious power. By His Word the worlds were framed, and by that same Word are they upheld (Heb. 11:3; 1:3). There is nothing abiding on earth but that Word. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness there is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth; because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the Word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isa. 40). “And this is the Word which by the Gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1). Nothing but the Word of God abides. It framed the universe, and it will fill that universe with a new spiritual generation, who shall stand before God in the position of sons brought to glory.
But Nicodemus must hear of heavenly things, however little he may have entered into the true meaning of the earthly. And who could unfold the heavenly things before the eyes of men but He that came down from heaven, the Son of Man, who, as to His Divine essence, never left heaven: “The Son of Man who is in heaven.” To whom but Himself could we go to learn anything of that glorious region? What can men tell us? None have ever been there, and returned to give us some account of the nature of the place, and of what is suitable for dwelling therein. No mortal man could live there any more than he could live in the depths of the ocean. A life suitable for such a sphere is needful for all who shall make their home there.
Therefore must the Son of Man be lifted up upon the cross, if men were to partake of that life which, as I have indicated already, is the life of the Father’s house. This life is the life of the believer, and “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we should live through Him.” He sent His Son indeed to be the propitiation for our sins, but the great thought of God for us was not forgiveness, that was a necessity for us as sinners, but that we should live through Him. Life was in His eternal purpose for us, and it was His supreme thought in sending His Son to die for us. In the knowledge of the Father and of His Son Jesus Christ this life is possessed and enjoyed, and its home is that home into which the Son has entered, for He is it, and in having Him we have that life.
It is in hope with Paul, for he is used of the Spirit of God so to speak of it.
6. John 4
Chapter 4 of this Gospel is an account of the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry, which closes at the end of chapter 10, when He leaves them, and goes away beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized, “and there He abode.” His day’s work was over; the night in which He must feel the bitter blast of Divine judgment was drawing on apace. He had spent His strength for naught and in vain. The signs that He had wrought were presented to blind eyes, and the words of grace that fell from His lips smote upon the deaf ears of a rebellious people. They had seen the Father and the Son in perfect manifestation, and they hated the sight of both. To the proud leaders of the nation His presence had become utterly unbearable. Too long had they tolerated the scathing condemnation with which He met their hypocritical ways. In His heart’s blood must His burning words be quenched. But all this will come to light in the seven chapters in which His patient grace is met by the enmity of their impenitent hearts.
The commencement of His public activities of grace meet with a hearty welcome from a people who stood in no position of outward relationship with God, though they ignorantly claimed descent from the patriarch Jacob. On His way from Judea into Galilee He has to pass through Samaria; and He who was not only the light of the Jews but the light of the world, must illuminate a few hearts of that despised and mongrel race. The true light could not be hid, and the poor Samaritan must come into its bright and life-giving beams as freely as the nation of Israel, for the line of life is heavenly and sovereign, and has nothing to do with earthly administration. Therefore “Whosoever” is a characteristic word in this Gospel. But the place that Israel has in the purpose of God is the central place in the government of this world, head of the nations, and the people among whom shall be established the throne of the Messiah. This kingdom was purposed from the foundation of the world, and the saved among the nations shall have part in it (Deut. 32:8-9; Matt. 25:34).
But the promise of eternal life was “before times eternal,” or “before the ages of time” (see R.V). It was a promise that had no relation to earth at all. “Life for evermore” (Ps. 133), or “eternal life,” as in the first three Gospels, is simply immunity from death (Matt. 19:29). In these I see no reference to anything that is heavenly. The promise of eternal life, which Paul says he was in hope of, and which is in this Gospel, is a heavenly life, and has nothing in common with the human race as descended from fallen Adam, nor indeed had it anything to do with man in innocence.
Therefore when it comes into this world in the Son, it is no more for Israel than it is for the rest of mankind. It is: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He was the bread that came down from heaven, and gives life to the world. The aspect of this life is universal. Where God is acting in sovereignty the creature possesses no claim, all are on the ground of pure mercy. Presented by God, or approached by men, as Son of David, the claim of the natural seed of Israel must be allowed; but the promises on this line go no farther than the kingdom, and blessing on the earth. As God come in sovereign grace into His own world, for the accomplishment of His eternal counsel, the claims of the Jewish nation disappear altogether, and the Gentile comes in along with the Jew on the ground of free grace.
Hence while the promises made to the fathers were fulfilled in presenting Christ to the responsibility of the earthly seed of Abraham, their rejection of Him opened the way for the bringing in of eternal counsel, and opened the door of free salvation to the whole human race. The Jew is not cast out, but the Gentile is brought in. Therefore grace is not in this Gospel limited to the natural seed of Abraham. If the Jew must be born again, then is he no better than the Gentile; and if the Son of Man must be lifted up, it is because God so loved the world. The true light was not only among the Jews, it was in the world; and in this chapter 4 He is confessed as Saviour of the world. Viewed as Son of David He was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but viewed as Son of Man, or only begotten of the Father, it is: “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life.”
And what a glorious mission into this world was His! Here He is amongst the Samaritans. He comes to bring satisfaction to the poor human heart: “That your joy may be full.” Nowhere in the universe has ever the vagabond from God been able to find satisfaction for his heart. Had he remained in innocence he never would have known what want was, away from God as a rebel sinner he can never know what satisfaction is. How could he? God has set every intelligent being in relationship with Himself, and in God he is to find all his satisfaction and delight. The dumb beast was placed under men’s domination, man under responsibility to God. Man revolted from God’s authority, and the fear and the dread of man has largely departed from the beast.
And man is a poor dissatisfied mortal, ever looking beneath him for something to fill and satisfy his heart; not seeing how impossible this is, for in his alienation from God how could he expect ever to be happy. The only perfect Man that ever trod this earth has said to God: “In Thy presence is fullness of joy: at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16). And for this joy, though both shame and cross lay in the path to that goal, He could despise the former and endure the latter. To reach that land of delight He would go through everything that rose up to deter Him, however dreadful it might be. He well knew the infinite joys of that presence and home, and no sorrow could turn Him from the path that led to it.
Having become a Man He will walk in dependence upon God, the only right way for a man to walk through this world. He was the Creator, and the upholder of everything that He had created. But He had taken the place of a servant and was here in fashion as a man, and hence obedience and dependence characterized Him the whole of His journey down here. Nothing could induce Him to depart from that which was involved in the position He had taken up. Hence He waits upon God to be shown the path of life (Ps. 16). That path led through the deepest humiliation, and through the death of the cross, but the glory that it led into was ever before Him, and its attractive brightness was more powerful than was the repelling darkness of Golgotha.
But the highway that led to that home had also its attractions: “My meat,” He says in this chapter, “is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” If the highways to Zion shall have their attraction to the Jew, when God shall take that people up once more, though those highways shall teem with tribulation, surely the highway to our home above, whatever perils are to be encountered, should have infinitely greater attraction for us. The Jew will learn much on the way to Zion, and the sorrows that we may have to meet with on our heavenly way shall furnish occasions for God to make Himself better known to us, for tribulation shall work endurance, and endurance experience, and experience hope, and hope shall not be disappointed, for already the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom. 5). To be with Christ in the Father’s house is that which attracts us, but we learn much on our way thither, and we learn through the very roughness of the way.
For the first time in the history of this fallen world satisfaction for the human heart was brought into it by the advent of the Son. One who could plant in that heart a wellspring of life had drawn near to men in infinite grace, and satisfaction was assured to all who would come to Him and drink. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that says to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” He was there to implant in this poor degraded creature a fount that would spring up into everlasting life. And this before ever one word was spoken to her regarding her guilty life! What unfathomable grace!
And how blind and deaf and stupid was that heart that He so graciously addressed! “Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; from whence then hast Thou that living water?” How singular and out of place it seems to those who are at a distance from God, to find themselves addressed by a perfect stranger on the subject of their relations with God! So unusual and timeless does it often seem, that the person thus addressed can scarcely believe that it is to Divine things his attention is being directed. One who has through grace been brought out of darkness into light naturally supposes that heavenly things, and not the things of this fleeting world, are the things to which the heart and mind should ever revert. But a man of this world has his heart set upon things here, and he cannot suppose anyone can have other propensities.
This woman had her social life, which was openly immoral, and she knew something of the place where the fathers of her race had worshipped. Whether she ever resorted to that place we are not told. But she has to learn that bad as her life of foolishness had been her religion was nothing better. In neither of them was satisfaction to found. She must have to do with God. She must see things as they really are. Both the vanity and the sin of such a life as hers must be set before her. Her conscience must be reached. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that says unto thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water,” could not turn her thoughts away from that which necessitated her daily peregrinations to the well of Jacob. Another way must be taken with her if she is at all to be reached.
“Go, call thy husband, and come hither.” The light is not pleasant to her. She seeks to avoid its searching rays. But better have it all out now, however unpleasant and humiliating it must be, than leave it to the day in which every man shall be rewarded according to his works. He was speaking of grace to her. He had not accused her of anything wrong. But to her accountability to God her conscience must be awakened, otherwise it will be her waterpot, the well, and her daily labour to satisfy the recurring necessity of her life. But the patience of the Son of the living God was hard to exhaust, defeated by her lack of understanding He could not be, and in the end it would surely come to pass that not one word that had fallen upon her ears would be found to be fruitless.
She must be exposed in the presence of God. She must see that she is nothing but a poor corrupt sinner, and that only mercy can save her from the judgment to which her guilty life had made her liable. It is in the light that we get salvation; and in one sense salvation is by the light, for salvation lies in the knowledge of God. The word to Christ is: “I have set Thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that Thou shouldst be for salvation unto the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). Salvation, as known at this present time, is the emancipation of the soul from every evil thing that held it in bondage, so that the subjects of salvation may be at liberty to serve the living God. “Let My son go, that he may serve Me,” was the word of God that was sent by Moses to Pharaoh. This salvation was realized by the people at the Red Sea, when the proud host of Egypt was overwhelmed by the waters, and Israel was brought to God in the wilderness. But that salvation was temporal and governmental, and was a deliverance of flesh and blood from the domination of flesh and blood, whereas our salvation is the salvation of the soul, and is spiritual and eternal. The work of the cross is, I need scarcely say, the foundation of all God’s dealings with us in grace, but practical salvation lies in the knowledge of God; and therefore is Christ both light and salvation.
“I have no husband.” How we naturally hate the light! Her inward thought was, He does not know me; I must pass myself off upon Him as a virtuous woman. But she must find herself in the presence of One who knew her infinitely better than she knew herself. She must be made to feel herself under the eye of the omniscient God. The holy love of Christ will not let her go away blindly into perdition, thinking how successfully she had palmed herself off upon this Stranger who had made her to think so seriously of her guilty life. “If we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:31). But it is only as we get the knowledge of God that we really know ourselves, and therefore is it in the light of that knowledge that we find salvation. “Now mine eye sees Thee, wherefore I abhor myself” (Job 42).
She sees her sins in the light of His countenance, and they are calling for judgment; and she sees the worship that her people trusted in as worthless in the sight of God. Still, with the natural trust of her race, she claimed an interest in the Messiah, of whom the prophets had spoken, and from His lips she expected to get the question between Jerusalem and Mount Gerizim settled. But she has to hear that, as far as true worship went, it was all settled already: “Neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father,” though she has also to learn that salvation is of the Jews, and that the worship of the Samaritans was both ignorant and vain. Yet as to both these places the question was over: “Now is when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.” The light had already come, and she knew it not, though it was light that judged everything upon which it fell.
“I that speak unto thee am He.” What a revelation! And to what a poor degraded mortal was that revelation made! How wonderful are the ways of the living God! One would have naturally expected that revelation to be made to the elite of the Jewish nation; but God’s ways are not as our ways, neither are His thoughts as our thoughts; He does that which pleases Himself, and we have to learn that all His works are truth, and His ways justice, and that He is able to abase those that walk in pride (Dan. 4). He chooses the base things, and things despised, yea, and things that are not, to bring to naught things that are (1 Cor. 1). Only to this poor woman does He say definitely that He is the Christ. One may be perfectly sure that the Father would draw the very best people on this earth to His Son. And of what value, in the estimation of the world, were the twelve that Jesus speaks of as “the men that Thou gavest Me out of the world.” To Him they were the excellent of the earth, and the men in whom was all His delight (Ps. 16). It has ever been seen in the history of the world that not many wise men after the flesh have been called of God. God has chosen the poor of this world, who are rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom.
The disciples come back to Him with the food that they had purchased in the city, only to learn that doing the Father’s will, and bringing the light of grace into the heart of the poor Samaritan woman, was meat that they knew not of. What real joy this was to Him, and how truly in this is the heart of God made known to us! Does it not fill us with joy unspeakable? To learn and know that we have to do with such Divine Persons is surely more than enough to make our cup run over.
But He has not yet done with the woman, or rather she has not done with Him. In the boldness of the grace that imputes nothing to the confessed sinner she goes to call the men of the city to see a Man that told her all that ever she did. She desires others to share in the gladness that filled her own heart. She does not reflect upon the character of the inducement that she supposes the men would respond to; for who would care to enter into the presence of one before whose eyes the whole past history of the creature shone out to the most minute detail? Men generally go on the principle that the less people know about one another the better. But most would admit that the reason she advanced for their coming to see Him would have been a more powerful reason for their remaining at a distance.
But the fields were white to the harvest, though this was not manifest to the disciples. The grace of God was in operation amongst those who worshipped “they knew not what,” and whose claim to the covenant of promise was utterly fallacious. Later on, when the work of redemption was accomplished, and the Spirit given through the preaching of Philip, a harvest was reaped, and fruit was gathered to life eternal. But ere that great gathering of precious souls to Christ, many believed through the saying of the woman, who testified of Him as the searcher of hearts, and got their faith powerfully confirmed when they had come to Him and heard Him themselves, so that they confessed Him as “the Christ, the Saviour of the world,” admitting thus that they did not come into blessing on the ground of promise, but on that of pure mercy.
But if He leaves Judea, rather than be spoken of as the rival of John, He does not forget His earthly people, but will show Himself as Minister of the circumcision, to confirm the promises made to the fathers (Rom. 15). He, in the greatness of that love that rises above all the evil of the human heart, will maintain in life a remnant of the people on the principle of faith, and not on that of works. This is said to be the second sign that Jesus did, when He was come out of Judea into Galilee. The first was shown at the marriage in Cana, when was set forth in figure the resumption of Jehovah’s relationships with His earthly people, turning the water of purification into the wine of joy; and in this the power of death set aside by the power of life that was in Himself.
7. John 5
In chapter 5 we have Jesus as Life-giver and Judge; the Judge of all who do not come under His quickening power. Those who receive life from Him do not come into judgment. Not only their sins, but the old life with its guilty deeds, have come under the judgment of His cross, and they have a life that cannot be tainted with sin. Therefore such are said not to come into judgment; they have passed out of death into life, the life of the Son of God. Of this class those who have died will be in the resurrection of life, while all others shall be in the resurrection of judgment.
And this work of quickening the dead was the work that the Lord speaks of as being engaged in when here, though not to end at the close of His earthly mission: “The hour comes, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” And therefore did He work every day in the week. The Jews were ready to stone Him for not observing the Sabbath. This day spoke of the rest of God, and raised the question of man’s ability to enter into it by the fulfilment of his obligations. But this test, applied to man as a responsible being, only brought to light the solemn fact that he could merit nothing but death and condemnation, for the law that was ordained to life proved his undoing; he could not keep it.
The impotent folk that lay at the pool of Bethesda present us with a true picture of the moral condition of the nation of Israel; they were blind, halt, withered. At this house of mercy they lay, waiting for the moving of the water. Israel never was placed under pure law. There was a good deal of mercy with it. Under pure law not one of the people would ever have got away from Mount Sinai. But after that the people had apostatized from God in the setting up of the golden calf as an object of worship in place of Jehovah, God, through the intercession of Moses, turns from His hot anger, and takes them up again, proclaiming Himself as “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 4). Yet with all this help from God their obligations remained unfulfilled, for their weakness was seen to be the result of wilful rebellion against God. “Without strength” they were, and proven to be, when God intervened in sovereign mercy.
In this man who had lain at the pool for thirty and eight years suffering from an infirmity, this is indicated. He had not the strength that would have availed him to lay hold of the blessing that was brought so near to him. Again and again had he seen the water troubled by the presence of the angel in the pool; and of the fact that healing virtue had been imparted to it, he had not the smallest doubt. But his weakness was against him, and every time, possibly for all those thirty and eight years, he had seen the coveted mercy snatched away from his grasp. To allow one to get into the pool before him made the case for him just as hopeless as though there had been a hundred: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10).
But that Sabbath morning the true Bethesda was not far off. And in this instance it was not by angelic means the mercy was to be dispensed, but by the living God Himself come in grace and unspeakable love into His own world, in which His poor creature lay crushed and comfortless under the consequences of his fallen and perverted nature, and the curse of a broken law. No need now to await the troubling of the water. Its day was over; its modicum of mercy was no longer needed. It had served its day, but it was inadequate to meet the requirement of a poor mortal who had no strength to avail himself of the mercy that it held out to the afflicted.
This was a day of rest which had been instituted by God, and which had been given to the nation of His choice, into which they could have entered had they done their work. But their attempt to enter into rest on the ground of their works was of a very hopeless nature. Hence when in this world there was no day of rest for the Son of God. How could He rest in a world under sin, suffering, death, and the domination of the devil? Men with their fat hearts and their flinty consciences might murmur against His breach of the Sabbath, but the love of God was not going to rest amid the sorrows of His creature, no, not for one day out of seven: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” is His answer to all their miserable objections.
There was no absolute necessity that the Father and the Son should work amongst fallen sinners, for by angelic means the guilty race could have been destroyed from off the earth. But not by angelic means could redemption have been accomplished, and the rebellious creature be brought into righteous and happy relations with God. Who but the Son could have revealed the Father? Who but the Son could have given Himself to bear the judgment to which we were liable on account of our lawless behaviour? Who but He could have borne the weight of that judgment? Who but He could have given Himself for our sins? Who but He could give Himself for anything? The creature must remain in the status in which his Creator has set him. To leave it would be apostasy. He cannot dispose of himself as he pleases. He is not his own master. But the eternal Son could surrender His Godhead status, could take the form of a servant, and take the place of subjection to the Father in everything, in order that the eternal counsel of love might be accomplished. And He could do this, and must do it, if He do it at all, voluntarily.
He is that eternal life, and He quickens men who are dead in sins, and causes them to live in the power of the life that is in Himself. And it is of necessity that men should have this life, for in the life derived from Adam no one can live to God. In that old nature man is morally dead. The things in which he occupies himself on earth are engaged in without any reference to God. He neither knows Him, nor desires to know Him. His desire is to be let alone without responsibility or relationship with his Maker. He can do with a little bit of religion of some sort, but God in His true character must not be brought into it. He has nothing to do with God’s world, neither will he allow God to have anything to do with his; that is, if he can help it. Therefore it is not only necessary that man should be forgiven; he must have a new life, a life in which he can live to God, as one who loves Him. Nothing less than this will do. Nothing less than this is salvation.
But Jesus quickens with the life that is in Himself, and He does this by means of the spoken word. He says: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” He quickens by His voice. His voice is His testimony, and His testimony is the love of God. The rulers of the people not only knew Him not, but knew not the voice of the prophets, which they heard read every Sabbath day, and therefore fulfilled the words of the prophets by condemning Him (Acts 13:27). It is not that they did not hear the words, but they missed the testimony that the prophets rendered, which was Christ; the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Now the voice of the Son of God was to be heard in all its life-giving power in this world of moral death, and those who heard would live. His Word was but the expression of what He was; He was altogether that which He said to the people from the beginning. To receive His word was to receive Himself, and to receive Him was to receive the Father.
This voice of the Son of God is still continued in the Gospel, and in the might of the Holy Spirit the same life-giving power accompanies it. The voice that was heard when He was upon earth was not to be silenced by His death and departure from this world. He says: “The hour comes, and now is.” It was heard then, and it has been heard throughout the centuries of this dispensation in all the quickening might in which it came forth from His own lips, and myriads have heard it, and myriads are hearing it, and passing out of death into life.
It is owned that it was suitable to the rude and semi-barbaric character of that age, but as the world has advanced in wisdom and intelligence it is today altogether out of date! In that day the world by wisdom knew not God, neither does it know Him today, in spite of all the light that has been spread abroad by that which far transcends the little sparks kindled by the researches and ingenuity of the corrupt and godless mind of the poor degraded and devil-deceived creature. If the creature by the study of the creation, so far as he has access to its mysteries, can advance in knowledge beyond the Creator Himself, then He may rise to an elevation beyond the revelation that God has been pleased to make known to us; but if he cannot get beyond the Creator, he cannot get beyond Christ, who is Himself the Creator, and in manhood the expression of the essential being of the invisible God. If men are insane enough to imagine they can get beyond that, they had better be left alone until, in this day of grace, or in a lost eternity, they find out that they are not God, but only men.
“Lazarus, come forth” brought the dead man out of his grave, with the life blood coursing through his veins, and the bloom of health upon his face. And when the word of life comes in the power of the Spirit to the soul that is morally dead that soul is made to live in the life of Christ. “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” gave the bedridden creature at the pool of Bethesda all the power that was necessary to obey the command. But the law of Moses did not do that. The law came to man who had no strength to fulfil its righteous requirement and cursed him for his disobedience; but grace communicates the power that the soul must have, if he is thankfully to respond to the word that is to him addressed.
In verse 24 we have before us the person that is partaker of this life. “He that heareth My word, and believes on Him that sent Me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death into life.” The way we become partakers of the life is by hearing the voice of the Son of God. But there are certain effects produced in the soul who hears the voice that are made known to us in verse 24. The voice of Jesus has brought him to the recognition of the Father. He has heard the Word of Jesus, but his faith centres on the Father who sent Him; and “This is life eternal, that they should know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” He is partaker in this life, and has fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ; and fullness of joy is the result.
“And shall not come into judgment.” He is no longer on the ground of responsibility to fulfil his obligations with a view to life. He has become the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus. And God shall not bring His own work into judgment, to see if He can approve of it. If he has passed away from this scene before the Lord comes, he shall be in the first resurrection, the resurrection of life when the life that is now his in relation with God shall become the life of his body, and he shall be raised in glory, to have his home for ever with the Lord in the Father’s house, where all shall be alive in that life, and in the likeness of the Son.
The resurrection of judgment is the last resurrection, and the judgment shall determine the eternal portion of those who have to stand there. That which the works of each shall merit must be meted to each in righteousness. Not only the overt acts of all shall be taken account of, but the secrets of the heart shall be made manifest. Not only what men have done, but why they acted, shall come to light, and there shall be no avenue of escape in that day. There is a way of escape today, and that is by submission to God’s way of salvation, but where the present opportunity is carelessly rejected, the sinner who does so judges himself unworthy of eternal life, elects to stand for himself in the day of judgment, and too late comes to the discovery of the fool that he has proved himself to be.
“It is the Sabbath day; it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.” The mercy of God is met by the religious self-will of the self-righteous legalist, who prides himself in his observance of a commandment that he had no scruple about setting aside, when it concerned his worldly possessions (Matt 12:11). For four thousand years fallen, guilty man had been suffering under the consequences of his sinful behaviour, and now that God has come into His own world, and in the grace of His heart is working for that unworthy creature’s deliverance, He is met by the presumptuous interference of those who lay under the curse of a broken law, but too full of vanity to admit it, and they will stone Him for His gracious intervention on His own creature’s behalf, and in His own creation.
But what a magnificent, and to a reasonable mind conclusive, answer the man gives to the miserable formalists that so peremptorily withstood his fulfilment of the Divine Saviour’s command: “He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed and walk.” He had been long enough under Moses, without receiving the slightest benefit. If he had been able to fulfil the legal commandment, he would have needed neither the pool of Bethesda, nor the intervention of the Lord. He would have been immune from both death and disease. But not being able to fulfil his just obligations. Moses can do nothing but accuse him. But here is One who gives him all the power he needs, and tells him in what way that power is to be used; and what has the law got to do with it?
To this powerful and unanswerable defence of his actions his accusers can make no reply. But they turn the fierceness of their bitter hate upon the Son of God. “Therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath day.” Instead of being filled with thanksgiving, as they saw the grace of God on man’s behalf rising above all legal barriers, they seek to destroy Him who was the faithful representative of that grace in this suffering scene. But it was that which man had shown himself to be from the beginning. They will raise no objections, nay, but they will be glad to be allowed to destroy seven nations of evil-doers, that they may inherit their land. But they themselves must not be interfered with, if they do according to the deeds of those same nations.
This is the day of life-giving. The word of that life is manifested by means of the preaching. He who is the life, the Son of the living God, is the subject of the preaching and whoever believes the Gospel has that life. The day of judgment is not yet, but it is coming, and the Judge shall be the once despised and rejected Son of Man. The Father and the Son in unity of action raise up the dead and quicken, but the Father does not judge; all judgment is committed to the Son, because He is the Son of Man. He has been despised and set at naught by men, but God will see to it that He shall have from every creature equal honour with the Father.
But the judgment has no terror for the believer. He has found refuge in Christ, and in the work accomplished for his salvation on the cross. He has boldness for the day of judgment, because as Christ is, so is he in this world. The judgment is past. Neither his sins, nor that evil life from which his sins proceeded, enter into his accountability to God. He is the workmanship of God, no longer of the old and corrupt order of flesh, but of the new order in Christ, in His life and nature, and in His relationship with His God and Father, and object of the love wherewith the Father loves His Son. And this is his eternal place and portion. The fear that has torment has no place in his heart. The love of the Father and the Son has for ever dispelled all that kind of fear, and in that love our souls live.
8. John 6
The bread of God come down from heaven is the subject of Chapter 6. The Lord had fed five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes, and the people felt that a man who could do a thing like this was not one to be lightly rejected. To have such an one as this for a king would mean that the sweat of the brow and the anxiety of the mind for daily food need exist no longer! He is certainly “the Prophet that should come into the world,” and they had better make Him king at once! But not into the hands of the fickle crowd would He who knew what was in man commit Himself. He goes into the mountain to pray. He will take the place of the Priest on high, the place He took up when rejected from the earth, and the place He now occupies.
The crowd who had seen the miracle make diligent search for Him, for in their present mind, to lose Him was to lose an opportunity such as had never previously been presented to them. To escape from the toil with which the children of Adam have to earn their bread has ever been the ambition of the human race. Hence the supposed ease and comfort of the rich have always aroused the envy and cupidity of those who have a constant struggle to make ends meet, not seeing that often the weight of their drudgery is less than the anxieties that wealth is sure to bring with it. It is impossible for the heart estranged from God to believe that only in the knowledge of Himself is true happiness to be found. Yet, “In Thy presence is fullness of joy.” Here only is the cup made to run over. Here only is bliss unspeakable to be realized. What a change must necessarily pass over the mind of the poor wandering Israelite, when in the coming day, the day in which God shall set His hand toward the recovery of His earthly people, the cry shall be wrung from his awakened soul: “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42). At this present moment his heart is set upon the fugacious riches of the nations, among which he is shunned as a leper; and this must continue until the day arrive when their deliverance shall come from the presence of the Lord, and their heart shall turn to Him whom they have so long despised, rebelled against, and forgotten, and then shall their profitless wanderings, their many transgressions, and their soul-destroying folly, like mountains rise before their weeping eyes, and once again shall the heart of the nation repose in the favour of the God of their fathers. Then shall the Gentiles also rejoice with that favoured nation.
“Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you: for Him has God the Father sealed.” Into this life of flesh and blood sin has come, and death by sin, and this present state of our existence is not to be continued. The individual may escape the winged arrow of death for three-score years and ten, perhaps four-score, or even one thousand, if it pleased God; but the end must come, for death lies upon every child of Adam’s race.
Why, then, be over-anxious as to our present condition of existence, which on account of sin must be brought to a termination? The living creatures of the sea, and of the earth, along with the herb of the field, may be made to contribute to the building up of our mortal flesh, and even the food of angels might be laid upon our table; but none of these can give us immunity from death’s dread power, and bid the king of terrors stay his hand. If there can be found bread in the universe that is able to place us beyond the might of death, then let us whole-heartedly set our minds and hearts to the possession of this, and for this let everything else be sacrificed.
Why should we be so greatly concerned about the bread that perishes, when the bread that endures to everlasting life is within the reach of our appropriation? “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.” And this living bread was here in the midst of this death-doomed nation, and yet the bread that perishes was the thing that occupied their whole thought. Here was something better than the tree of life that grew in Eden, which could do no more than sustain the life of flesh and blood, and only as long as the innocent creature was true to the interdiction imposed upon him by his beneficent Creator. This bread was the free gift of God the Father, and was for the life of the world. The failure of the creature could bring down no cherubim with flaming sword to keep the transgressor at a distance. This was given in the grace of the Father’s heart, and was for the appropriation of those whose sins had brought upon them the judgment of death. It was not sent down from heaven for the deserving, but for those who deserved nothing from the hand of Divine justice but wrath and condemnation. It was here for the starving and lost sinners of the race of Adam, and for all alike. It was also for the Gentile as truly as for the Jew, for it was for the life of the world.
“I am that bread of life.” In their blindness and hardness of heart they demand a sign, that through Him God had intervened on their behalf, with Himself as that sign before their eyes. Bread had been rained down from heaven for the sustenance of their fathers in the desert; and what more had Christ done than that? Only this, that the manna did not place those who ate it beyond the reach of death, but here was the bread that comes down from heaven, “that a man may eat thereof, and not die.” And Jesus Himself was that bread, and the Father was the giver of it.
But they had seen Him and had not believed in Him. As presented to their responsibility, and to be appropriated by them, He was not according to their liking, and therefore was He criticized, contradicted and rejected. That their fathers ate manna in the desert might have been supposed by them to be still casting a kind of lustre upon the rebellious nation, but if the angels’ food did not make them proof against the weapon of death, and if now they refused to appropriate the living bread in which was life everlasting, what then was left for them but eternal destitution? And what was God to do when His Son was rejected? Is the poor rebellious worm of the dust to effect his own eternal ruin, and is the guilty race to perish for ever?
“All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me.” The fulfilment of His eternal counsels are not to be subjected to the accident of man’s acceptance of the One in whom those counsels are centred. “No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him.” So antagonistic to God is the mind of the natural man that only by universal rejection would His Word be met. But the resources of God are infinite, and He has His own way of bringing to pass the beneficient thoughts of His own heart of love. His plans can never be wrecked by the malevolence of the creature, nor can the tranquillity of the Almighty be in the least disturbed by the opposition of a world of rebels: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Ps. 2:4). In the end it shall be seen that He has always triumphed, and that the self-will of the sinner has resulted only in his own confusion.
“It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes unto Me.” If no man can come, unless the Father draw him; every one that has been drawn of the Father comes. God must be supreme in His own creation; and either in eternal happiness, or in eternal misery, must this fact be realized by every intelligent being in the universe. Man may rage against the doings of the Almighty, and dispute His ways in the world that He has made, and thus manifest the madness of his corrupt fallen nature, but he does it to his own everlasting disadvantage, and to his unending sorrow. Happy is the man that gladly submits to the ways of God, even when griefs seem to gather upon his pathway, and this valley of the shadow of death seems crowded with unspeakable evils! The believer is in the hand of the Father, and in the hand of the Son, and his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and could he be more secure in heaven itself?
But while it is true that no one can come to Jesus apart from the drawing of the Father, it is also true that it is the will of the Father, “That every one that sees the Son and believes on Him may have everlasting life”; and that “the Son will raise him up at the last day.” It is not only the Jew who may partake of this life; it is as true of the Gentile who sees the Son and believes on Him. He is “The bread that comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” The manna came down from heaven for Israel only, for it was the means by which God sustained them throughout their wilderness journey. But the living bread was not to be confined to one nation; it was free for all.
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread he will live for ever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh which I will give for the life of the world.” But this only raises a new difficulty, and they say: “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Had they only seen how utterly hopeless their state under the law was, and how their position under the Roman power bore witness to it, they might have been better able to understand the voices of the prophets, and the testimony which they bore to the sufferings of Christ on their behalf, and the word of Jesus would not, perhaps, have appeared to them such a “hard saying.” But in the pride of their hearts they imagined their relations with Him were all that they should be, and the idea of the necessity of a ransom for their souls was a thing that never was allowed a place in their minds.
9. John 6 (cont)
He was the bread of God come down from heaven, the giver and the sustainer of the life He gives. But though an object of interest to the crowd that followed Him, He was not believed in but by a very few. The common people might hear Him gladly. The brainless multitude might desire to make Him a king; and if the leaders were to make Him prisoner, they must do it in the absence of the populace. Every one had his own opinion regarding Him. Some said: “Of a truth this is the Prophet.” Others said: “This is the Christ.” But it was nothing but their opinion, based upon their observance of Him. There was not an element of faith in it. And of what value is the opinion of the creature regarding his Creator? It is of neither more nor less value than is the opinion of the philosopher regarding the Holy Scriptures, and that is simply of no value at all.
As to why the gospel is in certain cases believed, repentance wrought in the soul, and Christ received as Lord, may be hard for even a true follower of the Saviour to determine. When our Lord was here on earth some believed on Him, and some believed not; and it was the same with regard to the gospel when preached in the power of the Spirit after His resurrection, and it is the same today. Yet in the majority of instances the man that believes has no better opportunity of settling the question than has the man who rejects. Nathaniel confessed Him as the Son of God, the King of Israel; and Jesus says to him: Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? Some will say, That was poor ground for faith to rest on. From a human standpoint this may be reasonably concluded, but it altered the whole tenor of the man’s life. Peter confesses Him as “The Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16); and the reply of Jesus to this is: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.” And here we get from the Lord Himself the Divine solution of the question: Peter had heard and learned of the Father. It was no opinion with Him, the light of the Godhead of the Son was shining in his soul. There is no one left without sufficient light from God, that his wandering footsteps may be guided back to his beneficent Creator; but if men refuse to follow the light given to them, preferring the darkness, they cannot complain against God, if He in His sovereign and eternal might secure for His own glory a remnant out of this rebellious race, that they may be to the praise of that glory in the day of its display.
The flesh of Christ must be eaten, and His blood must be drunk; that is, His death must be appropriated. He gave Himself for us, for us He suffered; and are we to reject the sacrifice He made on our behalf? Are we to go in the way of Cain, and say that we are not under the judgment of death, that there was no need for blood-shedding in our interest? Can we thank God for the good things of this life, acknowledging that they all come from Him, and yet require no one to bear judgment for us, nor we see any righteousness in making the innocent suffer for the guilty? Are we to say as men do say, Though we may not be all that we would like to be, yet we are not on the low level of our forefathers, and Jesus and others like Him have set us good example, which if we follow we shall find that perfection that we would all like to reach! Therefore we need not despair, nor go back to the darkness of the barbarous age in which the bloody sacrifice was invented? How early in the history of the church was the voice of Divine displeasure sent forth: “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain” (Jude 11). That is the Divine answer.
His flesh was given for the life of the world. I have the privilege, given to me of God, of making that death mine, and thus reckoning that all that I am as under the judgment of God is gone in that judgment that fell upon my Saviour when He gave Himself to bear it, that I might go free. It is the only way of salvation, but it is all sufficient. I appropriate that death. I eat His flesh and drink His blood, and thus eat and drink death to all that I am as of the old and sinful order of fallen man. I have eternal life. I dwell in Him, and He dwells in me. He is my life. I have none other, and as possessor of this life I look to be in the resurrection of life; that is, if my Lord has not come before I pass away from this scene. If I do pass away before then, He shall quicken this mortal body by His almighty power, and fashion it like His own, in the day when He shall rise to subdue all things to Himself.
But at the risk of a certain amount of repetition, though I trust not wearisome, I will come back to the first chapter, where it is said: “The Word became flesh.” Our word is the means by which we make known our thoughts to others, and the Word of God is that by which He manifests all that He has to say to us. He comes a Man amongst men. I was on the point of saying—the most accessible Man upon earth; but that will not do, for He was with respect to other men neither comparative, nor superlative: what He was He was absolutely. What He was He was incomparably. How could it be otherwise with regard to Him, for “The Word was God”? Such words of grace as flowed from His lips had never been before heard within the limits of the vast creation.
In this way He drew near to men, and on this account the vilest of the fallen human race could draw near to Him. His words sounded the deepest depths of the human heart, and laid it bare in all its utter loathsomeness, but the words that did this came warm from the fountain of eternal love, so that men felt that it was the Friend of sinners who was talking to them. No one could bring to light and condemnation the cursed pride that, like a fell weed, dug its deadly fibres into the heart of Job, as Elihu could, but to no one else could Job have given such a ready and attentive ear; for though Elihu did not spare him, as one would to whom the gravity of his empty pride was of little importance, yet the poor afflicted patriarch felt that the one who most mercilessly condemned his erring words was not against him. How very forcibly this spirit of grace and truth made itself felt in the words and ways of Jesus!
But that the Word should be made flesh was a necessity, because in the ways of God this must be, if the counsels of eternal love were to be righteously fulfilled. The One who could take the position of life-giving Spirit toward men who lay dead in sins must be One whose life, given as a ransom for all, would be of such value that it would meet the requirements of a righteous God, and efface the dishonour that had been done to His holy name and character. If He is by His quickening power to bring souls out from moral death, then must He bear the judgment that lay upon them. This could only be done by His becoming flesh. It can only be a Man that is able to meet the claims of God, and bear the judgment which lay upon those whom He is to bring out of death, making them live to God. Hence He is spoken of as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. This has opened a way of salvation for rebellious sinners, glorifying God who approaches men in grace, and which eventually will be the ground upon which the whole sinful scene shall be cleansed from the presence of that which is so hateful to God, and bring in a new heaven and a new earth in which shall dwell righteousness.
Therefore His becoming flesh was a Divine necessity. “Forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). The antichrists in the days of the apostles denied Christ thus come, and against them the saints are warned (1 John 4:1-6; 2:7): “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” The reader will notice here that the passage is not speaking of persons but of spirits, though surely it is by means of persons that these spirits speak. Still, many a person willingly subscribes to orthodox views who has no part in the blessings of the gospel. But if one is speaking by a spirit he will not confess Him as come in flesh, nor will he call Him Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), because it is really the spirit that is speaking and not the man.
The denial of either the Godhead or the Manhood of Christ is the denial of Christianity root and branch; and for a professing Christian to deny either is to prove himself apostate from Christ, and to place himself outside the pale of Christian charity. Let us see to it that these two great truths of Christ’s Person are not only held fast by ourselves but by everyone to whom we extend the right hand of fellowship. At the same time let us whole-heartedly acknowledge all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption (Eph. 6:24).
John the Baptist points Him out as “The Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.” It is not the sins, but the sin of the world: that evil principle that was begotten by the devil, and to which Adam opened the door for its entrance into the world: that shall be taken away by the Lamb of God. A day is coming in which there shall not be a single trace of it left either in heaven or on earth. We look for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness shall dwell (2 Peter 3:13). Sin and its attendant consequences shall then have disappeared for ever.
But the very fact that it is the Lamb that shall do it conveys to our hearts the right impression, that it shall not be done without a sacrifice on His part by whom the sin shall be done away. The Lamb must first of all be slain, and a way opened up in righteousness by which God shall be glorified and sinners saved. The Lamb is the Word become flesh, the incarnate Son of the living God. In the love of God He came in flesh that He might be the propitiation for our sins, and that we might be brought back to God in righteousness and love.
With the Bread that endures to everlasting life in their midst how eagerly they ran after the bread that perished! They say: “Lord, evermore give us this bread,” but they could view it in no other light than as bread for the support of human life here in this world. When they saw it was not this, it lost its interest for them. To appropriate a dead Christ, in opposition to a living Messiah after the flesh, was not to be thought of by them. Words that were to the disciples words of eternal life were to the carnal-minded crowd “a hard saying,” not to be listened to. When they had eaten of the loaves and fishes they were convinced He was the prophet that should come into the world, and they would at once make Him a king. But if they have to do with God about their sinful and ruined state, and if they must own that death lies upon them as the just judgment of God on account of their sins, and also that their Messiah must shed His blood on their behalf, as atonement for their many transgressions, then they can see no gospel for them in that. Israel was placed under a ritual that bore the most powerful testimony to the fact that man was a sinner, and therefore under the judgment of death, and that there was no way back into acceptance with God except on the ground of the death of a victim, which had personal excellency, and which died in his room and stead; and not only that, but the prophets bore united testimony to the sufferings of Christ on their behalf, yet who among them in that day of Christ’s appearing believed that He must suffer for sin on their behalf? The life of flesh has a powerful hold upon every one of us, and it is only when we get some clear understanding of God’s way of deliverance, and the liberty and joy that is ours by means of that deliverance, that we can be truly thankful for it.
Of that deliverance the Holy Spirit is the power, and apart from Him it is impossible to be realized. It is necessary to know the doctrine, but the knowledge of this is not sufficient, I must have power to appropriate the doctrine to my own case, and only the Spirit can enable me to do this. How many saints are trying to reckon themselves dead to sin and alive to God, and yet are finding this doctrine altogether contradicted by their practical experience! Along with the knowledge of the truth regarding this most important subject we require to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, who is the “Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8). The life of Christ cannot be separated from the Spirit, and it is the law, or principle, of that life in us that sets us free from the law, or principle of sin and death.
And of that Spirit we believers are partakers. Not only is Jesus pointed out by John as the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world, but also as the Son of God who baptizes with the Holy Ghost (John 1:32-34). This great gift is given to dwell in all who believe “the gospel of their salvation” (Eph. 1:13). By Him we know that we are in Christ beyond the reach of condemnation. We are in the One who bore the condemnation, and who glorified God in bearing it, and now that we are in Him we come into all the results of the work accomplished by Him when made sin for us. All this is infinitely precious, but can only be understood as we enter into our new position in Him, and only by the Spirit can this position be intelligently entered into.
10. John 6 and 7
Turn again to John’s first epistle. In chapter 2 he says to the babes: “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” So in the gospel: “He shall guide you into all the truth” (chap. 16). And in the epistle again: “The unction which ye have received from Him abides in you, and ye have not need that any one should teach you, but as the same unction teaches you as to all things, and is true and is not a lie, and even as it has taught you, ye shall abide in Him.” And again: “Hereby we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given to us.” And again: “Hereby we know that we abide in Him and He in us, that He has given to us of His Spirit.” The things of God can only be entered into and enjoyed by the power of the Spirit. Christianity is wholly spiritual, and only by the Holy Spirit of the living God can we touch even the fringe of it. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
In connection with this sixth chapter of the Gospel I turn to chapter 5 of the epistle, where we have the three witness-bearers and that to which their witness refers. “This is he that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood; and it is the Spirit that bears witness, for the Spirit is truth.” The water and blood came out of the side of Christ dead upon the cross (John 19:34-35). The importance of this is manifest in the emphatic way in which the apostle draws attention to it
“One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he says true, that ye might believe.” Nothing more concerning this comes to light in the gospel, but here in the epistle we have the blood and water called up in support of the testimony of God regarding the gift of eternal life. The Son of God has come by water and blood, that is, in the power of expiation and moral purification; and the Spirit is the witness by whom we are able to take in the import of the witness of the other two. He came down from Christ risen and glorified, the mighty witness that life is only in the Son of God for men, and to be in the believer as the Spirit and power of that life, giving the believer the consciousness that he has that life in present possession, while the infinite fountain of it resides in the Son. To Him are added the testimony of the blood and water, which speak to us of the value of the death of Christ. The blood is that which expiates our sins, and the water that which cleanses morally. Here they are viewed as witness-bearers, not as agents accomplishing the work, but bearing testimony to that which the death of Christ has accomplished. In that death our sins are gone; and in that same death the life of flesh is gone, and thus is gone in the condemnation of the cross the man that committed the sins: “Our old man has been crucified with Him” (Rom. 6:6): “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). The Spirit, who is the power of that life, indwelling us gives us the consciousness that we partake of that life; and by His power whatever we may find within which may seem to contradict it, we know that our sins and the evil nature from which the sins sprang are both gone in the judgment of the cross, so that not only are our consciences cleared and set at rest, but we “are clean every whit clean” (John 13:10).
Now if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has witnessed of His Son. The declaration of God regarding His gift of eternal life to the believer, is supported by three witnesses, and the witness of the three tend to one point; and that point is, “That God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has life, and he that has not the Son has not life.” Life is only in the Son of God, and it is received by faith in Him: “He that believes on the Son of God, has the witness in Himself.” He has the Spirit who gives him the consciousness that he lives to God in that life that is in the Son. Living men have the consciousness that they are alive; and this is no less true of the one who lives in the life that is in the glorified Son of God. And these things are written to believers that they may know that they have eternal life.
All this is utterly unacceptable to man as a child of Adam, who, though he may have some qualms of conscience, some sense of the need of forgiveness, and of being in happier relations with God, must have everything so adjusted that he will be left in his old relation both with God and men, the old affections undisturbed, and the distance between himself and God, in which he now is, maintained. To escape the penalties attached to his rebellion against the authority of God, and, if he must needs die, to be raised again and reinstated in the old conditions of life apart from the griefs and sorrows that now afflict him,—this would be to him the highest conception of bliss. To have to do with God, to be brought near to Him, to have no joy but that which the knowledge of the love of God gave him, to be in a pure and holy atmosphere, to be with the Christ whom man could not tolerate on earth, to see all the joys and pleasures in which he now delights pass from his vision as completely as though they never had been: between this state of things and the hell of the damned he might hesitate to choose, for in his estimation the misery of either would be unbearable.
“From this time many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.” The life of flesh was everything to them, and a law that appealed to the flesh, though it might curse them for their failure to fulfil its demands, was more acceptable than the words of eternal life that flowed from the lips of the incarnate Son of God. The glad tidings that He preached had no charm for their godless hearts. The seed had fallen upon the rock; the Word had not been understood by them, and when it came home to their carnal hearts in its true character, setting before them the cross as the only way of salvation, the discovery was made that the Word had never taken root, and therefore was it withered away. The glamour of His fame, and the power exhibited in His mighty works, had turned their volatile footsteps for a little after Him, but when the test came their faith was seen to be only skin-deep, they had never heard and learned of the Father, and His Word had therefore no place in them.
But whatever grief this may have been to His tender heart, His confidence in His Father remained unshaken. Already He had said: “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me,” and He desires no more than these. He will even now tell His remaining twelve that He has closed no door behind them, but has given them opportunity to go back to that which they had left to follow Him. To them He says: “Will ye also go away?” Peter, ever ready, answers for all: “Lord, to wham shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” And yet one of these twelve was a devil.
In chapter 7, we see His unbelieving brethren would have Him show Himself to the world. Apart from His death and resurrection this could only be judgment to all, and nothing could have been saved out of the judgment to which all men were liable because of their guilty condition. If He gives His flesh for the life of the world then the time for His showing Himself to the world had not come. His brethren, impatient in their unbelief with His humiliation and self-renunciation, desire Him to bring to an end His path of comparative retirement. Man’s time is always ready, but His time was not yet come. Therefore He says: “I go not up yet unto this feast.” Afterwards, when His brethren had gone up, He also went up, not openly, but as it were in secret. When He has received the kingdom He will show Himself at the feast of tabernacles, but until then He does not publicly take a place at this feast.
But He will in the meantime give something greater than this feast can afford. He says: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” It is not only, as in chapter 6: “He that drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Here it is not only that one’s own thirst is for ever quenched, so that he thirsts no more, but he becomes a mighty channel of refreshing in this weary Rephidim. He makes the valley of Baca a well. The feast of tabernacles satisfied no human heart; for were they not under the oppression of the proud Roman, their throne and their glory trodden in the dust? He who showed Himself well able to reinstate them in the glorious position which they occupied in the reign of David and of Solomon, yea, in a grandeur infinitely greater than was theirs during the reign of those two divinely anointed monarchs, was there in their midst despised and rejected, while the leaders of the people were plotting His murder. What an empty feast they were celebrating! And what a multitude of thirsty souls must have that day been gathered together in Jerusalem! With what sorrowful hearts those who came from distant places must have surveyed that city, destined to be the joy of the whole earth, now policed by the arrogant Roman soldiery, the throne of Jehovah overturned, an Edomite their crowned king, their temple left desolate, and their strongholds ruins! Well was it for those who could see in the desolation of Zion the just consequences of a long-continued course of insane rebellion against a righteous God, who had showed such unmerited favour to their thankless nation!
What part could the rejected Messiah have in these empty festivities? The pride that lifted its presumptuous head in the hearts of the hypocritical leaders, the hellish hatred that surged there ready to break forth in His murder, and the changeful, vacillating, and conscienceless interest of the thoughtless crowd, were all well known to the lonely and heart-broken Son of the Father. How empty, formal, and lifeless such a feast appeared to the gaze of heaven, and above all to the eye of God, for whose glory it was ostensibly held! How could He identify Himself with such a state of things? If He went up to the feast it was not to participate in the festive joys of a people now on the brink of destruction, but in the knowledge that there were a few souls among them who were anxiously looking for something better than these things were calculated to furnish; and such cannot be neglected.
Therefore: “About the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.” The Jews are astonished at His ability to teach, and say: “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” His answer is: “My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me.” Here, as everywhere else, He keeps before His hearers the important fact that they had to do with God. He spoke the words of God; and the words He spoke became a test of their spiritual condition, as to whether they were in any measure disposed to hearken to God’s voice, and to do the things He commanded. He says: “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from Myself.” But after all, what were they but transgressors and murderers? And their inconsistent verdict against Himself only proved themselves to be judges having evil thoughts. They condemned Him for speaking a word that made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath, and yet practised circumcision on that day, that they might keep the law of Moses. Their lifeless ritual was of more importance to them than were judgment, mercy, and the love of God. But, as He tells them in the next chapter, they were of their father the devil, though their vain boast was that they had one Father, even God. He spoke that which He had seen with His Father, and they did that which they had seen with their father; they came out in his characteristics. He was a liar and a murderer, and so were they.
Children bear the moral impress of the parent who has begotten them. The devil was the first liar, and he was a murderer from the beginning. In the first epistle of John we read: “He that practises sin is of the devil, for the devil sinneth from the beginning”; that is, from the beginning of sin: he originated sin, lying, and murder. The one born of God does not practise sin; for His seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In his practical life down here the one begotten of God does not practise sin; that is, he is not characterized by it, because viewed as begotten of God, apart from his mixed condition on earth, he cannot sin at all. A believer can sin, but is exhorted not to, but “begotten of God” only takes in the work of God in his soul, and sin can never proceed from this. “Like father, like son” must ever be true.
But among those who were listening to His words there may have been thirsty souls, those who wanted something better than could be found in lifeless forms and ceremonies. For these He has all that would meet the need, and more than the need, of their souls. The Spirit of God was the gift that was to be bestowed upon the believer. But for this the work of redemption must needs be accomplished in His cross sin must receive its judgment, and it must be judged in flesh, where it had its seat. No other than Himself could take the place of the sin-bearer, for the victim must be without blemish and without spot.
Sin, sins, and the flesh in which sin reigned, have received their judgment in His holy flesh, and the flesh forms no part of the believer in his relationship with God. It is still in him, and shall be in him as long as he is in a mortal body, but he is not in it, but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwells in him. The holy oil was not to be poured on man’s flesh (Ex. 30:31-32), but on the blood (Lev. 14:14-17). When the gospel of our salvation is believed we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, for all true believers are in the value of the blood of Christ before God.
The Spirit is given from a glorified Christ. He was given in answer to the intercession of Christ. He is the Spirit of Truth. He testifies of Christ. He takes of Christ’s and shows His things to us. He is the Spirit of sonship, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. He bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. In John’s first epistle He is said to be the One by whom we know that Christ abideth in us. He is also one of the three witnesses given in support of the testimony of God, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Everything connected with true Christianity is in His power.
11. John 8 and 9
In chapter 8 the Pharisees bring to Him a woman taken in adultery. What was He to do? Condemn her and deny the grace in which He approached the sinner? Justify her, and show His disrespect for the law of Moses? Stone her? They could do that themselves, so they might think; but could they? But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground, as though He heard them not. The finger of God had written the demand of God on two tables of stone, but He was here tracing upon the dust of this earth, in His walk and in His ways with sinners, unfathomable grace. This He indicates by His writing on the ground. “So when they continued asking Him He lifted up Himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground.” He was not to be interrupted in His work of grace by their wicked hypocrisy. But can their self-righteousness bear the test that He applies to it? No. The oldest must first go, but the youngest cannot remain. The only One who could have thrown the stone at her had come to call sinners to repentance. He does not condemn her, but tells her to sin no more.
In chapter 9 the spiritual condition of man is figuratively presented in the blind beggar. All his life he had been in darkness. “Truly the light is sweet and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” But that sweet pleasure had never gladdened his eyes. Yet the fault lay not in the sun, but rather in the man himself. The light of that glorious orb was as free for him as for any other; but he had not power to take in its comforting beams. He had been born blind. But He, who made the sun for the blessing of the earth and all in it, now crossed his path, and in His infinite mercy wrought a work in him by means of which he became able to take in the light, and enjoy its brilliant rays.
“As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” But the light had been shining in the midst of this darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not. Man was morally blind. This light was the light of God, for He who was the light was God manifested in flesh. But from the outset He was rejected. This light had an irritating effect upon the men of this world. Like the clay put upon the blind eyes, it did not make him see. One may be confident that it was physically a great relief to the blind beggar to have it washed from his eyes, but having washed in the pool of Siloam he received sight.
That the presence of Jesus on earth among men was a source of great irritation to the natural man is very forcibly brought out in the treatment He received from the hands of all but a few. We see in the previous chapters how nothing but the restraining hand of God kept them from stoning Him. It is not that there was anything in His ways with men to call forth anything but heart-felt adoration and worship; but on account of the deadly hatred of the human heart to all that is of God, the presentation of God before their eyes in Him, who was God manifested in flesh, awoke that hatred in a way in which it never had previously been aroused, so that nothing but His murder would quiet the rage that filled them. Had they washed in the pool of Siloam; that is, had they believed on Him as the Sent One of God, they would have met Him with the thanksgiving and the praise justly due to His unfathomable grace. But trusting in their own ability to judge of everything that came before them, and unaware of the treacherous character of their own hearts they, urged on by the power of darkness, precipitated themselves into conflict with God, whom they professed to serve, but whom truly they knew not. “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin; but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.”
They flattered themselves that they were in the true light of God, but their rejection of Jesus manifested the sorrowful fact that they were in darkness, and walked in darkness, nor knew whither they were going. Had they admitted their incompetency to receive testimony from God, and that that incompetency arose from their fallen sinful condition, it would then have become a question of what was in the heart of God for them, and whether He would take them into His own hand, and make them all that He desired them to be, and this question would have been solved in the salvation of their souls. The man whose sins are forgiven, and to whom God will not reckon sin, is the man “In whose spirit there is no guile”; he is before God in the confession of his sinfulness.
This blind man in chapter 9 confesses Him as a prophet, and as the greatest of all prophets, for he says: “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind?” For this confession the leaders of the people excommunicated him, and thus another sheep was transferred from the fold to the hand of the Son and the Father. In his isolation the light that to his unspeakable joy illuminated his soul is wonderfully increased, he learns that the Prophet he so boldly confessed is the Son of God. In this way the light was severed from the darkness, and the children of God from the children of the devil.
The Pharisees might think they were victors in this poor engagement with one who had no pretension to learning or lawyer-like cleverness, but the hitherto blind beggar had overcome them. They were still in the darkness without one beneficent ray to guide their footsteps, and he was in the clear light of God. He had overcome the world in which they still were slaves; for, “Who is he that overcomes the world but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” He had passed out of darkness into light: out of death into life. A few bright rays of the light, that with its overpowering beams now filled his vision, had been too strong for the eyes of the proud leaders of the people, and had maddened them against this fresh luminary, created by the revelation of God in the person of the Son.
12. John 10
In chapter 10 the once blind man is a sheep in the flock of the good Shepherd. His deliverance out of the fold he owes to the intervention of Jesus, who when He putteth forth His own sheep goeth before them. He might have put his expulsion out of the synagogue to the enmity of the Pharisees, but the fold was no place now for a man with the light of God in his soul. And it was Jesus who gave him the light which led to his excommunication. Jesus was the Door out of the sheepfold, and He was the Door into salvation, liberty, and pasture. They are in the keeping of the One who laid down His life for them. And who could rightly express the intimacy into which He brings His beloved sheep? He says: “I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine as the Father knoweth Me and I know the Father.” This could not be realized until redemption had taken place, Jesus glorified, and the Holy Spirit given to the believer.
So in the first epistle we see that the very babes know the Father. And again He says: “Let that therefore abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son and in the Father.” And with what infinite grace the Holy Spirit calls us to the contemplation of the love of the Father, manifested in calling us into the place of children! No one but the Son could bring God into light, but when He has brought Him to light it is as Father we are to know Him. We know the Son in the way in which the Father knows Him, and in the way in which He knows the Father, and that is in love, and in love that only His death for us could perfectly declare: “Hereby we have known love, because He has laid down His life for us.”
It is true that men condemned Him to death, nailed Him to the cross, and in that way became guilty of His murder. But that is not the whole truth, He says: “Therefore doth my Father love Me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father.” There would have been no atoning virtue in it had His death been only that of a martyr. While there was the surrender of Himself into the hands of sinful men, and while His cross was a mighty witness to the ingratitude of the human heart, and to His incorrigible God-hatingness, this did nothing but increase the judgment that awaited men from the hand of God. Man had rendered himself liable to the wrath of God by means of his many offences; but how greatly increased was the terrible nature of the wrath by the indignities that were heaped upon His Son, and by the death to which He was condemned, what mind can fathom? But what really made atonement was not all this, but that which He suffered from the hand of Divine justice, when God gave expression to His holy abhorrence of sin and His righteous judgment of it in His cross. This was all between Himself and God, while men knew nothing of what was going on apart from their own insane devilry. When all help from the side of God was withdrawn—when all alone the waves and billows of Divine wrath went over His soul—when deep called unto deep at the noise of the waterspouts of vengeance against sin—when He was stricken, smitten of God and afflicted—when for the time being His cry to God could not be heard—when nature’s darkness shut Him in, so that He was alone with the Almighty when giving expression to His righteousness, His holiness, His majesty, His truth, His condemnation of that accursed thing that had wrought such havoc in His fair universe—when He was abandoned of God: then and then alone sin received its judgment, and the sins of all who put their trust in Him were expiated. From the pierced side of the dead Saviour flowed out two witnesses, blood and water, the blood speaking of expiation, and the water of moral purification, both found in His death. Not in His holy and spotless life, not in all that men did to Him was either found. His blood cleanses from all sin. Therefore when He had suffered all that was due to sin, He gave up His own life; it was never actually taken from Him by man.
How stupid men are in the things that relate to the revelation of God! And the reason of their stupidity is on account of their natural antipathy, to that revelation. The Jews gather round Him in the temple, and ask Him: “How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ tell us plainly.” Of what value to these men would His word have been? A moment later they take up stones to stone Him because He said, “I and my Father are one.” They refuse to take His word as to who He is, while asking Him to tell them plainly. The truth is, they did not want to hear. But He says to them: “I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in My Father’s Name, they bear witness of Me.” We have not on record in this Gospel many of the works of power that Jesus did, and they are not called miracles, but signs, and they are recorded that we should believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we might have life through His Name (chap. 20:30-31). Evidently these signs are by the Holy Spirit considered of sufficient power to give assurance to the believer that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.
The first sign, which is called the beginning of signs, was given in Cana at a marriage, which, figuratively, sets forth Jehovah’s resumption of relations with His earthly people, now as a nation long disowned. Here He turns the water of purification into the wine of joy and gladness. Then it will be confessed that the good wine has been kept to the last.
The second sign is wrought in the same place, Cana of Galilee. There the feeble flicker of life in the veins of the nobleman’s son is made to bound into renewed activity, and the consuming fever is banished from the wearied frame, and that through simple faith in the spoken word of Jesus; a faint figure of that which He was able to perform for all the people, and a figure of that which He will do for the believing remnant at His coming again, when the blessing of life for evermore shall be commanded from Zion.
The third sign is found in chapter 5.There the quickening power of the Son of God is applied to a man who had been suffering from an infirmity for thirty and eight years, so that all hope of his getting cured by means of the pool was at an end. He had not the strength required for the appropriation of the healing waters which lay before his vision. The law was all right enough if man had strength to avail himself of the blessing that it held out to him. But here in Jesus was blessing brought near to man, and requiring no strength in man for its appropriation. Jesus says to him: “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” The bed that was once the witness of man’s utter weakness became now the witness of his strength. Immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked. By faith in Jesus any man might well take up his obligations and fulfil all the requirements of the law. The power to do this was ministered by the quickening power of Jesus, as it will be ministered to the remnant at the appearing of Christ under the new covenant.
The fourth sign is found in chapter 6. There He feeds the poor with bread (Ps. 132:11), and a handful of corn is found on the top of the mountain; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon (Ps. 72:16). But now in a spiritual sense He Himself was the Bread come down from heaven that was not only for the Jew but for the whole world. The Bread, He says is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. In the world to come everything shall depend upon Himself. It is so today if men had but faith in Him.
The fifth sign is found in chapter 9. He opens the eyes of a man that was born blind, so that he is able to take in the light of the sun. A figure of that which He was doing every day in His grace to men, opening their spiritual sight that they might take in the light of God that was here radiant in His person.
The sixth sign is found in chapter 11. There He raises Lazarus who had been four days dead. In this He gives witness that He is the Son of God, and shadows forth the resurrection of dead Israel, who are viewed as dead, and their bones dry, and all hope gone (Ezek. 7). He is the resurrection and the life. In the day of His glory it will be true actually, as it is now in the day of His rejection, that: “He that believes in Me though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he that liveth and believes in Me shall never die.”
The seventh sign is in chapter 20 of this Gospel, but indicated in chapter 2. There consequent on His cleansing of the temple they say to Him: “What sign showest Thou unto us seeing Thou doest these things?” He answers: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” But He spoke of the temple of His body. Now in chapter 20 we have the sign in His resurrection. These signs are given that we might believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we might have life through His Name. These signs are therefore recorded for our special advantage, but six of them foreshadow what He will do for Israel in the day in which He will take them up again, and establish His throne in their midst on mount Zion.
The other Gospels speak of very many works of power that Jesus did, but those that are recorded in this Gospel of John are written for an express purpose, and that purpose to witness to the Jews the great fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and their testimony cannot be ignored without manifesting most determined and wilful hostility to this glorious truth. No wonder some of the Jews asked the question; “When Christ comes, will He do more miracles [signs] than these which this Man has done?”
“But ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep.” That was the truth of the matter. They were incorrigibly perverse in heart and mind. To their ears the voice of the stranger was more melodious than was that of the good Shepherd, who 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 one pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and none is able to pluck out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” In the first epistle: “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We [the apostles] are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth us not. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” Man’s confidence in himself is his ruin. If he would only take his true place in the presence of God, as that of a poor, fallen, erring know-nothing, there might be some hope of him, “For he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” But as long as he holds himself as quite competent to judge of all things that come before him, he must wander in darkness.
I do not think that “I and My Father are one” is, on the part of Jesus, an assertion of His Godhead, but rather that the Father and Himself are one in their interest in the sheep. But while this may be true, no one that is not God could speak such words. What creature could speak of his Creator as one with himself in any sense? Evidently the Jews took the statement to be an assertion of His Deity, for they took up stones to stone Him “Because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God,” He is indeed the true God, and eternal life.”
13. John 11
In chapter 11 testimony is borne to the Lord as the Son of God, in the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. He is the resurrection and the life. As the whole human race, and all that it has shown itself morally to be, lay in the first Adam in his fallen condition, so the whole race of mankind, after the new and spiritual order, lies in the last Adam, the Son of the living God. The whole redeemed creation shall be placed on the resurrection platform, and every redeemed soul shalt live in the life of Christ. Everything for the eternal blessing of all who come to Him lies in Himself. Those who have not come under His quickening power must be brought to judgment, and all that come into judgment must perish for ever. God cannot bring into judgment those that are of Himself, begotten of Him. And “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one.” Morally the world is of the devil.
“Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” What infinite grace and tenderness lie in the Holy Spirit of God! Who that has read the Gospels would not have expected to find Mary the first mentioned here? Martha is not always in the attitude most approved of by the Lord, and therefore one might have expected Mary to be more prominent in the mind of the Spirit, for her ways are highly approved of. But in thus judging we might find ourselves greatly in error. John lay on the breast of the Lord at supper, and speaks of himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. But this does not warrant us in thinking that our Lord loved John more than He loved Peter, Matthew, Thomas, or any of the others. Not one of them merited one single look of love from the Holy Saviour. The love which He lavished on them was all grace. Not one of them would ever have chosen to follow His blessed footsteps had there not been the drawing of the Father. He says: “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” They were all the gift of the Father to Him, and by Him all were equally appreciated and loved. It may be that some of them were more devoted to Him than were others, and therefore had more insight into His sorrows and His joys. James, Peter and John seem to have been more privileged than others in this way, but we have no reason to assume that they were more loved. “As My Father has loved Me, so have I loved you,” and this is said to all of them. Martha seems to have been ever occupied with serving in temporal things, while Mary occupied herself with the Lord, perhaps realizing some little of the downstooping of His grace, that brought Him here not to be ministered unto, but to minister.
The love He has lavished on us is sovereign, not called out by any virtue He may find in us, for when He set His love upon us there was nothing in us but was obnoxious to His Holy nature, therefore He could not love any one of us in a special way more than another. It is our privilege to behave ourselves in such a way that He will have pleasure in us, and that we may not grieve His Holy Spirit, but His love was set upon us before we thought about pleasing Him. If we do not walk in the Spirit of grace and love we shall have a self-condemning heart, and we shall be lacking in the boldness that should ever characterize our approach to Him, for we know that He is cognisant of all our imperfections, and He has His own blessed way, of giving us to feel how sadly we have grieved Him. But His love is unalterable. Blessed be His Holy Name.
What profound depths of wickedness lie in the natural heart of fallen man! What violence and corruption its unexplored depths conceal! Unexplored! did I say? Yes, unexplored by man, but searched by the omniscient eye of the living God, and all its deep depths of wickedness naked under His eye. The gladness that filled the hearts of two sisters in the town of Bethany has its counterpoise in the plotting of the priests in Jerusalem to put to death him whom the Son of God had brought back from the grave. “But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death, because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.” They would not only murder the Son of God but they would murder His witness also.
What an accumulation of wickedness, heartless cruelty, and stupidity, is to be found in the mind of the willing tools of the devil! The brutality of those men is only equalled by their imbecility; for how could a man who was able to raise the dead be himself put to death? But it has been said that wickedness is never wise; and this is indeed true. “Cain,” we read, “was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” But then: “No murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” How sad it is to see men, professed servants of God. Plotting the murder of the righteous
The family in Bethany, in the bosom of which Jesus ever found a welcome and home, makes Him a supper. And that supper foreshadows the true remnant of Israel in the day when Christ shall take the throne, Martha, whose hopes all seem to centre on the coming kingdom, is as usual found serving. She gives expression to her faith in the words in which she replies to the question of the Lord, a question, I believe, beyond her power to understand. She says: “Yes, Lord: I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” This is the faith of the Jewish remnant who will be ready to welcome the Christ at His return. Nathanael, whom the Lord says is an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile, confesses Jesus in the same words or in words that mean the same: “Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” Also in Psalm 2, when the decree is declared, the King is the Son of God. It is the faith of the remnant at the coming of Christ.
At the table there is also Lazarus raised from the dead. In that day when He shall have come, the nation’s dead who have passed away in faith shall be raised, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God.
The whole heart and mind of Mary is engrossed with Himself. It is not the Kingdom, neither is it the exalted position of Israel as head of the nations of the earth. She feels the atmosphere about her laden with the evil spirit of murder, and that of the One who was everything to her. “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.” She saw that He must die, whether she saw the Divine necessity of His death for our eternal blessing is a matter of spiritual discernment. That His enemies could not take His life from Him she cannot but have known, for her risen brother was a witness to her, if she had no other, that He could not be deprived of His life by human instrumentality. But she was not reasoning about it. She knew He was about to die, and she anoints Him for His burial. The disciples, led by Judas, may murmur much about the waste, but He who cared infinitely more for the poor than they did justifies her action, and that was enough for her. What more could she desire than His approval?
His triumphant entry into Jerusalem gives testimony to Him as Son of David. He is acclaimed as the King of Israel that comes in the name of Jehovah. The Greeks also come to Philip desiring to see Jesus. This leads Him to speak of Himself as Son of Man. He says: “The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” He was no longer to be presented as a centre for gathering upon the earth. That was ever on account of His rejection. The presentation of the grace of God in Him had been met by complete rejection, and now if He was to have anything out of the ruin in which men lay He must have them after His own order, for man in the flesh will have none of Him. But if He is to have man after His own order, He must bear the judgment under which men lay, that He may be free in righteousness to take up the vilest, and quicken them with the life that lay in Himself. Being righteous in His very nature, approving of righteousness wherever manifested in His intelligent creation, and manifesting wrath against all unrighteousness, He cannot by an act of power show grace to the sinner, as though sin was of no consequence. Therefore whatever mercy may be shown to the erring, the judgment due to sin must not be set aside, but must be executed. Just as a corn of wheat must die in order to produce others of its own kind, so must Christ die, if He is to have a race after His own order.
But now all that this death would mean to Him comes before His soul. In the infinite perfection of His sinless and holy being He shrinks from the death that rises up before His vision. To be made sin—to be treated as sin deserves—to be forsaken of God well indeed may He say: “Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour: but: for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify Thy name.” Let come upon Him whatever must, only let the Father be glorified. The counsels of the Father must be fulfilled, the sons of God brought to glory therefore let the cost to Him be what it may, He will pay it.
He cannot remain alone in the glory of God, and men will not have Him here. He did not take flesh and blood that He might abide for ever without companions. His delights were with, the sons of men; and because they were partakers of flesh and blood He took part of the same; He could not otherwise have died. He must bear the judgment that was justly their due, break the power of death, and annul him who wielded that power to the terror of those under it. Not to continue it did He take flesh and blood, but that in His cross it might be brought to an end, and that in Him we might find redemption, out of the whole old earthly order.
Therefore that life in which we lived in flesh has become hateful to us. Not in this world, as men of this world, do we desire to live; but in the Father’s world of glory, in the life of the risen Saviour, in the eternal life.
14. John 12
Eternal life is the only life that is known in the Father’s house on high. This life was promised before the ages of time (Tit. 1:2), has been manifested in the Son down here, and has been given to believers in the Holy Spirit’s power: “God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” Therefore “He that loves his life [his life here as a living man in connection with this world] shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” Everything in connection with this world is to be sacrificed in view of the life eternal.
If any one desired to serve Jesus, the way to serve Him was to follow Him. The energy put forth in the doing of something for Christ in that which is often called service has a stimulation that often carries the servant a great deal beyond the power that he may have in the Spirit, but patiently to follow the imperturbable footsteps of the meek and lowly Saviour requires one to have the eye fixed upon Himself, and to walk in continual dependence upon God.
“If any man serve Me, him will My Father honour.” How could it be otherwise? The one thought of Jesus when here was the glory of the Father, and surely all that it cost Him to do this is sacred to the heart of the Father. But if for the Son this work meant even the death of the cross, what will not the Father do for the Son’s glory? And what will He not do for those who serve that Son of His? And how terrible will, the judgment be of those who despise and reject Him!
“Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” The light was there. Never in the whole creation had such light previously appeared. Light that revealed the innermost secrets of the human heart was there and then shining for the blessing of the poor creature, who had been wandering in the darkness, and who, alas, loved it. Had they believed in it they would have become children of it. It had the power of producing a generation of God on earth, for the light was the light of life. But it is not only that men did not believe in the light, they hated it. And yet it was the light of Divine love. But it was the light of holy love, and it revealed and condemned the thoughts of the natural and corrupt mind of man. And because they were determined to go on in their corrupt ways they rebelled against it. Therefore the light had to be withdrawn.
“These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide Himself from them.” Their privileges were now to be taken away from them. “Though He had done so many signs before them, yet they believed not on Him that the saying of Esaias might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He has blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” Now the light was hid from their eyes. One other thing remained for them to do, and that was to quench that light in the blood of His cross; that is, as far as human power could do it. What a terrible creature man is!
How dreadful a thing it is to contemplate, that the Word that Jesus spoke; which was life everlasting to the one who received it, became to the rejecter of it a Word that in the last day would rise up in judgment against him: the Word of life is, through man’s obstinacy, turned into a Word of eternal damnation. The rejection of that Word was the rejection of the Father and the Son. Man is not satisfied with his Maker when he sees Him; the Creator is abhorrent to His creature! “When we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” The signs that He wrought fell upon blind eyes. The words that He spoke fell upon deaf ears. Good was met by evil, and love by hatred. In spite of the unspeakable kindness of the heart of God, manifested in a multitude of works of infinite compassion, the heart of man remained obdurate. Henceforth the lips of the Son of God are sealed. He must now await their hour and the power of darkness.
Man’s hour was coming, and it was characterized by the power of darkness. The Son of Man is delivered into the hands of men. They could not have taken Him had He not placed Himself unresistingly in their hands. Led by Judas, who was a devil, they come in the night to lone Gethsemane, and there they find Him. And now that they had found Him, how utterly helpless they are in His presence! “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should, come upon Him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered Him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus says unto them, I am He. And Judas also which betrayed Him stood with them. As soon then as He had said unto them, I am He, they went backward, and fell to the ground.” In spite of all his wickedness, even when influenced by the dread angel of the Abyss, how utterly weak and cowardly man is! They have indeed found Him. He acknowledges that He is the Person they seek. But what can they do? What use to them are their weapons? They are absolutely powerless in His presence.
But if they cannot take Him He will deliver Himself into their hands, and that for the glory of the Father, and for the sake of His disciples. Again His challenge falls upon their ear: “Whom seek ye?” And again they say: “Jesus of Nazareth.” Had they not found Him? They had come to arrest Him, and though they had found Him unarmed and apparently defenceless they cannot lay hands on Him. He says to them: “I have told you that I am He. If therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way.” He will lose none given to Him of the Father. Blessed Master! True to the trust reposed in Him! Faithful unto death!
Here the carnal courage of Peter comes into view, as in that same night his carnal cowardice is also manifested. Who could stand in such a moment as this? Peter denies Him with oaths and cursing. Pilate is afraid to give a righteous sentence. He condemns the guiltless. Man must display himself. The hatred of his heart to God must be perfectly exposed. The thoughts of many hearts must be revealed. The nation chooses Barabbas. They will have no king but Cæsar. The rulers are afraid He will rise again, and they seal the stone, and set a watch. When they get to know that He is risen, they bribe the watch to say that His disciples stole Him away while they slept. Maddened by their utter discomfiture, incorrigible in their wickedness, blind, as to the consequences of their godless action, and with no fear of God before their eyes, to cover their humiliating defeat they invent a story so impossible that it would not deceive an infant.
In chapters 13-16 the disciples are assured that though greatly hated and persecuted, they will be very much better off during His absence than they could be while He was with them. In chapter 13, the hour was come when He should depart out of this world, and go to the Father. He had came forth from the Father by the womb of the virgin, and had come into the world; now He must depart out of this world and go back to the Father, but He will go by way of the cross. He will take care, however, that during the time of His absence they shall have part with Him. They had been begotten of God, born by the cleansing efficacy of the Word in the power of the Spirit, so that the Lord could pronounce them “clean every whit.”
But if they were born of God, and thus possessors of a new and divine life and nature, there was still in them the flesh, not in the least improved, but as ready as ever to break out in sinful desire and evil overt act. Therefore did they constantly require that which is figuratively, set before them in the washing of their feet. They had to pass through a defiling scene, and were liable to pick up that which was morally defiling, and which would hinder their having part with Christ in that holy scene into which He was gone. It has been remarked that Peter by his ready speech often gives occasion for the opening out of truth that might seem rather obscure, and it is so here. He will not at first submit to the Lord taking upon Himself such a menial service as this, and says: “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Jesus says: “If I wash thee not thou hast no part with Me.” Then Peter goes too far; desiring in his ardour to have part with Christ, he says: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” But this was unnecessary; “Jesus says to him: He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.” The old Adam nature, having received its judgment in the cross of Christ, must be viewed as no part of ourselves, for in our new relationships with God we are only that which grace has made us. We are born of God, and that which is born of Him is certainly every whit clean. But in our complex condition down here in flesh and blood, and therefore part of the old and fallen creation, we have to be taught by the Word of God to distinguish between that which is born of the flesh and that which is born of the Spirit, and walk in the disallowance of any movement of the old nature. When we have learned the incorrigible evil of the flesh, we will be profoundly thankful to God for the deliverance effected for us by means of His work wrought for us in the cross, and for that which He has done in us by His Spirit. In 1 John 4:4 the statement is made, and that without any qualification: “Ye are of God, little children”; and in chapter 5:19 “We know that we are of God.” That which is born of the flesh, though there, is utterly ignored.
In chapter 14 He is going to the Father, but will come again to take them to be with Himself, that where He is they may for ever be. But He is not going to leave them without protection in a ruthless God-hating world; He will send Someone to take care of them. He will send the Spirit to be with them, never to leave them, and also to dwell in them; and with the comfort and power of His presence they will be invincible, for “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The spirit of Antichrist is in the world, the Spirit of Christ in His own, therefore the battle is not a drawn one, but an overwhelming victory for the saints of God: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them.”
On high He has prepared a place for us, and is coming to bring us there. It is now, and during His absence from this world, that we have the privilege of preparing a place for Him. He says: “He that has My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loves Me; and he that loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him.” But how was He to manifest Himself to His disciple apart from being seen by the world? This is answered in verse 23, “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.” While this explains Jude’s difficulty, the privilege of the obedient disciple is immensely enlarged: the Father and the Son will dwell with the obedient follower of Jesus. What an inestimable privilege is the believer’s to have the Father and the Son dwelling with him! This can be realized in the worst state in which the professing church may at any time be found, for the blessing of such a manifestation and presence is entirely individual. Were it not true of another soul on earth it can be true of me.
15. John 15
The words recorded in chapters 13 and 14 were spoken inside the upper room at the Passover table, and what we have in the three following chapters were uttered on their way to Gethsemane. In chapter 15 the subjects are fruit-bearing and testimony. I think the fruit brought forth by all who are in vital relations with Christ is the testimony. The fruit is for God; the testimony for men. There were bells and pomegranates on the borders of the high priest’s robe. The testimony may have a more direct reference to the ministry of the word by His servants, and in a special way to the word by the twelve apostles, for He says: “Ye also shall bear witness because ye have been with Me from the beginning.” Nevertheless: “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Also: “The sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). Indeed the whole church is here on earth as a witness to Christ during His absence. Though the bearing of fruit is for the glory of the Father, still it results in testimony to Christ. I should not like to think that one must necessarily be a preacher in order to be Christ’s witness here.
The parable of the vine and its branches, though simple enough to the one taught of God, has been the cause of a good deal of contention among Christians. It is even brought forward to prove that a child of God may be lost for ever. This would be so at variance with the plainest teaching of Scripture that one wonders to find anyone clinging to such a notion. And to lay hold of a parable like this to support the error does nothing but reveal the self-will that lies at the foundation of it. Though it is absolutely necessary to be in vital relations with Christ to bring forth fruit, yet the figure used takes in as branches all who profess faith in Christ. The branch that bears fruit is “in Me,” and so also is the branch that bears “not fruit.” Both are in the vine, the one as truly as the other, and yet one may bear fruit and the other not.
There are two ways in which Christians are viewed in Scripture: one in vital and eternal relationships to God the Father and to Christ. They are in those relationships solely by the sovereign operation of the Holy Spirit, and they are unalterable. Believers are begotten of God, His children, and members of the body of Christ. The terms used—“Begotten of God,” and “Members of the body of Christ” show how completely of God they are. The other way in which we are addressed in Scripture is as believers of the gospel, or those who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, and this gives us a position of responsibility upon earth. Saints are addressed in the Epistles as in the blessings of the gospel, and they are so if their faith is of a vital character, and the whole profession is addressed as saints, along with warnings against turning away from Christ. So here in Christ may, or may not, be vital relationship. This is manifested by abiding in Him, which has a practical bearing, and means that such draw all their nourishment from Himself, and thus bring forth fruit to the glory of the Father. There is an analogy between this and “Holding the Head” in the Epistle to the Colossians; that is, that we draw all our nourishment and strength from Him. The fountain of supply is abundant, for in Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells. The vine is the source of supply for the branches, as the Head is for the body. John speaks of abiding in Him, Paul of holding the Head.
All this is brought about and maintained by the anointing that we have received of Him, that is, the Holy Spirit. This unction, or anointing, abides in the children of God, and no other teaching is needed than that which He may furnish directly through the Word, or by teachers raised up by Himself to turn their attention to that Word, and to help them into the understanding of it. The anointing teaches them all things, is true and not a lie, and as it has taught them they abide in Him. Now he that says that he abides in Him ought to walk as He walked. And we know that we abide in Him and He in us by the Spirit which He has given us (1 John 2:27, 6; 4:13). Now in this chapter 15 we read: “He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit”; and in the Epistle 3:24, “He that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him.” And the preservative from every newfangled notion is found in 1 John 2:24: “Let that therefore which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you. If that which ye shall have heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father.” Everything for life, preservation and service depends upon the nourishment we derive from our exalted Head. He says to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12). What a comfort this is to those of us who feel what poor weak things we are!
In view of His impending departure to the Father, He would bind them together with the cords of Divine love. He says to them: “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you: continue in My love.” Here it is in His love we are to abide. It is not only that we who have no resources in ourselves are to cling to Him in whom all fullness dwells, but we are to abide in the deep realization of the love that He has to us; and the way in which we are to do this is by walking in obedience. He says: “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” If we walk in disobedience we have a condemning heart, and the Holy Spirit is grieved, and therefore are we occupied with our own failures and not the love of Christ. But if we walk in obedience, intimacy with Him is maintained, and our confidence in Him remains unbroken. An obedient child walks in happy intimacy with his father and in the enjoyment of the love that belongs to the relationship of a son with a father, while a child walking in disobedience, though not without the knowledge of his father’s affection for him, is not in the enjoyment of that intimacy that is the privilege of every obedient child with a benevolent parent.
He was leaving them. They were now to be bereft of the solace that His presence in their midst gave them. He would send the Holy Spirit to take care of them. But they were to see to it that they were to show that real interest in the welfare of one another that belonged to the Divine nature, of which they were partakers. They were to love one another as He had loved them. How had He loved them? He had laid down His life for them. This was the way in which this love became manifested. It was a self-sacrificing love. It was not a mere human affection, though it was now to be found in human beings. The love wherewith the Father loved the Son was the love wherewith the Son loved the disciples, and it was that same love that was to be active in them toward one another. He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16).
As we meditate upon this, what horror fills our souls in the contemplation of the deplorable condition in which saints are found today! We see the vast majority mixed up religiously with those who make no secret of their hatred of the Father and the Son. Then we have many who in a large degree of light have entered into the results of the labours of men of God long since passed into His presence, and what of them? Split up into little sections, not one of them being able to give a sufficient reason for his wilful separation from the others, and most of them, instead of being ashamed of their miserable sectarianism, as boastful of it as though they had letters-patent from heaven as warrant for their wretched position. How truly, even to this day, are being fulfilled the words of the great Gentile Apostle, spoken in the ears of the Ephesian elders as he was for the last time passing out of their midst: “OF YOUR OWN SELVES shall men arise speaking perverse (perverted) things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30).
The allowance of the flesh ever tends to disintegration, and that because, in the first instance, in its very nature it is antagonistic to God. It will not acknowledge His authority, and it disregards His right to legislate for the guidance of His creature’s well-being. In the second instance, though it may outwardly own that God has spoken, and that His word is entitled to a certain measure of respect, yet it cannot be taken just as we find it, but as it is explained by those who have graduated in the sceptical universities of the world, or by some who are supposed to be possessed of a certain amount of spirituality not possessed by ordinary believers. If you hearken to the words of the Holy Spirit by the Apostle John, who tells you to “abide in that which ye have heard from the beginning,” you are pitied as being behind the times, and as being so unspiritual as to be unable to appreciate advanced thought. Where the flesh is allowed a loose rein one may be prepared to witness a display of the most outrageous spiritual insanity, and that even among true believers. Think of the loose morals of the sectarian Corinthians glorying in bestiality that was unknown among the idolatrous Gentiles! (1 Cor. 5). Think also of the downfall of the bewitched Galatians, and how near they came to apostasy from Christ, and let us all take warning! The flesh can make the most trivial questions a righteous ground of separation, if it is allowed its own way amongst a company of the most godly of God’s beloved people.
Let Divine love assert itself as the bond and ruling principle among us, and all shall be well. But let it be true Divine love, not mere human sentiment like that which binds sects, clubs, clans and schools of opinion together, for in these things truth and righteousness have to give place to the creeds, and to the influence of the worldly-minded, and God and the word of His grace are disregarded. The love that is enjoined in this chapter (John 15) is the love wherewith the Father ever loved the Son, and wherewith the Son loved His disciples: with this love they are to love one another.
16. John 16
That the disciples might not be looking for good times and general acceptance of the Word, the Lord sets before them plainly that which they might expect. He says: “They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the time comes, that whosoever killeth you will think that he does God service.” An easy life was not that which He sketched for His followers. They would not therefore be disappointed when the storm of persecution burst upon them. It was not necessary that He should tell them about these things while He was with them; but now that He was going to the Father who had sent Him, He will no longer hide from them the roughness of the path which they had to tread in His service,
Sorrow was filling their hearts at the thought of His leaving them, and yet their interest in the place to which He was going was very feeble: “None of you,” He says, “asketh Me, Whither goest Thou?” They were more interested in the place He was leaving than they were in the place to which He was going. But when the Spirit came to take up His abode in their midst, and in their bodies, they became linked up in life, relationship and position so completely with Himself, that heaven became the home and hope of their hearts, and a Christless world became to them a foreign country.
Nevertheless, however sorrowful to them His departure to the Father might be, it was profitable for them, for without His leaving them the Spirit would not come to them; but when He would take his place on high, He would send Him; and by His enlightenment and power they would see this world in its true character. He would bring demonstration to the world of sin, righteousness and judgment: of sin, He says, because they believe not in Me. He had come into the world in grace, and that was the greatest and final test brought to bear upon man in the flesh. He says: “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.” But now every overture of mercy has been rejected, and sin sums up the whole condition of the world. It is manifested to be, in its present state, irreclaimable. It has by the rejection of Jesus shown itself to be an incorrigible God-hater. The presence of the Spirit here is the proof of the sin in which this world was sunken. He would not have been here had not God been cast out in the person of the Son.
His presence here is also the witness that righteousness has left the world and gone to the Father. The only righteous One that ever trod this earth has gone out of it, and by His rejection sin has been written on the face of the world that rejected Him But righteousness has been honoured by the living God. God has been glorified in Jesus, and now Jesus is glorified in God. He says: “I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” Now there is nothing but judgment for the world as such. The gospel is preached in the world, and salvation brought near to all in Christ, and no one need perish. But the gospel is not preached in the world in order that it may be converted to God, but rather to save souls out of the world. The devil has been manifested by the rejection of Christ as the leader of the world, and therefore the judgment long foretold, but delayed through the long-suffering of God, is by the preaching announced everywhere as about to be executed. Therefore all men everywhere are commanded to repent. The whole world lies in the wicked one (1 John 5:19), and its doom is certain.
It has been said that it is folly for believers to affirm that they are not of the world, seeing that they have to do business in it like all others, and that among them there are the rich and the poor, as there are in all other sections of the community. But when Adam was turned out of Eden he was condemned to get his bread by the sweat of his brow, and where was the world then? I do not know whether I have before referred to it in these meditations, but there is a great difference between the world viewed as the aggregate of human beings living at one time, and the world’s system; that is, men banded together into kingdoms and associations, in which everything is ordered according to the will of the rulers, of the majority of the people, and out of which God is rigidly excluded. It is one thing for a man to earn his bread in whatever calling for which he is fitted, but quite another thing for him to become a Member of Parliament, a mayor of a city, or a town-councillor. It has been said that an angel might be sent of God to keep a crossing clean, but that would not connect him with this world; it would, if he became mayor of the city. It is sorrowfully true that many believers have mixed themselves up with the world, but they have all suffered for it in their own souls, and such never make advance in the knowledge of the will of God. Today the world and the church are so mixed up that it is impossible to distinguish them. Nevertheless God has His witnesses, indeed He never leaves Himself without those who will maintain a testimony for Himself, and the desire of every true heart is to be in the company of such as keep His Word, and do not deny His name.
“I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.” The Spirit was coming to enable them to take in the deep things of God. He says: “He shall glorify Me.” And the way in which He will do this is, that “He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you.” All things are common with Divine Persons, but the Son having taken the place of a servant is viewed as having all things given to Him: “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” But He says: “All Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine.” So here: “All things that the Father has are Mine: therefore said I, that He shall take of Mine and show it unto you.” He will share with us everything that He can share with us—everything that in the Spirit’s power we could be made capable of receiving; and what we are as creatures unable to enter into possession of, He will show to us. What knowledge-surpassing love dwells in the heart of Him who gave Himself to make us all His own!
But He was going away from this scene, and they were to be left in it. He says: “A little while, and ye shall not see Me: and again a little while, and ye shall see Me, because I go to the Father.” In this little while in which He was to be hidden from them the world would rejoice. It was to be a time of jubilation for the world, but of sorrow for His own. But their sorrow should be turned into joy, for a Man should be born who would bring to pass every thought of the Divine mind. His death was the birth-pangs of a new order of things, and in resurrection we are privileged to behold the Man who would accomplish everything for God. The little while in which they should not see Him was when He lay in death. But death and resurrection was the way to the Father, for it was to the Father He was now going. The world is crying out for a man, one with wisdom and power to straighten out things here on earth, and that man they will get in the person of the man of sin, the son of perdition. We see Jesus exalted to the right hand of God, and we are waiting for the day in which every knee in the universe shall have to bow at His name, and every tongue shall be compelled to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Well may we rejoice in the Lord, as the Spirit of God tells us to do. The joy we possess in the knowledge of Christ gone back to the Father is a joy that no man can take away from us. The world has for the present got rid of Him, and it rejoices. This is the time of our sorrow as we think of His rejection; though with the knowledge of what His death has accomplished for the glory of God, and also in the bright prospect of His speedy return, we rejoice with a joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Now the disciples had sorrow, for the cross seemed to them to rob them of all that their faith had looked for; but He would see them again, and their hearts should rejoice; and this joy no one would be able to rob them of. On that joy the shadow of death could never fall. In resurrection they would have the Lord in a way they never before had looked for Him, or thought of Him.
“In that day ye shall ask Me nothing.” While they had Himself with them their questions were all presented to Him for an answer; but in that day—the Spirit’s day—they would be so in the sense of the Father’s love, and so in the enjoyment of the relationship into which they would have been brought on the ground of redemption, that they would go directly to the Father. They would ask in His name, for only in that name can we draw near to God; but He says: “I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father Himself loves you, because ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God.” How infinitely precious are these Divine communications! And what an unspeakable joy it is to hear the Son speaking from the bosom of the Father and telling us: “The Father Himself loves you”! O that we knew it better! What a marvellous privilege is ours, to go through this cold-hearted world in the continual sunshine, the warmth and comfort of the Father’s love! How well able this would ever make us to meet the hostility of this world, and to meet cursing with blessing! And it is: “Because ye have loved Me, and believed that I came out from God.” It is with the Son we are linked up in the Father’s love, therefore is there no separation from it.
17. “Ye are my friends” (Chap. 15)
Jesus called His disciples friends and He had well acted the part of a friend to them, for He had laid down His life for them. And not only that, but He had made known to them all that He had heard from His Father. In this way He had brought them into intimacy with Himself and His Father. Now on their side they had the opportunity of showing that they were His friends by doing whatsoever He commanded them. In this way we can prove that we are friends of Jesus. We believe on Him for our own salvation. This we do out of love to ourselves. But it is out of love to Him that we do what He tells us to do.
We had not chosen Him, but He had chosen us. We might have thought very differently, but it was He that was the prime mover in our salvation. He chose us, and with an object in view, and that was that we might bear fruit to the Father’s glory, and that our every prayer might be answered, if in His name. We are to be His friends: He has none other on earth. We are to love one another in a world that hates us, but which hated Him before it hated us, therefore we need not be astonished. It loves its own, but we are not of it, no more than Christ is of it. He never was of it, His origin was heavenly. There was not one thought in the heart of the natural man in harmony with His. He loved righteousness, and they loved sin. He loved the Father, and they hated Him. There was nothing in common between Him and the world. And He had chosen His disciples out of the world, and He has chosen us. By being begotten of God, and by His quickening power, we are partakers of the Divine life and nature. Therefore He can say: They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”
From the world His followers must receive the same kind of treatment that it meted out to Him. He says: “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” Here we cannot expect different treatment from that which He received. “The servant is not greater than his lord.” The world persecuted Him, and refused His Word, and remained in ignorance of the Father that sent Him. The light was hated, the darkness preferred, and so was the rule of the devil to the rule of the Son of God. Thus were they left naked in their sin; and by their unbelief in the face of the signs that He had wrought among them, they were convicted of being enemies of both the Father and the Son, and that without the slightest reason; rather had they every reason for believing on Him and loving Him.
But the Comforter was coming to bear witness of Him. His disciples were also to bear witness. They could speak of Him, and of all that He said and did, from the close of the ministry of John until He was received up into heaven. But beyond that they could not go in their personal testimony, whatever they might know by Divine revelation. But the Holy Spirit could give witness as that which took place after He, by means of the cloud, was received out of their sight. Thus was His life, His death, His resurrection and His glory, perfectly authenticated. And the Spirit was here making His presence manifest by signs and wonders and various acts of power, thus leaving the unbeliever inexcusable.
Chapter 16:28-33. The disciples had believed that He came forth from God. He says: “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world, and go to the Father.” Until they had received the Spirit they were incapable of entering into the blessedness of the truth He was setting before them. These heavenly relationship are only known in the power of the Spirit. The creeds may contain these things in the letter, and orthodox unbelievers may talk about the Father, Son and Spirit, but it is nothing but parrotry. It has no power with them in their relations with God or with men. The words of Jesus were spirit and life, not things that belonged to the old fleshly order, everything of which lay in moral death.
But the hour had now come that would manifest, not only the length to which the wickedness of man would go, but would also show the weakness even of those who really loved Jesus. His followers would be scattered, each man to his own, and would leave Him alone; none to stand by Him but the Father, for flesh and blood can have no part in conflict with the powers of darkness. The world had been overcome by Him; and though they would have tribulation in it, in Him they would have peace. Blessed Master! thinking only of the Father’s glory, and of the happiness of His poor weak followers, apparently unmindful of the sorrows that were now gathering thickly about His lonely path! How true was that word which was said of Him: “Having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The black night full of unutterable woes was about to drop down about His devoted head, but of Himself He was not thinking; His thoughts were in that moment engaged with His own.
The sixteenth chapter ends all He has to say to them until they see Him again in resurrection. At the beginning of His public ministry He had called them, and with one exception they had faithfully continued with Him in His temptations; and now in answer to the expressed desire of their hearts to know where He dwelt, He has brought them to the only dwelling place that could be for men. He has brought them to the love of the Father.
18. The Prayer of John 17
All through His years of patient ministry the Lord had spoken to them about the Father: now He was to speak to the Father about them. The hour was come. The work is viewed as already accomplished, and He says so: “I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work that Thou gavest Me to do.” He had done all that He had come to do on earth. This is the position that He takes. When He spoke these words He had still to accomplish the mighty work of redemption. The bitter cup was still full to the brim, and He had to drink it. But it was as certain to be done as though it had been done.
But in this wonderful prayer of His, which is deeply engraven on the heart of every one who truly loves Him, there is no mention made of the cup that was yet to be drunk. He speaks as no more in the world. The hearts of His adversaries were filled with hatred. They had plotted His destruction, and the betrayer was at hand. One thing remained to complete their utter refusal of Him, and that was the cross; He must be lifted up from the earth. He must be numbered with the transgressors, and dealt with as one unfit to live. It was night, and the murderers led by the traitor were on the track of their Victim. It was man’s hour. The restraining hand of God was withdrawn, and the devil has his own way. The God of Israel is about to be encircled by the leaders of His favoured nation. They have had centuries of His gracious and forgiving ways, but now they will break His bands and cast off His cords. And the Romans must have a hand in His mock trial and His refusal from the earth. In this awful tragedy the whole world must be represented. If the traitor has been pointed out by a sop that speaks of the purest friendship; so must the Saviour be distinguished by the kiss of the traitor. But I anticipate.
Jesus is going back to the Father. But the way home was by the cross, and that was as rejected by the world. But what transpired on the cross after that was between Himself and God, and therefore could have no place in this prayer. Properly speaking the work of the cross was not done upon earth, but as lifted up from the earth. I do not say that the cross is not included in “I have glorified Thee on the earth.” I cannot pronounce any definite opinion on the subject. But when He speaks in this prayer to the Father He does not mention it. He speaks of all that He had made known to His disciples, how He had kept them, how He had manifested the Father’s name to them, what they were to the Father and to Himself, and what His desires for them were; but of His sufferings and death He says nothing.
He had glorified the Father on the earth, and on this ground, and on the ground that He had finished the work given Him to do, in which the work of the cross may come in, He claims the glory with the Father that He had with Him before the world was. But this was only that He might continue to glorify the Father in a way in which it was impossible to glorify Him on earth. And one way in which this glory was to be brought to the Father was by giving eternal life to as many as the Father had given to Him. “And this,” He says, “is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” It is as possessing this life that we can enjoy the Father and the Son. It came into manifestation in Jesus, and is the life by which we live, in the revelation that has come to us in Him. It is the life of divine Persons, but ours also in the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Now they have known that all things whatsoever Thou hast given Me are of Thee.” They were able to trace things to their source, however little they might have been able to put their knowledge into words. They had received the words that the Father had given to the Son, and had known surely that He had come forth from the Father, and that the Father had sent Him. This the Lord could say of them, though they might not have been able to say it of themselves. They knew He had not come of Himself, but that He had been sent of the Father. The Father’s words through His lips had produced that impression in their hearts.
For them He makes demand. He does not demand for the world just yet. The day is coming in which that demand shall be made, and God will give Him the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession (Ps. 2). He can confidently make demand for those He speaks of, for, He says, “They are Thine.” But then, “All Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine.” All that the Father had was His, and all that He had was the Father’s; and in the men given to Him out of the world He was glorified. And in the Father’s charge He leaves them, asking Him to keep them through His name. He, while upon earth and in their midst, had kept them in that name, but now He was leaving them in the Father’s care to be kept in the same name, in order that they might be one, as the Father and the Son were one; that is, one in thought and mind. And we know that the apostles were thus kept, in spite of the various gifts that they possessed, and the special line of ministry that was given to each one of them. The truth never could have been established in the hearts and minds of believers had the apostles been disputing among themselves.
How very wonderful it is that He who is holy and true should interest Himself in such poor, unworthy, failing, and naturally selfish things as we are, and that even though we may be the subjects of a work of grace, for the flesh is unmendably evil! (Luke 9:46). How true it is that His love “surpasses knowledge!” They were the Father’s, and He had loved them and had kept them because they were the Father’s. They were the Son’s by right of eternal counsel (Eph. 1:4), and they were the Father’s as chosen out of this world, and by Him given to the Son (John 17:6). And now Jesus was glorified in them, and this fact He presents to the Father as a powerful motive for the Father’s unfailing interest in them.
Into what a holy fellowship are we here introduced! To what familiar intercourse are we privileged to listen! Here is one of the persons of the Godhead speaking to another of things with which His heart was burdened. The sun, the moon, the stars, the marvellous constellations that adorn the firmament of heaven, the myriads of angelic beings that wait the command of their august Creator, or that flame across celestial regions in lightning haste to accomplish the only will that ever gave impetus to their spiritual being: these were all as well remembered as though nothing else claimed a single thought of the Maker, Upholder, and Governor of all; and yet at this present moment the heart of Father and Son is supremely engaged with eleven—or at the most with a hundred and twenty—of the poor and despised of this world, whose hearts were filled with anxious forebodings regarding the dark and lonely future that seemed to be opening before their sorrowing souls.
But such were the Father’s choice, “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me.” They were the objects of eternal love; and though in their natural state as in the flesh they were no better than others, just “children of wrath,” yet the Father would not forgo His purpose regarding them, but in sovereign grace would draw them to Jesus, who gave Himself a propitiation for their sins, that they might live to God as partakers of His own life, and that in the power of the indwelling Spirit.
“Thou gav’st us in eternal love
To Him to bring us home to Thee,
Suited to Thine own thought above,
As some like Him with Him to be.”
But His prayer was not for those only who surrounded Him at the moment, but “for them also which shall believe on Me through their word.” His desires include all who would believe on Him throughout the whole of the present dispensation. One we are in life and nature, but practically as far from it as we possibly could be. Still one we are, though without the grace to own it. Brethren—children of God—are one: one by being born of God, one by the life-giving power of Christ, one whether they dwell together in unity or whether they do not. The “good and pleasant” thing (Ps. 130) we neither exhibit nor enjoy, for the will of the flesh is to a large extent dominant, the Holy Spirit grieved, and Divine love swallowed up by the pride of our own hearts. How thoroughly ashamed of ourselves we should be!
The world has not believed, and the blame of its unbelief lies at our door. We have fought and devoured one another when we should have walked in the unity of the Divine life and nature. Had the Father’s word, which was spoken by the Son down here, held a larger place in our hearts, we would have been more effective witnesses to the grace of a Saviour God, and we might have given to men the impression of His infinite love; so that whatever else was true we might at least have had this confidence that “We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son as Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14).
But if we have failed, if we have wrought no deliverance on the earth, if the world must go on in blind unbelief, and if the spurious profession must be eventually spued out of the mouth of Christ, He can and will deal with the men of this world in both judgment and mercy. His dealings with sinners shall not be altogether in judgment, as though He had forgotten to be gracious, nor will they be altogether in mercy, as though rebellion against God were of no importance, but in the execution of wrath mercy will be remembered, and multitudes will be brought to repentance and saving faith (Rev. 7). We have to confess failure terrible and grievous, but with Him failure has no existence. This is our confidence.
19. The Prayer of the John 17 (continued)
He says: “The glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me.” If we have failed to convince the world that the Father sent the Son, the glory in which He will present us to it along with Himself will accomplish this. When He appears we shall appear with Him in glory, and then the veil shall be lifted off all faces, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
But the love of Christ to His own has not in the least degree been weakened by our miserable shortcomings. He will share with us everything that is possible for us in the power of the Holy Spirit to enter into or receive; and the glory that is peculiar to Himself, which He could not share with any other, He will allow us to witness, and that will be our greatest privilege: “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given me; for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world.” “We shall see Him as He is,” apart from all official dignities and glories, and here we shall reach the glorious summit of our unspeakable felicity and joy.
As in Psalm 17 so here His appeal is to the righteous Father to give sentence between Himself and the unbelieving world; and along with Himself He numbers His disciples. The Father had in Him been set in His true character before the world, the disciples had believed that He had been sent of the Father. The unbelieving world is placed in contrast with Himself and His disciples, and the Father is appealed to to “hear the right.” The question cannot remain open between Himself, His disciples in association with Himself, and the world that preferred nature’s darkness to the light of the knowledge of God revealed in grace and love. To His disciples He had declared the Father’s name, and He would still declare it, not only in relation to Himself the Son down here but in relation to Himself as Man in the exalted position that in the counsels of God was given to Man before the world was, and along with this the fact that they were in the same blessed relationship as Himself, His Father their Father, His God their God. And this name is declared, that the love wherewith the Father loved the Son might be in them, and He in them. For the fulfilment of this we have to come to the first Epistle, and there we find the love of the Father in the saints and Christ in them.
Into what an unspeakable sphere of blessing are we introduced! The Father’s love that in the midst of a hostile world was the enjoyed portion of the heart of Jesus is now to be the enjoyed portion of our hearts, as we thread our way to heaven and to the home of that love. When we reach that home we shall enjoy the love in a way we cannot do here, for we are hindered by the evil of the scene through which we are called to pass, as also by the fact that we have the flesh in us, and we are liable to forget to keep it in the place of death. Then again, we are not yet home, and that must make a difference. Away from our own natural home we may carry with us a sense of the love of that home in which, wherever we are, we have always a share; but this, while it is ever a joy and support of our hearts, only makes us long all the more to be where that love has its abiding rest. And was it not so for Him “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”? (Heb. 12:2; Ps. 16:11). In that day of unutterable joy the love will not be greater, but we shall enjoy it more.
Having, in view of His departure out of the world, commended His disciples and all who should believe on Him through their word to the Father, He crossed over the brook Cedron and entered into a garden with His disciples. It was a place well known to the betrayer, and we might have thought that seeing the errand Judas was on this garden was the one place to avoid. But the Lamb was to be led to the slaughter, and the Victim will take no precautions against the scheming wickedness of him who had lifted up his heel to destroy Him. Once He had hidden Himself, at other times He passed through their midst and went His way; but tonight He will surrender, for this was man’s hour and the power of darkness. The restraint that a God of infinite goodness exercises over His fallen and self-willed creature was now removed, and in the silence and shadows of night the clang of steel, the tramp of armed men, and the glare of lanterns and torches heralded the approach of the veteran hosts of the infernal regions in active warfare against the Father and the Son, led on by the invisible fiend of hell, and by one who was a devil in human form, the prime mover in it all being the chief priest, the man who held the most exalted God-given place on earth, and the only man who could approach God in His sanctuary, God’s High Priest. What a world it was! A race of fallen creatures seething with rebellion against God!
They are led into His presence by Judas. But the devilish courage that had brought them out to seek and to apprehend Him deserts them now that they have found Him. They confess that they seek Jesus the Nazarene. He says to them: “I am He.” What then? They go backward and fall to the ground. They cannot take Him. They are powerless in His presence. Such is man! Arrogant, boastful, ready to attempt anything! He is quite prepared—if we can believe him—to take the living God in hand in the day of judgment, confute the wisdom of the Almighty, and leave the presence of the throne triumphant. Prostrate on the earth are those poor slaves of the devil who had dared to attempt the apprehension of the Son of God, and more terribly and eternally confounded shall all be who presumptuously determine to enter into judgment with God.
More than twelve legions of angels, armed with the might of the Omnipotent, stand ready at His word to rain destruction upon all who would raise hand or voice against Him; but that word shall not pass the lips of the patient Jesus, “If ye seek Me, let these go their way,” is at once His surrender to His enemies and safeguard of His followers; for as to the men given to Him of the Father He would not lose one of them. He was their defence while with them, and now that He was being parted from them He would still be their defence until they would be placed beyond the reach of every enemy.
Peter, rash, reckless and thoughtless unable to take in the true character of the scene of which he was eye-witness and therefore utterly unaware of the needlessness of any intervention on his part, draws the sword on behalf of his beloved Master, gets gently rebuked for his foolish intervention, and learns that, at all cost to Himself his Teacher will do the will of His Father, and that, however bitter the cup given to Him of the Father may be, He will drink it. How little Peter was aware when he drew his sword against armed men that in the same night he would thrice deny that he had anything to do with Him! It would be easier to face single-handed an armed host than to confess Christ. I suppose Peter was naturally a courageous man, but we all have to learn that only in the might of the Holy Spirit can we stand fearlessly for the testimony of the Lord; and even should our affection for Christ lead us into a conflict not in harmony with the will of God, we have to do without the help of the Spirit, and our weakness becomes evident to all. In the path of the will of God we shall get all divine support, so that there may be no failure with any one of us engaged in the wars of the Lord.
The apostate nation chooses Barabbas, and rejects the Son of God, declares also that they have no king but Caesar. Not long afterwards they were made to experience the pitiless power of the oppressor, under whose authority they had chosen to be; and the robber and murderer have pursued them until this day, and worse still is in store for them. As far as the nation is concerned, they have murdered their Messiah, and they shall never see Him again until they shall confess their sin, and say: “Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord.” That day is not yet, but it is fast approaching, and near at hand.
After His resurrection the Lord shows Himself frequently to His disciples, comforting their hearts, and speaking to them of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. His ascension is not recorded in this Gospel, as the great subject is the revelation of the Father in the Son down here, and eternal life in the power of the Spirit in men on earth. He often speaks of His going to the Father, but the record of His ascension is not found in John’s writings.
I will now bring these meditations to a conclusion. How blessed are all who can truthfully say, “We KNOW that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding that we should know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”