G. V. Wigram.
There is a connection between the Gospel, and the Epistles, and the Apocalypse — books which God has given to us by means of His servant John — which is of no little interest in these latter days.
It is one and the same truth which is ever prominent in each of these three books; and the peculiarity distinctive to each of them depends upon the point of view in which the said truth is looked at respectively in each.
John was not the one chosen for the communication to us of the heavenly calling, nor of the mystery, nor of the organization of the churches in the wilderness. Such subjects flowed rather from the pen of a Paul. Neither does John present us with the effects of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus upon believers from among Israel, etc., etc., as do Peter and James. John's subject is Eternal Life, or something flowing thence. Yea, that eternal life which was in Jesus is the subject which predominates, and is found everywhere in John's writings, but each class of his works has something by which it is distinguished from the rest; the Gospel as such from both the Epistles and the Apocalypse; and the Epistles as such from both Gospel and Apocalypse; and the Apocalypse as such from the other two. Yet in all of them there is as the governing truth, the eternal life which was in Christ.
In the Gospel, it is the eternal life which was in Christ Jesus, together with the history of the acts and sufferings which were necessarily His, in the time of His humiliation, if He would take the blessed position of being the communicator of eternal life to poor sinners dead in trespasses and sins; but the moment that all this is finished, and that He, raised from the dead, had accomplished that which was to become His liberty and power. to bless withal, He departs. He left the earth to take His seat as Son of Man at the right hand of God in the Majesty of the Highest. The curtain drops upon the scenes of His earthly career and He is lost to the sight of those who are but men upon the earth.
In the Epistles, we have the stream of this eternal life which is seen flowing from Him as its fountain — fountain of living water, placed in the midst of the Throne on High, and which, as it flows, brings into light a heavenly people here below, and fills them, as saints of the living God, during their pilgrim-course through the wilderness.
In the Apocalypse, it is the effects of this eternal life; it is not the life manifested as it had been in the Gospel, in Jesus in humiliation, nor, as in the Epistles, made good by faith to a heavenly people who upon earth are rejected as He was: but the results of these two testimonies. The effects of the eternal life, according to God, both upon those not subjected to it, and as to those who are so whether their place be upon the earth or in heaven. The Lord who had eternal life in Himself is He who first manifested it here below; He did and suffered all that was needed either for the communication of this life on the part of God or for the reception of it on the part of poor sinners. Without that which Christ did and suffered, holiness must have kept closed the way of divine goodness on the one hand, and on the other, the poor sinner never could have been free before God. When all was done, His grace began at Jerusalem . . . rejected there, He gave to His saints as such, a people prepared for the heavenly places — the blessing; and finally, there must be manifested what is the glory of His person, and what the judgment is which God has formed concerning Him. He must reign upon the earth over an earthly people, to whom He will be manifested in the celestial glory which He has given to His heavenly Bride. The final result of the humiliation of the Son will be that every thing that will not humble itself under Him will be judged. For it becomes God to make the light of that eternal life shine forth; it behoves Him to make manifest both upon earth and in heaven what His judgment is of the work and travail of His Son. If the Son of God became Son of Man, He is the resurrection and the life; and, as such, everything connected with man must be presented in the light of His glory, be its character what it may.
The divine glory must be fully manifested; that glory which the eternal life, manifested in Jesus as Son of Man, has vindicated, even in the very moment of His being rejected.
The principle of that which we have in the Apocalypse seems established in that which we find presented in John 5 "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son. That all men should honour. the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. . . . For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." So also in Acts 10:36-42, "The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead." Acts 17:30, 31, "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead."
The same doctrine is found in Phil. 2:5-11; and it may also be found in comparing 2 Cor. 5:10, 11 and Eph. 1:10, and Col. 1:20.
The Son of God became Son of Man in order to reveal the grace of God to poor sinners. Therefore God gives testimonies to Him upon earth, but the results of such testimonies in grace must be fully made manifest. The churches, the state of the earth as a whole, the state of the Jews, the state of the nations, the power of Satan, accredited by the carnal nature of the men of this world, who have denied God both in His government and in His worship — all, all must be made manifest in its true character by Jesus, and having made it manifest, He will judge it — setting it aside in order to establish the Millennial reign. That Eternal Life of the Word of God, plainly set forth: first, in Jesus, perfectly and according to the claims of God and the state of things upon the earth (as in the Gospel of John); secondly, by means of His Spirit in a feeble people (as in the Epistles); and thirdly, its triumph over all things whatsoever their character (as in the Apocalypse). Such are, I think the governing truth and the distinctive thoughts of the writings of John.
Let us now turn to the Gospel.*
*As the Son came, as sent by the Father, to give His life for sinners, in order that the Holy Spirit, received of Him, might freely act in them — this interesting book (it is the only one of the Gospels in which the glory of the Son of the Father is presented as such) may be looked at in different points of view. We may consider it as the presentation of the grace and moral beauty of the Son, which is doubtless its primary object; or we can trace in it the manifestation of the glory and grace of the Father (John 1:18; John 14:9-11); or, taking it in connection with the object of the manifestation of the Father by the Son, that is, redemption, we can consider it as the depository of the Spirit's resources in salvation. Yet we must never forget that, all-important as salvation is, it is not, and it cannot be in itself the chief end of God. Redemption is to the glory of God and to the salvation of those that believe. I notice this three-fold view of the book as explaining the different views taken of it.
It is in a peculiar sense our gospel; for if the saint as such has now a place peculiar to himself — that place is in the heavenly places, the court of Jesus as Son of Man and the Lamb — and the Father's house. Now this gospel presents Him to us as the heavenly man; the second Adam, the link — worthy of all admiration — which, by means of the redemption which is in Him, unites the glory of God Himself, Creator and Upholder of all things with His creatures. But what wonders are found in Him who is this link! We may remark, as indirect testimony that this is our gospel, that if it is found to be mystic by the men of this world, it is always the subject of study (if spiritual) to the poor Christians, to the widow, and the aged, in spite of all the difficulties. Such find it to be good reading.
Section 1. (John 1:1-18). Gives us the testimony of John the Apostle with regard to the person of Christ Himself, and the mission of John the Baptist. These subjects are looked at and presented according to the light which the Apostle possessed after both the resurrection of the Lord and the accomplishment of the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit Jesus, the Word, is the Eternal Life which the love of God has given to us for light John Baptist is His precursor.
Section 2. (John 1:19-28) contains the testimony which John Baptist rendered to the Jews as to himself and Christ: as to himself, he was but a voice in the wilderness; but He whom he announced was infinitely above him.
This took place on the first day of a week. For we find (ver. 29) "on the morrow;" — and (ver. 35) "on the morrow;" and (ver. 43) "on the morrow;" and (John 2:1) "the third day." "Three days after" forms the week of seven days.
Section 3. (John 1:29-34). The testimony of John when he saw Jesus — that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (ver. 29), His personal pre-eminence above all, and then that He it is who baptizes with the Holy Ghost — the Son of God. Blessed testimony which the personal presence of the Lord drew forth!
Section 4. (John 1:35-42) presents the effect upon two of John's disciples, of the testimony that Christ is the Lamb of God; their reception by Jesus with His gracious invitation, "Come and see:" and the reading, by Jesus, of Simon's character and future history in the new name given; rugged and prone to fall in nature; chosen and fitted by grace for a special place in the foundation.
Section 5 (John 1:43-51). Jesus calls Philip with his sovereign, "Follow me;" receives and reads the heart of Nathanael, and promises to him (who was, in the sight of Jesus, what indeed his name in itself imports, gift of God) participation in His glory.
In Section 6. (John 2:1-11), the water is changed into wine at the marriage feast in Cana.
Surely, in a book which gives us the history of Jesus, in His character of Son of God, His first appearance in the introductory chapter, and His conduct in this scene at Cana is most worthy of notice. How suited to assure the soul in His presence. Such graciousness, such accessibility were never seen.
Section 7. (John 2:12-23). Full of zeal for the name of His Father, whose name was dishonoured in His own temple; the Lord purges it and presents His own body as the true temple.
Remark, in these two last sections, the correspondence and the contrasts: they are worthy of notice. The correspondence: Jesus, in both cases, substitutes one thing of a better kind for another which was inferior. The wine replaces the water: His own body the temple. Yet it is in both cases His grace which acts; whether among men in the desert to win them to God, or before God in His eternity, to establish a point of communication between Him and man.
The contrasts: in one case, His amiability as a guest; and in the other, His zeal as the Son, who was the servant of God: in the one case, men receiving Him; in the other, men rejecting Him, etc.
In the first case, the scene is at an assembly in honour of a marriage. Jesus avails Himself of Jewish ordinances — the avowed end of which was purification — but which were empty: He fills them with that for which they were prepared, but then bids draw forth quite another thing — suited for strengthening and rejoicing. This is typical. In the second case, the Jews had turned the court of the Lord's house into a house of trade — an exchange; He empties it, and substitutes for it another thing, perfect and inaccessible to sin. Remark also the difference in His conduct, verses 15 and 16. He drives out the men and beasts; overthrows the tables and money; but bids those that sold doves to take them away. What consideration for the poor imprisoned birds.
Section 8. (John 2:23, Passover — John 3:21) shows His knowledge of man. It is He alone who is the way to God, the mean of men's receiving a nature capable of seeing the things of God, and of entering into His kingdom, etc.
It is a solemn truth that if man is to be blessed, he needs a new nature. Prophets had spoken of things for the earth; but the Son of Man, who alone was in heaven, was needed if heavenly things were to be opened. For there are earthly and heavenly things, and glories, and a kingdom on earth as in heaven. It is a solemn word (19-21) that the conduct of a man, in reference to Christ, shows the individual's moral state.
In this portion the Father gives; the Son suffers, and the Spirit acts upon. The only begotten Son of God become Son of Man, slain on the Cross, raised from the dead, and at the right hand of God, is the ground of faith which introduces us into a new life on high. Such is the truth by which the Holy Spirit in His first operation, forms in us the divine nature. And this is the truth here taught If the view be limited to Nicodemus, he is but a poor Pharisee forced into light in this history.
Section 9. (John 3:22-26). John the Baptist's testimony to Christ. He is the bridegroom — the One who comes from on high, in connection with whom the power of a new nature is found.
Ver. 34, "to him" is not in the Greek, and gives quite another sense. The truth taught us here is nearly the same as that found in 1 Peter 1:23. It is not that Christ alone has the fulness of the Spirit — which is true — but rather that the Spirit which flows from Him to all them that believe, is a life-giving Spirit; ever attendant upon the testimony fresh from God.
Section 10. (John 4:1-42). In the case of this poor woman, Jesus displays Himself as the One sent by God to seek true worshippers. He reads the heart of that poor sinner, and reveals himself to her as Messiah and the object of worship. He is thereon recognized by the Samaritans.
In this fourth chapter, we have the sphere and occupation of the life — the need of which, and the mode of communicating which are presented to us in John 3. It is the grace of the Son, the gift of God, He who opens in the heart a well-spring of living water, which springs up unto eternal life in poor sinners, whom the Father desires to have as worshippers in spirit and in truth, which are the truths that form the heart and soul in which there is life. Such are God's thoughts, such are the subjects of the toil of Him who is the anointed of God, the very truths by which the Spirit produced in poor sinners worship in spirit and in truth, and self-sacrificing devotedness. In the case of the poor woman we have a specimen of Christ's conduct as one that was a "fisher of men," and of its effects. In this the Son travails and seeks; the Spirit acts within: the Father wills and draws. As chapter 3 gives us the doctrine of the first great operation of the Spirit on the soul — the fourth gives us the second, viz., that of placing the soul in worship.
Section 11. (John 4:43-54). Heals at Cana the son of a nobleman without having seen him.
In the first of the circumstances of this chapter, Christ seeks and finds a poor sinner; in the second he is sought and found by the Samaritans; in the third, he is sought and sends healing.
Section 12. (John 5:1-47). Ver. 1 speaks of a feast, and ver. 9 of the Sabbath. In healing on the sabbath a poor paralytic at Bethesda, he introduces the truth of the Sabbath of God, violated by sin to such an extent that he could find no rest among men, nor his Father either. The Jewish sabbath must yield its place to Him as the true Rest of God.
The grace that was found at this fountain of Bethesda, showed that God could not rest; sin and sickness were there among His people; but if His grace was there to heal the sick, it was so according to His providence and Jewish ordinances, which could not possibly present all that was in Him. From time to time there was healing for any one who had force enough to get first into the pool. But in Jesus is found all the fulness of God and the Father for ever; and it is always there, and for the weakest of the weak. Virtue came out of Him to heal the poor man who had no strength; but his object was to arrest sin in the poor man rather than merely to deliver him for a moment from bodily sickness. (Ver. 14.) Christ has a right to present Himself as He who can be, and is, the Sabbath, or Rest of God and of poor sinners saved by His grace.
Ver. 31-47. The deeds wrought, and the words spoken are the Father's testimony to Christ. Not to receive that testimony is, in the end, to be condemned by Moses.
The connection which exists between worship (as in John 4), and rest, or the sabbath (in John 5) is of much interest.
In ver. 24, eternal life enters into the question of the sabbath. How blessed is it that God in the presence of such a state of things as then existed, would not take His rest. As to outward things, Jerusalem was full of sickness (ver 1-9); morally all was worse — for the Jews were condemning Christ (ver. 10-20); physically and morally there was a judgment to come (ver. 22). It is His goodness which hinders His being at rest in the presence of the affliction of His people. And what was the answer to the gracious word in ver. 8, "Take up thy bed and walk?" In substance it was this, 'Disturb our rest in sin, and we will condemn thee.'
Ver. 19 is worthy of much notice. The force of it is this: "Instead of making myself equal to God, He reveals Himself to me, and I imitate what I see." Such was the humble answer of the Lord of life. The connection between the healing of the sick (ver. 8), the resurrection (ver. 21), the judgment (ver. 22), and life (ver. 21), is full of instruction. It is, in a sense, in the character of JUDGE that Jesus gives life (ver. 22 and 24). God has committed to His Son all that was needful, in order for Him to establish a true Sabbath. It is He who acts as judge, in resurrection and life, to introduce by His Spirit this unspeakable blessing.
The Sabbath being treated of in John 5 — which was necessary for the worship of John 4 — the question of nourishment comes next. Jesus, the sent One, will give it — as the One whom God has given — nourishment which removes both hunger and thirst, and cherishes a life of communion with Christ and God.
This we find in Section 13. (John 6:1-14). He satisfies five thousand with five barley loaves and two fishes. The passover was nigh at hand - feast of separation unto God. The hunger was of a company who had followed Jesus.
Section 14. (John 6:15-21);* In crossing the sea afoot, the Lord overtakes His disciples (the sea being rough); they are immediately at land.
*In figure this may aptly present the manifestation to come of Christ to His people, after His having been on high, and they toiling in vain on the sea, etc.
Section 15. (John 6:52-71). He now presents Himself to the multitudes as the bread of life. Man ought to labour for the meat which is unto eternal life. This work is of the Father; viz., to believe on Him whom He has sent — This bread of life is the manna,* Himself, in whom is the resurrection and the judgment too — the bread of God, and of communion with God.
*"Manna" means "What is it?" The name was found in the Israelites' wonder, when they saw the food which God had provided. It pointed to Christ as nourishment in the wilderness. Every item connected with the manna is replete with truth about God and His Christ.
Next comes the question of commemorating, in the rest and repose given, the difficulties and dangers of a past wilderness. In spirit and principle we can already do this, having the spirit of promise, and being dead and alive again in Christ. This truth comes naturally after that of the manna.
Section 16. (John 7:1-53). At the feast of tabernacles, Jesus presents Himself as the source whence should flow, by means of Him, rivers of living water. This spake He of the Spirit.
There seems to be a contrast in this chapter between Israel with its feast (although still in the world, that is in Egypt, morally speaking) and Christ in the desert, and unwilling to associate Himself publicly with a feast which made as if Israel was really in rest; yet, nevertheless, drawn by the desire to testify to the Jews two things; viz., that He it was who was to give water as in the desert, when He got on high, yet to the individual, as such (after his resurrection); and that He was still seeking, as it were, a place where to establish His tabernacle in repose, as Moses also in vain had sought it. The gushing stream in the wilderness, and the feast in the land, were closely linked together; and both told the same tale as to the God of Israel.
Christ, the Sent One of God, calls men during His lingering in the desert. He opens, in those that believe, fountains which give forth living streams — the Spirit; nor will these rivers cease, till, in the land, water can be drawn from the wellspring, and poured forth before the Lord.
Ver. 7. The world is your place — I seek one (34, 35, and 36).
Ver. 8. My time; query for the feast of tabernacles.
Ver. 16. He is the Sent One (29).
Ver. 21 turns upon the substance of John 5. Their state without a Sabbath.
Ver. 28. He reads aloud their thoughts.
Ver. 37, 38. It is for the desert that Christ pours forth water from His fountain; but the rivers thus given lead in hope to the time when, the wilderness being past, the tabernacle of God shall be our place of joy, and we shall commemorate in the land the faithfulness of redeeming love, made good to us all through our wilderness course. Blessed is this grace; and yet more blessed is the Blesser.
Section 17. (John 8:1-11). The woman taken in adultery. How adorable is the Lord in the bright light and divine freedom which His conduct here evinced; and darker in understanding, and more essentially slaves of Satan, than even the poor woman taken in the very fact of adultery, were those who could use such a thing, in such a place, and at such a time, in the hope to ensnare Him. But they knew Him not; they knew not themselves either. They unwittingly brought their own darkness into the light, and found themselves convicted by their own consciences — self-condemned. The instruction in the temple (from ver. 12-59), is as to light and liberty. In ver. 12, the light of life (as exemplified 1-11); and ver. 32, freedom of the truth (compare ver. 30, 33, 44, 46). As the Sent One of God (ver. 29), Jesus presents the eternal life, which is of God, in such a manner as the Spirit needs to use it, in order to make it effectual for the poor sinner.
Next comes an illustration of all that which has preceded (John 7 excepted, perhaps); a reply to the opposers, and an explanation of their conduct being added (see John 9:1 - 10:21).
Section 18. (John 9). We have here sight rendered to a blind man, his consequent excommunication from the synagogue, and his reception by Jesus; and after that (in John 10), the parable of the sheepfold.
For myself, I do not doubt but that the details of the healing were typical. That which was found in Jesus (it was intimately connected in nature with the word of His mouth, and necessary for His own nourishment), mixed with that which is of the earth, applied by the Son of man to the sightless eye of a poor sinner, gave to him his sight after he had recognised Siloë (Siloam — Sent). Compare also John 8:52, Son of God.
The account of the entrance of light which is given to us here (ver. 9 and 10), is highly interesting, as also the fact of that day being a Sabbath (ver. 14). The effects of light, and the man's conduct, are also worthy of all notice (ver. g). First, he speaks of Jesus as "that man" (ver. 11), and as a worker of miracles; then as a prophet (ver. 17); (ver. 27) as one who might have disciples; as a man of God (ver. 33);, and lastly (ver. 35 and 36), as the Son of God; as Lord and God.
But a lost one, who has been found of Christ, has special privileges belonging to him as one that has been found; for He that has found the lost one has connections of His own, and His heart makes all that He has, or is, to be shared by those that are His — protection from the adversary and blessing in the truth. This is seen in John 10.
The similitude of the sheep-fold (ver. 1-5), as well as the development of it (ver. 6-18), which treats of the good shepherd, the hireling, the sheep, etc., is addressed, not only to His own disciples, and to the poor man that had recovered his sight, but to the Pharisees (John 9:40). If this is lost sight of, much necessarily escapes us. I have had the thought that the law, in its description of man, not only challenged and condemned all that were under it, but also pointed out Him that was to come — the prophet of whom Moses spake, as the one that was to be heard. If it be so, the meaning of the thief (ver. 1), the shepherd (ver. 2), the porter (ver. 3), is evident He knows His own, and they know Him, but not a stranger. In ver. 7, the figure is changed, and He becomes the door of the sheep; door of salvation and of feeding for those that are free (ver. 8); all others are robbers. The robber's object, and the shepherd's, are as contrasted as is their conduct. What an astonishing thing is grace! The mutual knowledge of the shepherd and his sheep finds no fit illustration, save that of the Father and the Son (ver. 14 and 15). The heart of the shepherd also knows no reservation in his self-sacrifice, neither can it be divided; he will lay down his life for the sheep, and will put together in one his flock, that there may be one fold* and one shepherd. And again, the Shepherd's conduct finds its origin in the love and gift of the Father (ver. 17 and 18).
* Qy. one flock — mia poimne.
Section 19. (John 10:22-42). At the feast of the Dedication, at Jerusalem, in winter, the Jews, unwilling to recognise Him in His true character, find Him in the temple, and there ask whether He is the Christ To this the Lord replies, that He had told them, yet that they believed not; adding that His works bore witness, but that they were not His sheep to believe these things; and that His Father, who preserved His sheep, and Himself, were one. This was too much for the Jews: they make a move to stone Him; but He remains to reason with them, and then passes away untouched.
The Lord's patient grace towards His adversaries, and the explanation of their enmity is thus shown. Yet all this connects itself with Him as Saviour of His own.
Section 20. The well-known chapter (John 11) of Lazarus sick, dead, and raised again comes next. It presents us with the grand truth of Christ Himself being the Resurrection and the Life; with the desire of the Jews to kill Him, and with the conduct and words of Caiaphas.
The moment was come for the blessed Lord to show yet more pointedly than ever that He did not act merely according to affections in His own heart; that the glory of God directed Him always, and that the Resurrection and the Life in Him were the great blessings which He had not only to teach but also to communicate. It is important to see the double testimony which Christ had to render. His God and Father had a connection with a nation, Israel, according to creation and providence. If Jesus would be a faithful witness, He must identify Himself with this position of Jehovah and Israel. He did so and gave in time blessings which Jehovah had marked as being His to give to Israel. The Lord's goodness brought into open light Israel's state and rebellion, they would not have Him; He was free then to go on to those more important things connected with death and resurrection — heaven, and a people saved from among the Gentiles. The Lord's instruction in this chapter shows the efficacy and the value of these glories (of being the Resurrection and the Life), and although on this occasion, manifested only in the resurrection of one that was dead, and in the giving back to him the same life which he had laid down, — all this is closely linked with the Resurrection and the Life eternal. The miracle produced, on a small scale, that which [the resurrection of Christ, as prince of life did perfectly. The Jews showed themselves and were seen in their true colours, and the Lord's people were separated more than ever unto Him whom the Father had sent to do such things.
That which we read in this chapter marks the end of the first part, and the commencement of the second of the Gospel of John. The beauty and the glory of the Lord Jesus having been manifested in the most perfect way; the Jews* feel repulsed, and His own attracted more than ever, and He Himself prepares for His death. But it is this miracle which, so to speak, places all the parties in the scene.
*The hatred against Christ always was most displayed at Jerusalem. Thus we see they sought to put Him to death (John 5:16) for violating the Sabbath; and (ver. 18) for having made Himself equal to God. See also John 7:1, 19, 20, 25, 30. Then they seek also an accusation against Him in the case of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:6); they take up stones to cast at Him for saying that before Abraham was I am; as also again (John 10:3 1), for, making Himself equal to God. See also John 11:8, 16, 50, 53, 57.
Section 21. (John 12:1-8). The Passover at hand. Mary anoints at a supper the feet of Jesus. What a beautiful expression both of the condescension of Jesus and of the love of His people towards Him is found. at this feast. What a fragrant perfume does the love of Mary give, and yet far more so the remark which the covetous impudence of Judas upon Mary's act draws from the blessed Lord.
Section 22. (John 12:9-11, and 12-19). The curiosity of the multitude and the hatred of the chiefs, is presented to us in the first of these portions. And in the second, the zeal of a crowd which accompany the Lord in His last entry into Jerusalem — a zeal perhaps without much even human intelligence, but which the Lord accepts (ver. 14, 15), for it was according to what they possessed.
Section 23. (John 12:20-50). The Greeks desire to see Jesus. The communication to Jesus of this desire is the signal to Him that all is ready for His death. From that moment He begins to speak openly of His death, and of the principles of His called people: as God is the God of Resurrection, there is a needs be of death, if one is united to Him, if one is not of this world, is not a slave of Satan. From verse 38 to 43, we see what, according to the thoughts of God, was at that time the state of the Jews, and from verse 44 to the end of the chapter, we have the last warning which the Lord gave in public.
All the parties are now definitely placed. The chiefs have taken, with much determination, their place of being, if it be possible, the murderers of Jesus; the multitude is divided; there are in it a goodly number who are curious, but others also who are deeply interested in Jesus. The Greeks have made their appearance; — and a people drawn out from among the nations were to replace Israel in testimony and blessing; the Lord has received the testimonies of the love of His own, has explained to them the unity of the principle of His walk and theirs, and has rendered a last testimony to the world: it yet remains for Him to prepare His own people; to explain to them the details of their future position; — their sufferings in this world (John 13); the contrast between this suffering and the glory of their portion on high (John 14) first in Him, whilst they are still in the wilderness, and secondly, when these come to His home, having left the wilderness. He adds certain details connected with the testimony to be rendered here below (John 15); and of the powers of the world to come, which should be given to them (John 16); and the source and security of it all in the love which the Father had toward the Son (John 17). In the scenes given to us in these five chapters, Jesus is apart with His disciples.
Section 24. (John 13). The last supper. Apart with His disciples, Jesus shows them what is their position and their responsibility the one with the other.
The Master washes His disciples' feet: such is the example He set before us all: and He does it as one that came from God and went to God, and as knowing that all things were now consciously in His hands. It is not as a slave but as the Son who serves, of right good will, that He does it. The scene is, so to speak, the Holy family in a tent in the desert. We see Christ pure and perfect as a man, and Judas wicked in nature (in seeking the world, he cast himself into Satan's hands); and Peter, whose self-confidence leaves him exposed to the wiles of Satan in the presence of the evil of the world. The instruction of what should be done is plain enough. To renounce self entirely, and to serve God perfectly according to the needs of His glory among them that are, His, in the desert where we are, is plainly taught: but the power to do this is not shown to us, save in the actions of Christ Himself. The chapter should be read in connection with John 14; for the two are not only strikingly contrasted one with the other, but are united together; and their connection is evident enough: having spoken to Peter at the close of the thirteenth chapter of his weakness, and of the results natural to his confidence in himself, the Lord stops not there, but adds, at the beginning of the fourteenth chapter, the faithfulness of His own love, based as it was upon God, and what its results even to such as Peter.
The wilderness, painful service of humiliation in the family there, perils of false brethren, failure of true brethren — realization of the powers of Satan, the world and the flesh — such are the topics of the thirteenth chapter. The Father's House on high, a hearty welcome there, and the joys of His company who fetches us and introduces us there, where evil cannot come, where no weakness remains in us, for God fills us then — perfect realization in heavenly places above of the blessedness of the unhindered presence and action of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in a scene perfectly divine, is the consolation of the fourteenth chapter; and more too, as we shall presently see.
Section 25. (John 14). The love of the Son opens to His people His Father's house. go springs are found there save those in God; no strength but that of the Holy Spirit; no privileges but those which surround Jesus in His own home. It is a house of filial obedience towards God and of love towards Jesus, etc. — (Ver. 1) Christ Himself is to be the object of faith. (Ver. 2.) He acts for His own according to the greatness of that which belongs to God His Father, and according to what His Father is in Himself and towards Him. Of His own accord He loves the Church, and will honour it as being unutterably precious and dear to Him. He is the way, the truth, and the life; in the Father, and the Father in Him; His words and His acts are those of the Father. He wills that His works be fully manifested in His disciples, and that all their desires, expressed in prayer, should be fulfilled. Then (in ver. 15) we have the great principle that love leads to obedience. In ver. 16, the Spirit as Paraclete, Spirit of Truth, unknown to the world, but well known to the disciples of Christ; the world sees Him not; but they, see Him, for His life is theirs. The twentieth verse gives us Christ for us, and ver. 21, Christ in us: a revelation of Himself and of His Father which flows from and depends upon our obedience. These things, announced by Christ to His disciples, are recalled to them by the Spirit (ver. 25). Peace He gives them in a way worthy of Himself (ver. 27); and lastly, the disciples (ver. 28) can sympathise with Christ in His pleasure.
John 15. The Lord being come, He, as the faithful and true Witness, makes manifest the state of Israel before God; and He abides the sole fruit-bearer before God. Yet, united to Him and abiding in Him, He has a people who are responsible to render witness to Him, and are, through Him, capable also of bringing forth good fruit; for, being not of this world, His people have His Spirit. Nevertheless it is always Christ as a Jew who is in question in this chapter, and not Christ as in Heaven. Christ as the basis of all the actions of God upon earth being fully manifested as such, necessarily there can be no blessing apart from union with Himself. The testimony necessarily connects itself with Him; but as to men, they cannot render it unless they are in Him and abide in Him. joy flows where there is obedience and fruit-bearing. It is worthy of notice that the state of discipleship connects itself here not so much with doctrine as with obedience and fruit-bearing (ver. 8); the same is true as to the name of Friends of the Lord (ver. 14); so ver. 15 is an argument for obedience, intelligence in doing and acting rather than a description of the position of knowledge as to doctrine; although the former suppose the latter. As the testimony of a divine government and eternal salvation are both of God, there is naturally a correspondence between the two; and oft what is true in government is true in salvation. In this fifteenth chapter the testimony of disciples, and that too under a peculiar set of circumstances, is the prominent question, and not eternal salvation; though, of course, the two should be united together by and in us, if full blessing is to be ours.
John 16. He being at the right hand of God on high, the presence of the Spirit should be given to His people upon earth, in order that they might have power to render testimony. We may see by the expression in ver. 1 (I have told you these things, etc.) that this sixteenth chapter is but a continuation of the fifteenth. It treats of the means and power of the testimony of which Jesus had spoken in the fifteenth; viz., of the presence of the Comforter with the disciples, who would render a testimony to the Lord for the disciples, and against the world and Satan. It goes beyond the fifteenth chapter, however, as to the character of Christ. It is frequently the case that an occurrence which makes manifest a certain truth, becomes the subject of a testimony rendered by God to His people, and by His people to the world. Admitting then the divine and direct application of ver. 8-11 to worldly persons as such, and to individuals, if it is demanded; yet it seems clear to me that the position of the disciples, and of the world too, relatively to the Spirit which had been given, teaches the same truth, and that with a power and to an extent a great deal more vast and even more important. What took place on the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem seems to me to be of an importance far greater, whether God, or Christ, the Church, or the world be thought of, than any effect produced upon worldly persons as such, or upon any individual as such. Christ out of sight, the descent of the Holy Ghost, and the effect of the teaching by the disciples, consequent thereon, broke the power of Satan in the world and laid the truths of sin, righteousness and judgment home to the very doors of the different parties. I believe this to be very important.*
*The verses in this chapter [ (John 16) in which evidently the disciples hold a place before the world] "Ye see me no more (ver. 10), and "a little while and ye shall not see me" (ver 16) and compare them with what we find in chap. 14:19, "the world seeth me no more; but ye see me," and (ver. 21) "I will make myself known to him," and (ver. 23) "we will come unto him and make our abode with him." [It is a chapter which speaks to us as being of the adopted family, and of the house of the Father.) In John 15 the disciples are looked at as being in the body and in service upon earth: in John 14 as being in spirit and in communion.
John 17. Communion of Jesus with His Father concerning Himself and His people; not according to what they are in themselves or as connected with the government of God, but according to the counsels and purposes of God; their union with Himself both in the Spirit and by the Truth.
In John 14, we have first, "you in me and I in my Father;" and secondly, "I in you," followed by a commentary (in ver. 21 and 23), "He that loves me will keep my word . . . . I will love him and my Father will love him . . . . I will make myself known to him . . . . . We will come to him and make our abode with him."
That is, first, Christ for us. The means by which God assures to us the salvation is, that, the Church being in Christ, He places Christ (Holy ark of our salvation) in Himself, the Father. Christ our salvation is hidden in God. But, secondly, as to the other side of the question, Christ in us, it is not we who can lay hold of or retain firmly Christ; it is His Spirit which lays hold of us: and then if we walk according to the Spirit we keep His commandments (for the word of Christ must be precious to such), and we do His will; the result of which is that there is a revelation in communion, both of the Son and of the Father. if any one despise the thought of such a revelation to us — may he learn that there is not only the revelation of the truth to us, in the word, but so great, is our weakness and alas! so great is our self-confidence, that we stand in need of a direct action of the Holy Ghost to give efficiency not only to the truth as a whole, but also to the details of truth. The despiser's state is a witness of this truth.
In John 17 we have, first (ver. 21) "I pray . . . that they may be one, as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me."
It seems to me that character is here in question, — the character which connects itself with the separation which truth gives us.
Second. "And 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." Here, evidently, manifestation is in question, which is yet to come. But as to security, which is a present question, we are hidden in Christ; and Christ is hidden in God: as to manifestation (as we have seen), it is God in Christ, and Christ in the Church, that is God, even the Father, will openly display Himself in Christ; and the Church will be the vessel in which all the glory of Jesus will be displayed. There is evidently, first, the unity in nature (the divine nature communicated, made partakers of the divine nature); second, the manner in which the enjoyment of this is assured to us (the position "we in Christ, and Christ in the Father"); there is also, third, a present and actual responsibility which flows to us thence, and a blessing connected therewith (to treasure up the word and to have the joy of an unhindered action of the Spirit); there is also, fourth, intimately connected with that state, but not exactly the same thing, the character becoming the child of God; and fifthly, there is at the end of all, in hope, the effect of the return of the Lord — divine glory, and the Father's love filling Him to overflowing, and all that overflowing displayed in us.
It may be well to remark, that as to the gift of eternal life to His people, Jesus never prayed for it once; but that He came as the One sent of the Father to communicate it, and that they might have it more abundantly; as to the accomplishing of their salvation, He was straitened, until His baptism was accomplished, and then He asks for Himself the place reserved for Him (John 17:5), in which their salvation was assured to them. As to the responsibility of His people, He teaches and gives them, for their encouragement, goodly promises (John 14:21-24); he prays (John 17:20, 21, and 24), that they may have and maintain such character. As to their glory, He wills that His glory be theirs also, and that they should see Him in His glory.
What a wonderful expression of the graciousness of the affections of Jesus is found in ver. 26. Not only had He left the divine glory on high (Phil. 2) for their sakes; not only had He lived on the earth, fulfilled all righteousness, and was about to die on the Cross for them, but His disciples must needs share with Him the glory His Father had given unto Him, and more than this (for what is glory compared to love), He must needs communicate to them that which was to Himself infinitely precious, the name of the Father. He wills that that good pleasure which the Father had ever had in and expressed towards Him, what had been His peculiar joy, His own consolation in the wilderness: the expression of the whole heart of God, as the Father, and the joy of that heart towards Him in whom was found all moral glory, all the beauty of the character of the Father — that this should be opened to them and made to dwell in them.*
*"Name," in the language of the Bible, is equivalent to the traits by which any one or any object is known. Ex. 34 shows this as to the Lord: in order to proclaim His "name," He proclaimed the traits and characteristics by which He made Himself known. And what are the essential qualities which are found in God, considered as "the Father?" What are His traits as such? We see, in the history which the Bible gives its, what attaches to God as the God of Providence; and we may see in creation what attaches to Him as Creator (Gen. 1 and Rom. 1). But it is the Son, in His life here below, in whom alone we can read what are the essential qualities, the traits which are found in the character of the Father.
That which most strikes me in this seventeenth chapter, is the tranquility and the self-possession of the soul of the Lord. He had just come out of all sorts of difficulties; His life had, up to that moment, been a life of suffering at the hand of the Jews; of Satan, even alas! but too often of His disciples: but we see here in the secret of the presence of the Father, after those sufferings there, and before entering upon worse (for He had to pass through sufferings which were infinitely greater, in that He was to be the bearer of sin in the presence of God). And what perfect tranquility, what calm repose, what collectedness of spirit. Without a question we can see in all this the Majesty of His person; but ought we not also to see in it the effects of a will fully subject to the will of God? There is, in truth, nothing which increases suffering, nothing which hinders calmness of soul more than that will of self which unfolds itself in us when we walk in a way of our own — in disobedience.*
*The fulness of this chapter is eternal; for it is not only the word of God, but it is, if that be possible, more full still, as being that which passed between Christ and His Father. A few points may be noticed further, in detail. Ver. 4 is the work of the testimony as man and Jew upon earth, and hardly comprehends His death unless He speaks anticipatively. Ver. 5, as ver. 1, is rather the Father than God. Ver. 6, a people given to Him from the world, i.e., from the earth — a heavenly people. Neither Israel nor the Gentiles are in question as such, but a heavenly people; and it is by the name of the Father that they who had ever belonged to God, but whom He had given to the Son, are saved. His word is precious to them, comp. Isaiah 8. It is (ver. 7) theirs to recognize that all that they had seen in Jesus is of the Father, even as the Father had sent Jesus. "A thing preserved because in it was the seed" had been (ver. 9) the principle upon which God had preserved Israel. But we see, in John 15, another idea altogether: viz., that, the seed being come, the only question which could be entertained was this, "What is that which directly attaches to Him." In ver. 9, Christ acts according to the thoughts of God. If Israel will none of Him, there remains to Him. but the world, which is promised to Him, and saints for heaven; and it is in harmony with the counsels of God, that He asked for that which God had prepared for Him during the time of His rejection by Israel, to wit, the preparation of saints for heaven.
Section 26. Every thing here below now is seen in the light.
1. Judas (John 18:1-11). The betrayal by Judas. We see here the reverse of that presented to us in John 13. There, it is Jesus, the door closed, showing His humble devotedness to His own in washing their feet, and in preparing them for what was to come. Here, on the contrary, it is (not as there, the Son of Man, pure and perfect as to His flesh, which was fully subject to the Holy Spirit, but) the carnal nature of Judas, under the influence of Satan, and the world at his heels. But, what dignity in Jesus, what presence of mind, what courage, and what wisdom: and, alas! we must add, if truth is to be spoken, what folly and weakness in Peter. His zeal introduces an element which deranges all, and which exposes him to a reprimand, and gives occasion and excuse to the men to take Jesus. So far as was possible for him it was Peter, who, as a matter of fact, destroyed the effect which the majesty of Christ had upon His enemies. On the other hand (what will not gracious obedience to God and love to man do?), Christ avails Himself of the effect of this rashness of Peter, in order to show the freshness and the presence of all the grace of God in Himself.
2. The priests and the chief priests are fully displayed (ver. 12-24) and their bitter hatred against Jesus; — as also poor Peter. We see here the real weight and value of respectable religion; and it was under the roof of the chief priest that the fall of Peter occurred (John 18:10-27). It is worthy of remark that it was the ear of a servant of the high priest that Peter cut off; it was another servant (relation of him whose ear was cut off) who said to Peter (ver. 25, 26) "Did I not see thee with Him in the garden?" Was there not somewhat akin in the sin of the high priest and Peter? A zeal without knowledge, acting according to the flesh and the world, was the ruin of the high priest; Peter's principles of conduct were not for the moment better.
3. Pontius Pilate — as representative of the Roman Emperor (John 18:28 — John 19:16). It is interesting to notice the effects of the various lines of conduct which are given to us here. (1.) Jesus recognized in His course, and that fully, God, and God as the God of resurrection. In the presence of God there is no place for human energy, nor for our plans and objects. No strength can abide in the presence of God save His own; no plan except His own be honoured. His glory, and His alone, necessarily, must be the sole object which is accredited. But the name of the God of resurrection adds yet another truth, viz., that all that which attaches to God (as His strength, plan, objects), all, I say, is united to a condescending humiliation on His part, as of Him who raises up from the grave and from death — but, without sin there had been no death. What we see in Jesus is a conduct guided by a perfect intelligence. He knew right well what the will of the Father was — that by His death, first, the veil which had curtained in all the character of God should be rent, in order that the glory of mercy and compassion and grace might be made known; and secondly, in order that the sinner might find his liberty and forgiveness in the blood of the just One slain for the unjust, and be able by faith to stand in the presence of God. He was content: all that He had to do was to manifest the obedience of a perfect submission; He leaves then all in the hands of God, and lets all take its course. He yields Himself absolutely to the hand and will of the Father, and manifested strength in perfection — the strength of submission to all the ways, plans, and objects of God. And what did He gain? Surely His reaping is according to His sowing. Leaving the glory divine on high, and being satisfied to be put to death, the death of the cross — therefore, God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name above every name (Phil. 2). We must needs comprehend what is, for vastness, incomprehensible, if we will comprehend what Christ gained. For the good pleasure of His God and Father — His joy in Him in this pleasure — His position of power, and all that connects itself therewith — judgment and salvation are found in the train of this humiliation; and what, to such a One as He, is the satisfaction of being the Vindicator, Revealer, and Protector of the name and honour of Him whom He loved; what the satisfaction in redemption and salvation. God was in all His thoughts — and that was the explanation of His self-possession.
(2.) In Judas we see what is the effect when the flesh nourishes itself with the world in the presence of the light: all tended to the casting of him into the hands of Satan. Making haste to be rich by iniquitous means, while his outward position had the pretension of having left all to follow his Master, he could not be content with the purse of the Master, but he set Him at a price and lost all, and himself too, by his own mad folly. What is the flesh? It is not the body; Christ had that, but he had not flesh, in the evil sense in which we find it used in the epistles. The flesh, according to Gen. 3, is our own will, when allowed, in our own energy, to seek, in circumstances, our own pleasure apart from God. Its tendency is always to our own glory, and never can recognize either God, or the God of resurrection. And what did Judas gain either in this world or in that which is to come? Satan is a murderer as well as a liar, and Judas found him to be so.
(3.) The chief priests: their blindness, the use they make of a prophecy of God, to put Jesus to death, etc., all shows us, but too plainly, what the religion of the world is. The world is, in principle, presented to us in Gen. 4. Found upon earth a rebel against God and his religion, and a murderer and a liar, Cain is driven from before God. He asks for protection from God, and he is heard in his request; but he goes forth from that presence and establishes a system or set of circumstances in the which he can be at ease, without the presence of God. And if God proposed to Moses a religion for Israel of elements of this world, He knew what the result would be, that His people would take part against Him as they did, most fully, in slaying the Lord. The fear lest the Romans should come and destroy them, was the avowed reason for putting Jesus to death: in their blindness — for it was, in point of fact, that death which caused the destruction of Jerusalem; but if man looks for and seeks his own glory, he forgets God, and will lose himself in secondary circumstances.
(4.) Pilate, representative of Caesar, should have been just; but the pleasure of the people, and a regard for his own reputation as a friend of Caesar, led this wavering, double-minded man. to put to death the Man whom he avowed to be innocent, and whom he feared as King, and as the Son of God. The Jews having renounced every king but Caesar, he who was their king (for Pilate was but a lieutenant), condemned the Messiah to death; and thus also the power of the dynasty of the Gentiles, as found in Daniel, avowed itself to be against God.
(5.) Poor Peter! He had sowed and reaped; but the centre of the whole scene was Jesus; and if God permitted Peter to go to the end of his folly, He yet had grace in view for him at the end. He wills that we be not only the objects of His grace, but that grace be always our object, portion, and joy. Peter is left to manifest himself, in order that he may know that all is of grace, and what the presence of God — of God as the God of resurrection — means and involves; and thus he, Peter, was prepared for the work which God had to do by him. To be a witness of God against Israel — that they had denied and rejected the Prince of Life, was impossible for such an one as Peter before his fall. He counted upon his own strength, he had plans and objects of his own; his strength was not as that of his Master, and it must become so. Peter is sifted; but is saved and restored by the hand of Jesus, and by that hand placed anew in service; able now to serve and to fulfil his mission without elation; with zeal, but with bowels of mercies and in humility. The sin of the whole scene is so nicely divided among those of the temple, Judas, Pilate, etc., etc., that it is probable enough none of them took it to himself, but that each, like Pilate, thought himself clean, and cast off the burden of the guilt upon others.
(6.) The Jews and the soldiers united with the enemies of Christ. The Jews, John 18:39, 40; the soldiers, John 19:1-3, 23, 24. And thus, head and tail, root and branch, all stood in direct opposition to God. It was but once that men had God Himself as Man upon earth. Man availed himself of the occasion to show out himself, and what he was and is.
Section 27. (John 19:17-30). Crucifixion. The whole account of this, the most wondrous fact that ever occurred upon earth, is given in fourteen verses, and almost without details, as without comment. Is it not incontestably evident, that the object was not to set in movement the human feelings of the heart, but rather to present us with that truth, faith in which is salvation. That which saves me, is not the inward movements and sensations in reference to Christ, His beauty, blessedness and sufferings, but a perception, by faith, of what are God's thoughts with regard to those sufferings, and a complete submission to that which the Word of God teaches as to the value of those sufferings. Crucified between two thieves, but distinguished by a superscription (as King of the Jews); His apparel divided, and the lot cast on one part of it by the soldiers who crucified Him; Christ's supreme goodness in giving to His mother another son, whom He had Himself trained, as His substitute to her-ward; His attention turned to the Word, that nothing might be left unaccomplished; His cry, "It is finished!" such are the details which preceded His bowing the head, and giving up the ghost.
Section 28. (John 19:31). His burial. The rock, in the midst of the stream, hinders the waters from pursuing their downward course, and produces, by its opposition to the current, both agitation and noise: but the moment it is, as an obstacle, removed, and has disappeared, the waters resume their course. Thus was it that the death of Jesus yielded to His enemies for a moment an ungodly tranquility in Jerusalem.
There is another thing to remark (as in Joseph and Nicodemus), viz., that personal love to Christ is not enough to put us in the position of discipleship, if we will retain our place in the world and the things of the world. Their hearts were not without a testimony for Jesus, nor without affection; but the world was theirs, and perchance it was the fear of the world, fear caused by their conscious possession of, and pleasure in, wealth and honour, which hindered the one and the other from breaking with the world. When the world's hatred against Christ was satisfied, both dared to avow their attachment as disciples to a Master who was dead; and they avowed it in a costly manner according to the world. How easily our hearts are deceived! On the other hand, how gracious of God to have allowed them this privilege — to have reserved for them the only service they were prepared to give. The attention of God to the preservation and care of the bodies of those that are His, is quite remarkable; as may be seen here, and in the cases of Joseph, of Moses, and in the doctrine of job, and also of Paul.
Section 29. (John 20). The resurrection and manifestation to His people, etc.
This chapter divides into four parts. 1. The discovery to the disciples of the resurrection (1-10). 2. The appearance of the risen Lord to Mary (11-18). 3. The Lord's appearance the same evening among the disciples, when the doors were shut (19-23). 4. His appearance one week later, when Thomas was present.
1. If the heart be right with God, Christ, alive or dead is the centre and end of all our thoughts. The retired, yet patient firmness of the female character found its place, through grace, both at the cross and in the resurrection of Jesus; and that place a most honourable one. Testimony in public is not theirs, nor the responsibility before man of arrangement and service; but the women have their place, their service, their responsibility; and if hidden, yet is it one of the heart's affections, and much connected with serving the person of the Lord and His disciples. Mary was first at the sepulchre; the disciples learned first of her their supposed loss of the body of the Lord. Alarmed by the intelligence, John and Peter haste to the grave; but John is there first, yet to Peter the first entrance is given. How blessedly does the sovereignty of grace distribute in these things among the disciples its privileges. They return, but not so Mary; for,
2. Her heart was all absorbed in her Lord, who, dead or alive, was her Lord — and not another. Her affection, blind as it was, meets its reward; and after conversing unknowingly with her Lord (yet what was His joy in His servant's love the meanwhile?), He reveals Himself to her.
I explain verse 17 by Lev. 23:9-22; viz., that as the corn was not to be eaten till an offering had been presented to the Lord, so Christ would not be His people's in possession, ere He had presented Himself before, God and His Father in heaven; so that His zeal that God might have the first fruits, and that all the blessings of His people might be known — to flow from God, might be fully shown. And if the least blessing which we have derives its chief sweetness to the Christian from being the gift of God, sure it is that the greatest also, even that of a risen Lord, is not perfect apart from His Heavenly Father's name and love.
3. The Lord's appearance, on the first day of the week, Thomas absent, He hails them with, "Peace be unto you!" calls their attention to His person (verse 20), and then again repeats, "Peace be unto you!" ere He speaks of their mission, or breathes upon them, that they may receive the Spirit and the power of office.
4. Thomas's absence (and alas! avowed unbelief at the declaration, made to him by the disciples, of the Lord's appearance to them) gives occasion to another appearance of the Lord, in the which He restores Thomas, as an individual, in soul (type perhaps of the Jews in the latter day), and adds the remarkable verse. "Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
After this, with a remark of John's upon the number of miracles of the Lord, and the purport of the record, the book closes.
For John 21 seems rather an appendix than an integral part of the book itself — most precious though it be. It begins with "After that" (the meta tauta of John, so often found in the Apocalypse also), and contains the Lord's placing both of Peter and of John for their respective courses, after His resurrection, and then closes. Peter, it appears, had announced his purpose to go a fishing, to which the rest made themselves a party: the night's toil was in vain; but Jesus in the morning was on the shore to ask had they aught to eat; their "No," leads Him to bid them cast on the right side. They obey; and the immense draught leads John to say to Peter, "It is the Lord:" Peter casts his garment on him and himself into the sea, while the rest come to land to him. Coals, and fish, and bread are there all ready for them. Jesus, however, bids them fetch fish, and they dine on bread and fish.* After this, the Lord (about to place him in service) challenges Peter as to his love three times, and puts upon him each time the feeding of the flock. Peter's last answer is remarkable, "Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee." His conscience was now awake, and instead of boasting of his measure of love to Christ, with his failure in view on the one hand, but with the consciousness that Christ had poured love into his heart, which He could not forget nor overlook, though Peter might be inconsistent, he takes his stand. The Lord promises him not only another opportunity of laying down his life for Him, but that divine power and grace should carry him through the trial, in spite of the shrinking of the flesh. Peter then asks as to John's future course, and gets a rebuke, with the answer which was enigmatic, and, I doubt not, a mystery. The whole then closes with the wondrous words of verse 25: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."
*The joy and refreshment, in that day to come, will be in what Christ has provided both of Himself alone, and by means of His disciples.
Ere proceeding to the Epistles, I will give a brief summary of what we have seen. 1. The fulness of the Lord's person, as described by John (Apostle). 2. The preparation before Israel (man on earth) by John's (Baptist's) testimony, first to the Jews, and then more fully when he sees the Lord, as the Lamb, Sin-bearer and Life-giver. After that comes Jesus Himself, in His gracious conduct and welcome of the two disciples; in His wisdom and grace and liberality with Peter, Philip, and Nathanael; next His fellowship with man at the marriage feast, and His zeal for the Lord in the temple, Himself its substitute; then with Nicodemus, His doctrine of what it is in Him which is presented to faith, that a man may have life; with the blessed testimony of John following; next (John 4) of worship as the occupation of the life given in John 3; in John 5. He avails Himself of the visible want of rest to man, to introduce Himself, the True Sabbath; the Sabbath is followed by the showing how, in Him, there is that which satisfies hunger and thirst (John 6). Hope, its refreshing power leading into glory (John 7). Light and liberty (John 8). An outline of His conduct and its effects on faith and unbelief (John 9 and John 10). Death and resurrection (John 11). Then His discriminating love between Mary's love of Himself and that of Judas; the Hosannahs of the people, the desire of the Greeks to see Him (John 12). At the last supper (John 13) He pictures to the disciples the desert as (John 14) the Father's house; Himself the root of fruitfulness and testimony (John 15) and (John 16) its power. His communion with the Father (John 17). Betrayal with the consequent manifestation of all on earth in its true colours (John 18); then His crucifixion and burial. His resurrection, and reappearances to His disciples; and His setting them in blessing, and restoring and replacing what needed it. But all this previous to the descent of the Holy Ghost, and, therefore, to the proper position of being witnesses of the resurrection upon earth. For they were not as yet channels in which, and through which, the eternal life He had to give was deposited and flowed. This was not, could not, according to Divine counsel and wisdom, be before He had taken His place at the right hand of the Father.
His life here below, His, humiliation, perfect life, and expiatory death and resurrection having taken place, the Lord Jesus tarried a while ere quitting the earth to take His place in heaven at the right hand of the Father. All the scenes of the Gospel were in the desert, upon earth. But He being glorified as Son of Man, with the glory which, as Son of God, He had with the Father before the world was, the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost, in order to form the church, which was to take His place as witness upon earth. And what is her means of giving light and of being sanctified? It is the eternal life which she received at the hand of Jesus at the right hand of God. In the epistles Christ Jesus, in whom is eternal life, is always hidden in God; but His church is ever upon earth, and this life is the subject of the Epistles of John; His life, as a river, whose source is in God, which flows from the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God, and which has a history peculiar to itself. It is very important, seeing that Satan is upon earth, and that he can act upon the flesh, by means of the world, to have instructions direct from God Himself, with regard, not only as elsewhere as to the disorders connected with that life, the sicknesses, weaknesses, etc., to which the children of God, as such who walk not well, are exposed, but also of the experiences, according to the Spirit of God, of that life in itself in them. This it is which we find in the Epistles of John.
1. (1 John 1:1-5.) Testimony rendered to what John and the apostles had seen, yea, handled of the Word of Life, for faith in that is the only means of having communion with the Father and with the Son. Remark here that the light has been given to us once for all, by the Son, in His humiliation; but it is assured to us, in that He is now upon the throne of God, and God has there expressed His thoughts about Christ's course on earth. Am I in the light of that grace? Have I, for myself, that eternal life? Thereupon I have new wants and needs, and God gives me
2. (1 John 1:6-10.) Instruction with regard to that life, and it in me, when I am in the presence of God; in the hidden place, in spirit there, where the stream which passes through each soul unites it to the Fountain — to Christ in God. Having of His grace, not only in Him, but also by the Spirit in myself, eternal life, I walk, through grace, according to the light, in communion and without guilt, by reason of the blood of Christ (ver. 6, 7); yet, moreover, I have there a painful lesson to learn. For my body being as yet unrenewed, the light reveals to me and makes me conscious of the state of sin in which God found me, and of the sins which are the fruit thereof. Certainly, if I see what I am in myself when I am in the light of such a life as that which Christ led on earth here below, and gave in atonement ere He took the place on high where I see Him, I shall necessarily feel the contrast between what He is and what I am; between myself and that in Him which perfectly fitted Him to be both victim and righteousness; between what I am and He is, whose glory is presented to me in Him. If in the presence of God I rejoice in Christ, I also necessarily am humbled on account of what I myself am. Life is assured to me in Him, in Him who was put to death for my sins, in Him, in whom the glory to which I am predestinated is shown to me; but what a painful contrast between what I am in myself and what He is, what I am in Him! Contrast, greater far than that which exists between our respective circumstances. I see it by faith, and I see it in perfect tranquility of soul, because His glory now, in which my eternal life is secured, and whence it flows, is a glory consequent upon the death He endured by reason of, in order to free me completely from, the guilt of that which I am. Nevertheless, though this experience be humbling, it is healthful.* Such is one point of view. Then we have this life — regarded as seen in the various parts and members of the family in which it is found: each division of the family having something special to it.
*The needs be of such instruction. is but too evident: by the neglect of it, five out of every six of the children of God find themselves discouraged and cast down.
Thus, 3. (1 John 2:1-11) gives us the marks by which we may recognize the life in another: separation from evil, obedience, and love of the brethren. The old commandment (ver. 7) which had ever existed and been in evidence from the threshold of Eden — lost, downwards, is obedience. For, how can two walk together unless they be agreed. The divine nature never changes; of necessity the poor sinner must yield to God and His ways; but besides this, there is a, new commandment, which attaches more immediately to the holiness of discipleship in Christ, viz., brotherly love (ver. 8). This truth could not hold good before that a risen Christ became the One in whom the saints were presented before God. But the liberty of the children of God being assured in Christ, before God, and being assured in them also (which is true in Him and in you), brotherly love might be proclaimed as a sine qua non of eternal life.
From the 12th verse to the 28th, he considers the divisions of the family according to age and distinctive peculiarities. The sins of every individual member of that holy family are altogether pardoned; but besides this (which is true of Christ); there are blessings according to the Spirit: one may be a babe, a youth, or a father in Christ; for the family is divided thus into three classes. The fathers rest in Him; the youths have overcome the wicked one; in Him the babes have known the Father. Such is the peculiarity of each class according to the Spirit. First, in principle (ver. 13, 14); secondly, in detail (ver. 14-27). It must be noticed that there are two words, different in sense one from the other, both of which. are here rendered "little children." The first is found in verses 1, 12, 28 (tekna) offspring, "children of the family," which all are, who are of it, whatsoever be their age. The other (paidia) infants, babes, is found in verses 13 and 18. The speciality of one that is such is to inform itself in the doctrine of Christ, even as it already has the Unction by which it knows all things; that of the youths is to make application of this doctrine, and in practice to overcome the world, even as they already in Christ have done; that of the fathers, who, by the blessing and knowledge of the babe, and by means of the faithful conduct of youth in Christ, find themselves on the other side of the world and of the flesh, is to rest and abide there.* It is worthy of remark that ver. 13 and 14 add nothing to the truth of the fathers; that he exhorts the youths to act in their circumstances according to the victory they already have in Christ; and having assured the babes that they have need of nothing (ver. 20), "You have received the Unction of the Holy One and know all things," yet, he adds, and that very formally, instructions; yet not as teaching, so much as in brotherly love, recalling things well known. In the 28th verse, the name is generic, "offspring," and not the specific one of "babe."
*The order of grace is to notice the weakest first; that of responsibility leaves the weakest till the last; here it is responsibility; and, therefore, not babes, youths, and fathers, but fathers, youths, and babes, is the order.
But we are in the desert; and it is there, in us, that the experience of that life of which John speaks is made. We have then not only relationship with God and Christ in heaven, and relationships one with the other, and, therefore, as individuals, and according to the Spirit, duties to fulfil, as in setting aside Satan (as the babes by entrance into truth), the world (as the youth), and the flesh (as the fathers); but there is a contrast between the church and the world, where she is — between the family of God and the family of Satan. It is this which follows: —
4. "Every one that doeth righteousness is born of God" (1 John 2:29). Loved of God, unknown to the world, waiting for the Lord of glory, we have to purify ourselves even as He is pure. We have eternal life in Christ; obedience is the natural fruit thereof: sin is the fruit of a state of condemnation and alienation from God. Obedience to God and love toward the brethren are set in contrast with one's own will and hatred. God and the Devil, and the principles which pertain to the two families of these two, are in question. It may be well, perhaps, to state a truth which each child of God knows to be true, but which is found in the comparison of 1 John 3 and 1 John 1.
When I find myself in the direct presence of God, as in communion with Him, I feel not only that I am eternally pardoned, but that I am also in myself a poor sinner: this is 1 John 1; the three truths of which are the spirit of obedience, the enjoyment of gratuitous pardon, and the perception that there is in us sin. But if we turn to the third chapter, I find myself placed in the presence of the world; that is quite another thing. As the light of the sun at mid-day hides the light of a lamp so effectually that nought indeed but the black wick will be seen, so when we find ourselves in the presence of God, that which is of us will be seen, and the measure of light we give will go for nothing in the presence of the Perfect Light that is there. But place that lamp in a dark night, and it shows all around it, and the contrast between its light and the darkness all round is palpable. Such is the light which makes manifest the darkness of this world. Being in the world, the church can say, not only "We are of the Father of Jesus; and you are of the father of this present evil world:" but also, "We are holy, and we do the will of God our Father; and you are sinners, and you do according to your own will." I admit that it is the divine nature — the divine nature which we have received of Christ — which is our blessing in this third chapter, as it is in the first. But in the first, it is the eternal life which makes us sensible of the true character of that which we were, and of that which we are in ourselves, When we find ourselves in communion with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. In the third chapter, it is the eternal life acting in holiness, and showing (not the weakness of the vessel, which humbling lesson is yet a part of our sanctification, but) the strength of the life to accomplish in us (by means of faith and hope, according to the presence of the Holy Ghost) the will of God, which is put in contrast with the works which those do who are not ours all around us. The position of the family of God, the privileges, hopes, light, love in practical exercise, the separation or contrast with the world, by means of faith and the Spirit, is the substance of the third chapter.
In the last verse he speaks of the Spirit: this leads him to another lesson which he had to give, i.e., as to the difference between true religion and that which is false; between that which is of the Spirit of God and that which is of another spirit, not of God, be it of the flesh, or of the world, or of Satan, it matters not. We must studiously keep ourselves from all religion which is not of God and by Christ; for, there is but God and Satan, Heaven and the world, the Spirit and the flesh. And the Spirit, Heaven, Christ, and God are on one side, as the flesh, the world, and Satan are on the other. Union with one link of a chain unites you to the chain itself. We must not then (ver. 1) believe every spirit, but try the spirits, whence they are. The Spirit of God (ver. 2) acts according to the example which Christ has left us; they which are not thus are not of God. He gives, it seems to me, the life of Christ here below as a touch-stone of all the pretensions which we may find of possession of the Spirit; we overcome (ver. 4) them, for they are of the world (ver. 5), and we are of God. Another test is brotherly love, for love is of God (ver. 7, 8); and the death of the Lord Jesus, in order to give us life, is proof thereof (ver. 9, 10), and leads us to love one another (ver. 11); this will be a testimony of the presence of God in us (ver, 12) that we are in Him and that He is in us (ver. 13). It is the Father who sent the Son (ver. 14): to confess Him is to show our fellowship with the Father (ver. 15), is to recognize the love of God (ver. 16) which has placed us in Christ, sheltered from judgment (ver. 17); and this takes away fear (ver. 18), fills our hearts with love toward God (ver. 19), and toward the brethren (ver. 20), which is according to His commandment (ver. 21). Faith in Christ shows that we are the children of God (1 John 5:1).
The fifth chapter gives us additional tests by which to guard against the wiles of Satan. Love towards the brethren and love towards God and holiness must not be separated. Love to God and obedience are but one. This obedience is not painful (chap. 5:2, 3), for our nature, as children of God, is above all that is in the world (ver. 4, 5). But we must hold fast the truth, that Christ, in whom we are more than conquerors, is the same who is come by water and by blood; and the Spirit is the witness. Victory over all that is in the world is assured to us; for He, in whom we believe, is come by water and by blood; and it is the Spirit, who is truth, who renders the testimony to us. The testimony which God renders to His Son is more valid and worthy than that of men (ver. 9). He that believes has received it; he that believes it not, makes God a liar as to that which He has testified of His Son (ver. 10), that is to say, that eternal life is the portion of him who has the Son (ver. 11, 12) and such is the object of John's testimony.
And therein there is the assurance of having the open ear of God, and of answers to prayer, where our desires contravene not the government of God (ver. 14-17). He who is born of God, sins not: we are of God, and the world is in the wicked one (ver. 19); but the Son has given to us eternal life (ver. 20); may we keep ourselves from idols!
2 John. The grand lesson of the second epistle is with regard to the conduct suitable to the faith, in the case of efforts made by a subverter of foundation-truth. Even a female, if she be inside the house, can turn the key against such a one. To be separate, at all costs, from such is the great affair.
3 John. The third epistle, on the other hand, guards us in another point. If every one, without reference to others, ought, according to eternal life, to shut the door against him who brings other doctrine than that of Christ, each one is responsible to receive and to uphold the faithful, be we obliged to do so against the current and in spite of the opposition of others. We see, evidently, in these two epistles, that responsibility attaches to each individual both as to doctrine and, as to practice — whether there be pastors or not, adversaries or none.
We see in the epistle of Paul to the Philippians (Phil. 2), that the position of Lord of all, which has been given to the Son of Man has been given to Him on account of His service rendered. Being in the form of God, equal to God, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. He had eternal life in Himself, He was willing to suffer all that was requisite, in order for Him to be able to show the grace of God towards poor sinners, in such sort that they may have eternal life. He is Lord of all: it is to the glory of God the Father that this be recognized. He cannot be satisfied if every thing be not subjected to Jesus. We see in the Apocalypse how He is the touch-stone of every thing.
Without pretending to the possession of perfect understanding of the Apocalypse, yet it seems to me unquestionable that the idea of judgment is the prevalent thought of the book — judgment from the throne — judgment which issues from glories which pertain to Jesus as Son of God, who became Son of Man in order to die upon the Cross, and thus to make good His privilege of communicating the eternal life and glory which were distinctively His to poor sinners.
The churches come into judgment in Rev. 2 and 3. From the throne where He is (Rev. 4 and 5) judgment flows, and all that is on earth enters into judgment. We find in the first four seals, four judgments in providence, yet natural. In the fifth seal and in the sixth (Rev. 6) and in the 144,000 sealed from among the Jews, and in the multitude whom no man could number out of every tongue, etc. (Rev. 7), we have testimonies of judgment. He is worthy to have the 144,000 sealed, and worthy of the blessing given to this second class. It is the testimony given ere the more solemn judgments of God are in question. All that is of earth must be judged; but Jesus, as in heaven, is worthy of a people from among Jews and Gentiles; and He will have them, and have them preserved for Him too.
In the seventh seal (Rev. 8) we have a remarkable preparation for the judgments, which being still in the range of providence are to follow. But though they be in the order of providence, their character is far from being on a level with the ordinary acts of providence: it is very much more solemn. The judgment which follows the first trumpet falls on the grass;
that of the second is the mountain; the third, the star; the light is obscured in the fourth, the fifth angel (Rev. 9) introduces the three woes; subjects of the abyss; the sixth does likewise. In, Rev. 10 a mighty angel comes in and thereon (in Rev. 11) Jerusalem itself again appears on the stage; and a witness to God is rendered there in spite of the opposition of the adversary. The Lord Jesus has not forgotten His title of King of the Jews, which Pilate, representative of the power of the Gentiles, put forward so openly at the hour of the Lord's extreme humiliation. The nations must own this, and consequently their power must be set aside. After this comes a revelation of a sign in heaven, which seems to teach the public avowal on the part of Christ, that He is for Israel. It is at the time Christ quits the throne of God the Father, that Satan and them that are his are expelled the heavenly places, and that troubles begin upon the earth. They are not necessarily judgments directly from God; but God leaves the wicked to act as they will; and the evil which He will condemn becomes fully manifest, and the effects of a state of alienation from God become manifest; and that, in so gross a manner, that even the conscience of a natural man is sufficient to judge it. For God does not forget the conscience of man; and ordinarily, before He judges, evil has been recognized by man, and avowed as a thing to which man is resolutely attached. We see this in Rev. 13. As God had in love presented in Jesus all the light of His love and of His eternal life, but men would none of it, so Antichrist will be permitted in his own name to show, in direct contrast to Christ, the perfection of the flesh, of which flesh Satan availed himself by means of worldliness, in order to make the Jews and Gentiles to be the murderers of the Son of Man. Power, civil and ecclesiastical, will declare itself openly against God as such, and for the Man of Sin. And if the world be there to nourish the flesh, it is Satan the God of this world, who, after all, is at the bottom as the spring of the evil, even as the evil will be the visible expression of the character of the power under which man chooses to rest. In Rev. 13 we see what is the liberty of the natural man. In contrast with all which we see in Rev. 14 — first, the Lamb upon the Mount Zion surrounded with the 144,000; and then, secondly, the announcement by an angel of the everlasting gospel; thirdly, the announcement that Babylon is fallen; fourthly, a warning to man to keep separate from the Beast, etc.; fifthly, the blessedness of those that die in the Lord (ver. 13); sixthly, the reaping of the earth (ver. 14-16); and, seventhly, the vintage of the grapes of the earth.
Rev. 15. The seven angels having the seven last plagues (ver. 1); the song of the overcomers of the Beast, etc. (ver. 2-4); the angels receive the seven vials of gold full of the wrath of God, which they pour out in chap. 16. First (ver. 2), on the earth; secondly (ver. 3), on the sea; thirdly (ver. 4), on the fresh waters; fourthly (ver. 8, 9), on the sun; fifthly (ver. 10), on the throne of the Beast; sixthly (ver. 12), on Euphrates. The way of the east is prepared (ver. 12); the three impure spirits go out (ver. 13, 14); — the announcement "I come as a thief," etc.; seventhly, an earthquake, the great city divides in three parts, the cities of the nations are judged. Babylon comes into memory; the isles and the hills disappear. A fearful hail elicits blasphemy against God.
Rev. 17 and 18. The judgment of the Great Whore. The two names of the city and the whore, should be noticed; because they present two phases which are found not only here in that which is evil, but a little further on in that which is good. In that which is evil, the city is first presented to us (Rev. 16); and after that the woman, but the judgment has respect to the woman as such (Rev. 17), before reference to the city as such (Rev. 18). In that which is good the order is changed. Things exterior have precedence in the one, things interior in the other.
Rev. 19 presents us with the burst of praise on account of the judgments, and the reception of the bride of Christ; the descent of Christ, and the destruction of the Beast and of the false prophet. In Rev. 20 Satan is bound (ver. 1-3). The thrones — the first resurrection — Satan loosed — Gog and Magog — Satan taken — the great white throne — the general resurrection.
Rev. 21. The renewal of the heaven and earth (ver. 1-8) — the state of the bride — the city during the thousand years.
Then follows the application of the return of the Lord to the servant (Rev. 22:6-9); to men as such (ver. 10-16), and to the hearts which wait for Him (ver. 17-21) instinct with the Spirit and blessed with the position of the Bride. The description of the glory in Rev. 21 and Rev. 22, is rather that of its state during the thousand years than that which is eternal. If this manifestation is to take place before the heavens and the earth are changed, it is only so much the more evident that the object of the book is to present us, in a manner addressed to men, just as we are, what is the manifestation of the eternal life (found in Christ) which is suitable, its proper expression according to humanity — to man found on earth. That the new heavens and the new earth are connected with those which now exist is evident: first, by the connection between those which now exist, and those which preceded them, the change of which is presented to us as having a correspondence with that which is to come (2 Peter 3); and also because the manifestation of the glory in the heavens not changed is, in itself, the eternal glory. If God had passed over in silence (so to speak) the millennial glory, and had only given us some intimation about it while speaking to us of the eternal glory, we might have felt that this globe was not worthy to receive the glory of the Lamb: which indeed is true; but inasmuch as the glory is based upon grace, and that redemption glory is but grace seen in the presence of God and fully sustained there by Him, He has been pleased to act in another manner. For He wills to make known the victory of Christ as well as His glory. He presents us then with the glory in its earlier manifestation, wherein it has all the traits of victory upon it and there fully explains it. The Son of Man, He who has alone been faithful to God, ought to be, and must be manifested in glory, and therein sustain all the responsibilities which man has failed under, and display in the midst thereof the glory which pertains to Him as Son of Man. The Apocalypse shows this: and it seems to me, as I have said, to be the presentation of the effects, according to God, of the various consequences (always the just expression of the divine mind), of the manifestations which divine grace has made among men of the eternal life and glories connected therewith of the Lord Jesus.
I commend my subject to my readers' best attention, and my small success in elucidating it, to the God of all grace, who delights in Christ Jesus, and in those who, through the Spirit, interest themselves in what pertains to Him.