It can scarcely have escaped, the notice of every thoughtful reader of Scripture, that the writings of John exhibit more than any other the personality of the divine persons in the Godhead. It is this apostle who gives us the fullest revelation of the Father, especially in the gospel history which bears his name. It is he also who gives us the most exalted revelation of the Son, especially, in his primary epistle. And again, it is to his writings that we turn for the richest revelation of the Holy Ghost - in the gospel as the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth, the Comforter; in the epistles as the anointing, the, unction from the Holy One; and in Revelation as the seven Spirits which, are before the throne, and the seven Spirits of God which are sent forth into all the earth.
We are so familiar with these writings of John, and practically they constitute so large and important a part of Scripture to our souls, that it is no less interesting than important for us to remember, that for a period extending to nearly forty years after the death of Christ they had no existence; and that consequently not only all the other apostles and disciples of the Lord, but the bulk of the saints who formed the Church when it began at Pentecost, had in all probability fallen asleep before the earliest of them, the epistles, were written. What an hiatus in divine truth, and in our apprehension of it, should we experience were we bereft of what we have received from these writings. It will thus be evident that their remarkable character is rendered still more remarkable by the lateness of their date as compared with the rest of the New Testament, and the place which God has assigned them as constituting the close of His revelation of Himself and His counsels. And if "the disciple which testifieth of these things" has not indeed himself tarried until the Lord come, yet "his testimony" very emphatically conducts us onward to, and leaves us in full view of, that one only goal of our hopes; and it closes by dropping into our hearts the Lord's otherwhere unrecorded words about it, to linger with us as a sweet memory until "cloudless morning breaks."
Paul and Peter (if we may trust the ordinary chronology) appear to have both closed their writings (2 Timothy and 2 Peter) in the same year; and in the next, or in the one following that, to have each sealed his testimony in the blood of martyrdom. At this time, though, as he says (3 John 13), he "had many things to write," John had not yet taken up his pen. Thus it appears that neither Paul nor Peter was privileged to feed upon the incomparable revelation of the persons of the Godhead as specifically given through him. If we mentally run over the scenes and circumstances in the Lord's life (nowhere recorded but in John's gospel) the discourses of the Lord and His prayer to His Father (nowhere else found), and to these we add the teachings of his epistles and the prophecies, etc., in Revelation, we cannot fail to recognize the stupendous value of this codicil to the other writings of the New Testament, this post-Pauline after-gift, if we may so speak, to the Church of God through the inspiration which wrought in "the disciple whom Jesus loved."
How far Peter's personal knowledge of the Lord's life etc., and how far the revelations personally made to Paul, did in their case supply the lack of these writings subsequently given to the Church, we may not venture to say. But it is clear that not one word of the writings of this beloved apostle and witness of Christ, so familiar to us and to the saints of eighteen centuries preceding us, was ever perused by Peter or by Paul. How it should enhance our apprehension of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the good pleasure of God in us, that we should have been constituted possessors of so matchless a heritage of truth, never revealed to them, or, if revealed, given to them only for their personal blessing and joy, and excluded from their testimony, as in like manner the whole of the apostles may have had the revelation of the Church, while for testimony it was reserved to Paul.
About two years, it seems, after those apostles had finished their course, and just before the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, John wrote his epistles. Not only was the Church in ruins, but the holy city and the temple were about to be razed to the ground. How fitting it was that the Spirit of God should move the last surviving apostle to present more saliently than ever before the glories of the incarnate Son, now that "that which was from the beginning" had become so much more evidently the only unchanging resource for the saints! After bestowing upon the Church of God these precious scriptures, the Spirit of God kept silence as to revelation for a space of about thirty years, and then during his banishment in Patmos "the prisoner of the Lord" was inspired to give that great prophecy which is termed "the revelation of Jesus Christ," embracing the history of the professing Church and its judgment - the judgment of Jew and Gentile, the kingdom and glory of Christ and His bride, and, finally, the eternal state. John must have been now over ninety years of age, and his course well-nigh finished. Accordingly, rapidly following the Revelation, the Spirit of God moved him to write the gospel which bears his name, in which Scripture the written word of God was completed. In his gospel John gives us Christ as the eternal Son in the glory of His person, and what He was in His humiliation; in his epistles what He was and is, and in Revelation what He was, is, and will be. Even as to the earth He is seen in this threefold way. (Chap. 1:5.) He was "the faithful witness" in it; He is "the first begotten of the dead" out of it, and He will be "Prince of the kings of the earth" as set over it. But returning to his gospel, we find the Father and the promise of the Father - the Holy Ghost, revealed in a supremely blessed way, the top-stone of divine revelation. May we not say that the gospel of John is the crowning revelation given of God to the Church? and the crown of this crowning revelation is that of which John pre-eminently speaks - the Holy Ghost as the Comforter.
Were we set to ascertain the source from whence our knowledge of the Holy Ghost has been, derived we should speedily conclude that of the eight writers, of the New Testament nearly all we know had been communicated to us through Paul or John.; Luke, it is true, gives us, in the Acts the historical account of His advent and actings; but the character of His office and His relation to the Church, is found in Paul, and must have been received by direct revelation, while His person and the effect of His presence, is found in John's record of what had been spoken by the Lord nearly seventy years previously. In giving this John illustrated in his own case the word he recorded, in which, speaking of the Holy Ghost, the Lord had said, "He shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." In short, as in Paul's writings, we get a monograph as it were, of the church; in like manner we get in John's what may be termed a monograph of the divine Persons, so far as God has been pleased to reveal Himself to the apprehension of faith. It has been well said, "One gives the dispensation in which the display is; the other, that which is displayed.
Now in respect to the Holy Ghost, John witnesses of the words of the Lord Jesus upon the memorable night in which He was betrayed, when the overcharged heart of the blessed Lord poured out the wealth of that affection of which the disciples were the beloved objects. Going away from amongst them, He provides for their future by sharing with them His own fortune, so to speak. The wonderful effect of divine grace is, in a certain sense, to give us (1) all that Christ is, and (2) all that He has. "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" I do not now speak of all that He is, but all that He has resolves itself for us into three great divisions - the Father, the Holy Ghost, and the glory. Of these the Father was what He presented while on earth, and which this gospel more immediately brings into view, and establishes to the heart. The Holy Ghost is what is essentially and characteristically given us during the Church period. And the glory is that which we wait the manifestation of when He comes to receive us. Thus His presence on earth was the revelation of the Father; His session on the Father's throne as rejected of the earth but head of His body the church, is the revelation of the Holy Ghost; and His return to receive His bride will be the revelation of the glory which He will share with her for eternity!
It is the Holy Ghost then whose presence constitutes the characteristic blessing of the saints in this period, that of which the Lord so strikingly spoke at the well of Sychar: "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst." Further, it appears to me that the Lord exalts in a remarkable way the person of the Holy Ghost by the title which He, and He only, gives Him in John's gospel. (Chaps. 14-16) Four times over in that farewell address to His chosen disciple does He speak of that coming One as the Paraclete or Comforter, and if we examine each instance, we shall see how distinct is its connection.
In 14:16 it is "another Comforter." They had one then already, and who could that be but Himself? (See 1 John 2:1, where "advocate" is the same Greek word.) Wonderfully pregnant with meaning was this simple word "another." Not only did it suggest that they were about to be enriched rather than despoiled but it conveyed, as no other word could possibly convey, what the unknown coming One, of whom the Lord spake, should be to, for and with them, On the blessed Lord's intercession, the Father would send down this new, this additional, Comforter. If He could right; be spoken of as another, then must He evidently be an equally divine Person, entitled to take rank with Christ Himself, and of Him it is predicated that He should abide with them for ever. Not as a visitant should He be, as the Lord had been, here for three years of ministry and testimony, and then cut off, but an abiding Comforter; for He should dwell with them; and also, instead of being seen of them, He should be in them. Moreover, He should so make good to their hearts the blessed ministry of Christ in its sweetness and plentitude, that all sense of desolation should be removed, and they should compass the precious fact that Christ was in the Father, and no less were they in Him, and He in them.
Secondly (14:26), as the Comforter He should be sent of the Father in all the value and the virtue of the name of Christ, with all which that name is designed to convey to our consciences and to our hearts. "He shall teach you all, things," is added, "and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." The whole of the truth of God for God's saints; all the Master's teaching to His beloved but forgetful disciples, should be brought again to their remembrance in the energy and unction of the Holy Ghost. What an inestimably blessed and cheering word both for them and for us!
In the third case (15:26), He is the sent One of Christ Himself from the Father; as such, He is the Spirit of truth, proceeding from the Father, and testifying of the Son. Here He is presented in connection with that testimony which should follow the rejection of Christ and His exaltation to glory. As the Lord Jesus had been the faithful witness of the Father, so should the Holy Ghost be the faithful and official witness to the refused One of earth, glorified at God's right hand, in which testimony the saints are clearly embraced also, as the Lord graciously added to His disciples, "And ye also shall bear witness."
Lastly, in 16:7 we have for the fourth time the Comforter named, and there it is in His relation to the world. In connection with this is the statement, that of such importance was His advent, that it was expedient for them that the blessed Lord should retire, that He might send Him unto them. It was unto them He should be given, unto them He should be sent. He should not be given or be sent unto the world as Christ had been (only to be rejected by it), but to them alone; yet He should have a relation and aspect towards the world, but it would be purely judicial. He should convict or fasten home its guilt upon it. The presence of the Lord Jesus in the world had been the testimony of God's love to it; the presence of the Holy Ghost (none the less real though unknown by it) should be of an opposite character. It is no longer testimony given in grace to the world, but given to the saints against it. The world is convicted of having refused and slain Him who came in grace to it, and is branded with its guilt. This the Holy Ghost presence attests. God's grace and mercy were to be presented, and His goodness displayed, for eighteen centuries or more; but the reconciliation of the world as such is no longer contemplated. Its day of visitation had passed. Thenceforth it was the election of grace according to the sovereign goodness of God. It should be individuals only, picked up and saved out of the world, that His grace embraced. But as to the world itself, its sin was fastened on it because it had believed not on Christ, God's gift to it. Righteousness as a divine principle was witnessed to also; for the Father had received to highest glory, on His own throne, Him whom the world in its unrighteousness had refused And judgment alone remained, and was established as a future certainty, because in the cross the prince of this world (Satan) was already judged.
This closes the Lord's fourfold testimony to the person of the Comforter, and the effect of His presence. Many things more the Lord might have said, but they were not equal to it. This only He adds, that when He of whom the Lord had spoken should come, not from Himself should He speak, He should guide them into all the truth - the past, for He should bring all things to their remembrance; the present, what we may term the current thoughts of God to His saints, for whatsoever He should hear should He speak; and the future, for He should show them the things to come.
Surely we may say, How blessed and perfect a servant and Comforter is the Lord Jesus on high, and how equally blessed a servant and Comforter is the Holy Ghost, the divine witness in and with us of an earth-rejected Christ received up into glory! W. R.