<< John XV: Spiritual Meaning and Commentary >>
The words which the Lord addressed to his disciples, after he had concluded the discourse, in which he revealed so fully and plainly his relation to his Father, and their relation to him, were followed by their literally arising from the table where they reclined with him, and going thence with him into the city, when his last and most momentous address to them was delivered.
1. The Lord had taught his disciples that a most intimate relation should exist between himself and the Father, and between him and them. He now proceeds to illustrate the nature of that relation. I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. The parable of the vine is a most beautiful and instructive illustration of the subject it was introduced to explain. :. In the beginning of Genesis, the Lord’s presence with his church, as the giver and sustainer of her life, is described allegorically by the tree of life, planted in the midst of the garden; by eating the fruit of which her children should live for ever, or secure for themselves eternal life. 1 Man forfeited his right to the tree of life by eating of the tree of knowledge. When the Lord came as the Restorer, as the seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent’s head, he came to plant anew the tree of life, which is love, in the centre of the soul, which was to be renewed as the paradise of God. The humanity which the Lord assumed and glorified in the world, is, in very deed, the tree of life, in and through which the church and her members have spiritual and eternal life. Setting himself forth as ” the true vine,” the Lord explains the relation in which he stood to his Father on one hand, and to the church on the other. The Father stood, in a corresponding relation to the Son. that the husbandman stands to the vine; and the members of his church have a relation to him similar -to that which the branches bear to the tree. The Father was to the Son as the husbandman is to the vine, both in its beginning and in its progress. The husbandman plants the vine, so the humanity was begotten of the divinity; and the superintending care of the Lord’s Divinity over the humanity from first to last, even to its complete glorification, is as the care of the husbandman over the vine. In the more abstract or interior sense, the vine is a symbol of the Lord as to his Divine Truth, and the husbandman is a type of the Lord as to his Divine Good; and the operation of the Divine Good upon and through the Divine Truth, is treated of throughout the whole of the parable. First the operation of the Divine Good on Divine Truth in the humanity itself, and afterwards on the members of the Lord’s body.
2 But the divine operations, of which the humanity is the subject, are mentioned more particularly. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away ; and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. As we are considering this parable first in relation to the Lord himself, the branches are the human affections which belonged to his humanity, as born of the virgin mother. Those which grew out of the root of that fallen nature which the Lord assumed, were of a character similar to the root which produced them. Every affection of the human nature which bore no fruit, was removed, and every affection which bore fruit was purged of what was natural and imperfect, that it might bring forth more fruit—fruit more perfect as well as more abundant. By this process of removing and purging, the humanity of the Lord was gradually perfected, and was made Righteousness, so as to produce the fruits of salvation in those who, as branches, became engrafted into the true vine—the Divine Humanity of the Lord the Saviour. And this leads us to the secondary meaning of the parable. In this application, the vine is the type, not of the Lord’s own glorious Body, but of his mystical body, formed by heaven and the church. The Lord is still the primary, we may say the only, object to be regarded in the vine thus understood; for heaven and the church are not constituted of anything originating in or belonging to those who compose them, but heaven and the church consist of that which angels and men have received from the Lord, and which is the Lord in them. In brief, heaven and the church consist, not of the human recipients, but of the divine love and truth they have received. Although the gift and its recipient cannot be separated, they can be distinguished; and are so distinguished by the .recipients themselves, who ascribe all they have of goodness and truth to the Lord alone. Those who become members of the Lord’s body are branches of the true vine. But all the branches of the true vine are not true branches. So long as they have any connection with heaven and the church, they derive, as branches, nourishment from the root. And all have some connection with heaven and the church, and with the Lord through them. Every one in early life is in connection with heaven, and either directly or indirectly with the church. All are branches of the vine while they are in a state of innocence and simplicity of heart; but those who, when they pass out of this state, bear no good fruit, are cut off from connection with the vine. ” Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away.” Fruitless branches are an encumbrance to the tree; for, besides bearing no fruit themselves, they prevent others from being as fruitful as they might. Moreover, those who produce no good fruit produce evil fruit, turning the juice of the vine into nourishment for sin. They must, therefore, be taken away, both for their own sake and for the sake of others. But those who do bear fruit, however little it be, are retained in connection with the vine, and are purged of their imperfections, that they may bring forth more fruit. The vine has the capacity of nourishing all its branches, however widely the tree may spread; and the husbandman has the desire of retaining all. It is only when the branches are unprofitable and injurious to themselves and others, that they are taken away. All who are willing to be purged of their impurities, and will submit to the purging process of reformation, and the perfecting process of regeneration, are retained, and brought into, conformity with the vine as the stem from which they have grown, or on which they have been engrafted.
3 The Lord, addressing the disciples, applies this parable to them as branches of the true vine, which he himself is. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Purification is effected by truth, symbolized in the Scriptures by water. The Lord seems here to allude to the significant land symbolic act which he had just performed, in washing the disciples’ feet; when he said “Ye are clean, but not all.” The purifying efficacy of his truth is also described by the purifying power of his blood. -Jesus is he ” that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood ” (Rev. i. 5). And so the great multitude are ” they who have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (ib. vii. 14; see also Heb. ix. 14 ; 1 John i. 7). The Lord’s word is that which purifies. It instructs men, and leads them to shun evil, and do the work of repentance. It is important to reflect, that it is the lord’s word that effects this work of purification, his word being the Divine Truth proceeding from him, which includes in it the merit and power of the Lord’s works of redemption and glorification. This, in an eminent sense, is meant by his blood; which is not to be thought of as the blood of a dead but of a living and divine body, of which the blood shed upon the cross was only the outward symbol. The blood of the Lord is both living and life-giving, as well as purifying. It is divine truth proceeding from love; for he whose blood washes us from our sins is he who also “loved us.”
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. The nature of the relation subsisting between himself and his disciples the Lord here very expressively describes. The branch owes the whole of its life, and consequently its power of bearing fruit, to its connection with the vine. It draws indeed nourishment from the atmosphere through its leaves as well from the earth through its roots y but the power of nourishing itself, or of being nourished, is entirely owing to its being in connection with the vine. There is this difference, it is true, between the type and the antitype, that the natural vine and its branches are destitute of the power of willing and choosing, while the spiritual are possessed of free will. Jesus wills that all should be branches in him, as the true vine, and that all should be living branches, bearing good fruit. The members of his church have the power of choosing whether they will abide in connection with the vine, and be fruitful or unfruitful branches. The Lord therefore says, ” Abide in me, and I in you.” This is the language of exhortation, and would be without meaning if those to whom it was addressed were not free—free to choose whether they will abide in the Lord Jesus Christ or no. It is an appeal to the disciples, to choose life rather than death ; life by remaining in connection with Him who is Life itself, and the source of life to his people, rather than the death that inevitably results from wilful separation from Him. ” As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye except ye abide in me.” Fruit is the end of the vine’s existence ; to produce fruit is the function and use of the branch.
All religion has relation to life, and the life of religion is to do good. But the point here to be considered is, not the necessity of doing good, but the impossibility of doing good except by the power of Him who is Goodness itself. Men can indeed do good without being in spiritual connection with the Lord Jesus; .but such good is not real but apparent good. It may be good to those to whom it is done but it is not good to him who does it. It is not done from any motive of real goodness. It is not done from the Lord’s Spirit, but from the spirit of the man himself. And such good, besides being temporal in its nature, is temporary in its duration. The motive which prompts it is of the world, and ends with the world; it cannot enter heaven. Cut off from the vine, the fruitless branch will be cast forth, and will wither: and its judgment will be that of the barren fig tree: ” Let no fruit grow on thee thenceforth for ever.”
5 Having instructed his disciples as to the work of the husbandman, and the necessity of the branches abiding in the vine, he now explains to them the meaning of the image he had used. I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing. The language which the Lord employs to describe the relation between him and his disciples gives a most exalted idea of his nature and power. No being that was not infinite could rightfully use this language. For what does it imply, but that Jesus is the spiritual life and strength of all who spiritually live and act ? They live by his life, they act by his power : without him they can do nothing. This language is inconsistent with the idea that spiritual and eternal life are to be secured by merely following his teaching or imitating his example. It is not only from what4 Jesus was and did, that his disciples have life, but from what he is and does; it is not merely by looking back to him as an example, but by looking up to him as a living power—as One who has all power, and by abiding in him, that they can bear fruit unto eternal life. Their life is to be derived from him, and is to be his life in them. They are to be grafted into the vine, and draw their nourishment from his roots. Not fruit merely, but much fruit, is the result of living in connection with the true vine. -Much the disciple receives, much he is required to give. He is to abound in all good works. But while we can bring forth much fruit by abiding in the Lord and having the Lord abiding in us, without him we can do nothing. We can do nothing spiritual or heavenly of ourselves; nothing that can enrich the soul of the doer, or that can build up he Lord’s kingdom of righteousness and peace in his heart This may not be apparent to man, or be made manifest in this world; but after death, when all earthly motives to do good have died out, the truth will be revealed, and the soul will be left in its nakedness. ” “Without me ye can do nothing.”
6 We now learn the consequences of not abiding in the Lord as the true vine. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. Not only is there no fruit, but no existence out of Jesus Christ. There is nothing here said about the Lord not abiding in men, but only about their not abiding in him. The Lord does not withdraw himself from any one; it is by not abiding in him that a man is cast forth. The nominal disciple, who abides not in the Lord, is one whose want of faith and love separates him from the Fountain of life, and leaves him no other fate than to be cast forth as a branch, and to wither. ” And men gather them, and they are cast into the fire, and they are burned.” No longer living and flourishing and bearing fruit, to the glory of God and the good of others, he is rudely cast away and dried up, and is fit for nothing but to be gathered of men, and cast into the fire and burned. Gathering is expressive of particular things being brought together into one whole. The Lord unites the affections of the whole human race, so as to form of them one man. He gathers the righteous into his kingdom, as the husbandman gathers the wheat into his garner. The angels gather the elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. The wicked are gathered, when their affections are gathered together by and around the ruling love. They are cast into the fire when the ruling love obtains complete ascendancy, and comes into manifestation as the lusts of evil; and they are burned, when everything good and true which they may have learnt is consumed, and every thought and affection is inflamed, and burns with the desires of hatred, revenge, and all uncharitableness.
7 On the contrary, our Lord continues to say, If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Those who abide in the Lord receive whatever they ask, because they crave nothing but what the Lord himself inspires them with the desire to ask. When the will of man is in harmony with the will of God, he can ask nothing but what is agreeable to the Divine will. He wills what the Lord wills ; indeed he wills from the Lord’s will; for to abide in the Lord is nothing but to be in the love of the Divine attributes which constitute the Divine nature. Confirmation in a state of love and faith is abiding in the Lord ; and he who asks in faith and love, asks what the Lord delights to grant. The spiritually-minded man asks chiefly for spiritual things, and such only as are suited to his requirements. If he seeks exemption or deliverance from trial or affliction, he seeks, as our Lord himself asked, in submission to the Divine will—” not as I will, but as thou wilt.” It is true that no mere man can reach or even approach the height of perfection which our Lord attained in his prayers. But in so far as man is in the earnest desire and effort to be, in his own measure, what his Lord was, his prayers will partake of the nature of the Lord’s; and the answers he receives will be like those which Jesus received. There is, we find, no limit assigned to the will or desires of the true disciple as expressed in his petitions. “Ye shall ask what ye will.” The design of this is no doubt to instruct us, that the Lord desires that his disciples should ask, and should ask earnestly and often. The divine will is, that men should both will and strive to obtain what they will, and not supinely wait for spiritual gifts from on high. We must at the same time reflect that the promise of obtaining whatever the suppliant wills to ask is given only to him who abides in the Lord, and has the Lord’s words abiding in him. We abide in the Lord when we love him ; and his words abide in us when we obey them. Through his love the Lord gives the spirit of prayer, and through his words he teaches the subjects of prayer.
8 But the end of prayer leads to doing as well as to receiving. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. In what sense and in what way is the Father rather than the Son glorified by the disciples bearing much fruit ? The Lord, we know, is the Father as well as the Son; the Father as Love, the Son as Wisdom. The Father is glorified in man’s works, when they are done from the Lord’s love, and thus from love to the Lord. The divine love is then glorified in the disciple who performs them; for the love of God is exalted in the heart, so far as the disciple does good, which is the fruit of love. “So shall ye be my disciples.” A disciple of the Lord is one who learns and obeys the Lord’s truth. The doing of good leads to the acquisition of truth. Love and truth perfect each other. The more we love the more we believe; the more we exalt the love of God in our hearts, the more clearly we see the truth of God in our understandings. The more we glorify the Father, the more faithful disciples are we of the Son.
9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. The mediatorial character of the Lord’s humanity is here very strikingly brought out. The Lord Jesus is too commonly thought of as directing his mediatorial work to the Father, as a distinct person from himself. But the mediatorial work of the Lord is really directed to men. They only need reconciliation. God has the gifts of salvation to bestow, and all that is needed is, that men should be made willing to receive them. Before the incarnation there was no adequate medium through which the gifts of God could be communicated to men. The humanity which the Lord assumed and glorified is now such a medium. The gift of salvation which could not pass directly from God to man, now comes through the Lord’s humanity. The divine love becomes human in the Lord’s humanity, and thus accommodated to the minds of men. This is expressed by the Father loving him and the Son loving men. But not only the fact, but the manner, of the Lord’s love of his disciples is described in this language; as the Father loved the Son the Son loved his disciples. In the same way that the divine love was wrought into the humanity of the Lord, it is wrought into the mind of man. According to the literal sense of our Lord’s words, the Son was the object of the Father’s love, and men are the objects of the Son’s love. If, in accordance with the spiritual idea, we say, that as the Son became the subject of the Father’s love, men became the subjects of the Son’s love, we express the truth as it really is. This is saying, in other words, that man is regenerated in the same way, or by the same process, as that by which the Lord was glorified. How marvellous is this great truth,—that God became incarnate for the purpose of providing a medium by which this love might descend into the hearts of men ! And how important the Lord’s exhortation, ” Continue ye in my love.”
10 The Lord now teaches us how we may be able to continue in his love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. The commandments of which our Lord speaks, were not any special commands laid upon the Son in reference to the work of redemption, but are the eternal laws which the Lord came on earth to fulfil. So neither are the Lord’s commandments to us special but general. If we take the Lord’s words in the simple literal sense, we learn from them the useful lesson, that to continue to be the objects of the Lord’s love we must keep his commandments. He loves the obedient, but not the disobedient. He does not here say that if we would abide in his love, we must love him in return, but that we must keep his commandments. No doubt reciprocal love is implied. But loving and doing are so intimately connected, that one cannot exist without the other. Of the two it might be supposed that obedience was most capable of existing alone. But there is no true obedience which ‘is not willingly rendered, and what is done willingly is so far done lovingly. The lesson which our Lord inculcates in this instance is a most important one. He teaches that obedience is the foundation on which love rests, without which it has no real existence. Love in the heart is God’s throne, obedience in the life is his footstool. Judgment and justice are the support of his throne; and where these are not, his dominion in the heart must end. In the spiritual sense, as we have seen, to abide in the Lord’s love is to be a subject of his love—to have his love abiding in us. And thus understood, we must see still more clearly, that if we would abide in his love, we must keep his commandments. His commandments are the laws of love. They proceeded from his love, and were designed to lead us to it; and when led to it, to preserve us in it. The divine laws were not given to tell us what divine justice requires us to do that we may escape hell, but to teach us what divine love desires us to do, that we may gain heaven. The divine commandments are the laws of life, not of death. They are the laws of love, and so love is the fulfilling of the law. In this, too, our Lord is our pattern. He desires us to keep his commandments, that we may abide in his love, even as he kept his Father’s commandments, and abides in his love. The Lord is the Man in whom all may see what they, as men, are required to do. By keeping his Father’s commandments, the Lord abides in his Father’s love. He fulfilled the whole law; and it was because the whole law was the law of love, that the Lord abode in the Father’s love by doing it. By inscribing the eternal and immutable laws of order and righteousness on his humanity, he became order itself and righteousness itself. And the Son abides in the Father’s love, because he realized in himself all that the divine love desired and all that the divine wisdom required. Even so must we, in our measure and degree, do the Lord’s commandments, if we would abide in his love.
11 That the Lord’s commandments were the laws of life, obedience to which is the means of obtaining it, is further evident from the words which the Lord now utters. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. The Lord’s joy, as it is in himself, is the blessedness arising from his own perfections, and from imparting them to the children of men. To have the Lord’s joy remaining in us, we must have a measure of his perfections, for thence only can we have a measure of his blessedness. The joy of which the Lord spake was especially the joy which he had by accomplishing the work of redemption. Love for the human race was that which prompted the Lord to come into the world to redeem men ; and divine joy is the fruit of the realized purpose of divine love. This joy the Lord desires to impart to us, and to preserve in us. But it cannot be imparted to us in any other way than that by which the Lord himself acquired it. lie who came to have divine joy had been a man of sorrows. He endured all the sorrows humanity could endure in resisting and overcoming temptation. So also must we pass through his sorrows if we would have his joy dwelling in us ; and that our joy may be full, we must fully conquer in the conflict with the devil, the world, and the flesh. This is a work that can never be complete in us as it was in the Lord. It is enough that we earnestly strive after it, as we must strive after perfection, although we never can be perfect. Indeed, our perfection consists in going on unto perfection. Our fulness of joy consists in its ever increasing in fulness, as we increase in perfection, which we may to infinity and eternity.
12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. This is the new commandment which our Lord gave his disciples, and which we have already considered (chap. xiii. 34). As introduced here, it expresses the duty, which the Lord was now enforcing on the disciples, of keeping his commandments, as the means of abiding in his love. Love to the Lord is to be manifested in love to the neighbour. Nay, the Lord’s love in us is the love of the neighbour. The Lord’s love, as revealed and as given to us, is the love of his creatures; and this love in us, by its very nature, prompts us to love one another, and to love one another even as he has loved us.
13 Love is to be shown by the sacrifices it makes as well as by the benefits it confers. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. If we are to love one another as the Lord has loved us, we have in his love to us an example for our imitation. He laid down his life, not for his friends only, but for his enemies. ” Scarcely for a righteous man will one die : yet, peradventure, for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. v.7,8). No; greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. But Jesus was not a man, he was the man. Humanity in its greatest perfection was embodied and exemplified in Him. And he, therefore, did what none other man did, he died not only for his friends but for his enemies. He does not here set forth this feature of -his own character—this wonderful and unexampled display of love. He only directs the minds of his disciples to the greatest of all human loves—the love which prompts one to lay own his life for his friends. The Lord laid down his life for his disciples. They had been his enemies, and the enmity of their hearts was far from being yet entirely overcome. The Lord had not yet completely conquered the grand enemy, the devil, who still held the human race, as well as every human mind, in bondage. He was now addressing himself to those who had followed their Lord in his divine work, so far as to have become friends of him whom the world hated, and against whom all the powers of darkness were combined.
14 Jesus teaches us who are his friends. Ye are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you. If friendship is formed and cemented by love, then friendship, like love, must rest on virtuous action. But in the bond of friendship between the Saviour and his disciples there is something peculiar. Friends are bound to each other not only by mutual love, but by mutual obligations, and these obligations, like the love which they manifest and sustain, are generally equal. But the friendship of the Lord and his disciples rests on conditions that respect the disciples only. ” Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” He is at once the Author and the Object of these conditions; the disciple only is subject to them. There are indeed means on the Lord’s part, which are laws of order, according to which his friendship for the disciple acts; but these laws originate in himself, and are himself, for divine law is but another name for divine wisdom, or for the mode in which wisdom, as the law of divine love, operates. His wisdom is a law unto his disciples, which they are to receive from him, and whose commands they are to obey as his. The disciples are his friends if they do whatsoever he commands them. It is worthy of our attention that the Lord so constantly impresses upon his disciples the necessity of keeping his commandments, which he makes a condition of every blessing which he promises to bestow upon them. There is no difference in respect of obedience between the friend and the servant, of whom the Lord proceeds to speak. Both are required to obey His commandments, the only difference between them being the difference in the intelligence and motive by which their obedience is distinguished. Abraham was called the friend of God (Isa. xli. 8), because he represented those who are principled in love to the Lord; and in agreement with this the apostle James tells us that Abraham was called the friend of God because he showed his faith by his works (ii. 23).
15 The Lord continues, Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends ; for all things I have heard of my Father, I made known unto you. The disciples had been in the condition of servants; now they were raised to the dignity of friends. A servant is one who obeys his master from a sense of duty, or for the sake of reward ; a friend is one who serves another from disinterested love. Obedience from a sense of duty is spiritual servitude ; obedience from a feeling of love is spiritual freedom; and when the disciple has passed from the first state to the second, he is no longer the servant but the friend of God. Our Lord explains the ground of difference between these states and conditions. The servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth. Before one can be even a faithful servant, he must know the law of his master, but he knows it only as an authoritative command which he is bound to obey. He knows the Lord’s will, but he knows not his reason and purpose in enforcing it. This belongs to a higher state; and is described by the Lord in the words, ” all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” Whenever the Lord speaks of his Father, he speaks of his own indwelling divinity as distinguished from his humanity, and of his own divine love as distinguished from his divine wisdom. What the Lord makes known to his disciples from his Father is what he communicates to them from his love, and what they receive as a message and a law of love. The Lord ever speaks from love, but those to whom he speaks do not always hear and obey him in love. But the Lord says, ” all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” This is like the declaration respecting the Holy Spirit, ” he shall lead you into all truth,” all implying fulness, according to our measure and degree of reception. The fulness of the disciple is an image of the Lord’s fulness. The Lord’s expression implies, that he, as our Friend, in his unbounded love reveals all his mind to those h& calls his friends, making them the depositories of his inmost and secret thoughts, for “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him” (Psa. xxv. 14).
16 The cause as well as the conditions of our being raised from the state of servants to that of friends is of the Lord. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain ; that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. The twelve were chosen to their apostleship by the Lord, and were appointed to preach the gospel, and to bring souls to him, as the fruit of their labour. But it is doubtful if Jesus now addressed them as apostles, and not rather simply as disciples. The term and general scope of his address have more reference to Christian than to official life and character. It is in this light that we intend to consider them. The Lord’s words are true of all disciples. They have not chosen him, but he has chosen them. Their salvation is begun, carried on, and perfected by him. The work is not done without their consent and cooperation ; but the Lord is the Author and the Agent, while they are only the recipients and reagents. “We love God because he first loved us.” His love for us is the producing cause of our love to him. We have not chosen him, but he has chosen us; and not only chosen us, but ordained us; chosen us by his love, ordained us by his wisdom. We are his chosen or elect ones when we receive his love into our hearts, and we are his ordained or appointed ones when we receive his truth into our understandings ; for then our affections are drawn into conjunction with his love, and our thoughts are brought into a state of heavenly order. But the Lord says that he chose and ordained his disciples, that they should go and bring forth fruit, and that their fruit might remain. The Lord’s desire and intention are that his disciples should be fruitful in good works. They are to go, by living in accordance with the truth, which is the way that leads to goodness; and to bring forth fruit, by manifesting their love and faith in a life of justice and sincerity; their fruit is to remain by their being faithful unto death. The Lord desires his disciples should do all this, that whatsoever they ask the Father in the Son’s name, the Father may do it. The Lord had already said (chap. xiv. 13), that whatsoever the disciples asked the Father in his name he would do it: here he says the Father will do it. To receive from the Father is to receive of the Lord’s love; to receive from the Son is to receive of his wisdom. But what the disciple desires he is to ask in the Lord’s name, not certainly by approaching the Father with the name of Christ upon his lips, but with the spirit of Christ in his heart, being filled with the spirit of the Lord’s humility and meekness as the spirit of his devotion.
17 These things I command you, that ye love one another. How impressive is this lesson thus once more repeated! This, the Lord’s new commandment, to love one another, as he had loved them, by whom all men are to know them to be his disciples, is the object of all the Lord’s teaching, the end of all his commandments. Well might the divine Teacher iterate and impress this lesson on his disciples ! No lesson of Christian duty is more difficult to learn. Much as his immediate disciples stood in need of having it repeatedly and solemnly impressed upon them, those of all subsequent times have required it still more. With how little of that love, with which the Lord loved his disciples, have they loved one another! With his teaching and example before them, have not his professed disciples, both individually and as nations, warred against each other! How many, who profess to believe in him and to pray in his name, pursue their own interest without due regard to the welfare of their neighbour. If we are desirous of being the disciples of Christ, we should endeavour to show that we are his disciples indeed, by keeping his commandments, as the only true way in which love to him and to each other can be manifested. “While the disciples are commanded to love one another, they are warned to expect to be hated by the world. As the Lord is the supreme object of love by the good, so is he the supreme object of hate by the wicked. He gives his disciples this as a lesson of consolation and encouragement—that the world hated him before it hated them. Properly understood and considered, this is truly encouraging and consoling. The world’s hatred is less dangerous to the disciple from the Lord having previously been the object of it. lie has stilled the enemy and the avenger. The hatred of the world, since the Lord overcame it, if not less malignant, is less dangerous. This the Lord teaches in a subsequent part of his address, when he exhorts his disciples to be of good cheer, since he had overcome the world. Such as the hatred of the world is, the disciple has to endure it. But endurance is only a negative virtue. The Christian disciple must turn all persecution into a means of improvement.
18 19 The opposition of the world is to be expected by those who are not of it. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own ; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. So long as a man is in the world as one of it, he is not as such liable to opposition from it. Worldly men indeed hate and injure one another, not, however, because they are opposed to each other on worldly principles, but because they are rivals in their worldy aims and interests. The hatred of the world to those who are not of the world is founded in principle, and cannot fail to produce antagonism. Yet the words of our Lord in their spiritual sense are to be understood of opposite principles in the mind of the disciple himself. The world, in the individual application, is the worldly part of our nature—the natural mind with all its natural thoughts and inclinations; and the disciples are the spiritual principles which are acquired during regeneration. At first, even our spiritual principles are in our natural mind. As man advances in the regenerate life, these are elevated out of the natural mind into the spiritual mind. Then are they chosen out of the world, and are not of the world; therefore the world hateth them. There is opposition, and, therefore, conflict, between the world and heaven in our own minds. This conflict continues till the world is overcome. But the conquest is not now. At the stage of the new life, to which this period of the Lord’s life relates, the hatred and persecution are in full vigour.
20 While engaged in conflict the disciples are to draw comfort and derive strength from the Lord’s teaching and example. Remember the word which I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they have kept my sayings, they will keep yours also. The spiritual memory is that of the inner life. Spiritual remembrance is the reproduction, as principles, of truths we have acquired as knowledge. It is thus that we are to remember the word which Jesus has said unto us, that the servant is not greater than his lord. Jesus had said this to them during his present discourse (xiii. 16), but he now adds the warning, that as the Jews had persecuted him, they would also persecute them. No disciple can expect to escape the persecution that Jesus experienced. Yet the kind of persecution which the Lord underwent from his outward enemies is not often the lot of his disciples in these days. There are, however, inward persecutions which our Lord underwent which his disciples in all time have to endure. Inward persecutions are temptations, and it is to these that our Lord especially refers. These the disciples cannot escape, for they are a necessary part of the process of their purification and salvation. But there is another and happy part of the Lord’s experience which the disciple may expect to realize. ” If they have kept my sayings, they will keep yours also.” The world to which the disciples were to be sent consists of two classes— those who hate and persecute the Lord and his disciples, and those who accept the glad tidings which they bring. Here is encouragement. Those who share in the Lord’s persecution, shall also share in his success. But let us consider this in relation to ourselves and our spiritual life. In our natural state we place the servant above his lord: we place self above God, the world above heaven, the natural above the spiritual, knowledge above goodness. We have first to learn, and then to remember, that this state of inverted order is to be rectified: that the servant is not greater than his lord. To bring the servant into subordination to his lord, in all matters pertaining to the mind and life, we must be the subjects of that tribulation which is meant by persecution. The world, from which this persecution comes, is the world in ourselves—the world as .the object of a ruling love. When the love of the world is overcome, that which once opposed, will be induced to hear the Lord and his word, and will acknowledge the Saviour and keep his sayings. When the enmity of the natural mind is removed, it will become subject and obedient to the spiritual; every thought being brought into subjection to the divine authority, all will contribute to its support. In this we follow our Lord ; for he endured the conflict, and he overcame all opposition in rebellious human nature, and brought it into perfect harmony with his eternal divinity.
21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, for they know not him that sent me. In regard to the disciples, the hatred they incurred by their being servants of Jesus Christ, was on account of the principles of their master, which they practised and exemplified. In relation to us, in our spiritual life and experience, the inward persecutions which we undergo are for the Lord’s sake. It is his truth in us that is the primary and ultimate object of opposition on the part of our own evils and errors. The hatred and persecution here spoken of are understood to be directed immediately against the disciples. But the disciples in us are the principles which we have received from, the Lord; and when these are hated and opposed, the Lord himself is hated and opposed. It is said that the world will do this to the disciples of the Lord, as they had done it to the Lord himself, because they know not the Father that sent him. When men know not and feel not the love of God, they hate and persecute the truth of God. And so far as we know not the Lord’s love, or have not that love in us, we have a natural hatred of his truth. The Lord’s truth is sent of his love—it proceeds from it, as the sun’s light comes of the sun’s heat. And as men that love the darkness hate the lig|it, because it makes their evils manifest; so we, even when we have entered on the new life, so far as our corrupt nature prevails, hate the light, because we have so little practical knowledge of the divine love from which it proceeds. We do these things to the Son, because we know not the Father.
22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin. We are not to understand that the Jews would have been sinless, if the Lord had not come and spoken unto them. They would not have been guilty of the sin of hating and persecuting him personally. They hated him personally because they hated the purity and beauty of his character, as the Word made flesh, as the true Light. Their knowledge was the cause of their condemnation. ” This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness, because their deeds were evil.” Yet the Lord ” came not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” But what is salvation to the well disposed, is condemnation to those of an opposite character. It is not the light that condemns them, but their opposition to the light. The nature of light is, to make manifest. Darkness covers and excuses evil; not the darkness of wilful error, but of involuntary ignorance. When the light is come, men have no cloak for their sin, and are without excuse. So long as evil is in the will as a natural inclination, undetected and unjudged by truth in the understanding, it does not condemn. When the light comes and makes the evil manifest, he who continues to love and do it is guilty of sin, and liable to condemnation.
23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also. The Lord had said that the world hated him, because they had not known the Father: now he says that in hating him they hate the Father also. As those who have not the love of God hate his truth, so those who hate the truth of God hate his love which it reveals. Love and truth are one. Love is the life of truth, truth is the light of love. ~No person can love the one and hate the other, no person hate the one and love the other. The love and truth of the Lord are his will and his wisdom. No one can hate the wisdom of God and love the will of God; no one can hate the Lord’s will without hating his wisdom. Truth is the light; and no man can hate the light of God -without hating the love of God also.
24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. The Lord now speaks of his works, as he had already spoken of his words, as condemnatory of those who beheld them and yet remained unbelievers. The Lord’s works have the same relation to his words as his love has to his wisdom. Works are the outbirths of willing, words of thinking. In this also the Lord speaks of exhibiting the nature of the Father, or of his own infinite love. ” The works that I do are not mine, but the Father’s that dwelleth in me.” But the Lord says, ” If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin.” His works were as superior to those of other men, as his nature was to theirs. Other men had done as great miracles as he had done, even to the raising of the dead. But there was a greatness in the Lord’s works that was in the works of no other man. He did them in his own name and by his own power: all others did theirs by a power above themselves, even the power of Jesus, as God, both before and after the incarnation. It may seem to make no difference to those who beheld the works. But the Lord’s works, like his words, were with power ; and His outward and visible works, unlike those of other men, were attended with inward and visible works that transcended all finite power and agency. The Lord’s works of redemption and glorification were synchronous with his works of healing the sick and raising the dead to life, which represented as well as accompanied the greater works. The work of redemption restored men to the full possession of free will, which had been partially destroyed by the preponderance of the power of hell, and this left men without excuse, if they did not choose the good and refuse the evil. “When men possess complete freewill, not to choose the good and refuse the evil, is sin. And when men see the works and hear the words of Jesus, and do not repent and believe, they see and hate both the Son and the Father—they reject the love of God from their hearts and the wisdom of God from their understandings.
25 But this cometh to pass, that their word might be fulfilled that is written in their law. They hated me without a cause. This is written in the Psalms xxxv. 19, cix. 3, but it is only by this reference to them that we certainly know them to be prophetic of the Lord. The hatred of the Jews was indeed without a just cause, so far us related to the Lord; the cause was in themselves. And so is all hatred of the Holy One. But the less just the cause the deeper the hatred. The Jews did not hate the Lord from any necessity which prophecy laid upon them. Foresight does not imply fore-appointment. Considered in relation to ourselves individually, we may see the full force of the saying that this was written in their law. The law which condemns us is that which is ours. The divine law never condemns us till it has been revealed to us, and we have been instructed in it. A law that we know not is not our Jaw: it is no law to us; and where there is no law there is no transgression. But when the divine law has become our law; if we hate the Lord, it must be without a cause ; for the law shows God to be all pure and merciful; and to hate the qualities of such a Being there can be no just cause, therefore nothing that can be called a cause. But even this causeless hatred is written in our law. If we hate without a cause, it is the fulfilment of the law that is within us, for that law tells that if we are evil we shall cherish this causeless hatred. So does evil itself in our own hearts hate what is pure, without any cause out of our own impurity.
26, 27. A new and more hopeful state of things was fast approaching. But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me, and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. The descent of the Holy Spirit, the nature and effects of which were miraculously exhibited on the day of Pentecost, and the witness of those who had been with the Lord from the beginning, produced a great and beneficial change in the world. So long as the disciples, by ” endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, were one body, and one spirit” (Eph. iv. 3, 4), the cause of Jesus prospered. But when, instead of carrying on a united conflict with the evils and errors of the world, they began to dispute among themselves upon points of doctrine, the power of Christianity declined, both in the church and in the world. And among the disputed points which divided the minds of Christians, and ultimately led to their separation into different and hostile bodies, one was this: Whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, or from the Father and the Son. This is still one of the points of difference between the two great sections of the unreformed church. The Latin, or Roman Catholic church, maintains that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, the Greek church maintains that he proceeds from the Father only. When the Father and the Son are regarded as two persons, there may be some difficulty in settling this question. Eut when the Father and the Son are understood to mean the divinity and humanity in the person of the Lord, we can easily see what the truth on the subject must be. To maintain that the Spirit proceeds from the Father directly, and not through the Son, is the same as it would be to maintain that a man’s words and actions proceed from his soul but do not come through his body. The language of the Lord on this point is deserving of particular attention. He speaks of the Spirit as proceeding from the Father, but says that he will send it. When it is said that the Son sends the Holy Spirit, which yet proceeds from the Father, we are taught that while the Spirit proceeds from the Lord’s divinity, it is nevertheless sent on its mission of regeneration and salvation by the Lord’s Humanity, having all the power of salvation which the Lord possesses in virtue of his manifestation in the flesh. Whether we call the Father and the Son the divinity and the humanity, or the divine love and wisdom, we may see that the Father is that principle in the Lord from which, and that the Son is that “principle by which, the Holy Spirit comes to us. Yet the Father does not send the Spirit through the Son, but the Son sends the Spirit from the Father. The humanity of the Lord is infinitely and eternally active, sending this Divine Spirit forth, endued with all the virtue of His humanity, to make men like their Saviour, sanctifying them as he has sanctified himself. And when the Spirit of the Lord in his divine humanity is seconded in its operation by the co-operation of the truths of revelation, the human mind, if inclined, is capable of receiving all the benefits which have been provided for its being renewed by the Spirit of the Lord. If we consider this subject in reference to our individual experience, we may see its practical truth. When the Lord has subdued the powers of darkness in our corrupt natural mind, and has ascended glorified into our spiritual mind, now brought into a state of heavenly order, then his Spirit descends in Pentecostal abundance, and fills the goods and truths we have acquired from Iris Word, as it filled the apostles, and makes them speak with new tongues, as the Spirit gives them utterance. When the testimony of the Spirit and the witness of the Word thus unite in setting forth the Lord’s redemption and salvation, not only as they were once effected in the world, but as they have been wrought in our hearts and minds, then is he glorified in us, and we are made perfect in him.
Author: William Bruce –1870
Pictures: James Tissot—-Courtesy of the Brooklyn museum