<< John XVI: Spiritual Meaning and Commentary >>
This chapter is a continuation of the Lord’s discourse to his disciples, but there is a distinction and yet a connection between what the Lord now says and what he had already addressed to them. He had already instructed them on two important subjects. He had declared and explained to them the nature of the connection existing between himself and the Father, showing them that the Father dwelt within him, and did the mighty works which they saw him perform ; and he had instructed them as to the nature of the connection which existed between himself and them, which is like that of the vine and its branches, a connection so intimate and vital, that their very existence as useful members of his church depended on their abiding in him, and his words abiding in them. In the present chapter the Teacher speaks of the effects which the descent of the Holy Spirit would have upon them and upon the world.
1. Having instructed them, both by example and precept, symbolically and by plain teaching, to prepare for the work that lay before them, and for the glory by which their fidelity and virtue were to be rewarded, by cultivating humility and charity, love to him and obedience to his commandments, Jesus now proceeds to say unto them, These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. To be offended is to stumble. It was to prevent the disciples from sinking under the weight of the duties and trials which awaited them, that the Lord forewarned them of the hatred and persecutions he knew they would have to encounter. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. It is not necessary nor is it possible that the Christian disciple should have an exact knowledge of what is to befall him in his spiritual pilgrimage, but it is expedient for him to know that his is a severe and perilous journey, in which both courage and endurance are necessary, and that success is impossible unless the Spirit of the Lord go with him. The Christian must know that, in passing through the wilderness, he has a Guide and Comforter, who has trod the path before him, and that the Captain of his salvation was made perfect through suffering, that his followers may not faint and stumble in the way.
2 But the Lord proceeds to tell his disciples of still severer trials than those of simple persecution. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. This was fulfilled to the letter. Yet we need not now be surprised at the Jews persecuting the Christians unto death, seeing that themselves have often done so both to the Jews and to each other. Looking more deeply, we find a more spiritual and practical lesson. While the prediction relates literally to the conduct of the Jews and others towards the early Christians, it relates spiritually, not to the apostles themselves, but to the principles which they represented. A time would come, our Lord teaches, when the Christian church itself would reject the principles of pure religion, given in the truths of the Word, meant by the disciples, as unworthy of a place in the synagogue, and when they would even deprive them of spiritual vitality, meant by killing the disciples,, and every one who committed this deed would think that he did God service. The idea of serving God by destroying the messengers, whether persons or principles, which he sends, implies as it expresses a state of mind, in which men call evil good and good evil, and put darkness for light and light for darkness—when their notions of God and of his Word are the opposite of the truth.
3 This deadly persecution of the disciples has the same cause as the persecution which the Lord himself endured. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. Those who persecuted the Lord did so because they knew not the Father; those who persecute the disciples do so because they know not the Father and the Son. The Father and the Son being the divine love and wisdom, and the disciples representing the goods and truths of the Word, in which the love and wisdom of the Lord are present; those who reject these principles, or who destroy them in themselves, refuse to recognise or receive the love and wisdom of the Lord which are in them. Those, therefore, who reject the Lord’s wisdom from their understandings, do so because they have not his love in their hearts’; and those who reject the truths and precepts of his “Word, do so because they possess nothing of his wisdom or love. .But how are men to have a knowledge of the Lord but from revelation? All our intellectual knowledge of the Lord comes from the revealed Word. But while the Word teaches us by an external way, the Lord himself is teaching us by an internal way, inspiring us with the love and perception of the truths which the written Word conveys to our minds. And it is only so far as we open our hearts and understandings to the offered love and light, that we truly understand and receive the outward teaching.
4 But these things have I told you, that, when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you. Much of what the Lord addressed to his disciples they entirely forgot, till the event, or a repetition of his words, recalled it to their minds. The Lord’s object in telling them was, that, when the time was come, they might remember that he had told them before. This fulfilment of his words was no doubt intended to strengthen their faith and confidence in Jesus, and enable them to suffer with more fortitude. But its spiritual lesson for us is not less important. Truths previously received are confirmed by experience, and when they are thus confirmed, they pass into the inner memory, and remain inscribed on it for ever. It is then, too, that we remember that it was the Lord who first told us of the things we come to know by experience; for they are thus connected with him as their author. These things the Lord told not his disciples at the beginning, because he was yet with them. The beginning of the regenerate life is a time when all things are bright and joyous. A new day has dawned upon the mind, and the light of the morning sun bathes the whole landscape in beauty. But storm and shade come on betimes and when the sun is darkened, and even the moon does not give her light, and the very stars are fallen from heaven, then is the time of sorrow. It is happy for us that the beginning of our spiritual, like that of our natural life, is bright and hopeful. And it is so because the Sun of righteousness has risen upon us with healing in his wings. It is true that the Lord is with us then only externally and intellectually. Our first reception of the truth is superficial, and to a considerable extent natural. We know the Lord after the flesh. This is the time the Lord is with us, as he was with the disciples during his pilgrimage on earth. In early states, our Saviour tells us not of the sorrowful times that are coming upon us.
5, 6. The time comes, however, when they must be revealed; and with the disciples this time had arrived. But now I go my way to him that sent me ; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou ? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your hearts. The Lord had already said to his disciples, ” Whither I go ye know.” Why then ask him, ” Whither goest thou?” They knew and they knew not—they knew but did not understand. They gave way to grief because they knew not the bright side of the event of his departure. Their hearts were filled with sorrow at the thought of his leaving them; they knew not of his glory beyond. They thought only of their own loneliness. The Lord was going to the Father that sent him. The humanity was about to be glorified, the Divine Wisdom to return into the bosom of the Divine Love, from whence it came. In regard to our individual experience; this going away takes place when the Lord’s truth, hitherto in the natural mind, as the Lord had been in the natural world, is elevated into the spiritual mind, as the Lord ascended into heaven. This is not, however, the time of sorrow. The disciples do not seem to have sorrowed on account of the Lord’s ascension. They then knew that he was alive, and was passing into glory, and that his kingdom was not of this world. It was when he was taken from them by death, and when they knew not of his coming resurrection, that they mourned and wept. The Lord had told them before, that he would rise again the third day; but the Spirit had not yet come, to bring all things to their remembrance, whatever Jesus had said unto them. This going away is a time of trial, for then the truth which has been with us as our guide and support, seems to be lost, and to have left us without stay or comfort. The nature and severity of this trial the Lord explains to his disciples, as we shall see in the sequel.
7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you ; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. The Lord’s departure out of the world unto the Father was the completion of that work, without which salvation would have been impossible. The union of the Human with the Divine was the only means by which the human race could have conjunction with God. Expedient therefore it was for the disciples that the Lord should go away. And if he had not departed, the Comforter could not have come. There would have been no Holy Spirit to come and regenerate men, if the humanity of the Lord had not been perfected by the extremity of suffering. This is a great truth, as the Lord said, ” I tell you the truth.”—a truth which it is necessary for all to know. In these words the Lord would seem to teach his disciples, and teach us through them, that the presence of the Holy Spirit was still more necessary for them than his own. He himself was the Holy Spirit; and the presence of the Holy Spirit was his spiritual presence with them. He also declared that if he did not go away, the Comforter would not come unto them. The Holy Spirit being the Spirit of the Lord, as the Saviour, it could not come until he had departed, and sent it from himself as the Spirit of salvation. Jesus here uses two different terms to describe his removal from the disciples. Their literal meaning is different, as going from, and going to. The Lord goes away from the disciples as Divine Truth, and he departs to the Father as Divine Good. When the Lord had arrived at complete union with the Father, he was no longer divine truth, but divine good even as to his humanity; and then divine truth proceeded from him as the Holy Spirit.
8 The expediency of the Lord’s departure, that the Holy Spirit might come, appears from the divine work which the Spirit was to perform. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. Instead of reprove, it is better to read convince. There are three distinct and most important acts, which our Lord tells us that the Spirit he should send would perform. The mission of the Spirit is, to convince the world of the vices and errors which obstruct, and of the virtues and truths which promote, the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom upon earth; to carry to the minds of sinners conviction of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
9 The first thing of which the Spirit is to convince the world is sin. Of sin, because they believe not on me. Conviction of sin is the first act of the Lord’s saving power, and the first act of real conversion. Conviction of sin is the beginning of a new life of righteousness. Men cannot begin a righteous life until they begin to forsake sin, and they cannot begin to forsake sin until they are convinced they are sinners. What a great idea does it give us of the work of the Lord’s Spirit, that he will convince the world of sin ! Sin had ruined mankind; and had brought the Lord into the world, and had made him a sufferer, and had put him to death; and. now the Spirit descends from Him, who ” came in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” The reason which the Lord gives for its being necessary for the Spirit to come, that he may convince men of sin, is, because they believe not in him. The sin of which the Spirit is to convince men is unbelief in the Lord the Saviour. There can be no true knowledge of sin without a knowledge of him against whom the sin is committed; and no true conviction of sin, without belief in him who alone is able to forgive sin. Unbelief is sin, because, in excluding the acknowledgment of a Saviour, it excludes the acknowledgment of sin. To remove this hardness of heart and bring conviction of sin, is one of the benefits to be derived from the influence of the Spirit. ” Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,” was tho answer of an apostle to one who asked what he must do to be saved. Saving faith is not mere persuasion, but is the acceptance by a penitent heart of Jesus as the Saviour, which includes in it the conviction and confession of sin, with a sincere purpose and effort to forsake evil, and live a life according to the Lord’s commandments.
10 The Spirit comes also to convince the world of righteousness. The Spirit came to convince the world of the Lord’s righteousness, and of righteousness as a means of salvation and happiness. It is a part of the Christian faith, as it is a statement of the Word itself, that the Lord is our Righteousness, which he became by fulfilling the law; and that our righteousness is of him. This truth, so plainly stated, is not so clearly understood. It is believed that Jesus came into the world, to expiate the sins of men, by fulfilling the law they had broken, and suffering for the guilt they had incurred; and that sinners are saved, not by any righteousness they can do, even by Christ strengthening them, but solely on account of that which he has done. The mistake that lies at the foundation of this scheme of salvation is, that sin and righteousness are not states, written in the book of man’s life, but acts, recorded in the book of God’s remembrance. It is therefore believed that Jesus Christ could, by doing what the law required man to do, blot out the handwriting against him, and enable God consistently with his justice, to accept him, as if he had fulfilled the law himself. The Saviour’s merit is supposed to be imputed to believers, so that their own impurities are covered, and as it were concealed from God’s sight, by the spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness. Many sincerely religious persons will regard it as bordering on impiety, to go so far as question the truth of this doctrine. Yet it rests on a misconception both of the nature of sin and of righteousness. Sin or guilt cannot be transferred, nor can righteousness or merit be imputed to another. He that committeth sin is the servant of sin: he that doeth righteousness is righteous. It was to enable and induce men to cease to be sinners by ceasing to sin, and to become righteous by doing righteousness, that the Lord came into the world. How did he effect if? We may be assured it was in the best, if not in the only possible way. By fulfilling the law of righteousness, the Lord became not only righteous, but Righteousness itself, because he fulfilled it absolutely. By his human life he magnified the law and made it honourable, and became the law itself. And he now seeks to make us righteous, by leading us in the paths of righteousness by the spirit and power of his own righteousness. His Spirit comes to convince the world of righteousness, by convincing us, while we are yet of the world, that we ;have no righteousness of our own ; that our righteousness is of him; and that he will make us righteous, by inspiring us with the Spirit of his love, so that all our works may be wrought in him, and his righteousness be thus wrought into us. The origin of the Spirit’s commission, and of his power to convince the world of righteousness, our Lord declares to be because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more. Jesus went to the Father when his humanity was united to his divinity. The Father, we have seen, is the divine Love or Goodness; and this, which is essential and eternal Righteousness, when made human became our Righteousness. When the Lord said that his disciples should see him no more, he meant that they should see him no more corporeally. Spiritually, the disciples see the Son no more when, in their experience, faith is lost in love; when, in the apostle’s language, the Son gives up the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. xv. 28).
11 The Spirit, moreover, comes to convince the world of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. The prince of this world was judged when the Lord subdued the powers of darkness, and effected a judgment in the spiritual world, by which the good and the evil, who had lived on the earth, were separated from each other. But this work in the spiritual world has its effect in the natural world, in separating good from evil in the minds of men; and, as a result of this, in separating the good from the evil in the world. It is well known that the more corrupt the times are, the less distinction there is between good and evil, virtue and vice. One of the results of the divine judgments is to bring out this distinction. The Lord comes by his Spirit to convince the world of judgment, by enabling men to discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not. (Mai. iii. 18). The beneficial effect of the prince of this world being judged is, that it restores the balance between heaven and hell in the other world, and between the power of good and evil in this. If, in the world, the power of evil were to exceed the power of good, human society could not long exist. Wicked as the world is, there is in it at least as much good as evil.
12 The Lord proceeds, I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. It does not appear that from this time Jesus spoke much with his disciples either before or after his resurrection. It is true he may have said many things unto them on the few occasions on which he appeared to them and talked with them after he was risen from the dead. One memorable instance is that of his journeying with the two disciples to Emmaus, when, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. And the extent and depth of his expositions may be judged of by the testimony: of the disciples themselves, “Did not our heart burn within us while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke xxiv. 32.) The promise is not, however, limited to the disciples themselves whom Jesus then addressed, but extends to the disciples in all future time. Considering the disciples of the Lord as at once forming and representing the church, the Lord’s words relate to the disclosures he was to make to the church of the future, as well as to that which was then present. Every age and dispensation receives that measure of truth which is suited to the capacities and wants of the people. More would blind them with excess of light, and distract them with enigmas instead of instructing them with knowledge. The Scriptures indeed contain, so far as we know, all that the church requires, or can ever require, of revealed truth ; but there is no limit to its development.
13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. The function of the Spirit is in this and in the following verses very plainly pointed out. It is to guide the disciples into truth— into all truth. The Holy Spirit is the Author of Revelation : for holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Now, when Revelation has been given, the function of the Holy Spirit is to open the understanding to perceive the teaching of the Word. The Spirit of Jehovah gave revelation; the Spirit of Jesus gives illustration also. Therefore after his resurrection Jesus breathed on his disciples, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” and opened their understandings that they might understand the Scriptures. But Jesus says of the Spirit, “he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear that shall he speak.” The Lord speaks of the Spirit in relation to himself as he speaks of himself in relation to the Father. The Son speaks what he hears of the Father; the Spirit speaks what he hears of the Son. Of course we cannot understand this language naturally. It can only be intended to express the order in which divine ideas proceed in the divine mind, and are finally communicated to man. Language which has no reasonable meaning when understood of three divine Persons, is highly expressive when understood of three divine Essentials, whether we think of the three Essentials as Divinity, Humanity, and Operation, or Love, Wisdom, and Power. Everything that comes from God originates in his love, is formed and directed by his wisdom, and is brought into effect by his power. In the language of correspondence, this is described by every divine communication to men coming from the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does not therefore speak of himself. What he imparts does not originate with him. The operation of the Spirit is indeed with power, but it is not the operation of power only, else it would overwhelm us; nor is the operation of power directed by wisdom only, for then it would force conviction in us against our will; but it is the operation of power directed by wisdom and moved by love, which acts upon our heart, our intellect, and our life. God is omnipotent, but his power does nothing of itself; it is but the energy of infinite love directed by infinite wisdom. Well might the Lord comfort his disciples with these words. But the Spirit which was to guide the disciples into all truth, was to show them things to come. These do not necessarily mean things that were to come after the Spirit itself had come, but rather .things that were then in progress; things that the Lord had revealed, or events that were to take place, and which the Spirit was to explain or enlighten the disciples to understand. Even supposing that the apostles were gifted with the knowledge of future events, the promise, so far as it relates to us, gives only the hope of being enlightened and regenerated, by the Spirit of the Lord opening our understandings to see, and our hearts to receive, the truth as it is in Jesus.
14 The Lord, further says respecting the Holy Spirit, He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. This, like the preceding statement, is a divine truth expressed after a human manner. We cannot reasonably think of one Divine Person taking of what belongs to another, and shewing it unto men. But we can think of the Spirit of a Divine Person proceeding from him, carrying his saving gifts to his receptive creatures, and glorifying the Author of those gifts in the salvation of their souls. The Spirit glorifies the Lord; but he does so by taking of the Lord’s and shewing it unto the disciples. When the Spirit sanctifies and saves a soul, he glorifies the Saviour in that finished work. The salvation of man is the glory of the Lord.
15 The things which the Spirit receives from the Son are the things which the Son received from the Father. All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you. This series of statements respecting the operation of the Holy Spirit, teaches most clearly and convincingly the nature of the distinction and relation existing between Father, Son, and Spirit. The Lord first says of the Spirit that he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear that shall he speak. Then he says, “he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you;” and now he says, ” all things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I, he shall take of mine and shew it unto you.” Does not all this plainly teach that they must be, not three distinct divine Persons, but three divine Essentials ? We cannot too carefully cultivate the knowledge of the truth that God in Christ is God to us and with us; that no one knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him; that no one cometh to the Father, and that the Father cometh to no man, but by the Son. If the Father and the Son be considered as Divine Persons, this has no intelligible meaning. But these divine declarations have a real meaning when the Father is regarded as being the divinity and the Son the humanity in the person of the one Lord. God in Christ is then seen to be God in his Humanity. It can also be seen that when God glorified, the human nature he assumed, he communicated to it all the attributes of his divinity, comparatively as the soul endows the body with its life and power; and that since the incarnation, God communicates with his creatures through the medium, of his humanity, comparatively’ as the soul of man communicates with his, fellowmen through the medium of his body. In the Lord’s humanity the divine attributes are humanized, and thus accommodated, tempered, and made relatively more powerful for convincing and affecting the human mind. It is because the divine attributes are thus humanized that they are efficacious for human salvation. It is by the divinity. being human and the humanity being divine that the Lord’s presence and power are with us. From a Being purely divine, or from a being merely human, no saving efficacy could proceed to the sons of men in their present state. Pure divinity has no point of contact with fallen man; mere humanity has no power to restore him. Our Lord’s words strikingly teach this. “All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” The things which the Lord had to shew his disciples, were the things of the Father, which had now become his own. Had there been anything of the Father’s which had not become the Son’s, or anything of the Son’s which had not become the Father’s,-it would have been of no benefit to the disciples. It was only the things of the divinity that had become human, and the things of the humanity that had become divine, that were sanctifying and saving—that were able to reach and raise fallen humanity. ‘But all things of the Father’s had become the Lord’s; “therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” Let this great truth be impressed upon the mind of every Christian disciple. It will reveal to him the unspeakable blessing of having Jesus for his God and Saviour; for in him is to be found all that man can desire or need. And as Jesus is full of grace and truth, the promise of the Spirit is the promise “of whatever is most needful and convenient for all who labour and are heavy laden, and who desire to find rest for their souls.
16 Having carried the minds of the disciples forward to the bright and happy time when, the fruits of his finished work would be realized by them, he calls them back to the present, to remind them of the trials through which this state was to be attained. A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again a little while, and ye shall see me; because I go to the Father. Literally this refers to the Lord’s removal from his disciples by death, and his restoration to them by resurrection. Spiritually, it relates to the soul’s experience, when passing, and when it has passed, from death unto life. The Lord’s death and resurrection, once actual to him personally, are still actual in the experience of the disciple. To all who follow the Lord in the regenerate life, a time comes when they see him not after the flesh, and again a time comes when they see him after the spirit. The nature of these two states the Lord afterwards describes. Here they are both spoken of in reference to the Lord, as about to pass out of and come again into the sight or intellectual perception of his disciples; this therefore has reference to intellectual states, or states of faith. Our first knowledge and faith are external, for our natural understanding sees even divine things after a natural manner. Our carnal thoughts clothe divine and spiritual truths with a fleshly covering; thus do we still see and know the Lord in a carnal manner. If we faithfully follow the Lord in a life of obedience to his commandments, we pass out of this carnal into a spiritual state, in which we see the Lord after a spiritual manner. The change of state is not effected without trial; for every transition state is one of tribulation. The trial may be brief but it is sharp. But every trial brings its reward. The temporary obscurity is followed by clearer light: the light of the moon becomes as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun becomes sevenfold as the light of seven days. Instead of the nocturnal light of a loveless faith, we have the clear and warm light of the morning without clouds, produced by the Sun of righteousness arising with healing in his wings. Instead of seeing the Lord in his humiliation, we behold him in his glory. This is indicated in the Lord’s own words, in which he employs two different terms for seeing, the sight of him after his resurrection being expressed by a more forcible term than that employed to express the sight of him while he was in the flesh. The sight of the spirit or inner man is more excellent than that of the flesh or outer man.
17, 18. Certain as this change is, and real as is its experience, the disciple who is still in the first state cannot comprehend its nature. Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith. How graphic is this representation of the state of the disciples, all unknowing, as their whole history shows them to have been, of the nature of the Lord’s kingdom, and the means by which it was to be established. And no less perfect a description is it of the state of the Christian disciples of all times in corresponding circumstances. Future states are as much hid from our sight as future events. And even now, when we can talk of the states which were shadowed in those past events recorded in the gospel, we know nothing of their true nature till they exist in our experience. Not all the disciples, but only some of them, talked among themselves about their Lord’s mysterious saying. Yet none of them had any apprehension of the events that were fast approaching; and when told plainly of them they refused to believe. Taking the disciples collectively, there will always be found among them some to whom the Lord’s death and resurrection will be a mystery, hopelessly incomprehensible as a practical truth. And to all it is an enigma till experience unfolds it. If we consider the disciples as representing the thoughts and affections of the regenerating mind, some of them will, in a preparatory stage, see nothing. but darkness on this subject. And even if we consider them as representing the truths of the Word, the same obscurity may be observed. For all those truths that originally led the disciples to believe in the continued presence with them of the Messiah, who should lead them to a temporal kingdom, and set them upon thrones of judgment, can show nothing of light on this subject, till they are themselves enlightened, by, the true Light shining within.
19 But while, in the earlier stages of the regenerate life, there is impenetrable obscurity on the subject of the Lord’s death and resurrection, there is in the minds of every true disciple a desire to receive illumination from the Lord himself, as the Truth. Now Jesus knew they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again a little while and ye shall see me? This is another instance of the Lord’s knowing the desires of his disciples before they expressed them. ” He needed not that any one should testify of men; for he knew what was in man.” So is it still. The Lord utters dark sayings, that he may excite in the mind the desire of coming to the light. And there is in the obscure truth itself a desire and a capacity for illumination. The mind is thus prepared for the reception of the light, not only into the understanding but into the heart, there to produce a living faith.
20 Having told his disciples of his approaching departure and return, he now proceeds to disclose to them the feelings that these events would excite in their hearts. Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. The Lord’s death and resurrection were to revolutionize all their ideas and feelings; to change their natural into spiritual faith and love, and their earthly into a heavenly kingdom. They were, therefore, approaching the crisis of their life. But this is an experience common to all who follow the Lord: and to know the states and their results, we must consider them in relation to ourselves. The opposite elements of the Church and of the world are within us, and our trials arise from their coming into conflict with each other. It is the world within us that crucifies the Saviour, and for a time hides him from our spiritual perceptions. Then do the disciples weep and lament. When the affections are deprived of their object, they cannot but suffer; and no anguish is so great as that of bereaved affection. Weeping, unlike shedding tears, is, expressive of sorrow at once of heart and understanding; while lamentation is the same outward manifestation of both. But that which makes the disciples weep and lament, causes the world to rejoice. Feeling as if freed from the power of a hitherto conquering enemy, it lifts up its brow on high, and boasts of its power. This is, however, but a temporary triumph, like that of the Egyptians when they pursued the emancipated Israelites, and followed them through the channel of the Red Sea. It is also the last triumph of the principles of the carnal mind; for of them it may also be said, “The Egyptians whom ye have seen today ye shall see no more for ever.” The resurrection of the Saviour, as the object of love and faith in the soul, removes from it for ever the world as a ruling principle. The state of life becomes inverted: the love of heaven obtains the ascendency over the love of the world. And as the state is inverted, so is the experience. The mind has felt the depths of sorrow, but now its sorrow is turned into joy.
21 The nature of this sorrow and joy our Lord proceeds to explain. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come : but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. The illustration of the subject which our Lord here gives is a striking instance of the very important fact, that he expressed himself, not in the language of figure merely, but in that of correspondence. Regeneration is truly a new birth; and there is an exact correspondence between the natural and the spiritual. The new birth consists in bringing into actual existence in the life the vital principle which has been begotten in the heart. Now it is in bringing our inward convictions and principles into act that the great labour of life consists, and that its severest trials are experienced. We all know how difficult it is to be in deed what we are in intention. This has been the testimony in all ages of the highest examples of Christian earnestness and fidelity. How does the Apostle Paul lament over his natural waywardness and inability to do good— to realize in his life what he loved and believed in his heart. He delighted in. the law of God after the inward man, but he felt a law in his members warring against the law of God in his mind; when he desired to do good evil was present with him; and so oppressive did lie feel the contrariety between the desires of his spirit and the lusts of the flesh, that he passionately exclaims, ” Who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?” It is because, though the Spirit is willing, the flesh is weak, that the new birth is attended with such difficulty and anguish. The natural rnind is the seat of our hereditary evils, and therefore naturally opposes the descent into it of the principles of spiritual love and truth that have been begotten in the spiritual mind. The pains of a woman in travail are spoken of in Scripture for the purpose of presenting this subject before us in its true and practical light. ” A woman when in travail hath sorrow because her hour is come.” This is used to illustrate the sorrow of his disciples at the time of Ms departure from them. But the Lord departed from them by death that he might be ” the first from from the dead.” The death of the old man is necessary to the birth of the new. The resistance of the natural man to the birth of the spiritual is the cause of the sorrow experienced in the new man coming to the birth. But when the birth has been accomplished, then indeed is the greatest sorrow turned into the greatest joy. ” As soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” The bitterness of childbirth is suddenly and richly rewarded by the sweetness of the feeling of maternity; so is the anguish of spiritual travail certainly and abundantly recompensed by the new joy which the new life inspires. Maternal love is inspired by the love of God, and its delights are exquisite because derived from Him who, because he is love, is also blessedness. As spiritual births are the bringing into existence of new states of goodness and truth, they take place in heaven itself, and are experienced in an endless succession of new and higher states of felicity. They are more perfect and more felicitous, because they are higher states of humanity, for men and even angels are more human the more they grow in the image and likeness of God. In a general sense, “the woman” is the church, not the church without but within us, and the “man” whose birth is the cause of joy is the new or regenerated man, the true human principle, brought into actual existence in the words and actions of a holy life.
22 Applying this instructive similitude to the apostles in their present or approaching circumstances, Jesus says, And ye now therefore have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. The Lord had said to his disciples that they should see him; he now tells them that he would see them. his implies reciprocal knowledge and conjunction. Our seeing him and his seeing us are the counterparts of each other, and the completeness of perception. We see the Lord when our thoughts are directed upwards to him, and he sees us when his truth descends to us, and gives us to see him in ourselves. Thus is it that our hearts rejoice, for joy in the heart arises from the reception of the Lord’s truth in the will and its affections, so that we not only see the truth but feel it and delight in it. And as the Lord inspires this joy, no one can take it from us. The power of evil and error is broken, and the power of love and truth is established; and the joy which these holy principles inspire is beyond the power of the world to take away.
23 Now we hear the blessed consequences of this new state and its joy. And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. And what does this rather singular declaration express? Does it mean that the disciples were to ask him nothing, but were to address their prayers and requests to the Father ? The disciples did not so understand it. The first prayer of theirs which is recorded as having been used after his ascension, was addressed immediately to him (Acts i. 24). And the second that is mentioned was directed to him by the first martyr (vii. 59). It is now commonly understood to mean that Christians are not to address Jesus personally for what they need, but are to ask the Father to grant their petitions for Christ’s sake. There is no intimation of this in the New Testament, except in one instance, where the translators express an idea which the original does not contain. Paul is made to exhort the Ephesians to forgive one another, even as God for Christ’s sake had forgiven them (iv. 32); but this, rendered literally, is ” as God in Christ hath forgiven you.” The opinion that God pardons sinners because Christ has purchased pardon for them, is not taught in this or in any part of Scripture. The true meaning of the Lord’s words is entirely different, and consistent with the nature of God and the nature of man. The Father and Son, we need hardly say, are not two persons, but two essentials of the Deity, the Father the divine love, the Son the divine wisdom. When the Lord says “at that day ye shall ask me nothing,” he intimates that, in the higher and holier state which his disciples attain, when he is risen in their hearts, and they live and act under the influence of his love, they ask nothing of the Son but of the Father; they ask nothing of the divine wisdom, but of the divine love. Love asks of love; but it asks in the name of wisdom. Wisdom enlightens love, for love is only true love when it is directed by wisdom. Love only loves rightly when it loves wisely. To ask the Father is to desire to receive from the Lord the gift of love, and to ask in the name of the Son is to express this desire in accordance with the dictates of wisdom. Whatever we ask the Father in the name of the Son he will give it. So far as our prayers are influenced by love and guided by wisdom they are in accordance with the will and wisdom of God, and therefore are sure to receive an answer of peace. We receive not because we ask amiss. We ask amiss when we ask unwisely. When we ask wisely, whatsoever we ask, the Father will give us. This is the perfection of prayer, and we should strive after it. It is a state which we may continually approach, though we can never absolutely reach.
24 The disciples had not attained to this state which the Lord now described; they had not even entered it. Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. They had no doubt asked of God, but not in the name of Jesus. They had not as yet worshipped God in Christ, the Divine in the Human, eternal Love as manifested in eternal Wisdom. Their love was as yet undirected and unqualified by wisdom. They knew no other than that the kingdom, for the coming of which they had been taught to pray, was an earthly kingdom. Hitherto they had asked nothing in the name or spirit of him whose kingdom was heavenly. This they were soon to be led to do. And it changed the whole current of their thoughts and of their life. As they had hitherto asked nothing in the name of Jesus, the Lord counselled them to ask, assuring them that they should receive, that their joy might be full. The assurance, which is everywhere given in the Word, of the certain success of true and fervent prayer, is most encouraging, but at the same time searching. True prayer, being inspired by the Lord, must express his will and wisdom ; it is only so far true as it does so. Every true prayer is an asking in the name of Jesus. His name, his mind, his Spirit is in it. When his mind is our mind, and we speak his mind in expressing our own, we truly pray, we ask the Father in the Lord’s name. So far as we pray from ourselves, not from the Lord, we pray in our own name, not in his; and so far we must ask amiss, and our prayers are unheard. Every human prayer, it is true, has in it something of sinful imperfection, and is so far opposed to the Lord’s will; but our prayers in respect to every such element should be, not my will but thine be done.
25 It is possible that what the Lord had thus far addressed to his disciples, they had but imperfectly understood. And not those whom he immediately addressed only ; all others in their stage of discipleship are in corresponding obscurity. To all disciples are the Lord’s words true : These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. A parable is a familiar image used to express an unfamiliar truth. To the disciples the Lord himself was a parable. They saw him as man, but they did not yet clearly know him as God. They did not yet understand the truth, that he who saw him saw the Father. They did not yet know that the Father dwelt bodily in him, and did the works and spake the words that proceeded from him. He had told them this, when one of them asked him to show them the Father. They could not know this great truth in its clearness and integrity, for the Lord was not yet glorified, neither in himself or in them. But the time was at hand when he should not only teach them, but show them plainly of the Father. The Father could only be seen in the Son, for no one can know the Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. But the Father could not be seen plainly in the Son till the Son had become one with the Father, in essence as well as in person. The divinity could not be perfectly seen in the humanity till the humanity had become divine. Then the Lord no more spake to his disciples in parables. The frail humanity, that concealed the glories of his divinity, was put off by death, as a seed that falls into the ground and dies, but out of it sprang forth, at his resurrection, a new and glorious humanity, the express image of his indwelling divinity, in which the Lord showed his disciples plainly of the Father. This change in himself produced a corresponding change in his disciples. The seeds of truth which he had sown in their minds, and which had fallen into the good ground of honest hearts, now died, and the germ of spiritual truth, which those seeds contained, sprang forth, and grew into a living faith, of which the Lord in his Divine Humanity was the true Object.
26, 27. Speaking of this time and state, the Lord says, At that day ye shall ask in my name : and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. The Lord speaks of the certainty of the disciples asking in his name. We need only direct our attention to the declaration that follows. It is an opinion, drawn from a too literal and natural view of some other statements in the Scriptures, that Jesus pleads with the Father for those who believe in him. Here he says that his praying the Father for his disciples was unnecessary ; and for the very satisfactory reason, that the Father himself loved them. If the Father is Love itself, he needs no persuasive prayers addressed to him by an advocate, the equal of himself, who pleads his own merits for the gifts he craves. The Father loves the disciples because they love the Son, and believe that he came out from God. Setting aside the idea of the distinct personality of the Father and the Son, as a human idea of a divine Being, and regarding the Father and the Son as the divine love and the divine wisdom in the one indivisible and infinite God, we learn from the Lord’s words, that the way to acquire the Lord’s love is to love Ms wisdom, and to have faith in it as the emanation of Ms love. To love the Lord’s wisdom is to love to be and to do what it teaches we should be and do. Truth leads to good, wisdom to love. Truth also desires good, wisdom desires love. And as desire is the essence of prayer, and prayer is the expression of desire, so the prayer of truth is to good, the prayer of wisdom is to love. The desire and prayer of truth and wisdom are for conjunction with goodness and love; but when that conjunction is effected, the desire and prayer for it cease. Therefore, our Lord said to his disciples, while in their preparatory state, ” I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter;” but when describing their perfected state, he says, ” I say not that I will pray the Father for you, for the Father himself loveth you.” When that is attained which is the object of prayer, there is no more need for praying. We are not, therefore, to think of the Lord as literally praying to another person called the Father, but we are to think, if we desire to think rightly, that the prayers of the Son to the Father are no other than the desires which wisdom has for union with love, and which cease when that union is effected. The Lord prayed to the Father in the days of his humiliation, for then he was in an infirm humanity; but now that his Humanity is glorified, and united for ever with his Divinity, he can no longer pray. He can only pray in us; his truth in us prays for union with his goodness, his wisdom for union with his love; but when that union is effected, the prayer for its accomplishment ceases. Then is realized the truth expressed in the Lord’s words, ” I say not that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.”
28 The Lord draws the attention of his disciples to the truth expressed in the last words which he had spoken. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. The repetition of this truth by the Lord, can only be accounted for on the ground of its importance as a matter of belief. He came forth from the Father. How did he come forth? Not as one person departs from the presence of another to go on a distant journey. Such an idea is not to be for a moment entertained in relation to an infinite and omnipotent Being. The Lord came into the world by manifesting himself as the Word made flesh. The Word of God is the Wisdom of God. And wisdom proceeds from love, as light from heat; and Jesus, as the Word, is the Light of Love, the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Jesus, as the Word, came forth from the Father, as divine wisdom from divine love, and came into the world by assuming the nature of man. But the object of the Son in coming into the world, was to effect the work of redemption, and then return to the Father again. As the Lord came into the world by taking upon him a natural humanity, he returned to the Father by putting on a divine humanity. Before the incarnation, the Lord, when he appeared among men, assumed an angelic nature, and laid it aside when he left off communing with them. But when he assumed man’s nature by birth, he assumed it never to lay it aside, yet to divest it of all its imperfection, and make it divinely perfect :born of God, therefore purely the Son of God. It was only what came from God that returned to God, according to the Lord’s own words, ” I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world : again, I leave the world, and go unto the Father.” By glorification the Lord put off all that he had derived from the mother, therefore all that was earthly and finite, and put on a humanity from the Father, therefore one purely divine.
29, 30. When the Lord had thus amplified this brief declaration respecting his absence and return, which had seemed to the disciples so mysterious and unintelligible, they said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we know that thou earnest forth from God. How obscure a perception the disciples had of the manner in which these words were to be verified, their subsequent history abundantly testifies. His language however was plain, and it carried to the minds of his earnest hearers a conviction of his unbounded knowledge, itself an evidence to them of his divine origin. In the spiritual life there are progressive degrees of knowledge, which are attained by successive degrees of mental development, with corresponding openings of the truths of revelation. The Lord reveals his truth to his children as they are able to bear it, and he reveals it to them by additions and by elevations; additions enlarge their stores, and elevations give them higher views of whatever they possess. We see this dual process of advancement in the history of the first disciples. Gradually was the truth revealed to them, slowly was its meaning and import unfolded to them; nor was it till after the Lord was risen that, breathing on his disciples, he opened their understandings to understand the Scriptures. Every Christian disciple knows by experience that, through enlargement and opening of the mind, things which once appeared enigmatical are seen plainly. Truth, which in a lower state seems to be human, in a higher state is seen to be divine. It brings to the mind the evidence of its own divinity; and that evidence comes from the conviction that divine truth is not only a revealer of things beyond the reach of unassisted reason, but is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And so full is the instruction, so entire the satisfaction, that there is no room for doubt; there needeth not that any man should ask Him. By this we indeed know that Jesus as the Eternal Word came forth from the bosom of Eternal Love, and that he has the words of eternal life.
Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? This is not to be regarded as a question but an admission,—an affirmation of the disciples’ belief. They now believed in Jesus more intelligently and firmly than before. Their faith rested upon a broader and more solid foundation, and was, therefore, able to bear the trials to which it was soon to be subjected.
32 The trial of their faith the Lord now reveals to them. Behold the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. This language respecting the disciples is very expressive and significant. They were to be scattered like a flock attacked and pursued by wolves, each concerned for his own safety. The shepherd was to be smitten, and the sheep were to be scattered. The disciples were to seek refuge from the storm among those whom they had left to follow Jesus. As representing the affections and thoughts that have turned from self and the world to the Lord, this scattering of them to their own is most expressive. In extreme states of trial and temptation the thoughts and affections are severed from each other, and drawn again, if not in act, at least in desire, into connection with those from among whom they had come out; as the children of Israel, in their severe temptation, desired to return to Egypt, from which they had been delivered. In states of severe temptation, love and faith seem to be severed from each other, and from the Lord as their Author and Object. The affections and thoughts that have been elevated and have become receptive of faith in Jesus are, in states of temptation, cast down. Not yet so confirmed in faith as to be able to maintain their elevation, they fall away when severe inward trial comes. Their connection with each other and with the Lord is broken, and they become immersed for the time in the lusts and darkness of the natural mind. Forsaken by the thoughts and affections that had, with so much earnestness and devotion, clung to him as their beloved object, Jesus is left alone, so far at least as they are concerned. But even then he is not alone, because the Father is with him. It is an important and consolatory truth, that in states of severe trial and temptation, the Lord is more intimately present with the disciple than in the ordinary conditions of his religious life. Not that the divine love and care are greater at one time than at another. The state of mind produced by temptation brings the soul into a nearer connection with the Lord. All temptation is attended with the fear of the loss of eternal life; and from this arises the anguish which wrings the heart in those dark and troubled seasons. The love of that life of which one dreads the loss is then more intense than at other times; and as the Lord dwells in that love, he is nearer to us the more intense it is, therefore nearer to us the severer the trial. But his presence is in the interior of the mind; and he is not there alone, as. the truth, but his love is there together with his truth; for one of the uses of temptation is to bring the Lord’s love and truth into closer connection and union in the spiritual mind, that, when the temptation is past, they may become more fully united in the natural mind also, where the conflict has been experienced.
33 Another blessed result of temptation, as a trial of faith and integrity, is that it brings the mind into a state of peace in Jesus. Therefore, our Lord says to his disciples. These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation : but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world. Spiritual peace is the fruit of conquered passions, and of the doubts and fears which they inspire. There is a peace that is experienced by those who know nothing of spiritual conflict within themselves, but this is the peace of self-satisfaction. It is only those who have warred with evil in themselves that can have peace in Jesus, that peace which passes all understanding, which the world cannot give, and which it cannot take away. So far removed is this peace from any that the world can bestow, that it is never fully experienced till the world has passed away. Life in this world is never so far perfected as to secure to the mind a state of undisturbed tranquility. ” In this world ye shall have tribulation ” is the assurance of infinite wisdom. The world does not, indeed, mean the outer world only in which we live, but the inner world which lives in us, the worldly element that enters more or less into our thoughts and affections, and disturbs the calm, that the Lord and heaven are ever operating to produce and preserve. But the tribulation that the disciple experiences in the world is not a just ground of sadness or despondency. On the contrary, there is in Christian tribulation a solid ground of cheerfulness and hope, because Christ himself has endured tribulation, and has overcome the world, and for this reason exhorts his disciples to be of good cheer. In the Lord’s conquest lies our hope of being able to overcome. It was to overcome the world that he came into the world. He assumed the nature that we inherit. He passed through all the trials incident to humanity. He overcame in all these trials. He did all this for our sakes, that we also might overcome. He was tempted that he might succour us in our temptations (Heb. ii. 18). How grand and cheering are these divine words, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Author: William Bruce –1870
Pictures: James Tissot—-Courtesy of the Brooklyn museum