John 2

<< John II: Spiritual Meaning and Commentary >>

1 The miracle which the Lord performed at the marriage of Cana in Galilee is, like all his other works, pregnant with divine instruction. This, the first manifestation of the Lord’s miraculous power, representatively shows forth the purpose of his coming; which was to enter into a new and everlasting covenant with his people. The covenant between the Lord and his church is a marriage covenant, the Lord himself being the bridegroom and husband, and the church the bride and wife. It was, therefore, suitable that the first of the Lord’s miracles should be performed at a marriage. Like every other covenant, marriage is entered into by mutual consent, and is established on certain conditions; the conditions of marriage being mutual love and mutual service. The Lord has engaged to love and cherish his church, and he requires to be loved and served in return. The conditions can never be less than fulfilled on his part. His nature is sufficient to assure us of this. But his promise has been given. To his church he has said, ” I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies” (Hos. ii. 19). How could it be otherwise, when he has declared, ” I have loved thee with an everlasting love : therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. xxxi. 3). And the Lord’s love, which has been ever of old, will ever continue. ” Can a mother forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb 1 Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee” (Isa. xlix. 15). Whenever the covenant has been broken, it has been through the conditions having been violated by the church. And many and grievous are the lamentations of the Holy One over the defections and backsliding of Ms corrupt and unfaithful spouse. All, therefore, that is required to form and preserve the marriage covenant between the Lord and the church is the faithful and loving fulfilment of the laws of the covenant by the church herself. But the marriage of the Lord and the church implies and rests upon another marriage, of which the members of the church individually are the subjects. The church as a body, as it is in the Lord’s sight, consists of those, and of those only, who have the principles of the church in their hearts and manifest them in their lives. Those only are the children of the marriage who have the marriage in themselves. The union of love and faith is the heavenly marriage. This is the marriage into which we should desire to enter. Without it, we are guests without the wedding-garment, and shall be cast out into outer darkness. The true marriage to us individually is, therefore, the conjunction of goodness and truth, or of love and faith; this alone making us children of the marriage.

The marriage which the Lord blessed with his presence was in Cana of Galilee, to represent that he was about to raise up a spiritual church among the Gentiles, in place of the representative church, which had been established among the Jews, which was now passing away. It is true that this was a Jewish wedding; the people themselves were Jews, and their surroundings and customs were Jewish. All this was necessary and suitable. Although the church was to be established among the Gentiles, it had to be commenced among the Jews. The rudiment of every new church is formed out of the remnant of the old. The first disciples and the twelve apostles were Jews. But the election of a particular people to form a visible church, does not imply any partiality in him who elects them ; much less does it imply, that the benefits conferred are designed for those who directly receive them, to the exclusion of all others. On the contrary, though established visibly in one nation, the church exists for the benefit of all nations, the visible church being, for the time, the centre from which light is diffused in all directions outwards.

The narrative states that the marriage was on the third day. This is mentioned for a more important reason than to inform us, that this event followed a certain time after that recorded at the close of the previous chapter. Three is a number expressive of completeness. It here signifies that now, in the fulness of time, and when all necessary means were divinely provided, the Lord was about to commence the church of his first advent. The resuscitation of the church, like the resurrection of the Lord, took place on the third day; for in the divine economy, death is ever followed by newness of life, and every end by a new beginning.

Regarding the marriage itself, the evangelist informs us that the mother of Jesus was there. Mary was there in her dual character, as the mother of Jesus and as the representative of the church. The church which Mary represented was that spiritual principle which is embodied more or less perfectly in every dispensation; and which is providentially preserved through all ages, so that when one dispensation, expires, the church may rise again in another; though only in the case of the Christian Church has it ever risen in a more perfect and beautiful form than its predecessor. It is not, therefore, said of Mary, as it is of Jesus and his disciples, that she was bidden, but simply that she was there. The vital principle of the church, which Mary represented, was already amongst the Gentiles, and had been, though less visibly than amongst the Jews; and it now served as a medium of communication between Jesus, as the author of saving truth, and the new dispensation, as its recipient, that the new wine of his kingdom might be given to supply the new wants of the human race.

2 And both Jesus was called and his disciples to the marriage. Jesus is the divine good and truth from which the church exists, and his disciples are types of the love of good and the faith of truth, which constitute the church or kingdom of the Lord, whether existing among the many or in the mind of one. Their being called to the marriage is expressive of the circumstance, that amongst the Gentiles there was an active desire to receive the Lord and the principles of his kingdom. This implies both a knowledge and an appreciation of divine and spiritual truth. Of the partial existence of these amongst the Gentiles, we have an evidence in the journey of the wise men from the East, in search of Jesus, as the king of the Jews. The invitation to Jesus and his disciples may be considered to have been, like the miracle itself, owing to the mother of Jesus being there. When the affection for truth, which constitutes the vital principle of the church, is present in the mind, the truth itself must be desired and sought, for good ever desires truth. There are several instances recorded in the gospels of Jesus being invited to partake of his people’s hospitality; and no instance is to be found of his refusing to become the guest even of the most humble or the most unworthy of his creatures. How beautiful an example of humility and love! His object, of course, was not merely to please but to profit those who bade him. Any one influenced by the same benevolent motive would be secured against contamination; and would be able to turn the entertainment into a feast of love. The Lord’s acceptance of these invitations teaches us this other and still higher lesson: that no one who earnestly invites Jesus into his heart will ever ask in vain; and no one who entertains him will ever fail to receive his blessing in return. And that blessing, in the present instance, was both an increase and exaltation of the truth which the church possessed.

3 The first incident connected with the celebration of the marriage is the failing of the wine. There was no need of mentioning any other, since the object of introducing the account of the marriage was to record the miracle of which it was the scene; and the failing of the wine was the occasion of its performance. But the incident and the marriage are intimately connected with each other. The failing of the wine symbolized the defect or extinction of spiritual truth in the church. It was the mother of Jesus that intimated to him the failing of the wine. And when they wanted wine,, the mother of Jesus saith unto him. They have no wine. Mary, as representing the living principle of the church, through whose influence the Lord as the truth was present, was the one to perceive the want of spiritual truth in the church, and to express that want to him who alone had the power to supply it.

4 The answer of Jesus to this implied appeal for aid is singular. The Lord addresses Mary, as he always did, by the name of Woman. This is not to be judged of by our usage, as implying on the Lord’s part any want either of respect or affection. In those days woman was a title of respect, if not of honor. There were two reasons for the Lord’s never addressing Mary by the name of mother, but always by the name of woman. First, Jesus avoided calling Mary his mother for the same reason that he refused to acknowledge David as his father. If he was Mary’s Lord, how was he then her son? Ho was, indeed, the Son of Mary by natural birth, as ho was the Son of David by natural descent. But just as his humanity had been conceived by the power of the highest overshadowing the virgin; so his human thoughts were conceived by the power of his indwelling divinity overshadowing his maternal humanity; and so he spake as the Son of God and the Son of Man, and not as the Son of Mary. For although, in a certain respect, he was the Son of Man as to his maternal humanity, yet, strictly speaking, this is a name which is expressive of his character as the Word, as accommodated to the apprehensions of men. Before the marriage in Cana, the glorification of the Lord’s humanity had so far advanced, that he could not regard and speak of himself as the Son of Mary, but as the Son of God. He was born of God by glorification, as we are born of God by regeneration, and that work was completed at the Lord’s resurrection, when ho was declared to bo the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. i. 4). In the second place, the Lord called Mary woman, because this is a symbolic designation of the church, which Mary represented. When the Lord addressed her by the name of woman, it was to say to her, What have I to do with thee ? This, however, is an unfortunate rendering of the Lord’s words; their true meaning, What is that to me and to thee? has nothing of the severity, if not harshness, which our version expresses. Even in their true sense, his words might be understood to mean, that the want of wine did not concern either Mary or himself. But it is evident from the effect they had upon her, that this was not the Lord’s meaning.

As in some other instances of answering interrogatively, he meant rather to excite reflection than to administer reproof; and Mary herself seems to have understood it to mean rather a promise than a refusal, since she desired the servants to do whatever Jesus should say to them. Mary’s part in this transaction has been considered somewhat inexplicable, for as this was the first of the Lord’s miracles, how should Mary expect him to perform one ? And yet if she knew he possessed the power, there is nothing inconsistent in her asking him to exert it, although there may be some degree of improbability in her expecting it to operate in such a way. Does not the narrative itself suggest that it contains a deeper meaning than that which lies upon its surface? We have spoken of the Lord’s answer to Mary as not necessarily expressing refusal. This appears also from his concluding remark, Mine hour is not yet come, which seems to postpone, rather than to refuse, his interference. But what was this hour of his? Was it his own time for showing his miraculous power ?

It was a still more momentous period. The Lord’s time that lay within and beyond all these particular times, was the time of his glorification. This was the state to which the Lord ever looked forward as that of his power to do all for his church that he had come on earth to do—to multiply to her the means of spiritual and eternal life. Yet if that was the time .which Jesus meant, why did he then perform the work, which his remark seemed to speak of as untimely ? He performed it as a type of the greater, because spiritual and saving work, which was to be a perpetual operation, when his humanity was fully glorified; just as he promised that Ms disciples should do greater works than those which he himself performed, because he went to the Father. The miracle, like the marriage at which it was performed, was but the shadow of good things to come—of the fulness and excellence of the provision which his divine mercy was about to make for those who should enter into the heavenly marriage. It was, besides, the beginning of his miracles, the initiament of the first state of his regenerating work.

5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. We have already spoken of Mary as representing the church. We may now remark, that when the church is spoken of as a mother, which expresses the relation she bears to her children, and only to Jesus so far as he was her Son, made under the law, she has a different yet kindred meaning to that which she has when spoken of as a wife, which expresses her relation to the Lord as a husband. A mother’s love for her children is the reflex of her love for her husband ; so the love of the church for her members is the reflex of her love to the Lord; she sees and loves the Lord’s image in them. The church, too, pleads for her children, as Mary pleaded for the children of the marriage ; yet she pleads with one who, she knows, loves the children with a love still deeper and stronger than her own. And not only does the mother plead with the father for the children, but she exhorts the children to obey the father, as Mary told the servants to do whatsoever Jesus said unto them. And who are those servants? The servants at the marriage, religiously considered, are not to be regarded as necessarily inferior to the ordinary guests. The ministers of the church, are servants of the church. The angels are servants to their lower brethren of the human race; for are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation1? The Lord himself acted as the servant of his humble disciples; and he taught them the sublime lesson which he exemplified—” he that would be greatest among you let him be your servant.” The servants of the marriage are such as we frequently find in the Lord’s parables, those who carry out the will of the Lord as their master. In the present case the servants are not told to do the will of the governor of the feast, but the will of Jesus, whose servants, in this matter, they are. Such are the ministers of the church, such are the angels; such, abstractly, are the principles of holy truth, which serve the ends and aims of holy love; and such, finally, are the ultimate truths of the Lord’s Word, the Lord being, in respect to them, the Word itself in its life and light.

6. And there were set there six water-pots of stone after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins a-piece. These vessels represent the precepts and statutes of the Jewish Church; in a larger sense, the law as acknowledged by the Jews ; in the largest sense, the Word in its literal form. The water, which these vessels contained, represented the truth which God gave the Jews, in and through their law, for purification and regeneration. The water-pots were six in number, because six is expressive of a preparatory state, attended with trial and temptation, as the six days of labour are preparatory to the sabbath of rest. The Jewish dispensation was preparatory to the Christian, the law to the. Gospel, and the letter to the spirit; as the secular week was preparatory to the holy Sabbath : eminently, the Lord’s life of labour and travail was preparatory to the divine state of rest, into which he entered by the union of his Humanity with his Divinity : hence our Lord on the Sabbath day performed so many of his beneficent works, which, however, were not works of conflict, but of mercy. The vessels contained, or rather were capable of containing, two or three firkins a-piece. Two is a number that has relation to good and three to truth. When our Lord said, ” Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” he meant to teach us that wherever good and truth, and thence the good and the faithful, are together and united, he is present as their central life. Of the laws of the Word some are more for the purification of the heart; some more for the purification of the understanding. In the decalogue we have examples of both kinds: ” thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not bear false witness.” Every divine law, however, includes both, with this difference, that in some the good is primary, while in others it is secondary. One cannot exist in the law or in the mind without the other. Pure affections cannot exist without pure thoughts, nor pure thoughts without pure affections. They are distinct but not separate.

7 These pots our Lord desired them to fill with water, and they filled them up to the brim. The Jews had emptied the law of its meaning and deprived it of its power. The Lord filled it again, even to the brim, both by his teaching and his life. The law is filled in two ways, by restoring its true sense, and by fulfilling its requirements. The law is filled by being fulfilled, a meaning which belongs to the English as well as to the Greek word; for the father of English poetry speaks of this ” gentil May, fulfilled of pity.” The Lord’s restoring and fulfilling the law, as to the letter, was represented by his commanding the water-pots to be filled with water} and by their filling them up to the brim, water being the type of natural truth, which constitutes the true sense of the letter of the Word. The Lord filled up the law in his teaching, and fulfilled it in his life. He restored the true sense and meaning of the Word, and he fulfilled all its requirements in his self-denying and beneficent life. But he taught that others were to do this also. It is the duty of the church and of its members, in obedience to his divine command, thus to fill and fulfil the law, both by filling up the measure of its true meaning, and teaching and doing what it truly requires.

8 When the servants had filled the water-pots with water, Jesus saith unto them, Draw out now and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. It has been a question, whether the whole of the large quantity of water which the vessels now contained was turned into wine, a question which would hardly deserve consideration, but for its relation to a spiritual meaning and practical use. The water, there is good reason to believe, was turned into wine in the act of drawing it out, so that only that which was to be used was changed. Analogous cases sanction this view. When the prophet Elijah cheered the widow’s heart by the promise of sustaining her in the famine, it was not by telling her that her handful of meal and cruse of oil would at once be largely increased, but by assuring her, that the meal should not waste nor the oil fail, until the day that the Lord sent rain upon the earth (1 Kings xvii. 14). And when Elisha delivered the poor widow from her merciless creditor, by enabling her to discharge her debt, it was by causing her oil to multiply while she poured it from the cruse into the vessels she had borrowed to receive it (2 Kings iv. 5). The same law of increase was exemplified by a greater than these. “When Jesus fed many thousands with a few loaves and fishes, he did not first produce the whole quantity required to satisfy their hunger, but multiplied the food while he dispensed it. And thus it was in the present case. When, in obedience to his command, the servants drew out, that which flowed from the pots as water was received into their vessels as wine. And this feature in all these miracles teaches us this divine lesson, that the gifts of heaven, however precious in themselves, are blest to us only in the using.

The servants, when they had drawn the wine, were desired to bear it to the governor of the feast. The marriage feast in those times was presided over by one, whose office it was to see to the proper entertainment of the guests, to preserve order and temperance, and promote happiness. The marriage feast presents a faithful representation of the spiritual feast in which it originated; for the festivals of our social life are the outbirths and images of our spiritual states. Marriage is the most important, and, when it is a true union, is the happiest event of our natural life; and calls forth the warmest sympathy and joy in others. The heavenly marriage of goodness and truth is the great event of our spiritual life, and draws around it all our best affections. But when the natural affections are excited and inspired with delight, they are liable, like the guests at the marriage feast, to run into some degree of disorder and excess ; and require a ruler to direct and govern them. Reason is the legitimate ruler of our feasts, not natural reason, but reason which acts under the influence of religious principle. To this power the natural affections and thoughts, passions and appetites, should ever be subject. Therefore, to the governor of the feast was the wine directed to be taken, before the guests were supplied. The Lord and the servants representing divine truth in the first and last degrees of successive order, the governor and the guests represent truths of the degrees which are intermediate. And it is a law of order, according to which the Lord operates in all his works, both of creation and salvation, that power is exercised by what is first acting by what is last, whilst by their combined action intermediate principles are perfected. We see this law exemplified in man as a created being. He comes into existence possessed of a soul and a body, which are the first and the last constituents of his human nature; and by the action of the soul upon the body, and the reaction of the body upon the soul, the mind, which is intermediate, is developed and perfected. So in the regeneration of man, which is his spiritual creation; love, which is highest, by obedience, which is lowest, introduces, arranges, and perfects all intermediate principles. By the Lord’s command the servants still draw out from the holy Word the means of salvation. The vital principle comes from the Lord through the inmost of the soul, and obedience is the means by which it supplies us with heavenly truth and life.

9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew:) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom. The ruler knew that what he tasted was superior wine, but he knew not whence it was. To know the truth and to know whence it is are two distinct things. The first comes by revelation, the second by illustration; the first by the knowledge, . the second by the light, of truth. But although the ruler knew not whence the good wine was, the servants that drew the water knew; for they represent those truths that act immediately from the Lord, by which we have a perception of the origin of spiritual truth. But when it is said that the ruler knew not whence it was, the narrative shows that he supposed it had been provided by the bridegroom. And so human reason, before it is enlightened by the Lord’s Spirit, imagines the truth to have a human and not a divine origin; or at least regards it as less than divine, and traces it to a cause lower than the Infinite or Eternal. We see, however, in this relation, that the perception of divine truth and of its origin, in the process of regeneration, ascends; first the servants, then the ruler, and lastly the bridegroom, became acquainted with the fact that Jesus was the author and giver of the wine. For although it is not related, there is a certainty that both the ruler and the bridegroom were thus led to the knowledge of the truth, that Jesus had performed this great miracle.

10 When the ruler had called the bridegroom, he saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou has kept the good wine until now. Every church commences with truth derived from good, which is the good wine, and declines into truth without good, which is the wine that is worse. This, at least, has been the case with all churches which have hitherto existed in the world. All have degenerated. When men had well drunk—or had drunk to excess— the wine has become ” worse.” Intellectual and spiritual intoxication arises from finding pleasure in truth without goodness, or faith without works. All excess of truth over goodness is, to the extent of that excess, a degree of spiritual or rather intellectual intoxication, and is meant by drunkenness in the Word. Natural intemperance is no doubt traceable to this spiritual cause. The ruler of the feast expressed his surprise and approbation that the bridegroom had kept the good wine till the last. Every church previously existing had passed through these descending stages, and had landed in a state of hypocrisy at last, a state which is implied in the very circumstance of giving the guests inferior wine, when they had become incompetent to judge of its quality. But here was an exception to the general rule. The church which the Lord was about to establish was to receive a higher degree of truth than the members of the Jewish Church had ever possessed. The spiritual truth of the Christian Church was more spiritual than that of the Jewish Church, even in its best and palmiest days. The revelation which is made at the commencement of any church, is made at the end of the old, and to those belonging to it who are capable of receiving the truth of the new dispensation. The inhabitants of Galilee were of this description. They were nominally Jews, but essentially Gentiles. They were less deeply sunk in the Pharisaism and Sadducism of the age. It is not those who are deeply versed in, and strongly attached to, the doctrines of a consummated church that hail the advent of a new dispensation, and become the earliest recipients of its principles ; it is those who are in a state of simplicity, whose hearts crave after some better things than elaborate and exclusive human creeds can supply. In this respect the Lord ever acts differently from men. As a church degenerates, her truths degenerate also; and thus does the silver of the church become dross, and her wine mixed with water. Nay, it is permitted by a wise and merciful Providence, that when the church declines into evil, she should fall into error, that the truth may be saved from profanation, and that her condemnation may be less severe than it would be by sinning against the light. A new and higher dispensation can only originate in a new revelation, or, what is the same, in a new and higher development of that which already exists; and even when this takes place, the things of the kingdom are hid from the wise and prudent, and are revealed unto babes.

11 The turning of water into wine at the marriage in Cana of Galilee is called the beginning of the Lord’s miracles. And how worthy of being recorded, and how deserving of admiration, is the first in that series of beneficent works, by which the Saviour manifested his eternal power and Godhead, and dispensed his mercy to the suffering and afflicted; at the same time representatively exhibiting those greater because spiritual and eternal works, by which humanity, suffering from the effects of sin, is to be raised into higher states of truth and righteousness. In the spiritual meaning of Scripture, the first of a series always- gives the key to the character of the whole; so that the first means, not only the first in the order of time, but the first in the order of rank. Among all the similitudes of the kingdom of heaven, marriage is the most exalted. It is the origin and end of all things. The union of love and wisdom in God is the divine marriage, from, which creation had its birth, and from which, through its effects and images in created objects, it has its continuance. The same divine marriage of infinite love and wisdom is in all the other divine works, of providence, revelation, redemption, and salvation. The union of love and wisdom in the human mind is the spiritual marriage, which forms the kingdom of God within us. This is, in the particular sense, the marriage to which the kingdom of heaven is compared, and, from this result all other unions, the marriage of the Lord and his church, and the marriage of human pairs both on earth and in heaven. This being the case, we can see the reason why the Lord performed his first miracle at a marriage; and how it is that this first miracle enters into all the other miracles of our Lord. The turning of water into wine was a sign (which the word for miracle here signifies) of the character of all the works of goodness and wisdom characteristic of the Christian dispensation. Of the several dispensations that preceded the Christian Church, each was less perfect than that which it followed. But the Christian Church was the beginning of an ascending series. The church had descended from celestial to spiritual, from spiritual to natural; when the Lord came, it began to ascend from natural to spiritual, and from spiritual to celestial. Man had, so to speak, turned the wine into water; the Lord turned the water into wine. The immediate effect of the Lord’s miracle at Cana was that it manifested forth his glory, and his disciples believed on him. The first effect is agreeable to the meaning and purpose of the miracle; for glory, in reference to the Lord, is the effulgence of divine light, which is divine truth, by which his character and perfections are more clearly revealed. And the result of this is, as stated in the narrative, that his disciples believe on him. Not that this is the beginning of belief, but that a purer and more spiritual faith is now begotten in them. The disciples, it is evident, had believed in him before this miracle; it did not produce faith but exalted it. As the miracle itself represented the changing of natural truth into spiritual; the result of it was that it changed their natural into a spiritual faith. This miracle is still performed in the minds of the regenerate. Our knowledge and belief still begin in the letter. We know of the Lord first as the Nazarene, we think of him first as the son of Joseph (chap. i. 45); and our first faith in the Lord is as low and poor as our first conceptions of him. But when we have accompanied the Lord to the marriage, and seen the water turned into wine, and in that miracle of divine power have beheld his glory, our belief in the Lord begins to be spiritual and heavenly.

12 After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples. When the Scriptures speak of going down, they speak of descent from a higher to a lower state. This does not necessarily mean exchanging a superior for an inferior state ; it generally means, as it does here, carrying out the principles of an inward faith into the actions of a holy life, descending from the mount, where we receive the law, into the camp, where it is to be carried into effect. Such was the Lord’s going down to Capernaum, which was upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Naphtali (Matt. iv. 13); Capernaum thus signifying a state of the external life of man, where there is the practical conjunction of goodness and truth. As a city, Capernaum signifies doctrine. From its being the Lord’s own city it represents the doctrine of the Lord; and from its situation the doctrine of life. The Lord’s going down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brethren and his disciples, teaches us that the Lord leads his church, represented by his mother, and her children, consisting of those who are in charity and faith, represented by his brethren and his disciples, into the doctrine of the Lord and the doctrine of life. Yet why should they, who had already entered into the marriage of truth and good, be led thence into the doctrine, of truth and good? For the same reason that an apostle exhorts the faithful to add to their faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge (2 Peter i. 5). Faith is enriched, virtue is exalted by knowledge. It is also to be remembered that the event celebrated is but the beginning of marriage. The union of minds and souls, which constitutes true marriage, is effected gradually, in the course of the married life, by a growing assimilation of character, produced by an increasing knowledge and love of each other, and of what is good and true. Indeed, marriage advances with regeneration; and this, we know, is the work of a lifetime; and not till regeneration is completed is marriage perfected, if that can be said to be ever perfected which goes on increasing in perfection to eternity. Thus the marriage of husband and wife, and the marriage of truth and goodness, go hand in hand. And as the Lord is the Author of both, he leads his people through the necessary stages of their spiritual journey, from their introduction into the marriage state till their entrance into the heavenly marriage above. In Capernaum the Lord and his mother and disciples continued not many days. As periods of time mean states of life, these natural days mean states of spiritual life. Numbers, in the spiritual sense, do not mean quantity but quality, and every particular number is expressive of a certain quality. Here, however, no specific number is mentioned. When many and few are spoken of, as they frequently are in Scripture, many has relation to truth and few to goodness; • as where it is said that many are called but few chosen, which does not necessarily mean that few are saved out of the many that are called, but that it is the true who are called, the good who are chosen. The Lord, and those who are with him, continuing in Capernaum not many days, means, therefore, that the state into which the children of the marriage are led, as here represented, is a state rather of the good than of the truth of doctrine.

13 The Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. During his life on earth the Lord went up three times to Jerusalem, to the feast of the passover. As the law required that every male should appear three times a year at Jerusalem, we may regard the Lord’s three visits as intended to fulfil this requirement, and as having the same representative character. The passover, at which the paschal lamb was eaten, as a memorial of that night when the first-born of Egypt were slain, and when Israel obtained deliverance from Egyptian bondage, typified the glorification of the Lord’s humanity, as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, and by the power of which human redemption was effected. The Lord also glorified his humanity by three distinct acts, or rather stages of progression; for his glorification, like man’s regeneration, ascended from natural to spiritual, and from spiritual to celestial; but in him these states were divine, while in all others they are human and finite; his states were divine-natural, divine-spiritual, divine-celestial. And thus his humanity, being divine, is equally, and indeed more present with us now than when he lived on earth; and he still goes up to the passover, when we are spiritually in that state which the paschal feast represented; when, like the children of Israel, we have made every preparation to go out from the midst of our enemies, with our staff in our hand and our sandals on our feet, to set out on our journey to the heavenly Canaan.

14. The glorification of the Lord’s humanity being represented by the passover, therefore when he went up to Jerusalem to attend the feast, he, as here recorded, proceeded to purify the temple, which was the symbol of the temple of his body. He found in the temple those that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitting. It may seem inconsistent with the Lord’s perfect innocence to suppose, that his humanity had any qualities in it, which could be represented by these mercenary dealers in the temple. “We are, however, carefully to distinguish between hereditary and actual evil. The Lord inherited from his human mother all the hereditary imperfections of our common nature, without which he could not have been a Saviour from sin. The grand difference between the Lord and every other man was, that while he inherited all men’s evils, he committed none of their sins. Not in his birth, but in his life, he was wholly undefined and separate from sinners. He took our corrupt nature upon him for the very purpose of removing its corruptions. He did not find it, but he made it, without spot and blemish. Our Lord’s temptations and great trials consisted in his conflicts with the inherited corruptions of his human nature, or rather with the powers of darkness, which assailed him through those corruptions ; And his triumphs, by which he attained perfection, consisted in his at once overcoming the powers of darkness who assailed him, and purifying his humanity from the hereditary evils through which their assaults had come. The oxen and sheep and doves are the merely human affections and thoughts which belonged to the Lord’s maternal nature, and the money which was changed is the knowledge connected with them. The oxen and sheep and doves and money were not indeed in themselves evil, but only became so by being introduced into the temple. The selling and buying and money-changing were necessary for the temple service, but the traffic should have been carried on beyond the precincts of the building; By being intruded into the sacred edifice, that which had ministered to holiness became profane. In the Lord’s case, the intrusion of these unhallowed things does not represent an act of his own, but an inherited condition. His act consisted, not in introducing them, but in driving them out. While, in its highest sense, this relates to the Lord, in its lower meanings it applies also to the church and to the human mind. In their case, such evils obtain admission, not only by inheritance but by choice; But they, unlike the Lord, cannot themselves drive them out; The Lord alone can do this for them, by their consent and during their co-operation.: And he can do this work in them, because he had done it in himself; For their regeneration is the effect of his glorification.

15 When he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the Sheep, and the oxen; And poured out. The changers’ money, and overthrew the tables. The small cords of which he made the scourge are the truths of his holy word, which become a scourge when they are employed in the way of judgment, to chastise and expel evils and intentional errors. His pouring out the money is the dissipation or dispersion of all falsities, and his overturning the tables is the overthrowing of the evils in which false principles are grounded. In regard to the church and to man, the Lord’s judgments, it is to be remarked, are not upon persons but upon principles. Divine truth, by which judgment is effected, is directed against the evils and errors which are opposed to it; And the only difference between judgment on the righteous and on the wicked is this, that the righteous yield to the judgment, and willingly forsake the evils and errors which the truth condemns, while the wicked resist the truth which judges their evils and errors, and are therefore cast out from the Lord’s presence with the evils which they love and cherish. So far as regards the Lord, his judgments are the same upon all; The same in their character, the same in their purpose; Ever in his judgments the Lord remembers mercy, that is to say, all his judgments are full of mercy, and only those who refuse mercy in judgment are judged without mercy.

16 He said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence. It was natural that these dealers should be required to remove their doves from the temple, for they could not like the sheep and oxen be driven out. But there is an analogy in this to a spiritual truth. Doves, we have said, signify thoughts; These belong to the understanding or the rational faculty; They must be removed, not by pressure, but by persuasion; Not by an act of the will, but by an act of the reason. To all the mercenary dealers, as well as to those who sold doves, the Lord said, Make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. The Lord, it will be observed, calls the temple a house and his Father’s house. Of the two names applied to the sacred edifice, one has relation to truth and the other to good. The Lord’s humanity, the church, and the regenerate man are called a temple, when regarded as to the principle of truth, and a house when regarded as to the principle of good. Man is a temple of God when he receives the Lord in faith, and a house of God when he receives the Lord in love; or, as the regenerate man is both a temple and a house of God, his regenerated understanding is the Lord’s temple and his regenerated will is the Lord’s house. The Lord also calls the temple his Father’s house, for his Father is the divine love itself. To make his Father’s house a house of merchandise, is to profane the good that comes from God, by turning it into a means of selfish gain. This can only be done by frail and finite man. In our Lord’s case no shadow of this occurred in actual life. What all other men do, he was indeed tempted to do; but with the tempter he drove every hereditary imperfection out of the temple of his humanity, until he made it the very house of God, his Father’s house, the eternal habitation of his essential Divinity.

17 When the disciples saw this exhibition of the Lord’s zeal for the honour of the temple, they remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. In the Old Testament the zeal of the Lord is often spoken of, though it sometimes appears in our version under the name of jealousy. In regard to the feeling itself, zeal is the ardour of love, and is more especially manifested in vindicating and protecting the innocent from injury or evil. Zeal, as a spiritual feeling, is analogous to anger as a natural feeling. They differ little in their outward appearance, but are essentially unlike in their inward character. Both are the warmth of JOYS, but one is the warmth of heavenly love, and the other is the warmth of infernal love. Zeal desires only to vindicate those it loves, anger desires to punish those it hates. From the apparent similarity between zeal and anger, God himself is often spoken of as being angry. In him, however, there is no shadow of anger. The only instance in which anger is attributed to Jesus is that recorded in Mark (iii. 5), where it is said that he looked round about on the persecuting Jews in anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts. This is the character of divine anger, or that which is so called in the letter of Scripture; it is the warmth of love and mercy, for mercy is love grieving; and that anger which originates in grief is in reality zeal, and only appears as anger to the evil. The Scripture, which the disciples remembered, occurs in the 69th Psalm, which treats of the Lord’s severest temptations, even to the passion of the cross. And what was that zeal for his Father’s house, which had consumed the Lord the Saviour, but the love which he had for the church, and indeed for the whole human race ? Zeal for the salvation of mankind, including love for heaven and the church, as his temple and house, was that by which the Lord was actuated in his redeeming work, and from which he fought against the powers of darkness, as well as against the principalities and powers of the world. This zeal was his very life, his love; it absorbed his whole being, and even the acts of judgment in which it came forth were in their essence acts of mercy. ” Unto thee, 0 Lord, belongeth mercy, for thou renderest to every man according to his work” (Psa. Ixii. 12).

18. But there was another class that were spectators of this manifestation of holy zeal and superhuman power. The Jews answered and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things. Those who are in a negative state want not reasons but signs. It is not enough for them to have the evidences which the truth gives of itself, they demand evidences which they themselves think necessary; they do not wish to be convinced by the power of truth, but induced to believe by the evidence of the senses; they, in effect, want a sign which will induce them to believe that which they regard as in itself incredible, or unworthy of belief. The Lord is indeed the Author as well as the Object of faith; but he does not compel assent through appeals to the senses, but produces belief through truths addressed to the mind.

19 Jesus, therefore, answered the demand of the unbelieving Jews by saying, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. This was indeed a sign, but it was one which the Jews at that time understood not; and when the sign itself was afterwards given them, they refused to believe it. How then could they believe that which it signified1? They destroyed the temple when they crucified the Lord. Three days afterwards the Lord restored the temple which they had destroyed, in rising from the dead in his glorified humanity; in which also was fulfilled the prediction of one of their own prophets, “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts, and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Hag. ii. .9). This raising of the temple, or the glorification of the Lord’s humanity, is the sign of signs. It is not an outward but an inward sign; and not merely the highest evidence of truth, but the deepest ground of faith. But the power of this sign comes to us through another. The Lord’s glorification, completed in his resurrection, is the origin of man’s regeneration. Regeneration is the Lord’s resurrection in us, and therefore is the inward and practical evidence to us that the Lord is our Redeemer and Saviour. There can be no true faith where this evidence is wholly wanting. An old nature and a new faith is a contradiction. A new faith and a new heart must come together; a broken heart and a contrite spirit, humility of heart and of understanding, are both necessary for preparing the mind to receive faith. We must come to the cross, and there lay down our life, for it is only by dying with the Lord that we can rise with him, and that we can know him and the power of his resurrection.

20 But the Jews answered, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days ? This was not the temple of Solomon, but that which was rebuilt at the return from Babylon, and afterwards renewed by Herod the Great. The forty and six years which the Jews say were occupied in building this temple, are expressive of the quality of the church which it represented. Forty is a number which, like the forty years’ journey and the forty days’ temptation in the wilderness signifies temptation, and six has a similar meaning, which is derived from the six days of labour that precede the sabbath of rest. The temple which then existed, like the church which it represented, was entirely different and far less magnificent than at its first establishment. The first temple, the building of which had been expressly reserved for the prosperous and peaceful reign of Solomon, was rebuilt in adverse and troublous times, and was the sign of a troubled and greatly depreciated state of religion. The Lord did not come to destroy that temple, for he never comes to destroy but to save. The Jews themselves destroyed it, by destroying every principle of the church in themselves, the destruction of the temple of the Lord’s body being at once the effect and the sign of the extinction of religion in their hearts and understanding. The church which the Lord was to raise up on the ruins of that which they had destroyed, was a new and glorious church, a temple that not simply foreshadowed, but was the image of his own glorious body; the three days in which it was to be built up being expressive of its quality, as derived from, and a likeness of the Lord’s glorified humanity, the effect and the form of his goodness and truth.

21But he spake of the temple of his body. This was not a mere comparison but a correspondence, for the temple represented his humanity, as it also represented the church ; for the church is his mystical body, as his humanity is .his own glorious body. The Jews understood him as alluding to the temple at Jerusalem. This is an illustration of a difference which exists between the Lord’s truth and man’s apprehension of it. The words of the Lord, as they proceed from his lips, or are revealed in the Scriptures, have a meaning of their own, very different from that which they have in the natural mind of man. As they proceed from the Lord they are divine ; as they enter the mind of the natural man they are merely natural, and are too often turned into what is opposite to their original meaning and intention.

22. The disciples themselves had either like the Jews misunderstood or had afterwards forgotten the deep significance of the Lord’s words. It was only when he was risen from the dead that his disciples remembered he had said this unto them ; and it was only then that they believed the Scriptures and the word which Jesus had said. “We know it was hid from them that the Lord was to be crucified and was to rise the third day. There is a meaning as well as a mystery in the circumstance of the disciples remaining in ignorance or passing into forget-fulness of facts so remarkable, repeatedly and solemnly declared unto them. It was to hold up to the Lord’s disciples in all future ages an image of that which takes place in themselves. The Lord’s disciples cannot truly know the death and resurrection of the Lord till they take place in their own experience; they cannot understand the great mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection in relation to themselves till their understandings are opened by the risen Lord breathing upon them the Holy Spirit of his glorified humanity. It is not till after he is risen in our own hearts, that we savingly remember the words which he has uttered in our ears. The remembrance of these things does not consist in their being in the outward memory; they must be inscribed on the inward memory, before we can truly possess them, or spiritually call them to remembrance. It is on the inner memory, which is that of the spirit, that spiritual and eternal truths are inscribed, and they can only come into living remembrance, when the Lord’s resurrection is realized in our regeneration. Then it is that we believe the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. The written and the incarnate Word bear the same testimony, but the one speaks to us through the ear, and the other reveals himself to us through the heart; nor is the outward testimony of the one ever truly understood or believed, till the inward witness of the other enters into it with its spirit and its life.

23 When he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. The passover was the time when the Jews from all parts of Palestine went up to keep the feast. The Lord’s purpose in going up to Jerusalem at this time was no doubt not only that he might celebrate the passover, but that he might preach the gospel of the kingdom to the people there assembled, and also that his life might be the complete representative of Ids living operation in the church and in the minds of men. For when we consider Jerusalem as representing the church, the great festivals, such as the passover, represent those states and times when her children are gathered together, not necessarily in one place, but in one state, and when the Lord is more immediately and sensibly present among them. But when Jerusalem is regarded as a type of the church as it exists in one individual mind, those who go up to Jerusalem represent the affections and thoughts which are drawn together and united in one common object. When the thoughts and affections are concentrated upon some religious subject or holy observance, the Lord is present and acts upon them, for the purpose of inspiring purer feelings and a holier faith. The Lord’s miraculous works, while they gave health and strength to the body, symbolized corresponding saving effects wrought in the soul. Miracles themselves, wonderful and beneficent as were those which our Lord performed, have exercised but little power or influence of a spiritual kind on the minds of men, in producing faith in him who performed them. A miracle may, however, confirm or strengthen a faith already existing, as the miracle at the marriage in Cana did with the disciples, who had already acknowledged Jesus. Many, it is true, believed in the name of Jesus when they saw the miracles he did at the feast; but this fact seems to be told for the very purpose of showing that such belief was extremely superficial, and produced no spiritual change in the minds of those who acquired it. This appears from what is recorded in the next verse.

24, 25. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man : for he knew what was in man. We might, therefore, say that many believed in him, but did not believe from him. He was not in their belief as its Author and Object, in any saving sense. Belief means trust, and none truly believe in the Lord, but those who trustingly rely on him as their Saviour. It is said that Jesus did not commit himself unto them, more correctly, he did not trust himself to them. And his want of trust in them shows and expresses, in the spiritual sense, their want of trust in him. He did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man. What more could be said to teach us that the Lord was omniscient’? Who can know the hearts of men but the Searcher of hearts? Jesus knows our faith, whether it be produced from without or generated from within. How impressive is the fact, that the Lord does not entrust himself to those who have no inward spiritual faith. And why is this, but because they have no real trust in him. Trust in him does not arise from truth but from, goodness; not from faith in the understanding, but from faith in the heart. Those only put their trust in the Lord who love him. Trust is the submission of our own will to his will; and none can have this trust but those whose faith is the faith of love.

Author: William Bruce –1870

Pictures: James Tissot—-Courtesy of the Brooklyn museum