It is the opinion of some critics that the last verse of the preceding chapter forms the original conclusion of John’s gospel, and that this chapter is. to be regarded as a supplement added by the apostle himself, or an addition made by some other hand. The objections to its authenticity are based on a few slight differences from John’s usual forms of expression, and on the assumed unmeaningness or triviality of its contents. It is, on the other hand, to be considered that all the manuscripts contain it, and that the most spiritual and intellectual Fathers of the church gave it a symbolical interpretation. It is from leaving out of sight the spirituality of the Scriptures, and fixing their eyes exclusively on the structure and meaning of the letter, that they have founded this opinion of the present portion of John’s gospel, and that their judgment respecting the genuineness of some other parts of the Word have been determined or greatly influenced. While we award all honour to those scholars who devote their lives to the study of the sacred text, and render them the meed of praise for much real good which they effect, we must at the same time assert the claims of a higher criticism, whose procedure is synthetical and not analytical. Both kinds of criticism are required for obtaining a complete view of the sacred text, and no just conclusion can, in many cases, be formed of its genuineness but by the combined and balanced evidence of both. Although our explanation of the particulars of the chapter differs in some respects from that of the early expositors of the sacred text, who are now too much disregarded, they will, we think, be sufficient to show the edifying nature of this concluding part of the gospel, which, from a merely literary point of view, has seemed to be unworthy of the apostle to whom it is ascribed.
1. After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself. This, according to John, the third and final manifestation of Jesus to his disciples, is not less edifying than it is affectingly beautiful. The sea of Tiberias, on the shores of which Jesus first presented himself to the chief of his disciples, when, he called them from their humble occupation to become fishers of men, is the scene of this his last manifestation to them, to confirm his covenant with them, and seal his instruction and his charge to them as the ministers of his Word. The sea is of extensive signification; it signifies the world and it signifies the Word,—the world as consisting of immortal souls, and the Word as consisting of eternal truths. The Word is a revelation from him by whom the world was made and redeemed, and is his divine will and wisdom, addressed as it is accommodated to men. He, therefore, who would be a fisher of men must be especially a searcher of the Word of God; for the truths of the Word are the means by which souls are drawn from the world, and won to God. Jesus showed himself to his disciples at the sea of Tiberias, that he might.instruct them how they must proceed, in order to draw men from the world and truths from the Word,—the lesson he designed to teach them, as those who were now about to enter on the great work of the gospel ministry. It relates, besides, to every disciple without distinction. All are to be, in their own way, fishers. Every true disciple must draw truths from the Word for his own instruction, whether or not he be a teacher of men. The Word is the source of religious truth. In the vision of the new temple which Ezekiel saw, the waters that issued out from the threshold of the house carried life wherever they went, healing the sea, and filling it with a very great multitude of fish (chap, xlvii.). The vision describes the church, established by the Lord at his coming; and the living water that issued from under the threshold of the temple, like the pure river of the water of life that proceeded out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, as spoken of in the Revelation, is the Spirit of the Eternal Word, as it flows down into the written Word, healing its waters, which corrupt men have poisoned and erring men have soiled, and carrying into it new life and health, thus spiritualizing its genuine truths, for the instruction and edification of men of the church, who are the spiritual fishers.
2 The evangelist then relates the circumstances under which Jesus showed himself. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana of Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. In all there were seven disciples, a holy number. The seven were together, expressive of their being united and harmonious. Of these seven Peter and Thomas, the one who denied and the other who had disbelieved, are placed first, as if to show how much can be done by sincere and deep repentance. But it also shows that faith is the leading grace in the present combination, faith being represented by Simon Peter; for In every case, whoever is mentioned first gives a character to the whole. The series here consists, first, of Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana of Galilee, who represent faith in the will, faith in the understanding, and faith in the life; then the two sons of Zebedee, who represent charity and faith united in the internal man, and two others, not named, who represent charity and faith, united in the external man. Jesus made his third appearance to these, to instruct us that when these principles exist together in the mind, and are actuated by one end, as these disciples had in this instance, and that end is to draw instruction from the Word for the uses of a holy life, the Lord is present and manifests himself. The purpose is expressed in the words which the leading disciple now proceeds to address to the others.
3 Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a-fishing. They say unto him. We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately, and that night they caught nothing. Peter saying, spiritually means a reflection originating in faith in the will, which he represents. In many cases Peter was the spokesman, and most appropriately was he so now, when the disciples were about to become, in a sense and manner they had never hitherto realized, fishers of men, and when their acts were to be types of a spiritual work they had hitherto but imperfectly understood and performed. Now that Jesus was glorified, the evangelization of the world and the regeneration of the human soul were to be, as it were, commenced anew. It was not until now that the disciples could understand what the kingdom of Christ was, and what it was to preach it. Hitherto, and even now, they knew not the spiritual nature of the kingdom, and the spiritual change which was necessary to be effected in those who were to be brought into it. They were” yet in a state fitly represented by the night in which they were engaged in fishing on the dark lake of Galilee, and the result of their labour was like that of their fishing, when they toiled all the night and caught nothing. But we may see in this description of the disciples and of their labour a type of the disciple and his work, when he is in the state of the spiritual life here represented. Let us view it in reference to the “Word as the depository of living truths. “I go a-fishing” is the expression of the desire of the Christian disciple to acquire from the Word truths for supporting the spiritual life of the soul. This desire, uttered in faith, has the concurrence and co-operation of the other Christian graces, but is essentially the prompting of the understanding. The night in which they toiled was the night of the Jewish church, the state of which made it difficult to draw any into the net which the disciples cast into the sea. But the night describes their own state as well as that of the church. Their minds are in a state of obscurity on the great subject and object of the gospel dispensation. And this night of fruitless labour is one that is a common experience with the Christian disciple, and it is that state of mental obscurity in which he finds himself, when the Lord, who is the true Light, is away, and when he labours in his own strength and in his own intelligence.
4 We now come to the bright side of the subject. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore; but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. We have seen the disciples separate from the Lord, acting from themselves, and in the night. Now we are to see them with the Lord, or the Lord with them, and the result of their acting under his immediate direction. The early morning, when the sun, unrisen and unseen, has shed his light upon the mountain-tops and diffused it through the atmosphere, is an emblem of that state of the mind when the love of God is indeed shed abroad upon the heart, but the light of truth is as yet but dimly seen in the understanding; when the sun has not yet risen in his strength, and become visible to the eye of faith. Such was the morning which had now come, when Jesus stood on the shore. The shore is the ever-varying borderline of the land and of the sea, and is representative of the external or sensual part of the mind where good and truth meet: and in relation to the Word it is representative of the external or literal sense, where its principles of good and truth are conjoined. Here the Lord appears to the disciples who are earnestly but unsuccessfully labouring to draw from the Word living truths for the support of their spiritual life. In this case the Lord is seen and is not seen—seen but not perceived. Singularly expressive is this natural fact here recorded, in certain states of Christian experience. We may read the Scriptures and learn the truths it teaches, even those which relate to Jesus as the Saviour of men ; yet we may not know them, having no spiritual discernment of their nature, and no experience of their power. We see their form, but not their essence, as the disciples saw the Lord but knew not who he was.
5 The means which the Lord took to make himself known to his disciples are symbolical of those which he still employs to reveal himself to his sincere but darkened followers. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat ? They answered him, No. He addresses or salutes them by the endearing name of children, which expresses his paternal love and their filial relation to him, and their teachableness and submission to his authority, as the event proved. They were yet children in another sense, children in knowledge, who had yet to grow up into the stature and wisdom of men. The Lord did not ask them if they had been successful in their fishing, but if they had any meat. The word here used means, not bread, but something that is eaten with it, as fish. But as the term meat signifies, the principle of good, in distinction from truth, the question is an important and searching one, Have ye acquired any of that vital principle which constitutes the soul’s food—that without which all our other acquirements are vain, and without having acquired which all our labours are vain. These questions are such as the Lord, hy the influence of his Spirit and the teaching of his Word, suggests in and to the earnest mind. And the answer of the disciples is, ‘No. The knowledge and acknowledgment of our want of that which we have been striving after is the prelude of success.
6 And he said unto them. Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore ; -and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Among those who regard the relation as having only a natural meaning it has been asked, Why on the right side of the ship ? and it has been conjectured that it may have been the side nearest the shore, as the shallowest water, and the least likely to provide a supply for their net. We have no wish to diminish the force of the miracle; but we may venture to suggest that the command carries in it something more than the means of a miracle. In Scripture, the right is expressive of charity, while the left is expressive of faith. When thus understood, how instructive does the divine command become ! It teaches us that whether we learn or preach the gospel, our success will depend on the principle from which we act and on which we proceed. If we act from the intellect and faith only, we may toil all the night and take nothing; but if we act from the heart and charity our exertions will be crowned with success. So far as we act from faith, we seek to make converts to our own particular doctrines, without a due regard to their spiritual improvement and happiness ; but so far as we act from charity, we seek to convert men, not simply by a change of opinion to ourselves, but by a change of heart to God. And again, in studying the Word, so far as we act from intellectual faith we seek to acquire truths with a view to confirm our own religious opinions; but so far as we act from charity, we seek to acquire truths for the purpose of growing in the graces and virtues of the Christian life. These two kinds of activity may be displayed successively by the same person. The first is when his natural mind is more active than his spiritual. This is his spiritual night. For night and day are states of mind produced, night by the ascendancy of the natural over the spiritual man, and day by the ascendancy of the spiritual over the natural. These states alternate with every man, however highly regenerated he may be. ” While the earth remains, day and night, and summer and winter shall not cease.” The alternations are as useful as they are necessary. No state can be perfected without them. Action and reaction preserve equilibrium and promote healthful vigour and development. It is day with the Christian when his spiritual powers and principles are active, when the warmth of heavenly love and the light of heavenly truth are active in his mind and life; but night closes around him as his natural affections and thoughts become active, and the affairs and anxieties of the natural life acquire for the time prominence and activity. But this state, with its disappointments and unrequited labours, prepares the mind for another and better one, in which light and hope, and the appearing of the Lord, and the voice of his truth and the influence of his love, shall cheer the heart, and guide the mind to a happier result. This result is shadowed in the success of the disciples when they cast their net on the right side of the ship : and ” now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.” Multitude is a term applied to truth as magnitude is to good. The multitude of fish shadowed the multitude of men, especially of the Gentiles, which the disciples should convert to the faith of the gospel, when they came, in the day of Christian principle which was now dawning upon them, and under the teaching of the Lord, who now appeared to them, to seek to bring men into a kingdom which was not of this world, but which, like its king, was spiritual and eternal. It shadows also the increase of truths which the Word yields to those who search the Scriptures under the influence of charity. Good is the life of truth and is the source of its increase ; for good enlarges its power and means of usefulness by truth; wherever and whenever good abounds, truths are increased, and may be so multitudinous as to be beyond our power to comprehend or appropriate them when first acquired.
7. One effect of this miraculous increase is to convince us that it is the Lord’s doing, and therefore that he who produced it can be no other than Jesus. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord) he girt his fisher’s coat unto him (for he was naked), and did cast himself into the sea. The idea that it was the Lord who had directed and prospered their effort, presents itself first to John, who suggests it to Peter: because the divine influx is into the will, and through the will into the understanding; or through charity into faith. This leads the mind to seek conjunction with the Lord, as Peter determined to go to Jesus. But Peter was naked, and therefore girt his fisher’s coat about him. Naked, here and in some other places in Scripture, means without the outer garment; but the term is, no doubt, used to express spiritual nakedness, which is a destitution or deficiency of truth, truths being to the mind what garments are to the body. The word here used for coat does not occur as a name in any other part of the New Testament; in its verbal form it occurs in 2 Cor. v. 2, 4, where the apostle says,'”For in this (earthly house) we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon by our house which is from heaven . . . not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality be swallowed up in life.” The body is here spoken of as the clothing of the soul; the natural body its clothing in this world, the spiritual body its clothing in the other. Every soul or spirit must have a body, every essence a form. The spirit of faith clothes itself with the truth of faith as with a garment, as the divine Being clothes himself with light. Faith without its proper truths is without protection, and without comeliness and glory. It is lukewarm Laodiceans that are represented as saying they are rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked : and who are counselled to buy of the Lord white raiment, that they may be clothed, and that the shame of their nakedness do not appear (Rev. iii. 17). Peter’s being naked does not imply that he was in this destitute and shameful state, without having any consciousness or sense of it; but, on the contrary, that, while he found himself naked, he was desirous to be clothed, that he might appear in the presence of him who was now the object of his excited affections. The truths with which the disciple clothes himself, are the means of conjunction with the Lord. Hence it is that so much is said respecting garments in the Word, and about the necessity of being clothed in suitable raiment, especially of being clothed with the wedding-garment, in order to be admitted to the heavenly marriage. Peter’s putting on his outer garments represents the Christian putting on in fulness the truth of faith, as suitable for entering into the Lord’s presence, and attaining conjunction with him. When Peter was apparelled, he cast himself into the sea. This act, like girding his coat about him, showed his eagerness. It expresses the intense desire of the faithful to be with the Lord, when thus revealed to them, by his doing for them what they had been unable to do themselves. What, in this instance, Jesus did for the disciples, he did by them. He prospered their labours. And what Peter did was an example of what an earnest faith prompts the disciple to do, to gird himself, and go to him through the waters, the promise being, ” they shall not overflow thee.”
8. And the other disciples came in a little ship (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fishes. The other disciples are the principles of goodness and truth which enter into faith, and serve to exalt and confirm it. These follow where faith leads—to the Lord as the supreme object of faith and the author of all that is good and true; and they came to the Lord mediately through the knowledge of good and truth, of which a ship is the symbol. That in which the disciples came was a little ship. Magnitude having reference to good, as multitude has to truth; the other disciples coming in a little ship, implies that the knowledge by which they came to the Lord was indeed grounded in good, but that it was small. They had yet but little knowledge of the Lord and of their own true vocation. Yet that little was sufficient to bear them up, and bring them to Jesus, dragging the net, with its miraculous draught, from the world into the church. Such we may regard these circumstances in relation to the disciples of all times. The disciples of Jesus may learn from it that it is not the largeness of their means that is the measure, nor even of the promise of their success, but the Word and Spirit of the Lord. Those who work in his strength will not find the ship too small for the successful performance of their Master’s work. And in this they may find another lesson of encouragement. The disciples, when they came in their little ship, dragging the net, were not far from the land. The Word in which the Lord is more immediately present is not far from the world, but may always be reached by the faithful and zealous, with the fruit of their labour. But there is a more practical lesson in the circumstance than this. For land and sea are emblematical of good and truth: and their making their way to the land, where the Lord was, is expressive of their pressing onward to a state of goodness and to him who is Goodness itself. The two hundred cubits also, which was their distance from the land, is expressive of some degree of the conjunction of goodness with their truth, of charity with their faith.
9 As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. It may seem to some to do violence to the simplicity of the narrative to regard this as supernatural, and yet the narrative itself suggests, and the Lord’s history after his resurrection requires, that it should be so regarded. The incident has a supernatural air about it. Whence and why this preparation and provision, the fire, the fish, the bread ? Jesus now needed none of the elements of material existence : and those speculations, in which some have indulged, as to where he dwelt, how he was clothed, by what he was fed, are the offspring of materialistic views respecting the nature of his resurrection body. The Lord’s body was now divine; and that which he provided for the disciples was food for the soul, not for the body. The disciples saw the Lord, not with their natural but with their spiritual eyes; so likewise did they see the provision which he had made for them. While every reasonable man must see that such was the case, some may have some difficulty in understanding the subject of spiritual life, to which these objects must be referred. The spiritual world is as real as the natural world, and spiritual things are as truly objective to the senses of the soul as the things of this world are to those of the body. The spiritual world is also as near to the natural world as the soul is to the body. All that is required, therefore, to bring men into sensible connection with the spiritual world, and give them a sensible perception of spiritual objects, is to give them a temporary experience of their eternal state, by enabling them to see and hear and feel by their spiritual senses. Such a temporary state was induced upon all who, according to the records of both Testaments, saw angels, and entertained them. Only by the same senses were the disciples able to see the Lord after his resurrection, and everything that he provided for them, and did before them, even to his eating of ” a broiled fish and of an honeycomb ” (Luke xxix 42). ~No violent change was necessary to effect this opening of the spiritual senses. Those who experienced it were not even conscious of the change; and when in the spirit everything must have appeared so natural that they knew no other than that what they saw belonged to the world in which they lived. They might also enjoy at once a double vision, and see at once the objects both of the spiritual and the natural world. For although according to the ordinary law when the spiritual eye is open the natural eye is shut, yet the sight of the spirit and the body may be both active at the same time. But to come to the spiritual meaning of this supernatural manifestation. It was made for the purpose of instructing, not only the disciples who were the immediate subjects of it, but all true disciples who should come after them. The fire which the disciples saw was an emblem of the fire of divine love, which the Author of the now completed redemption of man had kindled on the earth, in the church, in the hearts of the faithful. On the fire the disciples saw fish laid, and also bread. The fish and bread are in the singular number, so that one fish and one cake was all that he had provided as a repast for so many persons. This was evidently intended to impress the disciples with the conviction that they were about to be fed miraculously, and to show them that he who could invite them to ” come and dine ” on such a scanty meal, could be no other than he who multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the multitudes. But it was designed to teach still another lesson, one relating to the spiritual work in winch the disciples were henceforth to be engaged, and the spiritual effects which their teaching was to produce. The bread and fish symbolized the principles of goodness and truth, and fire was the symbol of love. The fish laid on the fire represented the reformation of the natural man by the good of love, of which description were all the men at that time, in consequence of the complete devastation of the church. It is said at the beginning of the verse that the disciples saw all this as soon as they came to land, to instruct us that those who are progressing from truth to good—which the sea and the land signify—see the provision which the Lord had made for them whenever they have attained to a state of goodness.
10, 11. When they were come to land, Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have caught. Simon Peter -went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. Jesus did not at once invite them to partake of the bread and fish he had provided, but desired them first to bring of the fish which they had caught. There are two sources of spiritual intelligence and faith, the Lord and his Word, and it is only by receiving from both that we can understand and believe. Good and Truth, as living. principles, come from the Lord himself, but good and truth as knowledge come from the written Word. There can be no true faith without instruction, there can be no living faith without inspiration. The two must co-exist and meet together in the mind, before any one can be a real Christian. Good and truth as living principles were represented by the provision which the Lord had made for feeding the disciples, truth as knowledge was represented by the fish which they themselves had caught. Therefore, before giving them of the fish which was preparing for them, he commanded them to bring of the fish which they had now caught. The internal gift and” the internal acquirement were to be brought together. The command given to the disciples generally, was acted on by Peter, implying that this was an act of faith, in which, however, all the other graces were included. Obedience to the Lord’s command gives an elevation to faith—for Peter ” went up.” Although it only means that he went up into the ship, to which the net was attached, yet the term by which that act is expressed has the sense of ascending. Natural faith is changed into spiritual faith by being raised out of the natural into the spiritual region of the mind -3 and this is effected when we act in obedience to the Lord’s command to bring our acquired possessions to him, and lay them at his feet, in humble acknowledgment, that having obtained them by his power and guidance, they are truly. his. Peter’s drawing the net to land signifies bringing the acquired truths into connection with good, or what is the same, raising them out of the understanding into the will, or what is still the same, out of the natural into the spiritual mind. The net drawn to the shore was full of great fishes; the term great is expressive of the quality of goodness, the spiritual meaning being, that truths acquired by acting from the immediate dictate of the Lord, and under the influence of charity, are not merely intellectual but moral truths—-truths whose essence is goodness. But the fishes were not only great but numerous. And we have said that magnitude has relation to the quality of a thing as to goodness, number expressing the quality of a thing as to truth. The great fishes were in number a hundred and fifty and three. These three numbers are expressive of the three different kinds or degrees of knowledge which the Word contains, and of the three different classes of persons who are to receive instruction from the Word, and to be drawn, by means of instruction, into the church, namely, the celestial, the spiritual, and the natural, or those who receive the truth in love, in faith, and in obedience. This remarkable fact, that the net did not break, will appear still more remarkable, and will be seen to be still more significant, by comparing it with another of the same character. We find that a miraculous draught of fishes marked the beginning and the end of the Lord’s intercourse with his disciples upon earth. Luke has recorded, what the other evangelists have not mentioned, that on the occasion of his calling Peter and James and John into his service, Jesus to avoid the press of the people on the land, entered into Simon’s ship, and taught the people out of the ship; and when he had left oil speaking he asked Simon to launch out into the deep, and let down their nets for a draught. On that occasion also they toiled all night and had taken nothing; but having at the Lord’s word let down the net, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes, ” and their net brake.” It was then that Peter, in his astonishment, fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ” Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord :” in answer to which Jesus said unto him, ” Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” This remark shows clearly that this fishing and the miraculous draught were symbolical; and we may justly infer that the repetition of the miracle at the sea of Tiberias was symbolical also. The breaking of the net on the first occasion, and not on the second, must be designed to teach us, that the means of catching men was less perfect at the time of their first call, than at the time of their last commission, to preach the gospel. The works of redemption and glorification were completed at the time of the second miracle; therefore the power of acquiring and imparting truth was increased; the means of salvation were more ample and perfect. The net not only enclosed but retained its multitude of fishes. A net (Matt. iv. 1.8) signifies doctrine, and also the knowledge of truth, and consequently the faculty of knowing and understanding. All these in the beginning of the church and of individual. regeneration are feeble, and unable to hold fast that which is acquired. But when the Lord is glorified and man is redeemed, the faculties are invigorated, and all the power of reasoning and retaining truths is. increased.
12. Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. How solemn an invitation! The repast to which they were invited was not in our sense a dinner, but rather a breakfast, which may appear, not only from the meaning of the word, but from the circumstance that it was early morning when the Lord appeared to them, after they had toiled all night and taken nothing. All this is expressive of a new state, and the appropriation of new and higher principles of good and truth. This was not indeed the first time since his resurrection that the Lord had communicated with his disciples by means of the elements of life; but this was the first time he himself had provided the repast and invited them to eat of it. And it was suitable that this first provision he had made for them should be their first meal on that eventful day, the type of the new day of their labours in the church of their now glorified Redeemer. ” Come and dine,” was an invitation which they themselves were henceforth to give to those who should hunger and thirst after righteousness, that they might be filled with the good things which the Lord had, provided, and now freely offered to all without exception. Singular it is that, when invited to come and dine, none of the disciples durst ask him, “Who art thou 1 knowing it was the Lord.” This shows that they regarded him with profound reverence: they were so overawed by his presence that they dared not ask him of his mysterious personality. They knew, yet they desired to ask ; they desired to ask, yet they dared not utter the question. They knew the Lord, we venture to think, not from his outward appearance, but from the miracle he had performed for them, and from the circumstances of the case; as he was known to the two who travelled with him to Emmaus, not by his person, or his voice, but by his manner in the breaking of bread. Is there anything in our Christian experience that answers to this 1 Paul says, ” Henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more” (2 Cor. v. 16), The disciples had known the Lord after the flesh, both subjectively and objectively : they had known him when he was in the flesh, and when they themselves were yet fleshly. So is it with every disciple ; he knows. the Lord after the flesh, while he knows him only after a carnal manner, hut when he becomes spiritually minded, he knows the Lord no more after the flesh, hut after the spirit. Then does he know the Lord by his power, his wisdom, his love, by his working in him to will and to do of His good pleasure. He knows the outward form of Divine Truth by knowing its power, as it affects the heart and understanding. He does not dare to ask, Who art thou ? He does not dare to question the identity of the truth, as it appears to him now, when lie knows it after the spirit, with the truth as it appeared, when lie knew it after the flesh. It carries its own evidence with it. He knows and feels that it is the power of God unto salvation. This is still more fully manifested in what now follows.
13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. Having invited his disciples to come to him, he now comes to them. The Lord draws us to himself that he may give himself to us. Union is not effected without reciprocation. He in us, and we in him, is the law of conjunction. “I stand at the door and knock : if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in, and will sup with him and he with me.” The bread and fish which the Lord gave his disciples are the spiritual food, the divine goodness and truth, which he gives to feed the souls of his people—those who accept his divine invitation to come and dine.
14 John states that this is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples after that he was risen from the dead. Altogether Jesus had been seen by his disciples more than three times. Either this must be grounded in a distinction between being seen and showing himself; or in the word ” disciples ” being intended to mean a number of them together. But the language of the Word is framed so as to contain a higher than the natural meaning. Three is no doubt intended here to express completeness of manifestation; that full and final exhibition of their glorified Saviour, which gives the disciples to know Jesus as that One in whom all fulness dwells,—not merely as he is in himself, God-man, but as he is in them, the perfection of Humanity, glorified in their redemption and salvation—risen in them from the dead, and that dieth no more.
15-17. The Lord having fed his disciples, he now leads them, by means of that symbolical act, to the divine lesson it was designed to teach them. So, when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these ? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me ? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. The general lesson which the Lord teaches his disciples through Peter seems to be, that as he had fed them, they were to feed his church. His injunction was laid upon Peter, but it was laid upon him, not to the exclusion of the other apostles, but in his representative character, and only on him personally, as one of those whose sole Master was Christ, and all of whom were brethren. The name by which the Lord addresses the disciple, is expressive of the qualities and character which belong to one, who is qualified for the office to which Peter was now to be finally appointed; for Simon, son of Jonas, signifies faith derived from charity; Simon means hearing and obedience, and Jonas a dove, which is emblematical of charity. And Peter is addressed individually, not that the charge he received was intended for him exclusively, or even pre-eminently, but because he represented the grace of faith, or the intellectual principle, which is entrusted with the guardianship and nourishment of the Lord’s flock. Peter represents those who are established in the truth, strong in the faith, and apt to teach. But as faith is not saving unless it has its life from love, the Lord demands of Peter whether he possesses this all-important grace. ” Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these ?” It is uncertain whether the question means, Lovest thou me more than these thy brethren love me ? or, Lovest then me more than thou lovest these temporal things which now engage thy attention ? Peter’s answer is a simple and positive one, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” He makes no ostentatious profession of his love, but appeals to the Lord himself, who, he knew, needed not that any one should testify of man, nor that any man should testify of himself, for he knew what was in man. How different is Peter’s language now from that in which he answered; the Lord’s prediction that he would deny him. He then boasted of a constancy that he did not possess; he now boasts not of a love that he ‘does possess. For an assurance of his love he appeals to Him who, he had learnt by bitter experience, knew him better than he knew himself, and who had implanted that love in his heart. Jesus responds: ,to his appeal by laying upon him this great duty, or rather entrusting him with this exalted privilege—”Feed my lambs.” This is a charge committed, in an eminent degree, to the ministers of the church, although it is by no means limited to them, since all may care for and minister to one another; while in a more interior sense, all are required to preserve and feed the remains of innocence and charity, which the Lord has treasured up in every mind. Innocence and charity are meant by lambs and sheep, and these are the Lord’s, whether they be regarded as principles in the minds of his people, or as persons in whom these principles have any degree of active existence. The question which the Lord addressed to Peter he repeats three times, and three times does he lay the solemn charge upon him, to feed and protect his sheep—for two different words are used by the Lord, which are not distinguished in our version, the first meaning to feed, the other to tend. Peter being three times interrogated signifies a full period from the beginning of the church to its end, for three has this signification; and as the third time he was questioned signifies the end of the church, it is said that Peter was grieved when the Lord said unto him the third time, ” Lovest thou me?” As the three times signify a full period, from the beginning to the end of the church, so do they signify its successive and declining states. Therefore the Lord first charges Peter to feed his lambs and then to feed his sheep. Lambs, of which the Lord first speaks, denote those who are in the good of innocence; the sheep, of which he speaks the second time, are those who are in the good of charity; and the sheep, of which he speaks the third time, are those who are in the good of faith. Understood of the members of the church individually, we are instructed that it is the ardent desire of the Lord’s divine love that his children should nourish and defend the innocence, charity, and faith, which he implants in their hearts and minds, that they may grow up to be his flock, and be brought within his fold, and be under him as their own shepherd. It is not undeserving of notice that as Peter denied the Lord three times, he is thrice asked if he loves his Saviour. We need not suppose that his tender Lord desired to remind him of his sin. The coincidence is grounded in the meaning of the number three, as representing the plenary denial of the Lord in the old dispensation, and the plenary acknowledgment of him in the new. And so by the old man and by the new.
18, 19. As the three times mentioned by the Lord signify the successive periods of the church, in regard to its faith, which Peter represents, the Lord proceeds to describe the different quality of faith at the beginning and at the end of the church. “When Jesus had concluded his charge to Peter, he addressed him in these remarkable words: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and, walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. In the literal sense this had reference to Peter’s martyrdom, as Peter himself understood it (2 Peter i. 14). But in the spiritual sense, it has reference to the state and condition of faith at the beginning and at the end of the church. Peter in his youth is faith, such as it is in the early period of the church; Peter in his old age is faith, such as it is at the end of the church. When thus understood how striking is the figurative description of the state of faith, and of the human understanding, in the primitive and in the last times! When Peter was young he girded himself and walked whither he would; when he became old he would stretch forth his hands, and another would gird him, and carry him whither he would not. There is the idea of freedom in the one case, and of constraint in the other. In the early days of the church, the understanding acts freely under the guidance of an enlightened and fearless faith; in the last days of the church, the understanding is held under subjection to the dictates of a blind and timid faith. In the early days of the church, when faith was young, she girded herself and walked whither she would; she freely acquired and investigated truth, and, by the force of free determination, lived according to it. What is thus believed and done is believed and done from the Lord, whose service is perfect liberty, whose love casteth out fear; but what is believed and done from constraint is from the world and self, whose service is bondage, and whose fear casteth out love. This is described by Peter in his old age stretching forth his hands and being girded by another, which describes the state and condition of faith at the end of the church. Then the moral and intellectual powers of the mind are in a state of subjection to the will of man, and the mind is brought under the restraint of human error, instead of being preserved in the liberty of divine truth. This state is exemplified in the operation of the theological maxim, that the understanding is to be held in subjection to the authority of faith. This sounds, indeed, as if faith were invested with all power; but such faith is but a name for the unquestioned tyranny of human opinion, put forth under the name of faith. When the mind is thus deprived of Christian liberty, the faculties being forced and misdirected, the life is determined by the mind of man and not of God. Faith walks whither she would not. Such is the condition of the church in regard to faith at this day, differing widely from what it was in the days of the apostles, when faith was young and free. When faith is in this state of bondage to the will and wisdom of man, what is there in it that deserves the name of faith? Faith is extinct, and a counterfeit has risen up in its stead. But divine mercy and wisdom provide that when faith expires in one dispensation of the church, it shall rise up renewed in another, so that even its death shall be the means of glorifying God, by exalting the divine truth in the minds of men. Such is the Lord’s prediction of Peter’s end. “This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.” Death has two sides, and therefore two significations. On the natural side it is the dissolution of the body ; on the spiritual side it is the emancipation of the soul: so on one side it is the. end of the church, on the other it is its beginning. When the Lord had told Peter by what death he should glorify God, he said unto him, ” Follow me.” Faith follows the Lord when it follows his teaching and walks in the footsteps of his blessed example. But the Lord’s command to Peter includes the requirement, that faith follow no other than himself, for he is the way and the truth and the life, and the faith that walks not after him walks in darkness.
20, 21. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter, seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? The preceding incident relates entirely to Peter. This relates to John. These two disciples represented the two essentials of religion, and, therefore, of the church. What is recorded of them in the present case has reference to them in their relation to the Lord, and as to what would befall them in the latter days. The circumstance recorded is a very singular one, singular to be introduced into so solemn a history, seeing it has no great importance in itself, that it teaches no lesson either of faith or practice, and that there is nothing apparently prophetic in its character. It is nothing if it is not symbolical. Viewed in connection with what we have already considered, relating to Peter, it is deeply instructive. Peter is the type of faith, John of love or charity. John describes himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved, who leaned on his breast at supper, and asked who should betray him. Jesus loves in his disciples the love they have derived from him ; love gives conjunction with him, which is lying on his bosom, and love draws forth from the lips of divine wisdom the revelation of what it is that betrays the truth into the hands of its enemies. Peter is the type of faith. Peter and John are here represented as both following Jesus, Peter by command, John spontaneously. Peter turning about, sees John following, and addresses to the Lord expressions in which there is something of jealousy and depreciation of his fellow disciple. Peter’s turning symbolically describes faith averting itself from the Lord and looking back, and divine wisdom tells us that he that has put his hand to the plough and looketh back is not fit for the kingdom of heaven. This turning of Peter, and depreciating John, immediately after receiving the command to follow the Lord, signifies that, soon after the commencement of the church, faith would turn away from the Lord, and lightly esteem or despise charity. It is well known that this was truly the case. Soon the leaders of the early church began to lose their singleness of faith, and their warmth of mutual love and charity, and began to dispute about the truth, especially as it related to the Lord himself, turning away from him as the One Object and Centre of their faith, and contemning charity in their wranglings with each other. This contains a solemn lesson for all who consider themselves as members of the true church. The church is a true church, and men are true members of the church, only when they steadfastly look to and follow the Lord, and when faith and love are united in good works.
22 To Peter’s question the Lord answered, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee ? follow thou me. This answer is not the least singular part of this singular circumstance. No satisfactory explanation can be given of it but that which is supplied by the internal sense. The second coming of the Lord is the event of which our Lord speaks. All commentators admit this : and to verify the Lord’s words, they assert that the Lord’s coming, till which John should live, was his coming to destroy Jerusalem. Such an assumption is quite arbitrary. The coming of the Lord is his coming in the clouds of heaven—his second advent, to raise up a new church in place of that which he predicted would come to an end. The Lord’s prophetic declaration respecting John announces, that something of love and charity would be preserved in the church even to the time of the Lord’s coming; that, notwithstanding the prevalence and progress of error and corruption, notwithstanding that faith itself would turn away from the Lord, and would be bound and even put to death, yet something of charity should survive even to the time of the Lord’s second coming. The Lord teaches elsewhere that this would be the case. He says, ” When the Son of Man cometh shall he find faith on the earth ?” implying that there would be none. But he does not speak of the utter extinction of love and charity : respecting this he says, ” Because iniquity shall abound the love of many shall wax cold ;” but though cold with many, it was provided that it should be preserved with a few, since, without some remains of charity, a new church could not have been commenced. There is still another truth contained in this circumstance. The church, which the Lord then established, was to come to its end, to be followed by another and higher dispensation. Between these dispensations there was to be the same characteristic difference as there was between Peter and John. The first dispensation of the Christian church may be said to have been the Petrine church. It was the church of faith. Truth was its predominant power, faith its cardinal grace. It was necessary that it should be so. The strong arm of truth was required to oppose the errors of the world, and its instructive wisdom was required to teach the church. The second Christian dispensation may be said to be a Johannine church. It is to be a dispensation of Love. And for this reason, we may presume, John was selected to write the book of Revelation, which relates chiefly to the second dispensation. John was, therefore, to tarry till the Lord should come, and then become, symbolically, the apostle of the second dispensation, as Peter had been of the first. Besides these truths relating to the dispensations of the general church, the circumstance contains instruction to every individual disciple. It teaches us that, as in the church, so in the individual, truth precedes good, and faith comes before charity; and that those who are disciples indeed will thus receive Peter’s command and John’s promise.
23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee. The Lord’s words had given rise to the opinion among the brethren that John should live to see the coming of the Lord, while Peter should follow him to the cross, dying, like his Master, a martyr to the truth. The evangelist sets aside this traditional error by repeating what the Lord had actually said of him. And what he said is certainly sufficiently mysterious, regarded in the natural sense. Jesus did not say of John that he should not die, yet he said what, if the disciples had known the time of the Lord’s coming, must have seemed equivalent to it. The tradition of the brethren was wrong as to the letter but right as to the spirit of the Lord’s words. Yet what they came to believe regarding John was not what the Lord had said. And as divine language has a specific meaning, it is on this account that we are reminded of the very words which Jesus uttered. The word used to express John’s tarrying has also the sense of abiding, dwelling, ,and, as a noun, means a dwelling, a mansion. So in this gospel (i. 38.) we read that two of John’s disciples said unto Jesus ” where dwellest thou? And when invited to come and see, “they came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day.” Our Lord promises, ” If a man love me he will keep my words ; and my Father will love him; and we will come unto him and make our abode with him” (xiv. 23). And to those who are striving earnestly after the heavenly life, however unequal their success may be, he gives the happy assurance, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (v. 2). The Lord’s mysterious words respecting John, that he willed that the beloved disciple should tarry till he came, contain the promise that although faith should fail charity would endure unto the end ; however desolate the church might become, charity would find some habitation for herself, as a refuge in times of trouble. Dwelling or abiding is expressive also of a persistent state of good in the will; and this is just the state which is here described. However much the church may be desolated by reasonings and perversions of the truth, there is always something of good preserved in the minds of the simple, on which the truth may be grafted, when the Lord comes to give new light to guide the feet of charity into the ways of peace.
Here John’s record of the Lord’s sayings and doings ends, and it is a conclusion full of hope and comfort. It is an ending that looks to a beginning, that reveals the means by which the church of his first advent is so far preserved as to be able to pass over into the church of his second advent. It is charity that bridges over the chasm, that forms the way by which the Lord passes from the Old into the New. Those who are in the good of charity are the remnant that is saved, the elect who are gathered together from the four winds, to form the nucleus of the new dispensation, for these accept the Lord at his coming; these are they of whom it is written, “To them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
24. This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things ; and we know that his testimony is true. John’s declaration, that he whom Jesus loved, and who leaned on his breast at supper, is the disciple which testifieth these things, is a declaration that the history of the Lord’s life, as written by him who was the type of love, is such as to present the Lord’s character and ministry in an aspect that is best adapted to produce and strengthen the grace of love in the hearts of believers. This gives a peculiar and exalted character to the gospel of John as a revelation to all men. But this fact has a peculiar application to ourselves. To be effectual for our salvation, the gospel of Jesus Christ must not only be written for us hut within us. And this, gospel of John—this gospel of love, is never the gospel in us till love has testified its truth in our understandings and written it in our hearts. It is then we know his testimony is true—the very truth as it is in Jesus. Love is the highest evidence of truth. We believe it to he true when the understanding acknowledges it, but we know it to be true when the heart approves it. Although the intellect is the faculty by which we reason out propositions and arrive at conclusions, yet the understanding itself is influenced by the will, in which the yea,” yea, and the nay, nay, reside ; and there is an affirmative and a negative tendency imparted by it to all our intellectual operations. This is the case especially in moral and religious questions, whose ultimate appeal is to our affections and our conduct. It is not till the understanding and the will unite their consent to the truth that we know it to be the truth. This is the reason that the apostle says, ” and we know that his testimony is true.”
25 Having stated that this is the disciple which testifieth these things, and wrote these things, John proceeds to say, And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. This is considered a mere figure of speech to express the great amount of the Lord’s unwritten life. No doubt many things were said and done by the Lord, even during his public ministry, besides those which the evangelists have recorded. And it is one of the deep things hid in the treasury of divine wisdom, that so much that was uttered and done by the Incarnate Word should have passed unrecorded in the written Word, which is the fulness of revelation, and the verbal form of the Word made flesh. Nothing, however, which the Lord said or did was lost. Every word he spake, every work he performed, was written in heaven and inscribed in his own humanity for it became a part of his redemption and glorification, and was thus permanently fixed in those eternal realities which the Word makes known. The glorified Word has thus written in it the results of the Lord’s great work on earth; and from the Word glorified, now far above all heavens, and which all worlds, and even the heaven of heavens cannot contain, the divine influence descends, both immediately and through the Word revealed, into the church in heaven, and thence into the church on earth, to unite them into one, and make that one the increasingly perfect image of the Lord’s Divine Humanity.
Amen is the response of the church, and should be that of every human heart, to the great and consolatory truths which the beloved apostle was the chosen instrument of revealing to mankind.
Author: William Bruce –1870
Pictures: James Tissot—-Courtesy of the Brooklyn museum