XII. THE SON DOING THE FATHER'S WORK.
[Lincoln's Inn, 4th Sunday after Easter, April 20, 1856.]
St. John V. 43.
I am come in my Father's name, and you receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive.
I spoke to you last week upon these words, — 'Therefore the Jews sought to kill Jesus, because He not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.' I tried to ascertain what connection there was in their minds between these two offences; I tried also to show you how their feelings respecting the Sabbath-day were involved in their general feelings respecting the Law and respecting the dominion of angels. If there was a Son who was higher than angels, who could express the very mind of God — if that Son was actually in the nature of man — all their thoughts of God and of man must be changed; they must regard Him whom they worshipped as something else than a mere lawgiver, removed to an immeasurable distance from His creatures, only holding occasional dialogue with them through beings of a different order from their own. They must look upon human beings, — that is to say, not only upon themselves, but upon publicans and heathens, upon those whom they regarded as utterly cut off from God, — as standing in a very near and close relation with Him. This, therefore, was the most horrible of all conceptions to them, one which struck at the root of their pride, of that which they called their faith. They might suspect Jesus before, they might despise Him; but the moment He called God His Father, suspicion and contempt gave way to hatred. It was clear enough why He was setting institutions at nothing; it was clear enough why He claimed to heal sick men, whom the ministrations of angels could not heal. By His words and His acts He was bringing God and man into the most dangerous proximity. He, 'being a man, was making Himself equal with God.'
This last charge I did not dwell upon; I reserved it for our consideration to-day. The discourse of our Lord which follows in this chapter has reference to it. No words throw more light upon it than those which I have taken as my text from one of the latest verses. The answer to the charge begins in the nineteenth verse. 'Then answered Jesus, and said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, The Son can do nothing of Himself but what He sees the Father do: for what things soever He does, these also does the Son likewise.' You will feel at once that this sentence is the expansion of that plea which Jesus put forth for the cure which He had created on the day of rest, — 'My Father works until the point in time, and I work.' But, I think, you will feel also how wonderfully it meets the other more awful accusation, that He was raising Himself to a level with God. If it had been true, it would not have been a new charge. 'You shall be as gods,' was the first temptation presented to human beings, — the temptation to which they yielded. The ambition had never ceased in any age or in any man. Jesus would have been but the Person who exhibited it in its highest power, who expressed it with the greatest boldness. But if the doctrine which St. John asserts at the beginning of his Gospel, which he has been working out in every passage of it since, is a sound one; if there is a Word who was with God and was God; if that Word was made flesh, and the glory of the Only-begotten of the Father shone forth in Him; then Jesus was the one Person in the world to whom this charge did not apply; the one Person in whom there was no ambition of making Himself equal with God. And this is what He declares here: 'You think I am exalting myself; on the contrary, this proclamation which I am making of a Father, this claim which I am putting forth to be His Son, is the abdication of all independent greatness, the denial that I am anything in myself. I can do nothing of myself but what I see the Father do.'
Here is the new revelation, the discovery of the real ground upon which all things stand, — the will of a Father commanding, the will of a Son submitting. Here is that idea of Godhead which men had been seeking for, — if haply they might feel after it and find it, — in which they had been living and moving and having their being, yet which they had always been rebelling against and contradicting, and which every thought and act of self-will and pride had been putting at a distance from them. The lowliest of all, He who was called the 'carpenter's son,' was able to speak it out, to translate it into language, as His whole life translated it into act. And this union of wills, this inward substantial Unity, He declares to have its basis in love, the underground of Deity, — 'For the Father LOVES the Son, and sheweth Him all things that Himself does.'
We must not forget that all this bears reference to the primary subject of the discourse. He had been working on the Sabbath-day. That work He justifies as His Father's work, because it was a work of love, done to fulfil that mind of the Father which He knew, with which He was in sympathy. Now He goes on, 'And He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.' The work of healing was His Father's work. In quickening the sick man beside the Pool of Bethesda, He had manifested a part of His will and power towards His creatures. There would be a more august display of that will and power; 'For as the Father raises up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom He will.' Since the whole passage refers to one of the signs which Jesus did, it is surely most natural to take this also as referring to another of those signs. Jesus would not only cure a sick man, He would raise a dead man. As the cure of the sick man was an exhibition in a single instance of all the restoring, health-giving, life-giving influences which were at work through the universe; as its intent was to lead men to trace all these, not to chance, not to a dead law, not to their own merits, but to a Father who directs the operations which look most accidental, from whose mind law has issued, who alone enables men to work in harmony with His law; so, by raising a man from the dead, He would show what was continually going on in the unseen world; what the Father was doing there with those who were lost to the sight of their fellows, and who seemed to perish. 'The Son would quicken whom He would.' He would take an instance here and there to illustrate the general course of His Father's government. He would break the bonds of the grave for the widow's son, or the brother of Martha and Mary, that man might understand how little these chains could bind the whole universe of human beings, if the Father pleased to set them free.
But the thought of resurrection was associated in the Jewish mind, as it was in the heathen mind and as it is in ours, with the thought of Judgment. How could He speak of raising the dead, without speaking of a judgment through which the dead would have to pass? He anticipates the objection, and does much more than answer it. 'For the Father,' He says, 'judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son; that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honors not the Son, honors not the Father which has sent Him.' These words have been much used in theological argumentation. I am far from saying that they have not been used fairly. But I have warned you already, that if we wish to understand St. John, we must follow his course of thought, not eagerly snatch at sentences which may serve a temporary purpose. On this ground I refused to take the first words of his Gospel as a dogmatical assertion of the divinity of Jesus. I said we must begin, as he began, at the beginning. We must wait till he spoke to us of Jesus of Nazareth, and declared His nature to us. Then we should learn much more of His divinity than if we were in haste to get proofs of it. For are we not learners, who want to be told what divinity is and what humanity is? Have we not need to sit at the Apostle's feet, that he may instruct us in those things which it is most needful for us to know? Is there not a danger of our fancying that we know all already — of our taking his divine words merely to confirm propositions of ours, into the sense and power of which we have never entered?
I would apply this rule in the present case. St. John has told us that in the Word who was with God was life, and that His life was the light of men. We have found him illustrating this language in various ways, — beginning from John the Baptist, as the witness of the light, afterwards telling us how Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of this being the condemnation, 'that light was come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.' In both these passages, in the last especially, and in those which I have not recalled to your memory, the Word or Son of God is described as a Judge; as One who discovers the thoughts and intents of the heart; as One whom the man confesses to be His Lord and King, whether he shrinks back from His clear light, or asks that he may be penetrated by it. In strict consistency with this teaching, our Lord here declares the office of a Judge to be implied in the relation of the divine Son to men. In doing so, He clears away confusions that have darkened the conscience and disturbed the practice of all men. We think of the judgment of God. It is sometimes a terrible thought; it is more commonly a vague, misty thought. It never has been an effectual one in making men inwardly or even outwardly better, till they could connect it with some human judgment, — till they could attribute to some being of their own race, even though he were a frail being liable to error, the function of pronouncing upon their deeds and upon their characters. Why has it been so? Because 'the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son.' Because by an eternal, irreversible law, involved in the very nature of God and the nature of man, we cannot bring ourselves face to face with the absolute Being. Our consciences tremble at His name; they do not, they cannot, bring their secrets directly into His light. Until they acknowledge One close to themselves, One who knows what is going on within them; until they acknowledge a Word, a Christ, who is nearly to them and not far away; there is no distinction in their minds. Good thoughts and evil thoughts lie huddled together. Good deeds and bad deeds are only known, apart from each other, by some results which they may happen to produce. It is when the man has started like a guilty thing surprised, at the presence of One who brings back to him past passages of his existence; who tells him all that ever he did; who shows him that his acts, his petty words, are not lost in the sum of all the acts that have been done and the words that have been spoken since the creation-day, but have all been recorded; it is when the man understands that He who keeps the record is the dearest Friend he has, the One who has been guiding him, watching over him, restraining him from evil, urging him to good from his birth onward; it is when he understands that the Reprover can give him remission of his sins, can endue him with a new life; — it is then that he can believe, and rejoice in the belief, that there is a judgment of God — a judgment for the whole universe. For it is then that he honours the Son even as he honours the Father. It is then that he confesses these testimonies in his own heart to be the echoes of the Voice which gave commandment to the sea, and fixed its bounds that it should not pass, and ordained laws for all the generations of men. It is then that the Will which governs him is felt to be the Will of a Father. He honours it, and bows to it, and delights in it, because he honours and bows to and delights in the will of the Son whom He has sent.
In the words which follow, our translators have exhibited an instance of the timidity which I have had occasion sometimes to notice before. 'Verily, verily, I say to you, He that hears my word, and believes on Him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death to life.' There can be no good reason why the word κρίσις should be rendered judgment in the 22d verse, and condemnation in the 24th. But from a fear, I suppose, lest the one should seem to contradict the other, — lest the Son should be thought not to execute the judgment that had been committed to Him, — they were unfaithful to the letter, perhaps even more unfaithful to the spirit, of the passage. To make the language fit their notion of the sense, they were forced to change the tense of 'come,' — to make it 'shall not come,' instead of 'does not come.' Those who cannot venture these outrages upon the text, must be content to accept the statement of it simply; that there is an eternal life in the Son of God, — that eternal life which was spoken of in the dialogue with the woman of Sychar; that those who hear His voice speaking to them in their hearts, and receive Him as the Witness and Manifestation of the eternal God, enter into that life; that they do not come into judgment. The light does not scare them, but invites them. They fly to it as a deliverance, not from it lest it should consume them.
Then the next passage becomes far more intelligible. It is not a mere repetition of what has gone before; it enlarges and expands the doctrine we have heard, and applies it to the future as well as to the present. 'Verily, verily, I say to you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father has life in Himself; so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself; and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of Man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in their graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.' There can be no doubt that when the Jews spoke either of resurrection or of judgment, they meant merely a resurrection and a judgment after death. Jesus teaches us that we can know nothing of a resurrection or a judgment after death, unless we connect it with the Son of God, in whom men may believe and rise to newness of life here, — with the Son of God who speaks to us and judges us here. When we acknowledge Him as the Word in whom is life, — when we confess that His life is our light, — then we shall go on to acknowledge how both His life-giving power and His judging power extend over the whole universe, over the dead as well as the quick; then we shall understand that those who are in their graves are as little beyond the reach of His voice, as little without the sphere of His light, as those who are walking upon the earth. So much is involved in the very idea of a Son who is one with the Father. If we believe that the Father has life in Himself, we must believe that there is a life in the Son which corresponds with that. If we believe that all thoughts, and acts, past and present, are open to the Father, we must believe that they are open to the Son. And, as I said before, the scrutiny of our own hearts and spirits must be in the Son of Man. We can know nothing of God's scrutiny, except through Him who is in contact with us, and knows all the throbs and pulses of our spirits. How dark are all our thoughts of the tomb, till we believe this! How horrible its abysses seem, when we think of them as out of the circle of all the laws and relations which exist among us upon earth! What a sunlight there is upon it — what flowers spring from the sods about it — when we believe that the Son of God and the Son of Man rules there as here; that those who have tried to catch the sound of His voice here, recognise it more clearly and fully in the unseen world; that those who have done evil, because they have refused to listen to it, have still Him, and no other than Him, for their Judge!
It is perilling the sense of the whole chapter, to separate this passage concerning life and judgment from that concerning the Father and the Son, which introduced it. Our Lord points out, still more clearly than He has yet done, the relation between the two subjects, in the next verse. 'I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father who has sent me.' They had said, 'He called God His Father, making Himself equal to God.' He answers, 'When I speak of a Father, I signify that I can of mine own self do nothing. I do not raise myself to the rank of King or Judge over men; I give up all independent power of judgment. I claim to obey a Will, to be governed by it. And because that Will is the righteous and perfect Will, my judgment is right. The moment I boasted that I could judge according to the hearing of my ears, that moment my judgment would be wrong. I should be denying my Sonship; I should become false.' And as He could not judge others except by hearing His Father's judgment, by following His Will, so neither could He judge Himself. 'If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.' The Jews had asked Him already — asked Him more emphatically afterwards — to tell them if He was the Christ. Why could He not give the answer? Because it would not have been an answer. It would not have shown Him to be a Son; it would have led them to think of Him as another person altogether than that which He was. He therefore refers to the words which had been spoken by the preacher in the wilderness. 'There is another that bears witness of me; and I know that the witness which he bears of me is true. You sent to John, and he bare witness of the truth.' John had borne witness of a Word who was with God, of a Son of God, of a Lamb of God. John had borne witness of a light shining in the darkness, which the darkness did not comprehend. This was the true witness of Christ; to this He could appeal, because it was a witness not to the ear, but to the heart, — because it was the witness of one who did not claim honour for himself, — and therefore was the fit herald of a Christ who should come in the name of His Father, not in His own name.
John's testimony being of this character was not the testimony of man, though it came through a man. Jesus, therefore, does not contradict his former words when He adds, 'I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that you might be saved. He was a burning and a shining lamp;' (our translators have lost the distinction between the vessel containing the light, and the light itself, — a distinction which St. John has carefully preserved;) 'and you were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. But I have a greater witness than that of John; for the works which the Father has given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father has sent me.' John's lamp was one which God had kindled and filled with his light, that they might be saved from their darkness; for a while it had played about them, and they had felt a kind of joy in the thought that God had not forgotten them. But Christ's works, — that latest work, especially, which He had done on the Sabbath-day, to show how and for what end His Father worked on that day, — these contained witnesses of a filial power, a filial obedience, a filial communion, — a witness to the hearts of suffering men, — which the words of the Baptist, quick and penetrating as they were, did not contain.
He goes on: 'And the Father Himself which has sent me, He bears witness of me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape.' 'In these acts of mine — these wonderful acts — as well as in my ordinary discourse, in my daily deeds and works, a Father is speaking to you, a Father is testifying of Himself to you. He is an invisible Being. It is not by visible appearances, by sounds and by shapes, that He communicates with you; it is by His Word.' Could it be necessary to say this to a people who were called out of all nations to know the unseen God, to protest against idols; to a people who had the law and the Prophets; to a people who were proud of their calling, proud of their law; who detested idols; who wrote out the Scriptures continually, reverenced them, declared them to be the very words of God?
Yes, brethren! it was necessary for this people. Jesus declares why it was necessary. 'And you have not His Word abiding in you: for whom He has sent, Him you believe not. Search the Scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And you will not come to me, that you may have life.' I think that the late learned Bishop of Limerick and others, who have maintained that the verb ἐρευνᾶτε, in the 39th verse, would better be translated by the present tense of the indicative than by the imperative, have produced sound arguments for their opinion, and that the context is all in favour of it. But if the previous verse and those which follow be heeded, I am quite willing to adopt our version; the sense will be radically the same; and any who think that they cannot enforce the duty of studying the Bible, if they are deprived of this precept, may retain it as a motto for their sermons. What the Word of God is in St. John's Gospel, we have not now to learn; he has been teaching us from the first verse of it onwards. How that Word must abide in men, if they are to have any light; how the rejection of it is the choice of darkness, he has also been telling us, not once, but continually. Those who will not have the Word of God abiding in them, must shut out the invisible world, must become the slaves of the visible world. They may not have idols of wood and stone; but they must have idols. Besides the grosser idolatry of money, — to which, as a nation, they will be driven by the want of any spiritual object, — their religious men will fall into the worship of letters. The letters of the book which testify of a living God, will receive the homage which the only God claims in this book for Himself. This was the condition of the Jewish people, — especially of the Jewish teachers, — when our Lord came among them in the flesh. 'They searched the Scriptures; for in them they thought they had life.' And those Scriptures they made the excuses for rejecting Him in whom life dwelt, — the living Word of God. This charge our Lord brings against them here and elsewhere. That he wished them to search the Scriptures which testified of Him, no one, I suppose, doubts. That He commanded them to do so in this place, I am not at all anxious to dispute. And oh! how rejoiced should I be if we English Christians, heirs of Jewish privileges, felt that command as indeed addressed to ourselves! if we were ready to obey it! if, instead of talking about the Bible as the only religion of Protestants, writing its name upon banners, declaring that we are ready to die for it, we would indeed search into its treasures, because it testifies of Him in whom alone we can have life!
I do, indeed, desire that we should take the lesson contained in these awful sentences home to ourselves. For I do feel that the danger of the Jews in this case, as in that of which I spoke to you last Sunday, is precisely our danger; that we are likely not to search the Scriptures, because they bear witness of the Word of God, but to turn them into idols, because we have not the Word of God abiding in us. And I feel as if our Lord had laid bare the inmost root of our disease, as He does of the Jewish disease, in the verses which follow: 'I receive not honour from men. But I know you, that you have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father's name, and you receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that comes from God only?'
He begins with asserting this as His distinction, that He seeks His glory from the only God (παρὰ τοῦ μόνου Θεοῦ), not from man. He concludes with asking how they can believe Him, when they seek honour from each other, not from this only God. And who is this only God of whom He sought glory? He has told us before, — the God who loved the world, and gave His Son, that through Him it might be saved. That love He reflected; of that love, in His words and deeds, He testified. No such love was in them. They did not feel their want of it; they did not seek it where it was to be found. They flattered each other; they lived upon each other's praises. And the consequence was, that they did not believe in One who denied Himself, who abjured all praises, who said that He could do nothing but what He saw His Father do. Such a Being was incomprehensible to them. They could not believe in Him. They must take Him to be a blasphemer and a devil. Let us remember it and tremble. When religious men open 'a benefit club of mutual flattery,' and live upon the allowances that are doled out from it, they must deny the Father and the Son.
There are still some sentences left in this chapter which must not be passed over. 'Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuses you, even Moses, in whom you trust. For had you believed Moses, you would have believed me; for he wrote of me. But if you believe not his writings, how shall you believe my words?' However little of the love of God there might be in the men to whom Jesus spoke, there was a conscience which responded to what He said. Their conscience said there must be a Father, — we ought to be His children. If so, and if this man were not a blasphemer, but the Son of God, might He not charge them before His Father for their denial of Him? The thought was a natural one. How eagerly a teacher who came in his own name would have profited by the terror it excited! How continually the ministers of Jesus Christ have said to unbelievers, 'What! dare you question His mission? If He should be what we say He is, how certainly He will accuse you to the Father for your rejection of Him.' Jesus Himself declares that this is not His office — that He is not, and never can be, the accuser. The law in which they gloried, in which they trusted, that was accusing them, — that was telling them how they had resisted the God of love, — that was telling them that they needed a Person to unite them to God; an elder Brother, in whom they might meet and behold their Father. Moses the lawgiver was writing of this Advocate and Brother. But if those letters of his were boasted of and worshipped, not believed, how could they believe the quickening, life-giving words, which are written not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart, by the Son of Man?
From the Gospel of St. John by FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, M.A, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Combridge. Published by MACMILLAN AND CO in 1882; Produced by Charlene Taylor, Julia Neufeld and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Gospel of St. John - F.D. Maurice
ON THE BOOK SHELF
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