XVI. THE TRUE WITNESS OF CHRIST.
[Lincoln's Inn, Trinity Sunday, May 18, 1856.]
St. John VIII. 29.
And He that sent me is with me: the Father has not left me alone; for I do always those things that please Him.
The belief which was expressed in the question, — 'When Christ comes, will He do more miracles than this man does?' appeared not to be a very stable belief. The effect of the words which Jesus spoke on the last day of the feast must have been greater, if not more lasting. 'Many of the people (the crowd) therefore, when they heard this saying (these words), said, This is the Prophet; others said, This is the Christ.' There was no sign, no outward indication of His power. There was an appeal to a thirst in men's spirits; there was a promise that those spirits should drink, and that living waters should flow from them. Those who discovered the Prophet — the representative of all prophets — in the one who spoke thus to their hearts, were confessing a Divine and living Word. Those who discovered the Christ in the person who made this promise had learnt, by some means or other, that the Christ is He who is anointed with the Spirit that He may present as an honor the Spirit.
'But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the scripture said, That Christ comes of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? So there was a division among the people because of Him.' As I hinted before, the occurrence of this schism is no unimportant incident in St. John's Gospel. Much of the meaning of the narrative turns upon the question which produced it. Was the Christ to prove His right to the homage of His subjects by establishing His lineal descent from David, by showing that He was born in the place from which Micah had intimated that the Shepherd of Israel would come? Or was He at once to address Himself to the conscience of human beings? Was He to claim a sovereignty over them by an elder title? Were Scribes and Pharisees to bow down when they had satisfied their understandings, by spelling over texts, that Jesus possessed certain outward marks and tokens which were described in those texts? Or were publicans and sinners to hear that there was One who could give them the bread and water of life; that they might own Him, and eat, and drink, and live? Some will say that the first three Evangelists maintain the one doctrine, the fourth Gospel the other. To me it seems that St. Matthew and St. Luke, who give our Lord's genealogies from Abraham or from Adam, rest as little upon those genealogies as St. Mark or St. John, in whom they are not found; that all alike appeal to a different kind of evidence from this, — to that evidence which Pharisees and Scribes could not understand, 'because they had not repented at the preaching of John,' — because they had not come to that living Lord, of whom the Scriptures testified, but 'thought they had life in them.' But I do not doubt that in St. John's day, Christians had begun to dwell on the evidence of genealogies and of outward marvels, as the Jews had dwelt upon them; that this was a time of infinite peril to those Christians, and to the society of which they were members; that it was an especial function of the beloved disciple to show, not only that the craving for this evidence was not healthy, but that it was a principal cause of the rejection of Jesus by the people of God's ancient covenant.
This truth is strongly brought out in the last verses of the 7th chapter.
'And some of them would have taken Him; but no man laid hands on Him. Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said to them, Why have you not brought Him? The officers answered, Never man spoke like this man. Then answered them the Pharisees, Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him? But this people who knows not the law are cursed. Nicodemus said to them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) Does our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he does? They answered and said to Him, Art you also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee arises no prophet. And every man went to his own house.'
All here is wonderfully living and characteristic. The faint effort of the officers to execute the command of their masters; the awe which held them back; their simple confession of the power which they found in the words of Jesus; the surprise of the Sanhedrim that the infection should have reached even their servants; their terror lest there might be traitors in the camp, — lest any Pharisee or lawyer (probably some eyes were turned on Nicodemus) should have been carried away by the impulse to which the crowd, naturally enough, had yielded; their scorn of the people, as wretched, 'accursed,' men utterly ignorant of the law; — who does not feel as if he were present in that convocation of doctors? — as if he were looking at their perplexed and angry faces? — as if he were hearing their contemptuous words? But the debate turns ultimately on the impossibility of a Galilæan Christ. Nicodemus timidly suggests that those who boast of the law, and call the people cursed for not knowing it, should adhere to the law in their treatment of an accused person. He is at once put down by the demand, — 'Are you of Galilee?' All arguments of conscience, even the formalities of law, — so much more precious than such arguments, — are nothing, unless, after searching and looking, he can find that a prophet could come out of Galilee. Whether he did search and look we are not told; but we are told that he found a prophet in the tomb of Joseph, if he failed to satisfy himself about His coming from Nazareth.
Then follows the story of the woman taken in adultery. That story has approved itself to the conscience of Christendom. I feel it to be most dear and venerable. Some of the Fathers disliked the moral of it, and therefore were glad to believe it not genuine. I wish I were as sure that their conclusion was wrong, as that their reason for wishing the story away was unsound. But impartial critics seem to be agreed that there is not sufficient justification for retaining it, at least in this place. I dare not dispute their authority on a question respecting the weight and value of MSS. I dare not allow affection for the passage to interfere when truth is at stake. Thoughtful students maintain that the story belongs to this Gospel, though they cannot tell to what part of the book it should be transferred. Were it a question of internal evidence simply, I should say that it does not seem to me an interpolated fragment here; that it supplies a link between thoughts which otherwise it is less easy to connect. If the story is withdrawn, the 8th chapter opens with the words, — 'Then spoke Jesus again, I am the Light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness.' Perhaps I may be deceived by habit and old association; but I feel as if these words explained how it was that, when Christ said, 'Let him that is without sin cast the first stone,' the 'accusers went out one by one.' I see in them also an answer to the charge that He was tolerating sin when He said, 'Go, and sin no more.' They show that the sharpest judgment upon sin is exercised by Him who delivers from it. And the story appears to unite that exposure of the law-worshippers — who punished breakers of the law, but did not keep the law — which we found in the last chapter, with the revelation of a Will, working in us that we may keep the law in the fullest sense of it, which we shall find in this. Nevertheless, I am afraid of using these pleas. If the story is genuine, it will defend itself; if not, the divine Oracles can do without it. The more sacred we consider them, the more we must be sure that God would have us receive them in purity, and that He will take better care of them than we can.
Whatever be the introduction to the words, 'I am the Light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness,' we perceive at once that they are in harmony with all that we have been reading in St. John. But we ought also to perceive that they are not mere repetitions of the sentences in the opening of the Gospel, and in the third chapter. The Light of the world comes forth here detecting, indeed, and manifesting the darkness in each man, but with a promise and assurance that it will prove itself mightier than the darkness. The Word made flesh says to the man who sees nothing but mists all around him, 'I can bring you into the clear sunshine.' He says to the man whose breath is stifled, whose limbs have suffered as much from the atmosphere he has dwelt in as his eyes, 'I am the Light of Life' — that which illuminates, quickens. There is certainly a progress and an order in all our Lord's teachings, whether we can trace it or not. The words on the last day of the feast, which could not be fulfilled till Christ was glorified, seem to make the conversation upon which we are now entering necessary. We want to know how the Water of Life is connected with the Light of Life; we want to know where the Light and the Life are both derived. The answer of the Pharisees to our Lord's words — 'You bearest record of yourself; your record is not true' — leads us on in this path of discovery.
This answer was no doubt suggested by a recollection of that which He had said Himself at the former feast (John v. 31). They thought they were confuting Him out of His own mouth; for surely to call Himself the Light of the world was as great a pretension as to call Himself the Christ. Could His own testimony be accepted for one assertion more than for the other? It was an all-important inquiry. The more earnestly the Pharisees pursued it — the more determined they were not to be content with any half solution of it — the better. If they had been in earnest, they would have been compelled to ask themselves — 'And what evidence can we have that will satisfy us whether such a claim as this is well-founded or not? What can convince us whether one who says he is our Light, and the Light of the world, is uttering the most profound truth, or the most portentous falsehood?' They would then have been driven to plain facts. They must have considered how the sun proves itself to be a light to any man, or a light to all men; and what comfort there would be in learning from books that that is the function which it ought to perform, the blessing which men ought to receive from it. They were not in earnest; they would not grapple with facts. Facts were for that cursed people which did not know the law. What had doctors to do with such common things as the sun? What had the sun to do with the letters which they copied out? Something, perhaps, with the letter of that 19th Psalm, which begins with the light in the firmament, and ends with the law that enlightens the heart. But that was metaphorical language, poetical language — very beautiful, and sacred, and divine — but to be treated as if it meant nothing.
To this test, however, our Lord, who preached a Gospel to men, was bringing His own assertions, His own character, His own office. He did not, like those Prophets and Christs who bore witness of themselves, produce evidence to show how much He was above human beings. He did not, like the doctors of the law, judge and condemn. But He came speaking of a Father from whom He had proceeded, and to whom He was returning. He came speaking to men's consciences, making them judges of themselves. Either he had come from a Father, or He had not. If He had, that Father would bear witness of Him; that Father would show whether He knew Him, and was testifying truly of Him. It was not Jesus of Nazareth saying, 'I am the Christ;' it was a Father speaking of a Son, a Son of a Father, to beings who could not live without either. I have translated, as nearly as my poor language can, His mighty words. Read them and meditate upon them till you find depths in them of which I have only caught the faintest glimpse.
'The Pharisees therefore said to Him, You bearest record of yourself; your record is not true. Jesus answered and said to them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know where I came, and where I go; but you cannot tell where I come, and where I go. You judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me bears witness of me.'
Everything, you will perceive, turns upon this relation of a Son to a Father — upon their eternal distinctness, upon their eternal unity. The word 'Father' was now, as before, that which at once confused the Jews, and filled them with horror. 'They said therefore to Him, Where is your Father?' 'What do You mean? Do You mean that the God there in those heavens is Your Father?' No! Surely the Jupiter tonans, whom they worshipped under the name of the Jehovah the God of Abraham, was not the Father of whom He spoke. He said therefore, 'You neither know me, nor my Father: if you had known me, you would have known my Father also.' It was a fuller, bolder assertion than was contained in the words, 'My Father works, and I work.' It affirmed that they could know the Father of all in a Man; that they could not know Him except in a man. This was the answer to their 'Where?' This overthrew their notion of Godhead — the frightful intellectual idol to which they were bowing down. But if He had spoken blasphemy before, He had spoken it more clearly and terribly now. St. John felt this; for he thinks it necessary to explain why Jesus was not stoned for using such language: — 'These words spoke Jesus in the treasury, as He taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on Him; for His hour was not yet come.'
Then He repeats the words which He spoke before at the feast, but with an addition which deepens their force. 'Then said Jesus again to them, I go my way, and you shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: where I go, you cannot come.'
He would go away from them, and they could not follow Him. But how is that departure and that incapacity connected with their dying in sin? I believe the sense will become clearer as we read on in the chapter; but we shall not understand what follows, if we leave this question unconsidered. Throughout He has been teaching that the coming to Him with the feet, that the seeing Him with the eyes, was not that coming and that seeing which could do them any good, which could make them truer men. That belief which is not dependent upon sight — that belief which was in Him as the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever — that belief which would be in Him when He had gone away from the world — that, and that only, would raise them above themselves, would unite them to the Father, would make them partakers of His true and eternal life. Sin, the separation from God, must be the state of their spirits, — those spirits must gravitate to earth, and claim their portion with the flesh, — unless they could look upwards, and assert their share in their Lord's ascension, in His victory over the grave and hell.
The next verses will show, I think, that this is the force of the one upon which I have been commenting.
'Then said the Jews, Will He kill Himself? because He said, Where I go, you cannot come. And he said to them, You are from beneath; I am from above: you are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore to you, That you shall die in your sins: for if you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sins.'
The Jews did not now suppose that He was going to the dispersed among the Gentiles. They perceived that His words pointed to a departure out of the world. 'But how could He know that He was going to leave it? Would He take the matter into His own hands? Did He mean that disappointment and anger at their rejection of Him would drive Him to self-murder?' The suggestion was not a serious one; merely the mock of some priest, thrown out for the sake of degrading Him in the minds of the people. Our Lord's words are not an answer to it, but an exposition of the sentence which had provoked it, and of the cause which had made that sentence unintelligible to them. They could only think of leaving the world as a descent, by one means or another, into the grave. The idea of an ascent, of a return of a spirit to its proper home, was utterly strange to them. This was a proof that they needed one to come from above, that they might be delivered from their downward, earthbound nature. This was a proof that they needed one who was not of this world to come, who might lift them above it; that they, too, might find their way to their Father's house. If they would not believe in Him as such a Messenger from the Father, as such a deliverer from the world, they must become the victims of sin, the heirs of death.
'They said therefore to Him, Who are you?' 'What kind of being do you claim to be, who pronouncest judgment upon us, — who tellest us that we are to die in our sins?' There is a mixture, it seems to me, of indignation and of curiosity in the question. They want Him to tell them what He is, and what His right is to censure them and prophesy death to them. The reply, according to our translators, was, 'The same which I said to you from the beginning.' I do not suppose they were satisfied with this rendering themselves, or that any one ever has been. Λαλεῖν is more properly to speak than to say. Λαλῶ must be the present tense, not the past. Yet I do not think we can better their version by giving, as some have done, a mystical force to the words τὴν ἀρχὴν; as if that was a name which Christ claimed for Himself. Some of the Gnostics, and some of the Fathers, no doubt, supposed that Christ is called The Beginning in the first chapter of this Gospel, as He is, undoubtedly, in the first chapter of the Apocalypse. But, were that so, I do not see what room there would be for this meaning here, or how the sentence could be construed if we introduced it. If we follow the order of the words, we may perhaps preserve the grammar of the sentence, and its connection with the verses which follow, without deviating very widely from the signification which it conveyed to the minds of King James's translators. 'That in the beginning of which I am speaking to you. I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you. But He that sent me is true; and the things which I have heard from Him, those I speak to the world.' The answer may be either a direct one to the question, 'Who are you?' 'I have always been that Light of the world of which I am speaking now;' or the emphasis may be on the word 'speak.' 'I am not speaking to you any different words from those which I have been always speaking to you. I am not pronouncing any judgment upon you which you have not heard pronounced in your consciences long ago. There are many dark spots in those consciences which I must bring to light; many harder speeches still which you must hear from me. I am come from a true Being; from Him who is true. I speak to the world that which I know to be His mind and will.' 'They did not understand,' says the Apostle, (this was their misery,) 'that it was the mind and will of a Father He was proclaiming to them; that it was from Him who loved them they were shrinking and turning away.'
'They understood not that He spoke to them of the Father. Then said Jesus to them, When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall you know that I am He, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things.'
As He speaks of their lifting up the Son of Man, it is clear that He means here what He meant in the conversation with Nicodemus. 'As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so was the Son of Man to be lifted up.' They would be the means of raising Him to that throne. They would place Him on that cross which should declare in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, 'This is the King!' But as He adds then you shall know, it is clear also that He must allude to the events which would succeed the crucifixion, and not to it merely. The cross would say, 'This is the Son of Man; one with all men.' The resurrection and ascension would say, 'This is the Son of God; one with the Father.' The Cross would afterwards be felt to gather the whole message into itself, to be the witness of the love of the Father to the world; of the eternal union of the Son with the Father; of the might of that Spirit which dwells in them, and proceeds from them, to bind all things into one. But what I said before applies also here. When Christ speaks of His departure from the world, the idea of ascension, of a return to the glory which He had with the Father before the worlds were, is always coming forth through the darkness of the passion.
And even that idea is not sufficient, unless this be added to it: — 'And He that sent me is with me: the Father has not left me alone; for I do always those things that please Him.'
His going to the Father is not enough without the assurance of His continual abiding in the Father. No change of place or circumstance, no progress in the world's history, no development of the Divine purpose, must interfere with the calm belief of a unity of the Father and the Son in the Spirit, which was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
It is of this unity, brethren, that this day testifies; which is therefore a more wonderful and glorious day than that which testifies of the ascension of the Son to the right hand of the Father, or of the descent of the Spirit to fill the earth and the hearts of men with rivers of living water. But we can know little of the depth and sweetness of this day, if we forget how Christ revealed the mystery of it; how He both said and proved that to know Him is to know the Father! For that blessed doctrine, upon which Fathers and Reformers lived and died, we are fast substituting one which seems to put the Son at an infinite distance from the Father; which seems to make the will of the Son not the revelation of the Father's will, but the contrast to it. No, our orthodoxy — so strangely like what would have been called heresy in other days — is even daring to affirm that we may believe anything dark or malignant respecting the character of the Father, if only we gather from the Bible that that is its testimony concerning Him. Frightful contradiction! to set up a book against Him whom we believe to be its author! to say that a book, which is from first to last a denunciation of false and cruel gods, may possibly proclaim to us a false and cruel God, and that we should be bound to accept its message if it did! Gracious Father, deliver your Church from doctrines which teach us that we are not to holy your name above all books and letters which you in your mercy have presented as an honor upon us! Deliver us from those who teach us that we can see You anywhere except in your Only-begotten Son; or that, if You are revealed in Him, You can be anything but Light without darkness, Truth without falsehood, Love without cruelty. Teach us to hate all counterfeits of You; all notions of You which are derived from our darkness, our falsehood, our cruelty. Teach us to worship the Eternal Trinity, the One God of perfect charity blessed for ever. Amen.
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
May your insights be worthy.