XXII. THE WORLD AND THE DISCIPLES.
[Lincoln's Inn, 6th Sunday after Trinity, June 29, 1856 (St. Peter's-day).]
St. John XII. 44-50, and XIII. 1.
Jesus cried and said, He that believes on me, believes not on me, but on Him that sent me. And he that sees me sees Him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whomsoever believes on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejects me, and receives not my words, has one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, He gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said to me, so I speak. Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the end.
I said, in my last sermon, that we were approaching the end of our Lord's public ministry. The verses which I have just read to you are those which close it. I have connected them with the opening of the 13th chapter, because I wish you to mark the transition from this part of St. John's Gospel to that which records Christ's private interviews with the disciples. Until the point in time the Apostles have had less prominence in St. John's Gospel than in the others. We have had narratives of discourses with Nicodemus, with the woman of Samaria, with the Jews at the feast, with the Galilæans at Capernaum, with the blind man, with Mary and Martha, — only now and then, (chiefly to introduce these dialogues or to link them together,) with the Twelve. The contrast, therefore, in him is far more marked than in St. Matthew, St. Mark, or St. Luke, between the Paschal supper and all that goes before it. And since inferences have been drawn from this contrast which I think are not true, I am anxious that you should feel how the words to the multitude, and the words to the chosen few, are connected, and in what the difference between them consists.
I must begin with some words which occur before those I have read to you: — 'But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him: that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, Lord, who has believed our report? and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He has blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spoke of Him.' St. John speaks here of the signs which Jesus did, as he has spoken of them from the first. They were signs of a divine presence, a divine power, a divine goodness. They were mighty, in so far as they revealed His presence, and power, and goodness. They were utterly ineffectual to any who esteemed them for their own sakes, — who merely wondered at them. These signs, he tells us now, had not produced belief. Was it to be expected that they would? Had not an old Prophet, who spoke the word of God, testified that they would not? Had he not complained for his predecessors, for himself, for all that should come after him, that the report of the care of God for men would be believed by very few; that only by very few would it be felt that the arm of a living God was stretched forth? And Isaiah, so the Apostle goes on, has not merely told us the effect which he witnessed, but has laid bare the cause. The inner eye which should see the divine arm is blinded, the heart which should take in the tidings of goodness and love is hardened: this was the reason why men with all outward advantages, — with a law, and a history, and a covenant, — chosen out of all nations to know God and be witnesses of Him, made all these privileges the very excuse for not turning to God, for not receiving His healing virtue.
But this is not the whole explanation. We must not forget that St. John says, — 'He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts.' We must not dare to cancel these words, because we may find them difficult. St. John himself interprets them in the next verse. He reminds us that Isaiah spoke these words when he had the vision of the King who was sitting upon a throne and filling the temple with His glory. 'That,' he intimates, 'was a vision of the true Lord of the nation, of that same Ruler who now that He was called Jesus of Nazareth was rejected, just as He had been in the days of old when He was revealing Himself to His subjects in personal and in national judgments.' In both cases it was the goodness, the beauty, the glory, which blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts. We know it is so. Experience tells us that goodness has this effect upon minds in a certain condition. The bad that was in them it makes worse. The sight of love awakens and deepens hatred. If we believe and are sure that love has another power than this, that it is stronger than hatred, and can overcome hatred, let us cherish that faith. St. John certainly will not discourage us in it. No one demands it of us so much. But we must arrive at it, not through the denial of any facts, only through the fullest and frankest acknowledgment of them. This blinding, destructive effect of goodness and love upon the evil will, is a fact which we are bound to confess, and to tremble. It will force itself upon us, it will explain itself to us in ourselves, if we pretend to dispute it. If we own the danger, God will reveal to us the arm which can avert it; He will enable us to take in the mighty report of that power and love which can subdue all enemies.
The next words are also of the Evangelist. They contain partly a limitation of the former, partly an illustration of them. 'Nevertheless among the chief rulers many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.' Only two verses before, the word which we render praise here had been rendered glory. I do not know why the connection should not have been kept up for the English reader, seeing that it must certainly have been present to the mind of the Apostle. A vision of glory, he seems to say, did dawn upon the hearts of these rulers. It was not the notion of an outward Christ which presented itself to them. There came to their inmost consciences the sense of a King who was over them, of a Word who was enlightening them. But there rose up beside this vision another which seemed to be nearer, — the vision of human glory, human reputation, respectability in the class to which they belonged, the smile and good opinion of the Pharisee, the comfort of being called members of the synagogue. Brethren, which of us does not understand how this image might displace and banish the other, — how the hearts of these poor rulers, because they were like ours, might reject the noble to fondle and embrace the vile? Let us submit to be judged ourselves by the Apostle's words, instead of judging others. And let us ask that what we believe with our hearts we may confess with our lips; knowing that there is no condition so miserable as that of those who are enemies both to God and to His enemies; knowing that such must be, above all, enemies to themselves.
Here is the remedy against this state of mind: — 'Jesus cried and said, He that believes on me, believes not on me, but on Him that sent me. And he that sees me, sees Him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believes on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejects me, and receives not my words, has one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, He gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said to me, so I speak.'
This was the summary of all that He had been teaching until the point in time. Yet with what new force must it have come upon those who were halting between Jesus and the Pharisees, who were convinced that He was the true leader, and yet clung to the leaders of their sect! 'Belief in me is not belief in a chief of your choice. It is belief in the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the Father of your spirits. In me you see Him. I find you in darkness, ignorance of yourselves, of your relation to each other, of your relation to God. I am come a Light into the world, — a Light to show you what you are, where you are, what you have to do with your fellows, what you have to do with Him apart from whom you have no life. You can refuse that Light; you can treat what I say as vain babbling, as coming from the inspiration of an evil spirit. I judge you not. I have come not to judge the world, but to save it out of its darkness; to bring it back to God. But the word that I speak, which is echoed in your consciences, which is testifying of God in them, that word will judge you in the last day; that will tell you who has been with you, who has been binding you to Himself when you have been tearing yourselves away. For I have not been uttering a word out of my own heart; I have not been setting up my own will. I have been obeying my Father's will, fulfilling His commandments. And I know that His commandment is life eternal. I know that it is life in itself, and that its effect is life. These words which I speak, do themselves issue from that Fountain of life; they are the words of the living Father; therefore, they are living and life-giving words.'
If we consider well the force of this parting testimony to the Jewish world, we shall be prepared to understand the words: — 'Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the end.'
The Jewish sects had refused to believe in a Father. They had refused to believe in a Son of Man. They had refused to believe in a Lord of their own hearts. For a Father they had substituted a lawgiver, who hated all Gentiles, and to whom Jews could only look up with terror, not with confidence. For a Son of Man they had substituted their sect and its leaders. For a Lord over their hearts they had substituted the notion of an outward Christ, who was to be identified by certain particulars of place and time, which must be ascertained by studying the letters of a book. The hour was come when all these contradictions would reach their highest point, when the sects would combine to show what was the real point of their agreement; to Whom they were equally opposed. The feast of the Passover was to be the crisis which would reveal the dark thoughts that were in them; which would show what they were, and what Jesus was. He knew that the moment was come when the question was to be decided, whether men have a Father, or are orphans; whether they have a living Head, or are the loose, broken limbs of a body which has none; whether they are to be governed as horses and mules are governed, by bit and bridle, or as spirits are governed, by a higher Spirit. He had chosen His Apostles to testify to their own nation, and to all nations, of Him and of His Father. He had held them together by His own love, when there was that in the world, and that in themselves, which would have separated them. Had anything happened to break this bond between them and Him? If He left the world, if He returned to His Father, would it be broken?
These were the questions which that Passover-night was to answer. Perhaps you will think that as I have spoken so much of Christ's love to the world, of Christ as the Son of Man, I may shrink from what seems the exclusive tone of this sentence: 'He loved His own; He loved them to the end.' Shrink from it! No, brethren, I would do the utmost to bring forth the full force of these words; to impress their meaning upon you. I would have you observe how carefully we are told that these disciples were chosen by Him; that His love to them did not depend upon their faith, but their faith upon His love. I would have you observe how this love was manifested to them all as a body — to one and another of them individually; how they were taught that it was only this love which was sustaining them then, or could sustain them afterwards. Unless we do that, we shall never understand how they were witnesses against that religious world out of which they were called, — that world of sects and parties, — that world where all were choosing for themselves, and none were acknowledging a loving Will which was ruling them; where all were striving for their own views and opinions, and none were confessing their relations to each other; where each was fighting for ascendency, and none was content to be a servant. We shall never understand how these Apostles were witnesses for the original calling of their nation, how they really represented the tribes in which God had put His name, and through which all the families of the earth were to be blessed. We shall never understand what that Church was which they were to bring out of these twelve tribes to be a witness to the world what its relation to God was, and how, by forgetting that relation, it had sunk into a poor, dark, divided, selfish world.
If we look upon His last supper as the special education of the Apostles for that work which they had to do in the world, we shall prize the part of this Gospel upon which we are now entering; we shall perceive how all the discourses of our Lord that are recorded in the other Evangelists, from the time that they left their fathers' ships, or the receipt of custom, till the time that He entered with them into Jerusalem, find their fullest illustration, their deepest root, in the dialogues and in the prayer which St. John has reported to us; we shall perceive how the institution of the Eucharist — which, as I said when I was speaking of the discourse at Capernaum, it was no part of St. John's function to announce — is more perfectly explained, both in its principle and its effects, by these specially sacramental interviews, than it is in any other part of the New Testament. And we shall begin to enter — it can be but the beginning of a lesson which must last to our life's end — into the purport of that sign which, whether it preceded or followed the giving the bread and the pouring out of the wine, teaches us how they are to be received.
'And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God; He rises from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He pours water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with what He was girded.'
Two hints are given to us which may assist us in entering into the meaning of this act, though, at first, they seem as if they had little connection with it. First, St. John speaks of what had taken place and was taking place in the mind of Judas; secondly, of the knowledge which was in the mind of Jesus, that He was come from His Father and was going to Him. What has the condition of the betrayer's heart to do with this washing? We are to learn, I apprehend, that the very corruption which was in that heart, — the very evil which had ripened into the darkest of all purposes there, — was that from which all the disciples had need to be cleansed. Whatever else the washing symbolized, it certainly imported the existence of this defilement, and that there was One who could remove it. Who could take the deep stain of covetousness, of selfishness, away from the heart of man, away from a human society? Only He who had come from the Father of love, that He might enter into the strictest and closest fellowship with human beings in their lowest estate, in all their peculiar and individual misery. Only He, who was going to the Father, that He might unite all in Himself. And He, knowing that He had come for this end, and was going away that He might accomplish it fully, He gives a pledge to the disciples that when He was seemingly absent from them, He would always be with them to do this work for them. He would be always near them to cleanse them from that pride and selfishness which would hinder them from being at one with each other, and from showing forth His mind to the world.
'Then comes He to Simon Peter: and Peter said to Him, Lord, do you wash my feet? Jesus answered and said to him, What I do you know not now; but you shall know hereafter. Peter said to Him, You shall never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash you not, you have no part with me. Simon Peter said to Him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.'
On St. Peter's-day you will not suppose that I could pass over these words; they illustrate so strikingly, as other parts of this chapter do, the character of him whom we are commemorating. They illustrate the particular education to which he was subjected; the education which is needed for the impatient and self-confident man, who must be kept waiting, that his eagerness to know, which is in itself a blessing, may not become a curse; who must often have the very thoughts and convictions which are most honest and appear most indisputable, turned upside down, that he may not exult in them as his thoughts and his convictions, and so change the truth that is in them into falsehood. But the lesson, though peculiarly applicable to him, is a universal one, and shows the universal worth of Christ's sign. It is true of all symbols, that we can know little of them at first. The experience of life interprets them. And it is the hardest thing for all of us to believe that the Highest must wait upon the lowest; that it is not humility, but pride, to refuse the service. Wonderful thought to take in! God must stoop, or man cannot stoop. We must set ourselves up as gods, unless we believe that God's glory is shown in doing the lowest offices of a man.
But why was not Peter right in that other prayer of his, — 'Not my feet only, but also my hands and my head?' Did he not want a thorough cleansing? Does not each of us want it? The question is one which requires the most careful answer. If the Bible did not give it in the most express terms, we should be utterly at a loss where to find it. But from first to last the Jewish nation is spoken of as a pure and holy nation by those lawgivers and prophets who complain of its members for being stiff-necked and rebellious. There is nothing which the prophets are so earnest in as in persuading their countrymen that they are the people of God's covenant, and are therefore a holy people; that they are forgetting His covenant, and so are making themselves unholy. They call upon the people to repent and turn to God, and then He will restore them, He will purify them; the hearts which are red as scarlet, shall become as white as wool. The Jewish sects did not in the least understand this truth. They looked for an individual holiness, an individual cleanness, apart from the holiness of their nation. Each member of them wanted a holiness of his own; he regarded his race as unholy. He did not repent of the sins which kept him from sharing in the holiness which they all had in God.
Now our Lord was educating His disciples out of this falsehood into which their age had fallen, this falsehood which was so natural to every one of them. He came to show them on what ground the holiness of their nation stood. It had been called and chosen in Him. It was His righteousness, and not the righteousness of its individual members, which justified the titles that had been presented as an honor upon it. These members were righteous only so far as they rose out of themselves; as they submitted to the righteousness of God. It was, therefore, His first lesson to His disciples that, as a body, they were clean and holy because He had called them and they were complete in Him.
'Jesus said to him, He that is washed needs not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and you are clean, but not all. For He knew who should betray Him; therefore said He, You are not all clean.'
They were clean as a body, as a family. Each had need to be purified from his own individual selfishness which kept him apart from the family, which kept him from claiming the common righteousness of his Lord. But they were not all clean. There was one who had wrapt himself up in his individual nature, — one solitary, selfish being, who would have nothing to do with the family, — who would have nothing to do with the common Lord, the Son of Man; one who had sold his heart to the divider, to the spirit of selfishness and evil. I do not know anything which illustrates more clearly the sense in which the Apostles, as a body, were clean than this terrible exception; or anything which explains more clearly what need they would have for that daily cleansing of the feet of which He had given them a pledge.
'So after He had washed their feet, and had taken His garments, and was set down again, He said to them, Know you what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord: and you say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say to you, The servant is not greater than his Lord; neither He that is sent greater than He that sent Him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.'
In the last century, preachers were wont to speak continually of our Lord as an example. In our time there has been a kind of revolt against that phrase as a hard and even as an unpractical one. 'It is very well,' we say, 'to have an example; but can we follow it? Christ is divine, and we are human. No doubt He was human, too, in a sense; but then surely His divinity helped His humanity, so as to put all His acts at an immeasurable distance from ours.' I believe there is a genuine feeling at the bottom of this complaint. I believe it is a very wearisome and a very useless thing to talk to men about examples, unless you can show how that he who exhibits the example has some connection with them, and some power over them. But, on the other hand, we are bound to inquire what has been the effect of example upon the world, how the men whom we meet with that are better than ourselves operate upon us, how it is that we can be impressed by the records of men who have departed. Christ's divinity is not a hindrance to our understanding the might of His example; it rather explains to us the whole doctrine and law of example. Are not that doctrine and law to be found in this passage? If He were not the Master and Lord, if the disciples did not say well in calling Him so, then His act would have been a solitary one, belonging to Himself, one which they could not imitate; but if He were their Lord in the highest sense of the word, in that sense which John has been setting forth to us throughout his Gospel, — if He were the Word in whom they had been created, the Word who was their life and their light, the Word from whom every energy of their spirits was derived, — then everything which dwelt in Him could descend upon them; whatever shone forth in Him could be reflected in them. And this would take place, not by their raising themselves to contemplate a lofty ideal, but by their submitting to a gracious and loving Will. The Highest of all showed Himself to them in washing their feet. All they had to do was not to think themselves greater than He, not to think that unworthy of the disciple which was not unworthy of the Lord.
The difficulty to the formal divine is no doubt this: — 'If cleansing the feet symbolizes the removing of defilements from the inner man, is not that Christ's work alone? Can the disciple follow His example in doing that work?' Our consciences tell us that he can. We do know that we may receive purification from one another, that the tenderness, and love, and patience of one man act in a marvellous way upon another, when those qualities seem the furthest from him, when he most confesses that they do not belong to him. We do not set ourselves deliberately to follow examples. The examples get the mastery over us; there is a life in the men who exhibit them which awakens life in us. These are facts not to be gainsaid for the sake of any system. Upon them have been built theories about the righteousness of the saints, and the transference of one man's righteousness to another, which are, no doubt, very immoral and ungodly. But St. Paul's words, which are the plea for these theories, 'I fill up in my body the sufferings of Christ,' are both moral and godly. For they are grounded upon the idea which St. John is setting forth here: that Christ, the Divine Sufferer, is the source of all purification and of all life; and that all men, in their proper spheres, may share His sufferings, and transmit and communicate the purification and life that flow from them to their fellows. All difficulties about example are capable of that solution. If we are members of one body, if He is the Head, why should not there be a continual circulation of life from each member of the body to every other? How can the departure of men out of this world hinder that circulation, or cause us who are here to feel it less? May not their power have become greater as the mortal fetters have been taken from them? May not we feel it more?
That is a strange announcement, — 'The disciple is not above His master,' — to be introduced by a 'Verily;' and yet the longer the Apostles lived, the more they understood what need they had to be told this truth, and told it with such solemnity. What follows reminds us that a commonplace in words may become a paradox in action, and that we never experience either the difficulty of a divine sentence, or the power of it, till we put it in practice. All the crimes of Churchmen from that hour to this, all their cowardice, their arrogance, their baseness, their violence, have had this one root: the servants of Christ have believed themselves greater than Christ; they have counted it a shame and disgrace to do what He did, to endure what He endured. Here has been the cause of their powerlessness; the very secret of His power has been wanting in them. They have put forth the mock power which His real power has come into the world to crush and subdue. Does not the Christian power — the Church's power — begin when it has been brought to work with this power of Him who humbled Himself, and not against it? Do we want another ground for believing that those who have completely washed their robes and made them white from every stain of selfishness in the blood of the Lamb, must be mightier than they were here? Do we want another explanation of the fact, that those words of theirs which spoke out the true mind of Christ in them, live and are fruitful for generations after their names, and all the efforts they made to magnify their own names, have been forgotten?
'I spoke not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eats bread with me has lifted up his heel against me. Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is transpire, you may believe that I am He. Verily, verily, I say to you, He that receives whomsoever I send receives me; and he that receives me receives Him that sent me. When Jesus had thus said, He was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say to you, that one of you shall betray me.'
How are these verses connected with those that went before them? how are they connected with each other? Sometimes the thought comes to us, — 'Can we trace the processes of that Mind in that hour? Must not His words spring out of depths into which our eyes can never look? Must they not follow each other in an order which is altogether unlike that of other men?' So far as such a doubt leads to reverence, — so far as it makes us distrust our own perceptions, eager to learn from others, certain that we can but see the smallest portion of that which is in Him, I would cherish it. So far as it puts Christ at a distance from us, as it tempts us to think that He was not the Son of Man feeling perfectly as a man, — that He did not mean that the things He said to us should be apprehended by us, and that He will not help us to apprehend them, — so far I would eschew it, and cast it off; because it is fatal to all sincere reverence and sincere humility.
I think He says plainly, — 'I am not speaking to you all when I bid you wash each other's feet. There is a sympathy with my mind implied in that act. There is a submission to me, as one who has chosen you, implied in it. That sympathy, that submission, one of you has shaken off. He sits at my feast; He has disclaimed me. But I tell you to do as I have done, that you may know hereafter what the secret of the power you exert over men is. If they receive you, they will be receiving me; if they receive me, they will be receiving my Father.' Does it seem to you that such an assurance was likely to counteract the humbling lesson which He had just given? I do not wonder that any should entertain that opinion, because it is undoubtedly true that men may give themselves intolerable airs on the strength of their being messengers of the Most High; may curse and excommunicate all who do not receive their decrees and confess their dignity, under pretence that they are setting Christ at nothing. It is true also, and the records of the world establish the truth, that none have been so free from pretension, that none have borne such insults, and been so ready to die that men might not be cursed and excommunicated, as those who have given themselves up to speak a word which they were sure was not theirs, who have felt that they had no goodness or love of their own to show forth, but that the Son of God was showing forth His love to sinners through them, even as the Father showed His love to men through the Son. There needed a 'Verily' to confirm this sentence as well as the other. They are, in fact, parts of the same sentence. The disciple will think himself above his Master as long as he thinks himself separate from his Master; when that thought ceases, he must accept our Lord's language in the length and breadth of it: 'He that receives you receives me.' Dare he be an insolent, usurping, persecuting priest, unless he inwardly denies that the meek, suffering Jesus, who washed His disciples' feet, is in him?
And is it wonderful that the 'trouble of spirit' which St. John speaks of, should have mixed itself with this thought, and that the image of the betrayer, which had been appearing from time to time during this discourse in the background, should now rise fully and terribly before Him? 'There is one who chooses to be separate from me! one who will stand in his own name! one who will cast me his Lord, and friend, and reprover, away! He is one of you, — one of those whom I have sent forth as a messenger in my Father's name and mine.' Jesus has spoken of the Scripture being fulfilled in the act of Judas. It was a Scripture which David felt had been fulfilled in his own case. A friend who had eaten of his bread had lifted up his heel. It had been fulfilled in a thousand cases before David, and since. But this was the fulfilment; this contained the essence of all treacheries that had been and that were to be; this explained the principle and author of them. If there is a Son of Man, one in whom all human feelings, sympathies, affections, reach their highest point, one from whom they have been derived, one in whom they reflect perfectly that God of whom He is the image, then the betrayer of that Son of Man exhibits the revolt against these feelings, affections, and sympathies, the strife against this love, in which every false friend may read the ground and the possible consummation of his own baseness. Men, generally, have confessed this remark to be true, and have embodied it even in their careless forms of speech; therefore they ought to confess, also, that whatever pain and inward anguish any have experienced from the insincerity of those who have eaten their bread and lifted up the heel against them, must have been undergone by Jesus with an intensity proportioned to the intensity of His love. Surely this reflection, if we follow it out, may help us more to such an apprehension of His sufferings, as it is permitted and possible for us to have, than any phrases of pompous rhetoric which put Him at a distance from us, and make us suppose that He did not bear our griefs and carry our sins.
'Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom He spoke. He then lying on Jesus' breast said to Him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when He had dipped the sop, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.'
St. John has not spoken of himself until the point in time. Why does he introduce himself now? When I was quoting, in my first sermon, the accounts which are given of him by the other Evangelists, I did not refer to the name by which he has described himself. Do we not sometimes think that it was a kind of indelicacy and presumption in an Apostle to claim it? Was it not setting himself above the others? Would it not have been better that he should have let them give him the title? Are not those which they do give him less honourable? I do not wish to evade any of these inquiries. Let it be remembered that St. John was writing in the full knowledge that he had been described as a Son of Thunder, that his ambition and his desire to call down fire had been recorded. These signs of what he was, of what he had shown himself to be, could not be separated from him; they were fixed upon him indelibly. None, therefore, could say that he was an object of Christ's affection because he had shown a gentler disposition than his fellows. Could they say, then, that the love of Christ was a partial love, that it was not directed to mankind, that it was not the expression of a universal love? St. John is the especial witness against these heresies. He declares that God loved the world; and Christ came to do His Father's will in saving it. What, then, might be — what has been — the effect of the name, 'the disciple whom Jesus loved,' upon the Church? It has been felt that the story of Judas needed this foil. The dark, solitary, separate man must be brought into direct contrast to a man who lives only on trust. We understand by the disciple who leant on Jesus' bosom what his condition was who went out into the night. At the same time, we must not be allowed to fancy that the love came forth from John. He could only be the receiver of it. If he ever fancied himself the disciple who loved Jesus, and not 'the disciple whom Jesus loved,' he would be magnifying himself, he would be claiming to be better than his brethren. As it is, he can only regard it as part of Christ's manifestation of the divine character that this peculiar affection should be displayed to him. In the world of nature the distinctness of each thing is necessary to the harmony of the whole. Can it be otherwise in the world of human beings? Are they to be merged, now or hereafter, in one great chaos of being? Must not each form, each person, be brought out fully and brightly when the mists that prevent us from seeing the perfect unity have been scattered? Personal affections, gradations of sympathy, attachments and affinities between this human being and that, are the barriers which sever the true life of man from that Pantheistical absorption which is another name for death. Should not we expect there to be a witness for these, a restoration of them to their proper unselfish ground, in the acts and the life of the Word made flesh?
'And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus to him, That you do, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent He spoke this to him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said to him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.'
Though I have spoken of St. John as the contrast to Judas, the contrast must not be regarded in this sense, — that love was withheld from Judas. We are occupied with that awful mystery of a human will and its relation to the divine will, where every step is perilous, respecting which the truest statements must wear the appearance of contradictions. But it has been the belief of all earnest men of all schools that the sop given to Judas was a last love-token, and that the entrance of Satan into him, after it had been received, expresses that last defiance of love, that utter abandonment to the spirit of selfishness, which precedes the commission of the greatest conceivable crime. After that perdition has come, the Lord speaks words to the man which he can understand, and he only. They may mean nothing to the bystanders; they may be capable of the most frivolous construction. To him they testify, — 'There is one who knows your heart; who knows you. He restrains you no longer. No, He bids you be quick. It is to be; you have decreed it. Go and do your new master's bidding faithfully. Then it will be seen whether he or I shall prevail at last.'
And as Judas goes out into the night, a new hymn rises to heaven, and a new commandment is given on earth. 'Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You shall seek me: and as I said to the Jews, Where I go, you cannot come; so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.'
Does it not sound tremendous that the Son of Man is exalted, in the voluntary exile of a human being from the society of his fellow-men, from all communion with his Lord? It is tremendous; but must it not be so? Is not the spirit of selfishness that which has destroyed human society, that which wars against the Son of Man, that which declares that man shall not show forth the image of the perfect and unselfish God? Must it not, shall it not be cast forth utterly from the Church of God? And ought not all humanity, all nature, to join in the Song of praise of the Great High Priest, that Judas did go out into the night to achieve that purpose, to bring about that death, by which God was glorified in His Son, and which led to the glorification of the Son in Himself?
Perhaps the other portion of the passage seems to you plain enough. 'The command to the disciples to love one another — that sounds so beautiful! there is nothing in that to which every heart must not respond.' Brethren, I will tell you plainly: I find far greater difficulty in this commandment than in all the rest of the discourse. The Church has been trying to construe it for eighteen hundred years, and has succeeded miserably ill. I will go further. I will say that, if it is a mere precept written in letters in a book, it is the cruelest precept that was ever uttered. Men say so when they are honest: they say, 'Tell us to do anything but this. We will give, if it is necessary, ten thousand rivers of oil, the first-born of our body for the sin of our soul. But do not tell us to love. That we can do in obedience to no statute, from dread of no punishment.' Even so. If God demands that we should bring this offering to Him or perish, we must perish. But if He says, 'My name and nature is love; my Son has manifested my name and nature to you: you are created in Him; you are created to obey Him: you need not resist Him: His Spirit shall be with you that you may do His will as He has done mine,' — then the precept is not cruel, but blessed and divine. For then in the commandment is life — life for those who first heard it, life for us. He was going away from them where they could not follow Him, that He might make it effectual for those who never saw Him, but over whom He reigns the same Son of Man, the same Son of God, to-day and for ever.
'Simon Peter said to Him, Lord, where go you? Jesus answered Him, Where I go, you can not follow me now: but you shall follow me afterwards. Peter said to Him, Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for your sake. Jesus answered him, Will you lay down your life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say to you, The cock shall not crow, till you have denied me thrice.'
This is the commentary on the new commandment and on the whole discourse. Let St. Peter's-day fix it deeply in our hearts. Where lay his error? Why was it inevitable that he should fall? He thought he loved. He fancied his love would stand him in some stead. That delusion must be thoroughly purged away from him. The washing of the feet did not cleanse him as long as he gave himself credit for possessing that which was God's own possession, which none can enter into till he gives up himself. The prophecy to Peter, fearful as it was to him, fearful as it should be to every one of us, is yet the induction to the words, 'Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me,' and to all the depths of consolation which Christ opened to His disciples in His Paschal discourses.
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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