XXIII. THE FATHER'S HOUSE.
[Lincoln's Inn, 8th Sunday after Trinity, July 13, 1856.]
St. John XIV. 25, 26.
These things have I spoken to you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you.
The words to St. Peter, with which the 13th chapter closes, must have been a cause of dismay and confusion to all the disciples as well as to him. But it was not the only cause. The words, 'Where I go, you cannot follow me,' had called forth his passionate question, and the expression of his readiness to lay down his life. They were terrible enough in themselves, even without reference to betrayal and denial. They must have mixed with the prophecies of both. He spoke of going away. He must mean that a death, a violent death, was awaiting Him. Why He did not say so plainly they could not tell. The darkness of the language added to the gloom of their spirits.
Then He spoke again, 'Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.'
He addresses Himself here to all the causes of their trouble. The first was the deepest; for they had been told that a love which they supposed nothing could shake would be shaken to its foundations. They had believed in themselves; that belief would be found to rest upon the sand. The refuge was in another kind of belief altogether. Our translation assumes that they had a belief in God already; that it was to be fortified by a belief in Jesus. There is a justification for that rendering; perhaps it is the right one. But if we take both verbs to be in the imperative, the sense will be good. 'For your faith in your own willingness to follow me substitute a faith in me.' The result of the two constructions is not very different. The disciples had no doubt a faith in God, however feeble a one. It might be made firm and efficient if faith in His Son was joined with it. They wanted a faith as well in God as in Him. Neither could live without the other.
And here also is the deliverance from the other source of anxiety. By uniting the belief in God to the belief in Him, by no longer accepting the first as a tradition from their fathers, the second as belonging especially to themselves, by perceiving that the one is involved in the other, they would enter into the mystery of His speech respecting His own departure; they would see that it was not wilfully obscure; they would know what hindered them from following them, and how they might follow Him. He could not talk of going to the grave — that would convey altogether a false impression about Him and themselves. He had not come out of the grave; that had not been His original home; and to His original home He was returning. There was no other mode of speaking: He was going to His Father's house. And that was their house too. He was not entering it to claim it for Himself, but for them. There were dwellings in it for them all; if not so, He 'would have told them.'
Why would He have told them? Because He had been continually speaking to them of a Father who had sent Him, of a Father whom they were to know, of a Father who was drawing them towards Him. If there was no issue of His mission; if He had done all His work by merely giving them a glimpse of a divine kingdom; if they and He were not to rest in it together; would He not have scattered the false hopes which they were beginning to form, which His own language had kindled?
Yes, brethren! that awful dream which shook the heart of the German poet, — the dream of Christ coming into the world with the message, 'There is no God. You have no Father,' must have been realized, if He did not come with the other message, 'I can declare to you the name of your God. You have a Father. I am come to lead you to Him.' He himself shows us that this is the alternative. 'I would have told you, — I would have sent you to tell the world, — that all the thoughts it has ever entertained of an dialogue between earth and heaven, of a ladder by which man may ascend to God, are lying thoughts, inspired by the spirit of lies; unless I could have said, "There is a Father's house; there are many mansions in it; and I am going to prepare a place for you."' Oh! let us consider it well. Our Christianity must either sweep away all that has sustained the life and hopes of human creatures to this hour; it must become the most inhuman, the most narrow, the most God-denying system that the world has yet seen; it must prepare the way for a general atheism; or it must proclaim a Son of Man who unites mankind to God, who is a way by which the spirit of every man may ascend to the Father who is seeking it.
He had a right then to say, 'Where I go you know;' for the knowledge of a Father was that which He had been all along imparting to them. It was that which the whole heart of humanity, expressing itself through songs, myths, forms of worship, had been aiming at. Doctors might have crushed it out of their hearts; peasants could not. And had not the disciples heard of a way to God? What had John the Baptist come for but to prepare such a way? What had the call to repentance, what had the message concerning a kingdom of heaven at hand, and a Word who is the light of men, been, but an opening of this way?
The difficulty was to connect this way with that by which Jesus said He was going. Thomas gave utterance to the difficulty with singular frankness. 'Thomas said to Him, Lord, we know not where you go; and how can we know the way?'
Would that we were all as honest in asking questions as he was; then we should be prepared to receive the answer. 'Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you should have known my Father also: and from from now onye know Him, and have seen Him.'
Are you so familiar with the first of these verses that it leaves no impression upon you? Connect it with the second, from which, in general, it is widely disjoined, and you will see how much of its meaning we have all still to learn. We think of a way to heaven. Christ, we say, is that way. Even so. But the old question which we saw was so intensely puzzling to the people of Capernaum — which is not less so to us — recurs at each step, 'What is heaven?' Jesus answers by saying that He is the way to the Father. 'No man comes to the Father but by me.' So the words, 'I am the truth,' acquire an infinite significance. Christ is the way to the eternal truth, which makes free. He is both the way and the truth, because He is one with the Father, who is that eternal truth. And the words, 'I am the life,' are but the same, proceeding from His own lips, which we heard before from the lips of His Evangelist — 'In the Word was life.' They are but the gathering up of all the signs which have manifested Him as the Life-giver to the bodies of men, — as Giver of a divine and eternal life to their spirits. But if we forget that Christ's work is to bring men to their Father; and that He is distinct from the Father, as well as one with the Father: if we exchange this evangelical statement for some miserable one of our own, about 'the happiness of a future state,' the announcement of Christ as the way and the truth becomes a mere self-contradiction.
Our Lord's teaching was not in vain. One of the disciples perceived that to know the Father was all in all, — that he wanted nothing but this. 'Philip said to Him, Lord, show us the Father, and it suffices us.'
We are now, surely, ready for the reply, wonderful as it is: 'Jesus said to Him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet have you not known me, Philip? he that has seen me has seen the Father; and how say you then, Show us the Father?'
The revelation of the Father in the Son was then the revelation of the kingdom of heaven; it was the revelation of God Himself. There could be no higher. It was a revelation to that which was highest in man, to that which really constitutes the man. And for the man really to enter into the knowledge and communion of God, to be able to pass out of the fetters and limitations of mortality into this blessedness, this eternal life, must be the consummation of all that Jesus came to do.
He therefore adds: 'Believest you not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak to you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwells in me He does the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.'
Perhaps, when the question took this form, Philip might be startled. He might say to himself, 'Do I believe this? Is this what I mean?' And he might, for a while, be at a loss for the answer. But he could not say, 'I do not believe it,' without saying, 'I do not believe this, and this, and this, which I have heard Jesus say, and seen Jesus do.' However he might wonder at the strangeness and awfulness of the truth, yet he had been led into it most carefully and gradually. It had seemed to come out of himself; to be implied in his acts, and thoughts, and intuitions. It was not like something new which had been given him, but something very old, which he had now for the first time been able to recognise. And his Teacher still deals with him in the same gentle, even method. 'Believe this,' He says, 'on its own ground, on its own evidence, because it explains to you what would be else inexplicable in yourself and in others. Or else believe it for the very works' sake. That, too, is a legitimate process, — for some minds, the easiest and most natural. The works lead back to the Worker. The laws and principles in His mind lead back to the original of them in the mind of the Father.
The works lead back to the Worker. They would do so even when Jesus was no longer the visible instrument in effecting them. 'Verily, verily, I say to you, He that believes on me, the works that I do shall he do also. And greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.' St. Luke says, in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, that he had written before a treatise of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach. He intimates that he is now going to continue that treatise, to show how much more Jesus did and taught, after He ascended into heaven, than when He was on earth. Here, in the most solemn manner, Jesus makes the same assertion to His disciples. The works that He did upon earth were only the beginning of what He would do — the signs, as St. John has expressed it so constantly, of a power to be more completely exerted, of a purpose to be fulfilled. His returning to the Father is to be the crisis and commencement of a new life to the world, — the pledge that all the influences for health and renovation which the Son of Man had put forth, instead of being exhausted, were to go on proving their vigour and winning their victories from generation to generation.
In the next verse He assigns the reason: 'And whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.' He had taught them to pray, saying, 'Our Father.' No doubt they had done as He had bidden them. And the thought, 'He taught us so to speak,' must have been a mighty help when the effort was hardest, when it seemed most impossible to conceive that they had a Father. But to pray in His name, what a new world was opened to them, if they might do that! If there was One who did bind them all together, One in whom they were one, what an emphasis was there in that word, 'Our!' If this Son of Man were indeed the Son of God, what life, what reality there was in the word 'Father!' It was not that the prayer wanted its virtue till the name of Christ was openly, formally introduced into it. If that had been so, His own prayer must have been unfit for the Apostles and for us. All prayer that had ever ascended to God had ascended in His name. The Word was with God; the Word was the light of men. All things were created by Him, and in Him. When He had taught His spiritual creatures to feel they had need of a Father of their spirits, He had awakened in them the impulse to pray. The Father of those spirits was seeking such to worship Him, and owned their worship as that of children made in His image, unable to live apart from Him. In the Mediator, He could meet those to whom He had thus given power to become sons of God; He could own them as the spokesmen of humanity. But now it could be declared in what name men had prayed; how it was that the spirits in them answered to each other; in whom God had looked upon them, and been satisfied. No such revelation had yet been made, no such assurance had been given, that every beggar who desired that God's will might be done on earth as it is in heaven, was praying for that which Christ Himself must certainly accomplish. He goes on, 'If you love me, keep my commandments.' The Apostles thought, as we saw last Sunday, that they could suffer for Christ because they loved Him. They were right in believing that love is the ground of all action and of all suffering, but they were utterly wrong in supposing that their own love could be the ground of either. If this love were in any degree an effort of their own, if it were not God's love working in them, it would prove, as He had warned Peter that it would, the weakest of all things; before the cock crowed, it might be found good for nothing. But if they loved Him, let them keep His commandments; let them submit themselves to the will of One in whom love dwells perfectly, from whom it flows forth freely. 'And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him. But you know Him; for He dwells with you, and shall be in you.'
This promise, I believe, is the characteristical one of those Paschal conversations; it is that which distinguishes them from our Lord's discourses to the multitude. It is most important, therefore, to observe how the subject is introduced, and how it is connected with the passages we have just been considering. The new commandment, which we find in the previous chapter, had been, 'Love one another, as I have loved you;' which was further expounded by the words, 'As I have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet.' It had been a social commandment. Each obeyed it in so far as he regarded himself as one of a family, under a Master who was his Elder Brother. The loss of fellowship was the loss of allegiance; the loss of allegiance was the loss of fellowship. Since He had given them this commandment, He had been speaking to them of His own union with the Father, of His own obedience to the Father. One truth lay beneath the other; they must be learnt together. Their union would be the way to the apprehension of this union. Their obedience would enable them to enter into this obedience. But, on the other hand, they would find union among themselves impossible till they had a glimpse of the fundamental unity; they would find human obedience impossible till they believed that there was a divine obedience.
But how should they bind these two truths together in their hearts? What would save them from revolving in a hopeless circle, never knowing whether the divine lesson or the human practice must come first?
Before they well knew what they wanted, what deliverer they could have in their infinite perplexity, He, their Head, would pray the Father, and He would give them a Paraclete, one who would be always ready to help when they called for Him, one who should not be with them to-day and gone to-following day, but with them for ever; not an external Teacher, but a Guide of their spirits; not a Spirit who would obey their fancies or notions, but a Spirit of truth, to whom they must yield, that they might be freed from their confusions and falsehoods. This Spirit, it is added, 'the world could not receive.' That world or order which does not own a Head, which is made up of sections and parties, to which the Word of God comes, and which rejects Him, — such a world is not capable of a uniting, fusing Spirit, not capable even of conceiving how there can be such a Spirit, how He can enter into human beings with all their different tastes and propensities, all their contradictions, to mould them into one, how He can give them one heart and one soul. But the Apostles did know it. They had the germs of unity within them; amidst all their rivalries and discords, they aspired to be one. The Spirit was dwelling with them even then; He should be in them.
I wish you to observe how every word and every symbolical act of Christ has pointed to the disciples as a body, as a family; how all commandments and all promises have reference to them in this character; how the difference between them and the world was not that they were individually better than the persons of whom it consisted, not that they had blessings which the world was not intended to be a partaker of, but simply that the Son of Man had chosen them, and had constituted them His witnesses to the world. And to those who owned Him as the Head of their body, whether they saw Him or not, He would come. 'I will not leave you orphans,' He says; 'I will come to you.' If they were left without Him who alone had told them of a Father, who was their only bond to a Father, they would be in the strictest sense orphans. These last words took off the rough edge of that sentence which, with all its apparent fulness and richness, must have sounded sorrowful in the ears of the disciples, as if there could be a substitute for Him, another Paraclete. In some wonderful manner He would Himself be among them; in some wonderful manner His Father would be among them. Else why did He speak of orphans? And the next words made His meaning more definite, if not at once more clear, to them: 'Yet a little while, and the world sees me no more; but you see me. Because I live, you shall live also.' 'The world, which judges only by sense, which believes nothing, will have no organ by which to apprehend me. I shall seem to it to be far away. It will proclaim that it has got rid of me. But you will apprehend me through the spirit's organ. Your inner life will rest upon my life. In your own selves you will be in contact with me.'
'At that day,' He goes on, 'you shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.' 'In that day, when you shall begin truly to see me, when you shall know me more fully than you have ever known me yet, in that day the great mystery of my union with the Father will come out fully before you. It will come forth to explain another mystery, which without it would be incredible, that as I am in Him, so you are in me; that as He is in me, so am I in you.'
We shall find how this mystery, in connection with the other, becomes the subject of the subsequent discourse, till it finds its fullest expansion and expression in the prayer of the 17th chapter. But it was necessary that He should set before them once again the nature of the mystery, and the way to the knowledge of it, lest they should lose themselves in abortive efforts to embrace it. 'He that has my commandments,' He says, 'and keeps them, He it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.' The love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father, was the ground of their union. He who would remember Christ's commandments that they should love one another, and would watch over them and cherish them in his heart, he would show his love to Christ; and to him the love of the Father would be manifested, to him the Son would manifest Himself.
This idea of a secret manifestation which the world could not share in, may have seemed merely astonishing to some of the disciples, — may have awakened certain feelings of vanity, as if they would be His exclusive favourites, in others of them. Either feeling might have been in Jude, or both might have been mixed, when he said, 'Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?' The answer is one which, if it were taken in, would destroy all exclusiveness, but would not diminish wonder: 'Jesus answered and said to him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him. He that loves me not keeps not my words: and the word which you hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.' If a man loved Christ, he would hold fast those words of His in which He said that God 'loved the world, and gave His only-begotten Son for it;' that God 'sent not His Son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.' And then, because these words were dear to him, and he wished to live in the spirit of them, the Father who loved the world would come and make His abode with him, would impart to him His own likeness, and enable him in a measure to enter into His love. But one who cared nothing for Christ, would not care for these words of His, would not keep them in his heart, would not really believe them, would not desire to have his own mind fashioned in accordance with them. And seeing that Christ's word is not His, but the Father's who sent Him, that Father would remain to such a person always hidden and unknown.
'These things,' He adds, 'have I spoken to you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance.' It may be hypercritical to complain of our translators for rendering μένων by 'being yet present;' but I cannot help thinking that 'remaining,' or 'while I remain with you,' would have diminished the likelihood of a misapprehension which must make much of what He says here and afterwards unintelligible. That He was going away He had told them; only one day longer He would remain among them as their visible Teacher. But, assuredly, He declares solemnly that He shall not cease to be present with them; it is the express object of His conversation to give them that assurance. Nowhere does it come forth more strongly than in this sentence. What He said to them while they could look into His face, while they could see His lips moving, was but poorly apprehended by them; only a small portion of its meaning passed into them. Their real learning would come hereafter, — the vital recollection and understanding of the very words they were listening to then. Did they not feel that they wanted some one to fix the sense in their hearts, before the sounds mingled with the common air? Did they not want an interpreter, who should not translate one set of phrases by another, but should translate phrases into realities, and should open the spirit to entertain them? Were they not conscious of a hebetude and dulness, which the divinest wisdom could not penetrate as long as it remained on the outside of them? Did not the dulness hinder their dialogue with each other? Did any know exactly what the other meant? Did they not talk of trifles, because they despaired of breaking through the ice which enclosed their neighbour's heart, and had not even learnt the secret of thawing their own?
Yes; in this way they were taught that they must have a Spirit such as He spoke of, to be with them, not occasionally, but continually; to be with them, not as separate creatures, but as fellow-men; to be the Inspirer of their memories, their understandings, their affections; to be their Deliverer from shallowness; to be their Guide to that well of living water at the bottom of which truth lies. It was thus that they learnt, however imperfectly, that this Spirit must be a Divine Person, — could not be a mere vague and floating influence. It was thus that they sprung to the conviction, however hard it might be, which our Lord had expressed, and which He repeated in another form of words here, that the Spirit must bring Him near to them, must come in His name, must bind them together in His name. It was thus they learnt that a Spirit, which did not proceed from a Father and testify of a Father, could not be the Spirit of truth or the Spirit of peace.
He had been described already by one of these names. Our Lord now fixed the thoughts of His disciples upon the other. 'Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you: not as the world gives, give I to you.' It was the legacy which they needed above all others. But how could it be received? How can a treasure which all experience proclaims to be open to thefts, lessened by a thousand accidents, dependent upon mental and bodily temperament, — how can this be actually left, not to one, two, or three, upon certain conditions, but to a whole body permanently and not capriciously, 'as the world gives?' Christ's words imported this; the Apostles must have felt that He was deceiving them if less than this was meant or was performed. Only a Spirit to abide for ever with them; a Paraclete to whom they could have recourse when fightings were most terrible without; One whom they might find beneath all the wars and fightings within themselves; one who could unite them to each other, because He united them to the Father; — only such a Spirit could be the gift of peace which Christ presented as an honor; only concerning such a Spirit could He have said, 'This is my peace.'
He repeats the words He had used a short time before. He said, 'Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.' He could utter them now with a new and mightier force; for now, far better than before, He could remove that cause of trouble, the dread that He was going away from them. 'You have heard how I said to you, I go away, and come again to you. If you loved me you would rejoice, because I said, I go to the Father: for my Father is greater than I.'
The explanation of His going is the same as before. It is the return to a Father's house, — a house with many mansions, — a house for them as for Him. But, since the promise of the Spirit has been given, He can say, 'I come again to you.' 'It is not merely that you will know I am in a home which you cannot see, in a home which is out of the reach of the tumults and distractions that surround you — a home of peace, and truth, and love; it is that here, in the midst of this earth, peace and truth and love shall abide with you. It is that I have a kingdom in this world; it is that my Spirit will be with you, to enable you to make continual inroads upon the world which "sees me not, neither knows me," to bring fresh portions of it under my government.' This coming again into the regions of earth — coming as a king and conqueror, yet still as a fellow-sufferer to bear the cross with His disciples, is a new element of consolation. But it does not displace the former. The celestial house is still to be the object and final resting-place of their thoughts and hopes. They were to rejoice that their Lord was there, in His proper and eternal dwelling, united as a Son to a Father, doing homage as a Son to a Father, confessing there, as He did on earth, His own glory to be derived from the Father. They were to rejoice for His sake, because they loved Him; and that rejoicing for His sake would be the greatest elevation, and the highest satisfaction to themselves. They would look through Christ to the Father; they would see all things issuing from Him, and tending to their fruition and perfection in Him.
'And now,' He concludes, 'I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is transpire, you might believe. Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world comes, and has nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.'
That which was coming to pass, we can have no doubt, was the death of the Son of Man, His ascension, the gift of the Spirit; for of all these He has discoursed, as if they were inseparably connected. Each event would be imperfectly understood till the next came to expound it. When the Spirit was given, there would be a flood of light upon all the acts of Christ; all the lines of the world's history would be seen to be converging towards Him. But an hour of darkness must precede this illumination, an hour in which the living Word, the upholder of all things, would be almost silent; the hour, He calls it, of the prince of this world, the hour when righteousness would seem to be put down for ever, when the priestly tyrants of Judæa, and the imperial tyrants of Rome, would seem to have established their supremacy. But their master had nothing in Jesus. The cross upon which they raised Him would stand forth as the perfect opposite of his selfishness the perfect manifestation of the Divine love. For the world's sake, that cross would be set up; for the world's sake, He spoke these things to His disciples. He would have the world know that He loved the Father, and that He was fulfilling His Father's commandment in dying for it. What a wonderful conclusion to a discourse which He had addressed to His own, whom He had chosen out of the world! What a wonderful preparation for that discourse concerning the vine and the branches, which He seems to have spoken as He walked with His disciples towards the Garden of Gethsemane!
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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