XXV. THE COMFORTER AND HIS TESTIMONY.
[Lincoln's Inn, 10th Sunday after Trinity (Morning), July 27, 1856.]
St. John XVI. 1.
These things have I spoken to you, that you should not be offended.
The things which Jesus had just spoken to the disciples were, that His countrymen 'hated Him without a cause;' that they 'hated both Him and His Father.' These things were to take away the scandal which it would be to them to find that they made themselves hated by proclaiming a Gospel of peace and good will. 'They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time comes, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service.' It would be a strange result; fellowship with their brethren destroyed because they proclaimed the ground of fellowship; death inflicted upon them because they preached that death was overcome. Might not poor Galilæans, conscious of folly and sin, often say to themselves: 'We must be wrong; the rulers of the land must be wiser than we are. Ought we to turn the world upside down for an opinion of ours?' But 'these things will they do to you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.' 'They have not known what the Lord and Light of their spirit meant: do you think they can know what you mean? They have hated my character; they have hated God in His own essential nature: would you expect them to love you who are sent forth to testify what that nature is, and how it has been manifested?'
All His education had been gradual; no word had been spoken till it was needed. So it is now. 'And these things will they do to you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not to you at the beginning, because I was with you. But now I go my way to Him that sent me; and none of you asks me, Where go you?' His meaning would only be entered into fully when the events explained it; but what a difference would it make to them that they could assure themselves then, 'It is His meaning! All this He told us of.' And this would be no mere act of memory, at least if memory is only concerned with the past. It would do more than anything else to remove the confusion which beset them, which His own words seemed almost to increase, as to His absence from them, and His presence with them. He had said that He was going to the Father; He had said that His going would be an elevation and a blessing to them. He had said that He should come to them. They could not see their way through these apparent inconsistencies. They had begun to ask where He was going, but they had stopped short in the inquiry. The news of His departure possessed them; that was an unspeakable weight upon their minds. They scarcely thought that any knowledge of the 'where' would materially lighten it.
'Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.' It was the hardest of all truths; the hearts which grief had occupied could afford little room for it. 'It is expedient that I should go away.' Again the doubt will have come back in its full force: 'What compensation can there be for His absence? What new friend can take His place?' Before, the promise, however difficult to comprehend, 'I will come to you,' had taken away some of the bitterness of their anticipations. Now it was necessary that they should face the whole subject; that they should apprehend the Comforter as a distinct Person from Him who was speaking to them; that they should rise by degrees to feel how compatible this distinctness was with perfect unity. We, with our rough blundering dogmatism, may think that we can teach these lessons at once; and when we find how difficult it is for men to take them in, because they are men like ourselves — incapable of seeing more than half a truth at a time — may conclude just as rashly that no processes can ever bring any but a few learned and subtle men to such a discovery. But He who knew what was in man, was content to give His disciples line upon line; to go over the steps of His teaching often again; to make them conscious first of one need of their spirits, then of another; to present each by turns with the satisfaction which it demands; to be indifferent about apparent contradictions, so long as real contradictions were escaped. He who knew what was in man was sure that it is not the doctor or the systematizer, but the human being, who wants to be instructed in the distinction of Persons and the unity of Substance; that our minds rest upon the principles to which these opposing words are the indices; that the fisherman or the publican feels after them with his heart, and assumes them in his discourse; that he and the doctor may enter into them together, when both are willing to perform the highest demand of science as well as of faith, by becoming little children.
Here, then, He tells them that His departure out of their sight was actually necessary in order that the Paraclete — whom He had spoken of as the bond of their union, as their efficient Teacher and Friend — should come to them. You would have supposed, perhaps, that He would have gone on to tell them what blessings the coming of this Paraclete would confer upon them, which He would not confer upon the world, since He had said that the world would not receive Him or know Him. It may cause us some surprise, then, to read: 'And when He is come, He will reprove the WORLD of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and you see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.' It is impossible to get rid of this difficulty by any loose interpretation of the word world. It is one of the characteristic and vital words in all this discourse. It is used, as I think, with great precision and uniformity throughout St. John: to evade its force here, is to destroy his meaning altogether. On the other hand, if we will adhere steadfastly to the language as it stands, we gain a fresh and brilliant illustration of the work to which our Lord had destined His disciples, and apart from their performance of which they could look for no blessings to themselves. They were to be witnesses to a world which had forgotten its Centre, concerning that Centre; witnesses to a world which was created by a righteous God, and was meant to show forth His righteousness, in whom this righteousness dwelt, and how it was to be sought after; witnesses to a world which had set up a prince of its own, that his power must come to an end, that it had been proved to be weakness.
How could they fulfil such a mission as this? What could their arguments or their rhetoric avail to bring home such convictions to a single Jew or a single idolater, to say nothing of a world of Jews, or a world of idolaters? By their very nature, such convictions must be inward and radical. They could not play about the surface of men's hearts, but must penetrate into them. Where could come this demonstration? Our Lord tells the disciples at once that they are to despair of its ever coming from them, that they are to be sure it will come from the Spirit with which He will endue them. Not they, but He, will convince the world; because, though the world may not receive Him neither know Him, it has been formed to receive all quickening life from Him; it must confess His presence, even if it would hide itself from His presence. And the disciples were to go forth in this faith; in the certainty that wherever they met a man, Jew or Gentile, there was one whose Head was Christ, who owed his life to Christ, who was receiving light from Christ, and who only sinned because he did not own this Head, confess this Life, open his conscience and heart to this Light. The Spirit in them would show them this truth concerning themselves, and would only show it to them concerning themselves, because they were partakers of the nature which every worshipper of Jupiter or Brahm had as much as they. The disciples were to go forth in the certainty that the righteous Man whom they had once seen upon earth, in whom they had beheld the grace and truth of the Father, was the same when they saw Him no more. They were to believe in Him as the Lord their righteousness; they were to believe that the righteousness of God was in Him; so they were to rise up righteous men, children bearing the image of their Father. The Spirit within them would give them this faith; the Spirit within them would make them partakers of this righteousness. And that same Spirit would convince the world of this righteousness, would bring this standard continually before it, would make this standard the real measure of its laws, its polity, its customs; the measure of its deflections from right and truth. There would be an inward conviction, a continually growing conviction among men, that nothing short of this could be the human standard, even when they were setting up another, even when they were pronouncing this to be unattainable, even when they said that they would rather not attain it if they could. The disciples were to go forth in the belief that when the spirit of selfishness seemed strongest in themselves, strongest among their fellows, — when they were most disposed to bow to him and acknowledge him as their king, — he was not their king, but a lying usurper, whose pretensions Christ had confounded in the wilderness and on the cross, whom they could trample underfoot if they remembered that Christ's Father was their Father. The Spirit would teach them that this prince of the world was not their prince. He would teach them, therefore, that he was not indeed, and by right, any man's prince, that all might disclaim him, that for the sake of all he had been judged. And the Spirit would convince the world also of this, that the untruths to which it bows down can have only a brief dominion; that that which is, must prevail over that which is not; that all evil lingers on under a curse which has been pronounced, and shall be fully and eternally executed.
All this they would learn hereafter; it could only be prophecy to them now. And there were many things which it would be of no avail to utter even in prophecy. 'I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But,' our Lord goes on, 'when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all truth,' — into the whole truth, not merely into scattered fragments of it. For He shall have dominion over your whole being. He shall guide it into that fulness which it longs for, the fulness of God Himself. But it shall be still a guidance; He will take you by regular steps along the road which leads to this satisfaction. 'For He shall not speak of Himself, but what He shall hear that shall He speak, and He shall tell you things to come.' We should not, perhaps, be able to make out the force of the words, 'He shall not speak of Himself,' if the history of the Church and the world had not expounded them. Again and again there have been teachers in the Church who have spoken loudly of an illuminating Spirit. They have said that a dispensation of the Spirit had come, which made the old Gospel of Jesus Christ poor and obsolete; they have said that now the Spirit was all that men had to think of or believe in. So spoke a portion of the Franciscans, in the thirteenth century; some of the brethren and sisters of the Free Spirit, in the fourteenth; some of the Anabaptists, in the sixteenth; some of the Quakers, in the seventeenth; so speak not a few who are revolting against Materialism, without having found any safe standing-ground from which to oppose it, in our own. The spirit in such men speaks 'of itself.' Such a spirit, our Lord says, is not the Holy Spirit; for He will speak whatsoever things He hears; He will bring to us the message of a Father, from whom He comes. He will not make us impatient of a Lord and Ruler, but desirous of one, eager to give up ourselves to His guidance, eager to get rid of our own fancies and conceits, and to enter more into fellowship with all men. He will not allow us to be satisfied with our advanced knowledge or great discoveries, but will always be showing us things that are coming; giving us an apprehension of truths that we have not yet reached, though they be truths which are 'the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.' That may not be the whole meaning of the words, 'things to come;' the phrase may intimate that foresight which is given to those who study principles, meditating on the past, and believing in God. The Spirit which our Lord promises is assuredly the Spirit who spoke by the prophets of old, and has spoken by all His servants who have humbled themselves, and sought light and wisdom from above. But these two senses do not contradict each other; and the first is, I think, more directly suggested by the context. It may also imply that the Spirit, who does not speak of Himself, leads men away from that incessant poring over the operations and experiences of their inner life, which is unhealthy and morbid, to dwell upon the events which are continually unfolding themselves in God's world under His providence, and teaches them to expect the final issue of those events in the complete manifestation and triumph of the Son of God.
The last meaning would connect the 13th verse with the 14th, 'He shall glorify me.' 'Whenever the Spirit of truth is working most energetically in you, the effect will be that the glory of the Deliverer and Head of man becomes more dear to you; that you proclaim me more and more earnestly in that character.' 'For He, the Comforter, shall take of mine, and shall show it to you.' 'He shall, in your hours of deepest gloom and despondency, reveal to you One who is above yourselves, One in whom you may forget yourselves, One in whom you may see all that perfection of your nature which it will drive you to despair to seek in yourselves. Not, indeed, that you could be satisfied with even this vision, if it were only the vision of a Son of Man, of what is most glorious in humanity.' 'But all things which the Father has are mine.' 'All the glory of the Godhead shines forth in the Humanity; all that original goodness and truth and love which man is created to long for and to show forth.' 'Therefore, said I, He shall take of mine and shall show it to you.'
He has returned to the point from which He started. His going to the Father has been the subject of His discourse ever since He met them in the upper room at the feast. That has led Him to speak of the Comforter who should tell them of His Father; afterwards of His own eternal union to them, as the root of their fellowship, as the spring of their life; then again of the Comforter who should teach them of both Him and the Father, who should make them witnesses of their eternal unity to men. It is no break in the discourse when He adds, 'A little while, and you shall not see me: and again, a little while, and you shall see me, because I go to the Father.' The words which we translate 'see' in the two clauses, are different. I do not know that I can discern the shades of their meaning; but I am sure that there is a reason for the variation, and that it should not be overlooked. The word θεωρεῖτε may, perhaps, intimate that for a time they would lose all perception of Him, even an intellectual perception; the word ὄψεσθε, that they should see Him again with the eyes of the body as well as of the mind, may have cheered the disciples afterwards; at present it added to their confusion. 'Then said some of His disciples among themselves, What is this that He said to us, A little while, and you shall not see me: and again, a little while, and you shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? They said therefore, What is this that He said, A little while? we cannot tell what He said.' They are like men awakening out of a dream, full of troubles and of joys mixed strangely together. He was departing from the earth; He was going to the Father; He was to prepare a place for them. What did it all mean? They thought He was about to tell them; these words 'a little while' seem to throw them back into more than their old perplexity.
'Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask Him, and said to them, Do you inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and you shall not see me: and again, a little while, and you shall see me?' He knew that they were desirous to ask Him, because He had taught them to ask. The processes of their minds were under His guidance, as well as the issues of the processes. He determined nothing for them till He had led them to feel after it. So their conversations have become lesson-books for all ages; not resolutions of doubts by peremptory decisions, but histories of transactions in the hearts of men like ourselves, whom the Divine Word chose as instances of the method by which He educates us. And the sentences which follow show us something more of this method, and make us understand how little even the most celestial food can nourish us if it is taken in without being digested.
'Verily, verily, I say to you, That you shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and you shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail has sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembers no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And you now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man takes from you.'
Their thoughts of the 'little while' had been half sad, half frivolous. They supposed that He could at once tell them what He meant by telling them how long He would be absent, and in what place and under what circumstances He would meet them again. He presents the subject in an altogether different light; for He tells them that the little while in which He shall be hidden from them will be an hour of travail and of death, and that the little while of His reappearance will be the hour of the birth of a man into the world. We feel at once that these cannot be metaphors; that if the death of Christ is anything, and the resurrection of Christ is anything, this must be the language, the most exact and living which Christ Himself could speak, or we could hear, to determine the signification of them. Here, as throughout the conversation, our Lord connects the world with His disciples, and at the same time contrasts the one with the other. They will mourn that they have lost a friend; the world will rejoice that it has got rid of an enemy. But their ultimate joy must be that a Man, the Man for whom the world has been waiting so long, has been born into it. They can have no joy for themselves which is not a joy for mankind, which is not a thanksgiving for its victory. 'And you now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man takes from you.' They should see Him returning the Conqueror of death, the Conqueror of man's enemy; that should be a joy not dependent upon the sight of their eyes, not dependent upon His visible continuance with them; it should be a joy of the heart, and it should be a joy which no man could take from them. Their own weakness, or sin, or death, could not, for this joy would raise them above themselves; this would give them an inheritance in One in whom was no sin or ignorance, and over whom death had no power. The unbelief of others could not, for the fact of His triumph would remain the same whether men confessed it or no.
He goes on: 'And in that day you shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say to you, Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you. Until the point in time have you asked nothing in my name: ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.' This was the secret, half-understood cause of their grief, as it is one cause of the grief of all who are about to lose a friend. We can go to him no more; we can tell him of no more difficulties; we can ask him no more questions. 'But in that day,' He says, 'when you shall see me again, — in that day of full, satisfying joy, — you will not feel this want; you will not be longing to ask that which only concerns yourselves; you will feel yourselves bound together in my name, a family of brothers in an Elder Brother. The vision of a Father will open clearly upon you; and verily whatever you ask Him in my name, — in the name of Him who binds you to one another, and binds you all to the Father of heaven and earth, — He will give it you. For you will desire that which He desires, that which I have died and risen again to work out, the glory of His name, the coming of His kingdom, the doing of His will. Until the point in time you have not entered into this joy. Your thoughts have been narrow, weak, limited to yourselves. When you pray to the Father in my name, when you enter into communion with Him, your joy will be full; you will attain the highest blessedness of which man is capable.'
'These things,' He continues, 'have I spoken to you in proverbs: but the time comes, when I shall no more speak to you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father. At that day you shall ask in my name: and I say not to you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.'
This is the climax of His discourse, one may say of all human discourse; though prayer, as I think we shall find in the next chapter, may take us into a higher region still. He has been speaking to them in symbols, proverbs, parables. He has been showing them how all nature, how human transactions, how their own lives, all implied a kingdom of heaven, were ladders upon which angels were ascending and descending. The ladder would not be thrown down; parables and proverbs would remain everlastingly true. But now His voice could be heard who was at the top of the ladder. The Father, who had been declared through all subordinate relations, would Himself be revealed. And though all prayers are ascending up to Him, yet His love would be discovered as itself the fountain of them all. Even the Son, the great Intercessor, will not say to them that He will pray for them, if they take prayer to mean anything which is to alter the Father's purpose, or augment His love. For of His will His own words are the utterance and expression. He came forth from the Father, and is come into the world. He is going back to the Father to unite the world to Him.
'His disciples said to Him, Lo, now speakest you plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that you know all things, and needest not that any man should ask you: by this we believe that you camest forth from God.' It seemed to the disciples as if all clouds were now scattered. They thought the Man was already born into the world. Alas! it was in their own faith they were still in part believing, not in Him. The travail-hour must be passed through by them as by us; that which would scatter all trust in themselves, that which would leave them only God to trust in. 'Jesus answered them, Do you now believe? Behold, the hour comes, yea, is now come, in which you shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone.' Their hour of weakness was at hand. It would be also His. They would be deserted, and He would be deserted. And yet He adds, 'I am not alone, because the Father is with me.' 'Your faith will perish. Even I shall cry, "My God, why have you abandoned me?" And yet that eternal union which I have been declaring to you, which I have come into the world to manifest, will be unshaken. This desertion will make it manifest. And because that is unshaken, your union with me will be unshaken also. Nothing which I have said to you will prove untrue. "These things have I spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation," — that world which surrounds you, and in the evils and faithlessness of which you share. "But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Its wars and divisions and hatreds have not vanquished me; I have vanquished them. Not the king whom the world has chosen for itself, but the Son whom the Father has set over it, shall reign in it for ever and ever.'
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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