John 13-17

John 13‑17  •  1.1 hr. read  •  grade level: 8
John 13-17
I have followed the Lord through chapters 1-12 of this Gospel, noticing His ways as the Son of God, the Stranger from heaven, the Saviour of sinners; and also His discourses and controversies with Israel. The one was a path of grace, but of loneliness—the other lay much in the track of the prophet Jeremiah. Like Jeremiah, the Lord had witnessed the backslidings of the daughter of Zion. Like him, He had warned her, and taught her, and would willingly have healed her. But, like him, He had seen the stubbornness of her heart, had suffered rebuke and rejection from her, and had now only to weep for her. He had, as in the words of Jeremiah, said to her, even to the end of His ministry (see John 12:3535Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. (John 12:35)), “Give glory to the Lord your God, before He cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, He turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride” (Jer. 13:16-1716Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. 17But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive. (Jeremiah 13:16‑17)).
Jesus had thus wept over Jerusalem, for she had not repented. The boar had now again left his woods to devour her; the “destroyer of the Gentiles” was again on his way, as in the prophet’s day. The captivity in Babylon had no more purged away the dross of Zion, than the waters of Noah had sanctified the earth; and all was again ripe for another judgment. But, as in the midst of all this, Jeremiah of old had his Baruch, the companion of his temptations (Jer. 36 and Jer. 43), to whom from the Lord he pledges present life (Jer. 45), and with whom he deposits the sure evidence of final inheritance (Jer. 32), so now, Jesus has His saints, the companions of His rejection, to whom He gives the present certainty of life, and the sure promise of future rest and honor.
With these we now get our Lord in secret. We have now done with His public ministry: and we have Him now with His own, telling them, as their Prophet, the secrets of God.
And being about to listen to Him as the Prophet of the Church, I would observe, that what the Lord gives us as our Prophet, is our present riches. It is not with us, as with Israel of old, blessings of the basket and of the store, nor is it with us now, as it will be by-and-by authority over cities—but “we have the mind of Christ.” Treasures of wisdom and knowledge hid in Christ are our present treasures (Col. 2:33In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3)). And accordingly, having now turned away from Israel towards His elect, and looking at them apart from the world, He makes known to them all things that He had heard of the Father. By-and-by, as the King of glory, He will share His dominion with the saints; but now He has only the tongue of the learned for them, that He may teach them the secrets of God. It is only as their Prophet that He now enriches them. As to other riches they may count themselves poor, as one of them of old said (and said it, beloved, without shame), “Silver and gold have I none.”
Our Lord Jesus is the Prophet like unto Moses Who had been promised of old. God saw Moses face to face. He spoke with him, as a man speaks unto his friend, saying of him, “With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold.” In all this high prerogative Moses was the shadow of the Son of God. Moses had access to God. He was on the heights of the hill with Him, beyond the region of thunder and tempest; then within the cloud of glory, as it stood at the door of the temporary tabernacle; and lastly, in the very holy of holies, when the tabernacle itself was reared (Ex. 24:33; Ex. 25:2222And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel. (Exodus 25:22)). And he stood in all that nearness to God without blood—though even Aaron, we know, could be there only once a year, and that not without blood—all this telling us, in affecting and intelligible language, of the divine personal worthiness of our Prophet—of the Godhead glory of Him whose shadow Moses was, who is in the bosom of the Father, and has now spoken to us (Heb. 1:1-21God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; (Hebrews 1:1‑2)).
And what Moses learned on the top of the hill, or within the cloud of glory, or from off the mercy-seat in the holiest, was the secret which the Son has now brought from the Father.
Moses learned there the grace of God, and saw the glory of goodness (Ex. 33:1919And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exodus 33:19)). Blessed vision! And the only begotten Son was among us, “full of grace and truth.”
But the services which the Lord renders us as our Prophet are various; and in this variety we shall find the special character of this Gospel by John fully maintained.
In the opening of Matthew, the Lord, as a Prophet, revealed the mind of God touching the conduct of His people, interpreting the law in its extent and purity, thus determining the divine standard, and applying it to the conscience. He prescribed the order and ways of the saints, so as to make them worthy of the regeneration and the kingdom, calling the soul into exercise towards God, and giving it its due ends and objects. (See Matt. 5-7). But in our Gospel He is the Prophet in a higher character. He declares “the Father,” and reveals the “heavenly things.” He speaks as the One Who had “ascended up to heaven,” and was “from above” (John 3:13,3113And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. (John 3:13)
31He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. (John 3:31)
). It is not so much our conduct as God’s thoughts that He tells us of. He tells us of the mysteries of life and judgment; He declares the love of the Father, the works and glories of the Son, and the place and actings of the Holy Spirit, in and for the Church of God. He is, in this Gospel, the Prophet of the secrets of the Father’s bosom, disclosing the hidden ways of the sanctuary. He speaks as the Word, who was with God, and was God, giving us such knowledge as a mere walk on the earth in righteousness and service would not have needed, but such as makes us nothing less than “friends” (John 15:1515Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. (John 15:15)), and gives us communion, in knowledge, with the ways of “the Father of glory” (Eph. 1:1717That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: (Ephesians 1:17)).
Such is the variety of the Lord’s exercise of His prophetic office; and such, I judge, the peculiar exercise of it in this Gospel, the exercise of it in its highest department, again making the Gospel so peculiarly precious to the saint. And when the gathering of the Church in this present “day of salvation” is over, and all have come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, we shall not lose our Lord as our Prophet. We shall listen to Him as such, even in the kingdom. His lessons will feed us forever. Solomon was a prophet, as well as a priest and a king. His servants stood continually before him, and all kings of the earth sought his presence to hear him. The Queen of Sheba came to prove him with hard questions, and he answered her in all her desire. When she beheld all his ways, the king’s magnificence, the priest’s ascent to the house of God, and the prophet’s wisdom, these were altogether more than a match for her heart—the half had not been told her—“there was no more spirit in her.” And so, in the coming kingdom we shall have that which shall fill the eye with glory, give the heart its satisfied affections, ever feed the still enlarging thoughts of our minds with the treasures of wisdom that are hid in our divine Prophet, and on the other hand give our ears the music of His praise forever.
But let me say, for my own, as for my brethren’s admonition, that we should constantly suspect and dread all mere effort of mind while listening to the words of our Prophet, that is, while reading the Scriptures. The Spirit is a ready Teacher, as well as a ready Writer; and the light of the Spirit, though it may shine at times, through our darkness, but dimly, yet will it always evidence itself with more or less certainty. And let us remember also, that it is a temple light—a light that suits the sanctuary. It was in the holy place that the candlestick stood; and the intelligence that is awakened in the soul by the Holy Spirit is attended by the spirit of devotion and communion. It is a temple light still.
I have already noticed the Lord’s different exercise of His prophetic office, in Matthew’s Gospel and in this. In His discourses with His elect, after His public ministry is over, as given us by these two evangelists, the same characteristic difference is still to be clearly discerned. In Matthew, He talks with them on the Mount of Olives about Jewish matters (Matt. 24-25); but here, He leads them, in spirit, into heaven, to open to them the sanctuary there, and to tell them of heavenly secrets (John 13-17). The Lord takes His seat, not as on the Mount of Olives, to tell His remnant of Israel’s sorrows and final rest, but as in heaven to disclose to His saints the actings of their High Priest there, and their own peculiar sorrows and blessings as the Church of God, during the age of that heavenly priesthood. The heavenly priesthood is the great subject throughout these chapters, on which I would now somewhat more particularly meditate. They form one section of our Gospel; but I will consider them in distinct portions, as their contents seem to me to suggest.
John 13
Here, at the opening, the Lord’s action, washing the disciples’ feet, is an exhibition of one great branch of His heavenly service.
The washing of the feet was among the duties of hospitality. The Lord rebukes the neglect of it in His host in Luke 7. (See 1 Tim. 5:1010Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. (1 Timothy 5:10)). It conveyed two benefits to the guest, I may say—it cleansed the traveler after the soiling of the journey, and refreshed him after the fatigue of it.
Abraham, Lot, Laban, Joseph, and the old man of Gibeah, are eminent among those who observed this duty. (Gen. 1819,24,43; Judges 19). And the Son of God, as receiving into the heavenly house, would give His elect the full sense of their welcome and their fitness, that they might take their place with happy confidence, in any department of that royal sanctuary. It was a sanctuary, it is true. But this washing fitted them for such a place. The Son of God was doing for the disciples the duty and service of the brazen laver towards the priests, the sons of Aaron, in the tabernacle (Ex. 30). He was taking on Himself the charge of having them fit for the divine presence. It is the common way of every well-ordered family, that the servants keep themselves clean, or leave the house. But such is the grace of the Son of God, the Master of the heavenly house that He charges Himself with the duty of keeping the household in even priestly sanctification and honor.
“Unfathomable wonder, and mystery divine!” All we need is the spirit of a simple, unquestioning faith which rests in the reality of such surpassing grace.
But His service for us in the sanctuary, as the High Priest of our profession, His cleansing of our feet as the true Laver of God’s house, Jesus did not enter on until He had accomplished His passion on earth, and ascended into the heavens; and, thus, it was not, as we read here, until after the supper was “ended” that He took a towel and girded Himself to wash His disciples’ feet. For the “supper” was the exhibition of His passion and death, as He had said, “Take, eat: this is My body.” And, accordingly, He seems to go through the whole of this mystic scene in the consciousness that He had now finished His sufferings, had ascended, and was looking back on His saints; for it is introduced in these words, “Having loved His own which were in the world”—words that suggest the apprehension He had of His saints being still in the world, while He had left them for higher and holier regions. And in the sense of all this, though glorified again in and with the Father, as the gracious Servant of their need and infirmities, He girds Himself with a towel, and washes their feet; giving them to know, that He was abiding in the heavenly sanctuary, just to impart to them the constant virtue of the “holiness” which, as their High Priest, He ever carried for them on His forehead before the throne of God. See Exodus 28. (The supper is not noticed in this Gospel, save by allusion. And this is in beautiful keeping with its general character; for it is, as we have already seen, the Gospel of the Son, rather than of the humiliation of Jesus. And, therefore, we get Him, as in this chapter, in His priesthood, but we do not see Him in His passion, as at the supper.)
Thus, there is a difference between the mystic import of the supper, and of this subsequent washing of the feet; and the difference is the same as between the day of atonement and the ashes of the red heifer, under the law. The day of atonement, like the supper, set forth the virtue of the blood of Christ; the ashes of the heifer, like this washing, the virtue of His intercession. The day of atonement was but one day in the Jewish year, a great annual day of reconciliation, on which the sins of Israel were put away once for all; the ashes of the heifer were provided for every day’s transgressions, for all the occasional defilements which any Israelite might contract, while passing through the year. So with the blood-shedding first, and the priestly intercessions of Christ afterwards: as a scripture says, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
And we have the same blessings in the same order in another form; namely, the paschal lamb once and forever redeemed Israel out of Egypt, but in the wilderness it was the intercession of Moses that turned away wrath from the occasional trespasses of the camp. And so the blood of Jesus our Passover, and the intercession of Jesus our Mediator—the supper first, and then the washing of the feet; the death here, and then the life in heaven for us. He that is once washed in the blood, needs not save to wash his feet; and that washing of his feet, that removal of the soil which the saint gathers in his walk along this earth day by day, the High Priest who is in heaven for him accomplishes by His presence and intercession there. He is the Mediator of the new covenant, and His blood is the Blood of that covenant.
Thus, the love of the Son of God for the Church, as it had been from everlasting, so must it be to everlasting; as it is here written, “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” Every age and scene must witness the same love in some of its services, and in its abiding fervor and truth. No change of time could affect it. The dreariness of this world and the glories of heaven found it in His heart the same. Neither sorrow nor joy, suffering nor glory, could touch it for a moment. His death here, and His life in heaven, alike declare it. No, much more. He had served her in this love before the world was, when He said, “Lo, I come!”—and in the kingdom after the world, He will serve her still in the same love, making His saints to sit down to meat, while He waits on their joy (Luke 12:3737Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. (Luke 12:37)).
Such was the Lord, such is the Lord, and such will be the Lord, in His unceasing service of love towards His saints; and He tells them to be His imitators. “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” He expects to see among us on earth the copy of that which He is doing for us in heaven. He is there daily washing our feet, bearing our need and meeting our defilements before the throne; and He would have us daily washing one another’s feet, bearing one another’s infirmities, and helping one another’s joy, here on the footstool.
This action and teaching of the Lord were thus a taking of the Church, like Moses before, up into the mount, to show her the patterns according to which the things on earth were to be made. Moses then stood above the law, beyond the region of fire and tempest; and so the Church here. The disciples are called up in spirit into the heavenly sanctuary, and there shown the ways of the High Priest in His daily love and care for them; and they are told to go down and do likewise. As was said to Moses, “Look that thou make them after their pattern, which was showed to thee in the mount.” The time for the taking of Moses into the mount to abide there had not then come. He was only to visit it, that he might see the patterns, and receive orders. And so here. The Church was not yet ready for the glory and for the Father’s house. “Whither I go,” says the Lord to the disciples, “ye cannot come.” They shall follow afterwards, as He further promises; but for the present, there was to be only a sight of the patterns on the mount, that they might copy them on the earth. But love alone can fashion those copies, for love is the artificer of the originals in heaven. As the Lord again says, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” It is not, as of old, the skill of such as “work in gold, and in silver, and in brass” that will do now, but the skill of such as “walk in love.” The fashioning of any kind thought in the heart toward a brother, the arming of the mind with power to bear and forbear in love, the goings forth of the soul in sympathies, and the moulting off or softening down of any hard or selfish affection; these are the copies of the heavenly patterns. It is only as “dear children” we can be “imitators of God” (Eph. 5:11Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; (Ephesians 5:1)). And what comfort is this! When the Lord would appoint on earth the witness of His own ways in heaven, He tells us to love one another, to wash one another’s feet! What a sight of Him, though within the veil, does this give us! “He shows His thoughts how kind they be.” What manner of daily occupation of our Priest in His sanctuary on high is here disclosed to us!
And, beloved, let me admonish myself and you to seek to walk more amid these witnesses of the Lord than we do. For this would be our assurance before Him, and our joy among ourselves. If our ways were steady, unwavering ways of love, we should be ever walking in the midst of the shadows and emblems of Christ; we should have the Lord’s thoughts in all their kindness and constancy ever before us; and what joy and assurance would that give us! No suspicions of His love, no cloudings of doubt and fear, could then gather on the soul; but we should hear Him with our ears, and see Him with our eyes, and handle Him with our hands; for all that ear, or eye, or hand met from one another would witness, as well as savor, of His love. This, indeed, would be a sweet dwelling “in the house of the Lord,” a blessed beholding of “the beauty of the Lord.” But all this display of glorious love the poor heart of man is not prepared for. Peter expresses this common ignorance. He does not yet understand this connection between glory and service. He follows his human thoughts, and says, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” But Peter was to know all this by-and-by, as his Lord promises; for, Peter and his Lord were one. But Judas must be separated. “I speak not of you all,” said the Lord. The presence of the traitor in the midst of the saints up to this solemn moment was needed; for the scripture had said, “He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me.” Judas must receive the sop from the Lord’s own hand. The pledge of love must be given and despised before Satan could enter; for it is the rejection of love that matures the sin of man, as the remaining unmoved by this signal mark of kindness from the hand of his Master perfected the sin of Judas; and Satan entered. Satan’s indwelling is not noticed until the sop was received—as man, in this dispensation of ours, has despised love, and thus matured his sin—as the Lord afterwards said, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin” (John 15:2424If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. (John 15:24)). But, having now despised the love of the Gospel, man has gone his way; as Judas here, having received the sop, went out to betray Him who had given it. And our evangelist adds, “It was night.” Solemn words! Night in man and night for Jesus.
But He at once looks beyond this night; for, dark as it was to be to Him, it was to open into the perfect day. Jesus would be glorified in God at once, for God was glorified in Him; the only Son of Man in whom He ever was glorified. He had kept the nature without spot, and was now about to present it to God a sheaf of untainted human fruit fitted for God’s garner. Man in Jesus had been glorified, for all that had proceeded from Him, all that had been drawn out of Him, was according to God (John 14:30-3130Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. 31But 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. (John 14:30‑31)). Not one speck sullied the moral beauty there. Man in Jesus had not come short of the glory of God. And God, Who had thus been glorified in Him, would therefore glorify Him in Himself. But as to all beside it was altogether otherwise. Jesus could go at once to God, by virtue of all this moral glory; but as to all beside it matters not; whether saints or unbelievers, whether Peters or Pharisees, there could not be this. A place with God must be prepared, before even the saints could be gathered into it (John 14:11Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. (John 14:1)); and, therefore, the Lord says to them, “Ye shall seek Me, and as I said unto the Jews, whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.”
This day of His own glory in God, Jesus here anticipates, saying, as soon as the traitor was gone out, “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” (I would notice the assurance of heart which the consciousness of love at all times gives us. Peter and John are not at all alarmed at the Lord’s solemn hints about the traitor; they take counsel together to search and find out the meaning of those hints, and who it was that should do this thing. Could our hearts so stand, beloved, before the searchings and discernings of the Spirit of judgment! Conscious love is bold as a lion.) And so, by-and-by, there will be room again for the display of the glory, when the Son of Man shall have gathered out of His kingdom all things that offend, and all that do iniquity; when the traitor shall again go out, then shall the glory be witnessed, and the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. The floor once purged, the sheaves of glory will be gathered into the garner.
John 14-16
Having thus passed, in spirit, through the night, and taken His place in the day that lay beyond it, the Lord turns to His disciples, and in these chapters, as the Prophet of the heavenly things, instructs and comforts them, telling them of the mystery of His own heavenly priesthood, and of their calling and duties and blessings as the Church of God still sojourning on earth during the exercise of that priesthood.
The priesthood of the Son of God, or the present dispensation, during which He is on the Father’s throne, and we in the kingdom of the Son of God’s love, was a secret with God hid from the thoughts of Israel altogether. The “little while” was a stage in the divine procedure of which both the Jews and the disciples were equally ignorant (John 7:3636What manner of saying is this that he said, Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come? (John 7:36); John 16:1717Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? (John 16:17)). They had all thought that Christ was to abide forever (John 12:3434The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? (John 12:34)); for their prophets had spoken of Him in connection with earthly dominion. There were, however, many intimations, both from prophecy and from history, which might have prepared them for this. Joseph’s residence and glory in Egypt, and, during that time, his forgetfulness of his kindred in Canaan until stress of famine brought them to him, had typified this mystery. So had Moses’ sojourn in Midian. (See Acts 7). We may judge, no doubt, that both Joseph and Moses had constant recollections of their own people, and many a desire toward them, while separated from them—but it was an untold desire. So we know that the Lord is now mindful of Jerusalem, her walls are continually before Him, engraven on the psalms of His hands. But apparently He is to them as a dismayed man, as a mighty man that cannot save (Ezek. 14:99And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. (Ezekiel 14:9)).
And, beside those typical histories, the prophets had spoken directly of this mystery. They had foretold Jerusalem’s widowhood, which was to continue for a season. Moses at the beginning had left a standing testimony with Israel, that the Lord for a time would hide His face from them, and provoke them to jealousy by those who were “not a people” (Deut. 32). David had said that Messiah, as his Lord, should for a while sit at the right hand of God. (See Psa. 110.) Isaiah had a vision of Christ in the heavenly glory, during a season of judgment on Israel (Isa. 6). Ezekiel saw the glory leave the city, and then, after a season, return to it. And the Lord had said, by Hosea, “I will go and return unto My place, until they acknowledge their offence, and seek My face: in their affliction they will seek Me early.” In His own ministry the Lord Jesus had already referred to the same mystery. In Matthew He corrects the thought that Christ was to abide forever, by a recital of those scriptures which spoke of the rejection of the Stone by the builders. In Luke He had shown, by the parable of the nobleman going into a far country, that there was to be an interval between the first appearing of Messiah, and His appearing in His kingdom. But now, in our Gospel, He treats of this matter more fully, showing the character of this interval, or of His session for a while at the right hand of God in heaven.
Having, therefore, closed His public ministry, and being in retirement with the disciples, He occupies Himself with this subject. In the action of the thirteenth chapter, in the teaching of these fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters, and again in the action of the seventeenth, it is the heavenly priesthood that He is variously either exhibiting or teaching; thus showing that, in His present interval of separation from Israel, He is blessedly occupying Himself for the Church. In sympathies and intercessions, in the diligence and wakefulness of One whose eye is over them, He is all action towards His saints now. He is separated from His brethren according to the flesh, it is true, but He is, meanwhile, like Moses, tending the flock of His Father at the Mount of God, far away from both Egypt’s pollutions and Israel’s unbelief, tasting the comforts of a beloved home and family, in holy retirement.
An impression of a very happy character lies on my mind from reading the opening of John 14. It is this. Our Lord assumes that His ministry had brought the Father so near to them that His disciples ought to have concluded that His house was their home. There is great consolation in this.
The Lord’s ministry had been such a revelation of the Father’s love to them, that it would have been strange indeed had this not been the case. Such a thing would have been an exception, and, therefore, to have been noticed. But that there were mansions for them, as well as for Him, in the Father’s house, was so fully in character with all His previous works and words, that such a fact, such a truth, needed no mention at all. It was a necessary conclusion. All family privileges were theirs, and of course the family mansion was their home.
What a conclusion for faith to be entitled to draw, without direct instruction! Nay, we should be chargeable with spiritual dullness, if we did not draw it! How could such a ministry as that of Jesus, “the Son of the Father,” tell of anything less than this, that the Father’s own house was to be our home forever?
“Unfathomable wonder, and mystery divine,” I may again say. All we need is that spirit of childlike faith which rests in the reality of such surpassing grace.
Would that His family were refreshing the solitude of the Son of God better than they do! Would that they were a more “beautiful flock” for His care and tendance at the Mount of God! a more joyous scene to compensate Him for His present loss of Israel! But He has laid down His life for them, He has given Himself for the sheep, and in His love He abideth faithful.
And these chapters, I may further say, show us that the ministry of the Son had done nothing that was effectual upon the hearts of His disciples. For so the divine order ran—the Father had worked hitherto, the Son was now working, but the Holy Spirit had also to work, before the Church could be set in her place. And thus it is not until now we get the name of God fully revealed. The revelation of it shines gradually more and more brightly as dispensations advance. But this is a great subject.
In Genesis 1 it is simply “God” that we see and hear. It is “God” Who goes through the six days’ work, and then rests on the seventh. But in Genesis 2 it is “the Lord God” that we see and hear. And these are two stages in God’s revelation of Himself. In the first chapter we see Him coming forth as God simply, for His own delight and glory. He takes His full delight in the work, beholding it all to be very good, and He glorifies Himself by the work, setting over it one in His own image, the representative of Himself. But in the second chapter we see “the Lord God,” that is, God in a covenanted character, God entered upon purposes and plans for the blessing of His creature. And, therefore, much of the previous detail of the work, as it proceeded under the hand of “God,” is omitted, and many things are brought into view which had no place before. Thus we have, in strong relief, and which we had not at all in the first chapter, the garden and the river, the manner of creating the man, of investing him with dominion, of forming the woman, and of instituting their union—and we have also the mystic trees, and the commandment with its penalty—for all these concerned the place and blessing of the creature in covenant with “the Lord God.” (We are conscious, when we utter the word “Lord,” that we speak of One nearer to us, more our own, than when we say simply “God.”)
Thus did He begin to unfold His name to us; and after these first notices of “God” and “the Lord God,” we get the name “God Almighty,” published to Abram. This was a further revelation of Himself. And this was done when Abram was “Past age,” and had nothing to lean upon but the almightiness, or all-sufficiency, of God (Gen. 17:11And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. (Genesis 17:1)). In this name, which declared this needed sufficiency, God led him; and Isaac and Jacob after him; for they were all strangers and pilgrims on the earth, having nothing but the promise of an Almighty Friend for their stay and staff (Gen. 28,35,48). In process of time, however, God was known to His people by another name. Bringing them into the covenant, into the promised inheritance, He calls Himself “Jehovah”; that is, the covenant God of Israel (Ex. 6:1-61Then the Lord said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. 2And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord: 3And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. 4And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers. 5And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. 6Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: (Exodus 6:1‑6)). And under God as Jehovah Israel takes her seat in Canaan.
But still, all this did not communicate God in the full glory of His name. There was grace in God, and there were gifts by grace, which these ways of His did not fully unfold. But this is done in the name which is now published to us—the name of “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” This is the full name or glory of our God; and grace, and the gifts of grace, are effectually brought to us by that dispensation which publishes it. (The believer will ever take his sweetest delight in the last or fullest revelation of God. And by this the believer and the mere man of science are distinguished. The merely philosophic man will allow the divine hand to be displayed in creation; he will own “God” in the plants and the cattle, for instance; but the garden and the river, and the married pair, which “the Lord God” has to do with, have no attraction for him; but these are the objects that chiefly engage the believer’s thoughts.)
Thus it was not until the present age that the full name and glory of our God were published. The Father had been working, it is true (see John 5), in all ages of the Jewish times; but still, Israel were put nationally under God simply as “Jehovah.” The revelation of “the Father” had to wait for the ministry of the Son, and certain dispensations had to finish their course before the Son could come forth. The Son could not have been the minister of the law—such ministry would not have been worthy of Him who is in the bosom of the Father. It was committed to angels. And the Son did not come forth in ministry until the “great salvation” was ready to be published (Heb. 2:1-31Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. 2For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; 3How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; (Hebrews 2:1‑3)). So the manifestation of the Holy Spirit waited for its due time. The Holy Spirit could not wait on the ministry of the law, any more than could the Son. Smoke and lightning and the voice of thunder were there (Ex. 19); but the Holy Spirit came forth, with His gifts and powers, to wait on the ministry of the Son, on the publication of the great salvation (Heb. 2:33How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; (Hebrews 2:3)). The Spirit of God could not be a spirit of bondage gendering fear—the law may do that, but the Holy Spirit must gender confidence. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
Until the Son of God had finished His works, the Holy Spirit could not come forth. The heart must first be purged from an evil conscience, so that the temple might be sanctified for the indwelling Spirit, and the holy furniture (that is, the spirit of liberty and adoption, and the knowledge of glory) must be prepared for this temple; and all this could be done only by the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son. The revelation of the Holy Spirit waited for these things. He had been, it is true, the holy power in all, from the beginning. He had spoken by the prophets. He was the strength of judges and kings. He was the power of faith, of service, and of suffering, in all the people of God. But all this was below the place which He now takes in the Church. His indwelling in us, as in His temple, had not been of old; but now He does so dwell, spreading out a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy. As the Spirit of wisdom He gives us “the mind of Christ,” spiritual senses for the discerning of good and evil. As the Spirit of worship He enables us to call God “Father,” and Jesus “Lord.” He also makes intercession for us, with groanings that cannot be uttered. He sheds abroad in the heart “the love of God,” and causes us “to abound in hope.” He is in us a well of water springing up into everlasting life; and He is the source also of “rivers of living water,” flowing forth from us to refresh the weary. And He forms the saints together as “a spiritual house,” where “spiritual sacrifices” are offered; no longer admitting “a worldly sanctuary,” and “carnal ordinances”; for they are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit; and gifts, causing them all to grow up into Christ in all things, are dispensed among them.
These are some of the ways of the Holy Spirit in His kingdom within the saint: these are His works which shine in the place of His dominion. He is there an Earnest, an Unction, and a Witness. He tells us “plainly of the Father,” and takes of the things of Christ, to show them to us (John 16:14-1514He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. 15All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:14‑15)). His presence in us is so pure, that there is no evil that He does not resent and grieve over (Eph. 4:3030And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)); and yet so tender and sympathizing, that there is nothing of godly sorrow that He does not feel and groan over (Rom. 8:2323And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:23)). He causes hope to abound; He imparts the sense of full divine favor; He reads to our conscience a title to calm and entire assurance. There is nothing of feebleness, or narrowness, or uncertainty in the place of His power. His operations savor of a kingdom, and a kingdom of God too, full of beauty and strength. We have to own how little we live in the virtue and sunshine of it; but still, this is what it is in itself, though our narrow and hindered hearts so poorly possess themselves of it. And His handiwork is to have its praise from us; and His glory in His temples is to be declared. It is well to be humbled at times by testing ourselves in reference to such an indwelling kingdom; but the kingdom itself is not to be so measured. (I must observe here something that again strikes me as being highly characteristic of this Gospel by John. The name of God is published in a formal manner in Matthew; it is published, as I may say, literally, or in the strict terms and syllables of it. (See Matt 28:19). But in this Gospel, as we have now seen in these chapters, it is published after a moral method; the knowledge of that name, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” being conveyed to the soul through a revelation of their several acts and ways in the economy of our salvation and blessing.)
Precious, I need not say, beloved, all this mystery is. The whole order of things to which we are introduced tells us (and this is full of richest comfort) that it is God and not ourselves we have now immediately to do with. In the law it was otherwise. The law dealt with us immediately, saying, “Thou shalt,” and “Thou shalt not.” But now it is God we have first to do with. We are absolutely summoned away from ourselves, and are not to remember whether we were Jews or Greeks. We have God to look to, God to hear, God to do with. And this is the highest possible point of blessing for a sinner to apprehend—so blessed is it that Satan does what he can to keep us short of it, to make the ear heavy to the voice of God, the eye dim to the ways and works of God, and the heart irresponsive to the love of God. He would willingly busy us with anything that the light of the glory of the Gospel of Christ, who is the Image of God, may not shine in. He makes some busy with thoughts of their righteousness, and others busy with thoughts of their sins, that he may keep them, either through vain glory or fear, apart from God Himself.
Now, to draw the disciples from a mere Jewish place into this elevation, and by this to comfort them under the sense of His absence, is the Lord’s great purpose in the discourse which He holds with them in these chapters, the like to which never passed between the sons of men—the heart and mind of God had never before so largely and blessedly communicated their treasures to the desires and thoughts of His people, as now the Lord was doing. Most sacred moments of communion between heaven and earth were these!
At the beginning the Lord says, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me.” This at once gives them notice of another Object of faith than what they as yet had. God, in the sense of these words, had been already known to Israel. The disciples, in their Jewish place, were already believers in God. The Lord here allows that, as He had before asserted, speaking to the woman of Samaria: “We [that is, Jews] know what we worship.” The Jews had God; their faith was not wrong, but only defective, and the Lord would now fill it out. He would now have them to know the Father through the Son—and the whole of this discourse with His disciples furthers this design. He speaks particularly of the Father, and promises the Comforter to make these things (the things of the Father and the Son) known to them.
This was the character of grace which this Gospel at the beginning intimated, when John wrote, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” And this early notice of the value and power of the Son’s ministry is, in these chapters, largely unfolded. But while this is happening, we have several forms of Jewish ignorance brought out—necessarily so, I may say, for Israel did not stand in this knowledge into which the Lord was now leading them. Thomas is ignorant of Christ’s departure and separation from this earth, and says, “Lord, we know not whither Thou goest”; for Israel had been taught that Christ was to abide forever. Philip betrays his unacquaintedness with the Father; for it was not the knowledge of the Father in the Son that Israel had been led into. Judas wondered at any glory but the manifested, worldly glory of Messiah; for such was Israel’s hope. And they all stand amazed at the mystery of the “little while.” But out of these thoughts the heavenly Prophet is leading them. They had been already drawn out from the apostate nation, as God’s remnant accepting Jesus as Messiah come from God; but they had still to know the Son as come from the Father, who while He was with them, had been showing them the Father, who was now about to return to the Father, and who would come again to take them home to the Father. These were the great things of His love which their divine Prophet here reveals to them; but these were as yet strange things unto them.
But the course of our Lord’s own thoughts through this conversation, is only for a while interrupted by these defective Jewish thoughts of His disciples. His purpose was to elevate them to the sense of their calling, as the Church of God, and thus to comfort them; and that purpose He steadily follows, however He may, for a time, have to rebuke their slowness of heart. Thus: in the interruption occasioned by Peter (John 13:36-14:136Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. 37Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. 38Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. 1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. (John 13:36‑14:1)), the Lord, in answering Peter, is called to contemplate and foretell his faithlessness, and denial of Him; but this does not turn out of their course the thoughts, of kindness about him and the rest of them which the Lord was pursuing. “Let not your heart be troubled,” says the gracious Master, immediately after forewarning Peter of his sin. So, at the close of the conversation, He had to tell them that the hour was then at hand when every one of them would go to his own, and leave Him alone; and yet, without allowing an interruption of His flow of love towards them for a single moment, He at once resumes His own thoughts, saying to them, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
And so, beloved, with His saints ever since. We may, through our own folly, have to listen to the “cock crowing” to receive rebuke, go out, and weep; but the heart of Jesus does not repent of His purposed kindness toward us. His purpose is to save, and He will save. His purpose is to bless, and who shall hinder? He has not beheld iniquity in His people. They are to have peace accomplished for them by His death, life brought to them by His resurrection, and glory to be hereafter theirs at His return. These are their blessings and of these He tells them, in spite of all slowness of heart or unworthiness, for their comfort under the sense of His going away.
The works that Jesus did, in Matthew’s Gospel, are owned to be those of the Son of David (John 12:2323And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. (John 12:23)). They are there the seals of His Messiahship. But here the Lord offers them to His disciples as the seals of His Sonship of the Father. He would have them looked upon, not merely as tokens that He could order the kingdom of Israel, according to the promises of the prophets (Isa. 35:5-65Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:5‑6)), but as witnesses that He was the Dispenser of the Father’s grace and power; for He says, “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works’ sake.” And this is in full consistency with our Gospel. And the “greater works,” which He immediately afterwards promises that believers in Him should do, as I judge, works of the same character, works that were to savor of the Father’s grace, such as the bringing of condemned sinners into the liberty of the children of God. As Paul says, “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.” And so is it still. Sinners are still brought into the liberty of dear children. “I will not leave you orphans,” says the Lord in this place: “I will come to you.” “Because I live, ye shall live also.” No orphanage for them, no lamentation from them, as there was from Israel, that they were fatherless (John 14:1818I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. (John 14:18) margin; Lam. 5:33We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows. (Lamentations 5:3)). The adoption of the saints during the orphanage of Israel is here brought out by the Lord in terms of deep and wondrous meaning. They were to know that He was in the Father, and they in Him, and He in them. THE FATHER is the holy burden here.
And there is a little action of the Lord’s that I must notice. At the close of the fourteenth chapter He says, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you”; by this telling them, that, before He left this world, He would leave His peace behind Him—peace for them as sinners accomplished by His death. And after thus telling them of peace, He says, “Arise, let us go hence.” Upon which we may assume that they all rise from the paschal table, and walk forth toward the Mount of Olives; and then it is, that He at once presents Himself to them as, in resurrection, their Life, the Source of quickening power, saying, “I am the Vine; ye are the branches.”
There is a beauteous significancy in the whole of this action. He sits at the paschal table until peace had been pronounced, for on that table the pledges of their peace were at that moment spread; but as He rises from it, He tells them of their resurrection-life—life that they were to know as in Him, risen above the power of death—the true Vine. And He tells them that there is no other life but this; saying “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered.” And, having thus disclosed to them the only root of life, He shows them the joys and holy prerogatives of this life, teaching them that they were to have His own joy, the joy of the Son, fulfilled in them, and were also to enter into the dignity and grace of friendship with their Lord, and to assure themselves that His glory and their blessing were now but one interest; and, moreover, that the Father’s great purpose was to glorify the Son as this Vine, or Head of life; that having planted it as the only Witness of life in the earth, which is the scene of death, the Father would watch over it with the care and diligence of a husbandman. This the Lord here shows to be the Father’s present care, to have the Vine in beauty and fruitfulness, to glorify Jesus as the Head of Life, as by-and-by He will glorify Him on the throne of glory as Heir of All Things. In old times the eye of God was upon the land of Israel, as her Husbandman (Deut. 11:1212A land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:12)); but now it is watching over this vine, which His own hand has planted.
All this told the disciples of exceeding riches of grace. But on the other hand He tells them, that this union with Him was to separate them from the world; this friendship with Him was to expose them to the world’s hatred. The world was soon to express its full enmity to God, and then to them. The revelation of God in love, the revelation of the Father in and by the Son, was soon about to be fully refused by the world. This was hatred indeed, hatred “without a cause,” hatred for love. The cross of Christ was soon to present man’s fullest hatred meeting God’s fullest love. Ignorant of the Father, it might be still zealous for God, and think to do God service by killing the children of the Father. For there may be zeal for the synagogue, yea, and for the God of the synagogue, with entire separation from the spirit of that dispensation which publishes riches of grace, and reveals the Father in the Son.
But this view of the sorrows which His saints might endure from the world, leads the Lord to exhibit the services of the promised Comforter in them and for them still more blessedly. He tells them that the Comforter would stand for them against the world, convicting it of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, but at the same time dwelling in them the Witness of their Father’s love, and their Lord’s glory. This comfort He provides for them against the day of the world’s hatred.
And here let me observe, that the Spirit was now to be received from the Father. God had approved Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:22); but it was from the Father that the Holy Spirit was to be received, and He would approve His presence according to this. Look at the character of His presence in the Church, immediately on His being given (Acts 2). What an oil of gladness, what a Spirit of liberty and largeness of heart, is He in the saints there! Jesus had received Him in the ascended place, where He Himself had been made full of joy with God’s countenance, and giving Him forth from such a place, He manifests Himself here accordingly, imparting at once something of that joy of God’s countenance into which their Lord had entered. They gladly received the word, ate their bread with gladness, and praised God. And this joy could easily dry up other sources. They parted with what might have secured human delights and provided for natural desires. The Holy Spirit in them was joy and liberty and largeness of heart. It was the Spirit “of the Father.” It was the reflection on the saints here of that light which had fallen on Jesus in the holiest. The oil had run down from the beard to the skirts of the clothing (Psalm 133).
Indeed, we can form but a poor idea of the value of such a dispensation as this which the Comforter was now to bring, to a soul that had been under the spirit of bondage and of fear gendered by the law. What thoughts of judgment to come were now bidden to depart! What fears of death were now to yield to the consciousness of present life in the Son of God! And what would all this be but anointing with an oil of gladness? And the disciples, by this discourse, were under training for this joy and liberty. The schoolmaster was soon to give up his charge—his rod and his book of elements were now to be dispensed with—and in this discourse, the Son is leading the children on their way home to their Father from under such tutors and governors, and they are soon to reach the Father, that they might know, through the Holy Spirit, the liberty and joy of adoption. (See Gal. 3-4.)
Such was this interesting hour to the Church. The Holy Spirit, the Witness of the Father and the Son, and thus the Spirit of adoption, was soon to be imparted, and they were now led forth from the school of the law to wait for it. With thoughts of the Father and of the Son, and of the Church’s interests in all their love, the Holy Spirit was now to fill the saints. And this accordingly He does in our dispensation. He tells us, as the Lord here promises He should, of the delight that the Father has in the Son, of His purpose to glorify Him, and of our place in that delight and glory. He takes of these things and the like, and shows them unto us.
Look at Genesis 24, a well-known and much enjoyed scripture. It sets forth the election of a bride for the Son by the Father—but the place which the servant occupies in it, is just the place of the Holy Spirit in the Church, ministering (as in divine grace) to the joys of the Son and the Church, in perfecting the purposes of the Father’s love. In that scene, the servant of Abraham tells Rebecca of the way in which God had prospered his master—what a favored and beloved one Isaac was, how he had been the child of old age, and how Abraham had made him the heir of all his possessions. He discloses to her the counsels which Abraham had taken touching a wife for this much loved son of his, and lets her see clearly her own election of God to fill that holy and honored place. And at last he puts upon her the pledges of this election and of Isaac’s love.
Nothing could be more touching and significant than the whole scene. Would that our hearts knew more of the power of all this, under the Holy Spirit, as Rebecca knew it under the hand of Abraham’s servant! It was because he had filled her with thoughts of Abraham and of Isaac, and of her own interest in them, that she was ready to go with this stranger all alone across the desert. Her mind was formed by these thoughts; and she was prepared to say to her country, her kindred, and her father’s house, “I will go.” And the thoughts of our heavenly Father’s love, and our Isaac’s delight in us, can still give us holy separation from this defiled place where we dwell. Communion with the Father and the Son through the Comforter, is the holy way of distinguishing the Church from the world. There may be the fear of a coming judgment working something of actual separation from it, or the pride of the Pharisee working religious separation from it, but the present knowledge of the Father’s love and the hope of the coming glories of the Son, can alone work a divine separation from its course and its spirit.
The Father’s love, of which the Comforter testifies, is an immediate love. It is the love of God that has visited the world in the gift of His Son (John 3:1616For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)); but the moment this love of God is believed, and the message of reconciliation which it has set forth is received, then are believers entitled, through the riches of grace, to know the Father’s love, a love that is an immediate love, as the Lord here tells us (John 16:26-2726At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: 27For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. (John 16:26‑27)). It is of this love of the Father, as well as of the glory of the Son, that the Comforter tells us on the way homeward. He is our Companion for all the journey, and this is His discourse with us. How did the servant, I doubt not (to return to the same chapter, Gen. 24), as he accompanied Rebecca across the desert, tell her further of his master, adding many things to what he had already told her in Mesopotamia; for he had been the confidant of his master, and had known him from the beginning. He knew his desire for a son, and God’s promise and God’s faithfulness. He knew of Abraham’s victory over the kings, of his rescue of Lot, and meeting with Melchizedek. He knew of the covenant, the pledge of the inheritance. He knew of the dismissal of Ishmael from the house, and of Isaac’s walk in it without a rival—of the mystic journey up Mount Moriah, and of Isaac being thus alive from the dead. All this he knew, and all this doubtless he told her of, as they travelled on together, with these recollections and prospects delighting her, though her back was now turned, and turned forever, upon her country and her father’s house. And, beloved, were we more consciously on the way with the Comforter, the way would to us in like manner be beguiled by His many tales of love and glory, whispering of the Father and of the Son to our inmost souls. Be it so with us, Thy poor people, blessed Lord, more and more!
John 17
After thus comforting them with the knowledge of their standing, as the family of the Father, and, as it were, making gracious amends to them for His own absence from them “after the flesh,” and the hatred they were to suffer from the world, the Lord again exhibits, in this chapter, one of His priestly services, as He had done in John 13. But the services are different; both, however, together constituting a full presentation of His ways as our Advocate in the heavenly temple. In chapter 13 He had, as it were, laid one hand on the defiled feet of His saints, here He lays the other hand on the throne of the Father—forming, thus, a chain of marvelous workmanship reaching from God to sinners. In chapter 13 His body was girded, and He was stooping down towards our feet—here, His eyes are lifted up, and He is looking in the face of the Father. What that is asked for us, by One Who thus fills up the whole distance between the bright throne of God and our defiled feet, can be denied? All must be granted—such a One is heard always.
Thus we get the sufficiency and acceptance of the Advocate; and we may notice the order in which He makes His requests, and lays His claims, before the Father.
First—He makes request in behalf of the Father’s own glory. “Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee.” His first thought was upon the Father’s interest; as He had before taught His disciples, before they presented their own desires and necessities, to say, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”
Life eternal the Lord lays in the Father’s hand; saying, “As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him.” By this our Mediator bows to the truth of God, which Satan of old had traduced, and which man had questioned (Gen. 3:44And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: (Genesis 3:4)). But He then adds, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent”—owning that life is now to be had only through redemption, that it is not the life of a creature merely, but of a ransomed creature, a life rescued for us from the power of death by the grace of the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour.
Secondly—He claims His own glory. “Glorify Thou Me with Thine own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” And this claim He grounds upon His having finished the work that had been given Him to do; saying, “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” For this was a work into which no blot had entered, in which, therefore, God could rest and be refreshed, as in His works of old; a work which the Father might behold, and say of it, “It is all very good” in which He might again find a Sabbath.
And this is the believer’s comfort, that he sees his salvation depending on a finished work, in which God smells “a savor of rest” (Gen. 8:2121And the Lord smelled a sweet savor; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. (Genesis 8:21) margin). At the beginning, on finishing the work of creation, God sanctified the seventh day, resting, in full satisfaction, in all that His hand had formed. But that rest man disturbed, so that God repented that He had made man on the earth. Again, in due time, the Lord provided for Himself another rest, erecting a tabernacle in Canaan, and offering to Israel a place in that rest, giving them His Sabbath (Ex. 31:1313Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. (Exodus 31:13)). By the sword of Joshua, this rest in Canaan was first made good to Israel (Joshua 21:44; 23:144And the Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. (Joshua 21:44)
1And it came to pass a long time after that the Lord had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age. (Joshua 23:1)
); and then under the throne of Solomon (1 Chron. 22:99Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days. (1 Chronicles 22:9)). But Israel, like Adam, disturbed this rest—the land did not keep her Sabbath, for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein (2 Chron. 36:2121To fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years. (2 Chronicles 36:21)). The blessed God has now found another and a sure rest, a rest that can never be lost or disturbed. In the work finished by the Lord Jesus Christ (and which the Lord here presents to Him) God again rests, as in His works of old, with fullest complacency. This finished work is altogether according to His mind. By the resurrection of Christ, the Father has said of it, “Behold, it is very good.” It is His rest forever; He has an abiding delight in it. His eyes and His heart are upon it continually. The work of Christ accomplished for sinners has given God a rest. That is a thought full of blessing to the soul. And when faith sets a right value, that is, God’s value, on the blood of Christ, there is rest, God’s own rest, for the soul. But it is then that the saint (or believing sinner) begins his toil. The moment I rest as a sinner, I begin my labor as a saint. The rest for the saint is a rest that remaineth; and therefore it is written, “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” The sinner rests now; the saint labors still, and will until the kingdom come.
Thirdly—He prays for His people. He asks that they might be kept through the Father’s name, and sanctified through the Father’s truth, so that they might be one in the communion of the Son’s joy now; and He asks that they might be with Him where He is, and there behold His glory, and be one with Him in His glory hereafter. These are large requests. The divine Advocate would have all His saints one. (See vss. 11,21). But this oneness is not such, I judge, as it is commonly interpreted to be—a manifested ecclesiastical oneness. It is a oneness in personal knowledge of, and fellowship with, the Father and the Son—oneness in spirit, in the spirit of their minds, each of them having the “Spirit of adoption,” which was the peculiar grace and power of that dispensation which He, the Son, was about to introduce. The desire is, that such a spirit might have its course in the hearts of each and all of the elect now to be gathered.
Has this failed? That could not be. And all the epistles witness to us that it has not. For there we find the saints in every place, whether Jew or Gentile, considered as kept by the Father in His own name; kept as sons, as “accepted in the Beloved,” as having the “Spirit of adoption,” as being brought together into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. All such statements are assertions that this desire of the great Advocate had been answered, each believer having the joy of the Son fulfilled in himself, and thus all of them one in the spirit of their minds. This desire does not, I assuredly judge, respect any ecclesiastical condition of things. That thought has led to many a human effort among the saints. They have condemned themselves for not realizing this prayer of the Lord by a manifestation of unity; and then they have taken means to bring this about. But I ask, Is this prayer of the Lord made contingent on the energies of the saints? Is it not addressed to the Father, for what rested simply in the good pleasure, and power, and gift of the Father? Surely. It appealed to the Father, that He would keep the elect in His name, sanctify them by His truth, and impart to them, the joy of the Son, so that each might have that joy fulfilled in himself.
This desire has been realized. The spirit of the Son is equally for each and all of the saints, and they are one in that spirit and in that joy. When the due season comes, we shall see the other desires of this chapter also made good. All who are to receive the testimony have not yet been called, nor has the glory yet shone out and been imparted to them, so that as yet the world has neither believed nor known that the Father has sent the Son (See vss. 21, 23). The world as yet knows them not (1 John 3:11Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. (1 John 3:1)). But in their season these requests will be answered. And so, in like manner, the vision of glory (See vs. 24). As far as we have gone in divine dispensation, the desires have been answered; the rest only wait for their season.
To us, however, beloved, it is most comforting to find that all these glorious desires for the saints our Lord grounds simply on this, that they had received the Son’s testimony about the Father, and had believed surely in the Father’s love. “I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me.”
But how full of blessing it is, to see that we are presented before God simply as believing that love! How surely does it tell us, that the pleasure of our God is this, that we should know Him in love, know Him as the Father, know Him according to the words of Him whom He had sent. This is joy and liberty. And it is indeed only as having seen God in love, seen the Father and heard the Father in Jesus, that makes us the family. It is not the graces that adorn us, or the services that we render, but simply that we know the Father. It is this which distinguishes the saint from the world, and gives him his standing, as here, in the presence of the Father. It is simply this (as the Mediator here tells the Father about us), that we have received His word, received the Son’s testimony of love brought from the Father.
Thus does the divine Advocate plead before the throne. The Father’s glory, His own, and His people’s, are all provided for and secured. And having thus poured forth the desires of His soul, He commits “the world,” the great enemy, to the notice of the righteous Father. “O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee.” For it had now proved itself to be a world that indeed knew not the Father, that hated Him whom the Father had sent, and out of which the Lord was now drawing His people. He does not, however, call for judgment upon it; but leaves it simply under the notice of the “righteous Father,” to whose judgment it belonged.
And it is merely as being ignorant of the Father that the Lord presents the world. He does not arraign its sins before the throne, but simply presents it as ignorant of the Father; as before, when presenting the Church, He did not speak of her graces or services, as we saw, but simply this, that she knew the Father. For as the knowledge of the Father makes the Church what she is, so this ignorance of the Father is that which makes the world what it is. The world is that which refuses to know God in love, so as to rejoice in Him. It will make up its own pleasures, and draw from its own resources; it will have anything but the music, and the ring, and the fatted calf of the Father’s house. The world was formed by Satan in the garden of Eden. There the serpent beguiled the woman; and, being listened to and spoken with, he formed the human mind according to his own pattern. We have the history and character of this evil work in Genesis 3. God’s love and God’s word were traduced by the enemy—man believed the slander, and made God a liar. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, were planted in the soul as master-powers (Gen. 3:66And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. (Genesis 3:6); 1 John 2:1616For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:16)); and then, conscience and fear and avoidance of God became the condition into which man was cast. The man and the woman began to know that they were naked, and they hid themselves among the trees, retreating from the voice of God; and then, from the covert where they lay, they send forth excuses for themselves, and challenges of God. “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat,” says Eve—“The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” says Adam.
Such was the man then, and such has the world been, ever since. Man’s own lusts are ruling him, with dread of God, and desired distance from Him; and the secret whisper of his soul is this, that all this mischief must lie at God’s own door.
From such a world the saints are in spirit and in calling delivered, and the world itself is left, as here, for judgment. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” The world had no place in Jesus. The prince of it came and only drew from Him the full witness of this, that He loved the Father, and would do as He had commanded. (John 14:30-3130Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. 31But 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. (John 14:30‑31)). So the saints have left it. They have come forth from their covert at the voice of the Son; they have heard of the Father’s love towards them; they have believed it, and have walked forth in the sunshine of it. The promise that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head drew Adam forth from behind the trees of the garden; though dead in sins, he believed this promise of life, and came forth accordingly, calling his wife “the mother of all living.” And so, as we have seen in this chapter, it is just the believing of the message of love which the Son has brought to us from the Father—it is just this, that makes the saints what they are—an election out of the dark and distant regions where the world dwells, and where the spirit of the world breathes. And it is, as we have also seen, the refusal to listen to this message of love that keeps the world still the world. “O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee.” For men have only to receive God’s word of reconciliation, to believe His love in the gift of His Son, and then to take their happy place in His family as His chosen ones, “accepted in the Beloved.”
Here the third section of our Gospel ends. It has shown us Jesus, the Son of the Father, as our Advocate, doing His constant services for us—it has shown us also Jesus, the Son of the Father, revealing the Father to the children. The blessed God had got Himself a name, the name of “Jehovah,” by His signs and wonders in Egypt and in Israel (Jer. 32:2020Which hast set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, even unto this day, and in Israel, and among other men; and hast made thee a name, as at this day; (Jeremiah 32:20)); but now was He getting Himself another name, a name of still richer grace, the name of “Father.” This name He gets in the person and by the work of the Son of His love; and the power of it is now made effectual in the hearts of the children by the Holy Spirit.
Lo, these are parts of Thy ways, our God and Father; but how little a portion of Thee do our narrow souls understand and enjoy!
But here, before we enter on the last portion of our Gospel, I would suggest, that we receive an impression of intense personality, of a divine purpose to individualize us, when we read the writings of John. His Gospel at once gives us this. The world did not know Him who made it, Israel did not receive Him who owned them; but “as many” as received Him, He entitled and enabled to become sons of God. This we read at the beginning of the Gospel. We are addressed in our common place of ruin, and in our common character as sinners, victims of the lie of the old serpent. The scenes before us keep us in the sense of our individuality before God. They do not address us as in any relative place, or where previous dispensations may have put us; but rather where the common destruction of the nature has put us, in that “darkness,” that alienation from God, which our fall and apostasy at the beginning brought us.
What a direct, emphatic character is thus given to these scriptures! How they tell us, whether indeed it be his Gospel or his epistles that we are reading, that we are to have, and to know that we have, each one of us, our own place and interest before the living God.
And, according to this, we may observe something in the Lord’s own way in this Gospel by John that is peculiar to it, and characteristic of this intense personality of which I am speaking.
In the earlier part of it, or during His public ministry, the apostles are kept very much apart from Him; and then, in the following part, or in His interview and discourse with them, they are brought specially near to Him.
In the earlier part, or during His public ministry (John 1:1010He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (John 1:10)), we see Him very remarkably alone in His work, as, indeed, I have before observed. He does not, as in the other Gospels, appoint twelve and seventy to be the companions of His ministry; He is alone with sinners, settling with them the great interests of their souls, in the grace and virtue of the Son of God. And blessed it is to see this. It is one of the dearest thoughts to us sinners, that we may be alone with Jesus, and that apostles and churches, or fellow-saints and ordinances, are not needed for this business which is to determine our own personal, individual eternity. The well of Samaria, where the Son of the Father met the sinner, was to her as solitary a spot as Luz, of old, had been to Jacob. But like Luz to Jacob, it became Bethel to her, the very gate of heaven.
But, let me add, this being apart from His apostles or His disciples, this solitariness of the Son of God with the sinner, during His public ministry, was for the sinner’s sake, and not against the disciples. He loved His servants and companions, and would not refuse them a share in His services and rewards. But He must consult for the sinner, and will not allow him to be deprived of the deep consolation which this thought must carry with it, that in the settling of his interests for eternity, none need be with him but Himself.
This public scene of His service, however, ends with John 10, as we have already said. The fruit of grace being sealed to sinners, in due time, as we have also already said, Jesus, leaving His ministry abroad, deals with His own in secret; and then we find that He brings Himself nearer than ever, as near, indeed, as He can, as near as affection could desire.
After Judas is gone (John 13) and all is over as between Jesus and the scene around Him, and He can be alone with the disciples, as He had been with sinners, we see Him then in the dearest, closest intimacies (John 14-16). He retires to them as into the bosom of a family, letting out the fullness of His heart. Of the Father, and the Father’s house, the Father’s love, and the Father’s secrets, He speaks, promising also the Comforter to make this effectual to their souls, and that He Himself, though in a distant place, would still serve and remember them. (Because of the nearness of His heart to them, He feels their carelessness or indifference, and lets them know (as near affection would do) that He had felt this, and had been wounded by it. See John 14:2828Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. (John 14:28); John 16:55But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? (John 16:5).)
What a sight thus passes before us in the progress of this divine Gospel! If, in the earlier part, the solitude of the Son of God with the sinner made him feel as at the “gate of heaven,” what is this latter part to the soul of the saint, this intimacy of the Son of the Father with His elect, but heaven itself!
John’s is, indeed, the Gospel of the intimacies of the Son of God, first with the sinner and then with the disciple. And blessed beyond expression is such a thought, had we but hearts open and tender to receive it.
All is grace, and grace delights to display the variety of its ways, as well as the riches of its stores. Oh for a simple, believing mind, beloved, that is able to occupy itself with such secrets and such treasures!