On the Gospel of John 16

John 16  •  28 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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Now the Lord goes on to speak with them, not of the position they had enjoyed with Him upon earth, adding promises with regard to the Holy Ghost, but of what was about to take place, of the presence of the Comforter, and of the testimony He would bear. He had spoken of Him indeed in connection with the relations in which they should be with the Father: there this Comforter replaces Him, and it is the Father that sends Him.
Although the Lord comes spiritually to reveal Himself to them, and, with the Father, to comfort and strengthen them in making their abode with them in chapter 14, the Holy Ghost rather takes the place of the Lord. In chapter 15 the Savior speaks of the testimony that the Comforter would bear. The apostles, with His help, should bear testimony to what Jesus had been down here. They could not be eye-witnesses of what He is above. The testimony they would have to bear to His life down here, should be of a much more living character, more rich than a pure revelation from on high would have been, on account of the relations they had found themselves in with Him, all unintelligent as they had been. But it was a part of His life down here not to be understood by any one.
The testimony they have given to us is indeed that of the Holy Ghost (chap. 14: 26), who has chosen the incidents suitable to communicate the true character of the Savior, the divine life in Him. But the grace which manifested itself in Him was exercised every day towards them, or at least in the midst of them. Always Himself, in a life that He lived on account of the Father, He adapted Himself nevertheless (and could do it because His life was inseparable from the Father) to all the weakness of the disciples, to all that grace required from Him. It was not purely and simply a divine testimony, but as His own Person, never losing its divine perfection. His unalterable purity took all the colors that the circumstances which surrounded Him gave to this life in His grace. The account is a wholly divine account, but which, in that which it relates, expresses itself, by human hearts who have passed through it. That which Christ is on high would not be expressed thus. There all is perfect, His personal glory is accomplished. Patient gentleness, unshaken firmness, divine wisdom in the midst of evil, and of adversaries, are no longer in place; it is the glory that is revealed. And who shall reveal it, if not He who came from it, and who is in it?
In chapter 14 the Father sends the Holy Ghost in the name of Jesus, and gives us the consciousness of our place before Himself, as sons with the Son. Here, it is Christ, the Son of man, who sends Him from the Father, from whom the Holy Ghost proceeds, and He bears witness to Christ Himself. He is the " Spirit of truth," a purely divine testimony of the things that are above; the Spirit that is of God, that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God. The testimony borne to the life of Christ down here, is a testimony fully divine, but that is borne through the circumstances through which Jesus passed, and by persons who were themselves in them, so that we may know what God was in the midst of fallen humanity; immense grace that awakens all the affections of a heart taught by the Holy Ghost, and engrosses it.1
But whatever might be the privileges of which they were going to partake by the Holy Ghost's presence, they would have to undergo at the same time the consequences of their Master's rejection, a rejection which was not merely that of an enlightened reformer who was not liked, but the expression of the enmity of man's heart against God, and against God manifested in goodness. He was going on high, and was going to make them partakers of the Spirit; they remained down here, furnished no doubt, with that spiritual power up to the point of doing miracles, which would bear testimony to the source whence they came; but the continuance of the testimony and of the power, would bring against them the same hostility which had been manifested against Jesus. If they had called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more would they treat those of the household in the same way.
And more, it was a religious hatred. If a religion adapts itself to the world, and costs the selfish principle nothing, it is held to; one prides oneself upon it still more if, by the truth that is recognized, one can raise oneself above others. Now this hatred, whilst recognizing indeed its object-that is, the revelation of God in this world-was an ignorant hatred, especially for the multitudes. The hatred of the leaders was more moral, more positively diabolical, as the Lord had said to them. (chap. 8). The masses were jealous for their religion, as Paul acknowledged (Acts 22:33I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. (Acts 22:3)); the leaders detested that which was manifested, because it was the light. Terrible state! But what can a state be that opposes itself with a resolute will, with animosity, to such a Savior? The Lord says that he who should kill His disciples would think to do God service. It is what Saul of Tarsus was doing. But the leaders, the Lord said, " had both seen and hated both me and my Father."
But here some practical truths come out of what is said. It is by the revelation of a new truth that the heart is exercised and tested; I say new, at least for the heart that finds it. One gains credit by an old truth; the Jews believed in one only true God, and they were quite right. It was a privilege, a moral advantage of immense bearing. In truth, there was but that God; as far as there was reality in Paganism, the gods of the pagans were demons. But, although the pious Jew acknowledged this true God, obeyed Him and trusted in Him, it was the glory of the nation to have this God for God, and the Jew without piety boasted also in Him. But alas! he saw the power that bore witness to God's presence, elsewhere than in the temple, its earthly abode. The house, fine as it was, was empty; and a double hatred broke out against that which was the proof of it. God had brought in quite a new thing; the Father had sent the Son in grace, and had manifested Himself in Him, and this grace could not be limited to a Jew alone. It penetrated as light to the bottom of the heart of man, whether Jew or Gentile. The one and the other were sinners. The Jew had manifested it in the rejection of this Son, and sovereign grace extended itself to the Gentiles. The Jewish sinner had just as much need of it; the partition wall had fallen down at the cross. It was God and man now, not Jew and Gentile. In vain God had recognized the privileges of the Jews; in vain had He sent His Son, according to the promises, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; Israel would have none of it; they desired their own glory. From this comes that for them, the Jews, he who would destroy such a testimony, the testimony of an infinite grace, of the Father sending the Son into the world, of grace exercised in salvation towards sinners, Jews or Gentiles-he who would destroy it, I say, would do God service. He would think to render service to God, to his own God, the God who made his glory. As to the Father and Son, he did not know them; this was the new truth that put to the proof the state of his heart. A good Protestant can boast in rejecting the deification of the host, and in believing in justification by faith as a dogma: that is his glory as a Protestant. But where is his soul as to the presence of the Holy Ghost, and the expectation of the Savior? New truths always confirm the old, judging at the same time superstitions; but faith in the old, which make our own glory, is not a touchstone for the state of soul, although we are to maintain them carefully.
There is another remark of the Savior which merits our particular attention. It is simple, but exposes the state of our souls. " Now," He says, " I go unto him that hath sent me, and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? " Sorrow had filled their heart. It was very natural, and in a certain sense very right. They felt the present and actual effect of the departure of Jesus. This touched them very closely, but they judged of the circumstances entirely in connection with themselves. They had given up all for the Lord, and they were going to lose Him; and not only that, but they must give up all, that for them was connected with His presence down here; all their Jewish hopes were fading away. They felt the effect of the circumstances upon themselves, but did not think of the purposes of God which were being accomplished in those circumstances, for the Son of God was not going out of this world by an accident. It is the same thing in our most minute circumstances: not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father. That which troubled them was in reality the work of redemption. Moreover, that which constitutes our cross in this world answers to glory and happiness in the other. Preoccupation with the circumstances, hid from them heavenly things, and the glory into which the Lamb was entering.
But this remark introduces, not the heavenly glory of the Lord-though what He says depends on it-but the consequence for them down here, which is what should occupy us now. It is the coming down here of the Comforter, of the Paraclete. His presence in this world should have for its object to convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. It is not the question here of demonstrating to a man's conscience the sins of which he is guilty, but of a testimony as to the state of the world, and that by the very presence of the Holy Spirit, though He bore it also to men. Sin had been manifested for a long time in the world; the law had been transgressed; but now God Himself was come in grace. All His perfections, His goodness, and His power, which were in exercise to deliver from the effects of sin, had been manifested in this world, and all in grace towards men, with a patience which remained perfect to the end; and man would not have God. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them; but man would none of it. This is sin: not the conviction of disorderly lusts, nor of transgressions against God's law, but the final and formal rejection of God Himself. The Holy Ghost would not have been there if that had not taken place. Moreover, we have the solemn spectacle of the only righteous One, who had glorified God in everything, and had been obedient to Him in every trial, abandoned by God, when, persecuted by men, He appealed to Him, and all is over for the world. No righteousness is seen, except in the judgment of sin in the Person of Him who had not known sin, but who had been made sin before God, having offered Himself to God for that, that God might be glorified in it.
Where can we seek for righteousness down here? Not in the rejection of God by man, not in the forsaking of the righteous One by God. Where then look for it? On high. The Man Christ, in suffering thus, had perfectly glorified God in all that He is-righteousness against sin, love, majesty, truth. He gave Himself up for that. And righteousness is found in that He who gave Himself to glorify God is upon the Father's throne, seated at the right hand of God;2 of which the presence of the Holy Ghost was the witness, with this terrible consequence, that as Savior in goodness and in grace, the world would see Him no more. Thus He said: " Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man seated at the right hand of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven ": but this will be in judgment. Supreme and terrible moment for this world truly, although grace gathers many out of it for the heavenly glory, and though a remnant of the Jews should enjoy, by the same grace and in virtue of the same sacrifice, the effect of the promises to which the nation has lost all right, in rejecting the Person of Him in whom the promises are accomplished.
But although the will and lusts of men, their hatred against the light, and enmity against God, made them responsible for this crime, who was it that directed them, and concentrated their animosity on one single point? Who was it that induced the haughty indifference and the cruelty of a Pilate, warned and alarmed as he was, to connect himself, for the rejection of the Son of God, with the inconceivable hatred of the leaders of the people filled with jealousy, and the empty prejudices of the multitude? Who was it that united them to be co-partners in this crime? It was the devil. He is the prince of this world, shown and declared to be such in the death of the Savior by the hand of man, but judged by that very fact. He who ruled the world, its prince, showed himself such in the death of Him who was the Son of God come in grace. Before and after, he could excite passions, entice men's lusts, produce wars, stir up the wrongs of one against another, provide for the corrupt desires of the heart; but all this was selfish and partial. But when the Son was there, he could join all together, those who hated and despised each other, against this one object-God manifested in goodness.
The prince of this world is the adversary of God. The moment had not yet come for the judgment of this world, but its judgment was certain, for its prince, he who ruled it entirely, was Satan, the adversary of God, as the cross of Jesus showed it. Now the presence of the Holy Ghost was the proof, not only that this Jesus was recognized of God as His Son, but that, as Son of man, He was glorified at God's right hand. In fact this is the testimony of Peter, that is, of the Spirit, in Acts 2. The Holy Ghost would not have been in the world, if that had not been the case. The rupture between the world and God was complete and final: a solemn truth not sufficiently considered. The question that God puts to the world is: " Where is My Son; what hast thou done with Him? "
But is not this presence of the Spirit an advantage, a better thing for the world? Is it not a more blessed relationship than all that has preceded? Blessed be God! sovereign grace is in exercise toward the world in virtue of the death of Christ; but, except His sovereign rights, God has no relationship with the world. The Holy Ghost is amongst the saints and in the saints, but as we have read, the world cannot receive Him: He is given to believers. Between the rejection and the return of Christ, He bears witness to the grace manifested in the death of Jesus, and to the glory in which Christ is, to bring those who believe in Him into a heavenly association with the last Adam, delivering them from this present evil world. And it remains ever true, that " if any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him "; and that " the friendship of the world is enmity against God." Now these new relationships are maintained by the Spirit in these earthen vessels; later on, those who possess this Spirit shall be glorified with the Lord Himself. Later still, when the judgment shall have been executed, this same grace towards man will establish the Lord, according to what is due to Him, and according to the eternal counsels of God, over a blessed world, where the enemy's power will not be exercised. But this is not our subject here.
Now it is with the last Adam who is from heaven, with the glorified Son of man, we have to do. That which exists is a complete rupture between the world and God, and a heavenly Christ who has accomplished redemption. But the testimony that the Holy Ghost bears, the truth of which He is the proof, is twofold, and divides itself here. What we have gone through is the testimony that His presence down here bears with regard to the world; that which follows is what He should do for the disciples amongst whom He was found.
What a solemn judgment is that that has just been before us, coming from the mouth of the Lord Himself! The whole world lying in sin by its refusal to receive the Savior come in grace; righteousness according to God not to be found save on the throne on high, where it had placed Him whom the world had rejected, and in that the world would see Him no more as such; finally, if the execution of judgment was still deferred, this last was not the less certain, for he who was in possession of the world, had shown that he was the adversary of God, in leading on the world that he had subjected to himself, to crucify the Lord.
But with regard to the disciples, the Spirit would reveal the truth fully to them, and lead their minds into the knowledge of all the truth. The truth is the manner in which God regards all things, and what He reveals of Himself, of His own thoughts, and of His own counsels. Now Christ is the expression of it on the positive side, as being God manifested to man, and Man perfect before God. Being the light, He manifests all that is not according to God's thoughts. The veil too, being rent, and Christ having entered into heaven as Man, and seated at God's right hand, that which was not within the province of human knowledge, " that which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard," the Spirit reveals, and He reveals even the deepest things of God. All, from God's eternal throne down to hades, and from hades up to the throne of God, and redemption which is connected with it, all is disclosed. And it is in Christ that all this revelation is made to us; but also, all that is revealed on God's part belongs to Him. " All that the Father hath is mine," He says; and it is not only that which is of God, as God, as creation for example, but all that which, in the counsels of grace, forms the new creation in relationship with the Father; that belongs to Him.
Thus the Holy Spirit would take of what was of Christ and show it to the disciples, and this was all that the Father possessed. Grace and truth were come in Christ into the midst of the old creation. Man refused this grace, and rejected this truth, but now God would communicate to those who should believe in Christ the new things that were in His counsels, of which Christ was the center and the fullness.
Into what a glorious scene we are here introduced, a scene which replaces that which the disciples were losing by the death of the Messiah! All the glory which belongs to the Person of the Son, whether as the One in whom all the counsels of God are concentrated, or as to what He is in Himself, is fully revealed. If, in that which we have first gone through, we have found the terrible but just judgment of the world, what a glorious scene, I repeat, opens itself here in the revelations which the Holy Ghost communicates relative to this new creation, of which the second Man is the center, He, the Son of God who reveals the Father-another world, where all that is in the Father and of the Father is revealed.
But this involved the death and resurrection of Christ, the end of all connection with the old creation, and a new state of man for the new. Now the glory of this new creation was not yet revealed, nor even established objectively; but the state of man subjectively, a state immortal, pure, spiritual even as to the body, was realized in the resurrection, even while the external glory was still wanting. The new and eternal thing existed in the Person of Christ, and as to Him personally, it was realized in that He was going to His Father, the source of all, " the Father of glory "-as it is said.
Now this new state of man was familiarly manifested to the disciples, during the forty days that the Lord passed upon earth after His resurrection, before He ascended to heaven. The return of the Savior, when He shall come back in His glory, will be the moment when His dominion will be established over all things, when God will put them all under His feet, with an authority and power that He will make use of to subject them to Himself. Now that of which we speak, whether with regard to the state of man, or relative to the glory, is evidently something more than the presence of the Holy Ghost, precious as that is, and it is that which now occupies the Lord. The Holy Ghost was to be given to the disciples, but more than this, He should see them again. No doubt they would see Him, when He will return in glory, but then it will be no longer a question of a testimony to render. Before that time they should see Him for a little while, for He would then go to His Father. This was the introduction of the disciples into the realization of that new state which Christ inaugurated by His resurrection, Son of God in power. They should see the second Man beyond death, and be in living communication with Him. It was not the revelation of the glorious things of the new creation by the Holy Ghost; this revelation was going to be given to them: it was Christ Himself, the Christ they had known during the days of His flesh. " Handle me," He said, " and see that it is I myself." Touching and precious word! It was He whom they had known and accompanied every day and all day, who had borne with their infirmities, sustained their faith and encouraged their hearts; it was the same Jesus who showed Himself as familiarly with them as before, though in quite another state. He showed Himself, said Peter, " not to all the people, but to us, who did eat and drink with him, after that he was raised from the dead." It was the same Christ, but what is of all importance, the basis of all for us, it was Christ beyond death, the power of Satan, the judgment of God, and sin; He who had been made sin for us, by whom our sins had been borne and put away, that God might remember them no more. We see here the link between Jesus, known in His humiliation in our midst in grace, and man in his new state, according to the counsels of God, a state in which He could no more be subjected to death, nor put to the proof.
The Holy Ghost is the blessed source of our right affections, but He cannot, like Jesus, be the object of them. As God, we love Him; but, we know, He was not made flesh for us, He did not die for us, we cannot be united to Him. We cannot say of Him as of the precious Savior: " He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one; wherefore He is not ashamed to call them brethren." It is no question of preference or of comparison; it would be folly to speak thus of the divine Persons; but the Holy Ghost, as to His Person, has not placed Himself in the intimacy into which Jesus has entered with us; a Man who calls His own His " friends," who is indeed the Son of God and with power, but who is a Man and a Man forever; the same who has been in our midst as He who served.
These words then (ver. 16, etc.), although their full and entire accomplishment should only take place when Christ returns, refer to events of all importance, which, in His death and resurrection, showed, in a characteristic way, what He was doing and who He was. First of all, He was going to leave His own, and to put an end by His death, to all the relations of God with Israel and with man: " A little while and ye shall not see me "-He was going to die. " And again a little while and ye shall see me." He was not going to stay like other men in the dust of the tomb; He would be with them again. But once more they should not see Him, for He came not to be a Messiah upon earth, but He was going to His Father who ruled over death, and who, after having raised Him, according to His glory, would take Him to Himself in the glory that was His. It was a series of events, which, while they constituted the disciples eye-witnesses of the fact of His resurrection, belonged to His personal glory and to redemption, to the setting aside of all that is connected with the first man, to the glory that He, the Son of God, had had with the Father before the foundation of the world, and into which He was about to enter again as Man to order all things at the suitable time, according to the glory of God and His counsels with regard to the Man in whom He would glorify Himself.
The Lord answers the hidden desire of the heart of His disciples, who sought in vain to solve the enigma lying in His words, and who feared to ask Him anything; but it is by showing them first of all, the feelings that would possess their hearts, and then the true character of His coming and of His departure. Their hearts would be deeply afflicted; they were going to lose Him for whom they had left everything: hope founded upon Him was fading away. The world, on the contrary, would be quite happy to be rid of Him who troubled it by the testimony of the truth. But Jesus tells His own that He would see them again, and that their sorrow should be turned into joy, as when a woman brings forth. And in fact it was the child-birth of the new creation. Thus the joy with which they should be filled in seeing Him again would be an eternal joy-a joy that nothing could take from them.
Thus far for the human details; but the ground of the truth is that the Son had come forth from the Father and come into the world, and that He left the world and went to the Father. This was a declaration of incalculable importance, and before which both the disciples' sorrow at the loss of their Messiah, Son of David, and their joy at seeing Him risen again, faded entirely, real and important as they were. Indeed, it was the revelation of God Himself in grace, and in the accomplishment of all His ways; Man in Christ was the object of them, and the heavenly glory into which He was now entering was the result, the real fact that was taking place. The Son, Man in this world; the Father, perfectly and fully revealed; those who had received Him set in the place of sons with the Father, co-heirs with the Son; and the Father's house the place of their dwelling and blessing: this is what the presence and departure of Jesus meant. It was laying the foundation of the whole of eternity; the full revelation of the Father and of the Son.
Indeed, it was not speaking in proverbs; but the disciples did not understand it. They fully admitted that He had spoken to them plainly, but their mind did not enter into the force of His words. " By this," they said, " we believe that thou art come from God." He had known what was passing in their minds, and that had produced its effect; besides, His words were simple. But to come from God, true as that was, was not saying that He had come from the Father, and was going back to Him. " Do ye now believe? " said the Lord; " all ye shall be offended because of me this night," " and shall leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me."
We may remark here that which characterizes this Gospel all through, that is, that though the Lord must pass through death, He does not speak of it. He was come from the Father, and proceeded thither again. We see this at the beginning of chapter 13, and elsewhere.
This terminates the Lord's discourses addressed to His disciples. He, in presence of that which His soul experienced, could think of them and tell them that which was suited to comfort them and to strengthen them in the time of His absence; it was the spiritual knowledge of Himself; the seeing Him after His resurrection, which would strengthen their faith powerfully; the presence of the Holy Ghost; and finally, that in going to the Father, it was not to abandon them, but that He was going there to prepare for them a dwellingplace on high. Spiritually He would be with them. If they confessed His name, this would bring upon them persecutions. In this world they should have tribulation, but in Him they had peace. Blessed thought! In the circumstances and in the things that were passing, they would have testing, painful no doubt, but which would detach them from the world, and make them feel the contrast between what was such and their position. Inwardly they should have peace, divine peace in Him who appeared to them spiritually, yea, who should dwell in them.
Besides, He had overcome the world. This, indeed, gives courage, to think that what we have to overcome is an enemy already overcome; it is a blessed word for our souls. He went before us in the battle, and He has gained the victory. Thus, as I have said, the Lord's discourses to His disciples terminate here; but this brings us into a still more blessed position. It is given to us not only to hear the divine words of Jesus, who was thinking of us with a love that knew no bounds, with a devotedness which makes us know what love is (1 John 3:1616Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16)); words of grace, words of truth, words of God Himself, but which were adapted to man (John 3); words whence we derive the knowledge of what God is for us-it is given to us, I say, not only to hear and to meditate on these words, but we are admitted now to hear Jesus pour out His heart into the Father's bosom, and to understand that we are an object of common interest to the Father and the Son: this is the subject of chapter 17.
1. If we examine with spiritual intelligence the different accounts of the gospels, we perceive at once a purpose that is not expressed in so many words, but by means of the circumstances themselves' although in relation with men. For instance, John does not speak of the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane, although he was nearer to Him, and of the number of those that Jesus awakened from their sleep. It is, that in John, the Holy Ghost gives the divine side of this touching history. Thus here also the band of men is spoken of, who, coming to take Jesus, were thrown down at His presence. Matthew, who, nevertheless, saw it, does not speak of it. For him, Christ is the Victim, suffering and put to death; for John, He is the One who offers Himself without spot to God. It is the same everywhere.