Thoughts on John 16:9

John 16:9  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 12
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It is not the part of wisdom to deny, but rather freely to acknowledge, that fragments of truth, more or less numerous, are to be found in the ancient philosophies and religious systems. Undoubtedly such are often accompanied by much folly, and perhaps seem all the brighter because of the surrounding darkness. Still they bear eloquent testimony to the fact that God created man upright, whatever his subsequent degeneracy through the fall. But when these philosophers stepped beyond the praise and vindication of morality, it is clear they encountered a serious difficulty, inasmuch as everything of what may be called a constructive character must obviously have been only so much speculation. In other words they could claim no authority, no “Thus saith the Lord,” even if reason (which for the most part it did not) led them up to the conviction of a Supreme Being. Hence one great and broad line of demarcation between the heathen systems and Judaism, which was a revelation of God. The former, even where most incrusted with sound moral notions, when consequently they were at their best, offered, it is needless to say, no anchorage for the soul, being in truth but the surmises of men. Such were the doctrines of Stoics and Epicureans, of Socrates and Plato, and, in more remote antiquity, of Confucius. At their worst these systems were a conglomerate of poetical romancing, e.g. the mythologies of Greece, or they were the monstrous dreams of orientalism: the former beautiful, the latter grotesque, but both corrupt.
But when we come to the New Testament, we have a line still broader and more striking, in that Christianity is not merely a divinely-given unfolding of truths that deeply concerned mankind, as was the Hebrew dispensation, but God revealed in full personality, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In short, as has been often remarked, the religion of Christ is Himself. It is not merely that He speaks with authority, as Moses did, and as heathen teachers could not; but, though the humblest of men and the meekest, He ever enforces His own claims as absolute and unquestionable. He is not merely the prophet like unto Moses, though far greater, come down to inaugurate a loftier system, to exhibit a sublimer abnegation, but He was—is—Himself the center and circumference, the Alpha and Omega, of all that He did and taught. We hear from His own lips that it is in vain to pretend to honor the Father without honoring the Son. Such is our Lord Jesus Christ; and as the Father attested, so the Holy Spirit sealed.
Nor in any portion of Holy Scripture does our Lord more emphatically enforce His claims than in the verse under consideration. The Holy Ghost, we read, would reprove or convict (or haply afford demonstrative proof to) the world “of sin, because they believe not on Me.” It is not because men are base, or deceitful, or immoral, not because of any specially heinous form of violence or corruption, not for one sin, as men count it, singled out of the dark catalog of human misdeeds; but “of sin, because they believe not on Me.” Nor is it hard to understand the reason of our Lord's solemn statement. Clearly unbelief as to Himself, and the refusal of His claims, whether openly aggressive, or coolly indifferent, is the crowning sin of which the human heart can be guilty. Not that in these words of Christ there is any palliation of human evil. If by the law was the knowledge of sin, and by the commandment sin became exceedingly sinful, how much more so when He came, Who was “full of grace and truth,” Who is the truth! What would not the truth and the light make manifest? But when the truth was manifested in its most winning form, that of grace, only to be rejected, evidently sin is not only seen at its blackest because confronted with perfect holiness, but the unbelief that will have none of God's remedy becomes necessarily the sign of utter sinfulness and blindness. We have, as it were, a climax of wickedness in the rejection first of righteousness as under the law, then of the fullness of truth in Christ, nay, of “grace and truth,” grace pre-eminently, but grace made living and energetic by its intimate union with truth. No wonder then if it is written, “Of sin because they believe not on Me.”
How belief in the Son becomes effectual to the salvation of the soul is not the point in this verse. We know it is by His death, and that our Lord is not more surely the Way, the Truth, and the Life, than the propitiation, even as He came “by water and by blood.” But His person is the theme here as the supreme object presented to mankind, and in Whom the Father was to be seen. How admirably in keeping is this verse of John, the latest, with the “Come unto Me” of the earliest Evangelist! one mark out of a myriad of the deep harmonies of the word of God. While critics are occupied in discovering (sometimes, it is to be feared, trying to discover) difficulties and discrepancies in the letter, the humble child of God, better so engaged, will find beauty upon beauty, token upon token, of its incomparable accuracy, in proportion to the diligence of his search, and the reality of his self-distrust.
Finally, we may note that our Lord uttered these words after having declared His manifold offices of mercy and benefaction. He had already said, in words of living power, “I am the Living Bread,” “the Light of the world,” “the Resurrection and the Life,” “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” “the Good Shepherd,” “the True Vine.” May we not liken these glories to so many glowing colors into which the white light of His Deity is refracted in the prism of the Gospels? At any rate in the majestic words, “I am,” which occur so often in John, His Godhead is implicitly conveyed. How great then, unless they repent, the loss of those, whom the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, because they believe not on the Son of God!
R. B. Junr.