The Gospel of John - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
Full of grace and truth.
In that phrase John recorded the full and final impression made upon him and his fellow-disciples by their time of comradeship with Jesus Christ. They were written in all probability long years after that time of comradeship, so far as His bodily presence was concerned, was over. They lived with Him, travelled with Him, listened to His teaching, watched His works, and above all observed Him in all the circumstances of the varied days; and when the whole result needed to be written, John did it by saying, "Full of grace and truth." The description moreover, is given in a yet briefer way by the use of one word in the preceding parenthetical statement, they beheld His glory; and in the whole of that statement the sublimest truth is declared - it was "glory as of the Only begotten from the Father." Here then we find the content of the glory of God. It is the unity of grace and truth. Here then we have the exposition of grace and truth. It is found in Jesus Christ. These two ideas should hold our minds and direct our lives. God is grace, and truth. Not the one without the other; not the other apart from the one. In His government there can be no lowering of the simple and severe standard of Truth; and there is no departure from the purpose and passion of Grace. To say that, is to realize that the Cross was necessitated by the nature of God. Then, when we would know Truth we must know Jesus Christ; and when we would apprehend Grace we must come to Him.
Jesus did not trust Himself unto them.
Here the verb "trust" is the same as "believed" in the preceding sentence, "many believed on His name." Their belief in Him was not full commitment of themselves. It was really intellectual conviction produced by the signs which He did. Those signs convinced them of His power, and in some sense necessarily of His authority. That was all. Seeing this was so, He did not commit Himself to them fully. He could not. This is a principle of perpetual application. The law of relationship between Christ and men is ever that of all for all. As D. L. Moody once said, "Christ is as great a Saviour as we make Him." When our convictions are yielded to, and we surrender ourselves completely to them, He is able to give Himself to us in all His fullness. Until that is so, He cannot trust us. This with-holding of Himself is not capricious. John is careful to point out that it was based upon His knowledge of men, and not upon suspicion. How true it is that we often miss the complete joy and strength of our Christianity, because by withholding ourselves from Christ, we make it impossible for Him to give Himself to us in all the fullness of His grace and truth. Such withholding on our parts creates, and then proves, our unworthiness. It is a solemn thing to say, but it is nevertheless true, that He is true to the command He laid upon His disciples - He never casts His pearls before swine.
This is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light.
Here the word judgment has the sense of condemnation, the verdict and sentence against men; and so the principle is revealed upon which men are judged. It is always that of the coming of light, and the opportunity which it creates. The coming of Christ was the coming of light. In Him we know the truth about God, and about ourselves. Thus in Him we know the truth about our relationship to God, and what our life ought to be. The special truth about God revealed in Him, is that of the Divine love, which makes possible, at infinite cost, the healing and restoration of those who have sinned and failed to realize the meaning of their own lives. That is the burden of the context. If men refuse to avail themselves of this Divine grace, they are by that refusal declining to walk in the light, and so are condemned. The reason why men love darkness is that they desire the things which the light condemns. Here is the mystery of lawlessness. It knows that the things of darkness are things of destruction, and yet for the momentary experience it deliberately rejects the things of light which are the things of life. And here each soul stands alone. The light is shining. Shall we come to it and walk in it? Or shall we shun it and walk in darkness? The choice is personal. But the verdict is already found. Upon our answer depends whether we are condemned or justified.
I have meat to eat that ye know not.
In these words our Lord revealed the secret of His strength, and that of the weakness of His disciples. They had not yet risen to the full understanding of life. They still conceived of it as being sustained by the supply of the physical only. He knew that while physical food is a necessity, there is a deeper need; and moreover, that there may be circumstances in which for a time a man may live, in the fullest sense of the word, even when he lacks the nourishment of the physical. His meat, as He subsequently declared, was to do the will of His Father, and to accomplish His work. And that is life indeed. When that is the master passion of life, a man lives. If the physical for a time lacks its peculiar sustenance, the man is still sustained in all the strength he needs for the accomplishment of life's highest purpose. It is better to die as to the physical, in the will of God, than to live therein, outside that will. That is the deepest truth about life. It may at once be said that physical life is also in the care of God, and He will always maintain it for the accomplishment of all that is for the well-being of man. Man's care, however, is to be active, not first or only in that realm, but first and finally in the matter of the Divine will and work. When that is so, life becomes full, radiant, joyful. When Jesus said this, these men did not know that meat, but He came to give them that knowledge, and subsequently they lived by it.
If ye believed Moses, ye would believe Me; for he wrote of Me.
This most explicit statement of our Lord has a double value for us. It first sets the seal of His authority upon the Pentateuch. It also gives us the key to the interpretation thereof. When He referred to "Moses" there can be no question that He did so knowing exactly how the reference would be understood of the Jews to whom He was speaking. The name "Moses" was thus constantly employed to describe the first five books of the Canon. Here our Lord not only referred to them thus technically, but He did so in such a way as to show that He thought of them as actually written by Moses. To say He was accommodating His language to ignorance would be to charge Him with perpetuating ignorance. Of these writings He said that they were concerned with Him. That is the key to their interpretation. In their history we are to discover the first movements towards His advent. In their teachings we are to discover the first unveilings of His ethical standards. In their revelations of God we are to discover the elements which were to have final interpretation in Him. Thus the writings of Moses were prophetic. In them nothing was completed. They pointed on to other things, which came to pass when He came. Thus in this word we find at once the authority and limitation of Moses.
He Himself knew what He would do.
What a revealing word this is, and how full of comfort for all those who love and follow the Lord. He had suggested a great problem. How were they to procure bread to feed the multitude? The difficulty is revealed in the answers of Philip and Andrew. The first calculated the cost. The second emphasized the inadequacy of their resources. He had asked His question, as John says, to prove them. By a facing of their own poverty they would learn the value of His power. How often He brings us into such places of perplexity. Something is to be done that seems impossible nay, that is impossible if we argue from our own private resources. May we not learn from this incident that in all such cases our wisdom will consist in our confidence that He Himself knows what He will do. Is it not intended that we should better their replies by saying: Lord we do not pretend to know how things are to be done, but we bring whatever resources we have to Thee and are confident that whatever Thou hast in Thy heart to do, Thou art able to do with these poor things of ours! We know not; but Thou knowest; and so we do not ask to know. All we ask is that we may be directed by Thy wisdom, so shall we be enabled by Thy power. If we can only take up that attitude, how strong and quiet life will be.
Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
And does not that necessarily mean that in some senses we are not to judge at all? After all, what can we know of any man beyond "appearance"? The secret things of the soul are hidden from all save God. In His ethical manifesto our Lord distinctly said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." All of which means that our judgments of our fellow-men must always be reserved. We should ever bear in mind that "appearance" may be deceitful, and therefore with the love that hopeth all things, we should be ready to give men the benefit of any doubt or uncertainty that is in our minds. All that being granted, it remains that within limits we are compelled to use the faculty of judgment, and our Lord uttered the positive word, "Judge righteous judgment," as well as the negative. What then is righteous judgment? It is judgment which is free from prejudice, and which, considering things as they are, draws true conclusions. The context is illuminative. Wrath prevented these men from true thinking about the wonder Jesus had wrought in healing the man in Bethesda's porches. How perpetually wrath prevents righteous judgment. To form true conclusions we need a mind free from all bias, and mastered by love. Even then our judgments are only valuable as guides to our personal conduct. We never have any right to make them the basis of decisions concerning our fellow-men.
As He spake these things, many believed on Him.
When this statement is read in its true connection with the record of the things our Lord has been saying, it is found to be a radiant revelation of the impressiveness of His personality. He had been speaking in an atmosphere of criticism and enmity. Moreover, He had sternly and openly rebuked and denounced the Pharisees. Then He made to those very men, and in that hostile atmosphere, superlative claims for Himself, declaring that He worked and taught in fellowship with God, and that He always did the things that pleased God. It was then, "As He spake these things, many believed on Him." The force of all this may be gathered if we try to imagine any other teacher making such claims. If we heard any man do so, we should at once doubt his sincerity, his truthfulness. Yet when these people heard Jesus make them, "many believed on Him." There can be no explanation other than that of the harmony between the claims He made and the impression of His personality. He was What He claimed to be. Men knew it. There was no escape from the impressiveness of His reality. Truth not only fell from His lips. It emanated from Himself. This quality is still pervasive, even when men find Him in the written words. It is possible to disobey Him, even to deny the practicability of His ideals; but it is not possible to deny the beauty of those ideals, or to disbelieve in the sincerity and glory of the Lord Himself.
Jesus heard that they had cast him eat, and finding him ...
The casting out of this man meant his excommunication from his religious rights in Temple and synagogue. It was the act of the religious rulers, and was the result of their anger because, in loyalty to his convictions, he had spoken words which charged them with blindness. The Lord found him, and admitted him to Himself as a worshipper. It was a significant action, and led to the wonderful discourse about the Shepherd, the sheep, and the one flock. As one reads it, the sense of how often it has been repeated comes to the mind. Organized religion has often made the mistake of excommunicating those who, in loyalty to conscience, run counter to its prejudices. What a warning the story is of the danger we run of excluding the Lord also, when we act in this way! And how futile such action is. The man cast out by blind religious leaders is received by the living Lord, and finds his way to the one and only Centre of true worship. Thus it is seen that at times a man may excommunicate a community, as surely as be excommunicated thereby. This consciousness of the understanding of the Lord, and of His reception of loyal souls in spite of all human refusal of fellowship with them, is the strength which will ever enable them to be true to Him. If He finds and receives, what does it matter who rejects?
The sheep follow Him; for they know His voice.
In the case of the eastern shepherd, that is literally true; and as the next words declare, "A stranger will they not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers." The strangeness of other voices is a warning to the sheep; they do not know the voices, and so take no risks. How full of value is the suggestiveness of all this in the case of those who belong to the Lord! There is no doubt that such do know the voice of the Lord. They may not immediately understand what He is saying, but there is no mistaking His voice. It is the voice of understanding, of tenderness, of strength, of authority. There is none other like it. It often corrects us, runs counter to our desires, calls us to service that we dread, and sometimes to suffering which we fain would miss. But we know when He speaks; and then it is ours to follow, knowing that He makes no mistakes, and that every word He utters to us - the sternest as well as the tenderest - is love-inspired. This being so, our wisdom ever consists in refusing to follow any strange voice. We do not, cannot know others as we know Him. Their suggestions may be false even when their intention is good; or their intention may be evil, when their suggestions are pleasant. Let us listen only to the Voice we know, and hearing let us follow.
I am glad for your sakes that I was not there.
That is a revealing word, and full of strength. The supposition which it makes is that if Jesus had been at Bethany, Lazarus would not have died, for He would have healed him. Because He was not there, he had died, and the Lord said that, for the sake of His disciples, He was glad. The sequel gives the explanation of His gladness. Death was no stronger in His presence than disease, but these men did not realize this. They would think of Death as the unconquerable. It was so to them. With disease men may grapple, and fight, and often overcome. But in the presence of death they are helpless. It is beyond their control. Not so with Him, and He was glad that they should have yet another opportunity to see His power. We say "another," for twice already they had seen Him raise the dead, once in the house of Jairus, and once at the city of Nain. How slow we are to believe! And that makes His gladness all the more beautiful, as it reveals His patience. And so we may learn that He often permits us to pass into profounder darkness, and deeper mysteries of pain, in order that we may prove more perfectly His power. Let the thought abide with us, if our pathway lies in some dark valley where for the moment no light is shining, and no path is known. He knows, and all He permits will only serve to reveal Him more perfectly, and so give us a yet stronger confidence.
This He said, signifying by what manner of death He should die.
This is the Holy Spirit's interpretation of the words which our Lord had just uttered. They were triumphant words, claiming a coming victory over the prince of the world, and His own lifting up out of the earth to a place of universal power. This, then, was the manner of His death - that is to say, this was the nature of His death. It was triumphant death. We may miss the whole value of the statement if we think only of the fact of the Cross on the human level. It gives us at once to see that the human murder of Jesus was a secondary thing. His death was not in weakness, but in strength; not the death of defeat, but that of triumph. He died to cast out the authority and power of evil in which the world was enslaved. He died to create a centre, coming to which, men would enter into freedom and life. The manner of His death was in that sense unique. None other had so died. His is the one and only death which is in itself victorious. And now all who are gathered to Him around that Cross, receiving its pardon, receive also its gift of life; and so they also triumph in their dying. To die in Christ is to rise with Him into complete victory over the prince of the world, and to find the fulfilment of life. The first experience is spiritual, and immediate to the trusting soul. The final experience comes when we fall asleep in Him, and find the awakening in His presence to be the triumph.
Jesus, knowing that His hour was come.
Repeatedly in the Gospel of John reference is found to "the hour" of the Lord. Here the phrase finds explanation. His hour, the supreme hour of His mission, was the hour of His Cross. For that He had come into the world. It was the central fact in His mission. Yet here notice how John refers to it. It was the hour in which "He should depart out of this world unto the Father." There can be no question that this was our Lord's conception of that hour. It was the hour of departure from the world, lonely, dark, full of unutterable anguish; but it was the hour of going to the Father. Beyond the loneliness, there was the restoration of fellowship; beyond the darkness, the eternal light; beyond the anguish the fullness of joy. To Him, in contemplation of the hour, there was no misgiving as to the issue. In all the experience of travail He wrought as God with God, and therefore the triumph was certain. Knowing all this, He loved His own to the uttermost. That love was the inspiration of His going by the way of the Cross; and that going was the full and final expression and activity of that love. His going was with perfect knowledge. He was not groping heroically through darkness, uncertain as to His destination. He was walking in the light, even as He passed through the darkness.
If it were not so, I would have told you.
These words were parenthetical in what the Lord was saying, but they are most suggestive. They mean that there are some things concerning which He would not allow His own to remain in ignorance. What He was saying at the time gives us a perfect illustration. He was going away and they were filled with sorrow. To help them, He told them that in His Father's house there are many abiding-places. That is to say, that absence from this world, which is one of the abiding-places in the Father's house, simply means that the absent one is at home in some other abiding-place in the one great House of God. They were not to think of Him as having ceased to be when they could not see Him. He had only gone to another abiding-place to prepare for their coming; and, moreover, He would come back to receive them when they should come. It was about this that He said that if it were not so, He would have told them. If this world were the only place, and this life were all, He would have said so. From this incidental word, then, we may argue that He has said all that we need to know. He has not left us in doubt on any essential matter. That this is so, the experience of those who have walked according to His teaching proves. They have all had the light of life, and have not walked in darkness.
Even as the Father hath loved Me, I also have loved you.
This surely is Christ's superlative word concerning His love for His own. It leaves nothing more to be said. What the love of the Father is for the Son, who can tell? The very suggestion fills the soul with the sense of profound depths which cannot be fathomed, of heights that cannot be scaled, of breadths which cannot be encompassed, and of dimensions beyond our knowledge. And that love of God for the Son, is the measure and nature of the love of the Son for His own. And yet, how passing wonderful it is, when we remember that, however vast that love of God for His Son may be, that Son is worthy of it, while we are unworthy of love at all. Yet here is the glory of His love. He loves us in spite of our unworthiness, knowing that He is able to make us worthy. In very deed such love is:-
- "A deep where all our thoughts are drowned."
Two thoughts are immediately suggested. The first, by what He had said before: "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again"; and the second, by what He added now: "I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love." The perfection in us which He seeks, and which inspires His love, is that of the selflessness which suffers to serve. The law of abiding in love is that of obedience.
Do ye now believe?
In these words Jesus, very tenderly but very definitely, challenged His disciples in the hour when they declared that their belief in the Divinity of His mission was confirmed. They were perfectly sincere. They felt that they had at last passed beyond the region where it would be possible to doubt. How much better He knew them than they knew themselves! He knew that presently they would find themselves in shattering circumstances, and that they would then doubt everything, and be scattered. Yet observe the reason of His question. He was preparing them for those very experiences, creating a foothold for their faith, even when the floods should sweep around them. The very fact that He had known and had foretold the course of events, would be something to hold on to, and the memory of it would help them back again to faith. Two lessons of great importance may be learned here. The first is that our faith is a poor foundation; indeed that it is no foundation. We do verily believe today, but tomorrow may bring storms which will for the moment strain faith to the breaking-point, and make it of no value. The other is that He is faithful, and that is the foundation. In the fiercest hour of upheaval, He it is Who creates some possibility for our failing faith to gather strength. So, as to our faith also, we ever have to say: "Not unto us, O Jehovah, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory."
Neither for these only do I pray.
These are the most comforting words for us in this great prayer of our Lord, because they bring us into its interest and intercession. We are among the number of those who have believed on Him through the apostolic word, and so His requests were all on our behalf also. This outlook of the Master is very suggestive. There He was, after three and a half years of public ministry, approaching an end which seemed to be that of defeat. He was surrounded by a few loving men, who nevertheless would soon all be scattered for very fear. The outlook was very dark to all but the Lord. He also saw the darkness, and understood it better than any other. Yet He saw through it, saw the light clearly shining down the coming age; saw these very men, gathered after their scattering, going forth publishing the Word; saw the sacramental hosts of souls believing that Word, and for these He prayed. And His prayer for all of us was as His prayer for those men who were about Him. He knew their weakness, and how they would fail. He knows our weakness, and all about our failures. He prayed for them. He prays for us. He knew His intercession for them would prevail. He knows His inter-cession for us will prevail. Then let us rest in Him, with the rest of loving obedience and of surest confidence.
The cup which the Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?
These words were spoken to Peter, in the moment when in love for his Master, and in mistaken zeal, he had struck a blow in order to attempt to deliver Him from the hands of His enemies. They are revealing words. They show us how the one dominant passion of all our Lord's life was still triumphant as He passed to death. He had but one passion, and that was to do His Father's will. The other Evangelists tell us how the question of this cup had just been raised in communion with His Father, and always under the constraint of that same master-passion. That hour of inquiry was over. The cup had been given Him to drink. Therefore there was no further question. In the form of the statement we discover His perfect rest; the cup had been given Him by His Father, by the One Who loved Him, by the One Who confided in Him. Therefore there could be no further question. The question raised and settled in communion could not be raised in any other form, or with any other beings. And once more, we see how the highest love, the love of God, must ever qualify, and often cancel, the suggestions made by other loves, however loyal and well-intentioned they may be. The love of God is always wise. The loves of men are often unintelligent. Of course, in our Lord we see all these things superlatively, but there are profound values in them for us, to which we do well to take heed.
It is finished.
Luke tells us that, "When Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father into Thy hands I commend My spirit, and having said this He gave up the ghost" (23:46). John says that, "He said, It is finished, and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit." There can be no doubt that what He said "with a loud voice" was "It is finished." It was the cry of triumph. The hour was come, and He had accomplished all that was within the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. He had entered into, and passed through, the deep mystery of spiritual death. In that experience He had cried, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" and in that mystic cry revealed all that it is possible for men to know of that experience. All was over, except the physical dissolution which was the sacramental symbol of the spiritual death. To that He passed with calm composure as He said: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." In that exultant cry of accomplishment the soul of man hears the good news, of emancipation from all the slavery of sin, and of the possibility of realizing all the purposes of God. While there is much for man to do in working out his own salvation with fear and trembling, there is nothing for him to do to make his salvation possible. Everything is done, and now it is possible for God to work in us to will and to work of His good pleasure.
Peace be unto you ... peace be unto you.
John 20:19 and 21
Twice our Lord uttered the words of greeting to His disciples on the evening of that first resurrection day. The words were not new. They were almost common-place, constituting as they did, the ordinary form with which men greeted each other. Yet how new and wonderful they were as He spoke them! They had behind them the authority of His death and resurrection. He had faced and defeated all the forces which destroy the peace of man. As He said, "Peace be unto you," He was doing infinitely more than expressing a wish. He was making a declaration. He was bestowing a benediction. He was imparting a blessing. The repetition was significant. The first was a greeting addressed to men who were filled with fear on account of the hostility in the midst of which they were living, the self-same hostility which had encompassed His death. He said: "Peace be unto you." The things you fear are powerless to harm you. Death is not the end; beyond it, behold Me alive! Be at peace, for whether in life or death you are safe. The second prefaced a commission. They were to be sent out, as He had been sent out, to accomplish a Divine purpose. Let them be at peace, knowing by the fact of His resurrection they would be victorious, even though they went His way of suffering and death. It is a striking commentary on these words of Jesus, that Christian souls have never had more perfect experience of peace than when they have been called upon to suffer for His Name.
The suggestiveness of these words is arresting. This was a wonderful occasion on which the Lord was specially manifesting Himself to a group of disciples. Every phase of the doings of that morning is full of light and glory. The risen Redeemer and Ruler was showing men His interest and power in the commonplaces of their lives and in the greatest responsibilities thereof. He touched their daily doings with light and glory, their daily fishing, and preparing breakfast. He gave them the grandest conception of their fellowship with Himself in His work of gathering together in one the sheep that were scattered abroad. Who were the men? They were Simon Peter and Thomas, and Nathaniel, and James and John - all outstanding figures. But there were "two other," and they are un-named, and I believe purposely unnamed. They represent the anonymous and hidden multitudes of faithful souls, whose names are never published in human documents, and whose deeds are never recorded in human reports. To these He manifested Himself, as surely as to the others. Those "two other" represented the majority of the saints. Let all such remember that of His fullness they also receive. Manifestations are needed for fidelity in obscure places of service, and they are granted. To all His own, He ever comes with unveilings of His glory, with ministrations of His grace and truth.