Great Texts of the Bible
The Chief Purpose of the Gospel
Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name.—John 20:30-31.
These words describe the chief purpose of the Gospel according to St. John, considered as a narrative of the life of Jesus. In their effect, though not by their position, they form the author’s explanatory preface to the whole book, because they assert the reason why he wrote, and indicate the kind of result he anticipated for the readers of his work.
This text, then, is nothing less than St. John’s own statement and summary of the object of his Gospel. We read the Gospels; page by page, verse by verse, we profit by their Divine teachings; but it is a blessed thought to have been told in one single verse the central intent why the last and most spiritual of them was written. That intent, the Evangelist tells us, was to produce in us a twofold conviction, and to enable us to enjoy the life which springs from its continuous power. The first conviction which he aims at forming in us is that Jesus is the Christ; the second, that Christ Jesus is the Son of God; and the fruit of that twofold conviction is the eternal life which is inspired by such a faith.
The living testimony of one who has “seen and touched and handled,” retains its unique charm and value across the flight of time. The custody of the museum at Bologna, in which are preserved the relics and trophies of the “Risorgimento,” is committed to an old Garibaldian veteran, who loves his charges with a real fatherly love—the torn uniforms and rusted and battered swords, the little scraps of writing, stained and crumpled, proclamations, letters, sonnets. But, above all, he loves the relics of Ugo Bassi—the devoted Barnabite, who inspired this national crusade as Peter the Hermit had fired men centuries before to fight the battles of Christendom. The priest who was content to stand apart from his fellows, and toil and suffer and die for the cause of Truth and Justice: the man whom the heroes of ’48 revered and loved, as St. Francis of old had been revered and loved—almost like Christ Himself come down again. One may read in books, or one may hear from the lips of a young professor who has studied history more widely and scientifically, a fascinating account of the events of ’48 and ’49. But there comes a peculiar thrill, a peculiar feeling of real touch with the facts, when the relics of Ugo Bassi are shown by one who as a boy heard that voice ring out in the Piazza, and saw a whole city stirred, as the light of those wonderful eyes pierced through them, and they stood in the grip of a soul that spoke in face and gesture as well as in the music of audible appeal. The martyrdom has a new meaning for us, as such an one relates how he saw the wearied form drawn through the streets and out at the gate of Sant’ Isaia amid the hated white uniforms; and heard the shots fired which proclaimed that the last agony was over. No; one who can say, “I saw, I touched, I handled,” even after the lapse of many years, still draws us, still makes the past live for us as none other Song of Solomon 1 [Note: Lonsdale Ragg, Christ and Our Ideals, 15.]
The Omitted and the Recorded Signs
St. John has recorded only a part of what he knows, and he has recorded this for a special purpose. He and his friends have lived through a great experience; they have been forced to consider what it really meant, and they have come to certain conclusions. Among all the events which passed under their eyes there were some that seemed specially significant. They were not merely events, they were signs; and that means that they had, as it were, two sides. On the one side something happened in the world of sight and sound—there was an historical occurrence. The Man Jesus did certain things in the world, just as Pontius Pilate the Governor, or Caiaphas the High Priest, or one of the Apostles themselves might have done. In a sense, of course, all such action has a significance, is, in some degree, a sign. Pilate, no doubt, has means of showing that what he does has behind it the force of the Roman Empire, which he represents. Perhaps Caiaphas revealed his high-priestly prerogative when, with the very last flicker of the old light that once shone upon the high priesthood, “he spake not of himself” of the necessity that one man should be sacrificed for the sake of the whole nation. Though the old gift was so sadly misused, it was still the High Priest in that predestined year who noted, cynically and brutally enough, the necessity of the sacrifice. And so Jesus did signs in the presence of His disciples, acts which carried meaning. Those who lived with Him gradually came to interpret these signs, and they drew from them the conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we have life in His Name. They commend their faith to others. It is their mission to go and make disciples throughout the world, and they use for the groundwork of their appeal not argument, not philosophical construction, but a recital of the events, which they had come to know as signs.
1. The signs of Jesus are largely unrecorded. “Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this bonk.” What is our first thought on being told this? Is it not this: Oh if we could only know them; if only they had been written down, what a priceless boon; they would be just what we most need, they would clear up so many points that are now tangled in dispute. For, indeed, the recorded doings and sayings of the Lord are so pitifully, so terribly, short—just a few rapid incidents thrown together in the Synoptics, mainly out of the very last year of His life—only twenty days of all His earthly career touched upon in St. John! How scanty, how partial, how unsatisfying! Was ever so tremendous a venture as the Christian creed made on so slight a foundation as this?
2. The unwritten is, and ever must be, more than the written. You cannot transcribe with pen all deeds and achievements, or tabulate the work of a life or even that of a year. Divine things cannot be compressed within the limits of a book. That which can be written can be circumscribed, and that which can be circumscribed has limits. Man looks for the unlimited, which may here be used for the infinite; and who would think of cramming the infinite into a report? There are always the “many other signs which are not written” in all God’s works and in all our works for God.
In examining and preparing the statistical returns for the year I was much struck with the thought of the “unwritten.” I looked at circuits where I know a pure Gospel has been preached and special services have been held, and yet I noticed that the number of those “admitted during the year” might be counted upon the fingers of my right hand. I am certain such a tabulation does not fully express the work or the fruit of a year. The other day I received a handbill as a specimen of “invisible printing.” On it were two blank spaces. I was instructed to hold the bill to the fire, and legible type would appear in the “blanks.” I acted upon the said instructions, and lo! there was the type perfectly readable. Brethren, in making up your returns I doubt not you mourned over the blank spaces; but when the record of our life and work shall be held up to the light and warmth of heaven we shall be cheered by seeing many a space “filled in” with the record of souls saved and saints succoured through our ministry. If all the signs of Christ’s ministry are not written, let us not complain if some of ours remain unrecorded.1 [Note: M. Brokenshire.]
3. We are not on the track of St. John’s mind, when we begin by craving for an indefinite accumulation of Gospel material. He does not consider that that is what we need. He has another purpose in view, as he writes, than that of recording everything that he could recall or discover about our Lord, and this purpose of his is better served by a selection than by an accumulation, and therefore he spends his energy and experience not in gathering, but in sifting. His effort lies in singling out from the swarm of memories those special and typical moments which will best convey the impression he desires. How different from such a man as Papias in the later days, who had never seen the Lord, but would go about all over the world asking everywhere for some one who could tell him some new story about the Lord. That is not the Apostle, his long tarrying has taught him through the selective working of the Holy Spirit, under the pressure of daily circumstances what to keep in store, what to drop and prune, if the image of Christ is to transmit itself with faithful emphasis to those who are to come after. To secure this he depends, not on the quantity, but on the quality, of the matter chosen. We know, even in his own case, that the years as they pass over him have taught him the same lesson—to pare down rather than to expand. Fewer and fewer words, we are told by St. John, have become necessary to him; he would rather repeat and repeat those familiar phrases, into which he had concentrated all his love, than search about for other and more varied expressions.
To get at the heart and the mind of a person we turn to the characteristic deeds and words which come from him at the most cardinal and critical moments of his life. We can afford to omit, forget, a thousand details if only we can single out and fasten upon those peculiar, those unique, expressions which have upon them the special stamp of his individuality. It is the typical facts that we require when the fullest secret of His being emerged and flashed. To know Him, then, at such vivid moments, is to know Him for ever, for it is to know Him as He is. A multitude of minor events and records would be full of interest, no doubt, but they would not be essential, they would not really add to our knowledge, they would but corroborate and confirm it. Take the case of a dear friend passed away from us in death. What is it that lives in our faithful memory of him, what is it we love to bring up in imagination and brood over and caress, as it were, with an affectionate recollection? Not, I think, a quantity of details, but rather, I think, the few singular and intimate and memorable characteristics which marked him out from all others, the things which gave him his personal uniqueness, the things which no one else could have done or said, the points at which his innermost nature shot up to the surface, and looked out at us with a sudden intensity, before it fell back again under the veil of ordinary existence. Certain single moments there have been that abide in our mind when he turned his face full upon us—the man himself; certain actions there were that stand out clear from all others as stars in the night. They may be great or little, but they were the windows through which we saw into his soul. Perhaps it is the ring of his voice on a certain phrase that will haunt us; or the turn of his head, as he looked back and smiled; his gait, as we caught sight of him some day, that we remember so well; or that way he had of laying his hand on our arm, and we can feel it warm there to-day; or the sort of word he used, that was a favourite one on his lips, the word that was the key to so much in him in which we delighted; or some one happy day, when the blessed home was full of his delightful presence; or, above all, the tune of his laugh when he was merry, or the look in his eyes at the time of some deep sorrow—these are the things that we cling to, and to these and no more than these.1 [Note: H. Scott Holland.]
4. But, besides the fact that a selection of signs is more impressive than an accumulation of them, there is another reason why St. John selects the few signs and omits the many. Because Jesus Christ is still alive and at work; Jesus Christ is a living Person, ascended to the right hand of God, reigning in the midst of His Church. He, through His Spirit, is here ready to meet difficulties as they arise, ready to answer the questions suggested by His words, ready to lead His believers on and on in the path on which they have set out. All the Christian religion lies in that; it lies in the actual communion between the living soul and the living Christ, not in reading about Him, not in hearing about Him, not in remembering things that He did, or being convinced that He really did them, or in admiration for His historical character, or in approving the excellence of His teaching, or in a touching sentiment from the beautiful drama once enacted by Him “who for us men, and for our salvation came down … and was made man”—not in any of these does the religion of Christ consist. It begins and ends wholly in an active and energetic contact between the Person of Jesus Christ and the person of His followers.
If we have not the realized presence of Christ, nothing can bring us together; if we have it, nothing can keep us apart.2 [Note: Charles A. Berry, 127.]
“Who is it that is passing by?” A personal presence? It is enigmatical enough; it is bewildering, it amazes, it says but few things plainly. But there it is; we cannot escape it; it is a presence which is not to be put by. That is its challenge: it stands there delivering the challenge by its sheer existence—not by arguments, not by explanation, not by persuasion. Not by those weapons does it make its attack; no, but by being simply what it is. “I am what I am, I am that which I have been telling you.” “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” That is the voice that speaks through the written records, speaks as none other ever spoke. And it is the voice of a living man, not of a book, using a book through which to speak, but Himself the key of the written word, Himself the power in the book; Himself the argument, the appeal; Himself the soul of the record! Though all the books that the world could contain were written about Him the situation would still be the same. At the close when you have read them all, the one question would still remain to be answered: “After all you have read, after all you have heard, will you follow Me? Will you obey Me? Will you trust Me? Will you put your souI in My hands?”1 [Note: H. Scott Holland.]
The Purpose of the Signs
St. John tells that having selected certain signs for record he has written his Gospel for a purpose. The purpose is twofold: first, that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah and the Son of God; and then that, so believing, we may have life in His name. Let us consider (1) what we are to believe—that Jesus is the Christ, and that He is the Son of God; (2) how the signs enable us thus to believe; and (3) the effect of our belief—life in His name.
1. What does the Apostle, in writing this Gospel, want us to believe? He brings before us One Jesus, and he desires to prove that He is the Christ or promised Messiah and the Son of God.
(1) Jesus.—Who can narrate all that that name has been, all that it is, to those who have known it? “Jesus” is the subject of the four Gospels. Their one subject is the Life of Jesus. It is the Lord’s human name; the name by which His mother called Him, when He lay as an infant in the manger cradle, when He played as a little child on the cottage floor of Nazareth; the name of Him who was the village carpenter; the name of
Him who wont to stray
A pilgrim on the world’s highway,
Oppressed by power, and mocked by pride,
The Nazarene, the Crucified.
As we utter it we recall the scenes in the Synagogue and the Temple; the sermon on the hillside among the lilies of the field; the boat stirred gently by the silver ripples of the lake; the feeding of the multitudes as they sat in their many-coloured Eastern robes on the green grass; the woman sobbing at His feet and wiping them with the hairs of her head at the banquet of the Pharisee; the long night of prayer upon the lonely hill; the life as an excommunicated fugitive with a price upon His head; the madness of priests and scribes against the only human life ever lived of perfect love and sinless innocence; the fury of the mob; the last supper; the disciple who became the traitor; the agony in Gethsemane; the cross; the garden grave.
The designation “Jesus” gives Him a place in the history of the world, allocates and identifies Him with men, and forms a useful starting-point for all inquiries concerning His character. At once we meet with Him on the plane of human life, in the midst of the known and the knowable, a man like ourselves, grafted on the stock of common humanity, and in most essential respects identical with us. His name was not an unfamiliar one at the beginning of the present era. There was nothing strange in it to the ears of His companions in the streets of Nazareth. Betokening Him through whom Jehovah sends salvation, it had passed into common circulation, and was often represented by the Greek Jason. In the list of seventy-two commissioners sent by Eleazer to Ptolemy, it is found twice. One of the books of the Apocrypha is attributed to Jesus the son of Sirach. A companion of St. Paul’s at Rome was Jesus, surnamed Justus. According to St. Matthew the name was given to the Son of Mary because it fitly described the work He was destined to accomplish for men.
Certainly events have justified the prophecy uttered in the name. St. John regarded it, as appears from his First Epistle as well as from this Gospel, as fixing the real human personality of his Lord. It chronicled and reported the fact that He was made a little lower than the angels, that He had a manhood as veritable as our own. His name was not Gabriel or Michael, but Jesus—a common, human, historic name, fitting well the man whose place in the successions of the race of men it registers. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” “He was made of a woman, made under the law.” His human nature was real. There was nothing simulated or abridged about Him. He was the fulness of humanity in its depth and height, length and breadth. No one was ever more human than Jesus. Never was one so completely and thoroughly man as He!1 [Note: John Clifford, The Christian Certainties, 165.]
(2) Christ.—The object of the Gospel was to teach us that this Jesus was the Christ—that is, the Anointed, the promised Messiah of the Jews. As He is the strength of all the present, so was He the fulfilment of all the past. God, who loved His human children unto the end, loved them from the beginning. The Incarnation was no sudden thought; no second-best plan. It was the consummation of that love of God of which He had not left Himself without witness from the foundation of the world. We have an Old Testament as well as a New Testament. We are one in hope, one in promise with all the forefathers of our race. When men fell, the promise was given; when the Deluge came, it was renewed; it was confirmed to Abraham and to his sons; it gleamed through the thunder-smoke of Sinai; it brightened the De profundis of the Jewish people in the Psalms; it is the divinest tone in the grandest utterances of all the prophets. The object of the Evangelists in teaching that Jesus is the Christ is to convince us that this Son of man was the promised seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent’s head; that He was the true rainbow of the Covenant; that in Him were all the nations of the world to be blessed; that He was the Prophet greater than Moses of whom Moses spoke; that He was the true Star of Jacob, the Sceptre of Israel; the King of David’s line; the branch of the stem of Jesse; the oppressed and afflicted but not for Himself; the King upon His throne; the Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
From the beginning of His ministry the Nazarene was familiar with the idea of His Messiahship as involving service and suffering, and gave no indistinct signs of the force with which it possessed Him. He is a true Hebrew in hope and faith. He reads the Law, sings the Psalms, and is fired by the Messiah hope. On His acceptance of the office of Scripture-reader in the synagogue of His native village He appropriated the Messianic words of Isaiah as descriptive of Himself. To the Samaritan woman He made known His character, and affirmed that He was the Messiah expected by the people; and such was the beauty of His life and the power of His words, that after He had been but two days in Sychar many said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of thy speaking: for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”1 [Note: John Clifford, The Christian Certainties, 174.]
(3) Song of Solomon of God.—We must advance one step further. Jesus is the Son of God. He who could claim to be in so supreme and distinguishing a sense the Son of Man without deserving the charge of insanity or overweening self-conceit, and to be the Messiah, the anointed prophet-king of the Most High, without refutation from the cleverest and bitterest of His foes, need not hesitate to urge His right to be regarded as the Son of God. This is the fundamental fact in His consciousness. Directly and intuitively He knows His own Sonship, and speaks and acts by the final and supreme authority of that unique relation. We must, therefore, complete the synthesis of facts grouped in the words “Jesus” and “Christ” in another and higher designation: and what can that be but the Son of God the Father! The circumstances of the case demand and fully justify the triple name for the Galilean Teacher, our Lord Jesus Christ.
When Jesus named Himself the Son of God before the religious Jews, the only interpretation they could put upon His words was, that He was setting Himself up as a rival God, “making himself equal with God.” It is interesting and instructive to observe how Jesus passes by the word equal, in order that He may expound and dwell upon His perfect filial unity with His Father. He entirely disavows the equality in the sense in which the Jews meant it; and so St. Paul says of Him, that He did not think equality with God a thing to be grasped at. It was impossible to imagine a more complete subordination than that of the Son of God to the Father. Mark once more those wonderful sayings of Jesus: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.” What language could more explicitly repudiate any independent equality of the Son with the Father? But then our Lord adds the assertion, “What things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” Such a relation as this might not unnaturally be expressed by the term equality. But if we follow our blessed Lord’s own teaching, we shall make sonship—sonship in its most perfect idea, eternal sonship—the key to what He was and is at the side of the Father. Jesus did not shrink from saying that it was the Father’s purpose that “all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.”1 [Note: J. Ll. Davies, The Manifestation of the Son of God, 46.]
They come to Thee, the halt, the maimed, the blind,
The devil-torn, the sick, the sore;
Thy heart their well of life they find,
Thine ear their open door.
Ah! who can tell the joy in Palestine—
What smiles and tears of rescued throngs!
Their lees of life were turned to wine,
Their prayers to shouts and songs!
The story dear our wise men fable call,
Give paltry facts the mighty range;
To me it seems just what should fall,
And nothing very strange.
But were I deaf and lame and blind and sore,
I scarce would care for cure to ask;
Another prayer should haunt Thy door—
Set Thee a harder task.
If Thou art Christ, see here this heart of mine,
Torn, empty, moaning, and unblest!
Had ever heart more need of Thine,
If Thine indeed hath rest?
Thy word, Thy hand right soon did scare the bane
That in their bodies death did breed;
If Thou can’st cure my deeper pain,
Then art Thou Lord indeed.
2. Now, how do the signs which St. John has selected enable us to believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God?
(1) What is belief? There are two words in this Gospel which are very frequently used. The first is the word “believe,” and the second the word “witness.” Men are asked to believe in Jesus. “To those that believe” is the promise of the Gospel given. The writer does not say that the mystery of Jesus Christ is made manifest to the clever and the wise; he does not say that the secret of Jesus Christ is declared even to those who simply seek it; but he does say that it is made manifest to him who believes. That is the challenge which the Person of Jesus Christ still throws out. It is “whosoever believeth.” That with us has become almost a cant phrase. It is an easy kind of thing to say in a sermon or at a revival meeting, but there is a meaning behind it, and we need to get back to the original and true meaning. To believe in Jesus Christ is to do something more than think about Him and to have an opinion concerning Him. It means to bow before Him in reverence; to take Him at His word; to do His will; to begin walking in His way; to make the great surrender; to accept His teaching as though it were true, and prove it true by practising it. The man who so deals with Christ is the man who in the end finds out His secret and is able to say, “My Lord and my God.” He then becomes a witness to His name. What he has found in Jesus Christ for himself, he is constrained to make known to others. “He believes and therefore also he speaks.”
It is sometimes asked, Why can I not be saved without faith? I answer, Look to this text and see the reason. Is a man saved who knows nothing of Christ and of God in Him, who indeed refuses this knowledge? It is an impossibility. Salvation lies in the very thing that you seek to get without it. Knowledge of Christ, likeness to Christ, sympathy with Christ: this is salvation; and how can it exist without knowing Him and believing in Him? Go and get health without wholeness, sanity without being sane, and fulness without being filled, and you may have salvation without faith, i.e. salvation without salvation. Faith makes all the difference between Heaven and Hell, not by a mere act of God’s will, but by the very nature of the case. You must enter at this strait gate, if you are ever to enter at all; for there is only one Heaven, that where Christ is believed in, loved, and glorified; and you cannot think of any life for sinners there, which is not through His name.1 [Note: John Cairns, Christ the Morning Star, 304.]
Faith is no common word as the embodiment and expression of a Divine principle, and I do not think we have reached by far its lofty heights, or barely touched even the fringes of its sacred mantle, or caught the breath of its pure life, or felt the charm of its healing touch. I should like to be able to explain the full, deep meaning of this word, but I cannot. I look at it subjectively and objectively. Subjectively, it is God’s gift to man and in man; yes, but it is more. It becomes a part of our best life, and a ruling, purifying part, for it controls and permeates the whole man. Do I err in suggesting that faith is the human counterpart, or that which answers in man, to omniscience in God? As omniscience is the eye of Deity, so faith is the eye of the soul; hence knowledge and life come by a look. God has no faith because He knows all things and needs it not; we do not know all, but the point or power in us which reaches nearest to the all-knowing is faith. Sight has limitations in the objective as well as in the subjective. Faith is limited in the subjective only—it has an infinite objective. Sight has to do solely with the material, faith with the spiritual. Sight is of the body, faith is of the soul.1 [Note: M. Brokenshire.]
(2) How do the signs of Jesus produce faith in Him? St. John felt that the life of Christ had a perpetual value for men. The Lord Jesus was not an ordinary person, had not an ordinary career, and therefore ought not to have an ordinary fate. He was not a simple mortal with common relations to the past, and without any legacies for posterity; but One who gathered into Himself all the nobility and worth of preceding times as into a focus, and was fitted to become the fountain of strength and life for men through succeeding ages. The Son of Man had touched with His sympathetic hand and unrivalled powers the whole circle of human life, and invested every object therein with unfading beauty and exceeding grace. His “signs” spoke to the sorrows and griefs of men, and are eminently worthy of the opportunity of repeating their messages to the care-burdened heart as long as man may open his ears for words from the Unseen. His “sayings” contained truths so original, and yet so pertinent to all that concerns the true progress of man, that no age ought to be without their illuminating presence. His perfect goodness, embodying in the fullest degree the Christian idea of holiness which He had created, was such that it would have been an irreparable injury to have been bereft of the story which enshrined His portrait. The redemptive work He accomplished was so freighted with the best gifts of our heavenly Father to His erring children that to bring it into human literature, and make it contemporary with every age, was to set wide open the door of Heaven and lead men to walk therein; therefore these things were written, that men may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing they may have life in His name.
John the Baptist having been in prison for several months, and becoming anxious concerning the establishment of the visible dominion of which he supposed he had been the pioneer, sent two of his disciples to Jesus with the question, “Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?” The reply of Christ claimed the Messiah’s office and character on incontestable grounds. “Tell John,” said He, “My miracles are wrought amongst the poor in spirit and in goods. I give gladness to the desponding, and joy to the sad. I am the messenger of glad tidings to the people, and blessed is he who is not offended at the mode in which I work, or repulsed by the strongest evidences of my anointing of God.”1 [Note: John Clifford, The Christian, Certainties, 175.]
In the Synoptic Gospels our Lord deals mainly with great moral and spiritual principles. He interprets the aim and inner meaning of the old law, deals with the nature of religion, and scarcely touches on His own personal claims. In St. John the prevailing subject is Himself, His relations to God, to His disciples, and to the unbelieving world. It is in St. John alone, for example, that we read of Christ’s sayings, “I am the bread of life”; “the light of the world”; “the door”; “the good shepherd “; “the resurrection and the life”; “the true vine”; “the way, the truth, and the life.” No reader fails to feel the difference. There is a difference also in the object of the miracles recorded. Not only is there in St. John’s Gospel what Dr. Sanday calls “an enhancement of the miraculous,” but their object is different. In St. John the miracle appears to be a manifestation of Divine power in order to induce belief, rather than, as in the others, a work of compassion, contingent on faith in the person healed.2 [Note: J. M. Wilson, The Origins and Aims of the Four Gospels, 89.]
Our Lord, during the three years of His ministry, had given extraordinary signs of omnipotence as credentials of His Divine mission. St. John makes a judicious and characteristic selection of seven of them, five of which are peculiar to his Gospel. He apparently designed to supplement the Synoptic Gospels by these additional supernatural details, although his main purpose throughout was to put in prominence the Divine side of the Person of Christ, “The Lamb of God.” Note attentively the symbolic import of these seven “signs.”
(1) At Cana He turned the water into wine, figuring to spiritual minds the transformation of the old and weak into the new and strong, the transfiguration of earthly things and relationships by the new spirit of grace.
(2) At Capernaum, Christ’s power of life was declared, whilst the beauty and virtue of faith was illustrated in the nobleman who at the Saviour’s word believed in his son’s cure.
(3) The real perennial fount of life was further shown by the cure of the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda. The Father, the absolute soul, communicates all healing and life-giving powers to men by the Son, who is thus the proximate source. “As the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.”
(4) By the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Jesus manifested Himself to be the sustainer and nourisher of man’s life. This miracle gives point to the pregnant words, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life,” and to His discourses upon the manna, the type and symbol of Himself, “the true bread which cometh down from heaven, of which if a man eat he shall live for ever.”
(5) The winds and waves, too, are here, as in the Synoptic Gospels, represented as obeying His nod. As the Lord of the forces of nature He treads upon the wings of the storm, to the consternation of His disciples.
(6) A man blind from birth who receives sight, to the delightful amazement of his friends and to the confusion of enemies, presents symbolically an illustrious concrete demonstration of the fact that Jesus Christ is the Giver of light, “the light of every man coming into the world.”
(7) The raising of Lazarus, already in a state of putrefaction, fitly sets the Lord forth as “the resurrection and the life.” Hear His own words, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” Again, “marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
The succession of these seven characteristic signs leads up to the crowning tragedy, and the Lord’s own glorious victory over death.1 [Note: J. Miller, Sermons Literary and Scientific, 1st Ser., 20.]
3. What, finally, is the ultimate effect of believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? St. John’s answer is, that we may have life in His name.
The name of Christ, of course, stands for the power of Christ. We express that even in our hymns.
His name the sinner hears,
And is from sin set free,
’Tis music in his ears,
’Tis life and victory.
New songs shall now his lips employ,
And dances his glad heart for joy.
(1) It is worthy of notice that even the lowest kind of life, that which is merely physical and earthly, is helped by the history, example, and influence of Jesus Christ. He Himself blessed men’s bodies, as a kind of image of, and preparation for, the deeper blessing He had in reserve for their souls. Now the Church continues this work and, though not armed with His power of miracle, is doing more at this day than ever was done before to preserve, enlarge, and bless the mere physical life of man. It is doing more than all other remedial agencies to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and to strike at the very roots of all the sins and vices which wear out life and induce decay and death. Take Christ away, out of the Gospels and out of the world, and you see how, as He goes out, death comes in. In heathen lands you light again the widow’s pile, and restore infanticide; and nearer home you give a new license to intemperance and to lust; you break down the law of the Sabbath, and doom the millions to be ground in endless labour. You give a fresh lease to war, with no Christ-like face to come between the combatants and stay their fury. You urge on suicide by making life more miserable and less sacred. You introduce at every point some element of death, and your gospel is simply “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” Such is the best hope of unbelief, such the millennium which secularism in its blindness and against its will is seeking to introduce.
I ascribe my long life under God to my abstaining from the use of intoxicating liquors, and general observance of the laws of health. No doubt my habitual state of mind has had a great influence on my bodily health. My strong confidence in my God and the peace and joy I have felt, springing from an abiding evidence of my acceptance with Him, have tended to promote health and length of days.1 [Note: C. Chiniquy, Forty Years in the Church of Christ, 476.]
(2) But while Christ thus retrieves, conserves, and exalts the life that now is, His greatest blessing is the life that is spiritual, begun here and gloriously prolonged in the life to come. There is the life of knowledge, according to Christ’s own words, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” There is the life of pardon, where the condemned sinner receives a legal title to live, through the Lord our Righteousness. There is the life of regeneration and sanctification, whereby those who were dead in trespasses and sins rise with Christ and walk in newness of life. There is the life of eternal blessedness, which is the consummation of all the rest, according to the promise, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
I do not think we mark sufficiently the traces of autobiography in the sacred writers. The favourite word of St. John is “life.” He dwells upon it more than on any other conception. And it seems to me that there is great appropriateness in the selection. To the men of his generation he was essentially the man of life. He had so much vitality about him that his contemporaries said he would never die. He says himself that if a man had in him the Spirit of Christ he would have in him the spirit of immortal youth, or what he calls Eternal Life. Where did he get that conception? From his own experience. He felt every morning as if he were born afresh into the world. He felt something within him like the springing up of living waters. Nay, he felt as if he had already passed the rubicon of death and had even now entered the world of the immortals. I think if you and I had met St. John the thing that would have impressed us above all other things would have been the vitality of his spirit. We see this manifestation exhibited in some of our fellow-men. There are those whom we describe as “full of life”; and if you ask the source of this life you will find that in every case it is originated by something outside. St. John says that in his case the flow of vitality came from the name of Jesus. The flow of vitality always comes from a human interest, and is generally awakened by a name. The names “liberty,” “equality,” “fraternity,” stimulated the French Revolution—a vital force that shook the world. Many a heart has been vitalized by a name. You sit in a crowded drawing-room and hear a buzz of inarticulate voices. Suddenly, a voice not louder than the rest becomes articulate; it pronounces a name, a name you love. “Have you heard he is coming home?” Before that name broke upon your ear you were listless, apathetic, dead. But when you heard the prophecy of its owner’s advent, a new life rose within you. The eye sparkled; the cheek mantled; the pulse quickened; the room became radiant; the languor vanished; the hours received wings. Even such to the beloved disciple was the mention of the name of Jesus. It made him young again—nay, rather it kept him from ever growing old. It constituted him an evergreen; it gave him life eternal. It not only prolonged his years; it made them perpetual spring—elastic with energy, bounding with hope, buoyant with the promise of to-morrow. It retained within him the heart of a child.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, 73.]
The Chief Purpose of the Gospel
Cairns (J.), Christ the Morning Star, 290.
Clifford (J.), The Christian Certainties, 159.
Davies (J. Ll.), The Manifestation of the Son of God, 32.
Drummond (J.), Spiritual Religion, 40.
Farrar (F. W.), Truths to Live By, 1.
Hall (E. H.), Discourses, 78.
Ragg (L.), Christ and Our Ideals, 1.
Selbie (W. B.), Aspects of Christ, 95.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxvii. No. 1631.
Stalker (J.), The Two St. Johns, 169.
Stryker (M. W.), The Well by the Gate, 43.
Wilson (J. M.), Studies in the Origins and Aims of the Four Gospels, 85.
Christian Commonwealth, March 1, 1911 (Campbell).
Christian World Pulpit, xxxvi. 168 (Brokenshire); xli. 339 (Scott Holland); lxiii. 262 (Mitchell).
Guardian, June 16, 1911 (Strong).
Literary Churchman, xvii. 454.
Treasury, xxii, 263 (Welcher).