Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Word that he may tell us of the Life in it, and of the Life that he may tell us of the Light in it. The Word is a living and light giving one. What are sun, moon, and stars, and all lamps compared with this light? John is speaking here for the eye of the heart.
I. THE DARKNESS THIS LIGHT IS MEANT TO ILLUMINATE. Be thankful for the lights forming part of the physical creation. There is sunlight even when there is not sunshine. Be thankful for the higher lights of civilization. Also the increasing light coming with every new discovery and invention. Each new generation finds the world better to live in, in many respects, Magnify what light you have outside of Christ; then you will better understand how small it is compared with what he has to give. For a while we may not at all feel the need of Christ's light. But the world becomes gloomy and cheerless enough to many who once reckoned it constantly radiant with brightness. The world very soon puzzles and perplexes those who are thoroughly in earnest. Life is such a short and broken thing to many. The longest life is like a candle; it burns and burns till it burns down to the socket, but it burns none the less; and then what is there left to show? God has noticed whatever darkness there may be in your heart. "God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all;" and he wants us to be the same - wants to lead us into the light of constant peace, joy, and purity.
II. THE REASON THIS LIGHT IS SO POWERFUL TO TAKE THE DARKNESS AWAY. The light that God sends is a life. What power often dwells in a word - a true and fitting word, coming from the heart, giving just the information and encouragement needed! But then the kindest and wisest human speakers cannot be always present. And so God has a word for us in a life that can never pass away. Think of the power in his life; of the things he did, and did in such a way as to show he could do a great deal more. Think of the goodness of his life - goodness whereby he did good, and goodness whereby he resisted temptation. Think of the joy abounding in his life, even in the midst of straits and sufferings. Think of the confidence he carried through everything, never doubting whence he had come or what he could do. Think especially of the Resurrection, and life in heaven. It is from a world of life and light that this luminous life shines down upon us.
III. HOW THIS LIGHT BECOMES AVAILABLE TO US. He who told his disciples to shine, does his very best to shine himself. But then we must open our eyes to see this light. Lamps are nothing save as men are willing to use them. It is light we have to seek for: the darkness comes without seeking. Let Jesus shine in our hearts for spiritual blessings corresponding to those natural ones which come through ordinary lights. Let us aim to look back from the safety and fulness of the perfect day, saying, "Christ has indeed been a Light to me." - Y.
Word, uttering forth the thought and will of God in the hearing of mankind; of the Divine Life, quickening the world from spiritual death; of the Divine Light, scattering human darkness, and bringing in the morning of an immortal day. No terms can be too lofty in which to welcome the advent of the Son of God - a theme worthy of praise forever ardent, of a song forever new.
I. CHRIST IS IN HIMSELF THE TRUE LIGHT.
1. As distinguished from, though symbolized by, physical light. When you watch for the morning, and see the crimson dawn fill all the east with promise of the coming day; when from the hill top at noon you scan the landscape where valley, grove, and river are lit up by the splendour of the summer sun; when you "almost think you gaze through golden sunsets into heaven;" when you watch the lovely afterglow lingering on snow clad Alpine summits; when by night you watch the lustrous moon emerge from a veil of clouds, or trace the flaming constellations; - then, remember this, Christ is the true Light.
2. As contrasting with false lights. It is said that upon some coasts wreckers have been known to kindle misleading lights in order to lure confiding seamen to their destruction. Emblem of teachers and of systems that deceive men by representing his bodily and earthly interests as of supreme importance - that bound his horizon by the narrow limits of time, that tell him that God is unknowable. Opposed to such is that heavenly light which never leads astray, and never pales or sets.
3. As distinct from the imperfect lights, in which there was Divine truth, although but dim. There were in such philosophy as the wise and lofty-minded heathen produced, rays of truth which came from God; but these were mingled with the smoke and mists of human error. The Hebrew prophets proclaimed Divine truth and inculcated Divine righteousness; yet they were lost in the Christ who fulfilled them, as the stars are quenched before the rising sun.
4. Christ was the true Light, as revealing the truth concerning God and his character and purposes of mercy; as pouring the lustre of moral purity over a sin-darkened world; as diffusing abroad spiritual life, and with it spiritual brightness, gladness, and hope. He is both luminous and illuminating.
II. CHRIST IS THE LIGHT COMING INTO THE WORLD. In himself he was and is the true Light; but we have reason to be grateful, because, as the Sun of Righteousness, he has arisen upon the world with healing in his wings.
1. This light came into the world even before the advent - has always been streaming into human nature and human society. Reason and conscience are "the candle of the Lord," by which he lights up our inmost being. He who first said, "Let there be light!" having provided that which is natural, did not withhold that which is spiritual.
2. Yet this "coming" was especially in the earthly ministry of our Redeemer. Conversing with Nicodemus, Jesus said, "The Light is come into the world;" and before the close of his ministry he cried, "I am come a Light into the world" - expressions exactly corresponding with the language here used by John. It was to a world which needed him, which was in darkness and the shadow of death for want of him, that the Saviour came. His whole ministry was a holy, gracious shining; and in his light there were many who loved to walk.
3. The Divine light did not cease to come into the world when Christ ascended. In fact, at first, the world generally neither welcomed nor even recognized its Divine Enlightener. Only after the vain attempt to quench the heavenly light did men learn its preciousness and power. From the celestial sphere this glorious and unquenchable Luminary casts its illumining and vivifying rays in a wider sweep. Christ has by his Spirit been constantly "coming" into the world, and with ever-extending beneficence, and has thus been delivering men from the horrors of a moral midnight gloom.
III. CHRIST IS THE LIGHT THAT LIGHTETH EVERY MAN. The largeness of this language quite accords with the teaching of the New Testament generally.
1. There is in every human breast a Divine light - the light of the Word - not dependent upon human forms of doctrine. A ray from heaven will guide all those who look for it, and who are ready to be led by it.
2. The purpose of Christ's coming into the world was that all men might through him enjoy spiritual illumination. The need of such enlightenment is apparent to all who consider the ignorance and sinfulness of mankind, calling for both a revelation of truth and supernatural motives to obedience. Jews and Gentiles both, if in different measure, required a new and spiritual daybreak. Christ came "a Light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the Glory of God's people Israel." Not merely all the nations of men, but all classes and conditions, and even all characters, needed this Divine shining. Those whose eyes were turned to the light found in him the fulfilment of their desires. Those who had been trying to content themselves with darkness, in many cases learned to cherish a better hope, and came to enjoy a purer satisfaction. PRACTICAL APPEAL. The day has broken, the sun shines; Christ, the true Light, lighteth every man. Yet it is for each hearer of the gospel to decide whether he will accept the light and walk in it, or not. The mere shining abroad of spiritual light is not enough; there must be an eye to behold the celestial rays, and that eye must be opened by the influences of the Spirit of God, that it may welcome the sacred sunlight. There are still those who love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. For such, until their hatred or indifference towards Christ be changed, the day has dawned, and the Sun has risen, in vain. - T.
I. CHRIST REJECTED.
1. By whom? The evangelist speaks, first generally, and then specially, upon this point.
(1) The world at large is said to have refused the offered blessing - to have been insensible to the character, and incredulous as to the claims, of Immanuel. This is the more surprising because the world is full of witnesses to the Divine Word; because it was actually made by him; because his natural attributes are displayed in the physical universe, his moral purposes in providence, his righteous law in conscience.
(2) More particularly it is said that his own people, i.e. the Jewish nation, disclaimed their Messiah. This is the more surprising because the Hebrew race was, as it were, a Church, based upon the expectation of his coming; because they possessed prophecies regarding him; because they were familiar with sacrifices, types, and institutions, all of which in some way witnessed to him. Especially it is surprising when we remember that the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God, which might have prepared them to receive the perfect Divine revelation.
2. In what way?
(1) They "knew him not." Some - both Jews and Gentiles - never paid any attention to Jesus, to his discourses, his mighty works, his holy and benevolent character. Some simply indulged an idle curiosity, in gazing upon his works or listening to his discourses. And others, less inattentive, yet never really comprehended the spiritual purpose of his mission, the spiritual significance of his teaching.
(2) They "received him not;" e.g. the inhabitants of Nazareth thrust him out of their city! The Gergasenes besought him to depart from their borders! A certain village in Samaria refused to receive him! Chorazin and Bethsaida were upbraided by him because of their unbelief and their rejection of his claims! Over Jerusalem Jesus wept, on account of the inattention of the people of the metropolis to his solemn warnings and gracious entreaties!
3. For what reasons?
(1) His humility was an offence to their worldliness and pride.
(2) His holy character was a rebuke to their sin.
(3) His spiritual teaching was a rebuke to their formality.
(4) His life of benevolence was a rebuke to their selfishness and haughtiness.
4. With what results?
(1) Their guilt was aggravated by their rejection of his mission.
(2) They were speedily deprived of the privileges they despised and abused.
(3) The impenitent incurred spiritual disaster and ruin.
II. CHRIST ACCEPTED. John states first, what must have been the general impression during our Lord's ministry, that Jews and Gentiles alike rejected him. Indeed, his unjust, cruel, and violent death was sufficient proof of this. But there was another side to this picture.
1. Observe by whom the Son of God was gratefully and cordially received. This very chapter witnesses to the power of the Lord Jesus over individual souls; for it tells of the adhesion of Andrew and Simon, of Philip and Nathanael. The Gospels relate the call of the twelve and of the seventy. They afford us a passing glimpse into the soul history of such men as Nicodemus and Joseph, of such families as that of Lazarus at Bethany. And they exhibit Christ's attractive power over very different characters, such as Zacchaeus and the penitent thief upon the cross. After the Ascension, Christ's converts were reckoned, not by individuals, but by thousands. And throughout the Christian centuries, men from every clime and of every race have been led by the Spirit to receive Jesus as the Son of God.
2. Observe the description given of their reception of Christ. They "believed on his Name." The "Name" is full of significance. Whether we examine the name "Jesus," or "Christ," or "Immanuel," the Name sets before us the object of our faith. Those who receive the Saviour who is thus designated, believe what prophecy foretold of him and what he declared concerning his own person, character, and work. They trust in him as in an all-sufficient Mediator, and obey him as their Lord.
3. Observe the privilege accruing to those who receive Christ
(1) They partake a spiritual and Divine birth. The new relation begins a new spiritual life. This is further explained in our Lord's conversation with Nicodemus, where Jesus refers this spiritual birth to the Holy Spirit himself.
(2) They become children of God, taking by "right" a place in the Divine family. This exalted and happy position involves participation in Divine favour and love, in the moral image of the heavenly Father, in all the society and the immunities of this glorious kindred, in the eternal inheritance and home. APPLICATION. Our treatment of the Lord Christ makes the decisive turning point in our spiritual history. Those who are once brought into contact with him, by hearing his gospel, are by that fact placed in a new and solemn position of responsibility. To reject him is to reject pardon, righteousness, and life. To accept him is to enter the Divine family, to enjoy the Divine favour, to live the Divine, the spiritual, the immortal life. - T.
I. HIS APPEARANCE IN THIS WORLD. This involves:
1. The greatest wonder. "He was in the world." But was he not ever in the world since its creation? Yes; in its laws, order, and beauty; in its conscience, reason, and religion; by his Word, Spirit, and revelations. But these words announce his special presence. He was in the world as one of its inhabitants, under its laws and necessities, in human nature, as "the Word made flesh." This is most wonderful. Think, who was he? More than human, else his having been in the world would not be a matter of surprise. He was the Son of God - the Word, which was in the beginning with God, and was God; therefore God was in the world in human form. This is the most wonderful fact in the history of this world, and, perhaps, in that of any other. So wonderful that it has engaged the interest and attention of good men of all ages, and even of angels. One element of its wonder is its mysteriousness and apparent impossibility. We are ready to ask with Nicodemus, "How can these things be?" But, although wonderful and mysterious, "he was in the world."
2. The greatest condescension. We see this when we consider who he was, and what is the world in which he was. Compared with his mansion, it is but a poor cot. In size it is but a particle of dust; in glory, but a flitting ray of the creative sun. And when we look at it from a moral point of view, as fallen, our estimate is much lower still - a territory in rebellion, a valley of dry bones, full of desolation, disease, and death. It would be a great condescension in an angel to come and live in such a world, but how much greater in him who is the Lord of angels! It would be great condescension on his part to look even with any delight on such a world as ours, but infinitely more to live in it, and live under the poorest and most harassing conditions: not in a palace, rolling in wealth and luxury, but born in a stable; wandering from place to place, weary and homeless; poorer than the foxes of the field. What a condescension!
3. The greatest love. No other principle will account for the wonderful fact but love. For in the world there were no attractions for him. In a moral sense its sceneries were frightful, its air pestilential, and its inhabitants not merely unfriendly but hostile - hostile to each other, and bitterly hostile to him their Saviour. In this sense the world was to him repelling. But that which was repelling to his holiness, simply considered, was attractive to his love and mercy. Sin is repelling to holiness; but the distress and danger of sinners in consequence are mighty attractions to Divine pity. Such is the wrecked ship to the lifeboat crew; such are the wounded soldiers on the battlefield to the philanthropic heart, and such was this ruined world to infinite love. So that he was in it.
4. The greatest importance. That he was in the world. So important, that it was foretold by prophets, foreshadowed by priests, kept before the world by Divine ritualism, expected by the world from time to time; and nothing would satisfy the wants and cravings of human nature but the appearance of God among men. So that the fact of his having been in the world is most important to truth - to the Divine fidelity as well as to human want and happiness. The absence of all besides would be of infinitely less consequence than his. If he had not been in the world, the foundation stone of the Divine temple would be wanting. The central fact of the kingdom of God on earth would be absent, and the world itself could not stand.
5. The greatest benefit and honour to the world.
(1) The greatest benefit. The benefit which the world has derived is salvation. This could not be effected without his incarnate life: nothing else would answer the purpose. Hence, what a benefit to the world that he was in it!
(2) The greatest honour. This was the greatest honour ever conferred on the world. And is there any other world which has been so honoured? What is ours compared with many of God's worlds? It is but as Bethlehem-Ephrata - "the least among the thousands of Judah." And does the least attract him? Does he specially help the most helpless, the weakest, the most miserable, and leave the strong to some extent to themselves? Many a spot is sacred as the birthplace or residence of a great man - of great poet or statesman; his presence has honoured the place and made it sacred. If so, is not this world holy and sacred to us; for he was in it? This world will ever be remembered and distinguished as the world in which God was in human flesh. In the great conflagration, will it be burnt? or will it be the last? Or, if some of it shall perish, shall not Bethlehem, Gethsemane, and Calvary be preserved, as parts of the new earth, in commemoration of the great fact that he was in the world?
6. This fact is well attested. Was he really in the world? In answer to this question there is a most emphatic "Yes" coming from heaven and earth. The life of Christ on earth is an incontrovertible fact, and nothing can explain it but that he really was what he himself claimed to be, and what his friends and even his foes represented him to be: the Son of God - God manifested in the flesh. "He was in the world." For proof of this we are not entirely dependent on the distant past, for on "the sands of time" we find footprints which no one but an incarnate God could make. He has left behind him glorious and undeniable proofs of his having been here, in the gracious system of redemption and its ever-growing and mighty effects in the moral restoration of the world.
II. THE CREATION OF THE WORLD BY HIM. "And the world was made by him." This implies:
1. His Divinity. If he made the world, he was God, for creative power is the sole prerogative of Divinity. "The world was made," etc. This is saying much; but, after all, it is saying but little of him of whom it was previously said that "all things were created by him," etc. It is not much to say that he created a drop after saying that he had created the ocean. Here is a descent from the whole to a very small part. But still, in connection with the previous fact that he was in the world, it is quite natural to be reminded that the world was made by him.
2. That he had a perfect piglet to come as he did into the world. For "the world was made by him." Thus he was in his own world absolutely. Although he had let it to the children of men as his tenants, yet he reserved the right to visit when and how he pleased. And when he came he was not an intruder, not an infringer of any right, nor a transgressor of any law; for "the world was made," etc.
3. This fact accounts to some extent for his visit. In every world, as the production of his creative power and wisdom, he takes the deepest interest, and he is responsible for all the possible results of its existence, and all its possible requirements were taken into account when made, and doubtless his incarnate life in this world was involved in its creation. We find that he felt a deep interest in this world, and took an early delight in the visit, being in the original plan. Not every world is made on this plan; but such was the plan of our world, that it was necessary, in "the fulness of time," for God to be manifested in the flesh, and live for a short time on earth as one of its tenants. God will carry out the original plan of every world he made at any cost, though it may involve the greatest condescension and. sacrifice.
III. HIS UNRECOGNITION BY THE WORLD. "And the world knew him not." This is not asserted of the material world, for this knew him; all its laws, elements, and forces knew him at once, and signified their recognition. But it is sadly true of the world's inhabitants. "They knew him not." This indicates:
1. Great guilt. They ought to know him; for "he was in the world" - in their nature and in their midst. They could not plead distance and disadvantages of recognition. They ought to know him; "the world was made by him;" and before their very eyes he proved the authorship beyond any doubt, by touching its laws and forces, and they were pliant to his touch, his word, and even to his will. The world of matter knew him, but that of intelligence, etc., which ought to know him, knew him not. He came to be known - gave every opportunity to this world to know him; but in spite of all, "the world knew him not."
2. Great moral perversion. There is great neglect, great inattention, terrible blindness, and wilful resistance. It was not that they could not, but they would not.
3. A great loss. For he was their Creator and Friend, their Messiah and Redeemer. He was in the world to save and bless it. The condition on which his blessings could be imparted and appropriated was to know and accept him. The condition was disregarded and the blessings lost. This is the greatest loss ever sustained by the world, the greatest blunder the world ever committed, the greatest oversight, - to let its incarnate Creator and Redeemer be in it unknown and unrecognized.
4. This is not exceptional in the history of the world. How many of the world's greatest benefactors have been unrecognized by the age in which they lived, and which they benefited! But this is not to be wondered at - the world began badly with its best and greatest Friend. This was the fate of the Son of God. If he had a tombstone, it could be appropriately written on it, "He was in the world," etc. This is true of all who live before, above, and for their age. It takes ages in such a world as this to know them fully.
1. That the brightest fact in the history of this world is that God was in it in the flesh. Let it be well published and believed; it is full of significance, comfort, and hope.
2. It is one of the blackest spots in the character of the world, that it left him unrecognized when here. This led to terrible results - the Crucifixion, etc.
3. The world should be sorry for not recognizing him - should make an ample apology. The world has made an apology, but not to the extent it ought to yet. It is a source of great comfort that he did not leave in anger, but is willing and ready to receive our apology in repentance and sorrow.
4. While we blame the world for its unrecognition of the Son of God, let us beware lest we commit the same sin. He is in the world now. Do we really know him? and to what extent? - B.T.
I. CHRIST IGNORED. "The world knew him not." This statement is humiliating to the world, not to Christ. The world makes a great parade of its insight and its power to give deciding verdicts; but here is its very Maker in its midst, yet it knows him not. Here surely is the crowning sin of the world, that it knows not him who is the Fountain of all its boasted powers. Were the world what it ought to be, it would welcome its Maker, rejoicing in the presence of him who gave its intellect and all the material on which that intellect is so busy. In the face of this statement of John, it should not trouble us that so much of the world's intellect and grandeur ignores Christ. A man with the worldly spirit strong in him is contented with his own infallibility and certainty. Rather let us, when we see the world's complacent ignoring of Christ, contrast it with the Christian's substantial knowledge of him. And seeing that the world, with all its knowledge, knows not Christ, let us bear in mind how many things the Christian himself does not yet know.
II. CHRIST IGNORED WHERE MOST OF ALL HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN RECEIVED. The reference is doubtless to Christ's coming into the land of Israel. He was not only the world's Maker, but Israel's Messiah, and Israel failed to recognize him in either capacity. They did not give him even a provisional reception till such time as his claim could be examined; for such seems the force of παρέλαβον. They were prejudiced against him from the very first. Every word and act were twisted against trim. What candour there is in these admissions of John! Christianity fears no statement of facts. The more emphatic and bitter human rejections became the more clearly the necessity of a Christ was proved.
III. RECEIVING CHRIST, AND ITS RESULT. Here is the whole truth. The world cannot receive Christ, but always there are some who go out from the world because they are not of the world. Among the children of men there is a rejecting spirit and a receiving spirit. He who receives Christ must be all the more determined and cordial in his reception, because he sees so many rejecting; and he who is at all inclined to consider the claims of Christ must be careful not to be turned aside because so many are indifferent. See with your own eyes. All true things have met with scorn and persecution at first. But what is it to receive Christ? Evidently to deliver ourselves over to his rule and authority. If a man should receive a traveller into his house, and give trim henceforth the disposition of everything there, that would give the analogy as to how we should receive Christ; and so receiving Christ, we gain the right to become sons of God. We have our part in the natural world's existence through Christ, and that comes without our willing; but a part in the highest attainment belonging to human life, even sonship towards God, can only come through our voluntary submission to Christ. Jesus gives true and humble disciples the right to become sons of God; and teaching them to say, "Our Father, who art in heaven," he involves the constant remembrance of this right in every true prayer. - Y.
I. AS COME TO HIS OWN.
1. This is a special coming. He was in the world before and after his Incarnation. But here we have a special description of his manifestation. "He came." He had to do with the Jewish nation for ages, but no previous movement of his could be accurately described in this language. He came now physically, personally, and visibly.
2. This is a special coming to his own. His own land - the land of Palestine; his own people - the Jewish nation. He came to the world at large, but came through a particular locality. He came to humanity generally, but came through a particular nation. This was a necessity, and according to pre-arrangement. The Jewish nation were his own people:
(1) By a Divine and sovereign choice. They were chosen out of the nations of the earth to be the recipients of God's special revelations of his will, the objects of his special care and protection, and the special medium of his great redemptive thoughts and purposes. There was a mutual engagement.
(2) By a special covenant. God entered into a covenant with them by which they were his people, to obey and serve him; and he was their God, to bless and save them.
(3) By special promises. The central one of which was the promise of the Messiah and the blessings of his reign. This promise permeated every fibre of their constitution, and became the soul of their national and religious life.
(4) By a special training. They were divinely disciplined for ages for his advent. They were taught to expect him, and trained to receive him, and, under this training, their expectation grew into a passion. The Messianic idea was fostered among them by a long and careful training, by promises, by the occasional appearance of "the Angel of Jehovah," who was doubtless no other than the Eternal Word himself. They were trained by special privileges, revelations, and protection; by an economy of ceremonial rites and sacrifices, which all pointed to the Messiah as coming. In the light of these facts he was their own Messiah. and they were his own people; and it was necessary, as welt as natural, that he should come to his own. There was a special attraction and affinity felt on his part, and there ought to be on theirs. Had he appeared in any other land than that of Israel, or identified himself with any other nation than the Jewish, he would not have come according to the volume of the book written of him. But there were the most cogent reasons, the fittest propriety, and the most absolute necessity that he should come to his own, and he came.
3. This was a special coming to all his own. Not to some, but to all. Not to a favoured class, but to all classes - rich and poor, learned and unlearned. The unlearned and poor being the large majority of the nation as well as the world, he identified himself rather with them; for he could reach the higher classes better front below, than the lower classes from above. He taught all without distinction, offered the blessings of his coming to all without the least partiality, and invited all to his kingdom by the same road, viz. repentance and faith.
II. AS REJECTED BY THE MAJORITY. "And his own received him not." A few received him; but they were exceptions, and they received him individually, not nationally; as sinners and aliens, and not as his own. So complete was the rejection that it is a sad truth, "his own received him not." Their rejection of him:
1. Was a sad dereliction of duty. A duty they owed to their God and Defender; a duty most sacred, important, and obligatory. A duty for the performance of which they had been chiefly chosen, specially blessed, preserved, and prepared for ages; but when the time came, they sadly failed to perform it. "His own received him not."
2. Was most inexcusable. It is true that they knew him not to be the Son of God, the promised Messiah. This is stated by the apostle. But this is not a legitimate excuse; they ought to know him. They had the most ample advantages; they were familiar with his portraits as drawn by the prophets, and he exactly corresponded. His holy character, his mighty deeds, and his Divine kindness were well known, and even confessed by them. They had the mightiest proofs of his Messiahship and Divinity. So that they had no excuse for their ignorance, and consequently no excuse for their rejection.
3. Was cruelly ungrateful. Ingratitude is too mild a term to describe their conduct. It was cruel. Think who he was - the Son of God, the Prince of Life, their rightful King, their promised and long expected Messiah, come to them all the way from heaven, not on a message of vengeance as might be expected, but on a message of peace and universal good will, to fulfil his gracious engagement and carry out the Divine purposes of redeeming grace. Leaving out the graver charge of his crucifixion, his rejection was cruelly ungrateful and ungratefully cruel. "His own received him not."
4. Was most fatal to them. They rejected their best and only Friend and Deliverer, who had most benevolently come to warn and save them - come for the last time, and their reception of him was the only thing that could deliver them socially and spiritually; but "his own received him not." This proved fatal to them. There was nothing left but national dissolution and ruin, and that was soon the case; and they are the victims of their own conduct to this day. To reject Jesus is ultimately fatal to nations as well as to individuals.
5. Was most discouraging to him. To be rejected, and to be rejected by his own - by those who it might be expected would receive him with untold enthusiasm. Better be rejected by strangers and spurned by professed foes, - this would he expected; but to he rejected by his own is apparently more than he can bear. And not satisfied with leaving him an outcast in his own world, they banish him hence by a cruel death. What will he do? Will he be disheartened, leave with disgust, and hurl on the world the thunderbolts of vengeance? No; but stands his ground, and tries his fortune among strangers, according to ancient prophecy, "He shall not fail, nor be discouraged," etc.
III. AS RECEIVED BY SOME. "But as many as received him," etc. He was received by a minority - a small but noble minority. With regard to the few who received him we see:
1. The independency and courage of their conduct. They received him, though rejected by the majority, which included the most educated and influential. It is one thing to swim with the tide, but another to swim against it. It is easy to go with the popular current, but difficult to go against it. This requires a great independency of action and decision of character. Those who received Jesus at this time did this - they received "the Despised and Rejected of men." They accepted the Stone rejected, and rejected of the builders. This involved admirable independency of conduct and courage of conviction.
2. The reward of their conduct. "But as many as received him, to them gave he power," etc.
(1) The closest relationship to God. His children: children first, then sons; the seed first, then the ripe fruit.
(2) The highest honour that men can enjoy. Children of God.
(3) This is the gift of Christ. "To them gave he power," etc. This word means more than power; it means right as well - power first, then right. Men had neither to sonship, but Christ gave both. The fact is patent - he gave the power. The title is good - he gave the right.
(4) This is the gift of Christ consequent upon receiving him. "But as many as received him, to them," etc. And to none else. But to as many as received him he gave the power. There was not a single failure, not a single exception. They received the Son of God, and became themselves the children of God in consequence. They were not disappointed, but had reasons to be more than satisfied with their choice, and more than proud of their unexpected and Divine fortune. If Jesus were disappointed in his own, those who received him were not disappointed in Jesus - only on the best side; for "to them gave he power," etc.
3. The explanation of their conduct. How did. they receive him while the majority rejected him? How came they possessed of such a high honour - to become the children of God? The answer is, "They believed on his Name." It was by faith. We see:
(1) The discerning power of faith. Faith has a discerning power; it can see through the visible to the invisible, through the immediate present to the distant future. In this instance, faith saw through the outward the inward; through the physical it saw the Divine; through the outward humiliation and poverty it discovered a Divine presence. In "the Man of sorrows" faith saw the Son of God, and in "the Despised and Rejected of men" the Saviour of the world.
(2) The receptive power of faith. Jesus was received by faith. Faith saw, recognized, and consequently received, him as the Messiah. God speaks, faith listens; God offers, faith accepts.
(3) The regenerative and transforming power of faith. "They became the sons of God." How? By the given power of Jesus in connection with faith. Christ gave himself as a Divine Seed; faith received, appropriated, and nursed him so as to result in a Divine regeneration and birth. Faith transforms its object into its possessor; so that the believer in the Son of God becomes the son of God himself. This is a Divine process from beginning to end, in which faith - a Divine gift - plays a prominent part.
(4) Faith in Christ produced the same result in all. "As many as received him," etc. No matter as to position, education, or character.
1. The minority are often right, and the majority wrong. It was so on the plain of Dura, in Babylon, and so here.
2. The minority, generally, are the first to accept great truths; the majority reject them. Think of scientific, reforming and redemptive truths. The Jewish nation rejected the Saviour; a few received him.
3. It is better to be with the minority when right, than with the majority when wrong. They have truth and right, and will ultimately win all to their way of thinking. The few that received Jesus are fast gaining ground. The Saviour of the minority win soon be the Saviour of all.
4. We should be very thankful to the minority for receiving the Saviour. Humanly speaking, they saved the world from eternal disgrace and ruin - from sharing the fate of those who rejected him.
5. We should be infinitely more thankful to the Saviour that he did not leave the world in disgust and vengeance when rejected by his own. But inspired by infinite love, he turned his face to the world at large, stood by the minority, and the minority stood by him. The river of God's eternal purposes cannot be ultimately checked. If checked in one direction, it will take another, and the result will be more glorious. Christ comes to us every day. Do we receive him? Our obligations are infinite. - B.T.
observation, and, in closest connection therewith, the declaration of personal conviction.
I. THE STATEMENT OF THE WITNESS. "We beheld his glory."
1. John and his fellow apostles knew Christ in his humanity - in the "flesh" as the expression is in this passage.
2. They knew him as he "tabernacled" among them. John and Andrew, when the Baptist directed their attention to Jesus, inquired of him, "Where dwellest thou?" and at his invitation visited him and abode with him. The writer of this Gospel enjoyed peculiar opportunities of acquaintance, nay, of intimacy, with the Prophet of Nazareth, whose beloved disciple he became. If one human being ever knew another, John knew Jesus; he not only was constantly with him, his disposition and character rendered him specially fit for judging and appreciating him.
3. John and his colleagues bore witness that they recognized their Master's "glory." Why is such language used? Why his "glory"? He was a peasant woman's Son, and remained in the condition of life to which he was born. There was nothing in his garb, his appearance, his associations, the outward circumstances of his lot, which, in the view of men generally, could justify such an expression. These men must have had their own conception of "glory." As spiritual Hebrews, they had a noble idea of the majesty, the righteousness, the purity of God, and also of the moral splendour of the Divine Law. Thus it came to pass that, enlightened by the Spirit, they discerned glory where to the eyes of others there was only humiliation. They saw the moral glory of purity and benevolence in the Lord's Person and character, in the "grace" which he displayed in dealing with suppliants and penitents, in the "truth" which he uttered and embodied. They could not fail to remark the glory of his miracles, of his transfiguration, of his victory over death, of the manner in which he quitted the earth in which he had sojourned. All this, as intelligent and sympathetic witnesses, John and his companions beheld, and to this they testified.
II. THE INFERENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN. The glory was "of the Only Begotten of the Father." They knew well that the world to which Jesus came needed a Divine Saviour. Such a Saviour they were encouraged by the word of prophecy to expect. And their familiarity with the character and the mission of Jesus led them to hail the Son of man as Son of God. If Jesus were not the Only Begotten of the Father, how could they account for the facts of his ministry, for the authority he wielded, the claims he made? He had called himself the Son of God; he had lived like the Son of God; he had wrought the works of God. He had been addressed as the Son of the living God, and had accepted the appellation. Were the disciples to forget all this; to persuade themselves that they had been in a mist of bewilderment; to give up their deepest convictions, their purest and most ennobling beliefs? If not, then they must needs assert their belief that the glory they had seen was that of the Only Begotten of the Father. The same inference is binding upon us. To deny of Jesus what John here affirms of him is to leave the Church without a foundation, the heart without a refuge, the world without a hope. If Christ be not what John represents him as being, then the world can never know and rejoice in a full and personal revelation of the supreme mind and heart and will. It may be said that this is the misfortune of humanity, and that it must be accepted as inevitable. But the text points out to us a better way. The sincere and impressive language of John encourages us first to realize to ourselves the unique moral majesty of Jesus, and then to draw from this the inference which he and other witnesses of Jesus' character and life drew so firmly and conclusively - the inference, namely, that he was none other than the Son of God, deserving of human reverence and faith, love and devotion. The witness of Christ's companions we cannot reject. Their convictions concerning their Master and Friend we are abundantly justified in sharing. If we have a heart capable of appreciating the Saviour's moral glory, we shall not be without guidance in estimating the justice of his claim to superhuman dignity - to Divine authority. - T.
Exodus 20, where the great principles of the Law given through Moses are stated.
I. CONSIDER, THE BASIS OF JEHOVAH'S CLAIM. "I am Jehovah thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." The fact of deliverance was indisputable, and just as indisputable the fact that the people had not delivered themselves; and for a while the delivered people hardly knew why they were delivered. Left to themselves, they might have scattered; but there was a compulsion on them all the time - a compulsion into liberty, a compulsion to go through the Bed Sea, a compulsion towards the awful solitudes of Sinai. Then at last Jehovah tells them what he expects. He who has done great things for them wants to know what they will do for him; and, lest they be inattentive, he states, to begin with, the solid basis of his claim. Then turn from Moses to Jesus Christ, and we have but another aspect of the same Jehovah. Jehovah was really gracious in the giving of the Law; but the grace got hidden. In Jesus Christ grace is manifest to all. There is the basis of a claim on you. You have but to look back on the experiences of others, human beings like yourselves - like in infirmity, like in manifold needs, like in the pollution of an evil heart, like in suffering and sorrow, like in sickness and mortality. As Jesus in the flesh actually dealt with men in various positions, so now, in the spirit according to his view of your needs, will he deal with you. Jesus turned no water to blood, smote no cattle with pestilence, bruised no fields With hail, gathered no clouds of locusts, wrapt no land in gross darkness, robbed no parents of their firstborn, overwhelmed no armies in the sea. A little child can see that grace and truth are in Jesus Christ.
II. CONSIDER THE CLAIM OF JEHOVAH ITSELF. Take the first item. "Thou shall have no other gods before me." Look at all that is involved in this claim. It means that we are to worship Jehovah alone, and that, of course, assumes that we are actually worshippers of the one God to begin with. What if we are deluding ourselves with mere outward performances before a name? Do we know what we worship? Labelling the unknown with the name of God does not make it better known. And Moses gave no help in revealing the nature of God. He uttered bare law. But Jesus comes with a grace and truth which are strangely self-revealing. He winds gently into the hearts of men, by every entrance he can find. He quietly accepts as his right the reverence and adoration of every heart willing to render them. No long elucidations are needed to make it plain that he is a gracious Being. We need no formal command to worship him. We are instinctively drawn to our knees in his presence. He carries the essence of his commandments charactered in his gracious face. Thus by considering all the ten commandments, we should get illustrations of the grace and truth in Jesus Christ. The ten commandments, just by themselves, however often repeated, can bring comfort to no human being, only a deeper conviction of one's sin and misery. Jesus brings the Law just as vigorously as Moses; but he brings more than Law. Through his demands there shine forth gloriously grace and truth, favour and reality. Not simply good wishes on the one side, or bare reality on the other. Christ brings a grace that is truthful, and a truth that is gracious. He comes as both the kindest and ablest of physicians. He gives strength before he asks service. Grace and truth flow from him to us, and then in due time grace and truth flow forth from us also. - Y.
I. CHRIST AS THE REVEALER OF GOD. "He hath declared him."
1. He brought much that was known of God into a clearer light. In this respect his revelation
(1) was confirmative, confirming people in their notions of God as far as they were right.
(2) It was corrective - correcting the false notions of heathenism and Judaism, so that the God of Christ is very different from and far superior to that of the heathen and even that of the Jews.
2. He revealed much that was new, which was not known before. Such as:
(1) The spirituality of God.
(2) His fatherhood.
(3) His gracious will to fallen humanity in the great scheme of redemption which Christ came, not only to reveal, but to work out in his Divine-human life and death.
(4) The way of access to and reconciliation with God.
(5) His spiritual reign in his people on earth, and they with and in him for over in heaven.
II. CHRIST AS A PERFECT REVEALER OF GOD. "He hath declared him."
1. Perfect in the character of his knowledge.
(1) His knowledge was direct. Not borrowed or derived; but as the Son of God, and God himself, it was relationally direct and personally intuitive. He was not only the Channel, but the Fountain.
(2) His knowledge was absolute and exact. In this respect he was the truth itself. He could speak, not about something he had seen some time, but about what was actually present to him then; was not dependent upon memory and association, but on his present vision and personal consciousness.
(3) His knowledge was full, covering his subject in all its vastness and meaning, its fathomless depths, its dizzy heights, and boundless breadth.
2. Perfect in his revealing qualifications. In a perfect revealer of God to man there must be:
(1) Oneness of nature with both parties. Mere man or angel would be deficient. But Christ is perfectly qualified in this respect, being the Son of God and the Son of man, the Eternal Word which was God, but which "became flesh." An inferior mind cannot interpret a superior one. The bed of a brook cannot contain the Amazon. Christ being equal with God, and having assumed human nature, was in a position to reveal God perfectly to the human race; being God-Man, he could speak of God as man to men, in their nature and language.
(2) Intimate fellowship with both parties. Christ was in the bosom of the Father - a position of the most intimate fellowship; and not merely "he became flesh," but also "dwelt among us," lived in the closest fellowship with the human family, and was most intimately acquainted with all their wants, weaknesses, peculiarities, and difficulties.
(3) Thorough sympathy with both parties. This Jesus pre-eminently possessed. Being "the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father" - a position, not merely of the closest fellowship, but also of tenderest affection and mutual sympathy - his heart and will were tenderly sympathetic with the heart of God, and with the saving purposes of his love with regard to the human family. And as the "Word made flesh," he was in tenderest sympathy with mankind - with all their spiritual wants and aspirations; the faintest sigh for God would find in him a most ready and helpful response.
3. Perfect in his mode of revelation. Think of:
(1) Its clearness. It is clearly simple and simply clear, so that a child can understand it, and the blind almost see it. He would talk of God with the same ease and simplicity as he would talk of an object really present to him.
(2) Its suggestiveness. It stirs up the latent aspirations and powers of man to seek for and receive the knowledge of God.
(3) The prominence he gave to his subject. He declared God in all he said, kept him continually before the minds of his hearers; he kept himself in the background, and, as a Teacher, made himself of no reputation, that God his Father and our Father might be known.
(4) Its exemplification. He declared God, not only by precept, but by example. He used homely illustrations from nature, but found the homeliest illustration of God in his own Person and life, so that he could say, "He that hath seen me," etc. And he shirked not even from dying in order to declare God, so that in his. tragic death on the cross we have the most striking and convincing illustration of the love of God to a guilty world.
4. Perfect in the scope of his revelation. "He declared God" - as much as God wished and man required. Less would not do; more would be unnecessary and perhaps injurious. While curiosity is not satisfied, the wants of faith are met; so that God can now be known, "which is life eternal."
III. CHRIST AS THE ONLY PERFECT REVEALER OF GOD. "No man hath seen God," etc.
1. To declare God fully he must be seen. A full vision of him no man ever had, not even Moses, therefore could not fully declare him. Man's knowledge of God at best is limited and imperfect, and therefore incapable of being the medium of the full and essential revelation of God to the world.
2. Christ alone saw God, and he is the only perfect Revealer of him. His position is unique, He stands alone, he occupied a position in relation to God which no other one could occupy - "the Only Begotten," etc.
3. His revelation is infinitely valuable. Because:
(1) Supremely important. All knowledge is valuable, but, compared with the knowledge of God, every other knowledge fails into insignificance. Our eternal well being hangs upon it.
(2) Most reliable. It comes from the highest source, through the highest and most suitable medium, and in the most intelligible and convincing manner.
(3) It is most rare. It is a revelation which we could never get in any other way or from any other source - a revelation which God alone could give, and could only give through his Son.
1. We should hold Jesus in the highest esteem as the Revealer of God to us. No one else could reveal him as he did. We should magnify his grace in making known to us, at an infinite sacrifice, his Father's character, will, and purposes.
2. The gospel is an absolute truth. For what is it but the Son's revelation of the Father? - what he had seen and heard and experienced of him, and been sent to declare: his gracious purposes of grace towards the fallen human family?
3. As such the gospel should be accepted in implicit faith and burning gratitude. To reject is the greatest sin, to receive is the most urgent duty. "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation," etc. - B.T.
I. JOHN'S DISCLAIMER. No doubt there was an expectation, general and eager, of One who, in accordance with Hebrew prophecy, should be the Deliverer and Ruler of God's people Israel. From varying motives - in some cases with spiritual yearning, in other cases with political expectation - the Jews turned anxiously towards every personage of distinction and influence who arose among the people. Thus they turned to John, whose character was austere and inflexible as that of a Hebrew seer, and whose popular power was manifest from the multitude of his adherents and admirers. In these circumstances, John's first duty was to give an unequivocal answer to the inquiry of the Jews. This inquiry was pointed and particular. Was John Elias, again visiting the people who revered him as one of their holiest and mightiest saints? There was something in his appearance, his habits, his speech, that suggested this possibility. Or was he "the prophet," less definitely designated? Or could it be that he was none other than the Messiah? The times were ripe for the advent of the promised Deliverer; John evidently possessed a spiritual authority, a popular power, such as Israel had not seen for many a generation. To every such inquiry John had only one answer: "I am not." In this disclaimer we recognize both the intelligence and the candour of the forerunner. A weak mind might have been overpowered by interest so profound and widespread. A self-seeking and ambitious mind might have taken advantage of such an opportunity to assert a personal authority and to climb to the throne of power. John was superior to such temptations. Though greater than others born of women, he did not aspire to a position for which God had not destined him. In fact, he was too great to wish to be aught but the herald and the servant of him who was to come.
II. JOHN'S CLAIM. A just and admirable modesty was not, indeed never is, inconsistent with a due assertion of position and duties assigned by God. He who knows what God has sent him into the world to do, will neither depreciate his own work nor envy another's. The claim made by John was very remarkable. He affirmed himself to be:
1. A fulfilment of prophecy. The circumstances of his birth and education, taken in conjunction with certain declarations of Old Testament Scripture, must have suggested to John that he held a place in the revealed counsels of eternal wisdom.
2. A voice. Often had God spoken to Israel. In John he spake yet again. To him it was given to utter by human lips the thoughts of the Divine mind. Not that this was mechanical function; John's whole soul was inflamed with the grandeur and the burning necessity of that message of repentance which he was called upon to deliver to his fellow countrymen. Nothing but the conviction that his voice was the expression of Divine thought, that he was summoning men in God's Name to a higher life of righteousness and faith, could have animated him to discharge his ministry with such amazing boldness. Nor could any other conviction have overcome the difficulty he must at first have felt in publicly witnessing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ.
3. A herald, and one preparing the way of a great Successor. It was his to make straight the Lord's way. It was his to announce the Messiah's approach, and to direct the attention of Israel to the coming in lowly guise of Israel's King. It was his. to subside into comparative insignificance, to withdraw from publicity, in order that he might make room for One whose presence would bring the realization of the brightest hopes and the most fervent prayers. It was his to administer the humbler baptism with water - the symbol of a better baptism to be conferred by Christ, even that with the Holy Spirit.
1. Learn the completeness and harmony of the Divine plan. The revelation of God proceeds upon an order which may be recognized both by the intellect and by the heart of man. The wisdom of the Eternal arranges that all preparation shall be made for the appearance of the world's Saviour; the morning star heralds the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. God's ways in grace are as regular and as orderly as his ways in providence.
2. Learn the dignity and preciousness of Immanuel. One so honourable as the Baptist yet deemed himself unworthy to serve the meek and lowly . Jesus - to act as his meanest attendant. Lowly was his attitude, and reverent his words, when the Son of God drew near. Surely he, who was so regarded and so heralded, demands our homage and deserves our love. - T.
I. THE DEPUTATION'S QUESTION. "Who art thou?" This implies:
1. That a spirit of inquiry trod been awakened. Whether from curiosity, officialism, or jealousy, it was there. It is better to be questioned from any motive than not to be questioned at all. It is better for the questioners themselves. That is a very dull age or person that asks no questions. Asking is the condition of receiving. It is better for the one questioned, especially if he be a public man - a teacher with a truth, or a herald with a message. It proves that his presence and efforts awake attention. This was the case with the Baptist now. It gladdened his heart that a deputation came and questioned him. It proved that his voice had begun to stir the land and awake the spirit of inquiry.
2. That there was a prevalent expectation at the time for the appearance of a great personage. Some expecting the Messiah, some Elijah, some the prophet, and all expecting some great one to appear. Time somehow had reached its fulness; it had been in travail for some time, and a birth was naturally expected. Ancient prophecy also nursed the expectation, and there was a deeply felt need for the fulfilment and for the appearance of a Deliverer. There is a close connection between want and expectation, and between both and inquiry. So that when the Baptist began to burn in the wilderness, the spirit of the age soon caught the flame, and the country was ablaze with inquiry from different motives.
3. A high compliment is paid to John and his ministry, whether meant or not. Especially by the first form of the inquiry, "Art thou the Christ?" No one would ask a taper, "Art thou the sun?" but one would be tempted to ask the question of the moon or the morning star. John would doubtless be satisfied with the simple question, "Who art thou?" and drop it there and listen to the reply; for how many come and go and act on the stage of time without exciting the simple question, "Who art thou?" But John succeeded soon in eliciting this question, not from the thoughtless crowd, but from the mental and moral princes of the nation, and they ask him, "Art thou the Christ?" John was such a shining light that it was pardonable to mistake him for a moment for the Light of the world. The herald partook so much of the majesty of the coming King that it was natural to suspect that he might be the King himself. All this was befitting and natural.
4. Great persistency and demand in their inquiry. They ask in every shape and form, and ask again and again; and in this they are worthy of imitation by all inquirers for truth. If your first question fails, ask again and again. How many have not been admitted to the temple of truth and the heaven of life because they only timidly knocked at the door once and then ran away! But this deputation were persistent and demanding. And in this they were neither wrong, intrusive, nor unwelcome. The ministry of John was such as to deserve and demand inquiry. The public had a right to demand his testimonials, and he was ready to furnish them. Truth suffers not by inquiry, but gains. This inquiry in its persistency and demand was as pleasing to John as it ought to be profitable to the deputation.
5. The inquiry is made of the proper party. Many ask for information everywhere but where they are likely to get it. They try to gather knowledge of a person of everybody but of the person himself. They try to find a risen Saviour in an empty grave, find the stars in the day, and the sun in the night. But this deputation act wisely and intelligently in their search for knowledge concerning John by coming to John himself, and asking him, "Who art thou?" And who was so likely to know and. reply? If you want water, go to the fountain. If you want to know something about the rose, do not go to the oak or even the lily, but go to the rose itself; look at its delicate beauty, and inhale its sweet perfume, if you want truth, go to him who is the Truth. Do not accept things at second hand when you can get them new and fresh. So far as the formality of this inquiry goes, it is wise and intelligent.
II. JOHN'S ANSWER. Negatively. To the form of the inquiry which implied that he might be the Christ, Elijah, or the prophet, he gave a firm denial. This proves his strict honesty as an herald. The temptation would be too strong for an impostor or an ambitious upstart; he would likely reply affirmatively or evasively. These are questions which no one but John had to answer. His position was unique. He had strong individuality and transparent honesty. He would be no other than himself. His only ambition was to occupy his own place, and work out his own mission in life. Affirmatively. He was glad to deny in order to affirm; to say something about himself in order to introduce the great subject of his mission - the coming Messiah. He refers to himself as a subject of ancient prophecy, and therefore a divinely appointed herald (Isaiah 40.). "Now, I am that voice." We have here:
1. The import of his mission. "Make straight the way of the Lord." This implies:
(1) That the Lord was coming. He was coming in his Son - their long expected Messiah. He was close at hand; in fact, in their midst, although they knew him not.
(2) That his way had become crooked. The way of the Lord, as opened by himself through Moses, was straight, leading directly to the Messiah; but they had made it crooked and uneven with their traditions and wicked conduct.
(3) That it should be immediately straightened. This was their solemn duty, and this they were called to do by suitable preparation - by repentance, by a radical reformation and inward cleansing. The King was at hand, and the way should be worthy of the distinguished traveller. Let every barrier to the progress of his chariot be removed; and, that his march may be triumphant and men be blessed, his way should be straightened.
2. His characteristics as a messenger. In addition to those indicated, we have:
(1) Mysteriousness. "The voice." He was a mystery to himself as well as to others. Born and bred in the desert, holding closer communion with heaven than with earth, with God than with men, with ancient prophets and seers than with his own family, having dreams from early youth of a Divine mission which suddenly burst out into a voice like a peal of thunder upon the wilderness, people listened, wondered, and were stirred to inquiry; and in this whirlwind of excitement he was half a mystery to himself as well as to others.
(2) Self-obliviousness and devotion to his mission. As if he were to say, "You have suspected me of being the Christ, Elijah, or the prophet: I am neither, only the voice of one crying," etc. The voice is that of some one; but never mind that some one, but attend to the voice and its contents: "your Messiah is in it." With John it was not the messenger, but the mission; not the herald, but the coming King. And it should ever be so. The minister is but the voice - the herald of the King, the aural expression of Divine thought, to be heard rather than seen.
(3) There is a striking adaptation. His work was crying, and he was the voice. He was a herald with a Divine message, and he bad a voice to publish it. We should not grumble because we have not some gifts, if we have the necessary gifts for our special calling; if we have not, we have made a mistake. When our land was a moral wilderness, God's old pioneering heralds had voices like thunder. How the wilderness to a great extent is transformed into a garden, and the voice becomes naturally more suppressed. The Baptist was a special herald with a special message in the world's wilderness, and he had a voice like a trumpet.
(4) Awful loneliness. "The voice of one crying in the wilderness." Here is a vast wilderness, and only one crying in it. John was literally so, and morally to a greater extent. He had scarcely any one to sympathize with him, no responsive voice but the echo of his, no inspiration but that from within and from above. The Messiah he heralded was personally unknown to him. Great reformations have commenced with a few - with one - and that one alone bearing a lonely torch through a scene of dense darkness. Let those who labour almost alone in foreign lands remember the lonely crier of the Judaean wilderness, the sources of his inspiration, and the ultimate results.
(5) Terrible earnestness. "The voice of one crying." Not moaning, or muttering, or whispering, but crying. John was terribly earnest. His message burned like fire in his soul, quivered on his lips, and thundered forth in his voice. His whole being was merged into speech - his head and feet, his face, his eyes, especially his trumpet voice, and even his strange garment spoke; so that he could not give a better account of himself than by saying, "I am the voice." He almost felt all voice. And it should ever be so. The observer should be all eyes, the listener all ears, but the herald all voice. Let the preacher be all mind in the study, but all voice in the pulpit.
(6) Great power and effect. There is a great power in a voice, even the mere sound of material forces - the peals of the thunder, the sweeping blast of the storm, the mighty tones of the ocean, or the terrible roar of the cataract; but what is all this sound to the human voice in its various cadences and modulations, as the expression of thought, the flaming chariot of passion and enthusiasm, and the stately vehicle of intelligence? In the thunder and the storm matter only speaks; but in the human voice mind speaks; and in that of a Divine herald God himself speaks. So that in the voice of John could be heard the want of the world and the will of God. The thunder is not much without the lightning. The Baptist had a message of lightning and a voice of thunder, so that it was very powerful and effective. Its first notes were stern and terrible as he came in contact with the awful hypocrisy, infidelity, and vice of the age. Then his voice burst forth into thunders of invective and whirlwinds of condemnation, "O generation of vipers," etc.! But towards the close of his ministry his voice grew more tender and mellow, so that we cannot imagine even the stern Baptist's voice to be otherwise than soft and musical as he uttered the words, the climax of his ministry, "Behold the Lamb," etc.! The ministry of John terrified and charmed, stirred society to its very core, answered its purposes, and drove all nearer to or further from God.
(7) Evanescence. "I am the voice," etc. Notice the difference between the description of Christ and that of John. One is the "Word," abiding and permanent; the other is the "voice," transient and evaporating. John and his ministry were the voice - like the report of a cannon, soon to die away, but not before the shot is sent home. John's voice was soon hushed, but hushed in the music of fulfilment, and in the sweeter voice of the already present King.
1. Many inquire while they ought to know. This deputation and those that sent them were masters in Israel, and ought to know the coming of their Lord and Messiah.
2. Many inquire in proper form, but in a wrong spirit. This deputation were outwardly proper, but inwardly hollow and insincere.
3. Many inquirers at first raise high hopes, but they are soon blighted. Doubtless John at first was elated with such a respectable and apparently genuine deputation; but his hopes were soon blighted by the hoar frost of bigotry and pride. It came to nothing, at least with regard to the majority of them.
4. The faithful herald should publish his message irrespective of consequences, treat all with respect, answer questions. Some may benefit by others failures, and drink the water drawn but left by some one else. - B.T.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH LED TO THIS INTERVIEW.
1. The educational and spiritual preparation of these guests. Andrew and John were disciples of the forerunner, the Baptist. Like many of the susceptible and ardent spirits of the period, they had been attracted by John's remarkable and impressive personality, and by his stern and authoritative ministry. In the school of the herald they were prepared for the service of the King.
2. The emphatic testimony borne by the forerunner to the Lord. This testimony was undoubtedly intended to draw the attention of the two young men to him "who was to come;" and it is a proof of John's humility and disinterestedness that he should be content to hand over his disciples to One greater than himself.
3. The sacred wonder of the two, and their laudable desire for advanced teaching. It was a proof that they had profited by the lessons of their master John, when they evinced a yearning for the still higher society of Christ.
II. THE INTERVIEW BETWEEN THE DIVINE HOST AND HIS GUESTS.
1. On the part of the disciples, we observe modesty of demeanour in their silently following Jesus, and reverence of spirit and language in their inquiry, "Rabbi, where dwellest thou?" All who repair to Christ in this temper and attitude may be assured of a kind reception.
2. For we remark on the part of Jesus the response of encouragement and invitation. Observing that the two disciples were too timid to address him first, he opened up the way for conversation; and, when they expressed, though indirectly, a desire to visit him, he gave a cordial invitation.
3. Part of a day was devoted to hallowed intercourse. The grace and condescension of the Lord are thus apparent from the very commencement of his ministry. We cannot doubt that he was already resolving upon methods of Messianic ministry, and was planning the means of evangelization afterwards adopted. And he foresaw that these two ardent young disciples were to become able ministers of his gospel to their fellow men. This anticipation doubtless gave a colour to the conversation that took place during those memorable hours.
III. THE RESULTS WHICH FOLLOWED THIS INTERVIEW. Such a visit could not but be fruitful of much good. When natures so prepared by the Spirit of God came into contact with the Son of God, no wonder that the consequences were signal and precious.
1. The conviction was formed in the minds of the two guests that their Host was none other than the Christ foretold in Hebrew prophecy, and desired by devout and waiting expectant spirits.
2. The conviction which they formed they hastened to communicate to their kindred and companions. They had learned good news, and could not keep it to themselves. At once they became preachers of Christ, and. their conduct was an earnest of their subsequent apostleship.
3. They seem to have lost no time in transferring themselves from the school and following of John, whose ministry was now drawing to a close, to the school and following of Jesus, whose official ministerial work was now beginning. What they saw and heard on this memorable day led them to wish to see and to hear yet more. And in following Christ they had the opportunity of satisfying their heart's desire.
1. The society of the Lord Jesus is still to be sought as the means of spiritual good. His direction is "Abide in me, and I in you." This is feasible even to us who see, him not with the bodily eye.
2. Jesus ever welcomes to his society all who truly desire it, and especially the young and those with spiritual aspirations. None are rejected who approach him in a spirit of humility, of reverence, of faith.
3. To be much with Jesus is the best preparation for serving him. Those who would publish his love and grace must first make acquaintance with him, and allow his character, his ministry, his sacrifice, to produce their own impression upon the heart. As at the first, so now, his dearest friends become his most efficient servants. - T.
I. A FIRST MEETING WITH SOME OF THE DISCIPLES. Interesting to look back from the concluding to the beginning chapters of this Gospel - from the days when the apostles were trusted friends to the days when Jesus and they were but as strangers. Here we have a record of the first meeting with some of them. Jesus is walking by the banks of the Jordan - a Teacher who has been made fit to teach, waiting now for scholars; and some of the scholars, all unknown to themselves, have been becoming fit for Jesus in the preparatory school of John. To them John must often have spoken of the sin of the world, and the appointed Lamb of God who was to take it away. What wonder, then, that the Lamb of God, really set before their gaze, should draw their footsteps towards him?
II. THE EVIDENT STRONG INTEREST WHICH JESUS HAD EXCITED IN THE MINDS OF THESE TWO MEN. They could not help following him. We cannot but contrast this overmastering interest on their part with the absence of interest in Jesus on our part. Surely, if such an interest was possible to them, it must in some way be possible to us. As we read the Gospels we ought to feel that Jesus of Nazareth was the most important Person in the world at that time, far more important than the greatest of rulers and the wisest of men; far more important to each person who came in contact with him than the nearest of his kindred could be - far more important to John the Baptist than his parents, Zacharias and Elisabeth; far more important to John the disciple than Zebedee his father; far more important to Andrew than Simon his brother; far more important to Philip than Nathanael his friend. If we are not more interested in the doings and claims of Jesus than in the doings and claims of any one else, we shall fail to appreciate Jesus as he ought to be appreciated.
III. HOW CAME THIS STRONG INTEREST TO BE EXCITED? The men had been amply prepared. They had been impressively told of the need Jesus came to supply. Often must John and Andrew have heard the Baptist calling the crowd to repentance. Doubtless the Baptist had often led his disciples to meditate very earnestly on the wickedness, the wants, and the woes of the great world around them, with its Pharisees and Sadducees, its publicans and sinners, its blind and lame, lepers and demoniacs, poor and destitute. How could earnest and pitying men be otherwise than interested in him who was to sweep the sin-caused troubles of the world away? And our interest must come in the same way.
IV. THE QUESTION JESUS ASKS THESE INTERESTED ONES. He seeks to give direction and depth to this interest. He seeks to eliminate all mere curiosity and wonder seeking. Jesus himself was a Seeker having definite and most decided aims. Such a question as met these disciples should meet us in all our formal approaches to God. Are we really seeking anything? and if so, what is it? Only those who are evidently real seekers can ever get anything out of Christ. Such persons will soon be able to answer Christ's question. He helps the intent seeker to find all he wants in him. - Y.
I. THE IMPULSE OF A BROTHER'S HEART. Andrew found in Jesus the Messiah for whom he was looking and hoping. Rejoicing in the great discovery, his earliest impulse was to make those dearest to him partake his joy. He thought of his brother Simon - that noble, eager, affectionate nature, that came afterwards to be consecrated to the friendship and the service of the Christ. A brother's insight divined that news such as that he had to communicate would awaken emotions in Simon's breast similar to those enkindled in his own. Sympathy and love urged him to hasten to his brother, the companion of his boyhood and youth, the sharer of his interests and occupations. Love is never so admirable as when it aims unselfishly at another's good, and especially at his spiritual enlightenment and. happiness. Christianity presses into its service all the beautiful emotions belonging to our humanity.
II. THE TIDINGS FROM A BROTHER'S LIPS. The words which Andrew addressed to his brother seem to have been few; but this brevity was the fit expression of the ardent affection of the speaker and the fit vehicle for tidings so momentous. Andrew's feelings would admit of no delay. His eager, almost blunt, communication must have awakened surprise in Simon's mind. "We have found the Messiah." Did brother ever convey to brother tidings so interesting, so heart stirring? Surely we have here a lesson upon the duty we owe to those nearest akin and nearest in affection to ourselves. In the Church of Christ is room for such services - alas! how often neglected through either carelessness or reserve!
III. THE ACTION OF A BROTHER'S ENERGY. Andrew was not content simply to tell the news. He would have Simon see for himself who Jesus was. "He brought him to Jesus." In this record we have the principle of Christian missions condensed into a few words. It seems a small thing to have done, yet more than this man cannot do for his brother man. A happy exercise of Christian sympathy and enterprise. To wish our dear ones well is good; yet it is not enough. It is for us to exert ourselves to secure their welfare. And how could this end be promoted so surely as by bringing them to Jesus - under the influence of his sacred presence and his winning love?
IV. THE REWARD OF A BROTHER'S DEVOTION. The sympathy, benevolence, and brotherly friendship of Andrew were not in vain. When Simon was brought by Andrew to Jesus, Jesus looked upon him with favour, appreciated, by the exercise of his spiritual insight, the good qualities of the new disciple, designated him by an appropriate name, and implicitly predicted his future eminence and service. This was indeed a rich return!
"Who art thou, that wouldst grave thy name "First seek thy Saviour out, and dwell "Then, potent with the spell of Heaven,
"First seek thy Saviour out, and dwell
"Then, potent with the spell of Heaven,
e.g. in geographical knowledge, in physical science, in the arts of life. A new possession, either material or intellectual, is thus acquired. But all discoveries pale before that described in the simple language of the text. To find Christ is better than to find a gold mine, a continent, a faithful wife, a happy home.
I. THE PROCESS OF THIS DISCOVERY. There is here no chance, no accident, no caprice. There are involved:
1. The seeking soul. The soul that is satisfied with itself and its state is not in the way to the great discovery; but the soul that is conscious of destitution, ignorance, and sinfulness is in the right direction. The soul that feels how insufficient is the discovery and acquisition of earthly goods and human friends is prepared to appreciate a Divine revelation.
2. The self-discovering Saviour. It is often represented that the mere desire and aspiration of the soul is sufficient to secure its highest good. But hunger is not enough to secure our satisfaction; there must be bread to correspond with, to supply, the want. So the heart may yearn to little purpose unless the Divine heart of the Saviour respond to the yearning. Now, Jesus is willing to be found, and, indeed, came to earth in order that in him the favour, fellowship, and life of God might be made accessible to man. From the beginning of his ministry he welcomed all who sought him. And still his promise is, "Seek, and ye shall find;" "Come unto me,...and ye shall find rest."
3. The Spirit of God is the Divine Guide that leads the soul to the Saviour. A Divine influence prompts the spiritual quest, sets the glorious Object of that quest before the vision, and urges to a fervent and immediate application for blessing.
II. THE VALUE OF THIS DISCOVERY. Christ is the Treasure hidden, the Pearl of price.
1. They who find him find the mind and heart of the God in whom "we live and move and have our being." As Simon and Nathanael soon found that the Rabbi of Nazareth was the Son of God; so many who have been prejudiced against Jesus have learned how unjust were their prejudices. Time has revealed to them the fulness from which they have received grace for grace.
2. They find in Christ supply for all their wants and satisfaction for all their cravings. He becomes to those who find him, not only Prophet, Priest, and King, but also Counsellor, Friend, and Brother.
III. THE RESULT OF THIS DISCOVERY.
1. Joy. Finding Christ is being found by Christ; and, as he rejoices over the lost ones who are found, so they rejoice in him whom to find is life eternal.
2. Proclamation. It is a discovery which the discoverer cannot keep to himself. In this narrative we observe the happy finders of the Messiah communicating to kindred and to friends their unspeakable happiness. The impulse of glowing benevolence urges to the spiritual ministry of compassion, and thus soul after soul is brought to enter upon that pursuit which is ever rewarded by success and satisfaction. - T.
I. Andrew was able to bring Peter to Jesus because HE HAD FIRST OF ALL BEEN BROUGHT HIMSELF. Andrew had first of all been himself the subject of spiritual illumination. God must have shined in his heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He had been brought to Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. The acquaintance had been very short, but a great deal may be done in a short time when the human heart has been getting ready to meet with Christ, when there is perfect openness and simplicity of mind - truth on one side and an eager seeker after it on the other. To get other people as far as Peter, we must first of all have got as far as Andrew ourselves. How should the blind lead the blind? We must not wait for an Andrew. God has his own agency for us. He may send some John the Baptist, saving, "Behold!" to us. We must consider well the obstacles in our way to Jesus, which none can remove but ourselves - procrastination, bosom sins, spiritual indolence, neglect 'of the Scriptures.
II. CONSIDER WHO IT WAS THAT ANDREW BROUGHT. his own brother Simon. So natural brotherhood is distinguished from that spiritual brotherhood which afterwards sprang into existence as regenerated believers in Christ felt the strong tie binding them together. What brother ought not to be to brother, and yet what he may very easily become, is shown from Cain and Abel, and Joseph and his brethren. What brother ought to be to brother is shown in this seeking of Simon by Andrew. Great opportunities are given by natural brotherhood, mutually cherished. Give every good thing in nature a chance to become also a minister of grace.
III. CONSIDER WHAT ANDREW SAID TO PETER. "We have found the Messiah." This is as much good news for us as it was for Peter. What Andrew said he said at first, after a very brief acquaintance; but he would go on saying it all the more as day after day opened up the riches of Messiah's mission and power. Observe the plural form of the announcement. The other disciple agreed with Andrew in his judgment. Look out for those and listen to them who bear the same message as Andrew, though not in quite the same form. We have words and acts of Jesus constantly forced on our attention. If we cannot be brought to Jesus, Jesus is brought to us. All bringing of men to Jesus must be preceded, more or less, by bringing of Jesus to men. Andrew must have brought such a vivid and powerful account of his talk with Jesus as would amount practically tea bringing of Jesus. - Y.
I. MORAL PREPARATION FOR DISCIPLESHIP. Like many of Christ's friends, Nathanael was disciplined and fitted beforehand for the new fellowship.
1. He was devout, meditative, and prayerful. It seems likely that, "under the fig tree," he was engaged in the study of the Scriptures and in prayer.
2. A true and spiritual, and not merely a nominal, a national, Israelite. There were many descended from Abraham who were not Abraham's children spiritually. This man was a true "prince with God" - one worthy of his privileges and his name.
3. Guileless; not indeed free from sin, but transparent in character - candid, open to the light, anxious to be holy and to find God. Such training as this was the best preparative for Christian discipleship.
II. INTELLECTUAL PREJUDICE AGAINST DISCIPLESHIP. This state of mind is not incompatible with that already described. Nathanael was not eager to welcome the new Teacher and Leader of men. Morally cultured though he was, he resented the supposition that the Messiah could spring out of a town so small, insignificant, and despised as Nazareth. His first inclination was to discredit the witness, and to smile at the sudden enthusiasm of his friend Andrew. And in this Nathanael did but anticipate the action of the Jews, who were offended at what they deemed the weakness of the cross, and of the Gentiles, who were offended at what they deemed its folly. It is not only bad men whose prejudices keep them from Christ; good men have their prejudices - prejudices not to be overcome by reasoning, but which will yield to the demonstration of personal experience.
III. DECISIVE MEANS BRINGING ABOUT DISCIPLESHIP. Several steps are here taken, which deserve to be carefully followed.
1. The mediation and testimony of a friend.
2. The invitation to a personal interview with Jesus, accepted as readily as it was wisely suggested.
3. The evident insight possessed by Jesus into human character. He needed not that any man should tell him; he knew immediately what was the character of him who was introduced to him.
4. The revelation of the man's heart to himself by the authority of the Divine Rabbi. Others standing by could not fathom all the depths of this interview and conversation. But Jesus knew all, and Nathanael felt the omniscience of the Being he now began to understand.
IV. BOLD AVOWAL OF DISCIPLESHIP. The process in the scholar's mind was swift, but not rash or unwarranted. His confession was full and rich, but not extravagant. To Nathanael, over whose mind there flashed a flood of revelation, Jesus was
(1) the Rabbi,
(2) the Son of God,
(3) the King of Israel.
This witness seems incapable of expansion. All his afterlife was to Nathanael an opportunity for filling up the outline which his faith thus sketched in a few bold strokes. He never went beyond these first convictions.
V. RECOMPENSE OF DISCIPLESHIP. Such spiritual sympathy, such courageous confession, was not unrewarded. In response, the Messiah:
1. Accepted the new and ardent pupil as one of his own attached and privileged companions.
2. Assured him of progressive illumination and experience.
3. Promised him participation in the glorious vision of the future, in the celestial exaltation of the Son of man. - T.
I. THE CHARACTER OF NATHANAEL IN ITS DISTINGUISHING FEATURES. "An Israelite indeed." This title was partly given to Jacob, and assumed by his descendants. But many of them were Israelites only in name, not in deed. Hereditary titles are often hollow and unreal. They were genuine when bestowed at first as tokens and rewards of courage and service, but when assumed on account of birth merely, they often lack reality. Nathanael was a true descendant of Jacob, and even superior to his illustrious spiritual ancestors - "an Israelite indeed." His character was distinguished by:
1. Genuine devotion. This made him an Israelite indeed, a genuine heir of the title conferred on his illustrious ancestor - "a prince of God," one who could in prayer be victorious with the Almighty. What was he doing underneath the fig tree alone? One thing, doubtless, was struggling, wrestling with God in prayer; and he was successful. The shady fig tree was his Peniel. Every Israelite indeed has his Peniel and fig tree somewhere. Genuine devotion is retiring. The most successful victories are won in seclusion Very different was Nathanael from Israelites alone in name, who loved to pray standing in public places in order to be seen. The Israelite indeed retires in order not to be seen by any but by the Father of spirits. Every true character is devotional, and the truest devotion is retiring and almost shy. It is the courtship of the soul. It is to be feared that much of the devotion of the present day is mere empty parade. Let ethers have the rostrum and the corners of the streets; give me the fig tree.
2. Transparent sincerity. "In whom there is no guile."
(1) No guile of intellect. There is a guile of intellect, the prolific parent of sophistry, the mental devil of poor humanity.
(2) No guile of heart - the parent and refuge of deceit and secret vice.
(3) No guile of conduct. If absent inwardly, it will be absent outwardly. Gullets peculiarly an inward vice. It shuns publicity, it inhabits the inward recesses of the mind and heart; but when there, it must come to the surface sometimes for breath, occasionally seen by men, always by God. Nathanael was free from this. It is not said that he had no sin, no fault, no weakness; he had, as indicated by his question to Philip, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" He was tainted with the prejudices of his age, and with doubt in consequence; but it was an outward pimple rather than an inward cancer. He had no guile, else it would remain within. Sincerity or guilelessness is an elementary and essential principle of Christian character. Without it Christ was helpless even with regard to the outwardly proper, - he had to leave them with a "woe;" but with it he was triumphantly merciful and saving. Even with regard to the outwardly rebellious and sinful, he was their Friend and Saviour, and they became his followers.
3. Honest and earliest inquiry after saving truth.
(1) He was meditative. He retired regularly under the fig tree, not merely for prayer, but also for holy meditation and honest search for Divine truth. He lived not by bread alone, but felt that his soul must have suitable food as well as his body. He hungered after truth, and made a diligent search for it.
(2) He made the best use of the advantages he possessed. He had Moses and the prophets, and he was an earnest student of them. He had fully grasped the central truth of their teaching - the promised Messiah; he studied his character and gazed with delight at his portrait as drawn by their inspired pen. Doubtless he had been a spellbound listener of the great herald of the wilderness, and his soul was stirred into burning expectation. In this respect he was an "Israelite indeed," being the genuine growth of the Messianic promises, and waiting for "the Consolation of Israel."
(3) He welcomed every new light. No sooner Philip said, "Come and see," than he at once came to Jesus. He "proved all things," and "held fast that which was good."
4. Intelligence and readiness of faith.
1. He was ready to believe. He had a believing soul. He had lived by faith in the coming Redeemer. There were Christians before the appearance of Christ, looking forward by faith to him; there were Israelites indeed; and Nathanael was one of them.
(2) His faith was discerning. He saw the Son of God in the Son of Joseph, the King of Israel in Jesus of Nazareth; and the mist of prejudice and doubt vanished before the gaze of his faith and the sight of Jesus.
(3) His faith was intelligent. He believed because he was convinced, and was convinced because Christ gave an unmistakable proof of his superhuman knowledge so peculiar to the Messiah. His faith and reason went hand in hand, and were mutually helpful; so that his faith was intelligent and his intelligence faithful.
5. A confession of conviction.
(1) His confession is respectful. "Rabbi" - a title of honour and respect.
(2) His confession is prompt. No sooner was he convinced than he confessed - another proof of his guilelessness. Many of the Pharisees believed, but on account of guile did not confess. The "Israelite indeed" promptly confessed him.
(3) His confession is full, and given in an intelligent manner. "Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel." His conceptions of Jesus are worthy of him and of the "Israelite indeed." The character of Nathanael was altogether so transparent that Jesus could in it see his own image as in a glass, and Nathanael could see in Jesus the Son of God and the King of men.
III. HIS CHARACTER IN RELATION TO JESUS.
1. It was such as to attract the admiring attention of Jesus. Philip was quick in thought and motion with regard to Nathanael. He ran to inform and invite him; but Jesus was before him. "Before Philip called thee,...I saw thee." There is a law of attraction in the spiritual world - Nathanael was attracted by Jesus, and Jesus by Nathanael. The pure are attracted by the pure; the sincere by the sincere; and Israel's King was attracted by the "Israelite indeed."
2. It was such as to cause Jesus to point it out to others. Jesus was frank and open, and loved to reveal his moral taste and likings. "Behold!" he exclaimed; "look at it, it is worth seeing."
(1) It is rare. Comparatively rare in every age, especially in that age of unbelief, hypocrisy, and sham. it was a lonely fruit on the almost barren fig tree of Judaism. It was like a lonely star in a sky of almost universal gloom, like a field of corn in a continent of barrenness, or like a lonely well in a burning desert - a treat to Jesus and to his disciples then and now.
(2) It is very valuable. A genuine coin, a pearl. Most valuable because real and useful. Jesus was going to cultivate the world, plough and sow it; it was most important to have good grain for seed - it was scarce. Jesus could only have a handful, but quality was mere important than quantity. Nathanael had the right quality - a genuine seed of the kingdom of heaven, a pillar of the new temple of truth, and a model of character for all ages.
(3) It was very beautiful. Beauty is ever attractive and worthy of notice, especially spiritual beauty - beauty of character, beauty of soul; and of all beautiful things a beautiful character, a beautiful soul, is the most attractive and most worthy of attention. Jesus points to it, and thus directs the moral taste of the world. The world says," Behold this or that;" but Jesus, "Behold an Israelite indeed," etc. Nathanael's character was beautiful, especially in that age of moral deformity. It was like a lily among thorns.
3. It is such as introduces its possessor to a caesar acquaintance with Jesus, and to brighter visions of his Person, character, and position. "Thou shalt see greater things than these."
(1) Greater proofs of his Divinity and Messiahship. Clearer proofs of his superhuman knowledge, especially of his power in his miracles - his miracles of power and love; new manifestations of the beauty of his Divine and human character.
(2) A clear view of the communication between heaven and earth of which Jesus is the Medium. "Ye shall see heaven open," etc. The heaven was not merely open, but it was opened, and opened by Christ. This was one of the first acts of his redeeming intervention. It was closed by man's sin, opened by the Son of man's grace. Heaven is ever open to the "Son of man," and ever open to faith in him. Jacob saw the communication between heaven and earth in the ladder. Jesus is the reality of his vision. Angels ascend and descend on and through him. Every prayer goes up and every blessing comes down from heaven through him. Through him there is a free trade carried on between heaven and earth. "Angels ascend and descend," etc. They are very fond of him. As soon as he left heaven for earth they were after him, singing the hymns of his advent and the anthems of his loving mission; they were ready to serve him in his temptation, his agonies, and his ascension; they were ever surrounding his Person. And they are fond of all who by faith are related to him; they become "ministering spirits." The descent from and ascent to heaven would be too deep and high for angels but on the Son of man.
1. Many of the most beautiful characters are comparatively private, like Nathanael - rather felt than seen and heard, characterized by quiet usefulness, moral beauty, transparency and sunshine of soul, rather retiring, and to be found under the fig tree rather than on the branches.
2. You must have the Saviour to appreciate them fully and point them out. At the last day he shall exhibit many of these retiring but specially beautiful ones. They are only fully known and valued by him. They shall appear with him in glory.
3. Faith is rewarded here and hereafter. Its reward is seeing great: things, and ever greater things. It is vision of the spiritual and the Divine, and its visions are increasingly grand. Believe in Christ, and heaven is opened; and, once opened, the privileges are great, and the outlook glorious and illimitable. - B.T.
I. Begin with the most definite word, AN ISRAELITE INDEED. Some are Israelites only in appearance - Israelites according to the flesh, perhaps, yet not therefore Israelites indeed. An Israelite indeed is one like Israel. Israel is the man of two names - Jacob to begin with, Israel afterwards. We must look at him in all the scenes of his life. Jacob at Bethel must be specially considered, also that later wrestling till the breaking of the day. On that occasion Jacob was resolved. With him it was now or never. He had a blessing to get that meant salvation and prosperity, and therefore, as a drowning man grasps the rope, he grasped the only Being who could give that blessing. That was how Israel got his name, entered into his privilege, and became an example to us. An Israelite indeed is one who wrestles with the Giver of spiritual blessings; one who has known long agonies of the heart; one who has toiled with strong crying and tears, if only he might get the blessing of a conscience undefiled, and a heart perfectly subjected to the will of God.
II. THE LIGHT THUS CAST ON THE CHARACTER OF NATHANAEL. He was an Israelite indeed. Therefore he had known intense spiritual struggles. His bosom had been the seat of some great searching influence akin to that which Israel passed through when he wrestled to the breaking of the day. Nathanael must have had his time of wrestling under the fig tree. Something was resolved, something attained. What the something was we know not, for Jesus perfectly respects Nathanael's secret, even while he makes Nathanael feel that he knows it.
III. WE ALL SHOULD HAVE OUR TIME UNDER THE FIG TREE. Seek a season wherein the underlying realities of life shall meet us face to face. Struggles like those of Nathanael are indicated again and again in the Book of Psalms. If yea would understand Psalm 139., you must have had your time under the fig tree. Till you have had such a time you are without a key to the deepest, most precious utterances of Scripture. The thought of Nathanael should stir us up to that struggle which makes a spiritual man so rich and strong, and, above all, so satisfying a sight to the Lord Jesus Christ.
IV. WHEN WE ARE UNDER THE FIG TREE JESUS KNOWS ABOUT IT. Nathanael knows that Jesus has gazed upon his heart and seen its most hidden thoughts. He is not dependent upon the exactness of our recollections, or the fulness of our descriptions. He sees the fulness of the inward life just as it is. Nathanael knew that henceforth to one Being in the universe at least secrets were not secrets. Not merely that Nathanael was seen, but seen by the eye of Jesus, that made the discovery so important. "I saw thee." Put all the fulness of meaning you can into that "I." - Y.
I. COME AND SEE WHAT CHRIST IS. There are many persons who are indifferent to the Saviour only because they do not know him - because he is to them nothing but a name.
1. Study the record of his earthly ministry, and you will find that his character and life possess a peerless interest. Few have really read and studied the four Gospels without feeling themselves brought into contact with a Being altogether unrivalled in human history for qualities of the spiritual nature, for profundity of moral teaching, for self-sacrificing benevolence. And many have, by such study, been brought under a spell for which no ordinary principles could account, and have felt, not only that no personage in human history can rank with Christ, but that none cart even be compared with him.
2. Ponder the character, the claims, the acknowledged work, of Christ, and you will be convinced of his Divine nature and authority. Men who judge of him by hearsay, or by their own preconceptions, may think of Jesus as of an ordinary man; but this is not the case with those who "come and see," who allow him to make his own impression upon their minds. Such are found exclaiming, with the officers, "Never man spake like this Man!" with the disciples, "What manner of Man is this!" with Peter, "Thou art the Christ!" with this very Nathanael, to whom the words of the text were addressed, "Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel!" with the centurion at the Crucifixion, "Truly this was a righteous Man, this was the Son of God!"
II. COME AND SEE WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE.
1. This test - a very reasonable one - may be applied in individual cases. What did Christ effect for Saul of Tarsus? Did he not change him from a zealous and narrow formalist into a man whose name has become the synonym for spirituality of religion, for breadth and catholicity of doctrine, for grandeur of plan and of hope with regard to this ransomed humanity? Did he not find Augustine a wilful and pleasure-seeking young man, who almost broke a pious mother's heart? and did he not transform him into a penitent, a saint, a mighty theologian, a holy power in the realm of human thought? What did Christ do for Luther? He visited him when he was depressed and hopeless because of the conscience of sin, spoke to him the word of peace, called and strengthened him to become the Reformer of half Christendom, the founder of an epoch of light and liberty for mankind. Such instances, to be found in the annals of the illustrious and influential among men, might be multiplied. But it is not only over the great and famous that the Divine Jesus has exercised his power. Among the poorest, the meanest, the feeblest, nay, the vilest, he has proved himself to be the Friend of sinners and the Brother of man. There is no circle of society in any Christian land where evidences of this kind do not abound. You need not go far to see what the Lord Christ can do; this you may learn at your own doors, and every day.
2. But the educated and well informed have within their reach a wider range of proof. The history of Christendom is written in a vast, an open book - a book which the intelligent, and those capable of taking a wide survey of human affairs, are at liberty to read. Secular historians have traced the influence of Christianity upon society, upon the code of morals, upon slavery, upon war, upon the position of woman in society, upon the education of the young, upon the treatment of the poor, the sick, the afflicted. No doubt, exaggeration has often distinguished the treatment of these matters by Christian advocates. Yet, in all fairness and candour, it must be admitted that a contrast between unchristian and Christian society yields results immensely in favour of our religion. Christ has been the chief Benefactor of the human race, has done more than any beside to ameliorate and to improve the conditions and to brighten the prospects of mankind.
III. COME AND SEE WHAT CHRIST WILL DO FOR YOU. This is not a matter of speculation, but of practical moment and interest. It is well to form a just estimate of the character, the mission, the work, of the Son of God. But it is better to take the benefit which he offers to every believing hearer of his gospel.
1. See whether he can give you peace of conscience, by securing to you the pardon of sin, and acceptance with the God against whom you have sinned. This he professes to do; this multitudes will assure you he has done for them. If this is with you an urgent need, will it not be reasonable to put Christ to that test of experience to which he invites you?
2. See whether he can supply you with the highest law and the most sacred motive for the moral life. All human standards are imperfect, and no human principle is sufficient to ensure obedience. What no other can offer, the Saviour claims to impart, and it is reasonable to test his ability and his willingness to fulfil his promises.
3. See whether his fellowship and friendship can uphold and cheer you amidst the sorrows, temptations, and uncertainties of this earthly life. He says, "My grace is sufficient for you." Verify the assertion in your own experience. If he cannot supply this want, certain it is that none else can do so.
4. See whether the Lord Christ can vanquish death for you, and give you the assurance of a blessed immortality. Apart from him, the future is very dark; try his power to illumine that darkness with rays of heavenly light.
1. Defenders and promulgators of Christianity will do well to address to their fellow men the invitation Philip addressed to Nathanael. If they cannot always answer men's cavils and objections, and satisfy men's intellectual difficulties, they can bring men face to face with Christ himself, and leave the interview to produce its own effects. Let men be encouraged to come, to see, and to judge for themselves.
2. The undecided hearers of the gospel may well accept the challenge here given. Why should they shrink from it? It is an opportunity which should not be neglected, an invitation which should not he refused. - T.