Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HERE IS A REPRESENTATION OF THE SINFUL SOCIETY IN WHICH THE SAVIOUR DEIGNED TO MIX. The scene was the temple; the company gathered together were composed of those who wished to hear Jesus discourse, the motive of some being good, and that of others evil; the centre of the group was the Prophet of Nazareth, who claimed to be the world's Light and Salvation. The audience and the Speaker were interrupted by an incident which, however, afforded a remarkable opportunity for most characteristic and memorable teaching on the part of our Divine Lord.
1. We see a picture of human frailty. As the poor, trembling, shame-stricken woman was dragged into the temple precincts, she furnished a sad instance of the moral weakness of humanity. For although her seducer was probably a hundredfold guiltier than she, it cannot be questioned that the adulteress was to blame, as having infringed both Divine and human laws.
2. We see a picture of human censoriousness. Sinful though the woman was, it does not seem that those who were so anxious to overwhelm her with disgrace were impelled by a sense of duty. They seem to have been of those who delight in another's sin, who, instead of covering a fault, love to drag it into the light.
3. We see a picture of human malice. They sought to entrap Jesus into some utterance which might serve as a charge against him. It was impelled by this motive that they referred the case of the adulteress to him, who came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. Their concern for the public morals was trifling when compared with their malignant hatred of him who was morality incarnate.
II. HERE IS A REPRESENTATION OF THE MANNER IN WHICH THE SAVIOUR DEALT WITH HUMAN SIN.
1. He convinced the morally hardened and insensible, arousing their conscience, and compelling them to admit their own sinfulness. If the cunning of the Pharisees was great, the wisdom of the Saviour was greater still. He confounded their plot, and turned their weapons against themselves. Their own consciences witnessed against those who had been so anxious to condemn a fellow sinner.
2. He pardoned the penitent offender. The woman could not but feel how heinous had been her transgression, and in bow black colours it appeared to all who considered it aright. And all we know of Jesus assures us that he would never have forgiven, and dismissed in peace, one insensible of sin. She sorrowed over her fault; the presence of the pure and perfect Jesus was itself a rebuke and reproach to her, while his demeanour and language awakened her gratitude and restored her hopes, if not her self-respect.
3. He condemned and guarded against a repetition of the sin, in the admonition he pointedly addressed to her as she left him, "Sin no more." - T.
I. THE DESTINATION THAT JESUS HIMSELF ASSUREDLY WILL REACH. Jesus is on a definite journey, knows where he is going, and that he will get there. His life is not an aimless wandering. In all his goings backwards and forwards between Galilee and Judaea his face was set towards Jerusalem, because there for him the door was to open from the seen to the unseen, from the life of time to the life of eternity. His enemies speak of him as if his thoughts were running in the same direction as those of Job. When Job sat among the ashes, despoiled of his property, bereaved of his children, smitten with pain all over the body, he thought death and the grave his best friends, where the wicked would cease from troubling and the weary be at rest. But Jesus was thinking of what he would attain, not what he would escape. The heavenly state, with its security, glory, and blessedness, was not an unexpected thing to Jesus. Jesus speaks as knowing for himself that the end depends on the way. Jesus knows where he is going, for he has been there already. In the autumn of 1492 three Spanish ships are making their way over the Atlantic, in waters where ship has never been known to pass before. Christopher Columbus of Genoa commands those ships, and he is going on an enterprise of pure faith. He believes there is a land ahead, but he has never been there. At present thousands go over that same Atlantic, returning home. And so Jesus was going back whence he had come. Every step took him nearer that day when he would pray the prayer, "Glorify thou me with thine own self, with that glory which I had with thee before the world was."
II. THE DESTINATION THAT SOME MOST CERTAINLY WILL NOT REACH. Most of the listeners would trouble very little about what Jesus meant. They would say, "Let him go, or let him stay; it is no great concern of ours." But if we do really believe that Jesus has gone into a state of glory, that he individually can no longer suffer pain, no longer be exposed to temptation, must it not be serious for us to reflect that possibly we cannot go where he has gone? Heaven is not to be earth over again. The mixtures and conflicts of the lower world are not to be known in the upper one. Good people have no monopoly of transit to any place on the face of the earth; but there is a state to which the evil cannot reach. A man may say, if he likes, that he will have a garden without weeds, but that will not keep the weeds out. But Jesus is the great and effectual Excluder. Beyond the veil there are divisions more intense and more manifest than any that obtain here. Jesus came amid the unions of time to make the separations of eternity.
III. THE DESTINATION THAT ALL MAY REACH. Speaking of exclusion is the strange work of Jesus. Even while he said, "Ye cannot come," at the same time he said, "Come." Any one can come who will enter in at the strait gate and tread the narrow way. Any one can come who will give the seed ground of his heart as good ground for the seed of eternal truth. - Y.
I. THE CONDUCT OF HIS ENEMIES.
1. It was brutally gross.
(1) It was so to the woman. She was disgraced, and had exposed herself to the odium of her detectives. But this was not enough; they dragged her to the temple, to the presence of a popular Prophet, and exposed to the ridicule of the crowd. This, to any woman, although a sinner, would be painful, but to an Eastern woman it was a real torture, and the conduct of those who treated her thus was gross and unworthy of common humanity.
(2) It was so to our Lord. Whatever they might think of him, his public character was blameless. He was a Teacher held in high repute by the multitudes, and taking no higher view at present than this, to take this poor fallen sinner thus publicly before him was grossly indelicate. But think what he really was - the immaculate, purely innocent, and incarnate Son of God, come on a mission of love and mercy, and now in the very act of striving to benefit a multitude of the human family. Such a case, with all its unholy associations, must have grated harshly upon his moral sensibilities, and must be loathsome to his moral taste.
2. It was utterly hypocritical. Hypocrisy is to speak or do one thing but mean another. If so, the conduct of these men was utterly hypocritical.
(1) They professed great reverence for the Law - for this law which was applicable to adultery. This was only an empty profession. They had long ago ceased to execute it; it was a dead letter as far as they were concerned.
(2) They professed great regard for public and private morality. This also was a miserable sham. As the sequel amply proves, they were most immoral themselves.
(3) On this occasion they professed great respect for Christ - addressod him as "Master," while in their very hearts they most bitterly hated him, and this case was a plot to betray him.
(4) They professed to be in a difficulty, and anxious for light and help. But there was no difficulty whatever. The Law of Moses on the subject was quite explicit, and the woman was guilty according to their own testimony. What more light could they desire?
3. It was utterly irreligious. Religion, if it means anything, means true respect for man and profound reverence for God. Their conduct manifested neither, but the very reverse; they made light of an erring soul, and lighter still of a loving Saviour. If they had any reverence for God, the Creator and Father of all, and any true regard for their fellow creatures, they would lovingly hide the guilt of this fallen woman, and tenderly try to heal and restore her. But so impious and light was their conduct, that they trifled with an erring sister in order to entrap a gracious Saviour.
4. It was cunningly and maliciously cruel. It was a cunning and cruel plot to bring Jesus into trouble, into public disrepute, into court, punishment, and if possible into death. Knowing his reputation for forgiveness and tenderness as well as purity, they bring the case of this erring woman before him, satisfied in themselves that it would of necessity bring him as an heretic before the Jewish council, or as a seditionist before the Roman tribunal, it was a cunning and cruel plot, inspired by hatred to destroy him. What they could not do openly they attempted to do clandestinely.
II. THE CONDUCT OF JESUS. His conduct here brings forth certain features of his character into bold relief.
1. His perfect knowledge.
(1) His knowledge of inward motives and intentions. He knew their most hidden and secret thoughts, which could only be known to omniscience. He knew their motives in spite of the outward plausibility and piety of their conduct. Everything which the most cunning hypocrisy could do to hide their real intentions was done; but, in spite of this, all was clear to him. In fact, a great deal of the evangelist's account is only a faithful report of Jesus' secret thought and motive reading. There never was and never will be such a thought reader as Christ.
(2) His knowledge of real character. Through the woman's foul pollution and her accusers' professed sanctity, their real character was open to him. Her accusers thought that they could stand the test of the crowd, but little thought that they were under the immediate gaze of an omniscient eye. He could see something worse in the accusers than in the accused. The woman, degraded and guilty as she was, appeared almost innocent by their side. Here Jesus could see. Here, perhaps, Jesus saw the angel of light in the mud of depravity, and certainly the angel of darkness in the garb of light, and murder accusing adultery in court. To the all-seeing eye of Jesus what a scene was presented here!
2. His consummate wisdom. This is seen:
(1) In his refusal to act as a legal judge in the case. There was a strong temptation to this. The case was so stated and the question so framed that escape from the cunning dilemma seemed almost impossible. Had he been caught by it, his enemies would be triumphant; but his unerring wisdom guided his conduct.
(2) In raising the case into a higher tribunal - that of conscience and reason. Had he dismissed the case with a flat refusal, which he justly might have done, his foes would have some reason to complain and glory; but from a court in which he had no jurisdiction he raised it at once to that of conscience - "the King's bench," where he ever sits and has a right to judge. And this had a crushing effect upon his foes, and his superior wisdom shone with Divine brilliancy.
3. His supreme power over spiritual forces in man.
(1) His power over conscience, even a guilty conscience. He proved here that he could awake it from the sleep of years by the word of his mouth. Although lulled and even seared, yet it recognized at once the voice of its Author and Lord - "He that is without sin," etc. Conscience is true to Christ; the heart is false.
(2) The power of a guilty conscience over its possessor. There is a striking instance of this here. No sooner conscience awoke than it spoke in thunders and made cowards of them all. It became a horrible whip to lash them, and, self-convicted, they went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, and when the veterans retired from the attack the younger soon followed.
(3) The power of a guilty conscience over its possessor reveals the power of Jesus over all the spiritual forces in man. He is the supreme and lawful King cf the spiritual empire. He can touch every spiritual power of the soul and rouse it into action, so that man must willingly obey his rightful King or ultimately become his own tormentor.
4. His pure and burning holiness. This is seen:
(1) In the attitude he assumed. "He stooped," etc. - an attitude of silent contempt and of inward and holy disgust. Like a flower from a cold March wind, his tenderly holy nature naturally shrank from the foul moral atmosphere around him.
(2) In his calm demeanour. Although quite cognizant of the cunning plot, its malicious design and inspiring hatred, yet he was unruffled. Why was he so calm and self-possessed? Because he was so holy.
(3) In his vindication of the Law. "He that is without sin of you," etc. The claims of the Law were admitted; it suffered no loss at his hands.
(4) In his condemnation of sin. That of the woman, and not less that of her accusers.
(5) In the scathing effect of his words on his foes. Their self-conviction was the sympathy of conscience with the holiness of its Lord. His presence and words became to them unbearable. Fearing another burning sentence or a piercing look, they had left before he had raised himself from the ground; they fled his holy presence as some beasts of prey flee to their dens before the rising sun. They would rather meet the auger of a storm than the pure gaze of that eye.
5. His Divine tenderness and mercy. This is seen:
(1) In his conduct towards his enemies. They were more his foes than those of the woman. They were really the friends of guilt, but foes of innocency. Disgusted as he must have been with them, he treated them very tenderly. He took no advantage of his great superiority. There seems to be a technical error in the charge; this he passed by. Whatever might be the full meaning of his writing on the ground, it certainly meant that he tried to avoid public exposure of their guilt, and to convict them by private correspondence; and failing this, he exposed them in the mildest manner.
(2) In his conduct towards the woman. Most teachers would be to her harsh and censorious, but he was not. His holiness seemed to have burnt from its very centre and flowed in love and tenderness. Whether this woman was a confirmed sinner or the victim of a stronger and a more sinful nature, it is evident she was sinful and degraded enough. Still he treated her as a woman, though fallen, and respected her remaining sensibilities. His conduct glowed with more than human tenderness, and breathed more than human mercy. "Neither do I condemn thee" - words which probably mean more than a simple refusal to act as a legal judge; but, in consequence of a penitence of heart which no eye could see but his own, they were meant to convey the acquittal of a higher court, and the blessing of Divine pardon, he dismissed her with an honest but a hopeful caution: "Go, and sin no more" - language involving condemnation of the past, but full of hope with regard to the future; and if his advice were acted upon, he would become her Defender and Friend.
1. The most depraved and wicked really are the most harsh and censorious. The servant which has been forgiven a hundred pounds by his master is the most likely to abuse his fellow servant who owes him fifty. He who has a beam in his own eye is the first to charge his brother with having a mote. The witness box is more sinful often than that of the criminal.
2. The most holy are the most merciful. Jesus was so purely holy that he could afford to be abundantly merciful, he is the foe of sin, but the Friend of sinners. The climax of holiness is love and mercy.
3. Outward morality may stand the test of a human judge, but not that of the Divine one. The Law is spiritual; the Judge is omniscient. What is real and immortal in man is spiritual; what he is spiritually he is really to God. Jesus was more tender to tempted and fallen sinners than to self-righteous hypocrites. The former he helped, the latter he denounced. A scar on the skin is more easily cured than cancer on the vitals. The accused fared better than her accusers.
4. The greater the opposition to Jesus the more brightly his character shone, and the more unfortunate and impenitent sinners are benefited. The character of Jesus never shone more brightly than in this cunning and dark plot. His superior knowledge, wisdom, authority, holiness, and mercy shone so brilliantly that in the fiery furnace we see One not like unto, but the very Son of man and the very Son of God; and the poor woman derived a great advantage. On the tide of hatred she was carried into the lap of infinite love, and by the seething wave of human vindictiveness she was thrown into the warm embrace of Divine forgiveness.
5. The sinner and the Saviour are best alone. Jesus alone, and the woman in the midst. Spellbound by his authority, and more by the secret and magic influence of his Divine compassion, she stood still. Her accusers all were gone, and she was the only one that remained in the Divine society - a dumb suppliant at his feet. No one should go between the sinner and the Saviour, between the sick and the Physician. Let them alone. A sound advice will be given, and eternal benefit derived. - B.T.
I. THIS SIMILITUDE EXHIBITS THE GLORY AND POWER OF CHRIST IN HIS OWN NATURE. Light is a form of universal force, proceeding from the sun, the vast reservoir of power, and acting by the motion of the ethereal medium in wave-like vibrations. Artificial light is only the same force stored up in the earth, and liberated for purposes of illumination. The sun may therefore be regarded as, for us, the centre and source of all light. By its rays we know the glories and beauties of earth and sea; and to them we are indebted, not only for knowledge, but for much enjoyment and for many practical advantages. If, then, anything created and material can serve as an emblem of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, this majestic luminary may well fulfil this purpose. He who first said, "Let there be light!" gave to mankind the great Sun of Righteousness who has arisen upon the world. None but the Divine Lord and Saviour of mankind could justly claim to be "the Light of the world."
II. THIS SIMILITUDE EXHIBITS THE BLESSINGS WHICH CHRIST BRINGS TO THE WORLD.
1. The world of humanity is in the darkness of ignorance, and the Lord Jesus brings to it heavenly knowledge. Christ is the true Light, instructing men who are very ignorant of God, of his designs of mercy, of the prospects of the future, and indeed of everything that is most important for man as a spiritual being to be acquainted with.
2. The world of humanity is in the darkness of sin, and the Lord Jesus brings to it the light of forgiveness and holiness. As when a dark dungeon is thrown open, so that the sunlight streams into it; so was it with the world when Christ came to the dark places of the earth, and irradiated them with his holy presence. They who sometime were darkness now became light in the Lord.
3. The world of humanity lay in the darkness of death; the Lord Jesus brought to it the light of life. Vitality is hindered by darkness, and is fostered by daylight; the plant which is pale and sickly in the cellar grows green and healthy when exposed to the sunshine. Mankind when in sin are liable to spiritual death. Christ introduces the principle of spiritual vitality, and they who partake of it, and pass from darkness into glorious light, bear in abundance the blossom of piety and the fruit of obedience.
4. The world of humanity is in darkness and danger; the Lord Jesus brings the light of safety. He is a Lamp to guide the searchers, a Lantern to light upon the path of safety, a Torch to those who explore the cavern, a Pharos to those who sail the stormy seas, a Harbour light to guide into the haven of peace, a Pole star to direct the wanderer's course, a Pillar of fire to light the nation's desert march. So our Saviour warns men of spiritual perils, directs their steps into spiritual safety, directs in circumstances of difficulty and perplexity, brings to eternal peace.
III. THE SIMILITUDE REMINDS US OF OUR DUTY WITH REFERENCE TO CHRIST.
1. To admire and adore the light. The old Persians worshipped the rising sun; Christians may well worship their glorious Lord.
2. To walk in the light. Let it be remembered that the sun shines in vain for those who conceal themselves from his beams; and that even to admire is not enough, if we fail to make use of the heavenly shining to guide our steps aright.
"Thou Sun of our day, thou Star of our night,
I. CHRIST AS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. "I am," etc. This implies:
1. That the world was morally dark. It became so by the early sin of its first inhabitants. Its moral condition was like that of its physical at the beginning - without form and void, and darkness brooding on the face of the abyss. It deviated from its original and proper centre, and wandered into moral gloom; it became spiritually ignorant of God, of immortality, and of its highest good, spiritually impure, depraved and dead, lying in wickedness, and in the valley of the shadow of death.
2. That Christ became its Light. "I am," etc. He is the physical Light of the world. The sun is but the dazzle of his presence, the stars are but the smiles of his face, and the day is but the placid light of his countenance, he is the mental Light of the world. Intellect and reason are the emanations of his genius. If he hides his face, they are eclipsed; if he withdrew his support, they would be extinguished, he is the spiritual Light of the world, the Light of the heart and conscience. By the Incarnation he is specially the spiritual Light of the world, he is the Sun of the spiritual empire.
(1) He is the Source and Medium of spiritual knowledge. He is the Revealer of God and man, their mutual relationships, and the way of access to and peace with him. He sheds full light upon every subject which pertains to the highest well being of the human race.
(2) He is the Source and Medium of spiritual holiness. Light is an emblem of purity. Jesus is the Medium and Source of man's sanctification. His life was an embodiment of purity. His character was spotless, his doctrines and Spirit are sanctifying, his example is pure and leads the soul upwards, and his life is still like the perfume of heavenly roses, making even the air of our world fragrant.
(3) He is the Source and Medium of spiritual life. Light is life, and life is light. "In him was life, and the life was the Light of men." "He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life." He brought life and immortality to light, and by faith they are communicated to men.
3. That he is the only true Light of the world.
(1) He is the only original and independent Source of Divine light. In the solar system there are many stars and planets, but only one sun, from which all the other bodies derive their light. John the Baptist was a bright and a shining light. The prophets, apostles, and reformers through the ages were shining luminaries, but they only reflected the light they borrowed from him who is the Light of the world. He is the great and only inexhaustible and independent Source of light, of spiritual knowledge, purity, and life. He is not the stream, but the Fountain; not a borrower of light, but its original Source. "He is the true Light."
(2) He is the world's Light naturally and essentially. By virtue of the divinity of his Person and mission, by his eternal fitness, voluntary choice, and Divine election. His advent was no intrusion upon the order of this world, and created no jarring in the system of things, but naturally fitted in. Without him, all would be discord; with him, all will be harmony; and when his influence will be fully felt, earth and heaven will be filled with the sweetest music. His incarnation was natural, like the rising sun and the consequent day.
4. That he is specially the Light of this our world. As God, he is the Light of all worlds and systems - they all revolve around his eternal throne, and receive their light and life from his Presence; but as God-Man he is peculiarly the Light of this world. This world is a platform on which the Almighty has acted a special part, taught special lessons, performed a special work, and shone with special brilliancy. But far be it from us to limit the influence of the incarnate life of Jesus. We know not to what extent what he did in our world affected even thrones, principalities, and powers; how high or low or wide the "It is finished!" echoed. It may affect, and probably does affect, the remotest confines of his vast empire; but enough it is for us to know that he is the Light of this world. In this comparatively small mansion of his Father's house the matchless drama of Divine mercy was acted, and here Divine love blazed in sacrifice, and in our sky "the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in his wings."
5. That he is the Light of the whole of this world. Not of a part of it, not of a certain number, but of the whole human family. There is no sun for Europe, and another for Asia; but one sun for the world, and one is sufficient. Jesus is the one Light of the moral world, and he is enough. As a Prophet, the whole human family may sit at his feet at the same time and be taught of him; as a King, his sceptre ruleth over all; as a High Priest, he holds the world in his arms, and successfully pleads for it. The sacrifice he presents is for the whole world, and it is sufficient; the world's prayers may ascend in the incense and be answered. He has given "the heathen for his inheritance," etc. He is the world's Light, and it has a right to him.
6. That this is a well attested fact.
(1) Attested by the testimony of Christ himself. "I am," etc. He bears record of himself, but his record is true. If he bore not record of himself, who would or could? His bearing record of himself was a simple necessity. Who could relate the story of him whose goings forth have been from eternity, but he himself? He knew what no human being could know, and he was too intelligent to mistake, too pure in character to deceive, and too great to overrate himself. When we speak of ourselves we are in danger of overrating ourselves. But Jesus could not make himself greater than he was; he made himself less - made himself of no reputation. He bore record of himself. The sun does this. It is a witness to itself, and says, "I am the light of the world," by filling it at the same time with a flood of radiance. Jesus did the same, bringing life and immortality to light.
(2) Attested by the observation and experience of others. The presence of the sun is attested by a thousand eyes. During the ministry of our Lord the multitudes basked in his light. The physically and spiritually blind saw the light, and to them who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death arose a great light, and all saw that had eyes to see.
(3) It is an ever-increasingly attested fact. It became more evident with the increasing light of the Lord and the increasing capacity of mankind to comprehend and enjoy him. He shone in his pure and loving life, his gracious words, his mighty and benevolent deeds, and especially in his self-sacrificing death. True, the Sun of Righteousness was eclipsed on Golgotha; but it was only partial and temporary. If it was dark on this, it was light on the other side. If the women wept, mercy and truth met in loving embrace and smiled above the sacrifice, and the Divine throne was encircled with a wreath of saving radiance. So light it was that the blind thief was restored to sight and saw a kingdom, and from the gloom of death the Sun of Righteousness rose into its meridian splendour, and through succeeding ages it has shone with ever-increasing brilliancy. The evidence of Christ being the Light of the world daily grows stronger, and will soon be complete in a world filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
II. CHRIST AS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD IN THE CONDITIONS OF ITS ENJOYMENT AND BLESSINGS,
1. In its conditions. The enjoyment of all mercies is conditional The simple existence of light will not ensure its enjoyment. It has conditions. The condition of enjoying the Light of the world is to follow Christ. This involves:
(1) The soul being within the sphere of his attraction and light. This involves knowledge, faith, obedience, discipleship, to sit at his feet and learn of him, acknowledgment of his leadership, and impressibility to his influence.
(2) Consecration of soul to him. The earth's enjoyment of the light and heat of the sun depends upon its position in relation to that luminary. This makes its spring and summer. The enjoyment of Christ by the soul depends upon its attitude in relation to him. This attitude should be one of entire consecration, self-surrender, prayer, and yearning for his guidance and inspiration. The face of the soul should be turned right towards him. This will make its summer and spring.
(3) A continually progressive movement in his direction. To follow means progress. The soul cannot be stationary and follow Christ, but it must ever press forward and upward in the direction of his example, character, life, Spirit, and glory.
2. In its blessings.
(1) The avoidance of darkness. "Shall not walk," etc. What a blessing it is to avoid physical darkness, especially in its permanency and progress! To be in it for a while is bad enough, but to walk in it is worse still - dangerous and miserable. To follow Christ is a sure exemption from spiritual darkness, ignorance, vice, and death, and their terrible consequences, misery and hell. There may be clouds and shadows arising from the imperfection of the following, from the native gloom of the soul, or perhaps from the effulgence of the light; but these will only be temporary. The follower of Christ can never be long in darkness.
(2) Enjoyment of light. "The Light of life." Without life there is no light. The Divine life is the parent of every light, from the least to the greatest - physical, mental, and spiritual light. The follower of Jesus shall have light from him who is the Life, which produces and supports life, and leads to life, the highest life, the spiritual life of the soul, enjoyed here and to be enjoyed hereafter under the most advantageous and permanent circumstances, which will result in the most exquisite happiness and the most ecstatic delights.
1. Jesus was the greatest or the most selfish and deceptive the world ever saw. The world has had its philosophers and poets, men of learning and sages, but none of them professed to have more light than was sufficient to see the gloom within and without, and to sigh for more light; but here is a carpenter's Son, saying with the greatest confidence and naturalness to a mixed audience in the gorgeous temple of his country, "I am the Light of the world." He could not be selfish and deceptive. This would be diametrically opposed to his whole life and character. He must be what he professed to be, for there is light. The evidence of the ages is on his side. For upwards of eighteen centuries, none have eclipsed him and none have approached him, only a few of his most eminent followers.
2. Although the Light of the world, yet he is the Light of every individual soul. He is great enough to be the Light of the world, yet his rays are subtle enough to enter every human heart and conscience. Angels may forever learn of him, but Mary may sit at his feet. Bright seraphim bask and blaze in his light, still his gentle beams will cheer the lowly heart and contrite spirit.
3. Being the Light of the world, its destiny is very hopeful. In spite of darkness, ignorance, vice, death, and misery, we may well hope for better things. "Through the shadows of the globe we sweep into a younger day."
4. Being the Light of the world and of life, let the world and life have their own. Let not the world, let no human life, grope in darkness for want of light. Through enlightened souls alone can the light of Christ be transmitted to the world; if we are enlightened, it is our duty to bear the light abroad.
5. Being the Light of the world, it is the solemn duty of the world to follow him. The only way to avoid darkness. Apart from Christ there is no light but the weird flames of misery and lurid fires of torture. Follow him, and all the dark circumstances of life will be radiant; follow him, and the valley of the shadow of death will become bright as day, and introductory to a day without a cloud or ending. - B.T.
I. WITH SAFETY. Night is the time of danger. The thief comes by night. Daylight gives a freedom of movement which at once ceases with the darkness. So he who is the true Light of the world brings a safety that is impossible without him. Who can tell into what depths of destruction and misery they plunge who refuse the light of the Lord Jesus? After all, the only real destruction is self-destruction. When Jesus lodges the light of his truth in our hearts, then our notions of danger get turned upside down. So it was with the jailor of Philippi. Jesus shows to us spiritual peril and saves us from it. To any one who has clearly seen what a terrible thing spiritual peril is, and what a real thing spiritual salvation is, how absurd and exaggerated much of the world's prudence must appear. The moment Christ begins to rise upon the heart, spiritual danger and spiritual salvation will cease to be mere words. All spiritually anxious ones are where they are just because Jesus is the Light of the world. None can tell into what light he may be travelling. To see one's peril is half one's salvation.
II. WITH HUMAN IGNORANCE. What can a man know of the scene round him in the dark? Take him to some elevation from which in daylight there is a spacious and charming prospect, and he is none the better. But what a change a few short hours will make - a change going all the way from ignorance to knowledge! Visible objects are not properly known till seen in daylight. In the light that streams from Jesus how different we seem to ourselves! The duties, the possibilities, and the associations of life become altogether different. Life is as full of interest as ever, yea, fuller; but we are interested in different things, or in old things in a different way. No one knows so much of permanent and comforting value as the Christian.
III. WITH PRACTICAL PERPLEXITIES. Many have made great mistakes in life, and had to go through toils and trials they might well have been spared, if only they had been practical Christians, completely at the disposal of the Lord Jesus. Jesus knows well what poor guesses we can make at consequences and probabilities. He who claims to rule us will never leave us in doubt as to what we are really to do. The continuance of serious perplexity comes not from want of light, but want of disposition to make use of the light.
IV. WITH WORK. "The night cometh, when no man can work." Jesus gives the light whereby we may be useful down to the very end of our present life. Jesus must show how best to employ our time, how best to serve the world. Never yet did true Christian look back on wasted life. The miserable retrospects, the terrible confessions, belonging to the men of this world are not his. - Y.
I. THE QUESTION. The spirit in which this inquiry is urged makes all the difference as to the light in which it must be regarded.
1. It may be a spirit of mere idle curiosity.
2. It may be a spirit of historical inquiry, such as on the part of one for the first time brought into contact with Jesus would be becoming.
3. It may be prompted by perplexity and doubt. Many in our own day have listened first to one and then to another explanation of our Lord's nature and mission, until their minds have been utterly bewildered, and they know not what to think of him. It is welt that such disturbed souls should repair to the Lord himself, and, neglecting all that men say of him, should seriously and earnestly put to him the question, "Who art thou?"
4. Some put this question for the satisfaction of their spiritual needs. Quickened from spiritual deadness, and alive to their own inability to save themselves, such earnest inquirers repair to Christ in the hope of finding in him a Divine Saviour and Friend. From their burdened, anxious heart comes the entreaty for a gracious revelation. Not so much to solve a speculative doubt, as to satisfy a practical necessity and inner craving, they come to Jesus with the imploring cry, "Who art thou?"
II. THE REPLY OF THE REFLECTING OBSERVER. Inattention, prejudice, malice, may in various ways answer the question proposed; but none of these answers can be deemed worthy of our consideration. But the candid student of Christ's character and life comes to conclusions which, though in themselves incomplete and insufficient, are, as far as they go, credible and reasonable.
1. Jesus is the faultless, blameless Man, the holiest and the meekest of whom human history bears record. He alone could in conscious innocence make the appeal, "Who of you convicteth me of sin?"
2. Jesus is the perfect Model of benevolence and devotedness to the welfare of others. He "went about doing good;" and his ministry was not only a rebuke to human selfishness, it was an inspiration to self-denying beneficence. Thus much even the student of Jesus' character, who does not acknowledge his Divinity, will be prepared to concede, and will perhaps be forward to maintain. But the Christian goes further than this.
III. THE REPLY OF THE BELIEVING DISCIPLE. Such a one takes the answers which Jesus gave in the course of his ministry, as they are recorded by the evangelists, and deems our Lord's witness to himself worthy of all acceptation. Thus his reply is that of Christ himself. Proceeding upon this principle, the Christian believes Jesus to be:
1. The Son of God, who, according to his own statements, stood in a relation to the Father altogether unique.
2. The Saviour and Friend of man, who gave his life a ransom for many, dying that men might live in God forever.
3. The Lord and Judge of the moral universe, empowered and commissioned to reign until all foes shall be beneath his feet. - T.
I. THE MASTER. Christ was acknowledged to be a Hebrew Rabbi, even a Prophet. But the enlightened knew him to be the Teacher and the Master of mankind. Witness his ministry, his sermons, his parables, his conversations and discourses. As a Master, he was wise, winning, patient. His vocation of teaching he continues to fulfil through human history. He is still and ever teaching men who are prepared to learn from him. And those who know him first as Teacher, come to know him afterwards in the other great mediatorial offices he sustains to man.
II. THE SCHOLARS. As the Pharisees had their disciples, and as John had his, so the Prophet of Nazareth gathered around him those who were docile and sympathetic, and communicated to them his truth, and bestowed upon them his spirit. Thus the twelve, the seventy, learned of him. Wherever Jesus went, he made disciples: women, as the woman of Samaria and Mary of Bethany; scholars, as Nicodemus; persons counted socially inferior, as Zacchaeus. After our Lord's ascension, "disciples" became a common designation of Christian people, as much as "saints" or "brethren," It justly remains such throughout this spiritual dispensation.
III. THE LESSONS. Christ himself has always been his own chief Lesson, far greater than any words can embody and convey. This appears from his own language, "Learn of me," and from the apostolic appeal, "Ye have not so learned Christ." His character and his Word are truth. In Christ his disciples learn
(1) to believe aright regarding God, man, eternity; and, what is even greater,
(2) to do, viz. to acquire the practical lessons of righteousness, fortitude, and patience, etc. Who has mastered Christ's teaching? Who has thoroughly learned his lessons? Who has completely drunk into his spirit?
IV. THE STRAIT OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
1. Lowly, as regards ourselves, the learners.
2. Reverent, as regards him, the Teacher.
3. Diligent and persistent, as regards the lessons to be acquired.
4. Interested and appreciative, sympathetic and receptive.
V. THE CULTURE OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP. Learning is a means to an end. To what end is Christian discipleship the means? To what discipline of blessing do Christ's pupils attain?
1. The culture of knowledge - Divine and precious knowledge.
2. The culture of character - Christ-likeness.
3. The culture which qualifies for usefulness. As school and college fit a youth for business or professional life, so Christ's discipline qualifies for Christian service.
4. The culture for immortality. This is Christ's school; above is Christ's home, the scene of perfect service and of lasting joy. - T.
I. IN ITS CONDITIONS. These are:
1. The possession of Christ's Word.
(1) The possession of his Word is necessary to faith in him. The Word of Christ reveals him to faith - reveals his mind, his thoughts, his heart, his will, his character and mission. His Word is as an instrument - is the generator of faith. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing," etc. It is the great medium of communication between Christ and faith, and the means by which faith transforms Christ into the soul. It is the nutriment, strength, and the life of faith.
(2) Faith in Christ is necessary to discipleship. Christian discipleship begins with faith in Christ. This is its lowest condition and first grade. These Jews were disciples because they had a certain degree of faith in Christ; but they were weak disciples, their faith being weak and young - they were infant scholars. But they could not be even this without a degree of faith, and faith comes from the Word.
(3) His Word is the great disciplinary instrument of his school. It contains the lessons taught by him and learnt by the disciples. All illumination, knowledge, inspiration, moral and spiritual training, and progress, are attained through his Word. In his Word the disciples meet and find him.
(4) His Word must be possessed in its fulness and purity. "My Word." It must be Christ's Word, pure and simple, and the whole of his Word, without any addition, subtraction, or admixture. Any of these will affect the discipleship, make it incomplete or unreal
2. A vital possession of Christ's Word. The possession is not merely outward and intellectual, but inward and spiritual. The Word must be in the soul, and the soul in the Word. Christ is in the Christian, and the Christian is in Christ. Christ's Word is in his disciple, and the disciple is in his Word. Both mean the same, only in the latter prominence is given to the Word. This implies:
(1) The closest union between the soul and the Word. The Word is in the soul, and the soul is in the Word. The union between the body and soul is not as near, real, and lasting. It is like the union between the Divine Son and the Father,
(2) The Word as the subject of the most devoted study. The disciple, heart and soul, is in it. It is his meditation in the day and his song in the night; so attractive it is that it has stolen away all the thoughts and affections, and become their centre and the source of their most exquisite delight.
(3) The object of implicit faith. "In my Word." The whole soul, with its eternal concerns, rests upon it with childlike confidence, and trusts in it with more implicitness than even the farmer and the mariner trust the laws of nature.
(4) The object of absolute obedience. It is not merely the object of faith and trust, but of obedience. Its authority is fully recognized, its directions minutely followed, and its commands strictly and joyfully obeyed. It is the polar star of the soul and the absolute law of life, and the disciple is its willing and happy slave.
3. An abiding possession of Christ's Word. "If ye abide," etc.
(1) This is an essential condition of a permanent union with Christ. Without union with Christ, there can be no discipleship. Without abiding in his Word, there can be no true union with him. If the Word be forsaken or deviated from, the chief connecting chain between the disciple and the Master is broken.
(2) This is an essential condition of reality of discipleship. "If ye abide," etc. There may be discipleship without continuance in Christ's Word, but it is not real, only nominal. Such are temporary disciples, not disciples indeed. Abiding, firmness, and perseverance in Christ's Word are essential features and conditions of reality. What is real is abiding. The presence or absence of this abiding feature of faith is perceived by Christ from the first, but must be manifested by the conduct of the disciple.
(3) This is an essential condition of the perfection of Christian discipleship. It is progressive. The Word progresses in the soul, and the soul in the Word. As the soul abides in the Word, it is admitted from stage to stage to the society and confidence of Christ, and attains the perfection of discipleship by likeness to the Master.
(4) As a condition of true discipleship, it is certain. There is an "if" with regard to the condition - "if ye abide;" but there is no "if" with regard to the consequence, "Ye are my disciples indeed." Abiding in Christ's Word in the sense indicated is real discipleship. It is not perfect, but true. The soul in Christ's Word is like a good seed in a good soil, ever growing up in and unto him.
II. IN ITS BLESSED RESULTS. There are:
1. Knowledge of the truth.
(1) There is the highest knowledge - the truth. There are many truths, but this is the truth. This truth means the great facts of human redemption through Jesus Christ. We need not enumerate them; they will naturally occur to each in their magnitude, beauty, and order. They are various, yet one, constituting one Divine system of salvation. This is the truth made known by Christ, and to know this is the highest knowledge attainable by man, because it pertains to his spiritual nature, and involves his highest good. It is the most necessary and valuable.
(2) It is a most reliable knowledge. Taught by the highest authority, the Son of God, the source, the centre, the natural expression, and the fulness of all redemptive truths; in fact, the truth itself. It is communicated in the most direct, absolute, attractive, and convincing manner - in the life, example, teaching, testimony, and miracles of the Son of God in human nature.
(3) This knowledge of the truth is experimental. It is not merely outward and intellectual, but inward and spiritual; not as illustrated in others, but as experienced by the soul itself. Know the truth as the liberated captives know the blessings of freedom, as the restored sick know the benefit of health. Spiritual truth can only be absolutely known by the spiritual nature and experience. Its kingdom is within, and the true disciple has the witness in himself.
(4) This knowledge of the truth is the natural result of true Christian discipleship. "Ye are my disciples indeed, and ye shall," etc. The truth can only be known by the true disciple. Pilate asked, "What is truth?" He had no reply; he had not an eye to see it, nor a heart to receive it. Knowledge of the truth is alone the privilege of the disciple indeed.
2. Spiritual freedom.
(1) Freedom from sin. From its bondage, its control, its consequences, its guilt, and from sin itself. In the true disciple sin will be ultimately effaced, not a vestige of it will be left behind.
(2) Freedom from the Law. From its curse, penalties, terrors, its heavy and unbearable burdens. The known truth, or Christ, becomes the law of the disciple's life, written on his heart. Its letter becomes dead, while its spirit is preserved.
(3) Freedom from the tyranny of self. From the lower passions and appetites, from the captivity of self-seeking. The soul is brought out from itself into Christ, to breathe the natural and pure air of spiritual life, love, holiness, self-sacrifice, and willingness.
(4) This freedom is effected by the truth.
(a) The truth is the efficient means of spiritual freedom. It is based on and produced by the great facts of redemption.
(b) The truth is the efficient incentive to spiritual freedom. The revelation of sin, in its enormity, debasing effects, and ultimate consequences, and the revelation of God's loving, costly, and self-sacrificing provisions for sinners, are calculated to inspire the captive soul to struggle for and accept the offered liberty.
(c) The truth experimentally known brings the fact of spiritual freedom to the consciousness. No sooner the facts of redemption, such as justification, forgiveness, and reconciliation by faith, are experimentally known than the soul begins to realize in itself the blessings of spiritual freedom. Christ lives in the disciple's consciousness, and he feels that he is a subject of the spiritual empire and a free born citizen of the new Jerusalem.
1. The weakest faith has the sympathy and care of Jesus. The faith of these Jews was very weak and imperfect, hence this address to them. He despised not the day of small things - "A bruised reed shall he not break," etc.
2. The weakest faith by continuance in Christ's Word will reach perfection. "If ye abide," etc. The quality of faith at first is more important than quantity; quantity will follow. Spiritual millionaires commenced with a very little capital. The apostles properly addressed as, "Ye of little faith." Lean sheep thrive in green pastures. It is surprising how a weak faith is improved and strengthened in the society and under the tuition of Jesus.
3. The weakest faith by abiding in Christ's Word shall enjoy the richest blessings. We say - Know all first, and then believe. But the Christian order is rather - Believe first, and then know. The little knowledge required to precede faith is nothing to that which follows. It leads to true discipleship, and to the highest knowledge - the knowledge of the truth. It opens the door of the temple of redemptive truth, and thus opens the portals of eternal freedom. Ignorance is captivity, knowledge is liberty. Let the scientific facts of the world be known, and men will be intellectually free; let the Divine facts of redemption be experimentally realized, and men shall walk in the glorious liberty of the sons of God. - B.T.
I. THE DIFFICULTY OF DISCIPLESHIP. Nominal Christianity is easy enough, but to be a real disciple is as hard as ever. Jesus made it hard for those who first thronged round him, and the same tests, the same requirements, the same difficulties, face us still. The would-be disciple has to contend with his own indolence, impatience, self-indulgence. What changes in our thoughts and ways there must be, so that our thoughts may become as the thoughts of Jesus, our ways as the ways of Jesus! We are not to be known by distinctions in outward appearance, but by deep distinctions in character and purpose. He who wants an easy, smooth, level life will not indeed find it anywhere; least of all will he find it with Christ. It is not mere attendance at school that makes the scholar - it is learning; and in the school of Christ learning by practice.
II. SEE JESUS TESTING DISCIPLES. The man who said he would follow Jesus wherever he went. The man who said he would follow when he had buried his father. The man who said he would follow after saying farewell to his friends. The disciples in the storm, who deemed they trusted Christ, and yet could, not trust him till they had wakened him from sleep. Faith in Jesus as a Teacher must rise above the difficulties of any particular single demand of his. You must learn to look at Jesus, not in any one single action, not in any one single word, but in the sum total of all his actions and all his words. Jesus is always teaching, and we have to be always learning. What others reckoned to be discipleship he did not so reckon. Departure from old associations does not make discipleship. Departure into new circumstances does not make discipleship. He is the disciple indeed who breaks from an old life into a new one - into that new life which gets nearer perfectness the nearer it gets to perfect trust in Jesus. Diogenes went about Greece with his lantern, looking for an honest man; and so Jesus goes about among us with his tests and with his searching, undeceivable eye, looking for a disciple indeed. He looks to see whether we abide in his Word, whether we carry it into every thought, every transaction, every temptation, every trouble. He would lead us on from lesson to lesson, deepening our faith, marking us off as his disciples more and more distinctly - those ever learning and ever able to come more and more to knowledge of the truth. - Y.
I. THE PROCESS OF LIBERATION MAY BE REAL, THOUGH FOR A WHILE WE ARE NOT CONSCIOUS OF IT. The prisoner is free when no longer in prison; the slave is free when no longer under the legal control of his owner. But Christian liberty cannot thus be made up of negations; it would be a poor thing if it could. It is of no use to attempt a definition of Christian liberty; it is a thing into which we must grow. We must grow until, even as Paul did, we look back on the days once counted free as days of the worst servitude. Going where Christ wants us to go, being what Christ wants us to be, we shall see in due time what a real and blessed thing spiritual freedom is. Still, though it must be a time before we know this properly, yet we may know something of it at once in studying the very greatest illustration of real liberty we can find, namely, the Lord Jesus himself. It is not abstract truth that liberates, but truth as embodied in the wisdom and power of Jesus.
II. TRUTH BRINGS US INTO THE LIBERTY OF DOING GOD'S WILL. Christ's own liberty was not that of doing as he liked. He went by the likings of his Father in heaven. He did nothing without liking to do it; yet he also did nothing just because he liked to do it. To desire what God desires, that is liberty, without a check, a jar, or a fret. Sowing just what we like, we shall certainly reap what we do not like. Christ wants to liberate us from the thraldom of our own strong, foolish desires. The psalmist exactly expresses the Christian's privilege and attainment, when he says so cheerfully. "I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart."
III. TRUTH BRINGS US INTO THE LIBERTY OF SEEING THINGS WITH OUR OWN EYES. The reputed wise in Jerusalem would only have led Jesus into a bondage of falsehoods and delusions. What a Pharisee they would have tried to make him! Really freethinking is the only right thinking, and our Teacher was the freest thinker that ever lived. It is our duty as much as our right to judge everything in connection with Christ for ourselves. By that rule we shall be judged at last. Others may help us in the way when chosen, but they are not to choose it for us.
IV. TRUTH BRINGS US INTO THE LIBERTY OF A LOVING HEART. The heart of Jesus could not be kept within rules and precedents and prejudices. It was a Divine love, shed abroad in his heart, that kept him safe, pure, and unspotted, in a world abounding with things to pollute.
V. TRUTH BRINGS US INTO THE LIBERTY OF A GRACIOUS LIFE. That is, the liberty of Jesus never interfered with the true liberty of others, but increased and established it. He never broke away from the beaten track for the mere sake of doing it. - Y.
I. TRUE FREEDOM INVOLVES THAT OF THE SOUL.
1. A man may be physically free without being free indeed.
2. A man may be socially free without being free indeed. He may be in the full enjoyment of social and political privileges and yet a captive.
3. A man may be mentally free without being free indeed. His intellect may be sound and grasping, his mental vision clear and far reaching, and still be a prisoner.
4. True freedom involves that of the soul. For:
(1) The soul is the highest part of man - that which makes him a moral being and immortal, and connects him immediately with God and his government, and with spiritual existence generally.
(2) His highest nature must be free ere he can be free indeed. He may be physically bound and be really free, but if the soul, the spiritual nature, be in bondage, it affects his whole being.
II. TRUE FREEDOM INVOLVES THAT OF THE SOUL FROM SIN.
1. Sin makes the soul captive to the Divine Law. Sin is a transgression of Divine Law, and must be punished. "The wages of sin is death." The sinful soul is under the just condemnation of the Law and the displeasure of the Lawgiver, a prisoner of the Law and justice.
2. Sin makes the soul captive to itself. "Whosoever committeth sin," etc. In the degree a man is under the control of sin, he is its slave. Sin enslaves the soul.
(1) It dims its spiritual vision. Cannot see into the invisible and eternal.
(2) It vitiates its spiritual taste. Cannot relish spiritual food.
(3) It cramps and destroys its spiritual aspirations and capacities. Its wings are clipped by sin so that it cannot and will not fly aloft into its native air.
(4) It debars the soul from its spiritual rights and privileges. The peace and friendship of God, and the society of the good and pure.
3. All souls by nature are in the bondage of sin.
(1) Some are unconscious of it, like these Jews - a sad condition.
(2) Some are conscious of it - a more hopeful state.
(3) Whether conscious or unconscious of it, the fact remains. The soul by nature is the slave of sin and in the bondage of corruption.
4. In order to be truly free, the soul must be liberated from sin. A state of wilful sin is a Stats of willing captivity, and deliverance from it is essential to true freedom.
III. TRUE FREEDOM OF THE SOUL FROM SIN IS EFFECTED BY CHRIST.
1. He can liberate the soul from sin.
(1) He has power to pardon sin, Without this the soul cannot be made free. The sense of past guilt must be effaced, and a way of escape must be opened. This has been done by Christ in his self-sacrificing and vicarious life and death. In him Divine forgiveness is a glorious fact, and "he has power on earth," etc.
(2) He has power to separate the soul from sin. This is done by the creation of a new life - spiritual and Divine life. Christ by faith lives in the soul, so that the believer is made like Christ, the Son of God, and between him and sin there is an ever-widening gulf. He is in a new world - the world of love and purity, the world of spiritual joy and freedom.
(3) Christ alone has power to do this. He alone is free from sin, and he alone can make the soul free from it. He alone is divinely commissioned to do this; he is the only spiritual Liberator of the human race.
2. The freedom effected by Christ is most real.
(1) It is effected by the highest authority. By the eternal Son. From him there is no court of appeal; his decision is final. "If God be for us," etc.; "if the Son shall make you free," etc.
(2) The freedom is effected in the most satisfactory manner. If God is satisfied and man willingly consents, this is enough. No consideration nor apology is due to Satan; he is a tyrant, a usurper, and a thief, and has no right to the property. Let the Divine government be satisfied in the soul's freedom, and it is real. In Christ this is gloriously the case. "God is just, and Justifier," etc.
(3) The freedom is most thorough and comprehensive. It is spiritual, the freedom of the soul from all evil and its admission to all good, "from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom," etc. It involves the restoration of the soul into its original state and right, and is no more in harmony with God's wilt than with the sours true nature and aspirations, and is well calculated to promote its highest development and eternal happiness.
(4) This freedom is permanent. No freedom that is temporary is true. The servants of sin are only tolerated; they must be excluded from the Father's house and its privileges sooner or later. But the freedom effected by Christ is that of sonship. All made free by Christ become the sons of God, and like Christ are entitled to remain in the house forever. Their freedom is as permanent as the soul, as the existence of the great Liberator, and between them and captivity there will ever be a progressively holy nature and the infinite power of the eternal Son.
1. The importance of having right views of freedom. False views on this subject are so prevalent; we are so prone to make mistakes on this. They are so dangerous.
2. The importance of having right views of the enslaving influence of sin. Without this we cannot obtain true liberty. So important is this that Christ calls special attention to it: "Verily, verily," etc.
3. The importance of obtaining true freedom. Man is so prone to be satisfied with false freedom, to be self-deceived. True freedom is the only one worth having.
4. The importance of being made free by Christ. He alone can make us free.
5. The duty of gratitude to him. He is the great Liberator of humanity. Those who are made free indeed should be indeed thankful. A view of Christ as the Liberator will make heaven all ablaze with gratitude - ought to make earth. - B.T.
I. THE BONDAGE IS PRESUMED WHICH RENDERS NECESSARY THE ADVENT OF THE DIVINE LIBERATOR. Man is by nature, whilst in this fallen state, under bondage to law, to sin, to condemnation.
II. PRETENDED FREEDOM, OF WHICH SINFUL MEN ARE FOUND TO BOAST, IS EXPOSED. The Jewish leaders, our Lord's contemporaries, asserted a certain liberty. Relying upon their descent from Abraham, and their consequent privileges in connection with the old covenant, the Jews claimed to be free men. The worst cases of bondage are those where there is the pretence of liberty, and nothing but the pretence. Free-thinkers, free-livers, are names given to classes who are utter strangers to real liberty, who are in the most degrading bondage to error and to lust.
III. TRUE FREEDOM IS EXPLAINED.
1. It is deliverance from spiritual chains and bondage.
2. It is liberty which reveals itself in the willing choice of the highest and noblest service. They are spiritually free who recognize the supreme claims of the Divine Law, who evince a preference for the will of God above their own pleasure or the example of their fellow men.
IV. THE SON OF GOD DECLARES HIMSELF THE DIVINE LIBERATOR. As such be has all the requisite authority, and all the requisite wisdom and grace. Political freedom may be secured by a human deliverer; but in order to enfranchise the soul a Divine interposition is necessary. Christ has the mastery of all spiritual forces, and can accordingly set free the bound and trammelled soul. He smites the tyrant who lords it over the spiritual captives; he cancels our sentence of slavery; he breaks our fetters; he calls us freemen, and treats us as such; he animates us with the spirit of liberty.
V. THE BLESSED RESULTS OF FREEDOM ARE PROMISED. The enfranchised from Satan's service become God's willing bondmen. Then, from being God's servants, they become his sons. As his sons, they are his heirs, and being such, they in due time enjoy the inheritance. This is liberty indeed - to pass from thraldom unto Satan into the "glorious liberty of the sons of God." - T.
I. THEIR MISTAKEN SPIRITUAL PATERNITY. "We have one Father, even God." This in a sense is true.
(1) God was their Father as creatures;
(2) he was their Father as a nation;
(3) he was their Father still in his yearning love to save and pity them. But it is substantially hollow and false, as proved by their conduct towards Christ.
1. They failed to recognize his connection with God.
(1) He was the Son of God. "I came forth out of God." He was, in fact, God's Son, as evidenced by his person and miracles.
(2) He was come on a Divine mission. Come to them, and come on a mission of love and salvation.
(3) He was divinely sent. "Neither came I of myself, but he sent me" - he whom you call your Father.
2. They failed to understand his message. Although
(1) he spoke with Divine authority;
(2) with Divine simplicity;
(3) with Divine importunity and tenderness, so that he could naturally ask the pretended children of God, "Why do ye not understand my speech?"
3. They failed to believe him and his message. Although:
(1) His character was perfect. "Which of you," etc.?
(2) His message was truthful. He could challenge them with regard to the truthfulness of his message, as well as the perfection of his character, and both deserved and demanded attention and faith.
(3) Yet they disbelieved and rejected him for the very reason which should induce them to believe and accept him. "Because I tell you the truth, ye," etc.
4. These sad failures flatly contradict their pretended relationship to God. (Vers. 42-47.)
II. THEIR TRUE SPIRITUAL PATERNITY. "Ye are of your father," etc. Look at the picture of the father and the children and their likeness.
1. Look at his murderous propensities.
(1) The devil is a murderer. The murderer of human bodies and souls; the destroyer of human happiness and the Divine image in man. The Jewish nation bore this character. From time to time they manifested murderous propensities; they became the murderers of the Messiah, the Son of God and the Lord of glory.
(2) The devil was a murderer from the beginning. Not the beginning of all things, nor even the very beginning of his own existence, but the beginning of the human race. His fall preceded that of man, and perhaps the existence of man; but no sooner had he perceived Adam, young, innocent, and loyal in his happy paradise, than the lust of murder was excited in his breast, and he fixed upon man as his victim, and effected his foul purpose in the spiritual murder of our first parents. This was the character of the Jews from the beginning, and the character of these very persons since the beginning of Christ's earthly existence. No sooner had the second Adam appeared on the scene than they sought by every means to kill him.
(3) The devil is a most selfish and wilful murderer. This was the case with regard to our first parents. There was no provocation, no gain beyond the gratification of his own selfishness and malice. This was the case with these Jews in the murder of their Messiah; they could find no reason for it but in their own dark and selfish hatred.
2. Look at his lying propensities.
(1) The devil is a liar. He is opposed to truth, to all truth, especially to the great system of truth brought to light by Christ. Thus his falsehood serves well his murderous opposition to the redeeming truth of the gospel. In this the heads of the Jewish nation resembled him; they murderously opposed Jesus, and he came to help murder; they bore false witness against him.
(2) The devil became a liar by falling from the truth He was in the truth once and the truth in him, but abode not in it long enough to be morally safe. He fell wilfully, of his own accord. He is a backslider, and, having fallen from truth, he had no place to fall but into the whirlpool of falsehood, with all its concomitant vices. How like their spiritual father were the Jewish nation! They were born into great religious privileges, they had eminent spiritual fathers, brought up under the watchful care and in the tender lap of a kind Providence, nursed on the breast of Divine and precious promises, and familiarized with the idea of a coming Messiah, their Divine Deliverer; but they abode not in the truth, but wilfully fell into falsehood. It seems as if only the children of special light alone are capable of becoming the veritable children of the prince of darkness.
(3) The devil as a liar is most complete. "There is no truth in him." He is completely lost to true, and truth to him; there is not a vestige of it in his nature. It is so completely gone, that eternal hatred of it now sits on its old throne, and the very thought of it is repugnant and unbearable. In this how like their father these children were! Jesus appealed to every sentiment of virtue and affection in their breast, but in vain. He exhibited in his life and character all that is attractive in human nature, and all that is mighty and benevolent in the Divine; but all this not only did not excite their admiration and gratitude, but excited their most deadly hatred, which proves the sad hollowness and falsity of their character. There was no truth in them.
(4) The devil as a liar is terribly original. "When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own," etc. It is net a passing impulse, the result of temptation, but the natural outflow, and a part and parcel of his nature. Here the problem of the existence of evil is somewhat solved; we have found its father, its original propagator. His children partake of his spiritual nature, otherwise they would not be his children. The days of repentance, struggle, resistance, and prayer are past; these are days of spiritual generation, and in this case the result is a progeny of the devil. These Jews were more than under his influence; they were his progeny. Terribly original, self-responsible, voluntary, independent and complacent in their sin, they spoke of their own; their falsehoods were their own, and their murderous act was especially their own, the outflow of their evil nature. "Let his blood be upon us," etc. The father of murder has not finished with any one till that one carries on business on his own footing, manufactures his own goods and disposes of them at his own risk, and does all this naturally. Then his paternity is complete, the relationship real, and his possession safe. This is the lowest point of moral deterioration reached in this world.
1. Man in this world is capable of the highest and the lowest spiritual affinities. He may partake of the Divine or a devilish nature, may become the child of God or the child of the devil. Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
2. Man in this world is capable of the most serious self-deception with regard to his spiritual paternity. These Jews thought that they were the children of God, while they were really the children of the devil. Such a self-deception is very characteristic of him, whose chief delight is to lie and deceive, and is perhaps the climax of his evil genius with regard to men. He cares but little about the name, only let him have the game. Of all self-deceptions this is the most miserable and disappointing!
3. No one can claim God as his Father who despises and rejects his Son. Our conduct towards him and his gospel decides our spiritual fatherhood at once.
4. To Christ our spiritual paternity is quite evident, which he will reveal sooner or later. And in the light of his revelation this is not difficult for each to know for himself.
5. Nothing can explain the conduct of some men towards Christ and his gospel but a true statement of their spiritual paternity. Let this be known, and the sequel is plain.
6. Even the children of the devil condemn him, for they do not like to own him as their father. State the fact, they are insulted. The alliance must be unholy and unnatural. Many of them claim God as their Father - the compliment of vice to virtue. A compulsory admission and a full realization of this relationship will be painful in the extreme.
7. Let his children remember that they are such by their own choice. For spiritual generation, for good or evil, is by and through the will. It is not fate, but deliberate and voluntary selection. "His lusts it is your will to do." All are either the children of God or of the devil by their own choice. Hence the importance of a wise choice. - B.T.
I. THE WITNESS OF MEN TO OUR LORD'S SINLESSNESS.
1. That of his friends and apostles. Peter designated him "the Holy One and the Just," "who did no sin;" John, "Jesus Christ the righteous," of whom he says, "In him was no sin." Paul, writing to the Corinthians, speaks of Christ as of him "who knew no sin;" and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews refers to him in these words, "Though without sin."
2. That of others. Thus Judas, his betrayer, spoke of the "innocent blood" he had been the means of shedding; Pilate found "no fault in him;" the centurion testified, "This was a righteous Man."
II. OUR LORD'S OWN ASSERTIONS CLAIMING THE PREROGATIVE OF SINLESSNESS. Jesus said, "I have kept my Father's commandments;" "The prince of this world cometh, and findeth nothing in me;" "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" If he were not sinless, either his hypocrisy must have been frightful, or he must have been the subject of the most monstrous delusion that ever possessed an egotistical fanatic.
III. AS A MATTER OF FACT AND HISTORY, OUR LORD'S LIFE WAS SINLESS.
1. Regard the matter negatively. Was there one of the ten commandments which Jesus broke? From his temptation in the wilderness down to his death upon the cross, he eschewed every evil, and proved himself victorious over every instigation to sin to which others - even good men - would probably in some cases have yielded.
2. Regard the matter positively. There is often presented to men an alternative between vice and virtue, disobedience and obedience to God. Wherever an opportunity occurred for our Lord to do that which was best, he did it. There was unfailing consistency between his teaching and his life; he mixed with sinners, unharmed by the contact; he exhibited all moral excellences in his own character; in holiness he stands supreme and alone among the sons of men.
1. This fact points to, and agrees with, a belief in the Divinity of Jesus.
2. Here is a faultless, perfect Example for all men to study and copy.
3. Here is evidence of our Lord's perfect qualification to be the Saviour and the Lord of man. - T.
I. THE CONDITION HERE PROPOUNDED. "If a man keep my word."
1. This implies upon Christ's part a special revelation and authority. By his "word" doubtless Jesus meant the whole manifestation of his character and will; his doctrine relating to the Father and to himself; his precepts relating to his disciples.
2. It implies upon the part of his followers a reverent, loyal, and affectionate obedience. They keep, i.e. they retain in memory and observe in practice, the word of their Master. As a faithful servant keeps the word of his lord, as a diligent scholar keeps the word of his teacher, as a loyal soldier keeps the word of his officer, his general, as a reverent son keeps the word of his father, so the Christian keeps the word of his Saviour.
II. THE PROMISE HERE RECORDED. "He shall never see death."
1. The death from which Christ promises exemption is not the death of the body, as was understood by the Jews; it is the spiritual death which is the effect of sin, and which consists in insensibility to everything Divine. This should be more dreaded than physical death.
2. The way in which Christ fulfils this promise. He died in the body that those who believe on him may not experience spiritual death. The redemption of our Saviour is a redemption from death and sin. And Christ communicates the Spirit of life, who quickens dead souls, imparting to them the newness of life which is their highest privilege, and which is the earnest and the beginning of an immortality of blessedness. - T.
I. ABRAHAM'S GREATNESS. That the great sheikh who came from beyond the Euphrates, and who traversed the soil of Palestine with his retinue of dependents and of cattle, was one of the greatest figures in human history, none will deny. But only those who look below the surface can discern the real grounds for holding this patriarch in honour so high.
1. We know, from the Scripture record, that Abraham was the friend of God. Amidst idolaters he was a worshipper of the supreme and only Deity, and was upon terms of peculiar intimacy with Jehovah.
2. He was also the father of the faithful, and that not so much in the sense that he was the ancestor of the nation who worshipped the Eternal alone, but in this sense, viz. that his character and life were in many respects a model of faith. He maintained, on the whole, his confidence in the righteous and faithful Ruler of the universe.
3. He was also the progenitor of many nations, and especially of that one nation whom God set apart to preserve the knowledge of his Name and his Law, and to prepare the way for the advent of the Messiah.
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST. Our Lord did not question Abraham's greatness, but, upon the occasion on which the words of the text were spoken, he both implicitly and explicitly claimed to be greater even than the ancestor of the chosen people. This superiority consists in:
1. His nature and character. Abraham was the friend of God; Christ was the Son of God. Abraham was great as a man; Christ was distinguished by superhuman greatness.
2. His work for humanity. Abraham set a glorious example of faith; but Christ came to be the Divine Object of faith. Abraham was an intercessor, e.g. for Sodom; Christ was the Advocate of man. Abraham was a great leader; Christ was the great Saviour.
3. In the commonwealth and kingdom which he founded. Abraham was the father of many nations, and is to this day thought of with reverence among Eastern peoples, whilst the Jews, in the time of Jesus, and even now, rejoice in tracing their descent from him. But Christ's kingdom is a universal kingdom, and the Israel of God throughout earth and heaven are called after him.
4. In the perpetuity of his dominion. It annoyed and angered the Jews that Jesus claimed immortality for himself and for his disciples, whilst they were constrained to admit that Abraham was dead. They could not understand Christ's claim, and the time had not come for him to make that claim fully intelligible. But we can see that Abraham was a pilgrim and a stranger upon earth, whilst Christ is an abiding and eternal King! - T.
I. IN RELATION TO THE FATHER.
1. His entire devotion to him. This includes:
(1) His perfect knowledge of him. "I know him." His knowledge of the Father was essential, absolute, and most intimate. It was not merely knowledge which he had gathered in the past, but which he derived and possessed in the present, then, on account of his oneness with him.
(2) His faithful confession of him. "I know him." He confessed him before men; did not hide the knowledge he possessed of the Father, but faithfully declared it.
(3) His thorough obedience to his will. "I keep his saying." His saying was his will expressed in and to Christ. The Father's saying was Jesus' message; this he faithfully kept and devotedly published. He swerved not from his Father's command on account of the most menacing threats of his foes, but most minutely and enthusiastically carried it out.
2. Some of the features of his peculiar honour.
(1) The honour of absolute self-denial and self-forgetfulness. He honoured not himself, but made himself of no reputation.
(2) The honour of the most devoted loyalty.
(3) Honour derived from the highest source, It was not self-sought, self-derived, nor self-conferred. This honour, he says, would be worthless. "My Father honoureth me." He was really what his Father made him, and he made him what he was because of his essential dignity and relationship and his official integrity and devotion.
3. His entire contrast with his foes.
(1) They were ignorant of him whom they called their God. "Ye have not known him." In spite of their great advantages, these had been lost. on them. Christ knew him absolutely, and manifested and proved his knowledge.
(2) They were utterly false. They were liars - false to themselves, to Jesus, and to God. Christ was true to all. He was the faithful and true Witness.
(3) Their claimed relationship to God was an empty boast. It was disproved by their spirit, language, actions, and whole conduct. Christ's relationship to God was real. His Sonship was most conclusively proved by his Divine knowledge, his public ministry, his Divine miracles, by his whole life.
II. IN HIS RELATION TO ABRAHAM, AND ABRAHAM TO HIM. These Jews claimed Abraham as their father, and attempted to cause a discord between him and Christ; but he reveals himself in relation to the patriarch.
1. In relation to his highest interest.
(1) The incarnate life of Jesus engaged the patriarch's most rapturous attention. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day." The incarnate life of Jesus was revealed to him in the promise which God repeatedly made to him. This excited his interest, and became the subject of his ardent study. He meditated on it with delight, raised himself, as it were, on tiptoe to look over the shoulders of ages to catch a glimpse of it; stretched forward with eagerness and joy to behold it; made use of every light, and earnestly prayed for more.
(2) A vision of his incarnate life was granted him. "And he saw it." His faithful efforts met with success, and his eager faith was rewarded with the desired vision. Whether this refers to the general vision of his life of faith, or to some special one, is not certain. Perhaps it was specially enjoyed on the summit of Moriah, and through his own experience in offering up his only son he had a special vision of the incarnate life of the Son of God. This served as a telescope through which he saw the distant day close at hand, and beheld its leading features, and grasped its Divine and human bearings and import.
(3) This vision filled his soul with joy. "He saw it, and was glad." Being the chief vision of his life, his soul overflowed with delight and gladness. His was the joy of overflowing gratitude, intense satisfaction, and Divine fulfilment. Since he saw that day his joy was in his soul, a springtide which carried him at last to the brighter visions and diviner joy beyond.
2. In relation to Abraham's age. "Before Abraham," etc. This implies:
(1) The priority of his being. It was very little for him to say that he was before Abraham, considered in the full light of his statement, but it was a step in the right direction, and a reply to the objection of his opponents.
(2) The eternity of his being. "I am." "I was" here would place him among created beings, but "I am" at once reveals him as uncreated, eternal, self-existent, and independent of time and material conditions and circumstances, and makes him belong to the highest order of being.
(3) The unchangeability of his being. "I am." In time, and amid the changes of his visible and earthly existence, his eternal personality and consciousness are preserved unchanged. He is still the "I am."
(4) His unquestionable Divinity. If his being is uncreated, eternal, self-existent, and unchangeable, he must be Divine. This he most emphatically and solemnly asserts: "Verily, verily," etc.
III. HIS REVELATION OF HIMSELF IN RELATION TO HIS OPPONENTS.
1. They understood it. It was intellectually intelligible to them. They were too acquainted with the attributes and designations of Jehovah to misunderstand the language of Christ, and their application to himself was felt by them, as their conduct proves.
2. It became to them unbearable. "They took up stones," etc. A proof of:
(1) Inability to refute his statement. When stone throwing begins, arguments are at an end. Stone throwing is a sign of weakness.
(2) Inability to be convinced. Their false and malicious nature was patent against conviction. They could not rise to the Divinity of his Person and mission. This inability was sad, but wilful and criminal.
(3) Inability to control themselves. Passion was their master; hatred was on the throne. They fail to conceal them.
3. It widened the gulf between him and them. It was wide before - wider now. As he revealed himself in the sublimest manner as their promised Messiah and the Son of God, they in consequence revealed themselves in stone throwing as his most implacable and deadly foes.
4. His revelation was suitably appended by his apparently miraculous escape. "But Jesus hid himself," etc. Hid himself in the folds of his glory. A suitable sequel to his revelation of himself as their Divine Deliverer. How easily and effectively could he defend himself, and retaliate in their fashion! But he preferred his own. He had a royal road. He departed as a King. He could walk through the crowd unobserved, and through the stones unhurt. The weak are more ready to attack than the strong, but there is more majesty in the retreat of the strong than in the attack of the weak. When stone throwing begins, it is time for the messenger of peace to retire. The stones may kill his person, but cannot kill his published message, and he may be wanted elsewhere.
1. Natural relationships often survive the spiritual. The natural relationship between these people and Abraham, and even between them and God, still remained, while the spiritual was all but gone. This is true of God and evil spirits.
2. When the spiritual relationship is destroyed, the natural availeth nothing. It is only the foundation of an empty boast and hypocritical self-righteousness, and at last the source of painful reminiscences and contrasts.
3. The best of fathers often have the worst of children. This is true of Abraham, and even of God - the best Father of all.
4. Much of the religious capital of the present is derived entirely from the past. Many claim relationship with, and boast of, the reformers and illustrous men of bygone ages, and this is all their stock-in-trade. Their names are on their lips, while their principles are under their feet.
5. It was the chief mission of Christ to explain and establish the spiritual relationship between man and God. To establish it on a sound basis - the basis of faith, obedience, and love. To be the real children of God and of our pious ancestors, we must partake of their spiritual nature and principles. This Jesus taught with fidelity, although it cost him at last a cruel cross.
6. We are indirectly indebted to the cavils of foes for some of the sublimest revelations of Jesus of himself. It was so here. Their foul blasphemies, after all, served as advantageous backgrounds to his grand pictures of incarnate Divinity and love; so that we are not altogether sorry that they called him a "Samaritan" and a demon, as in consequence he shines forth with peculiar brilliancy as the Friend of sinners, the Son of God, and the Saviour of mankind. - B.T.