After describing how matters were brought to a crisis in Galilee, and pointing out that, as the result of our Lord's work there, only twelve men adhered to Him, and in even this final selection not all were to be trusted, -- John passes on to describe the state of feeling towards Jesus in Jerusalem, and how the storm of unbelief gathered until it broke in violence and outrage. This seventh chapter is intended to put us in the right point of view by exhibiting the various estimates that were formed of the work and person of Jesus, and the opinions which any one might hear uttered regarding Him at every table in Jerusalem.
But the motive of His going to Jerusalem at all calls for remark. His brothers, who might have been expected to understand His character best, were very slow to believe in Him. They only felt He was different from themselves, and they were nettled by His peculiarity. But they felt that the credit of the family was involved, and also that if His claims should turn out to be true, their position as brothers of the Messiah would be flattering. Accordingly they betray considerable anxiety to have His claims pronounced upon; and seeing that His work in Galilee had come to so little, they do their utmost to provoke Him to appeal at once to the central authority at Jerusalem. They did not as yet believe in Him, they could not entertain the idea that the boy they had knocked about and made to run their messages could be the long-expected King; and yet there was such trustworthy report of the extraordinary things He had done, that they felt there was something puzzling about Him, and for the sake of putting an end to their suspense they do what they can to get Him to go again to Jerusalem. The lever they use to move Him is a taunt: "If these works of yours are genuine miracles, don't hang about villages and little country towns, but go and show yourself in the capital. No one who is really confident that he has a claim on public attention wanders about in solitary places, but repairs to the most crowded haunts of men. Go up now to the feast, and your disciples will gather round you, and your claims will be settled once for all."
To this Jesus replies that the hour for such a proclamation of Himself has not yet come. That hour is to come. At the following Passover He entered Jerusalem in the manner desired by His brethren, and the result, as He foresaw, was His death. As yet such a demonstration was premature. The brothers of Jesus did not apprehend the virulence of hatred which Jesus aroused, and did not perceive how surely His death would result from His going up to the feast as the acknowledged King of the Galilaeans. He Himself sees all this plainly, and therefore declines the plan of operation proposed by His brothers; and instead of going up with them as the proclaimed Messiah, He goes up quietly by Himself a few days after. To go up as His brothers' nominee, or to go up in the way they proposed, was counter to the whole plan of His life. Their ideas and proposals were made from a point of view wholly different from His. Very often we can do at our own instance, in our own way and at our own time, what it would be a vast mistake to do at the instigation of people who look at the matter differently from ourselves, and have quite another purpose to serve. Jesus could safely do without display what He could not do ostentatiously; and He could do as His Father's servant what He could not do at the whim of His brothers.
The feast to which He thus quietly went up was the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast was a kind of national harvest home; and consequently in appointing it God commanded that it should be held "in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field;" that is to say, in the end of the natural year, or in early autumn, when the farm operations finished one rotation and began a new series. It was a feast, therefore, full of rejoicing. Every Israelite appeared in holiday attire, bearing in his hands a palm-branch, or wearing some significant emblem of earth's fruitfulness. At night the city was brilliantly illuminated, especially round the Temple, in which great lamps, used only on these occasions, were lit, and which possibly occasioned our Lord's remark at this time, as reported in the following chapter, "I am the Light of the world." There can be little doubt that when, on the last day of the feast, He stood and cried, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink," the form of his invitation was moulded by one of the customs of the feast. For one of the most striking features of the feast was the drawing of water in a golden vessel from the pool of Siloam, and carrying it in procession to the Temple, where it was poured out with such a burst of triumph from the trumpets of the Levites, aided by the Hallelujahs of the people, that it became a common Jewish saying, "He who has not seen the rejoicing at the pouring out of the water from the pool of Siloam has never seen rejoicing in his life." This pouring out of the water before God seemed to be an acknowledgment of His goodness in watering the corn-lands and pastures, and also a commemoration of the miraculous supply of water in the desert; while to some of the more enlightened it bore also a spiritual significance, and recalled the words of Isaiah, "With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation."
But this feast was not solely a celebration of the ingathering, or a thanksgiving for the harvest. The name of it reminds us that another feature was quite as prominent. In its original institution God commanded, "Ye shall dwell in booths or tabernacles seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths," the reason being added, "that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt." The particular significance of the Israelites dwelling in booths seems to be that it marked their deliverance from a life of bondage to a life of freedom; it reminded them how they had once no settled habitation, but yet found a booth in the desert preferable to the well-provided residences of Egypt. And every Feast of Tabernacles seemed intended to recall these thoughts. In the midst of their harvest, at the end of the year, when they were once more laying up store for winter, and when every one was reckoning whether it would be an abundant and profitable year for him or no, they were told to live for a week in booths, that they might think of that period in their fathers' experience when God was their all, when they had no provision for the morrow, and which was yet the most triumphant period of their history. All wealth, all distinctions of rank, all separation between rich and poor, was for a while forgotten, as each man dwelt in his little green hut as well sheltered as his neighbour. And to every one was suggested the thought, that let the coming winter be well provided or ill provided, let it be bleak to some and bright to others, at bottom the provision of this world is to all alike but as a green bough between them and destitution; but that all alike, reduce them if you will to a booth which has neither store nor couch in it, have still the Most High God for their deliverer, and provider, and habitation.
Even before Jesus appeared at this feast He was the subject of much talk and exchange of opinions.
1. The first characteristic of the popular mind, as exhibited here by John, is its subservience to authority. Those who had a favourable opinion of Jesus uttered it with reserve and caution, "for fear of the Jews" -- that is, of the Jerusalem Jews, who were known to be adverse to His claims. And the authorities, knowing the subservience of the people, considered it a sufficient reply to the favourable reports brought them by their own officers, to say, "Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?" This seems a very childish mode of settling a great question, and we are ready to charge the Jews with a singular lack of independence; but we reflect that among ourselves great questions are settled very much by authority still. In politics we take our cue from one or two newspapers, conducted by men who show themselves quite fallible; and in matters of even deeper moment, how many of us can say we have thought out a creed for ourselves, and have not accepted our ideas from recognised teachers? And whether these teachers be the accredited representatives of traditional theology, or have secured an audience by their departure from ordinary views, we have in our own conscience a surer guide to the truth about Christ. For much that we may build upon the foundation we must be indebted to others; but for that which is radical, for the determination of the relation we ourselves are to hold to Christ, we must follow not authority but our own conscience.
Our equanimity need not, then, be greatly disturbed by the fact that so many of the rulers of public opinion do not believe in Christ. We need not tremble for Christianity when we see how widely extended is the opinion that miracles are the fancy of a credulous age. We need not be over-anxious or altogether downcast when we hear philosophers sublimely talk as if they had seen all round Christ, and taken His measure, and rendered satisfactory account of the pious delusions He Himself was subject to, and the groundless hallucinations which misled His followers into unheard-of virtue, and made them good men by mistake. Consider the opinions of men of insight and of power, but do not be overawed by them, for you have in yourself a surer guide to truth. Look at Christ with your own eyes, frankly open your own soul before Him, and trust the impression He makes upon you.
2. Again, John notices the perplexity of the people. They saw that, much as the authorities desired to put Him out of the way, they shrank from decisive measures. And from this they naturally gathered that the rulers had some idea that this was the Christ. Then besides, they saw the miracles Jesus did, and asked whether the Christ would do more miracles. They saw, too, that He was "a good Man," and on the whole, therefore, they were disposed to look favourably on His claims; but then there always recurred the thought, "We know this Man whence He is; but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence He is." They thought they could account for Christ and trace Him to His origin; and therefore they could not believe He was from God. This is the common difficulty. Men find it difficult to believe that One who was really born on earth and did not suddenly appear, nobody knew whence, can in any peculiar sense be from God. They dwell upon the truly human nature of Christ, and conceive that this precludes the possibility of His being from God in any sense in which we are not from God.
To this perplexity Jesus addresses Himself in the words (ver.28), "Me you do in a sense know, and also whence I come, but that does not give you the full knowledge you need, for it is not of Myself I am come; your knowledge of Me cannot solve your perplexity, because I am not sent by Myself; He that sent Me is the real one, and Him you do not know. I know Him because I am from Him, and He hath sent Me." That is to say: Your knowledge of Me is insufficient, because you do not, through Me, recognise God. Your knowledge of Me is insufficient so long as you construe Me into a mere earthly product. To know Me, as you know Me, is not enough; for not in Myself can you find the originating cause of what I am and what I do. You must go behind my earthly origin, and the human appearance which you know, if you are to account for My presence among you, and for My conduct and teaching. It matters little what you know of Me, if through Me you are not brought to the knowledge of God. He is the real One, He is the Supreme Truth; and Him, alas! you do not know while you profess to know Me.
3. John notes the insufficient tests used both by the people and by the authorities for ascertaining whether Jesus was or was not their promised King. The tests they used were such as these, "Will Christ do more miracles?" "Will He come from the same part of the country?" and so forth. Among ourselves it has become customary to speak as if it were impossible to find or apply any sufficient test to the claims of Christ; impossible to ascertain whether He is, in a peculiar sense, Divine, and whether we can absolutely trust all He said, and accept the views of God He cherished and proclaimed. Certainly Christ Himself does not countenance this mode of speaking. In all His conversations with the unbelieving Jews He condemned them for their unbelief, ascribed it to moral defects, and persistently maintained that it was within the reach of any man to ascertain whether He was true or a pretender. There is a class of expressions which occur in this Gospel which clearly show what Jesus Himself considered to be the root of unbelief. To Pilate He says, "Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice." To the Jews He says, "He that is of God, heareth God's words; ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God." And again in this seventh chapter, "If any man is desirous to do the will of God, he will know of My doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself." All these statements convey the impression that Christ's person and teaching will uniformly be acceptable to those who love the truth, and who are anxious to do the will of God.
Faith in Christ is thus represented as an act rather of the spiritual nature than of the intellect, and as the result of sympathy with the truth rather than of critical examination of evidence. A painter or art-critic familiar with the productions of great artists feels himself insulted if you offer him evidence to convince him of the genuineness of a work of art over and above the evidence which it carries in itself, and which to him is the most convincing of all. If one of the lost books of Tacitus were recovered, scholars would not judge it by any account that might be given of its preservation and discovery, but would say, Let us see it and read it, and we will very soon tell you whether it is genuine or not. When the man you have seen every day for years, and whose character you have looked into under the strongest lights, is accused of dishonesty, and damaging evidence is brought against him, does it seriously disturb your confidence in him? Not at all. No evidence can countervail the knowledge gained by intercourse. You know the man, directly, and you believe in him without regard to what other persons advance in his favour or against him. Christ expects acceptance on similar grounds. Look at Him, listen to Him, pass with Him from day to day of His life, and say whether it is possible that He can be a deceiver, or that He can be deceived. He Himself is confident that those who seek the truth, and are accustomed to acknowledge and follow the truth always, will follow Him. He is confident that they will find that He so fits in with what they have already learnt, that naturally and instinctively they will accept Him.
It is at the point in which all men are interested that Christ appeals to us -- at the point of life or conduct; and He says that whoever truly desires to do God's will, will find that His teaching leads him right. And if men would only acknowledge Christ in this respect, and begin, as conscience bids them, by accepting His life as exhibiting the highest rule of conduct, they would sooner or later acknowledge Him in all. A man may not at once see all that is involved in the fact that Christ exhibits, as no one else exhibits, the will of God; but if He will but acknowledge Him as the Teacher of God's will, not coming to Him with a spirit of suspicion but of earnest desire to do God's will, that man will become a convinced follower of Christ. There are, of course, persons of a sound moral disposition who get entangled intellectually in perplexing difficulties about the person of Christ and His relation to God; but if such persons are humble -- and humility is a virtue of decisive consequence -- they will, by virtue of their experience in moral questions, and by their practical knowledge of the value of harmony with God, prize the teaching of Christ, and recognise its superiority, and submit themselves to its influence.
It was on the last day of the feast that our Lord made the most explicit revelation of Himself to the people. For seven days the people dwelt in their booths; on the eighth day they celebrated their entrance into the promised land, forsook their booths, and, as it is said in the end of the chapter, "went every man to his own house." But on this great day of the feast no water was drawn from the pool of Siloam. On each of the preceding days the golden pitcher was in request, and the procession that followed the priest who carried it praised God who had brought water out of the rock in the desert; but on the eighth day, commemorating their entrance into "a land of springs of water," this rite of drawing the water ceased.
But the true worshippers among these Israelites had been seeing a spiritual meaning in the water, and had been conscious of an uneasy feeling of thirst still in the midst of these Temple services -- an uneasy questioning whether even yet Israel had passed the thirsty desert, and had received the full gift God had meant to give. There were thinking men and thirsty souls then as there are now; and to these, who stood perhaps a little aside, and looked half in compassion, half in envy, at the merry-making of the rest, it seemed a significant fact that, in the Temple itself, with all its grandeur and skilful appliances, there was yet no living fountain to quench the thirst of men -- a significant fact that to find water the priest had to go outside the gorgeous Temple to the modest "waters of Siloah that go softly." All through the feast these men wondered morning by morning when the words of Joel were to come true, when it should come to pass that "a fountain should come forth of the house of the Lord," or when that great and deep river should begin to flow which Ezekiel saw in vision issuing from the threshold of the Lord's house, and waxing deeper and wider as it flowed. And now once more the last day of the feast had come, the water was no longer drawn, and yet no fountain had burst up in the Temple itself, their souls were yet perplexed, unsatisfied, craving, athirst, when suddenly, as if in answer to their half-formed thoughts and longings, a clear, assured, authoritative voice passed through their ear to their inmost soul: "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."
In these words Christ proclaims that He is the great Temple-fountain; or rather, that He is the true Temple, and that the Holy Ghost proceeding from Him, and dwelling in men, is the life-giving fountain. All the cravings after a settled and eternal state, all the longings for purity and fellowship with the Highest, which the Temple services rather quickened than satisfied, Christ says He will satisfy. The Temple service had been to them as a screen on which the shadows of things spiritual were thrown; but they longed to see the realities face to face, to have God revealed, to know the very truth of things, and set foot on eternal verity. This thirst is felt by all men whose whole nature is alive, whose experience has shaken them out of easy contentment with material prosperity; they thirst for a life which does not so upbraid and mock them as their own life does; they thirst to be able to live, so that the one half of their life shall not be condemned by the other half; they thirst to be once for all in the "ampler ether" of happy and energetic existence, not looking through the bars and fumbling at the lock. This thirst and all legitimate cravings we feel Christ boldly and explicitly promises to satisfy; nay more, all illegitimate cravings, all foolish discontent, all vicious dissatisfaction with life, all morbid thirst that is rapidly becoming chronic disease in us, all weak and false views of life, He will rid us of, and give us entrance into the life that God lives and imparts -- into pure, healthy, hopeful life.
Christ stands and cries still in the midst of a thirsting world: "Whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely." Has His voice become so familiar that it has lost all significance? For all who can hear and believe, His truth remains. There is life -- abundant life for us. Drink of any other fountain, and you only intensify thirst, and make life more difficult, spending energy without renewing it. Live in Christ and you live in God. You have found the centre, the heart, the eternal life. As Christ stood and cried to the people He was conscious of power to impart to them a freshly welling spring of life -- a life that would overflow for the strengthening and gladdening of others besides themselves. He has the same consciousness to-day; the deep, living benefits He confers are as open to all ages as the sunshine and the air; there is no necessity binding any one soul to feel that life is a failure, an empty, disappointing husk, serving no good purpose, bringing daily fresh misery and deeper hopelessness, a thing perhaps manfully to fight our way through but certainly not to rejoice in. If any one has such views of life it is because he has not honestly, believingly, and humbly responded to Christ's word and come to Him.
 It will be observed that the remaining part of the Gospel goes into very small compass as regards time. Chapters vii.-x.21 are occupied with what was said and done at the Feast of Tabernacles, chapters xii.-xx. with the last Passover.
 A mixture of religious thanksgiving and unrestrained social hilarity, analogous to the English celebration of Christmas.
 Psalm xc.1.
 On ver.39 see p.48 of this volume.