But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father…
Our Lord has been speaking of a world hostile to His followers and to Him. He proceeds, in the words which follow, to paint that hostility as aggravated even to the pitch of religious murder. But here He lets a beam of light in upon the darkness. He lets them see that they will not be left alone, but have a great champion, who will put into their hands a weapon, with which they may conquer the world, and turn it into a friend, and with which alone they must meet the world's hate. Consider —
I. THE GREAT PROMISE OF AN ALLY AS AGAINST A HOSTILE WORLD.
1. The wonderful designation of this Champion Friend.
(1) The "Comforter" is no mere gentle consoler. The word which means one who is summoned to the side of another, conveys the idea of a helper. The verses before our text suggest what sort of aid and succour the disciples will need. And that Paraclete is a strong Spirit who will be our champion and our ally, whatever antagonism may storm against us, and however strong and well-armed may be the assaulting legions of the world's hate.
(2) "The Spirit of Truth," which means not so much His characteristic attribute as rather the weapon which He wields, or the material with which He works. That is to say, the Spirit of God is the Strengthener, the Encourager, the Comforter, the Fighter for us and with us, because He wields that great body of truth, the perfect revelation of God, and man, and duty, and salvation, which is embodied in the Incarnation and work of Jesus Christ our Lord. The truth is His weapon, and it is by that that He makes us strong.
2. The two-fold description of the mission of this Divine Champion.
(1) "Sent" by Christ. In a previous part of this discourse, our Lord speaks of Him as being sent by the Father in His name and in answer to His prayer. The representation here is by no means antagonistic to this, for "whatsoever the Son seeth the Father do that also the Son doeth likewise." And therefore the Spirit is sent forth by the Father, and also the Son sends the Spirit.
(2) But, on the other hand, we are not to regard that Divine Spirit as merely a messenger sent by another. He "proceeds from the Father." That word has been the battlefield of theological controversy, but what is meant is the simple historical coming forth into human life of that Divine Spirit. And, possibly, the word is chosen to give the idea of a voluntary and personal action of the Messenger, who not only is sent by the Father, but of Himself proceeds on the mighty work to which He is destined. Mark that wonderful phrase, twice repeated and emphasized by repetition "from the Father." The word translated "from" designates a position at the side of, and suggests much rather the intimate and ineffable union between, Father, Son, and Spirit than the source from which the Spirit comes.
3. Is not all this enough to make the weakest strong, and to make us "more than conquerors through Him that loved us"? All nations have legends of the gods fighting at the head of their armies, and through the dust of battle the white horses and the shining armour of the celestial champions have been seen. The chiddish dream is a historical reality. It is not we that fight, it is the Spirit of God that fighteth in us.
II. THE WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT WHICH FORTIFIES AGAINST THE WORLD. "He shall bear witness of Me." That phrase, "unto you," tells us that the witness is something which is done within the circle of the Christian believers, and not in the wide field of the world's history or in nature. Of course it is a great truth that long before Jesus Christ, and today far beyond the limits of His name the Spirit of God is working. As of old, He brooded over the chaotic darkness, ever labouring to turn chaos into order, and darkness into light; so today, all over the field of humanity, He is operating. But what is spoken of here is something that is done in and on Christian men, and not even through them on the world, but in them for themselves. "He shall testify of Me" to you.
1. The first application of these words is to the little group listening to Him. Never were men more desolate and beaten down than these were, in the prospect of Christ's departure. Never were men more utterly bewildered and dispirited than these were, in the days between His crucifixion and His resurrection. Think of them during His earthly life, their narrow understandings, their manifold faults, moral as well as intellectual. What was it that made these dwarfs into giants in six weeks; that made them start up all at once as heroes and that so swiftly matured them, as the fruits and flowers are ripened under tropical sunshine? The witness of the Spirit of God working within them, working upon what they knew of the historical facts of Christ's life, and interpreting them, was the explanation of their change and growth. And the New Testament is product of that. Christ's life was the truth which the Spirit used, and the product of His teaching was these epistles which we have, and which for us step into the place which the historical facts held for them; and become the instrument with which the Spirit of God will deepen our understanding of Christ and enlarge our knowledge of what He is to us.
2. The promise still applies to each of us in a secondary and modified sense. For there is nothing in these great valedictory words which is not the revelation of a permanent truth in regard to the Christian Church. And, therefore, we have the promise of a universal gift to all Christian men and women, an actual Divine Spirit to dwell with each of us, to speak in our hearts. And what will He do there? He will teach us a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ. He will help us to understand better what He is. He will show us more and more of the whole sweep of His work, of the whole infinite truth for morals and religion, for politics and society, for time and for eternity, about men and about God, which is wrapped up in that great saying which we first of all, perhaps under the pressure of our own sense of sin, grasp as our deliverance from sin — "God so loved the world," etc. And as the days roll on, and new problems rise, and new difficulties present themselves, and new circumstances emerge in our personal life, we find the truth that we first of all dimly grasped as life and salvation, opening out into wisdom and depth and meaning that we never dreamed of in the early hours.
3. Then, note that this inward witness of Christ's depth and preciousness is the true weapon and stay against a hostile world.
(1) A little candle in a room will make the lightning outside almost invisible; and if I have burning in my heart the inward experience and conviction of what Jesus Christ is, and what He has done and will do for me — oh, then all the storm without may rage and it will not trouble.
(2) If you take an empty vessel and bring pressure to bear upon it, in go the sides. Fill it, and they will resist the pressure. So with growing knowledge of Christ and growing personal experience of His sweetness in our souls, we shall be able to throw off, untouched and undinted, the pressure which would otherwise have crushed us.
4. And so here is the true secret of tranquillity, in an age of questioning and doubt. Let me have that Divine voice speaking in my heart, and no matter what questions may be doubtful, this is sure — "We know whom we have believed"; and we can say, "Settle all your controversies any way you like, one thing I know" — "the Son of God is come and hath given us understanding that we may know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true." Labour for more of this inward, personal conviction of the preciousness of Jesus Christ to strengthen you against a hostile world.
5. And remember that there are conditions under which this Voice speaks in our souls —
(1) One is that we attend to the instrument which the Spirit of God uses, and that is "the truth." If Christians will not read their Bibles, they need not expect to have the words of these Bibles interpreted and made real to them by any inward experience.
(2) And there must be moral discipline too. Laziness, worldliness, the absorption of attention with other things, self-conceit, prejudice, and the taking of our religion at second hand, stand in the way of our hearing the Spirit of God when He speaks. Come away from the babble and go by yourself, and take your Bibles with you and read them and meditate upon them and get near the Master of whom they speak, and the Spirit which uses the truth will use it to fortify you.
III. THE CONSEQUENT WITNESS WITH WHICH THE CHRISTIAN MAY WIN THE WORLD. "And ye also shall bear witness of Me," etc. That also has, of course, direct reference to the apostles, and therefore their qualification was simply the companionship with Him which enabled them to say, "We saw what we tell you; we were witnesses from the beginning." But then, again, it belongs to us all, and so here is the task of the Christian Church in all its members. They receive the witness of the Spirit, and they are Christ's witnesses in the world. Note —
1. What we have to do — to bear witness: not to argue, to adorn, but simply to attest.
2. What we have to attest — the fact, not of the historical life of Jesus Christ, because we are not in a position to be witnesses of that, but the fact of His preciousness and power, and the fact of our own experience of what He has done for us.
3. That is by far the most powerful agency for winning the world. You can never make men angry by saying to them, "We have found the Messias." You cannot irritate people, or provoke them into a controversial opposition when you say, "Brother I let me tell you my experience. I was dark, sad, sinful, weak, solitary, miserable; and I got light, gladness, pardon, strength, companionship, and a joyful hope." We can all say that. This is the witness that needs no eloquence, no genius, no anything except honesty and experience; and whosoever has tasted and felt and handled of the Word of Life may surely go to a brother and say, "Brother! I have eaten and am satisfied. Will you not help yourself?" We can all do it, and we ought to do it. Conclusion: The Christian privilege of being witnessed to by the Spirit of God in our hearts brings with it the Christian duty of befog witnesses in our turn to the world. Oh! listen to the Master, who says, "Him that confesseth Me before men, will I also confess before My Father in heaven."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: