And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:…
It is a very good old canon that "in every work" we are to "regard the writer's end," and if that simple principle had been applied to this Gospel, a great many of the features in it which have led to some difficulty would have been naturally explained. But this text may be applied very much more widely than to John's Gospel.
I. We have here THE INCOMPLETENESS OF SCRIPTURE.
1. Take this Gospel first. It is not meant to be a biography; it is avowedly a selection, under the influence of a distinct dogmatic purpose. There is nothing in it about Christ's birth, baptism, and selection of apostles, ministry in Galilee, parables, ethical teaching, and the Lord's supper. Nearly half of it is taken up with the incidents of one week at the end of His life, and of and after the Resurrection. Of the remainder — by far the larger portion consists of conversations which axe hung upon miracles that seem to be related principally for the sake of these.
2. And when we turn to the other three, the same is true. Why was it that after the completion of the Scriptural canon there sprang up apocryphal gospels, full of childish stories of events which people felt had been passed over with strange silence? Is it not strange that the greatest event in the world's history should be told in such brief outline? Put the Gospels down by the side of the biography of any man that has a name at all, and you will feel their incompleteness as biographies. And yet, although they be so tiny that you might sit down and read them all in an evening over the fire, is it not strange that they have stamped on the mind of the world an image so deep and so sharp, of such a character as the world never saw elsewhere?
3. And then, if you turn to the whole Book, the same thing is true. The silence of Scripture is quite as eloquent as its speech.
(1) Think, e.g., how many things are taken for granted which one would not expect to be taken for granted in a book of religious instruction: the Being of a God; our relations to Him; our moral nature, and the future life. Look at how the Bible passes by, without one word of explanation, the difficulties which gather round some of its teaching: the Divine nature of our Lord, e.g., the three Persons in the Godhead; the mystery of prayer; or of the difficulty of reconciling the Omnipotent will of God with our own free will, or of the fact of Christ's death as the atonement for the sins of the whole world. Observe, too, how scanty the information on points on which the heart craves for more light: e.g., the future life!
(2) Nor is the incompleteness of Scripture as a historical book less marked. Nations and men appear on its pages abruptly, rending the curtain of oblivion, and then they disappear. It has no care to tell the stories of any of its heroes, except for so long as they were the organs of that Divine breath. It is full of gaps about matters that any sciolist or philosopher or theologian would have filled up for it.
II. THE MORE IMMEDIATE PURPOSE WHICH EXPLAINS ALL THESE INCOMPLETENESSES.
1. To produce in men's hearts faith in Jesus as the Christ and as the Son of God.
(1) The Evangelist avows that His work is a selection determined by the doctrinal purpose to represent Jesus as the Christ, the Fulfiller of all the expectations and promises of the old Covenant, and as the Son of God. And so it is ridiculous in the face of this statement for "critics" to say: "The author of the fourth Gospel has not told us this, that, and the other incident therefore, He did not know it, consequently this Gospel is not to be trusted"; and others might draw the conclusion that the other three Evangelists are not to be trusted because they do give it us; a blunder which would have been avoided if people had listened when he said: "I knew a great many things about Jesus Christ, but I did not put them down here because I was not writing a biography, but preaching a gospel."(2) But that is just as true about the whole New Testament. The four Gospels are written to tell us these two facts about Christ, and the rest of the New Testament is nothing more than the working out of their theoretical and practical consequence.
(3) As for the Old Testament whatever may be the conclusion as to dates and authorship, and what. ever a man may believe about verbal prophecies, there is stamped unmistakably upon the whole system an attitude towards "good things to come," and of a Person who will bring them. "They that went before, and they that followed after, cried, Hosanna! Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord." That Christ towers up above the history of the world and the process of revelation, like Mount Everest among the Himalayas. To that great peak all the country on the one side runs upwards, and from it all the valleys on the other descend; and the springs are born there which carry verdure and life over the world.
2. Christ, the Son of God, is the centre of Scripture; and the Book is a unity, because there is driven right through it, like a core of gold, either in the way of prophecy and onward-looking anticipation, or in the way of history and grateful retrospect, the reference to Christ, the Son of God.
(1) And all its fragmentariness, its carelessness about persons, are intended, as are the slight parts in a skilful artist's handiwork, to emphasize the beauty and the sovereignty of that one Central Figure on which all lights are concentrated, and on which the painter has lavished all the resources of his art.
(2) But it is not merely in order to represent Jesus as the Christ of God that these things are written, but that representation may become the object of our faith. Had the former been its sole intention, a theological treatise, e.g., would have been enough. But, if the object be that men should rest their sinful souls upon Him as the Son of God and the Christ, then there is no other way to accomplish that but by the history of His life and the manifestation of His heart. And so let us learn the wretched insufficiency of a mere orthodox creed, and on the other hand, the equal insufficiency of a mere creedless emotion.
III. THE ULTIMATE PURPOSE OF THE WHOLE. Scripture is not given to us merely to make us know something about God in Christ, nor only in order that we may have faith in the Christ thus revealed to us, but that we may "have life in His name."
1. "Life" is deep, mystical, inexplicable by any other words than itself. It includes pardon, holiness, well-being, immortality, Heaven; but it is more than they all.
2. This life comes in our dead hearts and quickens them by union with God. That which is joined to God lives. You can separate your wills and your spiritual nature from Him, and thus separated you are "dead in tresspasses and in sins." And the message which comes there is life "in His name"; i.e., in that revealed character of His by which He is made known to us as the Christ and the Son of God.
3. Union with Him in His Sonship will bring life into dead hearts. He is the true Prometheus who has come from Heaven with the fire of the Divine life in the reed of His humanity, and He imparts it to us all if we will. He lays Himself upon us, as the prophet laid himself on the little child in the upper chamber; and lip to lip, and beating heart to dead heart, He touches our death, and it is quickened into life.
4. The condition on which that great Name will bring to us life is simply our faith. Do trust yourself to Him, as He who came to fulfil all that prophet, priest, and king, sacrifice, altar, and temple of old times prophesied and looked for? Do you trust in Him as the Son of God who comes down to earth that we in Him might find the immortal life which He is ready to give? If you do, then the end that God has in view in all His revelation, has been accomplished for you. If you do not it has not. You may admire Him, be ready to call Him by many appreciative names, but unless you have learned to see in Him the Divine Saviour of your souls, you have not seen what God means you to see. But if you have, then all other questions about this Book, important as they are in their places, may settle themselves as they will; you have got the kernel, the thing that it was meant to bring you. Many an erudite scholar, who has studied the Bible all his life, has missed the purpose for which it was given; and many a poor old woman in her garret has found it.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: