Jesus said to him, "Do you believe just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these."
I. COME AND SEE WHAT CHRIST IS. There are many persons who are indifferent to the Saviour only because they do not know him - because he is to them nothing but a name.
1. Study the record of his earthly ministry, and you will find that his character and life possess a peerless interest. Few have really read and studied the four Gospels without feeling themselves brought into contact with a Being altogether unrivalled in human history for qualities of the spiritual nature, for profundity of moral teaching, for self-sacrificing benevolence. And many have, by such study, been brought under a spell for which no ordinary principles could account, and have felt, not only that no personage in human history can rank with Christ, but that none cart even be compared with him.
2. Ponder the character, the claims, the acknowledged work, of Christ, and you will be convinced of his Divine nature and authority. Men who judge of him by hearsay, or by their own preconceptions, may think of Jesus as of an ordinary man; but this is not the case with those who "come and see," who allow him to make his own impression upon their minds. Such are found exclaiming, with the officers, "Never man spake like this Man!" with the disciples, "What manner of Man is this!" with Peter, "Thou art the Christ!" with this very Nathanael, to whom the words of the text were addressed, "Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel!" with the centurion at the Crucifixion, "Truly this was a righteous Man, this was the Son of God!"
II. COME AND SEE WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE.
1. This test - a very reasonable one - may be applied in individual cases. What did Christ effect for Saul of Tarsus? Did he not change him from a zealous and narrow formalist into a man whose name has become the synonym for spirituality of religion, for breadth and catholicity of doctrine, for grandeur of plan and of hope with regard to this ransomed humanity? Did he not find Augustine a wilful and pleasure-seeking young man, who almost broke a pious mother's heart? and did he not transform him into a penitent, a saint, a mighty theologian, a holy power in the realm of human thought? What did Christ do for Luther? He visited him when he was depressed and hopeless because of the conscience of sin, spoke to him the word of peace, called and strengthened him to become the Reformer of half Christendom, the founder of an epoch of light and liberty for mankind. Such instances, to be found in the annals of the illustrious and influential among men, might be multiplied. But it is not only over the great and famous that the Divine Jesus has exercised his power. Among the poorest, the meanest, the feeblest, nay, the vilest, he has proved himself to be the Friend of sinners and the Brother of man. There is no circle of society in any Christian land where evidences of this kind do not abound. You need not go far to see what the Lord Christ can do; this you may learn at your own doors, and every day.
2. But the educated and well informed have within their reach a wider range of proof. The history of Christendom is written in a vast, an open book - a book which the intelligent, and those capable of taking a wide survey of human affairs, are at liberty to read. Secular historians have traced the influence of Christianity upon society, upon the code of morals, upon slavery, upon war, upon the position of woman in society, upon the education of the young, upon the treatment of the poor, the sick, the afflicted. No doubt, exaggeration has often distinguished the treatment of these matters by Christian advocates. Yet, in all fairness and candour, it must be admitted that a contrast between unchristian and Christian society yields results immensely in favour of our religion. Christ has been the chief Benefactor of the human race, has done more than any beside to ameliorate and to improve the conditions and to brighten the prospects of mankind.
III. COME AND SEE WHAT CHRIST WILL DO FOR YOU. This is not a matter of speculation, but of practical moment and interest. It is well to form a just estimate of the character, the mission, the work, of the Son of God. But it is better to take the benefit which he offers to every believing hearer of his gospel.
1. See whether he can give you peace of conscience, by securing to you the pardon of sin, and acceptance with the God against whom you have sinned. This he professes to do; this multitudes will assure you he has done for them. If this is with you an urgent need, will it not be reasonable to put Christ to that test of experience to which he invites you?
2. See whether he can supply you with the highest law and the most sacred motive for the moral life. All human standards are imperfect, and no human principle is sufficient to ensure obedience. What no other can offer, the Saviour claims to impart, and it is reasonable to test his ability and his willingness to fulfil his promises.
3. See whether his fellowship and friendship can uphold and cheer you amidst the sorrows, temptations, and uncertainties of this earthly life. He says, "My grace is sufficient for you." Verify the assertion in your own experience. If he cannot supply this want, certain it is that none else can do so.
4. See whether the Lord Christ can vanquish death for you, and give you the assurance of a blessed immortality. Apart from him, the future is very dark; try his power to illumine that darkness with rays of heavenly light.
1. Defenders and promulgators of Christianity will do well to address to their fellow men the invitation Philip addressed to Nathanael. If they cannot always answer men's cavils and objections, and satisfy men's intellectual difficulties, they can bring men face to face with Christ himself, and leave the interview to produce its own effects. Let men be encouraged to come, to see, and to judge for themselves.
2. The undecided hearers of the gospel may well accept the challenge here given. Why should they shrink from it? It is an opportunity which should not be neglected, an invitation which should not he refused. - T.
Greater things than these.
I. AS A GLORIOUS END WHICH MERGES INTO A STILL MORE GLORIOUS BEGINNING.
1. The Lord who receives His disciples. He first appears as "walking alone," waiting for the Father's first gift. The preparations for the kingdom are complete, but as yet He is without an avowed disciple. How will He win them?(1) The first announcement which sent men to Christ was "Behold the Lamb of God." This is the sovereign secret of our Lord's attraction all through time.(2) But He who takes away our sins also seeks. Two disciples follow Him, but find Him not till He turns with the searching question: then He finds Philip.
2. Those who come to Him.(1) They are representatives of the devout in Israel waiting for His coming.(2) They represent those who are prepared by repentance and faith.(3) They illustrate the manner in which His disciples come to Him. Two by the preaching of another. Two seek their fellows and communicate the glad tidings. One is directly sought by Himself.
3. The communion between Christ and His disciples that day begun. It was reserved for the last to declare on behalf of all what Jesus was to their devotion: Divine Son, Supreme Lord. This, however, to them was but the beginning of joys, and the Redeemer promises greater things.
II. THIS FIRST PROMISE is an encouragement to the faith of these humble disciples, and a prologue to all the wonders of redemption.
1. Our Lord here utters in figurative language the mystery of His mediation between heaven and earth. Christ here gives us in His first exposition of those Scriptures which testify of Him the meaning of Jacob's vision. The disciples were to see the Son of Man opening heaven and earth.
2. But though the Son of Man is the great word here, the angels have their specific meaning, viz., that heaven is always open to earth, that abundant blessing answers to abundant prayer, and that Christ's servants have all heaven ministering to their good. Both worlds are thus made one, and earth to us, as to Jacob, becomes the gate of heaven. What an encouragement to expect larger communications! We need not make the angels the bearers of our prayer: that office Christ appropriates We need not make them bearers of the Divine response that office the Holy Spirit appropriates. They are nevertheless the symbols and instruments of the providence of God. Their ministry to Christ he has transferred to us.
3. This glorious introductory saying which passed from prophecy to promise now returns to pure prophecy again, and our Lord fore-announces the day when heaven and earth shall in the fullest sense be made one.
(W. B. Pope, D. D.)I. OUR LORD'S PROMISE TO HIS NEW DISCIPLES. The words may be translated either as a question or an affirmation. In either case they are a solemn and glad recognition of Nathanael's belief. Here is the first time that Christ uses the word. It was the epoch in history when Christ first claimed and then accepted a man's faith. The "greater things" have a proper fuifilment in the gradual manifestation of Christ's person and character which lay all unrevealed yet. "If you continue to trust in Me," you shall see unrolled before your eyes the great facts which will make the manifestation of God to the world. Light is here thrown upon —
1. The relation between faith and discipleship.(1) The two terms are synonymous.(2) Our Lord uses the word without any definition of what they were to believe: He Himself, and not thoughts about Him, is the true object of faith.(3) Nathanael's creed was widely different from ours, and yet his faith and ours are identical.
2. The connection between faith and sight. There is a great deal about seeing in the context. A double antithesis:(1) "I saw thee" — "thou shalt see Me."(2) "Thou believest" — "thou shalt see;" i.e, in the loftiest region of spiritual experience you must believe first in order that you may see.(a) Unless we trust Christ and take our illumination from Him, we shall never behold a whole set of truths which when once we trust Him are all plain to us: God, man, yourselves, duty, destiny.(b) If we trust Him we get light on things which are mist and darkness except to faith. The world says,"Seeing is believing," — which is true in regard to outward things. Believing is seeing in regard to God and spiritual truth.
3. The connection between faith and progress. Christ like a wise Teacher stimulates His disciples with the promise of "greater things." Here is something which will give you ever new powers and acquirements, and ensure you against stagnation. Everything else gets worn out sooner or later.
II. OUR LORD'S WITNESS TO HIMSELF. Mark how with superbly autocratic lips He bases this great utterance upon nothing else but His own word. "From henceforth," i.e, from the first hour of His official work. The promise is that in no vision of the night like Jacob, hut in practical, working reality ye shall see that ladder again, and the angels moving upon it in their errands of mercy. The ladder is Christ; He is the sole medium of communication between earth and heaven, the ladder with its foot on the earth, in His humanity, and its top in the heavens.(1) Christ is the medium of all revelation. (.2) In Him the sense and reality of separation between heaven and earth through sin are swept away.(3) By Him all Divine blessings angel-like descend.(4) By Him prayers and desires rise to God.(5) If we ever enter heaven at all we shall enter it through Him alone.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)I. THE OMNISCIENCE OF HIS INTELLECT.
II. THE WONDERFULNESS OF HIS DISCLOSURES.
1. The heavenly world.
2. This world in connection with angelic agency.
3. This angelic agency is rendered through His mediation.
III. THE PROGRESSIVENESS OF HIS CAUSE. "Hereafter," etc. Because: —
1. Time develops prophetic truth concerning Him.
2. Time affords opportunity to execute the mighty plan on which every victory is sketched.
3. It is future time that must and will unfold the results of His great undertaking.
(J. H. Hill.)
I. THE DAWN OF FAITH. Christ's words imply the great fact of experience from which faith rises.
1. What was that fact?(1) Not the proof of Christ's miraculous power contained in the fact that Christ saw him although unseen. This might prove Christ to be a teacher sent from God, but no such miracle could prove Him to be the Redeemer and object of saving trust. Christ rejected belief founded exclusively on miracles. Miracles were imperative in the case of the Jews.(2) But the fact that Christ saw into him and penetrated the deep necessities of his heart. Nathanael had probably been praying under the fig-tree. Prayer unveiling the soul before the heartsearching glance of God reveals the real man. Nathanael knew therefore at once that Christ was acquainted with his doubts, sorrows, aspirations. He therefore who thus knew him could deliver him. The same heart-searching glance rests upon us. Here, then, faith begins. "Lord, Thou knowest all things," "Thou art the Son of God."
2. That fact is the dawning of a faith that must continually grow. Two things necessary to the strengthening of belief.(1) Its evidence must be certain. Faith in Christ rests upon the deepest of all kinds of certainty — experimental evidence. The evidence of testimony may fail, the certainty of reasoning may be destroyed. But when we know whom we have believed nothing can overturn our conviction. Here is the only cure for doubt.(2) Its power must advance with advancing life. When faith in Christ as the only satisfier of the soul's need is reached, every new experience in life brings new proofs of its power.
II. THE CONSUMMATION OF FAITH. Christ declares Jacob's dream to be fulfilled in Him. The greater things are those which Jacob dimly realized.
1. The felt presence of God.
2. The sacredness of life. "How dreadful is this place!" etc.
3. Union with the angelic world.
(E. L. Hull, B. A.)I. THE NARRATIVE IN EVERY LINE THROWS US BACK ON NATHANAEL'S GREAT ANCESTOR
1. We may learn how hard it is for a life to get rid of moral stain. Jacob's life was purified by hard afflictions ere it was changed to Israel, the prince that prevailed with God.
2. A character may be so cleansed from moral stain that opposite virtues may be associated with the life. Jacob the supplanter was recovered from his guile.
3. The reflection cast upon the old patriarchal life is full of grace when one is welcomed to the love of Christ by the words, "Behold an Israelite indeed."
1. His requirements. We are apt to have no great thoughts of a simple guileless life. We associate it with a kind of weakness, and think of it as likely to be imposed upon and led astray. No doubt there is danger. This, like every other grace, wants cultivating; pruning as well as developing. And Christ expects cultivating in this disciple just as in the zealous Peter, the ambitious James, the thoughtful Andrew and Philip.
2. The promise that met that requirement. How helpful the vision was to Jacob! The reality was still more helpful to Nathanael.(1) Literally it was fulfilled at the baptism, after the temptation, in the agony, and at the resurrection and ascension.(2) Morally it was fulfilled in the establishment of relations with heaven through the Lamb of God.
3. Circumstantially it was fulfilled in the fruits of Nathanael's missionary life.
(T. Gasquoine, B. A.)
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