I still have much to tell you, but you cannot yet bear to hear it.
I. THE SIN OF WHICH THE SPIRIT CONVICTS THE WORLD. By the world we understand humanity at large, as alienated from God, and as in rebellion against him. Our race has been the prey of sin. However the form of sin has varied, the principle has remained the same. But the most striking and the most awful proof of the presence and the power of sin in the world is its rejection of Christ. "They believe not on me." For Christ was goodness incarnate; a greater sin it was not within the power of man to commit than to reject the Holy One and the Righteous. Jesus foresaw how he was about to be treated by his fellow-countrymen the Jews, and by the Romans.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE SPIRIT CONVICTS THE WORLD OF SIN. In the Mosaic dispensation very much was done to introduce into men's minds the Divine estimate, the Divine abhorrence, of sin. The Law and the prophets ever kept this in view, and their work was doubtless that of the Spirit. But in the later and completer dispensation the Spirit has made manifest in many ways the exceeding sinfulness of sin. We may instance the emphatic condemnation of sin in our Lord's words, in which it is come, red to darkness, to bondage, to death; and yet more in the contrast presented to a sinful world by the spotless character and perfect moral example of the Son of man. Yet to the Christian mind the world's sin is brought home most effectively by the provision of redemption. Jesus was the Sin Offering; he condemned sin in the flesh; he redeemed the sinner at the priceless cost and ransom of his life. The Spirit, accompanying the gospel which conveys these tidings, has rendered sin obviously and flagrantly such in the view of all who are capable of judging. Especially the sin of unbelief, of willfully rejecting the Savior, has been charged upon the human conscience in such a manner as to lead multitudes to contrition and repentance.
III. THE RESULTS WHICH HAVE FOLLOWED THE CONVICTION OF THE SINFUL WORLD BY THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST. There is something paradoxical in attributing such a result as conviction of sin to the Paraclete, the Comforter. Yet it is not to be questioned that the consciousness of sinfulness is essential in order to its forgiveness. It is the Spirit of God who renders the sinner not merely aware of his state and of his danger, but contrite and penitent; whilst contrition and penitence are necessary and indispensable in order to pardon and acceptance. There is for the sinner no true consolation which does not come by way of conviction. - T.
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.John 16:12):
I. THE AVOWED INCOMPLETENESS OF CHRIST'S OWN TEACHING (ver. 12).
1. Earlier we have our Lord asserting that all things whatsoever He had heard of the Father He had made known unto His servants. Is it possible to make these two representations agree? Yes! There is a difference between the germ and the flower; between principles and complete development. All Euclid is in the axioms and definitions, yet when you have learned them there are many things yet to be said, of which you have not grown to the apprehension. And so our Lord, as far as confidence and fundamental and seminal principles were concerned, had declared all that He had heard. But yet, in so far as the unfolding of these was concerned, the tracing of their consequences, the exhibition of their harmonies, the weaving of them into an ordered whole in which a man's understanding could lodge, there were many things which they were not able to bear. And so our Lord declares that His spoken words on earth are not the completed revelation.
2. We cannot but contrast the desultory, brief, obscure references which came from the Master's lips with the more systematized and full teaching which came from the servants, especially in reference to the atoning character of His sufferings.
3. What then? My text gives us the reason. "You cannot bear them now," not in the sense of endure, tolerate, or suffer, but in the sense of carry. And the metaphor is that of some weight — it may be gold, but still it is a weight — laid upon a man whose muscles are not strong enough to sustain it. It crushes rather than gladdens. So our Lord was lovingly reticent. There is a great principle involved here. A wise physician does not flood that diseased eye with full sunshine, but puts on bandages, and closes the shutters, and lets a stray beam, ever growing as the cure is perfected, fall upon it.(1) So from the beginning until the end of the process of revelation there was a correspondence between man's capacity to receive the light, and the light that was granted; and the faithful use of the less made them capable of receiving the greater. "To him that hath shall be given."(2) Now that same principle is true about us. How many things there are which we sometimes feel we should like to know, but compassed with these veils of flesh and weakness we have not yet eyes able to behold the ineffable glory. Let us wait with patience until we are ready for the illumination.
4. People tell us, "Your modern theology is not in the Gospels. We stick by Jesus, not Paul." What then? Why this, it is exactly what we were to expect; and people who reject the apostolic form of Christian teaching because it is not found in the Gospels are going clean contrary to Christ's own words.
II. THE COMPLETENESS OF THE TRUTH INTO WHICH THE SPIRIT GUIDES (ver. 13).
1. Note the personality, designation, and office of this new Teacher. "He," not it, He, is the Spirit of Truth. "He will guide you" — suggesting a loving hand put out to lead — "into all truth." That is no promise of omniscience, but the assurance of gradual and growing acquaintance with the truth which is revealed, such as may be fitly paralleled by men passing into some broad land of which, there is much still to be possessed and explored. "He shall not speak of Himself, &c. Mark the parallel between the relation of the Spirit-teacher to Jesus and the relation of Jesus to the Father. "All things whatsoever I have heard of the Father I have declared unto you." The mark of Satan is "He speaketh of his own;" the mark of the Divine Teacher is, "He speaketh not of Himself, but whatsoever things," in all their variety, in their continuity, in their completeness, He shall hear. Where? Yonder in the depths of the Godhead — whatsoever things He shall hear — "there, He shall show to you." And especially, "He will show you the things that are to come." Step by step there would be spread out before them the vision of the future and all the wonder that should be, the world that was to come, the new constitution which Christ was to establish.
2. Now, if that be the interpretation, then —(1) This promise of a complete guidance into truth applies in a peculiar and unique fashion to the original hearers of it. One of the other promises of the Spirit was the certificate to us of the inspiration and reliableness of these four Gospels. In these words there lie involved the inspiration and authority of the apostles as teachers of religious truth. And so for us the task is to receive the truth into which they were guided. The Acts of the Apostles is the best commentary on these words. There you see how these men rose at once into a new region; how the things about their Master which had been bewildering puzzles to them flashed into light. In the book of the Apocalypse we have part of the fulfilment of "He will show you things to come;" when the seer was "in the Spirit" on the Lord's day, and so the heavens were opened, and the history of the Church was spread before him as a scroll.(2) This great principle has an application to us. That Divine Spirit is given to each of us if we will use it. Only we do not stand on the same level as these men. They, taught by that Divine Guide and by experience, were led into the deeper apprehension of the words and the deeds of Jesus. We, taught by that same Spirit, are led into a deeper apprehension of the words which they spake. And so we come sharp up to this. "If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual," &c. That is how an apostle put his relation to the other possessors of the Divine Spirit. And you and I have to take this as the criterion of all true possession of the Spirit of God that it bows in humble submission to the authoritative teaching of this book.
III. THE UNITY OF THESE TWO.
1. "He shall glorify Me." Think of a man saying that! So fair is He, so good, so radiant, that to make Him known is to glorify Him. The glorifying of Christ is the ultimate and adequate purpose of everything that God the Father, Son, and Spirit has done, because the glorifying of Christ is the glorifying of God, and the blessing of the eyes that behold His glory.
2. "For He shall take of Mine, and show it unto you." All that that Divine Spirit brings is Christ's. So, then, there is no new revelation, only the interpretation of the revelation. Christ said, "I am the Truth." Therefore, when He promises, "He shall guide you into all the truth," we may fairly conclude that the "truth" into which the Spirit guides is the personal Christ. We are like the first settlers upon some great island-continent. There is a little fringe of population round the coast, but away in the interior are leagues of virgin forests and fertile plains stretching to the horizon, and snow-capped summits piercing the clouds, on which no foot has ever trod.
3. "All things that the Father hath are Mine, therefore said I," &c. (ver. 15). What awful words! Is that what you think about Jesus Christ? He puts out here an unpresumptuous hand, and grasps all the constellated glories of the Divine nature, and says, "They are Mine;" and the Father looks down from heaven and says, "Son, Thou art ever with Me, and all that I have is Thine." Do you answer, "Amen! I believe it?"Conclusion:
1. Believe a great deal more definitely in, and seek a great deal more earnestly, and use a great deal more diligently that Divine Spirit that is given to us all. I fear that over very large tracts of professing Christendom men only stand up with very faltering lips and confess, "I believe in the Holy Ghost." Hence comes much of the weakness of our modern Christianity, the worldliness of professing Christians.
2. Use the book that He uses — else you will not grow, and He will have no means of contact with you.
3. Try the spirits. If anything calling itself Christian teaching comes to you and does not glorify Christ, it is self-condemned. And if the great teaching Spirit is to come who is to "guide us into all truth," and therein is to glorify Christ, and to show us the things that are His, then it is also true, "hereby know we the Spirit of God," &c.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. CHRIST FORESEEING THE DEVELOPMENT OF HIS OWN TEACHINGS. It must be remembered that the ministry of Christ was not a harvesting. He had only time to cast in the good seed of the kingdom. But then there is a sense in which the man who looks upon the seed virtually is looking on the harvest too. So Christ saw in His teachings the prophecy of their fulfilment. He said that His words were Spirit and life. There are many issues, many harvests of the word of Christ, which He dare not even intimate to us yet. Yet the time will come, for this Galilean peasant dares to stand forth in the light of all the ages, and to say, "Heaven and earth shall pass away; My teachings shall never pass away." Note, for instance —
1. What Christ has to say about war. There is one of the sorest problems of the world, and Christ lived under the domination of the greatest military empire which the world has ever seen. In one sense He says nothing about it, except to prophecy of it when He is gone. What, then, was Christ's attitude towards it? "Love thy neighbour as thyself." That is the seed. Ages have trampled with heavy feet above it; and tens of thousands of men, women, and children have been crushed beneath this frightful Juggernaut. But the seed is not dead: now, after eighteen centuries, a tiny spear of green life begins to pierce through the red soil of the battle-field. Men gather round, and, behold, it is the plant of peace at last. Whatever be the wickedness of rulers, or the folly of statesmen, the entire sentiment of Europe towards war has changed; and governments talk of arbitration, and war is dreaded, shunned, hated by every civilized power.
2. What Christ has to say on slavery. Christ was familiar with it, and knew what it meant and would mean. What, then, did Christ say? Well, He did not go up and down Palestine preaching the abolition of slavery or the rights of man. Yet Jesus Christ overturned slavery, and that by recognizing the divinity of human nature — that the lost are worth saving; that the harlot and the publican were created in the image of God; and Christ said: "If any man will be great among you, let him be servant of all." That is to say, He recognized the dignity and grandeur of service. That was the seed. Ages pass, till at last Macaulay, Wilberforce, &c., are praying, and the heavens seem to open and the authentic voice of Christ reaches them, and in the strength of that vision they begin their great crusade, till, at last, exactly eighteen hundred years after Christ bowed His head on Calvary, England pays down her twenty millions to free her last slave. And thirty years later, at the price of one of the greatest wars in history, America knocks the last shackle off her last slave.
3. He has many things to say to us on such questions as communism, socialism, liberty, sacrifice; for His life was the seed. He was the Divine Socialist, who, being rich, for our sakes became poor. He was the Heavenly Communist, who shared His heart's blood with us. He was the Great Liberator who made us free with a glorious liberty. He was the Sacrifice who gave Himself "the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God." Very dimly and feebly have the wisest apprehended the truths that lie in those words. But the time will come when God will send His new teacher; and then that Christianity which began in a commune will end with a brotherhood, which says not, "thine is mine," but, "mine is thine."
4. Christ has much to say, too, of the duties that the Church owes to the world; and if we would know how long it takes for men to learn the issues of the words of Christ, just think how long it took England to learn what Christ meant by "Go and preach the gospel unto every creature." Eleven centuries of Christianity pass in this land, during which the people perish in their darkness; until at last a clergyman against whom the Church doors are closed goes out into the highways and hedges to find his congregation, and says, with magnificent prevision, "The world is my parish."
II. THIS PRINCIPLE OF GRADUAL ADVANCEMENT IS CHRIST'S PRINCIPLE IN ALL THINGS.
1. For illustration you need go no farther than this very supper chamber. How fast Simon's heart is beating! He has just said, "I will go with Thee to prison and to judgment." Hush! Thy Master is about to speak. Where shall He begin? He sees the vision of thee, old and grey, girded by those whom thou knowest not, &c. He knows all the paths of pain thy martyr feet will tread. Shall He tell thee all that? No. It would not make a Judas of thee, but it might make a Demas, who would love the wicked world more than Christ. It would break thy heart. Wait thou. Thou must stand in the blackness and hear that last cry that thrills from that cross of shame, and then, when thou hast wept thine heart out in an agony of penitence, at last the morning will break beside the grey sea when Christ will meet thee, and then He will tell thee everything; but thou couldst not bear it now.
2. There are successive revelations for every age and for every man. They never come too soon; they never come too late. The Church is like a man who sits in a darkened room. He has been blind; he begins to see. Day by day a little more light is let into the chamber. At last the hour will come when the blinds will be rolled right up, and the windows flung wide open. We shall look out. There will be "a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness." Music has much to say to the little child. He begins snatches of his mother's lullaby, cradle songs, nursery rhymes. Then, as the years pass by, higher strains engross him. The deep chords of wailing and distress wake the poet in his brain. He bathes himself in the angel joy of Handel. He himself, perhaps, becomes a young Mozart or a Haydn. Music had much to say, but it waited till the heart was deep enough and the brain strong enough to receive the message. So the Church learnt her cradle song at Bethlehem, her hymn of pain on Calvary, her victorious marching music at Pentecost. In the dungeon and the fire her voice has been trained to its noblest use, until at last, without a single jarring discord, she shall sing in that new song which is never old — the praise and glory of the Lamb.
3. Some one says, "I thought that all Christ's words were in the Gospels. I know all that Christ has said, for I have read them." I congratulate you, for I do not. I find that Christ's words are like the sea, which deepens ever-more as we go farther into it. I find that Christ has always something new to say. Oh, think of it! For all these centuries men have been preaching out of these fragmentary sketches of biography — these broken words of Christ, and yet they are newer and deeper and Diviner to-day than ever they were before. Therefore, if Christ says nothing to me, I know that it is not because Christ is not speaking, but it is because I am deaf and am not listening. He tells me His truth as I am able to bear it.
4. Or, perhaps, some one says again, "Oh, if Christ had this great foresight, that He would tell me something about my own future." Let me paint you a little picture. See, out of church there come those two who have plighted their troth each to each until death them shall part; and with what happy pride they step forth into the unknown years. Now, suppose I know their future, and I tell that fair young bride how she will know poverty and trial, and watch by sick children, and weep over little graves; and how he will grow old and grey before his time, vexed with many cares and hurt with many sorrows. Yes, and one of those two must close the other's eyes in the coffin! Ah! which? Shall I tell them which? Would there be any more joy in marriage mornings, any more music in wedding bells? I will not tell them. And neither will Christ tell me. He has many things to say, but He wants the quietness of the house of sickness to say some, and the more solemn silence of the house of death to say others. "Ye could not bear them now." Conclusion: So I learn that for much of Christ's speech you and I must wait for another world. There are so many things that you and I would like to ask Christ about. Why did that great ambition cheat me so? Why did that bright joy crumble into ashes? Why did that fair angel child flit so early into heaven? I cannot tell; but I shall see Christ some day, and He will tell me everything.
(W. J. Dawson.)I. THE SAYINGS OF JESUS.
1. They are the expression of the deepest and purest earnestness. There is no aim at any outward demonstration; yet in reading and reflecting upon them, they sink into your deeper life, they gain upon your reason, sentiment, and conscience, until at last they leaven you with their spiritual life, and you become His disciples through their life-power. This earnestness made Him despise all artifice and cunning concealment, and led Him to present His thoughts and sentiments natural and openly, without varnish and pomp.
2. They are the expression of the highest wisdom. Solomon uttered many wise proverbs; but Christ's sayings contain the wisdom of life, of salvation, which Solomon and other wise men never pretended. He is the wisdom of God.
3. They are of perpetual and universal power and authority. The sayings of wise men like coins lose their weight and value in their use, because they are not essential for life and happiness, for all times and places; but the sayings of Jesus remain in their weight and authority, because we ever need them to guide and comfort us. Before anything which belongs to men can be of perpetual authority and fitness, it must —(1) Be comprehensive of all nature, and have provision to meet it in all its phases and relations, which is one reason why the sayings of Jesus remain the same.(2) Harmonize with all essential laws outside itself, which is another reason why the sayings of Jesus perpetuate their power and authority. Essential laws change not. In vain all artificial powers try to prop a thing contrary to the laws of the universe and the constitution of our mind. The unnatural will perish by the hand of nature.(3) Be capable of new development and application, which is another element constituting the permanent authority of Christ's sayings. They are ever deeper than our plummet, and loftier than our highest reach. Like rich grapes, the more they are squeezed the richer and sweeter is their sap. The sayings of Jesus are like seed buried for a while, but which, by suitable agencies, will be restored to new life and fresh application.
4. They are expressions of His love. Love may be shown by tears, by gifts, and by sacrifices, as Jesus showed His; but the most common expressions of rational minds are words; these remain when tears are dried, and gifts and sacrifices are forgotten. Christ spoke as never man spoke, for He spoke from a true heart to the heart of humanity, according to the law of truth and love, which will abide for ever, and so He still speaks.
II. THE RESERVE OF JESUS. It was a reserve —
1. In the surplus which was beyond and above the immediate need of His disciples. They had every way more than actually they needed to meet their present necessity. He had already told them more than they understood; He had given them work more than as yet they performed; He had declared already of privileges and blessings greater than they enjoyed; and their difficulties and persecutions were as numerous and heavy as they could well bear without speaking of more. It does not appear requisite on any ground to tell them more at present. They must master their present lessons before they are fit for more.
2. Was dictated by wisdom, to educate their Christian graces and character. He was a wise Master; He did not cram all into one lesson. There may be things which belong to this hour only that demand to be told as complete as they are, and that because we are fit to comprehend and use them now, and shall be unfit at any other time. But a system of spiritual education demands to be revealed little by little. If all the evil of the future were told us, it would discourage and distract all our life; or if all the good, it would partly destroy its enjoyment. The reticence of Christ was intended to keep alive their expectation for future blessings, and thus preserve them from flagging and weariness in their toil and trial, and to preserve their freshness of faith and experience.
3. Was inevitable because of the inexhaustibleness of His resources. Every true teacher has always something more to say. He never says all in any lesson or sermon. How could such riches of knowledge and love be bestowed all at one time, and that to feeble minds and contracted sympathies? The light was greater than their eyes, the cloud was larger than the field, the shower richer than the blades, and the ocean immeasurably greater than their cups.
4. Was a reticence of anticipation. What was unsaid should be declared another day with a comment.
III. THE PRESENT UNFITNESS OF THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD TO BEAR THE SAYINGS OF JESUS. It is the general misfortune of every great teacher to be misunderstood. The unfitness of the present age consists in —
1. A want of greater sympathy with His teaching, and more insight into its meaning. As it is in any branch of knowledge, so is it with truth and character; without some sympathy to begin with in the object of our search, or faith, we shall not acquire an insight into it. Sympathy with the things of the Saviour is quite a different thing from certain attachments to certain appellations and certain acquired opinions. What we need is that deep attachment of our spirits with something that is common to all, and unchangeable in all times, in the person, life, and sayings of Jesus.
2. Overweening and preconceived attachment to other and contrary things to His sayings. This may be opinion, pleasure, worldly aggrandisement, self-indulgence, or any other wrong and sinful way. Or it may be some contracted habits, which have sunk into the very root of our nature, so that we have lost the power to renounce them. It may be associates who are loved more than Him; or it may be careless and blind indifference of all truth and goodness. Even what is right, if used in the wrong way, and the truth if misapplied or not used rightly, may unfit for His teaching and truth. Whatever absorbs the attention of the soul, so that it cannot listen fully and impartially to Him, unfits to bear His truth and spirit.
3. The many discordant voices that are heard. There is such a contradictory crying, "Here is Christ, and there is Christ." Not that these voices are altogether false, for there is some Christ doubtless in all. But their great wrong is in the pretension that He is all with them, and none with others. These things perplex many, and keep them away from listening to the sayings of the Saviour; and until men will love Christianity more than sects, and the spirit of the Saviour more than habits and opinion, they will continue.
4. The materialistic spirit of the age. This world is the kingdom of most; they neither have taste nor time to think and trouble themselves about any other; and the love of the world is enmity against God.
5. An unwillingness to see our own wrong, and be corrected and directed rightly. The teaching of the Saviour is too spiritual, high, and searching, to suit our sensuous desire and self-indulgent view and feeling. This is the condemnation, &c.
6. The breadth and catholicity of His teaching. He is a teacher of truth, and not of party; He claims mankind as His suitable audience, and not a small portion of it. Such teaching is too lofty for men of narrow conceptions and small hearts.
7. The weakness of our powers and the imperfect character of the present state. "For now we see through a glass darkly," &c.
(T. Hughes.)I. SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS FEATURE OF CHRIST'S TEACHING.
1. Take some of the truths to which we may suppose our Lord made immediate reference.(1) The long separation which was about to take place between Him and His disciples. This would have been a terrible prospect, to them, with the sense they then had of entire dependence on His outward presence. There was but one thing that could enable them to bear this prospect — the descent of the Comforter. Till then it is not made clear to them.(2) The fall of the Mosaic dispensation, accompanied with the destruction of the Jewish State, and the scattering of the nation. The whole foundation of their faith would have been convulsed by the thought of this. It was only the unfolding of Christianity in its spiritual power, and the transference of their affections to a higher fatherland, that could enable them to bear it.(3) The admission of men of all nations upon equal terms to the privileges of the children of God. It was only the perception of Christ's relationship to man as man that could lead them to cast wide the gospel-door to every sinner.(4) The gradual way in which lie made the true view of His own person dawn on them. Had they known, as they came afterwards to know, the full truth of His Divinity, they could not have borne it. It needed that they should have the tenderness and condescension of His character, as well as its purity and grandeur, brought out by the Spirit, before they could realize that God incarnate had entered our world.
2. Consider the manner of His revelation of truth to the world in general.(1) The parable was Christ's favourite method in speech, and the miracle m action. In both of these a man sees little or much, according to the spirit he brings, and what he sees is always growing into something deeper and higher, as he ponders it. It is this manner of Christ's teaching which makes it suited to all the years of human life, as it is suited to every age of the world. The youngest child can understand something of it, and the most mature Christian feels that he has not reached the end of it.(2) The Old Testament teaching was conducted in the same way. The symbols and the sacrifices were Divine parables, where the learners were made their own instructors. There is nothing more beautiful than to trace how their views of guilt, pardon, and holiness kept equal pace, growing in clearness till Christ came and satisfied all their longings when they were prepared for Him.(3) When we come down to the ages that have followed His appearance upon earth, there is the same gradual unfolding of the principles of His kingdom. The great Reformers of the Christian Church were led on to their final views by slow degrees. If Luther had seen the whole course that lay before him when he opened the epistle to the Romans, he might have shrunk back in fear. But darkness was made light before him as he advanced, till a new dawn rose upon the Christian world. When churches and nations are brought out of Egypt, they do not see the long wanderings that are before them. Marsh and Meribah would terrify them; and yet these have all their lessons of faith and fortitude, which qualify God's people for conquering the land of their birthright.
3. In the individual life.(1) Take, e.g., the way in which the view of human life alters as men advance in years. Were the young to discover how unsatisfactory the present world is at the core, they could not bear it. The young need the bright view of the world to develop their energies — to nurse their affections and imagination — that when the veterans droop they may come in, like a fresh reinforcement, into the failing battle of life.(2) There is a similar experience in the Christian life. Those who enter on it have the confident feeling which would gain triumphs without thinking of trials. They have the "love of their youth, the zeal of their espousals," and they cannot conceive that it should ever be otherwise. But then comes "the check and change," chillness of feeling, temptation, the bitter cross, and long prospects of march and battle before the close. Ere this, however, they have learned to add to their faith virtue and temperance and patience — to put on the whole armour of God, and having done all to stand.(3) The afflictive events of God's providence are measured in the same way. The days of darkness come, and they are many, but our eye takes in only the first. One wave hides another, and the effort to encounter the foremost withdraws our thought from evils which are pressing on.(4) The great doctrines of the gospel are presented to the mind in a like manner. There are many who cannot bear at first the full view of the sovereignty of God. But grace and unconditioned freeness go forward, and with joined hands embrace at last the lofty doctrine of God's sovereignty, while they say, "Not unto us," &c.
II. SOME OF THE CONCLUSIONS TAUGHT US REGARDING CHRIST AND HUMAN NATURE.
1. In regard to Christ, we have reason to admire —(1) His control alike over Himself and His message. He is so absorbed by it that He can say, "The zeal of Throe house hath devoured me," and yet He is not possessed by it like a frenzied instrument. There is calmness with all His depth — because of His depth. A little knowledge makes men eager to tell all they have. We read of God that it is "His glory to conceal a thing." And Christ has this same token of Divinity. He is neither the slave nor organ, but the Owner and Lord of truth. It was the saying of a philosopher, "If I had all the truth in my hand, I would let forth only a ray at a time, lest I should blind the world."(2) His tenderness. The rays of the Sun of Righteousness do not injure the most delicate tissue of the eye on which they fall. It needs the most loving heart to have such pity on ignorance as to feel that premature knowledge may hurt it, and to refrain from acting the tyrant in the possession of superior intellect — "to have a giant's strength, but not to use it like a giant."(3) His wisdom. Wisdom is displayed not so much in doing the right thing, as in doing it at the right time. No crisis has ever yet appeared when Christ's word was not ready to take the van of human movement. The truths in their particular application may have lain unmarked — or revealed themselves only to a few sentinels watching for the dawn — till some great turn in the life of humanity comes, and then the principles of freedom and right and universal charity shine out so clear and undoubted, that men wonder at their past blindness. When so it is, we need not fear any want of harmony between the Word of Christ and the progress of science. It was never Christ's intention to reveal scientific truth in His Word; but the indentations of the two revolving wheels will be found to fit, whenever they really come into contact; and the only thing broken will be the premature human harmonizings which are thrust in between them.(4) His patience. He is not in restless commotion to have His work done on the instant; nor does He abandon it in discontent when men prove inapt and slow. He has often to say in sorrow, more than in anger, "How is it that ye do not understand?" but He patiently begins His labour again, and is long-suffering to our ignorance, as to our sins. Short-lived men must speak out all their mind before they die, but the centuries belong to Christ, and He can calmly wait.
2. Concerning our common human nature.(1) We should take large and tolerant views of it. When we see how slowly the best of men have apprehended the clearest of all truths, we must not be provoked at what we call the stupidity and prejudice of our contemporaries. If the great Teacher had to wait, we may be content to do so. There are errors which give way only when God takes them into His own hand by the events of His Providence. It is marvellous how a turn in the road opens whole landscapes of truth to men, and lets them see what no logic could convince them of.(2) We may cherish very hopeful views of it. There must be noble things in store for that race with which the Son of God is contented to have such patience. If the great Husbandman waits so long for the feeble, springing blade, how precious must the full harvest be! There are ages for the world to learn in, and an eternity for the individual; and when the soul is able to bear full light, how many things will the great Teacher have to disclose! It is a token of the immortality of the soul, that God has implanted in man a boundless desire of knowledge, and given him so limited a time to satisfy it — and it is ground for expecting all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge from Jesus Christ, that He came into this world, possessed of them, and yet kept silence on so much we long to know. Conclusion:
1. In regard to things which Christ does not tell us, let us be thankful to Him for His silence. The cloud that veils full knowledge "is a cloud of love."
2. Let us be chiefly concerned about knowing the one great thing which Christ has to say to us. There is a message which stands out in His Word distinct from the beginning to the close — "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." There are times in the future for learning other truths, but for this our time is always ready.
(J. Ker, D. D.)I. OUR LORD'S OWN ORAL TEACHING DID NOT EMBRACE ALL NECESSARY CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE.
1. This is a point of great importance. It is not unusual to hear people say: "I accept only the very words of Christ. St. Paul taught some doctrines which Christ Himself did not teach: I do not wish to be bound by these. The Church has in her creeds and elsewhere used language which I do not find in the words of Christ: I may reject that language. The Sermon on the Mount and Christ's other discourses are enough for me. The rest is superfluous." This language recommends itself because it sounds at first so loyal to our Lord, just as politeness towards a single individual is more remarkable when the person who shows it is habitually uncivil to the rest of the world. By a confession of faith such as this, men flatter themselves that they can cut down the Christian creed to very narrow dimensions, and at the same time be all the better Christians. And yet here we find Christ saying that He did not undertake to teach in Person all that it was necessary for Christians to know. What the apostles taught would be still His teaching, even although it should go beyond the measure of truth which He had taught Himself (Luke 10:16; Matthew 10:40).
2. John 15:15 would seem at first sight to be at variance with the text. But there is no contradiction. So far as confidence went our Lord trusted His disciples unreservedly. But there was a want of spiritual comprehension on their side. Many a man has a wife or a sister with whom he has literally no secrets whatever, although she is not on that account able to share all his intellectual interests; he does not trust the less because he does not communicate unintelligible secrets; the time will come, perhaps, when whatever is now unintelligible will be understood.
3. Our Lord's teaching, then, was completed by that of the Holy Spirit. To see how this was done we need not go beyond the limits of the New Testament.(1) Our Lord had spoken, for instance, of the necessity that the Messiah should die; of His blood as the blood of the New Testament which was shed for His disciples. In the apostolic writings this is expanded into the doctrine of the Atonement.(2) Our Lord had hinted at a new ground of acceptance with God in His parable of the labourers in the vineyard, in His eulogy upon the publican, and in His precept (Luke 17:10). But in St. Paul's writings we find a fully elaborated doctrine of salvation through the grace of Christ as contrasted with that of obedience to the Jewish law. In the visit of the Eastern sages to the manger of Bethlehem, in the acceptance of the Syro-Phoenician woman, in the interview with the Greeks at the passover, in the statement that the Good Shepherd had other sheep who were not of the fold of Israel, we have hints that the Pagan nations were in some way to have their part in the Divine Saviour. In St. Paul we find the express assertion that a special revelation had been made to him to the effect (Ephesians 3:6).
4. Our Lord spoke about Himself, His sinlessness, His claims upon human thought and human affection, His power of enlightening and saving human beings, His future coming to judge all human beings, in a way which we should now-a-days think very extraordinary in any good man, and indeed fatal to his claim to goodness because inconsistent with sober fact. The Holy Spirit took of the words of Christ and showed the truth unto the apostles that the Speaker was Divine (1 Corinthians 12:3). The disciples could not have borne the full splendour of these truths before (chap. John 12:16).
II. WHY WAS OUR LORD'S OWN TEACHING THUS INCOMPLETE?
1. The answer is, that the same motive which led Him to teach men at all led Him to impose these limits. He taught men in their ignorance because He loved men too well to leave them in darkness. He taught men gradually, and as they were able to bear the strong light of His doctrine, because He loved men too well to shock or blind them by a sudden blaze of truth, for which they were as yet unprepared. He knew what was in man. He knew what the prejudices of education, the power of mental habits, the associations of youth, the traditions of a great history, could do to destroy the receptive powers, the moral flexibility of the soul. He was too wise and considerate to expect too much. The full understanding of who He was, and what He came to do, was preceded by a twilight; itself His own work, which brightened more and more towards the day.
2. In this He was true to God's providential action in human history. All along God has taught men gradually. The heathen nations have been taught what little truth, amid their errors, they know by a succession of minds. The old Jewish Scriptures are a long series of revelations: the Patriarchal, the Mosaic, the prophetical. Each is an advance upon its predecessors, and all lead up to the final and complete revelation of God in Christ.
III. TWO PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. The true principle of —(1) A religious education. To be solid it should be gradual; it should be given only as the learner's mind becomes acclimatized to the atmosphere of religious truth. We find in the Epistles the distinction between "babes in Christ" and "strong" men or adults. To the first was given that elementary instruction which, from its easiness of reception, the apostle terms "milk." To the second a much more comprehensive instruction in the mysteries of the Christian creed and in the range of Christian duty was imparted, and this the Apostle terms "strong meat." This double order of teaching passed into the primitive Church. The catechumens, who were in the earlier stage of instruction, were treated quite differently from the faithful.(2) The principle holds good of secular education, and is too much lost sight of in some modern methods. The old and deeper idea of education as a means of training the faculties of the mind to deal with any subject has been abandoned only too largely for the idea of an education which overloads the mind with huge packages of unmastered and unmanageable knowledge, and not seldom leads to frightful cases of intellectual indigestion. Boys are expected to know something about everything; they too often know nothing about anything thoroughly. The consequence is, that while they can talk with striking but unnatural facility on a great many more subjects than boys did forty or fifty years ago, their mental faculties are really less braced and sharpened, and their actual capacity for meeting the requirements of life is less considerable than that of their predecessors.(3) And in teaching religious truth parents are sometimes apt to fall into the same mistake. They want to teach everything at once, and they end by really teaching nothing. They forget that most necessary duty of every teacher of placing himself, by an effort of sympathy and imagination, as nearly as possible in the mental position of his pupil or child. They think chiefly or only of what interests themselves in religion; not of what might be interesting or intelligible to minds just opening upon life, and catching with difficulty the horizons of truth and duty which meet the gaze. What is the consequence? Either the children are alienated from all religion in later life, or they learn that most fatal of all lessons in religion, to talk about it easily without thinking of what they say.
2. Remember that until our last day God is teaching us, through the action of other minds, through the events of life. Each stage of life up to the very last leaves some truth untaught. We are daily adding to our expectance. We never complete it. What can the soul do but breathe the prayer — "Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, lead Thou me on," &c.?
(Canon Liddon.)Colossians 1:16, 17). In the same way the word "Trinity" is not itself found in Scripture. But the baptismal formula, and many passages in the apostolic writings, especially in the Epistle to the Ephesians, obviously imply it. If therefore doctrines, having no ground in the teaching of the apostles, have been added to the faith, in whatever quarter of Christendom, these do not rest on the same basis as explanations or restatements of truths which the apostles had already taught. They are newly imported and foreign matter, and as such would have been rejected by the early Christian Church. We cannot, therefore, include additional doctrines proposed after the apostolic age under the head of the "many things" which our Lord had to say to His Church. It is not likely, to say the least, that the holiest and wisest of later divines should know more of His will than did St. John or St. Paul.
(Canon Liddon.)I. TO CHRIST'S MIND NO INFORMATION CAN BE IMPARTED. When He says "ask," He accommodates Himself to human phraseology. Christ's is the infinite mind — to its perceptions there is no end! This is —
1. Consolatory to the good: they can never pass the region of Christ's knowledge, whether in fiery furnace or lions' den.
2. Terrifying to the ungodly: they cannot commit sin except under the eye of the Being to whom it is infinitely hateful: there is no secret spot on which they can outrage the laws of purity. Not a leaf stirs, not a pulse beats, without attracting the notice of the Divine eye.
II. CHRIST'S MIND IS THE HIGHEST SOURCE OF MENTAL ILLUMINATION.
1. "Many things" are in Christ's possession. The phrase is simple, but who can measure its comprehensiveness? What imagination can conceive the number of the "many things"? All that we know of truth, holiness, destiny, we know directly or indirectly from Christ.
2. It follows, therefore, that companionship with Christ must ensure the highest mental attainment. "Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life;" walking with Him we must reach the highest altitudes of knowledge.
3. The mission of the Spirit is to take of the things of Christ and show them to the Church (ver. 13).
III. CHRIST'S MIND REVEALS ITSELF ACCORDING TO OUR MENTAL CAPACITY. Mark here the true majesty of Christ. "Ye cannot bear them," I can; your intellect is not strong enough — Mine is. For a time these many things must dwell in My own mind. As ye grow in capacity ye shall grow in knowledge. God does not pour His glory on the world in one dazzling blaze, He precedes the splendour of noontide by the ray of dawn. The passage has a bearing —
1. On our individual experience. There are many things in the future which we could not bear in our present state. Suppose that God should certify every man of the exact time and precise circumstance of his death, society would be paralyzed. Be thankful for Christ's forbearance.
2. On the inscrutable mysteries of faith. God has not taken man into His secret counsels.
3. On the perplexities of moral government. I cannot explain why Dives should be in the mansion and Lazarus at the gate. "What thou knowest not now, thou shalt know hereafter." By and by we shall know enough. Let us calmly wait until it shall please Him to explain. We shall then say, "It is well."
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. CHRIST'S WORDS DISTINCTLY FORESHADOWED A PROGRESSIVE APPREHENSION OF HIMSELF AND HIS TEACHINGS ABOUT GOD. Just as men lived for ages on this earth without a suspicion of its being globular, and walked in the light of the sun and yet had no notion that the solid earth was rolling round it in space; as they tilled their fields, without dreaming that the soil was composed of decayed animal and vegetable life; so the disciples were warmed by the love of Christ and guided by His wisdom without understanding the mystery of His Person or the wealth of His wisdom? What, then, does He promise? He does not say the Spirit shall give you a new revelation, but He shall lead you into new views of Me and My words. The theology of the apostles, therefore, was to be progressive; it was to be a journey into truth as a boundless realm whose borders they had crossed, but which still stretched away far out of sight beyond the utmost horizon of their thoughts.
II. HISTORY READ IN THE LIGHT OF THIS INTIMATION STRIKINGLY VERIFIES ITS TRUTH by showing that there have been successive stages of advance in human knowledge and opinion, while the substance of the Christian revelation has remained unchanged.
1. Two disciples set out one evening to walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. That walk gave them most emphatically a new theology. It revolutionized their whole conception of the Divine character and ways with men.
2. Long after the day of Pentecost the apostles thought that faith in Christ must be combined with obedience to the ritual law of their fathers. But when Peter had seen his vision on the housetop, his eyes were opened to see Christ in a totally unexpected light. From that hour the Church began to form a new theology. God was the same; Christ was the same; the discourse by the well at Sychar was the same; the gospel was the same; but the Church was led into previously untraversed regions of truth.
3. Time would fail to mention the various theologies which have had their day since the apostles. There was a Greek theology which prevailed up to the time of . Then came a Latin theology fathered by him. Later on there arose several scholastic theologies. Then, again, at the Reformation there arose the Lutheran, Calvinistic, and Zwinglian theologies, all revolting against Rome and yet all of them framed by men influenced by Latin divinity. The confessions of faith drawn up at Wurtemberg, Geneva, Zurich, and Westminster were all new theologies, and all sought to arrange and systematize the doctrines of the Scriptures as observers deal with the facts of nature in the construction of a new science. What, then, shall we conclude? Shall we say that they attained to a final knowledge of the truth and of Christ? It is at least permissible to suppose that the researches, experience, and Divine illumination of later students may have prevailed to eliminate some of their errors, to supply some of their defects, to combine some of their divided excellencies, and so to make some further progress towards that richer knowledge and clearer understanding of the mystery of God in Christ, which, when attained, will bring us all into the unity of the faith.
III. THE GROUND ON WHICH REAL ADVANCES HAVE BEEN MADE. As it was in the days of the apostles and reformers, so it has been since; new visions of truth have come in connection with new outbursts of spiritual life and new acceptances of service. In the latter part of the last century there was a strange movement of compassion for the souls of men. Looking out on heathendom abroad, and spiritual desolation at home, men said: "We must cease our controversial strife, and give these peoples the good news of a Father's love and a Saviour's readiness to save. Stirred by these voices, the Church shook herself from sleep, and rose up to do her neglected duty with a vigour unexampled since the days of the apostles. In the course of these ministries she has formed a new feeling of human brotherhood, and this has opened her eyes to see more clearly the Divine Fatherhood. In the service of man, for Christ's sake, she has learned to read anew Paul's grand unfolding of the meaning of Christ's life and death as a ministry of Divine sacrifice. In her own prayers and yearnings over down fallen men she has entered into unison with the pity of the Lord, and the travail of Christ's soul, to seek and save the lost. This sympathy has touched her thoughts and modified her creed. She can no longer hold with Calvin that babes are deserving of eternal damnation because guilty before God of Adam's sin. The displacement of that one terrible idea has taken a big stone — a veritable key-stone, out of the arch of Calvinistic theology.
IV. OUR DUTIES AND DANGERS IN THIS AGE OF THEOLOGICAL TRANSITION.
1. To keep our spirits right. Whether we view the movements of our time with fear or hope, let us be patient with all men, charitable, tolerant.
2. To see to it that we neither part with nor refuse any true thing because it happens to be mixed up with some. thing manifestly false. In all times of controversy some men fling away gold because embedded in dross, and other men grasp a needless quantity of dross because they see glittering grains of gold.
3. Beware of allowing religious earnestness to be evaporated by a too exclusive attention to the intellectual elements of religion. The life is more than creed, and the spirit than dogma. 1 meet men who reiterate the stale maxims about conduct being three-fourths of life, and the unimportance of dogma, yet are doing nothing for the good of their fellows but protest in this lordly fashion against the bigotry of men who, however mistaken in their creed, are assuredly spending time, and strength, and means in the practical imitation of Christ. It is possible to be a creed-bound creature, though your only creed be that all creeds are vain.
(T. V. Tymms.)
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