In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me."
disciples, step by step, "into all the truth," the whole truth as it is in Jesus.
I. THIS PROMISE WAS LARGELY FULFILLED IN THE MINISTRY OF THE APOSTLES THEMSELVES AFTER PENTECOST. They knew all the facts of our Lord's history already - his birth of a virgin, his death on the cross, and his resurrection and ascension into glory. But they were not left to themselves to interpret these facts and explain their spiritual meaning. Far from it; their eyes were opened, and their understandings guided from above. They and the Apostle Paul, who was ere long to be added to their company, had the mighty work entrusted to them of explaining to all ages the true significance of the mission of Christ in the flesh. They were inspired to do this. A wisdom not their own was given to them. They were no longer "fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken." Formerly they had been like children; now they were men of full age, and became the authoritative heralds and expounders of the gospel. Paul was fully conscious of this when he said, "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts," etc. (2 Corinthians 4:6). It is important to observe the order, so to say, of the Spirit's revelations concerning Christ. The great outstanding facts, as just noted, of our Lord's manifestation to men are
(1) his incarnation;
(2) his cross;
(3) his crown.
It is around these that all the doctrines of the faith are clustered; out of these facts they may be said to grow. From the very first - that is to say from Pentecost - the Holy Spirit bore a certain witness concerning them all. But in what order did he bring them into prominence? Which did he first show forth in light and glory to the eyes of men? Plainly it was not the birth of Christ, but his exaltation to the right hand of God. This was the great and urgent theme of Pentecost and of the days which immediately followed (see the Book of Acts). The words of the Apostle Peter," God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ," - these words were the beginning of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And then, as time went on, the full meaning of the cross was unfolded, and the Apostle Paul, who, above all things, preached Christ crucified, was inspired to declare it as no one else had done. And, last of all, the deep mystery of Christ's incarnation, how "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," - that in its turn was chiefly explored by the beloved disciple John. Thus, through the illumination of the same Spirit, the crown shed its light upon the cross, and the cross and the crown shed their united light on the cradle. The ripe fruit, the imperishable record of all this, is to be found in the Scriptures of the New Testament. How did the Spirit of truth glorify Jesus in guiding and inspiring their human authors! What a revelation do they contain of the Person and work, the mind and heart, of the Holy One, never to be superseded by any newer Testament so long as the world lasts!
II. THIS PROMISE HAS BEEN FURTHER FULFILLED IN THE SUBSEQUENT HISTORY AND LIFE OF THE CHURCH. It was by no means exhausted when the eyewitnesses and first ministers of the Word had gone to their rest, leaving behind them the memory of their oral teaching and the Books of the New Testament. So far from this, it has ever been by the Spirit of truth that the voice of Christ, even in the Scriptures, has continued to be audible and mighty, and that his presence in any of the means of grace has been realized. We are warned that the letter killeth; and, alas! there have been Churches whose candlestick has been removed out of its place. But in each living Christian community there are men whose lips and hearts are touched by fire from God's altar, that they may interpret the gospel to their own times and their own brethren. Like householders, they bring forth out of their treasures things new and old. By their spoken words, by their written treatises, perhaps by their hymns of faith and hope, they declare afresh to those around them the unsearchable riches of Christ. In its essence and substance their message is still the same - "That which was from the beginning;" in its form and expression it varies with the aspects of providence and the problems of human life. In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and the age will never come when these treasures shall be exhausted, or the Spirit's ministry of revelation shall cease. "The world will come to an end when Christianity shall have spoken its last word" (Vinet). Great, indeed, is the responsibility of Christian pastors and teachers, called as they are to be fellow-workers with God. The means of grace, the lively oracles, are committed especially to their trust. It is theirs to trim the lamps of life in a dark world; it is theirs to feed the flock of Christ, to stand by the wells of salvation and draw water for every one that is athirst. And who is sufficient for these things? But it is the Master's work, and here is the promise which he has given for the encouragement of all his servants. Light and power from on high are assured by it, and God will give his Spirit to them that ask him.
III. THIS PROMISE IS CONSTANTLY FULFILLED IN ALL TRUE CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE; for in the case of each individual believer the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ, and shows them to his soul. It is no doubt true that the gospel record is the common property of all mankind, and that any man in the mere exercise of his natural intelligence can see clearly enough how the great doctrines of the faith are founded on the record, and grow out of it. And thus, in point of fact, there are thousands who look upon Christ as a great historical Teacher, and content themselves with making what we may call an intellectual study of his own words and those of his apostles. But his true disciples go further, much further than this. How shall we express the thoughts of their hearts about Christ? May we not say that these correspond to his own words, "Behold, I am alive for evermore;" "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world"? They think of him not as a Being separated from them by eighteen long centuries of time, but as One who is really, though spiritually, present with them, at once human and Divine. They habitually rejoice in his exaltation as "Lord of all." They feel a present peace in the blood of his cross. They bow before the mystery of his taking on him our nature. His authority over them is supreme, and altogether welcome. His example is ever immeasurably in advance of them, though they humbly seek to follow it; and his words are like no other words - spirit and life to their hearts. And we may say that these feelings and convictions of Christ's disciples are altogether reasonable - that is to say, they are entirely in accordance with the supernatural fact that Jesus is the Son of God. But whence came these convictions? Whence their depth and their permanence and their power? There is but one explanation, and we find it in the promise before us: "The Spirit of truth shall receive of mine," etc. Not that he brings any fresh tidings from the invisible world concerning Christ, or adds a single fact or truth to what the Scriptures contain; but to those who resist not his teaching he manifests what is already known in its reality and glory. He opens their eyes, purges their vision, sweeps away the veil that comes between them and their Lord. And it is ever the same Christ that the Spirit of truth reveals to the soul of man; and yet under his teaching what room there is for variety and progress of spiritual apprehension! The same sun puts on a different glory every hour of the longest day. His light is as various as the lands on which he shines; and so it is with Christ, our unchanging Sun of Righteousness - himself "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." He has an aspect for every period of life, and for all life's great vicissitudes, to those who believe. In childhood he may chiefly appear as a gentle Shepherd, in youth as an earnest Counselor, in manhood as a mighty King, and in the evening of life, when its battles are well-nigh over, and its companions scattered, as a faithful, never-dying Friend. What is the result of this teaching of the Spirit of truth? Under his illumination the soul cannot remain unchanged. It is true that here below Christians see through a glass darkly - not yet face to face. Still, amid all the imperfections of the life of faith, what they do see of the glory of Christ makes them see all things in new light, and judge all things by a new standard. The world cannot be to them what it was before, for their horizon widens out far beyond its frontiers. Self can no longer be their idol, for they have become conscious of a Presence which raises them above themselves. In their own measure and degree "they have the mind of Christ." Grandly and powerfully does the Apostle Paul describe the ultimate effect of the Spirit's teaching: "We all, with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed," etc. (2 Corinthians 3:18).
IV. In conclusion, WHO SHALL PUT BOUNDS OR LIMITS TO THE FULFILLMENT OF THIS PROMISE IN THE FUTURE? We know that men shall be blessed in Christ, and all nations shall call him blessed. On this earth, where he was despised and rejected, he is yet to be crowned with glory and honor from the rising to the setting sun. Human life in all its departments is to be gladdened by his presence, inspired by his example, molded by his will. Through what means, or after what convulsions or shakings of the nations, this is to be brought about we cannot tell; but it will not be by human might or power, but by the Spirit of the Holy One, that the grand result will be achieved. It is written that "he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations;" and when that veil is rent from the top to the bottom, then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. - G.B.
A little while and ye shall not see Me.1 Timothy 3:16; John 1:14). But this is not the manifestation promised here. That was but local, partial, transitory; this is something larger and more abiding. Again, He has also manifested Him-self to the ear. Who has not heard of Him, young and old, high and low, wise and simple? But neither is this the promised manifestation; for this, too, is an exterior revelation, made to all alike, to the good and to the evil, to those that love Him and to those that love Him not. What He here promises is something special and interior, deeper and more intimate, the peculiar gift of those who "keep His commandments." It is a manifestation, not to the eye or to the ear, but to a sense above both hearing and sight; a spiritual sense, comprehending all powers of perception, to which all other senses are but avenues (John 14:21). And this, "because I go to the Father." When I am ascended I will return with a presence, not local, but in and above all place; not transient, but abiding; not visible to the eye, but to the heart, by a power of spiritual intuition. Let us take an example. What does the sight of any one, as, for instance, of a friend, bestow upon us? What are its effects?
1. The first effect it produces in us is a sense of his presence. We know what his coming and going awakens. It may be we were waiting for his arrival, full of other thoughts, busy or weary, or musing, or all but forgeful. When he came we were wakened up in every pulse. Our hearts go forth to meet him.
2. Another effect wrought by the sight of a friend is a perception of his character. When Christ shows Himself by the illumination of the heart, then all we have read turns into reality. The holy Gospels rise up into a living person; they live and breath before us. Then we understand and perceive, by a spiritual appreciation, His sanctity and pureness, His lowliness and patience, His meekness and tenderness, His love and sympathy. We "taste that the Lord is gracious." Now this is a spiritual perception which only spiritual communion can bestow. And by this communion, in a way transcending the senses of our earthly nature, He manifests His character to those who love Him. This spiritual perception of His character by love is the beginning of His likeness in us. Love likens us to each other, and above all to Him.
3. Take one more effect of sight — a consciousness of the love of a friend for us. There is something in his eye, look, and bearing, which is expressive above all words, and emphatic above all speech. When God was made Man, He put on human affections and human sympathies. He loved according to the love of kinsman and of friends. Particular affections, we know, are consistent with perfect love. The very name of "the beloved disciple" is witness enough. Out of His followers He even loves with especial love the children of the beatitudes. He loves, with a distinguishing love of friendship, those who are most like Himself. "I will love Him." There is a love with which, as God, He loved all mankind eternally; and another deeper love, with which He loved all whom He foreknew would love Him again. But there is a deeper mystery still. The Word was made flesh, and, as Man, comes down in this world of time; He sees, one by one, those whom He foreknew made perfect in actual obedience. As, one by one, they love Him, He loves them, and shows Himself to them.
(Archdeacon Manning.)I. THE LITTLE WHILES.
1. The little while of vision. Negatively described; rather as an anticipation of non-vision. The words of one conscious of impending death, and the quick completion of aims; but also confident of final triumph.(1) It is a note of attention. "Let every faculty be on the alert. Do not misinterpret the signs, or be disconcerted. Your great work just now is 'witnessing.'"(2) A placing of His earthly manifestation in its proper light. His teaching and miracles were not to go on indefinitely, as if they were ends in themselves. They were but a small portion of avast scheme, most of which had to be carried out in the unseen world. There was to be a measure, an economy in His earthly manifestation.
2. This little while of darkness.(1) The epithet is here applied in gracious consideration and sympathy. It is only a "little" while. Graciously curtailed, graciously interpreted. Let them not sink into despair. They are ceaselessly and diligently to "look for His appearing."(2) His next manifestation must needs be consummative. He will tell them then of a finished work and triumph over sin and death. Its glory will compensate for their gloom and trials. Therefore —(3) They are to look forward, not backward. This is the hopeful, watchful attitude of all true disciples. Our service will have to be completed, as it will have to be accounted for, when He appears. The Lord's Supper is only "until I come."
II. WHAT THEY PREPARED FOR. They are evidently related and seem to divide the entire future of Christianity in this world. They led up therefore —
1. To a grander conception of Christ and His work. To many He might be lost to view; but to them He was to be as a fixed star, nay, the Sun of a new and eternal day.
2. To a spiritual vision. As they were to look through His words and works His whole manifestation,whilst He was with them, in order to perceive its inner Divine meaning; so, when He disappeared from view, they were still to contemplate Him by faith (John 15:18-19). Have we seen the spiritual Christ? It is He alone that is risen, that liveth evermore, and worketh mightily in them that believe.
(St. John A. Frere, M. A.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
What is this that He saithI. THE DEEP TEACHING OF OUR LORD ABOUT THE TIMES OF DISAPPEARANCE AND OF SIGHT. The words are plain enough; the difficulty lies in the determination of the periods. It is quite clear that the first of the "little whiles" is the few hours that intervened between His speaking and the Cross, and that His death and burial began the period during which they were not to see Him. But where does the second period begin, during which they are to see Him? Is it at His resurrection or at His ascension, when the process of going "to the Father" was complete; or at Pentecost, when the Spirit, by whom He was to be made visible, was poured out. The answer is, perhaps, not to be restricted to any one of these periods; but I think if we consider that all disciples have a portion in all these great discourses, and the absence of any hint that the promised seeing of Christ was ever to terminate, and the diversity of words under which the two manners of vision are described, and, above all, the close connection of these words with those which precede, we shall come to the conclusion that the full realization of this great promise did not begin until that time when the Spirit opened the eyes of His servants, and they saw His glory. But, however we settle the minor question of chronology, the thing that we want to fasten upon for ourselves is this.
1. We all, if we will, may have a vision of Christ as close, as real, as if He stood there, visible to our senses. That is personal Christianity. Oh! how that conviction would —(1) Lift us up above temptation! "He endured as seeing Him who is invisible." What should terrify or charm us if we saw Him? Competing glories and attractions would fade before His presence, as a dim candle dies at noon.(2) Make all life full of a blessed companionship. Who could feel that life was dreary if that Friend was by his side?
2. And how are we to get it? Remember the connection. It is because there is a Divine Spirit to show men the things that are Christ's, that therefore, unseen, He is visible to the eye of faith. But besides this there are conditions of discipline which must be fulfilled. If you want to see Jesus Christ —(1) Think about Him. If men in the city walk with their eyes fixed upon the gutters, what does it matter though all the glories of a sunset are dyeing the western sky? And if Christ stood beside you, if your eyes were fixed upon the trivialities of this poor present, you would see not Him.(2) Shut out competing objects, and the dazzling cross-lights that come in and hide Him from us. There must be a "looking off unto Jesus." If we would see, and have our hearts filled with, the calm sublimity of the solemn white wedge that lifts itself into the far off blue, we must not let our gaze stop on the busy life of the valleys or the green slopes of the lower Alps, but must lift it and keep it fixed aloft.(3) Do His will. One act of obedience has more power to clear a man's eyes than hours of idle contemplation; and one act of disobedience has more power to dim his eyes than anything besides. Rebellious tears blind our eyes, as Mary's did, so that she did not know the Master, and took Him for the gardener. Submissive tears purge the eyes and wash them clean to see His face.
II. THE BEWILDERED DISCIPLES. We find in the early portion of these discourses that twice they ventured to interrupt our Lord with more or less relevant questions, but as the wonderful words flowed on, they seem to have been awed into silence; and our Lord Himself almost conplains of them that "None of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou." The inexhaustible truths that He had spoken seem to have gone clear over their heads, but the verbal repetition of the "little whiles" and the recurring ring of the sentence seems to have struck upon their ears. The Revised Version is probably correct in omitting the clause in our Lord's words, "Because I go to the Father." The disciples seem to have quoted from the clause, "Because I go to My Father and ye see Me no more." The contradiction seems to strike them. These disciples in their bewilderment represent some very common faults which we all commit in our dealing with the Lord's words. Note —
1. How they pass by the greatest truths in order to fasten upon a smaller outstanding difficulty. They have no questions to ask about the gifts of the Spirit, the unity of Christ and His disciples, the love that lays down its life for its friends. But when He comes into the region of chronology, they are all agog to know the "when" about which He is so enigmatically speaking. Now is not that exactly like us, and does not the Christianity of this day want the hint to pay most attention to the greatest truths, and let the little difficulties fall into their subordinate place? The truth that Christ is the Son of God, who has died for our salvation — that is the heart of the gospel. And why should we make our faith in that, and our living by it contingent on the clearing up of certain external and secondary questions? And why should men be so occupied in jangling about the latter as that the towering supremacy of the former should be lost sight of. What would you think of a man in a fire who, when they brought the fire-escape to him, said, "I decline to trust myself to it until you first of all explain to me the principles of its construction; and, secondly, tell me all about who made it; ands thirdly, inform me where all the materials of which it is made came from."
2. How they fling up the attempt to apprehend the obscurity in a very swift despair. "We cannot tell what He saith." And we are not going to try any more. It is all cloudland and chaos altogether. Intellectual indolence, spiritual carelessness, deal so with outstanding difficulties. Although there are no gratuitous obscurities in Christ's teaching, He said a great many things which could not possibly be understood at the time, in order that the disciples might stretch up towards what was above them, and, by stretching up, might grow. I do not think it is a good thing to break the children's bread too small. A wise teacher will now and then blend with the utmost simplicity something that is just a little in advance of the capacity of the listener, and so encourage a little hand to stretch itself out, and the arm to grow because it is stretched. Truth is sometimes hidden in a well in order that we may have the blessing of the search, and that the truth found after the search may be more precious. The tropics with their easy luxuriant growth grow languid men, and our less smiling latitude grows strenuous ones.
3. How they have no patience to wait for time and growth to solve the difficulty. They want to know all about it now, or not at all. If they had waited for six weeks Pentecost would, as it did, explain it all. We, too, are often in a hurry. There is nothing that the ordinary mind, and often the educated mind, detests so much as uncertainty and being baffled. And in order to escape that uneasiness men are dogmatical when they should be doubtful, and positive when it would be a great deal more for the health of their souls and their listeners to say, "Well, really I do not know, and I am content to wait." For our own difficulties, and for the difficulties of the world, there is nothing like time and patience. The mysteries that used to plague us when we were boys melted away when we grew up. And many questions which trouble me to-day, if I lay them aside, and go about my ordinary duties, and back to them to-morrow with a fresh eye and an unwearied brain, will have straightened themselves out and become clear. So for our own sorrows, questions, pains, griefs, and for all the riddle of this painful world.
III. THE PATIENT TEACHER (ver. 19).
1. He knows all our perplexities. He had not a word of rebuke for the slowness of their apprehension. He never rebukes us either for our stupidity or for our carelessness, but has long patience with us. Yet He does give them a kind of a rebuke. "Do ye inquire among yourselves?" Inquiry "among yourselves" is folly; to ask Him is wisdom. We can do much for one another, but the deepest riddles and mysteries can only be wisely dealt with in one way. Tell Him about them.
2. Christ does not explain to the disciples the precise point that troubled them. Olivet and Pentecost were to do that; but He gives them what will tide them over the time. And so with us there is a great deal that must remain mysterious. But if we will speak plainly to Him, He will send us triumphant hope and large confidence of a coming joy that will float us over the bar and make us feel that the burden is no longer painful to carry.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)f His disciples: —
I. HE FREQUENTLY OCCASIONS THEM. He did so here, and He did so elsewhere, by His symbolical and enigmatical language. We see good reasons for this. It would serve —
1. To impress them with their ignorance — the first step to knowledge.
2. To stimulate their thoughts. It would break the monotony of their minds, and urge them to inquiry. Difficulties are essential to educational work. A school-book mastered becomes obsolete.
II. HE IS ALWAYS ACQUAINTED WITH THEM (ver. 19). No other teacher had such a thorough acquaintance with the unspoken thoughts which coursed through the minds of His hearers. This fact —
1. Should encourage us to search the Scriptures. Our difficulties in understanding ancient authors are not known to them, nor have they the power to help us. But Christ is ready, if we ask Him to yield a satisfactory solution when we study the problems of His Word,
2. Urge us to cultivate sincerity in our thoughts. For us to profess to know things of which we am ignorant, to believe in things of which we are sceptical, is to insult His omniscience. Our prayer should be: "Teach me, O God, and know my heart," &c.
III. HE WILL FURNISH A SATISFACTORY SOLUTION OF THEM IF DESIRED. Because desirous, He gives the disciples the explanation of vers. 20-24; viz. —
1. That His departure would involve them in great sorrow, whilst the world would be rejoicing.
2. That His return will change their sorrow into high joy. That joy —(1) Will be intensified by their previous distress (ver. 21).(2) It will be beyond the power of man to take away. A man may take away your property, health, life, but your joy never.(3) It will be associated with the power of obtaining all spiritual blessings from the Father.
(D. Thomas D. D.)
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