His disciples said, "See, now You are speaking plainly and without figures of speech.
I. THE CONFESSION OF FAITH. "By this we believe," etc. This indicates:
1. Faith in the proper Object. "We believe that thou," etc. They believed in his Person and character, and in the Divinity of his mission. Their faith, even at this time, had not made much progress in spiritual elevation and grasp of its Object; still, this fresh confession of it was encouraging. If not much progress is made, it is cheering to know there is no retrogression.
2. Faith is founded upon intelligent basis. "By this we believe," etc.
(1) The plainness of his speech. In his last words there was no proverb. The revelation is clear. He had promised them this, and now it is partly fulfilled, and fulfilled sooner than they expected. This prompt fulfillment of his promise gives new life to faith.
(2) The Divinity of his knowledge. They are struck with its Divine extensiveness: "all things;" and with its Divine quality. It is not derived through the ordinary human channels of answers to questions, but it is independent of these, and the inherent produce of his own mind. And this they had learnt, not from hearsay and observation, but from experience. He revealed and satisfied their most secret wants and wishes without any questions.
3. Its confession is very confident. "Now we know," etc. This knowledge is experimental, and such knowledge is the confidence of faith. Knowledge is helpful to faith, and faith is helpful to knowledge. Knowledge is the resting-place of faith, and the steps over which it climbs the alpine heights of Divine truth.
4. Its confession is enthusiastic. "Lo, now speakest thou," etc. This is the glow of faith on emerging from darkness into light, its first blush at the sight of a new vision, its enthusiasm on the hill of a newly acquired knowledge. The plainer revelation of Jesus was sudden, and produced in the disciples a triumphant outburst of confidence in the Divinity of his mission. The confession has some light, but more heat. 5. Its confession is united. "By this we," etc. There is not a dissentient voice. One spoke for all, and all spoke in one. It is the chorus of young faith.
II. THE EXAMINATION OF FAITH.
1. It is examined by Jesus. He is the Object of faith, and its only infallible Examiner; the examination is short, but very thorough and improving. "Do ye now believe?"
(1) This question is very important. Important to the Master and the disciples. Every true master feels an interest in the success of his pupils. Jesus was intensely desirous that they all should pass in faith successfully. His reputation as a Master and a Savior was at stake, and he trained them for service which he required, and for which faith was essential. It was still more important to them. "Do ye believe?" This is the first and greatest lesson of Christianity, and the crucial question of Christ to his disciples.
(2) This question naturally anticipates an affirmative answer. Indeed, it had been enthusiastically answered in the affirmative in the confession just made. And this was quite natural and true. Their faith was genuine, and ought to be strong and firm; they had great advantages, and Jesus had taken infinite pains with them.
(3) This question is very searching. Do you believe, and believe now? And not merely Jesus by this question searches them, but inspires them to search themselves. This was highly characteristic of him as a Teacher. He did not cram his disciples with his own thoughts, but rather inspired and helped them to think themselves. He set the mental and spiritual machinery in motion, and this simple question is highly calculated to inspire them to think and reflect and search themselves, and to look about within as to the real and present state of faith.
(4) This question is as tender and sympathetic as it is searching. Worthy of the great Master and suitable to the condition of his disciples. His patience and compassion were Divine. He does not upbraid them with slowness, imperfection, and vacillation of faith in spite of all his tuition. He does not break out into a storm of impatience and recrimination, but tenderly for the moment leaves the question to them, and gradually sends more light so as to bring it fully home to them.
(5) This question involves joy and sorrow. The joy and sorrow of perfect knowledge. He knew that their faith was genuine and would be ultimately triumphant: this was a source of joy. He knew as well that at present it was weak, too weak to withstand the impending storm: this was a source of sorrow. And in this short question the sad and joyous notes are distinctly heard.
2. Faith is examined by Christ in connection with a most extraordinary trial. His own trial, the great tragedy of his crucifixion, which also would be the trial of faith. This is foretold.
(1) It is foretold as being very near. "Behold, the hour cometh," etc. They were within the hour and already within the vortex of the terrible whirlpool.
(2) It is foretold as being certain. There was no doubt about it, and this they would readily believe from the new glimpse they profess to have had of his perfect knowledge of all things.
(3) It is foretold in the interest of faith. Not to discourage and damp its ardor, but rather to break its inevitable fall from the height of present confidence to the depths of momentary doubt and darkness. Over the ladder of his revelation it had climbed up, and ought to remain there; but knowing that it would not, he furnishes it with another ladder to descend, so as not to be destroyed if somewhat daunted. It was foretold in the present and future interest of faith.
III. THE TEMPORARY FAILURE OF FAITH. "Ye shall be scattered," etc.
1. Its failure happened when it was thought to be strong. Think of their enthusiastic confession a short time ago. The gloom of doubt is often at the heels of the glow of faith. The fire often blazes brightly just before it is partially extinguished. When we are weak we are strong, and when we are strong we are weak.
2. Its failure happened when it ought to be firm, and when it was most needed by them and the Savior. When was it needed more than when its Object needed sympathy? It was one thing to be loud in their professions of faith in him during the palmy days of his triumph and miracles, but quite another to cling to him in his apparent defeat. They left him in the storm, when their adherence would be most important and valuable. "A friend in need is a friend indeed."
3. The manner of its failure reveals its real cause. "Every man to his own." The cause of the failure of faith was selfishness. Faith in Christ is essentially a denial of self, but in this hour of severe trial faith for a moment left Christ and clung to self. Is not this a true picture of weak and imperfect faith in all ages?
4. Its failure is very melancholy in its immediate results.
(1) A temporary separation from one another. "Every man to his own." Weakness of faith in Christ tends to dissolve society. Genuine faith in Christ sends every man out of himself to his fellow, and finds strength and happiness in union.
(2) A temporary separation from Christ. "And shall leave me alone." What weakness, inconsistency, and cowardice! And what a sad failure of even genuine faith at the beginning of its glorious career! And this will appear especially when we think that he was a Divine volunteer from the other world come to fight and conquer their foes. They left him in the grip of the enemy, and fled. What British soldier would behave so towards his general? But such was the sad failure of the bravest soldiers of the cross in the ever-memorable battle between self and benevolence.
5. This temporary but sad failure of faith engages his sympathy. We describe it as base and cowardly, and so it was; and so it is in us often under less trying circumstances. But not a harsh word drops from his lips, but words of encouragement and comfort. In order that they might, not be too depressed on account of their cowardly conduct in leaving him alone, he tenderly adds, "Yet I am not alone," etc.
1. Faith may be genuine, yet weak, inconsistent, and temporarily eclipsed. It was so in the case of the first disciples. It miserably gave way in the hour of trial; yet it was genuine, as the sequel amply proves. We must not judge too soon with regard to the reality of faith and its ultimate fate.
2. A severe trial is a test of the strength of faith. But in judging the partial failure of faith we must take into account the severity of the trial. The most heroic faith will often be baffled in a terrible storm. Such was the storm in which the disciples' faith was now.
3. Genuine faith, however weak, wilt benefit by its own failures. This was the case with regard to the disciples. Their faith never gave way afterwards.
4. The partial failure of genuine faith often culminates in a most glorious triumph. Genuine faith seldom sank lower than in the case of the disciples here, but certainly never rose higher in heroism and victory than in their after-life.
5. Although genuine faith may sometimes leave Jesus, he never leaves genuine faith. Hence its ultimate triumph. In his first disciples he nursed faith with the patience and tenderness of a mother, and in its greatest weakness and shame cast on it a tender look of love. Faith can only live on Divine love. And although he set the highest mark before his disciples, and ever encouraged and inspired them on to it, yet he was most sympathetic with their failings, and ever treated them as human. And so successful was his tuition, that eleven out of twelve passed with honors, and the only failure was the son of perdition. This is the greatest encouragement to the weakest faith in him. - B.T.
Now speakest Then plainly.
I. THE DISCIPLES' JOYFUL CONFESSION. Their words are permeated with allusions to previous sayings of our Lord, and show how shallow was their understanding of what they thought was plain. He had said to them that in that coming day He would speak to them no more in proverbs; and they answer that the promised day has come. If they had understood what He meant could they have spoken thug, or bare left Him so soon?
1. They begin with what they believed to be a fact, His clear utterance. Then follows a conviction. He had said, "In that day ye shall ask Me nothing." And from the fact that He had interpreted their unspoken words they rightly draw the conclusion of His Divine Omniscience. And they think that therein is the fulfilment of that great promise. Was that all that He meant, No! He meant, "Ye shall ask Me nothing because you will have an illuminating Spirit." And so, again, a shallow interpretation empties the words which they accept of their deepest and most precious meaning.
2. They take a further step. They begin with a fact; then they infer a conviction; and now, upon the basis of the inferred conviction, they rear a faith. "We believe that Thou camest forth from God." But what they meant by "coming forth from God" fell far short of what He meant. And so their confession is a strangely mingled warp and woof of insight and of ignorance.
3. Note the lessons. We learn —(1) What it is that gives life to a creed — experience. These men had, over and over again, heard the declaration, "I came forth from God"; and in a sort of fashion they believed it, But, as so many of our convictions do, it lay dormant and half dead in their souls. But now experience had brought them into contact with a manifest proof of His Divine Omniscience; and the torpid conviction flashes all up at once into vitality. That is the only thing that teaches us the articles of our creed in a way worth learning them. We do not know the use of the sword until we are in the battle. Until the shipwreck comes no man puts on the lifebelt. Of all our teachers who turn beliefs assented to into beliefs really believed none is so mighty as sorrow. For that makes a man lay a firm hold on the deep things of God's word.(2) The bold avowal that always accompanies certitude. These men's stammering tongues are loosed. They have a fact to base themselves upon. They have a faith built upon the certitude of what they know. Having this, out it all comes in a gush. No man that believes with all his heart can help speaking. You silent Christians are so because you do not more than half grasp the truth that you say you hold.(3) Take care of indolently supposing that you understand the depths of God's truth. These apostles fancied that they had grasped the whole meaning of the Master's words, and were glad in them. And there are only too many of us who are disposed to grasp at the most superficial interpretation of Christian truth, and lazily to rest ourselves in that. Better that we should feel that the smallest word that comes from God is like some little leaf of a water plant on the surface of a pond; if you lift that you draw a whole trail after it; and nobody knows how far off and how deep down are the roots.
II. THE SAD QUESTIONS AND FOREBODINGS OF THE MASTER. He does not reject their imperfect homage, though He discerns its imperfection and transiency; but sadly warns them to beware of the fleeting nature of their present emotion; and would seek to prepare them, by the knowledge, for the terrible storm that is going to break upon them. Note, then, that —
1. The dear Lord accepts imperfect surrender. If He did not, what would become of us all? He was willing to put up with what you and I will not put up with; and to accept what we reject; and be pleased that they gave Him even that.
2. The need for Christian men to make sure that their inward life corresponds with their words and professions. Our words and acts of Christian profession and service are like bank notes. And what will be the end if there is a whole ream of such going up and down the world, and no balance of bullion in the cellars to meet them? Nothing but bankruptcy. Do you see to it that your reserve of gold, deep down in your hearts, always leaves a margin beyond the notes in circulation issued by you. And in the midst of your professions hear the Master saying, "Do ye now believe?"
3. Trust no emotions, no religious experiences, but only Him to whom they turn. These men were perfectly sincere, and there was a glow of gladness in their hearts, and a real though imperfect faith when they spoke. In an hour's time where were they? "We trusted." Ah! what a world of sorrow there is in those two final letters of that word. "We trusted that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel." But they do not trust it any more, and so why should they put themselves in peril for One on whom their faith can no longer build? Would you and I have been any better if we had been there? Suppose you had stood afar off and seen Jesus die on the cross, would your faith have lived? Let us all, recognizing our own weakness, trust to nothing, but only to Him, and cry, "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe."
III. THE LONELY CHRIST AND HIS COMPANION.
1. Jesus was the loneliest man that ever lived. All other forms of human solitude were concentrated in His. He knew the pain of unappreciated aims, unaccepted love, unbelieved teachings, a heart thrown back upon itself. Solitude was no small part of the pain of His passion. Remember the pitiful appeals in Gethsemane. Now, some of us no doubt have to live outwardly solitary lives. Physicists tell us that in the most solid bodies the atoms do not touch. Hearts come closer than atoms, but yet after all, we die alone, and in the depths of our souls we all live alone. So let us be thankful that the Master knows the bitterness of solitude, and has Himself trod that path.
2. Then we have the calm consciousness of unbroken communion. Jesus Christ's sense of union with the Father was deep, close, constant, in manner and measure altogether transcending any experience of ours. But still He sets before us a pattern of what we should aim at in these great words. They show the path of comfort for every lonely heart. If the world with its millions seems to have none in it for us, let us turn to Him who never leaves us. If dear ones are torn from our grasp, let us clasp God. It is not all loss if the trees which with their leafy beauty shut out the sky from us, are felled and so we see the blue.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)I. THE DISCIPLES PROFESSED TO BELIEVE, BUT THEY DID NOT KNOW WHY.
1. Here was a great, though natural mistake.(1) It was a vast conclusion to draw from Christ's knowing what was passing in their minds now, that He came from the Father, and know all things. Any man present that evening might have known that. They had worn their hearts on their sleeves!(2) They made another mistake. They thought that Christ spoke plainly now and therefore believed, when in fact He had (John 14:2, 12, 28; John 15:26; John 16:20) said the same thing before. We all know how easy 'tis to reflect ourselves upon the speaker, and, if we think we comprehend his meaning better than we did, to attribute it to his improved lucidity of exposition. But in thinking that they understood him, they were mistaken also. It would be impossible to discover the precise ideas they affixed to Christ's language. But it is clear that they did not think of His dying or rising at all. Christ's words on these subjects are clear enough to us, for we look at them through plain history; but they were anything but clear to those who looked at them through beliefs entirely incompatible with their occurrence.
2. And yet they did believe. They believed more than they thought, and better. They knew the Teacher, if not the lesson. While they were basing their faith on knowledge of His meaning, they had a faith already built on a surer foundation than that; and while they were rejoicing in a confidence which had no support but a mistake, they felt a deeper, stronger confidence which rested on no mistake at all. We too feel more than we understand. It were a poor thing if our confidence in Christ and Christianity were based on learning and logic, or even distinct opinions. A man may believe in Christ, and cleave to Him, and follow Him, and yet be miserably at a loss if asked for a scientific or a satisfactory exposition of his faith.
II. THEY BELIEVED, BUT THEY DID NOT KNOW HOW. Christ did not mean to question the reality of their faith but its intensity. They always had believed, and, under the influence of this affecting scene, and thinking that they understood His meaning, believed more than ever. But they little knew how frail and feeble was their faith in comparison with the burden it would have to bear. They felt strong, like a convalescent invalid, but as soon as strain and pressure were on them, their strength was that of a little child. Apply this thought —
1. To the faith of contemplation and the faith of action; to man looking on truth as an object, and obeying it as a claim. While the disciples had Christ before them, and had only to listen to and behold Him, they believed; but when they had to follow Him, to show their practical regard, "they all forsook Him and fled." And still there is a difference between the quiet thought of truth, and its embodiment in act. "Faith worketh by love." No other faith can save a man. How "can faith save," if it does nothing? How can it save from sins, if it does not destroy sin? Truth is given us, not to be a pleasant object but a living power. The Word of God is "a lamp to the feet," not only to the eye. It is very possible to have faith in Christ when beholding the graces of His character, the credentials of His mission, and the glory of His work, and to be sadly wanting in loving and daily obedience to His will; possible to have faith in propositions, with practical unbelief in duties; and yet the faith which is "more precious than gold," must bear the test of gold.
2. To the faith which receives Christ in peace and prosperity, and that which receives Him when His claims conflict with our fond beliefs and wishes. We can think calmly and speak eloquently of the goodness and equity of Providence when "the lines are fallen to us in pleasant places," but how mysterious it becomes when He "destroyeth the hope of man." What was a pleasant study becomes s perplexing, perhaps insoluble problem. We can recommend so persuasively the cheerful drinking of the cup of sorrow when in the hand of others, but what wry faces we make when put into our own! It is as it was in that upper room: Jesus in peace and safety, speaking of a dear Father, His joyful home, His love to His disciples, and great comforts in store for them, is one Christ; but Jesus betrayed and seized is quite another.
3. To faith in enjoyment of strong and stimulating privileges and faith deprived of them. There was everything in that upper room to excite and gratify every religious and Christian feeling. As men, the disciples were with brethren; as Jews, they had observed one of the most solemn and delightful festivals of their nation; as friends of Jesus, they had seen Him open His heart as He had never done before. But when this scene had passed as a dissolving view, and wintry barrenness had taken the place of summer loveliness — when the spell had been broken, and nature was left to its ordinary action — faith failed. We know what times of unwonted spiritual impression and excitement are, when the spiritual world seems opened to our view; when "alone" with Jesus, "He expounds all things to His disciples;" and when they "know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." But these times do not last. And how soon the fair vision vanishes! A return to the worldly lot and the society of man dissipates it all; and it requires all our effort and care not to "leave," in heart, the Jesus we had felt to be our "Life," and "Peace," and "Hope." Conclusion: The subject teaches us how to try ourselves and others. Not by clearness of views or sensibility of feelings, but life.
(A. J. Morris.)
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