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Studies, Devotionals, Sermons, Illustrations
Old and New Testament.
THE LIFE AND LIGHT OF MEN
LOVE TO THE UTTERMOST
F. B. Meyer
John 1:1 The Word
John 1:2-3 The Word in Creation
John 1:9 The Word as Light
John 1:14 The Word Made Flesh
John 1:18 The Word Declaring the Unseen
John 1:23, 29, 37 Three Memorable Days
John 1:51 The Son of Man
John 2:11 The First Miracle
John 2:21 The Temple of the Body
John 3:6 A Psalm of Life
John 3:14 The Shadow of the Cross
John 3:34 Sent
John 4:14 Life as a Fountain
John 4:50 Daring to Acts in Faith
John 5:17 The Divine Master Workman
John 5:30 The Will of God
John 5:43 The Father's Name
John 6:37 The Father's Gift to the Son
John 6:57 The Bread Which Gives and
John 6:68 The Words of Jesus
John 7:37-39 Rivers of Living Water
John 8:11 The Penitent's Gospel
John 8:12 The Light of Life
John 8:28 Christ's Absorption in His
John 8:31, 32, 36 Made Free by the Son
John 8:50 The Glory of Christ
John 9:4 The Works of God
John 10:4 The Blessed Life of Trust
John 10:11 The Ideal Shepherd
John 10:40-42 The Works of an Ungifted
John 11:6 Love's Delays
John 12:3 Anointed for His Burial
John 12:24 Falling Into the Ground to
John 12:27 The Troubled Saviour
John 12:31 The World and Its Prince
John 12:35-36 The True Light of God's
John 13:5 The Laver in the Life of
John 13:36 Heaven Delayed but
John 14:2 Many Mansions
John 14:6 Reality of Which Jacob's
John 14:8-9 Christ Revealing the Father
John14:12 The Great Deeds of Faith
John 14:16 How to Secure More and
John 14:16 The Other Paraclete
John 14:17 The Three Dispensations
John 14:18-19 Three Paradoxes
John 14:23 Many Mansions for God
John 14:27 Christ's Legacy and Gift of
John 15:1 The Story of the Vine
John 15:4 Abide in Me and I in You
John 15:7 Prayer that Prevails
John 16:2-3 The Hatred of the World
John 16:8 The Work of the Holy Spirit
on the World
John 16:12-15 Christ's Reticence...the
John 16:33 The Conqueror of the World
John 17:19 Consecrated to Consecrate
John 17:21-23 The Lord's Prayer for His
John 18:4 The Love that Bound Christ to
John 18:1-14 Drinking the Cup
John 18:13 The Hall of Annas
John 18:16 How it Fared with Peter
John 18:24 The Trial Before Caiaphas
John 18:2 Judas, Which Betrayed Him
John 18:28 The First Trial Before
John 18:39 The Second Trial Before
John 19:16 The Seven Sayings of the
John 19:40 Christ's Burial
John 20:1 The Day of Resurrection
John 21:1 The Lake of Galilee
John 21:15 Peter's Love and Work
John 21:22 The Life-Plan of Peter and
John 21:25 Back to the Father
This is the Gospel of the Divine
Life of Jesus. The eagle has always been its recognised emblem, as
denoting its sublime and heavenly character. And, clearly, in its diction,
its insight into the deepest truths, its repeated testimony to the Glory
and Deity of our Lord, it holds a unique, place among the records of His
life. It soars. It holds fellowship with the Throne. Its eyrie is in the
Heart of God. And yet, in one of its aspects, this Gospel is as much the
record of the Man Christ Jesus, as of the Only-begotten Son; and for this
it is of inestimable worth to all who desire to follow in His steps. There
is no part of Scripture more conducive to the culture of the inner life;
and it is under this aspect that it is considered in the following pages.
This attempt to present some of the unsearchable wealth of this Gospel may
be compared to a shell-full of water dipped up by a child from a vast
fresh-water lake; but such as it is, it is commended to the people of God
with the desire that it may be used by the Divine Spirit to bring them
into a deeper knowledge of Life, Light, and Love, as they are in Jesus
Christ our Lord. - F. B. MEYER.
1. THE WORD
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God."--John 1:1.
How AMAZING is the opening of this Gospel! The writer does not stay to
introduce himself, to mention his name, or give proofs of his
trustworthiness. With singular abruptness, with no attempt to substantiate
his own claims or the claims of this marvellous treatise, he casts it into
the teeming world of human thought and life, as Jochebed launched the
cradle on the bosom of the Nile.
Did he feel that the matter of the book would sufficiently vindicate its
truthfulness; and that it would authenticate itself as bread, and light,
and water, and spring flowers do? Did he feel that the Spirit who inspired
it might be left to care for it? To ask such questions is to suggest the
answer But is there not a marvellous audacity in the casting forth of this
Gospel, unannounced, unauthenticated by the recommendations of great
names? Yet the result has vindicated the Evangelist. For, as the
experience of the Church grows--nay, as our own experience grows--new
depths of beauty and truthfulness reveal themselves in its pages, and
compel belief in all whose hearts are pure enough to recognise the Divine.
Our writer does not name the gross errors of his time, which were
beginning to obscure the dawn of our holy faith, as clouds steal up upon a
too radiant sunrise. Why should he preserve these flies in amber? It is
enough for him to announce, positively and dogmatically, the Truth; sure
that the conscience of man would not fail to recognise her face and the
accents of her voice, and eventually turn from all others to cleave to her
Nor can we wonder that the fisherman of Galilee was able thus to write for
all the world to hear. Truths of universal importance am perceived less by
the intellect than by the heart. Things which are hidden from the wise and
prudent are revealed to babes. An intense religious conviction will
stimulate the action of all the faculties; as a jar of oxygen quickens
into brilliant coruscations the burning phosphorus. But how much must we
not attribute to the teaching of that blessed Spirit, who found congenial
work in glorifying the Lord through the pen of his dearest friend and
aptest pupil! Very majestic are the opening words, and this designation of
We need not ask whence this term came. It may have been a pebble from the
brook of Old Testament Scripture, or a phrase borrowed, as Neander
suggests, from the current talk of Ephesus, where this Gospel was written
about the year A.D. 97. But, whencesoever it came, it is here re-minted by
the Spirit of God, and is most significant.
As words utter thought, so does Christ utter God.--A man, newly arrived
from the busy outer world, sits among his family, absorbed and rapt in
thought. Wife and child are hushed into a great stillness as they look
upon his face, which tells a tale of inner conflict; as the foam-flecked
surface of a mountain stream reveals the agony of its boulder-broken
career. They cannot even guess what oppresses him until he opens his lips
and speaks. The friends who gathered to the consecration of the
angel-heralded boy had no idea by what name the aged priest would call
him, till the trembling hand indented the wax of the writing-tablet with
the Divinely-appointed name of Christ's forerunner.
So man had not known God, unless Christ had uttered Him. An Egyptian
temple bore this inscription on its portico: "I am He that is, and was,
and shall be; and no mortal has ever lifted my veil." A profound Eastern
thinker, in the very dawn of the world's life, cried: "Oh that I knew
where I might find Him! ... Behold, I go forward, but He is not there; and
backward, but I cannot perceive Him." An altar in Athens, the brain of the
world, was erected to "the unknown God." But Christ uttered God. "No man
hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of
the Father, He hath declared Him."
There are three ways in which Christ has uttered God, as these
introductory verses prove: in Creation; in his Teaching', and in his
God is Life.--Not simply living, in contrast to dead idols; but
life-giving. The fountain of life ever rises from the depths of the
abysmal Godhead. Yet that life had been an unknown quantity, had not the
Word uttered it in creation, which his hands have wrought; so that the
universe is a poem (in the strict meaning of that word) wrought out of the
majestic substance of God's underived and eternal Being.
God is Light.--But the light had been undiscovered, because insufferable,
unless the Word had shed it forth on created vision, revealing yet
tempering its beauty, passing it through the luminous and yet shrouding
veil of his words.
God is Love.--Love is the essence of his being, and all love everywhere is
the far-travelled beam and ray of his heart (Ep 3:15-note,
mar.). But that love had never been realised, unless the Word had embodied
it in a human life, with caresses for little children, tears for broken
hearts, tender pity for the lost, agony unto death for mankind.
Lift up your eyes and hearts, and behold with devout rapture your glorious
Lord, uttering the depths, the hidden depths of God (1Cor. 2:10, 11, 12,
13, 14, 15 16). He has not only done so, but He will continue to do so
through all ages, as we are able to bear it (John 17:26). We have only
yet, at his feet, commenced to learn the alphabet, the first broken
syllables of the Divine Science; but it is probable that the ages of
eternity are to witness an eternal progression in this sublime theology.
Our knowledge ever increasing our capacity to know; our capacity ever
leading to fresh hunger, our hunger ever appropriating the blessedness of
the fourth Beatitude. Remember the majestic Apocalyptic vision, in which
the seer beheld Christ riding forth on his snow-white steed, his eyes as
flame, his head girt with many crowns, his vesture dipped in blood; but
this is the name by which He was known --a name symbolic of his eternal
ministry--his name is called the Word of God (Rev. 19:13-note).
Before illustrating in detail our Lord's three-fold utterance of the
Father, there are one or two thoughts suggested by the sublime opening
sentences of this Gospel which we do well to notice.
I. THE ETERNITY OF THE BEING
OF THE LORD JESUS.
"In the beginning was the Word." Is there not here an evident reference to
the opening of the Book of Genesis, "In the beginning God created the
heaven and the earth." But what a contrast! At that moment, described as
the beginning, and which may be pushed back far enough to include all the
demands of modern geologists, you do not find the heavens and the earth,
which as yet are not; but you do find the Word already in existence. The
words in the one case expressly exclude the eternity of matter; but in the
other they expressly include the eternity of the Word. Moses strikes the
chord to descend the stream of Time; John strikes it to look out on the
expanse of Eternity lying beyond created things, but in which the Word was
It is not so difficult to wend one's way slowly back into the past, or to
imagine the successive ages during which the world was being prepared for
man's habitation. But when we reach the place where the links of the
time-chain stop, and we stand at the first moment of the creation of time
and matter, and look out into the void on the other side--it is then that
thought staggers and gives way.
There is no light to guide us--sun, moon, and stars are not created. No
spirit to lead us; cherubim have not begun to love, or seraphim to burn.
No stepping-stone for our feet; for space is unoccupied save by the
all-pervasive presence of God. No sufficient unit of measurement; since,
when arithmetic has reached its uttermost, the mighty aggregate is but a
mote floating in the sunshine of the Being of God. What shall we do then,
as we learn the pre-existence of the Word, but worship Him?
That mind must indeed be slow to perceive which does not recognise that
what is eternal must be Divine. If it be true that before the mountains
were brought forth, or the earth was formed, the Word was, then, from
everlasting to everlasting He must be God. Wherefore "unto the King
eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for
ever and ever."
II. THE PERSONALITY OF THE
"He was with God." We may not at first perceive the significance of this
clause, any more than the casual tourist sees the importance of an
embrasure in the fortifications where sheep browse, and soldiers stand at
ease. But if ever there should come again days of conflict, like those
which swept across the early Church, in which men should assert that the
Word was but a momentary and impersonal manifestation of God, we should
instantly revert to this significant clause, and cry, It cannot be--The
Word was WITH God. The same was in the beginning WITH God.
The preposition selected by the Evangelist is very significant. It means
communion with and movement towards. It denotes the intimate fellowship
subsisting between two, and well befits the intercourse of the distinct
Persons of the one and ever-blessed God. "The face of the everlasting Word
was ever directed towards the face of the everlasting Father." He was in
the bosom of the Father. "He makes the Divine glory shine outwardly
because He is filled inwardly. He contemplates before He reflects. He
receives before He gives."
We are not then surprised to hear the Divine colloquy: "Let us make man";
or to learn that Jesus knew the Father (John 1:10,15). How could He do
other, when, "trailing clouds of glory behind him," He proceeded and came
forth from God?
Let us never forget that our Saviour, who rived, and died, and rose, and
is our familiar Friend, is a distinct personality, who was before all
worlds, and will be unchanged for evermore. This is what we want. It is
not enough to give us an abstraction, an ideal, a word. Our hearts crave
One, and, blessed be God, they may have One who may be a living, bright
III. THE DEITY OF OUR LORD
"The Word was God." He is not said to be the God; for that assertion would
ascribe to the Son the totality of the Divine Being, and contradict the
doctrine of the Holy Trinity. And He is not said to be Divine, which would
lessen the emphasis. But He is said, distinctly and emphatically, to be
God. "God manifest in the flesh."
He was born of a woman; yet He made woman. He ate and hungered, drank and
thirsted; yet He made corn to grow on the mountains, and poured the rivers
from his crystal chalices. He needed sleep; yet He slumbers not, and needs
not to repair his wasted energy. He wept; yet He created the lachrymal
duct. He died; yet He is the ever-living Jehovah, and made the tree of his
cross. He inherited all things by death; yet they were his before by
And what is the Word to us?--In his first Epistle, the holy Apostle tells
us his intention in declaring that which he had seen and heard and handled
of the Word: it Was that others might share with him his fellowship with
the Father and the Son. And fellowship means partnership, a common
participation in a common stock; and, in this case, a blessed share in the
very life and fight and love of God.
But how many such things become ours? There is a sense in which the
orator, the thinker, the friend, is able to infuse himself into us by his
fervid and quickening words. And is there not also a deep sense in which
Jesus is the Word of God, because through Him God is ever pouring Himself
into our hearts and lives? As a man puts himself into his words, and by
them communicates himself to others, so has God embodied Himself in Jesus,
and those who receive the Son receive the Father, who has sent Him (Mt.
As the Father has put Himself into the Word, so has the Word put Himself
into his words. "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and
they are life." Live then in meditation on the words of Jesus; so that his
being may become infused into yours, and through the Word the eternal
Father may come and make his abode within you (John 14:23).
So shall you be inspired by the very life and indwelling of God, and be
rifted increasingly out of the time-sphere into the eternal; into
fellowship with all noble souls, with all saints and angels, with all who,
through all worlds, live on Him, who is the Eternal and Divine Word,
ever-blessed, ever to be adored.
More present to faith's vision keen
Than any earthly object seen;
More dear, more intimately nigh,
Than e'en the dearest earthly tie.
2. THE WORD IN CREATION
"The same was in the beginning with
God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made
that was made." John 1:2-3.
IT IS A distinct loss to many of us, whose lives are spent in the heart of
great towns, that we miss those enlarged conceptions of Nature which are
suggested by the far horizon of the sea; the outlines of distant hills;
the snowy summits of the Alps; or the outspread panorama of woods, rivers,
and pasture lands. And the privation affects us principally in this, that
contracted views of Nature sometimes carry with them more limited views of
God's being and glory than if we dwelt in habitual contemplation of the
vastness and splendour of his Creation.
One of the first thoughts which occur to the devout mind, on emerging from
the straitened conditions of city life into the larger word of Nature, is
to reproach itself that it has entertained such dwarfed ideas of God. And
whilst it does not abate one note of the tender strain, Our Father, it
adds to it the deep bass of the Psalmist's awe, "Great is the Lord, and
greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable."
Such thoughts open straight on the passage before us. We look, and
rightly, on the Lord Jesus, as Brother, Saviour, Friend; but do we always
conceive of Him as invested with the awful glory of Godhead? We cannot be
too intimate and tender in our relations to Him; but we do well sometimes
to go outside to see what He has done, that we may know how great He is,
who is so near and dear.
"THE SAME WAS IN THE
BEGINNING WITH GOD."
At first this seems merely to sum up and repeat the previous verse. But
-it does more. It tells us that He who was before the beginning was also
at the beginning; and that face-to-face fellowship, which had subsisted
before all worlds, was in active exercise at the august moment when the
ever-blessed Trinity proceeded to create. "Let us make man."
"ALL THINGS MADE BY HIM."
The Greek is very significant: All things became, i.e., came into being,
through Him. This became is in striking contrast to the was of the
previous verse, and indicates the passage from nothingness to being.
Became, i.e., all things emerged out of nothing at the creative fiat.
There is a beautiful parallel in another passage of this Gospel, in which
our Lord affirms, "Before Abraham became, I am" (John 8:58).
The preposition "through" is always used of the office of our blessed Lord
in the work of creation (1Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) and is full of
meaning. It leaves God the Father as the origin and source of all things,
so that the elders are justified in their perpetual ascription of worship
before his throne (Rev 4:11-note);
but God the Son, our Lord, is the organ through which the creative purpose
moves. Through Him the infinite God utters Himself in his works.
In the ancient record of creation with which the Bible opens, two phrases
are to be noticed---created (Ge 1:1, 21, 27) and God said (which occurs
ten times). Into each of these we must now read the announcement of this
text. Note those three acts of creation. Whatever else we may concede to
men of science, we must insist on retaining these for God, and ascribing
them to our Lord. And whenever God is said to speak, we must listen for
the well-known accents of a voice we love.
It was the voice of Jesus that said, "Let there he light"; and the new
ethereal substance spread like a haze of glory through space. It was the
hand of Jesus that made the expanse between cloud and sea, in which the
birds fly (Ge 1:20). It was the bidding of Jesus that drove the turbulent
waters from the land into the ocean-bed which He had scooped. It was the
thought of Jesus to splinter the mountain peaks; to thrust the frozen
glacier down into the valley by inches; to pour forth .the rivers; and to
shake down over the hills the falling foam of the cataract. It was Jesus
that carpeted the earth with flowers, and devised the innumerable sorts of
plants, and planted the noble forest-trees. It was Jesus that rolled the
stars on their orbits, to tell forth the glory of God, and to keep time on
Nature's dial. It was Jesus that made the fish to flash in the deep; the
reptile to creep in the brake; the firefly to glance through the forest;
the birds to sing in the woods; flocks to browse on the hills; and herds
to traverse the prairies.
It was Jesus who created the human nature which, in after years, He was to
assume. He made man in the image and after the likeness of what He was
Himself to be in the fullness of time. What strange emotions must have
filled his heart as He built up that first man from the red earth!
"WITHOUT HIM WAS NOT ANYTHING
MADE THAT WAS MADE."
This is added to make exceptions impossible. The Greek is very emphatic,
not one single thing. You must not except angels because too great, nor
emmets because too small; not worlds because too ponderous, nor dust-atoms
because too insignificant; not electricity, nor light, nor heat, because
too ethereal, nor the ichthyosaurus, nor the toad because too ungainly.
The hand of inspiration writes the name of Jesus where artists put theirs,
beneath all things in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible, whether
they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers.
Not a flower
But shows some touch, in freckle, streak, or stain,
Of his unrivalled pencil.
"IN HIM WAS LIFE."
We must light up these words by his own: "As the Father hath life in
Himself," the source and fountain of all being, "so hath He given to the
Son" that is, in the subordinate position which He voluntarily assumed for
the purposes of creation and redemption--"to have life in Himself." All
life is of God in its original reservoir; and all life is in the Lord
Jesus, as a cistern of supply, from which all demands for life of every
sort are met.
All life--natural and physical, animal and intellectual, spiritual and
religious--is in Him. The whole universe of living things was not simply
brought into being by Christ; but it is kept in existence and sustained in
living beauty by the constant communications of his fullness --as a vale
is kept in fertile beauty, luxuriant with vegetation, by the spray of a
perennial waterfall. As the Word, He creates; as the Life, He sustains. As
the Word, He declares God; as the Life, He communicates his essence. "As
the Word, He is God without us; as the Life, He is God within us."
Apart from Christ, you may exist; but you have no life in you. "He that
hath not the Son of God, hath not life." You may have many attractive and
amiable qualities, much that is correct in behaviour, and beautiful in
appearance; but you have no life.
But if you are in Christ, opening all your being to Him, door behind door,
back into the most sacred chambers of your being, so that He has free and
unhindered entrance into your entire nature; then, as the Nile, descending
through the channels cut by the Egyptian peasantry, bears life and
fertility into their gardens and cornfields, so will He bring his own
life, the life of God, "life indeed," into you, and though you were dead,
yet shall you live (John 11:25).
(1) Say "No" to your Self-life.--
It is in proportion as we curtail the
self-life that we increase the Christ-life. Michael Angelo was wont to say
of the D that fell thick on the floor of his studio, "While the marble
wastes, the image grows"; and as we chip away ourselves by daily
watchfulness and self-denial, the life of Jesus becomes more manifest in
our mortal body (2Co 4:10, 11). A rosebud may be grafted into a briar; but
the briar must never be allowed to put forth its own shoots beneath it, or
they will drain away its strength: therefore the gardener must ever
mercilessly bud them off. After the same manner must we deal with every
assertion of self. "I have been, and am, crucified with Christ, Christ
liveth in me." (Gal 2:20-note)
(2) Yield to the Christ-life.--
This is the law of all natural forces;
if you want them to help you, you must yield them obedience. In using
them, you are less their master, and more their slave, than you suppose.
They are willing to toil for you day and night; but on the one condition
that you should study and obey the laws of their operation. And it is so
with respect to that greatest of all forces, the life of the Son of God.
It is throbbing in every believer's heart. And the difference between
Christians consists in this, that some ignore its presence, or, at least,
are very careless of its promptings, whilst others are ever on the alert
to translate into instant obedience, the tiniest impressions. As you yield
to the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus, you become more conscious
of his blessed strivings within, they increase in number and power, and
bear you upward, as when the ocean pours its tides up an estuary or river,
and reverses the direction of its flow.
(3) Replenish waste by going again to the source.--
There is so much leakage in us that we
speedily exhaust what we have received. The oxygen absorbed by the blood
is soon exhausted by its contact with the waste of our tissues, and needs
to be drawn back through the veins to be soaked again in the air of our
lungs; so does the freshness of the Divine life within us need to be daily
renewed, and we must go back to Him in whom it is ever brimming, that out
of his fullness we may receive, and grace for grace. It is in the reading
of his Word, in prayer, and in waiting upon his ordinances, especially in
the Lord's Supper, that the inner life becomes thus replenished and
"fulfilled with his grace and heavenly benediction."
"THE LIFE WAS THE LIGHT OF
All true life is luminous. The lowest forms of physical life are light; as
when the keel of the vessel ploughs up the wave, and leaves long lines of
phosphorescent glory in its wake. And who does not know of some community
which has been lit up by the glow of some noble life! During his life in
our mortal body, Jesus could not be hid; no bushel of obscurity sufficed
to conceal Him. And now, when He enters into contact with any soul or
life, that soul begins to glow, that life to shine.
We are like so many unlit candles, some of coarser and some of more
refined material, clustered together in a darkened chamber, but not one of
us able to dispel its gloom, or cope with its dense obscurity; but just so
soon as we touch Jesus Christ, or are touched by Him, we begin to sparkle
and shine. His Life is Light. "Arise, shine! for thy light is come."
"Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give
These then are our closing reflections:
(1) How great must He be, through whom this great universe was
made, who was one with God the Father in its inception, and one in its
execution! He could not have been less than divine, or the infinite God
could not have found adequate expression through his means. Only the
Infinite can be the channel for the Infinite.
(2) We may learn something of the beauty of his mind. The beauty
sleeping in a seed reveals itself by the colours of the flower as they
unfurl to the sun, and the fragrance that fills the air. The beauty in the
unexplored heart of a friend reveals itself in the verses we suddenly
light upon, or the books which bear his name. The beauty of the artist's
mind is discovered in the pictures or statues which he has produced. And
what revelations are made to us of the beauty of the conceptions of our
Lord, as we and our eyes with telescope or microscope, and study the
infinite above or the infinite beneath!
(3) We can trace some lingering remnants of the grandeur of our
original nature, in that we ourselves, sinful and fallen though we be, are
able to admire the works of his hands, and to repeat his "very good" of
all that we behold of his power and skill. Devils seem devoid of this
power; for they are pictured as haunting uninhabited and desolate places,
roaming through desert places, and infesting the ruined heaps of the past.
(4) We can understand the miracles and parables better. In the one,
our Lord was simply re-asserting his original power over nature; as when
Ulysses returned after years of wandering, and bent with ease the bow
which had defied the efforts of all who had essayed to use it in his
absence. And in the other, He simply read out the meaning which He had
hidden in vines, and seeds, and natural processes; for all things around
us are made after the pattern and type of spiritual realities.
(5) We may be sure that He who made can and must redeem. It is
impossible to suppose that He through whom all things were made could
stand by and see them vitiated and spoilt by sin, without making a single
effort to arrest the progress of the devastator, and to restore the
universe to its pristine beauty and order. We are not then surprised to
learn that the same paragraph which tells us that all things were created
by Him, also tells us that it pleased the Father by Him to reconcile all
things to Himself, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven
Col 1:17, 18, 19, 20-note).
He who is the Alpha must also be the Omega; He who created by a word must
redeem by his blood; He who originated must see that He is not robbed of
the fruits of his toil; He who said, "Behold, I make," must also say,
"Behold I make all things new."
3. THE WORD AS LIGHT
"That was the true Light, which
lighteth every man that cometh into the world."--John 1:9.
IT IS not for us to attempt to celebrate the Praise of Light. What a
wonderful conception it was of the mind of God! How delicate the loom of
that creative skill on which it is constructed day by day! And how
complete an argument for the divine workmanship is afforded by the
adaptation between the element of Light and the crystalline gate of the
eye by which it enters man's soul! (Lk 11:34, 35, 36.)
Themes like these rather become such as our great epic bard, whose
blindness made him more sensible to the value of that which he had lost,
and whose lofty genius could alone find terms to describe its worth. Or,
better still, Light might well be the subject of a sonnet by that angel
minstrel who composed the majestic Psalm of Creation Which is perpetually
sung before the throne (Re 4:11-note).
But neither could proceed long with his task without rising from the
material sub stance--for ethereal as light seems to be to our dull sense,
it is still material--to that glorious Being who made it as a parable and
emblem of His Divine nature. "God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at
all" (1John 1:5).
But the glory of the Father's nature is of such insupportable splendour
that it would be impossible for any creature that He has made to behold
and enjoy it; and it is very consolatory to be told in the opening verses
of the Epistle to the Hebrews that our Lord Jesus is "the effulgence of
his glory (He 1:3-note).
The human eye could not bear the full splendour of the sun's heart or
surface of golden cloud, but it can bear the far-travelled and diluted
ray; so, though we could not behold the nature of God in its direct and
original manifestation, we can behold his glory in the face of Jesus
Christ (2Co 4:6). And for this reason we hail thankfully and adoringly the
announcement that the Word is the Light.
I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE
Light is pure.--
It is so pure that evil cannot stain or
impurity defile it. It will pass through a foetid and poisonous atmosphere
without contracting taint, or carrying a germ of poison with it, as it
issues forth to pursue its ministries of mercy beyond. So pure was our
blessed Lord. Evil fled abashed before Him. He gauged the power of
temptation, not by yielding in a hair's breadth, but by resisting and
overcoming it. When He died, after thirty three years' close contact with
men, his spirit was as absolutely stainless as when He was born of a pure
virgin. And the instant effect of his life within our hearts will be to
kindle a purity as sweet and chaste and unearthly as his own.
Light is gentle.--
With each dawn its tides revisit us
after having traversed the abyss with inconceivable speed; but its
wavelets break so gently that they fail to shake the dewdrop from its
blade of grass or the trembling petal from the overblown rose. Even the
gossamer of the spider's web does not quiver as the sunbeams strike it.
And how apt a symbol is here of that gentle goodness which made the
shepherd-boy great, which leads the flock into the pastures of tender
grass, and fans with anxious care the dull sparkle of smoking flax! And
when His love is shed abroad in our hearts, it begets a corresponding
gentleness in judgment, speech, and behaviour. All true Christians are
gentle folk. "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable,
gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy" (Jas 3:17).
Light is all pervasive.--
It kindles a line of watch-fires on the
pinnacles of an Alpine range; but it does not neglect the hill-slopes up
which the plovers follow its last retreating beams. It gilds the golden
roofs of the palace; but it glides through prison-bars to sparkle in the
tear-drops of the repentant prodigal. It lights the good man to his work,
and the bad man to his home after the unholy revels of the night. Nor is
it otherwise with the loving-kindness of Christ, which misses none in its
daily ministry, however poor, and sad, and lonely; which includes the evil
and the good, the just and the unjust; which "lighteth every man that
cometh into the world." And it is thus with those in whom his life repeats
itself. They, too, are said to be "without partiality." Their lives
resemble the sun and the rain (Mt. 5:45-note).
It revealed to Jacob the deception
practised on him by Laban under the cover of darkness. It revealed to the
host of Midian the meagre force before which it had fled panic-stricken,
misled by the noise of the crashing pitchers and the flashing of three
hundred lights. In darkness the traveller lies down to spend the night
beneath the open sky, in terror lest he may stray to the brink of the
ravine; but the morning, with rosy finger, reveals that he has been
sleeping within a stone's cast of his home. So does Christ reveal. He is
the light of all our seeing. He not only lights up our inner sight, but He
casts a light on God, and providence, and truth, and the mysteries of
redemption, which, apart from Him, notwithstanding all our intelligence,
had been obscure and unknown. In his light we see light. Light is
whatsoever doth make manifest. Let us lift up our souls unto Him who is
light, so that we may be filled and saturated with his nature and being,
and made to glow with it in this dark world; as I have seen a certain kind
of diamond, which, after having been held up for some short period in
sunlight, has continued to sparkle like a star when carried thence into a
darkened chamber. "We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the
glory of the Lord, are transformed (i.e., transfigured, it is the same
Greek word as in Mt. 17:2) into the same image from glory to glory, even
as from the Lord the Spirit" (2Co 3:18).
II. THE MINISTRY OF THE
The Word was the Light of unfallen man in Paradise.--In the glades of Eden
two trees were planted; the one the tree of life, the other of the
knowledge of good and evil. It is impossible not to see in these a lively
representation of Him who is Life and Light, and who, from the first, must
have been the organ and channel of Divine communication to mankind.
It was in the person of the Son that the ever-blessed God walked with our
first parents in the cool of the day; conversed with them; uttered the
memorable prohibition; sought them in their fall; and, with sad prevision
of all that it must cost, foretold the ultimate triumph of the woman's
Seed. Even then He rejoiced in the habitable part of the earth, and his
delights were with the sons of men. Even then He was the Light of man's
moral nature, teaching him all he knew, and prepared to lead him on to
know the deep things which lay concealed as a landscape under a morning
haze. Even then the Son had commenced his favourite ministry of
manifesting the Name of his Father (Mt. 11:27; Jn 17:26).
The Word was Light in the World amid the long dark ages which preceded the
Incarnation.---"The Light shineth in darkness, and the darkness
comprehended it not." There are two methods by which darkness is produced.
The one by absence of light; the other by loss of sight. It is dark when
the sun sets, and primaeval darkness resumes for a brief parenthesis its
ancient sway; but it is also dark when the eye is blind. And the darkness
mentioned here is not the first, but the second.
There has never been an age in which the Divine Light has not shone over
our world. Not Gospel light, not the light of revelation, not the light as
we have it; but still, Light. And whatever light existed was due to the
presence and working of the Lord Jesus. He shone in the good He did;
giving rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, and in the food and
gladness with which He filled men's hearts, so that He left not Himself
without witness (Acts 14:17). He shone in the clear testimony given since
the creation, through the works of nature, to the everlasting power and
divinity of God (Ro. 1:20-note).
He shone in the intuitions of truth, which we call conscience, and which
are his voice in the human breast, and are so evidently referred to here
as the true light, lightening every man coming into the world (Ro 2:14,
He shone also in those great movements towards righteousness, which seem
to have swept from time to time over the heathen world. Whatever of truth
there was in any of these must have been due to Him. It was of the heathen
that the Apostle spoke when he said : "That which may be known of God is
manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them" (Ro 1:19-note).
But the light shone amid blind and darkened hearts, which could not
comprehend it. Though men knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither
were thankful; and, as the result, "they became vain in their reasonings,
and their senseless heart was darkened" (Ro 1:21-note).
Since they would not believe, the god of this world was permitted to blind
It is characteristic of this Gospel, and it well befits its theme, that so
much space is given to the story of the man born blind (John 1:9.), for
such is really the condition of the race; and it is significant that that
story is prefaced by the announcement so constantly reiterated by the
Lord, "I am the Light of the world" (John 9:5; see also Jn 8:12; 12:35,
36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46). A family born blind; a race
stricken with blindness, as Saul was, and groping for someone to lead it
by the hand; a vault, like that in which the dead are buried, around which
the sunlight plays, whilst not one beam can enter--such is a picture of
our race. "The Light shines in darkness."
The Word was the Light of the chosen people.--
Throughout their history God sent them
prophets, rising up early and sending them, that they might bear witness
to the coming Light. They were not that Light, but they came to bear
witness to it (John 1:8); just as the moon and planets bear witness to the
sun while he is absent, though every moment is bringing him nearer to
close their reign. Of these John the Baptist is here cited as the greatest
We need not recapitulate their names--
the evangelical Isaiah; the plaintive
Jeremiah; the seraphic Ezekiel; the abrupt Habakkuk; Amos the herdman; and
Haggai the priest. They are not all mentioned here; but are summed up in
the greatest of all, John the Baptist, of whom Christ Himself said :
"Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not
risen a greater." All these were lights; John was "a burning and shining
lamp"; but their light was not their own, it was derived from Him to whom
they all bore witness. They spake of Him. The testimony of Jesus was the
spirit of prophecy. Overtopping other men in the grandeur of their
personal character, and by the gift of the Spirit of Inspiration, they saw
the day of Jesus, as mountain-peaks first catch sight of the rising sun;
and they declared to the world of men below what glory was on the way.
What a new interest would come into our reading of the Old Testament
Scriptures, if we always remembered that they testify of Jesus, and
glisten with light caught by anticipation from his life; and if we sought
to discover what the Master meant when, beginning at Moses and all the
prophets, "He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things
As every dewdrop on the morning meadow glistens with the sun-light, each
of them reflecting the whole sun, so do the paragraphs of the prophets
flash with the presence of Jesus. They are beautiful in his beauty; strong
in his strength; true in his truth. The lips may be those of man, the
voice that of a prophet; but through all, the Word of God speaks, and the
true Light shines. In the pages of the prophets the quick ear of love
detects the accents of Him who spake as never man spake. Indeed, we are
told expressly that the Spirit of Christ was in the prophets announcing
that Gospel which is now preached throughout the world (1Pe 1:11, 12-note).
Finally, the Light became incarnate.--
Too bright to be beheld, the Light of
God curtained Himself in human flesh, as the face of Moses beneath his
veil, or the Shekinah beneath the folds of the tabernacle. Such is the
direct force of the word translated dwelt in John 1:14. It might be better
rendered tabernacled. But of this more afterwards.
And it is not possible to do more than take one brief glance at that
bright world which awaits us, when, in the ages of eternity, our blessed
Lord will be still the Everlasting Light. For it is written that the
heavenly city will not need sun nor moon to shine in it, because the Lamb
is the light thereof (Rev. 21:23-note).
And so, from the first creation of man till the new creation; from the
garden of innocence to the city of matured and tested holiness; from the
origin of the race in its lonely and single representative to the untold
myriads of his progeny who shall stand in the unsullied purity of robes
washed white--always and everywhere, the Word of God is the Light of men,
the true light, that is the archetypal light, of which all other lights
are types and illustrations.
III. THE RECEPTION OF THE
(1) Before his Incarnation "He was in the world."
In every spring, in every sunbeam, in
every God-breathed thought, in every providence; walking up and down the
aisles of his own temple; brooding over the teeming myriads of mankind. In
Him they lived and moved and had their being. He was not an absentee from
his own creation. In Him all things consisted and were maintained (Acts
17:28; Col 1:17-note).
"And the world was made by Him." Mark this touching repetition of the
world; we shall often meet with it again. It is used repeatedly, as when a
bereaved parent, brooding over the sin or misfortune of some beloved
child, repeats his name again and again. "O my son Absalom! my son, my son
Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!" And see how the Holy Spirit
emphasizes the fact that our Lord was the organ through whom creation was
"And the world knew Him not." As though a man might build a splendid
mansion--with frescoes on its walls, fountains splashing in marble wells,
luxuriant furniture, exquisitely-planned grounds--put it in trust for the
sick or destitute, go away for years, and on returning be denied
admittance, or watched as an intruder; until, touching some secret spring,
he showed such knowledge and power as to compel recognition of his claims.
It was a sorrowful confession, extorted from our Lord, by all his
experiences, bath before and after his Incarnation--"the world hath not
known Thee." And it is confirmed by the Holy Ghost when He says, in the
wisdom of God, "the world by wisdom knew not God." Alas for the poor
world, vaunting its science and its pride, but not knowing that glorious
Being who was in it from the first!
(2) At his Incarnation.--"He came unto his own, and his own received
Throughout the Old Testament the Jews
are spoken of as God's peculiar treasure; but here they are described as
Christ's, because Christ is God. They were his by the calling of Abram; by
the covenant of circumcision; by the passage of the Red Sea; by the desert
discipline; by the education of history: but when He came to them, they
cried, "We will not have this Man to reign over us."
"They received Him not." This is a note which we shall hear again; but in
the meanwhile, the word seems carefully chosen to suggest that it was not
a case of ignorance, but of willfulness. They knew, or might have known,
who He was; but they deliberately refused to enquire into his credentials,
and they shut the door resolutely in his face. This is why they are a
nation of weary-footed wanderers, bronzed by the sun of every clime,
having everywhere a recognition, but nowhere a home.
(3) Since the Incarnation.--
There has been no longer a dealing with
nations, but with individuals. Many have received Him, rising above the
general indifference around. Mary in the highlands of Nazareth; Elisabeth
in the hill-country of Judaea; Simeon in the temple; Hannah the
prophetess; and Zachariah the priest, are representatives of untold
multitudes beside. And to as many as have thus received Him He has given
the right to become the sons of God.
Stepping across the humble threshold of their hearts, He has suddenly
thrown aside the garments of his great humility, which He had worn as a
disguise and test. Then, rising in the full stature of his Divine Manhood,
He has taken from out his skirts a parchment patent of sonship and
heirship, and, handing it to the recipient and astonished spirit, has
declared that from henceforth it may dare to reckon itself, without
presumption, a child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.
And for lineage, it is revealed that all such may trace their descent past
earthly parentage---"not of blood"; past natural instinct or desire --"not
of the will of the flesh"; past human volition--"not of the will of man" :
to the thought, and purpose, and grace of the Eternal Father, to whom be
glory for ever and ever.
4. THE WORD MADE FLESH
"The Word was made flesh, and dwelt
among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of
the Father), full of grace and truth."--John 1:14.
"THE WORD became flesh," thus the Revised Version better renders the
original. But what a profound mystery these words cover!
Open the golden compasses of thought to measure, if it be possible, the
distance between these two extremes, the Word, and flesh. The Word, the
eternal and ever blessed Son of God; the fellow of Jehovah; able to utter
God because Himself God; through whom all things were made. Flesh, a frail
and transitory fabric woven from the dust, and destined to return to dust;
limited to time and space; comprehending, as it does so evidently, not
only the human body, but the entire human nature of which the flesh is the
outward and visible embodiment. What verb shall unite extremes so
infinitely removed? What link is there for these two?
The Word made flesh? It is true, but not enough.
The Word was wroth with flesh! So it might have been; but this is not the
knot of union.
The Word pitied flesh! That had been marvellous, but also insufficient.
The Word clothed Himself with flesh! Even that were inadequate; for in
that case He would only have borrowed a temporary disguise, which He might
as easily have thrown off, and there had been no entire oneness.
No, THE WORD BECAME FLESH!
He was the same Divine Being as before. He kept his place in the bosom of
the Father during his earthly life (John 3:13). Though confined to time
and space, He kept his identity with Him whose Being is beyond either.
There was no break or cessation in the essential Oneness of his
personality, even when He stooped to be born of the pure virgin mother.
But, as far as we can understand it, though in the essence of his Being He
underwent no change, yet He voluntarily gave up the Divine mode of
existence, that He might assume the human, and might bear it with Him
through death and resurrection to invest it ultimately with the Divine
glory that He had with the Father before the worlds were made (John 17:5).
Note, for a moment longer, that word flesh.--It seems to have been
carefully selected, to show that the nature of the Lord Jesus sums up in
itself all the different traits and attributes of our many-sided nature,
sin excepted. If we had been told that the Word became a man, it would
have seemed as if men only could have perfect sympathy with Him, or that
his nature contained only the elements of manhood. But, since the word
flesh is used, we feel that not one sex but both, not one age but all, not
one race but the entire human family, may find its characteristic
properties in his lovely glorious Being. No one form of human life has an
exclusive right to Him. All forms of life find their counterpart in Him.
All rays of colour blend their hues in the white light of his nature. All
sides of love, like the double optics of a stereoscope, do but set forth
that one infinite love which fills his heart.
"Christ gathers up in Himself the ideal virtues of man and woman, of
boyhood and girlhood, of age and middle life," of European and Asiatic.
All that is most noble and strong in men, all that is most graceful and
tender in women, all that is most winsome and engaging in little children,
all that is lovely in anyone, is to be found in our dear Lord in whom is
neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female,
since Christ is all and in all (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11-note).
This distinguishes Christianity from all religions beside. They are
tribal, topical, limited in their range to the people among whom they have
originated. Take Mohammedanism, for instance. It no doubt has some grains
of precious truth, as, for instance, the unity of God; but it can never
become a world-wide religion, because there are large portions of our
common human nature which can find no response or representation in the
character or teachings of Mohammed. To use the expression of another, "the
mosaic of humanity is not totalized in him."
But Christ touches man at every point, man as man, through every grade and
variety of manhood. There is no note in the great organ of our humanity,
with the exception of the jarring discord of sin, which does not, when it
is struck, awaken a sympathetic vibration in the mighty range and scope of
the being of Christ.
This is the secret of that wonderful fascination which Jesus has for men.
We feel that He can understand us. "He is touched with the feeling of our
infirmities." "He is made in all things like unto his brethren." And as,
we shall see in a moment, every man can find in Christ the complement of
his nature, the supply of his deficiencies, the fullness for his need.
DWELT AMONG US.
Tabernacled is the better word. What is there here but an allusion to the
wanderings of the desert, during which Jehovah dwelt in a tent or
tabernacle, a pilgrim like the rest! Listen to his own words: "I have not
dwelt in any house since the time that I brought up the children of Israel
out of Egypt, even to this day; but have walked in a tent and in a
tabernacle" (2Sa 7:6).
All that was a symbol of eternal realities. The Tabernacle was a material
representation of the great truth of the Incarnation. It was made after
the pattern of the nature of our Lord, which, as the sublime antitype, was
eternally present to the mind and thought of God. Well then might Jesus
speak in the same breath of the temple and of his body (Jn 2:21). And well
may the Holy Ghost here use the same comparison.
We are the pilgrim host. Our bodies are but frail, shifting tabernacles,
to be as easily dissolved as a tent is struck (2Co 5:1), and amidst us has
been reared the true Tabernacle, which God has pitched and not man; and
through which the Shekinah has shone, kindling the frail curtains of
mortal flesh with dazzling radiance on its passage through their folds in
waves of glowing glory.
There were times when the light that shone in the most holy place could
not be confined there; but issued forth, and flooded the entire structure
so that the multitudes without could discern its splendour. And so in the
earthly life of our blessed Lord there were moments when the glory of the
Only-Begotten of the Father broke through the limitations which He had
assumed, and bathed his mortal body in transcendent light and beauty. Such
a season was the Transfiguration, when even his garments became white as
the light. Then were the Apostles "eye-witnesses of his majesty." Then did
they behold his glory, "the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father."
WE BEHELD HIS GLORY.
It is as if the writer said, "There can be no mistake. The Lord was no
mere appearance, or phantom, or vision of the imagination. My eyes are
dimming now; but once they were bright and keen, and could not have been
deceived. My head is white with the snows of many winters; but it often
lay on his bosom. I can easily recall the accents of his voice; often have
I felt the clasp of his hand. And if there is one day I remember above
others, it is that in which He challenged us to behold his hands and his
feet, and assure ourselves that it was not a spirit, but Himself. 'We have
not followed cunningly devised fables'; and we could not have been
mistaken as to the glory, which refused to be hid, but inevitably betrayed
his divine power and Godhead."
FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH.
Grace is mentioned three times in this paragraph; and it is the fitting
climax to the golden series of revelations. The keynote of Nature was
Order; of History, was Justice; of Conscience, was Righteousness; of
Jewish revelation, as summed up in the name of Moses, was Law. But the
keynote of the Incarnation was Grace--the unmerited love of God--which
made itself of no reputation and took up the nature of man.
God's glory is his grace. When Moses desired to behold his glory, this was
the reply wafted back into his soul : "I will make all my goodness pass
before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and
will be gracious."
But it is grace allied with truth.--He is a just God and a Saviour. There
is a bridal between his righteousness and his mercy. Deep down in the
solid granite of everlasting truth are laid the foundations of the Temple,
of which the doors stand ever open to welcome the whosoever of mankind.
Who would wish it otherwise? Who would care for a love which contravened
the most elementary conceptions of justice in our hearts, and which might
one day have to yield to disturbing scruple and compunction?
OF HIS FULLNESS HAVE ALL WE
The all we cannot only mean the writer himself and his fellow apostles who
had seen the Lord, but all the believers of that early age, to whom he
wrote, scattered in different places, and removed by sixty years from the
death of Christ; and not them alone, but all who have become one with Him
by a living faith.
The Apostle sheds an exquisite light on these words when he says, "It
pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell. In Him dwelleth
all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And in Him ye are made full" (Col
Col 2:9, 10-note).
God longs for us to live full lives; and that we may, He has stored all
his glorious resources into the nature of the Man Christ Jesus, so making
them accessible and putting them within the reach of the weakest and most
sinful of his children. Thus does the channel of the Nile bring water
which is generated in the mountains of Central Africa, within reach of the
Egyptian peasants, whose gardens are situated on the edge of the burning
sands. Why then are we so content with poverty and emptiness? Let us
receive out of his fullness. It is continually throbbing like an ocean
against the walls of our hearts; it is for us to open and let it in, that
it may cover the long unsightly reaches of ooze and sand.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to teach us the blessed habit of taking what we
need from hour to hour. The uplifted eye of faith will at any moment cause
a tide of his fullness to enter, enriching, strengthening, and blessing
GRACE FOR GRACE.
Wave on wave. It is a mistake to rest on past or present experiences,
eking them out with jealous care, lest they should run short. The best
means of getting more grace is to use the grace we already have. It is the
law of all life, especially of spiritual life: "To him that hath shall
more be given, and he shall have abundantly."
We may not always perceive the flow of the golden oil of grace from its
Divine reservoir. We may not be always sensible of the Divine
communications. But if we claim them by a naked faith, and if we live up
to the limits of what we have got, so as to become spendthrifts of our
spiritual revenues, there will be no stint in the blessed stores with
which we shall be enriched for ever.
5. THE WORD DECLARING THE UNSEEN GOD
"No man hath seen God at any time; the
only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared
WITH THIS marvellous verse, the Evangelist brings to a close his sublime
prologue. It is a befitting introduction to all that follows. Like some
noble portal to a temple of transcendent size and beauty, it admits the
reverent soul into this Divine Gospel, thrilling the heart, quickening the
imagination, and preparing the thought for things which have not entered
into the heart of man to conceive. Here is the seed-plot of the Gospel.
Here is the standpoint from which the nature and ministry of the Lord are
to be viewed. Here are struck those three keynotes --Life, Light, and
Love--which, in different combinations, vibrate through the entire range
of the writings of the Apostle John.
We believe in the Being of God. Vast as this universe is with depths and
heights, and its immeasurable expanse, we believe that it is filled
throughout with his mighty Spirit. He is everywhere. He knows everything.
He can do all things. But the human heart pines to know what He is. Man
seeks after God, groping in the dark, if haply he may feel after Him and
find Him, and read the secret of his inner being. "What is God? What does
He think and feel? What will He be to me?"
You send me to study Nature. But I find there nothing but his power and
Godhead, his deeds, not his heart. And sometimes I am baffled by the
apparent working of a malign power by which the creature is brought into
You send me to study Providence. But the march of God through the ages is
so vast, and his footsteps so far apart, that they seem to be hidden in
the sea, and his path in the dark waters; so that it is hard to understand
the true trend and character of his dealings with the children of men.
You send me to decipher the Names of God. El-Shaddai, the God of Might, on
whom difficulties which threaten to overwhelm us break harmlessly, as
storms on the brow of the Matterhorn. Jehovah, the Unchangeable, who knows
no shadow of turning; whose word is inviolable, and his covenant sure.
Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts, on whose bidding legions of bright
spirits wait. But, after all, these names rather disclose the might and
splendour of a sovereign, and do but increase my dread of Him as nay sins
come back to memory.
Is there nothing more? May I not see Him? Is there no open door of vision
where I may stand and satisfy the hunger of my soul; no spot in all the
wilderness where I may shelter behind a rock and catch a glimpse of his
majesty as He passes by, escorted by the serried ranks of angel armies'?
"Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to his
But it may not be! NO MAN HATH SEEN GOD AT ANY TIME. Never yet. Not Moses;
for he was hidden under the hand of God, and saw not his face. Not Elijah;
for God was not in the earthquake or fire. Not the favoured three; for the
cloud of glory dazzled them with its splendour. And even in the
Apocalyptic vision, the rapt gaze of the seer beheld only the
circumambient halo as of the jasper and sardonyx stone. And if we were to
search the annals of any other nation, we should receive from every
quarter the reply, addressed by a gray-haired Indian to Sir John Franklin
during one of the expeditions of that renowned explorer: "I am an old man
now, but I have never seen God."
And the explanation is given in those memorable words of a later
Scripture: "He only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man
can approach unto, whom no man hath seen, nor can see." "The King eternal,
immortal, invisible, the only wise God." If the vision of the glory of God
as it was veiled by the human nature of our Lord was so awful, in its
dimmed radiance of glory, that the beloved disciple fell at his feet as
dead, what would not be the effect of its insufferable splendour on the
nature of any created being! It is of God's mercy that there are as many
dense curtains between Him and us as covered the tabernacle of old, and
veiled the unearthly glory of the Light that shone there.
But, surely, there must be some satisfaction for this hunger of the soul
to know God, and of that other hunger, more eager still and harder to
bear, for love. Our hearts pine for God and for love. What will we not
give to appease our yearning for love! This makes us seek so eagerly for
human friendships; mourn so bitterly if they are withdrawn; feel so lonely
if they come not within our reach. Oh that this great and invisible God
were Love! But how can we know? Hush! the Word hath declared Him; hath
told the secrets of his inner being; yea, more, hath let those inner
secrets reveal themselves through his words and life.
I. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE
WORD FOR DECLARING THE UNSEEN GOD.
(1) His Eternity.--
This was indicated by John the Baptist
(John 1:15). Our Lord was his cousin, younger by six months, and John had
already been for eighteen months before the people when Jesus came from
Nazareth to be baptized. Thus, in a very true sense, "our Lord came after
him." But when the greatest of woman-born saw him approaching, he who had
never quailed before the face of man, whether royal or priestly, lowered
his erect bearing to a deep humility, and cried: "This one must take
precedence of me; it is his by right, for He was before me." And so
speaking, he is the spokesman of the entire prophetic band, whom he
Ask Isaiah, the evangelic; or Abraham, the ancestor of the Jewish race; or
Noah, standing on the green-sward of a new world; or Adam, the first man;
or the oldest star that first glimmered on the bosom of the night; or the
most ancient elder who stands at the foot of the eternal throne; and from
each the reply comes back dimmer and fainter from ever further distances,
He was before me.
Jesus is the Alpha; the beginning; the first. He was before time, as we
have seen. As Isaiah tells us, He is the Father of Eternity. And therefore
He is well qualified to declare God.
(2) His Nature.--
"The only-begotten Son."
Many ancient manuscripts give this
phrase as God only begotten. God has many sons, but only one Son. Angels
are sons by their creation. Penitent sinners are sons by regeneration and
adoption. But our Lord Jesus is Son in an altogether unique and unrivalled
sense. He is Son by generation. "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten
Thee" (Ps 2:7-note;
Acts 13:33). And He is the only Son thus begotten.
It is a profound depth, for which our
thought has no fathoming-line. But clearly this phrase indicates that our
Lord Jesus shares in its fullness the very Nature of God. "He is a
partaker of that incommunicable and imperishable essence which is sundered
from all created life by an impassable chasm.'' He is the object of such
love as an Abraham might have felt to his son, his only son, Isaac; but
multiplied by the difference which must ever part the finite from the
infinite. He used the expression of Himself, because it constituted in
Jewish speech the very strongest method of claiming equality with God. It
was well understood in that sense by the Jews, who instantly charged Him
with blasphemy, and sought to avenge so daring an assumption of Deity (Jn
Is it not significant that the humblest and meekest Being that ever trod
on our world--the pattern of perfect holiness, whose perceptions as to the
truth of his own being could not have been mistaken--dared not withdraw a
single iota of his claim, but died, rather than evade its entire force?
(John 19:7). He could not abate those claims, because He thought it not
robbery to be equal with God. He was ever conscious of his Divine oneness
with God (Jn 10:30). He knew whence He was (John 8:14). He lived in
constant fellowship with God (Jn 10:15). And therefore He was well
qualified to declare Him.
(3) His Intimacy with the Heart of God.--
"Which is in the bosom of the Father."
At a Jewish table the guests reclined
on couches in such a way that one might easily lean back his head on
another's breast. Of this privilege the beloved Apostle availed himself at
the last opportunity which offered. The breast is near the heart. By this
tender and sacred clue he helped himself, and has helped myriads in
succeeding ages, to realize the deep love, the close intimacy, the perfect
acquaintance, subsisting between the Word and the unseen God; so that He
is well able to declare Him. "I know Him" (John 8:55). The preposition
"in" might be rendered "into," as if there was an ever deeper and closer
(4) His Human Nature.--
"The Word was made flesh."
He was the Son of God; but throughout
this Gospel He speaks of Himself repeatedly as the Son of Man. Not A Son
of Man. Not the Son of A Man. But, as if He were the child, offspring, and
representative of the entire human family--the Son of Man (Jn 3:14).
Whilst, therefore, as the Son of God, He was able to know God perfectly,
as the Son of Man He was able perfectly to express, unfold, and reveal
Him; so that all might understand the deepest thought and being of the
II. THE MODE OF DECLARATION.
This is very wonderful. He spoke about God; corrected men's false
conceptions; confirmed their vague and visionary hopes; and poured floods
of light upon the mysteries of God's nature, which had been hidden from
ages and generations.
His choicest revelations were made to the little inner group that gathered
closest around Him. He gave them God's word. He manifested the name of God
to the men who had been given Him out of the world. In tender, glowing
words He made known to them all that was concealed from other eyes in that
ever-blessed word, which the Jews dared not pronounce, Jehovah (Jn 17:6,
14, 26). All that language could convey was conveyed in the words of the
But He did more; He so emptied Himself, He became as to his human nature
so utterly dependent on his Invisible Companion that the life of God
declared itself through his. He did nothing of Himself, but what He saw
the Father do. He lived by the Father. He spoke only what his Father said
to Him. He made known only what He heard from his Father. His words were
not his, but the Father's that sent Him. The very works He did were
disclaimed by Him. Remember his emphatic declaration: "The Father which
dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works" (Jn 5:19; 6:57; 12:50; 14:10).
And thus, when Philip said to Him on one occasion, "Show us the Father,"
the demand elicited a sad and heart-weary reply, "Have I been so long time
with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me
hath seen the Father. Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the
Father in Me?"
This then was our Lord's way of declaring God. God wrought and spoke
through his human life, that as men beheld its grace and truth, they were
able to study as through a veil, or from a reflecting mirror, the very
nature of the unseen God. In blessing little children; in welcoming the
lost and desolate; in lessening human pain; in weeping true tears of
sympathy; in bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows; in dying for our
sins; in seeking and restoring an erring disciple, as a gardener might
lift up a flower bent downwards by the storm--in all these things, Jesus
declared God, just letting the God that was in Him live through Him in
each lovely act and tender word.
III. THE DECLARATION.
"The Father." From his first talk with the woman by the well to that other
talk with women at the sepulchre, the one choice word with which he
designated God was---Father (John 4:23; 20:17). In that name He came. Of
that name He spoke. By that name He taught us to commence our daily
prayer. Into that name we must be baptized. Within that precious name, as
a rampart of sure defence, we are to live. He is the Father's gift. Heaven
is the Father's home. True worshippers are to objects of the Father's
search. Humble hearts are the chosen dwellings of the Father's love. All
who belong to Him are dear to the Father's heart. God is his Father, and
the Father of all those who have received Him, and in doing so have
obtained the right to become sons of God. Other men, as Paul said, may be
his offspring; but they are sons.
Not orphans or desolate are we! Never lonely again Never pining for a love
which mocks our yearnings and evades our reach! Never roaming the universe
to escape God, or dreading Him as unknown and unknowable! Never again
shrinking from life for its solitudes, or from death for its mystery, or
the hereafter for its terrors! But nestling ever in the strong, tender
arms of a Father who pities us, and whose love is as much more sensitive
than that of any earthly father--as his nature, thoughts, and ways are
higher and better than ours; or as the fire is greater than the straw
which is lit at its blaze (Ep 3:15-note).
What a blessed lot is this! Let us bathe our tried, fearful hearts in
these rays of sunshine, with which Jesus has lit up life and death, earth
and heaven; and, as the little child, in the dark tunnel or on the
turbulent waves, forgets its alarm with its father's voice in its ear, its
father's heart as pillow, its father's arms as encircling walls, so, amid
the problems and perplexities of life and death, let us trust the
Fatherhood of God, soft as a summer zephyr, deep as ocean depths, and be
"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of
the Lord."--John 1:23.
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." John
"The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus." John 1:37.
BETHABARA (KJV translation of Bethany
in NAS - Jn 1:28) lay beyond the Jordan from Jerusalem. The river there
has a breadth of one hundred feet, and, except at the time of the winter
floods, a depth of three to seven feet. It would, therefore, exactly suit
the purposes of the great preacher, with his baptism of repentance. The
almost tropical luxuriance of the valley is in striking contrast to the
wilderness of sand and hill around.
The attention of the nation was as much arrested by his look as by his
words. The spare form attenuated by fasting and austerity; the flashing
eye, full of living energy; the unshorn Nazarite locks; the rough
haircloth garment; the independence of much that other men hold needful;
the thrilling herald voice, piercing like a two-edged sword to divide and
discern soul and spirit. It is no matter for wonder, then, that the whole
community was stirred; and that crowds poured forth to him from the
neighbouring metropolis, as well as from the towns and villages clustering
at the foot of the Lebanon.
This time of success and fame lasted for, perhaps, twelve or eighteen
months. And then there happened the memorable events described in this
paragraph, and which transpired on three following days (Jn 1:29, 30, 31,
32, 33, 34, 35).
The greater number of those that flocked to hear the Baptist returned to
their homes to discuss his words or to live out their new vows; but
several of the flower of Israel attached themselves to Jesus permanently.
Amongst them was the writer of this Gospel; and he was, without doubt, a
witness of the events which he describes, the crisis of his own life, and
the culminating point of the ministry of his earliest teacher.
I. THE FIRST DAY:
SELF-ABNEGATION (Jn 1:19,
20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28).
As the influence of John's preaching spread, it became impossible for the
religious authorities to ignore it. The Sanhedrim especially, which is
constantly referred to in this Gospel as the Jews, and which held itself
entrusted with the religious interests of the nation, was compelled to
take action. A deputation of Priests and Levites, principally derived from
the Pharisee party (John 1:24), was therefore arranged to go to the
Jordan, make inquiries, and report. Their inquiries were to be twofold:
first, who he was; secondly, why he baptized. The former question
interested the whole council; the latter, the Pharisees, who were the
ritualists of their day. Imagine a vast circle. On the one side stands the
herald of the new age, surrounded by the chivalry of a noble youth; on the
other the grey-beards, representing an order of things old and ready to
vanish away. How breathless was the silence which followed the first
inquiry! "Who art thou? Art thou the Christ?" Thousands would have been
glad to believe he was, and at a word would have unfurled the old standard
of the Maccabees, and rallied to rid the land of the usurper. They had
not, however, long to wait. Without a moment's vacillation he confessed,
and denied not, but confessed: "I am not the Christ." "Who art thou, then?
Malachi told us in his closing words, which have lit our path through the
gloom of four hundred years, that the great prophet of Horeb should
announce the Messianic day. Art thou Elijah?" Had they asked if he
preceded the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elijah, he must have
answered in the affirmative; but to the question as they put it, there was
only one reply: "I am not." There was yet another suggestion. "Moses said
that God would raise up a Prophet like unto himself. The Prophet art thou?
The abruptness of the question," says Bishop Westcott, "is remarkable."
And again, amid the hushed suspense, the Baptist, with increasing brevity,
Each response must have been followed by the murmur of many voices
discussing it. And the ardent disciples of the great preacher would have
felt some little disappointment and chagrin. It seemed as if he were
deliberately spurning the nation's homage, and missing the greatest
opportunity of his career.
The suppositions furnished by the generally received Messianic programme
were now exhausted; and it only remained to put some general question
which should force the Baptist to define his own position. "Then said they
unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us.
What sayest thou of thyself?"
Then came an utterance, sublime in its humility : "I am only a voice
crying amid the uninhabited places of the wilderness, Prepare a way for
And this humility was characteristic of John, though he was the greatest
of woman-born. He knew that he was not the Light, but sent to bear witness
of it; not the Sun, but the star that announces the dawn, and wanes in the
growing light; not the Bridegroom, but the Bridegroom's friend; not the
Shepherd, but the porter to open the door into the fold (Jn 3:27, 28, 29,
This humility is as rare as it is fascinating. We are all so apt to use
our relationship to Christ as a means of enhancing our own importance, and
attracting attention. Though we formally ascribe the supremacy to our
Lord, we are elated when our name is on every lip, and our work in every
thought, even though we should never have been heard of had it not been
for Him. But there was nothing of this in John. He had the lowest possible
conception of himself. Whilst all men mused in their hearts whether he
were the Christ, he was ever heralding the Coming One. As they magnified
the worth of his baptism, he declared that it was inferior to the
Messiah's, as water is to fire in cleansing properties. When they trembled
before his searching words, he spoke of the great Husbandman, who, fan in
hand, was about thoroughly to purge his floor. The motto of his inner life
seems to have been, "I must decrease." Repeatedly he avowed himself unfit
even to loose the sandal-thong of Him whose herald he was.
Two things led him to this blessed condition.--In the first place, he
realized that a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from
heaven; and that therefore all popularity, gifts, and influence, are
precious talents to be administered with the best possible stewardship (Jn
3:27). And in the second place, he had seen the Lord, as was clear from
the answer he gave to the further inquiry of the deputation concerning his
right to baptize.
"It is quite true," said he, in effect, "that I am not the Christ, nor
Elijah, nor that Prophet; but listen! Though ye know it not, the Messiah
is already come, and I have seen Him. He has stood on these banks. He has
mingled with these crowds. He has descended into these waters. He is
standing amongst you now. The new era has dawned. And therefore I
administer baptism, the sign and initiation of that long-expected time."
What awe must have settled down on the people! How they must have looked
at each other, wondering of whom he spake! Could it be that at last the
day had come of which kings and prophets and righteous men had spoken, but
died without seeing! And can we wonder at the humility of the speaker?
We need to cultivate more of this lovely spirit, content to stand in the
shade and cast a light on the blessed Lord; to be voices witnessing for
Him, whilst the speaker's form is draped in gloom. But probably nothing
but close friendship with the Bridegroom of souls will ever bring this
about. We must live nearer to Him, catching the glow of his love, baptized
into its furnace heat. Oh, to love Him, to listen for his footfall with a
lover's hushed spirit, to find our heaven only in his love, and in the
thought that He is loved! Then we shall be timid of attracting a single
thought to ourselves which might have found its way to Him. Then we shall
be eager to hoard up all the love and devotion which men give us, that we
may cast them as crowns at his feet. Then we shall be willing to be
pedestals from which his beams shine the farther; as the slender, graceful
curves of the lighthouse tower are unseen, whilst from its lantern the
reflectors flash beams of light far out to sea. It is only to those thus
humble as little children that God reveals the true character of his Son.
Thus it was with John the Baptist.
II. THE SECOND DAY;
1:29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34).
"The next day John seeth Jesus coming to him." He was probably coming
straight from the scene of the temptation. For forty days He had been
alone, with no companionship save that of wild beasts, amid the sterile
hills which stretch for miles on either side of the Dead Sea. Directly
John saw Him, he knew Him. "This is He of whom I said, He that cometh
after me is become before me, for He was before me." How did John know
It is probable that, though cousins, they had not met till some six weeks
before. John had spent his years in the seclusion of the deserts, Jesus in
the highlands of Galilee. Therefore John said, "I knew Him not." Was it
one of the providential arrangements of the only wise God, that the Christ
and his forerunner never met until Jesus came to Jordan to be baptized of
John, lest it should be said they were acting in collusion? Or even if
John may have known Him as his cousin (i.e., after the flesh), yet he knew
Him not as the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost, or the Son of God. But He who
sent him to baptize with water had revealed to him a sacred sign by which
he should recognize the Lord whom he announced. For that sign he had
watched and waited patiently for a long time. Thousands passed through his
hands; but as yet he had not beheld it, and the months seemed long, as
they slowly passed away.
At last Jesus presented Himself at the Jordan. John would have hindered
Him, indeed "was hindering Him". He, doubtless, knew of the events which
had preceded His birth; had heard of "that Holy Thing" which had been
born; was familiar with his blameless, holy life; and desired, therefore,
to debar Him from a rite which implied confession of sin. He felt that he
had himself more need to be baptized as a sinner, than to administer the
baptism of repentance for the remission of sins to Him, who was, so far as
observation went, sinless.
His objections were, however, silenced by the appeal to him to do his part
in bringing in the everlasting righteousness, which Daniel identified with
the mission of the Messiah. "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all
It was probably the custom that the candidate for John's baptism, either
audibly or silently, should confess his sins ere he submitted to the
sacred rite. But in this case, having no sins of his own, our Lord would
probably make a vicarious confession, confessing the sins of the nation,
with which, there and then, as the sacrificed lamb He identified Himself.
It was the Jewish custom to set apart four days before the lamb was to be
sacrificed in the Passover; and thus there may have been an anticipation
of this solemn act of our Lord's baptism in the river Jordan, the river of
As He emerged from its waters, the long-expected sign was given. The
Spirit descended on Him from heaven like a dove. We cannot but recall the
ancient record of the deluge, and the ark, and the dove which found no
place for her rest. Here at last there was a home in which the dove-like
Spirit might take up an abode. Here, at least, was one heart in which He,
who had been long an exile, might settle. From the waste of waters He came
to the sacred Ark.
Twice over we are told that "He abode on Him." No fitful enduement this!
No transient baptism! No ephemeral experience! For us, too, as for Him,
there is an abiding experience to be enjoyed--an experience of spiritual
grace to break on us; not to wane, as in the case of some of the Old
Testament heroes, but to increase in ever-growing power from year to year,
until we are filled unto all the fullness of God.
We may not stay to note the energy with which the Spirit drove Him into
the wilderness to be tempted. How marvellous that union of brooding
gentleness and irresistible driving force! As if the blessed Spirit--who
had waited with the patience of God for four thousand years, while, in one
dispensation after another, man was continually overcome by the
tempter--now that the Second Man was come, impelled Him to the victory
which He foreknew. It was from this conflict that He returned on the
second of these memorable days.
For six weary weeks the Baptist had eagerly scanned the faces of the
crowds to discover that face. But hitherto in vain. At last he descried
it--worn with conflict and fasting, but radiant with victory; and as he
saw it, he announced the Christ: "This is He of whom I spake. The same is
He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. Behold the Lamb of God, which
beareth away the sin of the world."
Dean Milman suggests that when John, beholding Jesus as He came to him,
said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" he
alluded to flocks of lambs, intended for the forthcoming Passover, then
passing from the rich pastures of Perea to Jerusalem by the ford near the
scene of the Baptist's labours. But surely there is a deeper thought. John
was clearly a deep student of Isaiah's prophecies. He cannot but have been
quite familiar with that chapter which reads like a fifth Gospel, as it
foretells how the servant of the Lord would be led as a lamb to the
slaughter, an allusion which, of course, was based on the offering of the
morning and evening lamb, and on the great Paschal Feast, which lay at the
foundation of the national history.
We cannot stay to trace the complete analogy between the lambs and the
Lamb, between the Passover and the supreme event of our Redemption. The
points of likeness and contrast are deeply interesting. But we must let
that witness of the Holy Ghost, through those human lips, have its due
weight with us. Evidently the main aspect in which we are to view our
Divine Lord, is in his sacrificial character. "The Lamb as it had been
slain" must be beheld both here and hereafter, in this world and in all
worlds. Not his character, however fair; not his words, however much light
they cast on the mysteries of life and death; not his miracles, however
strong their testimony to his Divine mission : but his appointment to bear
the sin of the world, this is the primary aspect in which we are to behold
Look into these words; the Gospel glistens in them, as the whole sun in a
single dewdrop. They tell us that the sacrifice of the cross is the
outcome of the thought and preparation of the infinite God. Jesus is the
Lamb of God. They remind us that his propitiation for sin is not for ours
only, but for the whole world. They give a clue to the cause of that
mysterious anguish which at times overwhelmed Him. They describe the
attitude which we should ever adopt of beholding Him--an attitude by which
we are able to appropriate the nutriment of his flesh and blood, of which
the paschal supper was a type. O blessed Lamb! what shall we say of Thee
or to Thee? Words fail us. Thou wast made sin for us. Thou hast washed us
from our sins in thy blood. Thou has put away sin by the sacrifice of
Thyself. Thou art longing that every soul of man should know and rejoice
in thy yearning love, thy glorious work. We praise, and adore, and worship
Thee. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!
But remember ever to unite the double burden of John's preaching. We need
not only blood, but fire. It is much to be justified, but we need to be
sanctified; much to know of the atoning death, but we need union with the
Lamb in his resurrection life; much to have the blood sprinkled on the
inner shrine, but we need that the Shekinah fire should burn there with
quenchless power; much to have the baptism of water, but at the best that
is negative, and we need something positive, searching, quickening, and
After all, John was right. Christ is the greater Baptizer. Beyond death
and the grave He received the Spirit, that He might shed Him forth. And
now He stands among us whom He has redeemed, eager that, having washed us
in his blood, He may complete what He has begun with that holy baptism of
which John spake, and which is as much our privilege as the cleansing of
the blood. Ah! brethren and sisters, we have need to be baptized of Him.
Not the blood without the fire; not the fire apart from the blood. Not the
Christ of Calvary only, but the Christ of the throne. Not pardon alone,
but deliverance and salvation.
But let us remember that just as Jesus could not be manifested to Israel,
until John had come baptizing in water (John 1:31); so it is still. John
the Baptist must still do his work in the soul. And only when there has
been repentance and confession of sin, which submission to John's baptism
signified, is a sinner prepared to receive the Saviour. There is profound
truth in that saying of McCheyne, "Only a broken-hearted sinner can
receive a crucified Christ."
This suggests a very serious question to many who have no clear
consciousness of Christ, no glad realization of his presence, no rejoicing
with joy unspeakable and full of glory. May not this lack arise from their
not having entered into the meaning of those preliminary conditions which
were represented by the Baptist? Only as we know the sinfulness of sin,
and the preciousness of the atoning blood of Christ, can we apprehend the
power of his resurrection and rejoice in the hope of his coming and his
kingdom. May God the Holy Spirit make us a people prepared for the Lord
III. THE THIRD DAY;
1:35, 36, 37).
On the third day John again looked wistfully and eagerly on Jesus as He
walked. It was perhaps the last time those eyes were to behold Him. Again
he designated Jesus as the Lamb of God; but there was a significance in
his words which was instantly detected by the two disciples who stood
beside him. He meant by those words to transfer their allegiance from him
to his Lord. Henceforth they were to behold Him. So at least they seem to
have understood him. "They followed Jesus."
As the preacher looked on their retreating forms, and realised that his
work was done, and that henceforth all the crowds would follow them and
ebb away, did he have a feeling of jealousy or regret? Evidently not. Or
if there were a momentary sense of desolation and loneliness, it must have
been instantly wiped out by a great sense of joy. To quote his own
matchless words, "This my joy therefore is fulfilled" (John 3:29).
It is sad to see the crowds depart; to note the drying of the brook whose
waters were so sweet, the ebbing of the tide, the waning of the day, the
falling of the leaves; but, where the soul has learnt to live in Jesus and
for Him, it is not so hard to die to all these things, because the Lord
has become its light and its salvation, the strength of its life and its
7. THE SON
"Verily, verily, I say unto you,
hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and
descending upon the Son of Man." John 1:51.
THIS CHAPTER abounds in striking names and titles for our Lord. They are a
study in themselves. The Word; the Light; the Life of Men; the
Only-begotten of the Father; the Christ; the Lamb of God; the Master; Son
of God; and King of Israel. But the climax, with which this marvellous
enumeration closes, is as wonderful as any: The Son of Man. It occurs
eighty times in the Gospels, and is always applied by our Lord to Himself.
It is a glorious word, brimful of
hope to every member of the family of mankind. To be Son of David, or Son
of Abraham, would limit Him to a family or race; but to be Son of Man is
equivalent to being the second Adam, and to have a relationship to every
man. He was the epitome of humanity, sin excepted. All can find a response
in his nature. The one Man, the Man of men, the supreme flower and glory
of the human family, the Divine Man--such was the Son of Man, who as such
stands now amid the supernal glory of his Father's throne (Acts 7:56).
The nature of our Lord Jesus is
infinite in its extent. On the one hand it touches the heights of Godhead,
on the other the depths of manhood. To use his own comparison (John 1:51),
it resembles the mystic ladder, which in the dream of the wanderer, linked
the far distant depths of sky--where, more brilliant than sun or moon, the
light of the Shekinah shone--with the moorland, strewn with huge boulders
of stone, on which he lay. At one end is the title, Son of God; at the
other, Son of Man. And there is not one of the human family too frail or
sinful to pass upward through the blessed Lord, his birth and death, his
resurrection and ascension, from the lowest depths of degradation to the
furthest heights of blessedness.
Here, probably for the first time, our
Lord used this title of Himself. It is possible that its full meaning will
only be disclosed long ages after we have entered the meridian light of
I. THE SON OF MAN ATTRACTING
He had just come victorious from his encounter with the devil. With an
imperative of spiritual energy, which human lips had never addressed to
the tempter before.
He had made the prince of this world slink behind Him. The next step was
to lay the foundation of a society, through which He might carry forward
his victories, opposing the kingdom of darkness with a kingdom of light,
until that has been realized for the race which He realized on the
mountain brow for Himself.
In the Apocalypse, John beheld the completed city, New Jerusalem,
descending out of heaven; and was able to study its foundations, as he
could not have done had it been earthborn. They seemed like the
breastplate of the high priest in colour, though greatly multiplied in
extent. There were the blue sapphire; the green emerald; the dark-red
sardonyx; the brilliant topaz; the hyacinth; and the amethyst. And on each
the name of an Apostle. In this chapter we find the Master-builder
quarrying the stones, which seem common enough in their origin, but which,
under his touch, shall glisten as slabs of jewels in the foundations of
his Church. There is no forecasting what will be the outcome for the
simplest believer who once is willing to let Christ have his way with him.
Christ attracted men largely from the lower ranks.--Macaulay tells the
story of the famous cathedral window, constructed by the apprentice from
materials which his master threw away, and which was so much more
beautiful than his that he made away with his life in jealousy. And it was
out of those orders of society which the great men of the time held in
contempt that Jesus began to construct the society against which the gates
of hell cannot prevail. "The common people heard Him gladly." "Then drew
near the publicans and sinners for to hear Him." The true David recruited
his army from the lapsed and lost, and chose his officers from the ranks
of publicans, and fishermen, and artisans (1Sa 22:2).
Christ attracted men of very different make.--In the Apostolic band there
were at least three groups, besides minor varieties. The Boanergic,
comprising those of largest gift and strength of character--Peter and
Andrew, James and John. The Reflective, who were apt at questioning and
slow to believe--Philip and Thomas, Nathanael (or Bartholomew) and
Matthew. The Practical, who superintended the business arrangements of
catering for the rest. All these varieties were attracted to Jesus. He
needed them, and they Him.
Christ attracted men to Himself.--
He published no manifesto; elaborated
no system of doctrine; insisted on no theological examination. His person
was his theology. He appealed to the craving of the human heart for love,
and offered Himself to supply its needs, pledging Himself to lead his
disciples from the "Come and see" of the first interview, to the vision of
"those greater things," which include the Sermon on the Mount; the
Sacrificial Death; the Resurrection and Ascension; the Descent of the Holy
Ghost; and which extend also to those marvellous discoveries of Divine
truth which fill the Epistles.
"Not the Man through the doctrine; but the doctrine through the Man." Not
first the head and then the heart; but first the heart and then the head.
The trust of the soul in One who gathers up our intellectual assent as He
bears us forward into all the truth.
Men were attracted to Christ in very different ways.--
Some by preaching, as when the Baptist
proclaimed Him on the Jordan bank to the disciples standing beside him.
Though that sermon failed on the first occasion, on the second it was the
means of converting his entire audience: "And they followed Jesus."
Others are brought through human relationships. God has bound us together
in families, that these human relationships may become a very network of
communicating wires, through which to send the sparks and impulses of his
own love. The Bible does not say how many souls Andrew brought afterwards
to Jesus; but it does say, he first found his own brother Simon. As boys
they had played on the silver sands; as youths they had sailed the long
night through in their father's yawl; as young men they had left their
homes drawn by a common impulse to the Jordan. And when Andrew found
Christ, he had an irresistible influence over Peter and won him. The
little taper lit up the great light. Have we all used our home ties enough
for the winning of souls to our Lord?
Others were brought by the Master's direct influence. "He findeth Philip,
and saith unto him, Follow Me." I love to think of the thousands who owe
their all to the direct touch of the love of Christ, falling on them as
the light of an infinitely distant star through the tube of the telescope,
photographing itself for ever on the prepared paper. Far from the sound of
the church-going bell, amid the deep silence of the night watch in the
bush or on the prairie, or tossing on the bosom of the deep, the Love of
God still finds men.
Others are brought to Christ by the call of friendship, following on long
courses of previous preparation. Often must Philip have left the shores of
his native lake, and crossed the hills for Cana, where Nathanael dwelt;
and the two would earnestly discuss the signs of the times, the desperate
straits of their country, the preaching of the Baptist, the advent of the
King. And for long periods the guileless Israelite would be lost in deep
reverie as he sat beneath his favourite fig-tree, pondering the things
which Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, did write, and engaged in
earnest prayer. It was not difficult to win such an one, when Philip broke
in on his retirement with the news of his discovery.
Jesus Christ is God's magnet put down amongst men to attract them to
II. THE SON OF MAN READING
AND REVEALING MEN.
The Spirit had been given to Him without measure; and by his indwelling He
knew what was in man, read men as we read books, and interpreted them to
themselves that they might know themselves and Him.
He knew the yearning for love that dwelt in the heart of John, who clearly
was one of the two who first followed Him with timid footsteps, longing to
know some of the secrets of his inner life: "Master, where dwellest Thou?"
He knew how timid and weak was the soul that lay beneath the burly form
and impetuous self-assertion of Andrew's brother, and He called him by a
name which well became him--Simon Bar-Jona, the son of a timid dove.
He knew where to find Philip; the qualities which were worth finding in
him; and the magnetic sentence which would bind him for ever to his side:
He knew the guileless simplicity and purity with which Nathanael's soul
was filled, untainted by the luxurious tastes with which the Romans were
enervating his native land; and had seen the devout thoughts passing
through his heart, before Philip called him. The tree has never grown
which could conceal a soul from the eye of Jesus.
So He reads us still. He knows our downsitting and our uprising, and
understands our thoughts afar off. We lie before Him naked and opened, as
the sacrificial victim before the priest. What though the sharp two-edged
sword be in his hand, yet He is not a High-priest who cannot be touched
with the feeling of our infirmities!
The Lord who dwells on high
Knows all, and loves us better than He knows.
III. THE SON OF MAN COMPLETING MEN.
Whatever we need most, we can find in Him. He is the all-sufficiency for
all human need; the supply of every lack; the answer to every inquiry. Not
his gifts, but Himself. Do we need purity? He does not simply give us
purity, but He is in us "that Holy Thing." Do we want life? He does not
merely impart it, but He is Himself our life. Do we require strength? The
Lord is the strength of our life. As the rest of a circle is the
complement of a segment, however small, so is Jesus the complement of all
Andrew is always ranked with Peter, James, and John; yet he was excluded,
not arbitrarily, of course, from three memorable scenes, where the others
witnessed the glory of their Lord. He reminds us of men of large gift, who
yet fall short of the first rank by some defect in ardour, dash,
enthusiasm. O ye Andrews of the Church, come to the Son of Man I that He
may supply that missing link; breathe into you that lacking power; baptize
you in his sacred fire: "so that ye come behind in no gift," waiting for
A very different man was Peter. Liking to gird himself; foremost to speak,
to act, to deny; the born leader and spokesman of the rest; ardent in
love, but sadly needing stability; essaying to walk the waves, and
sinking; meeting with God-given answer the Master's challenge as to His
nature, and within a few moments becoming an offence; flashing his sword
in the moonbeams with terrible execution, and denying with oaths; plunging
into the lake for the shore, where in the grey dawn the beloved form was
standing, but presently silenced by "What is that to thee?" A strange
mixture of strength and weakness, of ardour and inconstancy! Such are some
of us. But when men like Peter come to the Son of Man, He completes them,
and impregnates them with the strength of his own rock-like character; so
that they become rock-men in their degree, as mossy nests are turned to
stone beneath the drip of the limestone caves.
John's nature reminds us of the lakes, which, like his own Galilee, lie
among the hills. On calm days the placid and pellucid waters mirror the
curtains of the heavens, whether blue, or dark, or star-bespangled. But
when the wild winds rush down on them, they are lashed into fury, and no
boat can live. John was filled with an almost divine power of loving. This
won the love of Jesus; led him to lean on that sacred breast; secured the
trusteeship of the beloved mother; and enabled him to read the secrets of
the Redeemer's character hidden from the rest. But, withal, he would sit
on the right or left of the throne, and call for fire from heaven on
offending villagers. Evidently, such a nature needed to be softened and
toned, and taught how long-suffering, and forbearing, and pitiful, Divine
love could be. Some of us also need to take our love to Jesus that it may
be rid of earthly elements, and attempered to his own.
Nathanael made use of such fragmentary hints as were within his reach, and
arrived at one of the sublimest of conclusions; but there were great gaps
which needed to be filled up, like the blanks in the maps of Africa some
twenty years ago. He saw something; but he was capable of seeing more, and
he was told that he should see greater things than any that had come
within his ken. He recognised in Jesus the Son of God, the King of Israel
: but he had yet to learn that Jacob's ladder was a sign of blessing
beyond the limits of his own children; that it was a type of Jesus the Son
of God, who was not only King of Israel, the nation, but Son of Man, the
This is Christ's invariable mode. There is always more to follow. On every
blessing which He puts into our hands He writes this inscription, "Thou
shalt see greater things than these." If conversion, adoption; if
adoption, heirship; if heirship, the throne; if grace, glory.
I know not how many maimed and incomplete hearts may be reached by these
words. But it may be that hundreds who will read them have been wearily
conscious of heart-ache and heart-need; waiting for someone who never
comes; watching for a light which never breaks; bemoaning a lack which
lies at the bottom of the heart, saying Give, give, but is never
satisfied. "Blessed are ye that hunger; for ye shall be filled." But the
filling can come from no human or earthly source. In Christ alone can we
be replenished and satisfied. Take the infirmity, the deficiency, the
yearning, the sense of maimedness, to the Son of Man, whose nature will
flow into yours, as an ocean into some new dock or reservoir, adapting
itself to the shape of the receptacle, and filling it throughout. "Ye are
complete [R.V., made full] in Him."
"This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested
forth his glory; and his disciples believed on Him."--John 2:11.
THIS IS one of those precious memories which the mother of our Lord
pondered in her heart, and doubtless often recited in that home to which
this Evangelist led her from the cross. Several incidents in this Gospel
may be traced to that fellowship in love and sorrow which, until her
death, must have linked his mother and the disciple whom Jesus loved.
Is it not wonderful that this was our Lord's first miracle! Had we been
asked to select the one which seemed most appropriate to stand as the
frontispiece of his earthly ministry, we should have selected the raising
of Lazarus, the calming of the storm, or the feeding of the hungry crowds;
but who would have chosen this? The inventive genius of man would have
conceived an introductory scene which combined the chief features of the
Transfiguration and of the giving of the law. How different is the
simplicity of this incident!
In the previous chapter we are told that the Apostles beheld in Jesus
Christ the glory of the Only-begotten of the Father; and when we ask one
of those eye-witnesses to give a sample of its choicest manifestations, we
are conducted to a little village in the highlands of Galilee, at the
distance of an afternoon's walk from Nazareth, where the Master sits at a
simple marriage feast amongst his friends, and makes wine out of water to
supply their lack.
The miracles of this Gospel are signs (John 2:11), carefully selected as
bearing upon the special characteristics of our Lord's person and work,
which the Evangelist had set himself to portray. There was a distinct
purpose in his performing this miracle as his first, and in its being set
so prominently at the front of this narrative. We are told that He
manifested forth his glory; and we reverently ask, How?
As we strive to answer that question,
may we again sit at his table, and hear Him speak!
I. IT WAS HIS GLORY TO SHOW
THAT TRUE RELIGION IS CONSISTENT WITH ORDINARY LIFE.
There is a common tendency to associate the highest type of religion with
rigorous austerity of life, as if the human were too common to be divine.
We fancy that he whose thoughts commune most deeply with the Eternal must
be a stern, silent, and solitary man. This type of the religious life was
exemplified in the old prophets, who dwelt in the solitudes of
unfrequented deserts and hills, withdrawn from the common joys and
engagements and ties of human existence; only emerging now and again to
pour on the ears of awestruck crowds the burning words of the living God.
Such had been John the Baptist. The deserts, his home; the locust and wild
honey, his fare; the camel's cloth, his dress. And we might have expected
to find the Son of God more rigorous still in his isolation; rearing
Himself in severe and solitary grandeur, like the Jungfrau among the Alps.
But no. His early years are spent, not in a desert, but a home. He comes
eating and drinking. He moves freely amongst men as one of themselves. He
interweaves his life with the life of the home, the market-place, and the
street. And in pursuance of this purpose He wrought his first miracle at a
Travelling by easy stages from the Jordan valley, He had reached Galilee.
Finding his mother gone from Nazareth, He followed her over the hills to
Cana, and for her sake was invited with his six new-made followers to the
simple feast. It was a time of simple-hearted enjoyment. "The bridegroom
crowned with flowers with which his mother had crowned him in the day of
his espousals; the bride adorned with her jewels, sitting apart among the
women." And though He was the Son of God, no cloud would veil his face or
cast a restraining spell upon the guests.
This is the harder type.--
Easier, like the anchorite, to be
separated from the world, than, like the Saviour, to be in it and not of
it. Easier to decline an invitation to the house of the great than to go
there and behave as the Son of God. Easier to refuse the things of sense
than to use them without abuse. Easier to maintain a life of prayer far
from the haunts of men, than to enter them maintaining constant fellowship
with God in the unruffled depths of the soul. Nothing but the grace of the
Holy Spirit can suffice for this. But this is sufficient if daily and
It is most honouring to God.--
The idea of the ascetic life is that
every human feeling is a weakness, and every natural instinct a sin. No
woman's caress, no childish voice, no tender love, none of the jewels or
flowers of existence, may soften the rigours of that lot. But is not all
this a libel on God's original creation? Has He made so great a mistake in
creating us that we must thwart his ideal at every step, ere we can rise
to our true manhood? Must we make ourselves other than men before we can
be saints? Surely, to reason thus is to dishonour the wisdom and love of
God in our original creation. And the Incarnation teaches us, as does this
miracle, that God does not required an emasculated, but a fulfilled and
It is most useful to the world.--
Of what use is salt, except in contact
with the corrupting carcase? The holiness which builds three tabernacles
amid almost inaccessible rocks is of little help to the breaking hearts of
devil-possessed men in the valley below. This, at least, is not our
Saviour's message. "Go," says He, "to Jerusalem and Samaria, to the
crowded cities and homes of men. Live amongst them, kindling them with the
passion of your holiness. Suffer little children to come to you; publicans
and sinners to draw near to you; crowds to follow you. All I ask is that
whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, ye should do all to the
glory of God."
II. IT WAS HIS GLORY TO TEACH
THE BEAUTY OF WAITING MEEKLY FOR GOD.
If ever there was a being who might have claimed to act on the prompting
of his own spirit, it was surely our blessed Lord. But there never was one
who lived in more absolute and entire dependence on the Father from the
first. It comes out very clearly here.
His advent with his friends threatened the whole family with a disgrace
which to the hospitable mind of the Jew would be irreparable. The wine ran
short. Mary, who seems to have had considerable influence in the house,
was made aware of the fact, and quickly guessed its cause. She could not
endure the thought of inflicting, however unconsciously, so great a
mortification on that kindly circle; and she suddenly conceived the hope
of helping them through Him whom she had been wont to count her obedient
son. Why should He not now assume the position which had been predicted
from his birth? She could not have been deceived in all that had been told
her; but it had been long and hard to wait. Yet surely the salutation of
the Baptist and gathering of disciples were omens of an approaching
change. Why should He not now blossom out into all that splendid glory
with which Jewish anticipation invested the Messiah?
Her implied request must have appealed closely to the tender heart of
Christ. All that she felt, He felt also. But He could not take his
commands from her entreaty, or even from the warmth of his own emotions.
He addressed her with a title consistent with the most perfect
tenderness--indeed, He used it from his cross; but, waiving her suggestion
with a common Aramaic expression, went on to announce that henceforth his
eye would be, if possible, more closely fixed on the dial-plate of his
Father's will, following the index-finger of his purpose, waiting till it
should reach the hour, and the alarum for action should ring out. "Mine
hour is not yet come."
It was so that He waited or acted throughout his life. The Gospels abound
in references to his hour. Before it struck He was calm and peaceful,
however pressing might be the apparent need for action. When it struck He
acted instantly and decisively. Afterwards, He returned unto his rest.
This is almost the hardest lesson in Christian living. We listen to the
advice of friend; the threatening of foe; the pressure of circumstance. We
think we must do something. Like King Saul, we force ourselves and offer
the sacrifice. We pray hurriedly and throw ourselves into the breach, to
discover, when too late, that we have run without being sent, and have
defeated our own object by too much haste. "My soul, wait thou," might
often be addressed to ourselves by ourselves. Not a moment behind God; but
not a moment before Him. Ready for his hour to strike.
III. IT WAS HIS GLORY TO SHOW
THE INWARDNESS OF TRUE RELIGION.
In the entrance-hall six stone waterpots were standing, "after the manner
of the purifying of the Jews." Their superstitious dread of uncleanness
made it necessary to have large supplies of water ever at hand. Without
washing no one ate (Mark 7:3). The feet of each guest were washed on
arrival (Luke 7:44). The washing of cups and jugs and bottles, says the
Talmud, went on all day. And in this we have a symbol of that religion
which consists in external rites, and is content if only these are
But the Master turned the water of outward ceremonial washing into wine
for inward drinking. Surely there is deep symbolical meaning here, in
illustration of which we recall two sentences, the one from the Old
Testament, the other from the New. "Thy love is better than wine"; and
"Whoso... drinketh my blood hath eternal life."
The most spiritual men in the old Jewish system were constantly
emphasising the impotence of mere ritual to save and sanctify the soul.
David felt it (Ps 51:16). Isaiah felt it (Is 1:13). Micah brings it out in
clear relief (Micah 6:7). And here our Lord in this striking miracle seems
to say, "The days of ceremonialism are past; the system which was sent to
teach spiritual ideas by material substances and external rites is at an
end; the tedious routine of outward ablutions, which has diverted men's
attention from the inner life and the befitting garb of the soul, must be
laid aside; I am come to teach men to love, to live by faith, to array
themselves in robes washed white in my blood, and to rise through close
participation in my death to a life of stainless purity and flawless
beauty. Not water, but blood. Not washing, but drinking. Not the outward
cleanliness, however fair and right; but the purity of the heart, the
deliverance of the spirit from the polluting taint of evil." We are not
surprised to learn next that He cleansed the Temple, and that He told
Nicodemus that even he must be born again.
IV. IT WAS HIS GLORY TO
AWAKEN US TO SEE THE DIVINE POWER IN THE ORDINARY PROCESSES OF NATURE.
The world is full of miracles; but they are so gradual and quiet that we
are often blinded to their wonderfulness, till the flash of a sudden
"sign" awakens us from our strange neglect.
It seems doubtful whether the Lord changed all the contents of the six
stone jars, or only that which was drawn from them. The latter would more
resemble his way, who gives us, not granaries of grain, but daily bread;
and who deals out supplies of daily strength. But, even if He had turned
all the water into wine, there would be no obstacle to our faith. The sin
of drunkenness was not the sin of Palestine, as it is of London; and
therefore did not require the special methods of prevention which the
principles of his Gospel now lead us to adopt. And we must remember that
the light wines of the Galilean vintage were very different to the
brandied intoxicants with which we are too familiar.
But this is the interesting point : that we see compressed into a single
flash the same power that works throughout the wine-lands every summer,
transforming the dew and rain into the juices that redden the drooping
clusters of the vines. The superficial man looks at this miracle and
cries, "Oh, wondrous day that beheld so great a deed!" The spiritual man
looks at it, and, whilst not underrating its marvel, walks the world with
a new reverence, because he knows that the same Divine power is throbbing
all around. The power revealed in feeding the five thousand is required to
cover the autumn fields with grain. The power needed to raise the dead
shows how much is constantly demanded to keep us living. The power that
quells the storm indicates how much is being exercised to maintain the
stable equilibrium of the world.
This is the glory of the miracles of Jesus, that they have taught us to
look on the world around us with new and opened eyes. We hear his voice in
the summer wind, and amid the roar of the pitiless storm. We catch sight
of his form awakening Nature from her wintry sleep by his touch, as once
the daughter of Jairns from her couch. We stand spellbound before his
power, as once they did who saw the wonderful works of his hands. He is
the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. In Him all things consist. And
as for this world, it teems with the miraculous:
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
V. IT WAS HIS GLORY TO SHOW THE
ASCENDING SCALE OF GOD'S GIFTS.
The devil ever gives his best first; and when the appetite is somewhat
palled, he puts on his worse, even to the worst. Gold at the crown, clay
at the foot. Feasting with harlots, then famine with swine. Goshen with
its pastures, followed by Egypt with its fetters. Ah! you who read this
page, and are living a heartless, worldly life, make the most of it, it is
the best you will ever have. After you have "well drunk," there will come
coarser tastes, more depraved appetites. That which has satisfied will
fail to satisfy; and in its stead will come forms of sin and temptation
from which at the first you would have started back; crying, "Do you take
me for a dog, that I should ever come to this!"
The Lord Jesus, on the other hand, is always giving something better. As
the taste is being constantly refined, it is provided with more delicate
and ravishing delights. That which you know of Him to-day is certainly
better than that you tasted when first you sat down at his board. And so
it will ever be. The angels, as his servants, have orders to bring in and
set before the heirs of glory things which eye hath not seen, and man's
heart has not conceived, but which are all prepared. The best of earth
will be below the simplest fare of heaven. But what will heaven's best be!
If wine in the peasant's house is so luscious, what will be the new wine
in the Father's kingdom! What may we not expect from the vintages of the
celestial hills! What will it be to sit at the marriage supper of the
Lamb, not as guests, but as the Bride! Oh, hasten on, ye slow-moving days;
be quick to depart, that we may taste that ravishment of bliss! But for
ever and ever, as fresh revelations break on our glad souls, we shall look
up to the Master of the feast and cry, "Thou has kept the best until now."
9. THE TEMPLE
OF THE BODY
"He spake of the temple of his body'--John 2:21.
WHAT IS your body? An inn, thronged with busy traffic! A library, whose
shelves are being gradually filled with the gathering stores of knowledge!
A counting-house, dedicated to money-making, in which the amassing of
wealth, or the maintenance of a competence is the one and all-important
object! A playhouse, used for no higher purpose than pleasure-seeking! A
stye, where swinish passions revel! "But He spake of the temple of his
The conception was lull of beauty.--As the temple at Jerusalem, with its
marble pavements, its pillared cloisters, its terraced courts, its rich
adornment, was one of the fairest spectacles under the sun, so is the
human body, designed and built by the Divine skill, worthy of its Creator.
Consider those ivory pillars of bone; those alabaster walls of flesh; that
many-toned organ of speech; those long corridors of brain and nerve,
through which thought and emotion move; those storied archives where
memory resides as the custodian of the records of the past: and tell me if
you do not see an exquisite beauty and delicacy in the Lord's comparison,
as "He spake of the temple of his Body."
The conception was as new as it was beautiful--Men had been wont to
consider the body as the seat of evil, and the principal impediment to a
saintly life. The Epicurean, like the "fleshly school" of the present day,
gave himself up to obey its wildest impulses, as though a rider should
throw the reins on the neck of a fiery steed. The Stoic sought to crush
out and starve all natural instincts. And this has been the motive of
asceticism in all ages. "I fear that I have ill-treated my brother the
ass," said St. Francis of Assisi, a few hours before his death, as he
looked with a kindly and half-humorous pity on his worn and emaciated
body, prematurely exhausted by vigil, fasting and maceration.
At the most, men were prepared to give to God a part of their being, one
room out of many to be his shrine, the organ of veneration, the attitude
of worship, the hour of morning prayer. But the Son of Man said that the
body was not in itself evil, and that it might be the shrine and home of
God; the temple of Him who dwells in the high and holy place; whose Being
fills the immensity of the universe, but who makes his dwelling-place with
loving and contrite hearts. He said, moreover, that not one organ but
every organ; not one attitude but all; not one engagement but each--should
be pervaded by the thought of worship and dedication, cleansed in the
blood of atonement, made fragrant with the perfume of incense, and
included in priestly ministry and service.
And the conception became characteristic of Christianity.--Wherever the
religion of Jesus went, men conceived a new idea of the sacredness of the
body. Had He not worn it? Had He not carried it through death into the
light of Easter, and the glory of the throne? Had He not spoken of it as a
temple? The natural instincts could be neither common nor unclean. And it
must be possible so to order and rule them as that they should be the
willing servants of a holy will and consecrated purpose; not impeding the
symmetrical beauty of the loftiest characters, but promoting it; and doing
the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven.
From this source the Apostle derived the motive-power with which to nerve
his converts in their conflict with the evils of their time. Writing to
those at Corinth, one of the fairest in the sisterhood of fair cities with
which Greece had adorned herself, the beauty of whose temples was only
equalled by the voluptuousness and impurity of the worship which defiled
the loveliest achievements of human art, he said emphatically, "Know ye
not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in
you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the
temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." (1Co 3:16, 17; 1Cor 6:19-note;
Is it not significant that, in his first miracle, our Lord hastened to put
honour on marriage at the wedding feast; and in his second public act, by
a single word, reinstated the body in its rightful place as the help-meet
and shrine of the consecrated soul, a thing which may be presented as a
sacrifice unto God, holy, and acceptable, and reasonable (Ro 12:1-note)?
Surely thus it became Him as Son of Man! "He spake of the temple of his
I. THE TIME OF HIS SPEAKING.
It was the month of April. The land was green with pastures, and carpeted
with myriads of flowers; the air vocal with the singing of birds, and
laden with sweet scent; the thoroughfares thronged with pilgrims for the
Passover, and with flocks for the Paschal Feast. Jerusalem was in her
glory. And at such a time there seemed nothing extravagant in the
panegyric of the patriot Psalmist, when he sang, "Beautiful for situation,
the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion, the city of the great King."
After the miracle at Cana, our Lord went down to Capernaum, with which
most of his disciples were associated, and which thenceforward became his
home. But He did not stay there "many days," as the time had come for Him
to inaugurate his public ministry in the metropolis of his people, and at
the very heart of their religious system.
II. THE PLACE OF HIS
It was in the temple that He who was Himself the temple of God, spake of
the body as a temple. And there was a special fitness in the coincidence.
The temple had three divisions. The outer, which lay beneath the gaze of
Israel; the inner, or Holy Place, where the white-robed priests went to
and fro on their sacred ministries, awed by the sense of the nearness of
God's manifested presence; and the innermost, or Most Holy Place, where
the Shekinah, in Solomon's temple, shone between the bending forms of the
Similarly tripartite is the nature of man. The body is its outer court.
Next to that is the soul, the seat of consciousness, of thought and will,
of emotion and imagination, a family of priests meant to minister to God,
in robes of stainless purity, under the sense of his presence, their every
movement music, their every act worship. But beyond this wondrous play of
soul-life is the spirit; that in which man is most like God, and by which
he is capable of becoming God-filled and God-possessed. For it is through
the spirit that man's nature opens out into the world of spirit, of the
infinite and eternal, and becomes the residence and shrine of God (1Th
The nature of man is a trinity in unity. Three constituent portions make
up each individual unit of the human family. All are not temples, but all
may be. In many, alas, the most sacred chamber, with its marvellous
capacities for God, is untenanted and unexplored, given over to darkness
and neglect. At regeneration the Divine residence is inaugurated. The Holy
Ghost is distinctly described as dwelling within the believer; not
therefore always patent to our consciousness, because deeper than the
sphere of motion, and in the spirit.
In our second birth marvellous possibilities present themselves. Almost
immediately the soul, which is the seat of consciousness and choice, must
elect whether it will permit itself to be most largely influenced by the
body or the spirit. If it choose the former, saved though it be, it will
inevitably become carnal, and unable to digest God's deep and secret
teaching (1Co 3:2); but, if it choose the latter, it will become
increasingly spiritual--the light of the Most Holy will stream with
growing intensity into the holy place of thought and feeling, until the
whole tenor of the inner life is ennobled and purified. And thence the
waves of blessed life will pass outwards to the body, till every member
experiences the sacred influence, and begins to sparkle and glow; as when
the light of the Shekinah brake through all curtaining restraints, and
bathed in glory the entire fabric, standing in its earliest completeness.
How perfectly this was illustrated in the Transfiguration, in which the
body of the blessed Lord shone as the sun, and even his clothes were white
as the light!
You will never be able to govern the body by the unaided power of the
soul. Go deeper than the soul-life, however fervid its love or strenuous
its resolves. Avail yourselves of the indwelling grace of the Holy Ghost.
Let the parting veil be rent and withdrawn. And then, through the
recipient soul, the life and light and love of God will stream forth to
ennoble and irradiate the entire nature.
III. THE OCCASION OF HIS
The hills of Moab were hardly purple with the dawn before the highways
were crowded with throngs hurrying to the temple. But the tortuous streets
were rendered almost impassable on account of the traffic and business
caused by the vast concourse of people. There were sellers of trinkets and
souvenirs; drovers of sheep and oxen with their charge; exchangers of the
coins of all the world for the half-shekel, which must be paid by every
Jew in temple currency. Had all this hubbub been confined to the adjacent
streets, it had been sufficiently objectionable; but, for purposes of
gain, it had been permitted to intrude into the lower temple court, that
of the Gentiles. There, steaming with heat, and filling the sacred edifice
with stench and filth, were penned whole flocks of sheep and herds of
oxen; while drovers and pilgrims stood around in eager contention as to
price. There, too, were men with cages of doves, the offerings of the
poor. And beneath the shadow of the arcades, sat the money-changers, each
behind his little table, covered with piles of coin. A very shambles, with
the noise of an Eastern bazaar!
An apt symbol this, not only of the intrusion of the world-spirit into the
Church, but of the harbouring of darker and sadder evils in the heart. Not
alone amid the ruins of heathen fanes, but in the secrets of our hearts,
do vultures build their filthy nests, and unclean creatures make their
lair. Traffic in the forbidden; the forms of brute like passions; the
rattle of unhallowed gain; the sweltering press of care and worry and
rush--have crowded God out of our life. Mammon, Beelzebub, and Satan, have
usurped his place. With us, as in Ezekiel's vision, the walls of the
chambers of imagery are covered with delineations of obscene creatures,
before which we offer incense. With us, as with Job, our increasing
knowledge of God is gauged by a deeper abhorrence of ourselves: "Behold, I
But when the Lord Jesus enters, He cleanses.--Hastily knotting together a
number of small cords, gathered from the litter at his feet, He advanced
to the traffickers, and bade them begone. They looked at Him aghast. Who
was He, that He should issue such a decree? But they quailed beneath the
glance of that flashing eye and the commanding attitude of that spare
form. Sin is weakness. The evil-doer cannot stand before the servant of
God armed with no weapon save the force of a blameless character and the
energy of a quenchless zeal. So, moved by a sudden and irresistible
impulse, they slowly and sullenly began to retire, driving their charge
before them, and uttering the deepest maledictions against an authority
they dared neither dispute nor resist. The dove-sellers followed them,
carrying their wicker cages; whilst the money-changers, after a scramble
to collect what coins they might amid the ruthless overthrow of their
tables, and the pouring forth of their stores, also hastened away. And the
temple-court was clear.
Would you be rid of darkness? let in the light! Would you cleanse the
stable? let in the river! Would you be delivered from impurity of heart
and life? let in the Saviour! He will cleanse the temple. This action was
deeply significant of what He will effect in us.
Many would meet Him at the threshold and make terms; but this will never
do. You may wish Him to pass into the upper courts without noticing the
lower. You may desire to know before admitting Him what He will consider
wrong and contraband, and to enter upon a discussion of the whole matter.
You may seek to bribe Him into inaction or acquiescence. But it may not
be. Jesus must be Lord or nothing. He will have his way, or not enter. He
will only take from us what we would be the first to renounce, did we know
all that He knows. He will do it gently, if we will let Him, taking away
the evil desire, giving us something better, extracting the cancer under
chloroform. But He must be free to act.
Sometimes, when He cannot attain his end by gentleness, He uses a scourge
of small cords. Very small things aid Him in his work of purification. A
child's remark; a case in a newspaper; a sentence in talk, or from a book;
a disappointment; an illness; a loss; a sarcastic rejoinder; any one of
these may be a strand in the cord, or a cord in the scourge, employed to
drive out evil. But better these than hornets (Ex 23:28).
There always will be remonstrance.--
The Pharisees challenged his right to
act thus, and demanded a sign. His answer foreshadowed his violent death
and the perfecting of his body through resurrection. These allusions were
dark sayings even to his disciples, till after they were fulfilled. His
words were angrily referred by the Jews to the fabric of the temple, and
were never forgotten. At his trial, and at his cross, they were repeatedly
flung against Him as a taunt. But they have been abundantly verified. In
destroying his body so far as death could do it, they in effect destroyed
their temple, and struck the death-knell of their system, whilst his risen
body is now seated on the right hand of the throne of God.
But over all remonstrances the zeal of Christ must triumph.--Ah, that
blessed zeal, which ate up his life in three short years; which quailed
not at its task, and shrank not back though the path it trod led straight
to the cross; which set against the opposition and malice of men the
vision of the accomplished purpose of God; and which conquered by the fire
of its own pure passion! It cleansed the temple courts, not once only, but
again. And will it do less for us? We too are the house of God; and the
zeal that led our Saviour to cleanse the temple, because it was his
Father's, will lead Him for the same reason to do as much for each of us.
Present your being to Him. It matters not how strong the evil, how deeply,
or how long entrenched. Only open the portal of your fife for His entrance
in mingled love and power. He will not fail nor be discouraged till the
work is done. Only trust Him. Only abandon yourself utterly to Him. Only
work out what He works in. Amid failure, and the rising of your
corruption, and untold opposition, his zeal will five and work, until the
whole temple is rendered worthy of its Divine Occupant. "He is the Saviour
of the Body."
10. A PSALM
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the
Spirit is spirit."--John 3:6.
BORN! That is true of us all. We were not asked if we would be born, or of
whom we would be born. But we awoke gradually from months of almost
unconsciousness to find that we had been born. And birth was the gate into
life. Through birth we entered the blessed kingdom of life.
But what life? There are many kingdoms of fife, rising one above another.
Into which of these were we born? The lowest is the kingdom of vegetable
life, with fungus and palm, with lichen and oak, with hyssop and cedar.
But our kingdom is higher than this. The next is the kingdom of animal
life, separated by an impassable gulf from that beneath it, embracing all
riving things, from the microscopic organisms of deep-sea dredgings, or
the invisible kingdoms that exist in drops of water, to the noblest forms
of creature-fife around the throne of God. But our kingdom was higher than
this. The next is the kingdom of mind and soul: in which there are the
faculty of reason; the rudiments of conscience; the sparkle of wit; the
aurora-glory of the fancy; memory as librarian; poetry as minstrel; hope,
as fresco-painter; love (to use Spenser's exquisite simile) as mother of
all. Into this kingdom we were born, when in our first birth we passed
into the light of life. If we were to adopt the phraseology of the New
Testament, we might call this the kingdom of the flesh; for the flesh is
employed in a very wide and special sense, and includes the whole drift of
human fife, even to its thoughts, "That which is born of the flesh is
flesh" (Ro 8:6, 7-note).
But above this kingdom there is another--the kingdom of the spiritual and
eternal. This is the supreme realm of fife, the element and home of God.
Our Lord alludes to it twice in the same breath as "the kingdom of God"
(John 3:3, 4, 5). The kingdom into which we are born as babes is filled
with bright and beautiful things; but it is shut off from this by a gulf
as vast as that which severs the vegetable from the animal, or the animal
from the moral nature of man. As easily might the water-lily become the
spaniel that dived for it, or the spaniel the poet Cowper, who sings his
exploit, as that which is born flesh become spirit. As there is no
entrance into the kingdom of the flesh-life save by natural birth; so
there is no entrance into the kingdom of the spirit-life, save by
spiritual birth. Only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. And this
made our Lord so emphatic in repeating his announcement, "Ye must be born
Nicodemus was an admirable type of the world of men outside the kingdom of
the spirit-life. He believed in God, having no sympathy with the cold
infidelity of the Sadducees. He was, probably, like another of the same
school, blameless in all the righteousness of the law, and irreproachable
in moral character. He would be classed among the high-churchmen of his
time. Courtly, thoughtful, inquisitive; willing to consider the claims of
any new system; prepared to acknowledge Christ as a teacher; perplexed at
spiritual truth; thinking that it was only needful to know in order to
be--how apt a type is he of the children of the flesh!
See him as he muffles his face in his cloak, and steals along in the
shadows cast by the full Passover moon, startled by his own footfall,
fearful lest the watchman on his beat should recognize the magnate of the
Jewish Sanhedrim in the suppliant for entrance at the door of the humble
lodging of Jesus of Nazareth. A nervous, timid old man this, defending his
friends on general principles; not liking to identify himself too publicly
with a dead enthusiast; fonder of asking questions than of arguing points
(John 3:4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9; 6:50, 51; 19:38, 39).
To such a man Christ said, "Ye must be born again." When Christ says must,
it is time for us to wake up. He is so gentle, winsome, tender. He is
always persuading, inviting, entreating. He so seldom uses the imperative
mood. When, therefore, He speaks thus, it becomes us to inquire into the
matter on which He insists so earnestly.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS LIFE.
It is "eternal life." This is the epithet perpetually applied to it
throughout this chapter and the writings of the beloved Evangelist. Our
Lord was the first so to describe it (John 3:15). The Holy Ghost repeats
the words as though to stamp them on our minds (John 3:16-36; 4:14, 36;
6:54; 10:28; 12:25; 1Jn 5:13). Surely they cannot simply mean
everlastingness, the duration of a never-ending existence. To have that
alone were to gain nothing by our second birth. Nay, it would repeat the
mistake of the old Greek myth, in which the goddess obtained for her lover
immortal life, but forgot to claim also immortal youth, so that his years
became an insupportable anguish. "Eternal" refers rather to the quality
than the quantity of that life, and tells us that it is altogether removed
from the conditions of space and time, and partakes of the blessed,
timeless, glorious, spiritual, nature of God.
This life is never shadowed by dread of condemnation (John 3:18); it suns
itself in the very light of God's face (John 3:20); it does the truth
(John 3:21); it finds its true nest and home in the very heart of God
II. THE SOURCE OF THIS LIFE,
"The Father hath life in Himself" (John 5:26). To use the sublime language
of the Psalmist, "In Thee is the fountain of life." All life finds its
source and origin in the nature of God; as the verdure of an oasis in the
desert, or of a valley among the hills, is entirely due to the presence of
a perennial fountain, which makes music through the years. Drain away the
fountain, and the glade slowly fades into the desert. Blot out God, and
the universe becomes as devoid of life as the moon.
From the firefly that flashes through the forest glade to the firstborn
sons of light--the seraphs, who burn in ceaseless adoration before the
throne--all the life that exists throughout the universe is due, if I may
say so, to the spray of the Divine fountain of life. And this is specially
true of spiritual life. Underived, independent of supply, original and
ever-flowing, all spirit-life has its centre, home, and fountain-head in
III. THE STORAGE OF THIS
If we may use the words, the Father stored his life in the human nature of
our Lord. It dwelt in Him in its fullness, and it pleased the Father that
it should be so. By a deliberate act, He gave to the Son to have life in
Himself. And so at last that life was manifested, and men saw it, and bore
witness of that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was
manifested to them (Col 2:9-note;
John 5:26; 1Jn 1:2).
Of course we know that, as the second person of the ever-blessed Trinity,
our Lord Jesus shared from before all worlds in the inherent life of God;
but when He became the Son of Man, it was the Father's special bestowment
that stored up in his human nature all the marvellous life of which we
speak. It was as if our God yearned to make us partakers of his Divine
nature; but, since the fountain-head was in his own being, and He knew
that it would be inaccessible to us, therefore, in tender pity and
condescension, He brought it within our reach in the human nature of our
blessed Lord. Who need be afraid of Jesus? What little child may not
venture to his arms? what penitent not kiss his feet? what trembling one
not lose all terror in his presence? Thank God that He has put his best
gift on so low a shelf that the weakest and smallest of his children may
go and take it for themselves!
But it was not enough simply to store the life in Jesus. It had to be made
accessible to us through his death, resurrection, and ascension. There is,
therefore, special significance in the repeated references of this chapter
to the Son of Man being lifted up on the cross (Jn 3:14, 16). That
precious death was the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice and
satisfaction for the sin of the whole world, through which alone our sins
can be pardoned, or we accounted worthy to stand in the presence of the
holy God. But, at the same time, it made Him able to pass on to others
that life which was in Himself; and, as He passed through death into
resurrection, He became the author of eternal life to all who are united
to Him by faith.
He was filled, that out of his fullness we might be filled. He died that
we might live. Having overcome the sharpness of death, He opened the
kingdom of heaven to all believers.
IV. THE COMMUNICATION OF THIS
"Born of water and of the Spirit." All the world of Judaea was ringing
with talk of John's baptism. At this very time he was baptizing in Aenon,
because there was much water there. This then was our Lord's point, when
He spoke of water. He clearly referred to the work of his Forerunner, and
all that it meant of repentance and confession of sin. It was through John
that men were to come to Himself. The porter must open the gate of the
true fold. And the Lord Jesus would not for a moment allow this man, ruler
though he were, to escape the wholesome ordeal of taking his place with
every other sinner on the Jordan banks, and of thus becoming one of the
people prepared for the coming of the Lord. In every soul there has to be
a process analogous to that signified by the baptism of John. First the
baptism of water, then the baptism of fire. First repentance, then
remission of sins. Born of water and of the Spirit.
But at the most this is only part, and, though necessary, the less part,
of the process. We need not only to turn from the old life, but to become
possessed of the new. And this is the express function of the Holy Spirit.
He is significantly called "the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Ro 8:2-note).
Faith is receptiveness. Those that believe are those that receive (John
1:12). Now the one spot in all the universe where faith is most easily and
constantly called into operation is at the cross of Jesus. When the soul
beholds that mystery of love, the Son of Man dying for its sins, uplifted
on the cross, as the serpent on the pole, it yearns after Him with a
passion which is God-begotten; it cannot refrain from faith; it opens
towards Him the deepest recesses of its being: and that is the blessed
moment of the impartation of the germ of the new life through the agency
of the Holy Spirit. We may not say which precedes the other. They are
simultaneous, as the simultaneous movement of the spokes of a wheel, or as
a child's first cry with its first bath.
We may not have been conscious of this gracious overshadowing of the Holy
Spirit, our hearts may have been too much occupied with love and penitence
and ecstasy to think of aught else than of the death which atoned for sin
and made us nigh to God; but in after years we must look back to that
moment as the birthday of our eternal life, the hour when we passed from
death unto life, and became alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ah, august and glorious experience, never to be forgotten, never to be
excelled in all that may transpire through untrodden ages, by which we
were translated from death into life, from the power of darkness into the
kingdom of God's dear Son!
V. THE LAWS OF THAT LIFE.
(John 3:1) Mystery.
As the wind (John 3:8). Whilst our Lord
was speaking with this inquirer, "trusting Himself to him," as He did not
to the majority of those who sought Him (John 2:24), the night-breeze may
have passed over the city, stirring the vine-leaves as they drooped over
the casement, and breathing through the open window. "Mark this wind,"
said our Lord; "how mysterious it is! You cannot see it, though you can
feel it. You know not from what scenes it comes, or to what it hurries;
its laws and ministries; why it is now a hurricane, and again a zephyr,
now laden with the softness of the western sea, and again hot and feverish
with the fire of the desert waste--of all this you are ignorant; and do
you think that you will be more able to understand the nature or laws of
that new life of which I speak?"
It must be always so. No kingdom can understand another kingdom. You must
be born into life to know life. It is only by what you experience of life
in yourself that you can judge of it in others. This is the contention
which the Apostle enforces in words that burn with undimming flame, though
almost two thousand years have elapsed since they were first penned: "The
things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (1Co 2:11, 12, 13,
14, 15 16).
Those, therefore, who hear us talk of the new birth may well marvel, as
did Nicodemus; and it is almost useless to try to make these mysteries
plain. As well ride on the wind, or follow the rush of the tide as it
drives its foaming steeds up the estuary. But we who have it know it. We
are conscious of its throb, its pulse, its ecstasy. We have traced its
parentage to the nature of God. We hear its music as it rises up like a
fountain towards eternity.
Thank God that, with all its mystery, the wind is all-pervasive. No lung
so consumptive, no mine so deep, no orifice so small, no court so fetid,
but it will enter to purify and heal. So, unless we seal ourselves
hermetically against Him, the Divine Spirit will enter our natures,
ridding them of the miasma which has gathered there, sowing the germs of
life, and inspiring us with the very nature of God.
(John 3:2) Knowledge.
Though we do not come to the Lord Jesus
primarily as Teacher, yet we cannot receive the new life without turning
naturally to Him as its Teacher and Guide. Come to Him as Teacher, and you
only marvel. Come to Him as Saviour, and, being saved, you learn, whilst
sitting at his feet, not earthly things only, but heavenly (John 3:12).
It is passing wonderful how soon the new-born babe begins to understand
things which baffle the wise and prudent. That which the intellect cannot
receive is welcomed by the loving humble spirit. We receive the Spirit of
God, and we come to know the things that are freely given to us of God.
They are revealed by the Spirit, who searches the deep things of the
Divine nature. Oh for more time to spend bending over these translucent
but infinite depths, beneath the teaching of such a Master!
(John 3:3) Growth.
As the Baptist said of the Lord, using
the third must of this chapter, "He must increase, I must decrease." This
also is true of the Christ-life within. It is destined to grow and
increase, from strength to strength, from grace to grace, till Christ is
perfectly formed within us.
The growth of the Divine life is in exact proportion to the denial of the
self-life. Bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. Learn what
it means to be crucified with Christ in daily acts of unselfish love and
pity. Mortify the deeds of the body in the power of the Eternal Spirit;
and as the mould is broken, the true ideal will emerge in the perfect
beauty of eternal life.