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SECTION II. THE CHILDREN’S QUESTION, AND THE ADIEU
The questions put successively by four of the little ones to their dying Parent now invite our attention.
The first of these was asked by the disciple who was ever the most forward to speak his mind — Simon Peter. His question had reference to the intimation made by Jesus about His going away. Peter had noted and been alarmed by that intimation. It seemed to hint at danger; it plainly spoke of separation. Tormented with uncertainty, terrified by the vague presentiment of hidden peril, grieved at the thought of being parted from his beloved Master, he could not rest till he had penetrated the mystery; and at the very first pause in the discourse he abruptly inquired, “Lord, whither goest Thou?” thinking, though he did not say, “Where Thou goest, I will go.”
It was to this unexpressed thought that Jesus directed His reply. He did not say where He was going; but, leaving that to be inferred from His studied reserve, and from the tone in which He spoke, He Simply told Peter: “Whither I go, thou cast not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards.” By this answer He showed He had not forgotten that it was with children He had to deal. He does not look for heroic behavior on the part of Peter and his brother disciples at the approaching crisis. He does indeed expect that they shall play the hero by and by, and follow Him on the martyr’s path bearing their cross, in accordance with the law of discipleship proclaimed by Himself in connection with the first announcement of His own death. But meantime He expects them to behave simply as little children, running away in terror when the moment of danger arrives.
While this was the idea Jesus had of Peter, it was not the idea which Peter had of himself. He thought himself no child, but a man every inch. Dimly apprehending what following his Master meant, he deemed himself perfectly competent to the task now, and felt almost aggrieved by the poor opinion entertained of his courage. “Why,” he therefore asked in a tone of injured virtue, “Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now?” Is it because there is danger, imprisonment, death, in the path? If that be all, it is no good reason, for “I will lay down my life for Thy sake.” Ah, that “why,” how like a child; that self-confidence, what an infallible mark of spiritual weakness!
If the answer of Jesus to Peter’s fist question was indirect and evasive, that which He gave to his second was too plain to be mistaken. “Wilt thou,” He said, taking up the disciple’s words, — ” Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice.”512512So substantially in the synoptical Gospels (Matt. xxvi. 33-35; Mark xiv. 30; Luke xxii. 34). The harmony of this subject is difficult. Some suppose two allusions to Peter’s denial, once in the upper chamber, and a second time on the way in Gethsemane. See Stier for this view. Better for Peter had he been content with the first reply! Yet no: not better, only pleasanter for the moment. It was good for Peter to be thus bluntly told what his Lord thought of him, and to be shown once for all his own picture drawn by an unerring hand. It was just what was needed to lead him to self-knowledge, and to bring on a salutary crisis in his spiritual history. Already more than once he had been faithfully dealt with for faults springing from his characteristic vices of forwardness and self-confidence. But such correction in detail had produced no deep impression, no decisive lasting effect on his mind. He was still ignorant of himself, still as forward, self-confident, and self-willed as ever, as the declaration he had just made most clearly showed. There was urgent need, therefore, for a lesson that would never be forgotten; for a word of correction that would print itself indelibly on the erring disciple’s memory, and bear fruit throughout his whole after life. And here it is at last, and in good season. The Lord tells His brave disciple that he will forthwith play the coward; He tells His attached disciple, to whom separation from his Master seems more dreadful than death, that he will, ere many hours are past, deny all acquaintance or connection with Him whom he so fondly loves. He tells him all this at a time when the prophecy must be followed by its fulfilment almost as fast as a flash of lightning is followed by its peal of thunder. The prediction of Jesus, so minutely circumstantial, and the denial of Peter, so exactly corresponding, both by themselves so remarkable, and coming so close together, will surely help to make each other impressive; and it will be strange indeed if the two combined do not, by the blessing of God, in answer to the Master’s intercessory prayer, make of the fallen disciple quite another man. The result will doubtless prove the truth of another prophetic word reported by Luke as having been spoken by the Lord to His disciple on the same occasion.513513Luke xxii. 31. The chaff will be separated from the wheat in Peter’s character; he will undergo a great change of spirit; and being converted from self-confidence and self-will to meekness and modesty, he will be fit at length to strengthen others, to be a shepherd to the weak, and, if needful, to bear his cross, and so follow his Master through death to glory.
The second question proceeded from Thomas, the melancholy disciple, slow to believe, and prone to take sombre views of things. The mind of this disciple fastened on the statement wherewith Jesus concluded His second word of consolation: “Whither I go, the way ye know.” That statement seemed to Thomas not only untrue, but unreasonable. For himself, he was utterly unconscious of possessing the knowledge for which the speaker had given His hearers credit; and, moreover, he did not see how it was possible for any of them to possess it. For Jesus had never yet distinctly told them whither He was going; and not knowing the terminus ad quem, how could any one know the road which led thereto? Therefore, in a dry, matter-of-fact, almost cynical tone, this second interlocutor remarked: “Lord, we know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way?”514514John xiv. 5.
This utterance was thoroughly characteristic of the man, as we know him from John’s portraiture.515515John xi. 16, xx. 24-29. While the practical-minded Peter asks Jesus where He is going, determined if possible to follow Him, Thomas does not think it worth his while to make any such inquiry. Not that he is unconcerned about the matter. He would like well to know whither his Lord is bound; and, if it were possible, he would be as ready as his brother disciple to keep Him company. Danger would not deter him. He had said once before, “Let us go, that we may die with Him,” and he could say the same thing honestly again; for though he is gloomy, he is not selfish or cowardly. But just as on that earlier occasion, when Jesus, disregarding the warnings of His disciples, resolved to go from Peræa to Judæa on a visit to the afflicted family of Bethany, Thomas took the darkest view of the situation, and looked on death as the certain fate awaiting them all, so now he resigns himself to a hopeless, desponding mood. The thought of the Master’s departure makes him so sad that he has no heart to ask questions concerning the why or the whitherward. He resigns himself to ignorance on these matters as an inevitable doom. Whither? whither? I know not; who can tell? The future is dark. The Father’s house you spoke of, where in the universe can it be? Is there really such a place at all?
Even the question put by Thomas, “How can we know the way?” is not so much a question as an apology for not asking questions. It is not a demand for information, but a gentle complaint against Jesus for expecting His disciples to be informed. It is not the expression of a desire for knowledge, but an excuse for ignorance. The melancholy disciple is for the present hopeless of knowing either end or way, and therefore he is incurious and listless. Far from seeking light, he is rather in the humor to exaggerate the darkness. As Jonah in his angry mood indulged in querulousness, so Thomas in his sadness delights in gloom. He waits not eagerly for the dawn of day; he rather takes pleasure in the night, as congenial to his present frame of mind. Good men of melancholic temperament are, at the best, like men walking amid the solemn gloom of a forest. Sadness is the prevailing feeling in their souls, and they are content to have occasional broken glimpses of heaven, like peeps of the sky through the leafy roof of the wood. But Thomas is so heavy-hearted that he hardly cares even for a glimpse of the celestial world; he looks not up, but walks through the dark forest at a slow pace, with his eyes fixed upon the ground.
The argumentative proclivities516516On the so-called Rationalism of Thomas, see cap. xxviii. sec. 3. of this disciple appear in his words as well as his proneness to despondency. Another man in despairing mood might have said: We know neither end nor way; we are utterly in the dark both as to whither you are going, and as to the road by which you are to go thither. But Thomas must needs reason; his mental habit leads him to represent one piece of ignorance as the necessary consequence of another: We know not the terminus ad quem, and therefore it is impossible that we can know the way. This man is afflicted with the malady of thought; he gives reasons for every thing, and he will demand reasons for every thing. Here he demonstrates the impossibility of a certain kind of knowledge; at another crisis we shall find him insisting on palpable demonstration that his Lord is indeed risen from the dead.
How does Jesus reply to the lugubrious speech of Thomas? Most compassionately and sympathetically, now as at another time. To the curious question of Peter He returned an evasive answer; to the sad-hearted Thomas, on the other hand, He vouchsafes information which had not been asked. And the information given is full even to redundancy. The disciple had complained of ignorance concerning the end, and especially concerning the way; and it would have been a sufficient reply to have said, The Father is the end, and I am the way. But the Master, out of the fulness of His heart, said more than this. With firm, emphatic tones He uttered this oracular response, meant for the ear not of Thomas alone, but of all the world: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.”
Comparing this momentous declaration with the preceding word of consolation, we observe a change in the mode of presenting the truth. The Father Himself takes the place of the Father’s house with its many mansions, as the end; and Jesus, instead of being the guide who shall one day lead His children to the common home, becomes Himself the way. The kind Master alters His language, in gracious accommodation to childish capacities. Of Christians at the best it may be said, in the words of Paul, that now, in this present time-life, they see the heavenly and the eternal as through a glass, in enigmas.517517ἐν αἰνίγματι, 1 Cor. xiii. 12. But the disciples at this crisis in their history were not able to do even so much. Jesus had held up before their eyes the brightly-polished mirror of a beautiful parable concerning a house of many mansions, and they had seen nothing there; no image, but only an opaque surface. The future remained dark and hidden as before. What, then, was to be done? Just what Jesus did. Persons must be substituted for places. Disciples weak in faith must be addressed in this fashion: Can ye not comprehend whither I am going? Think, then, to whom I go. If ye know nothing of the place called heaven, know at least that ye have a Father there. And as for the way to heaven, let that for you mean me. Knowing me, ye need no further knowledge; believing in me, ye may look forward to the future, even to death itself, without fear or concern.
On looking more narrowly into the response given by Jesus to Thomas, we find it by no means easy to satisfy ourselves as to how precisely it should be expounded. The very fulness of this saying perplexes us; it is dark with excess of light. Interpreters differ as to how the Way, the Truth, and the Life are to be distinguished, and how they are related to each other. One offers, as a paraphrase of the text: I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of the ladder which leads to heaven; another: I am the example, the teacher, the giver of eternal life; while a third subordinates the two last attributes to the first, and reads: I am the true way of life.518518Luther, Grotius, Augustine, quoted in Lange, Bibelwerk, das Evang. Johan. Each view is true in itself, yet one hesitates to accept either of them as exhausting the meaning of the Saviours words.
Whatever be the preferable method of interpreting these words of our Lord, two things at least are clear from them. Jesus sets Himself forth here as all that man needs for eternal salvation, and as the only Saviour. He is way, truth, life, every thing; and He alone conducts to the Father. He says to men in effect: “What is it you want? Is it light? I am the light of the world, the revealer of the Father: for this end I came, that I might declare Him. Or is it reconciliation you want? I by that very death which I am about to endure am the Reconciler. My very end in dying is to bring you who are for off nigh to God, as to a forgiving, gracious Father. Or is it life, spiritual, never-ending life, you seek? Believe in me, and ye shall never die; or though ye die, I will raise you again to enter on an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, eternal in the heavens. Let all who seek these things look to me. Look to me for light, not to rabbis or philosophers; not even to nature and providence. These last do indeed reveal God, but they do so dimly. The light of creation is but the starlight of theology, and the light of providence is but its moonlight, while I am the sunlight. My Father’s Name is written in hieroglyphics in the works of creation; in providence and history it is written in plain letters, but so far apart that it takes much study to put them together, and so spell out the divine Name: in me the divine Name is written so that he may read who runs, and the wisdom of God is become milk for babes.519519Verbum caro factum est, ut infantiæ nostræ lactesceret sapientia tua, per quam creasti omnia. — August. Conf. vii. 18. The idea that Christ became man to be the Revealer of God is made very prominent in the tract of Athanasius, περὶ τῆς ἐνανθρωπή· σεως τοῦ λόγου. Look to me also for reconciliation, not to legal sacrifices. That way of approaching God is antiquated now. I am the new, the living, the eternal way into the holy of holies, through which all may draw near to the divine presence with a true heart, in full assurance of faith. Look to me, finally, for eternal blessedness. I am He who, having died, shall rise again, and live forevermore, and shall hold in my hands the keys of Hades and of death, and shall open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.”
The doctrine that in Christ is the fulness of grace and truth is very comforting to those who know Him; but what of those who know Him not, or who possess only such an implicit, unconscious knowledge as hardly merits the name? Does the statement we have been considering exclude such from the possibility of salvation? It does not. It declares that no man cometh to the Father but by Christ, but it does not say how much knowledge is required for salvation.520520The doctrine of the Westminster Confession is ambiguous on this point. Its words are: “Much less can men not professing the Christian religion be save in any other way whatsoever, be they ever so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of that religion they do profess.” This statement may mean either that the persons in question absolutely cannot be saved, — their non-profession of the Christian religion excluding them from being saved in the true way, and all other ways being unavailable; or that they cannot be saved by any other way: if saved, it must be in spite of other ways, and through the one true way — Christ. The statement in the first chapter, Of the Holy Scripture, seems to make the balance incline towards the former view. In that chapter the insufficiency of the light of nature to give that knowledge of God which is necessary for salvation is affirmed, and the affirmation is made the basis of the doctrine of revelation. The strongest statement of all is in the Larger Catechism, Q. 60, which seems to affirm positively that none can be saved who have not heard the gospel. It is possible that some may be saved by Christ, and for His sake, who know very little about Him indeed. This we may infer from the case of the disciples themselves. What did they know about the way of salvation at this period? Jesus addresses them as persons yet in ignorance concerning Himself, saying: “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.” Nevertheless, He has no hesitation in speaking to them as persons who should be with Him in the Father’s house. And what shall we say of Job, and the Syro-Phoenician woman, and the Ethiopian eunuch, and Cornelius, and we may add, after Calvin, the Syrian courtier Naaman? We cannot say more than the great theologian of Geneva has himself said concerning such cases: “I confess,” he writes, “that in a certain respect their faith was implicit, not only as to the person of Christ, but as to His virtue and grace, and the office assigned Him by the Father. Meanwhile it is certain that they were imbued with principles which gave some taste of Christ, however slight.”521521Calv. Inst. iii. ii. 32. It is doubtful whether even so much can be said of Naaman; though Calvin, without evidence, and merely to meet the exigencies of a theory, argues that it would have been too absurd, when Elisha had spoken to him of little matters, to have been silent on the most important subject. Or if we grant to Naaman the slight taste contended for, must we not grant it also, with Justin Martyr522522Χριστῷ δὲ τῷ καὶ ὑπὸ Σωκράτου ἀρὸ μέρους γνωσθέντι (λόγος γὰρ ἦν, καὶ ἔστιν ὁ ἐν παντὶ ὤν), — Apol. ii. 10; so also Apol. i. 5. The anticipations of Christian thought in Plato and in Euripides are familiar to scholars. The following opinion on the salvation of the heathen from Richard Baxter deserves notice: — “I am not so much inclined (as he once was) to pass a peremptory sentence of damnation upon all that never heard of Christ, having some more reasons than I knew of before to think that God’s dealing with such is much unknown to us.” — Reliquiæ Baxterianae, lib. i. part i., comparing his earlier and later religious views. and Zwingli, to Socrates and Plato and others, on the principle that all true knowledge of God, by whomsoever possessed and however obtained, whether it be sunlight, moonlight, or starlight, is virtually Christian; in other words, that Christ, just because He is the only light, is the light of every man who hath any light in him?
This principle, while it has its truth, may very easily be preverted into an argument against a supernatural revelation. Hence in its very first chapter, Of the Holy Scripture, the Westminster Confession broadly asserts that the light of nature and the works of creation and providence are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will which is necessary unto salvation. While strongly maintaining this truth, however, we must beware of being drawn into a tone of disparagement in speaking of what way be learnt of God from those lower sources. While walking in the sunlight, we rust not despise the dimmer luminaries of the night, or forget their existence, as in the day-time men forget the moon and the stars. By so doing we should be virtually disparaging the Scriptures themselves. For much that is in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, is but a record of what inspired men had learned from observation of God’s works in creation, and of His ways in providence. All cannot, indeed, see as much there as they saw. On the contrary, a revelation was needed not only to make known truths Iying beyond the teachings of natural religion, but even to direct men’s dim eyes to truths which, though visible in nature, were in fact for the most part not seen. The Bible, in the quaint language of Calvin, is a pair of spectacles, through which our weak eyes see the glory of God in the world.523523Sicuti senes vel lippi, et quicunque oculis caligant si vel pulcherrimum volumen illis objicias quamvis agnoscant esse aliquid scriptum, fix tamen duas voces contexere poterunt; specillis autem interpositis adjuti distincte legere incipient: ita Scriptura confusam alloqui Dei notitiam in mentibus nostris colligens, discussa caligine liquido nobis verum Deum ostendit. — Inst. i. vi. 1. Yet what is seen through the spectacles by weak eyes is in many passages just what might be seen by strong eyes without their aid, — "nothing being placed there which is not visible in the creation.”524524Nihil tamen illic Ps. cxlv., etc.) ponitur quod non liceat in creaturis contemplari. — Calv. Inst. i. x. 2.
These observations may help us to cherish hope for those whose opportunities of knowing Him who is “the way, the truth, and the life” are small. They do not, however, justify those who, having abundant facilities for knowing Christ, are content with the minimum of knowledge. There is more hope for the heathen than for such men. To their number no true Christian can belong. A genuine disciple may know little to begin with: this was the case even with the apostles themselves; but he will not be satisfied to be in the dark. He will desire to be enlightened in the knowledge of Christ, and will pray, “Lord, show us the Father.”
Such was the prayer of Philip, the third disciple who took part in the dialogue at the supper-table. Philip’s request, like Thomas’s question, was a virtual denial of a statement previously made by Jesus. “If ye had known me,” Jesus had said to Thomas, “ye should have known my Father also;.” and then He had added, “and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.” This last statement Philip felt himself unable to homologate. “Seen the Father! would it were so! nothing would gratify us more: Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.”
In itself, the prayer of this disciple was most devout and praiseworthy. There can be no loftier aspiration than that which seeks the knowledge of God the Father, no better index of a spiritual mind than to account such knowledge the summum bonum, no more hopeful symptom of ultimate arrival at the goal than the candor which honestly confesses present ignorance. In these respects the sentiments uttered by Philip were fitted to gratify his Master. In other respects, however, they were not so satisfactory. The ingenuous inquirer had evidently a very crude notion of what seeing the Father amounted to. He fancied it possible, and he appears to have wished, to see the Father as he then saw Jesus — as an outward object of vision to the eye of the body. Then, supposing that to be his wish, how foolish the reflection, “and it sufflceth us”! What good could a mere external vision of the Father do any one? And finally that same reflection painfully showed how little the disciples had gained hitherto from intercourse with Jesus. They had been with Him for years, yet had not found rest and satisfaction in Him, but had still a craving for something beyond Him; while what they craved they had, without knowing it, been getting from Him all along.
Such ignorance and spiritual incapacity so late in the day were very disappointing. And Jesus was disappointed, but, with characteristic patience, not irritated. He took not offence either at Philip’s stupidity, or at the contradiction he had given to His own statement (for He would rather be contradicted than have disciples pretend to know when they do not), but endeavored to enlighten the little ones somewhat in the knowledge of the Father. For this end He gave great prominence to the truth that the knowledge of the Father and of Himself, the Son, were one; that He that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father. The better to fix this great principle in the minds of His hearers, He put it in the strongest possible manner, by treating their ignorance of the Father as a virtual ignorance of Himself. “Have I,” He asked, “been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” Then He went on to reason, as if to be ignorant of the Father was to be so far ignorant of Himself as in effect to deny His divinity. “Believest thou not,” He again asked, “that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” and then He followed up the question with a reference to those things which went to prove the asserted identity — His words and His works.525525John xiv. 10, 11. Nor did He stop even here, but proceeded next to speak of still more convincing proofs of His identity with the Father, to be supplied in the marvellous works which should afterwards be done by the apostles themselves in His Name, and through powers granted to them by Himself in answer to their prayers.526526Vers. 12-14.
The first question put by Jesus to Philip, “Hast thou not known me?” was something more than a logical artifice to make stupid disciples reflect on the contents of the knowledge they already possessed. It hinted at a real fact. The disciples had really not yet seen Jesus, for as long as they had been with Him. They knew Him, and they did not know Him: they knew not that they knew, nor what they knew. They were like children, who can repeat the Catechism without understanding its sense, or who possess a treasure without being capable of estimating its value. They were like men looking at an object through a telescope without adjusting the focus, or like an ignorant peasant gazing up at the sky on a winter night, and seeing the stars which compose a constellation, such as the Bear or Orion, yet not recognizing the constellation itself. The disciples were familiar with the words, parables, discourses, etc., spoken, and with the miraculous works done, by their Master, but they knew these only as isolated particulars; the separate rays of light emanating from the fountain of divine wisdom, power, and love in Jesus, had never been gathered into a focus, so as to form a distinct image of Him who came in the flesh to reveal the invisible God. They had seen many a star shine out in the spiritual heavens while in Christ’s company; but the stars had not yet assumed to their eye the aspect of a constellation. They had no clear, full, consistent, spiritual conception of the mind, heart, and character of the man Christ Jesus, in whom dwelt all the fulness of Godhead bodily. Nor would they possess such a conception till the Spirit of Truth, the promised Comforter, came. The very thing He was to do for them was to show them Christ; not merely to recall to their memories the details of His life, but to show them the one mind and spirit which dwelt amid the details, as the soul dwells in the body, and made them an organic whole, and which once perceived, would of itself recall to recollection all the isolated particulars at present Iying latent in their consciousness. When the apostles had got that conception, they would know Christ indeed, the same Christ whom they had known before, yet different, a new Christ, because a Christ comprehended, — seen with the eye of the spirit, as the former had been seen with the eye of the flesh. And when they had thus seen Christ, they would feel that they had also seen the Father. The knowledge of Christ would satisfy them, because in Him they should see with unveiled face the glory of the Lord.
The soul-satisfying vision of God being a future good to be attained after the advent of the Comforter, it could not have been the intention of Jesus to assure the disciples that they possessed it already, still less to force it on them by a process of reasoning. When He said, “From henceforth ye know Him (the Father), and have seen Him,” He evidently meant: “Ye now know how to see Him, viz. by reflecting on your intercourse with me. And the sole object of the statements made to Philip concerning the close relations between the Father and the speaker evidently was to impress upon the disciples the great truth that the solution of all religious difficulties, the satisfaction of all longings, was to be found in the knowledge of Himself. “Know me,” Jesus would say, “trust me, pray to me, and all shall be well with you. Your mind shall be filled with light, your heart shall be at rest; you shall have every thing you want; your joy shall be full.”
A most important lesson this; but also one which, like Philip and the other disciples, all are slow to learn. How few, even of those who confess Christ’s divinity, do see in Him the true perfect Revealer of God! To many Jesus is one Being, and God is another and quite a different Being; though the truth that Jesus is divine is all the while honestly acknowledged. That great truth lies in the mind like an unfructifying seed buried deep in the soil, and we may say of it what has been said of the doctrine of the soul’s immortality: “One may believe it for twenty years, and only in the twenty-first, in some great moment, discover with astonishment the rich contents of this belief, the warmth of this naphtha spring.”527527Jean Paul Richter, Siebenkäs, Erstes Blumenstück. Impressions of God have been received from one quarter, impressions of Christ from another; and the two sets of impressions lie side by side in the mind, incompatible, yet both receiving house-room. Hence, when a Christian begins to carry out consistently the principle that, Jesus being God, to know Jesus is to know God, he is apt to experience a painful conflict between a new and an old class of ideas about the Divine Being. Two Gods — a christianize God, and a sort of pagan divinity — struggle for the place of sovereignty; and when at last the conflict ends in the enthronement in the mind and heart of the God whom Jesus revealed, the day-dawn of a new spiritual life has arrived.
One most prominent idea in the conception of God as revealed by Jesus Christ is that expressed by the name Father. According to the doctrine of our Lord and Saviour, God is not truly known till He is thought of and heartly believed in as a Father; neither can any God who is not regarded as a Father satisfy the human heart. Hence His own mode of speaking concerning God was in entire accordance with this doctrine. He did not speak to men about the Deity, or the Almighty. Those epithets which philosophers are so fond of applying to the Divine Being, the Infinite, the Absolute, etc., never crossed His lips. No words ever uttered by Him could suggest the idea of the gloomy arbitrary tyrant before whom the guilty conscience of superstitious heathenism cowers. He spake evermore, in sermon, parable, model prayer, and private conversation, of a Father. Such expressions as “the Father,” “my Father,” “your Father,” were constantly on His tongue; and all He taught concerning God harmonized perfectly with the feelings these expressions were fitted to call forth.
Yet notwithstanding all His pains, and all the beauty of His utterances concerning the Being whom no man hath seen, Jesus, it is to be feared, has only imperfectly succeeded in establishing the worship of the Father. From ignorance or from preference, men still extensively worship God under other names and categories. Some deem the paternal appellation too homely, and prefer a name expressive of more distant and ceremonious relations. The Deity, or the Almighty, suffices them. Philosophers dislike the appellation Father, because it makes the personality of God too prominent. They prefer to think of the Uncreated as an Infinite, Eternal Abstraction — an object of speculation rather than of faith and love. Legal-minded professors of religion take fright at the word Father. They are not sure what they have a right to use it, and they deem it safer to speak of God in general terms, which take nothing for granted, as the Judge, the Taskmaster, or the Lawgiver. The worldly, the learned, and the religious, from different motives, thus agree in allowing to fall into desuetude the name into which they have been baptized, and only a small minority worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
Superficial readers of the gospel may cherish the idea that the name Father, applied to God by Jesus, is simply or mainly a sentimental poetic expression, whose loss were no great matter for regret. There could not be a greater mistake. The name, in Christ’s lips, always represents a definite thought, and teaches a great truth. When He uses the term to express the relation of the Invisible One to Himself, He gives us a glimpse into the mystery of the Divine Being, telling us that God is not abstract being, as Platonists and Arians conceived Him; not the absolute, incapable of relations; not a passionless being, without affections; but one who eternally loves, and is loved, in whose infinite nature the family affections find scope for ceaseless play — One in three: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three persons in one divine substance. Then again, when He calls God Father, in reference to mankind in general, as He does repeatedly, He proclaims to men sunk in ignorance and sin this blessed truth: “God, my Father, is your Father too; cherishes a paternal feeling towards you, though ye be so marred in moral vision that He might well not know you, and so degenerate that He might well be ashamed to own you; and I His Son am come, your elder brother, to bring you back to your Father’s house. Ye are not worthy to be called His sons, for ye have ceased to bear His image, and ye have not yielded Him filial obedience and reverence; nevertheless, He is willing to be a Father unto you, and receive you graciously in His arms. Believe this, and become in heart and conduct sons of God, that ye may enjoy the full, the spiritual and eternal, benefit of God’s paternal love.” When, finally, He calls God Father, with special reference to His own disciples, He assures them that they are the objects of God’s constant, tender, and effective care; that all His power, wisdom, and love are engaged for their protection, preservation, guidance, and final eternal salvation; that their Father in heaven will see that they lack no good, and will make all things minister to their interest, and in the end secure to them their inheritance in the everlasting kingdom. “Fear not,” is His comforting message to His little chosen flock, “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
We have now to notice the fourth and last of the children’s questions, which was put by Judas, “not Iscariot” (he is otherwise occupied), but the other disciple of that name, also called Lebbaeus and Thaddaeus.528528Vide chap. iv. of this work.
In His third word of consolation Jesus had spoken of a re-appearance (after His departure) specially and exclusively to “His own.” “The world,” He had said, “seeth me no more; but ye see me,” that is, shall see after a little while. Now two questions might naturally be asked concerning this exclusive manifestation: How was it possible? and what was the reason of it? How could Jesus make Himself visible to His disciples, and yet remain invisible to all others? and granting the possibility, why not show Himself to the world at large? It is not easy to decide which of these two difficulties Judas had in his mind, for his question might be interpreted either way. Literally translated, it was to this effect: “Lord, what has happened, that Thou art about to manifest Thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” The disciple might mean, like Nicodemus, to ask, “How can these things be?” or he might mean, “We have been hoping for the coming of Thy kingdom in power and glory, visible to the eyes of all men: what has led Thee to change Thy plans?”
In either case the question of Judas was founded on a misapprehension of the nature of the promised manifestation. He imagined that Jesus was to reappear corporeally, after His departure to the Father, therefore so as to be visible to the outward eye, and not of this one or that one, but of all, unless He took pains to hide Himself from some while revealing Himself to others.529529Luthardt (Das Johan. Evang. ii. 313) contends that a corporeal manifestation (at the end of the world) is meant, and weakly argues, that if only a spiritual presence were meant, Jesus would have said ἐν αὐτῷ instead of παῤ αὐτῷ in ver. 23. Παρὰ suits the parabolic style of speech; ἐν would be an interpretation of the figure. Neither Judas nor any of his brethren was capable as yet of conceiving a spiritual manifestation, not to speak of finding therein a full compensation, for the loss of the corporeal presence. Had they grasped the thought of a spiritual presence, they could have had no difficulty in reconciling visibility to one with invisibility to another; for they would have understood that the vision could be enjoyed only by those who possessed the inward sense of sight.
How was a question dictated by incapacity to understand the subject to which it referred to be answered? Just as you would explain the working of the electric telegraph to a child. If your child asked you, Father, how is it that you can send a message by the telegraph to my uncle or aunt in America, so far, far away? you would not think of attempting to explain to him the mysteries of electricity. You would take him to a telegraph office, and bid him look at the man actually engaged in sending a message, and tell him, that as the man moved the handle, a needle in America pointed at letters of the alphabet, which, when put together, made up words which said just what you wished to say.
In this way it was that Jesus answered the question of Judas. He did not attempt to explain the difference between a spiritual and a corporeal manifestation, but simply said in effect: Do you so and so, and what I have promised will come true. “If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” It is just the former statement repeated, in a slightly altered, more pointed form. Nothing new is said, because nothing new can be said intelligibly. The old promise is simply so put as to arrest attention on the condition of its fulfilment. “if a man love me, he will keep my words: “attend to that, my children, and the rest will follow. The divine Trinity — Father, Son, and Spirit — will verily dwell with the faithful disciple, who with trembling solicitude strives to observe my Commandments. As for those who love me not, and keep not my sayings, and believe not on me, it is simply impossible for them to enjoy such august company. The pure in heart alone shall see God.
Jesus had now spoken all He meant to say to His disciples in the capacity of a dying parent addressing his sorrowing children. It remained now only to wind up the discourse, and bid the little ones adieu.
In drawing to a close, Jesus does not imagine that He has removed all difficulties and dispelled all gloom from the minds of the disciples. On the contrary, He is conscious that all He has said has made but a slight impression. Nevertheless, He will say no more in the way of comfort. There is, in the first place, no time. Judas and his band, the prince of this world, whose servants Judas and all his associates are, may now be expected at any moment, and He must hold Himself in readiness to go and meet the enemy.530530John xiv. 30, 31. Then, secondly, to add any thing further would be useless. It is not possible to make things any clearer to the disciples in their present state by any amount of speech. Therefore He does not attempt it, but refers them for all other explanations to the promised Comforter,531531Vers. 25, 26. and proceeds to utter the words of farewell: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you,”532532Ver. 27. — words touching at all times, unspeakably affecting in the circumstances of the Speaker and hearers. We know not but they did more to comfort the dispirited little ones than all that had been said before. There is a pathos and a music in the very sound of them, apart from their sense, which are wonderfully soothing. We can imagine, indeed, that as they were spoken, the poor disciples were overtaken with a fit of tenderness, and burst into tears. That, however, would do them good. Sorrow is healed by weeping: the sympathy which melts the heart at the same time comforts it.
This touching sympathetic farewell is more than a good wish: it is a promise — a promise made by One who knows that the blessing promised is within reach. It is like the cheering word spoken by David to brothers in affliction: “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen twine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” David spoke that word from experience, and even so does Jesus speak here. The peace He offers His disciples is His own peace — "my peace:.” not merely peace of His procuring, but peace of His experiencing. He has had peace in the world, in spite of sorrow and temptation, — perfect peace through faith. Therefore He can assure them that such a thing is possible. They, too, can have peace of mind and heart in the midst of untoward tribulation. The world can neither understand nor impart such peace, the only peace it knows any thing about being that connected with prosperity, which trouble can destroy as easily as a breath of wind agitates the calm surface of the sea. But there is a peace which is independent of outward circumstances, whose sovereign virtue and blessed function it is to keep the heart against fear and care. Such peace Jesus had Himself enjoyed; and He gives His disciples to understand that through faith and singleness of mind they may enjoy it also.
The farewell word is not only a promise made by One who knows whereof He speaks, but the promise of One who can bestow the blessing promised. Jesus does not merely say: Be of good cheer; ye may have peace, even as I have had peace, in spite of tribulation. He says moreover, and more particularly, Such peace as I have had I bequeath to you as a dying legacy, I bestow on you as a parting gift. The inheritance of peace is made over to the little ones by a last will and testament, though, being minors, they do not presently enter into actual possession. When they arrive at their majority they shall inherit the promise, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace. The after-experience of the disciples proved that the promise made to them by their Lord had not been false and vain. The apostles, as Jesus foretold, found in the world much tribulation; but in the midst of all they enjoyed perfect peace. Trusting in the Lord, and doing good, they were without fear and without care. In every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, they made their requests known unto God; and the peace of God, which passeth understanding, did verily keep their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Jesus had not yet said His last word to the little ones. Seeing in their faces the signs of grief, in spite of all that He had spoken to comfort them, He abruptly threw out an additional remark, which gave to the whole subject of His departure quite a new turn. He had been telling them, all through His farewell address, that though He was going away, He would come again to them, either personally or by deputy, in the body at last, in the Spirit meanwhile. He now told them, that apart from His return, His departure itself should be an occasion of joy rather than of sorrow, because of what it signified for Himself. “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you:.” extract comfort from that promise by all means. But “if ye loved me (as ye ought), ye would rejoice because I said, I go unto the Father,”533533John xiv. 28. forgetting yourselves, and thinking what a happy change it would be for me. Then he added: “For my Father is greater than I.” The connection between this clause and the foregoing part of the sentence is somewhat obscure, as is also its theological import. Our idea, however, is, that when Jesus spake these words He was thinking of His death, and meeting an objection thence arising to the idea of rejoicing in His departure. “You are going to the Father,” one might have said — "yes; but by what a way!” Jesus replies: The way is rough, and abhorrent to flesh and blood; but it is the way my Father has appointed, and that is enough for me; for my Father is greater than I. So interpreting the words, we only make the speaker hint therein at a thought which we find Him plainly expressing immediately after in His concluding sentence, where He represents His voluntary endurance of death as a manifestation to the world of His love to the Father, and as an act of obedience to His commandment.
And now, finally, by word and act, Jesus strives to impress on the little children the solemn reality of their situation. First, He bids them mark what He has told them of His departure, that when the separation takes place they may not be taken by surprise. “Now I have told you before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass ye might believe.”534534Ver. 29. Then He gives them to understand that the parting hour is at hand. Hereafter He will not talk much with them; there will not be opportunity; for the prince of this world cometh. Then He adds words to this effect: “Let him come; I am ready for him. He has indeed nothing in me; no claim upon me; no power over me; no fault which he can charge against me. Nevertheless, I yield myself up into his hands, that all men may see that I love the Father, and am loyal to His will: that I am ready to die for truth, for righteousness, for the unrighteous.”535535John xiv. 30, 31. Then, lastly, with firm, resolute voice, He gives the word of command to all to rise up from the couches on which they have been reclining, doubtless suiting His own action to the word: “Arise, let us go hence.”536536Ver. 31.
From the continuation of the discourse, as recorded by John, as well as from the statement made by him at the commencement of the eighteenth chapter of his Gospel ("When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth,” etc.), we infer that the company did not at this point leave the supper-chamber. They merely assumed a new attitude, and exchanged the recumbent for a standing posture, as if in readiness to depart. This movement was, in the circumstances, thoroughly natural. It fitly expressed the resolute temper of Jesus; and it corresponded to the altered tone in which He proceeded to address His disciples. The action of rising formed, in fact, the transition from the first part of His discourse to the second. Better than words could have done, it altered the mood of mind, and prepared the disciples for listening to language not soft, tender, and familiar as heretofore, but stern, dignified, impassioned. It struck the keynote, if we may so express it, by which the speaker passed from the lyric to the heroic style. It said, in effect: Let us have done with the nursery dialect, which, continued longer, would but enervate: let me speak to you now for a brief space as men who have got to play an important part in the world. Arise; shake off languor, and listen, while I utter words fitted to fire you with enthusiasm, to inspire you with courage, and to impress you with a sense of the responsibilities and the honors connected with your future position.
So understanding the rising from the table, we shall be prepared to listen along with the disciples, and to enter on the study of the remaining portion of Christ’s farewell discourse, without any feeling of abruptness.
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