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§ 272. Christ consoles the Disciples with the Promise of his Return. (John, xiv.)

The last connected discourses of Christ are given at length in John’s Gospel.730730   It is charged by some that John could not possibly have remembered these discourses thus amid the thousand painful and tumultuous emotions that must have immediately followed. Little do such objectors conceive of the nature of the human soul, and of the might of deep impressions upon it. Such impressions these discourses must have made upon a mind and heart like John’s, and what was once received thus into the depths of the soul no concussions could cast out. Moreover, these emotions, how powerful soever they may have been, lasted but for a few days, and were followed by a reunion with Christ, by a new epoch of the interior life of the disciples which developed itself more and more gloriously. How, in these few days, could John have forgotten discourses so weighty in themselves, and affecting his own soul so powerfully? And, when the spiritual life of the disciples, sunken for a moment, emerged again after the resurrection of their Master, how brilliantly must the image of these last discourses have shone forth from the depths of their memories and their hearts! How precious must each word have been to them! With what intense interest must they have turned them over and dwelt upon their import! And how clear, in the light of their experience of the fulfilment of his predictions, must many things have appeared that were before obscure!
   Equally futile is the objection that John wrote his Gospel at an advanced age, when some things must have escaped his memory, and others become blended with his own thoughts. He must have repeated these discourses, times without number, to others; how, then, can it be said that he could not commit them faithfully to writing? (we do not mean to say verbatim et literatim, cf. index, sub voc. John). The remark of Irenaeus with regard to what he had heard in his youth from the lips of Polycarp will apply with vastly greater force to John and Christ: “Μᾶλλον γὰρ τὰ τότε διαμνημονεύω τῶν ἔναγχος γινομένων, αἱ γὰρ ἐκ παίδων μαθήσεις συναύξουσαι τῇ ψτχῇ, ἑνοῦται αὐτῇ.” (Comp. the entire passage, Euseb., v. 20; it bears remarkably against human efforts to convert a historical period into a mythical one.)

   John could not have been John had it been possible for him to forget such discourses of Christ.

   A further proof of the originality of these discourses, as recorded by John, is the aptness with which many passages are joined into them which, in the other Gospels, are presented in isolated forms, or in inapt connexions; e. g., Luke, xii., 11, 12; Matt., x., 17-20; Mark, xiii., 11. The passage in John, xvi., 32, is connected in Matt., xxvi., 31, Mark, xiv., 27 with the account of Peter’s denial.
In these he made use of a different turn of thought from that above referred to, to prepare the minds and hearts of the disciples for the struggles that awaited them. In view of their evident distress, while yet sitting at the table, he said, “Let not your hearts be troubled; trust in God, and confide in Me.” Even when his visible presence should be removed, they were to trust in him as the Mediator of their communion with God; nor, in grief for his departure, to think that he had left them alone in the world. There would be mansions 395 for all, he told them, in his Father’s house. He was going before (it was the object of his redeeming sufferings and of his ascension to heaven), to prepare a place for them; just as a friend goes before his friend to make his dwelling ready. And then he promises them, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

This might be understood of Christ’s second advent, were it not that he speaks of what was to happen immediately upon his return to the Father, and that his design was to comfort them in view of the immediate pain of separation. Nor can it be applied to his Resurrection, because his “going to the Father” was to follow the resurrection, and this, again, to be followed by a separation.731731   This objection would fall away if we could believe, with L. Kinkel (Stud. u. Krit., 1841, 3), that Christ, after leaving the grave and appearing to Mary, ascended to heaven, and only returned thence when he reappeared to the disciples. But the words under consideration do not justify this supposition. However we may conceive Christ’s reappearance after his resurrection, they could not satisfy the promises, given in these discourses, of a new and higher spiritual connexion between him and his disciples. In view of this continued manifestation, this uninterrupted communion, his bodily reappearance was only preparatory and subordinate. The only remaining interpretation is to apply it to his spiritual coming, to his revealing himself again to them, as the glorified one, in the communion of the Divine life. Not only were they to follow Him to the heavenly “mansions,”732732   Compare the analogy in the figure of the “everlasting mansions,” p. 275. where he was to “provide a place for them,” but he himself was “again to come to them,” that where He was, there they might be also, in spirit, united with him, never again to be separated. But as they could not as yet fully apprehend this spiritual coming and communion, it was only at a later period that these expressions, sufficiently within their capacity to give them consolation at the time, were understood in their full import.


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