It is one of the peculiarities of our Gospel that in it we see the Lord frequently in Jerusalem, while the Synoptic Gospels are occupied with His Galilean ministry. The miracle at the pool of Bethesda is an instance: only John records it. Both the fact and the discourse which follows eminently bring out His Person. This alone abides, and it is all to the believer, with the infinite work which owes its infiniteness to it. In the other Gospels the process of probation is viewed as still going on; by John all is seen from the first to be closed before God. Hence His moral judgment of Jerusalem is shown us at the beginning by John, as its rejection of Him also. This, to my mind, accounts for the record of the Lord’s work there, as well as in Galilee, in the Gospel of John. If all be regarded as a scene of wreck and ruin morally, it was of no consequence where He wrought. As to trial, all was over; grace could and would work equally anywhere: Galilee and Jerusalem were thus alike. Sin levels all: life from God in the Son was needed by one as much as another. This our Gospel develops.
“After these things was the feast63 of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Here authority is pretty equally divided for and against the insertion of the article. Ten uncials (CEFHILM
ΔΠ) insert it, ten (ABDGKSUV
ΓΛ) omit it. About fifty cursives and the Memph. and Theb. versions are with the former; still more with the latter. If the article be received, it can scarcely be any other feast than the passover, the first and foundation feast of the Jewish holy year. Some have thought that it might be the feast of Purim, but this would not account for Jesus going up to Jerusalem. It had no such Divine claim.100
“Now there is101 in Jerusalem at the sheep-gate64 a pool that is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a65multitude of the sick, blind, lame, withered (awaiting the moving of the water. For an angel descended from time to time in the pool and troubled the water. He, therefore, that first went in after the troubling of the water, became well, whatever disease he was affected by). But a certain man was there, for thirty-and-eight years suffering under his66 infirmity. Jesus, seeing him lying down, and knowing that he was (so) now a long time, saith to him, Desirest thou to become well?
“The infirm (man) answered, Sir,67 I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool; but whilst I am coming, another goeth down before me. Jesus saith to him, Arise, take up thy couch, and walk. And immediately68 the man became well, and took up his couch and walked. And on that day was Sabbath.”
A striking picture that scene was of man, of the Jews under law. There they lay without strength, and though the grace of God might interfere at intervals, the greater the need, the less could souls take advantage of His mercy. It was “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.” (Rom. 8:3.) The impotent man was himself the witness of it till Jesus came, and, unsought, sought him. No angel’s moving of the water could avail a man unable to step down and without help to plunge him into the pool. He that was stronger could always anticipate the helpless. But now grace, in Jesus the Son of God, looks, at him who had been suffering so long; grace speaks to him; grace works for him, in a word, without further delay; for the word was with power. “And immediately the man became well, and took up his couch,102 and walked. And on that day was Sabbath.”
But how could Sabbath be kept or enjoined on that day of man’s misery? Jesus had come to work, not to rest; whatever Pharisees might urge, He would not seal up man in a rest broken before God by sin and ruin.
Thus the sign wrought on that Sabbath carries out further what the Lord is seen doing throughout these chapters of the Gospel-substituting Himself for every object of trust or means of blessing, of old or in that day, without Israel and within. Even angels bow to the Son; yet was He incarnate, working in humiliation, going on straight to the cross. The law could not deliver from the guilt or power or effects of sin; no extraordinary intervention of God by the highest of creatures could adequately meet the need; nothing and no one but Jesus the Son of God. Yet have we also the clearest proof that the Jews were so self-satisfied in their misery by a misuse of the law, which blinded them to their sin as well as to the Son, that they were content to go on with such a Sabbath, incensed with Him Who wrought a sign that proclaimed not more surely His grace than their ruin. Hopeless, too, it was because of their rejection of the remedy and their self-complacency in their own righteousness.
Observe, however, that the Lord made the infirm feel his powerlessness more than ever before He spoke the word that raised him up. He did awaken the desire to be made whole, as He looked with infinite compassion and knew the case in all its fulness; but the desire then felt expressed itself in the man’s conviction of his own wretchedness. It was like the soul’s saying, in Rom. 7, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me,” etc. How little he knew Who had deigned to be his “neighbour,” and do the part of the good Samaritan-yea, incomparably more here where need is sounded more deeply. The Quickener of the dead is here. “He spake, and it was done,” Sabbath as it might be; but what Sabbath acceptable to God can sin and misery keep? Thank God! Jesus wrought; but they felt that if He was right, it was all over with them. Hence they judged Him, not themselves, as we shall see, to God’s dishonour and their own perdition.
Undoubtedly to see a man carrying his couch on the Sabbath was a strange thing in Judæa, and especially in Jerusalem. But it was, of course, by a deliberate injunction on the Lord’s part. He was raising a question with the Jews which He knew would bring about a breach with their incredulity. It was a blow purposely struck at their self-complacent observance of the Sabbath, when they were blinded, not merely by self-will to violate the law, but by unbelief against their own Messiah, spite of the fullest proofs of His mission and Person. Could God accept the Sabbath-keeping of the people in such a state? Here, then, the Lord commanded an act expressly public on the Sabbath Day in Jerusalem.
“The Jews therefore said to him that was cured, It is Sabbath, and69 it is not allowed thee to take up thy70 couch. He answered them, He that made me well, the same said to me, Take up thy couch and walk.” The healed man was simple, and his answer bears the stamp of right and truth. The Divine power that had wrought beyond even an angel’s compass or commission, and without it, was his warrant to act upon the Word. “They asked him (therefore),71 Who is the Man that said to thee, Take up (thy couch)72 and walk? But he that was healed73 knew not who He was, for Jesus withdrew, a crowd being in the place.” The Jews spoke with malice and contempt, “Who is the man?” They can scarcely be conceived ignorant that there was more in their midst, and Who He was. They knew His works, if they knew not Himself; and His works as well as ways proclaimed a mission more than human. The very work before them, and they could not deny it, was beyond an angel; yet they asked the healed person, “Who is the Man that said to thee, Take up thy couch and walk?” The Lord had ordered things so that the healed man should know no more; He had passed away unnoticed,103 a crowd being there.
“After these things Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said to him, Behold, thou art made well. Sin no more, lest some worse thing happen to thee. The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus Who had made him well” (verses 14, 15). It was a gracious, but withal a solemn word. To live now, to enjoy the life that is now, is not the great matter. No cure, however bespeaking the power and goodness of God, could meet man’s underlying need, for sin still remained. A cure was only provisional. The man that was cured, though it was Jesus Who cured him, had to be warned, “Sin no more,104 lest some worse thing happen to thee.” He does not appear to have then adequately judged the malice of the Jews. They probably concealed their real feelings. It is often so with men toward Jesus, especially men who have a reputation for religion. They do not believe on Him, neither do they love Him. So the healed man in his simplicity fathomed not their object, but seems rather to have assumed that they were anxious to know his wondrous benefactor. Hence he went off, and brought them word that it was Jesus Who had made him well. There is no ground, I think, to suppose that he shared the feelings of the Jews, or wished to betray Jesus to those who hated Him.
But now they knew, as a fact, what they had, no doubt, suspected from the first, that the sick man had to do with Jesus. I do not say that their informant should not have known better, for they had asked, “Who is the Man that said to thee, Take up thy couch and walk?” He told them now that it was Jesus Who had made him well. His heart dwelt on the good and mighty deed that was done; theirs on the Word which touched their Sabbath-keeping. “And for this the Jews persecuted Jesus,74 because He did these things on a Sabbath” (verse 16). It was the blindness of men, who, lost in forms, knew not the reality of God, and consequently knew not themselves in His presence. Sooner or later such men find themselves in collision with Jesus; what will they feel by and by?
“But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (verse 17). It was an overwhelming answer. They knew nothing of fellowship with the Father. He (Jesus), not they, could call God “My Father,” and loved to say that He “worketh hitherto.” For the Father could not rest in sin, He would not rest in misery. It is not yet God judging. Therefore was He working as Father, and until now, though only now declaring Himself Father in and by the Son. Even before this, however, He had not left Himself without witness in Jerusalem itself, as the crowd of expectant sick round the pool of Bethesda attested. But this was only partial and transient. The Son was here to make Him fully known, and known as One Who could not keep His Sabbath yet, whatever the Jews ignorant of Him might wish to say or do. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Jesus, the Son, had fellowship, unbroken and perfect, with His Father.
Yet the words were still more offensive than the work they had just seen; and the way in which Jesus had openly caused it to be done and seen clashed with all their prejudices and stirred the depths of their unbelief. For in so speaking His personal glory could not but shine forth.
Both the Father and the Son were working, not resting “For this, therefore,75 the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only broke105 the Sabbath, but also said that God was His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (verse 18). Nor were they mistaken, in this inference at least. For as He did expressly charge the healed man to do what He knew would bring things to a rupture, so He did not deny, but confess, that God was His own Father in a sense that was true of none but Himself. This is the truth; and the truth of all truths most due to God, and the turning-point of all blessing to man. By it the believer knows God, and has life everlasting; without it one is an enemy of God, as the Jews showed themselves that day and ever since. Hardened men, perversely, fatally blinded, who, in presumed zeal for His honour, sought the more to kill Jesus, His own Son, come in infinite love to make the Father known, and to reconcile man to God. But God is wise and infinitely good in His work; for in letting them prove their malice to the uttermost, when the due time was come, in killing Jesus, He proved His own love to the full in atonement, making Christ, “Who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21.)
The Lord takes up the unbelieving rejection of His Person, and brings out the truth which puts all in its place. “ Jesus then answered and said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself unless He sees the Father doing something; for whatever things He doeth, these also the Son doeth in like manner.” It is the expression of the entire exclusion of a Will separate from God the Father. He speaks of Himself as man on earth, yet God withal: the especial topic of our Gospel. He was here displaying God, Whom otherwise no man had seen or could see; and He displayed Him as Father, however dull even disciples might be to discern it till redemption removed the veil from their eyes and sense of guilt from the conscience, till the love that gave Him to effect it was apprehended by the heart. But He had deigned to take the place of man, without forfeiting far a moment His Divine nature and rights; and as such He disclaims the least shade of self-exaltation, or independence of His Father. This flesh cannot understand now more than then; and as then it led the Jews to repudiate the Son, so now in Christendom largely to the open denial of His Divine glory or to the practical humanising of Him. Hence the effort of so many to get rid of such a symbol as the Athanasian Creed, and the otiose acquiescence of far more who believe on Him no more than they. The truth is that Scripture goes beyond any creed that ever was framed in the maintenance of His honour; and this not only in the doctrine of His inspired servants, but in their report of His own words as here.
Besides, however, being the Eternal, God all over, blessed for ever, He speaks of Himself as in this world a man, yet the Son, and as such only doing what He sees the Father do: anything else would not be to declare Him. And for this He was here. Yet so truly is He Divine that whatever things the Father does, these also does the Son likewise. He is the image of the invisible God, and alone competent to show the Father. How perfect the conjoint working of the Father and the Son! So we learn here, as in John 10, their unity. It is not only that the Son does whatever the Father may, but in like manner. How blessed their communion!
But the ground the Lord lays is also to be considered. “For the Father loveth (
φιλεῖ) the Son, and showeth Him all things which He Himself doeth; and He will show Him greater works than these that ye may wonder” (verse 20). Truly the Persons in the Godhead are real, if anything is; and as the Divine nature is morally perfect, the affections that reign are not less. The joint working of the Father and the Son our Blessed Lord explains by the Father loving the Son and showing Him all that He Himself does; nay, He lets them know, as He knew Himself, that greater works would be shown Him by the Father, as the latter part of this Gospel testifies, “that ye may wonder”-He does not say believe. For He speaks, not of grace, but of power displayed in testimony to the Jews, the effect of which would be, not the faith which honours God, but the amazement which is the frequent and stupid companion of incredulity.
The Lord next singles out the immense miracle of resurrection. “For even as the Father raiseth the dead and quickeneth, so the Son also quickeneth whom He will; for not even the Father judgeth any one, but hath given all the judgment to the Son; that all may honour the Son even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father that sent Him” (verses 21-23). There can be no doubt that giving life to the dead befits and characterises God; but if the Father does so, no less does the Son, and this not as an instrument, but sovereignly: “the Son also quickeneth whom He will.” He is a Divine Person as truly as the Father, in full right and power. But more: He alone judges.105a Judgment as a whole, and in all its forms, is committed to the Son by the Father, Who in this sense judges none, with the express aim that all should honour the Son even as they honour the Father. And so it really is; for they honour not the Father, but do Him despite who honour not His sent One, the Son. It is the Son on Whom, by the Father’s pleasure, it devolves to judge; but we shall find that there is a moral reason for this which appears afterward. As it is, we learn that the Son quickens in communion with the Father, and that only He judges. Thus is His honour secured from all men, who are either quickened if they believe, or judged if they do not.
For how can a soul know that he is quickened and shall not be judged? He who reveals the portion that belongs to some and awaits the rest has not left in obscurity or doubt that which is so all-important; He has told out what so deeply concerns every child of man. Only unbelief need or can be uncertain, though it indeed should not be, for its sorrowful end is too plain to others if not to itself. Defying God, it must be judged by Him Whom it can no longer dishonour. What, on the other hand, can be more graciously distinct than the portion our Lord warrants to faith? “Verily, verily, I say to you, He that heareth My Word, and believeth Him that sent Me, hath life eternal, and cometh not into judgment, but is passed out of death into life”76 (verse 24). It was no question of the law, but of hearing Christ’s word, of believing (not in God in any sense, as the Authorised Version conveys, but) Him that sent Christ, believing His testimony. For this had He sent His Son, that He might give life eternal. He, therefore, that believeth Him “hath life eternal.” It is a present gift of God and possession of the believer, to be enjoyed perfectly in heaven doubtless, but none the less truly given now and exercised here where Christ then was.77
But there is more than the actual communication of a new life by faith, a life of which Christ, not Adam, is the Source and Character; he who has life does not come into judgment (
κρίσιν). The Authorised English Version has “condemnation”; but the Lord says more than this: the believer “cometh not into judgment.” He will be manifested before Christ’s tribunal; he will give account of all done in the body, but he does not, if Christ is to be believed, come into judgment. He will never be put on his trial to see whether he is to be lost or not. Strange notion! after it may be in the separate state departing “to be with Christ, which is far better,” certainly after being changed into the likeness of His glory, to be judged. Think of the “beloved disciple,” when glorified, put on so awful a trial! It is equally inconsistent for every other believer; for life eternal is the same for all. Salvation does not vary for any, more than Christ does. No! such an idea is theology, the too common doctrine of Christendom, Protestant or Popish, Arminian or Calvinist; but it is directly in collision with the plain and sure words of Christ.
All the great English translations are wrong here, Wiclif, Tyndal, Cranmer, and Geneva, with the Authorised Version. Singular to say, the Rhemish Version alone is right, in this following the Vulgate: a mere accident undoubtedly, for none are so distant from the truth conveyed by their own translation, from the apprehension of exemption from judgment, as Romish doctors. And none are so unfaithful in the next clause, for they actually make the Lord seem to say “shall pass from death into life.”78 He really said
ἀλλὰ μεταβέβηκεν ἐκ τ. θ. εἰς τ. ζ., “but is (or, hath) passed (the present result of a past act) out of death into life.” Here the Protestant versions are right, Wiclif feeble, the Rhemish false. And there is not even the excuse of the Vulgate, which reads “transiit.” Possibly they read “transiet”; but if so, it was an error which some copies of the Latin would have corrected, if they ignored the inspired original.
However this be, the truth set forth by our Saviour is of all moment: would that every believer knew it and rejoiced in it with simplicity and in its fulness, as this one verse presents it! It is Christ’s Word that is heard in divinely given faith, and this quickens the soul: no thought here or anywhere else of any such virtue in an administered ordinance. But faith does not slight His judgment; on the contrary, the believer now bows to it morally in His Word, receives God’s testimony to His Son, and is passed from death into life.
The Lord has thus answered the question which His solemn words would raise in every soul that fears God. He had shown it to be no question of law or of ordinance, but of hearing His Word and believing the Father that sent Him. Such only have eternal life; but he who so believes has it now. How blessed and secure his portion in Christ!
Next He turns to the more general state of things. “Verily, verily, I say to you, An hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that have heard shall live” (verse 25). It is indeed the sad truth: men in all the activities of the world are here “the dead.” Nor is it a question of a stricter morality or of a holier religion. Either one or other or both they may acquire, and yet want life. Dogma cannot give it any more than practice. It flows from the Son of God, Who quickens whom He will; yet is it by faith, and so through the word which the Spirit applies livingly.
Here it is that Evangelicalism is feeble and Sacramentalism is false. If the latter superstitiously gives to a creature ordinance the honour which belongs to a divine Person alone, the former ignores and lowers the truth by talking of a converted character and of devoting to God what was once abandoned to self and sin; but neither has any adequate estimate of the total ruin of man, nor consequently of the absolute need and real power of Divine grace. “The dead” are men universally now till born of God. It is no picture of the future resurrection, whether of just or unjust, which follows in verses 28, 29, but of the present hour, as the Lord Himself intimates; for it “now is,” “when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God.”106 His voice goes forth “to every creature” in the Gospel; “and those that heard shall live.” Such are the means and condition of life. It is of faith that it might be by grace. Man’s utter powerlessness is as manifest and certain as His glorious energy.
Those, then, that heard shall live. Alas! the mass of mankind have ears but they hear not; even as to the Jews, when they saw Him, there was no beauty that they should desire Him. Whether it be superstitious or sceptical man, he submits not to the sentence of God on his own estate, nor consequently feels the need of sovereign mercy in Christ, Who alone can give the life man wants for God now or through eternity. But whatever the mercy of God, He will have His Son honoured, and this now by hearing His Word and believing the testimony of Him Who sent Him. This tests man thoroughly, which the law only did partially. For never does the sinner trust God for life eternal till grace makes him see his sins and distrust himself utterly. Then how glad is he to learn that the goodness of God gives life eternal in Christ, and has sent Him thab he might know it! How willingly he owns himself one of “the dead,” which no man does really till he lives of the new life which is in Christ! How heartily he bows to the Son of God, and blesses the God Who sent Him in love and compassion, willing not the death of the sinner, but rather that he might have life through His name!
But the same unbelief, which of old in the Jews violated the law and lusted after idols, now in the Gentiles trusts an ordinance for it, to the exaltation of those that arrogate to themselves its valid and exclusive administration, or openly distrusts God and slights His Son, confiding in themselves without Him. They are the religiously or the profanely infidel. They are “the dead,” and have never heard the voice of the Son of God, but only of their priests or of their philosophers. Whatever their boastings, they shall not live, for they have not Christ, but only ideas, imaginative or rational; not the truth which is inseparable from Christ received by faith to the glory of God and the annihilation of human pretensions.
It is all-important to see that all truth centres in the Person of Christ, Who, being God from everlasting to everlasting, deigned to become man, without the least forfeiture of Divine glory, yet loyally accepting the position proper to humanity. Hence the language of the Lord in what follows, the misapprehension of which has led not a few theologians of eminence to the brink, if not into the pit, of fundamental heterodoxy.107 “For even as the Father hath life in Himself, so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and gave Him authority to execute judgment (also),79 because he is Son of man” (verses 26, 27). The Lord evidently speaks here as come below, a man, the Sent of God and Servant of the Divine purposes, not as the One Who is over all, God blessed for ever, though both be true of Him in His Person. As the eternal Son, He quickens whom He will; as come in humiliation, it is given Him of the Father to have life in Himself. Born of a woman, He is still Son of God (Luke 1:35). But men despise the man Christ Jesus. Some trust in themselves that they are righteous, all disliking Him Who did not His own wit, but the wit of Him that sent Him. He Who lived on account of the Father is irksome to all that live to themselves, and odious to such as seek honour one of another. They misuse His humanity to deny His deity. They have no life, for they have no faith. But they cannot escape judgment, and a judgment executed in that very nature of man for which they rejected the Son of God.
It is as Son of man that the Lord Jesus will sit on the throne. Doubtless He will show His Divine knowledge in judging; but, as He says expressly, authority is given Him of the Father to execute judgment, because He is Son of man. As Son of God He quickens; as Son of man He wit judge. How solemn! Had He been only Son of God, who would have dared to despise Him? The light of His glory had consumed instantly every proud adversary from before Him. It was His grace, then, in becoming man to save men which exposed Him to contempt in His path of lowly obedience and suffering in love. The archangel is a servant; He stooped to become one (Phil. 2:6, 7). But the god of this world blinded them, so that they counted as only man Him Who never more proved Himself God to such as by grace had eyes to see. If they insulted Him in His work of grace, how will it be when He executes judgment, and this as Son of man? Such is the award of God.
“Wonder not at this; for an hour is coming, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear His Voice, and shall go forth, those that practised good unto a resurrection of life, and those that did evil unto a resurrection of judgment “ (verses 28, 29).
Thus another hour is announced distinct from what “now is,” and only “coming,” an hour not of quickening such of the dead as hear the voice of Christ, but of “all that are in the tombs” rising. It is the hour of proper resurrection; and the Lord carefully negatives the popular thought of one general resurrection. Not so; here, as elsewhere, we learn of two resurrections wholly and distinctly contrasted in character, as we find in Revelation 20 they are in time, with the millennium and more between them.
It did not enter into the scope of the Lord’s discourse, any more than of the Spirit’s design in the Gospel, to reveal in detail the order of events chronologically. This has its suited place in the great prophecy of the New Testament. But the far deeper difference of their relation to Christ Himself, viewed as Son of God and Son of man, is laid before us in a few words of the profoundest interest-a difference which would be true if no more than ten minutes intervened, but which is rendered far more distinct and impressive, inasmuch as the Revelation lets us see an interval of more than a thousand years. How great the confusion in the theology of the schools and pulpits, which supposes a single promiscuous rising of just and unjust, and this mainly on an exegesis so absurd as that which applies Matt. 25:31-46 to the resurrection! For it is certainly a judgment of the quick, of “all the nations,” before the Son of man when He comes again in glory; not the judgment of the wicked dead and their works before the great white Throne after heaven and earth are fled away, and all question of coming again is closed. There is the further mischief resulting from this interpretation that it tends to insinuate that just and unjust come into judgment, to the destruction of the capital truth of the Gospel, which contrasts life and judgment, as we have seen in our Saviour’s words, and may find elsewhere also.
There is this essential difference in the two “hours,” that, while in the first some only by grace hear His voice and have life, in the second all that are in the tombs shall hear it and shall go forth. But there is no confusion of just and unjust longer. In the world they had been more or less mixed together. In the field where the good seed was sown the enemy sowed darnel; and, spite of the servants, the Lord ruled that both were to grow together until the harvest. But in the coming hour there is no mingling more: the solemn severing of all takes place, “those that practised good unto a resurrection of life, and those that did evil unto a resurrection of judgment.” For life eternal in Christ is never inoperative, and the Holy Ghost, Who is given to the believer consequent on the accomplishment of redemption and the ascension of Christ, works in that life, that there may be the fruit of righteousness by Jesus Christ to God’s glory and praise. Hence, such as believed are here characterised as those that practised good, and as this had its root in life, so its issue is a resurrection of life; while those who had no life, being rejecters of Him Who is its source, are described as “those that did evil,” and their end a resurrection of judgment. In the hour that now is they would not have the Son of God in all His grace; they must be judged by the Son of man in the hour that is coming. The two resurrections are as distinct as the characters of those who rise in each. But Jesus is Lord of all and raises all, though on a different principle, of a different class, and to a different end.108
Nothing can be more definite than the Son’s claim of the powers most characteristic of God the Father, quickening and raising the dead; nothing more decided than the Father’s resolve to maintain the honour of His incarnate Son. For every tittle and form of judging is committed to the Son of man, and with the express purpose, which shall surely stand, that all are to honour the Son as they honour the Father. But the giving life is the action of grace in its fullest character, as judgment is the vindication of the Son’s honour on those who slighted Him and never had life eternal any more than salvation. To confound the two is the unintelligence of man and his tradition, and is wholly opposed to plain revelation. It is an error of great magnitude.
The Lord still speaks as Son, but as man on earth, and in verse 30 binds together what He had already unfolded with the various witnesses to His glory in what follows. He was equal to the task of judging, though the lowliest of men; and this just because He was in none of His ways or thoughts independent of the Father. It is the perfection of man; He alone was so, Who counted it no object of robbery to be on equality with God. But being God, He had become man for God’s glory; and so He says, “I cannot do anything of myself; as I hear I judge, and my judgment is righteous, because I seek not My will, but the will of Him80 that sent me” (verse 30). He saw, He heard, as the perfectly dependent and obedient man, though none could have taken in such a range unless a Divine Person. He had a will, but it was used in entire subjection to the Father. He saw whatever the Father does to do the same likewise; He heard with an ear opened and wakened, morning by morning, to hear as the learned, and so He judged; and His judgment was just. There was nothing to distract or mislead, though there was one who sought it with all subtlety. But he was foiled, and failed utterly, for here he was assailing not the first man, but the Second, Who had come to do the will of God. Such a purpose of heart maintains both singleness of eye and unswerving fidelity. Thus did the sent One ever walk. Who so competent and suited to judge, and this as Man, mankind?109
Next we are introduced to the witnesses who testify to Him. “If I bear witness about Myself, My witness is not true. It is another that beareth witness about Me, and I know81 that the witness which he beareth about Me is true. Ye have sent unto John, and he hath borne witness to the truth. But I do not receive the witness from man; but these things I say that ye may be saved. He was the burning and shining lamp, and ye were willing to rejoice for a season in his light.”
John the Baptist, then, is the first witness, whom the Lord summons in the ready and everlasting love which said nothing of His own testimony, if by any means they might be convinced and believe the truth. For this had He been born, and for this come into the world. He lived on account of the Father, Who testified about Him. Never was His an interested or an isolated testimony; but He would waive it, and points to His forerunner. For this purpose had John been raised up beyond denial, and no testimony from among men could be conceived more unimpeachable. His birth, his life, his preaching, his death, all bore the stamp of truthfulness; and never had one pointed to another as he to the Lord Jesus. The Jews, too, had sought his death solemnly, and he had not flinched. Who else had ever so testified before and after the coming of the object of testimony? He was not the Christ, as he confessed and denied not, when men were ready to give him the glory due to the Master. Nor, on the other hand, did Christ seek testimony from man; yet to what did He not stoop that souls might be saved? If a man, however, was to be used at all, none greater than John had arisen among those born of women, as the Lord says. The burning and shining lamp had been a source of joy for a while; but men are inconstant, and the testimony of him, who was truly “a voice in the wilderness,” was refused.
The second and greater witness we see in the works of Christ. “But I have the witness greater110 than of John; for the works which the Father hath given Me that I should complete them, the works themselves which I do bear witness about Me that the Father hath sent Me” (verse 36). In every way Christ’s works testify not so much of the power displayed as of their character.110a What grace and truth shine through them as in Him!
The third witness is the Father’s voice. “And the Father Who sent Me Himself82 hath borne witness about Me. Ye have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His shape; and His Word ye have not abiding in you, because Him whom He sent ye do not believe” (verses 37, 38). This attestation to the relation and glory of the Son rises still higher-we might have thought to the highest, had not our Lord added another111 and crowning testimony in that which degenerate Christendom is now learning to abandon with contempt, to its own ruin and speedy judgment.
The fourth and crowning witness is that of the Scriptures. “Search” (or “Ye search”) “the Scriptures, for ye think that ye have in them life eternal; and it is they that bear witness about Me. And ye are not willing to come unto Me that ye may have life” (verses 39, 40). The practical difference between the indicative and the imperative is not great, because the context decides that it is an appeal, as it has been well remarked, rather than a command. They were not so infatuated as to suppose that they had life eternal in themselves; they looked for it in the Scriptures, and so were in the habit of searching them, as they do, more or less, to this day.112 But though the Scriptures testify about the Lord Jesus, they have no willingness to come unto Him that they may have the life He alone can give. For the Scriptures cannot give life apart from Him, nor will the Father; yet are the Scriptures the standing witness of Christ, continually holding Him forth as the revealed resource for man and triumph for God, and this in goodness, not merely in judgment, to the utter confusion of the enemy and of all who take their part with him against God. The presence of Christ put to the test, not merely man in his misery and universal departure from God but those who were entrusted with those oracles of God and the Saviour Son, despised by the Jews, has but to pronounce the sentence on them thus wilfully slighting their own best witnesses to Him, “Ye will not come unto Me that ye may have life.”
Was it, then, that the Lord Jesus sought present honour? His whole life, from His birth to His death, declared the contrary with a plainness which none could mistake. How was it with His adversaries? “Glory from men I do not receive; but I know you that ye have not the love of God in yourselves. I am come in My Father’s name, and ye receive Me not: if another come in His own name, Him ye will receive” (verses 41-43). “Glory from men” is the moving spring of the world: Jesus not only sought it not, but did not receive it. He always did the things that pleased the Father, Who gave Him commandment what He should say, and what He should speak. He kept His Father’s commandments, and abode in His love. In no sense had the Jews the love of God in them: ambitious of human glory, and self-complacent, their soul abhorred Jesus, as His soul was straitened for them. His coming had put them to a fresh and far fuller test. He had brought God too close to them-yea, the Father; but they knew neither Christ nor the Father: if they had known the one, they should have known the other.
But there should be another test yet: not His coming in the Father’s name with the simple aim of doing His will and glorifying Him, but another to come in His own name. This would suit the Jew-man. Self-exaltation is his bane, and Satan’s bait, and therein utterly irremediable ruin under Divine judgment. It is the man of sin 113 in contrast with the Son of God, the Man of obedience and righteousness; and, according as we have heard that Antichrist comes, even now there have come many antichrists. But the presence of Antichrist will be according to the working of Satan, in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in every deceit of unrighteousness, to those that perish, because they have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved. They would not have the true God and eternal life in the Son become man and suffering in love for man; they will receive Satan’s man when he sets up to be God. This is the great lie of the end, and they will be lost in it who rejected the truth in Christ.
Nor is there anything strange in such a close for those who know the ways of man from the beginning. “How can ye believe114 who receive glory one of another, and seek not the glory which (is) from the only God?” (verse 41). Such is the world, the scene where man walks in a vain show, blessing his soul while he lives, and praised by his fellows when he did well to himself; but such shall never see light. This their way is their folly, let posterity ever so much delight in their mouth. “Like sheep they are laid in Sheol; death feedeth on them, and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning.” (Ps. 49:14.) If God’s “children” are told to keep themselves from idols, one cannot wonder that the idolatry of man-of self-should be the death of faith. Any object is welcome rather than the true and only God, “Who shall render to each according to his works; to those who in patience of good work seek for glory, honour, and incorruption, life eternal; but to those that are contentious, and are disobedient to the truth, and obey unrighteousness, (there shall be) wrath and indignation, tribulation and distress.” (Rom. 2:6-9.)
Does the Lord, then, take the place of accusing the Jews? Not so: they boasted of Moses, but will find in him testimony fatal to themselves. “Think not that I will accuse you unto the Father: there is one that accuseth you, Moses, on whom ye trust [have yet your hope]; for if ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me, for he wrote of Me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe My words?” (verses 45-47). Never was such honour put on the written word. Jesus had, if any one, God’s word abiding in Him. Nobody ever had the Father’s words and His word as He; no one gave them out invariably, and at all times, as He; yet does He set the writings of the Bible above His own sayings, as a testimony to Jewish conscience. It was no question of superior claim in themselves, or in the character of truth conveyed; for none of old could compare with the words of Christ. The Father on the holy mount had Himself answered the foolish words of Peter, who would have put Moses, Elias, and the Lord in three tabernacles and co-ordinate glory. Not so. “This is My beloved Son: hear Him.” (Mark 9:7.) The lawgiver, the prophet, must bow to Jesus. They had their place as servants: He is Son and Lord of all. They retire, leaving Him the one object of the Father’s good pleasure, and of our communion with the Father through hearing the Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Nevertheless, it is the Son Himself Who here gives to the writings of Moses a place in testimony beyond His own words; not because the servant approached the Master, or the Decalogue the Sermon on the Mount, but because the Scripture, as such, has a character of permanence in testimony which can attach only to the written word. And Moses wrote of Christ-necessarily, therefore, by Divine power-as a prophet of “the prophet which should come into the world,” of the Prophet incomparably more than prophet, the Son of God, Who quickens every believer, and shall judge every despiser, raising from the grave these for a resurrection of judgment, as those for one of life. Had the Jews, then, believed Moses, they would have believed Christ: words which teach us that faith is no such otiose exercise as some would make it; for the Jews in no way questioned, but received his writings as Divine. But not to doubt is far from believing; and they saw not in any of his books the great object of testimony in all, Jesus the Messiah, a man, yet far more than man, a Divine Saviour of sinners and Sacrifice for sins, the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world. If they believed Moses, they would have believed Him, for he wrote of Him. But if they believed not his writings, the Saviour did not expect them to believe His own words.
What an estimate of the authority of those very Scriptures which self-sufficient men have assailed as untrustworthy! They dare to tell us that they are neither Mosaic in origin, nor Messianic in testimony, but a mass of legends which do not even cohere in their poor and human reports of early days. On the other hand, the Judge of quick and dead declares that the Scriptures testify of Him, and that Moses wrote of Him, setting the written word in point of authority above even His words. As the Saviour and Rationalism are thus in direct antagonism, the Christian has no hesitation which to receive and which to reject, for one cannot serve both masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to the one and despise the other. So it is, and must be, and ought to be; for Christ and Rationalism are irreconcilable. Those who pretend to serve both have no principle as to either, and are the most corrupting dogmatically of all men. They not only do not possess the truth, but they make the love of it impossible, enemies alike of God and man.115
62 [Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 446-454.]
63 [“The f.”: so CEFHL, etc., Egypt. Cyr. Alex., followed by Tischendorf; “a f.” is read by Lachm., Treg., W. and H., Weiss, Blass, as in ABDG, etc., Chrys. Epiph.]
64 There is a good deal of confusion in the MSS., even where the text is certain here. Thus, while
ἐπὶ τῃ προβατικῃ (at the sheep-gate, Neh. 3 LXX.) is read by the Vatican, Rescript of Paris, and thirteen more uncials and the great body of cursives, confirmed by most ancient versions [W. and H., Weiss], corr-ADGL, etc., have
ἐν τῃ π . probably in the sense of the Authorised Version-”sheep-market”; whilst pm and a few other inferior authorities omit
τῃ, and hence seem to construe
προβατικὴ κολ. a “sheep-pool”: so Jerome’s Onomast. (ed. Lars. et Parth. p. 112), Theod. Mops. p. 26, and the Jerusalem Itin., not to speak of the Vulg. Æth. and Slav. Again, for
ἡ ἐπιλεγ [W. and H., Weiss]. pm gives
τὸ λεγόμενον (adopted by Tisch. in his eighth ed.), and corr
ἡ ἐπιλεγ. ; while DV, eight cursives, etc., read
λεγ [so Blass]. In the same ed. Tisch. exhibits
Βηθζαθὰ with L, etc. (D
Βελζεθὰ , B, etc.
Βηθσαιδὰ , etc., A, etc.,
65 In verses 3, 4 there are more serious differences. High, if not large, authorities (BCDL, 33, 68, many of the ante-Hier. Latin versions, Theb. Memph. Syrcu. et hier., etc.) do not read
πολὺ , nor (except Dh)
παραλυτικῶν , which last is not in T. R. But the great omission is of the clause
ἐκδεχομένων τὴν τοῦ ὕδατος κίνησιν with pmBCpmL, 18, 157, 314 Syrcu. Theb. Memphdz. and all verse 4 as in the common text, here strengthened by D (an ancient though erratic copy), but deserted by Apm. It is certain that the narrative as ordinarily given must have been read by Tertullian (de Bapt. 5); and the answer of the sick man in the critical text, verse 7, implies, if it does not demand, such an explanation The fact may have been too startling for the copyists to believe, not about themselves or Christian times, but about the days before and up to Christ’s ministry. The Romanists found it hard to credit any evidence of God’s goodness to the Jews as such, and in the time alleged. Even Lachmann retained the passage. I do not think there is real weight in Alford’s argument against its genuineness grounded on the plea that there are seven words used here only, or here only in this sense; for so remarkable and singular a fact would naturally call for words suited to it. There are variations among the MSS. that contain the omitted passage, but not more, perhaps, than usual. [See Westcott, “Additional Note on Chapter V,” and Hort’s “Note on Select Readings,” p. 77. Weiss and Blass give up the verse.]
66 In verse 5 T.R. omits
καὶ (so BKSV
ΓΛ., etc.) contrary to ACDE FGHILMU
Δ and the mass of cursives, versions, etc.; also
αὐτοῦ against BCpmDL
Πcorr., etc., with most ancient versions.
67 Several uncials (Ccorr.EFGH, with many cursives, etc.) add
κύριε, a few omitting
κ . The received reading
βάλλῃ is incorrect, and rests on few if any copies.
68 pmD, the Lat. Cod. Rhedig., and Arm. omit
εὐθέως, but all other authorities insert it.
Καὶ is omitted in T. R. with at least ten uncials, very many cursives Vulg., Syrr., etc., but read by ABCpmDGLV
Γ, forty cursives, most ancient versions and fathers.
70 A B and some eleven or twelve other uncials, and most cursives, omit
σου, reading “the” [Edd.]. But CpmDL
ΔΠ, thirteen cursives, and the body of ancient versions, etc., read the pronoun “thy.”
71 T. R. with most copies, etc., reads
οὖν, “therefore”; but it is not found in BD and several other good authorities. So
τὸν κρ. σου is not read by pm et corr BCpmLSah. Two uncials and six cursives omit the verse, evidently by
ὁμοιοτέλευτον . (Cf. end of verse 11.)
ἰαθεὶς, “healed” (with ABCL
ΓΔΛΠ, and almost all the rest of the copies and versions and fathers), Tischendorf reads
ἀσθενῶν with D and two or three Latin copies-a strange judgment and on light grounds. [Blass accepts neither.]
74 T.R. adds
καὶ ἐζήτουν αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι with fourteen uncials, most cursives and some versions, contrary to BCDL, 1, 22, 33, 69, 249, some old Latin, Vulg. Syrcu. [sin] Memph. Arm., and early Greeks.
75 D and other authorities, followed by Tischendorf [and Blass] omit
οὖν, contrary to the rest [as W. and H., Weiss].
76 The contrast of life and judgment here, as of salvation and judgment in Heb. 9:27, 28, is so distinctly revealed, and on ground so solemn as the honour or dishonour of the Son, that one may wonder at the prejudice of the late able Knightsbridge Professor in the University of Cambridge, who opposes Dr. Gr. Guinness where he is as right as he himself was wrong on the judgment in Rev. 20. For the faithful never coming into judgment at all, Mr. T. R. Birks saw “no ground but Alford’s altered translation of John 5:24, which I believe to be a mistake” (“Thoughts on the Times and Seasons of Sacred Prophecy,” p. 65, 1880): an astounding utterance, not only in its philological aspect, since the Greek admits of no other sense, but no less certainly as a question of Divine grace and truth, and of Divine righteousness. It is nothing less than a heterodox or unbelieving offence against the Gospel, even against what an O.T. saint could say before the Saviour came, as in Ps. 143:2. If the manifestation of all absolutely before the judgment-seat of Christ were enfeebled, there had been reason for the gravest warning. But it is agreed, that each of us shall give account of himself to God, and receive the things done through the body accordingly, whether good or evil. This, however, gives no title to deny Christ’s word, or the believer’s distinctive privilege that he comes not into judgment or needs “acquittal” in that day, after having been already justified. Doctrinally it dishonours the Lord and His work, yet more than the faith of the saint; it replunges into doubt and darkness those whom grace has saved through believing; it would bring back the distress on exercised hearts, which the misrendering of John 5 and of 1 Cor. 11 introduced. This misrendering in the A.V. is corrected beyond just hesitation by the R.V. AB to “Alford’s altered translation,” be it remarked that the A V. of John 5:22 and 27 corrects the error in 24 and 29. It is the same word
κρίσις all through, which indisputably means “judgment,” not damnation or “condemnation” like
κατάκριμα, as the verb (22, 30) mean” “to judge.” Nor is it unimportant to notice the ignorance of talking thus of Dean Alford, seeing that the most influential perhaps of all versions, Jerome’s Vulgate, is quite right in both John 5 and 1 Cor. 11, where the A.V. was lamentably and inexcusably wrong. In the Gospel the old Latin MSS., Vercell. Veron. Brix., etc., were right. Many of the Oriental versions are correct; some waver like the A.V., to the ruin of definite truth on what is of great moment. But where the doctrine on everlasting punishment was unsound, it is not surprising to learn that there was lack of faith as to life eternal and its exemption from judgment.
77 [Cf. “Exposition of Epistles,” p. 375.]
78 In Nonnus’ “Paraphrase of our Gospel” (fifth century, ed. by Passow and Bach, 1834) thero is the similar error of rendering
ἵξεται ἐκ θάάτοιο. So in the Amiatine and other ancient Vulgate MSS. we have “transiet,” and in a Munich old Latin copy of the sixth century “transibit”
79 The majority read
καὶ , “also,” but not A B L, etc., Memph.
80 The received text adds
πατρὸσ, “Father,” with many authorities, but not the most ancient.
81 The Sinaiticpm and the Cambridge MS. of Beza, with a few other good authorities, read
οἴδατε, “ye know” [so Blass], but almost all the rest support the common reading [as Weiss].
82 B L have
ἐκεῖνος [Weiss, Blass], D
ἐκεῖνος αὐτὸς, for
αὐτὸς in the great mass of the authorities, as in Text. Rec.