The change of subject having been made thus apparent, the Lord now proceeds to set forth His mind for the disciples in one of the allegories peculiar to our Gospel. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me not bearing fruit, He taketh it away; and every one that beareth fruit, He cleanseth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Already ye are clean, because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you: as the branch cannot bear fruit from itself, unless it abide in the vine; so neither (can) ye, unless ye abide in Me” (verses 1-4).
Thus the Lord sets aside Israel as any source of fruit-bearing for God. Long since had the prophets denounced the nation as bearing wild grapes, as an empty vine, or as only fit for the burning. But the Lord brings to light Himself as the true and only stock acceptable unto God. This was an immense truth for Jews to learn. In Israel was all that they trusted for religion. There was the temple, there the priesthood, there the sacrifices, there the feasts; there every ordinance, public or private, great or small, instituted of God. Outside Israel were the heathen who knew not God. Now the Lord does not merely strip the veil from the elect people’s hollow state, but make known the secret. He is the Vine-the true Vine. He is not merely a fruitful branch, where all others were unfruitful; He is Himself the true Vine. Thus we have the positive object before us, the one source of fruit-bearing.
“And My Father,” He adds, “is the husbandman.” But there is another truth needed, the revelation of His Father (not yet fully revealed as theirs, though soon to be in His resurrection), no longer of Jehovah as once in the vineyard of the nation, nor as the Almighty known to their fathers. As Father, He deals with the branches of the Vine, which is Christ Himself on earth, object of all the active and watchful interest of His Father Who looks for fruit. But it is not Himself alone; there are branches in Him. It is here their responsibility enters: for they are the Lord’s disciples, once but Jews in their natural condition, henceforth called to bear fruit unto God.283
And what, then, are the terms laid down? “Every branch in Me not bearing fruit, He taketh it away; and every one that beareth fruit, He cleanseth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” Clearly it is the Father’s government of those who bear the name of the Lord. The fruitless professor he removes; the fruitful one He cleanses, that more fruit may be borne. It is the Father judging according to every man’s work. The disciples were primarily in view; but the principle, of course, applies to us, now that Israel is still more manifestly set aside. As the Apostle teaches us in Hebrews 12, He chastens us for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Here, if not taken away, we are cleansed in order to bear more fruit. It is a wholly different state of things from a Messiah reigning in power, and His people in nothing but prosperity, Satan shut up, and the desert rejoicing and blossoming as the rose. Doubtless, it is not union with Christ in heaven, nor even the privileges of grace generally in Him, but the call to make Him everything on earth in daily ways, if we would indeed bear fruit. He, not the law, is the rule of life, and the source of fruitfulness; nor is there any other for the Christian, not even the Spirit Who uses the word to glorify Christ, but Himself.284
The disciples had already proved the purging power of the word. “Already ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”285 They had received it, and knew that He came from God, though they knew the Father imperfectly, if at all. Yet Christ’s word had wrought in their souls; it had cleansed their ways, it had judged their worldly thoughts, it had laid bare their carnal desires: the effect was real in their consciences. Judas was now gone, so that the Lord does not need to say, “Ye are clean, but not all”; but, on the contrary, “Ye are clean already,” even before the Holy Ghost was given as power from on high. The cleansing efficacy of the word is a cardinal truth of Scripture apt to be forgotten, not merely by the Romanist who trusts in ordinances, but by the Protestant who speaks exclusively of the Saviour’s blood “that cleanseth from all sin.” God forbid that a word should be said to obscure that blood, or to turn a soul from its justifying value. But out of the Lord’s side flowed water and blood; and we need both. The blood atones, the water purifies; and as the blood abides shed and efficacious once for all, in contrast with the ineffectual and many sacrifices of the Jews, the washing of water by the word is not only applied at the first, but is needed to purge all through. Where this is not seen, confusion follows, and the enfeebling, if not destruction, of fundamental truth.
But here the Lord insists on more-the necessity and the importance of dependence on Him, of intimacy with Himself. This is to abide in Christ; and His word is, “Abide in Me, and I in you.” It is not sovereign grace to the sinner, but His call to the disciple; and hence His abiding in us, as a matter of daily communion, depends on our abiding in Him. “As the branch cannot bear fruit from itself unless it abide in the vine, so neither (can) ye, unless ye abide in Me.” Nothing simpler than the fact outwardly, nothing surer in our experience than that so it is inwardly. He, and He only, is the dwelling-place for the soul in this world of snare and danger, in this desert where no water is. Make Him the resource, make Him the object; and the sap, as it were, flows without hindrance, and fruit is borne. Without Him no teaching avails, and all religious excitement fails; bring Him in, confide in Him, and, no matter what the difficulty or the pain or the shame, no matter what the opposition or the detraction, He sustains the heart, and fruit-bearing follows.286 Apart from Him we can do nothing; with Him, all things. So said one who had learnt it well, “I have strength for all things in Him that giveth me power” (Phil. 4:13).
It seems scarcely needful to remark that the relation of head and body serves quite another purpose in Scripture, and must be kept wholly distinct. Heavenly grace forms that one body by the one Spirit united to the glorified Head; and therein we do not hear of rending, maiming, or cutting off. It is the church viewed as the object of Christ’s unfailing love, till He present it to Himself in glory. Responsibility on earth under Divine government is another thing; and this, not the unfailing heavenly relationship of the Church, is taught by the Vine and its branches. Hence Calvinistic devices are as uncalled for as the Arminian assaults they are meant to avert. No one doubts that profession may fail. Life is eternal for all that; and in Christ there is nothing short of eternal life; but this is not the teaching of the Vine, any more than the unity of the body. It is a pity that learned commentators do not read with faith and care the Scriptures they essay to comment on.
The opening words had laid down the principle of Christ as the source of fruit, in contrast with Israel, and under the living watchful care of the Father. It was wholly distinct from government of the flesh by the law before Jehovah, as in the chosen nation to which all the branches belonged. Christ here displaces the odd associations. He had shown fruit to be so indispensable in the Father’s eyes that not to bear it involves the removal of the branch, whilst that which bears fruit is cleansed in order to bear more. He had pronounced the disciples already clean by reason of His word, and had urged them to abide in Him, as He in them; and this because they could not bear fruit except they abode in Christ, any more than the branch itself except it abide in the vine.
Next, He sums up and applies this weighty truth of communion with Him, in its great positive elements, and in strong contradistinction from abandonment of Him. “I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in and I in him, he beareth much fruit; because apart from Me ye can do nothing” (verse 5). Nothing more precise. The Lord leaves no uncertainty in a matter so nearly affecting both Himself and them. As surely as He was the Vine, they were the branches. There is, and could be, no failure on His part. It is easy for us to fail in dependence, and to lack confidence in Him. To abide in Him supposes, not merely distrust of ourselves, but cleaving to Him, and counting on Him. Every influence around us is adverse to this; every natural feeling not less so. Faith working by love alone secures it, for self and the world are then alike judged in the light of God. It is not only that we need and cannot do without Him for the least things as truly as the greatest, but He attracts us by His positive excellency. If He is the one source of fruit agreeable to the Father, He cannot be slighted with impunity, least of all by those who confess Him. It is not the grace which gives eternal life in Him of which the Lord speaks, but throughout these verses the responsibility of the disciples. Hence, as we shall see presently, there is danger of ruin, no less than fruitlessness, where one does not abide in Him.
This, then, is the secret of fruit-bearing. It is not in saints any more than in self, but by abiding in Christ and Christ in us. Then there is more than promising blossom; fruit follows. Where He is intercepted from our view, or we look elsewhere, there is no such power: we manifest our nature, not Christ. Nor does the character of the circumstances affect the result: He is superior to all, spite of our weakness. Abiding in Christ, we may safely face the most hostile; and if traps be laid and provocation given, what matters it, if according to His word we are found abiding in Christ, and Christ abides in us, as He then does? For that the two are correlative He guarantees, and we know. Again, does fruit follow because we are with dear children of God? Alas! how often the very reverse is proved, and the levity, if not the bitterness, in the heart comes out so much the more because we are saints not abiding in Christ. For gossip about saints to saints is even more painful than among the sons of this age, not a few of whom seem above it, though on grounds of nature-of course, not of Christ. Trials, again, cannot shake off spiritual fruit, nor blighting influences enter, if we abide in Christ and Christ in us; but the greater the pressure, the more fruit where we thus abide. And the heart feels that so it should be, as it is. For, as ordinances fail, and law is the strength of sin (not of holiness, flesh being what it is), Christ here, as everywhere, has the glory by faith and to faith; “ because apart from Me ye can do nothing.”
On the other hand, the peril is proportionately greater. “If one abide314 not in Me, he is cast out287 as the branch, and is dried up: and they gather it,315 and cast (it) into the fire, and it burneth” (verse 6). Christ being the sore’ source of fruit, to abandon Him is fatal; and so much the worse, if so at the last, when He should be the more precious, as the worthlessness of all else is learnt practically, and His excellency better known to faith. So it was with Judas, so in general with those not born of God who essay to follow Jesus. Not only their lusts, but His words, may give the occasion, as we see in John 6. It is vain and mischievous to distinguish between the person and the work, as theologians and others do who reason on either side of the equation of truth. The Calvinist fears to compromise his doctrines of grace; the Arminian is anxious to push his advantage on the side of falling away. Hence the former is apt to evade the solemn warning of personal ruin and final judgment conveyed here, as the latter argues that the passage implies that a saved soul may be lost after all. They both confound the figure of the Vine with the body in Ephesians 2-4, and hence are alike wrong, and of course unable to expound these Scriptures satisfactorily, so as to hold all the truth without sacrificing one part to another.
The error comes out plainly in the Anglican Baptismal Service: “Seeing now that this child is regenerated, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church.” To be grafted into the olive of Rom. 11 is equivalent, in this teaching, to being made a member of Christ’s body; and the results of such confusion are ever favourable to the adversaries of the truth. The answer is that the Body is the expression of unity by the Holy Ghost; the Vine insists on communion as the condition of bearing fruit. In no case do such trees necessarily imply life, but the possession of privilege, as the olive, and the responsibility of bearing fruit, as the vine. To leave Christ, therefore, is utter ruin, not only to be fruitless, but to burn. It is not merely suffering loss as in 1 Cor. 3:15, but to be manifestly lost, as in 1 Cor. 9:27. Thus each Scripture renders its own testimony, and has its own value, while none can be broken, though men may stumble at the word, being disobedient, as another Apostle warns.288
But now, from the sad case of the man that quits Him, the Lord returns to the disciples, and with Divine simplicity and fulness gives the way of blessing and abundant fruit. “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask (or ye shall ask)316 what ye will, and it shall come to pass for you. In this is (lit. “was”)317 My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, and (ye shall) become318 My disciples” (verses 7, 8). Thus is each thing put in its place. The first need for the Christian is to abide in Christ; the next, to have Christ’s words abiding in Him; then he is emboldened to ask with the assurance that the resources of Divine power erect accordingly. For thus Christ Himself has the first place, and the saint is kept in dependence as well as confidence. Then His words direct as well as correct; and we need and have both, though doubtless in so abiding direction would here be the characteristic, rather than that holy correction which we deeply want in our walk through this unclean and slippery world. If so led, prayer is encouraged to expect the surest answer, for the heart is in fellowship with Him Who prompts the desire, in order to accomplish it in His love and faithfulness. Further, in this is the Father glorified, that we bear much fruit, and become disciples of His. What enlargement of heart that so it should be in the midst of what, apart from Him, would be but a grief and worry to the saint, if not worse! With Christ all is changed, and even the most distracting cares turn to fruit; so that to live in flesh, instead of being with Him in glory, becomes worth the while, but only when to live is Christ. Thus was His Father glorified even now, and we became Christ’s disciples in deed and in truth.289
Another element of incalculable value in the disciple’s path is the consciousness of the Saviour’s love. This is next set before them. “As the Father loved Me, I also loved you: abide in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things have I spoken to you, that My joy may be319 in you, and your joy may be fulfilled” (verses 9-11).
We must bear in mind that the subject is fruit-bearing during the disciple’s passage through this world. It is not eternal purpose, nor is it that love in relationship which secures unfailingly from first to last, but Christ’s love toward each in His path of daily walk and trial. He knew what this was on His Father’s part to Himself as man, though never ceasing to be Son here below. Such was His own love to the disciples; and now He calls on them to abide in it, not in Him only, but, what is more, in His love; an immense and unfailing spring of comfort in the necessarily painful and otherwise disappointing current of earthly circumstances so strongly opposed to them for His sake. “Give wine,” says the Book of Proverbs, “unto those that be of heavy hearts.” (Prov. 31:6.) But His love is better than wine, cheering and strengthening without fleshly excitement. There is thus not only dependence on Him, but that confidence in Him which His love is meant to inspire.290
But there is more that follows, even obedience. “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” It is manifest that we have nothing here to do with the sovereign mercy of God which goes out to the lost and reconciles enemies by the death of His Son. For as by the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one (Christ) shall the many be constituted righteous. Grace in Christ surmounts every hindrance, and reigns righteously above all evil, whether of the individual or of the race. Here not the sinner’s ruin or deliverance, but the disciple’s path, is in question; and his obedience is the condition of abiding in his Master’s love. He Who in all things has and must have the pre-eminence trod the same path and accepted the same condition as man here below; though He counted it no robbery to be on equality with God, He became obedient, and this to the lowest point, for the glory of God the Father. He in unwavering perfection did the will of Him that sent Him, and enjoyed its fruit in a like perfection; we follow Him, though with unequal steps; and assuredly he that says he abides in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked. And obedience is the way. None other morally befits us; as this but verifies our love to Him and sense of relationship to God. Nothing is so lowly, nothing so firm, as obedience. It delivers from self-assertion on the one hand, and on the other from subjection to the opinions or traditions of men. It brings us face to face with God’s word, and tests our desire to please Him in the midst of present ease, honour, lust, or passion. Here, too, it is a question of keeping Christ’s commandments, as that which secures His love, as in John 14 we saw that it proved their love to Him.
The last motive the Lord brings to bear on the disciples as to this is contained in the next verse. “These things have I spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be fulfilled.” Nor is there a better criterion of our state, and, consequently, of our failure or success in entering into His mind. For if we take up the words of this chapter legally, scarce any words in the Bible are surer to plunge an upright soul into sorrow and depression; but if we understand them as He intended, they are expressly given to impart His joy to us and make our joy full. His joy when here was in pleasing His Father; to obey His commandments was not burdensome. This joy of His, unbroken in His path, He would now make ours.
What a contrast with the unfruitful groaning of a soul under law, even though quickened, as in the close of Rom. 7! What a mercy, if we have tasted such bitterness, now to know our joy in obedience fulfilled! The latter part of Rom. 7 is a wholesome process for us to pass through, but a miserable ground of standing: for this God never intended it. Romans 8 shows us the Christian delivered, holy, and abounding in good fruit. Can we be on both grounds at the same time? Only he would assert this who is not yet set free. Look to it, theologians; and you who believe them, and taste not Christ’s joy.
This is clearly His desire concerning us. Those who ignore or deny it would deprive us of His joy, as no doubt they lack it themselves. Nor need we wonder; for as philosophy never can conceive Divine love, so theology, pandering as it does to human science, ever misses the Saviour’s joy, seeking pleasure and applause in the schools of the world, which knows the Father no more now than of old. “O righteous Father,” said He a little later, “the world knew Thee not; but I knew Thee, and these (the disciples) knew that Thou didst send Me; and I made known to them Thy name, and will make it known; that the love wherewith Thou didst love Me may be in them, and I in them.”
What ineffable goodness! Does not every thought, feeling, word, prove itself Divine? Settled peace is a great thing as the soul’s foundation, never to be moved, and God would have us know it simply and immutably; but we must not forget the joy of obedience and the favour of the Lord as a present thing in our daily ways. This has been too much overlooked by the children of God, and scarcely more through the slipshod laxity of evangelicalism than by the morose hardness of the legalists, ignorant alike of the full ground of grace, and of the true character of God’s government which is bound up with it as a present thing.
The Lord now specifies one special character of fruit, ever precious, but here in the disciples’ relation one to another, as before we had the relation of Christ and the Father to them.
“This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I loved you. Greater love no one hath than this, that one320 lay down his life for his friends. Ye are My friends if ye do what (ever)321 I command you. No longer do I call you bondmen, for the bondman knoweth not what his lord doeth; but you I have called friends, because all things which I heard from My Father I made known to you. Not ye chose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you that ye should go and bear fruit, and your fruit abide; that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He may give you. These things I command you, that ye love one another” (verses 12-17).
Love is emphatically the Lord’s injunction on His disciples, the love of each other. It is not the general moral duty of loving one’s neighbour, but the mutual love of Christians, of which His own love to them is the standard. The nature of the case excludes the love of God which went out to them in their guilt, enmity, and weakness, when objects of sovereign grace. They were now born of God and hence love; for love, as it is of God Who is love, is the energy of the new nature. Hence, whatever else the Lord may enjoin, this is His commandment: He loved them, and would have them love one another accordingly. So Paul tells the Thessalonians that he needed not to write about it to them, for, young as they were in Divine things, they were taught of God to love one another. (1 Thess. 4:9.) This, too, was the more excellent way he would show the Corinthian saints, preoccupied to their hurt with power rather than love, at best the display of the Lord’s victory in His creation over Satan rather than the inward energy which enjoys His grace toward our own souls or others to God’s glory. (1 Cor. 13.) On the Roman saints, again, love is repeatedly urged, as that which should be unfeigned, and also which, wherever it is, has fulfilled the law practically without thinking of it. (Rom. 12:9; Rom. 13:10.) It is needless to go over all the Epistles where the Holy Spirit unfolds its immense place and power.
But every believer acquainted with the New Testament will remember how large a part it fills in the First Epistle of our Evangelist. Not that love is God, but God is love as He is light; and he that loves is born of Him and knows Him. For men as then made knowledge all, as before some made power; but it is a question of life in the Son of God, and the Holy Ghost works in that life by virtue of redemption, and those who have life, as they walk in the light, so also walk in love. And even as to knowledge, there is none true save in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life: every object outside Him is an idol, from which we have to keep ourselves, be it knowledge, power, position, love, truth, or anything or anyone else. For whoever denies the Son has not the Father; he who confesses the Son has the Father also. And as the Father has bestowed on us love beyond all measure, giving us even now to be children of God, so loving the brethren marks those who have passed from death unto life. The old commandment is the word of Christ that we should love one another, but it is also a new commandment as being true in Him and in us. If Christ lives in me, I live by faith of the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me: and this life is characterised not only by obedience, but by love according to its source.
And so here. The Lord had laid it down as a new and distinguishing commandment He was giving them in John 13. Here He repeats love to one another according to the pattern of His love to them. How pure and unbounded it was! Do we believe this as His will about us? Do we love as if we believed Him and appreciated His love? Can anything be more hollow, or dangerous, or nauseous than the highest words with low and inconsistent ways? “Gnosticism” ate out the heart of early Christendom, where it fell not into superstition and formality, ever growing more dark and cold; and the same spirit is yet more destructive now, because it has more abundant materials, and hardens itself in unbelief even to “Agnosticism.” Loving one another, not merely those who think alike, least of all those who think alike on some comparatively small and external point, but loving those who are Christ’s, spite of ten thousand things trying to our nature, is of all moment along with the truth, and guarded as it is here, loving one another as He loved us. He delights in love up to death.
Greater love none has than to lay down his life for his friends. The love of God in Jesus went infinitely beyond this; but then necessarily it stands alone, and it is meet that it should. We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren, as we are taught elsewhere. But where is the worth of such a theory if we fail in everyday going out of heart to common wants and sufferings of God’s children (1 John 3:17, 18)? The Lord at once binds love up with obedience, without which it is but self-pleasing, not having Him in it or before the soul. “Ye are My friends if ye do what (ever) I command you.” It is not reconciling enemies He speaks of, but why He calls us His friends. Obedience is the character and condition. Nor does He here indicate how He stood as our friend when we were enemies, but He calls us His friends if we practise what He enjoins on His disciples.291
Is this all? Far from it. He treats us as friends according to His perfect love, for He lets us into His secrets, instead of merely pressing our duty. “No longer do I call you bondmen, for the bondman knoweth not what his Lord doeth; but you I have called friends, because all things whatsoever I heard from my Father I made known to you.” He who of old was called “the friend of God” enjoyed this intimacy with his Almighty protector in the midst of the doomed races he lived amongst, a separated and circumcised pilgrim; and so it is with His own now that the Lord deals in still more lavish grace; for what did He keep back? In another sense it is our boast to be His bondmen, as one said who was pre-eminently separated to the Gospel of God. But none the less-indeed, very much more truly-do we enter in, and value and act on the free communication of His love if we are habitually obedient, as we may see in Joseph of old or in Daniel later. It ought to be, it is in principle, the cherished privilege of the Church thus to know His mind, and by it to interpret the tangled web of human life or even the world’s changing fortunes; but practically we must be exercised and constant in obedience if the privilege is to be a living reality and not a bare title. Christendom has given it up, counting it nothing but presumption, and content to walk by sight, not by faith, in denial of its privilege.
But God is faithful, and there are those who, walking obedient to His word, enter into what He has made known, and find the blessing. Doubtless the responsibility is great no less than the privilege; and therefore do His own need to be cheered with the grace that underlies all. Hence it is that He adds, “Not ye chose Me, but I chose you, and appointed (or set) you that ye should go and bear fruit, and your fruit abide; that whatever ye may ask the Father in My name, He may give you. These things I command, that ye love one another.”
Blessing ever comes from the Lord Jesus and the grace that is in Him. Obedience follows, and ought to follow, such unmerited favour, as in obedience there is surely fresh blessing. But the heart needs to turn from our obedience or its blessing to the Blesser, if it would escape fresh dangers and positive evil; the spring of power is never known save in Him, and the grace that sought and found, saves and blesses. Hence it was of the greatest moment, in pressing the Divine government of the saints, that they should ever remember Him and His sovereign will, as the source of all that distinguished them. Not they chose Christ, but He chose them. Nor was it only to know and follow their Master. He appointed,322 or set, them that they should go and bear fruit, and their fruit should abide. Though Apostles, they were His friends to obey Him all the more.
Thus, while responsibility is maintained intact, grace is shown to be the fountain of all that is looked for and made good; and, further, the connection of both with dependence on the Father, Who alone brings to a successful issue whatever they should have asked in the name of Jesus. The deeper and higher the blessing, the more need of prayer; but then the character and confidence of prayer should rise with the sense of grace in Christ, and the Father’s unwavering purpose to put honour on His name in which they draw near with their petitions. His name by faith in it can make the weakest strong, and the Father is thus glorified in the Son Who glorifies Him. Distrust or negligence is equally precluded.
It is hardly necessary to say many words in disproof of Calvin’s exposition, and of others, who make this a question of choosing and ordaining to the apostolate, and, consequently, who take the fruit abiding to mean that the Church will last to the very end of the world as the fruit of the Apostolic labour continued also in their successors. The love enjoined here is, accordingly, restricted to mutual affection among ministers. Undoubtedly a free and unsuspicious flow of loving confidence is essential to a good state, and among those who labour especially, as the lack of it here is most deplorable; but the Lord does not limit His words to the Apostles, or even to such as follow them in the public service of His name.
To love one another, then, is the new and repeated commandment of Christ to His own. To love is the positive and proper and constant exercise of the new nature, as acted on by the Spirit’s ministration of Christ, not always brotherly kindness in exercise, but love never failing. But this very affection, strange here below, exposes those in whom it is found to the direct counterworking of Satan-a murderer and liar from the beginning. Conscious that unselfishness in affection according to God is an impossibility to Nature, men regard any evidence of it as mere hypocrisy, to be scorned and detested in the Christian. For how could he be different from others?
“If the world hateth you, know (or, ye know) that Me it hath hated before you. If ye were of the world, the world would love (
ἐφ.) its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, on this account doth the world hate you. Call to mind the word which I told you, A bondman is not greater than his lord. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also; but all these things they will do unto you on account of My name, because they know not Him that sent Me” (verses 18-21).
To be Christ’s is enough to rouse the world’s rancour. Circumstances may be needed to call it forth, but there it is. The world hates those who, being His, are no longer of the world. But the Lord would have us know that, not more surely does it hate us, than it had hated Himself before us. Is it not sweet and consoling to us that so it is, however awful in itself, to have such a conviction of the world? For it hates us because of Him, not Him because of us. It is not our faults, therefore, which are the true cause, but His grace and moral excellence, His Divine nature and glory; it is the world’s repugnance and enmity to what is of God, and to Him Who is God. The world hates the Father shown in the Son; hence it hates the children who were the Father’s and then were given to the Son. Christ was hated first, they next, and for His sake.
Not that the world does not love in its own way those who are of it, in most pointed contrast with the grace that goes out to the stranger and the wretched and the lost, to such as have wronged and have despitefully treated us. But grace is of all things most offensive to the world, which can love Nature in its fallen state. Even righteousness, with its necessary condemnation of the sinner, is not so repugnant as the grace which can rise above the sins it condemns in compassion toward the sinner to save him by and in Christ; and this because it treats man as nothing, giving the entire glory to God: indignity intolerable to the flesh, the mind of which is enmity against God. Hence the world’s hatred and rejection of Christ, Who had revealed God perfectly, and perfectly glorified Him in all His nature and ways. Hence, also, the world’s hatred of us who confess Christ, not only because we are not of the world, but as chosen out of it by Christ, which implies its utter worthlessness and condemnation. Divine love is as odious as Divine light.
The Lord then recalls to their mind His word that no bondman is greater than his lord. They must rather expect His position, Who was despised and rejected of men. They themselves and their teaching would be equally odious for His sake. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. His Person and His word brought God too near their souls, which drew back, unwilling either to own their sins or to be debtors to nothing but grace for pardon and deliverance. But this aversion assumes a stronger form where religion is honoured and men have a character to lose; and as these things were true in the highest measure among the Jews, they broke out to the last degree in resentment which claimed to persecute, as a duty to God, the Master first, and then the disciples. And here the Lord graciously forewarned them that no sorrow might befall them unawares.
But He does more. He gives His own the comfort of knowing in such hours, it might be of bitter woe, as beforehand also, that all the contempt and suffering they might endure from the world was for His sake, because of the world’s ignorance of Him that sent Himself, ignorance of the Father. How profoundly true! Impossible that a professing religion could persecute if it really knew Him that sent Christ.
There might be discipline according to His word; and there must be in that which bears the name of the Lord: else the very grace it knows would tend to sink it below the world’s level if there were not vigilant, constant, and holy discipline. But discipline is never holy, but worldly, when it takes the shape of persecution. What can one think, then, when that which arrogates the loftiest name invoked the civil arm to enforce the punishment of men’s bodies for the pretended good of their souls? What, when it sought and found means to inaugurate ecclesiastical tribunals with torments up to the bitter end in congenial secrecy with an unrelenting cruelty which never had a match even in this dark world? Truly it was the self-same spirit of worldly hatred which first animated the Jews against the Lord and His disciples, and later wrought in the world-church, when it exchanged its pagan for its papal garb, and baptism was more easily adopted than circumcision “But all these things they will do unto you on account of My name, because they know not Him that sent me.”
No! forms avail not: God will have reality, and never more plainly and stringently than since Christ and His cross, which proved the vanity of religious man and of a worldly sanctuary. Christianity came into being and manifestation when it was demonstrated that man in his best estate was not only worthless before God, but would not have God at any price, even in the Person and mission of His own Son come in grace. “O righteous Father, the world did not know Thee.” Yet is there no life eternal for man save in the knowledge of the only true God, the Father, and of Jesus Christ Whom He sent. The world is lost, and nowhere more evidently and guiltily than when, in religious pride, it hates Christ and those who are His.
The presence and testimony of the Son of God had the gravest possible results. It was not only an infinite blessing in itself, and for God’s glory, but it left men, and Israel especially, reprobate. Law had proved man’s weakness and sin, as it put under curse all who took their stand on the legal principle. There was none righteous, none that sought after God, none that did good, no, not one. The heathen were manifestly wicked, the Jews proved so by the incontestable sentence of the law. Thus every mouth was stopped, and all the world obnoxious to God’s judgment. But the presence of Christ brought out, not merely failure to meet obligation as under law, but hatred of Divine goodness come down to man in perfect grace. God was in Christ, as the Apostle says, reconciling the world to Himself, not reckoning to them their offences. How immense the change! How worthy of God when revealed in His Son, as Man amongst men! But they could not endure His words and His works, and this increasingly, till the cross demonstrated that it was absolute rejection of God’s love without bounds. It is not here the place or time, as with the Apostle Paul, to show how Divine love rose in complete victory over man’s evil and hatred as attested in the ministry of reconciliation which is founded on the cross. (2 Cor. 5:19.) Here the Lord is affirming the solemn position and state of the world in antagonism to the disciples, after preparing them for persecution: from its hating them as Him, and its ignorance of Him Who sent their Master.
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin;292 but now they have no excuse for their sin. He that hateth Me hateth My Father also” (verses 22, 23). Sin before or otherwise was swallowed up in this surpassing sin of rejecting the Son come in love, and speaking not merely as man never spoke, but as God never spoke; for by whom should He speak as in a Son? It was meet that He Who is the image of the invisible God, the Only-begotten in the bosom of the Father, should speak above all, as He is above all, God blessed for ever. Servants had been sent, prophets had spoken; and their messages had Divine authority; but they were partial. The law had made nothing perfect. Now He Who had thus spoken of old
πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως (in many measures and in many manners) spoke to us
ἐν υἱῶ (in a Son). (Heb. 1:16.) He was their Messiah, the Son of David, born where and when they expected, attested not only by the signs and vouchers of prophecy, but by the powers of the world to come; but He was more, infinitely more; He was the Son of God, unapproachable in His own glory, yet here on earth the most accessible of men, giving out the words of the Father, as none had ever spoken since the world began. There never had been an adequate object on earth to draw out such communications; now there was in both dignity of person, intimacy of relationship, and moral perfection as man. And the disciples were reaping the benefit; as the Jews, the world, which had Him before their eyes and ears, had the responsibility. Flaws, failure, there had been in all others who had spoken for and from God (though not in the inspired Scripture), so as to weaken the effect of their testimony where men thought of men and forgot the God Who sent them.
But now the Father had sent the Son, Who had come and spoken not in law, but in love, the true Light shining in a world of darkness which apprehended it not, and sin appeared as never before. What pretext could be pleaded now? It was no question of man or his weakness; no requirement of his duty as measured by the ten words, or any statutes or judgments whatsoever. There was the Son, the Word become flesh dwelling among men, full of grace and truth, in divine love that rose above every fault and all evil, to give what is of God for eternity, only met by increasing hatred till it could go no farther. Their ignorance of Him Who sent Christ was no doubt at the bottom of their hating Him, but it was inexcusable. For He was God as well as Son of the Father, and so perfectly able to present the truth and render man thoroughly and evidently guilty if he bowed not. What then did their not bowing prove but sin, without excuse for it, and hatred of the Father also in hating the Son?
And there was this further aggravation of their sin, the works that He had wrought. For some men are affected powerfully by suited words, others yet more deeply by works which express not power only, but goodness, holiness and love. Here they had in perfect harmony and mutual confirmation such words and works as never were save in Jesus the Son of God. But what was the effect? “If I did not among them the works which no other did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father. But (it is) that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause” (verses 24, 25). (Ps. 69:4.)
Such was man’s gratuitousness in presence of Divine grace. Full manifestation of grace can have no other issue. The mind of the flesh enmity against God. Not only is there insubjection to His law, but hatred of His love; and this was proved now. Anything short of Jesus thus present, speaking and working among men as He did, would have fallen short of the demonstration. The testimony was complete; the One Who is the sum and substance, the subject and object of all Divine testimony, was there; and they had seen Him, as well as the Father in Him; and they had hated both! They, the people of God once, had nothing but sin-they were lost. So they were then, and so they abide still, whatever grace may do another day to save the generation to come. But hatred of the Father and the Son is in itself irreparable, complete, and final.
Nor did the law in which they boasted to the rejection of their Messiah speak otherwise; on the contrary, it was fulfilled in the word there written of Him, long suspended over them, now applied by His own lips to His own Person, They hated Me for nothing-gratuitously. How true and how solemn! “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” O Israel, what have you not lost in the rejected Messiah, in the Father and the Son alike seen and hated? And what have not we gained, once poor sinners of the Gentiles? Life eternal in the knowledge of a God no longer dwelling in thick darkness, but fully revealed in Christ, and in the utmost nearness to the believer, His Father and our Father, His God and our God. Truly Israel’s fall has proved the world’s wealth, and their loss the true wealth of nations. But the nations so blessed boast and are high-minded, and will be spared no more than the Jews, who, no longer abiding in unbelief, shall be grafted in again, and so all Israel shall be saved. (Rom. 11:26.) Meanwhile they have lost their Messiah to their ruin, and their sin cannot be hid.
Thus had the Lord prepared His own for the world’s hatred, not only because He had known it before them, but because it had fallen on Him with an intensity and groundlessness beyond all experience. As even their law had forewarned of it, they were the more inexcusable. But nothing is so blind as unbelief, nor so cruel as its will irritated by the light of God, which treats it as sin, and sin refusing God in sovereign grace, the Father and the Son. For they that dwell at Jerusalem and their rulers, as Paul could say elsewhere, because they knew Him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath Day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him. Therefore came the wrath on them to the utmost.
It might seem, then, all must be swept away by the murderous rancour of man, and especially religious man. But not so. It is not that the Lord was not to die as well as suffer; nor that His feeble followers should escape the lot of their Master, as far as God was pleased to let them taste it; but that He was about to leave the world for glory on high, and to send down the Holy Ghost thence, as a new, Divine, and heavenly witness here below.
“(But)323 when the Paraclete shall have come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who proceedeth out from (
παρὰ) the Father,293 He shall testify concerning Me; and ye too testify, because ye are with me from (the) beginning” (verses 26, 27).
Here the Holy Spirit is viewed as sent by the ascended Christ from the Father, and consequently as witness of His heavenly glory. This is an advance on what we saw in the preceding chapter, where Christ asks and the Father gives the Paraclete to be with them for ever, sending Him in the Son’s name. Here the Son Himself sends, though of course from the Father. The Spirit of Truth is thus the suited testifier of Christ as He is above; the disciples also testify, as His companions and so chosen from the beginning. For the first time it is said, “When the Paraclete is come,” not merely given or sent. He is a Divine Person in the fullest sense, not only to abide, teach, and recall to remembrance, but to testify concerning Christ, and that which the chosen companions, the Apostles, of the Lord could not testify. For they as such could not go beyond what they had seen and heard-at any rate, what fell within the range of their being with Him from the beginning. The Spirit of Truth which proceeds out from the Father would not merely strengthen them to do perfectly that task, but add quite another testimony of hitherto unknown blessedness, as sent by Christ personally from the Father.
Thus is clearly defined the position of the disciples, henceforward in due time called Christians: not of the world, but chosen by Christ out of it, commanded to love one another as loved of Christ, and hated of the world, with the Paraclete the Spirit of Truth sent by Christ to testify of Him, of Whom they too were bearing witness as being with Him from the beginning. Who so competent to tell of Christ’s glory with the Father as the Spirit proceeding forth from the Father, and sent by the exalted Christ? Thus was secured full testimony to His glory morally on earth by the disciples (though not without the Spirit’s power already assured), and actually in heaven as the glorified Man by the One Who in every way could make it best known.
It is evident that those who personally followed the Lord had a special place in the testimony to His manifestation on earth; and this testimony we have in the Gospels as fully as God saw fit to preserve it permanently for all saints. So the Holy Ghost’s testimony to His heavenly glory was pre-eminently presented in the inspired Epistles of Paul for like permanent use, though doubtless in no way limited to him or them.
And assuredly in principle the place of testimony abides for those who are Christ’s, whatever the change of circumstances, and, alas! of state. As certainly as Christ abides on high and the Holy Ghost is come, never to leave us, it is not only that we know by faith the Son’s relationship to the Father, and our blessedness by virtue of it, and in Him Who is in the Father as He is in us, but we have all the profit of His place as the True Vine on earth, as we know Him gone on high exalted as man, a quite new thing. And as we have the joy of His relationship to the Father and to us, we are called to bear witness to Him in every way. Wonderful comfort in our weakness! He, the Spirit of Truth, was to testify of Jesus, and especially of Jesus where none could be with Him, none but the Paraclete Himself competent. It was not necessary to repeat here or later that He abides: this had been said at first in relation to us (John 14), where His guaranteed presence with us was most graciously named, lest we might feel orphans indeed. But if we have the comfortable pledge of His being with us for ever, it is without doubt not less but more for testifying of Christ’s glory than for our consolation. Of this, however, we shall hear more in what is to follow, where the Lord renews the subject most fully.
313 [Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 519-543.]
μένη pmABD [W. and H., Weiss],
μείνῃ, the mass [Blass].
ΔΠ, many cursives, and some ancient versions [as Syrsin];
αὐτὰ (“them”) the great majority, the Alex. and Vat. among them [Edd.].
Γ, etc.) ABDLMX
Γ, many cursives, and the oldest versions;
αἰτήσεσθε Text. Rec., with and most MSS.
317 [See appended note on 13:31.]
γένησθε BDLMX, etc. [Treg., W. and H., Blass];
and the rest support the future [Weiss, after Tisch.].
ἦ ABD, many cursives, It. Vulg. Goth., the Syrr. Arm. and Aeth. [Edd.];
μείνῃ Text. Rec., L and twelve uncials more, most cursives, but scarcely any ancient version, unless the Georgian.
320 pmDpm, etc, omit
τις, contrary to the rest.
ἃ HDLX, some cursives, and versions, etc.
ὅ B. etc.
ὅσα the mass as also Text. Rec.
322 “Ordained” suggests another line of things foreign to the passage and connection. In Acts 1:22 the same word, as is commonly known, is foisted into the Authorised Version, for it has no counterpart implied in the Greek.
Δ and some other good authorities omit the copula, which the great mass support.