SECTION I. WORDS OF COMFORT AND COUNSEL TO THE SORROWING CHILDREN
John 13:31-35; 14:1-4; 15-21.
The[24.1 exit of Judas into the darkness of night, on his still darker errand, was a summons to Jesus to prepare for death. Yet He was thankful for the departure of the traitor. It took a burden off His heart, and allowed Him to breathe and to speak freely; and if it brought Him, in the first place, near to His last sufferings, it brought Him also near to the ulterior joy of resurrection and exaltation to glory. Therefore His first utterance, after the departure took place, was an outburst of unfeigned gladness. When the false disciple was gone out, and the sound of his retiring footsteps had died away, Jesus said: "Now is the Son of man glorified: and God is glorified in Him; and God shall glorify Him in Himself, yea, He shall straightway glorify Him."[24.2
But while, by a faith which substantiated things hoped for, and made evident things not visible, Jesus was able to see in present death coming glory, He remembered that He had around Him disciples to whom, in their weakness, His decease and departure would mean simply bereavement and desolation. Therefore He at once turned His thoughts to them, and proceeded to say to them such things as were suitable to their inward state and their outward situation.
In His last words to His own the Saviour employed two different styles of speech. First, He spoke to them as a dying parent addressing his children; and then He assumed a loftier tone, and spoke to them as a dying Lord addressing His servants, friends, and representatives. The words of comfort and counsel spoken by Jesus in the former capacity, we find in the passages cited from the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of John's Gospel; while the directions of the departing Lord to His future Apostles are recorded in the two chapters which follow. We have to consider in this chapter the dying Parent's last words to His sorrowing children.
These, it will be observed, were not spoken in one continuous address. While the dying Parent spake, the children kept asking Him child's questions. First one, then another, then a third, and then a fourth, asked Him a question, suggested by what He had been saying. To these questions Jesus listened patiently, and returned answer as He could. The answers He gave, and the things He meant to say without reference to possible interrogations, are mixed up together in the narrative. It will be convenient for our purpose to separate these from those, and to consider first, taken together, the words of comfort spoken by Jesus to His disciples, and then their questionings of Him, with the replies which these elicited. This method will make these words stand out in all their exquisite simplicity and appropriateness. To show how very simple and suitable they were, we may here state them in the fewest possible words. They were these: 1. I am going away; in my absence find comfort in one another's love (xiii. 31-35). 2. I am going away; but it is to my Father's house, and in due season I will come back and take you thither (xiv. 1-4), xiv. 1-4. 3. I am going away; but even when I am away I will be with you in the person of my alter ego, the Comforter (xiv. 15-21).
Knowing to whom He speaks, Jesus begins at once with the nursery dialect. He addresses His disciples not merely as children, but as "little children;" by the endearing name expressing His tender affection towards them, and His compassion for their weakness. Then He alludes to His death in a delicate roundabout way, adapted to childish capacity and feelings. He tells them He is going a road they cannot follow, and that they will miss Him as children miss their father when he goes out and never returns. "Yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you."
After this brief, simple preface Jesus went on to give His little ones His first dying counsel, viz. that they should love one another in His absence. Surely it was a counsel well worthy to come first! For what solace can be greater to orphaned ones than mutual love? Let the world be ever so dark and cheerless, while brothers in affliction are true brothers to each other in sympathy and reciprocal helpfulness, they have an unfailing well-spring of joy in the desert of sorrow. If, on the other hand, to all the other ills of life there be added alienation, distrust, antagonism, the bereaved are desolate indeed; their night of sorrow hath not even a solitary star to alleviate its gloom.[24.3
Anxious to secure due attention to a precept in itself most seasonable, and even among the disciples needing enforcement, Jesus conferred on it all the dignity and importance of a new commandment, and made the love enjoined therein the distinctive mark of Christian discipleship. "A new commandment," said He, "I give unto you, that ye love one another;" thus, on that memorable night, adding a third novelty to those already introduced--the new sacrament and the new covenant. The commandment and the covenant were new in the same sense; not as never having been heard of before, but as now for the first time proclaimed with the due emphasis, and assuming their rightful place of supremacy above the details of Mosaic moral legislation and the shadowy rites of the legal religious economy. Now love was to be the outstanding royal law, and free grace was to antiquate Sinaitic ordinances. And why now? In both cases, because Jesus was about to die. His death would be the seal of the New Testament, and it would exemplify and ratify the new commandment. Hence He goes on to say, after giving forth that new law, "as I have loved you." The past tense is not to be interpreted strictly here: the perfect must be taken as a future perfect so as to include the death
which was the crowning act of the Saviour's love. "Love one another," Jesus would say, "as I shall have loved you, and as ye shall know that I have loved you when ye come to need the consolation of so loving each other." So understanding His words, we see clearly why He calls the law of love new. His own love in giving His life for His people was a new thing on earth; and a love among His followers, one towards another, kindred in spirit and ready to do the same thing if needful, would be equally a novelty at which the world would stare, asking in wonder whence it came, till at length it perceived that the men who so loved had been with Jesus.
The second word of comfort spoken by Jesus to the little ones He was about to leave was, in its general aspect, an exhortation to faith: "Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, and believe in me;" in its more special aspect a promise that He would return to take them to be with Him for ever.[24.4 The exhortation embraces in its scope the whole interests of the disciples, secular and spiritual, temporal and eternal. Their dying Master recommends them first to exercise faith in God, mainly with reference to temporal anxieties. He says to them, in effect: "I am going to leave you, my children; but be not afraid. You shall not be in the world as poor orphans, defenceless and unprovided for; God my Father will take care of you; trust in Divine Providence, and let peace rule in your hearts." Having thus exhorted them to exercise faith in God the Provider, Jesus next exhorts His little ones to believe in Himself, with special reference to those spiritual and eternal interests for the sake of which they had left all and followed Him. "Believing in God for food and raiment, believe in me too, and be assured that all I said to you about the kingdom and its joys and rewards is true. Soon ye will find it very hard to believe this: it will seem to you as if the promises I made were deceptive, and the kingdom a dream and a hallucination. But do not allow such dark thoughts to take possession of your minds: recollect what you know of me; and ask yourselves whether it is likely that He whose companions you have been during these years would deceive you with romantic promises that were never to be fulfilled."
The kingdom and its rewards; these were the things which Jesus had encouraged His followers to expect. Of these, accordingly, He proceeded next to speak, in the style suited to the character he had assumed,--that, viz., of a dying parent addressing his children. "In my Father's house," said He, "are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again, and receive you unto myself." Such, in its more specific form, was the second word of consolation. What a cheering prospect it held out to the disciples! In the hour of despondency the little ones would think themselves orphans, without a home either in earth or in heaven. But their Friend assures them that they should not merely have a home, but a splendid one; not merely a humble shed to shelter them from the storm, but a glorious palace to reside in, in a region where storms were unknown,--a house with a great many rooms in it, supplying abundant accommodation for them all, incomparably more capacious than the temple which had been the earthly dwelling-place of God. His own death, which would appear to them so great a calamity, would simply mean His going before to prepare for them a place in that splendid mansion, and in due season His departure would be followed by a return to take them to be with Himself.[24.5 What was implied in preparing a place when He should come again, He did not explain. He only added, as if coaxing them to take a cheerful view of the situation, "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know;" meaning, Think whither I go, to the Father, and think of my death as merely the way thither: and so let not my absence from the world make you sad, nor my death seem something dreadful.
To the student of New Testament theology, interested in tracing the resemblances and contrasts in different types of doctrine, this second word of consolation spoken by Christ to His disciples has special interest, as containing substantially the idea of a Forerunner, one of the striking thoughts of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The writer of that epistle tells his Hebrew readers that Jesus has gone into heaven not merely as a High Priest, but as a Forerunner,[24.6 this being one of the novelties and glories of the new dispensation; for no high priest of Israel went into the Most Holy Place as a forerunner, but only as a substitute, going for the people into a place whither they might not follow him. Jesus, on the other hand, goes into the heavenly sanctuary, not only for us, but before us, going into a place whither we may follow Him; no place being screened off, barred, or locked against us. Similar is the thought which the fourth evangelist puts into the mouth of Jesus here, speaking as the great High Priest of humanity.
These child-like yet profound sayings of the Lord Jesus are not only cheering, but most stimulating to the imagination. The "many mansions" suggest many thoughts. We think with pleasure of the vast numbers which the many-mansioned house is capable of containing. We may too, harmlessly, though perhaps fancifully, with the saints of other ages, think of the lodgings in the Father's house as not only many in number, but also as many in kind, corresponding to the classes or ranks of the residents.[24.7 But to some the most comfortable thought of all suggested by this pregnant poetic word is the certainty of an eternal life. To men who have doubted concerning the life beyond, the grand desideratum is not detailed information respecting the site, and the size, and the architecture of the celestial city, but to know for certain that there is such a city, that there is an house not made with hands eternal in the heavens. This desideratum is supplied in this word of Christ. For whatever the many mansions may mean besides, they do at the least imply that there is a state of happy existence to be reached by believers, as He in whom they believe reached it, viz. through death. The life everlasting, whatever its conditions, is undoubtedly taught here. And it is taught with authority. Jesus speaks as one who knows, not (like Socrates) as one who merely has an opinion on the subject. At his farewell meeting with his friends before he drank the hemlock cup, the Athenian sage discussed with them the question of the immortality of the soul. On that question he strongly maintained the affirmative; but still only as one who looked on it as a fair subject for discussion, and knew that there was a good deal to be said on both sides. But Jesus does more than maintain the affirmative on the subject of the life to come. He speaks thereon with oracular confidence, offering to us not the frail raft of a probable opinion, whereon we may perilously sail down the stream of life towards death; but the strong ship of a divine word, wherein one may sail securely, for which Socrates and his companions sighed.[24.8 And He so speaks with a full sense of the responsibility He thereby takes upon Himself. "If it were not so," He remarked to His disciples, "I would have told you;" which is as much as to say, that one should not encourage such expectations as He had led them to entertain unless he were sure of his ground. It was not enough to have an opinion about the world to come: one who took the responsibility of asking men to leave this present world for its sake should be quite certain that it was a reality, and not a dream. What condescension to the weakness of the disciples is shown in this self-justifying reflection of their Lord! What an aid also it lends to our faith in the reality of future bliss! For such an one as Jesus Christ would not have spoken in this way unless He had possessed authentic information about the world beyond.
In the third word of consolation, the leading thought is the promise of another Comforter, who should take the place of Him who was going away, and make the bereaved feel as if He were still with them. In the second word of comfort Jesus had said that He was going to provide a home for the little ones, and that then He would return and take them to it. In this third final word He virtually promises to be present with them by substitute, even when He is absent. "I will pray the Father," He says, "and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever"[24.9 (not for a season, as has been the case with me). Then He tells them who this wonderful Comforter is: His name is "the Spirit of Truth."[24.10 Then, lastly, He gives them to understand that this Spirit of Truth will be a Comforter to them, by restoring, as it were, the consciousness of His own presence, so that the coming of this other Comforter will just be, in a sense, His own spiritual return. "I will not leave you comfortless," He assures them: "I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you;"[24.11 promising thereby not a different thing, but the same thing which He had promised just before, in different terms. How the other Comforter would make Himself an alter ego of the departed one, He does not here distinctly explain.[24.12 At a subsequent stage in His discourse He did inform His disciples how the wonder would be achieved. The Spirit would make the absent Jesus present to them again, by bringing to their remembrance all His words,[24.13 by testifying of Him,[24.14 and by guiding them into an intelligent apprehension of all Christian truth.[24.15 All this, though not said here, is sufficiently hinted at by the name given to the new Paraclete. He is called the Spirit of Truth, not the Holy Spirit, as elsewhere, because He was to comfort by enlightening the minds of the disciples in the knowledge of Christ, so that they should see Him clearly by the spiritual eye, when He was no longer visible to the eye of the body.
This spiritual vision, when it came, was to be the true effectual consolation for the absence of the Jesus whom the eleven had known after the flesh. It would be as the dawn of day, which banishes the fears and discomforts of the night. While the night lasts, all comforts are but partial alleviations of discomfort. A father's hand and voice have a reassuring effect on the timid heart of his child, as they walk together by night; but while the darkness lasts, the little one is liable to be scared by objects dimly seen, and distorted by fear-stricken fancy into fantastic forms. "In the night-time men (much more children) think every bush a thief;" and all can sympathize with the sentiment of Rousseau, "It is my nature to be afraid of darkness.'' Light is welcome, even
when it only reveals to us the precise nature and extent of our miseries. If it do not in that case drive sorrow away, it helps at least to make it calm and sober. Such cold comfort, however, was not what Jesus promised His followers. The Spirit of Truth was not to come merely to show them their desolation in all its nakedness, and to reconcile them to it as inevitable, by teaching them to regard their early hopes as romantic dreams, the kingdom of God as a mere ideal, and the death of Jesus as the fate that awaits every earnest attempt to realize that ideal. Miserable comfort this! to be told that all earnest religion must end in infidelity, and all enthusiasm in despair!
The third word of consolation was introduced by an injunction laid by Jesus on His disciples. "If ye love me," said He to them, "keep my commandments." It is probable that the speaker meant here to set the true way of showing love over against an unprofitable, bootless one, which His hearers were in danger of taking; that, namely, of grieving over His loss. We may paraphrase the words so as to indicate the connection of thought somewhat as follows: "If ye love me, show not your love by idle sorrow, but by keeping my commandments, whereby ye shall render to me a real service. Let the precepts which I have taught you from time to time be your concern, and be not troubled about yourselves. Leave your future in my hands; I will look after it: for I will pray the Father, and he will send you another Comforter."[24.16
But this paraphrase, though true so far as it goes, does not exhaust the meaning of this weighty word. Jesus prefaces the promise of the Comforter by an injunction to keep His commandments, because He wishes His disciples to understand that the fulfilment of the promise and the keeping of the commandments go together. This truth is hinted at by the word "and," which forms the link of connection between precept and promise; and it is reiterated under various modes of expression in the passage we are now considering. The necessity of moral fidelity in order to spiritual illumination is plainly taught when the promised Comforter is described as a Spirit "whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him."[24.17 It is still more plainly taught in the last verse of this section: "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him."[24.18 As in His first great sermon (on the mount) Jesus had said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God;" so, in His farewell discourse to His own, He says in effect: Be pure in heart, and through the indwelling Spirit of Truth ye shall see me, even when I am become invisible to the world.[24.19
Life and light go together: such is the doctrine of the Lord Jesus, as of all Scripture. Keeping in mind this great truth, we comprehend the diverse issues of religious perplexities; in one resulting in the illuminism of infidelity; in another, in an enlightened, unwavering faith. The "illumination" which consists in the extinction of the heavenly luminaries of faith and hope is the penalty of not faithfully keeping Christ's commandments; that which consists in the restoration of spiritual lights after a temporary obscuration by the clouds of doubt is the reward of holding fast moral integrity when faith is eclipsed, and of fearing God while walking in darkness. A man, e.g., who, having believed for a time the divinity of Christ and the life to come, ends by believing that Jesus was only a deluded enthusiast, and that the divine kingdom is but a beautiful dream, will not be found to have made any great effort to realize his own ideal, certainly not to have been guilty of the folly of suffering for it. To many, the creed which resolves all religion into impracticable ideals is very convenient. It saves a world of trouble and pain; it permits them to think fine thoughts, without requiring them to do noble actions, and it substitutes romancing about heroism in the place of being heroes.