The Training of the Twelve
SECTION II. APOSTOLIC TRIBULATIONS AND ENCOURAGEMENTS
John xv. 18-27, xvi. 1-15.
From apostolic duties Jesus passed on to speak of apostolic tribulations. The transition was natural; for all great actors in God's cause, whose fruit remains, are sure to be more or less men of sorrow. To be hated and evil entreated is one of the penalties of moral greatness and spiritual power; or, to put it differently, one of the privileges Christ confers on His "friends."
Hatred is very hard to bear, and the desire to escape it is one main cause of unfaithfulness and unfruitfulness. Good men shape their conduct so as to keep out of trouble, and through excess of cowardly prudence degenerate into spiritual nonentities. It was of the first importance that the apostles of the Christian faith should not become impotent through this cause. For this reason Jesus introduces the subject of tribulation here. He would fortify His disciples for the endurance of sufferings by speaking of them beforehand. "These things," saith He, in the course of His address on the unpleasant theme, as if apologizing for its introduction, "have I spoken unto you that ye should not be scandalized,"[25.24 that is, be taken by surprise when the time of trouble came.
To nerve the young soldiers of the cross, the Captain of salvation has recourse to various expedients, among which the first is to tell them, without disguise, what they have to expect, that familiarity with the dark prospect may make it less terrible. Of the world's hatred Jesus speaks as an absolutely certain matter, not even deeming it necessary to assert its certainty, but assuming that as a thing of course: "If the world hate you"[25.25--as of course it will. Farther on He describes, without euphemism or circumlocution, the kind of treatment they shall receive at the world's hands: "They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, but the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he offereth service unto God."[25.26 Harsh, appalling words; but since such things were to be, it was well to know the worst.
Jesus further tells His disciples that whatever they may have to suffer, they can be no worse off than He has been before them. "If the world hate you, ye know that it has hated me before you." Poor comfort, one is disposed to say; yet it is not so poor when you consider the relative position of the parties. He who has already been hated is the Lord; they who are to be hated are but the servants. Of this Jesus reminds His disciples, repeating and recalling to their remembrance a word He had already spoken the same evening.[25.27 The consideration ought at least to repress murmuring; and, duly laid to heart, it might even become a source of heroic inspiration. The servant should be ashamed to complain of a lot from which his Master is not, and does not wish to be, exempted; he should be proud to be a companion in tribulations with One who is so much his superior, and regard his experience of the cross not as a fate, but as a privilege.
A third expedient employed by Jesus to reconcile the apostles to the world's hatred, is to represent it as a necessary accompaniment of their election.[25.28 This thought, well weighed, has great force. Love ordinarily rests on a community of interest. Men love those who hold the same opinions, occupy the same position, follow the same fashions, pursue the same ends with themselves; and they regard all who differ from them in these respects with indifference, dislike, or positive animosity, according to the degree in which they are made sensible of the contrast. Hence arises a dilemma for the chosen ones. Either they must forfeit the honor, privileges, and hope of their election, and descend into the dark world which is without God and without hope; or they must be content, while retaining their position as called out of darkness, to accept the drawbacks which adhere to it, and to be hated by those who love the darkness rather than the light, because their life is evil. What true child of light will hesitate in his choice?
To show the disciples that they have no alternative but to submit patiently to their appointed lot as the chosen ones, Jesus enters yet more deeply into the philosophy of the world's hatred. He explains that what in the first place will be hatred to them, will mean in the second place hatred to Himself; and in the last place, and radically, ignorance of and hostility to God His Father.[25.29 In setting forth this truth, He takes occasion to make some severe reflections on the unbelieving world of Judea, in which He had Himself labored. He puts the worst construction on its unbelief; declares it to be utterly without excuse; accuses those who have been guilty of it, of hating Him without a cause, that is, of hating one whose whole character and conduct, words and works, should have won their faith and love; and in their hatred of Him He sees revealed a hatred of that very God for whose glory they professed to be so zealous.[25.30
How painful is the view here given of the world's enmity to truth and its witnesses! One would like to see, in the bitterness with which the messengers of truth have been received (not excepting the case of Jesus), the result of a pardonable misunderstanding. And without doubt this is the origin of not a few religious animosities. There have been many sins committed against the Son of man, and those like-minded, which were only in a very mitigated degree sins against the Holy Ghost. Were it otherwise, alas for us all! For who has not persecuted the Son of man or His interest, cherishing ill-feeling and uttering bitter words against His members, if not against Him personally, under the influence of prejudice; yea, it may be, going the length of inflicting material injury on the apostles of unfamiliar, unwelcome truths, in obedience to the blind impulses of panic fear or selfish passion?
If there be few who have not in one way or another persecuted, there are perhaps also few of the persecuted who have not taken too sombre views of the guilt of their persecutors. Men who suffer for their convictions are greatly tempted to regard their opponents as in equal measure the opponents of God. The wrongs they endure provoke them to think and speak of the wrong-doers as the very children of the devil. Then it gives importance to one's cause, and dignity to one's sufferings, to conceive of the former as God's, and of the latter as endured for God's sake. Finally, broadly to state the question at stake as one between God's friends and God's foes, satisfies both the intellect and the conscience,--the former demanding a status qu stionis which is simple and easily understood; the latter, one which puts you obviously in the right, and your adversaries obviously in the wrong.
All this shows that much candor, humility, and patience of spirit, is needed before one can safely say, "He that hateth me hateth God." Nevertheless, it remains true that a man's real attitude towards God is revealed by the way in which he treats God's present work and His living servants. On this principle Jesus judged His enemies, though He cherished no resentment, and was ever ready to make due allowance for Ignorance. In spite of His charity, He believed and said that the hostility He had encountered sprang from an evil will, and a wicked, godless heart. He had in view mainly the leaders of the opposition who organized the mob of the ignorant and the prejudiced into a hostile army. These men He unhesitatingly denounced as haters of God, truth, and righteousness; and He pointed to their treatment of Himself as the conclusive evidence of the fact. His appearance and ministry among them had stripped off the mask, and shown them in their real character as hypocrites, pretending to sanctity, but inwardly full of baseness and impiety, who hated genuine goodness, and could not rest till they had got it flung out of the world and nailed to a cross. With the history and the sayings of Christ before our eyes, we must beware lest we carry apologies for unbelief too far.
Jesus having spoken, as in a brief digression, of His bitter experience in the past, very naturally goes on next to express the hope which He cherishes of a brighter future. Hitherto He has been despised and rejected of men, but He believes it will not always be so. The world, Jewish and Gentile, will ere long begin to change its mind, and the Crucified One will become an object of faith and reverence. This hope He builds on a strong and sure foundation, even the combined testimony of the Spirit of truth and of His own apostles. "But," saith He, His face brightening as He speaks, "when the Comforter (of whom He had spoken to His little ones, and to whom He now alludes as His own Comforter not less than theirs) is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me."[25.31 What results the Spirit would bring about by His testimony He does not here state. To that point He speaks shortly after, on discovering that His hearers have not apprehended His meaning, or at least have failed to find in His words any comfort for themselves. Meantime He hastens to intimate that the disciples as well as the Spirit of truth will have a share in the honorable work of redeeming from disgrace their Master's name and character. They also should bear witness, as they were well qualified to do, having been with Him from the beginning of His ministry,[25.32 and knowing fully His doctrine and manner of life.
In this future witness-bearing of the Spirit and of the apostles, Jesus sought comfort to His own heart under the depressing weight of a gloomy retrospect, and the immediate prospect of crucifixion. But not the less did He mean the disciples also to seek from the same quarter strength to encounter their tribulations. In truth, no considerations could tend more effectually to reconcile generous minds to a hard lot, than those implied in what Jesus had just said, viz. that the apostles would suffer in a cause favored by Heaven, and tending to the honor of Him whom they loved more than life. Who would not choose to be on the side for which the Divine Spirit fights, even at the risk of receiving wounds? Who would not be happy to be reproached and evil-entreated for a name which is worthy to be above every name, especially if assured that the sufferings endured contributed directly to the exaltation of that blessed name to its rightful place of sovereignty? It was just such considerations which more than any thing else supported the apostles under their great and manifold trials. They learned to say: "For Christ's sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. But what does it matter? The Church is spreading; believers are multiplying on every side, springing up an hundred-fold from the seed of the martyrs' blood; the name of our Lord is being magnified. We will gladly suffer, therefore, bearing witness to the truth."
Having premised these observations concerning the aids to endurance, Jesus proceeded at length to state distinctly, in words already quoted, what the apostles would have to endure.[25.33 On these words we make only one additional remark, viz., that the disciples would learn from them not only the nature of their future tribulations, but the quarter whence they were to come. The world, against whose hatred their Master forewarns them in this part of His discourse, is not the irreligious, sceptical, easy-going, gross-living world of paganism. It is the world of antichristian Judaism; of synagogue-frequenting men, accustomed to distinguish themselves from "the world" as the people of God, very zealous after a fashion for God's glory, fanatically in earnest in their religious opinions and practices, utterly intolerant of dissent, relentlessly excommunicating all who deviated from established belief by a hair's-breadth, and deeming their death no murder, but a religious service, an acceptable sacrifice to the Almighty. To this Jewish world is assigned the honor of representing the entire kosrnos of men alienated from God and truth; and if hatred to the good be the central characteristic of worldliness, the honor was well earned, for it was among the Jews that the power of hating attained its maximum degree of intensity. No man could hate like a religious Jew of the apostolic age: he was renowned for his diabolic capacity of hating. Even a Roman historian, Tacitus, commemorates the "hostile odium" of the Jewish race against all mankind; and the experience of the Christian apostles fully justified the prominence given to the Jew by Jesus in discoursing on the world's hatred. It was to the unbelieving Jews they mainly owed their knowledge of what the world's hatred meant. The pagan world despised them rather than hated them. The Greek laughed, and the Roman passed by in contemptuous indifference, or at most opposed temperately, as one who would rather not. But the persevering, implacable, malignant hostility of the Jewish religionist!--it was bloodthirsty, it was pitiless, it was worthy of Satan himself. Truly might Jesus say to the Jews, with reference thereto, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do."
What a strange fruit was this wicked spirit of hatred to grow upon the goodly vine which God had planted in the holy land! Chosen to be the vehicle of blessing to the world, Israel ends by becoming the enemy of the world, "contrary to all men," so as to provoke even the humane to regard and treat her as a nuisance, whose destruction from the face of the earth would be a common cause of congratulation. Behold the result of election abused! Peculiar favors minister to pride, instead of stirring up the favored ones to devote themselves to their high vocation as the benefactors of mankind; and a divine commonwealth is turned into a synagogue of Satan, and God's most deadly foes are those of His own house. Alas! the same phenomenon has reappeared in the Christian Church. The world that is most opposed to Christ, Antichrist itself, is to be found not in heathendom, but in Christendom; not among the irreligious and the skeptical, but among those who account themselves the peculiar people of God.
The announcement made by Jesus concerning their future tribulations, produced, as was to be expected, a great sensation among the disciples. The dark prospect revealed by thy momentary lifting of the veil utterly appalled them. Consternation appeared in their faces, and sorrow filled their hearts. To be forsaken by their Master was bad enough, but to be left to such a fate was still worse, they thought. Jesus noticed the impression He had produced, and did what He could to remove it, and help the poor disciples to recover their composure.
First, He makes a sort of apology for speaking of such painful matters, to this effect: "I would gladly have been silent concerning your coming troubles, and I have been silent as long as possible; but I could not think of leaving you without letting you know what was before you, which accordingly I have done now, as the hour of my departure is at hand."[25.34 The kind feeling which dictated the statement thus paraphrased is manifest; but the statement itself appears inconsistent with the records of the other Gospels, from which we learn that the hardships connected with discipleship in general, and with the apostleship in particular, were a frequent subject of remark in the intercourse of Jesus with the twelve. The difficulty has been variously dealt with by commentators. Some admit the contradiction, and assume that such earlier discourses concerning persecutions as are found--e.g. in the tenth chapter of Matthew Matt. 10--are introduced by the evangelist out of their chronological order. Others insist on the difference between the earlier utterances and the present in respect to plainness: representing the former as vague and general, like the early illusions made by Jesus to His own death; the latter as particular, definite, and unmistakable, like the announcements which Jesus made respecting His passion towards the end of His ministry. A third class of expositors make the novelty of this discourse on the world's hatred lie in the explanation given therein of its cause and origin;[25.35 while a fourth class insist that the grand distinction between this discourse and all that went before is to be found in the fact that it is a farewell discourse, and therefore one which, owing to the situation, made quite a novel impression.[25.36
Where so much difference of opinion prevails, it would be unbecoming to dogmatize. Our own opinion, however, is, that the peculiarity of the present utterance concerning apostolic tribulations lies in the manner or style, rather than in the matter. On former occasions, especially on the occasion of the trial mission of the twelve, Jesus had said much the same things: He had spoken of scourging in synagogues at least, if not of excommunication from them, and had alluded to death by violence as at least a possible fate for the apostles of the kingdom. But He had said all things in a different way. There He preached concerning persecution; here He makes an awfully real announcement. There is all the difference between that discourse and the present communication that there would be between a sermon on the text, "It is appointed unto men once to die," and a special intimation to an individual, "This year thou shalt die." The sermon may say far more about death than the intimation, but in how different a manner, and with what a different effect!
The next expedient for curing grief to which Jesus has recourse is friendly remonstrance. He gently taunts the disciples for their silence, which He regards as a token of hopeless, despairing sorrow. "But now I go my way to Him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest Thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart."[25.37"Why," He means to say, "are you so utterly cast down? have you no questions to ask me about my departure? You were full of questions at the first. You were curious to know whither I was going. I would be thankful to have that question asked over again, or indeed to have any question put to me, whether wise or foolish. The most childish interrogations would be better than the gloom of speechless despair."
As the question, "Whither guest Thou?" had been sufficiently answered already, it might have been superfluous to ask it again. There were, however, other questions, neither superfluous nor impertinent, which the disciples might have taken occasion to ask from the communication just made to them concerning their future lot, and which they probably would have asked had they not been so depressed in spirit. "If," they might have said, "it is to fare so ill with us after you go, why do not you stay? While you have been with us you have sheltered us from the world's hatred, and you tell us that when you, our leader and head, are gone, that hatred will be directed against us, your followers. If so, how can we possibly regard your departure as any thing but a calamity?"
These unspoken questions Jesus proceeds in the next place to answer. He boldly asserts that whatever they may think, it is for their good that He should go away.[25.38 The assertion, true in other respects also, is made with special reference to the work of the apostleship. In the early part of His farewell address, Jesus had explained to His disciples how His departure would affect them as private persons or individual believers. He had assured them that when "the Comforter" came, He would make them feel as if their departed Master were returned to them again; yea, as if He were more really present to them than ever He had been. Here His object is to show the bearing of His departure on their work as apostles, and to make them understand that His going away would be good for them as public functionaries.
The proof of this assertion follows;[25.39 its substance is to this effect: "When I leave you and go to my father,[25.40 two desiderata of essential importance for the success of your work as apostles will be supplied. Then you will have receptive hearers, and you yourselves will be competent to preach. Neither of these desiderata exists for the present. The world has rejected me and my words; and you, though sincere, are very ignorant, and understand not what I have taught you. After my ascension, there will be a great alteration in both respects: the world will be more ready to hear the truth, and you will be able to declare it intelligently. The change cannot come till then; for it will be brought about by the work of the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, and He cannot come till I go."
In the section of His discourse of which we have given the general meaning, Jesus sketches in rapid outline, first the Spirit's converting work in the world,[25.41 and then His enlightening work in the minds of the apostles.[25.42 The former He describes in these terms: "When He is come, He will convince (produce serious thought and conviction in) the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment." Then He explains in what special aspects the Spirit will bring these great moral realities before men's minds; and here He but expounds what He has already said concerning the Spirit's testimony in His own behalf.[25.43 He tells His disciples that the Comforter, witnessing for Himself in the hearts and consciences of men, will convince them of sin specially as unbelievers in Him; of righteousness in connection with His departure to the Father; and of judgment (to come), because the prince of this world is judged already (that is, shall have been, when the Comforter commences His work).
The second and third explanatory remarks are enigmatical, and instead of throwing light on the subject in hand, seem rather to involve it in darkness. They have given rise to so much dispute and diversity of opinion, that to expatiate on them were vain, and to dogmatize presumption. One great point of dispute has been: What righteousness does Jesus allude to,--His own, or that of sinners? Does He mean to say that the Spirit will convince the world, after He has left the earth, that He was a righteous man? or does He mean that the Spirit will teach men to see in the Crucified One the Lord their righteousness? Our own opinion is, that He means neither, and both. Righteousness is to be taken in its undefined generality: and the idea is, that the Spirit will make use of the exaltation of Christ to make men think earnestly on the whole subject of righteousness; to show them the utterly rotten character of their own righteousness, whose crowning feat was to crucify Jesus; to bring home to their hearts the solemn truth that the Crucified One was the Just One; and ultimately to put them on a track for finding in Jesus their true righteousness, by raising in their minds the question, Why then did the Just One suffer?
The meaning of the third explanatory remark we take to be to this effect: "When I am crucified, the god of this world shall have been judged. Both this world and its god, indeed, but the latter only finely and irreversibly,--the world, though presently following Satan, being convertible. When I am ascended, the Spirit will use the then past judgment of Satan to convince men of a judgment to come; teaching them to see therein a prophecy of a final separation between me and all who obstinately persist in unbelief, and so, by the terrors of perdition, bringing them to repentance and faith."
What Jesus says of the enlightening work of the Spirit on the minds of the disciples, amounts to this: He will fit you to be intelligent and trustworthy witnesses to me, and to be guides of the Church in doctrine and practice. For these high purposes two things would be necessary: that they should understand Christian truth, and that they should possess the gift of prophecy, so as to be able to foretell in its general outlines the future, for the warning and encouragement of believers. Both these advantages Jesus promises them as fruits of the Spirit's enlightening influence. He assures them that, when the Comforter is come, He will guide them unto all the truth He had himself taught them, recalling things forgotten, explaining things not understood, developing germs into a system of doctrine which was entirely above their present power of comprehension.[25.44 He further informs them that this same Spirit will show them things to come,--such as the rise of heresies and apostasies, the coming of Antichrist, the conflict between light and darkness, and their final issue, as described in the Book of Revelation.
Such were the changes to be brought about in the world and in the disciples by the advent of the Comforter. Great beneficent changes truly; but why cannot they take place before Jesus leaves the world? The answer to this question is hinted at by Jesus, when He says of the Spirit: "He shall not speak of Himself,"[25.45 and "He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you."[25.46 The personal ministry of Jesus behoved to come to an end before the ministry of the Spirit began, because the latter is merely an application of the former. The Spirit does not speak as from Himself: He simply takes of the things relating to Christ, and shows them to men,--to unbelievers, for their conviction and conversion; to believers, for their enlightenment and sanctification. But till Jesus had died, risen, ascended, the essentials about Him would remain incomplete; the materials for a gospel would not be ready to hand. There could be neither apostolic preaching, nor the demonstration of the Spirit with power accompanying it. It must be possible for the apostles and the Spirit to bear witness of One who, though perfectly holy, had been crucified, to show the world the heinousness of its sin. They must have it in their power to declare that God hath made that same Jesus whom they have crucified both Lord and Christ, exalted to heavenly glory, before their hearers can be pricked in the heart, and made to exclaim in terror, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Only after Jesus had ascended to glory, and become invisible to mortal eyes,[25.47 could men be made to understand that He was not only personally a righteous man, but the Lord their righteousness. Then the question would force itself upon their mindes: What could be the meaning of the Lord of glory becoming man, and dying on the cross? and by the teaching of the Spirit they would learn to reply, not as in the days of their ignorance, "He suffers for His own offences," but, "Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions."
Finally, not till the apostles were in a position to say that their Lord was gone to heaven, could they bring to bear with full effect on the impenitent the doctrine of a judgment. Then they could say, Christ is seated on the heavenly throne a Prince and a Saviour to all who believe, but also a Judge to those who continue in rebellion and unbelief. "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him."
All this the disciples for the present did not understand. Of the Spirit's work on the conscience of the world and in their own minds, and of the relation in which the third person of the Trinity[25.48 stood to the second, they had simply no conception. Hence Jesus does not enlarge on these topics, but restricts Himself to what is barely necessary to indicate the truth. But the time came when the disciples did get to understand these matters, and then they fully appreciated the eulogium of their Lord on the dispensation of the Comforter. Then they acknowledged that the assertion was indeed true that it was expedient for them that He should go away, and smiled when they remembered that they had once thought otherwise; yea, they perceived that the word "expedient," far from being too strong, was rather a weak expression, chosen in gracious accommodation to their feeble spiritual capacity, instead of the stronger one "indispensable." Then they felt, as we imagine good men feel about death when they have got to heaven. On this side the grave
"Timorous mortals start and shrink
To cross the narrows sea;
And linger, shivering, on the brink,
And fear to launch away."
But to those on the other side how insignificant a matter must death seem, and how strange must it appear to their purged vision, that it should ever have been needful to prove to them that it was better to depart to heaven than to remain in a world of sin and sorrow!