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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ john-7.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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PART IV. (A.)
I. THE GROWING CONFLICT BETWEEN THE FORCES OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS RANGED ON THE SIDE OF AND AGAINST THE WORD
1. Christ’s manifesting Himself in His public ministry as the Truth, leads to opposition from the rulers of the people, who fear the usurpation of their authority.
(1) The unbelief of His brethren, showing that even in the circle of His earthly home the hatred of the world arises from opposition to the works of truth (John 7:1-9);
(2) at the feast of tabernacles He declares that His doctrine is from the Father, as He Himself is from the Father (John 7:10-29).
2. The growing enmity of the rulers.
(1) It shows itself in open attempts to lay violent hold of Him;
(2) this is abandoned for the time because of controversy among the Jews themselves (John 7:30-53).
3. Jesus proclaims Himself to be the giver of the Holy Ghost.
(1) The result is that many believe on Him among the people;
(2) whilst the Pharisees are inflamed with more undisguised hatred against Him (John 7:40-53).
Second Year of our Lord’s Ministry
Chaps. 7–12—Probable position in Synoptic narrative: follows Matthew 18:21-35; Mark 9:49-50; Luke 10:17 et seq.
Time.—Feast of tabernacles, Tisri (September–October), A.U.C. 782, A.D. 29.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 7:1. Jewry.—i.e. Judæa. Kill Him.—See John 5:18.
John 7:2. Feast of tabernacles.—Fifteenth day of seventh month, Tisri (September–October). See Homiletic Notes on John 7:37-40; and John 8:12.
John 7:3. His brethren.—See John 2:12. But see also Lightfoot on Galatians; and Homiletic Note below. “Thy disciples” seems to have especial reference to the “disciples” which had gathered round the Lord in Judæa (John 4:1).
John 7:4. Show Thyself to the world.—The meaning of the verse is that the Messianic claims of our Lord could not be confirmed and established in rural Galilee, which was, as it might be said, “out of the world.” He did not Himself manifest any desire to remain unknown; on the contrary, He in a very special sense seemed to desire to make Himself known publicly, and to communicate His teaching openly (“ἐν παῤῥησίᾳ means here ‘in public,’ ‘openly’ ”). And yet He confined His activity to rural Galilee, and in so doing seemed to contradict Himself. Jerusalem was the centre, the world, to which He should manifest the proofs of His Messiahship.
John 7:6. My time (ὁ καιρὸς ὁ ἐμός, My season) is not yet come.—The time for His revelation of Himself as the Messiah, the true King of Israel. That time would come, when in the depth of His humiliation He would reveal His glory (John 12:12-16; John 12:23-33, John 19:14-19, etc.); it was present to His mind even then, as we see from John 7:7, “Me the world hateth.” Your time, etc.—As His course was already determined, He waited for that appointed time. There was, however, no such set time for His brethren. They were then in harmony with the world, and at any time could show themselves in the world without drawing down on themselves its wrath and resentment (John 7:7, “The world cannot hate you”). “They who are friends of the world are never out of season. Their season lasts as long as the world lasts. But when the fashion of this world has passed away, then they will be out of season, and then will be the season of Christ and all His true disciples. Their harvest it the end of the world (Matthew 13:39)” (Wordsworth’s Greek Testament).
John 7:7. He made known to the world its true nature, unmasked it and revealed it plainly (John 8:42-44; Matthew 23:13-36).
John 7:8. Go ye up unto this feast.—With your present thoughts and feelings, you may indeed go up with your fellow-countrymen who are like-minded. I go not yet up, etc.—The reading here is doubtful:א, D, K, M, etc., and several ancient versions, Tischendorf and Tregelles read οὐκ, whilst οὔπω is the reading of B, L, T, X, etc., the Syriac version, etc. If οὐκ be the reading preferred, the meaning will be, I do not go up as the pilgrim bands do to keep this feast. For My time, etc.—“The feast of tabernacles was a festival of peculiar joy for work accomplished. At such a feast Christ had now no place” (Westcott).
John 7:9. He abode in Galilee.—He remained in Galilee for some days after the departure of His brethen. They probably took the longer route, east of the Jordan, whilst our Lord Himself might take the shorter route, through Samaria. So that He delayed following them during the greater part of a week.
John 7:10. Not openly.—He did not evidently go up to keep the feast, for He was not present on the day of Holy Convocation (15th Tisri). He went up quietly. He did not wish to force on the inevitable contest, in mercy to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matthew 23:37-39). For this reason, and to avoid any appearance of desiring that His followers should carry out their intention of making Him an earthly King, He went up to Jerusalem as a humble wayfarer. The supposition advanced by Wieseler and others that this journey is to be identified with that recorded in Luke 9:51-62 cannot be entertained. The latter journey could in no way be described as going up “in secret.” See also Luke 10:1-16, etc.
John 7:11. The Jews, etc.—His enemies were apparently looking for His appearance. Where is He?—ἐκεῖνος = that one, fellow. The expression half displays their enmity. No doubt there were others anxious, others curious, to see the renowned teacher.
John 7:12. The people.—Multitudes (ὄχλοι). The mass of the people as distinguished from the ruling classes. Among these multitudes were included the crowds of Galilean pilgrims. Murmuring (γογγυσμός).—“Speech not venturing to break forth.” The scene called up is that of knots of the people speaking to each other in low, confidential tones. And this murmuring revealed two classes: the one friendly, whose candid minds were impressed by the evidences of Christ’s truth and goodness of character; the other hostile, probably a class of superior people who looked down on the multitude. It was perhaps the more cultured townsmen who held the hostile view. And in any case (John 7:13) all parties waited to see what the Jewish authorities would do.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 7:1-13
Jesus’ action in view of the hatred of the world.—About six months had passed since the discourse at Capernaum, following on the miracle of feeding the five thousand. The green grass on Galilean hillsides was withered, and the flowers of spring and early summer had faded. When this chapter opens the fields had been reaped, the fruits gathered in, and the people were preparing for the joyous feast of tabernacles. The “brethren of our Lord,” before setting out, urged Him to go up and manifest Himself by mighty works to His disciples at Jerusalem, i.e. to those in Judæa and Jerusalem who believed in Him, and those who had gone up from Galilee, including probably some of the twelve. Our Lord, however, refused to go up publicly to the feast, remaining after His brethren some days, and then going up privately, reaching Jerusalem about three days from the close of the festival. In declaring His intention of not going up publicly He gave reasons why He did not do so—did not, at that special time, reveal Himself and show forth His glory. These reasons were—
I. The hatred and unbelief of the world.—
1. As the grass and flowers on the Galilean hillsides had withered, so the faith of many who had at first followed the Redeemer was now withered and dead (John 6:66). Even in Galilee, where there was less direct opposition to Him, unbelief and indifference were reigning. His own brethren, also, were among the unfaithful multitude.
2. But, sad as was the outlook in Galilee, it was worse in Jewry. Malignant hatred in Judæa was on the watch for His life; and had He gone up publicly at that time, raising expectations in some hearts of further and fuller revelations, this would have tended, in all likelihood, to bring the hatred of the rulers to a point, and thus hinder the work He had yet to do, and the further revelations of His glory which were yet to take place.
3. It was the hatred of the world to the truth, and to Christ as the King of truth, which hindered His life from shining out then in all its beauty and power to become the light of men (John 1:4-5). Our Lord was no exception; it has ever been so. But just as His life was so heavenly pure, and, by contrast, what was evil so plainly revealed, and those who were evil so startled by the opposition, so was the evil world’s hatred of Him more malignant.
4. But as it was with Him who was the Truth, so it has been at all times, and will be to the end. In Attica, reputed wise, they condemned their Socrates and honoured their Anytus. And thus, in greater or less degree, is it still (Matthew 5:10-12).
5. To reveal Himself fully to that world would have only led to their greater condemnation. All too soon would they reject Him and desire a murderer to be granted unto them (Acts 3:14).
II. His time was not yet come.—
1. There was a divine plan in the life of Jesus on earth, regulating, it would appear, all His movements (see John 2:4).
2. And at that period the time for a festive entry into Jerusalem (which probably would have been attempted, by over-zealous and mistaken followers, at the joyous festival of tabernacles) had not arrived. For that festive entry would be but the prelude to the suffering of the Via Dolorosa (John 12:12 seq.).
3. On the other hand, the time of His brethren was always ready. They had not to oppose the world,—neither its active hostility nor the perverted loyalty of worldly-minded and mistaken followers.
4. There was no intention on the part of Jesus to draw back from the goal which lay before Him. It was in mercy to the world, in order that He might yet plead with “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and show them unmistakable proofs of His loving patience and long-suffering (Matthew 23:37-39), and further proofs of His glory as the incarnate Son. (John 9:1-7; John 11:38-45).
III. His manifestation of Himself “was not with ostentation.”—
1. His brethren did not then believe in Him (but see Acts 1:14). They were, in all likelihood, puzzled to account for His action, and, it may be, desired that things should be brought to a head, that He should permit Himself to be declared a King. Thus they showed their unbelief, their inability to realise His Messianic mission. Their reproachful invitation was a repetition of the tempter’s wiles (Luke 4:13).
2. His brethren and His followers had to learn that it was not with outward pomp that He would manifest Himself. Truth does not need to blow trumpets (or engage others to do so) in the synagogues or at the corners of the streets (Matthew 6:1-5). And the King of truth needed not ostentatiously to display Himself. Time and eternity are on the side of His kingdom, which advances by a silent, often unnoticed, development in the hearts of men.
3. And just as the King of truth, when He, hanging a dying victim on the cross of shame, seemed utterly defeated, was then on the eve of victory, so when His kingdom may seem well-nigh broken up will it rise in its grandeur and overcome. Magna est veritas et prœlavebit. Have men, even in Christian lands, still to learn this lesson after the experience of centuries? What, at all events, does political and other chicanery mean?
John 7:3-5. The unbelief of Christ’s brethren.—Whatever we hold to have been their actual relationship to Jesus according to the flesh (see Homiletic Notes), at all events these brethren were near kinsmen of the Son of man. But like their Galilean compatriots—even those to whom Jesus was best known—they did not understand the Saviour, did not comprehend the scope and purpose of His teaching and working. Thus they lacked belief in the truth that He was to set up the kingdom of God. The mention of this interesting fact by St. John only shows his close relationship with the Saviour. He was the beloved disciple (John 13:23). To His care Jesus, while on the cross, committed His mother (John 19:26-27). And probably we owe some interesting details in this Gospel to this affecting fact.
I. The unbelief of our Lord’s brethren was due to misconceptions.—
1. It was not manifested in hatred, like the unbelief of the Jewish rulers, Pharisees, etc. There is nothing in the gospel narrative to show that they were inimical to Him; rather from the scattered notices we may think they were solicitous for His safety (Mark 3:20-35 and parallels).
2. Nor would it appear that their unbelief was caused by sheer indifference, like that of the dwellers in Capernaum, etc.
3. It was due rather, as this passage seems to show, to their discontent with His action in not seeking publicly to gain that position and authority which His powers entitled Him to, and which the people were willing to accord Him. Like the majority of the disciples, they would have liked to share in the glory of His kingdom, to shine in the reflected light of His fame. “Show Thyself to the world” is their cry, but in that cry our Lord recognised the tempter’s wile, “Cast Thyself down from hence” (Luke 4:9-12).
4. Thus their unbelief arose more from misconceptions of His work and kingdom than from any other cause. Like the majority of their compatriots, they were allured by the dream of a material kingdom of the Messiah. And no doubt disappointed hopes and ambitions, leading to irritable vexation, lurked in their hearts, making them querulous and discontented.
II. Their unbelief passed away with their misconceptions.—
1. The best of all proof that it did so is found in the fact that they are found among the members of the infant Church after our Lord’s ascension, waiting for “the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4-14).
2. Their misconceptions of our Lord’s work and teaching had passed away. Christ’s wonderful works, and, above all, His glorious resurrection, had cleared away the mists that obscured their spiritual vision. And across the stormy, raging waters of His passion had come to their souls also the cheering message, “It is I, be not afraid.”
3. Here in this narrative they are like Joseph’s brethren, who scoffed at his dreams, which they afterward in act fulfilled. These brethren of Jesus apparently slighted His teaching regarding His being lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14), His giving His flesh for the life of the world, etc. (John 6:51), as incomprehensible, and as altogether too unworldly and impracticable. And by their unbelief they, no doubt, influenced others, who would make this an excuse for their want of interest. Yet afterward they, on their part, fulfilled His prophetic word, “If I be lifted up,” etc. (John 12:32).
III. Outward union with Christ is not always real and fruitful.—
1. The same truth meets us here that Jesus set forth in the parable of the vine, etc. (John 15:1-7). There may be outward, apparently very close, relationship with Him, and yet the want of fruit shows that unbelief is in some way interposing to prevent true vital union.
2. So there are many in full membership with Christ’s Church, in many ways friendly to Him and His gospel, but who by their evident misconceptions of His kingdom show that they are not truly believing.
3. How many, e.g., make their own personal enjoyment of religious ordinances, etc., the only end of their so-called faith, and when asked to aid in the extension of Christ’s kingdom either do so grudgingly or not at all! Missions to Jews and Gentiles—what are these to them?
4. But are they not thus showing themselves like the brethren of Jesus before they believed, and who evidently thought the ideas of Jesus regarding the kingdom of God were visionary? or like the Jews of His time, who instead of seeking to spread that kingdom (Psalms 67:0.) would have restricted it selfishly to themselves?
5. Outward conformity to Christ is not sufficient—resting in external privileges and ordinances alone is to want true faith. Those who do so cannot understand Christ’s kingdom. Its spiritual laws are incomprehensible, its speech a shibboleth, and its requirements grievous to them. But they are not necessarily inimical to Christ. And what is needed is that the true members of His Church, and especially the Church’s ministers and office-bearers, should seek to instruct them, and above all should pray for their spiritual enlightenment through the Holy Ghost, that the power of Christ’s risen life may be manifested to and in them (Philippians 3:10).
John 7:10-24. Seeking Jesus.—The opening verses of this section (10–13) show that the minds of men were much exercised as to the person and work of Christ. He had made a deep and ineffaceable impression. The absence of Jesus from the feast was speedily remarked, and eager inquiry was made concerning Him. The thoughts of all were concentrated on Him. The hatred of the official class—though disguised—leaks out in the expression, “Where is that one?” And murmurs not loud but deep passed from lip to lip among the body of the people concerning Him. But there was no open declaration either for or against Him. The official class had not yet spoken; and until they had decided the multitude kept discreetly silent. The power of the Sanhedrin was great (Acts 8:3), and none would willingly incur the hostility of those who possessed so much power. Meantime Jesus had gone up quietly, probably through Samaria, and appeared in Jerusalem when the greater festival was concluded. There He entered the temple and taught, apparently for the first time, to the wonder and astonishment of the learned Jews (see note John 7:14, p. 201). Such a teacher! and yet not of the schools. Notice in reference to this interesting incident—
I. How the Jews sought Jesus.—
1. Here we have a variety of opinions regarding Him. It was impossible to be unmoved by Christ’s teaching and activity. Even His enemies were astonished at it, for it was with authority (John 7:15; Matthew 7:28-29). He could not be ignored. The people were too deeply moved by this unique and wonderful phenomenon.
2. Some expressed the opinion that He was a good, a true man. And they could allege as confirming their opinions His holy life and teaching, and His mighty works of beneficence. These were probably people who had nearer knowledge of Him.
3. Others, influenced by the scarce concealed hostility of the rulers to Jesus, declared that He, instead of being true, was indeed an impostor. These no doubt represent what might be called the servile element, found in every community, who cringe before mere authority, and make it their law, uninfluenced by the question of right or wrong.
4. Among the crowd there were those moved by bitter hatred, and others who, though secretly, were yet drawn by love toward the Saviour—men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathæa (John 3:1; John 19:36).
5. And all of them were seeking Jesus, and desired to have Him among them,—those to carry out the evil designs already formed (John 7:16); these to see if He might not be prevailed on to yield to their desire, and permit Himself to be declared a king. Few there were who sought Him as the Redeemer of men.
II. How men seek Jesus now.—
1. As we look abroad on the world to-day, we find the same divided sentiments regarding the Saviour everywhere expressed. There is no question more profoundly discussed than just this: “Where is He?” What is His place in history? What is His position in the scale of being? Is He in reality what He claimed to be? or is the story of His life entirely mythical, and His gospel a delusion? But, whatever position be taken up, there is no escape from the necessity of deciding one way or other concerning Him.
2. There are those who continue the bitter enmity and hatred of the Jews, not only among bigoted descendants of those unhappy men, but among the secularist and atheistic communities who would fain see His religion abolished and forgotten—the darkness inimical to the light.
3. There are those who would write imposture on the history in which His holy life and atoning death are recorded, and others who, while admitting that the narratives do with more or less veracity present us with the record of a true and noble life, affirm that it is the life of a good man, and nothing more; whilst there are also a large number practically indifferent as to the opinion they entertain, and who are swayed by what seems the authority of the hour.
4. But whilst there are still many of all these classes, they are now relatively in the minority wherever the gospel of Christ is widely known. The disciples of Jesus have marvellously increased in numbers, and are no more secret followers, although among heathen communities this class is still largely represented.
5. Now the erewhile despised Nazarene is chief ruler in the world. No kingdom is so powerful as His—no other power is so extended—no other influence is so gracious and benignant. And millions untold have since learned the truth of His words: “If any man will to do His will,” etc. (John 7:17).
III. Seek Him.—Let us seek Him in earnest; and as the feast of tabernacles may be said to have been typical of His incarnation, so life will be to us a feast of tabernacles, when He will be manifested in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27), earnest and promise of the time for which His Church is longing and praying (Revelation 22:20), “when God will dwell with men,” etc. (Revelation 21:3; John 17:24).
John 7:12. The multitudes murmured.—There will be no end of such murmuring among the multitudes of those who are superficial, who conform themselves to this world only and fear men. Some will praise Christianity as a whole, without actually having any real part or lot in it; whilst others will protest against it. Both, however, know little about it. Even whilst the former class accord praise, it is simply in ignorance of it. But those who have really experienced what it is, and then undertake to praise, must be prepared to bear the hatred of the world.—Dietrich.
John 7:14. Supposing the σκηνοπηγία, or feast of tabernacles, to be typical of our Lord’s incarnation and sojourn in this world, we may see thence some fresh light reflected on the incidents of this chapter. Our Lord went up to this feast (John 7:10), not openly, but as it were in secret. His nativity was private, in a poor inn. He spent a great part of His life in obscurity at Nazareth.… “He abode in Galilee.” But when His time was come, He went up and taught publicly at Jerusalem, in the temple (see Luke 19:47; Luke 21:37; Luke 22:53).—Wordsworth’s “Greek Testament.”
John 7:15. Our Lord spoke with power, so that even His adversaries were compelled to admit the influence of His teaching. But as they did not desire to do the divine will (John 7:17), the voice of truth, to which their consciences bare witness, spoke in vain to them. So did they reject afterward the testimony of our Lord’s inspired apostles (Acts 4:2; Acts 4:13). Class prejudice and official intolerance and superciliousness helped to cloud their judgment, as they often do among men, especially in questions regarding religion.
John 7:11. Seeking in vain.—But even in that hour of peril He thinks less of Himself than of men, and turns to these listeners with almost a wail of sad forecast, through which the tone of beseeching is heard. The incarnate Wisdom laments even while He foretells, as did the personified Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs: “They shall seek Me diligently, but they shall not find Me.” The sad prophecy (of John 7:34) does not refer to penitence, but to the vain longings and futile seekings which have been that strange nation’s bitter food ever since. The whole tragedy of its history is condensed into a sentence. Like all prophetic threatenings, it was said that it might not have to be experienced, and mercy shaped His lips to stern speech. Why would their seeking be vain? Because they had not the conditions needful for that place and state of communion with the Father whither He was going and to which He can lead any of us. Earthly-mindedness shuts us out from heaven and from finding Christ here. If we are to be with Him there, we must have sought Him here, with that true desire and seeking which ever finds. Mark that He “is,” even when on earth, where He goes when He leaves earth. Mark, too, the tone of invitation to make the best use of the “little while.” Conscious security till His work is done, prophetic warning and loving call to present faith, are all contained in these words.—Dr. A. Maclaren.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 7:14. Now about the midst, etc.—The middle of the feast, or “the lesser feast.” It was the fourth day of the feast most likely. Taught.—For the first time (of which mention is made, but see John 2:13-25) openly in the temple. The excitement caused by His non-appearance at the beginning of the feast had died away; and the ruling powers seem to have taken no concerted action against Him.
John 7:15. Letters.—I.e. He showed Himself to be well acquainted with the rabbinical learning and literary methods, and yet He had not studied in any of their schools. This fact might surely have led them to make a dispassionate inquiry regarding Him.
John 7:16. Doctrine.—διδαχή, teaching.
John 7:17. If any man, etc. (ἐάν τις θέλῃ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ ποιεῖν).—If any man willeth to do His will—i.e. not only desires, but makes a distinct voluntary effort—seriously endeavours to do the will of God.
John 7:18. He that speaketh, etc.—The Jewish teachers had always in view for the most part their own glory and aggrandisement. This, and not doing the divine will, was their ruling motive. But our Lord never dissociated Himself from His Father. He never swerved from that highest aim in the universe—the divine will and the divine glory. His works, His teaching, proved that, and demonstrated His truth and righteousness. Thus all their charges against Him fell to the ground (John 7:12).
John 7:19. They professed to be jealous for the law, and yet they broke one of its cardinal statutes.
John 7:20. The people.—The multitude (ὁ ὄχλος). The mass of the people, especially those from Galilee and the provinces, did not know of the designs of the rulers against Jesus. The people of the city, however, seem to have been cognisant of the fact (John 7:25).
John 7:21. One work (ἔν ἔργον).—Our Lord did not notice the unseemly interruption of the “people,” as He knew it was made in haste and ignorance. But He continued His argument to bring home to them the inconsistency of their conduct, at the same time thus indirectly replying to the charge in John 7:20. He had done one work at which they were indignantly surprised, at which they marvelled—i.e. the healing of the impotent man on the Sabbath day (John 5:1 seq.)—and that not because He healed the man, but that He did so on the Sabbath. He therefore proceeded to point out (John 7:22) that they on the Sabbath “violated” the Sabbath law, or set it aside, when they circumcised children on that day. (Therefore [on this account], διὰ τοῦτο, belongs to John 7:21, Ye all marvel on this account.) Moses gave the Sabbath law; but it was he also who was commanded to ordain that circumcision. which was a patriarchal rite, should be performed on the eighth day even when that day was a Sabbath. “Moses himself acknowledged even a ceremonial (how much more a moral?) commandment (that of Circumcision) to be superior to the law of the Sabbath as those Jews understood it, … and I have done something superior and better than Circumcision, i.e. I have made a man every whit whole” (Wordsworth’s Greek Testament).
John 7:23. Circumcision.—“Circumcision makes the Sabbath give way,” said the Rabbis. For circumcision is the sign of the covenant of promise which precedes the law. “By means of circumcision the man is received into that covenant within which alone the blessing of the Sabbath rest can be imparted to him” (Besser). The law of Moses might not be broken.—The rite of circumcision (Genesis 17:12) was incorporated by Moses, or rather given its due place, in his economy (Leviticus 12:3). Are ye angry, etc.—“I healed the whole man, not only a part; whereas circumcision inflicts a wound. And that is to be performed on the Sabbath. Which work is the more sabbatical of the two?” (Wordsworth’s Greek Testament). The reference is evidently to the idea of the cleansing and consecration symbolised by circumcision, contrasted with the complete healing of the impotent man.
John 7:24. Judge … judge (κρίνετε … κρίνατε).—The habit of hastily and superficially judging is condemned strongly by our Lord (Matthew 7:1). Judge the righteous judgment means, Give an honest, straightforward judgment founded on the truth.
John 7:25. Them of Jerusalem.—The Jerusalemites. They were acquainted with the evil intentions of the rulers (see John 7:20).
John 7:26. But, lo, He speaketh boldly, etc.—The turn events had taken surprised them. Now that Christ had appeared in Jerusalem the rulers unaccountably left Him undisturbed, in spite of former threatenings. Was this to be taken to mean that the rulers know indeed, etc.?
John 7:27. They knew something about the earthly life of Jesus (Matthew 13:55-56). The most of the people thought of Him as from Nazareth. Probably some of those in Jerusalem knew of His lineal descent from David, and of His being born in Bethlehem. This would account for their falling back on the rabbinical interpretations of such passages as Isaiah 53:0, “who shall declare His generation?” “Justin, about the middle of the second century, puts these words in the mouth of the Jew Trypho: The Christ is, even after His birth, to remain unknown, and not to know Himself, and to be without power, until Elias appears, anoints Him, and reveals Him to all” (Godet). Does not this idea strangely coincide with Jesus’ hidden life until His baptism by John (Elias who was to come—John 1:29-34; Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:12)?
John 7:28. Then cried Jesus, etc.—Jesus concedes to them a certain degree of knowledge concerning Him. But no one judges a man merely from the knowledge of certain facts of his life-history. He must be judged by His character, His true self, the manifestations of the Spirit that is in Him. Had they looked with unprejudiced eye on this revelation, they must have known whence He came in reality. But by their blind unbelief they exemplified their own tradition (“No man knoweth,” etc.—John 7:27). The reason for this unbelief lay in their misconception of God. Traditionalism and formalism had shut out from them the true knowledge and love of God. Not knowing the Father, how could they know the Son?
John 7:29. But I know, etc.—In contrast to their ignorance is His knowledge. One in essence with the Father, He is ever in closest communion with Him, as sent by Him.
John 7:30. They sought to take Him.—The Jews again, on the putting forth of this claim, tried to silence Him (John 7:25-26). But no one laid hands, etc.—Considerations of prudence (Mark 11:32), and perhaps also qualms of conscience, withheld them. But doubtless also a higher Power restrained them. His hour, etc.—“It was not His will to be then taken. Our hour is His will: what is His hour but His own will? He means the time when He deigned to be slain—not any time when He was compelled to die” (Aug. in Wordsworth).
John 7:31. The facts mentioned in John 7:30, and our Lord’s calm assertion of His origin, backed by His miracles, led many to advance from the position they took up earlier to an approximation to belief in Him as the Messiah.
John 7:32. Murmured.—Our Lord’s appearance at the feast had aroused more keenly the undercurrent of excitement among the multitudes described in John 7:12. The Pharisees and chief priests, etc.—The Sanhedrin is meant probably. Here those, many of whom were mutually inimical—Sadducees and Pharisees—are seen uniting against a supposed common danger. The chief priests were those who had held the highest office in the priesthood, and also, it may be, the chief members of priestly families.
John 7:33-34. Yet a little while, etc.—A time—although short—was to be granted to them for repentance. Ye shall seek Me, etc.—The time was near when He should withdraw to His Father; and then their time of grace would be past (Luke 19:42; Matthew 23:39), and their long, dreary search for Him, which still continues to this hour, would begin.
John 7:35-36. Whither will He (this man, οὗτος) go, etc. The dispersed among the Gentiles (Greeks—ἡ διασπορὰ τῶν Ἑλλήνων) were those Jews who were scattered among Greek-speaking peoples, e.g. in Alexandria, Antioch, etc. The Palestinian Jews looked down to some extent on those brethren “scattered abroad” (1 Peter 1:1). But the chief point in their contemptuous exclamation lies in the phrase “and teach the Greeks.” Rejected of the Jews, the chosen people: will this would-be Messiah make the dispersion a means of gaining the Gentiles as His disciples? Their incredulous question, however, received afterward an affirmative answer (Acts 13:46; Acts 26:18; Acts 26:20). (See Westcott, etc.)
John 7:38. As the Scripture hath said, etc.—The general sense of many passages is here crystallised in this expression: see Joel 3:18; Zechariah 14:8; Ezekiel 47:1-12. The latter passage especially is parallel to this thought. As the spiritual temple, of which Christ is the chief corner-stone, is composed of “living stones” (1 Peter 2:4-9), so from each believer flows the heavenly stream. Belly.—κοιλία = from within him (מִמּנּוּ, comp. Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20:11). (See Reynolds, etc.)
John 7:39. But this spake He of the Spirit, etc.—This is the inspired Evangelist’s interpretation of our Lord’s words in John 7:38; and they are by him referred to the pentecostal out pouring of the Spirit. (Holy) Spirit not yet (given), etc—The words holy and given are omitted by many of the best authorities; but the sense of the passage is not thereby altered.
John 7:40. People.—Multitude, the general body of the people (see John 7:20). When they heard this saying, or these words (ἀκούσαντες τῶν λόγων).—The phrase indicates all the utterances of Jesus at the festival. The Prophet predicted of old (Deuteronomy 18:15), whom God had promised to raise up to them (Acts 3:22). See also notes on John 1:21 and John 6:14.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 7:14-40
John 7:14-31. The divine authority of Christ’s teaching and working.—Our Lord’s teaching not only astonished the unlearned multitudes (Matthew 7:28-29), but also filled the accredited teachers of Israel with amazement. He had not appeared in the temple before as a teacher. He had, it is true, stood once as a lad of twelve in those sacred precincts among the doctors of the law, “hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Did any of them remember the wonderful child? and had any hopes been then awakened that He might come forth as leader of the nation? and did those hopes lead to all those endeavours, from the Temptation onward, to entice Him to become a prophet after their own hearts? It may have been, for Jesus was not unknown to many (John 7:27; John 6:42). But now that He came into the temple as a teacher of righteousness, although they marvelled, they would not listen sincerely; and their emphasis on the fact that Jesus had not been trained in the schools as a teacher was perhaps partly designed with a view to discredit His teaching. But even in their rejection and opposition to it they showed that—
I. Our Lord’s teaching was with authority, because of its contents and the manner in which He taught.—
1. It was so in its manner, not being marked by the subtilties and conceits of the rabbinical teaching. It was simple, straightforward, direct from the heart and to the heart.
2. He did not appeal to select coteries, to the learned few; it was one of the wonders of His gospel that to the poor it was preached. And men listened with eager intentness to the sublime thoughts enshrined in allegory, metaphor, simile, etc., and brought home in simple and telling fashion to mind and heart.
3. But the matter of Christ’s teaching also stamped it with authority. He did not “teach for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). He taught the law in its spiritual fulness (John 7:22-24). He led men back and up to the first principles of spiritual and moral life and activity.
4. But His teaching was, above all, distinguished by the presence of eternal truth in it all. It is this that has led to the great teachers of the race being remembered. The truth in their teaching has kept it alive among men. But in Christ all the half-truths and fragments of truth are gathered up and concentrated into one clear, beautiful beam. Thus He could say confidently, appealing to all He had spoken, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me” (John 7:16). But it is further declared that—
II. Our Lord’s working was with authority.—
1. It was evident that the miracle wrought on the impotent man at Bethesda, on the Lord’s former visit to Jerusalem, had not been forgotten. The fact that Jesus, in His beneficent activity, had brushed aside impatiently the dust and cobwebs of tradition from the Sabbath law had thoroughly enraged the rulers. For was not this a distinct setting aside of their authority, since it set aside their teaching as to the law of the Sabbath?
2. But our Lord showed them that they in reality misinterpreted the law by their traditions, and showed them that even by their own action they justified what He had done. The law was intended for man’s welfare. The Sabbath law was a special instance of this. But here was a religious rite with a great spiritual signification which was permitted on the Sabbath; “for the Sabbath yields to circumcision,” said the Rabbis. And if it was thus permissible to set aside the Sabbath law so that he who was circumcised might be admitted into the ancient covenant with its rights and privileges, much more may that law be set aside when the healing of the whole man is concerned. Nay, to act otherwise would be contrary to the spirit of the law of the Sabbath; for “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27).
3. So ran our Lord’s arguments, and they were unanswerable (John 7:26). Had not those leaders been blinded by prejudice and hatred, they must have seen that Christ’s working was with authority, and must have confessed with Nicodemus, “No man can do these miracles,” etc. (John 3:2).
III. The causes and danger of the rejection of truth.—
1. The prejudices of the Jews led them to shut their eyes to the truth of Christ’s teaching and the evidently divine authority of His activity; and thus pride and passion led to their rejection of Him who came to save them—led them to indulge in feelings of hate, which terminated in awful transgression of the law they professed to revere (John 7:19), and a weary curse upon their race.
2. The same causes still are powerful among men, leading them to turn a deaf ear to the voice of truth. The “idols” of the tribe and the cave still attract many—still keep many from doing homage to truth. Too many still continue to judge according to the appearance (John 7:24), and passing by truth, as she stands with modest mien by the way, are lured by and follow the meretriciousness of error.
John 7:19-24. Keeping the law.—The limits of obedience to the divine will are too often marked simply by individual prejudices and predilections. Too many are content with what is merely an outward and formal adhesion to that will as revealed, or written on the conscience. Too few strive after that perfect righteousness and perfect keeping of the divine will manifested by Jesus in all His works and ways.
I. The observance of the letter of the law was—
1. By the scribes, etc., considered the chief end to be aimed at—the knowledge of that law and of the traditional interpretations of it. They followed the letter and lost the spirit, making the law a heavy yoke, “in place of a delight,” a burden grievous to be borne, instead of a cause of joy (Psalms 1:2-3, etc.).
2. So do many nominal Christians pride themselves on their knowledge of the truths of revelation. But how many misinterpret them! how many are entirely unaffected by them in life and conduct! (Romans 2:27).
II. Ritual observance was—
1. The Pharisaic method of keeping God’s law and doing His will. Their prayers, almsgivings, fastings, tithings, etc., were to them the be-all and end-all of religion (Luke 18:12); but they forgot the weightier matters of the law in their zeal for ritual and formal devotion (Matthew 23:23).
2. They are emulated by many who bear the Christian name. They are outwardly devout. The forms and ceremonies of religion have their zealous attention. But these are all observed in so formal and perfunctory a fashion, without the heart being engaged, that the life is altogether unaffected. Love does not rule in their hearts—they serve, actuated by some other motive, superstition or fear. Hence their religion is a form; and their so-called religious and their secular life may be (as it was in the case of the Pharisees in our Lord’s day) far apart to outward view, although in reality they are not. A merely formal religion is indeed, as Christ called it, an hypocrisy (Matthew 23:24-28).
III. The true method of observing the divine law.—
1. We are not to bind ourselves to the letter merely (2 Corinthians 3:6), but to live according to the spirit of the law.
2. And this men do when, following the precept and example of Jesus (Matthew 20:27; Romans 13:10), they serve in the spirit of love. Jesus had shown those Jews, in the miracle wrought on the impotent man, how “love is the fulfilling of the law.” But their minds were warped by prejudice, and their hearts filled with hatred. Hence they did not, could not, in that state keep that very law which they accused our Lord of breaking (John 7:19; 1 John 5:1-3).
John 7:17. The human will.—Our Lord taught His disciples to pray that the Father’s will might be done on earth perfectly, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10); for that will is the peace of earth, as it is of heaven.
“Thus of life’s ‘essence’ ’tie in this blest home
To be conformèd to the will divine,
Whereby our wills one with His will become.
So that as all from grade to grade forth shine
Throughout this realm—thus is it pleasing to all
As to the King, to whose will we incline.
In His will is our peace. Toward it all
Things baste. It is the sea toward which flow
What it creates and nature makes.”—Dante, “Par.,” iii. 77–87.
There can be no nobler effort for man and no higher service than to know and do the divine will. It is only when created beings live in harmony with that will that they attain to highest happiness and peace. There is eternal blessedness where the divine will expresses itself through all and in all, in love, righteousness, goodness, truth, etc. So is it in the heavenly seats; but not so is it on earth. From our Lord’s words, therefore, we learn that—
I. Man’s will is free.—
1. Fatalism and necessitarianism find no place in the gospel of Christ. Man is not there regarded as a machine, very wonderful indeed and moved by most complex mechanism, but still a machine without volition and freedom of action. Such an idea is opposed to all human experience, and ignores to a great extent the facts of mental experience, of psychology. For what does it virtually amount to but this—that man is not a morally responsible being, but a waif acted upon by forces external to himself, without power of resistance, like a leaf hurried helplessly down the current of human destiny?
2. But this is not the doctrine of Scripture. It recognises man’s responsibility even without an external law; for the law is (more or less clearly in individuals) written on men’s consciences. And according to Scripture, “to him that knoweth to do good,” etc. (James 4:17). Unless this were so indeed, the precepts and commands of Scripture, as well as all other laws, human or divine, would be meaningless and vain. All Scripture precepts and promises imply man’s freedom of choice, and it is plain that our Lord acted on this view.
II. But man’s will is perverted by sin.—
1. This truth also is evidently recognised by our Lord (John 5:40). The fact that men do not always choose what is right and good is not the result of their being necessitated to do otherwise, but from the nature being depraved through sin.
2. This leads them often (even when they see what is good, and are convinced that it is for their best interests) to follow what is evil. “Video meliora proboque deteriora sequor” (Ovid). The moral judgment has been perverted, and the will so far weakened by sin—weakened, that is, on the side of good. Hence men often “choose the evil and reject the good.”
3. But it is a deliberate choice. They yield voluntarily. The voices of reason and conscience are frequently deliberately stifled or disregarded. And although the right and good are recognised, evil is followed.
4. In doing this men also frequently deceive themselves as to the consequences of their action. They think God will not be strict to reckon. They interpose good actions, which they imagine will wipe out or balance the bad, and thus they attempt to excuse themselves for not doing the divine will.
5. And what are the consequences? Happiness, peace, progress in good in any measure or fashion? Let the history of those Jewish rulers, among countless examples, bear witness!
III. How are men to attain to the knowledge of the divine will?—
1. How are they to know what His will is amid the perplexities of life and the conflicting opinions of men of “leading,” if not of “light”—amid the strifes of sects and apparently irreconcilable statements of doctrine?
2. There is a talisman which will bear us safely over these troubled waters, when we look to Christ’s example and hear His word, “If any man will to do His will,” etc. It is in the yielding up of our wills to do unreservedly whatever the divine will requires, and whenever it is revealed, that our voyage amid the perplexities of our time will be safe and certain.
3. But that is just the difficulty—to yield our wills wholly to God—to be what He would have us be, do what He would have us do, bear unmurmuringly all He send upon us—and to say, whether in health or sickness, in success or adversity, in life or death, as Christ did, “Not My will but Thine be done.” Here is the difficulty. Self-will, pride, selfishness, lead to rebellion and murmuring, in place of loyal obedience.
4. But this is just what an earnest man will seek most earnestly to do. Realising that there can be no higher service, he will desire with all his heart to do that holy will.
“Our wills are ours, we know not why;
Our wills are ours to make them Thine.”
“Oh, be my will so swallowed up in Thine
That I may do Thy will in doing mine.”
IV. To the earnest desire to do His will God will give the power to know and do it.—
1. For what is that will toward men? It is, e.g., our sanctification. “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” says the Lord. And when a man sincerely desires to escape from sin and attain to holiness, then the revelation of Jesus in all its brightness, as the express image of God’s person, is borne in upon him. He sees in Christ’s Gospel his need, the goal to be attained and the way thither.
2. And yet again the will of God toward men is love; and all who would perform that will must obey the command of love (Matthew 22:37).
3. But this love is here chiefly evidenced in love to our neighbour. In this is the true fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8; 1 John 2:10, etc.). And it was their sinful transgression of this supreme law which condemned the Jewish rulers (John 7:19), who, in thought and action, were opposed to the divine will. It was this that lay at the root of their unbelief and their opposition to Jesus (John 1:5). They had not the submissive, filial spirit so conspicuous in the life of Jesus.
4. But how shall the earnest desire, the heart prepared to do God’s will, be attained to? Here we come again on the mystery of the interaction of the divine and human in redemption. But this desire and preparedness may be cultivated. Whence come men and women of most earnest Christian life? whence the majority of active labourers in the vineyard? Is it not from among those trained in pious homes, whose young minds and hearts have been filled with heavenly knowledge and love? (2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:14-15).
John 7:24. “Judge not according to the appearance.”—As human nature is now constituted, this is one of the most difficult commands to keep. Men continually express judgment on their fellows and their actions; and those judgments are swayed by various influences—prejudices, prepossessions, self-interest, etc. In this age of criticism, judging of others seems to be a custom of many from youth up. Accusation, censure, condemnation, are indulged in often without mercy; faults of others are magnified and intensified; good characteristics are diminished in proportional degree. Such a spirit will not find place in the heavenly world. But the gospel does not leave the attainment of the spirit of right judgment to the eternal future. The germs of that perfect state are implanted here. The more we progress in love to our neighbour, the more will the fault of judging others pass away. Besides, men’s attempts at judgment of others are often an infringement of the divine prerogative. It is an endeavour with beclouded judgment, imperfect or erroneous information, and biassed minds, to do what the great Creator, who reads men’s hearts and thoughts, alone can do. But—
I. Are we never to judge of actions or character?—
1. Not so; for our Lord warns men that they must discriminate between false teaching and true, false assumptions and true. As we judge a tree by its fruits, so we must judge the “prophets” who claim our adherence.
2. Nor, of course, does our Lord in any way reflect on the province of human justice, although it must be inferred that in it also judgment must be according to righteousness. Human rights and equity must be enforced. The laws for the commonweal, of morality and social order, must be maintained; and men chosen for their character and learning are appointed to carry out the judgments of the law. Human justice has its source in the divine; and all codes and institutes of human law are attempts to bring us into harmony with eternal justice.
3. But the crown of justice is love; and here often human judgments fail and are imperfect, a fact shown by the continual shifting and changing of human laws. And the more the peoples approximate to the spirit of the gospel, the more humane, etc., do their laws become.
II. It is irresponsible and ill-founded judgments that our Lord commands us to avoid.—
1. We are to avoid rash and unthinking judgments—judgments founded plausibly on appearances, such as those passed on Christ by the Jews (John 7:23). We cannot enter into the hidden circle of motive and feeling in the life of another.
2. Nor are we to judge others without careful consideration of the meaning of their words and actions. Careful consideration may often bring to light an entirely different signification.
3. How often and mournfully this sinful habit has wrought havoc is evident in the history of the Church! True, men who become members of and teachers in the Church are not to be permitted to hold and promulgate opinions utterly subversive of the faith. But how frequently are subjects of dubious import, speculations on matters not directly bearing on the great fundamentals of the faith, made the occasion of harsh judgments and irretrievable wrongdoing! How terribly was this exemplified in the relations of the Jewish rulers, etc., to our Lord, as, hurried on by mistaken zeal for the law, and bitter enmity, they misjudged and condemned Him! And how fatally was this spirit perpetuated in the persecutions of the early Christians and in the horrors of the Inquisition!
III. “Judge righteous judgment.”—
1. It is essential to our higher life that we should be able to distinguish between good and evil, between wicked men and just men, so that we may not “walk in the counsel of the ungodly.”
2. But we are not left to our own unaided judgment here. There is a rule laid down for us here. We are to judge men “by their fruits.” There is an unerring standard given us—the revealed will of God; and in judging by this standard we are not following the fallible opinions of men, but the word of God.
3. It was just here that the Jewish rulers erred. They did not conform to the law God had given them (John 7:22-23). Even here too, then, we must discriminate, lest we fall into their error. It is not our duty to judge finally; so that even whilst we testify firmly against wrong and evil, our testimony must be given in the spirit of love. And in that case it will not be we who judge, but God by His word and law.
4. How often do men judge others by appearances, which are deceptive, and thus lead to much unhappiness and wrong! Men are not always what they seem to be. How often does it happen, when people have passed away, a chain of hidden circumstances may have come to light, overturning entirely the good or evil name they bore! How frequently the rough casket contains a precious jewel! How many rashly and harshly judged of men are accepted of God! Therefore, whilst discriminating between the evil and the good, we are to be careful to act in the spirit of love, and to obey the injunction of our Master—“Judge not according to the appearance,” etc.
John 7:37-40. The spiritual fountain.—The thirty-ninth verse gives the key to the deeper meaning of this passage. For the meaning of John 7:37 see pp. 216, 217. The thirty-eighth verse is an advance beyond John 7:37. In the latter we have the source of the spiritual stream; in the former that spring of life, accepted and received, becomes in turn, in those who drink, also a living fountain, flowing forth in refreshing streams to men. That spiritual stream is the Holy Spirit. But it could not come down to men to dwell in them with power until Christ had been glorified. But what is the meaning of John 7:39? Had not the Holy Spirit come to men before this, to a Simeon, a Zacharias, an Anna, and many another godly man and woman? Yes; but to them individually and specially, and not in the way in which it would flow from heart to heart after Pentecost, in accordance with the old prophetic promise (Acts 2:16-18; Joel 2:28-32). That could not be then, till Christ was glorified, till He had ascended, “leading captivity captive,” etc., His atoning work all completed and accepted by the Father, so that He was ready to be communicated to men in all His life-giving fulness by the Spirit, whom He was to send down to His waiting Church. Consider the fountain-head, the reservoirs and cisterns, the vitalising energy of this spiritual stream.
I. The fountain-head.—
1. This need not long detain us. Its rise, its mysterious depths, are hidden from human view. Its waters issue from that land which human eye hath not seen, of which the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple. The prophet saw the stream issuing from under the right side of the temple; and John, in the apocalyptic vision, saw it proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb (Ezekiel 47:1; Revelation 22:1).
2. This stream rises indeed from the unfathomable and eternal deeps of the divine wisdom, power, and love. We cannot go further; we lose ourselves in the infinite.
3. But when this stream of life, in all its fulness, appears among men, it is seen to flow to them through the Saviour. “God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him” (John 3:34). “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell” (Colossians 1:19). And out of this fulness all His people receive grace, etc. (John 1:16).
II. The reservoir and cisterns for the distribution of the spiritual, life-giving Stream.—
1. The great reservoir is the Church of Christ, and the cisterns the hearts of believers. The stream must be spread by irrigation, if the desert is to be fertilised and the fruits of righteousness to grow on what was erewhile a barren waste. And through the communities and lives of believers the Redeemer spreads His spiritual blessings among men.
2. And here we are privileged to see how this blessed promise could be given. “He that believeth on Me, from within Him [ממנוּ, Exodus 17:6] shall flow,” etc. (John 7:38). Christ and His Church are one body. He is the head, and they are the members of His body. The same spiritual life that is in Him flows to them, now full, free, and uninterruptedly, since He has been glorified, His redeeming work completed. It needed first that the Rock should be smitten (1 Corinthians 10:4), and then the streams of salvation flowed forth for all the children of men.
3. But more wonderful than the ancient miracle is the miracle of grace wrought in Christ. For not only do those who drink have their thirst quenched, they in turn—hearts that have been hard and stony as the granitic ribs of Horeb—melted by the power of divine love and grace, become fountains of blessing to all around. See how gloriously this was exemplified at Pentecost, when the disciples were all “filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4). With what joy they bore witness of Christ, with what power His word was preached, with what tokens of success were their hearts gladdened! See how the relentless persecutor was met on the way to Damascus, and from that heart stony-proud, smitten by grace, there flowed to. Europe and the West the life-giving message of salvation.
4. These times are gone now! Truly they are. There was need in those early days of the Church for such special and wonderful gifts as were given by the Spirit to the apostles and early ministers of the word. But the gifts of the Spirit in His wonted manner of working are still given to “whomsoever will.” And the whole of Christendom to-day is a wonderful proof of that mighty spiritual influence that is working among men.
5. The special promise of this verse also is evidently fulfilled in many a consecrated life. It is quite true the majority of those called by the name of Christ are not distinguished by the full stream of blessed influence here promised to those who believe; and the reason is that their faith is small: there is some obstruction, some sin—worldliness, selfishness, etc.—shutting the channels which unite them to Christ, and hindering the inflow of His spiritual power. Hence it is not wonderful that only droplets, instead of streams of heavenly influences, flow from their lives to the world around. For this is the purpose and end of this life-giving stream which flows from the Father and the Son through the Church and its members into the world.
III. The vitalising energy of this spiritual stream.—
1. It is a stream of living water; and not alone shall it be in those who receive it a “living fountain springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14); its vitalising energy does not cease there, but flows on from heart to heart, from life to life.
2. The reservoir and cistern are not intended to absorb the stream, but to be the channels of distribution. Just as in an Eastern garden there are not only fresh greenery, flowers, and fruit by the banks of the stream which passes by or through it, but where every tiny irrigating stream is turned, there too the ground becomes fruitful, so when the love and grace of God are shed abroad in men’s hearts by the Holy Spirit, how great becomes their power to comfort and strengthen others! And how does the Lord give to those who seek thus to spread His spiritual blessings ability to receive more for themselves! To those who do not selfishly conceal and bury their spiritual gift out of sight, where it can benefit no man, but put it forth and circulate it among men, to them shall be the reward. To those who thus have shall be given, and they shall have abundance (Matthew 25:29).
3. But alas! how often among men are those streams retarded in their flow. The days of sultry heat, of burning temptation, love of the world’s pleasures, come, and the stream dries up; or the cold frosts of worldliness and a practical materialism seal up the fountain of the heart, so that the soul-garden yields no fruit, the flowers of grace and beauty of the Christian character wither and die, and only an arid enclosure meets the gazer’s view.
4. Ah! it is in ourselves, it is by our unbelief, that the flow of this heavenly, vitalising stream is often so meagre and its influence so feeble. Think of what Christ intended this gift to be, and what might be the result of its bestowal, did we look for it and pray for it in all its fulness. Would we be such feeble witnesses for Christ as we are? would we do so little for the advance of His kingdom? Were the love of God shed abroad in men’s hearts in all its fulness by the Holy Ghost (Romans 5:5), would the world stand where it does to-day, with its crimes, its wars and fightings, its dishonesty, its hatreds and strifes between man and man, even among those nations who nominally accept Christ as their spiritual king? Do not too many plume themselves on being and doing all that Christ requires? (Revelation 3:17-18). And if any should say, We know that we are spiritually poor, very deficient in spiritual possession and power, etc., even here is their condemnation. For to them, as to all, the Saviour cries, as He cried of old in the temple, “If any man,” etc. (John 7:37); “He that believeth on Me … out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
John 7:37. Satisfaction for the soul.—In the East, during the long rainless summer, the wadies, in which during winter there is usually a copious supply of water, are dried up. It is only where a perennial stream or fountain exists that human habitations are reared. Every village has its perennial spring—every habitation must be near one. Water is everywhere precious. Thus we find it, as might be expected, frequently referred to in Scripture. It is used as an emblem of freshness and fertility, of comfort and blessing. It is quite in keeping with the prominence of this natural element, and the universal recognition of its indispensableness, that the Saviour calls men to Himself, as the source of the living waters of salvation. In our Saviour’s words we are reminded of—
I. The passing away of the types and shadows of which He is the antitype and substance.—
1. “Here again Jesus lays His hand on the great thoughts and facts of the old order, and claims to be what they shadowed” (Maclaren).
2. All that prophets promised is fulfilled in Him (Isaiah 55:1; Psalms 23:2, etc.).
3. He alone can satisfy the spiritual needs of humanity. The longings of the soul, the soul-thirst of the race, manifested in their eager though blind search after God, their greedy resort to “broken cisterns,” etc. (Jeremiah 2:13), in the vain attempt to attain to that satisfaction, He alone can give (Psalms 42:1; Psalms 63:1, etc.). Those needs of the race and that consuming soul-thirst are met and satiated in His gospel, which comes to them with—
II. Refreshing and strengthening power.—
1. Water is absolutely essential to life; and although in well-watered lands the need is not felt so much, still it is universally recognised. In the East, however, for reasons just stated, its preciousness is realised.
2. In the hot noonday, with the blazing sun looking down from the cloudless Syrian summer sky, how refreshing it is to sit by some cool, refreshing spring, and quaff the fresh, sparkling water! No wonder the people call some of those fountains by beautiful names: “Fountain of milk,” “of honey,” etc. How thereby is the labourer refreshed for his work and the traveller for his onward journey!
3. And on the arid and dusty desert, where often there is a march of twelve to eighteen hours between indifferent springs, how precious does every drop of even inferior water become! And when all the sinews are unstrung, and life is languishing and dying, how does the draught of fresh water strengthen and infuse new life! In the East, when drought comes, all nature languishes, etc. (1 Kings 18:1-6; Genesis 21:12-21).
4. There is nothing which causes a man’s name to be remembered more with blessing in the Orient than to erect a fountain for general use.
5. So Christ comes to quench man’s spiritual thirst. Men seek satisfaction in the world’s pleasures, ambitions, pursuits, prizes, intellectual gains, and so forth. Many of these things may be good in themselves, but are insufficient for the needs of the soul. In so far as that is concerned, they are like the mirage, which deceives the traveller with the hope that soon he will stand on the shores of the pleasant lake and quench his burning thirst, when lo! the vision vanishes and he despairs. But Christ never deceives! Who come to Him drink and are satisfied. The gospel comes to men also with—
III. Cleansing, health-giving power.—
1. Though not specially referred to here, these properties of the living water should not be overlooked. The “cleansings” of the Jews were all symbolical of the cleansing power of Christ’s gospel; they were a testimony to man’s sinfulness and his need of cleansing. So under the gospel, baptism is symbolical of the same need, and of the way in which it may be met. “Ye are washed,” etc. (1 Corinthians 6:11); “Now ye are clean” (John 15:3, etc.).
2. Good water is essential to health. In the East in some quarters the supply of water is not only indifferent but actually bad, and its use in such cases leads often to serious and lasting disease. Thus the joy of men when they have a pure, good water-supply.
3. The streams of the world’s pleasures are poisoned; they cause spiritual and moral disorder. But who so drinks of the life-giving stream of Christ’s gospel, that water shall be in him as a well of water springing up unto eternal life (John 4:14). Our thoughts are further directed in John 7:38 to—
IV. Spiritual hydrodynamics.—
1. The power of water needs no demonstration. It is a scientific dream, which may yet become a reality, that the ocean and mighty rivers may yet be “harnessed” to electric engines, and drive the machinery of the world. Give water a sufficient head, and see how great, how destructive a force it often becomes. How beneficial also, irrigating and fertilising, like the Nile, a mighty empire for millennia.
2. So, too, is it with the living water. When Church machinery is driven by this power, the Church will indeed move and revolutionise the whole race of men.
3. If the reservoir and cisterns are freely united to the great living Fountain, then through millions of channels the streams of grace will How to thirsty, sinful, fainting souls, bringing satisfaction, cleansing, quickening (see also John 7:37-40).
John 7:37-40. The feast of tabernacles.—
1. The feast of tabernacles (from סֻכָּה a hut or booth) was held in autumn, and was indeed called the feast of ingathering (Exodus 23:16), as it signalised the completion of the labours of the husbandmen, when the corn, the vintage, and olive harvest were past. “In the fourteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruits of the land, ye shall keep the feast of the Lord seven days” (Leviticus 23:39; Deuteronomy 16:13, etc.). It was followed also by a special “holy convocation” on the eighth day, in the morning of which the people broke up their booths and returned to their houses. By some this eighth day was regarded as a part of the feast (Leviticus 23:36; Nehemiah 8:18).
2. It was to the Israelites a special memorial of the wilderness march of their fathers toward Canaan, when they tabernacled in the wilderness, and when the altar of God and the ark of the covenant were sheltered by a tent, under whose roof the priests fulfilled their holy service. And in remembrance of this the people lived for seven days in huts or booths constructed of branches of olive, pine, and other trees, covered over with boughs and reeds or reed mats. In the East these “huts” are set up now, as they were in the time of our Lord, in the courts of the houses, on the flat roofs, or in the fields.
3. When a sabbatical year came round, during this festival, part of the law was daily read in public. And as the year on which these events took place seems, without doubt, to have been a sabbatical year, part of the law that would be read was that written in Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 6:3. There is no doubt reference to this in John 7:19-23—especially to Deuteronomy 5:20, which command the Jews were deliberately setting at defiance in their murderous intentions against Jesus.
4. There is one ceremony not mentioned in the Old Testament, but observed in later times, which seems to emerge prominently here. During the seven days of the feast proper—perhaps on the eighth day as well—the people assembled in the temple before the time of the morning sacrifice, each bearing in the one hand a bunch of twigs, and in the other a citron (in attempted literal conformity with Leviticus 23:40). One of the priests meanwhile went to the Pool of Siloam with a golden vessel, which he filled with water, and, returning to the temple, poured out the water into a silver basin, with perforated bottom, which stood on one side of the altar of sacrifice; and wine was at the same time poured into a similar basin on the other side, both being connected by pipes with the Kidron. Then the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) was sung by all present, and the sacrifices of the day offered. This interesting ceremony called to the remembrance of the people that miracle of divine mercy when from the smitten rock in Horeb refreshing streams flowed to satisfy the thirst of emancipated Israel (Exodus 17:6-7, etc.). But the Jewish rabbinical teachers gave to the ceremony a spiritual signification as well. “Maimonides (note in Succah) applies it to the very passage which appears to be referred to by our Lord (Isaiah 12:3).… The two meanings are of course perfectly harmonious, as is shown by the use St. Paul makes of the historical fact (1 Corinthians 10:4): ‘They drank of that spiritual Rock which followed them,’ etc.” (Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible).
5. Another interesting feature of this festival—the lighting of the great lamps at nightfall in the temple area—may be more appropriately referred to at John 8:12. This festival was one which was celebrated with great and even abounding rejoicing. “There is a proverb in Succah (vi.), ‘He who has never seen the rejoicing at the pouring out of the water of Siloam has never seen rejoicing in his life.’ Maimonides says that he who failed at the feast of tabernacles in contributing to the general rejoicing according to his means incurred especial guilt (Carpzov, p. 14)” (Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible).
6. One cannot wonder at all this rejoicing when it is remembered what the festival signified to that people, and what it called up, to mind and heart, of the divine mercy and goodness in the past to their race. It reminded them of the first halt they made after leaving Egypt at “ ‘Succoth’—the place of booths or leafy huts—the last spot where they could have found the luxuriant foliage of tamarisk and sycamore and palm, ‘branches of thick trees to make booths,’ as it is written” (A. P. Stanley). It reminded them also of the smitten rock, of the long wilderness sojourn, of the promises that had been all fulfilled. And in the hearts of all true Israelites these remembrances would awake the feeling of hope—as they do among that people at the present day.
7. But all that this great and joyful feast meant to the Jews we can rejoice in, in a spiritual sense, when we look to Christ. In Him we are delivered from a greater bondage than that of Egypt; in Him our pilgrimage is an assured and certain course to the heavenly Canaan; in Him we drink of living water from the smitten rock; in Him no more are we shut out from the immediate divine presence “dwelling between the cherubim,” nor need priestly mediators to supplicate for us; for now the Tabernacle of God is with men in Christ our Emmanuel—God is with us; and the ancient promises are all fulfilled (Leviticus 26:11; Ezekiel 37:27).
John 7:37-38. Christ the smitten rock.—What was this rite? A simple emblem intended to recall one of the great theocratic favours, the springing of water from the rock in the wilderness. Why, then, should not Jesus, instead of stopping at the emblem, go back to the divine fact which this rite commemorated? And if this is the case, it is to the rock itself, whence God made the water to spring for the people, that He compares Himself. He had in chap. 2 represented Himself as the true temple, in chap. 3 as the true brazen serpent, in chap. 6 as the bread of heaven; in chap. 7. He is the true rock; in chap. 8. He will be the true light-giving cloud; and so on till chap. 19, when He will at length realise the type of the Paschal Lamb. It was thus that Jesus, according to the Fourth Gospel, made use of each festival to show the old covenant realised in His person, so entirely did He know and feel Himself to be the essence of all the theocratic types. So much for the opinion of those who represent this book as a writing either foreign or even opposed to the old covenant—a book in which, on the contrary, every root of Christian truth is planted in the soil of the Old Testament.—Dr. F. Godet.
John 7:39. All earlier manifestations of the Spirit overshadowed by Pentecost.—Our Lord Himself has thrown most light upon this perplexing saying when, on promising the Paraclete, He said, “He shall not speak of [or, ‘from’] Himself: He will take of Mine, and show unto you” (John 16:13-14); and when He declared (John 16:7-10) that He must Himself go to the Father, resume His antenatal glory, carry our nature, dishonoured by man, but now clothed with an infinite majesty, to the very throne of God, as the condition of the gift of the Paraclete. There was, in the constitution of nature, in the order of providence, in the revelations of the prophets, in the person of the Son of man, that wherewith the blessed Spirit was ever and ceaselessly working; but not until the atonement was made, till God had glorified His Son Jesus, not until the person of the God-man was constituted in its infinity of power and perfection of sympathy, were the facts ready, were the truths liberated for the salvation of men, were the streams of living water ready to flow from every heart that received the divine gift. In comparison with all previous manifestation of the Spirit, this was so wonderful that John could say of all that had gone before, “Not yet,” “not yet.”—Dr. H. R. Reynolds.
John 7:37. Streams from the smitten rock.—In the case of each of the main supports of the Israelites, there have been memorials preserved down to our own time of the hold acquired on the recollections of the Jewish and the Christian Church. The flowing of the water from the rock has been localised in various forms by Arab traditions. The isolated rock in the valley of the Leja, near Mount St. Catherine, with the twelve months, or fissures, for the twelve tribes, was pointed out as the monument of the wonder at least as early as the seventh century. The living streams of Feiran, of Shuk Mûsa, of Wady Mûsa, have each been connected with the event by the names bestowed upon them. The Jewish tradition, to which the apostle alludes, amplified the simple statement in the Pentateuch to the prodigious extent of supposing a rock or ball of water constantly accompanying them. The Christian image, based upon this, passed on into the Catacombs, when Peter, under the figure of Moses, strikes the rock, from which he takes his name; and it has found its final and most elevated application in one of the greatest of English hymns,—
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.”
A. P. Stanley.
John 7:38. Believers blessed in order to become the medium of blessing to other.—The result of real communion with Jesus Christ is not terminated in the rest, as of satisfied desires, which it brings, bat passes on further to make us the medium of bringing blessings to others. The end of personal religion is not personal reception, but communication, for which reception is the indispensable prior requisite. If a professing Christian has no impulse to impart, he had better examine himself whether he has drunk of the water of life. The paradox is true that we slake our own thirst by giving others to drink. In England we have in some places what we call “swallow holes,” where a river plunges into the ground and is lost. Too many professing Christians are like these. But we are meant to be water-carriers, not water-drinkers only.—Dr. A. Maclaren.
John 7:38. The Church is too much a silent Church.—There was never so much public and official witness-bearing as there is at the present day, but it needs to be supplemented by private individual testimony. The Church is too much a silent Church. She ought to be a witnessing Church. There are hundreds of thousands of people in this land, with Christian men and women on every side of them, who have never had a word of direct testimony addressed to them. There is a morbid, unnatural silence among professed Christians which requires to be broken. They are the truest patriots and the most effective social reformers who most truly live the Christian life; and they are rendering the best service to the community to which they belong who are seeking to set up the kingdom of God, which is the empire of Christ, over the hearts and consciences of men.—Morris.
John 7:38-39. Water a type of the gospel.—Water typifies the gospel because of its abundance. When we pour the water from the pitcher into the glass we have to be careful or the glass will overflow, and we stop when the water has come to the rim. But when God, in summer, pours out His showers, He keeps pouring on, and pouring on, until the grassblades cry, “Enough!” and the flowers, “Enough!” and the trees, “Enough!” but God keeps pouring on and pouring on until the fields are soaked, and the rivers overflow, and the cisterns are all filled, and the great reservoirs are supplied, and there is water to turn the wheel, water to slake the thirst of the city, water to cleanse the air, water to wash the hemisphere. Abundance! and so with this glorious gospel. Enough for one; enough for all. Thousands have come to this fountain, and have drunk to the satisfaction of their souls. Other thousands will come; and yet the fountain will not be exhausted.—Dr. T. De Witt Talmage.
John 7:38-39. Religious activity should not absorb the contemplative life.—[An] earnest address in English, delivered by Protap Chunder Mazoondar, of the Brahmosomaj faith, had the remarkable sequel of his immense audience rising to their feet and singing “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” as he was recalled at its close to receive the hearers’ thanks. Yet he bad given utterance as fearlessly as the Buddhist [who had formerly spoken] to the feelings shared by every thoughtful member of the religions among whom our missions work, when they come to Europe or America, and see how far Western nations are from Christianity. “Your activities are so manifold that you have little time to consider that the sanctification of your own souls is the question of all importance.… What is religion without morality?… Moral attainments do not mean holiness: living and moving in God is the secret of personal holiness.” Could words be more true or better timed than these? Surely the very stones are crying out against the selfish counterfeit of Christianity in which so many of us live to-day. These words were from a speaker who claimed, like so many others, that his religion embodied the best of all religions, and that in its services the best was culled from all of the so-called sacred writings. He has indeed learned much truth somewhere, and the view he presented of his teachings undoubtedly owes great things to Christianity, and leads one to suspect it to be an attempted compromise between a tottering heathendom and conquering Christ. This Indian declaimed against caste, and foretold its abolition, related gleefully the crusade against widow-burning, and urged an increase of public sentiment against child marriage, and in favour of other moral reforms. Were these ever heard of before the Christian missionary entered India? Oh for such a man as this to be India’s Paul! Was not Lather such a one, and were not many of the brightest pioneers of Christianity? Should not all Christendom join in prayer that men like this, so near the light, should taste of it fully and bear it forth?—“Council of Creeds at Chicago.” From The Christian, October 5th, 1893.
John 7:39. Christian influence.—No one is entirely without influence. If not a stone can be cast into the sea on one coast without the ripple formed touching the opposite coast, though unseen by human eye, so no human being is entirely indifferent to his fellows. We are either useful or hurtful to each other, we make others joyful or miserable, we forward God’s kingdom or stay its progress, we lead or mislead. Either rivers of living waters or pestilential streams flow from us, from the moment when we open or shut our hearts to or against the word of God, the cross of Jesus, the Holy Spirit. Even from the last and least of those who are Jesus’ disciples shall streams of living water flow. Yonder is a sick and weakly member of the family who fears that he or she is a burden to others. But it is a believing soul, and streams of heavenly peace, of genuine patience, flow in blessing through that home and surroundings. Who is usually less in evidence and so inconspicuous as a mother, who teaches her children to pray and labour? No history of the world or of the Church seems to take account of this. But when a mother brings her children quietly and gently to the Saviour, in spite of the inconspicuous position she occupies she is influencing the community—is influencing the centuries. To use the well-known proverb, “The world is ruled from the nursery.” By our own power we can do nothing. The Holy Spirit is the stream of living water. He it is who gives to drink, who impels, who streams through and from us without constraint or subtlety, without leaving men to faint after His sudden inflow. Around all is dry: who can turn the desert into a garden? Around are drooping souls: who can raise them up? Around is a lying, deceitful, mocking world: whose mouth can duly reprove them of sin, of righteousness, of judgment, so that whoever will permit themselves to be saved may be saved? Against us are Satan and his emissaries: who will overthrow them? After us comes a waiting, hoping generation: who will leave it a rich inheritance? Before us is a Saviour who desires that men should pray for labourers for His harvest: who will pray for this, who will offer themselves? Give Thy Church men of prayer and confessors, give her soldiers and pastors, heroes and physicians; let us seek our brethren until we find them and confirm them. O Holy Spirit, come and visit us! Amen.—Translated from Dr. R. Kögel.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 7:41-42. The Christ.—Hearts open to the truth were convinced and confessed Him. But some said, etc.—These were unlike the guileless Nathanael (John 1:46-49). He asked when first told of Jesus, “Can any good thing (above all the Messiah, he meant) come out of Nazareth.” But he soon learned to think otherwise. These objectors could have inquired into the truth regarding Christ’s earthly lineage, and the place of His birth (Micah 5:2); but, unlike Nathanael, they did not care to do so. The prophetic promise concerning Galilee (Isaiah 9:1) would have given the light had they desired to have it. Baur, De Wette, and others seek to prove that John was ignorant that Jesus was born at Bethlehem. But had ‘John not known this fact, he would in some way have endeavoured to meet the objection. He assumes the fact, which the Synoptic Gospels had already made known.
John 7:44.—The opposing party were divided in their counsels. Some would have let matters rest; others were for immediate hostile action. They were again, however, restrained (John 7:30).
John 7:45-46. The officers, etc. (John 7:32).—They had been sent with a strict injunction to lay bold of Jesus. An opportunity did not at once present itself, and while they waited they came under the spell of Christ’s teaching, and to the chagrin of their superiors had to confess, “Never man spake like this man.”
John 7:47-49. Then answered, etc.—In those short, sharp sentences the chagrin and anger of the rulers come vividly before us. Have any of the rulers? etc.—In their wrath they made too sweeping a statement. Rulers, etc., had believed, as they would soon learn (John 7:50 : see also John 12:42). This people … accursed.—Unlearned and simple men were treated with great scorn by the Rabbis. The unlearned they called vermin, or am haaretz (people of the earth, עם הארצ). Notice the calm assumption of their own superiority, it might almost be said infallibility.
John 7:50. Nicodemus, … he that came to Him formerly (ὁ ἐλθὼν πρὸς αὐτὸν πρότερον, with R, L, T, etc.), being one of them.—Here their own question (John 7:48) is answered.
John 7:51. Doth our law judge? etc.—Nicodemus turns their charge in John 7:49 against themselves. If ever they knew the law, they were forgetting and breaking it in their blind anger (see Deuteronomy 1:16-17; Deuteronomy 19:15; Exodus 23:1, etc). Hear him.—“Hear the causes between your brethren,” etc. (Deuteronomy 1:16).
John 7:52. They answered, etc.—They could not really answer, and flung a taunt at Nicodemus instead. Abuse, they hope, will serve for reasoning. Search, etc.—Did they forget Jonah, Nahum, Hosea, Elisha (2 Kings 14:25; 1 Kings 19:16)? And was it not foretold that in the latter times God would make glorious the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, etc. (Isaiah 9:1-2)? The New Testament “prophets” indeed were all Galileans (see John 6:71).
John 7:53. This verse is the beginning of the section John 8:1-12, which see.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 7:40-53
Hath any of the rulers believed on Jesus?—When the company of the Pharisees asked such a question, they saw, in triumph, Christ and Christianity abolished in the name of science and culture. So, like the Pharisees, Celsus in a later age spoke to Origen, and sought to magnify heathenism as a rational faith, and to stigmatise Christianity as a plebeian religion. So spoke the Romish Church to Luther: Monk, miner’s son, who are you to reform what princes and councils hold to be good? And to-day? It is a common observance that Christianity and culture are irreconcilable, that the cross hinders the advance of light, that for advanced science, faith and hope, prayer and miracle, Jesus and eternity, are left far behind. In villages, hospitals for children, and for women, the knowledge of a Redeemer may have a meaning. But would any truly cultured man believe in the Son of God?
I. Does this objection prove anything against Jesus?—With God there is no respect of persons. Jesus had proved Himself to be the King of truth, those who were of the truth heard His voice, those willing to do the divine will would know of His doctrine. Unbelief bears on its brow the death-sign of trust in authority merely—in the numbers of its adherents, the brilliancy of their attainments, etc., in brief, on a series of outward, accessory circumstances. The officers refer to the impression made by the words of Jesus, the Pharisees to the authority of the unbelieving rulers, as if what the rulers believed must be true, and false what they rejected. This blind faith in authority was long before condemned. With God there is no respect of persons, as it is written in the Psalm, “It is better to trust in the Lord,” etc. (Psalms 118:8).
II. Does this objection prove anything to the advantage of the rulers?—Did it show that they were elevated above human weaknesses in their faith? How near are the limits of pride and uncharitableness! “This people that knoweth not the law,” etc. (John 7:49); thus, because of their ignorance they followed Jesus! If the people are really so ignorant, what have you done for their elevation, ye leaders and shepherds? This, That you measure yourself, self-complacently, with this ignorance? that you use their ignorance to enforce a blind obedience? that you represent Jesus as a deceiver, His servants as foes to the light, the gospel as a barrier to progress? It is sad when defenders of the law must be reminded that the law judges no man before he has been heard—when educated men employ abuse in place of proof (saying, “Art thou a Galilean, a devotee, a pietist?”)—when those proud of their learning condemn and prejudicate the Scripture merely on what they know from hearsay. It is shameful when men who are slaves of their own lusts, of pride, lust of power, fear of men, etc., are more hardened to higher impressions than the lowest of the people. The rude myrmidons prove themselves to be more finely strung than their hypocritical and plotting masters. They do not say, “Whose bread I eat his song I sing,” and do not utter the false proverb, “Our master’s service first, God’s service next,” and say, “Therefore will we seize Jesus.” Their message becomes a witness against their own employers. Sent out as assassins, they returned as preachers of righteousness: “We have heard a mightier word than yours; never man spake like this man.” Wonderful! It is just the disciples’ confession: “Lord, to whom shall we go but unto Thee? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Ye teachers of Israel, who were here the teachers? Ye men of education, who were here the most enlightened?
III. What reply does the knowledge of the fact make to such objections?—The audacious assertion contained in this question was in reality proved to be false. Did any of the rulers believe? Bad enough for themselves if they did not! But the gospel brings a forcible answer to their boastful objection. Many of the rulers did believe (John 12:42); and here was one, Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee, a disciple of Jesus. If a Herod will not listen, a Constantine will. If a Gamaliel will not come, a Paul will instead. Do those naturalists, who fall into the crudeness of mere assertion, declare that man has no undying soul, was not made after God’s image, but has developed merely as a higher animal? Still here a Newton, there a Gottfried Schubert, bows the knee before God and His Son. And do some astronomers speak scornfully of having searched the heavens and found no God? Then the star-gazers of the East come forward to announce that they have found the star of Jesus; a Kepler comes forward, and thus ends an astronomical writing: “Thou dost nourish in me through the light of nature the desire for the light of grace, in order that thereby I may attain to the light of glory”; Copernicus testifies, by the epitaph composed by himself, “Not grace as Peter and Paul received it do I seek, but as the dying thief received it.” Is this not to fall into the error of the Jewish rulers? No! It is but to utter the divine Yea to the question, “Has any one of the rulers?” etc. We extol simply the faithfulness of God, who can make possible what is impossible to men, viz. that a rich man should find salvation, rich whether in gold or intellectual gifts.—Abridged from Dr. R. Kögel.
John 7:40-53. The prejudices of literalism and authority.—There was a division of the people because of Christ, and “every man went to his own house” without having turned earnestly to Him whose divine wisdom and love should have drawn them all unto Himself. Shall we not reckon this as a part of the Redeemer’s sufferings—that the people to whom He was sent for salvation, to whom He had consecrated Himself, knew Him so little—that the glorious words just spoken influenced but a few, that this influence would soon pass, and that His presence at this great feast was again to be without effect for the great end of His mission? This was the first step toward His passion. In this history we see the victory of prejudice over truth. Many were moved by His words. Some said He was a true prophet, others that He was the Christ. Even those sent forth to take Him bore witness to Him. All light comes from above. All truth which can elevate our souls and bless our hearts comes to us either mediately or immediately through Him who said, “If any man thirst,” etc. These gifts of light and truth are richly shed abroad; and yet we have on earth still the same conflict, and too often prejudice still triumphs over truth.
I. The prejudice of literalism.—Prophecy foretold that Christ should come from Bethlehem; but men knew generally that Jesus came out of Galilee, and that He usually dwelt there. And their devotion to the letter was so great that, even though the divine power of His teaching and personal presence was so great, and might have convinced them, they thrust its testimony ever away from them. Christ we know did come from Bethlehem, and they had not been diligent to inquire into the earlier circumstances of Jesus. But even had they searched, would they have believed? There was another prophetic word which was interpreted to mean that no man would know whence Christ came. So that even had it been proved to them that Jesus was of the seed of David, etc., it would not have availed. But should these things have had power to hinder faith in Him who was evidently sent of God? Should not those Jews have considered how manifold the interpretation of such prophecies might be? Might they have not meant, e.g., that as David was the first who gloriously founded the kingdom of Israel, so in regard to Christ, the founder of the more glorious spiritual kingdom, there might well be ground for an inspired prophet to say that Christ must be of the seed of David, yes, and even his Son, as one of later times is often similar in power and thought to one of a former age, and thus may be called his son? How true is the apostle’s word, The letter killeth. All the proofs of Christ’s authority were set aside in the case of many through mistaken faith in the letter of prophecy, which they did not even honour by such a faith. For should they not have examined whether the manner in which the prophecy was expressed could not convey another meaning than what seemed at first glance the only meaning? And even if they had found it otherwise, should they not then have searched and seen whether Christ was really born in Galilee or not?
II. The prejudice of authority.—This reveals itself under two forms.
1. That faith should be turned away from Jesus because people designated Him by a name implying contempt, as they said to Nicodemus, Art thou also a Galilean?
2. That faith should be accorded to that side on which stand men of authority: “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?” Oh, let us think that those alone who are pure in heart can see the Lord and the light of His truth! Let us think what it means to crucify Christ anew, and to revive the spirit of those who, whilst they permitted themselves to be fooled by earthly considerations, brought on Him all that the world could do to Him of evil, but in doing so themselves forfeited the truth already known, and lost all the blessing Christ has won for us. “Who that hath ears to hear,” etc.—Translated and abridged from Fried. Schleiermacher.
John 7:40-42. Various opinions.—Religion may commend itself either by prodigies, or by showing that it is adapted to the wants of human nature, of the spiritual being of man. But by showing that it is adapted to meet those wants it brings forward a standing perpetual witness of its truth. When men feel their spiritual diseases, and are conscious of the healing power of the gospel, then they are convinced that Jesus is the Saviour. It was the hearing of our Lord’s invitation (John 7:37-38) and His teaching which led many to ask whether He were the Christ, as much as or more than the miracles He had wrought. There is a state of mind, a thirst for truth, which is more accessible to an appropriate doctrine than to any outward demonstration. Thirsty men feel the suitableness of the promise of water. And there were many in those crowds who were thirsting for truth, redemption, etc. But there were many also to whom those words brought no hope, etc. And as there were then various opinions regarding Christ and His message, so are there now.
I. Shall Christ come out of Galilee?—
1. That was the stumbling-block to many. No doubt Scripture said He should be born in Bethlehem. But the unbelief of those Jews arose from their ignorance and inattention. They could surely have ascertained the truth had they been anxious to do so. The secret wish of their hearts, however, was that Jesus should not prove to be Christ, He was in everything so opposed to their traditional conceptions and hopes.
2. We have among us the successors of those Jews. To what cause may much of present-day scepticism be attributed? Is it the result of deep reading, of careful thought and investigation? No. It exists in too many cases because the wish is father to the thought. No effort is made to clear up objections. There is rather a secret desire to get rid of the gospel. The case of those Jews is an example of what often occurs now.
II. Men shield themselves under one text of Scripture from the whole Bible. “Who has not heard ‘Be not righteous overmuch’ quoted as though it excused a man from being righteous at all? And ‘Charity covers a multitude of sins’ is a most convenient passage. There is needed only a little misrepresentation and a careful overlooking of all other Scripture, and a man may satisfy himself that by a little liberality to the poor he shall hide his misdoings or obtain their forgiveness. Every such fastening on any single text, without taking pains to examine and consider whether there be not some great and fundamental mistake, is but the repetition of what was done by the Jews,” etc. And thus it is also that doctrines and ordinances of the Church are depreciated and neglected.
III. The ordinance of baptism is sometimes thus depreciated.—If a man wishes to depreciate baptism or the fitness that he who administers so holy an ordinance should have a commission from God, he has his text. St. Paul said to the Corinthians, “I thank God that I baptised none of you but Crispus and Gaius. For Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the gospel.” Then St. Paul made but little of baptism, and thought that the administering it fell beneath his high office! Did he indeed? Why this is worse than the Jews; they had to travel perhaps as far as to Bethlehem to ascertain their mistake, but you need not go beyond the next verse to that which you quote—“Lest any should say that I had baptised in mine own name.” Paul was thankful that he had baptised but few; for he judged, from the temper of the Corinthian Church, that had he baptised many it would only have encouraged that party spirit which was so utterly at variance with vital Christianity. And this is making light of baptism, or entitling any one to administer it. Alas! it seems of very little worth that Jesus was actually born at Bethlehem, since His ordinary name is “Jesus of Nazareth.”—From Henry Melvill.
John 7:43. Causes of division regarding Christ.—How often during the course of His ministry might our Lord have cried out in the words of the prophet, “Who hath believed our report?” etc. (Isaiah 53:1)! How frequently was He confronted, after having wrought some mighty miracle or issued a gracious divine invitation, with the apparently hopeless unbelief of those whom He came to seek and save! How few were His followers among the official teachers of His people and the spiritual rulers of the nation! Indeed, it was the boast of the latter class that none of their number had believed on Him; for apparently those from among them who had given their adhesion to Christ as the Messiah had not obtruded their opinions on the notice of their fellows (John 12:42-43). As for the body of the people, knowing what we do of human nature, it is not surprising to find that like so many sheep they followed the leaders of the flock. And as those leaders were unbelieving the trend of their authority was ever prejudicial to our Lord. No matter how mighty were His miracles or how evidently divine was His teaching, it was enough for them that He did not conform to their ideas of the Messiah. He was to them as a “tender shoot,” and “a root sprout out of a dry ground, with no form and no comeliness,” from despised Galilee, with no adornment of rabbinical learning, and like the feeble shoot ready to die away, never likely to rise to the proportions of the stately cedar, or spread abroad with the luxurious fruitfulness of a vine. And thus scorning Him because of His lowly guise, because He required inward, spiritual conquest of themselves, and not an outward, temporal contest redounding to their own glory, they rejected the Redeemer of men, with all the true blessedness and glory of His spiritual kingdom. There are divisions to-day in the world on account of Christ and His religion as there were of old; there are those who reject and those who accept. Causes leading to division regarding Christ:—
I. The rationalistic spirit.—
1. The ruling class in the world to-day is becoming more and more the learned class. Men of learning and science have always had an influence among thinking people. But in this present age, through extended educational advantages and the diffusion of cheap literature, their influence now is more extensive than ever it has been. The democracy affects to despise wealth, glitter, show. And the danger is now that men of learning and science will inspire a kind of fetish worship, than which nothing could be more harmful.
2. Learning and science are not to be despised, but welcomed. Yet surely not blindly and unthinkingly, and the opinions of men of learning are not to be received, from a mere yielding to authority. To do this would be to imitate the Jewish people of old, and set up authority in the place of truth. But this is just what is done by too many. Certain leaders in the literary, philosophical, and scientific world, though professing to revere the gospel and the person or idea of its Founder, reject it as a heavenly message bringing salvation to men. In their pride of intellect they refuse to submit to enter the strait gate and narrow way. They stultify themselves by their declaration that the gospel is no divine revelation; for they thus arrogate to themselves universal knowledge and infinite comprehension. But there are in Christianity facts which cannot be accounted for by human insight or knowledge.
3. And too many accept the position of these leaders solely on account of their vast learning or high position in the scientific world. And so, too, in the Church the opinions of an extreme Higher Criticism, hostile in reality to revelation, are accepted by not a few simply on account of the learning, the apparent candour and ability of those who advance them. Many with a patronising air profess to admire the moral teaching of Christianity. But its supernatural origin, man’s need of salvation, and the message of the cross are set aside.
II. The ecclesiastical spirit.—
1. As long as the Church is in the bounds of time there will be probably separate sections or branches. Each land will have its own individual branch or section. There may also be more than one in a country. There will be predilections as to forms of government and worship.
2. But there is danger lest in following the voice of what seems authority, in this region also, men should be led to trust in some system, and in reality miss Christ and the blessedness of His gospel. The spirit of sect is antichristian (1 Corinthians 1:12). Adhesion to a certain branch of the Church, observance of certain rites and services, a merely formal religion, is often made to do duty for faith and spiritual worship. The special tenets or forms of a sect are made more conspicuous than the fundamental truths of the faith. And Scripture is impressed, is forced, to yield its testimony in favour of those special tenets, etc. (John 7:27; John 7:42; John 7:49).
3. But such a spirit has led and leads to endless divisions, to a misapprehension of the true spirit of Christ’s gospel, to a cold and formal adhesion on the part of not a few to the gospel, and hence to a retardation of the advance of truth. What is needed in order to remove many of the causes of division regarding Christ and His gospel is—
III. A clear, apprehension of the meaning and end of the gospel.—
1. The Jewish rulers and the mass of the people who followed them failed to understand Christ and His message. Nor did they make any effort to understand, being blinded with prejudice. They thought our Lord was inimical to them and their position, etc.
2. Now many of those leaders in science, etc., to-day are under the same misapprehension. They imagine that the gospel, and the facts and laws of nature, so far as they have been discovered, are inimical and mutually destructive. Moreover, they perhaps form their conceptions of the gospel from those who by over-rigid adherence to the letter fail to display its true spirit; or from “higher critics” who eliminate both letter and spirit. But they are not absolved from their error thereby. They should investigate for themselves before pronouncing so authoritatively. But like the Jewish rulers they refuse to do this, and continue in their error.
3. And it is a wilful ignorance with which they may be charged. The leaders of the Jewish people and those who followed them had seen the wonderful works of Jesus, or had heard of them. They had heard His teaching, so wonderful that even their own emissaries and spies were astonished at it, so suited did it seem to the needs of fallen sinful man; yet, blinded by prejudice and hate, they rejected Him. And is the gospel less wonderful to-day? Are its moral miracles less mighty than the physical miracles wrought by the Saviour while on earth? Is its teaching less lofty and sublime? Is it less suited now to meet the needs of men, to sate that soul-thirst which human learning or science cannot satisfy any more than the world’s pleasures? Are they not living among, and themselves rejoicing in, the moral and social triumphs effected by that very gospel which they reject?
4. And is it after all inimical to or destructive in any way of that science or philosophy they adore? Has it not been among peoples ruled by the genius and spirit of the pure gospel that this modern learning has risen and flourished? To what truth, firmly established, is the gospel opposed? To none! It is the rejecters of the gospel who are in reality most unscientific; for they neglect and ignore that part of human nature the wants of which the gospel was intended to meet, and which it does meet fully and gloriously. The feeling of responsibility in view of sin, the felt need of pardon and peace, the need of power to overcome evil, the yearning after immortality—these it meets and satisfies. And in doing so it builds up the whole man after the image of Christ, leading to the best and truest development of all His powers in the service of God and of humanity. Reject it—and what is there to put in its place as a spring of beneficent activity? what to stay the rise and progress of a cold materialism and secularism, which would freeze the current of human progress, and transform men into what would be merely a superior species of the beasts that perish?
5. And let formal religionists take heed lest they also not only retard the progress of the gospel, but help in the spread of unbelief. Pharisaism among the Jews crushed out the true spirit of religion by its formalism. The Pharisees and those who adhered to them helped to bring about the final rejection of Christ as much as the sceptical Sadduceeism of the entourage of the high priests.
6. Formal religion has still the same numbing, blighting effect. Spiritual life withers under it, spiritual progress is arrested; thus many who are outwardly friends to religion are in reality its enemies, for their lives belie their profession; and those who are only too glad of such an excuse will say, If this is your religion, we will have none of it.
John 7:44. The first measures against Jesus.—It was at this feast of tabernacles that the enmity against Christ came clearly to the light of day, and the first active severe measures were taken against Him. After the murderous thoughts and slanderous words, the train of hateful deeds began. In the chapter from which the text is taken we see how Jesus
(3) frustrated those measures, and thus showed forth His glory.
I. Jesus knew the plans of His enemies.—He knew their thoughts—that they hated Him, and why they hated Him and must do so. He would not shrink from the lot agreed on in the divine counsels, but He would not bring it upon Himself by His own act—it was not His duty to do so; and the hour of His death would be the hour of His greatest glory. Whatever happened could not surprise Him. He was prepared for all. But He must have experienced as much sorrow because His brethren did not believe and permitted themselves to be led by worldly considerations (John 7:3-8), as that the great mass of men, men of the world, opposed Him even to the death because He unveiled their sins and reproved them. This deep heart-pain belongs to His atoning sufferings which He bore on our account; so the prophetic word was fulfilled (Isaiah 43:24).
II. He brought the plans of His enemies to judgment.—They accused Him of being destitute of a rabbinical training; and He answered calmly that He had a right to teach, etc. (John 7:16-18), and then He turned upon them with the sword of judgment. How is it with you in spite of all your theologic lore and rabbinical honours? Ye call yourselves Moses’ disciples. How can ye be so when ye do not keep his law even, and seek to kill Me? Then He drew out of the darkness of concealment their concerted murderous plans (John 7:19). In reply they at once launched forth a second accusation: “Thou hast a devil,” etc. (John 7:20). If those from the provinces might be excused in part for this exclamation, as they did not know the designs of the Pharisees, those of Jerusalem could not be excused (see John 7:25). It was therefore to the Pharisees, and those privy to their designs, that He brought home the blame. He showed that He was no destroyer of true festive joy—did not bring simply imaginary charges against them. He charged them with harbouring murderous thoughts in their hearts against Him without good reason. Then He brought home to them the lawfulness of His action in healing the impotent man on the Sabbath, confuted them by referring to their observance of circumcision on the Sabbath, and finally called on them “not to judge by appearance,” etc. (John 7:24). And then, wonderful to relate! the Pharisees were punished by the lying inhabitants of Jerusalem (John 7:20), as the truth in spite of their lying was brought to light and was suddenly blurted out (John 7:25-27). And this led Jesus to the further declaration (John 7:28-29). It was too much for these men, who sent messengers to take Him. And Jesus, knowing that their plan, though not yet, would finally succeed, and in His desire to save some, uttered the words, “Yet a little while,” etc. (John 7:33-34).
III. He frustrates their evil designs.—Sometimes the judgment of the people hits the truth, and vox populi vox Dei. So was it with some of those people in their judgments regarding Jesus. “Many believed,” etc. (John 7:31); many also went further still (John 7:40-41). But more wonderful was the testimony of the officers sent to take Him (John 7:46). Those rough simple men, officers of justice, came under the power of Christ’s words, and all the evil designs against Jesus were in their case, as in the people’s, frustrated by His word. Yes, even in their own ranks the Pharisees found one who stood up for Christ (John 7:50). So each finally went to his own home. Christ’s hour had “not yet come.”—From Friedr. Arndt.
John 7:46. “Never man spake like this man.”—Marvellous indeed was Christ’s insight into human nature. With divine delicacy, yet with divine certainty, He lays His hand upon the heart of the moralist who, boastful of his prim propriety, asks, “What lack I yet?” and touches instantly the sensitive spot, “Go, sell that thou hast,” etc. The penetration of Christ’s words struck His most gifted foes dumb. Pharisees and Herodians forgot their hostility and conspired to catch Him in His talk: “Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar or not?” “Render unto Cæsar,” etc. Then the Sadducces sought to entangle Him in a question on the Resurrection; but again His wisdom put them to silence. Then the Pharisees returned to the assault, and cunningly tried to entrap Him into giving some one command of God undue prominence. And when again He read their hearts, and so majestically eluded their snare, from that day they “dared ask Him no more questions.” Fouqué has a fable of a magic mirror so wonderful, that he who looked in it might read his own character, history, and destiny. Goth and Moor, Frank and Hun, came from far to see their past and future unveiled. Here is the true magic mirror. This keenest sword is also a polished blade; it not only cuts deep, but it reflects character. Nothing is more plain, in Christ’s words, than an insight and a foresight far beyond man. Here, as in the brook, is the inverted image, which shows how deep is our degradation; but it tells of our possible elevation and salvation, even as the stars are no deeper down in the reflection than they are high in the heaven. Go, look in this mirror, see your own thoughts revealed.—Dr. Arthur T. Pierson.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 7:1-12. For the general exposition of this section see Homiletic Notes, pp. 233–235.
John 7:2. Early in the morning (ὄρθρου).—St. John’s usual word is πρωῒ (John 20:1, and comp. Luke 21:38).
John 7:3. The scribes and Pharisees.—St. John does not name the scribes in his Gospel; they are included under the general name the Jews.
John 7:6. As though He heard them not.—Omitted in best copies.
John 7:12. Again.—See John 7:37. Our Lord here perhaps makes use of the other great symbolical feature of the feast of tabernacles—the lighting of the candelabra at night in the Court of the Women. There were divided opinions regarding Him among the people, and He gave them another opportunity of arriving at the truth.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Chap. John 7:53 to John 8:12
The Light of the World as Revealer.—Whatever view be taken of the position of this narrative in the gospel, its authenticity is generally held. The feast of tabernacles, with all its joyousness, was past. The joyous morning assemblages were over, the lights at eventide blazed no more in the temple courts. But the Saviour came early to the temple intent on His great work; and as the crowds of festival worshippers still remaining in Jerusalem gathered round Him, “assuming the position of an authoritative teacher” (Matthew 5:1) He sat down and taught.
I. Jesus is the light of the world in revealing the evil in men’s hearts.—
1. Whilst engaged in teaching He was interrupted by His ever-vigilant foes. They brought before Him a poor creature, who, instead of having her heart brought nearer God in the religious and joyous feast just ended, had given herself over to sin of the grossest and most debasing nature. The guilty wretch had evidently been brought before the Sanhedrin for judgment; and it was so clear a case that had they dared they would have carried out the old sentence of capital punishment. Hearing that Jesus was teaching in the temple, they brought the guilty woman before Him, hoping thereby to entrap Him, and gain for themselves the name of being zealous for the law.
2. The Pharisees had formerly tempted Him on this subject (Mark 10:2-12), and had been sharply reproved for the laxity of their conceptions regarding the holiness of the marriage tie. On this occasion they probably thought they might “turn the tables” on Christ, by entrapping Him either into giving a too lenient judgment, or by answering their question in the affirmative, thus bringing Himself under the penalties of the Roman law.
3. And, moreover, they either misread their own law, or presumed that Jesus was ignorant of it. The punishment for adultery was stoning only in special circumstances (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). In what form the punishment was to be carried out in other cases was not specified (Leviticus 20:10). Here, then, “Jesus seemed forced to occupy a position opposed either to the law of Moses or to the Roman authority” (Luthardt). It was the same kind of snare into which they endeavoured to draw Him on the question of the tribute money (Matthew 22:17).
4. But Jesus knew the hearts of these men (John 2:24-25). Their hypocrisy could not hide their true feelings and motives from Him. They professed to revere the law; but in reality this law, like others, had become a dead letter to them. The whole Jewish community, during our Lord’s time on earth, had become more or less corrupted by Roman licentiousness, and the sanctity of the marriage tie was disregarded. The more enlightened and spiritual custom of the time was to deprive the guilty woman of her dowry and divorce her; and our Lord seems to have stamped this method with His approval so far (Matthew 5:31-32). But He sternly disapproved of the granting of divorce for trifling causes, and with so much facility as seems to have obtained. But these Jews did not want any direction or guidance as to their procedure; they simply wished to entrap the Saviour, and to render Him obnoxious to the people as a subverter of the law, or to the Roman authorities, as recommending the exercise of the power of life and death to the Jews.
II. Jesus is the light of the world in the revelation of the higher and spiritual law.—
1. The divine wisdom of the Saviour defeated the evil purpose of His enemies. He came “not to judge the world”—not to usurp the functions of human justice, but to reveal the higher law toward which human law and justice should ever be more closely conformed as men come under the influence of the gospel. He raised the case above a merely human level; and did He not perhaps point to what is too often forgotten, even among Christian communities, that the framers and administrators of the law should model their enactments and actions as nearly as possible to the revealed and eternal law of righteousness?—
“And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.… Consider this—
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach as all to render
The deeds of mercy.”
2. These men had no true sense of this divine attribute of justice; in brutal fashion they dragged in this poor criminal before the assembled people. They were therefore not the men to administer the law, since they had no true sense of the spirit of the law. Our Lord did not say that human justice in this and other cases should not be carried into effect; but the men who carry it into effect must have true ideas concerning it.
3. He, therefore, raised the case to a higher tribunal. He brought accusers and accused alike before the bar of conscience. Stooping down, He wrote on the ground (John 7:6), as if intimating that a judicial sentence such as they desired was to be delivered; for such sentences were not only spoken, but written. And when the sentence came it was with crushing effect—not first on the accused, but on the accusers: “He that is without sin,” etc. (John 7:7). Here the claims of the holy law were vindicated perfectly; and those self-constituted judges, conscience-smitten, stole away one by one in utter confusion.
III. Jesus is the light of the world in that He points out the way of safety.—
1. When the last footfall of the baffled and retreating conspirators had died away on the ear, our Lord turned to the poor sinner brought thus before Him in shame and disgrace.
2. The question, “Where are?” etc. (John 7:10), does not mean, Has no man accused and convicted thee of this crime? That, alas! was evidently plain enough. The meaning is, Hath no man offered to carry out the death sentence they threatened? Therefore His further words, “Neither do I,” etc., simply mean, “Neither do I pronounce that sentence.” He gave her indeed an opportunity for repentance, as His closing words show, while at the same time He intimated the enormity of her guilt: “Go and sin no more.”
3. He condemned the sin; and it is noteworthy there is no word of forgiveness and peace, such as we find at Luke 7:48. As in the case of the woman of Samaria, our Lord’s manner of reference to the sin stamps it with its true nature.
4. Thus “the judges were made to feel that freedom from outward guilt is no claim to sinlessness; and the offender, in her turn, was led to see that flagrant guilt does not bar hope” (Westcott).
5. We learn that human justice should be modelled on the divine righteousness; that those who carry into effect the decrees of human justice should be men of a righteous, God-fearing disposition; that there is another bar before which men, even though acquitted or condemned by human law, must stand; and that men must forsake sin ere they can have forgiveness and peace.
John 7:12. The world’s need of Christ, the Sun of righteousness.—How important is the material sun in its relation to our world! Without its light and heat-rays darkness and death would reign. The world’s existence, humanly speaking, depends on the continuity of our earth’s relation to that star. It is the most important to us of all the starry hosts. It would, therefore, be a bold assertion for any man to make that he was as important to the moral and spiritual life of men as the sun to their physical life. Yet here we have such an assertion made. Jesus came, as it appears from the narrative as it stands, over-night from Bethany to the temple early in the morning. The sun had lately risen, clothing in light “the mountains round Jerusalem,” and gladdening all nature by its rising. Jesus, in view of the glorious scene, seems to say, Just as the sun has awakened animated nature to new life in a new day, so am I come to give spiritual awakening to those slumbering in the darkness of sin and error. [Or if the narrative is to be continued from John 7:52 to John 8:12, then His reference may have been to the candelabra in the temple court, and His meaning somewhat similar.] And Jesus had given good reason to those who heard Him for this claim of His. His works of power, His words of wisdom, marked Him out as more than human—to be what He claimed to be, the Messiah, the promised Sun of righteousness, the Light of the world. Notice:—
I. The world needed such a light.—
1. There are some questions which have in all ages engrossed, and will engross, the minds of men, and which cannot be answered by unaided reason. There are problems that puzzle and perplex which no merely human intellect has solved or can solve. These subjects lie in lofty regions, on heights to which philosophy and science vainly attempt to climb. They have been shrouded in darkness, like earth at midnight—have been dimly discerned, as through a mist, distorted, etc.
2. This has been so with the knowledge of God, of the means of approach to Him, of a future life. By reason men have attained to only dim and illusory conceptions of these great subjects, and it has been long felt that reason alone cannot here pronounce decisively.
3. By the light of natural religion men can go only a little toward the verification of such great truths; and even when they seem to have attained to a clearer view, the mists of doubt roll down, and it vanishes from their ken.
II. Jesus is the light of the world in that He leads men to a true knowledge of the nature and character of God.—
1. Among the nations at large, as regards this, darkness prevailed. The most cultured nations of antiquity had not risen above idolatry. Only a few voices called men to a better knowledge, and they were either unheeded or stopped.
2. Amongst barbarous tribes the darkness “was such as might be felt.”
3. There was but one exception—Israel; and in their case tradition had encrusted the windows of the soul and darkened their spiritual vision.
4. The further men had gone from the primitive revelation, the further they had fallen from the true knowledge and love of God. They bowed down to all the hosts of heaven, and finally came to “worship devils” (1 Corinthians 10:20). And this description is still true of the great heathen world.
5. But in the gospel of Christ there is given such a view of the nature and character of God as satisfies the heart. The existence of such a Being clears up the enigmas of life, and makes what at first sight seems “a dubious maze without a plan” to appear full of meaning and order. There is revealed to us One immeasurably removed above our highest uninspired conceptions. His government is seen to be founded on laws which are the expression of His own perfect character, and obedience to which is seen to be for the welfare of the race, etc.
III. Jesus is the light of the world in that He made known the way by which men can approach to God acceptably.—
1. It is not enough for sinful men to know that there is a God; they must know how they stand related to Him. All the religions of the world were framed with a view to this end.
2. Even the chosen people, when Jesus came to earth, needed light on this subject of subjects. They had retained the letter of their law, but had lost the spirit of the law (John 7:23-24). They misapprehended the prophets. Tradition and ritual were what the Pharisee trusted in; whilst the Essene leaned to asceticism and the Sadducee to rationalism. But in none of these ways was there any true approach to God (Micah 6:6).
3. Jesus has shown us the way of access to the Father. He revealed God as holy, abhorring sin, by no means clearing the guilty; and as the sinner, gazing on His revelation of the Holy One, cries out, “Depart from me,” etc., Jesus presents Himself as the Lamb of God, etc. (John 1:29). Sinners are shown that, though eternal Justice forbids that a free, unconditional escape from the guilt and penalty of sin should be granted, yet a way has been found whereby justice and mercy can be and are reconciled. It is true certain conditions are affixed to this boon. Men are required to repent of and renounce sin, and accept the pardon and peace offered in Christ.
4. Thus Christ enlightened the world on this fact of such importance. The Morning Star of promise gleamed in sacrifice and rite and prophecy in the early Church. But it was when He came to earth that the full light shone on our world; and in view of His redemptive work He could say, “I am the light,” etc.
IV. Jesus is the light of the world in revealing to men the existence and eternity of life beyond the grave.—
1. For the assurance of the existence of a future life men have ever longed. This has been to them a supreme question. Reason can offer no final solution of the problem. The disproportion in the allotment of rewards and punishments here, and the longing after immortality, deep seated in the human heart, may lead to a presumption that there is a life beyond. But reason has no absolute authority, and cannot state definitely whether that life she longs and hopes for will be eternal.
2. Revelation tells us of a future spiritual life. In patriarchal times God’s people lived in the consciousness of that higher life. He was the God of the living, and not of the dead (Matthew 22:32). But it was reserved for Jesus Christ, not only by His teaching, but by His actual rising from the dead, to bring “life and immortality to light.”
3. In view of all this Jesus has proved Himself to be “the light of the world.” But the knowledge of the truth will not avail unless He is to each individual the Sun of righteousness. He who enters some gloomy cell, shutting himself in from the brightness of noonday, may indirectly benefit from the sun, for its heat rays will warm even the air of his prison; but he cannot rejoice in its light. So if men shut themselves up in their sin and self-righteousness, the radiancy of the Light of the world will be well-nigh vain, so far as they are concerned. They must open their hearts to receive Him, if they would be blest by the brightness of His rising. And those on whom He has risen will shine in ever-increasing light until the perfect day of which Christ is the eternal light.
John 7:1-11. Pericope adulterœ.—Most Biblical scholars are now agreed that this narrative forms no part of the original text of this Gospel. Their conclusions rest not only on external but on internal grounds. Several great scholars, however, admit its genuineness, and defend it as part of the sacred text. The evidence for and against its retention may be briefly stated.
1. It must have existed as a part of the Gospel narrative in the third or even in the second century; for it is quoted in the Apostolic Constitutions.
2. The Church fathers Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, etc., admit the genuineness of the passage, and comment upon it.
3. It is contained in MSS. ranging from the fifth to the eleventh century (D, F, G, H, etc.), and in about three hundred cursives; and, of course, some of these may be copies of earlier MSS. than any now known. Jerome, e.g., mentions that it was found in many MSS. of his time. And his evidence here is unimpeachable. It appears also in early MSS. of the Vulgate and Ethiopic versions, among others. Such are the main facts of the evidence for its genuineness as part of this Gospel. On the other hand, there is a great weight of evidence which seems to exclude it from its position here.
1. It is not found in the great uncial MSS. א, (A), B, (C), L, X, etc.; for although A and C are defective at this point, it is considered from an estimate of the extent of the portions missing that it was not in the complete copies. It is omitted also in fifty cursives.
2. The passage is marked with asterisks, etc., in several of the MSS. which contain it; whilst in others its position is altered. In one document it is placed after John 7:36; in others at the end of the Gospel; and in others still after Luke 21:3. It is not commented on by Origen, Cyril, Chrysostom, and others.—Scrivener, “Intro.,” etc.
1. There is great variation in the texts where it is admitted. Griesbach distinguished three distinct texts: (a) the Textus Receptus, (b) that of Codex D, and (c) what might be called a composite text (see Godet).
2. There are in the narrative forms of expression which seem to distinguish the passage from the Gospel as a whole. But this part of the internal evidence must not be pressed too strongly. The occurrence here of one or two words and phrases nowhere else found in this Gospel is not conclusive against the authenticity of the passage. If τὸ ὅρος τῶν ἐλαιῶν, e.g., occurs here only, so does κέδρος in John 18:1. Nor must what seems a “want of harmony between the spirit of the narrative and the context of St. John” (Godet) be too much insisted on. Many scholars have failed to see this want of harmony. A consideration of the evidence for and against the passage seems to lead, at all events, to the conclusion that the narrative is a genuine apostolic tradition; and there is much force in the suggestion of Augustine that it was kept out of the text by those of little faith, who were afraid it might lead to moral laxity. It is not impossible that it was first “bracketed” in some MSS., as not to be read in the public assemblies, and in copies of the MSS. omitted. The following weighty words of Dr. Reynolds wisely sum up the controversy: “Though the spirit, atmosphere, and phrase suggest the Synoptic tradition rather than the Johannine, yet it must not be forgotten that there are many Synoptic passages in John’s Gospel, and Johannine phrases in the Synoptists. The criticism proceeding from moral timidity has failed to recognise the grandeur of the entire proceeding. It contains no palliation of incontinence, but a simple refusal of Jesus to assume the position of a civil judge or executor of the law, in face of the established political supremacy of Rome; while the Lord made a demand for personal holiness, and an appeal to conscience so pungent that, in lieu of condemning to death a sinful woman, He judged a whole crowd of men, convincing them of sin, while He gave the overt transgressor time for repentance and holier living.” Bishop Wordsworth (Greek Testament in loc.), whilst concluding that the passage contains a true history, in all probability from St. John, and delivered by him orally, considers that it was not a part of his written Gospel, and was probably added first on the margin of MSS., and thence crept into the text. And he draws from the investigation of the whole difficulty these moral inferences: a. Thankfulness to God for the solid foundation on which the proof of the genuineness and inspiration of the canon of Scripture rests. This passage consists of twelve verses only. Few doubt its authenticity. But its canonicity is the question at issue. How much and minutely has this been discussed! How rigid has been the scrutiny to which the canonical Scripture has been subjected before being received as the work of the Holy Spirit by the universal Church! And, in proportion to the rigidness of the scrutiny, how solid the ground of our belief in the inspiration of Scripture! b. It reminds us of our privilege in possessing so many MSS. belonging to an early age of the Church’s history—proofs of the genuineness of the text. c. It leads to a careful examination of the grounds on which our belief in the inspiration of Scripture is based. d. It excites us to thank Him who not only gave Scripture, but founded the Church universal to guard Scripture and assure us of its inspiration.
John 7:1-12. Illumination of the temple court at the feast of tabernacles.—One of the features of the joyful feast of tabernacles was the illumination of the city at nightfall, on at least the first evening of the festival, but probably on the other evenings as well. Large candelabra were lighted in the court of the women, and threw their radiance afar. Probably a partial illumination of the city took place; at all events, “many in the assembly carried flambeaux.” The wicks of the lamps in the temple court are said to have been “furnished from the cast-off garments of the priests.” Festivities were kept up for some time after the lighting of the lamps, the light of which was seen far and wide. Very striking must have been the spectacle on such occasions. And the ceremony had a meaning. Just as the pouring out of the water of Siloam in the morning reminded the people of God’s goodness to them at the rock in Horeb, so the sudden lighting up of the darkened temple court, and adjacent parts of the city, reminded the festive crowds of the “pillar of fire by night” (Exodus 13:21) which guided them in the wilderness. If the passage John 7:53 to John 8:11 is not retained as part of this Gospel, then it may be held that in John 7:12 our Lord was referring to the preparations for lighting the candelabra or the actual lighting of them. He would thus call attention to Himself as the true guide over life’s pilgrim ways in the darkness of our present state: “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness.” If, however, the pericope be retained (from John 7:53 to John 8:11), we should infer that our Lord, entering the temple in the early morning and pointing to the rising sun, then drew attention to Himself as the true and only light of the world of men. Both images may be legitimately referred to Him (Isaiah 4:5; Malachi 4:2).
John 7:12. The manner in which mankind had wandered from the light.—The early fathers of the race would hand down to their children the knowledge of God they possessed as the framer of the heavens and earth, which continually tell of His glory. “But,” as one has beautifully said, “this precious truth was vitiated among their hands. By dint of admiration for the works of God they took them in the end for God Himself; and the stars which appeared to announce His glory became in turn their divinities” (Massillon).
John 7:12. Men by nature have wandered far from the light and knowledge of God.
Chaldean shepherds, ranging trackless fields,
Beneath the concave of unclouded skies
Spread like a sea, in boundless solitude,
Look’d on the polar star, as on a guide
And guardian of their course, that never closed
His steadfast eye. The planetary five
With a submissive reverence they beheld;
Watch’d, from the centre of their sleeping flocks,
Those radiant Mercuries, that seem’d to move,
Carrying through ether, in perpetual round,
Decrees and resolutions of the gods;
And, by their aspects, signifying works
Of dim futurity, to man reveal’d.
The imaginative faculty was lord
Of observations natural; and, thus
Led on, those shepherds made report of stars
In set rotation passing to and fro,
Between the orbs of our apparent sphere
And its invisible counterpart, adorn’d
With answering constellations, under Earth,
Removed from all approach of living sight,
But present to the dead, who, so they deem’d,
Like those celestial messengers, beheld
All accidents, and judges were of all.
The lively Grecian, in a land of hills,
Rivers, and fertile plains, and sounding shores,
Under a cope of variegated sky,
Could find commodious place for every god,
Promptly received, as prodigally brought,
From the surrounding countries, at the choice
Of all adventurers. With unrivall’d skill,
As nicest observation furnish’d hints
For studious fancy, did his hand bestow
On fluent operations a fix’d shape;
Metal or stone, idolatrously served.
And yet, triumphant o’er this pompous show
Of art, this palpable array of sense,
On every side encounter’d; in despite
Of the gross fictions chanted in the streets
By wandering rhapsodists; and in contempt
Of doubt and bold denials hourly urged
Amid the wrangling schools—a “spirit” hung,
Beautiful region! o’er thy towns and farms,
Statues and temples, and memorial tombs;
And emanations were perceived, and acts
Of immortality, in nature’s course,
Exemplified by mysteries that were felt
As bonds, on grave philosopher imposed
And armèd warrior; and in every grove
A gay or pensive tenderness prevail’d
When piety more awful had relax’d.
John 7:12. Reason not the light of men.
Dim as the borrow’d beams of moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wandering travellers,
Is reason to the soul: and as, on high,
Those rolling fires discover but the sky,
Not light as here; so reason’s glimmering ray
Was sent, not to assure our doubtful way,
But guide us upward to a better day.
And as those nightly tapers disappear
When day’s bright lord ascends our hemisphere;
So pale grows reason at religion’s sight;
So dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light.
Some few, whose lamp shone brighter, have been led
From cause to cause, to nature’s secret head,
And found that one first principle must be;
But what or who, that UNIVERSAL HE;
Whether some soul encompassing this ball,
Unmade, unmoved, yet making, moving all;
Not even the Stagirite himself could see,
And Epicurus guess’d as well as he.
As blindly groped they for a future state,
As rashly judged of Providence and fate,
But least of all could their endeavours find
What most concern’d the good of human kind.
Thus anxious thoughts in endless circles roll,
Without a centre where to fix the soul:
In this wild maze their vain endeavours end:
How can the less the greater comprehend?
Or finite reason reach Infinity?
For what could fathom God were more than He.—John Dryden.
John 7:12. Christians in Christ are lights in the world.—Every Christian is a light of the world; for he should know and be assured what manner of man he is, and what is his standing with God—that he comes from God, and … in Christ has a holy standing, having become a new man, and shall eternally abide with God. In this condition I live and bear the cross; therefore I know whence I have come. I am truly no more the old Hans or Claus, who was descended from Adam; but I am a Christian. I bear a name common to all, with all those who are new born.… And at the end of this life heaven stands open for me, so that with all the saints I may go thither. I am sure of my position; my glory has a most precious foundation. But the “evil men and seducers” stand in great peril; they know not whence they come and whither they go, are uncertain of their condition, and pass on as in a dream.—Luther, quoted by Besser.