[(2) THE LAST WORDS OF DEEPEST MEANING TO THE FAITHFUL FEW (continued).
(f)Their relation to the world and the promise of the Paraclete explained more fully (John 16:1-33).
(α)Though the world will hate them, it is still expedient that He should depart from them (John 16:1-7)
(β)The coming of the Paraclete and His office (John 16:8-15);
(γ)His own departure and return. Their sorrow the birth-pangs of joy (John 16:16-24);
(δ)He promises a full revelation of the Father (John 16:25-28).
(ε)Their faith is now weak, though they think it strong (John 16:29-32); their future shall be one of tribulation, but He has overcome the world (John 16:33).]
That ye should not be offended.—Comp. Matthew 11:6; Matthew 13:21; Matthew 24:10, et al. In St. John the word occurs only here and in John 6:61.
Will think that he doeth God service.—Better, will think that he offereth to God a sacrificial service. The word rendered “doeth” in the Authorised version, is the technical word for offering sacrifice. (Comp., e.g., Notes on Matthew 5:23; Matthew 8:4.) The word rendered “service” means the service of worship. This will be seen by a comparison of the other instances where it occurs in the New Testament—they are Romans 9:4; Romans 12:1, and Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:6. A Rabbinic comment on Numbers 25:13, is, “Whosoever sheddeth the blood of the wicked is as he who offereth sacrifice.” The martyrdom of Stephen, or St. Paul’s account of himself as a persecutor (Acts 26:9; Galatians 1:13-14), shows how these words were fulfilled in the first years of the Church’s history, and such accounts are not absent from that history’s latest page.
These things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.—While with them, He would spare them, and it was against Himself that the hatred of His foes was directed. When He shall have left them they will represent Him, and must stand in the foreground of the battle.
These words seem to be opposed to Matthew 10 and parallel passages, where our Lord did tell the Apostles at the time of their call of the persecutions which awaited them. (See especially John 16:17; John 16:21; John 16:28.) The passages are not, however, really inconsistent, for “these things” in this verse (comp. John 16:3; John 16:1, and John 15:21) refers to the full account He has given them of the world’s hatred and the principles lying at the foot of it, and the manner in which it was to be met by the Spirit’s witness and their witness of Him. These things which the infant Church would have to meet, and meet without His bodily presence, He told them not at the beginning.
And none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?—Peter had asked this very question (John 13:36), and Thomas had implied it (John 14:5), but what the words here mean is, “None of you are out of love for Me asking about the place whither I am going. Your thoughts are not with Me. It is to you as nothing that I am returning to Him that sent Me.”
It is expedient for you that I go away.—“There is no cause,” He would say, “for the deep sorrow which has filled your hearts. It is for your advantage that I, as distinct from the Paraclete, who is to come, should go away” (John 14:16). Yes; for those who had left all to follow Him; for those who had none to go to but Himself (John 6:68); for those whose hopes were all centred in Him, it was—hard and incomprehensible as the saying must have seemed—an advantage that He should go away.
For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.—Better, . . . the Advocate will not come unto you. (Comp. Excursus G.) For the connection between the departure of Christ and the coming of the Advocate, comp. Notes on John 7:39, and Acts 2:33. We may not fathom the deep counsels of God in which the reason of these words is to be found; but the order fixed in these counsels was that the Son of Man should complete His work on earth, and offer the sacrifice of Himself for sin, and rise from the dead, and ascend to the Father’s throne, before the Advocate should come. The Son of Man was to be glorified before the Spirit was to be given. Humanity was to ascend to heaven before the Spirit could be sent to humanity on earth. The revelation of saving truth was to be complete before inspiration was to breathe it as the breath of life into man’s soul. The conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment could only follow the finished work of Christ.
But if I depart, I will send him unto you.—Our translators have sought to show the distinction between the words used in the earlier clauses, “I go away,” and that used here, “I depart”; but probably few English Readers will have observed it. The former word means, “I go away from you,” the latter, “I go away to the Father.” For the thought of this clause, comp. Note on John 14:16; John 15:25.
And ye see me no more.—The word means, “look upon,” “behold.” The going to the Father would cause that they should gaze upon His bodily presence no more; but the Spirit’s witness of Him, which would convince the world of sin and righteousness, would be, to them a truer presence of their Lord than any which physical eye could see. The eye of the spirit sees the reality; the eye of the body only looks upon the appearance.
It is not within the scope of these Notes to discuss the theories of interpretation, and the many difficulties which attend every interpretation of John 16:7-11. All that can be attempted is to place the reader in possession of what seems to be the simplest meaning of the words. A more full treatment is the less necessary as a complete discussion of the whole subject is easily accessible in the Sermons of the late Archdeacon of Lewes, preached before the University of Cambridge, in 1840. The Notes attached to the Sermons are an exhaustive summary of the views held in ancient and modern times by men most capable of judging. (See J. C. Hare, Mission of the Comforter, Ed 3, 1876.)
Ye cannot bear them now.—Comp. John 15:15. The statements are not opposed to each other. On His side there is the readiness to impart to them as friends all things that He had heard from the Father. But revelation can only be made to the mind which can accept it; and for those who have only in part understood what He has told them there are many things which cannot now be borne.
Of what the “many things” were, we have only this general knowledge. They would include, doubtless, the doctrinal system of the early Church, and they would not exclude all the lessons which the spirit of God has taught the Church in every age.
The fact that there were truths which Christ Himself could not teach is a lesson which men who profess to teach in Christ’s name have too seldom learnt. St. Paul found in it a rule for his own practice. He, too, fed men with milk because they could not bear meat. (Comp. Note on 1 Corinthians 3:3.) It is true, indeed, that no one can teach who does not possess a higher knowledge than that of his pupil; but it is no less true that no one can really teach who does not take the lower ground of his pupil’s knowledge, and from that lead him to his own. Truths which the cultured mind accepts as obvious would appear no less so to the peasant if he were carefully taught them. Too often the weaker brother finds a stumbling-block in the very steps which should lead him to a higher truth, because he approaches them blindly, and without a guide. For the breach which exists between the higher Christian thought of our day and the faith of the masses of the people, Christian teachers are in no small degree responsible, and the only means by which the chasm may be bridged is to teach Christ’s truths as He Himself taught them.
He will guide you into all truth.—Better, . . . into all the truth. The words do not mean that the Holy Spirit will fully guide them into truth, but that He will be their guide into the fulness of truth. The word rendered “guide,” occurs again in Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39; Revelation 7:17; and metaphorically, as here, in Acts 8:31. A comparison of these passages will show that its meaning is “to point out the way,” “to lead one on his way.” The fulness of truth is for the disciples an unknown territory. They are spiritually as blind men, feeling after the truth, but not able to see it. The Spirit of Truth will take them by the hand, and, step by step, as they have strength to follow, will guide them into the territory, and unfold to them the treasures it contains. The promise has a special meaning for the disciples to whom it was spoken; but it holds good for every disciple who seeks to know the truth. We may pray,—without doubt that the prayer is in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and without doubt that it will be answered—
“Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire.
Enable with perpetual light
The dulness of our blinded sight.”
The scribes, “instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, and bringing forth out of their treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52), may know that they can seek, and not seek in vain, a higher than human guidance, and may hope “by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort.”
For he shall not speak of himself.—Comp. Notes on John 5:19; John 7:17-18. The Holy Spirit’s power to guide into the truth depends upon the fact that He, like the Son Himself, will represent to the world the eternal truth of God. He, too, is subordinated to the Father, and His work is to seek the glory of Him that sent Him. (Comp., on the other hand, John 8:44, where the essence of the lie is that the devil speaketh of his own.)
And he will shew you things to come.—Better, and He will announce to you the things to come. (Comp. Notes on Revelation 1:1; Revelation 22:6; Revelation 22:20.) We must again be on our guard against drawing limits which Christ has not drawn. These words, too, have their fulfilment in the Spirit’s illumination in all time; but we may still find their first and special meaning in the Revelation to the Apostolic Church, of which St. John’s Apocalypse is the most prominent example.
For he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.—Better, as in John 16:13, . . . . announce it unto you. This is the test of the Spirit, “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God.” (Comp. Notes on 1 John 4:1-2.) The revelation of Christ is not an imperfect revelation which the Holy Spirit is to supplement. It is a full revelation imperfectly received, and His office is to illumine the heart, and bring home to it the things of Christ.
He shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.—Better, He taketh of Mine, and shall declare it unto you. The present expresses the unchanging relation of the Spirit to the Son. It should be noted that in these verses (14 and 15) there is an implication of the following doctrinal truths. They are implied, let us remember, in the words of our Lord Himself, and that they are implied and not stated increases the force of their meaning:—(1) The divinity of the Son: “He shall glorify Me;” “All things that the Father hath are Mine.” (2) The personality of the Holy Ghost: “He shall receive of Mine.” The Greek word, ἐκεῖυος, expresses this in the most emphatic way. The word is used of the Holy Spirit in John 16:8; John 16:13, and in John 14:26; John 15:26. (3) The Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity: “the Father;” “I;” “He.”
And again, a little while, and ye shall see me.—The time here referred to is the interval between His death and the Day of Pentecost. That the vision is to be understood of our Lord’s presence in the person of the Paraclete (John 14:18-19), is confirmed by John 16:23. Note that in this clause the verb (“see”) is different from that in the preceding clause (“behold”). The latter refers rather to the physical, and the former to the spiritual, vision. (Comp. John 20:6-8.)
Because I go to the Father.—The majority of the better MSS. omit these words at this place. They have probably been inserted here from the end of the next verse. (Comp. Note there.)
A little while, and ye shall not see me.—Better, A little while, and ye behold Me not, as in John 16:16.
Because I go to the Father.—So far they have quoted word for word what He had said in the previous verse. They now connect it with what He had said in John 16:7; John 16:10, and this forms the ground of their surprise. There He had spoken of their beholding Him no more because He goeth to the Father. Here He speaks of a little while, after which they shall not behold Him, and again a little while, after which they shall see Him. They cannot reconcile these things. They cannot tell what He saith.
That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.—Comp. John 20:11, and Luke 23:27. In the original the contrast between the sorrow of the disciples and the joy of the world is rendered the more striking by the order of the words, “Weep and lament shall ye, but the world shall rejoice.” The tears and the scoffs at the cross were the accomplishment of this prophecy.
And ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.—The expression is a full one. It is not simply that they shall pass from sorrow to joy, but that the sorrow itself shall become joy. They will rejoice in the presence of the Lord, when after a little while they will see Him and will feel that the separation necessarily went before the union, and that the sorrow was itself a matter of joy because it was the necessary cause of the joy (John 16:7, and John 20:20).
That a man is born into the world.—The word is the wider word for “human being.” (Comp. Note on John 1:51.) The thought is of the joy of maternity swallowing up the pangs of child-birth. These cease to exist, but that continues. She forgets the one in the fulness of the other.
For the phrase “into the world” comp. John 1:9; John 18:37.
But I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.—In John 16:19 He had said “Ye shall see.” This is the obverse of the same truth. He will again. be with them, and see them as they will see Him. The words include too the thought of His deep sympathy with them. He sees them now in the depth of their sorrow, and feels with them in that. He will see them again in the time of their joy, and will rejoice with them in that.
And your joy no man taketh from you.—The reading is doubtful. Some of the better MSS. have the future “. . . shall take from you.” “No man” is better rendered indefinitely, no one, as, e.g., in John 10:18; John 10:29. (Comp. Matthew 28:20, and Romans 8:38-39, and Notes there.)
Verily, verily, I say unto you.—Comp. John 1:51. As we have so often found, these words precede a truth of -weighty import.
Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.—The more probable reading is, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, He will give it you in My name. The thought is that the prayer is offered in Christ’s name (comp. Note on John 14:13, and in this context John 16:24), and that the answer to every such prayer is in virtue of His name. The fact that we pray in His name makes it certain that the prayer will be answered. The fact that the prayer is answered is proof that it was in Christ’s name.
Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.—The future is thought of as already present, and they are directed to ask, as though they had already entered into the new region of spiritual life. The pangs of the present travailing are passing away (John 16:22). The fulness of joy is already at hand. (Comp. Note on John 15:11.)
But the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs.—For “proverbs,” read parables, as in last verse. For the time referred to, comp. John 16:16; John 16:23. In that time He will be present with them in the Advocate, and will no longer need parables or words, but will, to the depth of their spirit, communicate to them in all fulness and plainness the eternal truth of the Father (John 16:13 et seq.).
And I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you.—These words have often been taken to mean, “That I will pray the Father for you, is a matter of course, of which I need not tell you; but this sense is excluded by the following verse. The thought is rather, “I do not speak of praying for you, because in the presence of the Advocate you will yourselves be able to pray in My name to the Father.” His prayer is thought of as not necessary for them, and yet the form of the words implies that He will pray for them if it should be needed. While their hearts are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and they maintain communion with the Father, they will need no other Advocate, but “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Comp. John 14:16; John 17:9, which refer to the time which precedes the gift of the Holy Ghost.
And have believed that I came out from God.—The reading is uncertain. Several of the better MSS. read, “. . . that I came forth from the Father.” (Comp. the first words of the next verse and John 13:3.) The perfect tenses represent their love and faith as completed, and continuing in the present. It is striking that the order of the words makes faith’ follow love. This order may be chosen to mark emphatically the connection between the Father’s love for the disciples and their love for the Son; but it also suggests that their convictions were the result of having their hearts opened by love so that they received the truth.
By this we believe that thou camest forth from God.—They had believed this before (John 16:27), but here, as frequently, St. John remembers the development of their faith. (Comp. Note on John 2:11.) They find, in His knowledge of their thoughts (John 16:19), and in the full solution which He gives to their difficulties, ground for a new faith; and upon this new proof of His divinity they have a new faith in Him. (Comp. the instance of Nathanael’s faith at the end of John 1)
Every man to his own.—Or, his own lodging in Jerusalem, which must be here intended. That is, as the margin renders it, “to his own home.” (Comp. Note on John 1:11.)
And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.—They would each flee to his own place of sojourn. He, too, though apparently left alone, had His own home in the presence of the Father, which was ever with Him. The fact of their leaving Him could not in truth have added to His sense of loneliness. He must, even when surrounded by them, have always been alone. The thoughts of His mind were so infinitely beyond them, that the true sympathy which binds souls in companionship could never have had place. And yet He was never alone, for His life was one of constant communion with the Father. (Comp. the consciousness of this in John 8:29.) Once only do we find the vision of the Father’s presence eclipsed for a moment by the thick darkness of the world’s sin; but the wail of agony, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) is straightway followed by the assurance of His presence, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46.)
Alone and not alone. It was so in the human life of our Lord; it is so in the life of His followers. There is a sense in which each one is alone; and there is a depth of being into which no human friend can ever enter. There is a loneliness which of itself would lead to despair, were it not that its very existence tells of and leads to the never-failing communion with God:—
“Who hath the Father and the Son
May be left—but not alone.”
That in me ye might have peace.—Comp. Notes on John 14:27; John 15:7.
In the world ye shall have tribulation.—The reading of the better MSS. is, “In the world ye have tribulation.” It is the general statement of their relation to the world. The two clauses answer to each other—the one defining the origin of their inner, the other of their outer life. The life in the world is but the life as it is seen by others; the true life is that which is in communion with God through Christ, and that is one of never-failing peace, which no tribulation can ever affect. Peace is the Christian’s birthright, and his joy no one taketh from him (John 16:22, John 14:27).
But be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.—The pronoun is strongly emphatic, “I have Myself overcome the world.” He speaks of the assured victory as though it were already accomplished. (See Note on John 16:11 and John 12:31; John 13:31.) Here is the reason why they should take courage and be of food cheer. He is the Captain of their salvation, and has already won the victory. The enemies they fear, the world in which they have tribulation, are already captives following in the Conqueror’s train. They themselves have pledges of victory in and through His victory.