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Nazareth Revisited


Nearing Gethsemane.

Jesus, continuing his discourse as he walked towards the Garden of Gethsemane, referred next in natural order to the provision that was to be made for preserving his work from the oblivion which would certainly have overtaken it if its effect and permanency had been left to the impression made upon his contemporary generation. This was the bestowal of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles as an upholding and working power, dwelling and remaining with them, and therefore acting as a comforter. "When the Comfortor is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me, and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning." This testifying of the Spirit was essential to the efficacy of the testimony of the apostles. Without it, the declarations of the apostles that a crucified man had come to life again would have been treated as madness, and their work would have been thrown away. But with it, their testimony became a powerful means of producing conviction and faith.

The dual nature of the witness was afterwards clearly apparent and distinctly recognised by the apostles themselves. Thus, Peter, in one of the earliest arraignments of the apostles before the Jewish council for preaching the resurrection of Christ, said, "We are his witness of these things: and so also is the Holy Spirit whom he hath given to them that obey him" (Acts v. 32). Thus also Paul refers to the matter: "Was confirmed unto us by them that heard him, God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Heb. ii. 3, 4).

The nature of the Spirit-witness is very manifest. It was by no means the sort of thing that would be understood by such an expression in our age. It was no mere feeling or experience in the minds of the apostles themselves. It was the co-operation of palpable supernatural power shown in the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead, the smiting of the rebellious, the speaking of known languages without learning them, &c. The co-operation of such a divine attestation with the earnest testimony of living eye-witnesses of Christ's resurrection was all-powerful with devout multitudes everywhere, producing the faith and obedience which it was expressly given to generate. If such divine endorsement of the gospel is not given now, it is because the extent of the divine purpose as regards the number of believers necessary to fill up the plan does not require it. The scriptures themselves, in the hands of earnest advocacy and honest enquiry, are sufficient for the generation of the remaining number wanted.

"These things," said Jesus, "have I spoken unto you that ye should not be offended" (stumbled). Why should he provide for the probability of stumbling? Because of the terrible treatment they would experience at the hands of fellow-Jews when he should leave them. "They shall put you out of the synagogues (equivalent to modern outlawry): yea, the time cometh that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service." Such experience, in the absence of forewarning, would have been liable to lead them to think, in the bereavement of Christ's absence, that something was wrong: that God had forsaken them: that the work in some inscrutable way had miscarried. His telling them beforehand prevented this. "These things have I told you, that when the time shall come ye may remember that I told you of them." He had not communicated with them freely on the subject in the early part of their association together: there was no need. "These things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you. But now I go my way to Him that sent me."

We might imagine the disciples thinking it was a pity he should leave them, since his presence was such a protection to them. Jesus took note of the fact that his words were causing sorrow. "Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart." But there was a reason for it all. "I tell you the truth. It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the comforter will not come to you." Why the Holy Spirit could not come without his departure, we may not fully understand. Sufficient that Jesus declares such to have been the fact. "If I depart, I will send him unto you." His departure and the sending were linked in the Father's methods: and as a matter of fact, the one followed the other, within ten days, for "when the day of Pentecost was fully come (Jesus having ascended), they were all with one accord in one place, and there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting ... and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts ii. 1).

Jesus fixes their attention on the work to be done by the Holy Spirit when he should be sent: "when he is come, he will reprove (or convince) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment; of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the Prince of this world is judged." We may see how all this was done by considering what was effected by the co-operation of the Spirit with the apostles after the day of Pentecost. It demonstrated to the entire Jewish community (1) that they had sinned in the rejection of Jesus; (2) that Jesus was righteous, and also the appointed righteousness of God for men, as shown in his being taken by the Father to the Father's own presence; and (3) that the present world-rulership was God-rejected in Christ's acceptance after crucifixion.

These things would not be intelligible to the disciples at the first. There were many aspects of the truth as it is in Jesus which they were, in fact, incapable of discerning, and would not be capable of discerning till they should become the subjects of that illumination and guidance of the Spirit which He promised. Jesus recognised this and found apology for them. "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will show you things to come."

The disciples realised the truth of these sayings, and we are all able to see it in what portions we have of their written epistles. These epistles are luminous with the Spirit's presence, and rich with a wisdom that is not of man. In nothing are they more distinguishable from human writings than in the feature mentioned by Christ: "He shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak." Human philosophy concerns itself with the "how" things are done; divine wisdom deals with the what and the why. Human wisdom would have delighted in a treatise by the Spirit on its own nature, its "molecular" constitution if it have one; and the number and mode and origin of the "vibrations" by which it accomplishes the various results achieved by it as the medium of creative will. Divine wisdom passes by these speculative and useless abstractions, and presents to our attention the earnest and valuable lessons of truth as affecting our present peace and our future well-being. The Spirit spoke not to the apostles of itself in the sense dear to the age of Greek philosophy, but spoke of the things it was charged to communicate concerning Christ and the future. In this lay wisdom. What benefit would there have been in discoursing to us of matters we could not understand, and that could not interest us? It would be as if the electric telegraph, instead of bringing us messages of intelligence and friendship, were to occupy our attention in vain disquisition on the nature of electric force which no man can understand, whatever terms of explanation might be employed.

No: the function of the Spirit was practical. "He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine and shall shew it unto you." The Spirit with the apostles was not a philosophizer about Spirit, but a simple medium of the instruction transmitted from the Father and the Son -- instruction with a practical object towards those instructed. This instruction related to the things concerning Christ and therefore the Father; for as Jesus immediately added, "All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you." This close co-partnership between Jesus and the Father is at the root of the gospel which the apostles were to preach: it is the most fundamental element of the truth. Christ is not truly discerned where he is not seen as the expression, manifestation, instrument, and presence of the Father among men for their salvation, on the principle of his own supremacy, as the basis of his kindness in forgiveness. He is not seen scripturally if seen as a man merely, however noble. He was a man, but more: "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the godhead bodily." The ascriptions of the glorified saints, as heard by John in vision, are equally "to him that sits upon the throne and to the Lamb." Jesus keeps this wonderful truth in view all through this discourse. He recurs to it again and again.

But here he diverges a little. "A little while and ye shall not see me, and again a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father." The disciples could not understand this in their ignorance of the impending separation. The two "little whiles" puzzled them. We need be in no such difficulty. Its meaning is plain from the history of the case in connection with the commentary on the case which Christ added in response to their manifested anxiety to understand. This commentary informed them that, in his absence, the world would rejoice while they would be the subjects of sorrow: "But I will see you again and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." Did this refer to the three days' separation about to ensue as he spoke, ending with his resurrection? or did it refer to the larger separation ending with his coming again? It seems more naturally to have the larger as its meaning. The two "little whiles" are then apparent. The first "little while" -- from the moment he was addressing them to the 44th day afterwards, when he was taken from them into heaven, when the time commenced, and is still current, during which the words are fulfilled, "ye shall not see me." The second "little while." -- from the 44th day after his crucifixion to the day of his reappearing in power and great glory, when it will be true of all the saints, "ye shall see me."

If we suppose the words to refer to the short separation, to be ended by his resurrection, the facts would be difficult to fit to the words, and the words themselves would have a pettiness of scope quite unusual to the large and exalted style of Christ's utterances. The first "little while," in that case, would be at the most of an hour's duration, for Jesus was apprehended almost immediately after he spoke them; and the second "little while" would consist of the three days he lay in Joseph's tomb, at the end of which he showed himself to his disciples. This limited application would be quite out of keeping with the style of divine language which calls two thousand years "a small moment" (Isa. liv. 7), and a thousand years "one day" (2 Pet. iii. 8). Besides, it would fail to provide a suitable place for the two ideas that Jesus associates with the ending of the second little while -- the permanent turning of the disciples' sorrow into joy, and the going to the Father as the cause or explanation of their joyful re-union.

Although the sorrow caused by the crucifixion was ended by the Lord's resurrection, the disciples, in the larger sense, continued to be men of sorrow long after the Lord's ascension. It could not be said that in that day (the day of his resurrection) the disciples had nothing to ask him: for they did ask him much. Yet Jesus says, "In that day ye shall ask me nothing" -- which we can understand as applicable to the day of his second appearing; for then, being changed into the Lord's own nature -- even the glorious spirit nature, they will, as Paul expresses it, "know even as they are known" (1 Cot. xiii. 12). When the disciples "know even as they are known," they will understand all things with a thoroughness and a translucency that will render the asking of questions unnecessary.

Then as regards the words, "Because I go to the Father," they could not have a very obvious meaning as applied to the meeting again in Galilee after Christ's resurrection, since the departure to the Father was after that event, and in no way causatively related to it. But if we understand him to refer to the final seeing him again at his return to the earth at the end of the times of the Gentiles, it is possible to see a logical connection in the statements. His departure to the Father was the procedure on his part that was to prepare the way for a joyful meeting with him again. His intercession as high priest over the house of God was to effect that reconciliation which would lead to joyful re-union after necessary separation. This is the application Jesus gave to the subject in the discourse delivered at the table, considered a chapter or two back. "I go to prepare a place for you: and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself."

On the whole, we seem justified in concluding that Jesus referred to his absence from the earth (still continuing) when he said "Ye shall not see me." If he also meant the shorter separation about to be caused by his death at the time of speaking, it would not be the first instance in which one expression covered two forms of the same truth.

It is noticeable that Jesus gives prominence to personal joy as an ingredient of the matter bearing vitally on the disciples now. "Your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you ... ask and ye shall receive that your joy may be full." The modern habit is to deprecate this feature as sentimentalism. This is only one of the symptoms of the false culture that prevails at present upon the earth. Joy is the oil of life. It makes existence sweet, and makes men beautiful in each other's eyes. There is little of it at present because the conditions out of which it springs are violated everywhere. But it remains in the constitution of things as the beneficent possibility "all the world o'er" -- latent for the time, but ready to spring into activity when its fountains are opened and cleared by the Master hand that will make and proclaim "all things new" in due time -- establishing peace on earth and good will among men. Meanwhile, it is an individual experience where the mind of Christ prevails -- an experience in measure -- small measure, but true -- joy in God, joy in Christ, joy in the promises and the prospect, and joy in the present path of blessing and well-doing, which on the whole is a pleasant path, though much beset with flesh-tearing bramble growth. As one of the fruits of the spirit, it is accessible now, but cannot be tasted in its fulness till the day when "the redeemed of the Lord shah, come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads." It is a thing to be cultivated by the children of God as their peculiar privilege, distinguishing them from the gross, heavy-jawed, selfish, joyless children of the flesh. It cannot feed and grow unless the mental roots are fastened in God, who is its eternal reservoir.

"These things," said Jesus, "have I spoken unto you in proverbs (parables): but the time cometh when I will no more speak unto you in parables, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father." This is an important indication of the veiled character of the statements made by Christ in these discourses. There are some who overlook this character, and make the mistake of taking parabolic statements literally, with the result of creating embarrassments for the general adjustments of truth. The subjects on which Christ spoke were such as could not well be expressed otherwise than in parable to men in the mental state of the disciples at that time, or in the mental state of the generality of those who were afterwards to read these statements for instruction and enlightenment. What can be more subtle than the relations between Creative Intelligence (as incorporate in the Father) and His operations among men through the Spirit, whether in the ordinary inspiration of His servants, or in the manifestation of His wisdom, character and power in a body prepared from the seed of David? Figure necessarily enters largely into the expression of these relations, when directed to mortal intellect; and of figure there was much in the words of Christ. It would be a mistake to confound figure with literal truth. Yet underneath the figure, there is absolute truth which Jesus here intimates will one day be made plain. "The time cometh when ... I shall shew you plainly of the Father."

For such a day every enlightened mind must thirst with ardent desire. Ever since Adam was driven out of Eden, the cherubim and the flaming sword of symbol have shut off the verities of the divine existence from death-stricken man. He has had to discern them as through a glass darkly. Approach has been invited through them for reconciliation, with a view to the day of open sight that is coming. Those who have accepted the invitation have in all ages been distinguished by a longing for the removal of all barriers, and the end of all darkness to,yards God. They desire to come plainly into the presence and touch of Eternal Power. Even the higher kinds of unjustified intellect have a certain yearning for the "infinite" and the "absolute." David gives expression to the circumcised form of this longing: "My soul thirsteth for thee. My flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is." "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God. My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?" Through Christ, the answer and the solution will come. "I shall show you plainly of the Father." What unspeakable satisfaction in the prospect. In no connection are the shortcomings of popular theology more apparent than here. The "salvation" of sectarian discourse is an affair of "getting to heaven" to rejoin fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and all kinds of relations. God is the least desirable object in all their aspirations. Their religion is a religion of the flesh. It is not the faith of Jesus which tells us tire flesh profits nothing, and that no man coming to him acceptable unless, with the humility of a little child, he discerns and bows before the sovereign preeminence of the Father, "of whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things."

Meantime, Jesus gave the disciples this comfort, which belongs to all their class who are waiting and longing for the manifested presence of creative power and wisdom -- namely, that now in their darkness and loneliness they are objects of the Father's love: "I say not unto you that I will pray the Father for you, for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved rue and have believed that I came out from God." What solace is equal to this -- to be loved of God? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" We may take the comfort without reservation if the basis of it is ours. Jesus indicates the basis: "because ye have loved me." Men who do not love Christ are outside the comfort of this verse; and if they love him, they will keep his commandments. So Jesus declares and reason confirms. Though "God is love," and "loved us while we were yet sinners," yet the personal special love that will redeem from death and plant us in His eternal glory, is reserved for those who please Him in connection with Christ, who is "The way." And first of all, they must love Christ; and honour him even as they honour the Father. They are able to do this when they "believe that he came out from God." Jesus lays the emphasis of repetition on this point: "I came forth from the Father and am come into the world; again, I leave the world and go the Father." The disciples thought this was plain speaking. So it was in a manner. Still, it was part of the parable in which he spoke. The truth expressed is literal, but requires understanding. Jesus literally came out from the Father, but not as a man comes out of a wood. He was not a man before he came, but the Word or Spirit-power of God, which became a man in the way described by the angel's words to Mary (Luke i. 35). Those who think that Joseph was his father are bound to deny this truth, and place themselves on the awful reverse side of Christ's comforting words. How can the Father regard otherwise than with displeasure the man who denies that His Son Jesus came out from Him in any more direct sense than other men who, as Jesus said, are "from beneath," while he is "from above?"

The conversation was about over. The disciples thought they saw special light in these last remarks, and felt more at ease with themselves. They had believed from the beginning; but there was so much in the sayings of Jesus that was mysterious to them, that their ideas had been prevented from settling in a final and comfortable form. Now the cloud seemed to move and the light shine. They expressed their feelings. "Now we are sure that thou knowest all things and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God."

They seemed to expect that Jesus would be pleased with this So he doubtless was in a way, but not in the sense of being in any way indebted to their patronage. They did not see so clearly as they thought. Events showed it. So, Jesus, with apparent brusquehess, thus responded to their expressed fealty. "Do ye now believe? Behold the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone; and yet I am not alone; because the Father is with me." With what object did Jesus speak so lengthily to his disciples, then, if he could not accept the incense of their faith and confidence in the complacent spirit in which it was offered. He explained and ended his words. "These things I have spoken to you that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (Jno. xvi. 33).

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