Edited by Rev. John Adams, B.D.
A PRACTICAL EXPOSITION OF JOHN 13-17.
By Rev. D. J. Burrill, D.D., LL.D.
THE TRIUNE GOD.
Everybody loves this chapter. It is a favourite not only with those who have grown old in the Christian life, but with the little people as well. It touches the tenderest chords of our nature, because it records the farewell words of the Saviour in His last interview with His immediate friends. But there is another reason for its singular fascination, it sets forth the fundamental truth of the nature of God. The doctrine is profound; but it is presented — after the incomparable method of Christ — in terms so simple that a child can apprehend it
1. God the Father.
In one of the letters of Madame de Gasparin she writes: "If Christ had never said anything but this, "When ye pray, say. Our Father,’ it would have compensated for all the outlay of divine energy displayed in His incarnation and earthly life."
True, the Fatherhood of God did not originate with Christ. There are intimations of it in some of the false religions: notably in the Norse mythology, where He is called "Al-fadir," or Father of all. But in the teachings of Christ this generic intuition is pressed home with constant emphasis. In this interview, having announced His approaching departure. He comforted His disciples with the words, "In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." Then up spoke Philip: "Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us." Jesus answered, "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then. Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?"
Jesus here claims to be the revealer of the Father. As the eternal Logos or "Word," He is the intermediary of communication and acquaintance between God and man, precisely as language is the means of communication between us. His incarnation, when the Word became flesh, was, so to speak, the articulation of the divine speech. Thus the Father makes Himself known to us. Wherefore, "no man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him."
All our unaided conceptions of God the Father are vague and unsatisfying; but in Christ He is dearly revealed. When Jesus told His disciples that He was about to return to the Father’s house, adding that they knew the way, Thomas said, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" to which He replied, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me." In other words, He had come not only to reveal God, but to provide a way by which the wandering might return to Him. This is provided through the atonement of the Cross. His pierced hands are stretched out towards the Father on one side and the prodigal on the other; and thus the at-one-ment comes to pass. So the sinner is restored to the Father’s house; as Jesus said, "That where I am, there ye may be also": at home, with God!
In the same connection one may clearly understand Christ’s profound teaching on prayer. "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give you. Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. In that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father" (John xvi. 24-26). And yet in one supreme connection He will pray unto the Father for them. He will ask the abiding presence of the Comforter. "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever. It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you."
Had the disciples known this they would have rejoiced indeed when He said: "I go unto the Father"; for this meant that He was going to exercise a mightier influence within the Church than ever before. He was not only to sit again upon the throne of universal empire at the right hand of the majesty on high, but to receive the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord "to the glory of God the Father
2. God the Son.
The filiation of Christ with the Father is expressed in the most singular terms. There is a sense in which we are all children of God, since we are created in His likeness and after His image. There is another sense in which, having accepted Christ, we are received by adoption into the household of faith, so that we may say, "Abba, Father." But Christ is not a son by creation, nor yet by adoption, but by generation: wherefore He and He alone is called "the only-begotten Son of God."
As such He claims absolute equality with the Father. It is written of Him, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." He had not only reigned with the Father in pre-existent glory, but He was to return and reign again with Him. Here is the explanation of those words, "If ye loved me ye would rejoice because I said I go unto my Father; for my Father is greater than I." How could He say that the Father was greater, if they were really equal?
The solution of the difficulty is found in the "Kenosis," or emptying of Christ; for which turn to Phil. ii. 5-11: "Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus; who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant," etc. Of what did He empty himself when He became a man? Not of his Godhood, — which is unthinkable, — but of the glory of it. In stooping to conquer He divested Himself of all the visible tokens of divinity. In this state of humiliation He was, indeed, not equal with the Father; but He distinctly says that the glory which He had temporarily laid aside was to be reassumed when His redeeming work was done. The temporary abdication of His throne did not affect the validity of His divine claim. It is recorded that when He was on trial in the Sanhedrin the High Priest said, "I adjure thee, by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God," and that He answered, in the strongest possible form of affirmation, "Thou hast said! Nevertheless, I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." We are given to understand that the High Priest regarded this as a distinct claim of equality with God; for he straightway rent his clothes, crying, "He hath spoken blasphemy! What further need have we of witnesses? Ye have heard His blasphemy. What think ye?" And with one accord they answered, "He is guilty of death." One word of recantation would have saved Him from the Cross; but He did not utter it! He thus died for making Himself equal with God.
And based upon this teaching of God the Son, we have another profound promise given to His disciples. It refers to their own service and equipment. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father." This is explained by the fact that in going to the Father He was to send them the Holy Ghost to equip them for service. It is obvious that the greater works to which He referred were not miracles of healing; since as a matter of fact their miracles of healing were not greater than His. The reference is to the pre-eminent miracle of bringing souls to God.
The visible results of the evangelism of Jesus during His ministry were comparatively meagre. At the time of His ascension there were approximately but five hundred converts to show for it But in sending the Holy Ghost, He laid the foundation for greater works to be accomplished by His disciples. At Pentecost no less than three thousand were converted by the preaching of Peter in a single day. And, in the power of the Holy Ghost, such greater works have been going on ever since.
In the Methodist revival under the Wesleys it was estimated that eighty thousand souls were converted to Christ. And what shall we say more? The time would fail us to tell of Whitefield, and Finney and Moody and other evangelists who have made countless prisoners of hope. All this because Christ, in leaving His disciples, put them under the control and direction of the Spirit of power and of conquest. His promise was, w Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you." And that was a perpetual gift as He said, "He shall abide with you for ever." The baptism of power is for all who are willing to receive it.
3. God the Holy Ghost.
"If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you" (John xvi. 7).
Let it be observed that He consistently speaks of the Holy Ghost as a person; not as an influence or effluence, or as anything else that can be characterised by the neuter pronoun "it." The influence of the Holy Ghost may be thus designated; but He Himself is set forth as a personality no less real than the Father or the Son.
He is here represented as one with the Father and the Son. He is in vital union with them, and in absolute accord as to all plans and purposes respecting the welfare of men.
He is spoken of as proceeding from both the Father and the Son. At this point we note the historic discussion which arose in the formulating of the Nicene Creed. The question was whether the Holy Ghost was sent by the Father only or by the Father and the Son. The controversy about the word "Filioque" resulted in the separation of the Eastern and the Western Church, which has continued until this day. The teaching of Christ in these premises is clear. He affirms that, as He was sent by the Father to accomplish the work of redemption, so the Holy Ghost is sent by the Father and the Son (cf. xiv. 16 and 26 with xv. 26) to continue and conclude that work until the world shall be restored to God.
The Holy Ghost is represented also as the revealer of the Son. "He shall not speak of himself. — He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."
The reticence of the Holy Ghost with reference to Himself is a fact of which every Christian is conscious in personal experience. It is an equally precious and obvious truth that He is ever bringing to our remembrance the things which Jesus said, and showing us more and more of Him.
In short, the Holy Ghost is the executive of the administration under which we are living. It may be said that there have been three administrations or economies in history thus far: that of the Father, which continued until the advent; that of Christ, which was for a brief period of thirty years; and that of the Holy Ghost, from then until now. At the conclusion of the ministry of Christ the reins of government were transferred to the Holy Ghost, who continues in control of the affairs of this world until the restitution of all things.
The Christian knows Him as the Comforter or Paraclete, that is, "one called to our side." In times of sorrow, of bereavement or adversity. He is ever present to help and sustain us.
The truth-seeker knows Him as the Spirit of truth. Jesus said, "He shall teach you all things. — He shall lead you into all truth": that is, so far as such knowledge is necessary or desirable. One of the official functions of the Spirit is to throw light upon the pages of Holy Scripture, and to open the eyes of the truth-seeker that he may be able to understand it.
The Church knows Him as the energiser, who provides all necessary equipment for service. He is called, therefore, the Spirit of power. The pentecostal baptism of fire and power is from Him. All the great enterprises of evangelisation are led and controlled by Him.
4. The One in Three.
Having surveyed the teaching of Jesus as to the nature of God in this wonderful chapter, we find ourselves apparently in a grave difficulty. He affirms that the Father is God; also that the Son is God; also that the Holy Ghost is God. Are we then to conclude that He believed in three Gods? It not, why not? The dilemma is obvious; how shall we escape it?
If it be clear that Christ taught the Godhood of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, it is equally clear that He believed that there is only one God. Over and over again He affirmed this; as when he said to the woman of Samaria, "God is a spirit; and they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." As a loyal Jew He stood committed to the truth of the Scriptures, whose opening words are, *‘In the beginning God," and whose consistent teaching is that there is only one God, and that there is no other beside Him.
A scribe once came to Jesus asking, "Which is the first commandment of all?" He answered — pointing perhaps to the frontlet which the scribe wore upon his forehead bearing this inscription — "Hear, O Israel; the Lord thy God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." In His whole teaching He insisted on the validity and binding force of the Decalogue, as the great symbol of the moral law, whose foundation is laid in the words, "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; thou shalt have no other gods before me."
But how could God be one and still be three? Here emerges the mystery of the ineffable Trinity. And, be it observed, Christ does not here or elsewhere undertake to explain it. Why should He? If there are State secrets in connection with the administration of every secular government, shall there be none in the government of God?
If we refuse to accept what we cannot comprehend, we shall find ourselves in trouble on every hand and every moment of the day. We live in a world full of mysteries that nobody can explain. There is more of mystery in a single eyelash or drop of blood than any scientist on earth can find out A man is tripartite, consisting of body, soul and spirit; explain that if you can. Call all your scientists and philosophers in council to define life, or to make clear the influence of mind over matter, and they will confess themselves at their wits’ end. Tell me how my hand is lifted at the behest of my will and I will undertake to make perfectly clear not only the problem of the Triune God, but every other mystery in the province of the spiritual life.
In point of fact, all that we can demand is that a proposition laid before us shall not be contrarational. The doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious, but not more so than ten thousand other facts which are received without demur because we cannot avoid it. Let it suffice that our Lord affirms this doctrine as a fact. God is three persons in one substance; he is Tri-unity, or three in one. This baffles but does not contradict our reason; wherefore we can afford to leave the solution of the problem with Him: as it is written, "Be still, and know that I am God."
The interview of Jesus with His disciples now under consideration closes with the words, "These things have I spoken unto you while yet abiding with you; but the Comforter... shall teach you all things." It may be that under the influence of the Spirit we shall ultimately have a dearer conception of the nature of God. We certainly shall, if God deems it profitable for us. Meanwhile let us rest in what He has been pleased to make known to us.
The benediction is this: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." Thanks be to God for that sweet bequest! The secret of peace is in taking Christ at His word.
The bulk of our unrest, of our doubt and despondency, is due to prying into secrets that do not concern us. The glory of God is to conceal a thing." Alas! that we should call ourselves disciples, and still be unwilling to follow in the path marked out. To sit at the Master’s feet and hearken to His teaching, willing to accept His word and heed His bidding, this is to find the peace that passeth all understanding; this is to enter into the assurance of faith; this is to rest in Him, having our lives hid with Christ in God.