Edited by Rev. John Adams, B.D.
A PRACTICAL EXPOSITION OF JOHN 13-17.
By Rev. D. J. Burrill, D.D., LL.D.
THE DISPENSATION OF THE HOLY GHOST.
(John xvi. 5-15.)
The Lord had already spoken to the Twelve of the coming of the Comforter; He has now something to say respecting the same matter to the larger assembly, which represented not the ministry alone, but the entire Church.
1. The Dispensation of the Spirit.
It is easy to understand the expediency of Christ’s coming into this world; for what a dreary, sunless world it would have been without Him ! It is easy to see, moreover, that it was expedient for Him to remain here in order to teach truth and righteousness, and lay the foundations of His Kingdom among men. But how could it be expedient that He should go away? It was because he found the fulcrum of his lever outside the world that his name is mentioned among the great lawgivers of the world to-day.
But Christ has nothing to say here of such considerations as these. The reason which He gives for His going away, is that He was to leave behind Him a bequest which should be a manifold equivalent for every loss. "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you."
So He said farewell and went His way. What then? For a time His followers were overwhelmed with sorrow, feeling that all was over. "I go a-fishing," said one; and the others said, "We also go with thee."
But after His resurrection, Christ reappeared and remained with His disciples forty days, long enough to satisfy them that whereas He had died He was now alive for evermore, and to mark out for them the plan of a campaign which was to eventuate in the restoration of the world to God. At the close of that period He met them at Olivet, breathed on them, saying, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost!" and gave them the great commission, "Go, evangelise!" Then the heavens opened to receive Him.
Ten days later, while the disciples were praying in an open court in Jerusalem, the Spirit came with a sound as of a rushing, mighty wind; and the beginning of the new administration was signalised by the conversion of three thousand souls in a single day!
We are living in this dispensation of the Spirit; and it is obviously of the utmost importance that we should understand the meaning of it. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal something or other; an influence felt in a vague, indefinable way. He is the third person of the Godhead. His personality is as real as that of the Father or that of the Son. He is the Executive of this dispensation; under whose authority and control we as followers of Christ meet all responsibilities and discharge all duties.
It is nearly nineteen hundred years since Jesus advised His disciples that they were to act thenceforth under this direction; and there are still twelve hundred millions of people in the world who have never heard or are wholly unconvinced by His gospel! Nor can the Church expect to realise its best possibilities so long as its ministers and members fail to recognise the leadership of the Spirit, and the fact that they themselves, in order to meet their responsibilities under the great commission, must be baptized with fire and power, and made conscious partners in the transcendent work of the Spirit of God.
2. A Threefold Function.
The influence of the Holy Ghost, as the great dynamic in human history, is here clearly indicated in the teaching of Christ. He says, "When the Comforter is come, he will reprove the world in respect of sin, of righteousness and of judgment to come." First, "He will reprove the world of sin, because they believe not on me."
The average man has a totally inadequate sense of sin. At the best, he regards it as a violation of law. He sees clearly enough that theft, arson, forgery, murder and adultery are sins. In fact, however, they are merely symptoms of sin, like eruptions which indicate an inward fever. And when we try to cure sin with chains and prisons and scaffold trees, we are only doctoring its visible symptoms.
But here comes the Holy Ghost to correct this misapprehension. He teaches us that sin in any form whatsoever is not only a violation of law, divine or human, but enmity against God. This is getting down to the root of the matter. The thief, the drunkard and the drab are sinners, certainly; any child knows that But how about the smug, decorous, respectable malefactor who does not wear his vices on his sleeve for daws to peck at? What about the man who keeps within the bounds of statutes and ordinances, but has no place in his life for God. Is he also a sinner? The Holy Ghost says yes. Why? Because he breathes God’s air, lives on His bounty, is a constant beneficiary of His goodness, and yet has not the grace to say "I thank you !" If this were all, it would be bad enough; but the head and front of his offending is that, when God sends His only-begotten Son into the world to die for his redemption, he will have none of it. So said Peter to the assembled multitude on the day of Pentecost. "Ye have taken Jesus, and with wicked hands have crucified him !" They were guilty of a thousand sins; but this was the head and front of all their offending. To reject Christ is to crucify Him afresh; and what a sin have we here in the light of this gospel age ! This is the revolt of the sinner against God. It is worse than theft and murder and adultery rolled into one. But tell that to the respectable sinner and he will smile at you. The Holy Ghost must come and uncover his heart And when the Holy Ghost speaks, His words shall be like a two-edged sword which divideth asunder the soul and spirit. Now see the sinner pricked to the heart, and hear him crying, "What shall Ido?"
Second, it is the function of the Holy Ghost, as Jesus says, to "reprove the world of righteousness: because I go unto the Father, and ye see me no more."
The world’s idea of righteousness is as defective as its conception of sin. It has one form of righteousness which it calls morality, that is, living within the prescript of the law. This is good as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Jesus said to the young ruler, "He that doeth the law shall live by it"; but suppose a man breaks the law, what then? "The soul that sinneth it shall die!" And in all the world there is not a mortal man who has kept it.
There is another form of righteousness which consists in obedience to ceremonial law. This is superficial at the best, and those who practise it, unless they have a heart of- holiness, are "as whited sepulchres, fair without, but within full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness." This is that form of religion of which the Saviour said, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of God."
The two forms of goodness here indicated are like the signs on a shopkeeper’s windows, which may mean something or nothing, according as there are corresponding goods on his shelves. And those who trust in either one of them will be left lamenting at the last, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags!"
The Holy Ghost comes to correct these definitions of righteousness by pointing to Christ, who was the only righteous man that ever lived in this world of ours. He was the only one who ever lived up to the high level of the law. He was the only one who ever "brought the bottom of His life up to the top of His light." He was the only one who ever dared to issue the challenge, "Who layeth anything to my charge?" without being laughed at. He was the Dikaios of whom Plato dreamed, "the just one." He was the only man who ever was sentenced to death by a judge who felt obliged to say, "I find no fault in him at all."
It is the special and particular function of the Holy Ghost to call Him to our remembrance. Christ has gone to the Father, so that the world seeth Him no more; but the world can never forget Him; because the Holy Ghost is ever pointing to Him and saying, "Behold the Man ! Behold the perfect manner of His life! Behold Him, and be like Him!" In the imitation of Christ we find the Spirit’s definition of righteousness. Such righteousness is more than conformity with law; it is conformity with God.
So the Holy Ghost turns upside down the world’s conceptions of sin on the one hand and of righteousness on the other. Here are two men going up to the temple to pray. One of them is a Doctor of Divinity, with broad phylacteries and a scriptural frontlet between his eyes; his prayer runs on this wise, "I thank thee, God, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." The other, standing afar off, dare not lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smiting upon his breast cries, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" The world takes these men at their own valuation: the Pharisee is a saint, and the publican a reprobate. But the Holy Ghost has this to say, "The Pharisee is the sinner and the publican the saint; because the latter, feeling his sin, is on his way back to God."
Third, the Holy Ghost "reproves the world of judgment, because the Prince of this World is judged."
The current thought of judgment is as inadequate as the conceptions of sin and righteousness already referred to. On the one hand, there are those who think, like Job’s miserable comforters, that judgment is a system of exact retribution going on here and now. A man sits in a draught and contracts rheumatism, or he overeats and has dyspepsia: thus the laws of nature are continually exacting their quid pro quo, as indicated in the Buddhist "law of consequences."
There are others who restrict the thought of judgment to the Great Day, when all that are in their graves shall come forth to render an account of their deeds.
Both of these conceptions are true so far as they go; but they do not exhaust the matter in hand.
The Holy Ghost comes to advise us that there is another sort of judgment going on every day before our eyes. Who is being judged? The Prince of this World. We are in the midst of a great controversy. Light and darkness are met as on a mighty battlefield. Events are hastening on toward a final Armageddon, when the red dragon shall be cast into the pit. Here is the key to history. Read it as Christ did when He said, W I saw Satan fall from heaven!" Read judgment in the newspapers, between the lines of passing events. The Holy Ghost gives us the due. "God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world!" History is judgment. There is judgment in the story of Waterloo and Gettysburg, the Crusades and the Reformation, the fall of the Bastile and the signing of Magna Charta. Christ goeth forth conquering and to conquer ! He hath upon His vesture and upon His thigh a name written, "King of kings and Lord of lords." See the white plume of the Captain of our Salvation in the forefront of events, leading onward, ever onward to the Golden Age I Fall in and lend a hand! The blast of the trumpet which shall usher in the Great Day will be the signal for the final sitting of a Court which has been in session through all the ages.
So the three great facts in the province of the spiritual life, to wit, sin, righteousness and judgment, are defined and opened up to us by the Holy Ghost. He anoints our eyes with eyesalve that we may see. He dispels doubt, cures hypochondria and makes optimists. He hushes our misereres and attunes our hearts to hosannas and hallelujahs. The shadows disappear at His bidding, and, lo, the mountains are full of horses and chariots!
Come, Holy Spirit, come! Come as the light to illumine our dull understandings! Come as the morning dew to refresh our weary energies and give us hopeful and joyous views of spiritual truth! Come as the fire to enkindle within us new zeal for godliness and new devotion to the Kingdom of truth and righteousness I Come and call Jesus to our remembrance! For without Thee our eyes grow dim and vision fails. Show us Christ, crucified to atone for sin, which is enmity against God I Show us Christ, the living exemplar of that righteousness which is conformity with God! Show us Christ, the conquering Judge who leads the great campaign of progress so effectively that the gates of hell cannot prevail against Him! Come, Holy Spirit, come! Give us a bright vision of Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning of every high hope and noble aspiration, and the end of every ambition that is worthy of the children of men! Show us Christ; first, last, midst and all in all!