The Comforter

William Henry Westcott

The Gospel of John gives us an introduction to fellowship with Divine Persons in a more distinct way than in the three preceding gospels. Being written by the Apostle John at a time when the body of Christian teaching committed to the Apostle Paul had been established, it seems designed to open out that intercourse with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost for which all teaching and blessing is designed to prepare and qualify us.

Nothing can be finer than the presentation of the glories of Christ, the revealer of the Father, in the first chapter. The One who is the Word in relation to God was the Light in relation to men. Two things thus meet in Jesus, the revelation of what God is, and the disclosure of what man is. No wonder that, in order to bring these two together - God in all His glory, and man in all his darkness - it was necessary that Jesus be the Lamb of God that sin might be put away; and be the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost that He might inaugurate a new order and condition of men wherein His own nature and character might be reproduced.

But though the world was made by Him, the world knew Him not. It was the world's condemnation that it knew not its Creator. Nor was the special nation of Israel any better. He came to His own, prepared by the scriptures of the prophets for His advent, but they received Him not. Thus the Lord stood alone in all His unique glory, unknown by the world and rejected by Israel. But a few, relatively few, the subjects of a new birth of God, received Him and believed upon His Name, and to these he gave the privilege of becoming the children of God.

Henceforward this new company, distinguishable from the world at large, and also from the Jewish nation hitherto described as "His own," are seen to be the subjects of His special affection and care. They are described characteristically and constantly as believers, "he that believeth," "they that believe upon Him," in contrast with others. These are His sheep (John 10), these are the people to whom the Spirit was to be given (John 7: 37-39). It is these, such as these, who are seen gathered with Him on that never-to-be-forgotten night referred to in John 13: 1, when the Lord lifts the title of "His own" from the Jewish connection of the first chapter and places it upon the brows of his beloved, given to Him by the Father out of the world. Nor upon their brows alone; for the affection which was there shown to the little nucleus of the Gospel story is passed on in John 17:20, to those who should believe on Him through their word. The apostolic testimony has led to the conversion of others to the Lord, and to their inclusion in the same interest, affection, and blessing. Through grace we are of that number.

Thus it is that we read these chapters now; they were the nucleus, and we who now believe in Christ are the subjects of the same love, the recipients of the same Spirit, and equally the happy objects of the Father's counsels secured for the Father's house.

Let us then see the Lord's thought for us in providing the Comforter. This is the same Holy Spirit of whom we have before spoken. He is referred to by the Son of God in four parts of these three wonderful chapters in John's Gospel. The first is John 14:16,17; the second is John 14:26; the third, John 15:26, 27; and the fourth, John 16:7-15.

First of all, let us recall and realize our position. The world knows not Christ, and Israel has rejected Him. But we have been born of God, we have received Him, and have believed upon His Name. The Lord, being now exalted and glorified, and having sent down the Holy Spirit (John 7: 37-39), two things appeal very blessedly to us. One is that we (i.e.true Christians one and all) are the subjects of his unchanging, precious love. Looking down upon the believer in any part of the world, and at every time in his history, the gracious Saviour, Son of God, whispers to him, "My own." Secondly, the Holy Spirit has been given to us; and although this opens out into marvellous meanings and wonderful privileges, the fact itself is our starting point.

Let us now study John 14:16

First of all, the company loved of the Lord (Judas has gone out) is assured of the intercession of the Lord in His new place. The Son addresses the Father, and communes with Him on our behalf. The Father and the Son find it worth their while to think about us and study our interests.

Secondly, the Father, perfectly in unison with the Son's affection and care, grants the request and gives the Comforter. That is, the Holy Spirit given to believers is here described as the Father's gift to us in answer to the Son's prayer for us.

Thirdly, the One He gives is described as "another Comforter." No one can doubt that Jesus had been a Comforter to His disciples, soothing as a nurse, encouraging as a master and teacher, undertaking as a guardian. But the disciples losing Him as to His presence with them on earth, were to have the other Comforter, charging Himself  in the same way with the responsibility of their welfare.

Fourthly, the new Person to be their Comforter would not be with them for a few years and then leave, as had been the case with the Lord Jesus. He is given with nothing less than a permanency in view, as long as there were saints to be responsible for. The "for ever" goes from the beginning to the end of our stay here. It goes  past our Christian youth and old age, it goes past our  joys and sorrows, it goes on though we stumble and fail. The love of Christ is for ever, "to the end," and the  Spirit's abiding with us is as enduring as the love.

Fifthly, this Comforter is the Spirit of Truth; the greatest possible contrast to the pretence, false show, unreality, and treacherous friendship that characterize the world. You might perhaps think that your weakness and the presence of the flesh within might expel the Holy One, and lead Him to give you up. But no; in coming in, in being given of the Father to you, He is the Spirit of Truth, and knows all about you when He takes possession. Nothing disconcerts Him, nothing takes Him by surprise. You make fresh discoveries as to yourself; He makes none, because He knew it all at the outset. Hence, knowing all, He takes you for better or for worse (as men say), and never gives you up.

Sixthly, you are comforted in this, that you are no longer reckoned as part of "the world" which cannot receive Him, but among the "you" dear to Christ, who do know Him. The world can see and know what is visible and tangible and capable of analysis; but only the believer can know the Spirit.

Finally, it is with the disciples that the Spirit makes me, and it is in them that He dwells. We who are Christians alone form the company honoured by His residence and further He is in us. Unlike the Lord Jesus  who on earth was simply with and not in His disciples, the Holy Spirit dwells in us; a most wonderful fact. It is made possible as we learn elsewhere, on the ground of the atonement, in which our sin has been judicially dealt with and thus done away for God.

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John 14: 26

The next passage in which the Comforter is referred to is John 14:26. In passing let us note that the name "Comforter" is the same in the Greek original of the New Testament as the "Advocate" of 1 John 2:2. While Christ is our Representative, our Guardian, our Solicitor, on high, maintaining our interests before the Father, the Holy Ghost is equally so for us down here in the world. In this passage, the first element of help for us is that He is given His simple, absolute Name in the Godhead - the Holy Ghost. Let us consent to ponder this stupendous reality, a Divine Person dwells in us. Do we not well to ask ourselves what is the Object of His being within us, that we may fall in with it, and obtain the full benefit of His presence?

It will be noticed that, in this new verse it is not presenting the fact of the Spirit being the Father's gift (as in v. 16), so much as that He is sent on a mission from the Father. A definite purpose is before Him, a commission on the Father's part. This is nothing less than to act in the Name of the Son, to care for His honour, and to promote His interests in the saints. Nothing is nearer to our affections than to see Jesus exalted. Cold is the heart that does not long to be wholehearted for Christ, to be gripped by His love, to be surrendered utterly to His will, that our whole being should be radiant with His life, not self. What we wish to point out from this verse is that in every such purpose and aim and notwithstanding every deterrent influence we have the support of God the Holy Ghost within. May we see what irresistible power there is at our disposal in so far as we are at His disposal.

Now in the words that follow we have two ways indicated in which He pursues His mission. The Lord shows what one might call the objective themes with which He engages believers' hearts. Let us recall that Christ is on high in the Father's presence, and that the Spirit has come from the glory into which Jesus has gone, to make His Name everything to us. The expression "He shall teach you all things" needs then to be read and understood in that connection; it surely implies the "all things" bound up with the position and glory of Christ in the Father's presence. While the Saviour was on earth He was not able to unfold all that was in the Father's counsels to the disciples; this is implied in verse 25 and is definitely stated in John 16: 12. But when the Comforter arrived He would not be under restraint. Coming from the supreme height to which Jesus was ascended and knowing all the glory and all the love of that bright home, the Father's house, He would teach us all things. Dear saint of God, what education is indeed open to us, and what a Teacher!  Do you not long to be able to use such a Guest, your permanent, indwelling Friend?

Nor are we to lose what Christ was on earth. For this seems to be implied in the remainder of the verse He shall "bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." Nothing would be omitted or forgotten of all the telling and proving of that love which He had brought into the world which had for ever won His disciples' hearts. The Spirit, while filling our souls with the brilliant light of His glory, never fails to keep our hearts in touch with the grace of His service here. Christ in incarnation, lowliness, suffering, and rejection, yet revealing God; Christ crowned with glory and honour, in resurrection life, the last Adam, set over all by the Father's hand.

These are the objective themes with which the Spirit, sent from the Father, engages our hearts. Is it possible for me, among the least of God's saints, to be at home with all that Christ has been and is? Yes, more than possible; it is God's design in giving us His Holy Spirit, the Comforter.

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John15: 26, 27

A third passage awaits us. It is John15: 26, 27. To understand it a little we require to read its context. The end of the fourteenth chapter shows that up to that point the Lord had the disciples inside with Him. The fifteenth then seems to view them as coming out into the world, privileged and responsible to bear fruit for the Father, and yet certain to meet with hostility and hatred from the scene outside. Verses 17 and 18 show a remarkable contrast; love in the circle within, hatred from the world without. Christianity is, properly speaking, a lovecircle. You have the Father loving the Son, and the Son loving the Father. You have the Son loving the disciples, and the disciples loving the Son. You have the Father loving the disciples because they loved Jesus. You have the disciples loving one another. And I think that the picture can hardly be complete without a suggestion that the disciples seeing what the Father is, in and through Jesus the Son must have begun to love the Father too. Anyway, here is a love circle, and through grace, though few and weak, we are in it.

And what outside? Hatred; just downright, unreasoning, blind hatred. Hatred to the Father, hatred to the Son revealing the Father, hatred to the disciples who bear testimony to the Son, hatred to every testimony given by the Holy Ghost through the disciples. A love circle in the midst of implacable hatred. Such are we here, in no strength or power of our own, assailed by all that corruption or violence can invent to blight our testimony and to obliterate every trace of the Christ of God. Who could stand for one hour were it not for the Spirit of God?

But we have verse 26. The same Spirit, the gift of the Father in John 14: 16, sent of the Father in John 14: 26, is here said to be sent of the Son from the Father. The risen One, upon whom fell the brunt of the opposition to God in His earthly life, who knew the bitter and ceaseless hatred of men against the whole truth of God, understands perfectly the position of His dear disciples left here, the raging of the antagonism that would test their faith and wear their spirits, and destroy their loyalty if possible. Viewing it all, and knowing exactly what they needed, He having reached the Father's presence on high, sent down the Comforter to them, to be with them in this otherwise unequal conflict. As seen in this passage, then, the Comforter comes to sustain the testimony of Christ in the world from which Christ has been rejected with hatred; and is again described by the Lord as the Spirit of Truth. He is identified with, and bears witness to, the whole range of truth. The world is a vast system of unreality and falsehood, and is hostile to the truth; there is the element of contrariety in it to every detail of the truth of God. In whatever aspect truth is presented to it, it fights against it; it gives no quarter and shows no pity. Whoever stands for Christ will be relentlessly persecuted. Its character is unchanged through all the Christian period, and notwithstanding all the revelation of the patience and love of God.

In the midst of such a scene the Spirit appears, and raises the testimony to Christ. He identifies Himself with it, and with the disciples who were standing for Him. It is to be remarked that when it is a question of testifying unto Jesus, the words are added, "which proceedeth from the Father," that is, that while He is sent by the Son from the Father, He comes voluntarily and as an act of His own. Gladly does He come even into this uncongenial scene if it be to render tribute to the honour of Jesus, and to keep alive the light for His Name. "He shall testify of Me". Thus is summed up in one clause the whole of the Christian witness. It is to be here for Christ. But it involves much. It involves thedisplacement of self, it means warfare, defensive and offensive. It costs, it hurts; yet neither hurt nor cost can be for a moment deterrent if only Christ be precious as the Spirit would make Him precious.

The Apostles were to be associated with the Spirit in this testimony for their absent Lord; but while they were the beginning of the host, a vast number have since followed in their steps, and have been added to the nucleus of witnesses. The Spirit remains. The subject of testimony, Christ, is the same. The hostility of the world undergoes no diminution nor attrition. But the units who form the vessels of testimony are in solution; these coming, those going. How simple our Christianity would be if we only realised that the Holy Ghost raises the flag for Christ, and that we Christians simply rally round the uplifted standard. Nothing other than Christ; nothing less than Christ.

John 16: 7-15

Our last passage is John 16: 7-15. A very world of meaning seems to lie in these verses, but we must strictly limit ourselves, praying that the gist of the Lord's words may be conveyed to the reader and that, like good seed in an honest and good heart, it may germinate and grow.

The news of His coming absence filled the disciples with sorrow. Although they did not yet realise to the full all the character of the world in which they were to be left, nor the gain that would accrue to them by His going, the sense that they were to be left was a pain and a grief that for the moment appalled them. Once more does the gracious Son of God bring in oil upon the troubled waters, referring a little more in detail to the Comforter and to His service. But His introductory words in this section are amazing. Notwithstanding all the sweetness and power oftheir association with Him on earth, despite all the marvellous gain it must have been to these few simple men to see the service of the Son of God, to hear His ministry, to realise His love, to walk in such exalted company, to be shepherded by such a Person amid such surroundings, their loved Master's words fall upon their ears, mysterious yet true  they must be, for they were His words  "It is expedient for you that I go away." It is profitable for you, it is to your advantage that I leave. Oh, how could they have understood it if He had stopped there? Let us reverently trace out the words that followed: "If I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send Him unto you." The gain of which He spoke would be conveyed to them by the Comforter whom He would send. The presence of the Holy Spirit with them, consequent upon His departure to the Father, would be more to them than His presence could then be, while in flesh and blood upon earth.

It is intelligible if we come to understand what His death, resurrection, and exaltation would effect for them. The atonement for sin to be wrought by the shedding of His blood, the life to be shared with Him as the Man risen victoriously out of death, the place in the Father's presence to be taken on their behalf to show their destination in the Father's purpose all these things were involved. It was with all this in view that the Lord speaks of going away; and promises the Comforter as their solace and their gain in His absence. Do we realise all that the Spirit is given to be to us? Dare one of us say that there is naught more to be learnt or enjoyed of what He can do in us?

There are two great lines opened up by the coming of the Comforter as our Lord indicates here.

  • The first is what His coming means in regard to the world;
  • the second, what it means in regard to His own that are in the world.

The first is declared thus, "When He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment,"

His presence here, and Christ's enthronement on high, are related to each other as the two sides of a coin. Now Christ's exaltation in heaven is God's reversal of man's rejection of Him on the earth.

These then depend mutually the one on the other; if Jesus had not been rejected here, the Spirit would not have descended to take His place. The presence of God the Holy Ghost, resident among Christ's people and in them, brings demonstration in itself independent of anysuch thing as preaching of the state of the world into which He has descended. It is a world which has not believed in Jesus, God's Son. It is a world which, in spite of civilization and education and philosophy and inventions, is guilty before God of the rejection and murder of its own Saviour. Whether autocracy be in the van or democracy rule; whether religion be prevalent or irreligion; the voice of the world religious, and the world political, and the world social, has been raised once for all in its critical hour against Christ, "Away with Him, crucify Him." This then defines its character in the Spirit's eyes, and in the eyes of him who is indwelt and taught by the Spirit; it is SIN. It may come with its honours, its rewards, its pleasures; it may offer its wealth or its fame or its interests; but over them all the Christian sees that definition writ large, SIN; "of sin, because they believe not on Me."

Now at first sight this would make it appear as though sin had got the upper hand, even though the Spirit be here to protest against it. But a second consideration is brought before us. While we feel the wrong, the deadly wrong, of Christ's rejection, and are taught to repudiate with all our hearts the world's refusal of Him, we are comforted when we think of what took place immediately afterward. For He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, claimed by it for the Father's presence on high. While we see, and are ashamed of, and by grace repudiate, the world's wrong act in refusing Him, we are taught to approve of and delight in God's right act in accepting and exalting Him. It shows us there is such a thing as righteousness in the universe, even though it consist for the moment in removing Christ personally from the sphere of human sight. We know at least where He is gone, and that the place which He occupies in the Father's presence is Father's righteous answer to the world's wrong. The Spirit's presence here, contingent as it was upon His going there, is a continual reminder that righteousness exists, and will prevail against sin's worst doings. It is the pledge that God will in His own time, and publicly, establish righteousness on the throne and right every wrong, even as He has already privately done so in setting Christ there, where we see Him by faith. If we think alone of the cross, unrighteousness seems to have prevailed; but we look into the Father's presence and we see that after all righteousness has conquered, and is in evidence from the lowest point to the highest.

But, finally, this leads to a very serious conclusion. Behind the world's action has been the prince of this world. However little we know of the way evil spirits operate through human minds, Scripture leaves us in no uncertaintyas to the fact that Satan can and does use man as a tool to give effect to his purposes. By craft at the beginning he became the dominating factor in Eve's mind and set her in motion against God; and the forces then started in their germs developed in the clearest way when he led Jew and Gentile together into the murder of God's Son. So that in the death of Christ we see Satan's purpose challenging God's purpose; the counsels of the prince of this world set against the counsels of God. Which was, which is, to prevail? Christ's exaltation on high, and the Spirit's presence here in the world, is God's answer, and solves it all for us. The prince of this world is judged. God has already given to Christ personally the place He is to occupy according to His plan; and the Spirit is here quietly and resistlessly carrying out His purpose in respect of His disciples. And this brings the whole world, as a system dominated by Satan and built up according to his purpose, under the judgment of God. All that he plans will be overturned by the same power that has set Jesus on high out of death, and has sent the Spirit to testify of Him here.

Such then is the world's character as the Spirit's presence determines it for us.

But then it is clear that if this be so, the Holy Ghost must aim at occupying our minds, not with the world as we see it now, the awful sphere of Satan's workings, but with the world to come, when the Father's counsels will prevail. How blessedly natural therefore are the words which follow in John 16: 13-15.

First, let us point out that the Spirit is to guide us into all truth. There is now no limit to what He may teach us, and grant us the realization of. Secondly, however, He is to guide us, not exactly force us. It supposes no reluctance on our part, but rather a glad surrender to our Guide. Any point at which we submit to be deflected by human affection or earthly interest is the point at which we lose His guidance, and miss the path of truth. Any reserve in our hearts as to putting ourselves under His absolute control because of some cost dreaded, and no one can tell what we miss. Many would like to save themselves exercise by following human leaders, eminent teachers, and so on; but it is a sad substitution for the One of whom Christ says, "He shall guide you into all truth."

But now we see the blessed themes with which He would fill our hearts, all I doubt not, in connection with the Father's counsels, and what you might call the Father's world.

In verse 13: "He will show you."

In verse 14: "and shall show."

In verse 15: "and shall show."

The first is in connection with "things to come."

The second, "He shall glorify Me."

The third, "All things that the Father hath."

These three things are all to be opened out to us in so far as the Spirit of God has His way with us. All the details of the world to come, all the glories of Christ, and the whole range of the Father's counsels which have Christ for their Centre. 

Oh dear fellow-believer, may we be more in earnest about giving the Holy Ghost His place in our lives, and so find our souls filled and thrilled with the delights He has to place before us, and enjoying the fellowship with God's thoughts for which His grace has fitted us.

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