Notes of a Bible Reading in Brisbane with J.T.Mawson on John 14
I am sure that every one of us here would like to give pleasure to the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ; we should like to be both in our individual and collective life what He desires us to be. The question is, how can we? I think that what is unfolded in this chapter will help us. In it the Lord speaks to His disciples of the resources that would be theirs during His absence from them, and these resources abide unimpaired for us to this day.
Remark. We don’t see the outward manifestations of power now such as they had in the beginning.
That is so. The sign gifts such as the gifts of tongues and healing have passed away, and attempts to revive them are not of God, and only lead to confusion, disappointment and depression, and disclose the unwarrantable assumption of those who make the attempt; but all that is vital remains. Nothing remains that might give us notoriety before men, but everything remains that is necessary to make us pleasing to the Lord. And if we love Him we shall be glad of this. The church at Corinth had the sign gifts, and strutted proudly in them, flaunting their powers in order to make much of themselves, entirely regardless of their carnal condition that was grieving the Lord. We do not wish to be like them. The church at Philadelphia possessed none of the gifts, but they earned the Lord’s approval by their devotion to His word and Name. They were living in these chapters in John’s Gospel, and so may we with the same result.
I want to lay stress upon the words “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me.” We desire to be here for the Lord, and the desire is right, but if what we desire to be occupies our thoughts exclusively we shall never attain to our desire. If we put it first we are wrong, for we are putting the cart before the horse. The first thing is what Christ can be for us. It is really the only thing; everything else is secured by it. As my soul enters into what He is for me—my all-sufficient and never-failing Resource, able to fill and satisfy my heart, and take captive my whole being by His grace and love, it follows naturally that I shall be for Him. All that He can be for us is wrapt up in the words, “Believe also in Me.” It is what He is and can do for us.
Simon Peter was full of what he could be and do for the Lord. The Lord had said that He was going away, and Peter had not yet received the vision that could look on to the glory. He was not yet ready to say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” He thought only of prison and death, and he said, “Lord . . . I will lay down my life for Thy sake.” And he meant it. He meant it as much as ever some of us have meant it when we have vowed on our bended knees to stand for Christ and serve Him with our whole hearts. Ah! but he had to weep out his disappointment and sorrow for broken vows and wretched failure, just as we have had to do, and will still have to do, so long as our great thought is what we can be for Christ instead of what He can be for us. Peter was on the wrong tack entirely, and the Lord told him that he would deny Him, not once only but thrice before the morning dawned. No, Peter, your self-confidence will betray you. You have to learn that it is not Peter for Christ but Christ for Peter. “Believe also in Me.” On this plane we are safe and on no other. Here we shall have strength to stand, for He will be our strength. No matter what our sincerity and determination on the other ground may be, we shall fail. Do you understand that?
Remark—Yes, I think I do.
Well, you must not be satisfied with hearing the words, and being able to repeat them correctly. You must get the fact into your soul, for it is vital to all spiritual life and victory. You will fail, and fail, and fail, until you come to this in your experience, and everything will be unsatisfactory. It is not what you can be for Christ, but what He can be for you. You have been disappointed with yourself, perhaps disgusted, and are on the verge of despair. To you the Lord says, “Let not your heart be troubled. . . believe also in Me.” Lift your thoughts and confidence from yourself and centre them in Me.
Question. But there is our side, is there not? We would like to serve Him and witness for Him.
Yes, and so we shall. If the Spirit of God has given any of us the desire to serve the Lord, He will also fulfil the desire. We may bear fruit, and be His disciples, His friends, His witnesses. All that is in chapter 15, but chapter 14 comes before chapter 15. We have to learn the meaning of His words, “Without ME ye can do nothing.” Chapter 14 is the “ME,” chapter 15 the “YE.” The first is our unfailing resource, the second the happy result. We all gladly own that we have no life except in Him, and we owe that to His death for us. When it was a question of our soul’s salvation we were shut up to Him completely, and He did all for us. But that was only the beginning. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him; rooted and built up in Him.” As you began, so continue; He was our all for salvation, He is still our all for life, and grace, and power. It is not what we are but what He is. “Believe also in ME.”
But notice that first came the words, “Ye believe in God.” All that God had ever been to His people throughout the ages and all that He ever would be or could be, that, said the Lord Jesus, I will be to you. His word is a faithful word; it holds good for us in Brisbane today. When God said to Abram, “Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward,” it was not what Abram could be for God, but what God could be for him. So with Jacob at Bethel, when God declared what He would do for him, it was God for Jacob and not Jacob for God. When David said, “Although my house be not so with God; yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure” (2 Sam. 23:5), it was not David for God—for he confesses how he had failed, but it was God for David—there was no failure there. So we find it all through. There never was anything stable except as it was based upon this, and this ground of blessing is presented with even more emphasis in the New Testament. The Lord says, all that you need in every way I will be to you—I am the basis of your safety and confidence; I am your Resource and your joy, all is in Me. “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me.”
Question. How are we to get the benefit of that?
Faith must be in exercise first. It is not sight now as it had been with the disciples, but faith; and our faith will be in exercise just in that measure in which we know the Lord and cast off self-confidence. Faith becomes active and triumphant as we grasp the fact that the great thing is Christ for us. Faith always overcomes. The devil has never been able to defeat one bit of true faith, for faith brings the Lord in. The second thing is, the Holy Spirit has been given to us; we shall come to that presently. But if we had nothing more this afternoon than this “Believe also in Me” we have enough to think about. When this is realized it changes everything, even our praying. We shall not pray so much, “Lord strengthen me,” but “Lord, Thou art my strength, To Thee my weakness clings.”
But there is more than what is individual here. Those disciples were representative men. They represented the whole company of God’s saints whose faith was to be centred in the Lord Jesus until He comes again. They were the nucleus of His assembly; and, drawn to Him as they were, they represented all who would yet own His Name and be gathered to Him as their Centre and Head. It was His intention during the period of His absence to have His own gathered to His Name, and He is here preparing His disciples for this. So in chapter 13 He serves them by washing their feet. Their hopes had all been connected with earthly glory, and with Himself as the Messiah who would reign on earth, but His rejection changed all that. The hopes of His assembly are heavenly not earthly; their present portion is a heavenly one, for Christ is in heaven, and if His disciples were to have part with Him it must be in heavenly things. This is also true for us, and we need, as the disciples needed, to be cleansed from earthly thoughts and earthly things which only depress and defile, so that set free from them we may have part with Him, not now in the glory of an earthly kingdom, but in the joy of the Father’s love. The feet-washing sets forth this, and the Lord carries on this blessed service by His word to this day.
Then Judas, the traitor, had to go out. He could have no part in this new blessedness, only those who were bound to the Lord by bonds of life and love could enter here. Judas represents the unregenerate man—the flesh—who is so incurably self-centred that he would gladly sell his Lord in the hope of enriching himself. He had had power to work miracles, to cast out devils, and to heal the sick, like the other disciples; but he had no vital link with the Lord, and he went out. The unregenerate man has no place in the assembly that Christ builds.
Lastly, self confidence, such as Peter’s, had to be exposed, for that can be only a hindrance wherever it is. It is a perpetual menace to the peace and progress of the assembly. Then the Lord put Himself forward as their Refuge and Resource. He said later on, “I will not leave you comfortless [or orphans], I will come to you” (v. 18). An orphan is one who is without a protector or guide, without help or resource. And if we understand things we shall say, That is just what we are without the Lord, for we have nothing to boast in. We cannot say, like the Laodiceans, “I am rich, and increased with goods and have need of nothing.” No, we are orphans, defenceless and destitute, if we have not the Lord. Well, to a company of nothings such as we are the Lord says, “I will come to you.” And then we have everything, and we glory in the Lord.
Question. Is that similar to what we have at the end of 1 Corinthians 1? It seems to come in well here.
Yes, we are nothing, but the Lord is everything. If we keep that in mind we shall go on in happy, holy fellowship together, finding our common joy and help in the Lord. We could not have more than He is, for all fulness is in Him, and nothing less than Himself will do.
We must now pass reluctantly over the intervening verses to verses 15-17. The Father would send the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth. It is by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us that we enter intelligently and effectually into these things. It ought to be plain to us all that we cannot understand Divine things except as we are taught by the Spirit of God.
Question. Has not all the confusion in Christendom arisen from the fact that the presence of the Spirit is ignored?
Yes, what has been particularly lost sight of is the fact that the Spirit has come in relation to the absence of the Lord from earth and His exaltation in heaven. He has come from Christ in heaven, sent by the Father, to take care of us for Christ, to keep us in living contact with Him, and to unfold His glories to us. There are many who talk a lot about the Spirit, and of being filled with the Spirit, who are full of self-importance and spiritual pride, which is really carnality. A man who is full of the Spirit will be full of Christ. Christ, not self, will be his theme. But the first mark of a man who has received the Spirit and is under His influence is separation from the world. That comes out in striking fashion here. “Whom the world cannot receive. . . but ye know Him,” said the Lord. The world and the “ye” are set in the most complete contrast. The “ye” today is the assembly, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to which an unseen Christ is a living reality. Faith is the great principle of its life and activities, while the world walks by sight, and can only exist by what it sees, and feels, and handles. It is sensual. It has nothing outside the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. It is evident that the assembly, if it is to maintain its true character, must be separate from the world. It is evident that it has resources and a power that the world neither possesses nor knows. The world cannot help us in our life and witness for the Lord. Its principle of action and all its motives are opposed to what is of God. If we adopt them we must surrender Divine principles.
Question. Does the 15th verse show the difference between the disciples and the world too?
Yes. The world hated the Lord, and still does, as chapter 15:18-25 shows, and it hates all who love the Lord. But His own love Him and show it by their obedience.
Question. What were the commandments that they had to keep?
Well, there were two specially—“Tarry in Jerusalem” and “Love one another.” And they obeyed both. They were able to wait, and they waited in love and unity until the Father sent the Comforter. The hardest thing is to wait. It is easier to act than to wait; but this was the Lord’s command, and it was enough for them. Israel in the wilderness could not wait when Moses went up into the mountain; and God looked down upon them and saw their disobedience. They were disobedient because they did not love Him. But in the case of the disciples the Lord could look down upon His own, and speak to the Father about them as those who proved their love to Him by their obedience to His commands. And to that obedient company the Father sent the Comforter. Now, those two precious features should mark us all. Love to the Lord and obedience to His commands; amongst such the Holy Ghost will be ungrieved, and harmony and spiritual progress will result.
Verse 26 shows us what is the great mission of the Spirit as far as the disciples of the Lord are concerned, “He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” He separates us from the world and fills us with Christ. He is as necessary to us on earth as Christ is necessary to us in heaven. And if we are to develop in Christian knowledge and grace and power we must pay attention to Ephesians 4:30, which says, “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” We grieve Him when we are indifferent to Christ, since He has come from heaven to bear witness to Christ and to show us His glory. When Abraham’s servant went to seek Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife, Isaac was his one theme, and as long as Rebekah delighted to hear about Isaac the servant would be happy. But suppose she got weary of his talk and anxious to discuss some other matter, he would have been grieved; and the deeper his interest in his mission and in Rebekah as Isaac’s bride, the greater his grief would be. So it is with the Holy Spirit. He has come as the Comforter to conduct us safely to the heavenly Bridegroom, and He delights to unfold His glories to us. In this 14th chapter he recalls the past, all that Jesus had spoken to His disciples (v. 26); in the 15th chapter He testifies of the present glory of Christ (v. 26); in the 16th chapter He shows us things to come (v. 13). But whether the past, present, or future, Christ is the Centre of all. If we have ears to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say about Christ He is delighted, if we have not He is grieved.
Question. Would not every kind of sin grieve Him?
Of course. Yet sin in the believer is really the result of having grieved the Holy Spirit. If we walked in the Spirit we should not sin, and we walk in the Spirit as Christ is everything to us.
Question. What happens to us when we grieve the Spirit of God?
Well, we lose our joy, and we are powerless both in worship and service; we are wasting our time, and are in bondage to the flesh. But the Spirit of God does not cease His activities towards us. He is too concerned for the glory of Christ for that. He works to exercise our consciences and to show us our sinfulness and waywardness and the root of it all. But that is not happy work. It is not the normal work of the Holy Spirit. His work is to show us Christ. There is joy in that, there is no joy in showing us ourselves, however necessary it may be.
But even in the warning, “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” there is a wonderful comfort. We do not grieve an enemy, we only grieve those who love us, and tenderly care for us. We may make an enemy angry, or vex a stranger, but it is the tender heart that is grieved by our conduct, and the tenderer and more loving the heart the more easily it is grieved. The Spirit of God loves us tenderly, and is keenly sensitive as to whether we respond fully to the love of the Lord Jesus or not. Hence He is easily grieved, but He never ceases His service of love to us.
Question. What is the meaning of “Comforter”?
It means one who comes to take complete charge of us—an advocate who has undertaken our case and will see it through to a triumphant issue. We are all like a child who has to take a journey through crowded streets and dangerous traffic; what she wants is a comforter, one who will take her hand and guide and lead her safely every step of her way, give her confidence and make her happy and see that her every need is met. Such is the Holy Spirit to us. But He is all this to us by keeping us in communication with Christ, He does nothing for us apart from Christ. He makes all there is in Christ real to us, and enables us to be in constant and effectual possession of our resources in Him. The Spirit of God would be grieved indeed if we made Him our object instead of Christ. He has come that Christ may be pre-eminent with us. He has come to maintain the rights of Christ in our lives.
Well, we have Christ as the Object of our faith and our never-failing Resource for every need, but He has been hated and rejected by the world and is no longer in it. Hence, we are carried in faith and affection outside the world; in hope, too, for we look for Him according to His word to take us actually out of the world to the Father’s house, that where He is there we may be also. Then we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, a new and heavenly power of which the world knows nothing, and this also means that our sphere of life and interests lies outside the world. We may live by the Holy Spirit in heavenly things, and may set our affections on things above where Christ sitteth. In that sphere there is peace. “My peace I give unto you,” the Lord said. And that is the sphere and atmosphere in which the assembly exists and thrives. If we desire to enter into what the assembly is, here we find it; a sphere pervaded by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit into which Christ comes and where He is everything, and where the Father’s love and interest are known; for, notice further, how the Lord insists that the Holy Spirit would come forth from the Father. “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter” (v. 16). “The Holy Ghost whom the Father will send in My Name” (v. 26). “The Comforter . . . whom I will send unto you from the Father” (15:26). “All things that the Father hath are Mine; therefore, said I, that He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you” (16:15). The Father’s interest in us is infinite. The disciples were the subject of intercourse between the Father and the Son. The Son would pray to the Father, and the Father would answer the prayer of the Son by sending the Holy Spirit. And this communion between the Father and the Son still abides. It may surpass our comprehension, but there it is. We are lifted into this circle of ineffable and Divine love. The Father and the Holy Spirit are engaged in our blessing for the glory of God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and He is exercising His love to us in all its unfailing strength and faithfulness as when He died for us.
But how are we affected by all this? Do we receive these great truths as information only, or do they affect our souls and form our character? Information is good if it results in the formation of Christ within us, and displaces self, and separates from the world. It can only do this as the Spirit of God works in us, apart from this it is a great danger, for our consciences may be quieted by the fact that we know things, whereas we really know nothing that is not made effectual in the reproduction of the truth in our lives. That is a solemn consideration for us all. The devil is crafty indeed, and one of his wiles is to make us satisfied with knowing about these things instead of knowing them in their transforming power; but the Spirit of God is greater than he, and the Spirit dwells in us, while the devil is only in the world, so that as we grieve not the Spirit of God all will be well with us.
And now our time is done, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with us all. We get in effect that threefold benediction in our chapter.