(John 16:16-24.)

We come now to the Sorrow, which all the elect must know, as they pass from the first and carnal, to the higher and more spiritual, knowledge of their Lord.

In the preceding "Verily, Verily," our Lord had referred to His departure from His disciples, and to one result of this, namely, that it would add to their power,—that "greater works should they now do, because He went unto the Father" (John 14:12). Now He goes on to tell them how this going to the Father would affect their intercourse with Him. Hitherto this intercourse had been in the flesh; but henceforward, after and through a brief interval of deep sorrow and desolation, they should know Him in a new way, even in spiritual communion, which should fill them with greater light and gladness. This is the burden of this eleventh reiterated Amen. A little while, and they should not see Him; and again a little while, and they should see Him; because He now was going to the Father. And the result would be, first sorrow, because for a little while they should lose Him in the flesh; and then fulness of joy,—the joy actually resulting from the sorrow,—because through the sorrow they should reach that which He too reached through sorrow, even perfected communion, not in the flesh, but in the spirit, with the Father.

The subject then before us is the experience of disciples, in passing on to a higher knowledge of Christ, and through Him to a fuller knowledge of the Father. Hitherto they had only known Him after the flesh. Even so knowing Him, everything was theirs; a heavenly home, heavenly sonship, and heavenly bread; liberty, service, sacrifice, glory, and humiliation with the Lord; all these were theirs, as the preceding reiterated Amens have shown us, just as everything was His also, even while He was yet here in the flesh. But by His going to the Father through death, He who had been the Son of David, according to the flesh, was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:3, 4); and so entered, beyond all sin and straitness, for He was straitened here (Luke 12:50), upon His true inheritance as Lord of all (Acts 2:36; 10:36; Heb. 1:4). And so His disciples, through the same cross, by which He was severed from them in the flesh, and which cost them, as it cost Him also, sorrow and anguish for awhile, came to know Him in a far more glorious manner, when He could be in and with them always, as their very life, where their sorrow should be turned into joy. The various stages of this experience are here all opened to us, that we may know, not our calling only, but the way to enter into all its fulness.

For this experience of the disciples of old was for all time a pattern of that which those must know who pass from knowing Christ after the flesh to knowing Him in spirit. There is only one path for the elect, the same now as of old, for God and man are yet the same; and this path the Gospels open to us in the particulars which they record of our Lord's intercourse and varied relationships with His disciples. He yet deals with us exactly as He did with them. We, like them, all first know Him after the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16), that is, in some aspect or form exterior to us, which while it brings Him near us, so that we may receive and trust and love Him, yet veils His glory, and presents Him, for us indeed, but not as yet in us. Even this is an immense step beyond our natural state, even if, like the Jews of old, whose place Gentile Christendom has taken, we, as grafted into that same olive-tree (Rom. 11:24), have from childhood received the oracles of God, and the covenants, and the service of God, and the promises (Rom. 3:2; 9:4); for all these things may be and have been ours, while yet, like those to whom Christ came, we may know nothing of a present Lord, and walking with Him. Then either through the ministry of some bright and shining light, who, like John the Baptist, points us to the Lamb of God (John 1:29), or by some providence which gives us a glimpse of Him and of our need (Luke 5:8-10), or by some special call from Him (Matt. 9:9), we become, not only what we have been, parts of His outward Church, but henceforward His disciples. So we try to walk with Him. But though we may have given up much for Him, and have become fools for His sake, and like Peter have confessed Him to be Son of God,—though by Him we may have been called to preach, and to cast out devils in His name,—yea, though we may have seen Him transfigured on the Mount,—all this may be, with us, as with the disciples, while we only know Him in the flesh, for us surely, yet not abiding in us.

But the day comes when He who has thus come to us in the flesh, in sacraments, or doctrines, or the letter of His word, seems to fail us in this form. We are left awhile alone, without the comfort which we had in earlier days. Then comes the trial here described, which still perplexes those who in following Christ have reached this stage; for many who are true disciples have not yet reached it. And then comes the answer to the puzzle: "Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, 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. Verily, Verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you" (John 16:19-22).

Here we have, first the sorrow, and then the joy, of true disciples, which are indeed the sorrow and joy of Christ; and always come in this order; first, the darkness, then the light, like the "evening and morning" of the six days (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, etc.); first the "weeping for a night," and the "joy coming in the morning" (Psalm 30:5); first the "chastening for the present," and then the "peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11). It is so here:—"Verily, Verily, ye shall be sorrowful; but your sorrow shall be turned into joy."

1. As to the sorrow, its cause is "not seeing Christ" after the flesh; the period of it is "a little while."

(i) The cause is this. "A little while, and ye shall not see me," that is, not see me as you now do, by observing step by step my outward manifestations; for the word (οὐ θεωρεῖτέ με) here is not the same as that which is used where He says, "A little while and ye shall see me" (ὄψεσθέ με), when their present seeing should be changed into a new kind of sight, by which they should see more fully what He really is. For a little while the disciples were to lose sight of their guide. He is now no longer to be known by them as they had known Him hitherto. It seemed as if He failed them. It was indeed a sorrow. But it was in substance the very sorrow of their Lord. God was to Christ here in the flesh what Christ is to His disciples. "The head of every man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor. 11:3). Christ's joy in our nature was to walk with God. He says, "I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8; Acts 2:25). We little see how unbroken the communion was, or how, when rejected by men, He could rejoice in spirit, and say, "Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight" (Matt. 11:26; Luke 10:21). Yet He was in the flesh, in which for our sakes He was straitened; and "to go to the Father" He Himself had to pass through the "little while," in which He should be "sorrowful even unto death" (Matt. 26:37, 38). If we see how He came to us, we may see also how He goes to the Father. By coming in the flesh, He came from God; and, as in the flesh, His thoughts of God were as of One above and separate from Him; though all the while He was the "brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person" (Heb. 1:3), and could say, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30), and "I am in the Father, and the Father in me" (John 14:11). By dying in the flesh, yet in our nature, He went to God, thus through death destroying him who had the power of death, that is the devil (Heb. 2:14). As Augustine says: "By taking flesh He came within the reach of eyes of flesh and hands of men, still remaining where He was in heaven: by it He went, not leaving that whereto He had come, His flesh being the way, not only for us to come to Him, but for Him, who did never let go Himself, to come and to go back unto Himself." (Note: Augustine, Tract. in Johan. lxix. § 3.) Therefore He too was troubled, and cried out in anguish, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me" (Matt. 27:46). For a "little while" He saw not the Father's face (Psalm 88:6, 7, 14). But through this sorrow in our nature He returned to God, and to all power in heaven and earth. Thus was His sorrow turned into joy.

There is no other way for His disciples. Their sorrow is the same, and this even while they know that they are His. For a little while they lose sight of Him who is their head. We know this was experienced by the first disciples. The Old Testament is full of illustrations of it (Job 23:8-10; Psalm 69:1-3; Lam. 3:1-19). It is the truth here taught us by the Lord Himself: "A little while and ye shall not see me, and again a little while and ye shall see me, because I go unto the Father." And yet some think that they can come into the promised joy without personal experience of the intervening sorrow, supposing that, because the first disciples came to their Pentecost eighteen hundred years ago, therefore every believer now has reached the same. As yet knowing Christ only after the flesh, feeling His presence with them, and seeing Him as He reveals Himself in words and works of truth and love, they are, not perplexed only, but offended, when told that He will go away, that they may know Him in a higher way, no longer without or separate from, but thenceforward ever in and with, them. Like the disciples of old they say, "What is this that He saith, A little while? We cannot tell what He saith." (Note: The words, "A little while," are seven times repeated here, either by our Lord or the disciples, showing what a riddle they were to those who first heard them.)

It is hard to speak of this so as to make it intelligible to those who have not passed through this experience. The difficulty of the disciples shows how little even words from the Lord's own lips can teach us, so long as we are carnal (1 Cor. 3:1). Our Lord Himself here must say, "Verily, Verily." For words hardly convey ideas which transcend our present knowledge; and the great majority of believers are still at the stage figured by the walk of the disciples in the Gospels, espoused to Christ, but not yet married to Him (compare 2 Cor. 11:2, and Rev. 19:7), or come, as we see them in the Acts, to know Christ in and with them by His Spirit, so that in the power of that presence they can do His very works. They may be walking with the Lord, and sent forth like those of old with power to preach and cast out devils (Mark 3:14, 15); they may have been taught by Him in word the doctrine of His cross (Matt. 16:21; Luke 18:31-34); they may have believed His promise that He will send the Spirit to them (John 14:16, 17, 26); and yet all the while they may be unprepared for and stumble at the cross, when it really comes (Matt. 26:56), and have no personal experience of the Spirit's power, or of a Pentecost with tongues of fire and a mighty rushing wind. Nevertheless these days of first enlightening are delightful days; sweet as the days of our first love, when the Bridegroom is with us, and we fast not (Matt. 9:15). They are indeed the days of conception, when we receive the seed of God. We may expect them always to continue; but they bring pain to flesh and blood. The word is sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the belly (Ezek. 3:3, 14; Rev. 10:9, 10). For the soul, after it has received the seed of God, requires the separation of the new life from the old; and by this we are brought, as through travail pains, often we know not how, through that, and to that, of which our Lord speaks here, when He says, "A little while and ye shall not see me, and again a little while and ye shall see me." We may before this have known seasons of communion with Him, when we have asked Him questions, and heard Him speak, and felt that He was with us; all which may be in the flesh, a thing of the senses, more than of the spirit, though at first we do not know this, because as yet we know not the "dividing asunder of soul and spirit," which is wrought in us by the same eternal Word (Heb. 4:12). We shall some day come to another stage; when we do not see the Lord; when we speak but seem to get no answer from Him; when He appears to fail and even forsake us; while we are the reproach of men, and are mocked by evil spirits as deluded creatures, who have followed and trusted One who could not save. And through this "little while" of sorrow we shall be led to the joy here promised, of knowing the Lord in and with us for evermore. All this was the experience of the first disciples. All this, when they can bear it, is the experience of disciples now. Nothing good is here brought forth, either for time or eternity, without pain. The Benjamins must all be first Benonis (Gen. 35:18, see margin).

(ii) But this sorrow is only "for a season" (1 Pet. 1:6): "a little while," like a woman's pangs, which "she no more remembereth, for joy that a man is born into the world" (John 16:22). For a new life comes out of the sorrow. The pains are travail pains, which bring forth the man from the womb of nature into the light of God. Now "a man is born into the world:" a man and not a beast: something better than the imperfect beastlike life, which ever precedes the man in God's image (see Gen. 1:25, 26). And the result is a new life, with greater power, and with fresh blessings for the world, when the "sorrow is turned into joy."

2. This brings us to the joy, which is beyond all words, for as St. Peter says, it is a "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8). The joy is that Christ appears again (John 16:22). The disciples' sorrow had been not seeing Him. Their joy is in His return and presence with them. Unlike the world, which rejoices to be quit of Christ (John 16:20), because the truth ever appears at first only as a check upon its ways,—which therefore seeks by outward things to satisfy the heart, which, as it was made for God, is never really satisfied until He Himself fills it,—those who have known Christ, even after the flesh, must wait for Him, mourners it may be, yet seeking no joy or rest apart from Him. So they wait, and not in vain, for He has said, "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." Those who have known what it is to love, and to have one with them, whose presence halves every sorrow, and doubles every joy, may understand something of the gladness of disciples, when He appears who is their Lord, their life, their salvation, their righteousness, their all. Words cannot tell it. For as the heart knoweth its own bitterness, so can no stranger intermeddle with its joy (Prov. 14:10). It is the joy of regaining Him, who, in giving us Himself, completes our nature with that which we lost in the fall by separation from Him. Without Him we are imperfect—only half our proper selves. With Him we are complete, even if in the world, like Him, we are poor, and mourners, and acquainted with grief. With Him we can be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; having nothing, yet possessing all (2 Cor. 6:10). He, when all things seemed against Him, "rejoiced in spirit" (Luke 10:21). So the disciples, even in the midst of persecution, were "filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 13:52). So Paul and Silas, in the inner prison, and with many stripes laid on them, could "sing praises to God" (Acts 16:22-25). So the Hebrews "took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing in themselves that they had in heaven a better and more enduring substance" (Heb. 10:34). And we are called to the same joy, to find in a risen Christ all and more than all that heart can wish, or tongue can tell.

Some glimpses of the fulness of this joy come out in our Lord's words here, confirmed again with His reiterated Amen: "And in that day ye shall ask me no questions (Gr. ἐμὲ οὐκ ἐρωτήσετε; compare with John 16:9: ἤθελον αὐτὸν ἐρωτᾶν). Verily, Verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask (Gr. ὅσα ἀν αἰτήσητε) (Note: Ostervald's French translation preserves the distinction between the two words here used in the original: "En ce jour-là vous ne m'interrogerez plus de rien. En vérité, en vérité, je vous dis que tout ce que vous demanderez au Père en mon nom, il vous le donnera.") the Father in my name, He will give it you. Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name. Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:23, 24).

Three distinct blessings are here, each of which adds to the joy; first, perfected knowledge: "Ye shall ask me no questions"; then, perfect fulfilment of their desires:—"Verily, Verily, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, He will give it you in my name"; (Note: So the Vatican and Sinaitic MSS.) and lastly, perfected joy: "Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name. Ask and ye shall receive that your joy may be continually full." (Note: Gr. ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ὑμῶν ᾖ πεπληρωμένη. This, I think, is something more than the ἵνα πληρωθῇ of John 15:11.)

(i) Perfected knowledge comes first: "In that day ye shall ask me no questions;" that is, all that now perplexes you will then be clear. Hitherto, though walking with Him, they had little understood Him. Again and again had their questions proved how much of darkness still remained with them. Such words as, "Wilt thou that we call down fire from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?" (Luke 9:54) "How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" (Matt. 18:21) "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matt. 18:1) "Lord, whither goest thou?" and "Why cannot I follow thee now?" (Matt. 14:36, 37) "Why could not we cast him out?" (Matt. 17:19) "Lord, and what shall this man do?" (John 21:21) "Tell us, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matt. 24:3) these and countless other like questions, though quite proper in their place, are evidence sufficient of the disciples' partial light, and of their very imperfect communion with their Lord. All this is to be changed. Even such a question as that which the disciples asked after they knew the resurrection of the Lord, but before the Spirit came, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) is as night to day when compared to the light which Paul pours forth, when he opens to the Romans the mystery of Israel's fall, and the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God, of whom, and through whom, and to whom, are all things (Rom. 11:25-36). How different too is Paul himself, when, though Pentecost had come to others, he as yet only knew Christ after the flesh, and asked, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6) compared with the same Paul when he knew no man, not even Christ, after the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16), and therefore could say, "I have judged already to deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh" (1 Cor. 5:4, 5), and again, "If I forgave, for your sakes I forgave it in the person of Christ" (2 Cor. 2:10). What a contrast between such early questions and the later knowledge of the Lord. At the one stage perhaps we say, "Lord, shall we smite with the sword?" and then, like Peter (Luke 22:49), without waiting the Lord's answer, we act according to our own impulse. At the other, we come, like the Lord Himself, to know the Father's will, and by His Spirit to find our heart's desire fulfilled in asking according to that will.

(ii) For this is the second blessing which gives addition to the promised joy. Disciples are to have perfect fulfilment of their desires in asking of the Father: "Verily, Verily, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, He will give it you in my name" (John 16:23); that is, He will give it me in you, and give it you in me. For "in that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you" (John 14:20). Instead therefore of asking Christ questions, which discover how full of self they are, they shall henceforth offer petitions to the Father, and whatsoever they shall ask, as children yielding up their will to His, He will give it them in the name or nature of His Son. For through the sorrow they will be brought out of the self-willed life, to live in Christ, and Christ in them. And then their asking will be His asking, not the will of the flesh, but the will of God, and so "whatsoever they ask they shall receive." Living as we so much do in the fallen life, which is ever wanting this or that, and which, whatever it may receive, is never satisfied, because self-will can never rest, and which, even when we begin to desire good things, needs often to be crossed, that from the independent and divided will we may be brought to the one will wherein is perfect rest, we can hardly imagine what it is to reach the joy here promised, when "whatsoever we shall ask" we shall receive, and every desire be perfectly satisfied in the name or nature of the Son of God.

And what a lesson it is for disciples, that even here our Lord can say, "Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name." Asking in His name is asking in His nature (see the Tenth "Verily, Verily"); and of those who had followed Him thus far our Lord declares, that, whatever their petitions had been,—and some of them had asked much of Him, even that He would "show them the Father" (John 14:8), and "grant them to be near Him in His coming kingdom" (Mark 10:35),—hitherto their asking, even for good things, had been in their own nature, not in His; for self ends rather than in the unselfish love, which is the very life and nature of the Lord.

I suppose it must be so, for we are by nature fallen out from God, and our first prayers, if they are true, will be a cry to be delivered from the present evil in us, rather than for the better things which are our true portion. It seems to me that the words, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost" (2 Cor. 13:14), shadow forth this growing experience of a converted soul. For first we feel that we need grace, and that without it we are lost. Till we come to Christ, God is practically a stranger to us. As poor lost creatures we come to Christ, that is to God in human form, as He is revealed in His Scriptures, in His Church, and in His Sacraments, which are extensions of His incarnation. We do what the poor creatures in the Gospel did—the lepers, the palsied, and the blind. We seek or are brought to Him; and the "grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" meets all our present need. But how much there is beyond this first reception of His grace. Jesus is the way to God. He makes known to us the Father, and His love; that if He smites, it is to bless; that our very sorrows are to bring us nearer to Him. So we learn the "love of God." And then comes the "fellowship of the Holy Ghost," when we are made partakers of His fulness, and channels by which His gifts and virtues may flow forth to all the world. Thenceforth we ask the Father in the name and nature of the Son. We are one with Him, and He with us. Words fail to utter this joy, in receiving from the Father, in one will and heart with Christ, all that He gives to His beloved Son.

(iii) For, lastly, the joy is "fulness of joy": "joy completed and continually full." "Ask and receive that your joy may be made full" (John 16:24; we have the same words in John 17:13, and 1 John 1:4). It was joy indeed to see Him again. But the "fulness of joy" is more. It is the joy of ever knowing His abiding union with us, closer than the bond which links the husband to the wife, even to have Him in us, filling us with His fulness, as He is filled with God. For joy is an import and exchange. It calls for two to make it full, when the two indeed are made one. So our joy is in continually receiving Him. He says, "Ask and receive." Receive, and receive again, and receive yet more and more. It is the old truth, "Take, eat; this is my body" (1 Cor. 11:24); receive of my fulness; yea, receive me; for "if any man open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Some of us have learnt that to receive all is harder than to give all; though we must also give all to receive all; for we must be emptied to receive His fulness. When we are so emptied, we can receive Him through whom our joy is full. He Himself is the joy. He gives Himself to us. Henceforth we are no more twain, but one (Mark 10:8; 1 Cor. 6:17).

This then is the crowning joy of the elect, which swallows up all sorrow, and dwarfs all other joys. Surely the elect have other joys. There are joys which spring from the many gifts which the Lord puts into our hands, to use as talents for Him. There are joys too which flow, not only from our service, but even from the sacrifices which we willingly make, whether for God or man, for ends within our view. But the deepest joy is in that union which comes through yielding ourselves wholly to Him, when, after we have been stripped and humbled, without any apparent profit either to ourselves or others, through our self-despair and humiliation we are brought to know the Lord, and to be one with Him, as we never were before. This is the foretaste of the marriage-supper of the Lamb, where He and His shall be no more twain, but one for ever. Therefore let us trust Him through the darkness. It is but "a little while," and then "in His presence is fulness of joy; at His right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Psalm 16:11).

Few, however, reach the fulness of this joy on earth, for few will accept the sorrow which is the appointed passage to it. We rather strive to free ourselves from the appointed grief, seeking to dispel it by a carnal application to ourselves of that which only belongs to those who through faith and patience have gone through the needed trial. But the sorrow must be known, if we are to know the joy. Only "if we suffer with Christ shall we reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2:12). The elect are those who mourn and suffer with Him. Blessed are such mourners, for they shall indeed be comforted. And the joy of the elect, and their trumpets of praise, which they shall blow in the day of their gladness, over their burnt-offerings and the sacrifice of their peace-offerings (Numb. 10:10), will be but preludes of the heavenly music of the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, calling upon all creatures to rejoice, because the darkness is past, and the kingdom of God is come.

For the joy of the elect is for others, as well as for themselves. They are but "a kind of first-fruits of God's creatures" (James 1:18). And "if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy" (Rom. 11:16). In "Christ, the first-fruits" (1 Cor. 15:23), man has already come out of the sorrow into the joy. By Christ all men shall come in due season; first the "sealed" elect, the firstborn, who are "first-fruits to God and to the Lamb" (Rev. 7:4; 14:1-4); then the "great multitude of all nations, which no man can number, with palms in their hands" (Rev. 7:9), witnessing that the last great "feast of the Lord," the feast of Tabernacles, is come, (for every stage of man's salvation is indeed a feast to Him,) (Note: The seven great feasts or holy seasons of the Jewish dispensation are all called "feasts of the Lord": "These are the feasts of the Lord." (Lev. 23:2, 4.) On this a saint has said, "Habet ergo Deus dies festos suos? Habet. Est enim ei magna festivitas humana salus." Origen, in Numeros, Hom. xxiii. § 2.) when, not only the Paschal and Pentecostal first-fruits, but all the harvest, shall be gathered in, and the "branches of palm and of goodly trees," and the "booths" or "bowers," shall show that paradise lost is now regained; (Note: The first fruits were gathered at Passover and Pentecost. (Lev. 23:10, 17.) May I refer those who have not studied this subject to my little volume on The Restitution of All Things, pp. 34-50?) and regained, by the last as by the first, by grace alone; through the same one narrow gate of death, either with Christ, or as inflicted through His judgment. For this "great multitude" also, who are not the "sealed," "came out of great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." They too out of, and through, the sorrow have reached the joy. For there is no other way. "Therefore they also are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more; neither shall they thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Rev. 7:15-17).

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