Page images
PDF
EPUB

enough. To trust Christ is to “come” to Christ. So “coming,” Christ will supply all his need. So believing, he is at once forgiven, justified, and received into the number of God's children. (See John vi. 35, 37.)

The expression “ drink,” is of course figurative, answering to the word “thirst.” It means, “Let him freely take from me everything that his soul wants,-mercy, grace, pardon, peace, strength. I am the fountain of life. Let him use me as such, and I shall be well pleased.”

We do not read of any prophet or Apostle in the Bible who ever used such language as this, and said to men, “Come unto me and drink.” None surely could use it but one who knew that He was

very God. 38.—[He that believeth on me, etc.) This verse is undoubtedly full of

difficulties, and has received very various interpretations. Not the least difficulty is about the connection in which the several expressions of the verse ought to be taken.

(1) Some, as Stier, would connect “He that believeth on me” with the verb “drink" in the preceding verse. It would then run thus,—“If any man thirst let him come unto me, and let him drink that believeth on me.”—I cannot think this is a right view. For one thing, it would be a violent strain of all grammatical usage of the Greek language, to interpret the words thus. For another thing, it would introduce doctrinal confusion. Our Lord's invitation was not made to him “that believeth," but to him that is “athirst.”

(2) Some, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, Pellican, Heinsius, Gual. ter, De Dieu, Lightfoot, Trapp, and Henry, would connect “He that believeth on me” with the following words,—“As the Scripture hath said." It would then mean, “He that believeth on me after the manner that the Scripture bids him believe.” I cannot think that this interpretation is correct. The expression, “Believeth as the Scripture hath said,” is a very strange and vague one, and unlike anything else in the Bible.

(3) Most commentators think that the words, “As the Scripture hath said,” must be taken in connection with those that follow, “out of his belly,” etc. They think that our Lord did not mean to quote precisely any one text of Scripture, but only to give in His own words the general sense of several well-known texts. This, in spite of difficulties, I believe is the only satisfactory view.

One difficulty, of a grammatical kind, arises from the expression,

“He that believeth on me," having no verb with which it is connected in the verse. This cannot be got over. It must be taken as a nominative absolute, and the sentence must be regarded as an elliptical sentence, which we must fill up.

Another difficulty arises from the fact, that there is no text in the Old Testament Scriptures which at all answers to the quotation apparently given here. This difficulty is undeniable, but not insuperable. As I have already said, our Lord did not intend to give an exact quotation, but only the general substance of several Old Testament promises. Wordsworth thinks Matt. i. 23 a similar case. Jerome also maintains that frequently the inspired writers contented themselves with giving the sense and not the precise words of a quotation. (See also Ephes. v. 14.)

Another difficulty arises as to the application of the words, “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Some, as Rupertus, Bengel, and Stier, would apply this to our Lord Himself, and say that it means, “Out of Christ's belly shall flow rivers of living water.” But it is a grave objection to this view that it totally disconnects the beginning of the verse from the end,-makes the expression “He that believeth on me" even more elliptical than it needs be,--and throws the latter part of the verse into the form of a precise quotation of Scripture.

I venture to think that the true interpretation of the verse is as follows :—“He that believeth on me, or comes to me by faith as his Saviour, is the man out of whose belly shall flow rivers of living water, as the Scripture hath said it should be." It is a strong argument in favour of this view that our Lord said to the Samaritan woman, that the water He could give, would be in him that drank it “a well of water springing up in to everlasting life.” (John iv. 14.) The full meaning of the promise is that every believer in Christ shall receive abundant satisfaction of his own spiritual wants ; and not only that, but shall also become a source of blessing to others. From him instrumentally, by his word, work, and example, waters of life shall flow forth to the everlasting benefit of his fellow-men. He shall have enough for himself, and shall be a blessing to others. The imagery of the figure used is still kept up, and “his belly" must stand for “his inner man." His heart being filled with Christ's gifts, shall overflow to others, and having received much shall give and impart much.

The passages to which our Lord referred, and the substance of which He gives, are probably Isai. xii. 3; xxxv. 6, 7; xli, 18; xliv. 3 ; lv. 1 ; lviï. 11; Zech. xiv. 8, 16. Of these passages our Lord gives the general sense, but not the precise words. This is

the view of Calvin, Beza, Grotius, Cocceius, Diodati, Lampe, and Scott. It is a curious, confirmatory fact, that the Arabic and Syriac versions of the text both have the expression “ Scripture” in the plural, “As the Scriptures have said."

It is a curious fact which Bengel mentions, that the 14th chapter of Zechariah was read in public in the temple, on the first day of the feast of tabernacles. If this is correct we can hardly doubt that our Lord must have had this in mind when He used the ex. pression, “As the Scripture hath said." It is as though He said, As you have heard, for instance, during this very feast, from the book of your prophet Zechariah.”

That almost every believer, whose life is spared after he believes, becomes a fountain of blessing and good to others, is a simple matter of fact, which needs no illustration. A truly converted man always desires the conversion of others, and labours to promote it. Even the thief on the cross, short as his life was after he repented, cared for his brother thief; and from the words he spoke have flowed “rivers of living water” over this sinful world for more than eighteen hundred years. He alone has been a fountain of blessing.

Bloomfield quotes a Rabbinical sentence,-“When a man turns to the Lord, he is like a fountain filled with living water, and rivers flow from him to men of all nations and tribes.”

The favourite notion of some, that our Lord in this place only referred to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, to be given on the day of Pentecost, is an idea that does not commend itself to me at all. The thing before us is a thing promised to every believer. — But the miraculous gifts were certainly not bestowed on every believer. Thousands were evidently converted through the Apostles' preaching who did not receive these gifts. Yet all received the Holy Ghost.

Luther paraphrases this verse thus :-“He that cometh to me shall be so furnished with the Holy Ghost, that he shall not only be quickened and refreshed himself and delivered from thirst, but he shall also be a strong stone vessel, from which the Holy Ghost in all His gifts shall flow to others, refreshing, comforting, and strengthening them, even as he was refreshed by me. So St. Peter on the day of Pentecost, by one sermon, as by a rush of water, delivered three thousand men from the devil's kingdom, washing them in an hour from sin, death, and Satan." Hengsten. berg, after quoting this, adds, “That was only the first exhibition of a glorious peculiarity which distinguishes the Church of the

New Testament from the Church of the Old. She has a living impulse which will diffuse the life within her, even to the ends of

the earth.” 39.-[But this spake. .of the Spirit.] This verse is one of those ex

planatory comments which are so common in St. John's Gospel. The opening words would be more literally rendered, “He spake this concerning the Spirit.”

Let it be noted that here, at any rate, there can be no doubt that "water" does not mean “baptism,” but the Holy Spirit. —St. John himself says so in unmistakeable language.

[Which they... believe ... should receive.] This means, “Which believers in Him were about to receive.” There is an inseparable connection between faith in Christ and receiving the Holy Ghost. If any man has faith he has the Spirit. If any man has not the Spirit he has no saving faith in Christ. The effectual work of the second and third Persons in the Trinity is never divided.

Rupertus think that our Lord had specially in view that mighty out-pouring of the Spirit on the Gentile world, which was to take place after His own ascension into heaven, and the going forth of the Apostles into the world to preach the Gospel.

[For the Holy Ghost...not yet given, etc.] This sentence means that the Holy Ghost was not yet poured on believers in all His fulness, because our Lord had not yet finished His work by dying, rising again, and ascending into heaven for us. It was not till He was “glorified” by going up into heaven and taking His seat at the right hand of God, that the Holy Ghost was sent down in full influence on the Church. Then was fulfilled Psalm lxviii. 18,“ Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive : thou hast received gifts for man : yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.”_Before our Lord died and rose again and ascended, the Holy Ghost was, and had been from all eternity, one with the Father and the Son, a distinct Person, of equal power and authority, very and eternal God. But He had not revealed Himself so fully to those whose hearts He dwelt in as He did after the ascension ; and He had not come down in person on the Gentile world, or sent forth the Gos. pel to all mankind with rivers of blessing, as He did when Paul and Barnabas were “sent forth by the Holy Ghost.” (Acts xiii. 4.) In a word, the dispensation of the Spirit had not yet begun.

The expression “the Holy Ghost was not yet given," would be more literally rendered, “the Holy Ghost was not.” This cannot of course mean that the Holy Ghost did not exist, and was in no sense present with believers in the Old Testament dispensation. On the contrary, the Spirit strove with the men of Noah's day,

-David spake by the Holy Ghost,—Isaiah spake of the Holy Spirit, -and John the Baptist, now dead, was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb. (Gen. vi. 3 ; Mark xii. 36 ; Isa. lxiii. 10, 11; Luke i. 15.)

What the expression does mean is this. The Holy Ghost was not yet with men in such fulness of influence on their minds, hearts, and understandings, as the Spirit of adoption and revelation, as He was after our Lord ascended up into heaven. It is clear as daylight, from our Lord's language about the Spirit, in John xiv. 16, 17, 26; xv. 26 ; xvi. 7-15, that believers were meant to receive a far more full and complete outpouring of the Holy Spirit after His ascension than they had received before. It is a simple matter of fact, indeed, that after the ascension the Apostles were quite different men from what they had been before. They both saw, and spoke, and acted like men grown up, while before the ascension they had been like children. It was this increased light and knowledge and decision that made them such a blessing to the world, far more than any miraculous gifts. The possession of the gifts of the Spirit, it is evident, in the early Church was quite compatible with an ungodly heart. A man might speak with tongues and yet be like salt that had lost its savour. The possession of the fulness of the graces of the Spirit, on the contrary, was that which made any man a blessing to the world.

Alford says, “St. John does not say that the words were a prophecy of what happened on the day of Pentecost; but of the Spirit which the believers were about to receive. Their first reception of Him must not be illogically put in the place of all His indwelling and working, which are here intended."

I am quite aware that most commentators hold, that the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost was specially meant by St. John in this passage. But after carefully considering the matter, I cannot subscribe to this opinion. To confine this verse to the day of Pentecost appears to me to cramp and narrow its meaning, -to deprive many believers of their interest in a most precious promise,—and to overlook all the special language about the inward teaching of the Comforter as a thing to come on believers, which our Lord used the night before His crucifixion.

Bengel remarks that the use of “to be” instead of “ to be present” is not uncommon in the Bible. Thus (2 Chron. xv. 3.) When therefore we read "the Holy Ghost was not,” we need not

« PreviousContinue »