Doubtless it is always useful, yea, necessary, for the children of God to know the right way of making use of Christ, who is made all things to them which they need, even "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption," 1 Cor. i. 30. But it is never more necessary for believers to be clear and distinct in this matter, than when Satan, by all means, is seeking to pervert the right ways of the Lord, and, one way or other, to lead souls away, and draw them off Christ; knowing that, if he prevail here, he hath gained his point. And therefore he endeavoureth not only to darken it by error, either more gross or more subtle, but also to darken it by mistakes and prejudices: whence it cometh to pass, that not only strangers are made to wander out of the way, but oftentimes many of his own people are walking in darkness of ignorance and mistakes, and remain lean through want of the real exercise of the life of faith, which would make them fat and flourishing; because it would make them "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, and to grow up in Christ in all things."
The clearing up then of this truth cannot but be most seasonable now, when Satan is prevailing with many, whom he cannot get tempted to looseness and profanity, to sit down upon something which is not Christ, and to rest upon something with themselves, distinct from him, both in the matter of justification and sanctification. This subtle adversary is now setting some a-work, to cry up, by preaching, speaking, and printing, a way to heaven which is not Christ; a kind of morality, civility, and outward holiness, whereupon the soul is to rest. And this holiness, not wrought and effectuated through the strength of Jesus, by faith sucking life and furniture from him; but through our own art and skill, which in effect is nothing but an extract of refined Popery, Socinianism, and Arminianism, devised and broached of purpose to draw the soul off Christ, that he may stand upon his own legs, and walk by his own power, and thank himself, at least in part, for the crown at length.
Further, through the great goodness of God, the true way of a soul's justification is admirably cleared up; and many are, at least theoretically, acquainted therewith; and many also practically, to the quieting of their wakened consciences, and stopping the mouth of their accusers, and obtaining of peace, joy, and the lively hope of the everlasting crown; yet many gracious souls profess their unacquaintedness with the solid and thriving way of use-making of Christ for growth in grace and true sanctification. Therefore some discovery of the truth here cannot but be useful, seasonable, yea, and acceptable unto them. If he, who is the Truth, would give grace to understand, and to unfold this so necessary and always advantageous a truth, and would help to write of and explain this truth by faith in him who is here said to be the Truth, then should we have cause to bless and magnify his name. But if he, because of sin, shall hide himself, and not let out these beams of light, whereby we might discover light, we shall but darken counsel with words without our knowledge, and leave the matter as unclear as ever. Therefore is it necessary, there be both in him that writeth, and in such as read, a single dependence on him, who "is for a leader," Isa. lv. 5, and hath promised to "bring the blind by a way which they know not, and to lead them in paths they had not known, and to make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight," Isa. xlii. 16, that thus by acting faith on him we may find, in so far, the truth of this verified, viz. that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Now, for clearing up of this matter, we would know, that our Lord Jesus, from the beginning of this chapter, is laying down some grounds of consolation, sufficient to comfort his disciples against the sad news of his departure and death; and to encourage them against the fears they had of much evil to befall them when their Lord and Master should be taken from them; which is a sufficient proof of the tender heart of Jesus, who alloweth all his followers strong consolation against all fears, hazards, troubles, and perplexities which they can meet with in their way. He will not leave them comfortless, and therefore he layeth down strong grounds of consolation to support their drooping and fainting hearts; as loving to see his followers always rejoicing in the Lord, and singing in the ways of Zion: that the world may see and be convinced of a reality in Christianity, and of the preferableness of that life, notwithstanding of all the troubles that attend it, unto any other, how sweet and desirable soever it may appear to flesh and blood.
In prosecution of which design, he told them, verse 4, that they "knew whether he went," and the way also which he was to take, and by which he was to bring them to the Father, to the mansion spoken of, and so to life eternal. But Thomas rashly and incredulously (as too usually he did, chap. xi. 16; xx. 25,) venteth himself, and little less than contradicteth his Master, saying, verse 5, "We know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way?" wherein we have an emblem of many a believer, who may have more grace and knowledge of God and of Christ than they will be able to see, or acknowledge that they have; what through temptations, inward distempers, sense of their many defects, and great ignorance, strong desires of high measures, clearer discoveries of the vastness of the object, mistakes about the true nature of grace, despising the day of small things, and indistinctness as to the actings of grace, or want of understanding and right uptaking of grace in its various outgoings and actings under various notions, and the like.
Whereupon Christ, after his usual manner, taketh occasion to clear up that ground of consolation further unto them; and to let them see the true way of coming to the Father, that thereby they might be helped to see that they were not such strangers unto the way as they supposed; and withal, he amplifieth and layeth out the properties and excellencies of this way, as being the only true and living way; and that in such a manner, as they might both see the way to be perfect, full, safe, saving, and satisfying; and also learn their duty of improving this way always, and in all things, until they come home at length to the Father, saying, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me."
Christ then saying, that he not only is the way to the Father, even the true way, but that he is so the true way, as that he is also truth itself in the abstract, and so the living way, that he is life itself in the abstract, giveth us ground to consider, after what manner it is that he is the Truth and the Life, as well as the Way; and that for clearing up and discovering of his being an absolutely perfect, transcendently excellent, incomparably preferable and fully satisfying way, useful to believers in all cases, all exigents, all distresses, all difficulties, all trials, all temptations, all doubts, all perplexities, and in all causes or occasions of distempers, fears, faintings, discouragements, &c. which they may meet with in their way to heaven. And this will lead us to clear up the duty of believers, on the other hand, and to show how they should, in all their various cases and difficulties, make use of Christ as the only all-sufficient way to the Father, and as truth and life in the way, and so we will be led to speak of Christ's being to his people all that is requisite for them here in the way, whether for justification or sanctification; and how people are to make use of him as being all, or, as being made of "God to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption," 1 Cor. i. 30.
Ere we come to the words in particular, we would look upon them as having relation to Thomas his words in the preceding verse, wherein he did little less than contradict what Christ had said in the 4th verse, and learn several very comfortable points of doctrine, as,
I. That Jesus Christ is very tender of his followers, and will not cast them off, nor upbraid them for every escape whereby they may provoke him to anger and grieve his Spirit; but gently passeth by many of their failings, when he findeth they are not obstinate in their mistake, nor perverse in their way. For how gently and meekly doth he here pass over Thomas his unhandsome expression, finding that Thomas spake here, not out of obstinacy and pertinaciousness, but out of ignorance and a mistake. And the reason is, because, 1. Christ knoweth our infirmity and weakness, and is of a tender heart, and therefore will not "break the bruised reed," Isa. xlii. Well knoweth he that rough and untender handling would crush us, and break us all in pieces. And, 2. He is full of bowels of mercy, and can "have compassion on them that are out of the way, and can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities," Heb. iv. 15. v. 2.
Which truth, as upon the one hand, it should encourage all to choose him for their leader, and give up themselves unto him, who is so tender of his followers; so, upon the other hand, it should rebuke such as are ready to entertain evil and hard thoughts of him, as if he were an hard master, and ill to be followed, and put all from entertaining the least thought of his untenderness and want of compassion. But, moreover,
II. We see, that weaknesses and corruptions breaking out in believers, when they are honestly and ingenuously laid open before the Lord, will not fear him away, but rather engage him the more to help and succour. Much of Thomas his weakness and corruption appeared in what he said; yet the same being honestly and ingenuously laid open to Christ, not out of a spirit of contradiction, but out of a desire to learn, Christ is so far from thrusting him away, that he rather condescendeth the more, out of love and tenderness, to instruct him better, and clear the way more fully. And that, because, 1. He knoweth our mould and fashion, how feckless and frail we are, and that if he should deal with us according to our folly, we should quickly be destroyed. 2. He is not as a man, hasty, rash, proud; but gentle, loving, tender, and full of compassion. 3. It is his office and proper work to be an instructor to the ignorant, and a helper of our infirmities and weaknesses, a physician to bind up and cure our sores and wounds.
Who would not then willingly give up themselves to such a teacher that will not thrust them to the door, nor give them up to themselves always, when their corruptions would provoke him thereunto? And what a madness is this in many, to stand a-back from Christ, because of their infirmities; and to scar at him, because of their weakness, when the more corruption we find the more we should run to him? and it is soon enough to depart from Christ when he thrusts us away, and saith, he will have no more to do with us; yea, he will allow us to stay after we are thrice thrust away. Only, let us take heed that we approve not ourselves in our evils, that we hide them not as unwilling to part with them, that we obstinately maintain them not, nor ourselves in them; but that we lie open before him, and deal with him, with honesty, ingenuousness, and plainness.
III. We see, further, That ignorance ingenuously acknowledged and laid open before Christ, puts the soul in a fair way to get more instruction. Thomas having candidly, according as he thought, in the simplicity of his heart, professed his ignorance, is in a fair way now to get instruction. For this is Christ's work, to instruct the ignorant, to open the eyes of the blind.
Why then are we so foolish as to conceal our ignorance from him, and to hide our case and condition from him; and why doth not this commend Christ's school to us so much the more? why do we not carry as ingenious scholars, really desirous to learn? But,
IV. We may learn, That our ill condition and distempers put into Christ's hand will have remarkable out-gates, and an advantageous issue; seeing Christ taketh occasion here from Thomas his laying open his condition, not without some mixture of corruption, to clear up the truth more fully and plainly than it was before; for hereby, 1. Christ giveth an open declaration of the glory of his power, mercy, goodness, wisdom, &c. 2. He hath occasion to give a proof of his divine art and glorious skill of healing diseased souls, and of making broken bones stronger than ever they were. 3. Thus he effectually accomplished his noble designs, and perfecteth his work, in a way tending to abase man, by discovering his infirmities and failings; and to glorify himself in his goodness and love. 4. Thus he triumpheth more over Satan, and in a more remarkable and glorious manner destroyeth his works. 5. Thus he declareth how wonderfully he can make all things work together for good to his chosen ones that love him and follow him. 6. Yea, thus he engageth souls to wonder more at his divine wisdom and power; to despair less in time coming, when cases would seem hard; to acknowledge his great and wonderful grace, and his infinite power and wisdom, that can bring life out of death; and also to be more sensible of the mercy, and thankful for it.
O believer, what manner of joy is here! how happy art thou that hath given up thyself to him! Thy worst condition can turn to thy advantage. He can make thy ignorance, vented with a mixture of corruption, turn to the increase of thy knowledge. Bless him for this; and, with joy and satisfaction, abide thou under his tutory and at his school. And withal, be not discouraged, be thy case of ignorance and corruption what it will, lay it before him with sincerity and singleness of heart, and then "thou mayest glory in thine infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on thee," 2 Cor. xii. 9; for thou shalt see, in due time, what advantage infinite love and wisdom can bring to thy soul thereby.
May not this be a strong motive to induce strangers to give up themselves to him, who will sweetly take occasion, at their failings and shortcomings, to help them forward in the way? And what excuse can they have who sit the call of the gospel, and say, in effect, they will not go to Christ because their case is not good. And O that believers were not sometimes led away with this error of scaring at Christ, because of infirmities seen and discovered!
V. It is remarkable, that, as the disciples did ofttimes vent much of their carnal conceptions of the kingdom of Christ, as apprehending it to be some carnal, outward, pompous, stately, and, upon that account, desirable condition; so there might be much of this carnal apprehension lurking under this acknowledgment and question of Thomas; and the Lord, who knew their thoughts, doth here wisely draw them off those notions, and sets them about another study, to tell us, that it is best and most useful and profitable for us, to be much taken up in the study and search of necessary fundamental truths, and, particularly, of the way to the Father. For, 1. Here is the substantial food of the soul; other notions are but vain, and oftentimes they make the case of the soul worse; but the study of this is always edifying. 2. The right understanding of this and other fundamental truths will not puff up, but keep the soul humble, and will make the soul active and diligent in duty. 3. The fruit of this study is profitable and lasting. 4. And the right uptaking of these truths will discover the vanity of other sciences, falsely so called, and the folly of spending our time about other things. 5. The right understanding of this fundamental will help us to understand other truths the better. 6. A mistake in this, and such like fundamentals, or the ignorance of them, is more dangerous than the ignorance of or mistake in other things.
Oh! if this were teaching us all, in humility, to be much in the study of such fundamental necessary truths as this is; and to guard against a piece of vanity in affecting knowledge, the effect of which is nothing but a puffing of us up with pride and conceit!
VI. We may here take notice of what may serve to discover Thomas his mistake, and what is the ground of Christ's assertion, verse 4, which Thomas doth little less than contradict, verse 5, viz. that such as had any acquaintance with Christ did, according to the measure of their knowledge of him, both know heaven and the way to it; whence we see these truths,
1. Persons may have some real acquaintance with Christ, and yet be, for a time, very indistinct in their notions about him, and apprehensions of him. They may know Christ in some measure, and yet look upon themselves as great strangers to the knowledge of heaven, and be oft complaining of their ignorance of the right way to heaven.
2. Where there is the least measure of true acquaintance with Christ, with love to him, and a desire to know more of him, Christ will take notice thereof, though it be covered over with a heap of mistakes, and accompanied with much ignorance, weakness, and indistinctness. He seeth not as man seeth, which is good news to some that are weak in knowledge, and unable to give any good account of any knowledge they have; yet one thing they can say, that he who knoweth all things, knoweth that they love him.
3. Various are the dispensations of God's grace unto his own. To some he giveth a greater, to others a lesser measure of knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; and to one and the same person, more at one time than at another. Various are his manifestations and out-lettings of grace and love. Small beginnings may come to much at length. Thomas, and the rest of the disciples, had but little clear and distinct apprehensions of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ; and yet, ere all was done, they attained to such a measure of understanding in the mysteries of God, as that we are said to be "built upon the foundation of the apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone," Eph. ii. 20. This should teach the best much sobriety, and not to judge of all by themselves; or to think, that God's way with them must be a standard or a rule whereby to judge of all the rest; as if his way of dealing were one and the same with all.
4. The knowledge of Christ is all. Know him, and we know heaven and the way to it; for upon this ground doth Christ make good what he said, touching their knowing whither he went, and the way; and answereth the objection that Thomas did propose, viz. because he was the way, &c., and they being acquaint with him, (which here is presupposed,) were not ignorant of the place whither he was going, nor of the way leading thither. The knowledge then of Jesus Christ is a true and full compend of all saving knowledge. Hence it "is life eternal to know him," John xvii. 3. "They that know him, know the Father," John xiv. 9. and viii. 19. "They that see him, see the Father also," John xiv. 9. "He is in the Father, and the Father in him," John xiv. 10, 11. and x. 38. and xvii. 21. And so knowing him they know heaven; for what is heaven else but the presence and glorious manifestations of the Father; for when Christ speaks of his going to heaven, he saith, "He was going to the Father." So knowing him, they know the way, both how Christ was to go to heaven as our cautioner, head, and attorney, and how we must follow.
Let then a man have never so much knowledge, and be acquainted with the mysteries of all arts and sciences, and with the depths of nature, and intrigues of states, and all the theory of religion; if he be unacquainted with Jesus, he knoweth nothing as he ought to know.
And upon the other hand, let a poor soul that is honest, and hath some knowledge of, and acquaintance with him, be satisfied, though it cannot discourse nor dispute, nor speak to cases of conscience, as some others; if we know him, it matters not though we be ignorant of many things, and thereby become less esteemed of by others. Here is the true test, by which we may take a right estimate of our own, or of others' knowledge. The true rule to try knowledge by, is not fine notions, clear and distinct expressions, but heart-acquaintance with him; "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," Col. ii. 3.
O sad! that we are not more taken up in this study, which would be a compendious way for us to know all? Why spend we our money for that which is not bread, and our labour for that which will not profit us? Why waste we our time and spirits in learning this science, and that art; when, alas! after we, with much labour and toil, have attained to the yondmost pitch there, we are never one whit the nearer heaven and happiness? yea, it were well, if we were not further off! Oh! if we were wise at length, and could think more of this one thing necessary; and could be stirred up to learn more of him, and to make this the subject of all our study and labour.