HAVING followed our Lord through chapters 1 - 4 of this Gospel, I desire now, in God's grace, to track His further way; and may He, through the Spirit, make this work the occasion of holy and thankful delight!
In chapters 5 - 12 we see our Lord in intercourse with the Jews. But to exhibit His public life and ministry is not the purpose of the Spirit in this Gospel. He is not seen here, as in the other Gospels, going about the cities and villages of Israel preaching the kingdom, if haply they would repent; but the departure from God of that world through which He was passing seems to be ever on His mind; and only at times is He seen coming forth to act in power or in grace on all around Him, as the Son of God, the Stranger from heaven, the Saviour of sinners.
And so towards His disciples. They are not the companions of His ministry in this Gospel, as they are in the others. He does not appoint the twelve, and then the seventy - but ministry is left in His own hand. The apostles are seen but little with Him till John 13, when His public ministry has closed. And when they are with Him, it is with some reserve. See John 4: 32; John 6: 5; John 11: 9.
But, on the other hand, in no Gospel is He seen so near the sinner. He is alone with the Samaritan, alone with the adulteress, alone with the outcast beggar. And this gives its highest interest to this precious portion of the Word of God. The joy and security of being alone with the Son of God, as is here exhibited, is beyond every thing to the soul. The sinner thus learns his title to the Saviour, and discovers the blessed truth, that they are suited to one another. The moment we learn that we are sinners, we may look in the face of the Son of God, and claim Him as our own. And what a moment in the very days of heaven that is! He came to seek and to save sinners; and He walked as a solitary man on the earth, save when He met a poor sinner. Such alone had title, or even power, to interrupt the solitude of this heavenly Stranger. The world knew Him not. His paths were lonely among us, save when He and the sinner found their way to each other. The leper outside the camp met Him, but none else.
And let me say, this being alone with Jesus is the sinner's first position. It is the beginning of his joy; and no one has a right to meddle with it. That which has called itself the Church, in every age of Christendom, has sought to break in upon the privacy of the Saviour and the sinner, and to make itself a party in the settlement of the question that there is between them But in this it has been an intruder. Sin casts us upon God alone.
And indeed, beloved, in the variety of judgment nowadays, it is needful to our peace to know this. Others may require of us to join them in particular lines of service, or in particular forms and order of worship; and may count us disobedient if we do not. But however we may listen to them in those things, we dare not give up, in fear of them, God's prerogative to deal with us as sinners Himself alone. We must not surrender to any the right of God to talk with us alone about our sins. Nor should our anxiety on a thousand questions which may arise, righteous as that anxiety may be, be allowed to lead us for a moment to forget that, as sinners, we have been already alone with Jesus; and that He has, once and for ever, in the riches of His grace, pardoned and accepted us.
This solitude of Christ and the sinner our Gospel most comfortingly presents to us. But as to all others Jesus is here only at a distance, and with reserve. And so as to places as well as persons. The Son of God had nothing to do specially with any place; the wide wilderness of the world, where sinners were to be found, was the only scene for Him.
But I will continue now to follow the chapters in order.
John 5.--I have already shown, from various instances, that there was, through all the stages of the history of Israel, the occasional putting forth of a special energy of the Spirit, by which, and not by the resources of their own system, the Lord was sustaining Israel, and teaching them to know where their final hope lay. From the call of Abraham to the throne of David we saw this.
Now I judge that Bethesda was a witness of the same thing. Bethesda was not that which the system itself provided. It was opened in Jerusalem, as a fountain of healing, by the sovereign grace of Jehovah (as, indeed, its name imports). Neither was it an abiding, but only an occasional, relief, as the judges and prophets had been. Like them it was a testimony to the grace and power which were in God Himself for Israel, and it had, perhaps, yielded this its testimony at certain seasons all through the dark age which had passed since the days of the last of their prophets. But it must now be set aside. Its waters are to be no more troubled. He to Whom all these witnesses of grace pointed had appeared. As the true fountain of health, the Son of God had now come to the daughter of Zion, and was showing Himself to her.
It was a feast time, we are told. v. 1. All was going on at Jerusalem as though all were right before God. The feasts were duly observed; the time was one of exact religious services. But Bethesda alone might have told the daughter of Zion that she needed a physician, and was not in that rest which faithfulness to Jehovah would have preserved to her. And the Lord would now tell her the same truth. He heals the impotent man, thus taking the place of Bethesda; but He does so in a way that tells Israel of their loss of the Sabbath--the loss of their own proper glory. "The same day was the Sabbath."
The nation is at once sensitive of this. It touched the place of their pride; for the Sabbath was the sign of all their national distinction; and they resent it--they "sought to slay Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath-day."
But I must tarry a little longer here.
Jesus beside the Pool of Bethesda, as we see Him in this chapter, is a sight which, in the spirit of Moses at the bush, we may well turn aside to see. If, of old, He had been reflected in that water, now He stands there to dry it up. He stands there as a new thing, in strong contrast with the pool. "Wilt thou be made whole?" was the word He addressed to the poor cripple that was lying there. Was he ready to put himself, just as he was, into His hand? Was he willing to be His debtor? Could he trust himself, in all his need and impotency, alone with Jesus? This was all. And surely this was in contrast with the weighty, cumbrous machinery of Bethesda. No rivalry need be feared, no help need be looked for, no delay need be endured, nor uncertainty felt. Those who might have struggled with this cripple to get down into the pool before him, or those who might, in pity, have been drawn to help him down before others, he may now alike overlook; and delay and hope may now be exchanged for a present and a full deliverance. Angels and the pool, helpers and rivals, delay and uncertainty, were now all blessedly and gloriously disposed of by Jesus in his behalf. When Jesus appeared, when the Son of God stood beside this pool, the only question was, Would the poor cripple be His debtor--stand by and see His salvation?
The poverty of the pool is exposed. It is seen to be nothing but a "beggarly element." It has no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth. And after this same manner the Spirit, by the apostle, exposes "the worldly sanctuary," and all its provisions and services, in the Epistle to the Hebrews. As I may say, Jesus is there standing again beside Bethesda. He is brought forth by the Holy Ghost in contrast with all that system of ordinances and observances which had gone before, and He exposes them all in their impotency and poverty. There had been, indeed, a reflection of Christ in those ceremonies of the old tabernacle, as there had been in this water by the sheep-market; but it disappears now, when the Light itself fills the place.
But, as we tarry a little longer at this pool, what are we to say, when we see, not only this cripple, but "a great multitude of impotent folk" lingering round that uncertain, disappointing water, though the Son of God was abroad in the land, carrying in Him and with Him healing and deliverance without doubt or delay, and in defiance of all rivalry, and independent of all help! Surely this reads us a lesson. The pool thickly frequented, Jesus passing by unheeded! The pool sought unto, while Jesus has to seek, and to propose Himself! What a witness of man's religion! Ordinances, with all their cumbrous machinery, still waited on; the grace of God that brings salvation slighted!
We might marvel, did we not know, as from ourselves, some of the workings of this ruined nature of ours.
But further still. In the other Gospels, when the Lord is challenged for doing His works on the Sabbath-day, He answers as from the case of David eating the showbread, from the priests doing work in the temple, or from the fact that they themselves, His accusers, would lead out their ass to the watering on the Sabbath-day. But here, in John's Gospel, it is not what David, or the priests, or His accusers themselves would do, or had done, that He pleads, but what the heavenly Father had ever been doing in this needy, ruined world. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work," the Lord here says to those who were challenging this act of His at Bethesda, because it was the Sabbath.
Wondrous sentence! and how fully in character with His way all through John. He does not here, as in the other Gospels on the like occasion, put Himself in company with David, with the priests, or with His neighbours, but with God! "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."
This is full of consistent character with all that we get in this Gospel. And surely it is full, also, of that which may draw forth the joyful praise of those who know Him. With the Jews, however, it was otherwise. These words again told them of their loss of the Sabbath in which they boasted; yea, that they had long lost it, lost it from the beginning; for, in every stage of their history, God had been working in grace among them, working as His Father, of which this Bethesda was the sign; and that He Himself had now come, just in the same way, to work in grace among them, of which this poor restored cripple was the sign. This was the voice of these words, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work;" referring to the act of grace all through Israel's history, which I have noticed. but on this the Jews resent Him the more; and, not being in the secret of His glory, they charge Him with blasphemy, for calling God His Father.
To this He again; answers (still, as before, speaking of Himself as Son, but taking a place of subjection also), "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of Himself."*
*Without the knowledge of the divine dignity of His person we cannot discover the place which the Lord here takes to be the place of willing subjection, as it was. For it would not have been such in any mere creature, however exalted, to have said, "I can of mine own self do nothing." But this in the Son was subjection.
But all this is most blessed. One who came into this world on behalf of God and His honour, could take no other place. It was the only place of righteousness here. "He that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and there is no unrighteousness in him." Man had, through pride, dishonoured God. Man did an affront to the majesty of God when he listened to the words, "Ye shall be as God." And the Son, who came to honour God, must humble Himself. Though in the form of God, He must empty Himself here. God's praise, in a world that had departed from Him in pride, must have this sacrifice. And this sacrifice the Son offered. But this did not suit man; this was not according to man; and man could not receive or sanction such a one. "I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive."
This is a deep and holy matter, beloved. By His humiliation and subjection the Son was at once honouring God, and testing man; giving the "only Potentate" His rights in this world, but thus becoming Himself a sign for the making manifest of the thoughts of the heart. And the Jew, the favoured Jew, was found in the common atheism of man; for to disclose this hidden spring of unbelief in Israel our Lord's discourse in this chapter was tending It was not for want of light and testimony. They had the works of Christ, the Father's voice, their own Scriptures, and the testimony of John. But withal, they had the love of the world in them, and not the love of God; and were thus unprepared for the Son of God. v. 42.
"How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" v. 44. Surely this has a voice for our ears, beloved! Does it not tell us that the heart and its hidden motions have to be watched? "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." There may be strong and dangerous currents running under the surface. Job was a godly man. There were none like him in his generation. But in his soul there was flowing a rapid current. He valued his character and his circumstances. Not that he was, in the common way, either self-righteous or worldly. He was truly a believer, and a generous friend and benefactor. But he valued his circumstances in life, and his estimation among men. In the hidden exercises of his heart, he was wont to survey his goodly condition with complacency. Job 29. That was a strong undercurrent. His neighbours had not traced the course of that stream; but his heavenly Father had; and because He loved him, and would have him partaker of His holiness, with which all this was inconsistent, He put him into His own school to exercise him.
What a gracious warning does this afford us, to keep the ebbings and flowings of the heart under watch. "What are we thinking of?" we may ask ourselves again and again through the day. Whereon are we spending our diligence? What are the secret calculations of our minds in moments of relaxation? Is it the spirit or the flesh that is providing food for us? Do our affections which stir within savour of heaven. or of hell?
These are healthful inquiries for us, and are suggested by the strong moral thought of the Lord here, "How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another?"
How could man, apostate in pride, brook the lowly, Son of man, the emptied Son of God? This was the source where their unbelief took its rise. There was no association between them and the One who stood for God's honour before men. His form of humiliation was now disallowed, as His work and grace at Bethesda had before been refused. His brethren should have understood how that God by His hand would deliver them; but they understood not; they believed not Moses, and were thus, in principle, still in Egypt, still in the flesh, still unredeemed. Had they believed Moses they would have believed Christ, and been led out by Him, as at this time, from under the hand of Pharaoh, the power of the flesh and the world. But under all that, through unbelief, this chapter finds them. and leaves them.
John 6.--A new scene opens here. It was the passover: but God's mercy, which that season celebrated, Israel had slighted. They had still to learn the lesson of Egypt and the wilderness; and in patient love, after so many provocations, the Lord would even now teach them.
Accordingly, He feeds the multitude in a desert place; thus showing the grace and power of Him who, for forty years, had fed their fathers in another desert. The disciples, like Moses, wonder through unbelief, and say, as it were, "Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them?" But His hand is not shortened. He feeds them; and this awakens zeal in the multitude, and they would fain come, and by force make Him a king. But the Lord would not take the kingdom from zeal like this. This could not be the source of the kingdom of the Son of man. The beasts may take their kingdoms from the winds striving upon the great sea, but Jesus cannot. Dan. 7. This was not His mother crowning Him in the day of His espousals. Cant. 3. This was not, in His ear, the shouting of the people bringing in the head-stone of the corner; nor the symptom of His people made willing in the day of His power. This would have been an appointment to the throne of Israel on scarcely better principles than those on which Saul had been appointed of old. His kingdom would have been the fruit of a heated desire of the people, as Saul's had been the fruit of their revolted heart. But this could not be. And beside this, ere the Lord could take His seat on Mount Zion, He must ascend the solitary mount; and ere the people could enter the kingdom, they must go down to the stormy sea. And these things we see reflected here, as in a glass. The Lord is seen on high for awhile, and they are enduring the buffets of the winds and the waves; but in due season He descends from His elevation, makes the storm a calm, and brings them to their desired haven. And so it will be by-and-by. He will come down in the power of the heaven to which He has now ascended, for the deliverance of His afflicted ones; then shall they see His wonders, as in the deep, and praise Him for His goodness, for the works that He doeth for the children of men. Ps. 107: 23-32.*
*In the corresponding places in Matthew and Mark we read that the Lord goes to the mountain to pray. But that is not noticed here. Indeed, the Lord is not shown by John in prayer (save in John 17; and that is rather intercession); and all this is still in the full character of our Gospel.
The Lord, therefore, has only to retire from all this popular awakening in His favour. How must the mind of the heavenly Stranger have felt entire dissociation from it all! He retires from it; and, on the following day, enters on other work altogether. He opens the mystery of the true Passover, and the manna of the wilderness, which they had still to learn. They had still to learn the virtue of the Cross, the true Passover which delivers from Egypt, from the bondage of the flesh, from the judgment of the law; enabling the sinner to say, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live." The wages of sin is death; and sin in the Cross had its wages. Death had its sway; and the law can return to the throne of God with its own vindication; for it has executed its commission: Christ has died, and died for us. This is the true Passover--the power of redemption; in the grace of which we leave Egypt, or the place of bondage, and come forth with the Son of God into the wilderness, there to feed on manna, there to live by every word that has proceeded out of the mouth of God.
And though thus in some sense distinct, the Lord in this discourse seems to combine the mysteries of the passover and the manna. It was in the time of the passover that He thus preached to them on the manna. For both pertained to the same Israel, the same life. The blood of the paschal lamb was upon the lintel for redemption, while the lamb was fed upon within the house. The Israelite was in living communion with that which gave him security. And this was the beginning of life to him; in the strength of which he came forth to feed on the manna in the wilderness.
But Israel, as we here find, had not as yet so come forth out of the bondage of Egypt into God's pastures in the wilderness. They prove that as yet they knew not this life; that as yet they had never really kept the passover, nor fed on the manna. They murmured at Him. Their thoughts were too full of Moses. "He gave them bread from heaven to eat," said they. But, ere they could indeed eat of the manna, they must fall into the paths of love, into thoughts of the Father, and not of Moses. For it is love that leads us to the Cross. Moses never gave that bread. The law never spread the feast. It is love that does that; and love must be apprehended, as we sit at it. And this is the reason why so few guests are there; for man has hard thoughts of God, and proud thoughts of himself. But, to keep the feast, we must have happy thoughts of God, and humble, self-renouncing thoughts of ourselves. Communion with the Father and with the Son, on the ground of salvation, communion with God in love, is life.
But Israel was not in this communion. They go back, they thrust Him from them, and in their hearts turn back again into Egypt: their carcases fall in the wilderness, and a remnant only feed on "the words of eternal life," and live--a remnant who look round on all as a barren waste yielding no bread without Him, as "a dry and thirsty land" from one end to the other, save for the Rock that follows them; and they say, "To whom shall we go?"
And whence this remnant? "According to the election of grace," as the Lord here further teaches, showing us the acts of the Father in the mystery of our life, that it is He Who gives to the Son, and draws to the Son, all who come to Him; that His teachings and drawings are the hidden channels through which this life is reaching us. "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God." This is the faith and utterance of that elect remnant, who, coming out of Egypt, live by faith on the Son of God; but only in the Son of God as crucified. For our life lies in His death, and through the faith which feeds on that death. No acceptance of Christ but as crucified avails for life. It is not His virtues, His instructions, His example, or the like, but His death (His flesh and blood), that must be fed upon. His death accomplished, singly and alone, what all together and beside never did and never could. The blessed Lord died; gave up the ghost, or surrendered the life which He had, and which none had title to take from Him. But, the moment that was done, results broke forth which all His previous life had never produced. It was then, but not till then, that the veil of the temple was rent, the rocks were riven, the graves opened. Heaven, earth, and hell felt a power they had never owned before. The life of Jesus, His charities to man, His subjection to God, the savour of His spotless human nature, the holiness of that which had been born of the Virgin, none of these, nor all of them together, nor every thing in Him and about Him, by Him or through Him, short of the surrender of life, would ever have rent the veil or broken up the graves. God would still have been at a; distance, hell been still unconquered, and he that has the power of death still undestroyed. The blood of Christ has done what all beside never did, and never could do. And over Him thus preached and set forth it is still to be said, "He that hath the Son hath life."
This leads me to pause for a little over a subject connected with our life of which this chapter speaks. Under the law all slain beasts were to be brought to the door of the tabernacle, and their blood offered upon the altar, and by no means to be eaten. Lev. 17. This was a confession that the life had reverted to God, and was not in man's power. To eat blood under the law would have been an attempt to regain life in our own strength--an attempt by man to reach that which he had forfeited. But now, under the Gospel, the ordinance is changed. Blood must be eaten--"Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." For the life that had reverted to God, God has given to make atonement. The blood of the New Testament has been shed for the remission of sins, and life, through that blood, is now given to sinners in the Son of God. "In Him was life." He came from God with the life for us. "He that hath the Son hath life." And we are commanded, as well as besought, to take life from Him. And, truly we may say, our God has thus perfected our comfort and our assurance before Him, making it to be as simple disobedience in us not to take life from Him as His gift, as it would be simple pride and arrogance of heart to assume to take it by our own works. What a pleading of love is this with our souls! We are disobedient if we are not saved! Death is God's enemy as well as and if we do not take life from the Son we join the enemy of God. "Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life," says the aggrieved Son of God. And when asked by certain persons in this very chapter, "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?" He has but to reply, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." To believe, and take life as the gift of God through His Son, is the only act of obedience that the blessed God claims from a sinner--the only thing that a sinner, till he is reconciled, can do to please Him.
This is grace wondrously and blessedly revealed. This ordinance, that forbade the eating of blood, was as the flaming sword of the cherubim in the garden. Both that sword and this ordinance told the sinner that there was no recovery of forfeited life by any effort of his own. And Adam's faith most sweetly displays itself here. He did not seek to put back that sword, as though he could regain the tree of life himself. But what did he? He took life from God, through grace, and the gift by grace. He believed the promise about the woman's Seed; and in that faith, called the woman "the mother of all living." He took life as the gift of God through Christ, and sought it not by works of the law, or in the face of the flaming sword.
All this mystery in the sinner's life was thus illustrated from the very beginning, even in the faith of Adam; and is blessedly unfolded in our Lord's discourse to the people in this chapter. That life begins in the power of redemption by the paschal lamb slain in Egypt, and by the manna of the wilderness. But our chapter shows us that Israel was still a stranger to it; that they had not learnt the lesson of Egypt and the wilderness, in the knowledge of the redemption and life that are in Christ Jesus.
John 7.--A new scene again opens here, It was the time of the feast of tabernacles; as the preceding scene had been laid in the time of the passover.
This was the most joyous season in the Jewish year. It was the great annual festival at Jerusalem; the grand commemoration of Israel's past sojourn in the wilderness, and of their present rest in Canaan; the type also of Messiah's coming glory and joy as King of Israel. His brethren urge the Lord to take advantage of this season; to leave Galilee and go up to Jerusalem, there to exhibit His power, and get Himself a name in the world. But they did not understand Him. They were of the world; He was not of the world. The Son of God was a Stranger here; but they were at home. They might go up and meet the world at the feast, but He witnessed for God against the world. He, to Whom the feast bore witness, could not go up and claim His own there, because the world was there, because the god of this world had usurped and was corrupting the scene of His glory and joy.
But how fallen was Israel when this was so! And what was their boasted festival, when the Spring of its joy and the Heir of its glory must thus stand estranged from it!
The gold had become dim. The ways to Zion were still solitary; none were really coming to the solemn feasts. In spirit the prophet was still weeping. Lam. 1: 4. The Lord goes up, it is true, but not in His glory. He does not go as His brethren would have had Him; but in obedience merely, to take the place of the humbled and not of the great one of the earth. And, when arrived at the city of solemnities, we see Him only in the same character, for He goes to the temple and teaches; but when this attracts notice, He hides Himself, saying, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me." He hides Himself, that not He, but the Father Who had sent Him, might be seen. As the One Who had emptied Himself, and taken the form of a servant, He is willing to be nothing. Those who were at the feast manifested their utter apostasy from the principle of the feast, saying, "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" In their pride they acknowledged no source of knowledge or wisdom above man. They would have the creature in honour; but the feast celebrated Jehovah, and was for the setting forth of the honours of Him Who now in righteousness had to hide His glory, and separate Himself from it all. Israel and the feast, Israel and the Son of God, were utterly dissociated. They had nothing in each other. And thus, whether we listen to the Jews, or to the men of Jerusalem, or to the Pharisees, in this chapter, all tell us of their rejection of Him; and He has in the end to say to them, "Where I am, thither ye cannot come."
Jesus thus refuses to sanction the feast. He tells Israel that they had now no title to the rest and glory which it pledged to them--that they were not really in Canaan, and had never yet drawn water out of the wells of salvation; that their land, instead of being watered by the river of God, was but a barren and thirsty portion of the accursed earth; that they had forsaken the fountain of living waters, and all their own cisterns were but broken. And, accordingly, as the feast was closing, Jesus puts the living water into other vessels, and dries up the wells which were in Jerusalem. He turns the fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein, and opens the river of God in other places. "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."
And in connection with this, I would shortly trace the river of God" through Scripture; and we shall see it flowing in different channels according to different dispensations.
In Eden it took its rise in the earth to water the garden, and from thence to wander in divers streams over the earth. For the dispensation was one of earthly good. Man knew no sources of blessing, or streams of joy, other than such as were connected with creation. In the wilderness the smitten rock was its source, and every path of the camp of God its channel. It followed them; for at that time they only were the redeemed of the Lord, whom His eye rested on in the world. In Canaan, afterwards, the waters of Shiloah flowed softly; Jehovah watered the land from His own fountains, and made it to drink of the rain of heaven; and for the souls of the people, every feast and every sacrifice was as a well of this water; and the current of the yearly service of the sanctuary was its constant channel. The river will also rise under the sanctuary for the watering of Jerusalem and the whole land. Ezek. 47; Joel 3; Zech. 14; Ps. 46: 4; Ps. 65: 9. For then will be the time of the twofold blessing, the time of the heavenly and earthly glory. All things will have the grace and power of God dispensed among them, all will then be visited by "the river of God, which is full of water." The feast of tabernacles will then be duly kept in Jerusalem, and that nation of the earth which will not go up to keep it there shall have no gracious visitation of rain.
Upon all this I would only further notice the connection that there is between our thirst and the outflow of this living water. John 7: 37, 38. The saint thirsts, then goes to Jesus for the water that He has to give, and afterwards comes with the water of life, the flowing of the Spirit, in him, for his own refreshing and that of the weary. His thirst receives the abounding presence of the Holy Ghost, opening in him a channel for the river of life, which now rises in the ascended Head of the Church, to flow through him to others. Oh that we panted more after God, as the hart pants after the water-brooks! that we longed more for the courts of the Lord! Then would the Spirit fill our souls, and we should comfort and refresh one another. And this is indeed the power of all ministry. Ministry is but the outflowing of this living water, the expression of this hidden, abounding presence of the Spirit within us. The Head has received the gifts for us; and, from the Head, all the body, by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. And this is our only feast of tabernacles, till we celebrate a still happier one round the throne. For this feast cannot now be kept in Jerusalem; the saints must have it in its own present form, by walking together in the liberty and refreshing of the Holy Ghost.
This feast, this "joy in the Holy Ghost," is something more than either the passover of Egypt, or the manna of the wilderness. Those were for redemption and life; but this is for joy and the foretaste of glory. Those were of the flesh and blood of the Son of man, broken and shed here; but this of the Son of man glorified in heaven. It savours of Canaan, though for comfort in the wilderness; as the feast of tabernacles was a feast in Canaan, the land of rest and glory after the wilderness.
But Israel, as yet, knew nothing of these things, as is here shown to us. In the fifth chapter, the Lord had met them, as in Egypt, with redeeming grace and power: witness the restored cripple; which was like Moses casting down his rod in the sight of Israel in proof of his embassy. But it only ended in proving that they would remain in Egypt - for they refuse to believe Moses, believing not Him of whom Moses wrote; and what redemption from Egypt, was there for Israel, if Moses were refused? In the sixth He had met them, as in the wilderness, with the manna; but only, in like manner, to prove that they were not feeding there, as the camp of God, upon the bread of God. In this chapter He had met them as in Canaan; but all had shown that Canaan was still the land of the uncircumcised, the land of drought, and not of the river of God. He, therefore, now stands outside of the city of solemnities, and in spirit ascends to heaven, as Head of His body the Church, to feed the thirsty from thence. He says, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink." The Jews may reason about Him among themselves, and then go every man "to his own house;" but He, owning His present estrangement from Israel, and consequent homeless condition on the earth, goes to the Mount of Olives.