Christ dealt faithfully with his disciples when he sent them forth on his errands, for he told them the worst of it, that they might sit down and count the cost. He had told them in the chapter before to expect the world’s hatred; now here in these verses,
I. He gives them a reason why he alarmed them thus with the expectation of trouble: These things have I spoken unto you, that you should not be offended, or scandalized, John 16:1. 1. The disciples of Christ are apt to be offended at the cross; and the offence of the cross is a dangerous temptation, even to good men, to turn back from the ways of God, or turn aside out of them, or drive on heavily in them; to quit either their integrity or their comfort. It is not for nothing that a suffering time is called an hour of temptation. 2. Our Lord Jesus, by giving us notice of trouble, designed to take off the terror of it, that it might not be a surprise to us. Of all the adversaries of our peace, in this world of troubles, none insult us more violently, nor put our troops more into disorder, than disappointment does; but we can easily welcome a guest we expect, and being fore-warned are fore-armed—Praemoniti, praemuniti.
II. He foretels particularly what they should suffer (John 16:2): “Those that have power to do it shall put you out of their synagogues; and this is not the worst, they shall kill you.” Ecce duo-gladii—Behold two swords drawn against the followers of the Lord Jesus.
1. The sword of ecclesiastical censure; this is drawn against them by the Jews, for they were the only pretenders to church-power. They shall cast you out of their synagogues; aposynagogous poiesousin hymas—they shall make you excommunicates. (1.) “They shall cast you out of the particular synagogues you were members of.” At first, they scourged them in their synagogues as contemners of the law (Matt. 10:17), and at length cast them out as incorrigible. (2.) “They shall cast you out of the congregation of Israel in general, the national church of the Jews; shall debar you from the privileges of that, put you into the condition of an outlaw,” qui caput gerit lupinum—to be knocked on the head, like another wolf; “they will look upon you as Samaritans, as heathen men and publicans.” Interdico tibi aqua et igne—I forbid you the use of water and fire. And were it not for the penalties, forfeitures, and incapacities, incurred hereby, it would be no injury to be thus driven out of a house infected and falling. Note, It has often been the lot of Christ’s disciples to be unjustly excommunicated. Many a good truth has been branded with an anathema, and many a child of God delivered to Satan.
2. The sword of civil power: “The time cometh, the hour is come; now things are likely to be worse with you than hitherto they have been; when you are expelled as heretics, they will kill you, and think they do God service, and others will think so too.” (1.) You will find them really cruel: They will kill you. Christ’s sheep have been accounted as sheep for the slaughter; the twelve apostles (we are told) were all put to death, except John. Christ had said (John 15:27), You shall bear witness, martyreite—you shall be martyrs, shall seal the truth with your blood, your heart’s blood. (2.) You will find them seemingly conscientious; they will think they do God service; they will seem latreian prospherein—to offer a good sacrifice to God; as those that cast out God’s servants of old, and said, Let the Lord be glorified, Isa. 66:5. Note, [1.] It is possible for those that are real enemies to God’s service to pretend a mighty zeal for it. The devil’s work has many a time been done in God’s livery, and one of the most mischievous enemies Christianity ever had sits in the temple of God. Nay, [2.] It is common to patronise an enmity to religion with a color of duty to God, and service to his church. God’s people have suffered the greatest hardships from conscientious persecutors. Paul verily thought he ought to do what he did against the name of Jesus. This does not at all lessen the sin of the persecutors, for villanies will never be consecrated by putting the name of God to them; but it does enhance the sufferings of the persecuted, to die under the character of being enemies to God; but there will be a resurrection of names as well as of bodies at the great day.
III. He gives them the true reason of the world’s enmity and rage against them (John 16:3): “These things will they do unto you, not because you have done them any harm, but because they have not known the Father, nor me. Let this comfort you, that none will be your enemies but the worst of men.” Note, 1. Many that pretend to know God are wretchedly ignorant of him. Those that pretend to do him service thought they knew him, but it was a wrong notion they had of him. Israel transgressed the covenant, and yet cried, My God, we know thee. Hos. 8:1, 2. 2. Those that are ignorant of Christ cannot have any right knowledge of God. In vain do men pretend to know God and religion, while they slight Christ and Christianity. 3. Those are very ignorant indeed of God and Christ that think it an acceptable piece of service to persecute good people. Those that know Christ know that he came not into the world to destroy men’s lives, but to save them; that he rules by the power of truth and love, not of fire and sword. Never was such a persecuting church as that which makes ignorance the mother of devotion.
IV. He tells them why he gave them notice of this now, and why not sooner.
1. Why he told them of it now (John 16:4), not to discourage them, or add to their present sorrow; nor did he tell them of their danger that they might contrive how to avoid it, but that “when the time shall come (and you may be sure it will come), you may remember that I told you.” Note, When suffering times come it will be of use to us to remember what Christ has told us of sufferings. (1.) That our belief of Christ’s foresight and faithfulness may be confirmed; and, (2.) That the trouble may be the less grievous, for we were told of it before, and we took up our profession in expectation of it, so that it ought not to be a surprise to us, nor looked upon as a wrong to us. As Christ in his sufferings, so his followers in theirs, should have an eye to the fulfilling of the scripture.
2. Why he did not tell them of it sooner: “I spoke not this to you from the beginning when you and I came to be first acquainted, because I was with you.” (1.) While he was with them, he bore the shock of the world’s malice, and stood in the front of the battle; against him the powers of darkness levelled all their force, not against small or great, but only against the king of Israel, and therefore he did not need to say so much to them of suffering, because it did not fall much to their share; but we do find that from the beginning he bade them prepare for sufferings; and therefore, (2.) It seems rather to be meant of the promise of another comforter. This he had said little of to them at the beginning, because he was himself with them to instruct, guide, and comfort them, and then they needed not the promise of the Spirit’s extraordinary presence. The children of the bride-chamber would not have so much need of a comforter till the bridegroom should be taken away.
V. He expresses a very affectionate concern for the present sadness of his disciples, upon occasion of what he had said to them (John 16:5, 6): “Now I am to be no longer with you, but go my way to him that sent me, to repose there, after this fatigue; and none of you asketh me, with any courage, Whither goest thou? But, instead of enquiring after that which would comfort you, you pore upon that which looks melancholy, and sorrow has filled your heart.”
1. He had told them that he was about to leave them: Now I go my way. He was not driven away by force, but voluntarily departed; his life was not extorted from him, but deposited by him. He went to him that sent him, to give an account of his negotiation. Thus, when we depart out of this world, we go to him that sent us into it, which should make us all solicitous to live to good purposes, remembering we have a commission to execute, which must be returned at a certain day.
2. He had told them what hard times they must suffer when he was gone, and that they must not expect such an easy quiet life as they had had. Now, if these were the legacies he had to leave to them, who had left all for him, they would be tempted to think they had made a sorry bargain of it, and were, for the present, in a consternation about it, in which their master sympathizes with them, yet blames them, (1.) That they were careless of the means of comfort, and did not stir up themselves to seek it: None of you asks me, Whither goest thou? Peter had started this question (John 13:36), and Thomas had seconded it (John 14:5), but they did not pursue it, they did not take the answer; they were in the dark concerning it, and did not enquire further, nor seek for fuller satisfaction; they did not continue seeking, continue knocking. See what a compassionate teacher Christ is, and how condescending to the weak and ignorant. Many a teacher will not endure that the learner should ask the same question twice; if he cannot take a thing quickly, let him go without it; but our Lord Jesus knows how to deal with babes, that must be taught with precept upon precept. If the disciples here would have found that his going away was for his advancement, and therefore his departure from them should not inordinately trouble them (for why should they be against his preferment?) and for their advantage, and therefore their sufferings for him should not inordinately trouble them; for a sight of Jesus at the right hand of God would be an effectual support to them, as it was to Stephen. Note, A humble believing enquiry into the design and tendency of the darkest dispensations of Providence would help to reconcile us to them, and to grieve the less, and fear the less, because of them; it will silence us to ask, Whence came they? but will abundantly satisfy us to ask, Whither go they? for we know they work for good, Rom. 8:28.
(2.) That they were too intent, and pored too much, upon the occasions of their grief: Sorrow has filled their hearts. Christ had said enough to fill them with joy (John 15:11); but by looking at that only which made against them, and overlooking that which made for them, they were so full of sorrow that there was no room left for joy. Note, It is the common fault and folly of melancholy Christians to dwell upon the dark side of the cloud, to meditate nothing but terror, and turn a deaf ear to the voice of joy and gladness. That which filled the disciples’ hearts with sorrow, and hindered the operation of the cordials Christ administered, was too great an affection to this present life. They were big with hopes of their Master’s external kingdom and glory, and that they should shine and reign with him: and now, instead of that, to hear of nothing but bonds and afflictions, this filled them with sorrow. Nothing is a greater prejudice to our joy in God than the love of the world; and the sorrow of the world, the consequence of it.