As it was usual with the Old Testament prophets to comfort the church in its calamities with the promise of the Messiah (Isa. 9:6; Mic. 5:6; Zech. 3:8); so, the Messiah being come, the promise of the Spirit was the great cordial, and is still.
Three things we have here concerning the Comforter’s coming:--
I. That Christ’s departure was absolutely necessary to the Comforter’s coming, John 16:7. The disciples were so loth to believe this that Christ saw cause to assert it with a more than ordinary solemnity: I tell you the truth. We may be confident of the truth of everything that Christ told us; he has no design to impose upon us. Now, to make them easy, he here tells them,
1. In general, It was expedient for them that he should go away. This was strange doctrine, but if it was true it was comfortable enough, and showed them how absurd their sorrow was. It is expedient, not only for me, but for you also, that I go away; though they did not see it, and are loth to believe it, so it is. Note, (1.) Those things often seem grievous to us that are really expedient for us; and particularly our going away when we have finished our course. (2.) Our Lord Jesus is always for that which is most expedient for us, whether we think so or no. He deals not with us according to the folly of our own choice, but graciously over-rules it, and gives us the physic we are loth to take, because he knows it is good for us.
2. It was therefore expedient because it was in order to the sending of the Spirit. Now observe,
(1.) That Christ’s going was in order to the Comforter’s coming.
[1.] This is expressed negatively: If I go not away, the Comforter will not come. And why not? First, So it was settled in the divine counsels concerning this affair, and the measure must not be altered; shall the earth be forsaken for them? He that gives freely may recall one gift before he bestows another, while we would fondly hold all. Secondly, It is congruous enough that the ambassador extraordinary should be recalled, before the envoy come, that is constantly to reside. Thirdly, The sending of the Spirit was to be the fruit of Christ’s purchase, and that purchase was to be made by his death, which was his going away. Fourthly, It was to be an answer to his intercession within the veil. See John 14:16. Thus must this gift be both paid for, and prayed for, by our Lord Jesus, that we might learn to put the greater value upon it. Fifthly, The great argument the Spirit was to use in convincing the world must be Christ’s ascension into heaven, and his welcome here. See John 16:10; John 7:39. Lastly, The disciples must be weaned from his bodily presence, which they were too apt to dote upon, before they were duly prepared to receive the spiritual aids and comforts of a new dispensation.
[2.] It is expressed positively: If I depart I will send him to you; as though he had said, “Trust me to provide effectually that you shall be no loser by my departure.” The glorified Redeemer is not unmindful of his church on earth, nor will ever leave it without its necessary supports. Though he departs, he sends the Comforter, nay, he departs on purpose to send him. Thus still, though one generation of ministers and Christians depart, another is raised up in their room, for Christ will maintain his own cause.
(2.) That the presence of Christ’s Spirit in his church is so much better, and more desirable, than his bodily presence, that it was really expedient for us that he should go away, to send the Comforter. His corporal presence could be put in one place at one time, but his Spirit is every where, in all places, at all times, wherever two or three are gathered in his name. Christ’s bodily presence draws men’s eyes, his Spirit draws their hearts; that was the letter which kills, his Spirit gives life.
II. That the coming of the Spirit was absolutely necessary to the carrying on of Christ’s interests on earth (John 16:8): And when he is come, elthon ekeinos. He that is sent is willing of himself to come, and at his first coming he will do this, he will reprove, or, as the margin reads it, he will convince the world, by your ministry, concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.
1. See here what the office of the Spirit is, and on what errand he is sent. (1.) To reprove. The Spirit, by the word and conscience, is a reprover; ministers are reprovers by office, and by them the Spirit reproves. (2.) To convince. It is a law-term, and speaks the office of the judge in summing up the evidence, and setting a matter that has been long canvassed in a clear and true light. He shall convince, that is, “He shall put to silence the adversaries of Christ and his cause, by discovering and demonstrating the falsehood and fallacy of that which they have maintained, and the truth and certainty of that which they have opposed.” Note, Convincing work is the Spirit’s work; he can do it effectually, and none but he; man may open the cause, but it is the Spirit only that can open the heart. The Spirit is called the Comforter (John 16:7), and here it is said, He shall convince. One would think this were cold comfort, but it is the method the Spirit takes, first to convince, and then to comfort; first to lay open the wound, and then to apply healing medicines. Or, taking conviction more generally, for a demonstration of what is right, it intimates that the Spirit’s comforts are solid, and grounded upon truth.
2. See who they are whom he is to reprove and convince: The world, both Jew and Gentile. (1.) He shall give the world the most powerful means of conviction, for the apostles shall go into all the world, backed by the Spirit, to preach the gospel, fully proved. (2.) He shall sufficiently provide for the taking off and silencing of the objections and prejudices of the world against the gospel. Many an infidel was convinced of all and judged of all, 1 Cor. 14:24. (3.) He shall effectually and savingly convince many in the world, some in every age, in every place, in order to their conversion to the faith of Christ. Now this was an encouragement to the disciples, in reference to the difficulties they were likely to meet with, [1.] That they should see good done, Satan’s kingdom fall like lightning, which would be their joy, as it was his. Even this malignant world the Spirit shall work upon; and the conviction of sinners is the comfort of faithful ministers. [2.] That this would be the fruit of their services and sufferings, these should contribute very much to this good work.
3. See what the Spirit shall convince the world of.
(1.) Of sin (John 16:9), because they believe not on me. [1.] The Spirit is sent to convince sinners of sin, not barely to tell them of it; in conviction there is more than this; it is to prove it upon them, and force them to own it, as they (John 8:9) that were convicted of their own consciences. Make them to know their abominations. The Spirit convinces of the fact of sin, that we have done so and so; of the fault of sin, that we have done ill in doing so; of the folly of sin, that we have acted against right reason, and our true interest; of the filth of sin, that by it we are become odious to God; of the fountain of sin, the corrupt nature; and lastly, of the fruit of sin, that the end thereof is death. The Spirit demonstrates the depravity and degeneracy of the whole world, that all the world is guilty before God. [2.] The Spirit, in conviction, fastens especially upon the sin of unbelief, their not believing in Christ, First, As the great reigning sin. There was, and is, a world of people, that believe not in Jesus Christ, and they are not sensible that it is their sin. Natural conscience tells them that murder and theft are sin; but it is a supernatural work of the spirit to convince them that it is a sin to suspend their belief of the gospel, and to reject the salvation offered by it. Natural religion, after it has given us its best discoveries and directions, lays and leaves us under this further obligation, that whatever divine revelation shall be made to us at any time, with sufficient evidence to prove it divine, we accept it, and submit to it. This law those transgress who, when God speaketh to us by his Son, refuse him that speaketh; and therefore it is sin. Secondly, As the great ruining sin. Every sin is so in its own nature; no sin is so to them that believe in Christ; so that it is unbelief that damns sinners. It is because of this that they cannot enter into rest, that they cannot escape the wrath of God; it is a sin against the remedy. Thirdly, As that which is at the bottom of all sin; so Calvin takes it. The Spirit shall convince the world that the true reason why sin reigns among them is because they are not by faith united to Christ. Neh. putimus vel guttam unam rectitudinis sine Christo nobis inesse—Let us not suppose that, apart from Christ, we have a drop of rectitude.—Calvin.
(2.) Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and you see me no more, John 16:10. We may understand this, [1.] Of Christ’s personal righteousness. He shall convince the world that Jesus of Nazareth was Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1), as the centurion owned (Luke 23:47), Certainly this was a righteous man. His enemies put him under the worst of characters, and multitudes were not or would not be convinced but that he was a bad man, which strengthened their prejudices against his doctrine; but he is justified by the spirit (1 Tim. 3:16), he is proved to be a righteous man, and not, a deceiver; and then the point is in effect gained; for he is either the great Redeemer or a great cheat; but a cheat we are sure he is not. Now by what medium or argument will the Spirit convince men of the sincerity of the Lord Jesus? Why, First, Their seeing him no more will contribute something towards the removal of their prejudices; they shall see him no more in the likeness of sinful flesh, in the form of a servant, which made them slight him. Moses was more respected after his removal than before. But, Secondly, His going to the Father would be a full conviction of it. The coming of the Spirit, according to the promise, was a proof of Christ’s exaltation to God’s right hand (Acts 2:33), and this was a demonstration of his righteousness; for the holy God would never set a deceiver at his right hand. [2.] Of Christ’s righteousness communicated to us for our justification and salvation; that everlasting righteousness which Messiah was to bring in, Dan. 9:24. Now, First, The Spirit shall convince men of this righteousness. Having by convictions of sin shown them their need of a righteousness, lest this should drive them to despair he will show them where it is to be had, and how they may, upon their believing, be acquitted from guilt, and accepted as righteous in God’s sight. It was hard to convince those of this righteousness that went about to establish their own (Rom. 10:3), but the Spirit will do it. Secondly, Christ’s ascension is the great argument proper to convince men of this righteousness: I go to the Father, and, as an evidence of my welcome with him, you shall see me no more. If Christ had left any part of his undertaking unfinished, he had been sent back again; but now that we are sure he is at the right hand of God, we are sure of being justified through him.
(3.) Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged, John 16:11. Observe here, [1.] The devil, the prince of this world, was judged, was discovered to be a great deceiver and destroyer, and as such judgment was entered against him, and execution in part done. He was cast out of the Gentile world when his oracles were silenced and his altars deserted, cast out of the bodies of many in Christ’s name, which miraculous power continued long in the church; he was cast out of the souls of people by the grace of God working with the gospel of Christ; he fell as lightning from heaven. [2.] This is a good argument wherewith the Spirit convinces the world of judgment, that is, First, Of inherent holiness and sanctification, Matt. 12:18. By the judgment of the prince of this world, it appears that Christ is stronger than Satan, and can disarm and dispossess him, and set up his throne upon the ruin of his. Secondly, Of a new and better dispensation of things. He shall show that Christ’s errand into the world was to set things to right in it, and to introduce times of reformation and regeneration; and he proves it by this, that the prince of this world, the great master of misrule, is judged and expelled. All will be well when his power is broken who made the mischief. Thirdly, Of the power and dominion of the Lord Jesus. He shall convince the world that all judgment is committed to him, and that he is the Lord of all, which is evident by this, that he has judged the prince of this world, has broken the serpent’s head, destroyed him that had the power of death, and spoiled principalities; if Satan be thus subdued by Christ, we may be sure no other power can stand before him. Fourthly, Of the final day of judgment: all the obstinate enemies of Christ’s gospel and kingdom shall certainly be reckoned with at last, for the devil, their ringleader, is judged.
III. That the coming of the Spirit would be of unspeakable advantage to the disciples themselves. The Spirit has work to do, not only on the enemies of Christ, to convince and humble them, but upon his servants and agents, to instruct and comfort them; and therefore it was expedient for them that he should go away.
1. He intimates to them the tender sense he had of their present weakness (John 16:12): I have yet many things to say unto you (not which should have been said, but which he could and would have said), but you cannot bear them now. See what a teacher Christ is. (1.) None like him for copiousness; when he has said much, he has still many things more to say; treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in him, if we be not straitened in ourselves. (2.) None like him for compassion; he would have told them more of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, particularly of the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles, but they could not bear it, it would have confounded and stumbled them, rather than have given them any satisfaction. When, after his resurrection, they spoke to him of restoring the kingdom to Israel, he referred them to the coming of the Holy Ghost, by which they should receive power to bear those discoveries which were so contrary to the notions they had received that they could not bear them now.
2. He assures them of sufficient assistances, by the pouring out of the Spirit. They were now conscious to themselves of great dulness, and many mistakes; and what shall they do now their master is leaving them? “But when he, the Spirit of Truth, is come, you will be easy, and all will be well.” Well indeed; for he shall undertake to guide the apostles, and glorify Christ.
(1.) To guide the apostles. He will take care,
[1.] That they do not miss their way: He will guide you; as the camp of Israel was guided through the wilderness by the pillar of cloud and fire. The Spirit guided their tongues in speaking, and their pens in writing, to secure them from mistakes. The Spirit is given us to be our guide (Rom. 8:14), not only to show us the way, but to go along with us, by his continued aids and influences.
[2.] That they do not come short of their end: He will guide them into all truth, as the skilful pilot guides the ship into the port it is bound for. To be led into a truth is more than barely to know it; it is to be intimately and experimentally acquainted with it; to be piously and strongly affected with it; not only to have the notion of it in our heads, but the relish and savour and power of it in our hearts; it denotes a gradual discovery of truth shining more and more: “He shall lead you by those truths that are plain and easy to those that are more difficult.” But how into all truth? The meaning is,
First, Into the whole truth relating to their embassy; whatever was needful or useful for them to know, in order to the due discharge of their office, they should be fully instructed in it; what truths they were to teach others the Spirit would teach them, would give them the understanding of, and enable them both to explain and to defend.
Secondly, Into nothing but the truth. All that he shall guide you into shall be truth (1 John 2:27); the anointing is truth. In the following words he proves both these:—1. “The Spirit shall teach nothing but the truth, for he shall not speak of himself any doctrine distinct from mine, but whatsoever he shall hear, and knows to be the mind of the Father, that, and that only, shall he speak.” This intimates, (1.) That the testimony of the Spirit, in the word and by the apostles, is what we may rely upon. The Spirit knows and searches all things, even the deep things of God, and the apostles received that Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10, 11), so that we may venture our souls upon the Spirit’s word. (2.) That the testimony of the Spirit always concurs with the word of Christ, for he does not speak of himself, has no separate interest or intention of his own, but, as in essence so in records, he is one with the Father and the Son, 1 John 5:7. Men’s word and spirit often disagree, but the eternal Word and the eternal Spirit never do. 2. “He shall teach you all truth, and keep back nothing that is profitable for you, for he will show you things to come.” The Spirit was in the apostles a Spirit of prophecy; it was foretold that he should be so (Joel 2:28), and he was so. The Spirit showed them things to come, as Acts 11:28; 20:23; 21:11. The Spirit spoke of the apostasy of the latter times, 1 Tim. 4:1. John, when he was in the Spirit had things to come shown him in vision. Now this was a great satisfaction to their own minds, and of use to them in their conduct, and was also a great confirmation of their mission. Jansenius has a pious note upon this: We should not grudge that the Spirit does not show us things to come in this world, as he did to the apostles; let it suffice that the Spirit in the word hath shown us things to come in the other world, which are our chief concern.
(2.) The Spirit undertook to glorify Christ, John 16:14, 15. [1.] Even the sending of the Spirit was the glorifying of Christ. God the Father glorified him in heaven, and the Spirit glorified him on earth. It was the honour of the Redeemer that the Spirit was both sent in his name and sent on his errand, to carry on and perfect his undertaking. All the gifts and graces of the Spirit, all the preaching and all the writing of the apostles, under the influence of the Spirit, the tongues, and miracles, were to glorify Christ. [2.] The Spirit glorified Christ by leading his followers into the truth as it is in Jesus, Eph. 4:21. He assures them, First, that the Spirit should communicate the things of Christ to them: He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. As in essence he proceeded from the Son, so in influence and operation he derived from him. He shall take ek tou emou—of that which is mine. All that the Spirit shows us, that is, applies to us, for our instruction and comfort, all that he gives us for our strength and quickening, and all that he secures and seals to us, did all belong to Christ, and was had and received from him. All was his, for he bought it, and paid dearly for it, and therefore he had reason to call it his own; his, for he first received it; it was given him as the head of the church, to be communicated by him to all his members. The Spirit came not to erect a new kingdom, but to advance and establish the same kingdom that Christ had erected, to maintain the same interest and pursue the same design; those therefore that pretend to the Spirit, and vilify Christ, give themselves the lie, for he came to glorify Christ. Secondly, That herein the things of God should be communicated to us. Lest any should think that the receiving of this would not make them much the richer, he adds, All things that the Father hath are mine. As God, all that self-existent light and self-sufficient happiness which the Father has, he has; as Mediator, all things are delivered to him of the Father (Matt. 11:27); all that grace and truth which God designed to show us he lodged in the hands of the Lord Jesus, Col. 1:19. Spiritual blessings in heavenly things are given by the Father to the Son for us, and the Son entrusts the Spirit to convey them to us. Some apply it to that which goes just before: He shall show you things to come, and so it is explained by Rev. 1:1. God gave it to Christ, and he signified it to John, who wrote what the Spirit said, Rev. 1:1.