In these verses we have,
I. Christ’s discourse, with the explication of it, John 7:37-39. It is probable that these are only short hints of what he enlarged upon, but they have in them the substance of the whole gospel; here is a gospel invitation to come to Christ, and a gospel promise of comfort and happiness in him. Now observe,
1. When he gave this invitation: On the last day of the feast of tabernacles, that great day. The eighth day, which concluded that solemnity, was to be a holy convocation, Lev. 23:36. Now on this day Christ published this gospel-call, because (1.) Much people were gathered together, and, if the invitation were given to many, it might be hoped that some would accept of it, Prov. 1:20. Numerous assemblies give opportunity of doing the more good. (2.) The people were now returning to their homes, and he would give them this to carry away with them as his parting word. When a great congregation is to be dismissed, and is about to scatter, as here, it is affecting to think that in all probability they will never come all together again in this world, and therefore, if we can say or do any thing to help them to heaven, that must be the time. It is good to be lively at the close of an ordinance. Christ made this offer on the last day of the feast. [1.] To those who had turned a deaf ear to his preaching on the foregoing days of this sacred week; he will try them once more, and, if they will yet hear his voice, they shall live. [2.] To those who perhaps might never have such another offer made them, and therefore were concerned to accept of this; it would be half a year before there would be another feast, and in that time they would many of them be in their graves. Behold now is the accepted time.
2. How he gave this invitation: Jesus stood and cried, which denotes, (1.) His great earnestness and importunity. His heart was upon it, to bring poor souls in to himself. The erection of his body and the elevation of his voice were indications of the intenseness of his mind. Love to souls will make preachers lively. (2.) His desire that all might take notice, and take hold of this invitation. He stood, and cried, that he might the better be heard; for this is what every one that hath ears is concerned to hear. Gospel truth seeks no corners, because it fears no trials. The heathen oracles were delivered privately by them that peeped and muttered; but the oracles of the gospel were proclaimed by one that stood, and cried. How sad is the case of man, that he must be importuned to be happy, and how wonderful the grace of Christ, that he will importune him! Ho, every one, Isa. 55:1.
3. The invitation itself is very general: If any man thirst, whoever he be, he is invited to Christ, be he high or low, rich or poor, young or old, bond or free, Jew or Gentile. It is also very gracious: “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. If any man desires to be truly and eternally happy, let him apply himself to me, and be ruled by me, and I will undertake to make him so.”
(1.) The persons invited are such as thirst, which may be understood, either, [1.] Of the indigence of their cases; either as to their outward condition (if any man be destitute of the comforts of this life, or fatigued with the crosses of it, let his poverty and afflictions draw him to Christ for that peace which the world can neither give nor take away), or as to their inward state: “If any man want spiritual blessings, he may be supplied by me.” Or, [2.] Of the inclination of their souls and their desires towards a spiritual happiness. If any man hunger and thirst after righteousness, that is, truly desire the good will of God towards him, and the good work of God in him.
(2.) The invitation itself: Let him come to me. Let him not go to the ceremonial law, which would neither pacify the conscience nor purify it, and therefore could not make the comers thereunto perfect, Heb. 10:1. Nor let him go to the heathen philosophy, which does but beguile men, lead them into a wood, and leave them there; but let him go to Christ, admit his doctrine, submit to his discipline, believe in him; come to him as the fountain of living waters, the giver of all comfort.
(3.) The satisfaction promised: “Let him come and drink, he shall have what he comes for, and abundantly more, shall have that which will not only refresh, but replenish, a soul that desires to be happy.”
4. A gracious promise annexed to this gracious call (John 7:38): He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow-- (1.) See here what it is to come to Christ: It is to believe on him, as the scripture hath said; it is to receive and entertain him as he is offered to us in the gospel. We must not frame a Christ according to our fancy, but believe in a Christ according to the scripture. (2.) See how thirsty souls, that come to Christ, shall be made to drink. Israel, that believed Moses, drank of the rock that followed them, the streams followed; but believers drink of a rock in them, Christ in them; he is in them a well of living water, John 4:14. Provision is made not only for their present satisfaction, but for their continual perpetual comfort. Here is, [1.] Living water, running water, which the Hebrew language calls living, because still in motion. The graces and comforts of the Spirit are compared to living (meaning running) water, because they are the active quickening principles of spiritual life, and the earnests and beginnings of eternal life. See Jer. 2:13. [2.] Rivers of living water, denoting both plenty and constancy. The comfort flows in both plentifully and constantly as a river; strong as a stream to bear down the oppositions of doubts and fears. There is a fulness in Christ of grace for grace. [3.] These flow out of his belly, that is, out of his heart or soul, which is the subject of the Spirit’s working and the seat of his government. There gracious principles are planted; and out of the heart, in which the Spirit dwells, flow the issues of life, Prov. 4:23. There divine comforts are lodged, and the joy that a stranger doth not intermeddle with. He that believes has the witness in himself, 1 John 5:10. Sat lucis intus—Light abounds within. Observe, further, where there are springs of grace and comfort in the soul that will send forth streams: Out of his belly shall flow rivers. First, Grace and comfort will produce good actions, and a holy heart will be seen in a holy life; the tree is known by its fruits, and the fountain by its streams. Secondly, They will communicate themselves for the benefit of others; a good man is a common good. His mouth is a well of life, Prov. 10:11. It is not enough that we drink waters out of our own cistern, that we ourselves take the comfort of the grace given us, but we must let our fountains be dispersed abroad, Prov. 5:15, 16.
Those words, as the scripture hath said, seem to refer to some promise in the Old Testament to this purport, and there are many; as that God would pour out his Spirit, which is a metaphor borrowed from waters (Prov. 1:23; Joel 2:28; Isa. 44:3; Zech. 12:10); that the dry land should become springs of water (Isa. 41:18); that there should be rivers in the desert (Isa. 43:19); that gracious souls should be like a spring of water (Isa. 58:11); and the church a well of living water, Song 4:15. And here may be an allusion to the waters issuing out of Ezekiel’s temple, Ezek. 47:1. Compare Rev. 22:1; and see Zech. 14:8. Dr. Lightfoot and others tell us it was a custom of the Jews, which they received by tradition, the last day of the feast of tabernacles to have a solemnity, which they called Libatio aquae—The pouring out of water. They fetched a golden vessel of water from the pool of Siloam, brought it into the temple with sound of trumpet and other ceremonies, and, upon the ascent to the altar, poured it out before the Lord with all possible expressions of joy. Some of their writers make the water to signify the law, and refer to Isa. 12:3; 55:1. Others, the Holy Spirit. And it is thought that our Saviour might here allude to this custom. Believers shall have the comfort, not of a vessel of water fetched from a pool, but of a river flowing from themselves. The joy of the law, and the pouring out of the water, which signified this, are not to be compared with the joy of the gospel in the wells of salvation.
5. Here is the evangelist’s exposition of this promise (John 7:39): This spoke he of the Spirit: not of any outward advantages accruing to believers (as perhaps some misunderstood him), but of the gifts, graces, and comforts of the Spirit. See how scripture is the best interpreter of scripture. Observe,
(1.) It is promised to all that believe on Christ that they shall receive the Holy Ghost. Some received his miraculous gifts (Mark 16:17, 18); all receive his sanctifying graces. The gift of the Holy Ghost is one of the great blessings promised in the new covenant (Acts 2:39), and, if promised, no doubt performed to all that have an interest in that covenant.
(2.) The Spirit dwelling and working in believers is as a fountain of living running water, out of which plentiful streams flow, cooling and cleansing as water, mollifying and moistening as water, making them fruitful, and others joyful; see John 3:5. When the apostles spoke so fluently of the things of God, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4), and afterwards preached and wrote the gospel of Christ with such a flood of divine eloquence, then this was fulfilled, Out of his belly shall flow rivers.
(3.) This plentiful effusion of the Spirit was yet the matter of a promise; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. See here [1.] That Jesus was not yet glorified. It was certain that he should be glorified, and he was ever worthy of all honour; but he was as yet in a state of humiliation and contempt. He had never forfeited the glory he had before all worlds, nay, he had merited a further glory, and, besides his hereditary honours, might claim the achievement of a mediatorial crown; and yet all this is in reversion. Jesus is now upheld (Isa. 42:1), is now satisfied (Isa. 53:11), is now justified (1 Tim. 3:16), but he is not yet glorified. And, if Christ must wait for his glory, let not us think it much to wait for ours. [2.] That the Holy Ghost was not yet given. oupo gar hen pneuma—for the Holy Ghost was not yet. The Spirit of God was from eternity, for in the beginning he moved upon the face of the waters. He was in the Old-Testament prophets and saints, and Zacharias and Elisabeth were both filled with the Holy Ghost. This therefore must be understood of the eminent, plentiful, and general effusion of the Spirit which was promised, Joel 2:28; and accomplished, Acts 2:1 The Holy Ghost was not yet given in that visible manner that was intended. If we compare the clear knowledge and strong grace of the disciples of Christ themselves, after the day of Pentecost, with their darkness and weakness before, we shall understand in what sense the Holy Ghost was not yet given; the earnests and first-fruits of the Spirit were given, but the full harvest was not yet come. That which is most properly called the dispensation of the Spirit did not yet commence. The Holy Ghost was not yet given in such rivers of living water as should issue forth to water the whole earth, even the Gentile world, not in the gifts of tongues, to which perhaps this promise principally refers. [3.] That the reason why the Holy Ghost was not given was because Jesus was not yet glorified. First, The death of Christ is sometimes called his glorification (John 13:31); for in his cross he conquered and triumphed. Now the gift of the Holy Ghost was purchased by the blood of Christ: this was the valuable consideration upon which the grant was grounded, and therefore till this price was paid (though many other gifts were bestowed upon its being secured to be paid) the Holy Ghost was not given. Secondly, There was not so much need of the Spirit, while Christ himself was here upon earth, as there was when he was gone, to supply the want of him. Thirdly, The giving of the Holy Ghost was to be both an answer to Christ’s intercession (John 14:16), and an act of his dominion; and therefore till he is glorified, and enters upon both these, the Holy Ghost is not given. Fourthly, The conversion of the Gentiles was the glorifying of Jesus. When certain Greeks began to enquire after Christ, he said, Now is the Son of man glorified, John 12:23. Now the time when the gospel should be propagated in the nations was not yet come, and therefore there was as yet no occasion for the gift of tongues, that river of living water. But observe, though the Holy Ghost was not yet given, yet he was promised; it was now the great promise of the Father, Acts 1:4. Though the gifts of Christ’s grace are long deferred, yet they are well secured: and, while we are waiting for the good promise, we have the promise to live upon, which shall speak and shall not lie.
II. The consequents of this discourse, what entertainment it met with; in general, it occasioned differences: There was a division among the people because of him, John 7:43. There was a schism, so the word is; there were diversities of opinions, and those managed with heat and contention; various sentiments, and those such as set them at variance. Think we that Christ came to send peace, that all would unanimously embrace his gospel? No, the effect of the preaching of his gospel would be division, for, while some are gathered to it, others will be gathered against it; and this will put things into a ferment, as here; but this is no more the fault of the gospel than it is the fault of a wholesome medicine that it stirs up the peccant humours in the body, in order to the discharge of them. Observe what the debate was:—
1. Some were taken with him, and well affected to him: Many of the people, when they heard this saying, heard him with such compassion and kindness invite poor sinners to him, and with such authority engage to make them happy, that they could not but think highly of him. (1.) Some of them said, O, a truth this is the prophet, that prophet whom Moses spoke of to the fathers, who should be like unto him; or, This is the prophet who, according to the received notions of the Jewish church, is to be the harbinger and forerunner of the Messiah; or, This is truly a prophet, one divinely inspired and sent of God. (2.) Others went further, and said, This is the Christ (John 7:41), not the prophet of the Messiah, but the Messiah himself. The Jews had at this time a more than ordinary expectation of the Messiah, which made them ready to say upon every occasion, Lo, here is Christ, or Lo, he is there; and this seems to be only the effect of some such confused and floating notions which caught at the first appearance, for we do not find that these people became his disciples and followers; a good opinion of Christ is far short of a lively faith in Christ; many give Christ a good word that give him no more. These here said, This is the prophet, and this is the Christ, but could not persuade themselves to leave all and follow him; and so this their testimony to Christ was but a testimony against themselves.
2. Others were prejudiced against him. No sooner was this great truth started, that Jesus is the Christ, than immediately it was contradicted and argued against: and this one thing, that his rise and origin were (as they took it for granted) out of Galilee, was thought enough to answer all the arguments for his being the Christ. For, shall Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the scripture said that Christ comes of the seed of David? See here, (1.) A laudable knowledge of the scripture. They were so far in the right, that the Messiah was to be a rod out of the stem of Jesse (Isa. 11:1), that out of Bethlehem should arise the Governor, Mic. 5:2. This even the common people knew by the traditional expositions which their scribes gave them. Perhaps the people who had these scriptures so ready to object against Christ were not alike knowing in other parts of holy writ, but had had these put into their mouths by their leaders, to fortify their prejudices against Christ. Many that espouse some corrupt notions, and spend their zeal in defence of them, seem to be very ready in the scriptures, when indeed they know little more than those scriptures which they have been taught to pervert. (2.) A culpable ignorance of our Lord Jesus. They speak of it as certain and past dispute that Jesus was of Galilee, whereas by enquiring of himself, or his mother, or his disciples, or by consulting the genealogies of the family of David, or the register at Bethlehem, they might have known that he was the Son of David, and a native of Bethlehem; but this they willingly are ignorant of. Thus gross falsehoods in matters of fact, concerning persons and things, are often taken up by prejudiced and partial men, and great resolves founded upon them, even in the same place and the same age wherein the persons live and the things are done, while the truth might easily be found out.
3. Others were enraged against him, and they would have taken him, John 7:44. Though what he said was most sweet and gracious, yet they were exasperated against him for it. Thus did our Master suffer ill for saying and doing well. They would have taken him; they hoped somebody or other would seize him, and, if they had thought no one else would, they would have done it themselves. They would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him, being restrained by an invisible power, because his hour was not come. As the malice of Christ’s enemies is always unreasonable, so sometimes the suspension of it is unaccountable.