Two things Christ here comforts his disciples with:—
I. With an assurance that, though he was leaving the world, he was returning to his Father, from whom he came forth John 16:28-32, where we have,
1. A plain declaration of Christ’s mission from the Father, and his return to him (John 16:28): I came forth from the Father, and am come, as you see, into the world. Again, I leave the world, as you will see shortly, and go to the Father. This is the conclusion of the whole matter. There was nothing he had more inculcated upon them than these two things—whence he came, and whither he went, the Alpha and Omega of the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16), that the Redeemer, in his entrance, was God manifest in the flesh, and in his exit was received up into glory.
(1.) These two great truths are here, [1.] Contracted, and put into a few words. Brief summaries of Christian doctrine are of great use to young beginners. The principles of the oracles of God brought into a little compass in creeds and catechisms have, like the beams of the sun contracted in a burning glass, conveyed divine light and heat with a wonderful power. Such we have, Job 28:28; Eccl. 12:13; 1 Tim. 1:15; Titus 2:11, 12; 1 John 5:11; much in a little. [2.] Compared, and set the one over against the other. There is an admirable harmony in divine truths; they both corroborate and illustrate one another; Christ’s coming and his going do so. Christ had commended his disciples for believing that he came forth from God (John 16:27), and thence infers the necessity and equity of his returning to God again, which therefore should not seem to them either strange or sad. Note, The due improvement of what we know and own would help us into the understanding of that which seems difficult and doubtful.
(2.) If we ask concerning the Redeemer whence he came, and whither he went, we are told, [1.] That he came from the Father, who sanctified and sealed him; and he came into this world, this lower world, this world of mankind, among whom by his incarnation he was pleased to incorporate himself. Here his business lay, and hither he came to attend it. He left his home for this strange country; his palace for this cottage; wonderful condescension! [2.] That, when he had done his work on earth, he left the world, and went back to his Father at his ascension. He was not forced away, but made it his own act and deed to leave the world, to return to it no more till he comes to put an end to it; yet still he is spiritually present with his church, and will be to the end.
2. The disciples’ satisfaction in this declaration (John 16:29, 30): Lo, now speakest though plainly. It should seem, this one word of Christ did them more good than all the rest, though he had said many things likely enough to fasten upon them. The Spirit, as the wind, blows when and where, and by what word he pleases; perhaps a word that has been spoken once, yea twice, and not perceived, yet, being often repeated, takes hold at last. Two things they improved in by this saying:—
(1.) In knowledge: Lo, now speakest thou plainly. When they were in the dark concerning what he said, they did not say, Lo, now speakest thou obscurely, as blaming him; but now that they apprehend his meaning they give him glory for condescending to their capacity: Lo, now speakest thou plainly. Divine truths are most likely to do good when they are spoken plainly, 1 Cor. 2:4. Observe how they triumphed, as the mathematician did with his heureka, heureka, when he had hit upon a demonstration he had long been in quest of: I have found it, I have found it. Note, When Christ is pleased to speak plainly to our souls, and to bring us with open face to behold his glory, we have reason to rejoice in it.
(2.) In faith: Now are we sure. Observe,
[1.] What was the matter of their faith: We believe that thou camest forth from God. He had said (John 16:27) that they did believe this; “Lord” (say they) “we do believe it, and we have cause to believe it, and we know that we believe it, and have the comfort of it.”
[2.] What was the motive of their faith—his omniscience. This proved him a teacher come from God, and more than a prophet, that he knew all things, which they were convinced of by this that he resolved those doubts which were hid in their hearts, and answered the scruples they had not confessed. Note, Those know Christ best that know him by experience, that can say of his power, It works in me; of his love, He loved me. And this proves Christ not only to have a divine mission, but to be a divine person, that he is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, therefore the essential, eternal Word, Heb. 4:12, 13. He has made all the churches to know that he searches the reins and the heart, Rev. 2:23. This confirmed the faith of the disciples here, as it made the first impression upon the woman of Samaria that Christ told her all the things that ever she did (John 4:29), and upon Nathanael that Christ saw him under the fig-tree, John 1:48, 49.
These words, and needest not that any man should ask thee, may bespeak either, First, Christ’s aptness to teach. He prevents us with his instructions, and is communicative of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are hid in him, and needs not to be importuned. Or, Secondly, His ability to teach: “Thou needest not, as other teachers, to have the learners’ doubts told thee, for thou knowest, without being told, what they stumble at.” The best of teachers can only answer what is spoken, but Christ can answer what is thought, what we are afraid to ask, as the disciples were, Mark 9:32. Thus he can have compassion, Heb. 5:2.
3. The gentle rebuke Christ gave the disciples for their confidence that they now understood him, John 16:31, 32. Observing how they triumphed in their attainments, he said, “Do you now believe? Do you now look upon yourselves as advanced and confirmed disciples? Do you now think you shall make no more blunders? Alas! you know not your own weakness; you will very shortly be scattered every man to his own,” etc. Here we have,
(1.) A question, designed to put them upon consideration: Do you now believe? [1.] “If now, why not sooner? Have you not heard the same things many a time before?” Those who after many instructions and invitations are at last persuaded to believe have reason to be ashamed that they stood it out so long. [2.] “If now, why not ever? When an hour of temptation comes, where will your faith be then?” As far as there is inconstancy in our faith there is cause to question the sincerity of it, and to ask, “Do we indeed believe?”
(2.) A prediction of their fall, that, how confident soever they were now of their own stability, in a little time they would all desert him, which was fulfilled that very night, when, upon his being seized by a party of the guards, all his disciples forsook him and fled, Matt. 26:56. They were scattered, [1.] From one another; they shifted every one for his own safety, without any care or concern for each other. Troublous times are times of scattering to Christian societies; in the cloudy and dark day the flock of Christ is dispersed, Ezek. 34:12. So Christ, as a society, is not visible. [2.] Scattered for him: You shall leave me alone. They should have been witnesses for him upon his trial, should have ministered to him in his sufferings; if they could have given him no comfort they might have done him some credit; but they were ashamed of his chain, and afraid of sharing with him in his sufferings, and left him alone. Note, Many a good cause, when it is distressed by its enemies, is deserted by its friends. The disciples had continued with Christ in his other temptations and yet turned their back upon him now; those that are tried, do not always prove trusty. If we at any time find our friends unkind to us, let us remember that Christ’s were so to him. When they left him alone, they were scattered every man to his own; not to their own possessions or habitations, these were in Galilee; but to their own friends and acquaintance in Jerusalem; every one went his own way, where he fancied he should be most safe. Every man to secure his own; himself and his own life. Note, Those will not dare to suffer for their religion that seek their own things more than the things of Christ, and that look upon the things of this world as their ta idia—their own property, and in which their happiness is bound up. Now observe here, First, Christ knew before that his disciples would thus desert him in the critical moment, and yet he was still tender of them, and in nothing unkind. We are ready to say of some, “If we could have foreseen their ingratitude, we would not have been so prodigal of our favours to them;” Christ did foresee theirs, and yet was kind to them. Secondly, He told them of it, to be a rebuke to their exultation in their present attainments: “Do you now believe? Be not high-minded, but fear; for you will find your faith so sorely shaken as to make it questionable whether it be sincere or no, in a little time.” Note, even when we are taking the comfort of our graces, it is good to be reminded of our dangers from our corruptions. When our faith is strong, our love flaming, and our evidences are clear, yet we cannot infer thence that to-morrow shall be as this day. Even when we have most reason to think we stand, yet we have reason enough to take heed lest we fall. Thirdly, He spoke of it as a thing very near. The hour was already come, in a manner, when they would be as shy of him as ever they had been fond of him. Note, A little time may produce great changes, both concerning us and in us.
(3.) An assurance of his own comfort notwithstanding: Yet I am not alone. He would not be thought to complain of their deserting him, as if it were any real damage to him; for in their absence he should be sure of his Father’s presence, which was instar omnium—every thing: The Father is with me. We may consider this, [1.] As a privilege peculiar to the Lord Jesus; the Father was so with him in his sufferings as he never was with any, for still he was in the bosom of the Father. The divine nature did not desert the human nature, but supported it, and put an invincible comfort and an inestimable value into his sufferings. The Father had engaged to be with him in his whole undertaking (Ps. 89:21), and to preserve him (Isa. 49:8); this emboldened him, Isa. 50:7. Even when he complained of his Father’s forsaking him, yet he called him My God, and presently after was so well assured of his favourable presence with him as to commit his Spirit into his hand. This he had comforted himself with all along (John 8:29), He that sent me is with me, the Father hath not left me alone, and especially now at last. This assists our faith in the acceptableness of Christ’s satisfaction; no doubt, the Father was well pleased in him, for he went along with him in his undertaking from first to last. [2.] As a privilege common to all believers, by virtue of their union with Christ; when they are alone, they are not alone, but the Father is with them. First, When solitude is their choice, when they are alone, as Isaac in the field, Nathanael under the fig-tree, Peter upon the house-top, meditating and praying, the Father is with them. Those that converse with God in solitude are never less alone than when alone. A good God and a good heart are good company at any time. Secondly, When solitude is their affliction, their enemies lay them alone, and their friends leave them so, their company, like Job’s, is made desolate; yet they are not so much alone as they are thought to be, the Father is with them, as he was with Joseph in his bonds and with John in his banishment. In their greatest troubles they are as one whom his father pities, as one whom his mother comforts. And, while we have God’s favourable presence with us, we are happy, and ought to be easy, though all the world forsake us. Non deo tribuimus justum honorem nisi solus ipse nobis sufficiat—We do not render due honour to God, unless we deem him alone all-sufficient.—Calvin.
II. He comforts them with a promise of peace in him, by virtue of his victory over the world, whatever troubles they might meet with in it (John 16:33): “These things have I spoken, that in me you might have peace; and if you have it not in me you will not have it at all, for in the world you shall have tribulation; you must expect no other, and yet may cheer up yourselves, for I have overcome the world.” Observe,
1. The end Christ aimed at in preaching this farewell sermon to his disciples: That in him they might have peace. He did not hereby intend to give them a full view of that doctrine which they were shortly to be made masters of by the pouring out of the Spirit, but only to satisfy them for the present that his departure from them was really for the best. Or, we may take it more generally: Christ had said all this to them that by enjoying him they might have the best enjoyment of themselves. Note, (1.) It is the will of Christ that his disciples should have peace within, whatever their troubles may be without. (2.) Peace in Christ is the only true peace, and in him alone believers have it, for this man shall be the peace, Mic. 5:5. Through him we have peace with God, and so in him we have peace in our own minds. (3.) The word of Christ aims at this, that in him we may have peace. Peace is the fruit of the lips, and of his lips, Isa. 57:19.
2. The entertainment they were likely to meet with in the world: “You shall not have outward peace, never expect it.” Though they were sent to proclaim peace on earth, and good-will towards men, they must expect trouble on earth, and ill-will from men. Note, It has been the lot of Christ’s disciples to have more or less tribulation in this world. Men persecute them because they are so good, and God corrects them because they are no better. Men design to cut them off from the earth, and God designs by affliction to make them meet for heaven; and so between both they shall have tribulation.
3. The encouragement Christ gives them with reference hereto: But be of good cheer, tharseite. “Not only be of good comfort, but be of good courage; have a good heart on it, all shall be well.” Note, In the midst of the tribulations of this world it is the duty and interest of Christ’s disciples to be of good cheer, to keep up their delight in God whatever is pressing, and their hope in God whatever is threatening; as sorrowful indeed, in compliance with the temper of the climate, and yet always rejoicing, always cheerful (2 Cor. 6:10), even in tribulation, Rom. 5:3.
4. The ground of that encouragement: I have overcome the world. Christ’s victory is a Christian triumph. Christ overcame the prince of this world, disarmed him, and cast him out; and still treads Satan under our feet. He overcame the children of this world, by the conversion of many to the faith and obedience of his gospel, making them the children of his kingdom. When he sends his disciples to preach the gospel to all the world, “Be of good cheer,” says he, “I have overcome the world as far as I have gone, and so shall you; though you have tribulation in the world, yet you shall gain your point, and captivate the world,” Rev. 6:2. He overcame the wicked of the world, for many a time he put his enemies to silence, to shame; “And be you of good cheer, for the Spirit will enable you to do so too.” He overcame the evil things of the world by submitting to them; he endured the cross, despising it and the shame of it; and he overcame the good things of it by being wholly dead to them; its honours had no beauty in his eye, its pleasures no charms. Never was there such a conqueror of the world as Christ was, and we ought to be encouraged by it, (1.) Because Christ has overcome the world before us; so that we may look upon it as a conquered enemy, that has many a time been baffled. Nay, (2.) He has conquered it for us, as the captain of our salvation. We are interested in his victory; by his cross the world is crucified to us, which bespeaks it completely conquered and put into our possession; all is yours, even the world. Christ having overcome the world, believers have nothing to do but to pursue their victory, and divide the spoil; and this we do by faith, 1 John 5:4. We are more than conquerors through him that loved us.