“WHEN THE COMFORTER IS COME”
“If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive; for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him: ye know him; for he abideth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:15-17).
“But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you” (John 14:26-27).
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall bear witness of me, and ye also shall bear witness” (John 15:26-27).
Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you, but if I go, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7).
THERE are many variations of this word “Comforter”, such as ‘Advocate’, ‘Helper’, ‘Counsellor’. They all seem inadequate, but probably the best is this old one, “Comforter”, provided we do not think of that in terms of mere pacifying or soothing influence, but realize the true meaning of the English word, which is to bring strength. The Lord Jesus was speaking to His disciples of a day that was to be “when the Comforter is come”, and assuring them that He was not coming as a mere power to help them, nor as an influence to bless them, nor as a substitute merely for Christ in an outward way, but the purpose of His coming was that Christ was, by this means, to minister and to communicate in an inward way His own very life to them. He was coming, but not as they had known Him before. They had only known Him as the world had known Him, though perhaps in a more intimate way and on more intimate terms, but they knew Him by the same means — by their senses, their eyes, their ears, and so on. But now the Lord Jesus was saying: ‘I am coming to you in a way that the world does not know and cannot know, for it is an inward way. That is a Divine expediency.’ “It is expedient for you …” In other words, this is one of the great ‘musts’ of the Bible.
We are familiar with some of them. “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). “Neither is there any other name under heaven … wherein we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And this is equally emphatic. We must know the inward power of Christ’s life by the Holy Spirit.
“When the Comforter is come …” This was a challenge to the disciples. If you read chapters 14, 15 and 16 of John, which are so very familiar to us, you will find that the disciples, when the Lord spoke to them, were all in a muddle; they were perplexed; they could not understand. The Lord was talking about something which was quite beyond their experience and they did not know what He meant. That, of course, was particularly owing to the day in which they lived, for they were pre-Pentecost and could not know. Nevertheless, the challenge comes to us that, for many practical purposes, we may be in the same condition, so I want to say a little about the coming of the Comforter as an essentially inward work in the very innermost heart of our being, for the Lord says that ‘must be’. If we are to reach any worthwhile spiritual goal we must be born again, and equally we must know that the Comforter has come. The outward experiences of Christ are not sufficient, for to a large extent they are devoid of power. So the whole challenge to us is — as it was to the disciples — whether our experiences are largely of that superficial character, or whether they are inward.
THE TEACHING OF THE SPIRIT
We take first the matter of teaching — “He shall teach you all things”. Sometimes we are rather proud of the teaching which we have had, for it has been good teaching, Bible teaching, spiritual teaching, deep teaching. Well, the disciples had it all, for they had the best. They had over three years of the best teaching that any man ever had, for it came from the lips of the Lord Himself. Sometimes for us the value of the word is lost because we take too much note of the one who speaks it, and we reject the Lord’s word because of the messenger. We are quite wrong to do that, because the truth is still the truth, whoever speaks it. While those who speak it need to be very much before the Lord that they should not be contradictions of what they say, we must remember that the truth is still the truth. We cannot avoid it, and we cannot excuse ourselves by the faults of the one who speaks it. But that cannot be said about the Lord! Every Divine utterance that came from those lips was not only the truth, but it was [35/36] altogether confirmed and expressed in the life of the One who spoke it. What a teacher! And what teaching! And yet, at the end of it all, were they any better for it? It is very difficult to say. Was there any real expression of what they had learned in their lives? It is hard to find. The very best teaching over years, received in all sincerity, is powerless until it becomes an inward experience.
Now the Lord Jesus says: ‘There is a new day coming when all that you have heard from Me shall become vital truth inside you.’ “He shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.” Do you think the disciples had forgotten what the Lord said? I do not, for they were men of at least average intelligence, and it is quite clear from the Gospels that the Lord repeated again and again the most important of His utterances. So I am sure they had not forgotten what the Lord said. Why, then, does He say: ‘The Spirit will bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you’? Well, it works like this. We might know what the Bible teaches about love from beginning to end and could give an exposition on it with all its different points, but in the midst of our daily life be suddenly brought into a situation where our own impetuosity or lack of love is going to find expression. It is then that the Spirit warns us and ‘brings to our remembrance’ — not for intellectual purposes, but for practical purposes, and, unless He does that, what is the use of all that teaching? Do you think the world would have been any better for these disciples if there had not been a Pentecost? I do not, and yet, in the letter, they knew as much the day before Pentecost as they knew the day after. Oh, the difference between the outward impact of teaching, and the vital reminder and application of that teaching in the inward man!
“When the Comforter is come …” We must not base our doctrine on the Comforter coming on the day of Pentecost, or on any doctrine that is mere doctrine. The challenge as to whether the Comforter is come is found in whether the teaching is in us, whether it is working and whether it is finding expression, for the Lord says that when He comes that will be His work — “He shall guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).
THE INDWELLING OF CHRIST BY THE SPIRIT
But more than the teaching, we must think of the power of influence. What a wonderful power there is in the influential atmosphere of a good and godly person! How much we affect people, not by what the Lord knows we are inside, but by what they get from us, or what they see in us! I think all of us would be checked up daily, almost hourly, if we realized that, while the first thing is our own life with the Lord, we must always be remembering how we are influencing and impressing others. There is a great power for good about the loving, holy, true life of one with whom we have close contact. Well, the disciples had plenty of that! Day and night for a very long time they had the best influence that any men have ever had, and they enjoyed it and were helped by it, but in the end it did not make a lasting change in their character. When the influence was taken away they had lost the secret of their living. The Lord was going, and they wondered how they could then continue in the life which they had been living. So, while it is true that the influence that we bear on others is of great importance, it is equally true that, in the last issue, mere influence is not enough, for it is external, superficial, and depends upon the realized, conscious presence of the other person. We are challenged in that very matter, for there are many things we would never say nor do in the presence of other people whom we respect, and yet we say and do them when we are absent from those people — as though the Lord were not with us. We would not like to hurt or grieve loved ones, or those whom we honour. The Apostle says: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30).
When the disciples came to know the transformation, the change, from that which had been outward, wonderful though it was, to that which was inward, they came into the experience of which the Lord spoke when He said: “In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). To know, not in mere doctrine, but in vital spiritual consciousness, is better than the influence of a godly life! “Ye shall know that … I (am) in you.” No wonder that the Lord said: “It is expedient for you that I go away”, for they might have had twenty or thirty years with Him instead of three and imagined that, because their lives were made more sweet and valuable and acceptable in an outward way because of His influence, they were Christians, and they would not have been. Christians are not made from the outside. “In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” — that is how Christians are made.
THE SERVICE OF THE SPIRIT
Then there is the matter of service. None of the sermons of the disciples before Pentecost are [36/37] recorded. I am rather sorry, for it would be interesting to know what they preached and how they preached it. We do not know, but I question whether, in actual phraseology and words they would have been found faulty. I imagine that, to a large extent, they repeated the lessons which Jesus had taught them, and preached the messages which they had heard from His lips, but what we do know for certain is that when the Lord was with them only in an outward way, their service was largely powerless. It had little energy or ability to effect any really vital purpose. Yes, they served the Lord for three years. Do not think that they started their service for the Lord on the day of Pentecost! They served Him during those three years, but everything was in an outward way. They were repeating what they had heard someone else say; they were conveying the lessons that they had learned in an outward way, but they were doing their best to serve the Lord. We must never imagine that the disciples were anything less than wholehearted, devoted lovers of the Lord through all His earthly ministry, but there was not much to show for the service at the end of the three years because, as we have been saying, all this knowledge of Christ, which was superficial, lacked power.
Now the Lord Jesus said: “When the Comforter is come … he shall bear witness of me, and ye also shall bear witness.” That is not even saying: ‘You will be witnesses and the Holy Spirit will back up what you say’, though that might be true, but He puts it the other way round. ‘The Spirit is working, the Spirit is busy, the Spirit has taken up the matter of the service of God, and you will find that you are sharing it with Him. You will be brought into it by Him, and the effect of it will be this: “When (the Comforter) is come, (he) will convict the world of sin” (John 16:7-8)’ “When the Comforter is come” — but not to the world. The spirit of God has always been in the world. We must not pray for the Spirit of God to fall like an influence on people, convicting them of sin, (though sometimes He may do that), for that is not what the Lord said. He said: ‘I am sending the Spirit to you , who have lacked conviction when you have spoken, whose words have been so powerless, and whose service has been so ineffective. I am sending the Spirit to you, and when He comes the world will be convicted of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.’ And it works like that! It searches all our hearts when we realize how often our lives lack the tang of that conviction, and how our words fail to do what Peter’s did at Pentecost — pierce men to their heart.
THE INWARD PEACE AND JOY OF THE SPIRIT
How transient, how unsatisfactory, were all the disciples’ experiences of blessedness! But when the Lord Jesus spoke of the day when the Holy Spirit should come, He coupled with that promise the promise of His peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth” John 14:27). They had known peace in company with the Lord Jesus, but in its essence it had been the kind of peace that the world gives. You remember, for instance, the terrible storm they were in, and how the Lord Jesus, by His presence in the boat, calmed the storm and brought a great peace to them. They did not need to be disciples to experience that peace! In fact, there were other ships round about that got the blessing of it. They had known the peace of realizing, when they were hungry, that it was not their concern, but the Lord’s, for He would provide them with food. There were many ways in which, in outward experiences, they knew peace by the fact that the Lord Jesus was among them.
It was the same with joy. He turned the water into wine. He gave them happy, joyful experiences, but the joy did not last. When the Lord spoke these words to them they were gloomy and depressed, and He had to upbraid them, chide them, but at the same time He brought them a word of promise. He said: ‘This is the sorrow of travail, but it will give place to the joy of realization, and that joy is a joy that the world cannot give you, and a joy that the world cannot take away from you. Even though I go “your joy no one taketh from you”.’
Oh, the blessedness of Christ when known, not by the outward tokens of His favour but by the inward witness of the Holy Ghost! Has the Comforter come to you like that? That is the challenge all the time!
THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT
There is the matter of unity, too. Even the Lord Jesus was incapable of establishing real unity when He was found just in the midst of His disciples! That sounds a terrible thing to say, for it seems as though He was ineffective — but He is ineffective as long as He is only outside of us. That is why He said: ‘I must go away, because here, while I am in the midst of you, and you are all gathered around Me, you are not really united, and you cannot be united. It was foretold as long ago as Zechariah’s time that when the Shepherd was smitten, the flock would be scattered (Zechariah [37/38] 13:7). So long as you all keep your eyes on Me you have at least a method of living, and you get on together — though not very well. But take Me away and you are disintegrated — and God means you to be disintegrated.’ This is a Divine exposure of the inadequacy of any other unity than the unity of the Spirit. Unity, after all, is a matter of confidence — I think the whole crux of unity is found in that word ‘confidence’. One disciple would say: ‘Well, of course, I have confidence in the Lord, but I have not got confidence in this man.’ James might say: ‘I have confidence in John, but I have doubts about Peter.’ So it was impossible for them to be united. They would each say: ‘Yes, I have confidence in the Lord, but I have no confidence in my brother.’ That is a very common state of affairs! What is the Lord’s answer to it? As far as I can see, the answer was given in these words when the Lord Jesus said: “When the Comforter is come”. Chapter 17, which expresses His great prayer for unity, is not the prayer that is to remind us to try and get on with one another, but the prayer to the Father that this great thing might be realized and that unity might be achieved by Christ dwelling in His people. John has no confidence in what he sees of Peter, but after Pentecost he finds that there is something of the Lord in Peter, and He has confidence in the Lord. As long as this band of men have the common factor of Christ within, they must be patient, they must have love, and they must devote all their prayers and efforts to the strengthening of that bond, and trust the Lord to deal with the much that is not of that character.
That is in us all. We see it perhaps more glaringly in one than in another, and it may be present in larger measure in some than in others, but if we look at that disuniting, disintegrating factor of what we are, unity is impossible. Christ is robbed, the devil is pleased, the world is stumbled, and we find ourselves more and more isolated. Think what would have happened if there had been no Pentecost! Each one of those disciples would have lost confidence more and more in the others, and they would have become more and more separated each from the other until in the end the ones who were so conscious of faults in others would find themselves isolated and separated. That is how it works out. It is spiritual death to us to live on the ground of what we are, or what anyone is in the flesh.
The secret of unity is to know that the Comforter has come. It is a challenge to us all that others should not find so much of that other element in us, but that what Christ is should have the greater part, should be the predominant, governing influence in our lives. The more that is so, the more unity is possible, and the more power there will be about the unity. But it is not a question of greater or lesser unity. It is a question of no unity because things are outward, or of unity because Christ is within.
“When the Comforter is come …” It is a challenge to us all as to whether the Comforter has come, as to how much opportunity He has, as to whether we perchance have quenched Him, or are quenching Him — or, to use that far more intimate term, whether we have grieved Him, or are grieving Him, for He is a Person. Is Christ within? Let us praise the blessed Name of the Lord who was ready to go away in order that He might come, and who has come to our hearts to fill them with himself! – H. F.