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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

John 18

 

 

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Verse 1

GETHSEMANE

‘Jesus … went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden.’

John 18:1

I. Sorrow experienced.—The agony and bloody sweat (Matthew 26:36; Luke 22:44).

II. Indignity suffered.—The traitor’s kiss (Matthew 26:49) and the soldiers’ assault (John 18:3; John 18:12).

III. Majesty displayed.—Christ’s advance towards the band (John 18:4) and announcement of Himself (John 18:5-6).

IV. Power exerted.—The hurling of the band to the ground (John 18:6) and the restraining of them while the disciples escaped (John 18:8).

V. Love manifested.—Christ’s care for His own. ‘Let these go their way’ (John 18:8).

VI. Mercy extended.—The healing of the servant’s ear (Luke 22:51).

VII. Submission rendered.—The drinking of the Father’s cup (John 18:11).

Illustration

‘A great painter, who painted the Man of Sorrows, as an act of the highest worship, showed at once his genius and his reverence by hiding the marred visage, leaving the less noble parts to reveal the agony that had broken His heart. So to us Gethsemane ought ever to be a veiled holy of holies, to be visited, if at all, only at moments when we can look with purified eyes, and allow the meaning of the Saviour in His Passion to steal softly into our minds. We are here on holy ground, and must stand, as it were, in spirit, bareheaded and barefooted, reverent while inquiring.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE SHADOWED GARDEN

From Bethlehem to Calvary Christ’s way was one long Via Dolorosa—the shadow of the Cross was flung before each onward step—but here is agony and bloody sweat indeed, and we may well believe that

‘Weeping angels stood confounded

To behold their Maker thus.’

I. Gethsemane speaks to those who have been led by grace to feel the sinfulness of sin.—It is here and at the Cross that we do indeed see sin in its true colours. Here we see the sinless Christ bowed down with horror to the ground—no sorrow is like unto His sorrow—exceeding great and bitter are His cries. If He were only an example, a hero, a martyr, He showed less heroism than many a martyr. Socrates, Polycarp, Huss, displayed greater courage. But Christ and His unexampled sorrow, Christ and His unknown agony, what does it all mean? It means that ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.’ (Galatians 3:13).

II. Gethsemane speaks to the lonely.—It may be you feel desolate and sad. The desire of your eyes has been taken from you, and you are alone. You try to keep up before the world, but often bitter tears fall down your cheeks. Now, if you are a disciple of Jesus, remember the disciple is not above his Master. Go and sit among the shadows of Gethsemane, and as you hear the wind moaning through the trees look around and let your eyes fall on Christ. He was there before you. He knows what it is to be desolate and low. When your heart is overwhelmed think of that prostrate Form beneath the olives of Gethsemane. In His agony your Lord prayed there three several times. And herein He set you an example: Go and pray, for you are never so near Christ as when you are drawing near to Him in prayer. ‘Could you not watch with Him one hour?’ (Matthew 26:40). Go and pray, and you will realise the joy and strength and peace of prayer. Go and pray, and you will know in very deed the Christ of Gethsemane can comfort the lonely and sad. Go and pray, and you will find that what begins in prayer will end in praise.

III. Gethsemane speaks to the tempted.—All God’s children pass through the furnace of temptation; all true gold must feel the fire; all good wheat must be threshed; all diamonds must be cut. But the Lord Jesus is able to sympathise with His tempted people, for ‘He knows what sore temptations mean.’ If you were very ill, would you care to be nursed by one who never felt a thrill of pain? Job’s friends could not comfort him, because they were utterly unable to understand his sufferings. But Christ possesses an ability to succour, arising out of knowledge gained by experience. ‘For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted’ (Hebrews 2:18). The Lord Himself knows the power of Satan; and it is a mercy indeed that He has bruised the head of the serpent, and that He will give His children strength to tread on the lion and adder, and to trample the dragon under their feet.

—Rev. F. Harper.

Illustration

‘Oh, what wonders love has done!

But how little understood!

God well knows, and God alone,

What produced that sweat of blood.

Who can thy deep wonders see,

Wonderful Gethsemane?

Here’s my claim, and here alone;

None a Saviour more can need.

Deeds of righteousness I’ve none;

No, not one good work to plead.

Not a glimpse of hope for me,

Only in Gethsemane.

Saviour, all the stone remove

From my flinty, frozen heart;

Thaw it with the beams of love,

Pierce it with a blood-dipped dart.

Wound the heart that wounded Thee,

Melt it in Gethsemane.’


Verse 36

NOT IF THIS WORLD

‘My kingdom is not of this world.’

John 18:36

It is time that defenders of the Christian Faith gave up apologising for it. If Christians are to conquer, it will be in the sign of the Cross; not by adopting the principles of their adversaries, but by the compelling audacity with which they display their own.

I. The reproach of other-worldliness is inevitable.—It is natural for writers like George Eliot or Cotter Morrison, whose horizon is limited by death, to be distressed when they see some of the best men occupied in matters which appear, and must appear, to them as futile—in prayer, which they must deem elaborate triviality, or in preaching a repentance which is only by fits and starts socially beneficent. It is not, of course, the worse but the better Christians whom altruists grudge to the service of God. ‘Other-worldliness’ may mean worldliness of the worst kind. You may talk of the value of treasure in heaven when you merely mean that you do not desire to be disturbed in the enjoyment of your treasure on earth. It is mere hypocrisy to say that suffering is a means of grace and comfort does not matter, when you mean that it does matter to you, and does not to those who have to endure the results of your selfishness. If our critics force us to the question, how far the Cross is anything real to us, or how we fulfil the duty of brotherhood, we ought only to thank them in deep penitence.

II. Still, though the reproach may be true in detail, taken as a whole it has no grounds.—Christianity is other-worldly. It is not merely a system of thought, or a moral code, or a philanthropy, or a romance, or all of these added together, that render it a mystery so ‘rich and strange.’ It is something unique. It attracts alike and repels men because it is itself, and not anything else. Alike in basis and nature, in motive and method, in ideal and result, the Christian Faith differs from all its rivals far more than it resembles them. This is the very reason why it always eludes and yet evokes their criticism. From the non-Christian standpoint we are bound to appear irrational, quixotic, futile, silly. If we do not appear so, it is because we have lowered the flag, and are striving to fight the world with its own weapons—a course which nothing could redeem from insincerity save its inherent stupidity. For the children of this world are, in their generation, wiser—very much wiser—than the children of light.

III. Christianity is not in its basis of this world.—It is no mere system of thought based upon reflection. It is a life rooted in faith. Thus a supernatural grace, a gift from beyond, is its foundation; for faith is more than an intellectual conviction. It is, of course, arguable that we are under a delusion in claiming this high prerogative; it is not arguable that having made the claim we are free to discuss the creed, as though it rested on some foundation other than faith, such as reasoning or historical criticism. The Creed may well find illumination in many different philosophies, which will vary with the temper of the time and the temperament of the individual. But it can never be identified with any one of them without ceasing to be itself.

IV. It is God we are seeking for.—The other world, which alone can give reality to this, alone can invest duty with enduring meaning, can find for beneficence a certain value, for knowledge an ordered place, and flash upon the shows of earthly beauty some hint at least of the eternal. Men bid us limit our aims and hopes to this life, and turn from the dazzling mirage of the other. Our answer is that we cannot. We may try, try hard, try—as a race—for generations, for centuries; but we cannot do it. God is calling us. In all ages He calls men to their home. More than ever are the signs of His call apparent in the restless, childish, pathetically eager world in which we live. ‘For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.’ It is not so much impious or sinful to seek to chain to earth beings born to give gladness to angels, or to treat as things of this world only spirits who may be the friends of God, as it is futile. It is impossible. It may not be. ‘For God created man to be immortal, and made him an image of His own eternity.’

—Rev. J. Neville Figgis.

Illustration

‘The Christian is gay. Was there ever a more unconventionally joyful spirit than St. Paul, or any schoolboy so playful as St. Francis? Not peace nor unison, not joy, not strength nor earnestness is the cachet of the Christian, but gaiety. He is ever shocking worldly men, strenuous moralists, by some play of the spirit which seems sacrilegious. This gaiety is other-worldly in origin—it comes from the love of One unseen; it is grounded on the belief that nothing really matters if all this works together for good to them that love God, and it is nurtured by the daily denial and sacrifice which is the inevitable and invariable consequence of love. There is no true love, earthly or heavenly, which does not issue in sacrifice and giving. And the suffering inherent is its glory and its crown, and the Cross its symbol. It is this eternal romanticism, this paradox of the Crucifix, that makes Christians incomprehensible to every one else—now as ever, to the Jews a stumblingblock, to the Greeks foolishness. Like the poet whose heart dances with the daffodils, the Christian delights in the world of things and events with a sense of their inner glory, that seems all but blasphemous to the serious moralist, and the educated worldling, who associate gaiety with the frivolous and are staggered by a religion so light-hearted and full of colour, so passionate and reckless.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE CHURCH AND THE STATE

This text is frequently persistently and mischievously misquoted and misapplied.

I. It is alleged that in and by these words our Lord condemned any union between Church and State.—Neither in the words of our Lord, nor in the circumstances which called them forth, nor in the objects which He appears to have had in view, nor in the false charge made against our Lord which His words were intended to meet and refute, was there anything to show that when our Lord spake these words He intended to condemn any union between Church and State, or that when He spake them, He had any possible future relations of Church and State in His mind. Yet these words of our Lord are quoted, and have been traditionally quoted, as if He had uttered them as condemnatory of what are called ‘Established Churches,’ or as if they were expressive of some fundamental principle incompatible with any settled arrangement or alliance between the spiritual and civil powers. For all this neither in the text nor context is there an atom of foundation. Our Lord was accused of trying to make Himself a king, and of endeavouring to set up a kingdom in opposition to Cæsar. His answer was thus: He did not deny that He was a King. He did not disclaim the idea of His purpose to set up a kingdom. But He affirmed that His kingdom was of such a nature that Cæsar had no reason to fear competition or rivalry for earthly dominion from Him, because His Kingdom was ‘not of this world.’ It is only a slavish parrot-like repetition of the traditional misinterpretation and misquotation of this passage that could find in it any logical reference to the relations between Church and State.

II. So far as the Church of England is concerned, as a Church having some relations with the State, we have never understood her in any way to say or claim anything contrary to these words of our Lord. She claims to be—and is primarily as her distinguishing characteristic—a purely spiritual and ecclesiastical body. As to her spiritual authority for her orders, faith, and essential principles of worship and government, she is certainly ‘not of this world.’ All these are of Divine origin. Much that is human may mingle with them, and so far defects and abuses may manifest themselves as human excrescences adhering to things of Divine origin; but these do not alter the foundations on which the Church is built, nor the source whence she sprang, nor her essentially spiritual character.

III. It is impossible for anything in the shape of an institution, however Divine it may be, having for its members imperfect men and women, not to have human relations, and not to exhibit some imperfections in these relations. It is beyond the reach of possibility for any religious society, whether it is what is called established, or unestablished, or disestablished, if it claims the protection of the State in which it exists, and if the State grants such protection, not to be to some extent in one way or another recognised by the State, privileged by the State, regulated by the State, and controlled by the State. Hence, of necessity, at once some kind of relation or union between such a society and the State is immediately established. The question then is what kind of relation or union is it to be? It is not a mere question of relation or no relation, or union, or non-union between Church and State, for relation and union of some kind there must be.

The question is, what form shall this union or mere relation assume? There may be some things, or indeed many things, in the long existing and gradually extending relations between the Church and the State in this country which it is not only expedient but necessary that we should revise, modify, and readjust; but there is nothing in the requirements of our Lord’s teaching to render an absolute abolition of the relations between Church and State necessary, nor is such an abolition as is regarded as freeing the Church from State control in matters of religion possible.

Rev. Thomas Moore.

Illustration

‘Let us never be ashamed to maintain that no Government can expect to prosper which refuses to recognise religion, which deals with its subjects as if they had no souls, and cares not whether they serve God, or Baal, or no God at all. Such a Government will find, sooner or later, that its line of policy is suicidal, and damaging to its best interests. No doubt the kings of this world cannot make men Christians by laws and statutes. But they can encourage and support Christianity, and they will do so if they are wise. The kingdom where there is the most industry, temperance, truthfulness, and honesty, will always be the most prosperous of kingdoms. The king who wants to see these things abound among his subjects, should do all that lies in his power to help Christianity and to discourage irreligion.’


Verse 37

THE KING JESUS

‘Pilate therefore said unto Him, Art Thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king.’

John 18:37

It was not as the Son of God that Jesus said this, but as the Son of Man. It would have been nothing that the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity should have been ‘a King.’ Of course He was; and much more than ‘a King.’ But that poor, weak, despised Man—that was standing there before Pontius Pilate—that was ‘a King.’ And all Scripture confirms it. It was the manhood of Christ that was there. This is the marvel, and here is the comfort.

I. God having elected Christ to His throne, put all that is in heaven and earth under His feet.—‘For when He saith, All things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is excepted’—that is, the Father—‘which did put all things under Him.’ This reign of Christ will certainly be to the end of this dispensation. When this dispensation will end, and what will come after it, we do not know. It is safest here to keep to the exact letter of God’s Word. Now see it.

II. The subjugation of the universe to the King Christ is now going on.—And it is very gradual. ‘We see not yet all things put under Him.’ Little by little it is extending itself. ‘One of a city, two of a family.’ The increase will grow rapid and immense. When He comes again, at once, to Him ‘every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear.’ The promise to Abraham and to David will be fulfilled to the seed, even to the world’s end. ‘There will be one Lord, and His name one.’

III. ‘Thy kingdom come.’—How much of that rich prayer is yet answered? how much are we waiting for? Three things it means. ‘Thy kingdom’ in my heart: ‘Thy kingdom’ over all the nations: ‘Thy kingdom’ at the Second Advent.

(a) The throne of God is set up for me. Sin is there. But now sin is only a rebel. It does not reign—as it once did.

(b) It is being accomplished; and God bless the missions!

(c) We long and look for it with outstretched neck, and hail each gleam of the horizon.

IV. Mercy dwells with the King.—At His throne ‘mercy and truth have met together; and righteousness and peace have kissed each other.’ Appeal only to the anointed ‘King’ of the whole earth. Remind Him of His own absolute will and power. Tell Him that He is ‘King’ to this very end, that mercy may prevail over judgment; and that He is gone up to ‘receive gifts’—the precious gift of life—‘for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them’; and see, see whether He will not stretch out His sceptre to you, and say, ‘Live.’ ‘Shall any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over all Israel?’ ‘Deliver Him from going down to the pit—I have found a ransom.’

And when you go to this King in prayer—as you may always—for He always sits in His audience chamber to hear the suit of His meanest subjects—remind Him that ‘you are going to a King’;—a ‘King’ of power illimitable, and love with no bound; a ‘King,’ Who has once purchased to Himself, with His own Blood, the right to be ‘Head over His Church.’ And expect, and command it to your heart. He will give royally. Not according to the mean giving of poor, puny, upbraiding men—but after His own large heart and unbounded sway.’

—Rev. James Vaughan.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 18:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/john-18.html. 1876.

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