The Spirit of Truth (John 16:12-15)–William Barclay

Eugene Burnand

Eugene Burnand

John 16:12-15 “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth has come, he will lead you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own authority and out of his own knowledge, but he will speak all that he will hear, and he will tell you of the things to come. He will glorify me, for he will take of the things which belong to me, and will tell you of them. All things that the Father has are mine. That is why I said that the Spirit will take of the things which belong to me, and tell them to you.”

To Jesus the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, whose great work is to bring God’s truth to men. We have a special name for this bringing of God’s truth to men; we call it revelation, and no passage in the New Testament shows us what we might call the principles of revelation better than this one.

(i) Revelation is bound to be a progressive process. Many things Jesus knew he could not at that moment tell his disciples, because they were not yet able to receive them. It is only possible to tell a man as much as he can understand. We do not start with the binomial theorem when we wish to teach a boy algebra; we work up to it. We do not start with advanced theorems when we wish to teach a child geometry; we approach them gradually. We do not start with difficult passages when we teach a lad Latin or Greek; we start with the easy and the simple things. God’s revelation to men is like that. He teaches men what they are able and fit to learn. This most important fact has certain consequences.

(a) It is the explanation of the parts of the Old Testament which sometimes worry and distress us. AT that stage they were all of God’s truth that men could grasp. Take an actual illustration—in the Old Testament there are many passages which call for the wiping out of men and women and children when an enemy city is taken. At the back of these passages there is the great thought that Israel must not risk the taint of any heathen and lower religion. To avoid that risk, those who do not worship the true God must be destroyed. That is to say, the Jews had at that stage grasped the fact that the purity of religion must be safeguarded; but they wished to preserve that purity by destroying the heathen. When Jesus came, men came to see that the way to preserve that purity is to convert the heathen. The people of the Old Testament times had grasped a great truth, but only one side of it. Revelation has to be that way; God can reveal only as much as a man can understand.

(b) It is the proof that there is no end to God’s revelation. One of the mistakes men sometimes make is to identify God’s revelation solely with the Bible. That would be to say that since about A.D. 120, when the latest book in the New Testament was written, God has ceased to speak. But God’s Spirit is always active; he is always revealing himself. It is true that his supreme and unsurpassable revelation came in Jesus; but Jesus is not just a figure in a book, he is a living person and in him God’s revelation goes on. God is still leading us into greater realization of what Jesus means. He is not a God who spoke up to A.D. 120 and is now silent. He is still revealing his truth to men.

(ii) God’s revelation to men is a revelation of all truth. It is quite wrong to think of it as confined to what we might call theological truth. The theologians and the preachers are not the only people who are inspired. When a poet delivers to men a great message in words which defy time, he is inspired. When H. F. Lyte wrote the words of Abide with me he had no feeling of composing them; he wrote them as to dictation. A great musician is inspired. Handel, telling of how he wrote The Hallelujah Chorus, said: “I saw the heavens opened, and the Great White God sitting on the Throne.” When a scientist discovers something which will help the world’s toil and make life better for men, when a surgeon discovers a new technique which will save men’s lives and ease their pain, when someone discovers a new treatment which will bring life and hope to suffering humanity, that is a revelation from God. All truth is God’s truth, and the revelation of all truth is the work of the Holy Spirit.

(iii) That which is revealed comes from God. He is alike the possessor and the giver of all truth. Truth is not men’s discovery; it is God’s gift. It is not something which we create; it is something already waiting to be discovered. At the back of all truth there is God.

(iv) Revelation is the taking of the things of Jesus and revealing their significance to us. Part of the greatness of Jesus is his inexhaustibleness. No man has ever grasped all that he came to say. No man has fully worked out all the significance of his teaching for life and for belief, for the individual and for the world, for society and for the nation. Revelation is a continual opening out of the meaning of Jesus.

There we have the crux of the matter. Revelation comes to us, not from any book or creed, but from a living person. The nearer we live to Jesus, the better we will know him. The more we become like him, the more he will be able to tell us. To enjoy his revelation we must accept his mastery.

Barclay’s Daily Study Bible (NT).

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