In chapter 8, as we have said, the word of Jesus is rejected; and, in chapter 9, His works. But there is much more than that. The personal glories of chapter 1 are reproduced and developed in all these chapters separately (leaving out for the moment from verse 36 to 51 of chapter 1): we have found again the verses 14-34 in chapters 5, 6, and 7. The Holy Ghost now returns to the subject of the first verses in the chapter. Christ is the Word; He is the life, and the life which is the light of men. The three chapters that I have now pointed out speak of what He is in grace for men, while still declaring His right to judge. The Spirit here (in chap. 8) sets before us that which He is in Himself, and that which He is to men (thus putting them to the test, so that in rejecting Him they reject themselves, and shew themselves to be reprobate).
Let us now consider our chapter. The contrast with Judaism is evident. They bring a woman whose guilt is undeniable. The Jews, in their wickedness, bring her forward in the hope of confounding the Lord. If He condemned her, He was not a Saviour-the law could do as much. If He let her go, He despised and disallowed the law. This was clever; but what avails cleverness in the presence of God who searches the heart? The Lord allows them to commit themselves thoroughly by not answering them for awhile. Probably they thought He was entangled. At last He says, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the stone." Convicted by their conscience, without honesty and without faith, they quit the scene of their confusion, separating from each other, each caring for himself, caring for character not conscience, and departing from Him who had convicted them; he who had the most reputation to save going out first. What a sorrowful picture! What a mighty word! Jesus and the woman are left together alone. Who can stand unconvicted in His presence? With regard to the woman, whose guilt was known, He does not go beyond the Jewish position, except to preserve the rights of His own Person in grace.
This is not the same thing as in Luke 7, plenary pardon and salvation. The others could not condemn her-He would not. Let her go, and let her sin no more. It is not the grace of salvation that the Lord exhibits here. He does not judge, He was not come for this; but the efficacy of the pardon is not the subject of these chapters-it is the glory here of His Person, in contrast with all that is of the law. He is the light, and by the power of His word He entered as light into the conscience of those who had brought the woman.
For the Word was light; but that was not all. Coming into the world, He was (chap. 1:4-10) the light. Now it was the life that was the light of men. It was not a law that made demands, and condemned; or that promised life on obedience to its precepts. It was the Life itself which was there in His Person, and that life was the light of men, convincing them, and, perhaps, judging them; but it was as light. Thus Jesus says here-in contrast with the law, brought by those who could not stand before the light-"I am the light of the world" (not merely of the Jews). For in this Gospel we have what Christ is essentially in His Person, whether as God, the Son come from the Father, or Son of man-not what God was in special dealings with the Jews. Hence He was the object of faith in His Person, not in dispensational dealings. Whoso followed Him should have the light of life. But it was in Him, in His Person, that it was found. And He could bear record of Himself, because, although He was a man there, in this world, He knew whence He came and whither He was going. It was the Son, who came from the Father and was returning to Him again. He knew it, and was conscious of it. His testimony, therefore, was not that of an interested person which one might hesitate to believe. There was, in proof that this man was the One whom He represented Himself to be, the testimony of the Son (His own), and the testimony of the Father. If they had known Him, they would have known the Father.
At that time-in spite of such testimony as this-no one laid hands on Him: His hour was not yet come. That only was wanting; for their opposition to God was certain, and known to Him. This opposition was plainly declared (v. 19-24); consequently, if they believed not, they would die in their sins. Nevertheless He tells them that they shall know who He is, when He shall have been rejected and lifted up on the cross, having taken a very different position as the Saviour, rejected by the people and unknown of the world; when no longer presented to them as such, they should know that He was indeed the Messiah, and that He was the Son who spoke to them from the Father. As He spake these words, many believed on Him. He declares to them the effect of faith, which gives occasion to the true position of the Jews being manifested with terrible precision. He declares that the truth would set them free, and that if the Son (who is the truth) should set them free, they would be free indeed. The truth sets free morally before God. The Son, by virtue of the rights that were necessarily His, and by inheritance in the house, would place them in it according to those rights, and that in the power of divine life come down from heaven-the Son of God with power as resurrection declared it. In this was the true setting free.
Piqued at the idea of bondage, which their pride could not bear, they declare themselves to be free, and never to have been in bondage to any one. In reply, the Lord shews that those who commit sin are the servants (slaves) of sin. Now, as being under the law, as being Jews, they were servants in the house: they should be sent away. But the Son had inalienable rights; He was of the house and would abide in it for ever. Under sin, and under the law, was the same thing for a child of Adam; he was a servant. The apostle shews this in Romans 6 (compare chaps. 7 and 8) and in Galatians 4 and 5. Moreover, they were neither really, nor morally, the children of Abraham before God, although they were so according to the flesh; for they sought to kill Jesus. They were not children of God; had they been, they would have loved Jesus who came from God. They were the children of the devil and would do his works.
Observe here, that to understand the meaning of the word is the way to apprehend the force of the words. One does not learn the definition of words and then the things; one learns the things, and then the meaning of the words is evident.
They begin to resist the testimony, conscious that He was making Himself greater than all those whom they had leant upon. They rail upon Him because of His words; and by their opposition the Lord is induced to explain Himself more clearly; until, having declared that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and the Jews applying this to His age as man, He announces positively that He is the One who calls Himself I am-the supreme name of God, that He is God Himself-He whom they pretended to know as having revealed Himself in the bush.
Wondrous revelation! A despised, rejected man, despised and rejected by men, contradicted, ill-treated, yet it was God Himself who was there. What a fact! What a total change! What a revelation to those who acknowledged Him, or who know Him! What a condition is theirs who have rejected Him, and that because their hearts were opposed to all that He was, for He did not fail to manifest Himself! What a thought, that God Himself has been here! Goodness itself! How everything vanishes before Him!-the law, man, his reasonings. Everything necessarily depends on this great fact. And, blessed be His name! this God is a Saviour. We are indebted to the sufferings of Christ for knowing it. And note here, how the setting aside formal dispensations from God, if true, is by the revelation of Himself, and so introduces infinitely greater blessing.
But here He presents Himself as the Witness, the Word, the Word made flesh, the Son of God, but still the Word, God Himself. In the narrative at the beginning of the chapter He is a testimony to the conscience, the Word that searches and convicts. Verse 18, He bears testimony with the Father. Verse 26, He declares in the world that which He has received of the Father, and as taught of God He has spoken. Moreover the Father was with Him. Verses 32, 33, the truth was known by His word, and the truth made them free. Verse 47, He spoke the words of God. Verse 51, His word, being kept, preserved from death. Verse 58, it was God Himself, the Jehovah whom the fathers knew, that spoke.
Opposition arose from its being the word of truth (v. 45). Opposers were of the adversary. He was a murderer from the beginning, and they would follow him; but as the truth was the source of life, so that which characterised the adversary was, that he abode not in the truth: there is no truth in him. He is the father and the source of lies, so that,if falsehood speaks, it is one belonging to him that speaks. Sin was bondage, and they were in bondage by the law. (Truth, the Son Himself, made free.) But, more than that, the Jews were enemies, children of the enemy, and they would do his works, not believing the words of Christ because He spoke the truth. There is no miracle here; it is the power of the word, and the living word is God Himself: rejected by men, He is, as it were, compelled to speak the truth, to reveal Himself, hidden at once and manifested, as He was in the flesh-hidden as to His glory, manifested as to all that He is in His Person and in His grace.