THE LAST DISCOURSE.
NO sooner had Judas left the room, than, as though they had been relieved of some ghastly incubus, the spirits of the little company revived. The presence of that haunted soul lay with a weight of horror on the heart of his Master, and no sooner had he departed than the sadness of the feast seems to have been sensibly relieved. The solemn exultation which dilated the soul of their Lordthat joy like the sense of a boundless sunlight behind the earth-born mistscommunicated itself to the spirits of His followers. The dull clouds caught the sunset colouring. In sweet and tender communion, perhaps two hours glided away at that quiet banquet. Now it was that, conscious of the impending separation, and fixed unalterably in His sublime resolve, He opened His heart to the little band of those who loved Him, and spoke among them those farewell discourses preserved for us by St. John alone, so "rarely mixed of sadness and joys, and studded with mysteries as with emeralds." "Now," He said, as though with a sigh of relief, "now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him." The hour of that glorificationthe glorification which was to be won through the path of humility and agonywas at hand. The time which remained for Him to be with them was short; as He had said to the Jews, so now He said to them, that whither He was going they could not come. And in telling them this, for the first and last time, He calls them "little children." In that company were Peter and John, men whose words and deeds should thenceforth influence the whole world of man until the endmen who should become the patron saints of nationsin whose honour cathedrals should be built, and from whom cities should be named; but their greatness was but a dim faint reflection from His risen glory, and a gleam caught from that spirit which He would send. Apart from Him they were nothing, and less than nothingignorant Galilæan fishermen, unknown and unheard of beyond their native villagehaving no intellect and no knowledge save that He had thus regarded them as His "little children." And though they could not follow Him whither He went, yet He did not say to them, as He had said to the Jews (John vii. 34; viii. 21), that they should seek Him and not find Him. Nay, more, He gave them a new commandment, by which, walking in His steps, and being known by all men as His disciples, they should find Him soon. That new commandment was that they should love one another. In one sense, indeed, it was not new. Even in the law of Moses (Lev. xix. 18), not only had there been room for the precept, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," but that precept had even been regarded by wise Jewish teachers as cardinal and inclusiveas "the royal law according to the Scripture," as "the message from the beginning" (James ii. 8; 1 John iii. 11). And yet, as St. John points out in his Epistle, though in one sense old, it was, in another, wholly newnew in the new prominence given to itnew in the new motives by which it was enforcednew because of the new example by which it was recommendednew from the new influence which it was henceforth destined to exercise. It was Love, as the test and condition of discipleship, Love as greater than even Faith and Hope, Love as the fulfilling of the Law.
At this point St. Peter interposed a question. Before Jesus entered on a new topic, he wished for an explanation of something which he had not understood. Why was this farewell aspect about the Lord's discourse? "Lord, whither goest thou?"
"Whither I go thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards."
Peter now understood that death was meant, but why could he not also die? was he not as ready as Thomas to say (John xi. 16), "Let us also go that we may die with Him?" "Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake."
Why? Our Lord might have answered, Because the heart is deceitful above all things; because thy want of deep humility deceives thee; because it is hidden, even from thyself, how much there still is of cowardice and self-seeking in thy motives. But He would not deal thus with the noble-hearted but weak and impetuous Apostle whose love was perfectly sincere, though it did not stand the test. He spares him all reproach; only very gently He repeats the question, "Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice!" Already it was night; ere the dawn of that fatal morning shuddered in the eastern skybefore the cock crow, uttered in the deep darkness, prophesied that the dawn was nearJesus would have begun to lay down His life for Peter and for all who sin; but already by that time Peter, unmindful even of this warning, should have thrice repudiated his Lord and Saviour, thrice have rejected as a calumny and an insult the mere imputation that he even knew Him. All that Jesus could do to save him from the agony of this moral humiliationby admonition, by tenderness, by prayer to His Heavenly FatherHe had done. He had prayed for him that his faith might not finally fail. Satan indeed had obtained permission to sift them all as wheat, and in spite of all his self-confidence, in spite of all his protested devotion, in spite of all his imaginary sincerity, he should be but as the chaff. It is remarkable that in the parallel passage of St. Luke occurs the only instance recorded in the Gospel of our Lord having addressed Simon by that name of Peter which he had Himself bestowed. It is as though He meant to remind the Man of Rock that his strength lay, not in himself. but in that good confession which he once had uttered. And yet Christ held out to him a gracious hope. He should repent and return to the Lord whom he should deny, and, when that day should come, Jesus bade him show that truest and most acceptable proof of penitencethe strengthening of others. And if his fall gave only too terrible a significance to his Saviour's warnings, yet his repentance nobly fulfilled those consolatory prophecies; and it is most interesting to find that the very word which Jesus had used to him recurs in his Epistle in a connection which shows how deeply it had sunk into his soul.
But Jesus wished His Apostles to feel that the time was come when all was to be very different from the old spring-tide of their happy mission days in Galilee. Then He had sent them forth without purse or scrip or sandals, and yet they had lacked nothing. But the purse and the scrip were needful noweven the sword might become a fatal necessityand therefore "he that hath no sword let him sell his garment and buy one." The very tone of the expression showed that it was not to be taken in strict literalness. It was our Lord's custombecause His words, which were spoken for all time, were intended to be fixed as goads and as nails in a sure placeto clothe His moral teachings in the form of vivid metaphor and searching paradox. It was His object now to warn them of a changed condition, in which they must expect hatred, neglect, opposition, and in which even self-defence might become a paramount duty; but, as though to warn them clearly that He did not mean any immediate effortas though beforehand to discourage any blow struck in defence of that life which He willingly resignedHe added that the end was near, and that in accordance with olden prophecy He should be numbered with the transgressors. But, as usual, the Apostles carelessly and ignorantly mistook His words, seeing in them no spiritual lesson, but only the barest and baldest literal meaning. "Lord, behold here are two swords," was their almost childish comment on His words. Two swords!as though that were enough to defend from physical violence His sacred life! as though that were an adequate provision for Him who, at a word, might have commanded more than twelve legions of angels! as though such feeble might, wielded by such feeble hands, could save Him from the banded hate of a nation of His enemies! "It is enough," He sadly said. It was not needful to pursue the subject; the subsequent lesson in Gethsemane would unteach them their weak misapprehensions of His words. He dropped the subject, and waiving aside their proffered swords, proceeded to that tenderer task of consolation, about which He had so many things to say.
He bade them not be troubled; they believed, and their faith should find its fruition. He was but leaving them to prepare for them a home in the many mansions of His Father's house. They knew whither He was going, and they knew the way.
"Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way?" is the perplexed answer of the melancholy Thomas.
"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life," answered Jesus; "no man cometh unto the Father but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also; and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him."
Again came one of those naive interruptionsso faithfully and vividly recorded by the Evangelistwhich yet reveal such a depth of incapacity to understand, so profound a spiritual ignorance after so long a course of divine training. And we may well be thankful that the simplicity and ignorance of these Apostles is thus frankly and humbly recorded; for nothing can more powerfully tend to prove the utter change which must have passed over their spirits, for men so timid, so carnal, so Judaic, so unenlightened, could be transformed into the Apostles whose worth we know, and whoinspired by the facts which they had seen, and by the Holy Spirit who gave them wisdom and utterancebecame, before their short lives were ended by violence, the mightiest teachers of the world.
"Lord, show us the Father," said Philip of Bethsaida, "and it sufficeth us!"
Show us the Father! what then did Philip expect? Some earthshaking-epiphany? Some blinding splendour in the heavens? Had he not yet learnt that He who is invisible cannot be seen by mortal eyes; that the finite cannot attain to the vision of the Infinite; that they who would see God must see no manner of similitudes; that His awful silence can only be broken to us through the medium of human voices, His being only comprehended by means of the things that He hath made? And had he wholly failed to discover that for these three years he had been walking with God? that neither he, nor any other mortal man could ever know more of God in this world than that which should be revealed of Him by "the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father?"
Again there was no touch of anger, only a slight accent of pained surprise in the quiet answer, "Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father, and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?"
And then appealing to His words and to His works as only possible by the indwelling of His Father, He proceeded to unfold to them the coming of the Holy Ghost, and how that Comforter dwelling in them should make them one with the Father and with Him.
But at this point Judas Lebbæus had a difficulty. He had not understood that the eye can only see that which it possesses the inherent power of seeing. He could not grasp the fact that God can become visible to those alone the eyes of whose understanding are open so that they can discern spiritual things. "Lord, how is it," he asked, "that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not to the world?"
The difficulty was exactly of the same kind as Philip's had beenthe total inability to distinguish between a physical and a spiritual manifestation; and without formally removing it, Jesus gave them all, once more, the true clue to the comprehension of His wordsthat God lives with them that love Him, and that the proof of love is obedience. For all further teaching He referred them to the Comforter whom He was about to send, who should bring all things to their remembrance. And now He breathes upon them His blessing of peace, meaning to add but little more, because His conflict with the prince of this world should now begin.
At this point of the discourse there was a movement among the little company. "Arise," said Jesus, "let us go hence."
They rose from the table, and united their voices in a hymn which may well have been a portion of the great Hallel, and not improbably the 116th, 117th, and 118th Psalms. What an imperishable interest do these Psalms derive from such an association, and how full of meaning must many of the verses have been to some of them! With what intensity of feeling must they have joined in singing such words as these"The sorrows of death compassed me, the pains of hell gat hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord; 0 Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul;" or again, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord;" or once again, "Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation. The stone which the builders refused is become the head-stone in the corner. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes."
Before they started for their moonlight walk to the Garden of Gethsemane, perhaps while yet they stood around their Lord when the Hallel was over, He once more spoke to them. First He told them of the need of closest union with Him, if they would bring forth fruit, and be saved from destruction. He clothed this lesson in the allegory of "the Vine and the Branches." There is no need to find any immediate circumstance which suggested the metaphor, beyond the "fruit of the vine" of which they had been partaking: but if any were required, we might suppose that, as He looked out into the night, He saw the moonlight silvering the leaves of a vine which clustered round the latticed window, or falling on the colossal golden vine which wreathed one of the Temple gates. But after impressing this truth in the vivid form of parable, He showed them how deep a source of joy it would be to them in the persecutions which awaited them from an angry world; and then in fuller, plainer, deeper language than He had ever used before, He told them, that, in spite of all the anguish with which they contemplated the coming separation from Him, it was actually better for them that His personal presence should be withdrawn in order that His spiritual presence might be yet nearer to them than it ever had been before. This would be effected by the coming of the Holy Ghost, when He who was now with them should be ever in them. The mission of that Comforter should be to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment; and He should guide them into all truth, and show them things to come. "He shall glorify me; for He shall receive of mine, and show it unto you." And now He was going to His Father; a little while, and they should not see Him; and again a little while, and they should see Him.
The uncertainty as to what He meant carried the disciples once more to questions among themselves during one of the solemn pauses of His discourse. They would gladly have asked Him, but a deep awe was upon their spirits, and they did not dare. Already they had several times broken the current of His thoughts by questions which, though He did not reprove them, had evidently grieved Him by their emptiness, and by the misapprehension which they showed of all that He sought to impress upon them. So their whispered questioning died away into silence, but their Master kindly came to their relief. This, He told them, was to be their brief hour of anguish, but it was to be followed by a joy of which man could not rob them; and to that joy there need be no limit, for whatever might be their need they had but to ask the Father, and it should be fulfilled. To that Father who Himself loved them, for their belief in Himto that Father, from whom He came, He was now about to return.
The disciples were deeply grateful for these plain and most consoling words. Once more they were unanimous in expressing their belief that He came forth from God. But Jesus sadly checked their enthusiasm. His words had been meant to give them peace in the present, and courage and hope for the future; yet He knew and told them that, in spite of all that they said, the hour was now close at hand when they should all be scattered in selfish terror, and leave Him aloneyet not alone, because the Father was with Him.
And after these words He lifted up His eyes to heaven, and uttered His great High-Priestly prayer: first, that His Father would invest His voluntary humanity with the eternal glory of which He had emptied Himself when He took the form of a servant; next, that He would keep through His own name these His loved ones who had walked with Him in the world; and then that He would sanctify and make perfect not these alone, but all the myriads, all the long generations, which should hereafter believe through their word.
And when the tones of this divine prayer were hushed, they left the guest-chamber and stepped into the moonlit silence of the Oriental night.