Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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for us, we, at least, have believed." We perceive
the pride in his faith which dictated the words.
And now we understand the sharpness of our
Lord's rebuke, with its emphasis on the personal
pronoun. "You boast yourselves," replies Jesus,
"that you at least have believed — was it after
all you that believed in Me, or I that chose you —
the twelve? And even so, of you, one at least is
a devil ! ' ' Poor Peter — always boasting and always
getting the "Get thee behind me, Satan."

How plain the lesson to us is. A warning,
clear, sharp, overwhelming, against all spiritual
pride. I am afraid that we too are prone to pride
ourselves on what we have only received, as if
by our own power we had done these things.
There is nothing more unlovely than pride in
spiritual things. Do we not feel it moving in us
sometimes, however, in the precise form in which
it attacked Peter here.^^ Are we not inclined, not
merely to felicitate ourselves, but also to boast
ourselves that we have believed in Jesus, as if it
were the mark of some peculiar excellence in us?
But, brethren, if we do indeed believe, who, who
is it that has made us thus to differ? Is it that
we have believed, or that He, our Lord and Mas-
ter, has chosen us? Surely it is not we but He
who deserves the glory. Let the "Soli Deo
Gloria" ring ceaselessly in our breasts. For, we


may well believe it, not pride but humility is the
root of the Christian life; not boasting of ourselves
but glorying in God the Saviour is becoming in
us. God give us that small measure of humility
which will be willing to acknowledge that it is
of Him and not of ourselves that we are partakers
of Christ. So shall we learn Peter's lesson: "It
is not ye that have believed, but I that have

We notice in the second place that Peter's
confession in its form looks very much like what
we may perhaps call a counsel of despair. "Lord,
to whom shall we go," he asks, "Thou hast words
of eternal life?" Here, too, our English version
may lead us astray as to the tone of the remark.
There is no emphasis on the "Thou"; there, in-
deed, is no "Thou" at all in the Greek. Christ's
person, in other words, is not put prominently
forward. It is rather conspicuously kept in the
background. Neither is there any article to give
significance to "words of eternal life." We do
not read ^'the words of eternal life" as if Peter
recognized in Jesus' words their supreme peculi-
arity, that they were themselves spirit and life.
The phrase is purely general; Peter has found
"words of eternal life" in Jesus' talk; that is all.
In fact, there is little more here than an echo of
our Lord's words a few verses earlier. Our Lord
had declared that the words He had spoken were
words of spirit and life; Peter echoes that Jesus'


words were words of eternal life. It is to his
credit that he recognizes them as such; it shows
that he is really at bottom spiritually minded.
But we cannot help feeling that — like echoes in
general — there is some lack of substance in this.
There appears to be exhibited acquiescence rather
than intense conviction. Peter was, as a spirit-
ually minded man, in search of spiritual nourish-
ment; his heart was keyed to and set upon eternal
things — the everlasting welfare of his soul rather
than the temporal pleasure of his body. He finds
satisfaction in Christ. He finds such satisfaction
in Him as he had found in no one else. He can-
not look with anything but dismay at losing Him.
He recognizes Him as unique among the teachers
of Israel and rejoices in Him as such. But there
he seems as yet half inclined to stop. And to
stop there is to stop fatally short of a true appre-
ciation of Jesus. For there is something negative
rather than positive attaching to this position.
It would, doubtless, be going too far to say that it
all amounts to no more than satisfying oneself
with Jesus in the absence of a better. But there
is a suggestion of such a state of mind in it. "Will
you too leave me.'^" Jesus asks. "Why, to whom
should we go?" is the reply; "Thou hast words of
eternal life." There is no adequate entering into
the supremeness of Jesus' claims here; there is
only a recognition that none better than He could
be found. Now, it is not its uniqueness that


makes a thing really precious to us. That
is a negative attribute. It is the appreciation
of the positive content of preciousness in any-
thing which makes the thing unique — because
nothing conceivable could surpass it or take its

It is well worth our while, brethren, to ask our-
selves seriously to-day if we are perhaps our-
selves adhering to Christ only because, and so far
as, and while, we have no one else to go to.^^ Is
our reason for enrolling ourselves His summed up
only in this — that we know no better.'^ Well, it is
certain that we shall never know a better. For a
better does not and cannot exist. Because He is
the Supremely Best. Better recognize this at
once, however, and feel the uplift of His glory!
"Christ and other Masters" — in collocation — is
derogatory to Him. His uniqueness is absolute,
not relative; and our attitude to it must be a posi-
tive and not a negative one. There is enthusiasm
demanded here. Let us be bound to Christ by a
true appreciation of what He actually is, and we
will never question whether perchance we may not
some time discover a better; and will never feel an
impulse to express our devotion to Him in such
words as these, "We must cling to Him because
we know not to whom else to go." No, no, we
must cleave to Him because He is such that to
separate from Him would be to separate from all
that makes life worth living, all that gilds this


world or blesses the next. This is the attitude
that does justice not to what we would fain find
in Him but to what He really is.

And this leads us to notice an element of (shall
we say?) selfishness in Peter's confession. Peter
adheres to Jesus because — so he says — he does
not know where else to find the blessings which
Peter wants. Now Peter was a spiritually minded
man and he was not seeking earthly but heavenly
good. This is greatly to his credit. It shows a
high and noble nature, with high and noble aspira-
tions, living on a high and noble plane, above all
the dross which satisfies so many men. But it
is possible to be selfish even on this high plane;
and a dash of this selfishness seems to show itself
in Peter's confession. He cleaves to Christ, for
what reason,^ Because his longing for words of
eternal life is satisfied by Christ. It would be
going too far to say that Peter clung to Christ for
what, as the coarse saying goes, he could get out
of Him. But this coarse language hints at the
true state of the case. Surely we will feel that
there is something lacking in this attitude, the
attitude which cleaves to Jesus because we do not
know where else to go to obtain what we want,
even though we want the highest good — eternal
life itself. Does it not place it on a distinctly
lower plane than that fine self-abandonment
which cleaves to another, like Ruth to Naomi,
out of pure appreciation and love? Think of


Ruth and think of Peter: do not we feel that
Ruth was living on a higher plane?

Now, I am not going to preach to you the gospel
of "disinterested love" in the sense of the mystics.
You all know the fine story of the vision of a
woman going forth with fire and water, to burn
up heaven and put out hell, that men may here-
after love God neither for fear of hell nor for desire
for heaven, but for His Lovely Self alone. We
feel the inspiration of it. But we feel doubtless
that there is something a little too absolute in its
antithesis. There is a proper self-seeking — a
proper place for self-love — to which Jesus Him-
self appeals, and which should be operative to
draw us to Him. It is not wrong, but distinctly
right, to long for heaven and to fear hell. xAnd
that we find all the higher wants of our souls satis-
fied in Christ is surely no mean commendation of
Him to us. The desire for eternal life is no low
longing. He who can supply this desire is worthy
of our adherence and love.

There is assuredly a place in life for all these
things. But after all, they are not quite the
highest things. They are the things with which
we should begin, not those with which we should
end. Let us come to Christ for our own sakes —
for our own sakes how can we not come to Him ! —
but when, having come to Him for our own sakes,
we find all that He is, let us learn to love Him and
cleave to Him for His own sake. For His own


sake, because He is altogether lovely and One to
be desired above our chief joy. Why, even in
these earthly unions, which we call marriage, we
take the loved one "for better, for worse." Shall
we take Jesus only for better.? And should the
worse come to the worst, are we to leave Him and
seek some other one who seems to us to have words
of eternal life.'^ There is a sense, let us try to un-
derstand that, in which it would be better, in-
finitely better, to perish with Jesus, than to live
without Him. Thank God, such an alternative
can never occur. With Him is life, and nothing
but life; life ever more and more abundantly.
But it is well worth our while to distinguish and
to see that we love Him and cleave to Him, not
merely for the life that is in Him for us, but for all
the glorious perfections that are in Him Himself.
To do this we must, of course, know Him as He
is and in all that He is. And here we see the
final flaw in Peter's confession. He had not yet
come to know Christ fully. And that is, doubtless,
the ultimate reason of all the other shortcomings
we have found in it. Had he known Christ fully,
he never would or could have confessed Him only
thus — with a boastful spirit as if he had found
Christ out instead of having been found by Him;
with half-hearted zeal as if He were only the best
he had yet found; and with a somewhat selfish
outlook as if it were only because he could obtain
from Him satisfaction for his felt needs. I am


not blaming Peter for not yet knowing Christ
better. It rather is wonderful, when all is con-
sidered, that he knew Him actually so well, and
was ready boldly to declare Him, in the face of all,
to be "God's Holy One." It was a great thing
for Peter to have seen this clearly; and a great
thing for him to have been ready to announce it
in the presence of the great defection which was
going on at the moment. Herein lies the nobility
of this noble confession. But there is a great deal
more than this to be known and confessed about
Jesus, and Peter afterwards learned it.

The point of importance to us is, Have we
learned it? We may be quite sure that our whole
attitude to Christ will turn on the fullness and the
intimacy with which we know Him. We have no
such excuses as Peter had for not knowing Christ
in all the fullness of His Being and all the splen-
dour of His Nature. Surely, He must, for instance,
be something more to us than "the Holy One of
God" — "God's saint" — that is to say, no doubt,
by way of eminence, the one whom God has
chosen and consecrated and endowed for His ser-
vice. We have seen how in Peter's case even,
such a knowledge of Him did not suflfice to make a
full confession. And surely He must be something
more to us than "the historical Christ" — espe-
cially if we begin to doubt or bicker over what
history it is that we will accept as a trustworthy
account of this "historical Christ." Christ the


Teacher, Christ the Example, Christ the Founder
of the Kingdom of God, Christ the King — surely
He must be something much more than even all
these to us if we are to confess Him aright. The
historical Christ, yes, but also the exalted Christ.
Christ our Prophet, yes, and Christ our King; but
also Christ our Priest and Christ our Sacrifice.
Christ that died and also Christ that rose again.
The Son of Man and also the Son of God. To
Peter as yet He was not all these things, though
Peter was feeling His way towards them. To us
He is all these things, and more, even Christ,
the All in All. Ah, brethren, if we could only see
Him in His beauty, how our hearts would go out
to Him! No boastful, half-hearted, selfish con-
fession then! Only adoration and joy and un-
speakable satisfaction in Him! Let us see and
know and confess Him, as He is, and in all that
He is!


Jno. 16:8-11: — "And he, when he is come, will convict the
world in respect of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment: of
sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because
I go to the Father, and ye behold me no more; of judgment, be-
cause the prince of this world hath been judged."

These chapters which contain the closing dis-
course of Christ to His disciples are wonderingly
dwelt upon by every Christian heart, as the deep-
est and richest part of the riches of this Gospel.
That we may obtain an insight into the marvellous
words which we take as the subject of our med-
itation to-day, it is essential for us to realize the
setting which our Lord gave them in the midst
of this discourse. He had described to His dis-
ciples the conditions of their life, in continuous
union and communion with Him, purchased as
they were by His death for them and elevated to
the lofty position of His special friends from whom
He withholds nothing — not even His life itself.
Then He had opposed to this picture of their exal-
tation, a delineation of their condition in the world,
opposed and hated and persecuted and slain ; while
they, on their part, were to bear quietly their wit-
ness, endure their martyrdom, and trust in their
Redeemer. But was this all.? Were they con-
demned to a hopeless witness-bearing through all



the coming years, while the world triumphed over
them and in them over their crucified Lord?
What an end to the hope they had cherished that
this was He who should redeem Israel!

No, says the Lord, not the world but they were
to win the victory; the laurel belongs by right not
to Satan's but to His own brow. But we will not
fail to notice the air of reproof with which He
opens the section of His discourse which He has
consecrated to an exposition of the victory over
the world which He intended that they — as His —
should win. "But now," he says, "I am going
to Him that sent me, and no one of you asketh
me, 'Whither goest thou.^^', but because I said
these things to you, sorrow hath filled your hearts."
They had, indeed, expected Him to redeem Israel.
It was therefore that they had given Him their
trust, their love; that they had left their all to
follow Him. But now sad days had come; and
they saw their trusted Lord on the eve of giving
Himself up to death. Was not this a dashing of
their hopes .^^ And had they, then, been so long
time with Him and had not learned that the
Father had ten myriads of angels who were en-
camped about Him and who would bear up His
every footfall lest by chance He might dash His
foot against a stone .^ Nay, that He had Himself
power to lay down His life and to take it again .^^
How could they look upon this coming death as
an interference with His plans, the destruction of


their hopes, and so sorrow as those without hope,
instead of rejoicing as those who see the bright
promise of the coming day in the east?

On the hnes of these needs of the babes with
which He had to deal, our Lord disposes His com-
forting words. The sorrow of their hearts He
deprecates, not merely because He might expect
them to rejoice like friends in His approaching
departure to the higher and better life, but be-
cause He might expect them, after so much that
He had done in their sight and spoken in their
hearing, to have confidence in His mission and
work, and to know that the power of Satan could
not prevail against Him. What a spectacle we
see here ! The Master girding Himself for His last
stroke of battle with the joy of victory in His eyes,
while His surrounding friends are with stream-
ing tears anointing Him for burial! He plants
His foot firmly upon the steps of His Eternal
Throne; and they smite their breasts with the
sorrowful cry, " We had hoped that thou mightest
have been He that should have redeemed Israel! "
No wonder that He gives them the loving rebuke,
" But now I go my way to Him that sent me," —
to Him that sent me; on the completion of His
work, then; not as balked, defeated, — " and no
one of you asketh me ' Whither goest thou? ', but
because I have said these things sorrow hath filled
your hearts."

Note how our Lord presses forward His per-


sonality here. " But I tell you the truth " —
none of you has asked me, but I lovingly
volunteer to tell you, — "It is good for you that I
go away." This departure is not a forced one, by
way of defeat and loss; it was planned from the
beginning and is part of the great plan by which I
am to redeem not only Israel but the world. Note
the emphatic "I": "It is good for you that I
go away." Why this emphasis .^^ Because there
is another to whom this work has been committed
and whose offices are necessary for the consum-
mation of the work. "Because unless I go,
the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will
send Him to you ; and it is He who, on His coming,
will convict the world as to sin, and as to right-
eousness and as to judgment."
Let us observe: —

I. That Christ proclaims the victory.

II. That He announces the agent through

whose holy offices the victory will be
realized in the world.

III. That He describes the manner in which

the victory will be realized — by con-
victing the world.

IV. That He names the three elements in

which this conviction takes effect — sin,
righteousness and judgment. And finally,

V. That He points out the means which the

Spirit uses to bring home this conviction,
in each element, to the hearts of men.


Christ, I say, proclaims here the victory. Why
are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? he says in
effect to his tearful disciples. I go to the Father,
and the world will hate you as it hated me, and the
world will persecute you and the world will slay
you. But still the world is conquered. It is not
because Satan is victor that I go to the Father;
it is because I have completed my work, because
redemption has been won, and I go to take my
place upon the throne, that from that throne I
may cause all things to work together for your
good, — that from it I may send the Helper forth
to you, who will convict the world.

Here He announces the agent through whom the
victory is to be realized in the world. He has
won the victory; the Spirit is to apply His work
that the fruits of the victory may be reaped to the
full. A new age has dawned on this sin-stricken
world; the Prince of the Power of the Air is de-
throned; the Prince of Peace reigns. Henceforth
men strive not single-handed against the spiritual
hosts of wickedness in high places; they have a
Comforter, Advocate, Helper, Paraclete ever at
their right hand, and He will give them the vic-
tory. It will be observed that Christ is here
dealing with His apostles, not merely as individ-
uals striving against the sin that is within them,
but as His Lieutenants, leading His hosts against
the sin that is in the world. The world may per-
secute them — and slay them. But they will win


the victory; by the power of their Helper they
will lead captivity captive.

Hence the nature of the victory that is to be
realized in the world is here declared for us. It
is a moral victory, a spiritual victory, and its
essence is not physical subjection but mental and
moral conviction. That Christ dies, that His
followers are imprisoned, persecuted, slain, in no
wise detracts from the victory; these things are
disparate to it; they move on different planes and
cannot conflict. What the Helper is to do is to
convict the world; and in this conviction rests
their victory.

It is easy to see that this was a hard saying. No
doubt when it was spoken it fell like a deeper
knell on the hearts of the apostles; instead of
comforting, it pained, instead of encouraging,
it slew. But then, Christ was not yet risen and
their eyes were holden that they should know
neither Him nor His victory. But turn to Pen-
tecost. Then the Spirit came as He was prom-
ised and gave the convicting power to Peter's
sermon that here was announced. See the joy in
the victory, the exulting courage of the apostles,
from that day to the end. Paul declares that he
spoke not in the wisdom of the world but in the
demonstration of the Spirit and in power. Al-
though he uses a different word, what he means by
the demonstration of the Spirit seems to be what
Christ here promised under the name of the proof.


convincing, conviction of the Spirit. This phrase
of Paul's, indeed, is perhaps the best verbal com-
mentary on our passage. The best actual com-
mentary is found, doubtless, in the narrative of
the results of the apostolic preaching in the Book
of Acts. This, then, is the victory; not an ex-
ternal one over men's bodies, but the conquest of
the world to Christ by the demonstration of the
Spirit in the proclamation of the Gospel, whereby
the world is convicted of sin and righteousness and
judgment. The conquest is a spiritual one; the
apostles are the agents in it; but the source of the
power is the Holy Ghost — our one and true Helper
in the world, who convicts the world of sin and
righteousness and judgment.

We approach now the center of our subject
and perceive what it is that the world is convicted
of by the demonstration of the Spirit. The Sav-
iour pointedly discriminates between the three
elements: As to sin, as to righteousness, as to
judgment. Conviction of the world is the work
of the Holy Ghost. Conviction as to what.^^ (1)
As to sin. The world which as yet knows not sin
is convicted of it as the first and primary work of
the Holy Ghost. It is not without significance
that this is placed first. There is a sense in which
it underlies all else, and conviction of sin becomes
the first step in that recovery of the world, which
is the victory. Once convicted of sin, another
conviction is opened out before it. (2) It may


then be convicted of righteousness, that is, of
what righteousness is and what is required to form
a true righteousness, and (3) it may be convicted
of judgment, that is, of what judgment is, what
justice requires and its inevitableness. These
two together form the correlates of sin. It is
only by knowing sin that we can know righteous-
ness; as it is only by knowing darkness that we
know hght. We must know what sin is and how
subtle it is, before we can realize what righteous-
ness is. We must know how base the one is be-
fore we can know how noble the other is. We
must know the depth that we may appreciate the
heights. In like manner we must know sin in
order to know judgment. We mu^t know sin in
its native hideousness that we may understand its
ill-desert, and perceive with what judgment the
sinner must be judged. So, too, we must know
righteousness to know judgment. Not only the
depths of sin, but also the heights of righteousness
are involved in the judgment. Sin on the one side,
righteousness on the other; these give us our true
conviction of judgment. And the work of the
Holy Ghost in the world is declared to be convic-
tion; and by convicting men He conquers the
world. The Gospel is preached and it everywhere
brings a crisis to men. Shall they hear or forbear?
Some hear; to some it is hid; but on all the con-
viction takes effect. Sin is made known; right-
eousness is revealed; judgment is laid bare. And


men convicted of their sin have but a choice of the
righteousness or judgment.

For our Saviour does not leave us in ignorance
of the import and instruments of this threefold

(1) "Of sin," he says, "because they believe
not on me." This does not seem to mean that
there would be no sin save for rejection of Christ,
but that the proclamation of Christ is the great
revealer of sin, the great distinguisher of men.
When Christ is preached the touchstone is ap-
plied and men are convicted of being sinners and

Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 7 of 27)