Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled
- 2009 25 Aug
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. - John 14:1
As we come to consider this great passage together, I think most commentators agree that a better way of translating it is, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.” In other words, it is probably right to say that it is the imperative that we have in both cases.
However, these words are probably familiar to most of us; indeed they are perhaps some of the most familiar and tender words ever uttered by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They are words, therefore, that we often tend to take without really facing them and their true meaning and without analyzing them as we should. It is to me a tragedy that so often we rob ourselves of the actual message of some of the most glorious statements in Scripture simply because we regard them as literature. We are content with some general effect or influence that they may produce upon us instead of taking the trouble to arrive at their exact meaning and their precise import.
Now that, I think, is very true of these words, words that may be most familiar to us in funerals. They are words of comfort and consolation, which we tend, therefore, to think of far too often as some kind of beautiful music or some wonderful diction. So we never get any further, almost feeling at times that it is a sacrilege to analyze something that is so beautiful.
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. . . . Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. . . . Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:1–3, 27)
We have heard those words many times, but I wonder what would happen if we suddenly had to sit down with paper in front of us and face a question such as, state the doctrine contained in those familiar words—what exactly do they say? Have these words, I wonder, come to us merely in that general manner, that kind of general consolation, that can be done equally well by beautiful music or by any beautiful thoughts or passages of literature? Or have we derived comfort and consolation from them because we have realized the doctrine that they are announcing?
Our Lord’s whole purpose in uttering these words was that he might instruct his disciples and help them by bringing them to a deeper knowledge and understanding of truth. He was addressing their minds primarily, and the way in which he came to do so is of significance and importance. He had just been telling these men, who had now accompanied him for about three years, that he was about to leave them. He was still young, in his early thirties, and to their astonishment and utter chagrin he announced that he was going to leave them. “Now,” he said, “is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. . . . Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you” (John 13:31, 33). But he realized at once that this information had upset these disciples and had made them unhappy and disconsolate. Their hearts had become troubled, they were ill at ease, and they had lost their peace because they were suddenly confronted by a problem.
Now we need not go into detail as to why the disciples felt this so acutely; that has its interest and its importance, but we need not stay with it now. It might very well have been due to the fact that they had become overdependent upon him. They had never met anybody like him before. They had been ordinary men living ordinary lives in this world, having their ups and downs and problems, but suddenly they had met him and had been called by him to follow him and keep him company in a very special way, and it had been a marvelous and thrilling experience. His very personality was something quite apart and unique; they had never seen anybody like this before. There was something in his very person; to look into his eyes was to recognize something that they had never known.
Then it was amazing to hear his extraordinary teaching, his gracious words, his knowledge, his understanding; to see him performing miracles, cleansing lepers, making the lame walk, giving sight to the blind, even raising the dead; and thus, imperceptibly, they had become entirely dependent upon him. I suppose the temptation in such a situation was that they would not stop to think, they just relied utterly upon him; and then, suddenly, he announced that he was going away, and at once they were filled with a sense of alarm and concern. Did that mean that they would have to go back to where they were before? Did it mean a reversion to their hopeless kind of life? “How can we do without him?” they thought. “If he is going, then we are finished, we are undone.” And our Lord recognized that they were thinking all this.
Or it may have been that they had recognized in him, rather vaguely and dimly, yet surely, the Messiah who was expected. They had their Jewish notions as to what the Messiah was to be and about the kingdom he was to establish, and it was largely political. They had been troubled because he had not set himself up as king; some had tried to force him to do so. They had decided to wait upon him, feeling that at some point not far removed he would declare himself. He would set himself up as king, make a great attack upon the Romans, and so rid them of the Roman tyranny and set up a wonderful kingdom. But here he was, announcing that he was going away! He had done nothing about bringing in the kingdom. So they were unhappy and had a feeling that they had been misled and somewhat deluded; he was not what they thought he was going to be.
Well, they no doubt had many such thoughts, but the important thing is that our Lord sensed all this in them. He saw that they had become disturbed and unhappy and that, above all, their trouble was in their hearts. Their hearts were “troubled,” and so, in a very characteristic manner, he dealt with their troubles and administered to them this glorious word of consolation.
There is one other preliminary remark that I must make at this point: it is vital that we remember at what time in his life our Lord did this. It was on the very eve of the cross. He knew what was coming; he had been earlier on the Mount of Transfiguration, and there Moses and Elijah had spoken to him concerning “his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). He knew what was going to be involved on the cross; he knew he was being made sin for mankind. He knew that when God would lay on him the sins of us all, it would mean a terrible moment of separation from the face of God. He knew all that, and as he said later on in the garden of Gethsemane, his soul was “exceeding sorrowful” (Matthew 26:38); nevertheless he turned aside to comfort these unhappy followers of his. He was more concerned about their unhappiness than his own immediate problem, and thus we have this wonderful view that on the very eve of the cross, our Lord gave himself freely in comfort and consolation to others.
How typical and characteristic of him! He did the same thing on the cross itself, you remember, even after they had driven the cruel nails into his hands and his feet. There, dying on the cross, he had time to speak to that thief dying by his side. Bearing in his own body the sins of the world, he had sufficient compassion and love and sympathy and understanding to turn to the wretched man who was there being crucified with him.
Now I emphasize all this at the beginning because whatever else we may or may not learn as we consider this passage, let us realize that the one about whom we are speaking, the one about whom we are concerned, is one like that. That is Jesus, the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ whom we preach. He is the center of this New Testament message and gospel. He is the one who, though he is the Son of God himself, is ready and willing and able to meet us exactly where we are. He even takes the trouble to read our minds and thoughts in order to answer our questions before we ever ask them, and he gives us consolation before we even give expression to our need and unhappiness.
So as he said this to the disciples, he says it, of course, once and forever, to all others who at any time or in any age or in any place know this same condition of the troubled heart. Here in these three chapters, chapters 14, 15, and 16 of John’s Gospel, our Lord administers this final comfort and consolation to all who feel overwhelmed and bewildered by the problems of life and of existence.
I suppose that in many ways it can truthfully be said that the greatest need of men and women in this world is the need of what is called a quiet heart, a heart at leisure from itself.
Is that not, in the last analysis, the thing for which we are all looking? You can if you like call it peace; that means exactly the same thing, peace of mind and peace of heart, tranquillity. We are all restless; we are all disturbed. There is unhappiness in us, and it is produced by many different causes. One thing that causes all our hearts to be restless and disturbed, one thing that robs everybody of peace, is the thought of death. This is a great and certain fact; in the words of the woman of Tekoah, “For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again” (2 Samuel 14:14). That is a most disturbing, a most troubling thought. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that until we become Christians, we are all in lifelong “bondage . . . through fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15). Shakespeare, who knew the human heart, gives these words to Hamlet: “The dread of something after death, the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns.”
“Conscience,” he adds, “doth make cowards of us all.” Yes, we do this and that, but thought of that “undiscovered country” upsets everything. That is the trouble and that is the cause of the restless, unquiet heart.
Then there are the problems that are incidental to life in this world, life and its almost inevitable ills that come sooner or later—illness, accident, disappointment, financial loss, trouble in business, the serious illness of a child or a loved one, the death of someone close to us. These are the things that come and test us all, and we cannot avoid them. We all want to make our plans for life and living. But when we think we have made our perfect plans, something suddenly happens, and our whole world begins to shake and to quake. Certain ills simply cannot be avoided, things that are bound to happen, the tragedies of life.
And all this is in addition to the particular problems of the current century. Every age of mankind has been subject to the things that I have mentioned, but on top of these things we have this uncertain world in which we are living, with all the possibility of wars and many other threats. The supreme problem is that of trying to face these things and to achieve a quiet heart. I think that any analysis of modern literature and of the conduct of the vast majority of people will indicate clearly that men and women are trying to achieve peace in some shape or form.
We need to determine what is really likely to give us this quiet heart. We must start by being realistic and by saying that it is not only the Christian gospel that offers us freedom from the troubled heart. There are many ways in which we are exhorted to try to find this peace. So I must start with the negative. I must deal with the false before I can come to the true because men and women who are holding on to false solutions and do not find satisfaction must come and listen to the gospel. The claim of the gospel is not only that it can give us a quiet heart, but also that nothing else can do it.
Of course, people do not like that sort of claim today; they say that it is “intolerant.” We are living in days when people are always saying, “We want a world conference of all the religions, so we can all get together and pick out the best in each.” But you cannot do that with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is exclusive, and its challenge is that Christ, and Christ alone, can truly give us peace.
Now let me substantiate that by reminding you of some of the other ways in which it is suggested we can find this peace. One is that we should refuse to think. We must put that first because it is the most common. People say increasingly that if you are foolish enough to think in this world, then it is not surprising that you are unhappy, and in a sense you deserve to be so. They say that the whole trouble with men and women is that they persist in thinking; if only they had the sense to stop doing that and to be just like the animals and go back to nature and live the animal life, all would be well. That was the philosophy of D. H. Lawrence, who said that man has overdeveloped the higher part of his brain, but if only he would revert to the lower type of life, he would be much happier. Many say that, though not in such a philosophical way. “If you want to be happy,” they say, “just get away from your troubles.” So you fill up the agenda of your life as much as you can with meeting other people, going to entertainments, and many other things—in other words, escapism.
Another way in which we are told that we can achieve the quiet heart is to espouse and adopt the philosophy of what is called optimism, and it is astounding that there are still many who follow this philosophy. It takes many shapes and forms. Some still cling tenaciously to their belief in an inevitable kind of evolution to a better life. They say that the whole of mankind is gradually evolving to a higher state and a more perfect condition in which our troubles and problems will be left behind; and they still believe that in spite of all that has happened in the past one hundred years! Others do not put it exactly like that, but their optimism consists in saying, “It is all right; there are temporary setbacks, but things are going to get better.” This happened before the Second World War; such people were quite sure, up to the last minute, that Hitler would embrace wisdom. This is belief in optimism for the sake of being optimistic. People are proud of this; they go on looking at the bright side of things and believe it is their duty to always smile, come what may. Many are trying to achieve the quiet heart in that way.
Then, going up the scale a little, we come to the next false hope, which is what I would call the philosophy of fatalism. I think this is becoming increasingly common. In its simplest form, it says, “What is to be will be; and all the thinking and all the worrying and all the calculating in the world cannot affect it. The trouble with people is that they persist in thinking, but if only they saw that to do that is to exaggerate the trouble, they would stop thinking and making themselves unhappy. It is because they go to meet their troubles and anticipate them that they are so troubled. But everything seems to be rigidly fixed by a fatalistic principle. Therefore do not think—just wait until things do happen and you will have a kind of temporary peace and an assuaging of your trouble.” Many pacify themselves and think they can get true peace that way.
The next one is what I would call the psychological method. This is slightly different because it attempts a kind of positive and active treatment of us and of our minds. It is just a device to train us to play tricks with our own thoughts and hearts. In a sense, it is not interested in our problems; it is interested in our reaction to those problems. The psychologist is concerned with giving us peace of mind; that is his objective. The different types of psychological treatment all say the same thing to us: “Why worry?” They try to show us, in various ways, the folly of worrying. They tell us to try to think of beautiful and pleasant things; they say that we must deliberately subjugate our thoughts and project them onto other things and so on. So when people become agitated, they rush to a psychologist.
Then, still going up the scale, the next thing is the adopting of an attitude of resignation or stoicism. Or, as they prefer to call it today, “the scientific attitude” or “the psychological calm.” Many people talk about this attitude. They say the one thing we must watch is our feelings. Our trouble is that we all tend to be controlled by our feelings, and if our feelings take over, then we become agitated and unhappy. So the solution to that, they say, is the adoption of this particular teaching. We must stand back and have a psychological calm; we must become scientists. There is nothing new about all that. The Stoics did it long ago; that was the very essence of their philosophy, that you must always keep a careful curb upon your feelings and emotions, otherwise they will cripple you. So you must take yourself in hand and control your emotions, and you must say to yourself, “I must be objective. I must be scientific. I must not let myself be immersed in these things.”
And that brings me to the last philosophy, the one that is provided by cults and other religions like Christian Science, which deliberately set out to give people freedom from trouble and worry, a kind of perfect calm in spite of everything. Other cults try to do the same thing. I refer to “the cults of other religions” because there is a remarkable increase in the number of such religions today, chiefly coming from the East, that offer this escape from trouble and the way to a quiet heart. There is a new interest in Buddhism and Hinduism and things of that kind. (It is very interesting to notice that it is some of the men who used to call themselves intellectuals who are turning to Buddhism and to these Eastern religions and various forms of mysticism. They have tried to face their problems, and they have failed. So they have come to the conclusion that their only salvation is in mysticism, going into the heart of the universe, losing themselves in the spirit that is at the back of everything.) Many are seeking this quiet heart and deliverance from their troubles in that way.
Now obviously we cannot deal with all these things now, but I want to say that general comments can be made about them all. It seems to me, first, that they are, all of them, in the last analysis pessimistic and hopeless. To refuse to think is to be profoundly pessimistic; that is why I am always so sorry for “the bright young things,” the people who live for pleasure and say, “How happy we are by contrast with you miserable Christians!” But the actual truth about them is that they are so afraid of life that they dare not think about it. That is the most profound pessimism that I know.
It is exactly the same with the pathetic optimism that refuses to face the facts that are confronting us today. There is no evidence that man as man is progressing and evolving. It is the same with fatalism, which is utterly hopeless. It says, “What is the use of anything? Things are just going to happen; therefore do nothing about them, and do not even think about them.”
It is the same with resignation. Resignation says, “Things are going to be like this, so I just have to put up with them somehow.” That again is hopelessness. Psychology, as I have said, does not face the problem; it plays tricks with itself. It is like whistling in the dark, and the same applies to the cults and these various other religions. You may have to be reincarnated many times, we are told, but your hope is that you will eventually become merged into the universe. That, too, is profound pessimism. So all these views, at their very best and highest, are devised just to help us get through. They simply help us postpone our problems, they do not solve them; and none of them can give us real joy or satisfaction.
But I suppose the greatest criticism of them is that they, all of them in a sense, leave the problem up to the individual. How true this is of the Eastern religions! You will find that they leave it up to us. We will each have to go through terrible ordeals; we will have to discipline our body, mind, and every part of ourselves. They ask us to deliver ourselves in some shape or form, and thus they leave us with the problem. To me it is very significant that the people who are turning to Buddhism are, as I have said, the so-called “intellectuals.” You have to be an intellectual before you can go in for such things because they leave it all up to you, and it takes a lot of thinking time to employ these methods of attaining peace. They have nothing whatever to give to the ordinary person. They have nothing to give those who are so busy with their jobs, their families, their homes, and various other things that they cannot read these wonderful philosophical ideas. Ordinary people have no time to go through these long processes of discipline and prayer. Eastern religions have nothing to give such people.
The trouble I find with psychology is that it is simply an attempt to give you quiet nerves instead of giving you a quiet heart. I want to be fair to psychology. It can give us, up to a point, quiet nerves, but that is not what we need—we need a quiet heart. Thank God for something that, as far as it goes, can give us quiet nerves, but do you want to be at rest on the surface or do you want to be at rest in the very depths and vitals of your being? It is at that point that the gospel claims that it, and it alone, can meet and satisfy our deepest need, and here in John 14 we are told exactly how it does that.
I am simply introducing this subject now; we shall go on to consider it in detail, but let me just give you an outline of it. Here is something authoritative, something from someone who has given us the truth from the dawn of history. Here is something that worked in these particular disciples to whom he was speaking. Here were men who, having listened to this gospel and having proved it in their lives, were able to face the whole might and tyranny of the Roman Empire, with all its cruel persecutions, who were more than conquerors, triumphing and rejoicing. Read the great story of the apostles and the martyrs and the first confessors. It has worked, and it continues to work.
We must make other certain general statements also. What seems to me to be so entirely different about the gospel, at the very beginning, is that it always faces facts, it is always realistic, it never conceals anything. Read these chapters of John’s Gospel, and you will find that our Lord brought these men face-to-face with the very worst, whereas all the other teachings and philosophies try to hide the worst from us. My heart will not be really quiet until I have been told the very worst and faced it, and then I can surmount it. I do not believe in a teaching that simply plays tricks with me. I have no use for a philosophy that tells me there is no such thing as matter, and because of that there can be no pain, and therefore I do not have pain—when I know there is pain. I know that may work psychologically; it may convince me for a time—I believe the lie and am relieved. But I do not merely want to be relieved of my pain. I want the disease to be faced and tackled.
The gospel commends itself to me because of its truth, because it does not just say, “Well now, let’s forget our troubles and think of something beautiful.” It says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). It says that in a world like this, dominated by Satan, there will be “wars and rumours of wars” (Matthew 24:6). It is psychology and not the gospel that just tries to make us forget our troubles for the time being. The gospel of Jesus Christ always, therefore, of necessity annoys certain people, people who think that a place of worship is just a place where you listen to beautiful things, and therefore while you are sitting there, you forget your problems and the problems of the world—these people are certain to be annoyed.
The gospel confronts us with facts. It is all based upon a person; it is based upon certain things that happened historically. It comes and tells me, “Let not your heart be troubled.” But it comes in the light of Gethsemane and Jesus’ trial and cruel death upon the cross, the broken body, the burial, the utter hopelessness and despair. Then, and only then, it goes on to tell me of the Resurrection and the glory of the Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit, and that puts me in an entirely different position. It has taken me through the facts, through the tunnel of darkness to the dawn that lights the other end.
Moreover, it commends itself to me because it gives me an explanation and satisfies my mind. The gospel has given this philosophy of history. It not only gives me the facts, it explains them; it puts them into a coherent whole. There is a great view of life in the Bible—we shall deal with that later. I am not finally helped by being told, for example, “It is all right, do not think about it, you will die and come back in some other form. You will go through a series of incarnations, and you will finally get lost in the vast universe.” I do not believe that the whole trouble is my physical flesh. I know that the trouble is in my spirit. So I must have something that satisfies my mind. I want to face life; I want an explanation of why it is in the position that it is, and I have the explanation here and only here.
And the thing that commends itself most of all to me is that it does not leave it all to me, but it links all to the power of God. “Let not your heart be troubled”—why? “Believe in God, believe also in me,” says Christ; in other words, “Trust me.” I have mentioned those who spend long, weary hours in all the details of a busy everyday life; they cannot follow “the mystic way.” What can I offer them? If I do not have a gospel that can give them a quiet heart, I have no gospel worthy of the name. But thank God, I do have a gospel for them. I have a gospel that tells them that the one who walked through this world and triumphed over it, even over death and the grave itself, has said, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20), so that into their unutterable weakness comes the might and the power of the Son of God who has vanquished death and the grave, and against him nothing and no one can finally stand.
“Let not your heart be troubled . . . believe in God.” Yes, believe in God, the God of the Old Testament, the God of the promises, the God of the covenants, the God of whom it is said, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10). This is the same God who told mankind from the beginning that his desire was to bless them, to give them peace and joy, and to have them as his children. Trust him. Yes, but so often that is the difficulty, is it not? It is all here in John 14. Philip, one of the disciples, said to our Lord in effect, “If only we knew the Father, it would suffice us, but the difficulty is knowing that God in heaven is our Father.” And our Lord’s reply is, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” (vv. 8–9). “Believe in God, believe also in me,” he says, “because without believing in me, you will never really know the Father.”
Thomas, too, had a problem: “We don’t know this ‘way’ you are talking about,” he said in essence. And our Lord’s great answer to him was, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (vv. 5–6). And speaking about prayer—and how often we find difficulty in this—he said in summary, “It is all right—I am going to be with the Father. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (v. 14).
But then we say, “We are so weak. How can we go through with it in a world like this?” He says, “I will not leave you comfortless” (v. 18), which translated means, “I will not leave you orphans.” And he adds that he will “give [us] another Comforter” (v. 16). This is the blessed doctrine of the gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes and dwells within us and reveals and explains things and energizes and empowers and enables us.
It is all here in John’s Gospel. But let me summarize it all so that you may be encouraged. There has been one in this world called Jesus of Nazareth, and it is he who says to you, “Let not your heart be troubled . . . believe in me,” which means, “Come to me, tell me your troubles, tell me all about your difficulty about God, the difficulty of prayer, the difficulty about your weak will and failure.”
I do not care what it is that makes you restless and ill at ease. It may be the possibility of war, it may be illness, it may be business troubles, it may be your own weakness morally in the realm of the will—whatever it is, whatever is troubling and making you unhappy, go to him about it. He is the one who loved you enough to die for you. He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). There is no need for you to be unhappy and restless. Believe in God. Believe in the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ who came on earth to deliver you from that very thing and who has removed every barrier between you and God and who can give you rest and peace here and now.
Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled
Copyright 2009 by Elizabeth Catherwood and Ann Beatt
Published by Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
1300 Crescent Street Wheaton, Illinois 60187
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided for by USA copyright law.