"The Truth Shall Make You Free"
From John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Vol. I, trans. Rev. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 340-363, emphasis added and English updated.
30. While He spoke these things, many believed on Him. 31. Jesus therefore said to the Jews who believed on Him, If you continue in My word, you shall be truly My disciples. 32. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. 33. They answered, We are Abraham’s seed, and never were enslaved to any one; how then do You say, You shall be free? 34. Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, That every man who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35. And the slave does not remain always in the house, but the son remains always. 36. If the Son then shall make you free, you shall be truly free. 37. I know that you are the seed of Abraham, but you seek to kill Me, because My word does not dwell in you. 38. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.
30. While he spoke these things. Though the Jews, at that time, almost resembled a dry and barren soil, yet God did not permit the seed of His word to be entirely lost. Thus, contrary to all hopes, and amidst so many obstructions, some fruit appears. But the Evangelist inaccurately gives the name of faith to that which was only a sort of preparation for faith. For he affirms nothing higher concerning them than that they were disposed to receive the doctrine of Christ, to which also the preceding warning refers.
31. If you continue in My word. Here Christ warns them, in the first place, that it is not enough for any one to have begun well, if their progress to the end does not correspond to it; and for this reason he exhorts to perseverance in the faith those who have tasted of His doctrine. When He says that they who are firmly rooted in His word, so as to continue in Him, will truly be His disciples, He means that many profess to be disciples who yet are not so in reality, and have no right to be accounted such. He distinguishes His followers from hypocrites by this mark, that they who falsely boasted of faith give way as soon as they have entered into the course, or at least in the middle of it; but believers persevere constantly to the end. If, therefore, we wish that Christ should reckon us to be His disciples, we must endeavor to persevere.
32. And you shall know the truth. He says, that they who have arrived at some knowledge of it shall know the truth. True, those whom Christ addresses were as yet uneducated, and scarcely knew the first elements, and therefore we need not wonder if He promises them a more full understanding of His doctrine. But the statement is general. Wherefore, whatever progress any of us have made in the Gospel, let him know that he needs new additions. This is the reward which Christ bestows on their perseverance, that He admits them to greater familiarity with Him; though in this way He does nothing more than add another gift to the former, so that no man ought to think that he is entitled to any reward. For it is He who impresses His word on our hearts by His Spirit, and it is He who daily chases away from our minds the clouds of ignorance which obscure the brightness of the Gospel. In order that the truth may be fully revealed to us, we ought sincerely and earnestly to endeavor to attain it. It is the same unvarying truth which Christ teaches His followers from the beginning to the end, but on those who were at first enlightened by Him, as it were with small sparks, He at length pours a full light. Thus believers, until they have been fully confirmed, are in some measure ignorant of what they know; and yet it is not so small or obscure a knowledge of faith as not to be efficacious for salvation.
Christian Liberty & Freedom
The truth shall make you free. He commends the knowledge of the Gospel from the fruit which we derive from it, or — which is the same thing — from its effect, namely, that it restores us to freedom. This is an invaluable blessing. Hence it follows, that nothing is more excellent or desirable than the knowledge of the Gospel. All men feel and acknowledge that slavery is a very wretched state; and since the Gospel delivers us from it, it follows that we derive from the Gospel the treasure of a blessed life.
We must now ascertain what kind of liberty is here described by Christ, namely, that which sets us free from the tyranny of Satan, sin, and death. And if we obtain it by means of the Gospel, it is evident from this that we are by nature the slaves of sin. Next, we must ascertain what is the method of our deliverance. For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by His Spirit, He likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the Gospel.
Let Papists now go and proudly vaunt of their free-will, but let us, who are conscious of our own slavery, glory in none but Christ our Deliverer. For the reason why the Gospel ought to be reckoned to have achieved our deliverance is, that it offers and gives us to Christ to be freed from the yoke of sin. Lastly, we ought to observe, that freedom has its degrees according to the measure of their faith; and therefore Paul, though clearly made free, still groans and longs after perfect freedom (Romans 7:24).
33. We are Abraham’s seed. It is uncertain if the Evangelist here introduces the same persons who formerly spoke, or others. My opinion is, that they replied to Christ in a confused manner, as usually happens in a promiscuous crowd; and that this reply was made rather by despisers than by those who believed. It is a mode of expression very customary in Scripture, whenever the body of a people is mentioned, to ascribe generally to all what belongs only to a part.
Those who object that they are Abraham’s seed, and have always been free, easily inferred from the words of Christ that freedom was promised to them as to people who were slaves. But they cannot endure to have it said that they, who are a holy and elect people, are reduced to slavery. For of what avail was the adoption and the covenant (Romans 9:4) by which they were separated from other nations, but because they were accounted the children of God? They think, therefore, that they are insulted, when freedom is exhibited to them as a blessing which they do not yet possess. But it might be thought strange that they should maintain that they never were enslaved, since they had been so frequently oppressed by various tyrants, and at that time were subjected to the Roman yoke, and groaned under the heaviest burden of slavery; and hence it may be easily seen how foolish was their boasting.
Yet they had this plausible excuse, that the unjust sway of their enemies did not hinder them from continuing to be free by right. But they erred, first, in this respect, that they did not consider that the right of adoption was founded on the Mediator alone; for how comes it that Abraham’s seed is free, but because, by the extraordinary grace of the Redeemer, it is exempted from the general bondage of the human race? But there was another error less tolerable than the former, that, though they were altogether degenerate, yet they wished to be reckoned among the children of Abraham, and did not consider that it is nothing else than the regeneration of the Spirit that makes them lawful children of Abraham. And indeed, it has been too common a vice in almost all ages, to refer to the origin of the flesh the extraordinary gifts of God, and to ascribe to nature those remedies which Christ bestows for correcting nature. Meanwhile, we see how all who, swelled with false confidence, flatter themselves on their condition drive away from them the grace of Christ.
And yet this pride is spread over the whole world, so that there is scarcely one person in a hundred who feels that he needs the grace of God.
Slavery to Sin
34. Every man who commits sin is the slave of sin. This is an argument drawn from contrary things. They boasted that they were free. He proves that they are the slaves of sin, because, being enslaved by the desires of the flesh, they continually sin. It is astonishing that men are not convinced by their own experience, so that, laying aside their pride, they may learn to be humble. And it is a very frequent occurrence in the present day, that, the greater the load of vices by which a man is weighed down, the more fiercely does he utter unmeaning words in extolling free-will.
Christ appears to say nothing more here than what was formerly said by philosophers, that they who are devoted to their lusts are subject to the most degrading slavery. But there is a deeper and more hidden meaning; for he does not argue what evil men bring on themselves, but what is the condition of human nature. The philosophers thought that any man is a slave by his own choice, and that by the same choice he returns to freedom. But here Christ maintains, that all who are not delivered by Him are in a state of slavery, and that all who derive the contagion of sin from corrupted nature are slaves from their birth. We must attend to the comparison between grace and nature, on which Christ here dwells; from which it may be easily seen that men are destitute of freedom, unless they regain it from some other quarter. Yet this slavery is voluntary, so that they who necessarily sin are not compelled to sin.
35. Now the slave does not remain in the house always. He adds a comparison, taken from the laws and from political law, to the effect that a slave, though he may have power for a time, yet is not the heir of the house; from which He infers that there is no perfect and durable freedom, but what is obtained through the Son. In this manner He accuses the Jews of vanity, because they hold but a mask instead of the reality; for, as to their being Abraham’s offspring, they were nothing but a mask. They held a place in the Church of God, but such a place as Ishmael, a slave, rising up against his freeborn brother, usurped for a short time (Galatians 4:29). The conclusion is that all who boast of being Abraham’s children have nothing but an empty and deceitful pretense.
The God of Freedom
36. If then the Son shall make you free. By these words he means that the right of freedom belongs to Himself alone, and that all others, being born slaves, cannot be delivered but by His grace. For what He possesses as His own by nature He imparts to us by adoption, when we are ingrafted by faith into His body, and become His members. Thus we ought to remember what I said formerly, that the Gospel is the instrument by which we obtain our freedom. So then our freedom is a benefit conferred by Christ, but we obtain it by faith, in consequence of which also Christ regenerates us by His Spirit. When He says that they shall be truly free, there is an emphasis on the word truly; for we must supply the contrast with the foolish persuasion by which the Jews were swelled with pride, in like manner as the greater part of the world imagine that they possess a kingdom, while they are in the most wretched bondage.
37. I know that you are Abraham’s seed. I explain this as said by way of concession. Yet at the same time He ridicules their folly in glorying in so absurd a title, as if he had said: “Granting that on which you flatter yourselves so much, still what avails it that those men are called the children of Abraham, who are enraged against God and His ministers, and who are actuated by such wicked and detestable hatred of the truth, that they rush headlong to shed innocent blood?” Hence it follows that nothing is farther from their true character than what they wished to be called, because they have no resemblance to Abraham.
You seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. He means that they are not merely murderers, but are driven to such rage by hatred of God and His truth, which is far more heinous; for such an enormity does not merely extend to men, but likewise dishonors God. He says, that they cannot receive His words, because through malice they keep their minds shut, so that they cannot admit anything wholesome.
38. I speak what I have seen with my Father. He had already made frequent mention of His Father; and now, by an argument drawn from contrary things, He infers that they are enemies to God and are the children of the devil, because they oppose His doctrine. “For my part,” says He, “I bring nothing forward, but what I have learned from my Father. How comes it then that the word of God excites you to such fury, but because you have an opposite father?” He says that He speaks, and they do, because He discharged the office of a teacher, while they labored strenuously to extinguish His doctrine. At the same time, He protects the Gospel against contempt, by showing that it is not surprising if it should be opposed by the children of the devil. Instead of you do, some render it, DO YOU what you have seen with your father; as if Christ had said, “Come, show that you are the children of the devil, by opposing me; for I speak nothing but what God has commanded.”
39. They answered, and said to Him, Abraham is our father. Jesus said to them, If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. 40. But now you seek to kill Me, a man who have spoken to you the truth which I have heard from God; Abraham did not do this. 41. You do the works of your father. They said therefore to Him, We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, who is God. 42. Jesus said to them, If God were your Father, you would love Me: for I proceeded and came from God, for I did not proceed from Myself, but He sent Me.
Jesus’ Altercation with False Religion
39. Abraham is our father. This altercation shows plainly enough how haughtily and fiercely they despised all Christ’s reproofs. What they continually claim and vaunt of is, that they are Abraham’s children; by which they do not simply mean that they are the lineal descendants of Abraham, but that they are a holy race, the heritage of God, and the children of God. And yet they rely on nothing but the confidence of the flesh. But carnal descent, without faith, is nothing more than a false pretense. We now understand what it was that so greatly blinded them, so that they treated Christ with disdain, though armed with deadly thunder. Thus the word of God, which might move stones, is ridiculed in the present day by Papists, as if it were a fable, and fiercely persecuted by fire and sword; and for no other reason but that they rely on their false title of “the Church,” and hope that they will be able to deceive both God and man. In short, as soon as hypocrites have procured some plausible covering, they oppose God with hardened obstinacy, as if He could not penetrate into their hearts.
If you were the children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham. Christ now distinguishes more plainly between the bastard and degenerate children of Abraham, and the true and lawful children; for He refuses to give the very name to all who do not resemble Abraham. True, it frequently happens that children do not resemble, in their conduct, the parents from whom they are sprung; but here Christ does not argue about carnal descent, but only affirms that they who do not retain by faith the grace of adoption are not reckoned among the children of Abraham before God. For since God promised to the seed of Abraham that He would be their God, saying, I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and your seed after you, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you, and to your seed after you (Genesis 17:7), all unbelievers, by rejecting this promise, excluded themselves from the family of Abraham.
The state of the question therefore is this: Ought they to be accounted Abraham’s children who reject the blessing offered to them in the Word, so that, notwithstanding of this, they shall be a holy nation, the heritage of God, and a royal priesthood? (Exodus 19:6; Joel 3:2). Christ denies this, and justly; for they who are the children of the promise must be born again by the Spirit, and all who desire to obtain a place in the kingdom of God ought to be new creatures. Carnal descent from Abraham was not indeed useless, and of no value, provided that the truth were added to it. For election dwells in the seed of Abraham, but it is free, so that all whom God sanctifies by His Spirit are accounted heirs of life.
40. But now you seek to kill Me. He proves from the effect, that they are not the children of God, as they boasted, because they oppose God. And, indeed, is there any thing in Abraham that is more highly commended than the obedience of faith? This then is the mark of distinction, whenever we are required to distinguish between his children and strangers; for empty titles, whatever estimation they may procure before the world, are of no account with God. Christ therefore concludes again, that they are the children of the devil, because they hate with deadly hatred true and sound doctrine.
41. We were not born of fornication. They claim no more for themselves than they did formerly, for it was the same thing with them to be Abraham’s children and to be God’s children. But they erred grievously in this respect, that they imagined that God was bound to the whole seed of Abraham. For they reason thus: “God adopted for Himself the family of Abraham; therefore, since we are Abraham’s descendants, we must be the children of God.” We now see how they thought that they had holiness from the womb, because they were sprung from a holy root. In short, they maintain that they are the family of God, because they are descended from the holy fathers. In like manner, the Papists in the present day are exceedingly vain of an uninterrupted succession from the fathers. By sorceries of this description Satan deceives them, so that they separate God from His word, the Church from faith, and the kingdom of heaven from the Spirit.
Let us know, therefore, that they who have corrupted the seed of life are at the farthest remove from being the children of God, though, according to the flesh, they are not bastards, but pretend a right to the plausible title of the Church. For let them go about the bush as much as they please, still they will never avoid the discovery that the only ground of their arrogant boasting is, “We have succeeded the holy fathers; therefore, we are the Church.” And if the reply of Christ was sufficient for confuting the Jews, it is not less sufficient now for reproving the Papists. Never indeed will hypocrites cease to employ the name of God falsely, with most wicked effrontery; but those false grounds of boasting, on which they plume themselves, will never cease to appear ridiculous in the eyes of all who shall abide by the decision of Christ.
42. If God were your Father, you would love me. Christ’s argument is this: “Whoever is a child of God will acknowledge His first-born Son; but you hate me, and therefore you have no reason to boast that you are God’s children.” We ought carefully to observe this passage, that there is no piety and no fear of God where Christ is rejected. Hypocritical religion, indeed, presumptuously shelters itself under the name of God; but how can they agree with the Father who disagree with His only Son? What kind of knowledge of God is that in which His lively image is rejected? And this is what Christ means, when He testifies that He came from the Father.
For I proceeded and came from God. He means that all that He has is divine; and therefore it is most inconsistent that the true worshippers of God should fly from His truth and righteousness. “I did not come,” says He, “of Myself. You cannot show that anything about Me is contrary to God. In short, you will find nothing that is either earthly or human in My doctrine, or in the whole of My ministry.” For He does not speak of His essence, but of His office.
43. Why do you not understand My language, that you cannot hear My word? 44. You are of your father the devil, and you wish to execute the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and he did not remain in the truth, because there is no truth in him. 45. And because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.
43. Why do you not understand My language? In this passage, He reproaches the Jews with their obstinacy, which was so great, that they could not even endure to hear Him speak. Hence He infers, that they are actuated and hurried away by diabolical rage. . . . [It is] as if He had said, “What is the reason why my speech appears to you barbarous and unknown, so that I gain nothing by speaking to you, and so that you do not even deign to open your ears to receive what I say?” In the former clause, therefore, He reproves their stupidity; in the latter, He reproves their obstinate and ungovernable hatred of His doctrine; and He afterwards assigns a reason for both, when he says, that they are sprung from the devil. For by putting the question, He intended to take out of their hands what was the subject of their continual boasting, that they are led by reason and judgment to oppose Him.
44. You are of your father the devil. What He had twice said more obscurely, He now expresses more fully, that they are the devil’s children. But we must supply the contrast, that they could not cherish such intense hatred to the Son of God, were it not that they had for their father the perpetual enemy of God. He calls them children of the devil, not only because they imitate him, but because they are led by his instigation to fight against Christ. For as we are called the children of God, not only because we resemble Him, but because He governs us by His Spirit, because Christ lives and is vigorous in us, so as to conform us to the image of His Father; so, on the other hand, the devil is said to be the father of those whose understandings he blinds, whose hearts he moves to commit all unrighteousness, and on whom, in short, he acts powerfully and exercises his tyranny; as in 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2, and in other passages.
The Manicheans foolishly and ineffectually abused this passage to prove their absurd tenets. For since, when Scripture calls us the children of God, this does not refer to the transmission or origin of the substance, but to the grace of the Spirit, which regenerates us to newness of life; so this saying of Christ does not relate to the transmission of substance, but to the corruption of nature, of which man’s revolt was the cause and origin. When men, therefore, are born children of the devil, it must not be imputed to creation, but to the blame of sin. Now Christ proves this from the effect, because they willingly and of their own accord are disposed to follow the devil.
He was a murderer from the beginning. He explains what are those desires, and mentions two instances, cruelty and falsehood; in which the Jews too much resembled Satan. When He says that the devil was a murderer, He means that he contrived the destruction of man; for as soon as man was created, Satan, impelled by a wicked desire of doing injury, bent his strength to destroy him. Christ does not mean the beginning of the creation, as if God implanted in him the disposition to do injury; but He condemns in Satan the corruption of nature, which he brought upon himself. This appears more clearly from the second clause, in which he says,
He did not remain in the truth. For though those who imagine that the devil was wicked by nature, endeavor to make evasions, yet these words plainly state that there was a change for the worse, and that the reason why Satan was a liar was, that he revolted from the truth. That he is a liar, arises not from his nature having been always contrary to truth, but because he fell from it by a voluntary fall. This description of Satan is highly useful to us, that every person for himself may endeavor to beware of his snares, and, at the same time, to repel his violence and fury; for he goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) and has a thousand stratagems at his command for deceiving. So much the more ought believers to be supplied with spiritual arms for fighting, and so much the more earnestly ought they to keep watch with vigilance and sobriety. Now, if Satan cannot lay aside this disposition, we ought not to be alarmed at it, as if it were a new and uncommon occurrence, when errors exceedingly numerous and varied spring up; for Satan stirs up his followers like bellows, to deceive the world by their impostures. And we need not wonder that Satan puts forth such strenuous efforts to extinguish the light of truth; for it is the only life of the soul. So, then, the most important and most deadly wound for killing the soul is falsehood. As all who have eyes to see perceive, in the present day, such a picture of Satan in Popery, they ought, first, to consider with what enemy they carry on war, and, next, to betake themselves to the protection of Christ their Captain, under whose banner they fight.
Because the truth is not in him. This statement, which immediately follows the other, is a confirmation a posteriori, as the phrase is; that is, it is drawn from the effect. For Satan hates the truth, and therefore cannot endure it, but, on the contrary, is entirely covered with falsehoods. Hence Christ infers, that he is entirely fallen from the truth and entirely turned away from it. Let us not wonder, therefore, if he daily exhibits the fruits of his apostasy.
When he speaks falsehood. These words are generally explained as if Christ affirmed that the blame of falsehood does not belong to God, who is the Author of nature, but, on the contrary, proceeds from corruption. But I explain it more simply, that it is customary with the devil to speak falsehood, and that he knows nothing but to contrive corruptions, frauds, and delusions. And yet we justly infer from these words, that the devil has his vice from himself, and that, while it is peculiar to him, it may likewise be said to be accidental; for, while Christ makes the devil to be the contriver of lying, he evidently separates him from God, and even declares him to be contrary to God. For he is a liar, and the father of it. The word father has the same object as the preceding statement; for the reason why Satan is said to be THE FATHER of falsehood is because he is estranged from God, in whom alone truth dwells, and from whom it flows as from the only fountain.
45. But because I speak the truth. He confirms the preceding statement; for, since they have no other reason for opposing, but because truth is hateful and intolerable to them, they show plainly that they are the children of Satan.
46. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47. He who is of God hears the words of God; you do not hear them, because you are not of God. 48. The Jews therefore answered, and said to Him, Do we not say well, that You are a Samaritan and have a devil? 49. Jesus answered, I do not have a devil, but I honor my Father, and you have dishonored Me. 50. But I seek not My own glory; there is one who seeks it and judges of it.
46. Which of you? This question proceeds from perfect confidence; for, knowing that they could not justly bring any reproach against Him, He glories over His enemies, as having obtained a victory. And yet He does not say that He is free from their slanders; for, though they had no reason for reproaching, still they did not cease to pour out slanders on Christ; but He means that no crime dwells in Him. . . .
Which of you convicts Me of sin? Those who think that Christ here asserts His complete innocence, because He alone surpassed all men, so far as He was the Son of God, are mistaken. For this defense must be restricted to what belongs to the passage, as if He had asserted that nothing could be brought forward to show that He was not a faithful servant of God. In like manner Paul also glories that he is not conscious of any crime (1 Corinthians 4:4); for that does not extend to the whole life, but is only a defense of his doctrine and apostleship. It is away from the subject, therefore, to speculate, as some do, about the perfection of righteousness which belongs to the Son of God alone; since the only object which He has in view is, to give authority to His ministry, as appears more clearly from what follows; for He again adds immediately afterwards, If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? From which we infer that Christ is rather defending His doctrine than His person.
Rejecting Christ’s Commands and Rejecting Christ Himself
47. He who is of God. As He has a full right to take this for granted, that He is the ambassador of the heavenly Father, and that He discharges faithfully the office which has been committed to Him, He kindles into greater indignation against them; for their impiety was no longer concealed since they were so obstinate in rejecting the word of God. He had showed that they could not bring forward any thing which He had not taught as from the mouth of God. He concludes, therefore, that they have nothing in common with God, for they do not hear the words of God; and, without saying any thing about Himself, He charges them with being at war with God. Besides, we are taught by this passage, that there is not a more evident sign of a reprobate mind, than when one cannot endure the doctrine of Christ, even though, in other respects, it shone with angelic sanctity; as, on the contrary, if we embrace that doctrine cheerfully, we have what may be called a visible seal of our election. For he who has the Word enjoys God Himself; but He who rejects it excludes himself from righteousness and life. Wherefore, there is nothing which we ought to fear so much as to fall under that dreadful sentence.
48. Do we not say well? They show more and more how greatly they are stupified by Satan; for, though they are fully convicted, still they are enraged, and are not ashamed to show that they are utterly desperate. Besides, though they bring a double reproach against Christ, still they wish to do nothing more than to say in a few words, that He is a detestable man and that He is actuated by a wicked spirit. The Jews reckoned the Samaritans to be apostates and corrupters of the Law; and therefore, whenever they wished to stamp a man with infamy, they called him a Samaritan. Having no crime more heinous, therefore, to reproach Christ with, they seize at random, and without judgment, this vulgar taunt. To express it in a few words, we see that with effrontery they curse Him, as men are accustomed to do when, infuriated like enraged dogs, they cannot find any thing to say.
49. I do not have a devil. He passes by the first charge, and clears Himself only of the second. Some think that He did so, because He disregarded the insult offered to His person, and undertook only the defense of the doctrine. But they are mistaken, in my opinion; for it is not probable that the Jews were so ingenious in distinguishing between the life and the doctrine of the Lord Jesus. Besides, the dislike of this name arose, as we have said, from this circumstance, that the Samaritans, being perverse and degenerate observers of the Law, had debased it by many superstitions and corruptions, and had polluted the whole worship of God by foreign inventions. Augustine flies to allegory, and says that Christ did not refuse to be called a Samaritan, because He is a true guardian of his flock. But Christ’s intention appears to me to have been different; for since the two reproaches cast upon Him had the same object, by refuting the one, He refutes the other; and, indeed, if the matter be properly considered, they insulted Him more grievously by calling Him a Samaritan than by calling Him a demoniac. But, as I have already said, Christ satisfies Himself with a simple refutation, which He draws from what is contrary, when He asserts that He labors to promote the honor of His Father; for He who properly and sincerely honors Him must be guided by the Spirit of God, and must be a faithful servant of God.
You have dishonored me. This clause may be explained, as if it were a complaint of Christ, that He does not receive the honor due to Him on account of His promoting the glory of God. But I think that He looks much higher, and connects the glory of the Father with His own, in this manner. “I claim nothing for Myself which does not tend to the glory of God; for His majesty shines in Me, His power and authority dwells in Me; and therefore, when you treat me so disdainfully, you pour contempt on God Himself.” He immediately adds, therefore, that God will revenge this insult. For they might have alleged that He was ambitious, if He had not testified that it was not from any personal feelings of a carnal nature that He cared about the honor or contempt showed to Himself, but so far as the honor or contempt of God is concerned. Besides, though we are at a great distance from Christ, let every man be fully convinced that if he be sincerely desirous to promote the glory of God, he will find that God has secured for him abundant commendation; for we shall always find that saying to be true, Those who honor Me, I will render honorable (1 Samuel 2:30). If men not only despise, but even load Him with reproaches, let him calmly wait till the day of the Lord come.
51. Truly, truly, I say to you, If any man keeps My word, he shall never see death. 52. The Jews said therefore to Him, Now we know that You have the devil; Abraham is dead, and the Prophets, and You say, If any man keeps My word, he shall never taste of death. 53. Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? The Prophets also are dead. Whom do You make Yourself? 54. Jesus answered, If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say that He is your God. 55. And you know Him not, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be a liar like you; but I know Him, and keep His word.
51. Truly, truly, I say to you. Christ unquestionably knew that some persons in that multitude were curable, and that others of them were not opposed to His doctrine. For this reason, He intended to terrify the wicked whose malice was desperate, but to do so in such a way as to leave ground of consolation for the good, or to draw to Him those who were not yet ruined. Whatever dislike of the word of God, therefore, may be entertained by the greatest part of men, yet the faithful teacher ought not to be wholly employed in reproving the wicked, but ought also to impart the doctrine of salvation to the children of God, and endeavor to bring them to sound views, if there be any of them who are not perfectly incurable. In this passage, therefore, Christ promises eternal life to His disciples, but demands disciples who shall not only prick up their ears, like asses, or profess with the mouth that they approve of His doctrine, but who shall keep His doctrine as a precious treasure. He says that they shall never see death; for, when faith quickens the soul of a man, death already has its sting extracted and its venom removed, and so cannot inflict a deadly wound.
52. Now we know. The reprobate persist in their stupidity, and are not moved by promises any more than by threatenings; so that they can neither be led nor drawn to Christ. Some think that they slanderously torture His words, by using the expression, taste of death, which Christ had not used; but this appears to me to be groundless. I rather think that both of the phrases, to taste of death and to see death, were used by the Hebrews in the same sense; namely, to die. But they are false interpreters in this respect, that they apply the spiritual doctrine of Christ to the body. No believer shall see death, because believers, having been born again of incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23) live even when they die; because, united to Christ their Head, they cannot be extinguished by death; because death is to them a passage into the heavenly kingdom; because the Spirit, dwelling in them, is life on account of righteousness (Romans 8:10) until He swallow up all that remains of death. But those men, being carnal, cannot perceive any deliverance from death, unless it appear manifestly in the body. And it is a disease too common in the world, that the greatest part of men care almost nothing about the grace of Christ, because they judge of it only by their carnal perception. That the same thing may not happen to us, we must arouse our minds, that they may discern spiritual life in the midst of death.
53. Are You greater than our father Abraham? This is another offense, that they endeavor to obscure the glory of Christ by the splendor of Abraham and of the saints. But as all the stars are thrown into the shade by the brightness of the sun, so all the glory that is to be found in all the saints must fade away before the incomparable brightness of Christ. They act unjustly and absurdly, therefore, in contrasting the servants with the Lord; and they even act improperly towards Abraham and the Prophets, by abusing their name in opposition to Christ. But this wickedness has prevailed in almost every age, and prevails even in the present day, that wicked men, by mangling the works of God, make Him appear to be contrary to Himself. God glorified Himself by the Apostles and Martyrs; the Papists frame idols for themselves out of the Apostles and Martyrs, that they may occupy the place of God; and do they not, in this manner, manufacture engines out of the very favors of God, to destroy His power? For how little remains for God or for Christ, if the saints have all that the Papists so lavishly bestow upon them! Wherefore, we ought to know that the whole order of the Kingdom of God is destroyed, unless Prophets, Apostles, and all that can be called Saints, be placed far below Christ, that He alone may hold the highest rank. And, indeed, we cannot speak of the Saints more respectfully than when we place them below Christ. But the Papists, though they may deceive the ignorant by boasting that they are faithful admirers of the Saints, offer an insult both to God and to them, because, by assigning to them a lofty station, they reduce Christ to a level with them. And, indeed, they are doubly in the wrong, because they prefer the Saints to Christ in doctrine; and because, by clothing themselves with the spoils of Christ, they deprive Him of almost all His power.
54. If I glorify Myself. Before replying to that unjust comparison, He begins by saying that He does not seek His own glory, and thus meets their slander. If it be objected, that Christ also glorified Himself, the answer is easy, that He did so, not as man, but by the direction and authority of God. For here, as in many other passages, He distinguishes between Himself and God, by way of concession. In short, He declares that He desires no glory whatever but what has been given Him by the Father. We are taught by these words that, when God glorifies His Son, He will not permit the world to hate or despise Him with impunity.
Meanwhile, those voices sounding from heaven, Kiss the Son (Psalm 2:12), Let all the angels worship Him (Hebrews 1:6), Let every knee bow to Him, (Philippians 2:10), Hear ye Him (Matthew 17:5), Let the Gentiles seek Him (Romans 15:11), and Let all flesh be humbled, ought greatly to encourage believers to render honor and reverence to Christ. We are also reminded by these words, that all the honor which men procure for themselves is trivial and worthless. How blind then is ambition, when we labor so earnestly about nothing! Let, us continually keep before our eyes that saying of Paul, Not he who commends himself is approved, but whom God commends (2 Corinthians 10:18). Besides, as we are destitute of the glory of God, let us learn to glory in Christ alone, so far as by His grace He makes us partakers of His glory.
The Prophets and Apostles had invincible courage.
Of whom you say that He is your God. He pulls off from them the false mask of the name of God which they were accustomed to employ. “I know,” He says, “how presumptuously you boast that you are the people of God; but it is a false title, for you do not know God.” Hence also we learn what is the true and lawful profession of faith. It is that which proceeds from true knowledge. And from where comes that knowledge, but from the Word? Consequently, all who boast of the name of God without the word of God are mere liars. Yet to their audacity Christ opposes the assurance of His conscience; and thus all the servants of God ought to be prepared in their hearts to be satisfied with this alone, that God is on their side, though the whole world should rise against Him. Thus anciently the Prophets and Apostles had invincible courage and magnanimity, which stood firm against the dreadful attacks of the whole world, because they knew by whom they were sent. But when solid knowledge of God is lacking, there is nothing to support us.
And if I shall say that I know Him. By this clause, Christ testifies that the necessity of His office constrains Him to speak, because silence would be a treacherous denial of the truth. This is a remarkable statement, that God reveals Himself to us for this purpose, that we may confess before men the faith which we have in our hearts, when it is needful. For it ought powerfully to strike terror into our minds, that they who act hypocritically to please men, and either deny the truth of God or disfigure it by wicked glosses, not only are gently reproved, but are sent back to the children of the devil.
56. Your father Abraham exulted to see My day; and he saw it and rejoiced. 57. The Jews then said to Him, You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham? 58. Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am. 59. Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus concealed Himself and went out of the temple.
56. Your father Abraham. He grants to them, in words only, what He formerly took from them, that Abraham is their father. But He shows how idle is the objection drawn from the name of Abraham. “He had no other object,” says He, “during his whole life, than to see My kingdom flourish. He longed for Me when I was absent, you despise Me when I am present.” What Christ here asserts concerning Abraham alone, applies to all the saints. But this doctrine has greater weight in the person of Abraham, because he is the father of the whole Church. Whoever then desires to be reckoned in the number of the godly, let him rejoice, as he ought to do, in the presence of Christ, for which Abraham ardently longed.
Exulted to see My day. The word exult expresses a vehement zeal and ardent affection. We must now supply the contrast. Though the knowledge of Christ was still so obscure, Abraham was inflamed by so strong a desire, that he preferred the enjoyment of it to everything that was reckoned desirable. How base then is the ingratitude of those who despise and reject Him, when He is plainly offered to them? The word day does not, in this passage, denote eternity (as Augustine thought) but rather the time of Christ’s kingdom, when He appeared in the world clothed with flesh to fulfill the office of Redeemer. But a question now arises, How did Abraham behold, even with the eyes of faith, the manifestation of Christ? For this appears not to agree with another statement of Christ, Many kings and prophets desired to see the things which you see, and yet did not see them (Luke 10:24). I reply, faith has its degrees in beholding Christ. Thus the ancient prophets beheld Christ at a distance, as He had been promised to them, and yet were not permitted to behold Him present, as He made Himself familiarly and completely visible, when He came down from heaven to men.
Again, we are taught by these words that, as God did not disappoint the desire of Abraham, so He will not now permit any one to breathe after Christ, without obtaining some good fruit which shall correspond to his holy desire. The reason why He does not grant the enjoyment of Himself to many is — the wickedness of men; for few desire Him. Abraham’s joy testifies that he regarded the knowledge of the kingdom of Christ as an incomparable treasure; and the reason why we are told that he rejoiced to see the day of Christ is that we may know that there was nothing which he valued more highly. But all believers receive this fruit from their faith, that, being satisfied with Christ alone, in whom they are fully and completely happy and blessed, their consciences are calm and cheerful. And indeed no man knows Christ aright, unless he gives Him this honor of relying entirely upon Him. Others explain it to mean, that Abraham, being already dead, enjoyed the presence of Christ, when He appeared to the world; and so they make the time of desiring and the time of seeing to be different. And indeed it is true, that the coming of Christ was manifested to holy spirits after death, of which coming they were held in expectation during the whole of their life; but I do not know if so refined an exposition agrees with Christ’s words.
57. You are not yet fifty years old. They endeavor to refute Christ’s saying, by showing that He had asserted what was impossible, when He who was not yet fifty years of age makes Himself equal to Abraham, who died many centuries before. Though Christ was not yet thirty-four years of age, yet they allow Him to be somewhat older, that they may not appear to be too rigid and exact in dealing with Him; as if they had said, “You certainly will not make Yourself so old, though You were to boast that You are already fifty years of age.” Consequently, those who conjecture that He looked older than He actually was, or that the years mentioned in this passage are not solar years, in either case labor to no purpose. The notion of Papias, who says that Christ lived more than forty years, cannot at all be admitted.
58. Before Abraham was. As unbelievers judge only from the appearance of the flesh, Christ reminds them that He has something greater and higher than human appearance, which is hidden from the senses of the flesh, and is perceived only by the eyes of faith; and that, in this respect, He might be seen by the holy fathers, before He was manifested in the flesh. But He uses different verbs. Before Abraham WAS, or, Before Abraham WAS BORN, I AM. But by these words He excludes Himself from the ordinary rank of men, and claims for Himself a power more than human, a power heavenly and divine, the perception of which reached from the beginning of the world through all ages.
Yet these words may be explained in two ways. Some think that this applies simply to the eternal Divinity of Christ, and compare it with that passage in the writings of Moses, I am what I am (Exodus 3:14). But I extend it much farther, because the power and grace of Christ, so far as He is the Redeemer of the world, was common to all ages. It agrees therefore with that saying of the apostle, Christ yesterday, and today, and for ever (Hebrews 13:8). For the context appears to demand this interpretation. He had formerly said that Abraham longed for His day with vehement desire; and as this seemed incredible to the Jews, He adds, that He Himself also existed at that time. The reason assigned will not appear sufficiently strong, if we do not understand that He was even then acknowledged to be the Mediator, by whom God was to be appeased. And yet the efficacy which belonged, in all ages, to the grace of the Mediator depended on His eternal Divinity; so that this saying of Christ contains a remarkable testimony of His Divine essence.
We ought also to observe the solemn form of an oath, Truly, truly. Nor do I disapprove of the opinion of Chrysostom, that the present tense of the verb is emphatic; for He does not say, I was, but I am; by which He denotes a condition uniformly the same from the beginning to the end. And He does not say, Before Abraham WAS, but, Before Abraham WAS MADE; which implies that Abraham had a beginning.
59. Then they took up stones. There is reason to believe that they did this, as if Christ ought to be stoned according to the injunction of the Law (Leviticus 24:16). Hence we infer how great is the madness of inconsiderate zeal; for they have no ears to know the cause, but they have hands ready to commit murder. I have no doubt that Christ rescued Himself by His secret power, but yet under the appearance of a low condition; for He did not intend to make a clear display of His Divinity without leaving something for human infirmity. Some copies have the words, And so Jesus passed through the midst of them; which Erasmus justly considers to have been borrowed from the Gospel by Luke 4:30. It deserves notice also, that the wicked priests and scribes, after having banished Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9), retain possession of the outward temple; but they are greatly deceived, when they think that they have a temple in which God does not dwell.
Such is the course now pursued by the Pope and his followers. After having banished Christ, and in this manner profaned the Church, they foolishly glory in the false disguise of a Church.
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