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Bible Commentaries

Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

John 5

Verses 1-15

WE have in this passage one of the few miracles of Christ, which John records. Like every other miracle in this Gospel, it is described with great minuteness and particularity. And like more than one other miracle it leads on to a discourse full of singularly deep instruction.

We are taught, for one thing, in this passage, what misery sin has brought into the world. We read of a man who had been ill for no less than thirty-eight years! For eight-and-thirty weary summers and winters he had endured pain and infirmity. He had seen others healed at the waters of Bethesda, and going to their homes rejoicing. But for him there had been no healing. Friendless, helpless, and hopeless, he lay near the wonder-working waters, but derived no benefit from them. Year after year passed away, and left him still uncured. No relief or change for the better seemed likely to come, except from the grave.

When we read of cases of sickness like this, we should remember how deeply we ought to hate sin! Sin was the original root, and cause, and fountain of every disease in the world. God did not create man to be full of aches, and pains, and infirmities. These things are the fruits of the Fall. There would have been no sickness, if there had been no sin.

No greater proof can be shown of man’s inbred unbelief, than his carelessness about sin. "Fools," says the wise man, "make a mock at sin." (Proverbs 14:9.) Thousands delight in things which are positively evil, and run greedily after that which is downright poison. They love that which God abhors, and dislike that which God loves. They are like the madman, who loves his enemies and hates his friends. Their eyes are blinded. Surely if men would only look at hospitals and infirmaries, and think what havoc sin has made on this earth, they would never take pleasure in sin as they do.

Well may we be told to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom! Well may we be told to long for the second advent of Jesus Christ! Then, and not till then, shall there be no more curse on the earth, no more suffering, no more sorrow, and no more sin. Tears shall be wiped from the faces of all who love Christ’s appearing, when their Master returns. Weakness and infirmity shall all pass away. Hope deferred shall no longer make hearts sick. There will be no chronic invalids and incurable cases, when Christ has renewed this earth.

We are taught, for another thing, in this passage, how great is the mercy and compassion of Christ. He "saw" the poor sufferer lying in the crowd. Neglected, overlooked, and forgotten in the great multitude, he was observed by the all-seeing eye of Christ. "He knew" full well, by His Divine knowledge, how long he had been "in that case," and pitied him. He spoke to him unexpectedly, with words of gracious sympathy. He healed him by miraculous power, at once and without tedious delay, and sent him home rejoicing.

This is just one among many examples of our Lord Jesus Christ’s kindness and compassion. He is full of undeserved, unexpected, abounding love towards man. "He delighteth in mercy." (Micah 7:18.) He is far more ready to save than man is to be saved, far more willing to do good than man is to receive it.

No one ever need be afraid of beginning the life of a true Christian, if he feels disposed to begin. Let him not hang back and delay, under the vain idea that Christ is not willing to receive him. Let him come boldly, and trust confidently. He that healed the cripple at Bethesda is still the same.

We are taught, lastly, the lesson that recovery from sickness ought to impress upon us. That lesson is contained in the solemn words which our Savior addressed to the man He had cured: "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."

Every sickness and sorrow is the voice of God speaking to us. Each has its peculiar message. Happy are they who have an eye to see God’s hand, and an ear to hear His voice, in all that happens to them. Nothing in this world happens by chance.

And as it is with sickness, so it is with recovery. Renewed health should send us back to our post in the world with a deeper hatred of sin, a more thorough watchfulness over our own ways, and a more constant purpose of mind to live to God. Far too often the excitement and novelty of returning health tempt us to forget the vows and intentions of the sick-room. There are spiritual dangers attending a recovery! Well would it be for us all after illness to engrave these words on our hearts, "Let me sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto me."

Let us leave the passage with grateful hearts, and bless God that we have such a Gospel and such a Savior as the Bible reveals.—Are we ever sick and ill? Let us remember that Christ sees, and knows, and can heal as He thinks fit.—Are we ever in trouble? Let us hear in our trouble the voice of God, and learn to hate sin more.

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Notes

v1.—[After this.] Literally translated, this would be, "after these things." Some think that when John is telling some event which follows immediately after the last thing narrated, he uses the expression, "after this thing" (as John 2:12), but that when there has been an interval of time he uses the expression, "after these things."—If this be correct, we must suppose that some space of time elapsed between the healing of the nobleman’s son and the visit to Jerusalem, recorded in this chapter.

[A feast of the Jews.] There is nothing to show what feast this was. Most commentators think it was the passover. Many however think it was the feast of pentecost. Some few say it was the feast of tabernacles, some the feast of purim, and some the feast of the dedication. Each view has its advocates, and the question will probably never be settled. An argument in favour of the passover is the fact that none of the five Jewish feasts were so regularly attended by devout Jews as the passover. An argument against it is the fact that on three other occasions, when the feast of the passover is mentioned in John, he carefully specifies it by name; and one would naturally expect that it would be named here.

The matter is really of no peculiar importance. In one point of view only it is interesting.—If the "feast" was the passover, it proves that there were four passovers during the period of our Lord’s ministry on earth. John mentions three by name,—beside this "feast." (John 2:23; John 6:4; John 12:1.) This would make it certain that our Lord’s ministry lasted three full years, or at any rate must have begun with a passover, and ended with a passover.—If the "feast" was not the passover, we have no proof that His ministry lasted longer than between two and three years. (See notes on John 2:13.)

The expression, "a feast of the Jews," is one of many incidental evidences that John wrote specially for the use of Gentile converts, and that he thought it needful for their benefit to explain Jewish ordinances.

[Jesus went up.] The frequency of our Lord’s attendance at Jewish feasts, and the respect He showed for Mosaic ordinances, should always be noticed. They were appointed by God, and as long as they lasted, He gave them honour. It is an important proof to us, that the unworthiness of ministers is no reason for neglecting God’s ordinances, such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The benefit we receive from ordinances and sacraments does not depend on the character of those who administer them, but on the state of our own souls. The priests and officers of the Temple, in our Lord’s time, were probably very unworthy persons, but that did not prevent our Lord honouring the Temple ordinances and feasts.—It does not however follow from this that we should be justified in habitually going to hear false doctrine preached. Our Lord never did this.

Let it be noted, that none of the four Gospel-writers speak so much of our Lord’s doings in Judæa and Jerusalem as John does.

v2.—[There is at Jerusalem.] These words, it is thought, show that Jerusalem was yet standing, and not taken and destroyed by the Romans, when John wrote his Gospel. Otherwise, it is argued, he would have said, "There was at Jerusalem."

[By the sheep-market a pool.] Nothing certain is known about this pool, or its precise situation. Modern travellers have professed to point out where it was. But there is little ground for determining the matter, except conjecture and tradition. After all the changes of eighteen centuries, points like these are almost incapable of a satisfactory solution. There is no place in the world, perhaps, where it is so difficult to settle anything decidedly about ancient buildings and sites as Jerusalem. Some propose to render the expression "sheep-market’’ the "sheepgate," because of Nehemiah 3:1. But we really have no certain ground for either expression.

[Called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda.] The word "Bethesda," according to Cruden, means "house of effusion," or "house of pity or mercy." It is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. The mention of the "Hebrew tongue," shows again that John did not write for Jews so much as Gentiles.

[Having five porches.] These porches were probably covered arcades, piazzas, colonnades, or verandas, open at one side to the air, but protected against the sun or rain over-head. In a hot country like Palestine, such buildings are very necessary.

v3.—[In these lay a great multitude.] The context seems to show that the multitude were assembled at this particular feast in this place, expecting a certain miracle to be wrought, which only took place at this particular time of the year.

[Impotent folk.] This expression evidently does not mean paralytic people, but merely people who were sick and ill. The mention of "blind, halt, withered," shows this.

[Moving of the water.] This "moving" must have been something that could be seen and observed by persons standing by or looking on. There was no virtue or healing element in the water, until the movement took place.

v4.—[For an angel went down, &c.] The thing we are here told is very curious. There is nothing like it in the Bible. Josephus, the Jewish writer, does not mention it. The simplest view is that it was a standing miracle wrought once every year, as Cyril says, or at any rate at some special season only, by God’s appointment, to keep the Jews in mind of the wonderful works that had been done for them in time past, and to remind them that the God of miracles was unchanged.—But when this singular miracle first began,—on what occasion it began,—why we never hear anything else about it,—in what way the angel came down,—are questions which cannot be answered.—That angels did interpose in a miraculous manner in the days of the New Testament, is perfectly clear from many instances in the Gospels and Acts. That the Jews themselves had strong faith in the interposition of angels on certain occasions, is clear from the account of the vision of Zacharias, when we are simply told that the people "perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple." (Luke 1:22.) That from the days of Malachi, when inspiration ceased, God may have seen it good to keep up in the Jewish mind a faith in unseen things, by the grant of a standing miracle, is a very probable opinion. The wisest course is to take the passage as we find it, and to believe though we cannot explain.

All other attempts to get over the difficulties of the passage are thoroughly unsatisfactory. To condemn the passage as not genuine, is a lazy way of cutting the knot, and not at all clearly warranted by the authority of manuscripts.—To say that John only used the popular language of the Jews in describing the miracle, and did not really believe it himself, is, to say the least, irreverent and profane.—To suppose, as Hammond and others have done, that the "angel" only means a common human "messenger" sent by the priests, and that the healing efficacy of the water arose from the blood of the many sacrifices which drained into the pool of Bethesda at the passover feast;—or to suppose, as others, that Bethesda was a pool where sacrifices were washed before they were offered, are all entirely gratuitous assumptions, and do not get over the main difficulty. There is no proof that the blood of the sacrifices did drain into the pool. There is no proof that the blood would give the water any healing virtue. There is no proof, as Lightfoot shows, that sacrifices were washed at all. (See Lightfoot’s Exeroitations on John, on this passage.) Moreover, this hypothesis would not account for only one person being healed every time the waters were "troubled," or for John’s mention of the "angel troubling" the waters. Here, as in many other instances, the simplest view, and the one which involves the fewest difficulties, is to take the passage as we find it, and to interpret it as narrating an actual fact,—viz.: a standing miracle which actually was literally wrought at a certain season, and perhaps every year.

After all there is no more real difficulty in the account before us, than in the history of our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness, the various cases of Satanic possession, or the release of Peter from prison by an angel. Once admit the existence of angels, their ministry on earth, and the possibility of their interposition to carry out God’s designs, and there is nothing that ought to stumble us in the passage. The true secret of some of the objections to it, is the modern tendency to regard all miracles as useless lumber, which must be thrown overboard, if possible, and cast out of the Sacred Narrative on every occasion. Against this tendency we must watch and be on our guard.

Rollock remarks, "The Jewish people at this time was in a state of great confusion, and the presence of God was in great measure withdrawn from it. The prophets whom God had been accustomed to raise up for extraordinary purposes, were no longer given to the Jews. Therefore God, that He might not appear altogether to cast off His people, was willing to heal some miraculously, and in an extraordinary way, in order that He might testify to the world that the nation was not yet entirely rejected." Brentius and Calvin say much the same.

Poole thinks that this miracle only began a little before the birth of Christ, "as a figure of him being about to come, who was to be a fountain opened to the house of David." Lightfoot takes the same view.

[Troubled the water.] This means, no doubt, "disturbed, agitated, stirred up," the water of the pool. There is no reason for supposing that the angel visibly appeared in doing this. It is enough to suppose that at a certain hour there was a sudden stir and agitation of the waters, immediately after which they possessed the miraculous virtue of healing,—just as the waters at Marah became sweet immediately after Moses cast the tree into them. (Exodus 15:25.)

[Whosoever then first.] This shows that the whole affair was miraculous. On no other supposition can we account for only one person being healed after the troubling of the water. That only "one" was healed, is plain, I think, from the wording of the passage.

[Of whatsoever disease he had.] These words would be more literally translated, "with whatsoever disease he was held."

Bengel thinks that the use of the past tense throughout this verse shows that the miracle had ceased when John wrote. He "used to go down,"—"used to trouble the waters," &c. Tertullian declares expressly that the miracle ceased from the time that the Jews rejected Christ.

v5.—[Infirmity thirty and eight years.] This means the length of time during which the sick man had been ill. How old he was we do not know.

Baxter remarks, "How great a mercy is it to live eight and thirty years under God’s wholesome discipline! O my God, I thank Thee for the like discipline of eight and fifty years. How safe a life is this compared to one spent in full prosperity and pleasure!"

Those who see typical and abstruse meanings in all the least details of the narratives of Scriptures, observe that thirty-eight years was the exact time of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. They see in the sick man,—helpless and hopeless till Christ came,—a type of the Jewish Church. The pool of Bethesda is Old Testament religion. The small benefit it conferred,—viz.: only healing one at a time, represents the narrow and limited benefit which Judaism conferred on mankind. The merciful interference of Christ on the sick man’s behalf, represents the bringing in of the Gospel for all the world. These are pious thoughts, but it may well be doubted whether there is any warrant for them.

The notions that the pool of Bethesda was a type of baptism, and the five porches typical of the five books of the law, or the five wounds of Christ, appear to me mere ingenious inventions of man, without any solid foundation. Yet Chrysostom, Augustine, Theophylact, Euthymius, Burgon, Wordsworth, and many others, maintain them. Those who wish to see a full reply to the theory, that the miracle at the pool of Bethesda is a typical proof of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, will find it in Gomarus, the Dutch divine. He takes up Bellarmine’s argument on the subject, and answers him completely.

v6.—[When Jesus saw....knew....long time.] We need not doubt that our Lord knew this man’s history by that divine knowledge which, as God, He possesses of all things in heaven and earth. To suppose that He ascertained by inquiry the state of his case before speaking to him, is a weak, meager, and frigid interpretation. As a practical truth, it is a most comfortable doctrine that Jesus knows every sickness and disease, and all its weary history. Nothing is hid from Him.

[He said unto him.] This is an example of our Lord being the first to speak and begin conversation, as He did with the woman of Samaria. (John 4:7.) Unasked, unsolicited, unexpectedly, He mercifully addressed the sick man. No doubt He always begins in man’s heart before man begins with Him. But He does all things, as a Sovereign, according to His own will; and it is not always that we see Him taking the first step so entirely of Himself, as we do here.

[Wilt thou be made whole?] The English language here fails to give the full force of the Greek. It means, "Hast thou a will? Dost thou wish? Dost thou desire to be made whole?" The question was perhaps meant to awaken desire and expectation in the man, and to prepare him in some sense for the blessing about to be bestowed on him.

Is not this, to take a spiritual view, the very language that Christ is continually addressing to every man and woman who hears His Gospel? He sees us in a wretched, miserable, sin-sick condition. The one thing He asks us is, "Hast thou any wish to be saved?"

v7.—[The impotent man answered him, Sir.] The word rendered "Sir" is the same that is more commonly rendered "Lord." It is the same that is rendered "Sir" all through the fourth chapter, in the history of the Samaritan woman.

[I have no man....put me into the pool.] This is no doubt mentioned as an intentional proof of the heartlessness and unkindness of human nature. Think of a poor invalid waiting for years by the water, and having not a single friend to help him! The longer we live on earth the more we shall find that it is a selfish world, and that the sick and afflicted have few real friends in time of need. "The poor is hated even of his neighbour." (Proverbs 14:20.) Christ is the only unfailing friend of the friendless and helper of the helpless.

v8.—[Rise, take up thy bed and walk.] Here, as in other similar cases, it is evident that miraculous healing power went forth with the words of our Lord. Thus, "Stretch forth thy hand" (Mark 3:5); "Go show yourselves to the priests" (Luke 17:14). Commands like these tested the faith and obedience of those to whom they were given. How could they possibly do the things commanded, if impotent, like the man before us? Where the use of doing them, if still covered with leprosy, like the ten lepers? But it was precisely in the act of obedience that the blessing came. The whole power is Christ’s. But He loves to make us exert ourselves, and show our obedience and faith.

Augustine finds in the command, "Take up thy bed," an exhortation to the love of our neighbours, because we are to bear one another’s burdens; and in the command, "walk," an exhortation to love God! Such allegorizing appears to me very unwarrantable, and calculated to bring the Bible into contempt, as a book that can be made to mean anything.

v9.—[Immediately....made whole....walked.] Here we see the reality of the miracle wrought. Nothing but Divine power could enable one who had been a cripple for so many years to move his limbs and carry a burden all at once. But it was as easy to our Lord to give immediate strength as it was to create muscles, nerves, and sinews in the day that Adam was made.

When we are told that the man "took up his bed," we must remember that this probably was nothing more than a light mattress, carpet, or thick cloth, such as is commonly used in hot countries for sleeping on.

v10.—[The Jews.] Here, as in many places in John’s Gospel, the expression, "the Jews," when used of the Jews at Jerusalem, means the leaders of the people,—elders, rulers, and scribes. It does not mean vaguely the "Jewish crowd" around our Lord, but the representatives of the whole nation,—the heads of Israel at the time.

[It is not lawful....carry....bed.] In support of this charge of unlawfulness, the Jews would allege not merely the general law of the fourth commandment, but the special passages in Nehemiah and Jeremiah, about "bearing no burden" on the Sabbath day. (Nehemiah 13:19; Jeremiah 17:21.) But they could not have proved that these passages applied to the case of the man before them.—For a man to carry merchandise and wares on the Sabbath was one thing. For a sick man, suddenly and miraculously healed, to walk away to his home, carrying his mattress, was quite another.—To forbid the one man to carry his burden was Scriptural and lawful. To forbid the other was cruel, and contrary to the spirit of the law of Moses.—The act of the one man was unnecessary. The act of the other was an act of necessity and mercy.—It might perhaps be urged in defense of the Jews, that they only saw a man carrying off a burden, and knew nothing of his previous illness or his cure. But when we remember the many instances recorded in the Gospels of their extreme and harsh interpretation of the fourth commandment, it is doubtful whether this plea will stand.

v11.—[He that made me whole the same said, etc.] The answer of the man seems simple. But it contains a deep principle. "He that has done so great a thing to me was surely to be obeyed, when He told me to take up my bed. If He had authority and power to heal, He was not likely to lay upon me an unlawful command. I only obeyed him who cured me." If Christ has really healed our souls, should not this be our feeling toward Him?—"Thou hast healed me. What thou commandest I will do."

v12.—[What man is he which said....Take up thy bed, etc.] Ecolampadius, Grotius, and many others, remark what an example this question is of the malevolent and malicious spirit of the Jews. Instead of asking, "who healed thee?" they asked "who told thee to carry thy bed?" They cared not for knowing what they might admire as a work of mercy, but what they might make the ground of an accusation. How many are like them! They are always looking out for something to find fault with.

v13.—[Wist not who it was.] It is most probable that the cripple really knew not who it was that had healed him, and had only seen our Lord that day for the first time. He was ignorant of His name, and only knew Him as a kind person, who came up and said suddenly, "Wilt thou be made whole?" and, after curing him miraculously, suddenly disappeared in the crowd.

[Conveyed himself away.] The Greek word so rendered is peculiar, and only found in this place. Parkhurst thinks that it simply means "departed, or went away." Schleusner says that the root of the idea is, "swimming out, or escaping by swimming," and that the meaning here is, "withdrew himself secretly from the crowd that was in the place." If so, it is not improbable that, as in Luke 4:30, at Nazareth, and John 10:39, in the Temple, our Lord put forth a miraculous power in passing or gliding through the crowd without being observed or stopped.

v14.—[Afterward....temple.] It is not clear how long a time elapsed before our Lord found the man whom He had healed in the Temple. If the theory be correct to which I adverted in the note on the first verse, there must have been an interval. The word "afterwards" is literally "after these things."

Chrysostom thinks that the circumstance of the man being found "in the temple" is an indication of his piety.

[Behold thou art made whole: sin no more, etc.] These words appear to point at something more than meets the eye. They are a solemn caution. One might fancy that our Lord knew that some sin had been the beginning of the man’s illness, and that he meant to remind him of it. It certainly seems very unlikely that our Lord would say broadly and vaguely, "sin no more," unless he spoke with a significant reference to some sin which, had been the primary cause of this man’s long illness. (See 1 Corinthians 11:30.) There are sins which bring their own punishments on men’s bodies; and I am strongly disposed to think that it may have been the case with this man. The expression, "a worse thing," would then come out with more force. It would be "a heavier visitation,"—a worse judgment,—even than this thirty-eight years’ illness. A sick bed is a sorrowful place, but hell is much worse.

Besser remarks,—"It is a dreadful thing, when the correction and mercy of Divine love wearies itself with a man in vain. You that are sick, write over your beds, when you rise up from them in renewed health,—’Behold thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.’ " Brentius says much the same.

If sin was the cause of this man’s disease, and he had been ill from the effects of it thirty and eight years, it is plain that it must have been committed before our Lord was born! It is an instance, in that case, of our Lord’s perfect and Divine knowledge of all things, past as well as future.

v15.—[Departed and told the Jews.] There is no proof that the man did this with any evil design. Born a Jew, and taught to reverence his rulers and elders, he naturally wished to give them the information they desired, and had no reason to suppose, for anything we can see, that it would injure his Benefactor.

Verses 16-23

THESE verses begin one of the most deep and solemn passages in the four Gospels. They show us the Lord Jesus asserting His own Divine nature, His unity with God the Father, and the high dignity of His office. Nowhere does our Lord dwell so fully on these subjects as in the chapter before us. And nowhere, we must confess, do we find out so thoroughly the weakness of man’s understanding! There is much, we must all feel, that is far beyond our comprehension in our Lord’s account of Himself. Such knowledge, in short, is too wonderful for us. "It is high: we cannot attain unto it." (Psalms 139:6.) How often men say that they want clear explanations of such doctrines as the Trinity. Yet here we have our Lord handling the subject of His own Person, and, behold! we cannot follow Him. We seem only to touch His meaning with the tip of our fingers.

We learn, for one thing, from the verses before us, that there are some works which it is lawful to do on the Sabbath day.

The Jews, as on many other occasions, found fault because Jesus healed a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years, on the Sabbath. They charged our Lord with a breach of the fourth commandment.

Our Lord’s reply to the Jews is very remarkable. "My Father," he says, "worketh hitherto, and I also work." It is as though He said:—"Though my Father rested on the seventh day from His work of creation, He has never rested for a moment from His providential government of the world, and from His merciful work of supplying the daily wants of all His creatures. Were He to rest from such work, the whole frame of nature would stand still. And I also work works of mercy on the Sabbath day. I do not break the fourth commandment when I heal the sick, any more than my Father breaks it when He causes the sun to rise and the grass to grow on the Sabbath."

We must distinctly understand, that neither here nor elsewhere does the Lord Jesus overthrow the obligation of the fourth commandment. Neither here nor elsewhere is there a word to justify the vague assertions of some modern teachers, that "Christians ought not to keep a Sabbath," and that it is "a Jewish institution which has passed away." The utmost that our Lord does, is to place the claims of the Sabbath on the right foundation. He clears the day of rest from the false and superstitious teaching of the Jews, about the right way of observing it. He shows us clearly that works of necessity and works of mercy are no breach of the fourth commandment.

After all, the errors of Christians on this subject, in these latter days, are of a very different kind from those of the Jews. There is little danger of men keeping the Sabbath too strictly. The thing to be feared is the disposition to keep it loosely and partially, or not to keep it at all. The tendency of the age is not to exaggerate the fourth commandment, but to cut it out of the Decalogue, and throw it aside altogether. Against this tendency it becomes us all to be on our guard. The experience of eighteen centuries supplies abundant proofs that vital religion never flourishes when the Sabbath is not well kept.

We learn, for another thing, from these verses, the dignity and greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Jews, we are told, sought to kill Jesus because He said "that God was his Father, making himself equal with God." Our Lord, in reply, on this special occasion, enters very fully into the question of His own Divine nature. In reading His words, we must all feel that we are reading mysterious things, and treading on very holy ground. But we must feel a deep conviction, however little we may understand, that the things He says could never have been said by one who was only man. The Speaker is nothing less than "God manifest in the flesh." (1 Timothy 3:16.)

He asserts His own unity with God the Father. No other reasonable meaning can be put on the expressions,—"The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.—The Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth." Such language, however deep and high, appears to mean that in operation, and knowledge, and heart, and will, the Father and the Son are One,—two Persons, but one God. Truths such as these are of course beyond man’s power to explain particularly. Enough for us to believe and rest upon them.

He asserts, in the next place, His own Divine power to give life. He tells us, "The Son quickeneth whom he will." Life is the highest and greatest gift that can be bestowed. It is precisely that thing that man, with all his cleverness, can neither give to the work of his hands, nor restore when taken away. But life, we are told, is in the hands of the Lord Jesus, to bestow and give at His discretion. Dead bodies and dead souls are both alike under His dominion. He has the keys of death and hell. In Him is life. He is the life. (John 1:4. Revelation 1:18.)

He asserts, in the last place, His own authority to judge the world. "The Father," we are told, "has committed all judgment unto the Son." All power and authority over the world is committed to Christ’s hands. He is the King and the Judge of mankind. Before Him every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord. He that was once despised and rejected of man, condemned and crucified as a malefactor, shall one day hold a great assize, and judge all the world. "God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." (Romans 2:16.)

And now let us think whether it is possible to make too much of Christ in our religion. If we have ever thought so, let us cast aside the thought for ever. Both in His Own nature as God, and in His office as commissioned Mediator, He is worthy of all honor. He that is one with the Father,—the Giver of life,—the King of kings,—the coming Judge, can never be too much exalted. "He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father that sent him."

If we desire salvation, let us lean our whole weight on this mighty Savior. So leaning, we never need be afraid. Christ is the rock of ages, and he that builds on Him shall never be confounded,—neither in sickness, nor in death, nor in the judgment-day. The hand that was nailed to the cross is almighty! The Savior of sinners is "mighty to save." (Isaiah 63:1.)

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Notes

v16.—[Therefore....Jews persecute, etc.] The verbs in this verse are all in the imperfect tense. It may be doubted whether the meaning is not, strictly speaking, something of this kind:—"The Jews from this time began to persecute Jesus, and were always seeking to slay Him, because He made a habit of doing these things on the Sabbath day." It is some confirmation of this view that our Lord at a much later period refers to this very miracle at Bethesda, as a thing which had specially angered the Jews of Jerusalem, and for which they hated Him and sought still to kill Him. It was long after the time of this miracle when He said,—"Are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath day?" (John 7:23.)

v17.—[But Jesus answered.] This seems to have been the first reply which our Lord made when charged with breaking the fourth commandment. It was a short, simple justification of the lawfulness of doing works of mercy on the Sabbath. There seems to have been an interval between this reply and the long argumentative defense which begins in the 19th verse.

[My Father worketh hitherto, and I also work.] The words rendered "hitherto," are, literally, "until now,"—that is, from the beginning of creation up to the present time.

I can only see one meaning in this pithy sentence:—"My Father in heaven is continually working works of mercy and kindness in His providential government of the world, in supplying the wants of all His creatures, in maintaining the whole fabric of the earth in perfection, in giving rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, in preserving and sustaining life. All this He does on Sabbaths, as well as week days. Were He to cease from such works, the whole world would be full of confusion. When He rested from His works of creation He did not rest from His works of providence. I also, who am His beloved Son, claim the right to work works of mercy on the Sabbath. In working such works I do not break the Sabbath any more than My Father does. My Father appointed the fourth commandment to be honoured, and yet never ceased to cause the sun to rise and the grass to grow on the Sabbath. I also, who claim to be One with the Father, honour the Sabbath, but I do not abstain from works of mercy upon it."

Two things should be observed in this sentence. One is the plain practical lesson that the Sabbath was not meant to be a day of total idleness, and of entire cessation from all kinds and sorts of work. "The Sabbath was made for man,"—for his benefit, comfort, and advantage. Works of mercy and of real necessity to man’s life and animal existence on the Sabbath day, were never intended to be forbidden.—The other thing to be observed is our Lord’s assertion of His own Divinity and equality with God the Father. When He said, "My Father worketh, and I also work," He evidently meant much more than bringing forward His Father’s example, though that of course is contained in His argument, and justifies all Christians in doing works of mercy on Sundays. What He meant was, "I am the beloved Son of God: I and My Father are one in essence, dignity, honour, and authority; whatever He does I also do, and have right to do. He works and I also work. He gave you the Sabbath, and it is His day. I too, as one with Him, am Lord of the Sabbath." That the Jews saw this to be the meaning of His words seems clear from the next verse.

Chrysostom remarks on this verse:—"If any one say, ’How doth the Father work, who ceased on the seventh day from all His works?’ let him learn the manner in which He worketh. What is it? He careth for, He holdeth together all that hath been made. When thou beholdest the sun rising, and the moon running in her path, the lakes, the fountains, the rivers, the rains, the course of nature in seeds, and in our own bodies and those of irrational beings, and all the rest, by means of which this universe is made up, then learn the ceaseless working of the Father." (Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:30.)

Schottgen quotes a remarkable saying of Philo Judæus,—"God never ceases to work. Just as it is the property of fire to burn and of snow to be cold, so is it the property of God to work."

Ferus remarks on the great variety of arguments used by our Lord on various occasions, in reply to the superstitious views of the Jews about the Sabbath. One time He adduces the example of David eating the shew-bread, another time the example of the priests working in the Temple on the Sabbath, another time the readiness of the Jews to help an ox out of a pit on the Sabbath. All these arguments were used in defense of works of necessity and mercy. Here He takes higher ground still,—the example of His Father.

v18.—[Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him.] This short defense which our Lord made seems to have rankled in the minds of the Jews, and to have made them even more bitter against Him. What length of time is covered by this verse is not very plain. I am inclined to think that it implies some little pause between the 17th and 19th verses. Here again, as in the 16th verse, we have the imperfect tense all the way through. It must surely point at something of habit, both in the designs of the Jews against our Lord, and in our Lord’s conduct, and in His language about His Father.

[Said God...his Father...equal with God.] It is clear that our Lord’s words about His Sonship struck the Jews in a far more forcible way than they seem to strike us. In a certain sense all believers are "sons of God." (Romans 8:14.) But it is evident that they are not so in the sense that our Lord meant when He talked of God as His Father, and Himself as God’s Son. The Greek undoubtedly might be translated more clearly, "said that God was His own particular Father." (Compare Romans 8:32.) The Jews at any rate accepted the words as meaning our Lord to assert His own peculiar Sonship, and His consequent entire equality with God the Father. Their charge and ground of anger against Him amounted to this:—"Thou callest God Thine own particular Father, and claimest authority to do whatsoever He does. By so doing Thou makest Thyself equal with God." And our Lord seems to have accepted this charge as a correct statement of the case, and to have proceeded to argue that He had a right to say what He had said, and that He really was equal with God. As Paul says,—"He thought it not robbery to be equal with God." (Philippians 2:6.)

Augustine remarks,—"Behold the Jews understood what the Arians would not understand."

Whitby remarks that the Jews never accused our Lord of blasphemy for saying that he was the Messiah, But for saying that He was the Son of God, because they did not believe that Messiah when He appeared was to be a Divine Person.

Ferus remarks that the Jews probably took notice of our Lord calling God "My Father," and not "our Father."—Cartwright also thinks that there is much weight in the expression "my," and that the Jews gathered from it that Christ claimed to be the only-begotten Son of God, and not merely a Son by adoption and grace.

v19.—[Then answered Jesus and said unto them.] This verse begins a long discourse, in which our Lord formally defends himself from the charge of the Jews of laying claim to what He had no right to claim. (1.) He asserts His own Divine authority, commission, dignity, and equality with God His Father. (2.) He brings forward the evidence of His Divine commission, which the Jews ought to consider and receive. (3.) Finally, He tells the Jews plainly the reason of their unbelief, and charges home on their consciences their love of man’s praise more than God’s, and their inconsistency in pretending to honour Moses while they did not honour Christ. It is a discourse almost unrivalled in depth and majesty.

There are few chapters in the Bible, perhaps, where we feel our own shallowness of understanding so thoroughly, and discover so completely the insufficiency of all human language to express "the deep things of God." Men are often saying they want explanations of the mysteries of the Christian faith, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the person of Christ, and the like. Let them just observe, when we do find a passage full of explanatory statements on a deep subject, how much there is that we have no line to fathom and no mind to take in. "I want more light," says proud man. God gives him his desire in this chapter, and lifts up the veil a little. But behold! we are dazzled by the very light we wanted, and find we have not eyes to take it in.

It has always been thought by many commentators that this solemn discourse of our Lord’s was delivered before the Sanhedrim, or general Ecclesiastical Assembly of the Jews. They regard it as a formal defense of His Divinity and Messiahship, and a statement of evidence why He should be received, before a regularly constituted ecclesiastical court.—It may be so. Probabilities seem in favour of the idea. But it must be remembered that we have nothing but internal evidence in favour of the theory. There is not a word said to show that our Lord was formally brought before the Sanhedrim, and made a formal defense.—Some writers lay much stress upon the opening words of the 19th verse,—"Then answered Jesus and said,"—and consider that these words imply a formal charge in court, and a formal reply from our Lord. It may be true. But we must remember that it is only a conjecture.

One thing only is certain. Nowhere else in the Gospels do we find our Lord making such a formal, systematic, orderly, regular statement of His own unity with the Father, His Divine commission and authority, and the proofs of His Messiahship, as we find in this discourse. To me it seems one of the deepest things in the Bible.

[Verily, verily, I say unto you.] Here, as elsewhere, the remark applies, that this form of expression always precedes some statement of more than ordinary depth and importance.

[The Son can do nothing of himself, &c.] This opening verse declares the complete unity there is between God the Father and God the Son. The Son, from His very nature and relation to the Father, "can do nothing" independently or separately from the Father. It is not that He lacks or wants the power to do, but that He will not do. (Compare Genesis 19:22.) When the angel said, "I cannot do anything till thou be come thither;" it means of course "I will not do."—"Of himself" does not mean without help, or unassisted, but "from himself," from His own independent will. He can only do such things as, from His unity with the Father, and consequent ineffable knowledge, He "seeth the Father doing. For the Father and the Son are so united,—one God though two Persons,—that whatsoever the Father does the Son does also. The acts of the Son therefore are not His own independent acts, but the acts of His Father also.

The Greek word which we render "likewise" must not be supposed to mean nothing more than "also, as well." It is literally "in like manner."

Bishop Hall paraphrases this saying of our Lord thus:—"I and the Father are one indivisible essence, and our acts are no less inseparable. The Son can do nothing without the will and act of the Father; and, even as He is man, can do nothing but what He seeth agreeable to the will and purpose of His heavenly Father."

Barnes remarks,—"The words ’what things soever’ are without limit; all that the Father does, the Son likewise does. This is as high an assertion as possible of His being equal with God. If one does all that another does, or can do, then there is proof of equality. If the Son does all that the Father does, then, like Him, He must be almighty, omniscient, all-present, and infinite in every perfection; or, in other words, He must be God."

Augustine remarks,—"Our Lord does not say, whatsoever the Father doeth the Son does other things like them, but the very same things....If the Son doeth the same things, and in like manner, then let the Jew be silenced, the Christian believe, the heretic be convinced; the Son is equal with the Father."

Hilary, quoted in the "Catena Aurea" remarks,—"Christ is the Son because He does nothing of Himself. He is God because whatsoever things the Father doeth, He doeth the same. They are One because They are equal in honour. He is not the Father because He is sent."

Diodati remarks,—"The phrase, ’what He seeth the Father do,’ is a figurative term, showing the inseparable communion of will, wisdom, and power, between the Son and the Father in the internal order of the most holy Trinity."

Toletus remarks,—"When it is said ’the Son can do nothing of Himself’, this does not mean want of power, but the highest power. Just as it is a mark of omnipotence not to be able to die, or to be worn out, or to be annihilated, because there is nothing that can injure omnipotence, so, likewise, ’to be unable to do anything of Himself’ is no mark of impotence, but of the highest power. It means nothing less than having one and the same power with the Father, so that nothing can be done by the One which is not equally done by the Other."

v20.—[The Father loveth the Son, &c.] This verse carries on the thought begun in the preceding verse,—the unity of the Father and the Son. When we read the words, "The father loveth," and the "Father showeth," we must not for a moment suppose them to imply any superiority in the Father, or any inferiority in the Son, as to their Divine nature and essence.—The "love" is not the love of an earthly parent to a beloved child. The "showing" is not the showing of a teacher to an ignorant scholar. The "love" is meant to show us that unspeakable unity of heart and affection (if such words may be reverently used) which eternally existed and exists between the Father and the Son. The "showing" means that entire confidence and cooperation which there was between the Father and the Son as to all the works which the Son should do when He came into the world, to fill the office of Mediator, and to save sinners.—The "greater works," which remained to be shown, were evidently the works specified in the two following verses,—the works of quickening and of judging. That the Jews did "marvel" and were confounded at the works of "quickening," we know from the Acts of the Apostles. That they will "marvel," even more at our Lord’s work of judgment we shall see when Christ comes again to judge the heathen, to restore Jerusalem, to gather Israel, to convince the Jews of their unbelief, and to renew the face of the earth.

Both in this, and the preceding verse, we must carefully remember the utter inability of any human language, or human ideas, to express perfectly such matters as our Lord is speaking of. Language is intended specially to express the things of man. It fails greatly when used to express things about God. In the expressions "seeth the Father do,"—"loveth the Son,"—"showeth him all things,"—"will show him greater works,"—we must carefully bear this in mind. We must remember that they are expressions accommodated to our weaker capacities. They are intended to explain the relation between two divine Beings, who are one in essence, though two Persons,—one in mind and will, though two in manifestation,—equal in all things as touching the Godhead, though the Son is inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. There must needs be immense difficulty in finding words to convey any idea of the relation between these two Persons. Hence the language used by our Lord must be cautiously handled, with a constant recollection that we are not reading of an earthly father and son, but of God the Father and God the Son, who though one in essence as God, are at the same time two distinct Persons.

Augustine wisely remarks, "There are times when speech is deficient, even when the understanding is proficient. How much more doth speech suffer defect, when the understanding hath nothing perfect!"

Augustine and Bernard both remark, that it is far "greater work" to repair ruined human nature, than to make it at first, and to re-create it, than to create it.

v21, v22.—[As the Father raiseth up the dead, &c.] Our Lord here proceeds to tell the Jews one of His mighty works which He had come to do, in proof of His divine nature, authority, and commission. Did they find fault with Him for making Himself equal with God? Let them know that He had the same power as God the Father to give "life" and quicken the dead. Let them know furthermore, that all "judgment" was committed to Him. Surely He who had in His hand the mighty prerogatives of giving life and judging the world, had a right to speak of himself as equal with God!

When we read "the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them," we must either understand the words to refer generally to God’s power to raise the dead at the last day,—which the Jew would allow as an article of faith, and a special attribute of divinity,—or else we must understand it to apply to the power of spiritually quickening men’s souls, which God had from the beginning exercised in calling men from death to life,—or else we must simply take it to mean that to give life, whether bodily or spiritual, is notoriously the peculiar attribute of God. The last view appears to me the most probable one, and most in harmony with what follows in after verses.

When we read "the Son quickeneth whom he wills," we have a distinct assertion of the Son’s Authority to give life at His will, either bodily or spiritual, with the same irresistible power as the Father. The highest of all gifts He has but to "will" and to bestow. The Greek word translated "quickeneth," is very strong. It is, literally, "makes alive," and seems to imply the power of making life of all kind, both bodily and spiritual.

Burkitt remarks, that it is never said of any prophet or apostle, that he did mighty works "at his will."

When we read "the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son," we must understand that in the economy of redemption, the Father has honoured the Son by devolving on Him the whole office of judging the world. It cannot of course mean that judgment is work with which the Father from His nature hath nothing to do, but that it is work which He has completely and entirely committed to the Son’s hands. He that died for sinners, is He that will judge them. Thus it is written,—"He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained." (Acts 17:31.)

Burgon remarks, "There is an original, supreme, judicial power; and there is also a judicial power derived, given by commission. Christ, as God, hath the first together with the Father: Christ, as man, hath the second from the Father."

I think it highly probable that the "all judgment committed to the Son," includes not merely the final judgment of the last day, but the whole work of ordering, governing, and deciding the affairs of Gods kingdom. "To judge" is an expression constantly used in the Old Testament in the sense of "to rule." The meaning then would be, that the Father has given to the Son the office of King and Judge. The whole administration of the Divine government of the world is put into the hands of the Son, Christ Jesus. Everything connected with the rule of the church and world, as well as the last judgment, is placed in the Son’s hands.

We should carefully mark the distinction between "quickening" and "judging" in the language of these two verses.

(a.) It is not said that "the Father quickeneth no man," but hath committed the power of giving life to the Son. Had this been said, it would have contradicted the texts "no man can come unto Me except the Father draw him," and "the Spirit giveth life." (John 6:44; 2 Corinthians 3:6.) Quickening is the work of all three Persons in the Trinity, of one as much as another.

(b.) It is said that judgment is the special work of the second Person of the Trinity. It is not the peculiar office either of the Father, or the Spirit, but of the Son. There seems a fitness in this. He who was condemned by an unjust judgment, and died for sinners, is He whose office it will be to judge the world.

(c.) It is said that "the Son quickeneth whom he will." The power of giving life is as much the prerogative of the Son as of the Father, or of the Spirit. Surely this teaches us that to place the election of God the Father, or the work of the Spirit, before men, as the first and principal thing they should look at, is not good theology. Christ, after all, is the meeting-point between the Trinity and the world. It is His office to quicken as well as pardon. No doubt He quickeneth by the Spirit whom He sends into man’s heart. But it is His prerogative to give life as well as peace. This ought to be remembered. There are some in this day who in a mistaken zeal put the work of the Father and the Spirit before the work of Christ.

v23.—[That all men should honour the Son, &c.] By these words our Lord teaches us that the Father would have the Son to receive equal honour with Himself. We are to understand distinctly that there is no inferiority in the Son to the Father. He is equal to Him in dignity and authority. He is to be worshipped with equal worship. If any man fancies that to honour the Son equally with the Father, detracts from the Father’s honour, our Lord declares that such a man is entirely mistaken. On the contrary, "He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father that sent him." It was the mind and intention of the Father that the Son, as the Mediator between God and man, should receive honour from all men. The glory of His beloved Son is part of the Father’s eternal counsels. Whenever therefore any one through ignorance or pride, or unbelief, neglects Christ, but professes at the same time to honour God, he is committing a mighty error, and so far from pleasing God, is greatly displeasing Him. The more a man honours Christ, and makes much of Him, the more the Father is pleased.

Evangelical Christians should mark the doctrine of this verse, and remember it. They are sometimes taunted with holding new views in religion, because they bring forward Christ so much more prominently than their fathers or grandfathers did. Let them see here that the more they exalt the Son of God and His office, the more honour they are doing to the Father who sent Him.

To the Deist and Socinian, the words of this verse are a strong condemnation. Not honouring Christ, they are angering God the Father. The Fatherhood of God, out of Christ, is a mere idol of man’s invention, and incapable of comforting or saving.

Alford remarks, "Whosoever does not honour the Son with equal honour to that which he pays to the Father, however he may imagine that he honours or approaches God, does not honour Him at all; because he can only be known by us as ’the Father who sent his Son.’ "—Barnes remarks, "If our Saviour here did not intend to teach that He ought to be worshipped and esteemed equal with God, it would be difficult to teach it by any language."

Rollock remarks, "The Jews and Turks in the present day profess to worship God earnestly, not only without the Son, but even with contempt of the Son Jesus Christ. But the whole of such worship is idolatrous, and that which they worship is an idol. There is no knowledge of the true God except in the face of the Son."

Wordsworth remarks, "They who profess zeal for the one God do not honour Him aright, unless they honour the Son as they honour the Father. This is a warning to those who claim the title of Unitarians, and deny the divinity of Christ. No one can be said to believe in the Divine Unity who rejects the doctrine of the Trinity."

The entire unity of the three Persons in the Trinity, is a subject that needs far more attention than many give to it. It may be feared that many well-meaning Christians are tritheists or worshippers of three distinct Gods, without knowing it. They talk as if God the Father’s mind towards sinners was one thing, and God the Son’s another,—as if the Father hated man, and the Son loved him and protected him. Such persons would do well to study this part of Scripture, and to mark the unity of the Father and the Son.

After all, that deep truth, "the eternal generation" of God the Son, whatever proud man may say of it, is the foundation truth which we must never forget in trying to understand a passage like that before us. In the Trinity "none is afore or after other. The Father is eternal: the Son eternal: the Holy Ghost eternal. The Father is God: the Son is God: the Holy Ghost is God. And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal: not three Gods, but one God."—As Burgon remarks, "There never was a time when any one of the three Persons was not;" and it might be added, there never was a time when the three Persons were not equal. And yet the Son was begotten of the Father from all eternity, and the Holy Ghost proceeded from all eternity from the Father and the Son.

Verses 24-29

THE passage before us is singularly rich in weighty truths. To the minds of Jews, who were familiar with the writings of Moses and Daniel, it would come home with peculiar power. In the words of our Lord they would not fail to see fresh assertions of His claim to be received as the promised Messiah.

We see in these verses that the salvation of our soul depends on hearing Christ. It is the man, we are told, who "hears Christ’s word," and believes that God the Father sent Him to save sinners, who "has everlasting life." Such "hearing" of course is something more than mere listening. It is hearing as a humble scholar,—hearing as an obedient disciple,—hearing with faith and love,—hearing with a heart ready to do Christ’s will,—this is the hearing that saves. It is the very hearing of which God spoke in the famous prediction of a "prophet like unto Moses:"—"Unto him shall ye hearken."—"Whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him." (Deuteronomy 18:15-19.)

To "hear" Christ in this way, we must never forget, is just as needful now as it was eighteen hundred years ago. It is not enough to hear sermons, and run after preachers, though some people seem to think this makes up the whole of religion. We must go much further than this: we must "hear Christ." To submit our hearts to Christ’s teaching,—to sit humbly at His feet by faith, and learn of Him,—to enter His school as penitents, and become His believing scholars,—to hear His voice and follow Him,—this is the way to heaven. Till we know something experimentally of these things, there is no life in us.

We see, secondly, in these verses, how rich and full are the privileges of the true hearer and believer. Such a man enjoys a present salvation. Even now, at this present time, he "hath everlasting life."—Such a man is completely justified and forgiven. There remains no more condemnation for him. His sins are put away. "He shall not come into condemnation."—Such a man is in an entirely new position before God. He is like one who has moved from one side of a gulf to another: "He is passed from death unto life."

The privileges of a true Christian are greatly underrated by many. Chiefly from deplorable ignorance of Scripture, they have little idea of the spiritual treasures of every believer in Jesus. These treasures are brought together here in beautiful order, if we will only look at them. One of a true Christian’s treasures is the "presentness" of his salvation. It is not a far distant thing which he is to have at last, if he does his duty and is good. It is his own in title the moment he believes. He is already pardoned, forgiven, and saved, though not in heaven.—Another of a true Christian’s treasures is the "completeness" of his justification. His sins are entirely removed, taken away, and blotted out of God’s book, by Christ’s blood. He may look forward to judgment without fear, and say, "who is he that condemneth?" (Romans 8:34.) He shall stand without fault before the throne of God.—The last, but not the least, of a true Christian’s treasures, is the entire change in his relation and position toward God. He is no longer as one dead before Him,—dead, legally, like a man sentenced to die, and dead in heart. He is "alive unto God." (Romans 6:11.) "He is a new creature. Old things are passed away, and all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17.) Well would it be for Christians if these things were better known! It is want of knowledge, in many cases, that is the secret of want of peace.

We see, thirdly, in these verses, a striking declaration of Christ’s power to give life to dead souls. Our Lord tells us that "the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." It seems most unlikely that these words were meant to be confined to the rising of men’s bodies, and were fulfilled by such miracles as that of raising Lazarus from the grave. It appears far more probable that what our Lord had in view was the quickening of souls,—the resurrection of conversion. (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13.)

The words were fulfilled in not a few cases, during our Lord’s own ministry. They were fulfilled far more completely after the day of Pentecost, through the ministry of the Apostles. The myriads of converts at Jerusalem, at Antioch, at Ephesus, at Corinth, and elsewhere, were all examples of their fulfillment. In all these cases, "the voice of the Son of God" awakened dead hearts to spiritual life, and made them feel their need of salvation, repent, and believe.—They are fulfilled at this very day, in every instance of true conversion. Whenever any men or women among ourselves awaken to a sense of their soul’s value, and become alive to God, the words are made good before our eyes. It is Christ who has spoken to their hearts by His Spirit. It is "the dead hearing Christ’s voice, and living."

We see, lastly, in these verses, a most solemn prophecy of the final resurrection of all the dead. Our Lord tells us that "the hour is coming when all that are in the grave shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation."

The passage is one of those that ought to sink down very deeply into our hearts, and never be forgotten. All is not over when men die. Whether they like it or not, they will have to come forth from their graves at the last day, and to stand at Christ’s bar. None can escape His summons. When His voice calls them before Him, all must obey.—When men rise again, they will not all rise in the same condition. There will be two classes—two parties—two bodies. Not all will go to heaven. Not all will be saved. Some will rise again to inherit eternal life, but some will rise again only to be condemned. These are terrible things! But the words of Christ are plain and unmistakable. Thus it is written, and thus it must be.

Let us make sure that we hear Christ’s quickening voice now, and are numbered among His true disciples. Let us know the privileges of true believers, while we have life and health. Then, when His voice shakes heaven and earth, and is calling the dead from their graves, we shall feel confidence, and not be "ashamed before Him at his coming." (1 John 2:28.)

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Notes

v24.—[Verily, verily, I say.] Here, as in other places, these words are the preface to a saying of more than ordinary solemnity and importance.

[He that heareth my word.] The "hearing" here is much more than mere listening, or hearing with the ears. It means hearing with the heart, hearing with faith, hearing accompanied by obedient discipleship. He that so hears the doctrine, teaching, or "word" of Christ, hath life. It is such hearing as that of the true sheep: "My sheep hear my voice," (John 10:27,) or as that spoken of by Paul: "Ye have not so learned Christ, if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him." (Ephesians 4:20-21.)

[Believeth on Him that sent Me.] This must not be supposed to mean that a vague faith in God, such as the Deist professes to have, is the way to everlasting life. The belief spoken of is a believing on God in Christ,—a believing on God as the God who sent Christ to save sinners,—a believing on God as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has planned and provided redemption by the blood of His Son. He who so believes on God the Father, is the same man that believes in God the Son. In this sense the Father is just as much the object of saving faith as the Son. Thus we read, "It shall be imputed if we believe on him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead." (Romans 4:24.) And again, "Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God." (1 Peter 1:21.) He that rightly believes on Christ as his Saviour, with the same faith believes in God as his reconciled Father. The Gospel that invites the sinner to believe in Jesus as his Redeemer and Advocate, invites him at the same time to believe in the Father, who is "well pleased" with all who trust in His Son.

Henry remarks, "Christ’s design is to bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18.) As God is the first original of all grace, so is He the ultimate object of all faith. Christ is our way, and God is our rest. We must believe on God as having sent Jesus Christ, and recommended Himself to our faith and love, by manifesting His glory in the face of Jesus Christ."

Lightfoot remarks, "He doth most properly center the ultimate fixing and resting of belief in God the Father. For as from Him, as from a fountain, do flow all those things that are the object of faith,—namely free grace; the gift of Christ, the way of redemption, the gracious promises,—so unto Him as to that fountain doth faith betake itself in its final resting and repose,—namely to God in Christ."

Chemnitius remarks, that the expression "believe on Him who sent me," shows "that true faith embraces the word of the Gospel, not as something thought out by Christ alone, but as something decreed in the secret counsel of the whole Trinity."

[Hath everlasting life.] This means that he possesses a complete title to an everlasting life of glory hereafter, and is reckoned pardoned, forgiven, justified, and an heir of heaven, even now upon earth. His soul is delivered from the second death.—The "presentness" of the expression should be carefully noticed. Everlasting life is the present possession of every true believer, from the moment he believes. It is not a thing he shall have at last. He has it at once, even in this world. "All that believe are justified."—"Being justified by faith we have peace with God." (Acts 13:39; Romans 5:1.)

[Shall not come into condemnation.] The Greek word for "come" is in the present tense, and it would be more literally rendered "does not come." The meaning is, there is no condemnation for him. His guilt is removed even now. He has nothing to fear in looking forward to the judgment of the last day. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus."—"He that believeth on Him is not condemned." (Romans 8:1; John 3:18.)

I cannot see in these words any warrant for the notion held by some, that the saints of God shall not be judged at the last day in any way at all. The notion itself is so utterly contradictory to some plain texts of Scripture (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10; Matthew 25:31-40), that I cannot understand any one holding it. But even in the text before us, it seems to me a violent straining of the words to apply them to the judgment-day. The thing our Lord is speaking of is the present privilege of a believer. The tense He uses, as Chemnitius bids us specially observe, is the present and not the future. And even supposing that the words do apply to the judgment-day, the utmost that can be fairly made of them is, that a believer has no condemnation to fear at the last day. Judged according to his works he shall be. Condemned he may certainly feel assured he shall not be. From the day he believes, all his condemnation is taken away.

Ecolampadius remarks how irreconcilable this verse is with the Romish doctrine of purgatory.

[But is passed from death to life.] This means that a believer has passed from a state of spiritual death to a state of spiritual life. Before he believed, he was dead legally,—dead as a guilty criminal condemned to die. In the day that he believed he received a free and full pardon. His sentence was reversed and put away. Instead of being legally dead, he became legally alive.—But this is not all. His heart, which was dead in sins, is now renewed, and alive unto God. There is a change in his character as well as in his position toward God. Like the prodigal son, he "was dead and is alive." (Luke 15:24.)

We should mark carefully the strong language of Scripture in describing the immense difference between the position of a man who believes, and the man who does not believe. It is nothing else than the difference between life and death,—between being dead and being alive. Whatever some may think fit to say about the privileges of baptism, we must never shrink from maintaining, that so long as men do not hear Christ’s voice and believe,—so long they are dead, whether baptized or not, and have no life in them. Faith, not baptism, is the turning point. He that has not yet believed is dead, and must be born again. When he believes, and not till then, he will pass from death to life.

Ferus remarks, "Although it seems very easy to believe, and many think they do believe when they have only heard the name of believing,—supposing that to believe is the same as to understand, to remember, to know, to think,—yet this believing is in truth a hard and difficult thing. It is easy to fast, to say prayers, to go on pilgrimage, to give alms and the like; but to believe is a thing impossible to our strength. Let superstitious people learn that God requires of us a far higher and more difficult kind of worship than they imagine. Let pious people learn to seek faith more than anything, saying,—Lord, increase our faith."

v25.—[Verily, verily, I say unto you.] This emphatic preface here begins a prophecy of the wonderful things that should yet be done by the Son of God. Did the Jews of Jerusalem desire to know what proofs of Divine power and authority the Son of God would give? Let them hear what he would do.

[The hour is coming and now is.] This meant that a time was coming, and in fact had already begun.

[The dead shall hear His voice and live.] It is thought by some that these words apply to the literal raising again of dead persons, such as Lazarus at Bethany. I cannot think it. I believe that the "dead" here spoken of are the spiritually dead. I believe that the "hearing the voice of the Son of God," means the hearing of faith. I believe that the "living" spoken of means the rising out of the death of sin to spiritual newness of life. And I believe that the whole verse is a prediction of the many conversions of dead sinners that were to take place soon, and had begun in some measure to take place already. The prediction was fulfilled when dead souls were converted during our Lord’s own ministry, and was much more fulfilled after the day of Pentecost, when He was preached by His apostles to the Gentiles, and "believed on in the world." (1 Timothy 3:16.)

To confine the words to the few cases of miraculous raising of dead bodies which took place in the time of our Lord and His apostles, appears to supply a very inadequate interpretation, and to be rendered unnecessary by the succeeding verse.

Let it be noted that it is only those who "hear," or "have heard" with faith the voice of Christ, that live. Spiritual life turns on believing. "Ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth." (Ephesians 1:13.)

Ferus and Cocceius think that the calling and conversion of the Gentiles was the principal thought in our Lord’s mind when He spoke these words.

v26.—[For as the Father, etc.] The first part of this verse needs no explanation. It is an admitted principle that God is the Author and Source of all life. He "hath life in himself." When it says further that "he hath given to the Son to have life in himself," we must not suppose it means that He has bestowed it on His Son, in the same way that He gives gifts to mere men, such as prophets and apostles. It rather means that in His everlasting counsels concerning man’s redemption, He has appointed that the Second Person of the Trinity,—His beloved Son,—should be the Dispenser and Giver of life to all mankind. "God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." (1 John 5:11.)

Both here and in the following verse we must remember that "giving" does not imply any inferiority in the Son to the Father, so far as concerns His Divine essence. The things "given" to the Son were things solemnly appointed, deputed, and laid upon Him when He assumed the office of Mediator, in virtue of His office.

Burgon remarks,—"Both the Father and the Son have the same life; both have it in themselves; both in the same degree; as the one so the other; but only with this difference,—the Father from all eternity giveth it, the Son from all eternity receiveth it."

v27.—[And hath given him authority, etc.] This means that in virtue of His Mediatorial office the Second Person of the Trinity is specially appointed to be the Judge of all mankind. In the counsels of God concerning man, "judgment" is assigned to the Son, and not to the Father, or to the Holy Spirit. It is undoubtedly true that God is "the Judge of all." (Hebrews 12:23.) But it is also true that it is God the Son who will execute judgment, and sit on the throne at the last day.

[Because he is the Son of man.] These words seem to imply that there is a connection between our Lord’s incarnation and His filling the office of the Judge. It is because He humbled Himself to take our nature on Him, and be born of the virgin Mary, that he will at length be exalted to execute judgment at the last day. It appears to be the same thought that Paul expresses when he tells the Philippians that because of Christ’s humiliation, "God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name," etc. (Philippians 2:9.)

Burgon remarks,—"Because of His alliance with man’s nature, because of His sense of man’s infirmities, because of all He did and suffered for man’s sake as the Son of man, the Son is that Person of the Trinity who is most fit, as well as most worthy, to be man’s judge."

The expression, "The Son of man," would be rendered more literally, "a Son of man," or, "Son of man." Campbell remarks that the absence of the article "the" before the words "Son of man," occurs nowhere in the Gospels except in this passage.

Both in this and the preceding verse we should observe an example of the great truth, that "order is heaven’s first law." Even the Second Person in the Trinity, one with the Father, very and eternal God, does not take on Himself the office of giving life and executing judgment, but receives it through the solemn appointment of God the Father. Just as it is written,—"Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest, but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son" (Hebrews 5:5), so we find it written here, that in taking on Him the office of Mediator, it was "given" to Him to have life in Himself, and "authority given to him" to judge. Those who take on themselves offices without either divine or human commission are very unlike our Lord.

Toletus quotes a remarkable passage from Athanasius, in which he points out that such expressions as, "given to the Son by the Father," "received by the Son from the Father," are purposely used in order to prevent the Sabellian heresy of supposing that the Father and the Son are one and the same Person.—Such expressions are an unanswerable proof that the Father and the Son are two distinct Persons, though one God. We must never forget the words of the Athanasian creed,—"Neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance."

v28, v29.—[Marvel not at this.] These words imply that the hearers of our Lord were astonished at the things He had spoken concerning His Divine commission to give life and to judge. He proceeds to tell them that they have not yet heard all. If they wondered at what they had already heard, what would they think when He told them one thing more?

[The hour is coming.] This means the last day. To use the present tense of a time so distant as this is characteristic of one who is very God, to whom time past, time present, and time to come, are all alike, and a thousand years are as one day.

[All that are in the graves shall hear his voice...come forth...damnation, etc.] These words are singularly like those in Daniel 12:2. They contain one of the most distinct statements in Scripture of that great truth,—the resurrection of the dead.—It shall be universal, and not confined to a few only. "All" in the graves shall come forth, whether old or young, rich or poor.—It shall take place at Christ’s command and bidding. His "voice" shall be the call that shall summon the dead from their graves.—There shall be a distinction of those who rise again, into two classes. Some shall rise to glory and happiness,—to what is called a "resurrection of life." Some shall rise to be lost and ruined for ever,—to what is called a "resurrection of damnation."—The doings of men shall be the test by which their final state shall be decided. "Life" shall be the portion of those that have "done good," "damnation" of those that "have done evil," in the resurrection-day.

(a.) This passage condemns those who fancy that this world is all, and that this life ends everything, and that the grave is the conclusion. They are awfully mistaken. There is a resurrection and a life to come.

(b.) This passage condemns those who try to persuade us in the present day that there is no future punishment, no hell, no condemnation for the wicked in the world to come,—that the love of God is lower than hell,—that God is too merciful and compassionate to punish any one. There is a "resurrection," we are told, "of damnation."

(c.) This passage condemns those who try to make out that resurrection is the peculiar privilege of believers and saints, and that the wicked will be punished by complete annihilation. Both here and in Acts 24:15 we are distinctly told that both bad and good shall rise again. In Paul’s famous chapter about the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-58), the resurrection of believers only is treated of.

(d.) This passage condemns those who try to make out that men’s lives and conduct are of little importance so long as they profess to have faith and to believe in Christ. Christ himself tells us expressly that the "doings" of men, whether good or evil, will be the evidence that shall decide whether they rise again to glory or condemnation.

Musculus remarks that the goodness which God requires of us is not such as only begins in the next world, after the resurrection. We must have it now, and it must precede the time of judgment. It is not said, "some shall rise again that they may be made good and partakers of life," but, "they that have done good shall come forth to a resurrection of life." We should take care to be such in this life as we desire to be found in the day of judgment.—He also remarks that our Lord does not say, "those who have known or talked what is good," but, "those who have actually done good" shall come forth to a resurrection of life. Those only will be found to have "done good" who are God’s elect, born again, and true believers. Nothing but true faith will bear the fruit of good works.

Calvin remarks that our Lord is not here speaking of the cause of salvation, but of the marks of the saved, and that one great mark which distinguishes the elect from the reprobate, is good doing.

There are two different Greek words used to express the English words "they that have done," and it is difficult to say why. Precisely the same difference exists in John 3:20-21. The attempts made to explain the distinction between the two words do not appear to me very successful. For instance,—Wordsworth remarks: "Good made and done has permanence for ever. Evil is practiced, but produces no fruit for eternity." Yet I doubt whether this remark will apply to Romans 1:32, and Romans 2:3, where both the two Greek words for "doing" are used together, and applied to the same class of persons, viz., the wicked.

It is thought by some that this passage supports the doctrine of the first resurrection as the peculiar privilege of the saints. (Revelation 20:5.) But it must in fairness be remembered that there is nothing said here about distinction of time in the resurrection, of the good and bad.

As to the manner in which Christ’s "voice" will be heard by the dead "in the graves" we are told nothing. It is remarkable that there are two other places beside this in which a "voice" or sound is mentioned as accompanying the resurrection. In Corinthians we read of the "last trumpet." (1 Corinthians 15:52.) In Thessalonians we are told of "a shout," of the "voice of the archangel," and the "trump of God." (1 Thessalonians 4:16.) Nothing, however, but conjecture can be brought forward about the subject. No doubt the latent thought is that the dead bodies of men are sleeping, and need to be awakened, as sleepers are roused by a voice.

As to the nature of risen bodies we are told nothing. Enough for us to know that this passage clearly shows it will be a resurrection of "bodies" as well as souls. It is those who are "in the graves" that shall come forth.

Verses 30-39

IN these verses we see the proof of our Lord Jesus Christ being the promised Messiah, set forth before the Jews in one view. Four different witnesses are brought forward. Four kinds of evidence are offered. His Father in heaven,His forerunner, John the Baptist,the miraculous works He had done,the Scriptures, which the Jews professed to honor,each and all are named by our Lord, as testifying that He was the Christ, the Son of God. Hard must those hearts have been which could hear such testimony; and yet remain unmoved! But it only proves the truth of the old saying,that unbelief does not arise so much from want of evidence, as from want of will to believe.

Let us observe for one thing in this passage, the honor Christ puts on His faithful servants. See how He speaks of John the Baptist."He bare witness of the truth;""He was a burning and a shining light."John had probably passed away from his earthly labors when these words were spoken. He had been persecuted, imprisoned, and put to death by Herod,none interfering, none trying to prevent his murder. But this murdered disciple was not forgotten by his Divine Master. If no one else remembered him, Jesus did. He had honored Christ, and Christ honored him.

These things ought not to be overlooked. They are written to teach us that Christ cares for all His believing people, and never forgets them. Forgotten and despised by the world, perhaps, they are never forgotten by their Savior. He knows where they dwell, and what their trials are. A book of remembrance is written for them. "Their tears are all in His bottle." (Psalms 56:8.) Their names are graven on the palms of His hands. (Isaiah 49:16.) He notices all they do for Him in this evil world, though they think it not worth notice, and He will confess it one day publicly, before His Father and the holy angels. He that bore witness to John the Baptist never changes. Let believers remember this. In their worst estate they may boldly say with David,"I am poor and needy; yet the LORD thinketh upon me." (Psalms 40:17.)

Let us observe, for another thing, the honor Christ puts upon miracles, as an evidence of His being the Messiah. He says,"The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me."

The miracles of the Lord receive far less attention, in the present day, as proofs of His Divine mission, than they ought to do. Too many regard them with a silent incredulity, as things which, not having seen, they cannot be expected to care for. Not a few openly avow that they do not believe in the possibility of such things as miracles, and would fain strike them out of the Bible as weak stories, which, like burdensome lumber, should be cast overboard, to lighten the ship.

But, after all, there is no getting over the fact, that in the days when our Lord was upon earth, His miracles produced an immense effect on the minds of men. They aroused attention to Him that worked them. They excited inquiry, if they did not convert. They were so many, so public, and so incapable of being explained away, that our Lord’s enemies could only say that they were done by satanic agency. That they were done, they could not deny. "This man," they said, "doeth many miracles." (John 11:47.) The facts which wise men pretend to deny now, no one pretended to deny eighteen hundred years ago.

Let the enemies of the Bible take our Lord’s last and greatest miracleHis own resurrection from the deadand disprove it if they can. When they have done that, it will be time to consider what they say about miracles in general. They have never answered the evidence of it yet, and they never will. Let the friends of the Bible not be moved by objections against miracles, until that one miracle has been fairly disposed of. If that is proved unassailable, they need not care much for quibbling arguments against other miracles. If Christ did really rise from the dead by His own power, there is none of His mighty works which man need hesitate to believe.

Let us observe, lastly, in these verses, the honor that Christ puts upon the Scriptures. He refers to them in concluding His list of evidences, as the great witnesses to Him. "Search the Scriptures," He says: "they are they which testify of me."

The "Scriptures" of which our Lord speaks are of course the Old Testament. And His words show the important truth which too many are apt to overlook,that every part of our Bibles is meant to teach us about Christ. Christ is not merely in the Gospels and Epistles. Christ is to be found directly and indirectly in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. In the promises to Adam, Abraham, Moses, and David,in the types and emblems of the ceremonial law,in the predictions of Isaiah and the other prophets,Jesus, the Messiah, is everywhere to be found in the Old Testament.

How is it that men see these things so little? The answer is plain. They do not "search the Scriptures." They do not dig into that wondrous mine of wisdom and knowledge, and seek to become acquainted with its contents. Simple, regular reading of our Bibles is the grand secret of establishment in the faith. Ignorance of the Scriptures is the root of all error.

And now what will men believe, if they do not believe the Divine mission of Christ? Great indeed is the obstinacy of infidelity. A cloud of witnesses testify that Jesus was the Son of God. To talk of wanting evidence is childish folly. The plain truth is, that the chief seat of unbelief is the heart. Many do not wish to believe, and therefore remain unbelievers.

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Notes

v30.—[I can of mine own self, etc.] This verse is perhaps one of the most difficult in Scripture. It is so because the subject of it is that great mystery,—the unity of God the Father and God the Son. Man has no language to express adequately the idea that has to be conveyed. The general thought of the verse seems to be as follows:—

"In consequence of the close relation between Me and the Father, I cannot do anything independently and separately from Him. ’I judge,’ and decide, and speak on all points, in entire harmony with the Father, as though I heard Him continually at My side; and so judging and speaking My judgment on all points is always right. It is right now, and will be seen right at the great account of the last day. For in all that I do I seek not to do My Own will only, but the will of Him that sent Me, since there is an entire harmony between My will and His."

Let it be carefully noted that at this part of His address our Lord ceases to speak in the third person of Himself as "the Son of man," and begins to use the first person,—"I can," "I hear," "I judge," etc.

"Of mine own self" does not mean "unhelped and unassisted," but "from myself,"—from My own independent volition and action.

Chrysostom remarks,—"Just as when we say, it is impossible for God to do wrong, we do not impute to Him any weakness, but confess in Him an unutterable power; so also when Christ saith, ’I can of my own self do nothing,’ the meaning is that it is impossible,—my nature admits not,—that I should do anything contrary to the Father."

"As I hear" is an expression adapted to man’s comprehension, to convey the idea of the unity between the Father and the Son. It is like verse 19th, where it is said, "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do." It is also like the words used of the Holy Ghost,—"He shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak." (John 16:13.)

Chrysostom remarks,—"Just as when Christ said, ’we speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen,’ and John the Baptist said, ’that which he hath seen and heard he testifieth,’ (John 3:11, John 3:32,) both expressions are used concerning exact knowledge, and not concerning mere ’seeing’ and ’hearing;’—so in this place, when Christ speaks of ’hearing,’ He declares nothing else than that it is impossible for Him to desire anything save what the Father desireth."

"I judge" applies not only to all Christ’s judgments and decisions as Mediator when He was upon earth, but to His final judgment at the last day.

"My judgment is just" would probably remind the Jews of the prophecies about Messiah. (Isaiah 11:3 and Daniel 7:13.)

"I seek not mine own will" must be interpreted with special reference to our Lord’s Divine nature, as Son of God. Having as God, one will with the Father, it was not possible for Him to seek His own will independently of the Father. Hence the judgment was not His only, but His Father’s also.—As Son of man He had a human will distinct from His Divine will, as when He said, "Let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26:39.) But the will here seems to be His Divine will.

Chrysostom remarks,—"What Christ implieth is of this kind:—not that the will of the Father is one and His own another, but that as one will in one mind, so is Mine own will and My Father’s."

Once more we must remember the extreme difficulty of handling such a subject as the one before us. The distinction between the Persons in the Trinity, and the Unity of their essence at the same time, must always be a deep thing to man, hard to conceive, and harder still to speak or write about.

v31.—[If I bear witness of myself, etc.] This verse must be interpreted with caution and reasonable qualification. It would be folly and blasphemy to say that our Lord’s testimony about Himself must be false. What the verse does appear to mean is this:—"If I have no other testimony to bring forward in proof of My Messiahship but My own word, my testimony would be justly open to suspicion."—Our Lord knew that in any disputed question a man’s assertions in his own favour are worth little or nothing. He tells the Jews that He did not want them to believe Him merely because He said He was the Son of God. He would show them that He had other witnesses, and these witnesses He next proceeds to bring forward. A comparison of this verse with John 8:14 shows at once that the meaning of the words, "My witness is not true," must be qualified and restrained, or else one place of Scripture would contradict the other.

v32.—[There is another that beareth witness.] There are two distinct and different views of this expression.

(a.) Some, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Lightfoot, Brentius, Grotius, Ferus, Barradius, Quesnel, Whitby, Doddridge, Gill, think that the "other witness" is John the Baptist.

(b.) Some, as Cyril, Athanasius, Calvin, Beza, Gualter, Bucer, Ecolampadius, Zwingle, Rupertus, Flacius, Calovius, Cocceius, Piscator, Musculus, Aretius, Toletus, Nifanius, Rollock, Poole, Leigh, Diodati, Hammond, Trapp, Hutcheson, Henry, Burkitt, Baxter, Bloomfield, Lampe, Bengel, Pearce, A. Clarke, Scott, Barnes, Stier, Alford, Webster, think that "the other witness,’’ is God the Father.

I feel no doubt in my own mind that this last is the correct view. The use of the present tense,—"witnesseth,’’—is a strong proof of it. John the Baptist’s testimony was a thing past and gone.—Our Lord declares that His Father had borne distinct testimony to Him, and supplied abundant evidence, if they, the Jews, would only receive it. And He adds, "his testimony is true." He will never bear witness to a lie.—Then having laid down this general proposition, He goes on to show the threefold testimony which God had provided:—first, John the Baptist;—secondly, the miracles which the Father had commissioned Him to work;—and, thirdly, the Scriptures.

The expression, "I know," probably implies the deep consciousness which our Lord had, even in His humiliation, of His Father’s perfect righteousness and truthfulness. It means much more than a mere man’s "I know." "I know and have known from all eternity that my Father’s testimony is perfect truth."

v33.—[Ye sent unto John, etc.] In this sentence the word "ye" must be taken emphatically. It is "ye yourselves." The meaning of the verse seems to be,—"My first witness is John the Baptist. Now ye yourselves sent unto him at an early period of his ministry, and ye know that he told you One greater than himself was coming, whose messenger he was, and that afterwards he said of Me, ’Behold the Lamb of God.’ You cannot deny that he was a prophet indeed. Yet he bore faithful witness unto Me. He told you the truth."

There can be no doubt that our Lord refers to the formal mission of "priests and Levites from Jerusalem" to John the Baptist described in John 1:19.

v34.—[But I receive not testimony from man, etc.] This sentence seems meant to remind the Jews that they must not suppose our Lord depended either solely or chiefly on man’s testimony. "Not that I would have you think I rest My claim to be received as the Messiah on the witness of John the Baptist, or of any other man. But I say these things about John and his witness to Me in order to remind you of what you heard him say, and that remembering his testimony to Me you may believe and be saved."

Here, as elsewhere, we should note how our Lord presses home on the Jews the inconsistency of admitting John the Baptist to be a prophet sent from God, while they refused to believe Himself as the Messiah. If they believed John they ought in consistency to have believed Him. (See Matthew 21:23-27.)

v35.—[He was a burning...light.] This is very high testimony to John. Doubtless he was not "the light," as Christ was. But still he was not an ordinary lamp lighted from above, as all true believers are. He was pre-eminently "the lamp," a lamp of peculiar power and brilliancy, a "burning" and a "shining" light like a flaming beacon or light-house seen from afar.

I think the expression "he was" shows that at the time when our Lord spoke, John the Baptist was either in prison or dead. At any rate his public ministry was ended. "He used to be a light. He is burning and shining no longer."

Chrysostom remarks,—"He called John a torch or lamp, signifying that he had not light of himself, but by the grace of the Spirit."

[Ye were willing for a season to rejoice.] This refers to the extraordinary popularity and acceptance of John the Baptist when his ministry first began. "Then went out unto him Jerusalem and all Judæa, and all the country round about Jordan." (Matthew 3:5.) "Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism." (Matthew 3:7.) It was an ignorant excitement that brought many of John’s hearers to him. They thought most probably, that the Messiah, of whom he spoke, and whose way he came to prepare, would be a temporal king and conqueror, and would give to Israel its old pre-eminence on earth. But be the motives what they might, the fact remains that John’s ministry attracted immense attention, and awakened the curiosity of the whole Jewish nation. "They willingly rejoiced in the light which John lifted up." They seemed to take pleasure in coming to him, hearing him, following him, and submitting to his baptism.

The expression, "for a season," seems purposely used to remind the Jews of the very temporary and transitory nature of the impressions which John’s ministry produced on them.

Stier remarks,—"Man generally, even a prophet, can only give light by burning, like a lighted candle, until he is burnt out, and his mission on earth ceases. Thus did the Baptist burn, brightly but rapidly."

Burkitt remarks,—"It has been an old practice among professors not to like their pastors long, though they have been never such burning and shining lights. John was not changed, but his hearers were changed. He did burn and shine in the candlestick with equal zeal and lustre to the last, but they had changed their thoughts of him."

v36.—[But I have greater witness...John.] This means, "although John the Baptist was a witness to My being the Messiah, and the Son of God, his was not the only testimony I bid you receive. There is testimony even more important than his, namely, that of My miracles." The Greek means literally, "the greater witness;"—"The witness that I have is greater."

Flacius suggests that our Lord here and in the preceding verse reminds the Jews how willing they were at first to receive John’s ministry, and almost seemed to think he was the Messiah. Yet all this time "John did no miracle."—But when the true Messiah appeared, doing mighty "works," the Jews did not show him even as much attention as they had shown to John.

[The works...Father hath given, etc.] This is a distinct appeal to miracles, as an important proof of our Lord’s Messiahship and Divinity. Four times in this Gospel we find the same appeal. (John 3:2; John 10:25; John 15:24.) The evidence of miracles should never be lightly esteemed. We are apt to underrate their value because they were wrought so long ago. But in the days when they were wrought they were great facts, which demanded the attention of all who saw them, and could not be evaded. Unless the Jews could explain them away, they were bound, as honest and reasonable men, to believe our Lord’s Divine mission. That they really were wrought the Jews never appear to have denied. In fact they dared not attempt to deny them. What they did do was to ascribe them to Satanic agency. All who attempt to deny the reality of our Lord’s miracles in the present day, would do well to remember that those who had the best opportunity of judging, namely, the men who saw these miracles, and lived within hearing of them, never disputed the fact that they were wrought. If the enemies of our Lord could have proved that His miracles were only tricks, legerdemain, and impostures, it stands to reason they would have been only too glad to show it to the world, and to silence Him for ever.

Five things should always be noted about our Lord’s miracles. (1.) Their number: they were not a few only, but very many indeed. (2.) Their greatness: they were not little, but mighty interferences with the ordinary course of nature. (3.) Their publicity: they were generally not done in a corner, but in open day, and before many witnesses, and often before enemies. (4.) Their character: they were almost always works of love, mercy, and compassion, helpful and beneficial to man, and not mere barren exhibitions of power. (5.) Their direct appeal to men’s senses: they were visible, and would bear any examination. The difference between them and the boasted miracles of the Church of Rome, on all these points, is striking and instructive.

The manner in which our Lord speaks of His miracles is very remarkable. He calls them,—"The works that the Father hath given me that I should finish." He carefully avoids the appearance of want of unity between the Father and Himself, even in the working of miracles. They are not works which He did of His own independent will, but "works which the Father hath given me," works which it had been arranged in the eternal counsels the Son should work, when He became man and dwelt upon earth. Precisely the same expression is used elsewhere about "the words" our Lord spake, as here about "the works:" "I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me." (John 17:8.)

v37.—[And the Father himself....witness of me.] There is undeniable difficulty about these words. It is not clear to what "witness of the Father" our Lord here refers.

(a.) Some, as Chrysostom, Brentius, Bullinger, Gualter, Ferus, Toletus, Barradius, Cartwright, Chemnitius, Rollock, Jansenius, Trapp, Baxter, Hammond, Burkitt, Lampe, Bengel, Henry, Scott, Gill, think that our Lord refers to the audible testimony borne to Him by the Father at His baptism, and at the transfiguration, when He said,—"This is my beloved Son, hear him." (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5.) But it surely is a capital objection to this theory, that this voice of the Father was in all probability heard by nobody excepting John the Baptist at the baptism, and Peter, James, and John at the transfiguration. At this rate it would be entirely a private testimony, and of no avail to the general body of the Jewish nation.

(b.) Some, as Theophylact, Euthymius, Rupertus, Calvin, Cocceius, Pearce, Tholuck, Bloomfield, Tittman, A. Clark, D. Brown, Alford, Burgon, think that our Lord refers to the testimony the Father has borne to Him generally throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, and that the sentence before us should be taken in close connection with the next verse but one, beginning, "Search the Scriptures." In fact that expression would then be the explanation of our Lord’s meaning.

Of the two views I decidedly prefer the second one. It certainly seems the least difficult, and open to the fewest objections. There is a third view, supported by Olshausen and Bucer, viz., that the "witness" here means the inward witness of the Spirit in the hearts of believers. This, however, appears to me wholly out of the question. It is a witness that would be useless to the world at large.

Both here and elsewhere we must take care that we do not attach the idea of "inferiority" to the expression "sent’’ by the Father. Rollock remarks,—"It is quite possible that an equal may send an equal to discharge some office." Cyril remarks,—"Mission and obedience, being sent and obeying, do not take away equality of power in the sender and the sent one."

[Ye have neither heard....seen his shape.] This appears to be a parenthetical sentence, as well as the verse that follows. It certainly seems to strengthen the view that when our Lord spoke of His Father "bearing witness," He could not have meant the audible witness of His voice at the baptism or transfiguration. In fact the sentence seems purposely to preclude the notion. It is as though our Lord said, "Do not suppose that I mean any audible testimony of voice, or apparition, or vision, when I speak of My Father bearing witness to me. I mean testimony of a very different kind, even the testimony of His Word."

The expression "not seen His shape," teaches the same great truth we find elsewhere,—viz., that the Father is invisible, and has never been seen by mortal man. He who appeared to Abraham was the Second Person of the Trinity, and not the Father. Paul says distinctly of the Father,—"whom no man hath seen, nor can see." (1 Timothy 6:16.) The idea of artists and painters, when they represent the Father as an aged man, is a mere irreverent invention of their own brains, without the slightest warrant of Scripture.

Rupertus and Ferus suggest that the latter part of this verse was spoken to prevent the Jews thinking that our Lord spoke of Joseph, His supposed father. This, however, seems a rather improbable and fanciful idea.

v38.—[And ye have not his word, &c.] This verse seems meant to remind the Jews that with all their pretended reverence for God, and affected zeal against blasphemies of Him, they were really ignorant of God’s mind. Their reverence for Him was only a form. Their zeal for Him was a blind fanaticism. They knew no more of His mind than of His shape or voice. They were not acquainted with His Word. It did not dwell in their hearts and guide their religion. They proved their own ignorance by not believing Him whom the Father had sent. Had they really been familiar with the writings of the Old Testament they would have believed.

Our Lord evidently implies that real knowledge of God’s Word will always lead a man to faith in Christ. Where there is no faith we may rightly assume the Bible is either not read, or read in a wrong spirit. Ignorance and unbelief will go together.

Locke holds the curious opinion, that the "word" in this verse means the "Personal Word," as at John 1:1. "Ye have not Me, the Eternal Word, dwelling in your hearts." But Christ nowhere calls Himself "the Word," and the idea does not harmonize with the context.

Ecolampadius thinks that in this and the preceding verse there is a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-19, where the Lord promised a prophet to the Jews like unto Moses, because they had said,—"Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not." He thinks our Lord reminds them of this. God had fulfilled His promise, and sent them a prophet like unto Moses, and now they would not believe on Him!

v39.—[Search the Scriptures.] This famous sentence is interpreted two different ways.

(a.) Some, as Cyril, Erasmus, Ecolampadius, Beza, Brentius, Piscator, Camero, Poole, Toletus, Lightfoot, Lampe, Bengel, Doddridge, Bloomfield, Tholuck, A. Clark, Scholefield, Barnes, Burgon, D. Brown, Webster, think that our Lord spoke in the indicative mood, simply making an assertion,—"Ye do search."

(b.) Some, as Chrysostom, Augustine, Theophylact, Euthymius, Luther, Calvin, Cartwright, Gualter, Grotius, Rollock, Ferus, Calovius, Jansenius, Cocceius, Barradius, Musculus, Nifanius, Maldonatus, Cornelius á Lapide, Leigh, Whitby, Hammond, Stier, Alford, Wordsworth, think that He spoke in the imperative mood, giving a command,—"Search,"—as our version gives it.

I decidedly prefer this latter view. It is more forcible, and more in keeping with our Lord’s general style of address. Above all it seems to me to agree far better with the context. Our Lord had told the Jews that His Father had borne witness of Him, though not by audible voice, nor by visible apparition. How then had He borne witness? They would find it in His Word. "Go and search your own Scriptures," our Lord seems to say. "Examine them, and become really acquainted with their contents; you will find that they testify clearly and distinctly of Me. If you wish to know God the Father’s testimony to Me, search the Scriptures."

The word rendered "search" means "search minutely and diligently." It appears to me intentionally used, to show that the Jews should not be content with mere reading. The Septuagint version of Proverbs 2:4, has an expression like it.

Chrysostom remarks,—"When Christ referred the Jews to the Scriptures, He sent them not to a mere reading, but to a careful and considerate search. He said not, ’read,’ but, ’search.’ Since the sayings about Him required great attention (for they had been concealed from the beginning for the advantage of men of that time), He bids them now dig down with care, that they might discern what lay in the depths below. These sayings were not on the surface, nor were they cast forth to open view, but lay like some treasure hidden very deep."

Some, who think the word "search" should be taken as an indicative, "ye search," maintain that our Lord spoke ironically, and meant, "Ye pretend to make a minute investigation of Scripture, and search into the letter of it, but never get any further." I can see little ground for this view. The word "search" is never used in a bad sense in Scripture. (1 Peter 1:11.) The chief argument in favour of the "indicative" side of the question is the notorious Rabbinical custom of minutely scrutinizing and reverencing every syllable of Scripture. To this custom of honouring the letter of Scripture, while neglecting its spirit, many advocates of the "indicative" here think that our Lord referred. Brentius gives a full account of the length to which the Jews went in their reverence for the letter of Scripture, such as counting the letters of each book, etc., and thinks that this was in our Lord’s mind. I cannot however agree with this view.

[In them ye think ye have eternal life.] In this sentence the first "ye" must be taken emphatically, as in John 5:33. "Think" does not imply that it was a doubtful point, or mere matter of opinion. It is rather, "Ye yourselves think, and think rightly,—it is one of the dogmas of your faith,—that ye have in the Scriptures the way to eternal life pointed out."

Chemnitius remarks,—"The words ’ye think’ mean that common persuasion and opinion of all men concerning Scripture, which, like an axiom in science, is established, firm, and certain."

Let it be noted that many Christians are just in the unsatisfactory state of the Jews here described. Like them, they "think," and hold it as a dogma of their creed, that they "have eternal life in the Scriptures." But, like them, they never read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest what Scripture contains.

Ecolampadius remarks,—"Scripture alone does not make a man any the better, nor even preaching, by itself, except by the Holy Ghost aiding. It is the peculiar office of the external Word to supply testimony; but it is the Spirit of God alone that can make the heart of man assent."

[They are they which testify of me.] This sentence is a strong and weighty declaration of the value of the Old Testament Scriptures. It was to them exclusively, of course, that our Lord referred. He says, "they testify of me." In direct prophecies, in promises, in typical persons, in typical ceremonies, the Old Testament Scripture all through testifies of Christ. We read them to very little purpose if we do not discern this.

Ferus remarks that there are three ways in which the Scriptures testify of Christ. (1.) Generally: they are as it were the voice of the uncreated Word, ever speaking to man in every part of them. (2.) In figures: the paschal lamb, the brazen serpent, and all the sacrifices of the law were witnesses of Christ. (3.) In direct prophecies.

Let us note in this verse the high honour which our Lord puts on the Old Testament Scriptures. He distinctly endorses the Jewish Canon of inspired writings. Those modern writers who labour to depreciate them, and bring them into disrepute, show very little of Christ’s mind. Much infidelity begins with an ignorant contempt of the Old Testament. Stier remarks,—"Israel, possessing still the Old Testament, will enter into the kingdom, when the despisers of Scripture in the final unbelief of Christendom will be judged and condemned."

Let us note further what a plain duty it is to read the Scriptures. Men have no right to expect spiritual light if they neglect the great treasury of all light. If even of the Old Testament our Lord said, "Search," "it testifies of me," how much more is it a duty to search the whole Bible! An idle neglect of the Bible is one secret of the ignorant formal Christianity which is so widely prevalent in these latter days. God’s blessing on a diligent study of the Scripture is strikingly illustrated in the case of the Bereans. (Acts 17:11.)

Verses 40-47

THIS passage concludes our Lord Jesus Christ’s wondrous defense of His own divine mission. It is a conclusion worthy of the defense, full of heart-searching appeals to the consciences of His enemies, and rich in deep truths. A mighty sermon is followed by a mighty application.

Let us mark, in this passage, the reason why many souls are lost. The Lord Jesus says to the unbelieving Jews,—"Ye will not come to me that ye might have life."

These words are a golden sentence, which ought to be engraven in our memories, and treasured up in our minds. It is want of will to come to Christ for salvation that will be found, at last, to have shut the many out of heaven.—It is not men’s sins. All manner of sin may be forgiven.—It is not any decree of God. We are not told in the Bible of any whom God has only created to be destroyed.—It is not any limit in Christ’s work of redemption. He has paid a price sufficient for all mankind.—It is something far more than this. It is man’s own innate unwillingness to come to Christ, repent, and believe. Either from pride, or laziness, or love of sin, or love of the world, the many have no mind, or wish, or heart, or desire to seek life in Christ. "God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." (1 John 5:11.) But men stand still, and will not stir hand or foot to get life. And this is the whole reason why many of the lost are not saved.

This is a painful and solemn truth, but one that we can never know too well. It contains a first principle in Christian theology. Thousands, in every age, are constantly laboring to shift the blame of their condition from off themselves. They talk of their inability to change. They tell you complacently, that they cannot help being what they are! They know, forsooth, that they are wrong, but they cannot be different!—It will not do. Such talk will not stand the test of the Word of Christ before us. The unconverted are what they are because they have no will to be better. "Light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light." (John 3:19.) The words of the Lord Jesus will silence many: "I would have gathered you, and ye would not be gathered." (Matthew 23:37.)

Let us mark, secondly, in this passage, one principal cause of unbelief. The Lord Jesus says to the Jews,—"How can ye believe which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh of God only?" He meant by that saying, that they were not honest in their religion. With all their apparent desire to hear and learn, they cared more in reality for pleasing man than God. In this state of mind they were never likely to believe.

A deep principle is contained in this saying of our Lord’s, and one that deserves special attention. True faith does not depend merely on the state of man’s head and understanding, but on the state of his heart. His mind may be convinced. His conscience may be pricked. But so long as there is anything the man is secretly loving more than God, there will be no true faith. The man himself may be puzzled, and wonder why he does not believe. He does not see that he is like a child sitting on the lid of his box, and wishing to open it, but not considering that his own weight keeps it shut. Let a man make sure that he honestly and really desires first the praise of God. It is the want of an honest heart which makes many stick fast in their religion all their days, and die at length without peace. Those who complain that they hear, and approve, and assent, but make no progress, and cannot get any hold on Christ, should ask themselves this simple question,—"Am I honest?—Am I sincere?—Do I really desire first the praise of God?"

Let us mark, lastly, in this passage, the manner in which Christ speaks of Moses. He says to the Jews,—"Had ye believed Moses ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me."

These words demand our special attention in these latter days. That there really was such a person as Moses,—that he really was the author of the writings commonly ascribed to him,—on both these points our Lord’s testimony is distinct. "He wrote of me." Can we suppose for a moment that our Lord was only accommodating Himself to the prejudices and traditions of His hearers, and that He spoke of Moses as a writer, though He knew in His heart that Moses never wrote at all? Such an idea is profane. It would make out our Lord to have been dishonest.—Can we suppose for a moment that our Lord was ignorant about Moses, and did not know the wonderful discoveries which learned men, falsely so called, have made in the nineteenth century? Such an idea is ridiculous blasphemy. To imagine the Lord Jesus speaking ignorantly in such a chapter as the one before us, is to strike at the root of all Christianity.—There is but one conclusion about the matter. There was such a person as Moses. The writings commonly ascribed to him were written by him. The facts recorded in them are worthy of all credit. Our Lord’s testimony is an unanswerable argument. The skeptical writers against Moses and the Pentateuch have greatly erred.

Let us beware of handling the Old Testament irreverently, and allowing our minds to doubt the truth of any part of it, because of alleged difficulties. The simple fact that the writers of the New Testament continually refer to the Old Testament, and speak even of the most miraculous events recorded in it as undoubtedly true, should silence our doubts. Is it at all likely, probable, or credible, that we of the nineteenth century are better informed about Moses than Jesus and His Apostles? God forbid that we should think so! Then let us stand fast, and not doubt that every word in the Old Testament, as well as in the New, was given by inspiration of God.

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Notes

v40.—[And ye will not come to me...life.] The connection between this verse and the preceding one is not very clear. It is one of those abrupt elliptical transitions which occur frequently in John’s writings. I conjecture the link must be something of this kind: "The Scriptures testify plainly of Me. And yet in the face of this testimony ye have no will or inclination to come to Me by faith, that ye may have eternal life through Me."

This verse evidently begins the third part of our Lord’s address to the Jews. He had declared the relation between Himself and God the Father. He had brought forward the evidence of His own Divine commission, and His claim to be received as the Messiah. And now He concludes by a most heart-piercing appeal to the consciences of His enemies, in which He exposes the true state of their hearts, and the real reasons why they did not believe in Him. If ever men were plainly dealt with, and received home-thrusts as to their own spiritual condition, it was on this occasion. In reading the conclusion of this chapter, one cannot but feel that a miraculous restraint must have been put on our Lord’s enemies. Otherwise it is difficult to understand how they could have allowed Him to bring such cutting and truthful charges against them. If ministers desire a warrant for dealing plainly with their hearers, and addressing them directly and personally about their sins, they have only to look at their Divine Master’s words in this passage.

The opening charge that our Lord makes, "Ye will not come to me," misses much of its force in the English language. It is not the future tense of "come" that is used in the Greek. Two distinct verbs are employed. The right meaning is, "Ye do not will to come,"—"Ye have no heart, desire, or inclination to come to Me."

Let it be noted here that (1.) we are all by nature dead in sins;—that (2.) spiritual life is laid up for sinners in Christ alone; He is the fountain of life;—that (3.) in order to receive benefit from Christ men must come to him by faith, and believe: believing is coming;—and, finally, (4.) that the real reasons why men do not come to Christ, and consequently die in their sins, is their want of will to come.

Let it be carefully noted, that both here and elsewhere the loss of man’s soul is always attributed in Scripture to man’s own want of will to be saved. It is not any decree of God. It is not God’s unwillingness to receive. It is not any limitation of Christ’s redeeming work and atonement. It is not any want of wide, broad, free, full invitations to repent and believe. It is simply and entirely man’s own fault,—his want of will. For ever let us cleave to this doctrine. Man’s salvation, if saved, is entirely of God. Man’s ruin, if lost, is entirely of himself. He "loves darkness rather than light." He will have his own way.

We should observe in this concluding part of our Lord’s address, that He charges the Jews with four distinct sins: (1.) want of real will to come to Him, (2.) want of real love to God, (3.) undue desire of man’s praise, (4.) want of real faith in Moses’ writings.

v41.—[I receive not honour from men.] The connection between these words and the preceding verse is again not very clear. I conjecture that it must be as follows:—"I do not say these things, as if I desired the praise and honour of man. I do not complain of your not coming to Me, as if I only came into the world to seek man’s praise. It is not on My own account that I mention your unbelief, but on yours, because it shows the state of your hearts. Do not suppose that I stand in need of followers, and am covetous of man’s favour."

v42.[But I know you...not the love of God, &c.] The sense and connection here appear to be as follows:—"But the plain truth is, that I know and have long known the state of your hearts, and I know that you have no real love of God in you. You profess to worship the one true God, and to give Him honour. But you show by your conduct, that with all your profession you do not really love God."

To a Jewish hearer this tremendous charge must have been peculiarly galling. It was a charge that none but our Lord could make with equal decision, because He read men’s hearts, and knew what was in them.

The word "I know" is literally "I have known." Alford paraphrases the sentence,—"By long trial and bearing with your manners these many generations, and personally also, I have known, and do know you."

In another place we find our Lord naming this sin as one of the special sins of the Pharisees. "Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue, and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God." (Luke 11:42.)

Ferus remarks that the incredulity of the Jews did not arise from want of evidence, but want of love towards God.

v43.—[I am come in my father’s name...receive me not.] This sentence contains a proof of the assertion made in the preceding verse. "You show that you have no real love for God, by your not receiving Me who have come in my Father’s name, and desire nothing so much as His honour. If you really loved and honoured God as you professed to do, you would gladly receive and honour His Son."

[If another...in his own name, Him ye will receive.] In this sentence our Lord supposes a case, to show the corrupt and carnal state of the Jews’ hearts. "If another public teacher shall appear, giving himself out to be some great one, not seeking God’s honour, and doing all in God’s name, but aiming to exalt himself, and get honour to himself, you will receive and believe him. You reject Me the true Son of God. You are ready to receive any false pretender who comes among you, though he may give no honour to the God whom you profess to worship. It is true then that you have no real love of God in you."

I believe decidedly that our Lord spoke these words prophetically. He had in view the many false Christs and false Messiahs who arose within the first hundred years after His death, and by whom so many of the Jews were invariably deluded. According to Stier no less than sixty-four false Messiahs appeared to them, and were more or less believed.

The readiness with which they believed these impostors is a remarkable historical fact, and a striking fulfilment of the words before us. They proved as forward to believe these pretenders to a Divine mission who came in their own names, as they had been backward to believe our Lord.

I may add, however, that I am one of those who doubt whether the words of our Lord have even yet received their complete fulfilment. I think it highly probable that the world may yet see a personal Antichrist arise, who will succeed in obtaining credence from a vast portion of the Jewish nation. Then, and not till then, when Antichrist has appeared, this verse will be completely accomplished. Chrysostom, Cyril, Theophylact, Euthymius, Alcuin, Heinsius, take this view.

Stier remarks, "He of whom the Lord here prophecies, is finally Antichrist, with his open and avowed denial of God and of Christ; with his most daring ’I,’ before which all the proud will humbly bow down, because they will find themselves in him, and will honour him as their true God. As the Father reveals Himself in Christ, so will Satan manifest himself in Antichrist, and give him all his work and witness, and his own honour as the prince of this world; and the wicked will yield themselves to him, because through unbelief they have already fallen into his nature, and fitly belong to him."

Wordsworth remarks, "The Fathers were generally of opinion, grounded on this passage, that Antichrist would be received by the Jews."

v44.—[How can ye believe, etc., etc.] This verse contains a very important principle. The substance of the meaning seems to be as follows:—Our Lord tells the Jews that they were not likely to believe, so long as they cared more for the praise of man than the praise of God. The true cause of their unbelief was a want of honesty and godly sincerity. With all their professed zeal for God, they did not really care so much for pleasing Him as for pleasing man. In this state of mind they were never likely to have faith, or to come to the knowledge of the truth. "How can ye believe, receiving and seeking honour from one another as ye do now?" It is not possible that you can believe, until you cease from your present earthly-mindedness, and honestly desire God’s praise more than man’s.

The great principle contained in the verse is the close connection between the state of a man’s heart and his possessing the gift of faith. Believing or not believing, to have faith or not to have faith, is not a thing that depends only on a man’s head being satisfied, and his intellect convinced. It depends far more on the state of a man’s heart. If a man is not thoroughly honest in his professed desire to find out the truth in religion,—if he secretly cherishes any idol which he is resolved not to give up,—if he privately cares for anything more than God’s praise,—he will go on to the end of his days doubting, perplexed, dissatisfied, and restless, and will never find the way to peace. His insincerity of heart is an insuperable barrier in the way of his believing. There is a mine of wisdom in the expression, "An honest and good heart." (Luke 8:15.) For want of it many a one complains that he cannot get comfort in religion, and cannot see his way towards heaven, when the truth is that his own dishonesty of heart is the cause. There is something he loves more than God. The consequence is that he never feels an honest will to believe.

The "can" in this verse should be compared with the "will" in John 5:40. "Ye cannot because ye will not."

[From God only.] This expression would be more literally rendered, "from the only God,"—the one true God, whom the Jews boasted that they alone knew and worshipped.

Doddridge remarks that the whole verse "has much more spirit in it, if we consider it as applied to the members of the Sanhedrim, who had such distinguished titles of honour, than if we only take it as spoken to a mixed multitude." If, as many suppose, our Lord was making a formal defense of Himself and His divine mission before the great Ecclesiastical Assembly of the Jews, His words in this verse would come home to His hearers with stinging power.

v45.—[Do not think that I will accuse, etc.] We must not suppose that our Lord literally meant that there was any real likelihood of Moses or Himself standing up to make a formal accusation against the Jews. What He did mean was, that not to believe Him was not to believe Moses. There was no need for Him to accuse them of unbelief. Moses himself, for whom they professed such respect, might be their accuser, and prove them guilty. "Even now," He says, "Moses accuseth you. His writings, daily read in your synagogue, are a constant witness of your unbelief." There may also, it is highly probable, be a reference here to the Song of Moses, where he predicts the unbelief of the people, and desires the book of the law to be "put in the side of the ark, that it may be there for a witness against thee." (Deuteronomy 31:26.)

Chemnitius remarks, "What the Lord says to the Jews, is exactly as if I were to say to the Papists, It is not I, but the very Fathers whose authority ye allege in favour of your superstition, who will accuse you of impiety. Or as if we were to say to the Pope, It is not we who accuse and condemn thee, but Christ himself, whose vicar thou callest thyself; and Peter whose successor thou wilt have thyself: and Paul whose sword thou pretendest to bear: they it is who will accuse thee." Beza makes much the same remark, and observes, that none will be more opposed to the Roman Catholics in the judgment-day than Mary and the saints in whom they profess to trust!

The notion of some Romanists that the expression "Moses in whom ye trust," justifies the invocation of saints, and putting confidence in them as mediators, is, as Chemnitius observes, too weak and groundless to need refutation.

v46.[For had ye believed Moses....me.] These words are simply an amplification of the idea in the preceding verse. If the Jews had really believed Moses, they could not have helped believing Christ. The witness of Moses to Christ, was so distinct, express, and unmistakable, that true belief in his writings must inevitably have led them to belief in Christ.

[He wrote of me.] These words are very remarkable. In what sense our Lord used them, we cannot exactly know. At the very least we may conclude He meant that throughout the five books of Moses, by direct prophecy, by typical persons, by typical ceremonies, in many ways, and in divers manners, Moses had written of Him. There is probably a depth of meaning in the Pentateuch that has never yet been fully fathomed. We shall probably find at the last day that Christ was in many a chapter and many a verse, and yet we knew it not. There is a fulness in all Scripture far beyond our conception.

Let us note carefully that our Lord distinctly speaks of Moses as a real person who, as a matter of history, lived and wrote books, and of his writings as true genuine writings deserving of all credit, and of undeniable authority. In the face of such an expression as this, it is a mournful fact that any man called a Christian can throw doubt on the existence of Moses, or on the authority of the books attributed to him.

To say, as some have done, that our Lord was only accommodating Himself to the conventional language of the times, and that He did not really mean to assert His own belief either in the existence of Moses, or the authority of his writings, is to charge Him with downright dishonesty. It represents Him as One aiding and countenancing the dissemination of a lie!

To say, as some have done, that our Lord, born of a Jewish woman, and brought up among Jews, was not above the ignorant prejudices of the Jews, and did not really know that Moses ever existed, and that his writings are full of mistakes, is to talk downright blasphemy and nonsense. Fancy the eternal Son of God at any time talking ignorantly! Fancy above all that any trace of Jewish ignorance would be likely to be found in this chapter of John’s gospel, in which, above all other chapters perhaps, our Lord’s divine knowledge is most strikingly brought out!

v47.—[If ye believe not his writings, etc.] This verse is an extension of the thought contained in the preceding one, and a solemn and mournful conclusion of the whole address. There is evidently an intentional contrast between "writings" and "words," as if our Lord would remind the Jews that "writings" are generally more relied upon than "sayings."—"If you do not really believe what your own honoured lawgiver Moses WROTE,—and it is plain that you do not,—it is not likely that you will believe what I SAY. If you have no real faith in the things written in your Scriptures by that very Moses, for whom you profess such reverence, your favourite teacher and lawgiver, it is not to be wondered at that you have no faith in what I say, and that I speak to you in vain."

The Greek word used here for "writings" is very remarkable. It is generally translated "letters," as Luke 23:38. In 2 Timothy 3:15, it is rendered "Scriptures." To my mind it is a strong indirect evidence in favour of the verbal inspiration of Scripture.

There is a sense in which these words should ring painfully in the ears of all the modern assailants of the Mosaic writings. It is just as true now, I firmly believe, as it was eighteen hundred years ago. They cannot divide Moses and Christ. If they do not believe the one, they will find sooner or later that they do not believe the other. If they begin with casting off Moses and not believing his writings, they will find in the end that to be consistent they must cast off Christ. If they will not have the Old Testament, they will discover at last that they cannot have the New. The two are so linked together that they cannot be separated. "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder."

In concluding the notes on this wonderful chapter, one would like to know how this marvelous address was received by those who heard it. But here we meet with one of the peculiar "silences" of Scripture. Not one word is written to tell us what the Jews of Jerusalem thought of our Lord’s argument, or what effect it had upon them. Our own duty is clear. Let us take heed that it has some effect on ourselves.

The amazing fullness of our Lord’s teaching appears most strikingly in the address contained in this chapter. Within the short span of twenty-nine verses, we find no less than eleven mighty subjects brought forward: (1.) The intimate relation of the Father and the Son. (2.) The divine commission and dignity of the Son. (3.) The privileges of the man who believes. (4.) The quickening of the spiritually dead. (5.) The judgment. (6.) The resurrection of the body. (7.) The value of miracles. (8.) The Scriptures. (9.) The corruption of man’s will the secret of man’s ruin. (10.) The love of man’s praise the cause of unbelief. (11.) The importance of the writings of Moses.

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Bibliographical Information
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 5". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ryl/john-5.html.