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Bible Commentaries

Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

John 8

Verses 1-11

THE narrative which begins the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel is of a rather peculiar character. In some respects it stands alone. There is nothing quite like it in the whole range of the four Gospels. In every age some scrupulous minds have stumbled at the passage, and have doubted whether it was ever written by John at all. But the justice of such scruples is a point that cannot easily be proved.

To suppose, as some have thought, that the narrative before us palliates the sin of adultery, and exhibits our Lord as making light of the seventh commandment, is surely a great mistake. There is nothing in the passage to justify such an assertion. There is not a sentence in it to warrant our saying anything of the kind. Let us calmly weigh the matter, and examine the contents of the passage.

Our Lord’s enemies brought before Him a woman guilty of adultery, and asked him to say what punishment she deserved. We are distinctly told that they asked the question, "tempting Him." They hoped to entrap Him into saying something for which they might accuse Him. They fancied perhaps that He who preached pardon and salvation to "publicans and harlots" might be induced to say something which would either contradict the law of Moses, or His own words.

Our Lord knew the hearts of the malicious questioners before Him, and dealt with them with perfect wisdom, as He had done in the case of the "tribute-money." (Matthew 22:17.) He refused to be "a judge" and lawgiver among them, and specially in a case which their own law had already decided. He gave them at first no answer at all.

But "when they continued asking," our Lord silenced them with a withering and heart-searching reply.—"He that is without sin among you," he said, "let him first cast a stone at her." He did not say that the woman had not sinned, or that her sin was a trifling and venial one. But He reminded her accusers that they at any rate were not the persons to bring a charge against her. Their own motives and lives were far from pure. They themselves did not come into the case with clean hands. What they really desired was not to vindicate the purity of God’s law, and punish a sinner, but to wreak their malice on Himself.

Last of all, when those who had brought the unhappy woman to our Lord had gone out from His presence, "convicted by their own conscience," He dismissed the guilty sinner with the solemn words, "Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more."—That she did not deserve punishment He did not say. But He had not come to be a judge. Moreover, in the absence of all witnesses or accusers, there was no case before Him. Let her then depart as one whose guilt was "not proven," even though she was really guilty, and let her "sin no more."

To say in the face of these simple facts that our Lord made light of the sin of adultery is not fair. There is nothing in the passage before us to prove it. Of all whose words are recorded in the Bible there is none who has spoken so strongly about the breach of the seventh commandment as our divine Master. It is He who has taught that it may be broken by a look or a thought, as well as by an open act. (Matthew 5:28.) It is He who has spoken more strongly than any about the sanctity of the marriage relation. (Matthew 19:6.) In all that is recorded here, we see nothing inconsistent with the rest of His teaching. He simply refused to usurp the office of the judge and to pronounce condemnation on a guilty woman, for the gratification of His deadly enemies.

In leaving this passage, we must not forget that it contains two lessons of great importance. Whatever difficulties the verses before us may present, these two lessons at any rate are clear, plain, and unmistakable.

We learn, for one thing, the power of conscience. We read of the woman’s accusers, that when they heard our Lord’s appeal, "being convicted by their own conscience, they went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last." Wicked and hardened as they were, they felt something within which made them cowards. Fallen as human nature is, God has taken care to leave within every man a witness that will be heard.

Conscience is a most important part of our inward man, and plays a most prominent part in our spiritual history. It cannot save us. It never yet led any one to Christ. It is blind, and liable to be misled. It is lame and powerless, and cannot guide us to heaven. Yet conscience is not to be despised. It is the minister’s best friend, when he stands up to rebuke sin from the pulpit. It is the mother’s best friend, when she tries to restrain her children from evil and quicken them to good. It is the teacher’s best friend, when he presses home on boys and girls their moral duties. Happy is he who never stifles his conscience, but strives to keep it tender! Still happier is he who prays to have it enlightened by the Holy Ghost, and sprinkled with Christ’s blood.

We learn, for another thing, the nature of true repentance. When our Lord had said to the sinful woman, "Neither do I condemn thee," He dismissed her with the solemn words, "go, and sin no more." He did not merely say, "go home and repent." He pointed out the chief thing which her case required,—the necessity of immediate breaking off from her sin.

Let us never forget this lesson. It is the very essence of genuine repentance, as the Church catechism well teaches, to "forsake sin." That repentance which consists in nothing more than feeling, talking, professing, wishing, meaning, hoping, and resolving, is worthless in God’s sight. Action is the very life of "repentance unto salvation not to be repented of." Till a man ceases to do evil and turns from his sins, he does not really repent.—Would we know whether we are truly converted to God, and know anything of godly sorrow for sin, and repentance such as causes "joy in heaven"? Let us search and see whether we forsake sin. Let us not rest till we can say as in God’s sight, "I hate all sin, and desire to sin no more."

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Notes

These eleven verses, together with the last verse of the preceding chapter, form perhaps the gravest critical difficulty in the New Testament. Their genuineness is disputed.—It is held by many learned Christian writers, who have an undoubted right to be heard on such matters, that the passage was not written by John, that it was written by an uninspired hand, and probably at a later date, and that it has no lawful claim to be regarded as a part of the canonical Scripture.—It is held by others, whose opinion, to say the least, is equally entitled to respect, that the passage is a genuine part of John’s Gospel, and that the arguments against it, however weighty they may appear, are insufficient, and admit of an answer. A summary of the whole case is all that I shall attempt to give.

In the list of those who think the passage either not genuine, or at least doubtful, are the following names:—Beza, Grotius, Baxter, Hammond, A. Clark, Tittman, Tholuck, Olshausen, Hengstenberg, Tregelles, Alford, Wordsworth, Scrivener.

In the list of those who think the passage genuine, are the following names:—Augustine, Ambrose, Euthymius, Rupertus, Zwingle, Calvin, Melancthon, Ecolampadius, Brentius, Bucer, Gualter, Musculus, Bullinger, Pellican, Flacius, Diodati, Chemnitius, Aretius, Piscator, Calovius, Cocceius, Toletus, Maldonatus, á Lapide, Ferus, Nifanius, Cartwright, Mayer, Trapp, Poole, Lampe, Whitby, Leigh, Doddridge, Bengel, Stier, Webster, Burgon.

Calvin is sometimes named as one of those who think the passage before us not genuine. But his language about it in his Commentary is certainly not enough to bear out the assertion. He says, "It is plain that this passage was unknown anciently to the Greek Churches; and some conjecture that it has been brought from some other place, and inserted here. But as it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostle, there is no reason why we should refuse to apply it to our advantage.

[A.] The arguments against the passage are as follows:—

(1) That it is not found in some of the oldest and best manuscripts, now existing, of the Greek Testament.

(2) That it is not found in some of the earlier versions or translations of the Scriptures.

(3) That it is not commented on my the Greek Fathers, Origen, Cyril, Chrysostom, and Theophylact, in their exposition of John; nor quoted or referred to by Tertullian and Cyprian.

(4) That it differs in style from the rest of John’s Gospel, and contains several words and forms of expression which are nowhere else used in his writings.

(5) That the moral tendency of the passage is somewhat doubtful, and that it seems to represent our Lord as palliating a heinous sin.

[B.] The arguments in favor of the passage are as follows:—

(1) That it is found in many old manuscripts, if not in the very oldest and best.

(2) That it is found in the Vulgate Latin, and in the Arabic, Coptic, Persian, and Ethiopian versions.

(3) That it is commented on by Augustine in his exposition of this Gospel; while in another of his writings, he expressly refers to, and explains, its omission from some manuscripts:—that it is quoted and defended by Ambrose, referred to by Jerome, and treated as genuine in the Apostolical constitutions.

(4) That there is no proof whatever that there is any immoral tendency in the passage. Our Lord pronounced no opinion on the sin of adultery, but simply declined the office of a judge.

It may seem almost presumptuous to offer any opinion on this very difficult subject. But I venture to make the following remarks, and to invite the reader’s candid attention to them. I lean decidedly to the side of those who think the passage is genuine, for the following reasons:—

1. The argument from manuscripts appears to me inconclusive. We possess comparatively few very ancient ones. Even of them, some favor the genuineness of the passage.—The same remark applies to the ancient versions. Testimony of this kind, to be conclusive, should be unanimous.

2. The argument from the Fathers seems to me more in favor of the passage than against it.—On the one side the reasons are simply negative. Certain Fathers say nothing about the passage, but at the same time say nothing against it.—On the other side the reasons are positive. Men of such high authority as Augustine and Ambrose not only comment on the passage, but defend its genuineness, and assign reasons for its omission by some mistaken transcribers.

Let me add to this that the negative evidence of the Fathers who are against the passage is not nearly so weighty as it appears at first sight. Cyril of Alexandria is one. But his commentary on the eighth chapter of John is lost, and what we have was supplied by the modern hand of Jodocus Clichtovœus, a Parisian doctor, who lived in the year 1510, A.D. (See Dupin’s Eccles. Hist.)—Chrysostom’s commentary on John consists of popular public homilies, in which we can easily imagine such a passage as this might possibly be omitted.—Theophylact was notoriously a copier and imitator of Chrysostom.—Origen, the only remaining commentator, is one whose testimony is not of first-rate value, and he has omitted many things in his exposition of John.—The silence of Tertullian and Cyprian is perhaps accountable on the same principles by which Augustine explains the omission of the passage in some copies of this Gospel in his own time.

Some, as Calovius, Maldonatus, Flacius, Aretius, and Piscator, think that Chrysostom distinctly refers to this passage, in his Sixtieth Homily on John, though he passes it over in exposition.

3. The argument from alleged discrepancies between the style and language of this passage, and the usual style of John’s writing, is one which should be received with much caution. We are not dealing with an uninspired but with an inspired writer. Surely it is not too much to say that an inspired writer may occasionally use words and constructions and modes of expression which he generally does not use, and that it is no proof that he did not write a passage because he wrote it in a peculiar way.

I leave the subject here. In cases of doubt like this, it is wise to be on the safe side. On the whole I think it safest to regard this disputed passage as genuine. At any rate I prefer the difficulties on this side to those on the other.

The whole discussion may leave in our minds, at any rate, one comfortable thought. If even in the case of this notoriously disputed passage—more controverted and doubted than any in the New Testament—so much can be said in its favor, how immensely strong is the foundation on which the whole volume of Scripture rests! If even against this passage the arguments of opponents are not conclusive, we have no reason to fear for the rest of the Bible.

After all, there is much ground for thinking that some critical difficulties have been purposely left by God’s providence in the text of the New Testament, in order to prove the faith and patience of Christian people. They serve to test the humility of those to whom intellectual difficulties are a far greater cross than either doctrinal or practical ones. To such minds it is trying but useful discipline to find occasional passages involving knots which they cannot quite untie, and problems which they cannot quite solve. Of such passages the verses before us are a striking instance. That the text of them is "a hard thing" it would be wrong to deny. But I believe our duty is not to reject it hastily, but to sit still and wait. In these matters "he that believeth shall not make haste."

The following passage from Augustine (De conjug. Adult.) is worth notice. Having argued that it well becomes a Christian husband to be reconciled to his wife, upon her repentance after adultery, because our Lord said, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more"—he says, "This, however, rather shocks the minds of some weak believers, or rather unbelievers and enemies of the Christian faith, insomuch that, afraid of its giving their wives impunity of sinning, they struck out of their copies of the Gospel this that our Lord did in pardoning the woman taken in adultery; as if He granted leave of sinning, when He said, "Go, and sin no more." Augustine, be it remembered, lived about 400 A.D.

Those who wish to look further into the subject of this disputed passage will find it fully discussed by Gomarus, Bloomfield, and Wordsworth.

v1.—[Jesus went...mount...Olives.] The division of the chapter in this place is to be regretted. The last verse of the preceding chapter and the verse before us are evidently intended to be taken together. While the Pharisees and members of the Council "went every man to his own house," our Lord, having no home of His own, retired "to the Mount of Olives," and there spent the night in the open air. In such a climate as that of Judea there was nothing remarkable in His doing this. The garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the mount, would supply sufficient shelter. That this was our Lord’s habitual practice, we are distinctly told in Luke 21:37.

Lampe remarks that we never read of our Lord lodging, sleeping, or tarrying a night in Jerusalem.

v2.—[And early in the morning.] This expression is worth noticing, because, according to some, it explains our Lord’s subsequent use of the figure—"I am the light of the world." They think that it refers to the break of day, or rising of the sun.

[He came again...temple.] This means the outer courts of the temple, where it was customary for the Jews to assemble and listen to teachers of religion. In eastern countries and in the times when there was no printing, it must be remembered, much instruction was given in this way, by open air addresses or conversations. Thus Socrates taught at Athens.

[All the people came unto Him.] "All" here must mean great multitudes of the people. After all that had happened in the last three or four days, we may easily understand that our Lord’s appearance would at once attract a crowd. His fame as a teacher and speaker was established.

[He sat down, and taught.] That it was common for the teachers to sit, and the hearers to stand, is evident from other texts. "I sat daily with you teaching in the temple." (Matthew 26:55.) In the synagogues of Nazareth, when our Lord began to preach, He first "gave the book to the minister, and sat down." (Luke 4:20.) "He sat down and taught the people out of the ship." (Luke 5:3.) "We sat down and spake to the women." (Acts 16:13.)

v3.—[The Scribes and Pharisees.] This is the only place in John’s Gospel where He mentions the "Scribes" at all. He names the Pharisees twenty times,—sixteen times alone, and four times in conjunction with the chief-priests.

This fact is thought by some to be an argument against the genuineness of the passage, but without just cause. Mark, in his Gospel, speaks twelve times of the Pharisees, and only twice mentions the Scribes in conjunction with them. Moreover, this is the only occasion recorded in John when a formal attempt was made to entrap our Lord by a subtle question. That being so, there may be a good reason why the scribes should be mentioned as well as the Pharisees, as principal agents in the attempt.

[Brought unto Him a woman, etc.] It seems not improbable that this attempt to ensnare our Lord was one result of his enemies’ failure to apprehend Him during the feast. Defeated in their effort to meet Him in argument, or to apprehend Him in the absence of any legal charge, they tried next to entrap Him into committing Himself in some way, and so giving them a handle against Him. No time was to be lost. They had failed yesterday, and found their own officers unwilling to apprehend our Lord. They resolved to try another plan to-day. They would ensnare our Lord into doing something illegal or indiscreet, and then get an advantage over Him.

[Set her in the midst.] This means in the middle of a ring or circle, composed of themselves and their followers, our Lord and His disciples, and the crowd listening to His teaching.

v4.—[They say...this woman...taken...etc.] It throws some light on this charge to remember what immense crowds came up to Jerusalem at the great public feasts, and especially at the feast of tabernacles. At such a season, when every house was crowded, and at a fair time, when many consequently slept in the open air, and no small disorder probably ensued, we can well understand that such a sin as a breach of the seventh commandment would be very likely to be committed.

v5.—[Now Moses...law commanded...stoned.] This is the legitimate conclusion of the two texts, Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22, when compared. There seems no ground for the comment of some writers, that Moses did not command an adulteress to be put to death by stoning.

It is worth notice, that the expression, "Moses in the law," is not used either by Matthew, Mark, or Luke. But it is used by John both here and John 1:45.

[But what sayest Thou?] This would be more literally rendered, "What therefore sayest Thou?" The Greek word rendered "but" by our translators is hardly ever so rendered in the New Testament; and in most places is either "therefore," "then," "so," "now," or "and." John 9:18, and Acts 25:4, are the only parallel cases.

Ecolampadius thinks the Pharisees were especially sore and irritated because our Lord had said that "publicans and harlots" would enter the kingdom of God before Pharisees. (Matthew 21:31.)

v6.—[This they said, tempting...accuse Him.] In what did this temptation consist? How did the Jews hope to find ground for an accusation? The answer seems easy.—If our Lord replied that the woman ought NOT to be stoned, they would have denounced Him to the people as one that poured contempt on the law.—If our Lord, on the contrary, replied that the woman ought to be stoned, they would have accused Him to the Romans as one who usurped the prerogative of putting criminals to death. See John 18:31—"It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." Moreover, they would have published everywhere our Lord’s inconsistency in offering salvation to publicans and harlots, and yet condemning to death an adulteress for one transgression.

Let it be noticed that subtle ensnaring questions like these, putting the person questioned into an apparent dilemma or difficulty, whatever answer he might give, seem to have been favorite weapons of the Jews. The Pharisees’ question about "tribute-money," the lawyer’s question about "the great commandment of the law," and the Sadducees’ question about "the resurrection," are parallel cases. The question before us is therefore quite in keeping with other places in the Gospels.

Augustine remarks, "They said in themselves, ’Let us put before Him a woman caught in adultery; let us ask what is ordered in the law concerning her; if He shall bid stone her, He will not have the repute of gentleness: if He give sentence to let her go, He will not keep righteousness.’ " Euthymius says the same.

[But Jesus stooped down, etc., etc.] Our Lord’s intention in this remarkable sentence can hardly admit of doubt. He declined to answer the subtle question put to Him, partly because He knew the malicious motives of the questioners, partly because He had always announced that He did not come to be "a judge and divider" among men, or to interfere in the slightest degree with the administration of the law. His silence was equivalent to a refusal to answer.

But the peculiar action that our Lord employed, in "writing with His finger on the ground," is undeniably a difficulty. John gives no explanation of the action, and we are left to conjecture both why our Lord wrote and what He wrote.

(1) Some think, as Bede, Rupertus, and Lampe, that our Lord wrote on the ground the texts of Scripture which settled the question brought before Him, as the seventh commandment, and Leviticus 20:10, and Deuteronomy 22:22. The action would then imply, "Why do ye ask me? What is written in the law, that law which God wrote with His own finger as I am writing now?"

(2) Some think, as Lightfoot and Burgon, that our Lord meant to refer to the law of Moses for the trial of jealousy, in which an accused woman was obliged to drink water into which dust from the floor of the tabernacle or temple had been put by the priest. (Numbers 5:17.) The action would then imply, "Has the law for trying such an one as this been tried? Look at the dust on which I am writing. Has the woman been placed before the priest, and drank of the dust and water?"

(3) Some think, as Augustine, Melancthon, Brentius, Toletus, and á Lapide, that our Lord’s action was a silent reference to the text, Jeremiah 17:13—"They that depart from Me shall be written in the earth."

(4) One rationalist writer suggests that our Lord "stooped down" from feelings of modesty, as if ashamed of the sight before Him, and of the story told to Him. The idea is preposterous, and entirely out of harmony with our Lord’s public demeanor.

(5) Some think, as Euthymius, Calvin, Rollock, Chemnitius, Diodati, Flavius, Piscator, Grotius, Poole, and Hutcheson, that our Lord did not mean anything at all by this writing on the ground, and that He only signified that He would give no answer, and would neither listen to nor interfere in such matters as the one brought before Him.

Calvin remarks: "Christ intended, by doing nothing, to show how unworthy they were of being heard; just as if any one, while another was speaking to him, were to draw lines on the wall, or to turn his back, or to show by any other sign, that He was not attending to what was said."

I must leave the reader to choose which solution he prefers. To my eyes, I confess, there are difficulties in each view. If I must select one, I prefer the last of the five, as the simplest.

Quesnell remarks: "We never read that Jesus Christ wrote but once in his life. Let men learn from hence never to write but when it is necessary or useful, and to do it with humility and modesty, on a principle of charity, and not of malice."

v7.—[So when they continued...lifted...said unto them.] The Scribes and Pharisees seem to have been determined to have an answer, and to have made it necessary for our Lord to speak at last. But His first silence and significant refusal to attend were a plain proof to all around that He did not wish to interfere with the office of the magistrate, and had not come to be a judge of offenses against the law. If they got an opinion from Him about this case, they could not say that He gave it willingly, but that it was extorted from Him by much importunity.

[He that is without sin...first cast a stone at her.] This solemn and weighty sentence is a striking example of our Lord’s perfect wisdom. He referred His questioners to Scripture. Deuteronomy 17:7—"The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death."—It sent their minds home to their own private lives. "Whatever the woman may deserve, are you the people to find fault with her?"—It neither condemned nor justified the adulteress, and yet showed our Lord’s reverence for the law of Moses. "I decline to pronounce sentence on this woman, because I am not the judge. You know yourselves what the law is in such cases as well as I do. You have no right to assume that I do not reverence the law as much as yourselves. But since you profess to honor the law of Moses so much, I remind you that this same law requires the witnesses to be the executioners. Now are you the persons who ought to punish this woman, however guilty she may be? Do you yourselves come before Me with clear consciences about the seventh commandment?"

Many think that when our Lord said "He that is without sin," He meant the expression to be taken in a general sense. I cannot hold this view. It would involve the awkward conclusion that no one could be a judge at all, or punish a criminal, because no one is altogether and absolutely "without sin." I am decidedly of opinion that our Lord referred to sin against the seventh commandment. There is too much reason to think that such sin was very common among the Jews in our Lord’s time. The expression "an adulterous generation" (Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:4; and Mark 8:38) is full of meaning. (See also Romans 2:22; Luke 18:11; and James 4:4.)

v8.—[And again He stooped down, etc.] This repeated act would greatly add to the weighty solemnity of the sentence which had just fallen from our Lord’s lips. "I have given my opinion;—now what are you going to do? I wait for your reply."

v9.—[And they which heard...conscience.] This sentence seems to me to confirm the opinion, that when our Lord said "he that is without sin," He referred to sin against the seventh commandment. A general charge would hardly have produced the effect here described. A charge of breaking the seventh commandment would be just such an one as a man would shrink from, if made publicly. The sin is peculiarly one which brings with it afterwards a certain sense of shame. It is commonly a deed of darkness and done in secret, and the doer of it dreads the light.

The power of conscience stands out here in a very striking manner. It is a part of man’s inward nature which is far too little remembered by ministers and teachers. Fallen and corrupt as man is, we must never forget that God has left him a certain sense of right and wrong, called conscience. It has no power to save, or convert, or lead to Christ. But it has a power to accuse, and prick, and witness. Such texts as Romans 2:15 and 2 Corinthians 4:2 should be carefully considered.

[Went out...beginning...eldest...last.] The words "eldest" and "last" in this sentence are in the plural number, which does not appear in the English version. The oldest would probably have the greatest number of sins on their minds.

[Jesus was left alone, and the woman...midst.] This must of course mean that the scribes and Pharisees who accused the woman were all gone away. It does not necessarily follow that the crowd of hearers who were about our Lord when the case was brought to Him, had gone away. They must have stood by, and seen and heard all that passed.

v10.—[When Jesus had lifted up Himself, etc.] How long the pause must have been during which our Lord stooped down and wrote on the ground a second time, we are not told. But it must probably have been several minutes. When it says that our Lord "saw none but the woman," it must mean "none of the party which came and interrupted His teaching, except the woman." The accusers had disappeared, and the accused alone remained.

The question that our Lord put to the woman must have been for the satisfaction of the crowd around. Let them mark, from the question and answer, that the case had fallen to the ground. No evidence was offered. No accuser appeared. No sentence therefore could be pronounced, and none was needed.

v11.—[She said, No man, Lord.] We may observe here that our Lord, with merciful consideration, did not ask the woman whether she was guilty or not. Thus she could with truth reply to His question, and yet not criminate herself.

[Jesus said...Neither do I condemn...sin no more.] The mingled kindness and perfect wisdom of this sentence deserve special notice. Our Lord says nothing of the question whether the woman deserved punishment, and what kind of punishment. He simply says "I do not condemn thee. It is not my province or office to judge or pronounce any sentence."—Nor yet does He tell the woman that she may go away without stain or blemish on her character. On the contrary He implies that she had sinned and was guilty. But in the absence of witnesses she might go away clear of punishment.—Nor yet does He say, "Go in peace," as in Luke 7:50, and Luke 8:48.

"Go," He says, "and sin no more." How any one, in the face of this text, can say that our Lord palliates and condones the woman’s sin, it is rather hard to understand. That He refused to condemn her is clear and plain, because it was not His office. That He ignored or connived at her sin, as Hengstenberg says (in his argument against the genuineness of the whole passage,) can never be proved. The very last words show what He thought of her case:—"Sin no more." She had sinned, and had only escaped from lack of evidence. Let her remember that, and "sin no more."

Augustine remarks, "How Lord? Dost thou then favor sin? Not so, assuredly. Mark what He says: Go: henceforth sin no more. You see then that the Lord condemned, but He condemned sin, not man. For were He a favorer of sin, He would say, "Neither will I condemn thee. Go: live as thou wilt."

The remark of Euthymius that our Lord considered the public shame and exposure sufficient punishment for the woman’s sin, is thoroughly unsatisfactory, and not warranted by anything in the context.—The view of Bullinger and some others, that one principal object of the passage is to teach our Lord’s mercy and readiness to pardon great sinners, appears to me quite destitute of foundation. Christ’s abounding mercy is a great truth, but not the truth of this passage.—There seems no parallel between this woman and the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-54.

Poole observes that our Lord does not merely say "Commit adultery no more. No partial repentance or sorrow for any particular sin will suffice a penitent that hopes for mercy from God; but a leaving off all sin, of what kind soever it is."

{Note: in the "Notes" of the next section, the first paragraph, Mr. Ryle has some additional comments defending his belief that these passages are genuine. These comments center on the unlikelihood, he says, that John 7:52 would be immediately followed up with John 8:12. The reader is directed however to Isaiah 9:1-2—quoted in Matthew 4:13-16 as referring to our Lord:—"Do you Pharisees challenge us to "search" the Scriptures, whether or not a Prophet ariseth out of Galilee? Have you never read: Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. I am that Light of the world." John 8:12. Perhaps our Lord followed up this challenge with these words, in order to bring their memories back to this Isaiah passage—which they had doubtless often read—and thus debunk their claim that "no prophet ariseth out of Galilee." "A Prophet—a great Light—is indeed said to arise from Galilee: I am that Light; I am that Prophet which fulfills this prophesy of Isaiah. Your claim that no prophet arises from Galilee is wrong: I am the Light which ariseth from Galilee, and he that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness which was also mentioned by Isaiah." John 8:12. Whether John 7:53John 8:11 is genunine or not is hard to say, but that John 7:52 could be followed up by John 8:12 respectfully seems to have some Biblical basis.}

Verses 12-20

THE conversation between our Lord and the Jews, which begins with these verses, is full of difficulties. The connection between one part and another, and the precise meaning of some of the expressions which fell from our Lord’s lips, are "things hard to be understood." In passages like this it is true wisdom to acknowledge the great imperfection of our spiritual vision, and to be thankful if we can glean a few handfuls of truth.

Let us notice, for one thing, in these verses, what the Lord Jesus says of Himself. He proclaims, "I am the light of the world."

These words imply that the world needs light, and is naturally in a dark condition. It is so in a moral and spiritual point of view: and it has been so for nearly 6,000 years. In ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, in modern England, France, and Germany, the same report is true. The vast majority of men neither see nor understand the value of their souls, the true nature of God, nor the reality of a world to come! Notwithstanding all the discoveries of art and science, "darkness still covers the earth, and gross darkness the people." (Isaiah 60:2.)

For this state of things, the Lord Jesus Christ declares Himself to be the only remedy. He has risen, like the sun, to diffuse light, and life, and peace, and salvation, in the midst of a dark world. He invites all who want spiritual help and guidance to turn to Him, and take Him for their leader. What the sun is to the whole solar system—the center of light, and heat, and life, and fertility,—that He has come into the world to be to sinners.

Let this saying sink down into our hearts. It is weighty and full of meaning. False lights on every side invite man’s attention in the present day. Reason, philosophy, earnestness, liberalism, conscience, and the voice of the Church, are all, in their various ways, crying loudly that they have got "the light" to show us. Their advocates know not what they say. Wretched are those who believe their high professions! He only is the true light who came into the world to save sinners, who died as our substitute on the cross, and sits at God’s right hand to be our Friend. "In His light we shall see light." (Psalms 36:9.)

Let us notice, secondly, in these verses, what the Lord Jesus says of those that follow Him. He promises, "He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."

To follow Christ is to commit ourselves wholly and entirely to Him as our only leader and Savior, and to submit ourselves to Him in every matter, both of doctrine and practice. "Following" is only another word for "believing." It is the same act of soul, only seen from a different point of view. As Israel followed the pillar of cloud and fire in all their journeyings—moving whenever it moved, stopping whenever it tarried, asking no questions, marching on in faith,—so must a man deal with Christ. He must "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth." (Revelation 14:4.)

He that so follows Christ shall "not walk in darkness." He shall not be left in ignorance, like the many around him. He shall not grope in doubt and uncertainty, but shall see the way to heaven, and know where he is going.—He "shall have the light of life." He shall feel within him the light of God’s countenance shining on him. He shall find in his conscience and understanding a living light, which nothing can altogether quench. The lights with which many please themselves shall go out in the valley of the shadow of death, and prove worse than useless. But the light that Christ gives to every one that follows Him shall never fail.

Let us notice, lastly, in these verses, what the Lord Jesus says of His enemies. He tells the Pharisees that, with all their pretended wisdom, they were ignorant of God. "Ye neither know Me nor my Father: if ye had known Me, ye should have known my Father also."

Ignorance like this is only too common. There are thousands who are conversant with many branches of human learning, and can even argue and reason about religion, and yet know nothing really about God. That there is such a Being as God they fully admit. But His character and attributes revealed in Scripture, His holiness, His purity, His justice, His perfect knowledge, His unchangeableness, are things with which they are little acquainted. In fact, the subject of God’s nature and character makes them uncomfortable, and they do not like to dwell upon it.

The grand secret of knowing God is to draw near to Him through Jesus Christ. Approached from this side, there is nothing that need make us afraid. Viewed from this stand-point, God is the sinner’s friend. God, out of Christ, may well fill us with alarm. How shall we dare to look at so high and holy a Being?—God in Christ is full of mercy, grace, and peace. His law’s demands are satisfied. His holiness need not make us afraid. Christ in one word, is the way and door, by which we must ever draw nigh to the Father. If we know Christ, we shall know the Father. It is His own word,—"No man cometh unto the Father but by Me." (John 14:6.) Ignorance of Christ is the root of ignorance of God. Wrong at the starting-point, the whole sum of a man’s religion is full of error.

And now, where are we ourselves? Do we know? Many are living and dying in a kind of fog.—Where are we going? Can we give a satisfactory answer? Hundreds go out of existence in utter uncertainty.—Let us leave nothing uncertain that concerns our everlasting salvation. Christ, the light of the world, is for us as well as for others, if we humbly follow Him, cast our souls on Him, and become His disciples.—Let us not, like thousands, waste our lives in doubting, and arguing, and reasoning, but simply follow.—The child that says, "I will not learn anything till I know something," will never learn at all. The man that says, "I must first understand everything before I become a Christian," will die in his sins. Let us begin by "following," and then we shall find light.

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Notes

Before beginning the notes on this section, I will ask any one who doubts the genuineness of the first eleven verses of the chapter, to consider how very awkwardly John 8:12 would come in if it immediately followed John 7:52.—The omission of the disputed passage about the woman taken in adultery, however necessary some may think it, undoubtedly makes a breach in the connection which cannot be reasonably explained.—Omit the passage, and our Lord appears to break in upon the angry council of the Pharisees, foiled in their attempt to take Him, and vexed with Nicodemus for pleading for Him. This is surely very improbable, to say the least.—Retain the disputed passage, on the other hand, and the whole connection seems plain. A night has passed away. A sunrise is over the whole party assembled in the temple court. And our Lord begins again to teach by proclaiming a beautiful truth, appropriate to the occasion:—"I am the light of the world."

v12.—[Then spake Jesus again...them.] The expression "spake again" exactly fits in with the preceding narrative. It carries us back to John 8:2, where we read that our Lord was sitting in the temple and teaching the people, when the woman taken in adultery was brought before Him. This naturally interrupted and broke off His teaching for a time. But when the case was settled, and both accuser and accused had gone away, He resumed His teaching. Then the expression comes in most naturally, "He spake again." Once admit that the narrative of the woman is not genuine and must be left out, and there is really nothing with which to connect the words before us. We are obliged to look back as far as John 7:37 of the last chapter.

The same remark applies to the word "them." The natural application of it is to "the people" whom our Lord was teaching, in John 8:2, when the Scribes and Pharisees interrupted Him. Leave out the narrative of the woman, and there is nothing to which the word "them" can be referred, except the angry council of the Pharisees at the end of the seventh chapter.

[I am...light...world.] In this glorious expression, our Lord, we cannot doubt, declares Himself to be the promised Messiah or Saviour, of whom the prophets had spoken. The Jews would remember the words, "I will give Thee for a light of the Gentiles." (Isaiah 42:6, Isaiah 49:6.) So also Simeon had said, He would be "a light to lighten the Gentiles." (Luke 2:32.) Why He used this figure, and what He had in His mind in choosing it, is a point on which commentators do not agree. That He referred to something before His eyes is highly probable, and in keeping with His usual mode of teaching.

(1) Some think, as Aretius, Musculus, Ecolampadius, Bullinger, and Bp. Andrews, that He referred to the sun, then rising while He spoke. What the sun was to the earth, that He came to be to mankind.

(2) Some think, as Stier, Olshausen, Besser, D. Brown, and Alford, that He referred to the great golden lamps which used to be kept burning in the temple courts. He was the true light, able to enlighten men’s hearts and minds. They were nothing but ornaments, or at most, emblems.

(3) Some think, as Cyril and Lamp, that He referred to the pillar of cloud and fire which gave light to the Israelites, and guided them through the wilderness. He was the true guide to heaven, through the wilderness of this world.

The first of these three views seems to me most probable, and most in harmony with the context.

Rupertus remarks, that two grand declarations of Christ followed each other on two successive days at Jerusalem. On the last day of the feast He said,—"If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink." (John 7:37.) The very next day He said,—"I am the light of the world."

[He that followeth Me.] This means "following" as a disciple, servant, traveler, soldier, or sheep. What the teacher is to the scholar, the master to the servant, the guide to the traveler, the general to the soldier, the shepherd to the sheep, that is Christ to true Christians. "Following" is the same as "believing." See Matthew 16:24; Matthew 19:21; John 10:27; John 12:26. "Following" here, we must always remember, does not mean copying and imitating, but trusting, putting faith in another.

Musculus and Henry observe, that it is of no use that Christ is the light of the world if we do not follow Him. "Following" is the point on which all turns. It is not enough to gaze upon and admire the light. We must "follow" it.

[Shall not walk in darkness.] The expression "darkness" in the New Testament sometimes denotes sin, as 1 John 1:6, and sometimes ignorance and unbelief, as 1 Thessalonians 5:4. Some have thought that our Lord referred to the woman taken in adultery, and to such deeds of moral darkness as she had been guilty of. The meaning would then be,—"He that follows Me and becomes my disciple, shall be delivered from the power of darkness, and shall no longer commit such sins as you have just heard of."—Others, on the contrary, think that our Lord only referred to the intellectual darkness and ignorance of man’s mind, which He had come to illuminate. The meaning would then be,—"He that follows Me as my disciple shall no longer live in ignorance and darkness about his soul." I decidedly prefer this second view. The promise seems to me to have a special reference to the ignorance in which the Jews were, about everything concerning Christ, as shown in the preceding chapter.

[Shall have...light of life.] This expression means,—"He shall possess living light. He shall have spiritual light, as much superior to the light of any lamp or even of the sun, as the living water offered to the Samaritan woman was superior to the water of Jacob’s well." The spiritual light that Christ gives is independent of time or place,—is not affected by sickness or death,—burns on forever, and cannot be quenched. He that has it shall feel light within his mind, heart, and conscience,—shall see light before him on the grave, death, and the world to come,—shall have light shining round him, guiding him in his journey through life, and shall reflect light by his conduct, ways and conversation.

Chrysostom thinks that one purpose of this promise was to draw on and encourage Nicodemus, and to remind him of the former saying Jesus had used about light and darkness, John 3:20-21.

Augustine remarks on this verse, "What is our duty to do, Christ puts in the present tense: what He promised to them that do it, He hath denoted by a future time. He that followeth now, shall have hereafter,—followeth now by faith, shall have hereafter by sight. When by sight? When we shall have come to the vision yonder, when this night of ours shall have passed away." I should be sorry, however, to confine the promise to so limited an interpretation as this, and though I have no doubt it will only be completely fulfilled at the second advent, I still think that it is partially and spiritually fulfilled now to every believer.

Calvin remarks, that in this verse "Benefit is offered not only to one person or another, but to the whole world. By this universal statement Christ intended to remove the distinction, not only between Jews and Gentiles, but between learned and ignorant, between persons of distinction and common people." He also says,—"In the latter clause of the verse, the perpetuity of light is stated in express terms. We ought not to fear therefore lest it leave us in the middle of our journey."

Brentius remarks, that if a man could continually "follow" the sun, he would always be in broad daylight in every part of the globe. So it is with Christ and believers. Always following Him, they will always have light.

In this most precious and interesting verse there are several things which deserve our special attention.

(a) We should note the great assumed truth which lies underneath the whole verse. That truth is the fall of man. The world is in a state of moral and spiritual darkness. Naturally men know nothing rightly of themselves, God, holiness, or heaven. They need light.

(b) We should note the full and bold manner of our Lord’s declaration. He proclaims Himself to be "the light of the world." None could truly say this but One, who knew that He was very God. No Prophet or Apostle ever said it.

(c) We should note how our Lord says that He is "the light of the world." He is not for a few only, but for all mankind. Like the sun He shines for the benefit of all, though all may not value or use His light.

(d) We should note the man to whom the promise is made. It is to him "that followeth Me." To follow a leader if we are blind, or ignorant, or in the dark, or out of the way, requires trust and confidence. This is just what the Lord Jesus requires of sinners who feel their sins and want to be saved. Let them commit themselves to Christ, and He will lead them safe to heaven. If a man can do nothing for himself, he cannot do better than trust another and follow Him.

(e) We should note the thing promised to him who follows Jesus,—viz., deliverance from darkness and possession of light. This is precisely what Christianity brings to a believer. He feels, and sees, and has a sense of possessing something he had not before. God "shines into his heart and gives light." He is "called out of darkness into marvelous light." (2 Corinthians 4:4-6; 1 Peter 2:9.)

Melancthon thinks that this verse is only a brief summary of what our Lord said, and must be regarded as the text or keynote of a long discourse.

Bullinger remarks how useful it is to commit to memory and store up great sentences and maxims of Christ, like this verse.

v13.—[The Pharisees...said unto Him.] These "Pharisees" were probably some of the multitude who had come together to hear our Lord’s teaching, and not those who brought the woman taken in adultery to Him. The Pharisees were a powerful and widely-spread sect, and members of their body would be found in every crowd of hearers, ready to raise objections and find fault with anything our Lord said, wherever they thought there was an opportunity.

[Thou bearest record of thyself.] This would be more literally rendered, "thou dost witness about thyself."

[Thy record is not true.] This means,—"thy testimony is not trustworthy, and deserving of attention." The Pharisees evidently could not mean "thy testimony is false." They only meant that it was an acknowledged principle among men that a man’s testimony of his own character is comparatively worthless. Our Lord Himself had admitted this on a former occasion, when He said before the council,—"If I bear witness of myself my witness is not true." (John 5:31.) Solomon had said,—"Let another praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips." (Proverbs 27:2.)

v14.—[Jesus answered...though I bear record...true.] Our Lord meant by these words that even if He did testify of Himself, and make assertions about His own office and mission, His testimony ought not to be despised and disregarded as not trustworthy. Whether His enemies would hear it or not, what He said deserved credit, and was worthy of all acceptation.—"The testimony that I bear is not the testimony of a common witness, but of one who is thoroughly to be depended on."

[For I know whence I came, etc.] Our Lord here gives a solemn and weighty reason why His testimony to Himself ought to be reverently received by the Jews, and not refused. That reason was His divine nature and mission. He came to them and stood before them not as a common prophet and an every-day witness, but as one who knew the mysterious truth that He was the Divine Messiah, that should come into the world.—"I know whence I came:—I came forth from the Father, to be His Messenger to a lost world. I know whither I go:—I am about to return to my Father when I have finished His work, and to sit down at His right hand after my ascension. Knowing all this, I have a right to say that my testimony is trustworthy. You, on the other hand, are utterly ignorant about Me. You neither know nor believe my Divine origin nor mission. Justly, therefore, I may say that it matters little whether you think my testimony deserving of credit or not. Your eyes are blinded, and your opinion is worthless."

Chrysostom observes that our Lord "might have said, I am God. But He ever mingleth lowly words with sublime, and even these He veileth."

Bucer, Chemnitius, and Quesnel observe that our Lord’s argument is like that of an ambassador from a king, who says,—"I know my commission and Who sent Me, and therefore I claim attention to my message."

Webster paraphrases the sentence: "I speak in the full consciousness of my previous and future existence in the glory of the Father; and I therefore feel and assert my right to be believed on my own testimony. If you knew whence I came and whither I go, you would not want any other witness than myself. And this you might know if you were spiritual; but you are carnal, and judge after the flesh."

v15.—[Ye judge after the flesh.] The meaning of this sentence seems to be,—"You judge and decide everything on fleshly and worldly principles, according to the outward appearance. You estimate Me and my mission according to what you see with the eye. You presume to despise Me and set light by Me, because there is no outward grandeur and dignity about Me. Judging everything by such a false standard, you see no beauty in Me and my ministry. You have already set Me down in your own minds as an impostor, and worthy to die. Your minds are full of carnal prejudices, and hence my testimony seems worthless to you."

Calvin thinks that "flesh" is here used in opposition to "spirit," and that the meaning is, "You judge on carnal wicked principles;" and not, "You judge after the outward appearance." Most commentators think that the expression refers to our Lord’s humble appearance.

[I judge no man.] In these words our Lord puts in strong contrast the difference between Himself and His enemies. "Unlike you, I condemn and pass judgment on no man, even on the worst of sinners. It is not my present business and office, though it will be one day. I did not come into the world to condemn, but to save." (John 3:17.) It is useless, however, to deny that the connection between the beginning and the end of the verse is not clear. It seems to turn entirely on the twice-repeated word "judge," and the word appears to be used in two different senses.

Some have thought that our Lord refers to the case of the woman taken in adultery, and contrasts His own refusal to be a judge in her case, with the malicious readiness of the Pharisees to judge Him and condemn Him even when innocent. "I refuse to condemn even a guilty sinner. You on the contrary are ready to condemn Me, in whom you can find no fault, on carnal and worldly principles."

Some, as Bullinger, Jansenius, Trapp, Stier, Gill, Pearce, and Barnes have thought that the sentence before us means,—"I judge no man according to the flesh, as you do." But this view does not seem to harmonize with the following verse.

Bishop Hall paraphrases the verse thus: "Ye presume to judge according to your own carnal affections, and follow your outward senses in the judgment ye pass on Me. In the meantime ye will not endure Me, who do not challenge or reconcile that power which I might in judging you."

v16.—[And yet if I judge, my judgment, etc.] This verse seems to come in parenthetically. It appears intended to remind the Jews, that if our Lord did not assume the office of a judge now, it was not because He was not qualified. The sense is as follows: "Do not however suppose, because I say that I judge no man, that I am not qualified to judge. On the contrary, if I do pass judgment on any person’s actions or opinions, my judgment is perfectly correct and trustworthy. For I am not alone. There is an inseparable union between Me, and the Father that sent Me. When I judge, it is not I alone, but the Father with Me that judges. Hence, therefore, my judgment is and must be trustworthy." The reader should compare John 5:19, and John 5:30. The doctrine is the same. That mighty truth,—the inseparable union of the Father and the Son,—is the only key that unlocks the deep expression before us. Our Lord’s frequent reference to that truth, in John’s Gospel, should be carefully noted.

v17.—[It is also written, etc.] Our Lord, in this verse, reminds the Jews of an admitted principle of the law of Moses,—that the testimony of two witnesses deserved credit. (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15.) "You will admit that the testimony of two witnesses deserves credit at any rate, although one witness alone may prove nothing. Now, admitting this, hear what testimony I can adduce to the divine character of my mission."

Let it be noted, that where our Lord says "in YOUR law," He did not mean that He was above the law and did not recognize its authority. He only intended, by laying stress on the word "your," to remind the Jews that it was their own honored law of Moses, to which they were continually professing to refer, that laid down the great principle to which He was about to direct their attention. "It is written in the law that YOU speak of so much, and that you so often quote."

It admits of consideration whether our Lord did not mean to use the expression "of two men" emphatically. It may be that He would put in strong contrast the testimony of two mere men, with the testimony of Himself and His Father in heaven. It is like the expression, "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater." (1 John 5:9.) At any rate the word rendered "men" is emphatic in the Greek.

v18.—[I am one, etc.] The connection and sense of this verse are as follows: "Admitting that the testimony of two witnesses is trustworthy, I bid you observe that there are two witnesses to my Divine nature and mission. I myself, the Eternal Son, am one of these witnesses: I am ever testifying concerning myself. The Father that sent Me into the world is the other witness: He is ever testifying concerning Me. He has testified by the mouth of the Prophets in the Old Testament. He is testifying now by the miraculous works which He is continually doing by my hands." The reader should compare John 5:31-39.

There is undeniably something very remarkable about this verse. It seems a singular condescension on our Lord’s part to use the train of argument that it contains. The true solution probably lies in the very high dignity of the two witnesses, whom He places together before the Jews. The Greek words beginning the verse are peculiar, and can hardly be rendered in English. They will almost bear to be translated,—"I, the great I am, am the person witnessing about myself; and the Father," etc.

Chrysostom and Theophylact both remark that our Lord here claims equality of honor with the Father, by putting His testimony and the Father’s side by side.

Poole remarks: "Our Savior must not be understood here to distinguish himself from His Father in respect of His Divine being, for so He and His Father are one; but in respect of His office, as He was sent, and His Father was He who sent Him."

v19.—[Then said they...Where is thy Father?] This question of the Jews was probably not asked in a tone of serious inquiry, or from real desire to know. It was more likely sneering and sarcastic.

Calvin observes, "By these words they meant that they did not so highly value Christ’s Father as to ascribe anything to the Son on His account."

Hengstenberg bids us observe that they did not ask, "Who is thy Father?" but "Where is thy Father?" It sounds as if they looked round in contempt, as if scornfully expecting an earthly father to stand forth and testify to Christ.

[Jesus answered, Ye neither know Me...Father.] Our Lord here tells His enemies that they were ignorant both of Himself and of His Father in heaven. With all their pride of knowledge and fancied high attainments they knew nothing rightly either of the Father or the Son. The expression certainly favors the idea that the expression "Ye know me," (John 7:28,) must be taken as a slight sarcasm.

Let it be noted that great familiarity with the letter of Scripture is perfectly compatible with gross spiritual darkness. The Pharisees knew the Old Testament prophecies well; but they neither knew God nor Christ.

[If ye had known Me...my Father also.] These words teach plainly that ignorance of Christ and ignorance of God are inseparably connected. The man who thinks he knows anything rightly of God while he is ignorant of Christ is completely deceived. The God whom he thinks he knows is not the God of the Bible, but a God of his own fancy’s invention. At any rate he can have a most imperfect conception of God, and can have but little idea of His perfect holiness, justice, and purity. The words teach also that Christ is the way by which we must come to the knowledge of God. In Him, through Him, and by Him, we may come boldly into the Father’s presence, and behold His high attributes without fear.

He that would have saving, soul-satisfying religion, and become a friend and servant of God, must begin with Christ. Knowing Him as his Savior and Advocate, he will find it easy and pleasant to know God the Father. Those that reject Christ, like the Jews, will live and die in ignorance of God, however learned and clever they may be. But the poorest, humblest man, that lays hold on Christ and begins with Him, shall find out enough about God to make him happy for ever. In the matter of becoming acquainted with God it is the first step to know Jesus Christ, the Mediator, and to believe on Him.

Augustine and others think that the thought here is the same as that in the words spoken to Philip, when in reply to Philip’s question, "Lord, show us the Father," Jesus said, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." (John 14:8-9.) I think this is at least doubtful. The thing that Philip needed to know was the precise relation between the Father and the Son. The thing that the Jews needed was a right knowledge of God altogether.

v20.—[These words spake Jesus...treasury...temple.] This sentence seems meant to mark a pause or break in the discourse, and to show also how publicly and openly our Lord proclaimed His Messiahship. It was in a well known part of the temple called the treasury that He declared Himself to be "the light of the world," and defended His testimony.

Calvin thinks that "the treasury was a part of the temple where the sacred offerings were laid up, and therefore a much frequented place."

[No man laid hands on Him.] The remark made on a former occasion applies here. (John 7:30.) A divine restraint was laid on our Lord’s enemies. They felt unable to lift a finger against Him. They had the will to hurt, but not the power.

[His hour was not yet come.] The same deep thought that we remarked in John 7:30, comes up here again. There was a certain fixed time during which our Lord’s ministry was to last, and till that time was expired His enemies could not touch Him. When the time had expired, our Lord said, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness." (Luke 22:53.)

The expression should be carefully noticed, and remembered by all true Christians. It teaches that the wicked can do no harm to Christ and His members until God gives them permission. Not a hair of a believer’s head can be touched until God in His sovereign wisdom allows it.—It teaches that all times are in God’s hand. There is an allotted "hour" both for doing and for suffering. Till the hour comes for dying no Christian will die. When the hour comes nothing can prevent his death. These are comfortable truths, and deserve attention. Christ’s members are safe and immortal till their work is done. When they suffer it is because God wills it and sees it good.

Quesnel remarks: "A man enjoys the greatest peace of mind when he has once settled himself in a firm and steadfast belief of God’s providence, and an absolute dependence upon His design and will."

Verses 21-30

THIS passage contains deep things, so deep that we have no line to fathom them. As we read it we should call to mind the Psalmist’s words,—"Thy thoughts are very deep." (Psalms 92:5.) But it also contains, in the opening verses, some things which are clear, plain, and unmistakable. To these let us give our attention and root them firmly in our hearts.

We learn, for one thing, that it is possible to seek Christ in vain. Our Lord says to the unbelieving Jews, "Ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sins." He meant, by these words, that the Jews would one day seek Him in vain.

The lesson before us is a very painful one. That such a Savior as the Lord Jesus, so full of love, so willing to save, should ever be sought "in vain," is a sorrowful thought. Yet so it is! A man may have many religious feelings about Christ, without any saving religion. Sickness, sudden affliction, the fear of death, the failure of usual sources of comfort—all these causes may draw out of a man a good deal of "religiousness." Under the immediate pressure of these he may say his prayers fervently, exhibit strong spiritual feelings, and profess for a season to "seek Christ," and be a different man. And yet all this time his heart may never be touched at all! Take away the peculiar circumstances that affected him, and he may possibly return at once to his old ways. He sought Christ "in vain," because he sought Him from false motives, and not with his whole heart.

Unhappily this is not all. There is such a thing as a settled habit of resisting light and knowledge, until we seek Christ "in vain." Scripture and experience alike prove that men may reject God until God rejects them, and will not hear their prayer. They may go on stifling their convictions, quenching the light of conscience, fighting against their own better knowledge, until God is provoked to give them over and let them alone. It is not for nothing that these words are written,—"Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD." (Proverbs 1:28-29.) Such cases may not be common; but they are possible, and they are sometimes seen. Some ministers can testify that they have visited people on their death-beds who seem to seek Christ, and yet seek in vain.

There is no safety but in seeking Christ while He may be found, and calling on Him while He is near,—seeking Him with a true heart, and calling on Him with an honest spirit. Such seeking, we may be very sure, is never in vain. It will never be recorded of such seekers, that they "died in their sins." He that really comes to Christ shall never be "cast out." The Lord has solemnly declared that "He hath no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,"—and that "He delighteth in mercy." (Ezekiel 18:32; Micah 7:18.)

We learn for another thing, how wide is the difference between Christ and the ungodly. Our Lord says to the unbelieving Jews,—"Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world."

These words, no doubt, have a special application to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In the highest and most literal sense, there never was but One who could truly say, "I am from above,—I am not of this world." That One is He who came forth from the Father, and was before the world,—even the Son of God.

But there is a lower sense, in which these words are applicable to all Christ’s living members. Compared to the thoughtless multitude around them, they are "from above," and "not of this world," like their Master. The thoughts of the ungodly are about things beneath; the true Christian’s affections are set on things above. The ungodly man is full of this world; its cares and pleasures and profits, absorb his whole attention. The true Christian, though in the world, is not of it; his citizenship is in heaven, and his best things are yet to come.

The true Christian will do well never to forget this line of demarcation. If he loves his soul, and desires to serve God, he must be content to find himself separated from many around him by a gulf that cannot be passed. He may not like to seem peculiar and unlike others; but it is the certain consequence of grace reigning within him. He may find it brings on him hatred, ridicule, and hard speeches; but it is the cup which his Master drank, and of which his Master forewarned all His disciples.—"If ye were of the world the world would love His own, but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:19.)—Then let the Christian never be ashamed to stand alone and show his colors. He must carry the cross if he would wear the crown. If he has within him a new principle "from above," it must be seen.

We learn, lastly, how awful is the end to which unbelief can bring men. Our Lord says to his enemies, "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins."

These solemn words are invested with peculiar solemnity when we consider from whose lips they came. Who is this that speaks of men dying "in their sins," unpardoned, unforgiven, unfit to meet God,—of men going into another world with all their sins upon them? He that says this is no other than the Savior of mankind, who laid down His life for his sheep,—the loving, gracious, merciful, compassionate Friend of sinners. It is Christ Himself! Let this simple fact not be overlooked.

They are greatly mistaken who suppose that it is harsh and unkind to speak of hell and future punishment. How can such persons get over such language as that which is before us? How can they account for many a like expression which our Lord used, and specially for such passages as those in which He speaks of the "worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched"? (Mark 9:46.) They cannot answer these questions. Misled by a false charity and a morbid amiability, they are condemning the plain teaching of the Scripture, and are wise above that which is written.

Let us settle it in our minds, as one of the great foundation truths of our faith, that there is a hell. Just as we believe firmly that there is an eternal heaven for the godly, so let us believe firmly that there is an eternal hell for the wicked. Let us never suppose that there is any want of charity in speaking of hell. Let us rather maintain that it is the highest love to warn men plainly of danger, and to beseech them to "flee from the wrath to come." It was Satan, the deceiver, murderer, and liar, who said to Eve in the beginning, "Ye shall not surely die." (Genesis 3:4.) To shrink from telling men, that except they believe they will "die in their sins," may please the devil, but surely it cannot please God.

Finally, let us never forget that unbelief is the special sin that ruins men’s souls. Had the Jews believed on our Lord, all manner of sin and blasphemy might have been forgiven them. But unbelief bars the door in mercy’s face, and cuts off hope. Let us watch and pray hard against it. Immorality slays its thousands, but unbelief its tens of thousands. One of the strongest sayings ever used by our Lord was this,—"He that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:16.)

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Notes

v21.—[Then said Jesus again unto them.] There seems a break or pause between this verse and the preceding one. It is as if our Lord resumed discourse with a new leading thought or key-note. The other idea, viz., that "again" refers to John 7:34, and means that our Lord impressed on his hearers a second time that He would soon leave them, does not seem probable.—It seems not unlikely that in the first instance our Lord spoke of "going" to the officers of the priests and Pharisees, and that here He speaks to their masters, or at least to a different set of hearers.

[I go my way.] This must mean, "I am soon about to leave this world. My mission is drawing to a close. The time of My decease and sacrifice approaches, and I must depart, and go back to My Father in heaven, from whence I came."—The leading object of the sentence appears to be to excite in the minds of the Jews thought and inquiry about His divine nature. "I am one who came from heaven, and am going back to heaven. Ought you not to inquire seriously who I am?"

Chrysostom thinks our Lord said this, partly to shame and terrify the Jews, and partly to show them that His death would not be effected by their violence, but by His own voluntary submission.

[Ye shall seek me...die in...sins.] This means that His hearers would seek Him too late, having discovered too late that He was the Messiah whom they ought to have received. But the door of mercy would then be shut. They would seek in vain, because they had not known the day of their visitation. And the result would be that many of them would die miserably "in their sins,"—with their sins upon them unpardoned and unforgiven.

[Whither I go ye cannot come.] This must mean heaven, the everlasting abode of glory which the Son had with the Father before He came into the world, which He left for a season when He became incarnate, and to which He returned when He had finished the work of man’s redemption. To this a wicked man cannot come. Unbelief shuts him out. It is impossible in the nature of things that an unforgiven, unconverted, unbelieving man can go to heaven. The words in Greek are emphatic,—"Ye cannot come."

The notion of Augustine and others that "Ye shall seek Me" only means "ye shall seek Me in order to kill Me, as ye are wishing to do now, but at last I shall be withdrawn from your reach,"—seems to me quite untenable. The "seeking," to my mind, can only be the too late seeking of remorse.—The theory of some, that it refers exclusively to the time of the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, seems to me equally untenable. My belief is that from the time that our Lord left the world down to this day, the expression has been peculiarly true of the Jewish nation. They have been perpetually, in a sense, "seeking" and hungering after a Messiah, and yet unable to find Him, because they have not sought aright.—In saying this we must carefully remember that our Lord did not mean to say that any of His hearers were too sinful and bad to be forgiven. On the contrary, not a few of them that crucified Him found mercy on the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached. (Acts 2:22-41.) But our Lord did mean to say prophetically that the Jewish nation, as a nation, would be specially hardened and unbelieving, and that many of them, though an elect remnant might be saved, would "die in their sins." In proof of this peculiar blindness and unbelief of the Jewish nation we should study Acts 28:25-27; Romans 11:7, and 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16. The Greek expression for "sins" in this verse confirms the view. It is not, literally rendered, "sins," but "sin,"—your special sin of unbelief.

Let us note that it is possible to seek Christ too late, or from a wrong motive, and so to seek Him in vain. This is a very important principle of Scripture. True repentance, doubtless, is never too late, but late repentance is seldom true. There is mercy to the uttermost in Christ; but if men willfully reject Him, turn away from Him, and put off seeking Him in earnest, there is such a thing as "seeking Christ" in vain. Such passages as Proverbs 1:24-32; Matthew 25:11-12; Luke 13:24-27; Hebrews 6:4-8, and Hebrews 10:26-31, ought to be carefully studied.

Let us note that our Lord teaches plainly that it is possible for men to "die in their sins," and never come to the heaven where He has gone. This is flatly contrary to the doctrine taught by some in the present day, that there is no hell and no future punishment, and that all will finally go to heaven.

It is worthy of remark that our Lord’s words, "Ye shall seek Me," and "Whither I go ye cannot come," are used three times in this Gospel:—twice to the unbelieving Jews, here and John 7:34, and once to the disciples, John 13:33. But the careful reader will observe that in the two first instances the expression is coupled with, "Ye shall not find Me," and "Ye shall die in your sins." In the last, it evidently means the temporary separation between Christ and His disciples which would be caused by His ascension.

Melancthon observes that nothing seems to bring on men such dreadful guilt and punishment as neglect of the Gospel. The Jews had Christ among them and would not believe, and so when afterward they sought they could not find.

Rollock observes that the "seeking" which our Lord here foretells was like that of Esau, when he sought too late for the lost birthright.

Burkitt observes, "Better a thousand times to die in a ditch than to die in our sins! They that die in their sins shall rise in their sins, and stand before Christ in their sins. Such as lie down in sin in the grave shall have sin lie down with them in hell to all eternity. The sins of believers go to the grave before them; sin dieth while they live. The sins of unbelievers go to the grave with them."

v22.—[Then said the Jews, etc.] It is plain that this last saying of our Lord perplexed His enemies. It evidently implied something which they did not understand. In the preceding chapter (John 7:34-35) they began speculating whether it meant that our Lord was going forth into the world to teach the Gentiles. Here they start another conjecture, and begin to suspect that our Lord must mean His going into another world by death. But by what death did He think of going? Did He mean to "kill Himself"? It seems strange that they should start such an idea. But may it not be that their minds were occupied with their own plan of putting Him to death? "Will He really anticipate our plan, by committing suicide, and thus escape our hands?"

Origen suggests that the Jews had a tradition about the manner in which Messiah would die: viz., "that He would have power to depart at His own time, and in a way of His own choosing."

Rupertus observes that afterwards, at the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, many of the desperate Jews did the very thing they here said of our Lord—they killed themselves in madness of despair.

Melancthon remarks that nothing seems to anger wicked men so much as to be told they cannot come where Christ is.

v23.—[And He said, Ye are from beneath, etc.] Our Lord’s argument in this case appears to be as follows: "There is no union, harmony, or fellowship between you and Me. Your minds are entirely absorbed and buried in earth and objects of a mere earthly kind. You are from beneath, and of this world; while I came from heaven, and my heart is full of the things of heaven and my Father’s business. No wonder, therefore, that I said you cannot come where I go, and will die in your sins. Unless your hearts are changed, and you learn to be of one mind with Me, you are totally unmeet for heaven, and must at last die in your sins."

The expressions "from beneath" and "from above" are strong figurative phrases, intended to put in contrast earth and heaven. (See Colossians 3:1-2.) The Greek phrases literally rendered would be,—"Ye are from the things beneath: I am from the things above."

The expression "of this world" means bound up with, and inseparably connected by, tastes, aims, and affections, with this world, and nothing else but this world. It is the character of one utterly dead and graceless, who looks at nothing but the world, and lives for it. It is a character utterly at variance with that of our Lord, who was eminently "not of this world;" and therefore those who were of this character were incapable of union and friendship with Him."

Let it be noted that what our Lord says of Himself here is the very same thing that is said of His true disciples elsewhere. If a man has grace he is "not of this world." (See John 15:19; John 17:16; and 1 John 4:5.) Christ’s living members always have more or less of their Master’s likeness in this respect. They are always more or less separated from and distinct from this world. He that is thoroughly worldly has the plainest mark of not being a member of Christ and a true Christian.

Theophylact observes that the strange notion of the Apollinarian heretics, that our Lord’s body was not a real human body, but came down from heaven, was built on this verse for one of its reasons. But, as he remarks, they might as well say the Apostles had not common human bodies, since the same thing is said of them—"not of this world."

v24.—[I said therefore, etc.] This verse seems elliptical, and must be filled up in some such manner as this: "It is because you are thoroughly earthly and of this world, that I said, Ye cannot come where I go. You are not heavenly minded, and cannot go to heaven, but must go to your own place. The end will be that you will die in your sins. Not believing in Me as the Messiah, you cut yourselves off from all hope, and must die in your sins. This, in short, is the root of all your misery—your unbelief."

Let it be noted that unbelief is the thing that specially ruins men. All manner of sin may be forgiven. But unbelief bars the door against mercy. (Mark 16:16, and John 3:36.)

Let it be noted that unbelief was the secret of the Jews being so thoroughly "of the world." If they would only have believed in Christ, they would have been "delivered from this present evil world." The victory that overcomes the world is faith. Once believing on a heavenly Savior a man has a portion and a heart in heaven. (Galatians 1:4; 1 John 5:4-5.)

Let it be noted that there is nothing hard or uncharitable in warning men plainly of the consequences of unbelief. Never to speak of hell is not acting as Christ did.

The expression "believe not that I am He" would be more literally rendered "Believe not that I am." Hence some think that our Lord refers to the great name, well known to the Jews, under which God revealed Himself to Israel in Egypt,—"Say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent you." (Exodus 3:14.)

Augustine remarks that "the whole unhappiness of the Jews was not that they had sin, but to die in sins." He also observes, "In these words, Except ye believe that I am, Jesus meant nothing short of this, Except ye believe that I am God, ye shall die in your sins. It is well for us, thank God, that He said except ye believe, and not except ye understand."

Quesnel remarks: "It is a mistaken prudence to hide these dreadful truths from sinners, for fear of casting them into despair by the force of God’s judgments. We ought, on the contrary, to force them, by the sight of danger, to throw themselves into the arms of Christ, the only refuge for sinners."

v25.—[Then said they...Who art Thou?] This question cannot have been an honest inquiry about our Lord’s nature and origin. Our Lord had spoken so often of His Father,—for instance, in the fifth chapter, when before the council,—that the Jews of Jerusalem must have known well enough who and what He claimed to be. It is far more likely that they hoped to elicit from Him some fresh declaration which they could lay hold on, and make the ground of an accusation. Anger and malice seem at the bottom of the question—"Who art thou that sayest such things of us? Who art thou that undertakest to pronounce such condemnation on us?"

Ecolampadius thinks the question was asked sarcastically,—"Who art thou, indeed, to talk in this way?"

[And Jesus saith...even the same...beginning.]—Our Lord’s reply here seems so guarded and cautious, that it increases the probability of the Jews’ question being put with a malicious intention. He knew their thoughts and designs, and answered them by reminding them what He had always said of Himself: "Why ask Me who I am? You know well what I have always said of Myself. I am the same that I said to you from the beginning. I have nothing new to say."

Scott thinks it simply means, "I am the same that I told you at the beginning of this discourse,—the Light of the World."

There is an undeniable difficulty and obscurity about the sentence before us, and it has consequently received three different interpretations. The difficulty arises chiefly from the word "beginning."

(a) Some think, as our own English version, Chrysostom, Calvin, Bucer, Gualter, Cartwright, Rollock, and Lightfoot, that "beginning" means the beginning of our Lord’s ministry. "I am the same person that I told you I was from the very first beginning of My ministry among you." This view is confirmed by the Septuagint rendering of Genesis 43:18, Genesis 43:20.

(b) Some think, as Theophylact, Melancthon, Aretus, and Musculus, that "beginning" is an adverb, and means simply, "as an opening or beginning statement." "First of all, as a commencement of My reply, I tell you that I am what I always said I was."

(c) Some think, as Augustine, Rupertus, Toletus, Ferus, Jansenius, Lampe, and Wordsworth, that "beginning" is a substantive, and means the Beginning of all things, the personal Beginning, like "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End." (Revelation 1:8; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:13.) It would then mean, "I am the great beginning of all things, the eternal God, as I always said."

The reader must exercise his own judgment on these three views. The extreme brevity and conciseness of the Greek words make it very hard to give a decided opinion upon them. On the whole, I prefer the view taken by our translators. In three other places in John’s Gospel our Lord speaks of His early ministry as "the beginning." (John 6:64; John 15:27; John 16:4.) In no place in John’s Gospel does He ever call Himself "the beginning." As to the second view, that it only means, "First of all, as an opening statement," it seems to me so meager, flat, and bald, that I cannot think it is correct.

Rollock, who takes the view of our English version, observes what a bright example our Lord here sets to all Christian’s, and especially to ministers, of always telling the same story, and witnessing one and the same confession without variation.

v26.—[I have many things, etc.] This verse again is very elliptical. The meaning seems to be as follows: "You marvel and are angry at My saying that you are from beneath, and will die in your sin, and cannot come where I go. You ask who I am that speak and judge in this manner. But I tell you that I have many other things that I might say, and other judgments that I might pronounce about you. But I forbear now. Yet I tell you that He who sent Me is the one true God; and I only speak to the world things which I have heard of Him, and am commissioned by Him to proclaim. He that sent Me will prove them to be true one day."

The general idea seems to be that our Lord defends His right to speak decidedly and pronounce judgment on His enemies’ conduct on the ground of His divine mission, "I have a right to say what I have said; and I might say much more, because I am not a common prophet, but am commissioned and sent as the Word of the Father."

The frequency with which our Lord speaks of Himself as "sent by the Father," in John’s Gospel, should be carefully noticed.

When our Lord speaks of Himself as "hearing" things from the Father, we must remember that His language is accommodated to our understanding. The relation between the Father and the Son in the Trinity is something too mysterious for us fully to comprehend. The Son does not really and literally need the Father to "speak" to Him, and does not himself need to "hear" Him. The first and second Persons in the Trinity are ineffably united, though two distinct Persons.

Lightfoot thinks the latter part of this verse means, "He that sent Me hath of old said and judged of you, and He is true, and they are true things that He said. Of this kind are the passages Isaiah 11:10, and Isaiah 29:10, and from such predictions Christ concludes thus,—’ye shall die in your sins.’ "

v27.—[They understood not, etc.] Why the Jews who heard these words did not comprehend that our Lord spoke of the "Father" is not clear. They must have thought that "He that sent Me" meant some earthly sender. The extent to which our Lord’s hearers sometimes understood Him, as in John 5:18, and sometimes did not understand Him, as here, is a curious subject.

Alford observes: "There is no accounting for the ignorance of unbelief; as any minister of Christ knows by painful experience."

v28.—[Then said Jesus, etc.] This verse is prophetical. Our Lord predicts that after His crucifixion the Jews would know that He was the Messiah, that He had done all He had done not of His own private authority, but by God’s commission, and that He had spoken to the world only such things as the Father had taught and appointed Him to speak. But whether our Lord meant that His hearers would really believe with the heart and really confess His Messiahship, or that they would know it too late and be convinced when the day of grace was past and gone, is a nice and difficult question.

My own opinion, judging from the context and the analogy of other places, is in favor of the latter view: viz., that our Lord predicted the Jewish nation would know the truth and discover their own mistake too late. I think so because our Lord seems so frequently to allude to the light which would come on the minds of the Jewish nation at large after His death. They would be convinced though not converted.

Chrysostom thinks that our Lord meant, "Do you expect that you shall certainly rid yourselves of Me, and slay Me? I tell you that then ye shall most surely know that I am, by reason of the miracle of my resurrection, and the destruction of Jerusalem. When ye have been driven away from your place of worship, and it is not even allowed you to serve God as hitherto, then ye shall know that He doth this to avenge Me, and because He is wroth with those who would not hear Me."

Augustine takes the other side, and says: "Without doubt Jesus saw there some whom He knew, in His foreknowledge He had elected together with His other saints before the foundation of the world, that after His passion they should believe."

Euthymius, agreeing with Chrysostom, remarks how the crowds that saw our Lord crucified, and returned home smiting their breasts,—the centurion who superintended His crucifixion,—the chief priests who tried in vain to stifle the report of His resurrection,—and Josephus the historian, who attributed the misfortunes of the nation to their murder of Christ,—were all witnesses to the truth of this verse. When too late they knew who our Lord was.

(4) Alford thinks that the words admit of a double fulfillment, and that the Jews were to "know" that Jesus was the Christ, in two different ways. Some would know by being converted, some by being punished and judged.

The expression "lifted up," both here and elsewhere in John’s Gospel, can mean nothing but our Lord’s crucifixion and lifting up on the cross. (John 3:14, and John 12:32.) It is never used in any other sense, and the modern habit of talking of Christ as "lifted up," when magnified and exalted in the pulpit, is a total misapprehension, and a play upon words.

Rollock and others think that the phrase "lifted up" may fairly include all the consequences and effects of our Lord’s crucifixion, such as His second advent to judge the world, and that this will be the time when the unbelieving will at last know and be convinced that Christ is Lord of all. But the idea seems far-fetched.

The expression "then ye shall know" may possibly refer both to our Lord’s resurrection as well as His crucifixion. Certainly the rising again from the dead silenced our Lord’s enemies in a way that nothing else ever did.

The expression "that I am he," here as elsewhere, might be equally well rendered "that I am;" that I am the great "I AM," the Messiah.

The phrase "that I do nothing of myself" is the same that we have had frequently before, as in John 5:19, John 5:30. It means "that I do nothing of My own independent authority." The reference is to the perfect union between the Son and the Father.

The expression, "as my Father hath taught Me I speak these things," again bears special reference to the divine commission of our Lord and the perfect union between Himself and His Father. "I do not speak the things I speak of Myself and by My own authority only. I speak nothing but what my Father has taught, commissioned, and appointed Me to speak." (Compare John 8:7, John 8:16, and John 8:26 of this chapter.)

Augustine says here: "Do not as it were represent to yourselves two men, the one father, the other son, and the father speaking to the son, as thou doest when thou sayest certain words to thy son, advising and instructing him how to speak, that whatever he has heard from thee he may commit to memory, and having committed to memory utter also with the tongue. Do not so conceive. Stature and motion of the body, the office of the tongue, distinction of sounds, do not go about to conceive them in the Trinity." Again: "Incorporeally the Father spake to the Son, because incorporeally the Father begat the Son. And He taught him not as if He had begotten Him ignorant and in need of teaching; but this ’taught’ is the same as begat Him knowing."

v29.—[And He that sent Me, etc.] This verse contains once more that deep and oft-repeated truth, the entire unity between God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the consequent entire and complete harmony between the mind of the Father and the mind of the Son. It contains moreover that entire and complete performance of the Father’s will by the Son, and that perfect righteousness, obedience, and holiness, wherewith the Father is well-pleased.

When we read such words as "he that sent Me is with Me," and "hath not left Me alone," we must remember that there is much in them which we cannot fully explain. We must be content to believe that the Father was "with" the Son, and never "left" Him during the whole period of His incarnation, in an ineffable and inscrutable manner. Perhaps also there is a reference to Isaiah 50:7-9.

Augustine remarks: "Albeit both are together, yet one was sent, and the other did send. The Father sent the Son, yet quitted not the Son."

When we read such words as "I do always those things that please Him," we must see in the expression a description of that spotless perfection with which the Son during His incarnation constantly pleased the eternal Father.

Let Christians never forget the practical lesson that in this verse, as in many other places, Christ is their example and their encouragement. Like Him, however short they may come, let them aim at "always doing what pleases God." Like Him, let them be sure that so doing they will find the Father "with them," and will never be left quite "alone."

Calvin remarks: "This is the courage with which we ought to be animated in the present day, that we may not give way on account of the small number of believers: for though the whole world be opposed to His doctrine, still we are not alone. Hence it is evident how foolish is the boasting of the Papists, who, while they neglect God, proudly boast of their vast numbers."

v30.—[As He spake these words, many believed on Him.] There can be little doubt that "these words" in this place, refer to the whole discourse which was delivered at this time, and not to the single verse which immediately precedes this one. It is possible that the reference to Isaiah 50:7-9, may have brought light to the Jews’ minds, and explained our Lord’s relation to the Father, and His claim to be received as the Messiah.—Otherwise it is not very clear what it was that made "many believe" on Him at this juncture. There is, however, no reason to think that the "belief" here was anything more than a head belief that our Lord was the Messiah. That many did so believe whose hearts remained unchanged, there can be little doubt. The same expression occurs at John 10:42, and John 11:45, and John 12:42. The extent to which men may be intellectually convinced of the truth of religion, and know their duty, while their hearts are unrenewed, and they continue in sin, is one of the most painful phenomena in the history of human nature. Let us never be content with believing things to be true, without a personal laying hold on the living Person, Christ Jesus, and actually following Him.

Chrysostom observes, "They believed, yet not as they ought, but carelessly and by chance, being pleased and refreshed by the humility of the words. For that they had not perfect faith, the Evangelist shows by their speeches after this, in which they insult him again. Theophylact, Zwingle, and Calvin take the same view.

Verses 31-36

THESE verses show us, for one thing, the importance of steady perseverance in Christ’s service. There were many, it seems, at this particular period, who professed to believe on our Lord, and expressed a desire to become His disciples. There is nothing to show that they had true faith. They appear to have acted under the influence of temporary excitement, without considering what they were doing. And to them our Lord addresses this instructive warning,"If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed."

This sentence contains a mine of wisdom. To make a beginning in religious life is comparatively easy. Not a few mixed motives assist us. The love of novelty, the praise of well-meaning but indiscreet professors, the secret self-satisfaction of feeling "how good I am," the universal excitement attending a new position,all these things combine to aid the young beginner. Aided by them he begins to run the race that leads to heaven, lays aside many bad habits, takes up many good ones, has many comfortable frames and feelings, and gets on swimmingly for a time. But when the newness of his position is past and gone, when the freshness of his feelings is rubbed off and lost, when the world and the devil begin to pull hard at him, when the weakness of his own heart begins to appear,then it is that he finds out the real difficulties of vital Christianity. Then it is that he discovers the deep wisdom of our Lord’s saying now before us. It is not beginning, but "continuing" a religious profession, that is the test of true grace.

We should remember these things in forming our estimate of other people’s religion. No doubt we ought to be thankful when we see any one ceasing to do evil and learning to do well. We must not "despise the day of small things." (Zechariah 4:10.) But we must not forget that to begin is one thing, and to go on is quite another. Patient continuance in well-doing is the only sure evidence of grace. Not he that runs fast and furiously at first, but he that keeps up his speed, is he that "runs so as to obtain." By all means let us be hopeful when we see anything like conversion. But let us not make too sure that it is real conversion, until time has set its seal upon it. Time and wear test metals, and prove whether they are solid or plated. Time and wear, in like manner, are the surest tests of a man’s religion. Where there is spiritual life there will be continuance and steady perseverance. It is the man who goes on as well as begins, that is "the disciple indeed."

These verses show us, for another thing, the nature of true slavery. The Jews were fond of boasting, though without any just cause, that they were politically free, and were not in bondage to any foreign power. Our Lord reminds them that there was another bondage to which they were giving no heed, although enslaved by it."He that commiteth sin is the servant of sin."

How true that is! How many on every side are thorough slaves, although they do not acknowledge it! They are led captive by their besetting corruptions and infirmities, and seem to have no power to get free. Ambition, the love of money, the passion for drink, the craving for pleasure and excitement, gambling, gluttony, illicit connections,all these are so many tyrants among men. Each and all have crowds of unhappy prisoners bound hand and foot in their chains. The wretched prisoners will not allow their bondage. They will even boast sometimes that they are eminently free. But many of them know better. There are times when the iron enters into their souls, and they feel bitterly that they are slaves.

There is no slavery like this. Sin is indeed the hardest of all taskmasters. Misery and disappointment by the way, despair and hell in the end,these are the only wages that sin pays to its servants. To deliver men from this bondage, is the grand object of the Gospel. To awaken people to a sense of their degradation, to show them their chains, to make them arise and struggle to be free,this is the great end for which Christ sent forth His ministers. Happy is he who has opened his eyes and found out his danger. To know that we are being led captive, is the very first step toward deliverance.

These verses, show us, lastly, the nature of true liberty. Our Lord declares this to the Jews in one comprehensive sentence. He says, "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."

Liberty, most Englishmen know, is rightly esteemed one of the highest temporal blessings. Freedom from foreign dominion, a free constitution, free trade, a free press, civil and religious liberty,what a world of meaning lies beneath these phrases! How many would sacrifice life and fortune to maintain the things which they represent! Yet, after all our boasting, there are many so-called freemen who are nothing better than slaves. There are many who are totally ignorant of the highest, purest form of liberty. The noblest liberty is that which is the property of the true Christian. Those only are perfectly free people whom the Son of God "makes free." All else will sooner or later be found slaves.

Wherein does the liberty of true Christians consist? Of what is their freedom made up?They are freed from the guilt and consequences of sin by the blood of Christ. Justified, pardoned, forgiven, they can look forward boldly to the day of judgment, and cry "Who shall lay anything to our charge? Who is he that condemneth?"They are freed from the power of sin by the grace of Christ’s Spirit. Sin has no longer dominion over them. Renewed, converted, sanctified, they mortify and tread down sin, and are no longer led captive by it.Liberty, like this, is the portion of all true Christians in the day that they flee to Christ by faith, and commit their souls to Him. That day they become free men. Liberty, like this, is their portion for evermore. Death cannot stop it. The grave cannot even hold their bodies for more than a little season. Those whom Christ makes free are free to all eternity.

Let us never rest till we have some personal experience of this freedom ourselves. Without it all other freedom is a worthless privilege. Free speech, free laws, political freedom, commercial freedom, national freedom,all these cannot smooth down a dying pillow, or disarm death of his sting, or fill our consciences with peace. Nothing can do that but the freedom which Christ alone bestows. He gives it freely to all who seek it humbly. Then let us never rest till it is our own.

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Notes

v31.—[Then Jesus said...Jews...believed...Him.] It is clear, I think, from the tone of the conversation that runs from this verse uninterruptedly to the end of the chapter, that this "believing" was not faith of the heart. These Jews only "believed" that our Lord was One sent from heaven, and deserved attention. But they were the same Jews to whom He says by and by, "Ye are of your father the devil."

[If ye continue...my word...disciples indeed.] This sentence does not mean that these Jews had really begun to receive Christ’s word into their hearts. Such a sense would be contradictory to the context. It must mean: "If you take up a firm stand on that Gospel and Word of Truth which I have come to proclaim, and go on sticking firmly to it in your hearts and lives, not merely convinced and wishing, but actually following Me, then you are truly My disciples."—The word rendered "indeed" is more literally, "truly." The converse throws light on our Lord’s meaning: "You are not truly disciples, unless you continue steadfast in My doctrine."

Our Lord teaches the great principle, that steady continuance is the only real and safe proof of discipleship. No perseverance, no grace! No continuance in the word, no real faith and conversion! This is one of the meeting-points between Calvinist and Arminian. He that has true grace will not fall away. He that falls away has no true grace, and must not flatter himself he is a disciple.

Let us note that it is not the "word continuing in us," but "our continuing in the word," which makes us true disciples. The distinction is very important. The word "might continue in us," and not be seen. If we "continue in the word," our lives will show it. In John 15:7 we have both expressions together: "If ye abide in Me, and my words abide in you."

v32.—[And ye shall know the truth.] The expression, "the truth," here cannot, I think, mean the Personal Truth, the Messiah. It must be the whole doctrinal truth concerning Myself, My nature, My mission, and My Gospel. Steady continuance in My service shall lead to clear knowledge. It is a parallel saying to the sentence, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine." (John 7:17.) Honest obedience and steady perseverance in acting up to our light, and doing what we learn, are one grand secret of obtaining more knowledge.

Chrysostom however thinks that our Lord means by "truth," Himself. "Ye shall know Me, for I am the truth." So also Augustine, Theophylact, Euthymius, and Lampe.

[The truth shall make you free.] This freedom can only mean spiritual freedom,—freedom from the guilt, burden, and dominion of sin,—freedom from the heavy yoke of Pharisaism, under which many Jews were laboring and heavy laden. (Matthew 11:28.) "The Gospel I preach, and its good news, shall deliver you from spiritual bondage, and make you feel like men set at liberty."

I think these words must have been spoken with special reference to the bondage and spiritual slavery in which the Jews were kept by their principal teachers, when our Lord came among them. In the synagogue at Nazareth He had said, that He came "to preach deliverance to the captives." (Luke 4:18.) This, however, is the first place in the Gospels where He openly declares that His Gospel will give men freedom.

Until truth comes into a man’s heart, he never really knows what it is to feel true spiritual liberty.

Augustine says, "To Christ let us all flee. Against sin let us call on God to interpose as our Liberator. Let us ask to be taken on sale, that we may be redeemed by His blood."

v33.—[They answered, We be Abraham’s seed.] Here we see the usual pride of carnal descent coming out in the Jewish mind. It is just what John the Baptist told them when he preached, "Think not to say that we have Abraham to our father." (Matthew 3:9.)

[And were never in bondage to any man.] This is the blindness of pride in its strongest form. The seed of Abraham were in bondage to the Egyptians and Babylonians for many years, to say nothing of the frequent bondages to Philistines, and other nations, as recorded in the book of Judges. Even now, while they spoke, they were in subjection to the Romans. The power of self-deception in unconverted man is infinite. These Jews were not more unreasonable than many now-a-days, who say, "We are not dead in sin,—we have grace, we have faith, we are regenerate, we have the Spirit," while their lives show plainly that they are totally mistaken.

[How sayest thou...made free?] This question was partly asked in anger and resentment, and partly in curiosity. Angry as the Jews were at the idea of being subject to any one, they yet caught at the expression "be made free." It made them think of the glorious kingdom of Messiah, foretold in the Prophets.—"Art Thou going to restore the kingdom to Israel? Art Thou going to set us free from the Romans?"

We should observe here, as elsewhere, the readiness of our Lord’s hearers to put a carnal sense on spiritual language. Nicodemus misunderstanding the new birth, the Samaritan woman and the living waters, the Capernaites and the bread from heaven, are all illustrations of what I mean. (See John 3:4; John 4:11; John 6:34.)

Pearce thinks the Jews here spoke of themselves individually, and not of the Jewish nation. Yet surely, even when they spoke, they were subject to the Romans.

Henry observes: "Carnal hearts are sensible of no other grievances than those that molest the body and injure their secular affairs. Talk to them of encroachments on their civil liberty and property,—tell of waste committed on their lands, or damage done to their houses, and they understand you very well, and can give you a sensible answer: the thing touches and affects them. But discourse to them of the bondage of sin, or captivity to Satan, and a liberty by Christ,—tell them of wrong done to their souls, and you bring strange things to them."

v34.—[Jesus answered, etc.] In this verse our Lord shows His hearers what kind of freedom He had meant, by showing the kind of slavery from which He wished them to be delivered. Did they ask in what sense He meant they should be made free? Let them know, first of all, that in their present state of mind, wicked, worldly, and unbelieving, they were in a state of bondage. Living in habitual sin they were the "servants of sin." This was a general proposition which they themselves must admit. The man that lived wilfully in habits of sin was acknowledged by all to be the slave of sin. Sin ruled over him, and he was its servant. This was an axiom in religion which they could not dispute, for even heathen philosophers admitted it. (See Romans 6:16-20; 2 Peter 2:19.)

"Committeth," we must remember here, does not mean "commits an act of sin," but habitually lives in the commission of sin. It is in this sense that John says, "He that committeth sin is of the devil," and "He that is born of God doth not commit sin." (1 John 3:8-9.)

v35.—[And the servant abideth not, etc.] This is a difficult, because a very elliptical verse. The leading object in our Lord’s mind seems to be to show the Jews the servile and slavish condition in which they were, so long as they rejected Him, the true Messiah, and the free and elevated position which they would occupy if they would believe in Him and become His disciples.—"At present, living under the bondage of the ceremonial law, and content with it and Pharisaic traditions, you are no better than slaves and servants, liable, like Hagar and Ishmael, to be cast out of God’s favor and presence at any moment.—Receiving Me, and believing on Me as the Messiah, you would at once be lifted to the position of sons, and would abide for ever in God’s favor, as adopted children and dear sons and daughters.—You know yourselves that the servant has no certain tenure in the house, and may be cast out at any time; while the son is heir to the father, and has a certain tenure in the house forever.—Know that I wish you to be raised from the relation of servants to that of sons. Now, under the bondage you are in, you are like slaves. Receiving Me and My Gospel you would become children and free."

Something like this seems the leading idea in our Lord’s mind. But it is vain to deny that it is a dark and difficult sentence, and requires much filling up and paraphrasing to complete its meaning. The simplest plan is to take it as a parenthesis. It then becomes a comment on the word "servant," which to a Jew, familiar with the story of Hagar and Ishmael, would be very instructive, and would convey the latent thought that our Lord wished them to be not servants but sons. I cannot for a moment think that "the Son" in the last clause means the Son of God, or that the whole clause was meant to teach His eternity.

It is certainly possible that a deep mystical sense may lie under the words "servant" and "son" in this verse. "Servant" may mean the Jew, content with the inferior and servile religion of Moses. "Son" may mean the believer in Christ, who receives the adoption and enjoys Gospel liberty. He that is content with Judaism will find his system and religion soon pass away. He that enters into Christ’s service will find himself a son for ever. But this is at best only conjectural, and a somewhat questionable interpretation.

One thing, at any rate, is very clear to my mind. The latent thought in our Lord’s mind is a reference to the story of Hagar and her son Ishmael being cast out as bond-servants, while Isaac the son and heir abode in the house. He wished to impress on His hearers’ minds, that he desired them, like Isaac, to have the privilege of sons forever, and to be free to all eternity. Keeping this thought in view, and regarding the verse as a parenthesis, its difficulties are not insuperable.

Chrysostom says: " ’Abideth not’ means ’hath not power to grant favors, as not being master of the house;’ but the son is master of the house." The Jewish priests were the servants, and Christ was the Son. The priests had no power to set free; the Son of God had. Theophylact and Euthymius take the same view.

Maldonatus calls attention to the expression in Hebrews, where Moses and Christ are put in contrast, and each in connection with the word "house," Moses as a servant, Christ as a Son. Paul certainly seems there to refer to this passage. (Hebrews 3:2, Hebrews 3:5-6.)

v36.—[If the Son shall make you free, etc.] In this verse our Lord explains what He had meant by freedom. It was a freedom from sin, its guilt, and power, and consequences, which believers in Him were to receive. "If I, the Son of man, make you free, in the sense of delivering you from the burden of sin, then you will be free indeed!" This was the freedom that He wished them to obtain. Here, as elsewhere, our Lord carefully avoids saying anything to bring on Himself the charge of rebelling against constituted authorities, and of heading a popular rise for liberty.

The word rendered "indeed" here is not the word so rendered at John 8:31. Here it means "really, in reality," from the participle of the verb "to be." There it means "truly."

Let us not forget in these days that the only liberty which is truly valuable in God’s sight is that which Christ gives. All political liberty, however useful for many purposes, is worthless, unless we are children of God, and heirs of the kingdom, by faith in Jesus. He only is perfectly free who is free from sin. All beside are slaves. He that would be free in this fashion has only to apply to Christ for freedom. It is the peculiar office and privilege of the Lord Jesus, to enfranchise forever all who come to Him.

Augustine carries the freedom here promised far into the future. He remarks, "When shall there be full and perfect liberty? When there shall be no enemies, when the last enemy shall be destroyed, even death."

Verses 37-47

THERE are things taught in this passage of Scripture which are peculiarly truth for the times. Well would it be for the Churches if all Christians would ponder carefully the matter which it contains.

We are taught for one thing the ignorant self-righteousness of the natural man. We find the Jews pluming themselves on their natural descent from Abraham, as if that must needs cover all deficiencies: "Abraham is our father." We find them going even further than this, and claiming to be God’s special favorites and God’s own family: "We have one Father, even God." They forgot that fleshly relationship to Abraham was useless, unless they shared Abraham’s grace. They forgot that God’s choice of their father to be head of a favored nation, was never meant to carry salvation to the children, unless they walked in their father’s footsteps. All this in their blind self-conceit they refused to see. "We are Jews. We are God’s children. We are the true Church. We are in the covenant. We must be all right." This was their whole argument!

Strange as it may seem, there are multitudes of so-called Christians who are exactly like these Jews. Their whole religion consists of a few notions neither wiser nor better than those propounded by the enemies of our Lord. They will tell you that "they are regular Church people; they have been baptized; they go to the Lord’s table;"—but they can tell you no more. Of all the essential doctrines of the Gospel they are totally ignorant. Of faith, and grace, and repentance, and holiness, and spiritual mindedness they know nothing at all. But, forsooth! they are Churchmen, and so they hope to go to heaven! There are myriads in this condition. It sounds sad, but unhappily it is only too true.

Let us settle firmly in our minds that connection with a good Church and good ancestors is no proof whatever that we ourselves are in the way to be saved. We need something more than this. We must be joined to Christ himself by a living faith. We must know something experimentally of the work of the Spirit in our hearts. "Church principles," and "sound Churchmanship," are fine words and excellent party cries. But they will not deliver our souls from "the wrath to come," or give us boldness in the day of judgment.

We are taught for another thing the true marks of spiritual sonship. Our Lord makes this point most plain by two mighty sayings. Did the Jews say, "We have Abraham to our father"? He replies, "If ye were Abraham’s children ye would do the work of Abraham."—Did the Jews say, "We have one Father, even God"? He replies, "If God were your Father ye would love Me."

Let these two sayings of Christ sink down into our hearts. They supply an answer to two of the most mischievous, yet most common, errors of the present day. What more common, on one side, than vague talk about the universal Fatherhood of God? "All men," we are told, "are God’s children, whatever be their creed or religion: all are finally to have a place in the Father’s house, "where there are many mansions."—What more common, on another side, than high-sounding statements about the effect of baptism and the privileges of Church-membership?

"By baptism," we are confidently told, "all baptized people are made children of God; all members of the Church, without distinction, have a right to be addressed as sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty."

Statements like these can never be reconciled with the plain language of our Lord in the passage before us. If words mean anything, no man is really a child of God, who does not love Jesus Christ. The charitable judgment of a baptismal service, or the hopeful estimate of a catechism, may call him by the name of a son, and reckon him among God’s children. But the reality of sonship to God, and all its blessings, no one possesses who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. (Ephesians 6:24.) In matters like these we need not be shaken by mere assertions. We may well afford to despise the charge of undervaluing the sacraments. We have only to ask one question: "What is written? What saith the Lord?" And with this saying before us, we can only come to one conclusion: "Where there is no love to Christ, there is no sonship to God."

We are taught, lastly, in these verses, the reality and character of the devil. Our Lord speaks of him as one whose personality and existence are beyond dispute. In solemn words of stern rebuke He says to His unbelieving enemies, "Ye are of your father the devil"—led by him, doing his will, and showing unhappily that you are like him. And then He paints his picture in dark colors, describing him as a "murderer" from the beginning, as a "liar" and the father of lies.

There is a devil! We have a mighty invisible enemy always near us,—one who never slumbers and never sleeps,—one who is about our path and about our bed, and spies out all our ways, and will never leave us till we die.—He is a murderer! His great aim and object is to ruin us for ever and kill our souls. To destroy, to rob us of eternal life, to bring us down to the second death in hell, are the things for which he is unceasingly working. He is ever going about, seeking whom he may devour.—He is a liar! He is continually trying to deceive us by false representations, just as he deceived Eve at the beginning. He is always telling us that good is evil and evil good,—truth is falsehood and falsehood truth,—the broad way good and the narrow way bad. Millions are led captive by his deceit, and follow him, both rich and poor, both high and low, both learned and unlearned. Lies are his chosen weapons. By lies he slays many.

These are awful things; but they are true. Let us live as if we believed them. Let us not be like many who mock, and sneer, and scoff, and deny the existence of the very being who is invisibly leading them to hell. Let us believe there is a devil, and watch, and pray, and fight hard against his temptations. Strong as he is, there is One stronger than he, who said to Peter, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not," and who still intercedes at God’s right hand. Let us commit our souls to Him. (Luke 22:32; 1 Peter 4:19.) With such a being as the devil going to and fro in the world, we never need wonder to see evil abounding. But with Christ on our side, we need not be afraid. Greater is He that is for us, than he that is against us. It is written, "Resist the devil, and he shall flee from you."—"The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." (James 4:7; Romans 16:20.)

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Notes

v37.—[I know that ye are Abraham’s seed.] In this verse our Lord takes up the arrogant boast of the Jews, that they were Abraham’s seed. He had replied to their assertion, "We were never in bondage to any man," by showing the nature of true bondage and true liberty. He now returns to their opening saying, "We be Abraham’s seed," and begins by telling them that He knew, and fully admitted, their carnal descent from Abraham.

[But ye seek to kill me.] This must mean, "Your relation to Abraham does you no good, for ye are seeking to murder Me at this very moment, though I have come to fulfill the promises made to Abraham."

Here, as well as at John 8:40, and John 7:19, our Lord shows His perfect knowledge of all the designs of His enemies. He gives us an example of steady perseverance in God’s work, even though we know our lives are in peril.

[Because my word hath no place in you.] This means, "Because the Gospel I preach, the message I brought from my Father, makes no way or progress in your hearts, or among you."—The Greek word, which our translators have rendered "hath place," is never so rendered elsewhere. The idea here seems to be that of "going forward, spreading, and marching on."

This describes literally the condition of many who hear Christ’s word in every age. It seems to come to a dead stand-still or halt in their hearts, and to make no way with them.

v38.—[I speak that, etc.] The sense of this verse appears to be filled up thus: "The truth is, that there is an entire gulf and breach between you and Me. I speak, and am ever speaking, the doctrine which I have seen with my Father, in our eternal councils about mankind, and which I am sent by Him to proclaim to the world. You, on the other hand, do and are always doing the things which your father the devil presents to your minds, and which you have seen and imbibed into your characters, under his influence."

When our Lord speaks of what He has "seen" with His Father, we must remember, as elsewhere, that He uses language accommodated to our weak capacities, to describe the relation between Himself and the first Person in the Trinity. Compare John 3:32 and John 5:19.

There can be no doubt that the "father" of the Jews, to whom our Lord here refers, is "the devil," when we read the verses following. It conveys an awful idea of the state of unbelieving and wicked men, that they are doing what they have seen and learned from the devil. There may, however, be special reference to the design of the Jews to kill Christ. Our Lord’s meaning may be, "Ye are doing what ye have seen with the devil your father. He has suggested to you to kill Me, and you are listening to his suggestion."

v39.—[They answered...Abraham is our Father.] This is a repetition of what the Jews had already said. Startled at what our Lord said about their "father," they reassert emphatically their relationship to Abraham.—"What do you mean by thus speaking of our father? Abraham is our father."

[Jesus saith...if ye were Abraham’s children...works of Abraham.] Our Lord here tells them that it is possible to be Abraham’s children according to the flesh, and yet not Abraham’s children according to the Spirit.—"If ye were true spiritual descendants of Abraham, you would show it by doing such things as Abraham did. Your works would be like his, because springing from a like faith."

The distinction here drawn by our Lord is a very important one for Christians to notice. The utter uselessness of carnal relationship, or formal outward succession, is a truth which man does not like to admit, but one that needs to be constantly taught in the Churches. How common to hear men say, "we belong to the one true Church; we are in the direct succession from the Apostles." Such claims are utterly useless, if not accompanied by "works."

We must never forget the importance of "works," if put in their right place. They cannot justify us. They are at best full of imperfection. But they are useful evidences, and serve to show whose we are, and what our religion is worth.

v40.—[But now ye seek to kill Me, etc.] Our Lord in this verse confirms the charge made in the preceding one,—that His enemies were not Abraham’s spiritual children, although carnally descended from Abraham.—"At this very moment you are wishing and endeavoring to put Me to death, not for any crime, but simply because I have spoken to you that mighty message of truth which I heard from My Father, and am sent to proclaim to the world as the Messiah. This is the very opposite of what your great forefather Abraham would have done. He longed to see My day. He rejoiced in the prospect of it. He would have hailed My appearance and message with delight. Your conduct, therefore, is an unanswerable proof that you are not Abraham’s spiritual children."

Our Lord’s argument is the same that Paul uses to the Romans. "He is not a Jew which is one outwardly."—"They which are the children of the flesh are not the children of God." (Romans 2:28-29; Romans 9:8.) The importance of it cannot be overrated. It establishes the great principle that fleshly relationship, or ecclesiastical connection, is nothing without grace in the heart, and indeed only adds to a man’s condemnation.

The expression "this did not Abraham" is a Hebraism. Of course literally Abraham could not "seek to kill" Christ, because he never lived with Him on earth. The meaning must be "Your conduct is the very opposite of what Abraham would have done, and utterly contrary to the general tenor of what he did while he lived." Compare Deuteronomy 17:3; Jeremiah 7:22-31; Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:35, where the same form of speech is used.

When our Lord calls Himself here simply "a man," He uses an expression which He nowhere else employs in the Gospels. As a rule, He calls Himself "the Son of man," when speaking of His human nature. Here, however, He seems to speak of Himself in the point of view in which His unbelieving enemies ought to have regarded Him, if they could not yet acknowledge His divinity. "I am among you a man speaking the truth: and yet ye seek to kill Me."—The attempt of Jews and Socinians to show that our Lord was not really God, founded on this text, is futile. Our Lord’s real and true humanity no sound Trinitarian thinks of denying.

v41.—[Ye do the deeds of your father.] This means "You are doing the things that your father the devil approves and suggests to you. You are showing yourselves genuine children of the devil, by doing his works." The word "ye" in the Greek is emphatic, and may possibly be intended to contrast with "I," at the beginning of John 8:38.

[Then said they...not born of fornication.] These words can hardly be taken literally. Our Lord was speaking to the Jews not as individuals, but as a nation and a class, and was speaking of their descent in a religious point of view. The question was, "Who was their father? From whom did they get their spiritual character? To whom were their proclivities and tendencies to be traced?" This our Lord’s hearers understood, and said, "We be not born of fornication; we are not heathens and idolaters at any rate, even if we are not as good as Abraham."—That idolatry was called fornication, because it was unfaithfulness to the covenant God, a forsaking Him for false gods, is, I think, clear from many places in the Old Testament. See for instance Jeremiah 2:1-20, and Jeremiah 3:1-3. I think this was in the minds of the Jews when they spoke to our Lord here. This is Augustine’s view.

The notion of Euthymius, Rupertus, and others, that the Jews refer to other children of Abraham, by Hagar and Keturah, and boast themselves his true children by Sarah, is not satisfactory. It is surely too much to charge Abraham with the sin of fornication because he took Hagar to be his wife, at the instance [insistance?] of Sarah, and married Keturah after Sarah’s death!

The notion of some, that the Jews refer here to the many marriages between Jews and Gentiles in the Old Testament times (as seen in Ezra 10:1-3, etc.), and repudiate them, is not probable.

Some have thought that the Jews insinuated wicked doubts of our Lord’s legitimate birth in this phrase. But it seems unlikely.

[We have one Father, even God.] The Jews here lay claim to be regarded as God’s children. That God is called "the Father" of Israel in several places in the Old Testament, is undeniable. See Deuteronomy 32:6; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Isaiah 63:16 and Isaiah 64:8; Malachi 1:6. But it is very clear that these texts specially refer to God’s relation to Israel as a nation, and not to Israelites as individuals. The Jews, however, in their pride and self-righteousness, made no such nice distinction. They did not see that national sonship and covenant sonship without spiritual sonship, are nothing worth. Hence they brought on themselves the stern rebuke of the next verse.

v42.—[Jesus said...If God...your Father...love me.] Our Lord here tells the Jews, that although they might be children of God by covenant and nationality, they were evidently not God’s children by grace and spiritual birth. If God was really their Father, they would show it by loving the Son of God, even Himself.

Let us note carefully the great principle contained in this sentence. Love to Christ is the infallible mark of all true children of God. Would we know whether we are born again, whether we are children of God? There is one simple way of finding it out. Do we love Christ? If not, it is vain and idle to talk of God as our Father, and ourselves as God’s Children. No love to Christ, no sonship to God!

The favorite notion of many, that baptism makes us sons and daughters of God, and that all baptized people should be addressed as God’s children, is utterly irreconcilable with this sentence. Unless a baptized person loves Christ, he has no right to call God Father, and is not God’s child. He has yet to be born again, and brought into God’s family. Before the point and edge of these words, the doctrine that spiritual regeneration always accompanies baptism cannot stand.

The modern notion about God’s universal Fatherhood, which finds such favor with many, is no less irreconcilable with this sentence than baptismal regeneration. That God the Father is full of love, mercy, and compassion to all is no doubt true. But that God is really and truly the spiritual Father of any one who does not love Christ can never be maintained without contradicting our Lord’s words in this place.

The sentence is full of condemnation to all who know nothing experimentally of Christ, and neither think, nor feel, nor care anything about Him. Crowds of so-called Christians are in this unhappy state, and are plainly not God’s children, whatever they may think.—The sentence is equally full of comfort for all true believers, however weak and feeble. If they feel drawn towards Christ in heart and affection, and can truly say "I do love Him," they have the plainest mark of being God’s children, and "if children then heirs." (Romans 8:17.)

[For I proceeded forth, etc.] Our Lord here shows the Jews His own divine nature and mission. He had proceeded forth, and come from God—the eternal Son from the eternal Father. He had not come of His own independent will and without commission, but specially sent and appointed by the Father, as His last and dearest Messenger to a lost world. Such was His nature. Such was His position and relation to the Father.—If therefore they really were children of God the Father, they would love Him as the Father’s Son, the Father’s Messenger, the Father’s promised Messiah. Not loving Him, they gave the plainest proof that they were not God’s children.—A true child of God will love everything belonging to God, and specially he will love God’s only begotten and beloved Son. He can see and find nothing nearer to the Father than the Son, who is the "brightness of His glory and the express image of His person." (Hebrews 1:3.) If, therefore, he does not love the Son, it is clear that he is no true child of the Father.

Calvin remarks, "Christ’s argument is this: whoever is a child of God will acknowledge his first-born Son; but you hate Me, and therefore you have no reason to boast that you are God’s children. We ought carefully to observe in this passage, that there is no piety and no fear of God where Christ is rejected. Hypocritical religion presumptuously shelters itself under the name of God; but how can they agree with the Father, who disagree with His only Son?"

v43.—[Why do ye not understand? etc.] In this verse, our Lord seems to me to draw a distinction between "speech" and "word." The expression "word" is deeper than "speech." By "speech," He means "My manner of speaking and expressing myself." By "word," He means generally "My doctrine."—The sense is, "How is it that ye do not understand My manner of expressing Myself to you, when I speak of such things as "freedom" and of ’your father’? It is because ye will not receive and attend to My whole message,—the word that I bring to you from My Father."—Lightfoot takes this view.

This explanation seems to me to describe most accurately the state of things between our Lord and His hearers. They were continually misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and stumbling at, the expressions and language that He used in teaching them. Did He speak of "bread"? They thought He meant literal bread.—Did He speak of "freedom"? They thought He meant temporal and political freedom.—Did He speak of "their Father"? They thought He meant Abraham.—How was it that they so misunderstood His language and dialect? It was simply because their hearts were utterly hardened and closed against the whole "word of salvation" which He came to proclaim. Having no will to listen to and receive His doctrine, they were ready at every step to misconstrue the words and figures under which it was conveyed and placed before them.

Any one who preaches the Gospel now must often observe that precisely the same thing happens in the present day. Hearers, who are strongly prejudiced against the Gospel, are constantly perverting, wresting, and misinterpreting the language of the preacher. None are so blind as those who will not see, and none so stupid as those who do not want to understand.

The "cannot" here is a moral inability. It is like "no man can come unto Me," and "His brethren could not speak peaceably unto him." (John 6:44; Genesis 37:4.) It means, "Ye have no will to hear with your hearts."

Chrysostom remarks: "Not to be able here means not to be willing."

v44.—[Ye are of your father the devil, etc.] This verse deserves special attention, both for the sternness of the rebuke it contains, and the deep subject which it handles. The general sense is as follows: "Ye are so far from being spiritual children of Abraham, or true children of God, that, on the contrary, ye may be rightly called the children of the devil; and ye show it, by having a will set on doing the evil things which your father suggests to you. He, from the beginning of creation, was a being set on the destruction of man, and abode not in the original truth and righteousness in which he was created; for now truth is not in his nature. When he now speaks and suggests a lie, he speaks out of his own peculiar inward nature, for he is eminently a liar, and the father of a lie."

When our Lord says to the wicked Jews, "Ye are of your father the devil," He does not mean that the wicked are made wicked by the devil in the same sense that the godly are made godly by God, created anew and begotten of God; but He uses a common Hebraism, by which persons who are closely connected with, or entirely under the influence of, another, are called "his children." It is in this sense that the wicked and unbelieving are truly the children of the devil. This must be carefully remembered. The devil has no power to "create" the wicked. He only finds them born in sin, and, working upon their sinful nature, obtains such an influence, that he becomes practically the "father of the wicked." (See Matthew 13:38 and 1 John 3:10; Matthew 13:19; Luke 16:8; Luke 20:34; Isaiah 57:4; Numbers 17:10.)

Augustine says: "Whence are those Jews sons of the devil?—By imitation, not by birth." He also refers to Ezekiel 16:3, as a parallel case.

When our Lord says, "Ye will do the lusts of your father," we must remember that "ye will" is emphatic in the Greek. "Ye have a will, and mind, and purpose, and disposition."—By "doing the lusts," He means "ye follow those evil inclinations and desires" which are peculiarly characteristic of the devil, and according to his mind,—such as to commit murder, and to love and tell a lie. The desire of the devil can only be for that which is evil.

When our Lord says the devil was a "murderer from the beginning," I do not think He refers exclusively to Cain’s murder of Abel, though I think it was in His mind. (See 1 John 3:12.) I rather think He means that the devil, from the beginning of creation, was set on bringing death into the world, and murdering man both body and soul.

Origen remarks: "It was not one man only that the devil killed, but the whole human race, inasmuch as in Adam all die. So that he is truly called a murderer."

When our Lord says that the "devil abode not in the truth," I think He teaches that the devil is a fallen spirit, and that he was originally made very good and "perfect," like all other works of God’s hands. But he did not continue in that state of truth and righteousness in which he was originally created. He kept not his first estate, but fell away. "Truth" seems to stand for all righteousness, and holiness, and conformity to the mind of God, who is "Truth itself." This verse, and Judges 1:6, are the two clearest proofs in the Bible that the devil fell, and was not created evil at the beginning.

The word "abode" would be more literally rendered, "stood."

When our Lord says, "Because there is no truth in him," He does not mean that this was the reason why the devil "abode not in the truth." If this had been His meaning, He would have said, "Truth was not in him." But He says, "is."—His words are meant to describe the present nature of the devil. "He is now a being in whom truth is not."—It seems to me a somewhat similar expression to that of Paul, when he says, "I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly;" where "because" does not mean the reason why he obtained mercy. (1 Timothy 1:13.) The Greek word for "because" in both cases is the same.

Calvin remarks: "As we are called the children of God, not only because we resemble Him, but because He governs us by His Spirit,—because Christ lives and is vigorous in us, so as to conform us to His Father’s image; so, on the other hand, the devil is said to be the father of those whose understandings he blinds, whose hearts he moves to commit all unrighteousness, and on whom, in short, he acts powerfully, and exercises his tyranny."

When our Lord says that "the devil speaketh of his own," He does not mean that he "speaks about his own," but that he speaks "out of his own things." It is like, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." (Matthew 12:34.) He speaks out of those things of which he is full.

When our Lord says that the devil "is a liar," I think He refers to the great original lie by which he deceived Eve at the beginning, "Ye shall not surely die." (Genesis 3:4.)

When our Lord says here of the devil, that "he is a liar and the father of it," I think the most likely and natural meaning is, that "he is the father of every lie." A lie is specially the result and work of the devil. The expression "of it," is undeniably difficult, and is variously interpreted.

(a) Some think that it means "he is the father of him,"—viz., of the liar, of every one that tells a lie. This is the view of Brentius, Bengel, Stier, Hengstenberg, and Alford.

(b) Some think that it means "he is a liar, and his father." This was an error of the Manicheans, and justly reproved by Augustine. Yet Grotius seems to hold this view, and maintains that he who deceived Adam and Eve was not the prince of the devils, but one of his messengers! (See 2 Corinthians 12:7.) This seems an untenable idea.

Neither of these views is at all natural and satisfactory,—and the one I have given—"father of a lie"—seems to me much more probable. It is the view of Augustine, Theophylact, Rupertus, Calvin, Bucer, Beza, Bullinger, Rollock, Burgon, Wordsworth, and the great majority of all commentators.

Let us note, in this verse, how strongly and directly our Lord rebukes His enemies. There are times when strong condemnation becomes a positive duty, and we must not refrain from it through fear of being charged with severity, personality, and harshness.

Let us note how clearly this verse establishes the personality of the devil. The expression before us can never be explained by those who think he is only a vague evil influence.

Let us note how the fall of angels is recognized and taught by our Lord, as one of the great truths that we must believe.

Let us note how murder and lying are specially mentioned as characteristics of the devil. They are sins most opposite to the mind of God, however lightly regarded—and lying especially—by man. An indifference to the sin of lying, whether among old or young, rich or poor, is one of the most unmistakable symptoms of an ungodly condition.

Luther says: "The world is a den of murderers, subject to the devil. If we desire to live on earth, we must be content to be guests in it, and to lie in an inn where the host is a rascal, whose house has over the door this sign or shield, ’For murder and lies.’ For this sign and escutcheon Christ Himself hung over the door of his house, when He said, He is a murderer and a liar."

v45.—[And because I tell, etc.] Our Lord in this verse puts in strong contrast His own teaching and the lying suggestions of the devil, and the readiness of the wicked Jews to disbelieve Him and believe the devil.—"The reason why you do not believe Me is, your thorough dislike to the truth of God. You are genuine children of your father the devil. If I told you things that are false, ye would believe Me. But because I tell you things that are true, you believe me not."

We see here how little cause faithful ministers of Christ have to feel surprise at the unbelief of many of their hearers. If they preach the truth, they must make up their minds not to be believed by many. It is only what happened to their Master. "If they have kept My saying, they will keep your’s also." (John 15:20.)

v46.—[Which of you convinceth me? etc.] Our Lord in this verse asks two questions, to which it was impossible for them to give an answer: "Which of you can reprove or convince Me as an offender concerning sin of any kind? You know that you cannot lay any offense to my charge. Yet if I am free from any charge, and at the same time speak to you nothing but what is right and true, what is the reason that ye do not believe Me?"

Let us note here the perfect spotlessness and innocence of our Lord’s character. None but He could ever say, "I have no sin. I challenge any one to find out any imperfection or fault in Me." Such a complete and perfect Sacrifice and Mediator is just what sinful man needs.

v47.—[He that is of God, etc.] Our Lord in this verse supplies an answer to His own questions, and conclusively proves the wickedness and ungodliness of His hearers.—"He that is a true child of God hears with pleasure, believes, and obeys God’s words, such as I bring to you from My Father. You, by not hearing, believing, and obeying them, prove plainly that you are not God’s children. If you were, you would hear gladly, believe, and obey. Your not hearing proves conclusively that you are what I said, children, not of God, but of the devil."

Let us note here, that the disposition to hear and listen to truth is always a good sign, though not an infallible one, about a person’s soul. It is said, in another place, "My sheep hear my voice." (John 10:16, John 10:27.) When we see people obstinately refusing to listen to counsel, and to attend to the Gospel, we are justified in regarding them as not God’s children, not born again, without grace, and needing yet to be converted.

Let us note here, as elsewhere, how carefully our Lord speaks of His teaching as "God’s words." It consisted of words and truths which God the Father had commissioned Him to preach and proclaim to man. It was not "His own words" only, but His Father’s as well as His own.

Rollock observes that there is no surer mark of an unsanctified nature than dislike to God’s Word.

Musculus, Bucer, and others maintain here that the phrase. "He that is of God, heareth God’s Words," must be confined to God’s election; and means, "He that was chosen of God from all eternity." I cannot, however, see reason for confining the sense so closely. I prefer to consider "of God" as including, not only election, but calling, regeneration, adoption, conversion, and sanctification. This is Rollock’s view.

Verses 48-59

WE should observe, first, in this passage, what blasphemous and slanderous language was addressed to our Lord by His enemies. We read that the Jews "said unto Him, Say we not well that Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" Silenced in argument, these wicked men resorted to personal abuse. To lose temper, and call names, is a common sign of a defeated cause.

Nicknames, insulting epithets, and violent language, are favorite weapons with the devil. When other means of carrying on his warfare fail, he stirs up his servants to smite with the tongue. Grievous indeed are the sufferings which the saints of God have had to endure from the tongue in every age. Their characters have been slandered. Evil reports have been circulated about them. Lying stories have been diligently invented, and greedily swallowed, about their conduct. No wonder that David said, "Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue." (Psalms 120:2.)

The true Christian in the present day must never be surprised to find that he has constant trials to endure from this quarter. Human nature never changes. So long as he serves the world, and walks in the broad way, little perhaps will be said against him. Once let him take up the cross and follow Christ, and there is no lie too monstrous, and no story too absurd, for some to tell against him, and for others to believe. But let him take comfort in the thought that he is only drinking the cup which his blessed Master drank before him. The lies of his enemies do him no injury in heaven, whatever they may on earth. Let him bear them patiently, and not fret, or lose his temper. When Christ was reviled, "He reviled not again." (1 Peter 2:23.) Let the Christian do likewise.

We should observe, secondly, what glorious encouragement our Lord holds out to His believing people. We read that He said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death."

Of course these words do not mean that true Christians shall never die. On the contrary, we all know that they must go down to the grave, and cross the river just like others. But the words do mean, that they shall not be hurt by the second death,—that final ruin of the whole man in hell, of which the first death is only a faint type or figure. (Revelation 21:8.) And they do mean that the sting of the first death shall be removed from the true Christian. His flesh may fail, and his bones may be racked with strong pain; but the bitter sense of unpardoned sins shall not crush him down. This is the worst part of death,—and in this he shall have the "victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:57.)

This blessed promise, we must not forget to notice, is the peculiar property of the man who "keeps Christ’s sayings." That expression, it is clear, can never be applicable to the mere outward professing Christian, who neither knows nor cares anything about the Gospel. It belongs to him who receives into his heart, and obeys in his life, the message which the Lord Jesus brought from heaven. It belongs, in short, to those who are Christians, not in name and form only, but in deed and in truth. It is written,—"He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." (Revelation 2:11.)

We should observe, thirdly, in this passage, what clear knowledge of Christ Abraham possessed. We read that our Lord said to the Jews, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it and was glad."

When our Lord used these remarkable words, Abraham had been dead and buried at least 1850 years! And yet he is said to have seen our Lord’s day! How wonderful that sounds! Yet it was quite true. Not only did Abraham "see" our Lord and talk to Him when He "appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre," the night before Sodom was destroyed, (Genesis 18:1,) but by faith he looked forward to the day of our Lord’s incarnation yet to come, and as he looked he "was glad." That he saw many things, through a glass darkly, we need not doubt. That he could have explained fully the whole manner and circumstances of our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary, we are not obliged to suppose. But we need not shrink from believing that he saw in the far distance a Redeemer, whose advent would finally make all the earth rejoice. And as he saw it, he "was glad."

The plain truth is, that we are too apt to forget that there never was but one way of salvation, one Savior, and one hope for sinners, and that Abraham and all the Old Testaments saints looked to the same Christ that we look to ourselves. We shall do well to call to mind the Seventh Article of the Church of England: "The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered through Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises." This is truth that we must never forget in reading the Old Testament. This is sound speech that cannot be condemned.

We should observe, lastly, in this prophecy, how distinctly our Lord declares His own pre-existence. We read that He said to the Jews, "Before Abraham was, I am."

Without controversy, these remarkable words are a great deep. They contain things which we have no eyes to see through, or mind to fathom. But if language means anything, they teach us that our Lord Jesus Christ existed long before He came into the world. Before the days of Abraham He was. Before man was created He was. In short, they teach us that the Lord Jesus was no mere man like Moses or David. He was One whose goings forth were from everlasting,—the same yesterday, to-day, and forever,—very and eternal God.

Deep as these words are, they are full of practical comfort. They show us the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of that great foundation, on which sinners are invited to rest their souls. He to whom the Gospel bids us come with our sins, and believe for pardon and peace, is no mere man. He is nothing less than very God, and therefore "able to save to the uttermost" all who come to Him. Then let us begin coming to Him with confidence. Let us continue leaning on Him without fear. The Lord Jesus Christ is the true God, and our eternal life is secure.

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Notes

v48.—[Then answered the Jews...Samaritan...devil.] This verse seems to contain nothing but personal abuse and blasphemous slander. Unable to answer our Lord’s arguments, the unbelieving Jews lost their temper, and resorted to the last weapon of a disputant,—senseless invective and calling of names. The extent to which calling names is carried by Oriental people, even in the present day, is something far greater than in this country we can imagine.

When the Jews called our Lord "a Samaritan," they meant much the same as saying that He was no true Jew, and little better than a heathen. "The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans." (John 4:9.) When they said, "Thou hast a devil," I think it meant rather more than "Thou art mad," as in John 7:20, if we observe the following verse. It probably implied, "Thou actest and speakest under the influence of the devil. The power Thou hast is from Satan, and not from God."

Let us learn here how little cause Christians have to be surprised if hard names and insulting epithets are applied to them. It is only what was done to their Master, and is no ground for discouragement in doing God’s work.

v49.—[Jesus answered, I have not a devil, etc.] Our Lord’s answer to the coarse invective of His enemies amounts to this: "In saying that I have a devil you say that which is not true. I am simply honoring My Father in heaven by delivering His message to man, and you by your violent language are dishonoring Me, and in effect dishonoring and insulting my Father. Your insults do not strike Me only, but my Father also."

Let us note our Lord’s calmness and equanimity under insult. A solemn denial of the blasphemous charge laid against Him, and an equally solemn reminder that He was honoring the God whom they themselves professed to worship, are the only reply He condescends to make.

v50.—[And I seek not mine own glory.] This sentence seems to arise out of the last verse,—"Ye dishonor Me; but you do not move or hurt Me, for I did not come to seek my own glory, but the glory of Him that sent Me. I receive not honor from men." (See John 7:18 and John 5:41.) Here, as elsewhere, our Lord points to the great principle, "that a true messenger from heaven will never seek his own glory, but his Master’s."

[There is one that seeketh and judgeth.] There is a very solemn warning in these words. They mean, "There is One, however, even my Father in heaven, who does seek and desire my glory; and not only seeks, but judges the conduct of all who dishonor Me, with deep displeasure, and will punish it at the last day."

There is comfort here for all Christ’s members as well as for their Head. Though they may not think of it, there is One in heaven who cares deeply for them, sees all they go through, and will one day plead their cause. The latent thought seems the same as in Ecclesiastes 5:8; "He that is higher than the highest regardeth." A believer may cheer himself with the thought, "There is One that judgeth. There is One that sees all, that cares for me, and will set all right at the last day."

Euthymius remarks on this verse that we should not heed things said against ourselves, but should vindicate the honor of God if things are said against God.

v51.—[Verily...if a man keep my saying...never see death.] The mighty promise contained in this verse seems intended to wind up the whole conversation. All that our Lord had said had produced no effect. He therefore closes His teaching for the present by one of those mighty sayings which tower above everything near them, and of which John’s Gospel contain so many.—"Whether you will hear or not, whether you choose to know Me or not, I solemnly tell you that if any man receives, believes, and keeps My doctrine, he shall never see death. Despised and rejected as I am by you, life or death, heaven or hell, blessing or cursing, depend and hinge on accepting the message I proclaim to you. I am the way, the truth, and the life."—It is like Moses taking leave of Israel and saying, "I call heaven and earth to record against you, that I have set before you life and death." (Deuteronomy 30:15, Deuteronomy 30:19.) Just so our Lord seems to say, "I tell you once more, for the last time, that to keep My saying is the way to escape death."

The expression is parallel to the one our Lord uses in the synagogue of Capernaum. There He says, "He that believeth in Me hath everlasting life." Here it is "shall never see death." (John 6:47.)

We should notice here, as elsewhere, that when our Lord uses the expression, "Verily, verily, I say unto you," which is familiar to all careful readers of John’s Gospel, He is always about to say something of peculiar gravity and solemnity. See John 1:51; John 3:3, John 3:5, John 3:11; John 5:19, John 5:24-25; John 6:26, John 6:32, John 6:47, John 6:53; John 8:34, John 8:51, John 8:58; John 10:1, John 10:7; John 12:24; John 13:16, John 13:20-21, John 13:38; John 14:12; John 16:20, John 16:23; John 21:18.

The expression "keep my saying," means "receive into his heart, believe, embrace, obey, and hold fast the doctrine or message which I am commissioned to teach."—The phrase "my saying," means much more than the "words I am speaking at this moment." It is rather the whole doctrine of My Gospel.

The expression "never see death" cannot be taken literally. Our Lord did not mean that His disciples would not die and be buried, like other children of Adam. We know that they did die. The meaning is probably three-fold: (1) "He shall be completely delivered from that spiritual death of condemnation under which all mankind are born; his soul is alive and can die no more: (2) He shall be delivered from the sting of bodily death; his flesh and bones may sink under disease and be laid in the grave, but the worst part of death shall not be able to touch him, and the grave itself shall give him up one day: (3) He shall be delivered entirely from the second death, even eternal punishment in hell; over him the second death shall have no power."

The width and greatness of this promise are very remarkable. Ever since the day of Adam’s fall death has been man’s peculiar enemy. Man has found the truth of the sentence, "In the day thou eatest thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:17.) But our Lord boldly and openly proclaims that in keeping His saying there is complete deliverance from death. In fact, He proclaims Himself the One greater than death. None could say this but a Redeemer who was very God.

Augustine says: "The death from which our Lord came to deliver us was the second death, eternal death, the death of hell, the death of damnation with the devil and his angels. That is indeed death; for this death of ours is only a migration. What is it but a putting off a heavy load, provided there be not another load carried, by which the man shall be cast headlong into hell. This is the death of which the Lord says, ’He shall not see death.’ "

Let us note the breadth and fullness of this promise. It is for any one who keeps Christ’s sayings. "If a man," or rather it should be rendered, "If any man," etc.

Let us beware of putting a meaning on this promise which it was not intended to convey. The idea of some that it means "believers shall be so completely delivered from death that they shall neither feel bodily pain nor mental conflict," is one that cannot be supported. It is not borne out by other passages of Scripture, and, as a matter of fact, it is contradicted by experience. The Gospel delivers believers from that "fear of death" which unbelievers feel, no doubt. (Hebrews 2:15.) But we have no right to expect believers to have no bodily conflict, no convulsion, no struggle, and no suffering. Flesh and blood must and will feel. "I groan," said holy Baxter on his deathbed, "but I do not grumble." Death is a serious thing, even though the sting is taken away.

Parkhurst thinks the expression here is like Luke 2:26, where it was said of Simeon that he should not "see death." But the Greek for "see" is there a different word, and the phrase there seems to mean nothing more than "die," which does not come up to the full promise here. He also quotes Psalms 49:9; Psalms 89:49. But neither of these places seem parallel.

The Greek word rendered "see" is so peculiar that one might almost think the phrase meant, "he shall not gaze upon and behold death for ever to all eternity, as the wicked shall." But I prefer the threefold sense already given.

v52.—[Then said the Jews, etc.] The argument of the Jews in this verse seems to be as follows: "We know now by Thy own words that Thou art mad and hast a devil. Our great father Abraham and the prophets, holy and good as they all were, are all dead, and yet Thou presumest to say that if a man keep Thy saying he will never die. In short, Thou makest Thyself greater than Abraham, for Abraham could not escape death, while keeping Thy saying enables a man to escape death. To talk in this way is a plain proof that thou art mad."

The phrase "to have a devil," in this place can hardly mean anything but "to be mad or crazy."

The Jews, it will be observed, do not quote our Lord’s words correctly. He had said, "shall never see death." They report Him as saying, "shall never taste of death." Whether this was a willful perversion of His words is rather difficult to decide. Some think that the Jews intentionally exaggerated the promise, and put "taste" for "see," in order to magnify the offense our Lord had committed. Others think that the difference means nothing, and that it only shows how thoroughly the Jews misunderstood our Lord, and thought that He referred to nothing but bodily death.

Here, as elsewhere, we may remark how ready the Jews were to pervert and warp our Lord’s meaning, and to put a carnal and gross sense on spiritual language.

v53.—[Art thou greater, etc?] The question in this verse shows that our Lord had again succeeded in arousing the curiosity of the Jews, and stirring them to inquire about His nature and person.—"Who art Thou that talkest in this way? Whom dost Thou make Thyself? To say that those who keep Thy saying shall never die is to make Thyself superior to Abraham and the prophets, who are all dead. Who and what art Thou? Art thou really some one greater than Abraham?"

Chrysostom observes that the question of the Jews reminds us of the Samaritan woman’s question: "Art thou greater than our father Jacob?" (John 4:12.)

v54.—[If I honor myself...nothing, etc.] Our Lord’s meaning in this verse seems to be as follows: "If at any time I take to myself and claim honor, such honor would be worthless. He who puts honor on Me, and commissions Me to say that keeping My saying shall deliver a man from death, is My Father in heaven,—that very Being whom you profess to call your God. It is your own God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who has put such honor on Me, that life or death turn on keeping My sayings, and believing on Me."

Here, as elsewhere, we should mark the carefulness with which our Lord disclaims all self-exaltation, and desire for glory and honor from man. If, in claiming for Himself to hold the keys of life and death, He seemed to claim honor, He carefully reminds the Jews that it is an honor put on Him by the Father in heaven, even by their own God. He desired no honor independent of Him, or in rivalry to Him.

When our Lord says, "My Father honoreth Me," the expression must include all the works, and signs, and miracles, which the Father gave Him to do; as well as the words which He gave Him to speak. (John 5:36; John 14:10-11.)

v55.—[Yet ye have not known Him, etc.] The meaning of this verse seems to be as follows: "Although you say of My Father in heaven that He is your God, you do not really know Him, and are plainly ignorant of His character, His will, and His purposes. Professing to know Him, in works you deny Him. But I, on the contrary, know Him perfectly: for I am indeed one with Him from all eternity, and came forth from Him. So perfectly do I know Him, that I should be a liar, and a child of the devil, like yourselves, if I said I did not know Him. But I repeat that I know Him perfectly, and in all My words and works here on earth I carefully keep His sayings, and observe the commission He gave me."

There is undeniably a great peculiarity in the language of this verse. But it is probably a Hebrew mode of putting in strong contrast the Jews’ thorough ignorance of God, notwithstanding their high profession of being His chosen people,—and our Lord’s perfect knowledge of God, notwithstanding the repeated assertions that He had a devil, was a Samaritan, and was consequently an enemy to the God of Israel.—The phrase, "I should be a liar, like yourselves, if I said I did not know the Father," was just the phrase to convey the strongest idea to the Jews’ minds of our Lord’s knowledge.—In arguing with some men, nothing but the strongest language, and the most paradoxical expressions, have any effect.—Even God himself thinks it good to make such an asseveration as "I swear by myself," and "as I live," in order to command attention. (Jeremiah 22:5; Hebrews 6:13; Ezekiel 33:11.) Those who blame ministers and preachers for using strong language, and say that they should never use any but gentle, tame, and mild phrases, can hardly have studied human nature or the style of Scripture with thorough attention.

v56.—[Your father Abraham, etc.] Our Lord, in this verse, takes up the question of the Jews, as to His being greater than Abraham, and boldly gives an answer. "You ask Me whether I am greater than Abraham. I tell you in reply that I am He whose coming and whose day of glory Abraham rejoiced to think he should see. Moreover by faith he even saw it, and when he saw it he was glad."

The precise meaning of the words of this verse is rather difficult to discover, though the general idea of it is plain and unmistakable. It is clear that our Lord implies that He is the promised Messiah, the Seed of Abraham, in whom all the generations of the earth should be blessed,—and of whom when Abraham first heard, "he laughed" for joy. (Genesis 17:17.)

(a) Some think, as most of the Fathers and Reformers, that it means, "Abraham rejoiced in the prospect of seeing, at some future time, My day, the day of Messiah; and by faith he did see it afar off."

(b) Some think, as Maldonatus, Lampe, Stier, and Bloomfield, that it means, "Abraham rejoiced when he was told that he should see My day; and he actually has seen it in Paradise, and has been gladdened there in the separate state by the sight."

(c) Some think, as Brown, Olshausen, Alford, Webster, and Hengstenberg, that it means, "Abraham’s great desire and joyful expectation was to see My day, and he actually saw Me when I appeared to him and talked with him on earth."

Of these three views the first appears to me the most probable, and most in keeping with the history of Abraham, in Genesis. It should be carefully observed that our Lord does not say that "Abraham saw ME," but that "he saw My day." The cause of Abraham’s joy seems to have been, that there was to be of his seed a Messiah, a Savior; and that he should see His day,—the day of the Lord, the triumphant day of Messiah’s complete victory and restitution of all things. This day he even saw by faith afar off, and was glad at the sight.—Our Lord’s object does not seem to be to tell the Jews that Abraham had seen Him, but that He was "the Seed," the Messiah, who was promised to their father Abraham. The Jews had asked whether he was greater than Abraham? "Yes," he replies, "I am. I am that very Messiah whose day Abraham rejoiced to hear of, and saw afar off by faith. If you were like Abraham you would rejoice to see Me."

Chrysostom and Euthymius think that "My day," in this verse, means "the day of the crucifixion, which Abraham foreshowed typically by offering the ram in Isaac’s place." This however seems a very cramped and limited view.

Rupertus thinks that Abraham "saw the day of Christ" when he entertained the three angels who came to him.

Augustine thinks it may refer to both the advents of Christ: first in humiliation, and second in glory.

v57.—[Then said the Jews, etc.] It is plain that the Jews here put a wrong meaning on our Lord’s words, and suppose Him to say that Abraham had seen Him, and He had seen Abraham. Yet our Lord had only said, "Abraham saw My day." It is another instance of their readiness to pervert His words.

When the Jews said, "Thou art not yet fifty years old," I believe they only meant, "Thou art not yet a middle-aged man." Fifty years old was the turning point in life, at which the Levites and priests were excused from further active service in the tabernacle. (Numbers 4:3.) I fancy the reference is to this.—Our Lord was at this time about thirty-three years old, or at most thirty-four. The notion of Irenæus and Papias that He really was fifty before He was crucified, is utterly without warrant, and absurd.

Some think that our Lord’s countenance was so marred and aged by sorrow and care, that He looked much older than He really was, and that hence the Jews supposed Him to be nearly fifty. But I prefer the former view.

Euthymius thinks that the Jews thought our Lord was fifty years old, on account of His great wisdom and experience. This, however, seems a weak and untenable view.

v58.—[Jesus said...before Abraham was, I am.] This famous verse, I believe, can only receive one honest interpretation. It is a distinct assertion of our Lord’s eternity,—His existence before all creation. "I solemnly declare unto you that before Abraham was and existed I was, the great I AM, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever,—the eternal God." All attempts to evade this explanation appear to me so preposterous that it is a waste of time to notice them. The man who can think the words only mean, "I am He who was promised to Adam before Abraham was born," seems past the reach of reasoning.—The name "I AM," we must remember, is the very name by which God revealed Himself to the Jews, when He sent Moses to them: "Say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me." (Exodus 3:14.)

Let us carefully note what a strong proof we have here of the pre-existence and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. He applies to Himself the very name by which God made Himself known when He undertook to redeem Israel. It was "I AM" who brought them out of the land of Egypt. It was "I AM" who died for us upon the cross. The amazing strength of the foundation of a sinner’s hope appears here. Believing on Jesus we rest on divinity, on One who is God as well as man.

There is a difference in the Greek verbs here employed, which we should carefully notice. The Greek for "was" is quite different from the Greek for "am." It is as if our Lord said, "Before Abraham was born, I have an existence individual and eternal."

Chrysostom observes: "He said not before Abraham was, I was, but, I AM. As the Father useth this expression I AM, so also doth Christ, for it signifieth continuous being, irrespective of all time. On which account the expression seemed to the Jews blasphemous."

Augustine says: "In these words acknowledge the Creator and discern the creature. He that spake was made the Seed of Abraham; and that Abraham might be, He was before Abraham."

Gregory remarks: "Divinity has no past or future, but always the present; and therefore Jesus does not say before Abraham was I was, but I am."

v59.—[Then took they up stones to cast at Him.] It is clear that the Jews at any rate had no doubt what our Lord meant in the preceding verse, whatever modern Socinians may think. They saw and knew at once that He who spake to them boldly claimed to be Jehovah, the One far greater than Abraham, being very God. This they did not believe, and therefore regarded Him as a blasphemer who ought at once to be stoned. In their rage and fury they immediately took up stones, which were probably lying about on account of repairs of the temple, in order to stone Him. The whole proceeding appears to have been a tumultuous and disorderly one, not regularly conducted, but sudden and unauthorized, like the stoning of Stephen afterwards. (Acts 7:58.)

[But Jesus hid Himself, etc.] I think this withdrawal can only be regarded as miraculous. The Greek word rendered "hid Himself" is literally "was hid." It seems most improbable that our Lord could "pass by" and "go through the midst" of an angry crowd, whose eyes had for a long time been fixed and concentrated on Him, without being seen and stopped, unless there was a miraculous interposition. I believe that the eyes of His enemies were holden, and that they did not know Him for a season, or that by His own almighty power He rendered Himself temporarily invisible. It is only what He did at Nazareth on a similar occasion; (Luke 4:30;) and if we once concede that our Lord could work miracles at His will, there seems no reason to suppose that He would not work one on this occasion.

Let us note that our Lord’s enemies could do nothing to Him until His hour was come for suffering. When He was at last taken prisoner, brought before Pilate, and crucified, it was not because He could not escape, but because He would not. What He did here He might have done there.

Let us note that it is not always the path of duty and of real obedience to God’s will to sit still and submit to sufferings and death. It may be the will of God that we should "flee to some other city" and avoid death. (Matthew 10:23.) To court martyrdom and throw away life, when it might be saved, is not always the duty of a servant of Christ. Some of the martyrs of the primitive Church appear to have forgotten this.

Augustine says: "Jesus did not hide Himself in a corner of the temple as if He were afraid, or take refuge in a house, or run behind a wall or a pillar; but by His heavenly power He made Himself invisible to His enemies, and went through the midst of them."

The argument of Maldonatus, that this verse proves the possibility of Christ being corporally present in the Lord’s Supper in the bread, is so preposterous that it requires no refutation. There is no positive proof that our Lord was actually invisible here. It is quite possible that the eyes of His enemies were "holden that they could not know Him." (Luke 24:16.) If He was invisible, Maldonatus proves too much. The bread in the Lord’s Supper is seen, and after consecration the Roman Catholic says its substance is changed. But it is not invisible.

In leaving this remarkable chapter, we should not fail to notice the difficulties under which our Lord’s public ministry was carried on. Ten times, between John 8:12 and John 8:59, we find His enemies interrupting, contradicting, or reviling Him. Our Master’s calm dignity and perfect meekness under all this "contradiction of sinners," ought to be a never-forgotten example to His disciples.

It is a wise remark of Pascal, that our Lord’s enemies, by their incessant caviling and interruption, both here and elsewhere, have supplied us unintentionally with a strong proof of the truth of His teaching. If our Lord’s doctrines had only been delivered privately to a prejudiced audience of kind and loving disciples, they would not come down to us with the same weight that they do now. But they were often proclaimed in the midst of bitter enemies, learned Scribes and Pharisees, who were ready to detect any flaw or defect in His reasoning. That the enemies of Christ could never answer or silence Him is a strong evidence that His doctrine was God’s own truth. It was from heaven and not from men.

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Bibliographical Information
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 8". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ryl/john-8.html.