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Jesus, on the sabbath-day, cureth him that was diseased eight and thirty years, the Jews therefore cavil and persecute him for it: he answereth for himself, and reproveth them; shewing by the testimony of his Heavenly Father, of John, of his works, and of the scriptures, who he is.
Anno Domini 31.
John 5:1. There was a feast of the Jews,— This, in all probability, was the feast of the passover, called the feast, by way of eminence; and therefore it might be rendered, was the feast of the Jews. See Matthew 27:15.Mark 15:6; Mark 15:6. A further proof that this was the feast of the passover, arises hence, that, immediatelyafter it, we find the disciples on the sabbath in the fields, rubbing the ears, probably of barley, a kind of grain which was always fit for reaping at the passover. See Matthew 12:1-40.12.8.
John 5:2. Now there is at Jerusalem, &c.— Some are of opinion from this passage, that Jerusalem was standing when St. John wrote his gospel; but others, on the strength of a different reading, controvert that opinion, rendering the verse,Now there was, or There stood at Jerusalem. But see the Introduction to this gospel. At Jerusalem, says Bishop Pearce, near the place called the sheep-market, or sheep-gate rather, which was built by Eliashib the high-priest, (Nehemiah 3:1.) there was a bath, built for the use of such of the common people as loved to swim and bathe themselves in water. This is the proper sense of the original κολυμβηθρα, from κολυμβαω, to swim, (Acts 27:43.) rendered in the old Latin version, called the Italick, Natatoria, a bath or swimming-place. Nothing was more common, or more useful than such baths, in these warm climates, where the excessiveheat was not only troublesome, but noxious to health. Josephus mentions some by this very name, κολυμβηθρα at Jericho, as used for the exercise and pleasure of swimming; and it may reasonably be presumed, that this at Jerusalem was built for the same purpose. That the sheep to be sacrificed were washed, or that all the blood of the sacrifices ran into it, whence it gained a kind of medicinal virtue, is an hypothesis not only void of all proof, but sufficiently exploded bythe learned Bishop just mentioned, in his useful "Vindication of our Saviour's miracles," p. 8. This bath was called Beth-esda, that is, the house or place of mercy, not only for its singular usefulness, but also for the extraordinary circumstance attending it, recorded by the evangelist. Around the bath, which seems to have been of a pentagonal form, were built five porches, a kind of cloisters or porticos, Στοαι, which served to shelter both from the heat and cold those who frequented the place; but which were more particularly serviceable to the infirm people who crowded hither on account of the miraculous virtue of the water. See the next verse.
John 5:4. For an angel went down, &c.— Some imagine that this was a proper officer or messenger, as the word αγγελος primarily signifies; yet as it is most commonly used by the inspired writers to signify a celestial being, employed by God, either for the service or punishment of men, and as the circumstances of this narrative import that the virtue communicated by the agitation of the waters, was not a natural quality inherent in them; our translators seem very justly to have retained the word in a sense which implies a miraculous operation. The phrase, Κατα χαιρον, rendered, at a certain season, is understood by some to express at that season, the season of the feast mentioned Joh 5:1 confining the miracle of the pool to this particular feast. See Numbers 9:6-4.9.7. LXX: for, since the evangelist does not say that the waters of Bethesda had their sanative quality at any other feast, we are at liberty to make what supposition seems most convenient: but I cannot help thinking, that the mode of expression, and the waiting of the multitude, evidently imply that this event was frequent; as if it had happened once only, it is not easy to account for this attendance and expectation of the multitude. That the waters of Bethesda should at this period have a miraculous effect, was without doubt in honour of the personal appearance of the Son of God on earth. Some have thought that it was intended to shew that Ezekiel's vision of waters issuing out of the sanctuary, (ch. 47:) was about to be fulfilled; of which waters it is said, Joh 5:9 they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh. It is abundantly evident, that this was no natural virtue, nor a virtue acquired from natural causes in these waters, from the following reasons: 1. All manner of diseases were healed by them. 2. These cures were performed only at a certain season. 3. One person only was healed. And that, 4 only after the troubling of the water; whereas, in general, medicinal waters are required to be calm, and not troubled, for the use of patients.
Such is the account which St. John gives us ofthis miraculous pool of Bethesda. As to the time when this miraculous effect first took place, nothing precisely certain can be determined; but it seems most universally agreed, that it could not be long before the coming of Christ, and that the miracle was intended to lead men to him: for the gift of prophesy and of miracles had now been withdrawn from the Jews for above four hundred years; therefore to raise in them a more ardent desire for the coming of the Messiah, and to an observation of the signs of his now almost universally-expected coming, God was pleased to favour them with this remarkable sign of Bethesda; and because in these times the Jewish people lay open not only to the irruptions and tyrannyof the Gentiles, but had wholly lost their liberty; that they might not yet entirely despair of the fulfilling of the promises made to their fathers, nor entirely cast off their allegiance to God, he favoured them with this eminent token of his regard, this wonderful pool, in a place near to the gate of victims, which were figures of the propitiatory sacrifice of the Messiah. As this miracle then began, when the coming of the Messiah drew near, to advise them of the speedy and near approach of that promised salvation, (wherefore also this gift of healing was without the temple,) so there can be no doubt that Christ entered these porches, and performed the following miracle, to shew what was the true intent of this gift of healing, and to what it was designed by God to lead men; even to himself, the fountain opened for sin, and for all uncleanness. The water was thus troubled only at some certain season, to shew them at once the weakness of the law, and the great difference between that and the gospel dispensation; and to teach them, not to rest in the corporal benefit only, as in the ministration of anangel, but to betakethemselves to a careful consideration of the promises of HIS approaching advent, who, not at stated periods of times, but every day, performed, not a single cure only, but healed whole multitudes resorting to him.
John 5:5. And a certain man was there,— Among the crowds who lay in the porticos of Bethesda, there was one, who had an infirmity,— ασθενεια,— most probably a paralytic disorder, which hardly ever gives way to medicine, though recently contracted: how much less curable must it have been, after having continued 38 years! The inveteracy of this man's disorder must have been known to many in the course of so long a time; and the reality of his indisposition, which was even prior to the birth of Christ, must have been equally notorious, and shewn the impossibility of any collusion between them. The lengthand greatness of the man's affliction, well known to Jesus, (as appears from John 5:6.) together with his poverty, (John 5:7.) were sufficient reasons for our Lord's making choice of him, to experience the mercy of his healing power; a power infinitely superior to the virtue of the waters. Had our Lord at this time restored none of these impotent folk to health, he would not have acted contrary to the general account which the evangelists give of his goodness on other occasions, namely, that he healed all who came to him; for such diseased persons as left their habitations with a persuasion of his power and dignity, were fit objects of his mercy; while the sick at Bethesda were no more so than the other sick throughout the country, whom he could have cured barely by willing it, had he so pleased. They had no knowledge of him, or if they knew ought about him, they had no just idea of his power, and were expecting relief from another quarter.
John 5:6. Wilt thou be made whole?— Our Lord proposed this question, that the man might have an opportunity of declaring his case in the hearing of the multitude; (see John 5:13.) because such a declaration tended to make the miracle more conspicuous. It seems he designed to arouse the attention of the inhabitants of the capital; resolving to lay the evidences of his mission before them in the discourse which this miracle was to occasion.
John 5:7. Sir, I have no man, &c.— He complains for want of friends to help him in: "I have no man, no friend to do me that kindness." One would think some of those who had been themselves healed; would have lent him a hand: but it is common for the poor to be destitute of friends; no man careth for their soul. To the sick and impotent, it is as true a piece of charity to work for them, as to relieve them; and thus the poor are capable of being charitable one to another. We may observe how mildly this man speaks of the unkindness of those about him;—a lesson to all in misfortunes.
John 5:8-43.5.9. Rise, take up thy bed, and walk, &c.— Though it was the sabbath-day, and the doctors affirmed that the bearing of any burden was a profanation of the holy rest, Jesus ordered the man to carry his bed away, because it was fit that the miracle should be rendered indubitable by the suddenness and perfection of the cure, shewed in the vigorous exertion of the man's strength. Besides, when the people, who on the sabbath ceased from working, met the man in their way, and reproved him for carrying his bed, he could not avoid telling them what had happened. It was therefore a very proper method of making so signal a miracle universally known. The evangelist says, immediately the man was made whole; so that the cure being effectuated in an instant, while he was not expecting any such favour, nor knew to whom he owed it, Joh 5:13 no one can pretend that the power of imagination contributed thereto in the least degree. By the sabbath here must be meant either the first holy convocation in the feast of unleavened bread, that is, the morrow after the passover solemnity, which was one of the greatest sabbaths, ch. Joh 19:31 or the ordinary sabbath, happening in the passover-week, and consequently the day on which the disciples plucked the ears of corn. We may just observe, that our Saviour did not say to the impotent man, "Rise, and step into the pool," but rise, and walk; to shew that he was himself all-sufficient to do that for us, which the law could not do, and which he fulfilled, and so abrogated; thus manifestly declaring the full completion of this miraculous pool of Bethesda in himself.
John 5:10. The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, &c.— It is remarkable, that the Jews who met the man, did not converse with him upon his cure,—though in all probability many of them knew he had been long infirm; but upon the unlawfulness of carrying his bed. Such is the force of bigotry and superstition! See Jeremiah 17:21-24.17.22.
John 5:11. He that made me whole, &c.— "He that with a word restored my strength in an instant, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed and walk; and his injunctions certainly could not be sinful, as he must have been both a prophet, and a worker of miracles." Instead of the same said unto me, it would be more emphatical, if it was rendered agreeable to the original, even he said.
John 5:12. What man is that which said, &c.— The malignity of the Jews appears most flagrantly in this question. They take no notice of the miracle, which demanded their most serious examination; they do not ask him who it was that healed him; but they ask him with a malicious sneer, who bade him take up his bed? Had they inquired into the miracle, it might have appeared an action which deserved applause; but this was contrary to their intention.
John 5:13. Had conveyed himself away,— Casaubon observes, that the wind εξενευσεν, by which the evangelist expresses Christ's escape, being a metaphor borrowed from swimming, signifies, that he glided through the multitude, leaving no trace behind him of the way that he had taken.
John 5:14. Jesus findeth him in the temple,— Jesus found the man in the temple, whither probably he repaired, to return thanks to God for his signal recovery; when, to render the mercy that he had bestowed upon him complete, our Lord took that opportunityto put him in mindof his having brought the distemper upon himself by his wicked courses; for he exhorts him to abstain from sinning for the future, lest some heavier judgment should be inflicted on him.
John 5:15-43.5.16. The man departed, &c.— Overjoyed to have discovered the author of his cure, the man went away, and innocently informed the Jews of it; perhaps because he thought it his duty to give his benefactor the honour of the miracle, and believed that the Jews would have been glad to see so great a prophet: but instead of that, they attacked Jesus tumultuously in the temple, and, it may be, tried him before the sanhedrim, with a view to kill him, because, as they imagined, he had prophaned the sabbath, by performing a cure upon it, and by ordering the person cured to carry away his bed. It seems plain from Joh 5:33 that by the Jews, Joh 5:16 we are to understand the rulers; for the messengers who were sent to John, we are told, ch. Joh 1:19 were priests and Levites, persons of character, who would not have undertaken the office, unless by the appointment of the rulers, called on that occasion, as well as here, the Jews. Moreover, the apology which Jesus now made for himself, is such as was proper to be pronounced before the most capable judges, the chief priests and scribes, and the elders; for it is one of the most regular defences of his character and divine mission, that is anywhere to be found in the gospels, comprehending the principal arguments in behalf of both, and setting them forth with the greatest strength of reason, clearness of method, and conciseness of expression.
John 5:17. My Father worketh hitherto,— Jesus began his defence with shewing the rulers the unreasonableness of their displeasurewith him, because he had restored the infirm man to health on the sabbath-day. He told them, that, in performing cures on the sabbath-day, he only imitated his Father, who wrought every day of the week in doing good to men by his unwearied Providence; for, on the sabbath, as on other days, through the invisible operation of his power, God supports the whole frame of nature, and carries on the motion of the heavens, upon which the vicissitudes of day and night, and of the seasons, depend; which are so necessary to the production of food, and the other means of life. As the Jews built their observation of the sabbath upon God's having rested thereon from the works of creation, this argument was decisive. Some render it, My Father worketh even till now.
John 5:18. God was his Father,— Our Lord's vindication offended the Jews exceedingly, as he claimed a peculiar, proper, and most high relation to God the Father, and, by asserting that he acted like God, set himself on a level with God. The original πατερα ιδιον, is emphatical, and should be rendered his own Father;—his Father in a peculiar manner, as Heylin reads it. The whole nation of the Jews thought God to be their Father, ch. John 8:41. They could not therefore have accounted it blasphemy in Christ, to use the same phrase, had they not interpreted it in so high and appropriating a sense.
John 5:19. Then answered Jesus,— Jesus did not deny the conclusion in Joh 5:18 but shewed that, in all things, he acted agreeably to the will of God the Father, and that he was equal in power to God, doing whatever he saw the Father do; an honour which flowed to him from the immense and eternal love of the Father,and which was a clear and convincing proof of the Father's love towards him. The Son can do nothing of himself, means "nothing in opposition to the economy of the Father
John 5:20. Sheweth him— The word δεικνυσιν, rendered sheweth, has a reference here to the ample, comprehensive, and infinite knowledge which the Son has of the whole plan of the Father's counsels in all their mutual relations and dependencies. He will shew him greater works than these, "Will enable him as man, to do greater miracles than any that he has done hitherto, and which, though they may not convince, will certainly astonish you, and make it impossible for you to gainsay him, at least with any show of reason."
John 5:21-43.5.23. For as the Father raiseth up the dead,— "You have now seen the cure of one who had been long disabled by a disease; but I have not yet raised any from the dead: however, you shall quickly see that it is not for want of power; for, as the Father, whenever he pleases, raises up and animates the dead, so also you shall have sufficient evidence, that the Son animates whom he will; nor is it to be wondered at, that he should have so great a power; for the Father in his own person judges no man, but has given the administration of all judgment unto the Son, before whom all men are at last to appear, and by whom they are to be assigned to their final and eternal state; and this important power the Father has committed to me, that, notwithstanding the humble form in which I now appear, all may be engaged to honour the Son, even as they honour the Father himself; yielding an unreserved homage and obedience to him, as what is necessary to approve their duty and fidelity to God; for he that in such a circumstance, and on such a discovery, honoureth not the Son, as worthy of the highest veneration, honoureth not the Father who sent him; but affronting him in the person of his Son must expect to be treated as an enemy and a rebel." Our Saviour here rises in his discourse, and opens such a scene of glory to his auditors, as must have filled them with astonishment: to possess the power of raising the dead, argued great dignity; but our Lord claims a greater, in asserting that he was invested with the power of judging the world. The power of judging the world implies the executing of judgments temporal and eternal. This power was committed to our Lord, that all men should honour him even as they honour the Father; where the power is the same, the honour should be the same likewise. Men were therefore to honour the Son, as the maker and governor, and Saviour of the world, by yielding to him the homage of faith, love, and obedience,that they might be rewarded with everlasting life: so that being appointed of the Father universal Judge, they who did not honour him, did not honour the Father. He who treats an ambassador ill, affronts his master; but he who honours not the Son, who is the beloved of the Father, honoureth not the Father, who sent him for this purpose, that he might be honoured in him. He who believeth not the Son, believeth not the Father likewise, by whom he was sent into the world. See ch. John 1:3.
John 5:24. Hath everlasting life,— "He is already entitled to it; yea, it is already begun in his soul; and he, if he be faithful unto death, shall shortly possess it in its full perfection, and shall not come into condemnation for any former offences; but he hath passed from that state of death in which men naturally are, to a state of life and felicity."
John 5:25. Verily, verily, I say unto you,— These repetitions of this solemn asseveration are by no means vain, considering the vast importance of the truth, and how incredible it would appear to the natural mind, that he, who stood before them in so humble a form, was in reality the Lord of life, and universal Judge. "The season cometh, (says our Lord,) and is now just at hand, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear it shall immediately live; for within these few months there shall be some dead bodies raised to life by the word of his power (see Mark 5:41.Luke 7:14; Luke 7:14. Joh 11:43 and compare Matthew 27:52-40.27.53.): and many souls that are dead in sin, shall by his grace be quickened, and made spiritually alive." We explain the passage thus, because it is doubtful whether it may not have this joint reference. It is well known, that sinners are often represented in scripture as dead: Matthew 8:22.Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 5:14. 1 Timothy 5:6, and if the expression οι ακουσαντες, is to be taken as we render it, with the most literal exactness, for they that hear, or they, and they alone, that so attend to the voice of Christ as to believe in him, it will then limit it to this sense; which seems also favoured by Joh 5:24 where death plainly signifies a state of sin and condemnation.
John 5:26. For as the Father hath life, &c.— "For as the Father is the Fountain of life, who has it necessarily and in the most perfect manner in himself, and communicates it to all the living; so in the dispensation, whereby he has constituted his own essentially living Son to be the Messiah, he has granted to him, that in his incarnate state, and in the execution of his office, he shall have this life in himself, with authority to communicate life to others, in raising them from the dead, by his own fund of quickening power, which is inherent in himself."
John 5:27. And hath given him authority, &c.— This may refer not only to the future and final judgment upon the sons of men, but also to the inflicting of temporal judgments; and possibly our Lord had the destruction of Jerusalem more particularly in his eye,—an exercise of judgment which he constantly ascribed to himself. See Philippians 2:9; Php 2:11 and the next note.
John 5:28-43.5.30. Marvel not at this;— "Be not surprised at my saying that the Son has power to raise a few particular persons from the dead, and authority to inflict judgment on some particular offenders: a far greater power is committedto him, even that of raising all men at the last day, and of judging and rewarding them according to theirworks. Now in this judgment I will not act absolutely or arbitrarily, but according to the laws of equity unalterably established by my Father. So that I shall not act therein so properly by my own, as by my Father's authority." I can of mine own self do nothing; as I hear, I judge, Joh 5:30 in allusion to human courts, where the judges found their sentences upon the testimony of witnesses, and the laws of their country; yet the expression by no means implies that our Lord, at the great day, shall receive information from any one whatsoever, concerning the persons whom he is to judge: having been himself privy totheir actions, he needs no evidence; but knows all things that ever were thought, said, or done by mankind, from the beginning to the end of time, fully and certainly. He goes on, "And my judgment is just; not only because it is thus a judgment according to truth and equity, but likewise because I seek not mine own will,&c. I have no interests to pursue, no inclination to fulfil, different from that of my Father." See Hebrews 10:9-58.10.10. Matthew 26:39.
John 5:31. If I bear witness of myself, &c.— These certainly were very grand assertions, which our Lord made of his own dignity. But he did not require his hearers to believe them merely on the authority of his own testimony; a circumstance by which the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, isdistinguished from Mahomet and every other impostor. He told them, that he had the testimony of John given him in the hearing of their own deputies; but at the same time he observed, that the truth of his divine mission did not depend merely on human testimony, though it was given by one who was a burning and shining Light, and in whom they greatly rejoiced, because the prophetic spirit which had so long ceased seemed to be again revived in him. See John 5:35.
John 5:32-43.5.33. There is another that beareth witness, &c.— This proof, taken from the testimony of John the Baptist, though our Lord seems to speak slightingly of it, when he compares it with the proof drawn from his own miracles, yet was an argument of particular force to the Jews, and could not fail to convince and confound them; for, as we read in another place, they durst not openly speak against John, because the people generally had him in esteem, and thought him a prophet. A proof, therefore, from his testimony would either remove their doubts, or reduce them to silence. The following observations will prove that the testimony of John ought to be received. He affirms that he knew Jesus to be the Messiah; and this knowledge he acquires, not by any observations which he made upon the life and behaviour of Christ, nor from comparing his actions with the prophesies relating to the Messiah; for it appears that at the time he gave his testimony, Christ had not discovered his divine mission, and was but just entering into his office; nor does it appear that Christ had declared any thing of it to him. He is not guided by conjectures, but by immediate revelation, and by a voice from heaven, declaring Christ to be the Son of God. He assures us, that God discovered to him that Christ was the Messiah. From the testimonywhich John gave, and from the manner in which he gave it, we may discover the character of a great and a good man. We see in him great austerity of life, self-denial, contempt of the pleasures and vanities of the world, an active yet discreet zeal, a courage and constancy arising from true piety; and a sincere modesty and humility. He flattered not the Pharisees and Sadducees; he assumed no honours which belonged not to him; he said less of himself than he might have said with truth. When his disciples were afraid that Christ would draw all men after him, and lessen the reputation of their master, he was not to be moved by such improper motives; nor did he cease to bear testimony to Christ, and acknowledge his own inferiority. Appointed of God to exhort and approve, he reproved even Herod, though he could not be ignorant of the danger to which he exposed himself. By his blameless and upright behaviour he gained the esteem of the Jews; and, after his death, was spoken of with the greatest veneration. He was a man who practised the austerities that he preached, severely virtuous, exhorted all men to righteousness, and lived suitably to his own doctrine. He could not act this part with a view to any worldly profit, and to enrich himself; he sought no such advantages; and if he had sought them, he would never have attained them by pretending to slight them, by dwelling in a wilderness, and by exhorting men to virtues and graces of which he had not set them an example. Nothing therefore can be thought to have influenced him, unless religion, vanity, and the love of fame. If he was guided by ambition, he had reason to be satisfied with his success; all Jerusalem was moved at his preaching. They had so good an opinion of him, that they thought him certainly one sent from God, perhaps one of the old prophets returned into the world; perhaps the Messiah himself. What use did he make of this favourable disposition of the people? He spake of himself with much lowliness and modesty, and exhorted them to acknowledge Christ as the Messiah. If he had been a proud and ambitious man, he would not have set Jesus above himself; he would at least have been silent, and have left the Jews to judge for themselves. We may therefore affirm, that he was what he seemed to be, a gracious man and a sincere lover of truth; and that he would not have deceived the people in any case; above all, not in a case so important. He decided a question, not of small importance, but concerning the Messiah foretold by the prophets, expected at that time, to whom the nation was bound to pay obedience, who should be a ruler, a deliverer, and the founderofan everlasting kingdom. If we suppose him capable of deceiving the people in this point, we must suppose him to be wicked to the highest degree; one who feared not God, nor regarded man; who endeavoured to lead into a fatal error his own nation, by whom he was honoured and respected. But it is unreasonable to suppose him guilty of so foul a crime. We may also conclude, that he could not have borne testimony to one whom he did not well know to be the Messiah, because common prudence would have kept him from throwing away, so foolishly, his good name and reputation. The character of the Messiah could not be long personated by the most artful impostor. He was to be a teacher of truth; in him the prophesies were to be accomplished, and by him many miracles were to be performed. If therefore John had directed the Jews to a false Messiah, to one in whom none of these characters appeared, his fraud or his error would have been discovered; he would have exposed himself to the punishment of a false prophet; at least, he would have lost the esteem and favour of the Jews, and the fair and unblemished reputation which till then he had preserved, and would have been the object of Jewish contempt and hatred. Nothing can make us suspect that he would have acted a part so inconsistent and extravagant, or hinder us from believing that he spake as he was directed by the Spirit of God. Nor is it less evident, that he acted on this occasion from no motives of interest or partiality. It was of no advantage to him; on the contrary, he saw that if Christ were acknowledged to be the Messiah, he would be no longer followed and admired. Nor can we suppose him to have been partial out of friendship, for there appears not to have been any intimacy between him and Christ. We may observe, that John was a person of eminent grace and virtue; that he had borne witness to Christ; that he was related to him, and that, upon all these accounts, he seemed to deserve distinguished marks of favour. But Christ, as far as we can learn from the evangelists, seldom conversed with him; the reason for which probably was, that the testimony of John might appear of more weight, where none could suspect him prejudiced for his friendand relation. But still it may be alleged against his testimony, that he was an enthusiast. Some of the Jews in the days of our Saviour said, that John the Baptist had lost his senses, because they had nothing else to say against him. The accusation is groundless; his discourses and his reputation sufficiently confute it; his prophetic character proves it to be false. He foretold the appearance of the Messiah, the calamities which should befal the unconverted Jews, the death of Christ, and the descent of the Holy Ghost. Enthusiasm may make a man fancy extraordinary communications with God, and it may lead him to austerities and self-denial; but it will not enable him to declare future events. If we put all these things together, we may conclude as we set out, that the Baptist's veracity in the testimony that he gave of Christ is unquestionable.
John 5:34. But I receive not testimony from man:— "I stand in no need of the testimony of John, or of any other man; nor do I seek after such kind of evidence with any anxiety. But I say these things to you, on your own principles, out of a tender and passionate concern for your conviction; that you who are now conspiring against my life, may be saved from that destruction which he foretold, as the portion of those who should reject me, and which the greatest of them shall not be able to escape." See Matthew 3:10.
John 5:35. He was a burning and a shining light:— This is the character given of Elias, Sir 48:1 and is properly applied by our Lord to John, who came in the spirit and power of Elias, being both a shining light, as he revealed the mysteries of heaven, and a burning light, as he reproved the vices of the Jews with sacred warmth and zeal.
John 5:36. But I have greater witness— Our Lord told them that he had the testimony of one infinitely greater than John: even the testimony of the Father, who was continually bearing witness to him by the miracles which he empowered him to perform, and who had given him a peculiar and direct testimony at his baptism, by declaring from heaven in a grand, audible, articulate voice, that he was his Beloved Son; which voice many then living had heard, and no doubt remembered. See the beginning of Joh 5:37 and the note on ch. John 3:2.
John 5:37-43.5.38. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, &c.— "Nor have you any reason to dispute the testimony which the Father hath thus given me, though you have never heard his voice, nor seen his form; as being one whom no man hath seen or can see. For he has testified the same concerning me in his word, where he has spoken of me in the clearest manner. But, notwithstanding the submission that you profess to his authority, you will not be persuaded to receive the testimony he has given; and after all that he has said, it is still evident that you have not his word cordially abiding in you; nor do you shew a due regard even to those former revelations which you acknowledge as divine; for, notwithstanding all the reasons which are there given to induce you to it, you do not believe him, whom he hath sent, with, a much fuller and clearer discovery of himself than any of his former messengers have brought."
John 5:39. Search the scriptures;— Because the Jews were exceedingly averse to acknowledge the Lord Jesus for their Messiah, not withstanding that the evidences of his divine mission were so unexceptionable; he desired them, for further proof, to search their own scriptures, and particularly the writings of the prophets; which, says he, is certainly your duty, because those writings, as you justly suppose, contain the knowledge of eternal life,and therefore the knowledge of the Messiah; and I can with confidence refer you to them, knowing that they confirm my pretensions in the most ample manner, the characters of the Messiah pointed out by them being all fulfilled in my person. The word ερευνατε, rendered search, implies the most diligent attention and scrutiny into the meaning of the scriptures. Several great writers contend, that this verse is in the present tense; and that the passage should be rendered, Ye search the scriptures, because you apprehend that you have eternal life in them: that is, the directions of heaven for obtaining it; Now these are they, the very writings, which testify of me; yet, John 5:40. Ye will not come unto me, that ye may have life. The words which express their high opinion of the scriptures, seem rather to suit this translation; and it is highly probable, that, at the time when the Pharisees were so impatient of the Roman yoke, they would with great diligence search the sacred oracles for predictions relating to the Messiah; though it is too plain, they had a most unhappybias on their minds, which prevented the good effects that might have been expected from that inquiry, had it been impartial. It is also well known, that refined criticism on the sacred writings made the most fashionable branch of learning among the Jews; in comparison of which, prophane literature was held in contempt, and indeed by many of the zealots in great abhorrence. Dr. Rutherford would read the verse interrogatively, as by way of reproach; Do you search the scriptures,—and yet will not come to me?
John 5:41-43.5.42. I receive not honour from men, &c.— "Though I speak of your coming to me, let me remind you that it is not out of an ambition of drawing multitudes about me, to follow and applaud my teaching; for the whole of my conduct proves, that I receive not glory from men." Our Lord insinuated, that the proofs of his divine mission were as full and clear as possible, being supported not only by miracles, but by the actions of his life, which, in all points, agreed with his doctrine; for in no one instance whatever did he seek the applause of men, or affect secular power; but was always innocent and humble, though he knew that these qualities rendered him little in the eyes of persons void of the love of God, who expected to see their Messiah adorned with great secular glory; and therefore addressing himself to men of this character, our Lord says very emphatically, I know you. The whole series of his discourse excellently shews how far our Lord was from soothing the vanity of men in place and power, to obtain their favour.
John 5:43. I am come in my Father's name,— He came with a commission from his heavenly Father, to promote his glory, and a spiritual salvation from sin and wrath; and produced several unexceptionable witnesses to establish his divine character and offices; and yet, because he opposed their vices, and did not appear with worldly pomp, nor gave them expectations of secular riches, honour, and power, they would not believe in him. Whereas if any other person came to them in his own name; that is, without a commission from God, they would joyfully embrace him, provided he assumed the majesty of a king, and promised temporal bounties to his followers. The Jews gave many signal proofs of this infatuation during their wars with the Romans, and a little before the destruction of their city; for then, many impostors arose, pretending to be the Messiah, and promising them deliverance; by which they drew away great multitudes, as their own historian Josephus informs us, and we have observed in the note on Matthew 24:26.
John 5:44. How can ye believe, &c.— Our Lord observes, that this infidelity of the Jewish rulers (see on John 5:15.) was owing in a great measure to their pride. They who had all along preached glorious things concerning the empire and grandeur of the Messiah, would not ascribe that august character to one of so low a condition apparently as our adorable Lord, who was destitute even of the ordinary advantages of birth, fortune, and erudition; because it would have been such a confession of ignorance and unskilfulness in the scriptures, as must have exposed them to the contempt of those whom they had misled. How can ye believe, &c. "How can such persons as you believe in me, whose character and station are entirely different from what you have all along told the people that the scriptures teach concerning the Messiah? This confession of your own ignorance is not be expected from you, who in all your actions seek the praise of men, (Matthew 23:5.) and not the praise of God; which is the only true praise, and is to be obtained, through grace, by a steady regard to truth and holiness, in opposition to all earthly passions whatsoever."
John 5:45. Do not think, that I will accuse you, &c.— Do you think, &c.? Syriac. Our Lord told them in conclusion, that they were not to imagine that in rejecting him, they sinned against no person but him, and that he alone would accuse them to the Father for their infidelity. Moses, through whose law they trusted to have salvation, was likewise dishonoured by it; inasmuch as he wrote of him under the names of the Seed of Abraham,—Shiloh,—A prophet like to himself, &c. Wherefore, seeing theyrefused to believe on him, Moses would accuse them as guilty of disbelieving his writings. This is one of the most express passages that can be imagined, in which Moses is represented as looking down with indignation upon these elders, who gloried in being the most distinguishedof his disciples: and seeing how injuriously they treated the Lord Jesus, the great Prophet predicted by Moses, that great lawgiver is represented as turning to God with a severe accusation against them, and urging his own predictions as an aggravation of their inexcusable infidelity.
John 5:46-43.5.47. For he wrote of me.— "Had you believed the writings of Moses, which are daily read in your synagogues, you would have believed me; for these writings describe me, as by a variety of striking types and figures, so likewise by many strong and direct prophesies: see the last note: But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? If you do not believe the testimony of your own lawgiver, I have no reason to be surprised that you do not credit me upon my testimony." Thus the Lord Jesus asserted his own personal dignity, as the Sonof God, and Judge of the world; and at the same time proposed the evidences of his divine mission from God with such strength of reason, perspicuity, and brevity, as nothing can equal.
Inferences drawn from our Lord's miracle wrought at the pool of Bethesda.—It is very pleasing to observe, that the eternal Son of the most high God, when, as the Lord and Ruler, the great Messenger of the covenant, he suddenly came to his temple, and when he was about to deliver the most sublime discourse concerning his equality with the Father, should, on the sabbath-day, enter as a physician those five porches, which were a kind of hospital, where there lay so great a multitude, so sad a spectacle of the wretched and suffering children of Adam!
This serves to assure us, that Christ, though reigning in equal power and glory with the Father, does not therefore disregard our miseries; but exerts the office of a loving Mediator in this world, as a great hospital, assisting by his grace, and ready to help, the afflicted in soul as well as body, and not forgetting to extend continually his rich mercy and compassion towards both.
Nay, if he condescended to come down into this wretched world, this place of misery and woe, and to assume our nature, and to open from his most precious heart a fountain for all our uncleanness; can we doubt of his fatherly care over us? Can we doubt of his tender regard for us?—We must necessarily be dear to him, who, of his own free love, paid so inestimable a price for us! Let us learn hence, with full and humble confidence to repose ourselves upon him, and in all our miseries and necessities to commend ourselves into the hands of this faithful Redeemer; to wait upon him in all those means, which he himself has ordained and appointed, and wherein he has promised to meet and refresh our longing souls!
What a blessing was this pool of Bethesda, endowed with this miraculous virtue, to the Jewish people! You see how they thronged it; the five porches were full; all were wishing and striving to enjoy its advantages. Were there such a miraculous bath in this nation, there would be no less crowding thither. Each would be pressing towards it, when labouring under diseases; all desirous of stepping in first, that they might be made whole.
How amazingly do men, by their own conduct in temporal things, condemn themselves in spiritual! Such a pool, such a fountain there is for the soul, a fountain opened for sin, and for all uncleanness; a fountain, in which whosoever will, may come, wash, and be clean. Such a fountain is the most precious blood of Jesus Christ, streaming forth in all his divine ordinances,—those waters of life, by which spiritual maladies are healed, and vigour is restored to our enfeebled souls!
And yet, how little are they thronged by men, wishing and earnestly striving to be healed; how few comparatively are there who come to them with a full sense of their spiritual impotency, and a resolution to step in that they may be made whole! Multitudes were continually attending at this pool; and why then is the house of God forsaken, where not one alone, but many, at the same moment may receive spiritual sight and strength, yea, and life from the dead? But, alas! under the diseases of the soul, how few comparatively desire to be made whole. Blessed Jesus! if thou hast awakened that desire in us, we would adore thee for it, as a token for good; and would lift up our believing eyes to thee, in humble expectation that thou wilt graciously fulfil it.
How many are there who never come to the ordinances of God at all; who have either found out some new methods of spiritual cure; or, proud in heart, will confess no spiritual infirmities, and despise the weakness of their proffered cure; or, wise in their own inventions, have too much sense to believe the gospel. God grant that they may all understand in time how fearful a thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God! more especially, when so much grace, when so much goodness, when so much mercy, has been long and obstinately rejected; the grace, the mercy, the goodness of an eternal Saviour, who, unbounded in his voluntary love, hath endured sufferings unspeakable, to procure so divine a remedy for all our evils; a remedy infallible! All sicknesses, all disorders, however complicated, however inveterate, are here removed by one hand, and one water: none ever were, none ever will be sent empty away, who come desirous of relief; nor is that relief confined to the first only who steps in; it is a fountain flowing plenteously unto every draught!
And thus may all be cured; but their own will must concur: Christ first asked the man, Wilt thou be made whole? Joh 5:6 before he bid him arise and walk. There could be no doubt of his desire to be cured, who waited at the pool for this very purpose; and you, reader, must shew your will and desire to be cured in this same way; you must wait at the pool,—must wait for Christ in those general ordinances, which himself hath enjoined, in the sacraments, in prayer and the word: and if, with hope, duly sensible of your weakness and misery, you thus wait upon him, you need not fear but he will perfect the cure of all your spiritual maladies, and enable you to walk and glorify him.
But if you attend at the pool, if you frequent the ordinances of the gospel, with any other motive than a real desire to meet there the Saviour of your souls, and to be healed of all your infirmities by his blood; be assured you will frequent them in vain, and never find them, what they are to the contrite and humble, means of grace, and channels of heavenly life and support to the soul.
Should you frequent them, and still find them not efficacious, you must not therefore cease to frequent them. The man before us, was thirty-eight years in his infirmity, Joh 5:5 and yet was perfectly healed by the power of Christ at the last. God sometimes delays his mercies to make them more signal and acceptable; and when we have no man to put us into the pool, when none is able or willing to help, he speaks the word, and we are delivered. Bethesda must be waited on; he is worthy of his crutches, who will not stay God's leisure for his cure: there is no virtue, no success without patience; and here we all have need of it. One is sick of an overflowing of the gall,—the jaundice of malice; another of the swelling of pride; another of the fever of concupiscence; another of the vertigo of inconstancy; another of the choaking quinsey of curses and blasphemies; another of the dropsy of covetousness; another of the pleuritical pangs of envy: one is consumed with emulation; another rotten with corrupt desires; and all are so much the sicker, if they feel not these distempers.
We work hard, and we endure much for the body; what toil do we take, that we may toil yet a little longer! We endure many certain pains for the addition of a few uncertain days. Why will we not do thus for the soul, for the immortal, the better part, when we know that our waiting will not be unsuccessful; and when we know that our waiting here, shall procure for us eternal rest hereafter? O wait then upon the Lord in all the means of grace, in all the paths of duty; come by these means, duly sensible of your spiritual evils; lay them before the Lord, confess your sins to him, and with earnest desire to be delivered from the body of this death, cry to him, and he will at length give you the victory, and by his grace enable you to rise, take up your bed and walk; to leave sin, and all the occasions of it, and to serve him in holiness and newness of living.
The sure evidences of a spiritual cure are these: 1. A forsaking of our former sins: 2. A laying aside the marks and occasions thereof: and, 3. A performing the contrary actions; particularly the duties of praise and thanksgiving to God, as this infirm man did, who, languishing as he was lately on the couch, we quickly after see found by Jesus in the temple, John 5:14. And where indeed should they be found, who have been raised up from beds of weakness, and brought out from chambers of sorrow and confinement, but in the sanctuary, rendering their praises to the God of their mercies? It was here that Christ said to him, for a lesson to us all, Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee; hereby shewing us, that diseases and sickness are the punishment of sin, and that of consequence the best remedy we can apply for their cure, is sincere repentance and conversion through the grace of God.
Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. To deter from relapses into sin, Christ shews the danger of them. It was bad enough to lie thirty and eight years bound by a terrible disease: but it is worse, infinitely worse, than pen can describe, or thought conceive, to lie bound in flames of ever-during fire, not for thirty-eight, or thirty times thirty-eight years, but for ever and ever!—Let them remember this admonition of our Lord, who have made upon sick-beds good resolutions, and determined to turn and amend their lives, when the hand of God hath been sore upon them; but have forgotten all, when, to prove their sincerity, he hath saved them awhile from the jaws of death! O let such remember, how fearful a woe hangs over their heads, who, having been made whole, have yet indulged as usual in the practice of sin; and lest a worse thing, even eternal misery, come unto them, let them make haste, with broken hearts and humbled souls, to the heavenly pool of Bethesda, the blood of Christ, the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.
Sin is the fruitful parent of all human evils; and, till the body rests in the silent grave, the temptations to sin will never cease: so that we have continual need to be upon the watch, and to remember our Lord's warning. The only method to secure us from relapses, is a full dependance upon the almighty grace of God, sought for in all its converting powers with sincerity and humility, accompanied by a strict attendance on all the means of grace, on all the gospel ordinances, and by a holy and conscientious walking, and a strict watchfulness over all our thoughts, words, and actions. If endeavouring thus to wait, and thus to act, we shall find God's grace sufficient for us; if thus Christ find us in the temple, paying our grateful tribute of praise and adoration, he will enable us boldly to confess him before men, as this man did before the Pharisees; and if we perseveringly do so, we have his infallible promise that he will also confess us before his Father and all the holy angels, in the realms of glory and immortality. See Matthew 10:32-40.10.33.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The feast spoken of Joh 5:1 was probably the passover; the second which our Lord kept at Jerusalem, after his public entrance on the ministry; and there he works the following gracious and very remarkable miracle:
1. The place where the miracle was wrought, is worthy of note. It was a pool of water near the sheep-gate, Neh 3:1 called Bethesda, or the house of mercy, surrounded with cloisters, or covered walks, where the impotent lay sheltered, who came with their several complaints, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water, in hopes of a cure. For this pool was impregnated with a strange virtue at certain seasons, owing to the descent of an angel who troubled the waters; and the first person who immediately stepped in, was cured of whatever disease he had.
When this healing power began to be communicated to the waters, or when it ceased, the Jewish historians are entirely silent; it served however to shew, that God had not left his people without witness, and represented that fountain which should be opened in the Saviour's side, in which whoever washed should be made clean: This fountain has not at seasons merely, but at all times, the power of healing; and therefore whoever continues under his spiritual maladies, has only his own negligence to blame, that he will not come to Christ that he may be cured.
2. The person on whom the cure was wrought, had been thirty-eight years under his infirmity, probably paralytic, and unable to move; and therefore when Jesus, passing by, compassionately observed his pitiable case, and graciously addressed him, Wilt thou be made whole? he relates his unhappy condition, and his continual disappointment, while some other stepped in, before he could find a friend to assist him to reach the troubled waters; so that he began now to despair of ever obtaining his cure. Note; (1.) What thankfulness do we owe to our preserving God, if we enjoy perfect health and strength, whilst others totter with weakness and disease, and wearisome days and nights are appointed to them? (2.) The compassionate eye of Jesus is on his afflicted but faithful people; and though he suffer them to be long exercised, he will pass by them in due season, and deliver them. (3.) They who would receive a cure from him of their spiritual maladies, ought at least to be waiting at the pool of ordinances, where Jesus usually manifests his power and grace.
3. Christ with a word heals his disease, bidding him arise, take up his bed, and walk; and such power accompanied his command, that the impotent man instantly felt his strength return; arose perfectly cured; and taking up his bed, walked away in the sight of, and to the amazement of the beholders; and the same day was the sabbath. Note; (1.) when Christ speaks to the penitent soul, he gives ability for that which he commands. (2.) They who are healed by his grace, will instantly be obedient to his will.
4. As, according to the tradition of the elders, it was accounted unlawful to carry a bed on the sabbath-day; the Jews jealous, therefore, for the honour of that sacred day of rest, rebuked the healed person for being guilty of such a profanation. The man thought he had sufficient authority when he who healed him gave him his orders, and pleads the command of the person who had wrought the cure upon him. They suspected who had done the miracle, and wanted the man to accuse his kind benefactor, against whom they wished to proceed as a sabbath-breaker: What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed and walk? With such contempt and indignation do they speak of Christ, as if he was a mere man, and a wicked man too, notoriously guilty of a breach of God's law. The man, who knew not Jesus, could give them no information; for he had disappeared immediately, mixing among the crowd, probably to avoid the admiration of some, and the malignity of others, who he knew would be offended at him for this glorious act of mercy, because it was the sabbath-day. Note; (1.) The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; therefore works of mercy and charity are always commendable. (2.) They who are eminent for well-doing, may expect to pass through evil report as well as good report.
5. Soon after this, the poor man going up to the temple, probably to return thanks for his late mercies, met Jesus there, who gave him a solemn caution with regard to his future conduct; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. Should he provoke the wrath of God by his sins, it would yet be worse than his past long affliction. The man in the simplicity of his heart went, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole: probably he hoped that this notable miracle might engage them to acknowledge him as the Messiah; but so far were they from being led to admire his character, that, filled with envy and enmity, they sought to slay Jesus; and, for a pretext, pleaded that this work of mercy was a profanation of the sabbath. Note; (1.) They who have received signal mercies from God, are peculiarly obliged to be found in the temple, offering up their thanksgivings. (2.) In the Lord's house we may expect to be favoured with his presence. (3.) Sin is at the root of all sufferings, in time and eternity. (4.) They who are by grace delivered from the guilt and power of sin, should be doubly watchful not to return again unto folly. (5.) Many cover, with pretended zeal for religion, their enmity against the most faithful servants of Christ.
2nd, We have our Lord's vindication of himself from the charge laid against him as a sabbath-breaker.
1. He argues from his Father's works to his own. My Father worketh hitherto; by his continual operation, every day he administers the affairs of the kingdom of providence; and I work as one with him, in nature and operation; and therefore my works of power and grace can be no more the subject of blame, than his. Most absurd, therefore, was the charge laid against him as a sabbath-breaker, who was Lord of the sabbath, and one with the eternal Father, the Maker and Preserver of all things.
2. This defence exasperated them but the more. Such a claim to God, as his own Father, in that peculiar sense which implied a co-equality with him in power, authority, and operation, they regarded as the highest blasphemy, and more deserving of death than even the breach of the sabbath.
3. Far from blaming his enemies as perverting his words, he vindicates what he had said; asserting and proving in the most exalted sense the eternal union and co-equality between the Father and the Son, and his title to the dignity of the undivided Godhead. Verily, verily, I say unto you, what I speak is certain, and my word truth itself; the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do; such is the unity of their nature, that they are alike intimately acquainted with each other's councils and designs, having one eternal mind. The Son, therefore, never acts separately from the Father, but with his consent and cooperation: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise; whatever the Father doth in the continual agency of his Providence, the Son, as one with him, is a co-worker, and acts with the same divine power and authority as the Father himself. For the Father loveth the Son, an infinite mutual complacence subsists between the divine Persons; and sheweth him all things that himself doeth, communicating to him all his councils and designs, and doing nothing in the kingdom of grace or providence, but in conjunction with him: and he will shew him greater works than these, performed by him and with him, greater miracles of power and goodness than this wrought on the impotent man, that ye may marvel; either led to admire my works, and believe in my divine mission, or to wonder and perish in obstinate infidelity.
4. In confirmation of what he had said, he instances his own divine power in two most remarkable particulars; both of which are interwoven in his discourse, and nearly connected.
[1.] He hath power equally with the Father to quicken the dead. He is the prince of life: self-existent as the Father, he hath life in himself; for as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; in the oeconomy of man's redemption this life eternal is lodged in the hands of the Son, resides in him, and is to be derived from him; and he bestows it on all his faithful saints. By him,
(1.) The souls of penitent sinners are raised from the death of trespasses and sins, in which they lay; by the word of gospel-grace they are called from the grave of corruption, and awake to newness of life: and the hour is coming, yea, now is, when this great work shall be performed; now by his own ministry, hereafter more abundantly by the preaching of his apostles. Note; (1.) Our souls, by the fall, are become utterly incapable, in the mere state of nature, of all spiritual good, insensible to our real state of misery, and altogether dead before God. (2.) Our hearts must experience a spiritual resurrection to newness of life here, or we can never hope for eternal life hereafter. (3.) The voice of Jesus in his word made effectual by his Spirit, is the powerful agent which accomplishes this glorious work in the hearts of those who believe.
(2.) By him the dead bodies of men shall be raised up at the last day. Nor need any marvel, that he who first created men upon earth, should be able to repair the ruined tabernacle, and restore it from the dust: all, from the first man whom God formed, to the last whom death shall seize, shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and instantly at his word shall come forth, leaving the prison of the grave, restored to life that never more shall end: though, according to their several characters, very different will their doom be; they that have done good, whose hearts were renewed by divine grace, and whose works and ways evidenced faith unfeigned, and love without dissimulation, they, and only they, will rise unto the resurrection of life, to that state of immortal bliss and glory, which shall be the reward of their fidelity; and they that have done evil, have continued under the power and dominion of their native corruption, have lived without experiencing a divine change upon their hearts, and died under the guilt of unrepented sin, they shall be raised unto the resurrection of damnation, condemned to those eternal torments which are the wages of sin, without measure and without end; lying down in hell under that wrath of God, which is for ever wrath to come. How awful! how alarming the admonition! oh that we might feel the weighty import of it, and prepare to meet our God!
[2.] He hath the power of finally determining the everlasting state of men and angels. Not only as God the Son is he judge of all, in common with the Father, administering all the affairs of the kingdom of providence and grace, and without him the Father judgeth no man—but as Mediator also, he has a peculiar authority delegated to him, to execute judgment as the Son of man; to pronounce sentence from his throne at the last day, to take vengeance on all who have been rebellious against his government, and despised or rejected his salvation; and to fix, by an irrevocable decree, the eternal blessedness of his faithful people: and the rule of his judgment at that day will be his own word, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life: where we may observe, (1.) The sinner's title to glory, faith in the Redeemer. (2.) The effect of it; deliverance from all condemnation; and, if he persevere in this faith, eternal bliss. (3.) They who have passed from spiritual death to spiritual life, have therein the earnest and foretaste of eternal life. (4.) The judgment of Jesus is just; for all that he doth is in correspondence with the will of the Father, and according to the commission that he has received from him. Such, then, being his infinite dignity, the Son, who is in glory equal, in majesty co-eternal, must be honoured, worshipped, and adored, even as the Father; and so far from its being blasphemous, and derogatory from the Father's glory, that he should thus claim equality with him, in nature, perfections, and uncreated excellence; so inseparably connected are they, and their honour and interest so entirely the same, that the Father regards every instance of disrespect shewn to his Son as dishonour done to himself; both as he is one with him in the same undivided Godhead, and also as he is the Son of man sent from him, commissioned by him, and, as his ambassador, representing himself.
3rdly, In confirmation of the glorious character which he assumed, and his mission from the Father, our Lord, proceeds to produce other evidence than his own; admitting, that if what he asserted were utterly unsupported, they might reject his testimony of himself as untrue.
1. John the Baptist bore witness of him; to his evidence Christ appeals, fully assured that it was true: and they themselves, who applied to him as a prophet, were bound to embrace his testimony, which in the most solemn manner he delivered to those deputies of the Sanhedrim who were sent to inquire who he was, and under what authority he acted. He plainly asserted Christ's divine character, (See Ch. John 1:19-43.1.30.); and his evidence they could not but allow to be most respectable. For though he was not that light, the Messiah, he was a burning and a shining light; his exemplary conduct and zealous preaching bespoke the simplicity of his soul, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. They gloried in him at first, and raised their expectations high; but when he would neither himself assume the character of the Messiah, nor declare himself that Elias whom they expected, they could not bear the sharpness of his rebukes, and plainness of his testimony to that Messiah whom they rejected; and therefore they soon fell off and neglected him: not that Christ indeed needed human testimony; he had far greater. But for their conviction he mentions this, if any thing might be the means of rescuing them from ruin. Note; (1.) Every minister of Jesus, like John, should burn with zeal for his glory, and shine in all holy conversation, that he may adorn and give weight to the doctrine that he preaches. (2.) Many at first seem to rejoice in the light of the gospel, who soon grow cold and careless, and neglect so great a salvation. (3.) They who trifle with their mercies, are justly deprived of them.
2. He appeals to a greater witness than that of John, even his own works, which bore witness of him. His whole life and ministry bespoke his glorious character; and especially his miracles, wrought by his own divine power, evinced his mission from God. And greater works than he had yet done, remained for him to finish, to leave them at least without excuse, if they obstinately persisted in their infidelity.
3. God the Father himself had expressly borne witness to him by a voice from heaven at his baptism, Mat 3:16-17 which was solemnly repeated, Mat 17:5 at his transfiguration; and this was a singular attestation, such as had never before on any occasion been vouchsafed. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape; all the voices that were heard, and the appearances that were seen, under the Old Testament, were either those of the Son in a human form, or of the angels employed by him in this ministry: then first when the Father in person spoke from heaven at the baptism of his Son, was his voice audibly heard, and a most wonderful visible manifestation made of his glory. (See the Annotations for another view of this passage.) And ye have not his word abiding in you; neither this immediate testimony from heaven, nor his former word by his prophets, had ever made any abiding impression; for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not: after all this evidence they, notwithstanding, rejected the testimony of God, and refused to believe in the Messiah. Note; (1.) When God sends, he will bear witness to his own servants, and attest with his Spirit the commission that he has given them. (2.) Many have the word of God in their hands, and sounding in their ears, and yet have it not abiding in their hearts.
4. He refers them to their own scriptures for the proof of his divine character and mission: search the scriptures. The scriptures were by many of them much studied, and they boasted of their wisdom in these sacred oracles, but they were great strangers to the meaning of them; they had need therefore look farther and deeper than ever yet they had done; and he ventures to rest his cause upon an appeal to these authentic records, which they themselves so highly and justly valued: for in them ye think ye have eternal life: they placed the chief stress of their religion upon the knowledge of the law; and flattered themselves, that by constantly reading these sacred writings, and getting them by rote, they were sure of heaven. Now these, saith he, are they which testify of me; all the types, promises, prophesies, centre in him, and refer to him; and yet ye will not come to me, that ye might have life; such were their prejudices and wilful blindness, that though the scriptures were so express in pointing him out to their notice, they would not submit to apply to him, that they might obtain the pardon, life and salvation which he alone could give. Not that he affected to exalt himself, to gather a party, or obtain temporal dominion. I receive not honour from men; he neither courted nor needed human applause; his only aim was to advance his Father's glory and the salvation of men. But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you; he tried their hearts, and, notwithstanding all their high pretences of zeal for God's honour, the love of the world predominated in their affections, and they had really no heartfelt and sincere regard to God or godliness, and rejected him because he did not correspond with their earthly expectations. Hence, though I am come in my Father's name, with evidences of a divine mission so strong and striking, ye receive me not, because the salvation that he brought was spiritual salvation from sin, and death, and hell: and he so sharply rebuked their vices, and undeceived them in their vain expectation of a temporal Messiah, who should come with outward pomp and grandeur, therefore they rejected him: but if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive, eager to embrace every impostor who pretended to deliver them from the Roman yoke, and aggrandize their nation, though vouching no authority but his own boastings. And being under the influence of such a carnal mind, how can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? Their spirit and temper, and the proud affectation of pre-eminence, were the reverse of the kingdom which Christ came to erect, where humility and self-denial stood in the first and most distinguished place; and must for ever exclude them from the spiritual, substantial, and eternal honours which God alone bestows on his faithful children. Learn hence, (1.) The necessity of deep and serious examination of the scriptures, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, and diligently seeking for Christ in them, who is the sum and substance of them; for without the practical knowledge of him, all other attainments in the letter, language, and phrases of the scripture, are really no better than splendid ignorance. (2.) In the scriptures eternal life is to be obtained, because they reveal to us that Redeemer, who is the author of it to all who obey him. The Old Testament, as well as the new, is full of him; the moral law drives us for refuge to him, the types of the ceremonial law all prefigure him, the prophesies all centre in him. He is indeed all, and in all. (3.) All who come by faith to Christ, perseveringly embracing the salvation which is in him, will assuredly find pardon, grace, and glory: the reason why any sinners perish is this, that, blinded by wilful ignorance, and perverted by pride and self-righteousness, they will not come to Christ that they may have life. Their eternal ruin, therefore, lies at their own door. (4.) Christ searches the heart, and trieth the reins; he knows what is in man; and, under the guise of the warmest profession of religion, can discover the enmity which reigns within against himself and his gospel. (5.) Where inordinate love of this world prevails, and ambition, covetousness, and a desire of human applause possess the soul, it is impossible that the love of God should dwell there. No man can serve two masters. (6.) When men choose those false prophets, who flatter them in their iniquities, and run without being sent; and, pleased with their smooth prophesies, turn a deaf ear to the warning voice of truth, justly does God give up such to the delusions which they have chosen. (7.) True honour comes from God alone; his estimation of us, not that of all the world beside, stamps our character with excellence or infamy. His approbation, therefore, a gracious soul desires in the first place. (8.) Whilst our hearts affect earthly honours, it is impossible that we should believe in, embrace, and submit to him, whose kingdom is not of this world, and whose first demand from us is to take up our cross and follow him, as men who are wondered at.
Lastly, Christ turns them over to Moses, in whose writings they so much gloried, for a proof of his mission, and as their accuser, if they persisted in their infidelity. Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father, as if I came to spy out your faults, with a view to their condemnation; No, there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. That law on which they trusted for salvation, must needs condemn them as transgressors: and Moses in person at the last day must, to their confusion, testify against their impenitence and unbelief. For had ye believed Moses, ye should have believed me: for he wrote of me, as the great Prophet who should arise; as the great end of the law, moral and ceremonial, to which both pointed; but if ye believe not his writings for whom you pretend such high veneration, and are not convinced by them of my divine mission, how shall ye believe my words? against whom you entertain such inveterate prejudices, and whom you treat with such insolent contempt? Note; (1.) Many make their boast in those privileges which will at last prove their more aggravated condemnation, because they have abused them. (2.) They who refuse to fly by faith for refuge to the gospel of Christ, must inevitably perish under the accusations of the law.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on John 5". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany