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Christ feedeth five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes. Thereupon the people would have made him king. But withdrawing himself, he walketh on the sea to his disciples: reproveth the people flocking after him, and all the fleshly hearers of his word: declareth himself to be the bread of life to believers. Many disciples depart from him. Peter confesseth him. Judas is a devil.
Anno Domini 31.
John 6:1. After these things— That is, some time after: for St. John passes by a great many transactions related by the other evangelists; and perhaps would not have given this narrative, had it not been for preserving a remarkable discourse of our Saviour, which, though of great importance, has been omitted by the other sacred historians. See Mat 4:18 and the parallel places.
John 6:4. The passover, a feast of the Jews,— This is generally supposed to be the third passover of our Lord's public ministry. The evangelist probably mentions this to shew the time of the year, &c.
John 6:5. He saith unto Philip,— Our Lord addresses himself to Philip particularly, because, he was a native of Bethsaida, and best acquainted with that country. See Ch. Joh 1:44 and on Luke 9:10.
John 6:6. This he said to prove him:— To try what idea he conceived of his divine power, as well as to give him an opportunity of observing more attentively what followed.
John 6:7. Two hundred pennyworth of bread— As much as could be purchased for 200 denarii, which amounts to about six pounds five shillings of our money. The mention of that sum seems to intimate that their whole stock amounted to no more. See Mark 6:37.
John 6:10. Now there was much grass— This circumstance of the grass shews, that the miracle of the loaves happened in the month of February or March, when the grass is in its perfection in Syria; and to this agrees what we are told John 6:4. It is observable, that in computing the number of persons fed at this meal, the evangelists mention none but the men, and of them only such as were of age; and they all agree that there were about 5000. In this they do not speak by guess; for the disposition of the multitude in ranks of a determinate number, (see on Mark 6:39.) enabled them to make the computation with certainty. If they were not five thousand precisely, one of the ranks incomplete would make them less; and an additional rank, or part of a rank, would make them more: but besides the men, there were women also, and children, who, we may suppose, were not inferior in number to the men; and who, if they were not fed with the men, as seems probable from this verse, must have been set down by themselves to a separate meal; some of the disciples beingappointed to wait on them and serve them. St. John gives us the reason why so great a crowd was now with Jesus, the passover was at hand, Joh 6:4 consequently numbers from every quarter being on the road to Jerusalem, they might have been drawn round Christ by the fame of his miracles, of which they desired to be eye-witnesses.
John 6:11. And when he had given thanks,— St. Matthew and St. Mark say simply that he blessed, ευλογησε, which most commentators refer to the loaves and fishes, because St. Luke says expressly, ευλογησε αυτους; he blessed them. Some, however, put a different sense upon the words. They apprehend, that our Lord's looking up to heaven, when he blessed, mentioned by St. Luke himself, shews that this blessing was directed to God the Father, and that it imported a thanksgiving for his great goodness. The reader, however, will remember, that the word in dispute has a sense which favours the common interpretation of this passage, Psa 65:10 thou blessest the springing thereof, that is to say, of the corn. It is not to be supposed, that twelve persons could put first a piece of bread, and then a piece of fish into the hands of 5000 men, besides women and children, who were all fed with such expedition, that notwithstanding the thing was not so much as proposed to the disciples till about three, all appears to have been over by five in the afternoon. See on John 6:10. Wherefore it is natural to conclude, that in distributing the meat the disciples used the most expeditious method, putting by their Master's directions, the bread first, and after that the fish, into the hands of those only who sat at the ends of the ranks; with orders to give it to their companions. On this supposition the food must have extended its dimensions, not in our Lord's hands only, but in the hands of his disciples, and of the multitude likewise; continuing to swell till there was a greater quantity than they who held it, could make use of; so that breaking off what was sufficient for themselves, they gave the remainder to the persons next to them, who in like manner saw the bread and fish swell in their hands, till they also had enough and to spare. See particularly the note on Mark 6:39-40.
John 6:12. Gather up the fragments— Though Jesus was entirely free from worldly cares, and from all anxiety about futurity, he did not think it unworthy of him, on this occasion, to order his disciples to take care of the broken pieces of meat left by the multitude. The reason mentioned by him for their doing so, namely, that nothing might be lost, deserves our notice: for it shews us, that he to whom the earth and the fulness thereof belong, willeth every man to take due care of all the goods he possesses; and that if he wastes any thing by carelessness or profusion, he is guilty of sin; namely, the sin of despising the creatures of God, which by so admirable a contrivance as the frame of the world, God hath produced for his use. Wherefore, as by feeding so many, Jesus hath set us an example of liberality; so by taking care of the fragments, he hath taught us frugality; and by joining the two together, he has shewn us that charity and frugality ought always to go hand in hand; and that there is great difference between the truly liberal and the lavish man.
John 6:14. Then those men, when they had seen, &c.— This vast multitude of people finding their hunger removed, and spirits recreated, as well as their taste delighted by the meal, were absolutely sure it was no illusion: as St. John expresses it, they had seen the miracle, so could not entertain a doubt, or form an objection.
In this manner did he, who is the bread of life, feed probably upwards of ten thousand people with five loaves and two small fishes, giving a magnificent proof, not only of his goodness, but of his creating power; for, after all had eaten to satiety, the disciples took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces of meat, each disciple a basket; in which, as every one of the multitude may be supposed to have left a little, there must have been much more than the quantity at first set before the Lord to divide. This stupendous miracle therefore, without all doubt, was conspicuous, not to the disciples only, who, carrying each his basket in his hand, had an abiding sensible demonstration of its truth, but to every individual guest at this divine feast, who had all felt themselves delighted, filled, refreshed, and strengthened by the meal. We may just observe, that the expression the prophet who should come into the world, was the usual characteristic by which the Jews described their Messiah. See the Inferences on this chapter.
John 6:15. When Jesus therefore perceived— The people thus fed by miracle were unspeakablyastonished; for indeed it was wonderful to see the food extending itself among their hands. In the height of their transport, they proposed to take Jesus by force, and make him a king, that is to say, to constrain him to assume the title of Messiah without further delay. Anciently it was usual for great men, who courted the favour of the populace, to give public feasts, at which theyinvited all the inhabitants of a town or city. Le Clerc therefore fancies that the multitude took the miracle of the loaves for a thing of this kind; and that they expressed their gratitude to Jesus, by offering to aid him in what they supposed was his purpose. It is, however, full as probable, if not more so,that in this they fulfilled their own inclinations, which led them to wish for the coming of the Messiah's kingdom, wherein they all expected to enjoy great secular advantages; for, to say the truth, they might very naturally imagine that he, who with five loaves and two fishes could feed so many thousands, was in a condition to support armies any length of time that he pleased. See the note on Matthew 14:22. Into a mountain should rather be rendered into the mountain, mentioned above, John 6:3. Before Jesus went into this mountain, several things happened, which the other evangelists have related, and to which we refer.
John 6:16. And when even was now come— We observed on Joh 6:11 that the whole of this miraculous transaction was over by five o'clock in the afternoon; which may be collected from the circumstance here mentioned, namely, that when the disciples departed some time after the dinner, the second evening approached; that is, it was a little before sun-setting, at which time the second evening began: but at that season of the year the sun set before six o'clock in the afternoon; for the passover, and consequentlythe vernal equinox, was not come: besides, they were in the midst of the lake by the time that the sun was set. See Matthew 14:23.Mark 6:47; Mark 6:47.
John 6:17. And entered into a ship,— Christ's order was, that the disciples should go to Bethsaida, as St. Mark informs us; but the wind becoming contrary, as we shall see immediately, they were obliged to sail towards Capernaum. St. John therefore describes the voyage, not as it was intended, but as it actually happened. The evangelists have not told us how the twelve baskets full of fragments were disposed of; probably the disciples carried them with them into the boat; so that having before their eyes this convincing evidence of the miracle, they no doubt discoursed about it among themselves as they sailed, and deliberately reflected on every circumstance which had accompanied it. The people, perceiving that Jesus intended to stay, made no scruple to let the disciples go: perhaps they imagined that he was sending them away to provide such things as he had need of in order to the expedition; neither did they refuse to disperse when he commanded them, proposing all to return next morning, as they actually did; a circumstance which proves that they did not go far away. See on Matthew 14:24.
John 6:19. So when they had rowed, &c.— Probably when they found the wind so violent, their were afraid of being shipwrecked, if they came near the shore; and therefore, having perhaps sailed awhile before the wind they now rowed out to sea; for as they must have been several hours at sea, one can hardly imagine, that with so brisk a gale, they made no more way in all this time than a little abovea league, unless we impute it to their having laboured all they could to avoid crossing the sea, and to get to Bethsaida. See on Matthew 14:24.
John 6:22-24. The day following, &c.— Notwithstanding Jesus had ordered the people to go home after he had sent his disciples away, they did not leave the desart mountain. It seems they took notice that no boat had come thither, but the one belonging to the disciples; and because Jesus did not go with them, they concluded that he had no design to leave his attendants; wherefore, though by withdrawing into the mountain he modestly declined the dignity which they had offered him, they persuaded themselves that he would be prevailed upon to accept it next day, especially as they might fancy the disciples were dispatched to prepare matters for that purpose. In this hope, as soon as the morning was come, the people returned, designing to wait on Jesus; but not finding him, they began to thinkhe had gone off in one of the boats belonging to Tiberias, which during the storm had taken shelter in some creek or other at the foot of the mountain. The most forward of the multitude therefore, entering those boats, sailed to Capernaum, the known place of our Lord's residence, where they found him in the synagogue, teachingthe people. See John 6:59.
John 6:26-27. Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, &c.— "Ye are not come after me, because ye were convinced by my miracles of the truth of my divine mission, and are now disposed to hearken to my doctrine, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Having been once fed, you expect that I will feed you frequently by miracle; and the satisfaction which you found in that meal, has made you conceive great hopes of temporal felicity under my administration. These are the views with which you are following me: but you are entirely mistaken in them; for your happiness does not consist in the meat that perisheth, neither is it that sort of meat which the Messiah will give you: wherefore you ought not to labour so much for the meat which perisheth, Joh 6:27 which nourishes and delights the body only, as for the meat that endureth to everlasting life,—divine knowledge and grace, which invigorate all the faculties of the soul, and can alone prepare it for eternal glory. Neither ought you to follow the Son of man, the Messiah, with a design to obtain the meat that perisheth, but in expectation of being fed with the meat that endureth unto everlasting life; for it is that meat which the Son of man will give you: for him hath God the Father sealed for the great work of redemption: and by the miracle of the loaves, he particularly shews you that he has authorized me, the Son of man, to bless you with the meat enduring to everlasting life, the food of your souls." The epithet of Father is elegantly given to God the Father in this passage, as it expresses the relation, that he stands in to his eternal Son, as the person who in the preceding clause is called the Son of man.
John 6:28. Then said they—What shall we do, &c.— The metaphors of meat and drink being very familiar to the Jews, and frequently used in their writings to signify wisdom, knowledge, and grace, (see Proverbs 9:1-5.Isaiah 55:2-3; Isaiah 55:2-3.) they might easily have understood what Jesus meant by the meat enduring to everlasting life. Nevertheless,theymistookhim altogether, imagining that he spake of some delicious, healthful, animal food, which should make men immortal, and which was notto be had but under the Messiah's government. Accordingly, being much affected with his exhortation, they asked him, What they should do to work the works of God? They meant, What they should do to erect the Messiah's kingdom, and to obtain that excellent meat which Jesus said God had authorised the Messiah to give them?—works, which they imagined were prescribed them by God, and would be most acceptable to him. It is proper to observe, that a great part of the energy of this question is lost in our translation, by rendering the word εργασεσθε, Joh 6:27 labour; it should be rendered work, as it is in this verse, and in Joh 6:30 for the Greek word is the same in all these places, and the propriety of the questions and answers depends upon it.
John 6:29-30. This is the work of God,— The Jews having their minds filled with the notion of the great empire which the Messiah was to erect, expected, no doubt, that Jesus would have bidden them first rise against the Romans, and vindicate their liberties, and then, by the terror of fire and sword, establish the Messiah's authority in every country. Wherefore, when he told them that the whole work which God required of them towards erecting the Messiah's kingdom, was, that they should believe on the Messiah, whom he had now sent unto them, they were exceedingly offended, thinking that he could not be the Messiah promised in the law and the prophets: and some, more audacious than the rest, had the confidence to tell him, that since he pretended to be the Messiah, and required them to believe in him as such, (notwithstanding his character appeared to them entirely different from that of the great deliverer whom they expected, being so humble and peaceable as to refuse the crown, which of right pertained to the Messiah, and which they had offered him,) it would be proper that he should shew greater miracles than their law-giver had performed; otherwise they could not be to blame, if, believing Moses and the prophets, they persisted in their ancient faith concerning the Messiah, and concerning the duty which they owed him. The sentiments of those who speak to Christ in this discourse, are so various, (comp. John 6:34; John 6:41-42.) and the evangelist so expressly declares that there was a debate between them, Joh 6:52 that it would be wrong to imagine the sentiments in the 30th verse to have been those of the whole multitude, who had followed Christ with so much eagerness from place to place for several days. See the following note, and particularly the notes on Joh 6:63 and on Matthew 12:38-39.
John 6:31-33. Our fathers did eat manna, &c.— By extolling the miracle of the manna, by calling it bread from heaven, and by insinuating that it was Moses's miracle, the Jews endeavoured to disparage Christ's miracle of the loaves, which they affected to despise as no miracle in comparison of the former. It was only a single meal of terrestrial food, at which nine or ten thousand had been fed; whereas Moses with celestial food fed the whole Jewish nation, in number upwards of two millions; and that not for a day, but during the space of forty years in the wilderness: wherefore, as if Jesus had done no miracle at all, they said to him, What sign shewest thou?—What dost thou work?—And Jesus replied, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not the bread, τον αρτον,— from heaven. "It was not Moses, who in ancient times gave you themanna, neither was the manna bread from heaven; for it dropped from the air only, and is so called by the Psalmist on account of the thing which is typified: but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. By the miracle of the loaves, my Father has pointed out to you the true spiritual heavenly bread, which he himself giveth you, of which the manna was only a symbolical representation, and which is sufficient to sustain not a single nation only, but the whole world: John 6:33 for the bread of God is that which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." The passage should be read in this ambiguous manner, or the explication which our Lord gives in Joh 6:35 is entirely superseded. The purport of it is, "The manna which dropped from the air, and kept those who made use of it alive only for a day, cannot be called the bread of God; but that is the bread of God which cometh down from God, and maketh the eater holy and happy like God." See on Chap. John 1:9.
John 6:34-35. Lord, evermore give us this bread.— It is reasonable to imagine, as we have observed a little before, that the people who now heard our Lord were of different characters: many of them, no doubt, were obstinately perverse, heard him with prejudice, and wrested all his words; but others of them might be men of honest dispositions, who listened to his doctrine with pleasure, and were ready to obey it. This latter sort, therefore, having heard him describe the properties of this celestial bread, were greatly struck with the thoughts of it, and expressed an earnest desire to be fed with it always. To these our Lord replied, in words of boundless comfort, "I am the bread of life,—the bread of God which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. He that cometh to me, and makes his application to me, shall never hunger; and he that perseveringly believeth on me, shall never thirst, but may depend upon it that he shall find the most restless desires of his soul satisfied; and, conscious of the noblest refreshment and nourishment already received, shall grow up to a state of everlasting complete satisfaction and enjoyment." Thus our Lord assigned one of the many reasons why he called himself the bread of life. See John 6:47-48; John 6:51. The conclusion from this part of his discourse is so evident, that he left his hearers to draw it for themselves. It was this: "Since matters are so, I am manifestly greater than Moses, even in respect of that for which you extol him most. He gave your fathers manna, which was a bodily food only, and nourished nothing but the natural life; but I am myself the bread of life, the food of the soul, making men both holy and happy." See on Ch. John 4:14.
John 6:36. But I said unto you, &c.— He next turned his discourse to those of his hearers who did not possess that ingenuousness of mind which the former had expressed: "You ask me to shew you a sign, that you may see and believe me, Joh 6:30 but I must inform you, that you have seen me,—seen my character and divine mission in the miracles which I have performed already; that is to say, you have seen me perform many signs sufficient to convince you that I am the Messiah; nevertheless, you do not believe that I am he, but reject me as an impostor. Therefore your infidelity proceeds, not from want of evidence, as you pretend, Joh 6:30 but from the perverseness of your own disposition."
John 6:37. All that the Father giveth me, &c.— For the explication of these words it must be noted,
1st, That to believe in Christ, and to come to him, is the same thing. Compare John 5:0 Joh 6:38 with John 6:40. So John 7:0 Joh 6:37 with John 6:38. Again, Joh 6:35 of this chapter, He that cometh to me shall never hunger, is the same with the following words, He that believeth on me shall never thirst. So when Christ had said, Ye have seen me, and believe not, he adds this reason of their incredulity, you come not to me, because you are not given of the Father. He then adds, Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. Note;
2nd, That to be given of the Father, cannot here signify to be absolutely and unconditionally chosen by him to eternal life; for then the Jews could not reasonably be accused for not coming to Christ, or not believing in him, much less that they would not believe, or come to him. Seeing, upon this supposition, that only they, whom God had absolutely and unconditionally chosen to eternal life, could come to him, it was impossiblethey should believe, whowere not thus elected; and so it could not be imputed as their crime, that they did not that thing which it was impossible for them to do; whereas it is certain that our Saviour represents it as their great sin, that in him, whom the Father had sent, they believed not, Joh 5:38 and that they would not come unto him, that they might have life, Joh 6:40 and that they had no excuse for that sin, Ch. John 15:22; John 15:25. Whereas what better excuse could be made for them than this, that they could not come unto him, as not being elected by God to that life which he offered, to induce them so to do? (2.) Hence it must follow, that Christ could not rationally have invited them to come to him, or called them to believe in him, who were not given him by the Father: for this would have been to invite them to come to him that they might live, who, he well knew, could never come, as being never chosen to obtain that life: much less could he have told them, that this was the work which God required them to do, even to believe in him as the true Messiah; this being to require them, according to the present supposition, to believe a lie; that is to say, that Christ was sent to be the bread of life, and a Saviour to them, for whom the Father never did intend salvation by him: and yet Christ did manifestly say to those, who, seeing him, did not believe, Labour for that meat which endureth unto overlying life, which the Son of man shall give unto you, Joh 6:27 and this is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent, Joh 6:29 and my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven, even him that cometh down from heaven, and giveth life (not to those who are absolutely and unconditionally elected, but) to the world. I therefore here inquire thus,was our Lord truly willing that those to whom he spoke should have life? If not, why does he say, These things I say, that ye might be saved, Ch. Joh 5:34 but ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.—If so, why did he say, that he did always those things which pleased him, Joh 8:29 and could do nothing but what he saw his Father doing, seeing it was not the Father's will that they should be saved, or come to him that they might have life, whom he had not given to him, that is, had not unconditionally elected to salv
But, lastly, who are they whom the Father giveth to Christ? There is a prediction or prophesy of Christ, Psalms 2:8. (of whom in the words immediately preceding it is said, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee,) that God the Father will give him the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession; where we discern what kind of giving is here meant—giving for an inheritance or possession, and that is for Christ to be Lord or owner of them, and they, as possessions, subject to his power and disposal: and this is done in the conversion of them. Of thispossession we find mention Tit 2:14 where the peculiar people are a people for a possession, and those are to be purified by Christ, that he might redeem them from all iniquity. But there are not any peculiar number of men absolutely (without all respect to any qualifications) chosen by God to eternal life; for it is apparent and expressly affirmed of one of this number, that he was finally lost: Those that thou gavest me, says Christ, I have kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, Joh 17:12 where, through his own wretched default, one of those who had been given to Christ by God the Father, totally and finally departed, and was lost from him. By the above negative considerations the positive will, I suppose, be best collected.—That they who are so qualified and disposed, as that, Christ being proposed to them, they will come to him, follow him, and be his disciples, those are they whom God the Father gives to Christ. For there is a sort and temper of mind which is most agreeable and proportionable to the believing on or receiving of Christ; and they who possess this temper of mind, are said to be fit, or prepared, or disposed for the kingdom of God, Luk 9:62 such as are ready and willing to accept of Christ's conditions, to part with all and follow him. And of such Christ says that they are not far from the kingdom of God, and that of such is the kingdom of heaven. If it be demanded what temper this is; I answer, it is the honest heart described in the parable of the sower, desiring sincerely to know the truth, and to do God's will, John 7:17. It is the temper resembled by the little children: and of those poor in spirit is the kingdom of God (or the Christian state) made up; and those are they who are evangelized, that is, wrought upon by the preaching of the gospel; and God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud, refractory, confident person. Of these who are thus qualified, it is here truly said, that as God the Father gives them to Christ as his portion, the men who are to be his subjects; so when Christ calls all to come to him, these shall actually come; as soon as ever Christ is revealed to them, they receive him: as Josephus, speaking of Christ, Ant. 1 18: 4 says, he was "a teacher of those men, who did with pleasure receive the truth." To those who by the preventing grace of God (and this preventing grace is offered to all) are thus qualified and disposed, it is said to be given them from the Father to come unto Christ; that is to say, their coming to Christ is consequent to that probity of mind wrought by the grace of God in them. It is an effect of this grace, and of that probity produced by it, (which awakens the soul to an ardent desire after Christ,) that any man lays hold on and receives the genuine faith of Christ.
The expression ου μη εκβακω εξω, I will in no wise cast out, is extremely beautiful and emphatical: it represents a humble supplicant, as coming into the house of some prince, or other great person, to cast himself at his feet, and to commit himself to his protection and care. He might fear that his petition would be rejected, and he thrust out of doors; but our Lord assures him to the contrary. His house and heart are large enough to receive, shelter, and supply all the indigent and distressed. How comfortable,how glorious an idea! No doubt many thousand souls have been sensibly supported by these most gracious words.
John 6:38. I came down from heaven, &c.— "I came not to act according to the bent of human passions, which lead men to return whatever injuries are done them; and therefore I will not instantly leave off exhortingthose who at first reject me. Neither will I inflict immediate punishment on them; but I will bear with them, and try all possible means to bring them to repentance, that they may be saved; for I am come to do the will of him that sent me."
John 6:40. And this is the will of him that sent me, &c.— "My Father's will, which I am come to publish, is, that all who, being convinced of their need of me, and of my sufficiencyfor their help, look by faith to me, and perseveringly depend upon me, as the true Messiah, for a whole salvation, shall be made partakers of eternal life.
John 6:41-42. The Jews then murmured, &c.— Thus Jesus placed the character of the Messiah in a light very different from that wherein his hearers had been accustomed to view it; and taught them, that instead of the temporal blessings which they expected from him, they were to receive none but spiritual benefits. Hence, as the dispositions of the greatest part of them were carnal, his doctrine offended them; especially his affirming that he was the bread of life, and that he came down from heaven. The Jews did not find fault with Jesus for insinuating thatthe Messiah should come down from heaven; that was a point universally believed; but they were displeased because he said, that he had come down from heaven: a thing which they could by no means believe, because they were acquainted with his father and mother. Dr. Wells argues from this passage, that Joseph was yet alive; but its plain meaning appears to be only, "we know who were his father and mother." It seems, however, very certain that Joseph was dead quickly after; for if he had been living, it is not to be supposed that Jesus, when dying on the cross, would have consigned his mother to the care of St. John.
John 6:44-45. No man can come to me, except the Father—draw him, &c.— In explaining this passage, we will, first, shew the propriety of our Lord's answer; secondly, give a plain and full explication of it; and, thirdly, confirm that explication by some remarks: I. There is some difficulty in perceiving the propriety of the answer which the Lord Jesus here makes. The objection of the Jews was, "How can he say that he came down from heaven, when he was born of earthly parents, whom we know?" Our Lord's answer to this is somewhat indirect; the violence of their prejudices made it necessary that it should be so; but it tended to warn those who were prejudiced, without exasperating them: for, 1st, when we consider the answer in the most general view, the assertion that divine teaching was necessary for their receiving him as the Messiah, and the quotation of a passage from the Old Testament, in which this teaching had been foretold, implies a plain insinuation, that it would not be altogether so easy to distinguish the Messiah as they imagined; and that since they ought to expect some difficulty, they should not be positive thathe did not come down from heaven, merely because they knew not exactly in what manner he did so. But, 2nd, It had a still more immediate referenceto their objection. They expected that the Messiah should descend from heaven in a visible and glorious manner, and this was the sign they demanded, John 6:30. (see on John 6:63.) but this sign was so accurately determined, and so minutely described by their doctors, that if it had truly belonged to the Messiah, they must have known him instantly: there could have been no room for doubt, and consequently no need of divine teaching. By asserting therefore the necessityof this teaching, he intimated, that they were mistaken concerning the nature of the sign, that is, concerning the manner of the Messiah's descent from heaven; that no such decisive mark as they expected would attend him, and that on this account they could not conclude from what they knew of the nativity of Jesus, that he was not truly the Messiah. 3rdly, To be drawn by the Father, is commonly and properly understood of men's being enlightened and convinced by the immediate influence of the divine Spirit; but it likewise implies their being taught by the ancient revelations which God had given. According to this sense of the expression, the general import of Christ's answer is, "You cannot perceive me to be the Messiah, or to have come downfromheaven,exceptyouunderstandtheintimationsofhis character, which God hath already given by the prophets: except you apprehend the true meaning of the predictions concerning him,you will mistake their meaning in the particular to which your present objection refers, as well as in many others: you ought therefore to study them the more carefully; by doing this you will attain the knowledge of the real character of the Messiah. For it is predicted, that in his time God will teach all who are disposed to learn, and then you will easily get over the difficulties which now perplex you: for every man that hath in this manner heard and learned of the Father, will, through the operations of my grace, discern me to be the Messiah, and come unto me."
II. The propriety of our Lord's answer being thus shewn, we proceed to give a plain and full explication of it. Our Lord replies to the murmurs of the Jews, "You cannot object my birth on earth, and the meanness of my relations, as things inconsistent with a heavenly extraction; for I assure you, that, while you believe your teachers, who havegreatlycorrupteddivinerevelation;whileyou entertain the prejudices wherewith theyhave filled your minds, and follow the sensual inclinations which have hitherto governed you, you cannot believe on me; for no man can do this except the Father draw him; that is, teach, convince, and persuade him. You need not be surprised when I tell you that no man can believe on the Messiah except the Father draw him; for though you may imagine that all men will flock with great cheerfulness to him, and yieldthemselves his willing subjects, without any extraordinary means made use of to persuade them; yet the prophets insinuate the contrary, when they promise, that, under the dispensation of the Messiah, men shall enjoy the teaching of the Father in a far more eminent manner than under any preceding dispensation. See Isaiah 54:13.Jeremiah 31:34; Jeremiah 31:34.Micah 4:2; Micah 4:2. Before the advent of Christ, the Father spake to the world concerning him by the prophets; and when he appeared in the human nature on earth, he demonstrated the truth of his divine mission by the testimony of John, and by voices from heaven, declaring him to be his beloved Son, and commanding all men to hear him. He did the same likewise by the doctrines which he inspired the Lord Jesus as man to preach, by the miracles which he gave him to perform, and by the influences of the Spirit, which he empowered him to dispense. Every one, therefore, who hath heard and understood what the Father has said concerning the Messiah, whether by the prophets, by John the Baptist, and by the voices from heaven, or by Christ's doctrine, miracles, and Spirit, and has learned thereby to form a just notion of the Messiah, will come to, or believe on Jesus, as the Messiah."
III. Such appears to be the exact meaning of this difficult passage. We observe further upon it, that the expression does not import any force or constraint, as is plain from Jer 31:3 where God says to Israel, with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. Thus also our Lord uses the expression, chap. Joh 12:32 if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me; that is, being put to death on the cross, and raised from the dead, exalted into heaven, and preached through the world, I will by my word and Spirit convince and persuade men to follow me. See also Solomon's Son 1:4 and Hosea 11:4. Wherefore, by the Father's drawing men to Christ we may well understand, as explained above, his persuading them to believe on him by the several proofs wherewith he has supported the divine mission of his Son. Accordingly, in the following verse, the effect which the Father's drawing has upon men, is described by their hearing and learning of the Father. What confirms this interpretation is, that our Lord himself ascribes the whole of the evidence of his mission to the Father: for he calls his doctrine the word which his Father had given him, chap. Joh 17:8 and says expressly, that his miracles were done by the Father, chap. John 14:10. Nevertheless, in the Father's drawing men to Christ, we should at all timesremember,thatthereismoreincluded than merely establishing the divine mission of his Son by sufficient evidence; for in this sense, he has as really drawn those who do not believe, as those who do; contrary to the text, which says, that every man who hath heard and learned of the Father, that is, who is drawn by him, cometh to Jesus. It is plain therefore, that by the Father's drawing men, we are likewise to understand his supplying whatever influences of his Spirit and grace are necessary to impress the evidences of religion on men's minds. To conclude, a conviction supposes a teachableness of disposition, and a love of truth. His drawing men to Christ must imply, his bestowing on them dispositions and affections which, qualify them for being drawn by him. These he offers to all, being not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, 2 Peter 3:9. But too many reject them, resisting the first drawings of grace, and trampling under foot those divine seeds which would otherwise spring up into faith and regeneration. See John 6:65.
John 6:46-48. Not that any man hath seen the Father,— "When I speak of men's hearing and learning of God, I donot mean that they can see the Deity personally, and be taught of him in the manner that a scholar is taught of his master. No man hath seen the Father personally, except the Son, whom the Father hath sent and whose peculiar privilege it is to have been eternally a full partaker of all the Father's councils. In virtue, therefore, of my intimate union with the Father, and my perfect knowledge of his will, I testify it as a most sure and important truth, that this is the only method of salvation, and that it is he, and he alone, who believes in me, and faithfully reposes himself on me, that hath everlasting life, (John 6:47.) Remember, therefore, that it is in this respect I tell you, I am the bread of life; not only as a teacher of truth, and a messenger from God to men, but as the just Redeemer whom you must receive into your hearts, and onwhom you must as it were feed by faith, if you would indeed have your spiritual life to be supported and secured." Thus our Lord explained the nature of the dignity which he had assumed to himself in the foregoing part of his discourse, John 6:33; John 6:35; Joh 6:40 and demonstrated that it really belonged to him.
John 6:49-50. Your fathers did eat manna— Our Lord next drew a comparison between himself, considered as the bread from heaven, and the manna which Moses provided for their fathers in the desart, and which they admired so greatly. "Those who thus regard me," said he, "as the bread of life, will receive far more important blessings than Moses, of whom you have now been boasting, could possibly give: for though indeed your fathers, under the conduct of that illustrious prophet, did eat manna in the wilderness; yet it was not sufficient to maintain their spiritual or temporal life; they are long since dead: but this of which I now speak, is the true bread which cometh down from heaven, and is of such a nature, that any one may eat of it, and have his life so nourished and supported by it, that he shall not die, but be assuredly delivered from the condemnation and ruin to which the breach of God's righteous law has subjected every offender." The opposition between και απεθανον, and are dead, in Joh 6:49 and μη αποθανη, may not die, in Joh 6:50 is elegant, and shews that in the former the spiritual death is meant, as well as in the latter.
John 6:51. I am the living bread— Because it was a matter of infinite importance to his hearers, that they should form a just notion of his ability to save them, and believe in him as the Redeemer of the world, our Lord affirmed the third time, that he was himself the living bread which came down from heaven, to give eternal life and glory; and that all who would faithfully and perseveringly eat of it should live for ever, because he was about to give them his flesh to eat, by making it an expiation for the sins of the world. The word Αρτος rendered bread in this discourse, might be better translated, according to the Hebrew idiom, the meat; and particularly in this verse. There is a beautiful gradation observable in our Lord's discourse. The first time that he called himself the bread of life, Joh 6:35 he assigned the reason of the name somewhat obscurely; He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. The second time that he called himself the bread of life, Joh 6:47-48 he spake to the same purpose as before, but more plainly; he that believeth on me hath everlasting life, therefore I am the bread of life, connecting this with his affirmation, Joh 6:46 that he was the only teacher of mankind who had ever seen and was most intimately acquainted with all the councils of the Father, and that he gave life to men by his doctrine, being on that account also the bread of life. The third time he called himself bread, he added to the name, the epithet of living, not only because he gives spiritual life to men, raises them from the dead, and makes the faithful eternally happy, but because he gives them this life by means of his human nature, which was not an inanimate thing, like the manna, but a living substance; for he told them plainly, that the bread or meat which he would give them, was his flesh, which he would give for the life of the world; and spake of men's eating it, in order to its having that effect: but to the meaning of this expression he had before directed them, when in calling himself the breadof life, he always joined the believing on him, as necessary to men's living by him; wherefore to eat, in the remaining part of this discourse, is to believe, including all the fruits of faith. There appears another beautiful gradation in this verse, compared with John 6:21. The Jews had insinuated, that feeding a few thousand, with the five loaves, was an inconsiderable thing, compared with what Moses did; but our Lord declares the purposes of his grace and bounty to be far more extensive, as reaching to the whole world, andgiving life, immortal life, to all that should believe in him, the great atoning sacrifice for all mankind.
John 6:52. The Jews therefore strove— All the terms made use of by our Lord on this occasion, were such as the Jews had been accustomed to interpret figuratively; for which reason they might easily have understood them: nevertheless, taking them in a literal sense, they were astonished beyond measure, and fell into keen disputes,— εμαχοντο,— about the meaning of them: they debated strongly, some being inclined to believe, others to reject this doctrine. Observe the degrees: the Jews are to be tried here, the disciples, Joh 6:60-66 the apostles, John 6:67, &c.
John 6:53. Then Jesus said, &c.— Our Lord, knowing how unreasonable his hearers in general were, did not think fit to explain himself more particularly at this time; but persisting in the same figurative way of expressing himself, he repeated and affirmed more earnestly what he had asserted before. His meaning appears to be, "Except you be entirely united to me, by a hearty belief, experience, and practice of my doctrine, and partake of the merit of that sacrifice which I shall offer for the sins of the world, continue in the communion of my religion, and receive spiritual nourishment by the continual participation of those means of grace which I shall purchase for you by my death, and bless to you by the communication of my Spirit,—you can never attain eternal life." The flesh of Christ seems to be put here for the whole of his human nature; see Joh 6:51 as it is elsewhere in scripture; Ch. John 1:14.Romans 1:3; Romans 1:3. Wherefore, by eating his flesh, and drinking his blood, is not meant any corporeal action, but men's receiving with thankfulness those spiritual blessings, to confer which our Lord assumed the human nature, and, consequently, their believing, with the heart unto righteousness, the revelation that he came to make concerning the merciful counsels of God; or, as he himself expresses it, Joh 6:63 the words that he spake unto them; especiallyconcerning his incarnation, and his dying to make atonement for sin. These articles of the Christian faith being particularly understood here, give peculiar propriety to the metaphors of eating Christ's flesh, and drinking his blood, by which the whole of that faith, with all its divine fruits, is denominated. The reason is, of all the discoveries made by Christ, those concerning his incarnation, and thenature and ends of his own death, received and meditated upon by a lively faith, afford sovereign and salutarynourishment to the minds of sinners. They are as effectual for sustaining the spiritual life in the soul, as flesh, fitly prepared, is for nourishing the animal life in the body. Dr. Doddridge observes, that the phrase before us, except ye eat, &c. naturally expresses a lively and habitual regard to Christ as the great support of the spiritual life. The mention of his blood as naturally leads to the thought of his atonement; for we are elsewhere told, that we have redemption through his blood, Eph 1:7 and boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, Hebrews 10:19.
John 6:54-55. Whoso eateth my flesh,— "Whoso thus feedeth upon me by living faith, has the principle of eternal life implanted in him, and, if faithful unto death, shall enjoy it, because I will raise him up at the last day; For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. They are the true nutriment of the soul; they feed it, and make it grow. They give vigour to all its faculties, preserve it continually alive, and make it fit for heaven" See John 6:32. Ch. John 15:1.
John 6:56. Dwelleth in me, and I in him,— "We are most intimately connected together in the closest union, communion, and friendship; and therefore whatever blessings I can bestow, whether by my own power, or by my intercession with the Father, or by the influences of my Spirit; my faithful friends shall enjoy them in full perfection." The expression of persons dwelling in each other, occurs frequently in St. John's writings, and denotes the closest union of affections and interests: wherefore, according to the grand figure made use of by St. Paul, it signifies that he who truly believes on Christ, is so united to him, as to be a member of his body, and consequentlya partaker with him of his life, and, if faithful unto death, of his glory, and of all the happiness which he himself enjoys, or is able to communicate.
John 6:57. As the living Father hath sent me, &c.— "As it is my meat and drink to do the will of the Father, who is the fountain and author of life and happiness; as I nourish and delight my mind, as man, with the punctual execution of all the orders that he gave me when he sent me into the world; so he that eateth me, he that cordially and perseveringly believes my doctrine, experiences the power of the truths which I deliver, and obeys my precepts, shall find therein perpetual nourishment and refreshment to his soul."
John 6:58. This is that bread which came down, &c.— "If you attend to these important hints which I have given, you may in general know what I meant, by saying, as I have done, This is the bread that came down from heaven; a kind of bread, infinitely superior to the manna, both in its nature and efficacy; for it is to be eaten by you, not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: it is neither to be eaten the same way that your fathers did eat the manna, nor with the same effect; but he that eateth of this bread, shall live for ever: this bread shall nourish the faithful soul unto everlasting life." See John 6:50. A brief analysis of this passage, respecting the bread of life, will perhaps make the whole more clear. We have heretofore observed, that it was customary with our Lord to accommodate his discourses to the occasions which gave rise to them, and to draw instructions and reflections from the objects which presented themselves. See on Matthew 5:2. The tenor of the present discourse, considered in this view, will appear more beautiful. We are told, Joh 6:26 thatthe Jews followed our Lord because of the miracle of the loaves, and in expectation of further support. He reproves them on that account, Joh 6:27 and exhorts them to desire and seek that bread, which endureth to everlasting life; that divine knowledge and grace, which was the proper food of the soul, and which, being receivedby persevering faith in him, would bring them to eternal glory. They then ask him, how they should do this? and in reply he tells them plainly, Joh 6:29 by believing on him: on this they declare, that they will not believe, unless he give them some sign, some eminent miracle, Joh 6:30 and they mention Moses as having brought them manna from heaven, and intimate that they would expect no less a miracle from him, John 6:31. Upon this he compares himself with the mamma; shews how much he surpassed it, and continues the comparison between himself and bread, John 6:33. This comparison, wherein he asserts, that he was the bread which came down from heaven, offends the Jews, John 6:41. Christ therefore resumes the subject, and confidently asserts, Iam that bread of life, Joh 6:48 that is to say, "that spiritual food, which can bring men to everlasting life." And this bread, says he, is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world; that is, "I will die, as an atoning sacrifice, to bring men to life eternal." As if they had not understood him all this while,though he had at first spoken to them in plain terms, and expressed the whole of his meaning by believing on him with a living faith, John 6:29; Joh 6:35 and made use of this figurative method in answer to their proposals,—they pervert his meaning, and ask, how can this man give us flesh? John 6:52. In answer to which he replies, John 6:53. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat, &c. still meaning what he had meant all this while, in opposition to the manna—that his doctrine, for the preaching whereof he was sent down from heaven, and that grace which should be purchased for them by his death, was the most excellent food for their souls; which would be able to maintain their spiritual and eternal life, and to be to them the source and fountain of perpetual happiness, John 6:54-58. From this analysis we learn, that the amount of the foregoing discourse is, that Christ,—the mortal, despised, and crucified Christ, who took our flesh, came down from heaven, lived and died among us, to reveal his Father's will, and work living faith in us, is the food of our souls; the believing and obeying of whom will support our spiritual life, as food sustains the animal life: and we may hence infer what that faith is, which Christ represents as so highly necessary, and which can be no less than such a belief of the great doctrines of Christianity, as through divine grace shall influence our hearts, lives, and practice.
John 6:59. These things said he in the synagogue,— It is very probable that these discourses were introduced after prayer, and the reading of the law. We are not to wonder at the dialogue which passed here; there are many other instances of disputes which Christ and his apostles had with the Jews in their synagogues. See Matthew 12:9. Luke 13:10. Acts 13:44; Acts 17:17.
John 6:60. Many therefore of his disciples, &c.— As our Lord had a great number of disciples at large, who often attended his ministry, and made a profession of his name; so many of them, whose hearts were not right with him, were highly offended at what he had said about his being the bread that came down from heaven, and about the necessity of eating him in order to their living by him: they who still took these things in a literal sense, thought it a monstrous doctrine: they who took them in a figurative sense, as Christ explained them, thought that he blasphemously assumed to himself a divine original and operation; and they who knew not what construction to put upon his words, thought there was something so mysterious in them, that no man in his senses could receive them. But if they had been humble and childlike, and had really sought spiritual blessings for their souls, they would have understood our Lord perfectly well.
John 6:61-62. Doth this offend you?— "Are you offended, because I said my flesh is bread, and that it came down from heaven, and that you must eat my flesh and drink my blood, in order to your having eternal life?—What if ye shall see me ascend up into heaven bodily, where I was before? Will not that convince you of the truth of my having come down from heaven? Will it not shew you likewise, that I never intended you should eat my flesh in a corporeal manner, and consequently that my discourse is to be taken in a figurative sense?" See the next verse.
John 6:63. It is the Spirit that quickeneth,— As a key to his former discourse, our Lord added, "As in the human frame, it is the indwelling spirit which quickens every part of it; and the flesh, how exactly soever organized and adorned, if separate from that, profits nothing, but is an insensible and inactive corpse; so also the words which I speak unto you, are spirit; that is to say, they are to be taken in a spiritual sense; and ifyou receive them in faith, my Spirit shall accompany them, and then you will find that they are life toyour souls. Whereas, to take them in a literal sense, would be most unprofitable and monstrous. It is indeed strange that you should think of them in this sense; but I know there are some of you who believe not, and would shelter your infidelity under these mean and disingenuous cavils."
We will here, as promised on Joh 6:30 consider our Saviour's discourse in reference to thesign which the Jews asked of him. The day after our Lord had first miraculously fed the great multitude, while he was teaching them in expressions borrowed from that miracle, and urging them to believe on him, they said, What sign shewest thou, &c. thus intimating, that it would be soon enough to receive him as the Messiah, when he assumed the kingdom in the manner which they imagined was fixed by Daniel's prediction. See Dan 7:13-14 and on Matthew 12:38.—that without this no miracles of another sort could prove his claim; and they particularly insinuated, that his having given one meal to a multitude by miracle, was nothing extraordinary, but far inferior to that of Moses, who fed many more for a longer time with manna from heaven. His discourse on this occasion is much larger, and more complex, than any ofthe answers which he gave to the same demand at other times. There are many reasons for this; they expressed their contempt of the miracle of the loaves, as well as asked for a sign. He spake figuratively in allusion to that miracle, on purpose to inculcate its fitness for proving, that he was able to bestow eternal life. Several particular difficulties were moved in the course of his sermon; so that his answer to the demand of a sign is interspersed with a variety of other subjects. Many things, however, which he said, tended directly to shew them that they were mistaken in the nature of the sign which they expected, and to lead them into right apprehensions of the manner and purpose of the Messiah's coming. Thus, though he came not down in the manner which they imagined Daniel had foretold, he assures them several times, that he actually came down from heaven, John 6:32-33; John 6:35; John 6:38; Joh 6:58.Particularly, when they insinuated that this could not be, because he was descended of earthly parents, he affirms very expressly, that, notwithstanding this, he did come down from heaven, and intimates that, accordingto the ancient prophets, the Messiah ought not to come from heaven in such a manner as they expected, which would have made the Jews flock to him eagerly, without the need of any extraordinary means. See John 6:41-51. Our Lord uses such expressions as may at the same time imply, that they exaggerated the miracle of the manna most extravagantly. In order to lead them to rectify their mistake, he further informs them plainly, that the salvation and life which he would bestow, were very different from the temporal deliverance and prosperity which they expected under the Messiah. Whence they might easily collect, that the manner of the Messiah's appearance would likewise differ from their notion, which suited only a temporal king. He constantly represents what he promises, as salvation and life, which would be completed and consummated for the faithful at the last day, in consequence of their being raised again from their graves; and therefore, obviously, as wholly spiritual and eternal. He seems even anxiously to keep this in view; (see John 6:39-40; John 6:44; John 6:47; John 6:50-51; John 6:54; John 6:58.) nay, he tells them expressly, that far from being such a triumphant Messiah as they looked for, he was to die, and that the blessings which he promised would result from his death. The meat that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world, John 6:51. He assures them likewise, that he would ascend again into heaven, What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? John 6:62. This is equivalent to the mention of his resurrection on similar occasions: it is an intimation that he would be proved the Messiah by an appearance as remarkable as the sign which they demanded; and it is an intimation of the true nature of his kingdom, and the manner of his entering of it. Finally, to this intimation, he subjoins the caution in the present 63rd verse, It is the Spirit, &c. which certainly implies a warning that his present discourse was designedly figurative, and therefore ought not to be grossly interpreted: but it may likewise imply a hint, that these mistakes about the Messiah, and particularly their expectation of what their called a sign from heaven, proceeded from their understanding the figurative expressions of the ancient prophesies in too strict and literal a sense, and that his account of himself and his kingdom was really agreeable to the spirit and truemeaning of them. Thus the substance of our Lord'sdiscourse on this occasion, is the same with that of his answer to the demand of a sign at all other times, though the form be different; and it had the directest tendency to shew them that they were mistaken; and to warn them against suspending their faith on a sign, the expectation ofwhich had no foundation except in their own imaginations; and against rejecting him, in opposition to the strongest evidence, merely because this fancied sign attended him not.
John 6:64. For Jesus knew from the beginning— Our Lord insinuates, that he knew who would believe in him among the vast multitude of his auditors; and more particularly, that he knew who would continue his disciples among those who had professed themselves such, even from their first attending him; and that even among his apostles he knew who was to betray him; and that, consequently, in choosing him he was guilty of no indiscretion, as, in continuing him among the apostles, he shewed that he did nothing in his greatest privacies which was culpable. It is plain from this verse, that God foresees future contingencies:
But his foreknowledge causes not the fault, Which had no less prov'd certain, unforeknown.
See on John 6:71.
John 6:65. Therefore said I unto you— "Because I knew that there were false-hearted pretenders among you, therefore, for your conviction and caution, and for distinguishingreal from nominal believers, I told you before (John 6:44.) that no man can savinglybelieve in me, unless my Father draw him by his Spirit, and thereby give him grace and strength to come to me. But God commences and continues this divine drawing in every heart of man, till his influences be so resisted as to oblige him to withdraw himself from the soul; for he will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." See 1Ti 2:4 and the note on John 6:37.
John 6:66. From that time many of his disciples, &c.— This sermon was in all its different branches so offensive to the Jews, that many of them who till now had been our Lord's disciples, finding by the general strain of it, that their ambitious carnal views were to be utterly disappointed,went out of the synagogue in disgust, and never came to hear our Lord again.
John 6:67-69. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, &c.— On occasion of this great apostacyamong the disciples, our Lord, for the trial of the faithof the twelve apostles, and to give them a proper opportunity of professing it, said, in an affectionate and moving manner to them, See how many have forsaken me! will ye also follow their example? tell me what are the thoughts and purposes of your hearts about this matter. Then St. Peter replied, in the name of all, as in charity believing that they were of the samemind with himself, "Lord, whatever others do, we dare not think of leaving thee: for to whom should, or can we go, with safety, and advantage, but to thee? shall we go to the world? that can never be a satisfying portion to us: shall we go to the service of sin? that would certainly ruin us: shall we go to the scribes and Pharisees? they would mislead and deceive us: shall we go to any schemes of our own or of others framing, for happiness? they would surely disappoint us: shall we go to Moses, and trust in the righteousness of the law? he could not help us, but would send us back to thee: or shall we go to John the Baptist? he has turned us already over to thee: 'tis thou, and thou only, that teachest the true doctrine of eternal life, and art able and willing to give us life, as thou thyself hast told us in this discourse: we therefore are determined to cleave to thee. And from what we have already seen of thee, and heard, and learnt, and felt from thee, we firmly believe, and are fully satisfied, that thou art the true bread of life, even that promised Messiah whom we expected, and that eternal Son of the only living and true God, who, as a Divine Person, camest down from heaven." God is there styled the living God, not to distinguish the nature of the Father from that of the Son, but the nature of the true God from that of all false Gods; and Christ is called, by way of peculiar eminence and propriety, the Son of this living God, to intimate that he, as the Son, partakes of the same divine life and perfections with his Father.
John 6:70. Jesus answered—have not I chosen you twelve, &c.?— "The opinion of my character and mission, which thou, O Peter, hast expressed in thine own name, and in the name of thy brethren, is just: however, I know, that you are not all agreed in this confession; for one of you is a devil, a malicious informer, and so perfectly bad a man, that he will betray me. It is true, I made choice of this very person equally with the rest, to be my apostle and companion; but from what I now tell you will happen, I hope you are convinced that I did not pitch upon so unworthy a person through ignorance of him. I was intimately acquainted with the character and dispositions of all of you, and in my choice of you had it in view to make each of you assist me, according to his qualities, whether good or bad, in carrying on the grand design that I am come to execute. By this argument, therefore, you may know that I am the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and that your faith is well founded on me." According to some great writers, our Lord intimates, that the reason why he had not more plainly declared himself to be the Messiah, was because he knew that Judas would have accused him of rebellion against the Romans, for the word Διαβολος, devil, does sometimes signify a false accuser. But there does not appear to be any proof that Judas from the beginning intended to betray Christ. It is more than probable, that he had first engaged with him principally in expectation of secular advantages; and, finding those views disappointed, he might now begin to form that detestable scheme which he afterwards executed. If this was the occasion on which he first entertained the thought, as appears highly probable, one would have expected that such an intimation of his secret wickedness would have struck him to the
John 6:71. He spake of Judas Iscariot— Though our Lord did not at that time think fit to mention Judas, the evangelist adds this gloss, to shew, that no other disciple was suspected. Jesus called Judas a devil, because he would be an apostate and traitor: so likewise in reproving St. Peter, who had expressed an utter aversion to our Lord's suffering at Jerusalem, he called him Satan, on account of that one act by which he opposed the great design of his coming into the world: wherefore he might much more give Judas the name of devil, who resembled Satan so nearly in the wickedness of his dispositions and actions. In fine, our Lord, by declaring that he had knowingly made choice of a traitor to be one of the twelve who constantly attended him, insinuated that in his most retired hours and secret actions he was not afraid of the eyes of his enemies; wherefore, having initiated a person of this character into all the mysteries of his fellowship, no man can suspect that he was carrying on a plot to deceive the world; for if he had, Judas, when he deserted and betrayed him to the priests, would not have failed to discover the imposture.
Inferences drawn from the miracle of the loaves and fishes, John 6:5-14. It is a misfortune, that truth, often presented to the mind in the same view, loses its force by repetition. According to reason, the more we are assured of it the more we should be affected: but we find by experience, that the most important truths, by being often represented after the same manner, become gradually less affecting; they grow familiar; they grow insipid, and at last nauseous. The divine wisdom and goodness has therefore, in the holy scripture, diversified the same truths with an almost infinite variety of circumstances, exhibiting duty in new lights, proper to awaken attention, and persuade obedience with such efficacy, as may, through the grace of God and the influences of his divine Spirit, make due impressions upon us, if any thing will.
That we are continually maintained by the providence of God, is a notorious truth, yet grown so trite, that it rarely moves our gratitude: but the portion of scripture now before us, may serve to enliven it with the new circumstances, in which it represents our obligations to God for our daily food; which is as verily his gift to us, as the loaves and fishes miraculously increased to feed thousands, were the gift of Christ to that multitude.
Had we been present at that wondrous feast, and seen the creating hands of our Lord actually producing food, increasing the small pittance of bread and fish to a quantity sufficient to feed so many thousands; with what pleasing wonder and awe should we have felt ourselves seized! with what devout thankfulness should we have received our portion of the miraculous entertainment!
Now every meal that we eat is in reality as much the gift of our Lord, as was that amazing banquet. His power created, and his goodness bestows our every morsel. The whole world indeed is his family, for which he daily provides, and gives to every creature his food in due season. He causeth the grass (says the Psalmist) to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth. Thus are all things living in the earth, air, and sea, subsisted by God: and as they are so subsisted chiefly for the sake of man, and subjected to his dominion; he, as the priest of this lower world, must pay their homage and service to the common Lord. God has made man to have dominion over his other works, giving him a kind of property in them: and it is therefore highly reasonable that man should pay their tribute of praise, they themselves not being capable of knowing their dependence on God. The young lions are said to seek their meat from God, and the young ravens to cry unto him; yet these are only the complaints of languishing nature, heard and relieved by the God of nature, but not directly addressed to him. Man alone is capable to hold such communion with God, to know his goodness, and celebrate his praise. Yet most men live as insensible to their obligations to him as the meanest animals, who have no capacity to apprehend them. Though they receive their daily sustenance from God, yet make they no returns of praise or thanksgiving. And one reason is, because their sustenance comes naturally, that is, by the ministry of second causes: for nature is the established method by which God produces it. But second causes do not derogate from the first; though, to the great reproach of human reason they too often obscure it. And therefore our Lord, in the case before us, acted without them, producing food immediately by his creative power, and shewing, without a veil, to whom we owe it. This is the sentiment which I purpose, with God's blessing, now to inculcate, after briefly reconsidering the history upon which it is grounded.
Great multitudes had followed our Lord from the neighbouring cities and villages into the wilderness. Their attention to his doctrine, and admiration of his miracles, had suspended the call of natural appetite: on this account our merciful Redeemer called his disciples and said unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way,—for many of them came from far. And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? The place indeed was a wilderness, a barren desart:—but Christ was there: he who furnished a table in the wilderness for their forefathers; he who gives the fruitful vallies their fertility, and whose open hand filleth all things living with plenteousness,—He was there; and could immediately have created food for their present supply, as he did the world from nothing. Why then did he inquire for the seven loaves?—seven stones, or seven clods of earth, were as sufficient in his hand to have fed his many thousand guests. All things were equally possible to his power, but not equally agreeable to his wisdom. He was to teach in every action, and set an example in all that he did. And therefore, though possessed of the inexhaustible stores of Omnipotence, he extended his power only in such degree as the present occasion called for. Seven loaves he had, and those he used: but seven were not sufficient, and therefore he produced a miraculous supply.—He used the ordinary means as far as they would go, and had recourse to the extraordinary only as a supplement to their deficiency.—A great lesson to us; as, on the one hand, not to tempt God with vain presumptuous expectations of assistance, when the abilities already given are sufficient, if we duly exert them; so, on the other hand, to rely with a steady assurance upon his goodness, after we have used our utmost endeavours, and done the best we can.
To instruct us in this, our Lord took the small pittance that was at hand, the seven loaves and few small fishes.—For these He gave thanks (seeing these were all) and he brake them, and gave to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitude: and they did all eat, and were filled; and at the same time, doubtless, their minds were affected with reverence, and the warm emotions of gratitude. For we read that those who saw and partook of this miraculous banquet, were so sensibly affected, that they immediately in some sense professed their faith in him as the great Messias: and, in the sudden transports of their zeal, they would have made him their King; and, at length, grew so importunate, that they would by violence constrain him to accept that office: for the evangelist adds, that when Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a King, he departed again into a mountain himself alone. He fled from offered royalty; for he came into the world for a far higher end, than to wear its crowns. He was indeed a King, and to this end was he born, (as he declared before Pilate) and for this cause came he into the world, that he should bear witness to the truth of his being so. But his dominion was not of this world; it was a spiritual dominion, a rule over souls, an everlasting kingdom of saints. All other empire was unworthy of him, and far beneath his innate supremacy.
Gross and sensual as the opinion of the multitude concerning Christ in general was, their ideas were just in believing him to be the true Messiah, and consequently the highest of Kings. Why then do we not practically agree with them,—we, who speculatively acknowledge him in the most spiritual sense to be the King of kings? They would have made Christ their King for one meal thus bestowed. We receive our daily sustenance from him, yet the greatest part make no return of homage and obedience. And why are we less affected than that multitude? The cause lies partly in the manner, not the matter of the obligation: it is because we receive it by the mediation of natural causes, which proceed in a regular uninterrupted course, according to the wise appointment of God as the God of nature.
That which we call the course of nature, is truly the will of God, and a continual exertion of his Providence. St. Paul says, that God gives us rain from heaven. Yet rain proceeds from natural causes: but it is not less the gift of God, because bestowed by means that are ordinary and established. So our Lord, in that part of his sermon on the mount which concerns providence, says, that God feedeth the ravens: and God does as verily feed them, as they by his appointment fed his prophet Elijah at the banks of Kidron. Yet no man doubts but they are fed by the ordinary course of nature, which is not less providential, because constant and regular.
Nature is the servant of God, and ministers our food, as the disciples did the loaves multiplied by our Lord: and our gratitude should terminate in him, as theirs in some sense did, when they would have made him their king. But our minds are not affected with things that happen often: we contract a certain familiarity with common events; and the daily wonders of nature grow cheap and unaffecting by their frequency. Things which rarely happen, strike; whereas frequency lessens the admiration of things, though in themselves ever so admirable. This miracle of the multiplied loaves has its novelty to recommend it; but the others as much deserve our devout acknowledgments.
We may best judge of this by some other instances. Is it more strange that the rod of Aaron should bud, than that ten thousand woods and forests, stripped by the frosts, should in the spring shoot forth buds innumerable, and make new shades with returning leaves, and bloom? Or, that food should descend nightly from heaven, as the manna did upon one certain spot where the Israelites were encamped,—is this more strange than that food should spring, as it does yearly, and all the world over, out of the ground? God is alike the Author in both cases, and man's obligations are the same: but when his productions appear frequent, and after the same manner, we heedlessly pass them by as natural: and when they appear in a manner new and unusual, then we cry miracle and prodigy! The strangeness of the thing, as it were, alarms us, and makes us raise our eyes to the hand that caused it.
In condescension therefore to our weakness and inadvertency, Almighty God has vouchsafed, upon some extraordinary occasions, to divert his power out of the common channel of nature, and, for this reason among others still more important, to shew it in some other manner that is new and surprizing. In the case before us, he quite threw off the disguise of second causes, and visibly and in person exerted that power, from which the earth gives its increase, and the fountains flow with perpetual streams.
His operations in nature proceed very leisurely from small and seemingly despicable beginnings: passing through various successive changes, and advancing by just degrees, they attain at last their due perfection. Thus a grain of corn, sown in the earth, and perishing there, by a virtue which God has implanted in it, communicates we know not what fecundity to the glebe. From that secret spark of vegetative life the tender roots spread, and the green blade springs forth; which, after a revolution of various seasons, with the concurrence of frost, and rain, and snow, and dew, and sunshine, displays the ear, first green, with little cells full of a milky substance, which ripens and hardens in the sun, till the grain, perfected and ready for the labours of men, is gathered, and, after various operations, becomes proper for our nourishment. So long a progress through natural causes, with divers arts and labours of men, is necessary to make a piece of bread. But the Lord of nature might, and did go a nearer way to work. It was corn in its maturity, it was bread in its perfection, at once, in his creating hands.
The ordinary method of producing food is in general the most proper, as it employs the time, quickens the industry, and exercises the ingenuity of men: the extraordinary way was fit only for those particular occasions whereon our Lord used it, and wherein he had particular views and designs. One important point which he had regard to, was to remind us in that sensible manner of our obligations to him for our daily bread; to teach us to reflect, that however wonderful the sudden increase of loaves may appear, yet every harvest renews the miracle for the subsistence of all the world.
I add one or two instances more of the same nature, because I am desirous to inculcate this sentiment so often as may render it familiar, that our minds may readily enter into it upon all occasions; and as often as we partake of the gifts of God, we may at the same time see the hand that bestows them.
Had we fed upon the miraculous quails with the Israelites in the wilderness, and quenched our thirst at those sudden streams which the rock yielded, at the stroke of Moses, how should we have been transported with a sense of God's goodness! would not such a meal, while it fed our body, also have entertained our mind with holy wonder, praise, and thanksgiving? would not every morsel have renewed our gratitude, and excited our devotion?
And what difference is there between the food wherewith God fed the Israelites in the desart, and that wherewith he feeds us in this land of plenty? None in respect of the Author;—none in respect of our obligations to him. The food that he rained from heaven, and the corn he produces out of the earth, are both alike his creatures; and he that furnished that table in the wilderness, is the same that furnishes our table every day.
There is no room for argument upon this occasion. We all know that our food is the creature of God; that his power made, and his goodness bestows it, as verily as they did the food that fed these thousands. Yet many men make no returns to this universal Benefactor. How just therefore is that expostulation of the prophet, Do you thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy Father, that created, and fed thee? who gave thee all thy faculties, and all the objects wherewith they are gratified? Why have men reason wherewith to trace effects to their causes? Why have they, through divine Grace, lively apprehensions of benefits, and capacities for grateful sentiments, if they do not exert those faculties in the instances that most require, that best deserve them? if receiving daily obligations, they continue as void of grateful reflections, as beasts grazing in the fields, or feeding in the stalls, which have no understanding? Yet even these from the blind instincts of nature express something like an acknowledgment of favours. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib, saith God; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
How justly might God punish the ingratitude of men by withdrawing the blessings which they have long abused? He frequently does so even in this life: and many, who have not been thankful for their daily bread, have lived to want it. But in most instances, perhaps, the case is otherwise; and God maketh the sun to shine, and his rain to fall, and food to grow, for the evil and the good, the thankful and the unthankful, as long as this life lasts: and then the scene will be changed, and his blessings be no more bestowed promiscuously; but they who have not acknowledged his bounty, shall learn how great their obligations were, by the want of it; and, as a just punishment of their unthankfulness, be reduced to that sad state, in which they shall have nothing left to be thankful for.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The miracle recorded in the first part of this chapter, is the only one which all the four evangelists have mentioned. We have,
1. The time and place, when and where it was wrought. Christ had crossed the lake Gennesaret, called the sea of Tiberias from a city that Herod had built on the borders of it in honour of the emperor Tiberius. Multitudes followed him; not so much, it seems, affected by his doctrine, as drawn by his miracles. However, our Lord was ready to receive them; and, going up into the mountain, for the convenience of being heard, sat there with his disciples, and taught the listening crowd: and the passover, the third since his entrance on the ministry, now approached.
2. The miracle itself. Beholding with compassion the multitude who were assembled on this occasion, our Lord addressed himself to Philip, and asked him, in order to try his faith, being himself resolved what to do, Where they could get bread to feed that multitude? Philip, dull of apprehension, looked only to human aid, and suggests, that two hundred pennyworth of bread, which probably was all their common stock, would not be sufficient to give each a morsel. Andrew, hearing the discourse, suggests that there was a lad in the company that had five barley loaves and two small fishes; but these indeed would be as nothing among such a multitude. But where human means fail, the divine power is not straitened. Commanding his disciples, therefore, to seat the multitude in order, where the grass was their carpet, the earth their table, with his divine benediction he consecrated the scanty provision, and, breaking the bread and fishes, gave them to his disciples, who distributed them to the multitude; and, marvellous to behold! under their hands the meat continued to grow as it descended down the ranks; and not only afforded enough for a plentiful meal to all the vast multitude, but such a quantity of fragments as filled twelve baskets full. Note; (1.) When the Lord is pleased at times to leave us in perplexity, he has designs of his own to answer, and knows what he intends to do. (2.) Christ's disciples must not disdain coarse and scanty fare; but be content, when his providence so ordains, to put up with barley cakes, and be thankful for them; and then this poor provision, with the benediction of Jesus, shall yield a richer entertainment than all the delicacies of the luxurious. (3.) They who call a fish-meal fasting, seem to cast reproach on the rich feast with which Jesus entertained his followers. (4.) Bread must never be wasted; even the fragments of barley cakes are carefully gathered up. If we are full, others are fasting, who will be glad of our leavings; good economy is the means to enable us for more extensive charity.
3. Great was the effect, for the time at least, produced by this miracle on the minds of the people. They concluded that this must be that great prophet spoken of by Moses, Deuteronomy 18:15 who should come into the world.
2nd, We have,
1. The retirement of the Lord Jesus. They, whom he had in so astonishing a manner fed, were immediately for proclaiming him king of the Jews, and erecting his standard; expecting, according to their mistaken prejudices, that he would set up a temporal dominion, rescue them from the Roman yoke, and place them at the head of the nations. But far different was the kingdom that he came to establish: therefore, lest their irregular zeal should hurry them into some seditious behaviour, and they might, against his will, attempt to force the royalty upon him, he left them, and went up again into the mountain alone. Note; (1.) Christ's kingdom is not of this world; his true disciples will never seek their portion here below. (2.) His ministers must avoid every thing that may give the shadow of offence to the secular powers, never intermeddling with civil affairs, but teaching all dutiful submission to the powers that are.
2. While the Master was in the mountain, the disciples were tossing in the tempestuous waves. By the command of their Lord they had gone on shipboard, in order to cross the lake; but now the storm arose, the night was dark, the wind contrary, and their Master not come to them, which heightened their distress. Note; (1.) After the sweetest seasons of refreshment, sometimes severe temptations succeed. (2.) It is one of the heaviest afflictions to the soul under trials, when the presence of Jesus is withdrawn, and we are left under darkness and desertion; but this never is without some degree of previous unfaithfulness. (3.) They who embark in Christ's cause, must prepare for a storm. The way to glory lies in general through much tribulation.
3. In their extremity help approaches. In the way of duty we need not despair; Christ will deliver us in the needful time of trouble. He came to them, miraculously walking on the waters; but they, affrighted, thought it had been an apparition, till his well-known voice quieted their fears: when he was so nigh, no evil could hurt them. Note; (1.) We often terrify ourselves with unnecessary apprehensions of danger; and, when our minds are dejected, are ready to fear that the very means which are working for our good, portend an increase of our misery. (2.) Jesus alone, by his all-powerful word, can speak peace to the sinner's troubled mind.
4. With joy they welcomed their Master's arrival; and in a moment the ship, by miracle, was at the place of their destination. Note; (1.) Christ is doubly precious to the soul; when mourning after him, and walking in darkness, he returns, and lifts up the light of his countenance, and disputes every cloud of sorrow. (2.) It will be a pleasing surprise to many a trembling believer, when he shall find himself at death safely landed on the shores of eternal rest.
3rdly, All night the multitude seem to have waited for the return of Jesus from the mountain in the morning; for as they saw the disciples embark, and leave their Master behind them, and there was no other boat in which he could follow them, they concluded that he must still be on that side of the water: but, not finding him there as they expected, we are told,
1. How carefully they followed him. Some boats arriving in the morning from Tiberias, near that place where they had been miraculously fed through the benediction of Jesus, they crossed the lake to Capernaum, hoping to find him there, where he usually made his abode. Note; (1.) They who love Christ truly will stop at no pains in following him. (2.) When we are found in God's way, his providence will soon be seen most graciously to second our good designs and desires.
2. They found him on the other side of the sea, and could not but express their astonishment how he could come thither, having no convenience for crossing the lake. Note; Many eagerly run after Christ and his gospel, pretending great zeal for hearing, who never truly come to him by faith, nor receive the ingrafted word to the saving of their souls.
3. Christ, who knew the spirit and temper with which they followed him, replies to their question in such a manner, as he saw their state required.
[1.] He rebukes them for the corrupt principle on which they acted. They followed him, not because they were convinced by his doctrine and miracles, and believed on him to the saving of their souls, but merely because they had been fed at his cost, and expected yet greater temporal advantages from him when he should set up his kingdom. Note; Many follow Christ for the loaves, who have no love for his gospel.
[2.] He exhorts them to seek a better portion. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you. The world and all the things thereof perish in the using; and we are dying daily, and cannot long possess any thing here below. It were therefore the most egregious folly to lay out all our labour on so transitory a portion, and most criminal to make our profession of religion subservient to the base purposes of earthly advantage. Christ proposes to us a nobler good, even that spiritual food of his grace by which our immortal souls may be fed, and we may grow up to the participation of that eternal life, which the Son of man has to bestow on every truly faithful soul: for him hath God the Father sealed, fully commissioned and authorised him to give this eternal life to his faithful saints. Note; (1.) All our blessings in time and eternity, must come from the free gift of our Redeemer. (2.) None who come to Jesus, seeking the living bread, will be denied, for he feedeth the hungry.
4thly, In consequence of what he had spoken, the persons who heard him entered into conference with him, how they might attain that everlasting life which he mentioned.
1. They said unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? He had commanded them to labour for the enduring meat, and they wanted to know what they must do; whether any thing more was necessary than obedience to the law of Moses: for they founded all their expectations on their own doings and duties, and thought of no other way of life or acceptance with God than by the works of the law. (See the Annotations for another view of this subject.)
2. Christ replied, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. Faith in Jesus, in his divine character as the Messiah, and in the all-sufficiency of his death and intercession to justify the ungodly, is the leading point, without which it is impossible to please God. And this faith is his own work in the penitent soul.
3. They answered again, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see and believe thee? what dost thou work? They overlooked the miracles that he had already performed, and demanded greater. For since he seemed to assume higher authority than that of Moses, they thought he should produce greater evidences of a divine commission: it is true, he had by miracle yesterday fed five thousand, but they suggest that Moses did much more. Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. The number was much greater, the miracle daily continued, and the fare far more delicious than barley loaves.
4. Christ rectifies their mistake. They ascribed to Moses what was not his, but God's gift. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; it does not appear that he had the least concern in procuring it; neither did it come from heaven, as they seemed to imagine, but merely from the air, and served only to support a mortal life: but my Father, who gave you the manna, giveth you the true bread from heaven, of which that was the type and figure. For the bread of God is he (or that) which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world, a provision as much superior to the manna in the wilderness, as the throne of God is beyond the clouds, and life eternal exceeds the present moment of mortality.
5. Ignorantly mistaking his meaning, as if he spoke of material bread, they said unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. They eagerly desire that heavenly provision, whose properties were so excellent, and so far surpassed the manna which their fathers did eat in the wilderness. They indeed understood not what they asked; but if we have tasted the heavenly manna, have fed upon the word of Jesus, and feasted on the sweet and precious promises which are in him, we shall not cease with deep sensibility to cry, Lord, evermore give us this bread!
6. Christ plainly informs them of his meaning. I am the bread of life: he spoke not of bread literally, or of a merely temporal happiness, but of himself; a divine Person become incarnate to give spiritual life to immortal souls. He is the bread of life; our bodies could better live without daily food, than our spirits without constant supplies of his grace. He is both the quickening principle of our spiritual life, and the constant support of it. Therefore, says Christ, he that cometh to me, shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me, shall never thirst; whoever by faith applies to Jesus, shall not want the richest provision to satisfy the most enlarged desires of his soul. But I said unto you, that ye also have seen me, and believe not; they had seen his miracles, yet, through their earthly-mindedness and attachment to worldly interest, they received him not as a spiritual Redeemer, nor trusted in him for eternal life. "This," says our Lord, in other words, "is an evidence of great obstinacy and untowardness, of improbity and pride in you. For had the Father's preventing grace had any success upon you, had it wrought probity or humility in you, you would certainly come in at my call: and I will not reject any one who thus comes, under whatever load of guilt or corruption he groans; nor cast him forth afterwards, if he will abide with me." (See the Annotations.) The Saviour's arms of mercy are open to receive the miserable and the desperate: no sinner who flies to him, need fear a repulse; however great or aggravated his iniquities may be, pardon and peace are assured to him by the promises of the God who cannot lie. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me; not to carry on any design separately from his Father; but as his ambassador, qualified and commissioned to execute that glorious work of man's redemption, to which he was appointed; and ready to do and suffer whatever the will of his heavenly Father had ordained for him. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day: "For this lies upon me as the office for which my Father hath sent me, (the fulfilling of which is all my care,) that I should be careful to preserve every one who with an honest heart shall thus come and believe on me; and give every one who thus perseveres (besides many excellent privileges here) eternal life of body and soul hereafter." (See the Annotations.) All those have a part in this salvation, who hear, and by faith embrace, the gospel which Christ declares. For this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day; the gospel proposes a free salvation, through Jesus, to every miserable sinner; and whoever receives the record of God concerning his Son, and sees his own deep need of the Saviour and the all-sufficiency of Jesus, becomes a partaker of that present life of grace, which is an earnest of the eternal life of glory to the faithful soul. They who perish, owe it to their wilful infidelity; they reject the counsel of God against their own souls, and will not come to Christ that they may have life; either, through wilful ignorance, obstinately insensible of their own misery and want of a Saviour, or, through Pharisaic pride, going about to establish their own righteousness, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God which is by faith.
7. Perceiving now that Christ plainly pointed at himself, as the living bread endued with such wondrous properties, the Jews murmured and cavilled at him, as if he assumed to himself extravagant honours, in pretending to come down from heaven, and to be the bread of life; and they objected his known descent from Joseph and Mary. Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? when his earthly original is so evident?
8. Christ confutes their cavils, and answers their murmurings. He said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves; he knew their thoughts, and the prejudices that they entertained against him, arising from that native corruption of their hearts, which nothing but divine grace through faith could subdue, and which they rejected. For no man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me, draw him; such is the present state of fallen man, that he is under an utter impotence to turn unto God, unless drawn by the Spirit of God, and enabled to believe in his dear Son, who offers sufficient grace to all without exception, and wills not the death of any sinner, but that he should repent and be saved. And to as many as do repent, and submit to, and faithfully improve his grace, Christ saith, I will raise him up at the last day; and the way in which the sinner is thus wrought upon, is according as it is written in the prophets, Isaiah 54:13.Jeremiah 31:34; Jeremiah 31:34. They shall be all taught of God, by his revealed word and the illumination of his Spirit. Every man therefore that hath heard and hath learned of the Father, attending to him, speaking in his word, and by his Spirit to the soul, cometh unto me, trusting on Jesus alone for pardon and salvation; and without such divine teaching and spiritual illumination, and such yielding and submission to those divine teachings, the natural man cannot receive the truths of revelation, nor believe in the Son of God. Not that any man hath seen the Father, visibly or personally instructing him, save he which is of God, his incarnate Son; he hath seen the Father; is privy to all his councils and designs; by him all divine discoveries are made, and through his agency divine power is communicated to the penitent soul, to receive the Gospel-word. Verily, verily, I say unto you, as a most undoubted truth, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life; the genuine Christian has at present a title to it by faith, embraces it in hope, and has the earnest and foretaste of it in present grace; and, if he perseveringly cleave to Christ, shall be brought to the actual enjoyment of eternal glory hereafter. I am that bread of life; it is derived from Christ our spiritual life; through him it is supported, and by him alone it can be perfected. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead; miraculous as their provision was, it only maintained for a while a temporal life, and did not prevent the ravages of death, or render them immortal. But this is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die; for whoever by faith truly and perseveringly feeds upon Christ, shall never die eternally. I am the living bread, which came down from heaven, to be the author of spiritual and eternal life: if any man eat of this bread, constantly hungering after the pardon, righteousness, and salvation which Jesus brings, he shall live for ever; though not immortal upon earth, yet crowned with an eternity of glory in heaven: and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. His human body, offered up as the great sacrifice for sinners, would be the grand procuring cause of all those inestimable blessings which he had mentioned; of which not only the Jews, but the Gentile world, would be made partakers.
9. The gross and carnal ideas of the Jews still prevented them from comprehending his meaning: and they strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? concluding his assertion to be absurd and improbable, because they understood him as if speaking of his human flesh, which should be eaten like bread,—an opinion as monstrous, as that which the Romish church has since adopted concerning the flesh of Jesus, as corporally eaten in the eucharist.
Lastly, Christ confirms and explains what he had said concerning his flesh. It was of absolute necessity, that, in a spiritual sense, that should be done which was figuratively represented by eating his flesh, and drinking his blood; even that they should be vitally united to him by faith, and become one with him, as the food which is eaten incorporates with our bodies. For Verily, verily I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you; without this union of our souls to him, we can neither have spiritual life here, nor eternal life hereafter. But whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; not merely partaking of the elements which represent these; depending on which, they may deceive themselves, and think if they can but receive the sacrament before they die, they shall infallibly be saved; when neither living nor dying will these outward signs at all profit those who are strangers to the inward and spiritual grace; I say, it is not partaking of the outward elements, but the spiritual feeding upon Christ and his saving benefits by faith which is here meant; and whoever does that, hath eternal life, is now entitled to it, and, if faithful, will shortly be put in possession of it; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed; affording the most delightful nourishment and feast for the soul, infinitely exceeding any corporal refreshment. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, with spiritual appetite and discernment, dwelleth in me, and I in him. He is incorporated with Christ, as a member of his body mystical, is entitled to the remission of sins and acceptance with God, which, by the blood-shedding of Jesus, is obtained for all who believe in him, and has Christ as the quickening Spirit formed in his heart, the principle of spiritual life, which, in the faithful saints of God, shall reach its utmost perfection in eternal glory. For as the living Father, who is the fountain of life to every living creature, hath sent me; and I, as man and Mediator, commissioned by him, live by the Father, supported and enabled to finish the work that he has given me to do; so he that eateth me, united to me by faith, even he shall live by me; receiving out of my fulness, as the branches are fed by the living root. Because I live, ye shall live also. This then is the conclusion of the whole; I am that bread which came down from heaven, concerning which I spoke before, and the properties of which are so transcendently excellent: not as your fathers did eat manna; far different is this bread; that was from the air, this from the highest heavens; that was but a type, this the antetype and substance; that only supported a momentary life; they who fed thereupon, were subject to all the diseases and decays incident to mortality, and are dead; but he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever; he shall be holy here, and, feeding till death, on this heavenly food, shall be glorious for ever.
This discourse Jesus held in the synagogue at Capernaum, publicly and openly, that all who desired it might hear and receive his heavenly doctrines. Note; Truth seeks no covert.
The gospel of Jesus must be declared openly, and will bear the severest inquiry. His word is truth.
5thly, We have an account of the different effects produced by this discourse on the minds of the hearers.
1. Many who had followed him till then as his nominal disciples, were highly shocked at what they heard, taking it in a gross and carnal sense, and not entering into the spirit of his words; or they were offended at the divine original and operation which he claimed as co-equal with God the Father; or, because it was mysterious, they disbelieved his doctrine as absurd,—as the infidels and scoffers of our day, who, because the mysteries of grace appear not agreeable to their fallen reason, suppose it a mark of superior understanding to reject them.
2. Christ was apprized of their murmurings; for he sees the hard thoughts which sinners entertain of him, as well as hears their hard speeches. He searcheth the heart, and therefore replies, Doth this offend you? If the coming down of the Son of man from heaven appears so incredible, What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? This would perhaps yet more astonish them, considering the meanness of his present appearance; and might seem still more improbable to happen. As to what he had observed about eating his flesh, this must be understood not corporally, but spiritually: It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing: the bare participation of the outward ordinances avails nothing to procure eternal life. The sinner's soul must be quickened by the power of the Spirit of Jesus, and brought to the discernment of spiritual things, otherwise the most nourishing words of his gospel convey no food to the inward man. The words that I speak unto you, says he, they are spirit, and they are life; to be understood not in a literal but spiritual sense, and, accompanied by the power of the Holy Ghost, become the means of quickening the dead sinner's soul, and maintaining the life which Christ bestows. But there are some of you that believe not; professing to be disciples, but in truth not at all experimentally acquainted with the doctrines of the gospel: for Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father: "This was the reason that I told you, Joh 6:44 that no man cometh to the faith of Christ sincerely, but he who by my Father's preventing grace is qualified for it; (see the Annotations) because I saw that many who follow me, do not truly believe on me, nor intend to live as I command them; but one keeps his love of money, and for that will betray me; and others retain their other interests and their other sins. Note; Christ knows the heart, and sees the infidelity which reigns within, though covered with the most plausible cloak of profession."
3. Many who had murmured before, now utterly withdrew, and returned to their former occupations, to their own sinful ways, and Pharisaical teachers, and never made any farther profession, nor attended any more on his ministry. We are not to wonder if we see apostates; nay, many, of whom we had formed the most sanguine hopes, go back: it was so from the beginning.
4. Christ hereupon addressed his twelve chosen ones, that he might draw from them a profession of faith in him: Will ye also go away? Not that he doubted the sincerity of the eleven; but it bespoke his affection towards them, and his confidence in them, that, whatever others did, they would never follow such bad examples, but cleave to him with unshaken fidelity.
5. Peter's zealous heart cannot bear the suspicion which the question seemed to intimate, and therefore, in the name of his brethren, he nobly replies, Lord, to whom shall we go? Out of thee we can hope for neither pardon, peace, grace, nor glory. Turn where we will, misery and destruction meet us. Thou, and thou alone, hast the words of eternal life; and we believe all that thou hast lately spoken, and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. Note; (1.) St. Peter's reply must be the answer of every faithful soul, when tempted to quit his profession: To whom shall we go, for life and peace? To our sins? they will destroy us. To our own works and endeavours? they cannot justify or save us. To the world? it will deceive our expectations. Christ, and Christ alone, is the only foundation of hope and fountain of happiness to a fallen sinner: out of him, nothing but wrath and ruin remain for us. (2.) The more steadily and assuredly we trust the Son of God, the more we honour him. And that faith which gives him glory, will bring us the most reviving consolations.
6. Jesus answered them, to check too great self-confidence, and prepare them for the issue, Have not I chosen you twelve to the distinguished honour of apostleship, and one of you is a devil? possessed by that wicked spirit in his heart a traitor and a murderer? He spake of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon; for he it was that should betray him, as Christ well knew; though he was one of the twelve, which aggravated his guilt. Note; (1.) A man, like Judas, may have been the means of casting out devils from others, and yet be a devil himself. Among the most flaming professors there will be found hypocrites and apostates. Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. (2.) The purest societies on earth cannot answer for all their members. It is in heaven alone, or perhaps also in the great millennium, that the wheat will be free from the chaff.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on John 6". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent