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Commentary On The Gospel According To Saint John Volumes 1&2

That the Son is the Image of God the Father, wherein also is an exposure of the Jews as not understanding the words darkly uttered by Moses.

Ye have neither heard His Voice at any time nor seen His Form 38 and ye have not His Word abiding in you, for Whom HE hath sent, Him YE believe not.

ONE may see that not simple is the arrangement of ideas poured forth upon the passage before under consideration, but that it is a swarm of hidden contemplations, which very easily escapes the mind of uncritical hearers, and haply admits of being seen by those only who investigate more keenly. For what was it (will one perchance say) that induced Jesus, when He was saying that He was borne witness to by His God-befitting Operation, to come to something most exceeding remote as though it belonged to the subject? I mean that the Pharisees had neither at any time heard the Voice of God the Father nor seen His Form nor yet had His Word abiding in them. And I will agree, and so I suppose will every one else, that not without some cause is this their difficulty. What sense then we shall adapt to the passage before us, and what again we, on all sides holding by the truth, searching shall provide ourselves with, by the Operation and grace of the Spirit I will endeavour to tell forth.

It is the custom of the Saviour Christ, when often making useful discourses with the unskilled Pharisees, to gaze into the depths of their heart, and to consider in God-befitting manner the reasonings still dumbly revolved and stirred up in their mind, and to these in particular to direct both His answers and words and exposures, and He does not altogether keep the thread of His own words unpassed, but to what they are counselling and imagining in themselves, to this He keenly replies, and by it shews that He is by Nature God, as knowing what lies in the depth and searching the hearts and reins. If any one will, let him receive the most clear demonstration hereof, from the other Evangelists, I mean Luke and his companions. It is written then in the Gospels, that there were once gathered together from all the region round about Judea, Pharisees and doctors of the law. And, behold (he says) men bearing on a bed a man which was taken with a palsy, and they were seeking to bring him in and to lay him before him; and when they found not by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when He saw their faith, He said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason saying, Who is This which speaketh blasphemies? who can forgive sins but One, God? But when Jesus perceived (it says) their thoughts, He answering said unto them, What are ye reasoning in your hearts? whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee, or to say, Rise and walk? Seest thou how He not waiting their answer or murmuring in utterance of words, answers as God their inward thoughts? You will find again another example too, fashioned after this same manner. For thus says the blessed Luke, And it came to pass also on another sabbath that He entered into the Synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. And the Scribes and Pharisees watched Him whether He would heal on the sabbath day, that they might find an accusation against Him: but He knew (it says) their thoughts and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. And Jesus said unto them, I will ask you, Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good or to do evil? Seest thou again evidently herein, that He framed His words as looking into the very heart of those who were foolishly trying to accuse Him? Something of this sort again in the passage too before us we will suppose to have been seen by the Saviour in the hearts of the Pharisees. But you will see that the discourse does not spurn the right line, or order of the subject, if you do not shrink from going over again each of those things which have been already said.

This great long discourse with them took its beginning about the man that was healed on the Sabbath Day, and by manifold devices and arguments was Christ endeavouring to persuade those who were waywardly vexed at the healing on the sabbath, that it is lawful even to have compassion on the sabbath, and to do good to all, and besides, that the Law made the rest of the sabbath a shadow of a most note-worthy reality; moreover having in their judgement broken the honour of the sabbath, and hereby specially transgressed the law, He was affirming and that very strongly, that He had been sent by God the Father, and further was clearly telling them that He was borne witness unto by Him, and was well-pleasing to Him in all that He did. To these things (as far at least as the evidence of the arguments goes) the Pharisees again are reasoning with themselves (as waiting on the writings of the law, and ever holding out as a pretext the commands through Moses, and saying they had read) What does this Man say? how will God the Father be well-pleased with one who breaks the Law? when has He testified, or what judgement did He give concerning Him? For we know from the Mosaic writings that God descended upon Mount Sinai, and His Face was seen by the fathers, and His Voice (say they) was heard: He spake to the whole Synagogue, and commanded them to keep the Sabbath Day, clearly commanding thus, Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy, six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work, but on the seventh day is a holy sabbath to the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work. And none other (say they) heard we saying these things: the multitude of the fathers was ear-witness to the Voice from God, and after them the Word of God was in us: But who is This?

When He perceived that they were thus imagining, He exposes them as keenly ignorant, saying, Ye have neither heard His Voice at any time nor seen His Form, and ye have not His Word abiding in you, for whom HE sent, Him YE believe not. For the things done in a type at that time, and why the descent of God upon Mount Sinai was figured out to them, these things they knowing nothing of, received them not as images of spiritual realities, but were imagining that the Divine Nature could actually be seen with the eyes of the body, and believed that He used a bodily voice. But that the Word of the Saviour to them was true, and that they neither at any time heard the Voice of God the Father, nor had any one with bodily vision seen His Form, that is, the Word in all things like unto Him, I think that we ought again to shew clearly, bringing to spiritual investigation and test the things written in Exodus. It says thus, And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire, and the smoke thereof was going up as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole people quaked greatly. And the voices of the trumpet sounded, going forth exceeding mighty, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. Thus far then the oracle of the all-wise Moses: but I think we ought now too to convict the Jews of stumbling into a most absurd idea of God, imagining that they had both seen His Form, and heard the Voice actually inherent in the Divine Nature.

Come then taking courage in the bounty and grace of the Saviour, let us refine the grossness of the letter of the law into spiritual contemplation: for so will that be shewn to be true which was said to the Pharisees of God; Ye have neither heard His Voice at any time nor seen His Form. The people then being brought forth by Moses to meet God, as it is written, will be a manifest sign and token as in enigma, that none can unled and uninstructed come to God, but by the law are they led to the knowledge of the things which they seek to learn. For Moses will be understood to be put for the Law, according as is said by a certain one, They have Moses and the Prophets. But the standing by under the mount, when God had now descended and was on it, signifies the readiness of disposition and resolve of those who are called to serve Him, not refusing in any way to apply themselves even to things above their power and superior to their nature, while God is with them. Such in all respects are they who are partakers of the Saviour. Wherefore they practising manliness above men say, Who shall separate us from the Love of Christ? shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? for all dreadful things are tolerable to the godly for love of Christ, and though tribulation should rise up as a mountain, they will rise superior against all danger, and will not withdraw their mind from love to God. But God is said to come down, not upon any low ground, but somewhere on high and on a mountain is He seen, that you may think some such thing as this with yourself, that although the Divine Nature condescending to our understandings, brings Itself to our conception, yet is It exceeding far above us, both in words and thoughts. For the height and intensity of the doctrines respecting It, are signified by the mountain, which he tells us was wholly darkened with smoke. For keen indeed and not very clear to us are words respecting the Godhead, wounding like smoke the eyes of the understanding. Therefore the most wise Paul testified that we see through a glass and darkly: the Psalmist again says that He, that is, God, made darkness His secret place, under the name of darkness hinting the Incomprehensibleness around Him, whereof the smoke about the fire on the mount may well be taken as a type. But the Godhead Itself descended in the form of fire, at that particular time, fittingly and of necessity for the nature of the thing. For it behoved, it behoved that He Who called Israel unto bondage and understanding through the law that should be put forth, should appear as an Enlightener and an Avenger. And both these ends are accomplished by fire. Yea, and the voices of the trumpet (saith he) sounded, going forward exceeding mighty, that some such effect of ideas again may be wrought for us: for the Law too was proclaimed by God, yet not continuously at first, by reason of the infirmity of the pupils, but stammeringly, so to say, and not with the whole force of the trumpeter. Wherefore Moses too called himself slow of speech. But as time advances, and carries forward the believers in Christ from the shadow in the letter to the spiritual worship, the voices of the Divine trumpet waxed exceeding mighty, the saving and Gospel preaching resounding in a way through the whole earth. For not as the Law, feeble-voiced and petty-heralding, was this heard in the country of the Jews only, or proclaimed from Dan to Beersheba, but rather, Their voice went forth into all the earth, as it is written. And what besides? Moses spake (saith he) and God answered him by a voice.

Keen be again the mind of the more studious, accurately let it observe the stability inherent in the Divine Oracles. For Moses speaks, and God answers him by a voice, not surely by His Own Voice, for this it does not say, but simply and absolutely by a voice, wrought wondrously in more human wise by sound of words. For in respect of what work will God be powerless? What that God wills shall He not perform, and that full readily? Therefore Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. Herein is the type, let us see the truth. You have therefore in the holy Gospels the Lord speaking, Father, glorify Thy Son, and the Father answering by a voice, I both glorified, and will glorify again. The Saviour shewed that this is not truly the voice of God the Father, by saying to those who were then present, This voice was made not because of Me, but for your sakes. Thou seest how He clearly affirmed that the Voice was made, since it is not meet to suppose that the Divine Nature useth a voice with a sound, though It conform Itself to our needs and speak like us, economically.

These considerations were of necessity brought into our present discourse: we deemed it altogether needful that Jesus should be shewn to the readers speaking truth, when He is found saying of His Father, Ye have neither heard His Voice at any time nor seen His shape, and ye have not His Word abiding in you, for Whom HE hath sent, Him YE believe not. That the Pharisees puffed up unto strange boasting, were wont to pretend that the Divine Word was with them and in them, and therefore foolishly affirmed that they had advanced to marvellous wisdom, the Spirit Itself will testify, since Christ says by the Prophet Jeremiah unto them, How do ye say, WE are wise, and the word of the Lord is with us? For nought to the scribes became their lying pen; the wise men were ashamed, were dismayed and taken; what wisdom is in them? because they rejected the word of the Lord. For how are they not taken rejecting the Living and Hypostatic Word of God, receiving not the faith to Him-ward, but dishonouring the Impress of God the Father, and refusing to behold His most true Form (so to say) through His God-befitting Authority and Power? For the Divine and Ineffable Nature is in no other wise apprehended (so far as may be) by us, than through what It effects and works, therefore Paul directs us to go from the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably unto the contemplation of the Creator, the Saviour again leads us to the apprehending of Himself, saying, If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not; but if I do, though ye believe not Me, believe My works. And with great reason did He blame His own disciple (this was Philip) who imagined thoughtlessly that he could in any other way attain to the contemplation of God the Father, albeit it was in his power to consider His Uncreated Image, which shews accurately in Himself Him Who begat Him. Wherefore He said, So long time am I with you, and hast thou not known Me Philip? he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.

39 Ye search the Scriptures, for in them YE think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me, 40 and ye will not come to Me that ye might have life.

The smooth, and passable to the many, and beaten explanation of the passage persuades us to suppose that it was spoken in the imperative mood by our Saviour to the Pharisees, that they ought to search the Divine Scriptures and gather testimonies concerning Him unto life. But since by interposing the conjunction (I mean, And) He joins on the clause, Ye will not come to Me, He evidently signifies something else, akin to what has been said, but a little different. For if it were to be taken imperatively, how should we not say it was necessary to say the whole sentence in some such fashion as this, Search the Scriptures for in them YE think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me; but when ye have searched, come to Me? But He is blaming them for not choosing to come, although led to it by the search, saying, And ye will not come to Me.

We will then, looking to what is more profitable and agreeable to what preceded, read it not imperatively, but rather as in connection and with a comma. Of this kind again will be the meaning of the passage before us. For when He saw that they were ever running to the books of Moses, and ignorantly collecting thence materials for gainsaying, but seeking for nothing else, nor receiving what would avail them for due belief: needs therefore does He shew them that their labour in searching for these things is useless and unprofitable, and clearly convicts them of exercising themselves in a great and most profitable occupation in a way not becoming its use. For what tell me (saith He) is the use of your searching the Divine Scriptures, and supposing that by them ye will attain unto everlasting life, but when ye find that they testify of Me and call Me everlasting life, ye will not come to Me that ye might have life? Whence then ye ought to be saved (He saith) ye perceive not that thence ye get the greatest damage to your own souls, ye who are sharpened from the Mosaic books only unto gainsaying, but the things whereby ye could gain eternal life, ye do not so much as receive into your minds.

For that in the Law and the holy Prophets there is much said concerning Him Who is by Nature Life, that is the Only-Begotten, will I think be plain to all who are lovers of learning.

41 I receive not honour from man, 42 but I know you, that ye have not the Love of God in you.

He perceives again, yea rather He sees in a God-befitting way, that the stubborn and contumacious band of the Pharisees were cut to the heart, and that not altogether at being accused of not searching the Divine Scriptures as they ought, but rather at His saying, Ye will not come to Me. For what diseases themselves easily fall into, these they think can take hold of the Saviour also. For they imagined (it seems) of their great folly that the Lord was ambitious, and wished to obtain for Himself honour from all, through His calling them to be His disciples. Having got some such surmise as this into their minds, they expected to be deprived forthwith of their authority over the nation: they were cut to the heart in no slight degree at seeing the Heir desirous of demanding the fruit of the vineyard. Wherefore, as far as pertains to their wrath and envy at what is said, they all but say what is in the Gospel parables, Come, let us kill Him and let us have His inheritance. Taking away then their surmise the offspring of emptiness, and plucking up beforehand by the roots the shoots of envy and evil eye, He says downright, I receive not honour from man. For I do not (says He) call My hearers to discipleship under Me, as though hunting for honour from you, or from others, as YE do, nor do I receive this as the reward of My teaching, having most full glory from Myself, and not short of that from you, but I said that ye would not come to Me, because I know well, that ye have not the love of God in you. And being destitute of Love to God (says He) how should ye come to Me, Who am the Only Begotten, God of God?

43 I am come in My Father’s Name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.

In order that the Pharisees might not think that the Lord was idly railing at them, from His saying, Ye have not the love of God in you, He immediately adds this also to the above, shewing that the saying is true. That I do not lie (says He) in saying that ye are bereft of love towards God, I will set before you by one thing. For I came in My Father’s Name (for I am persuading you zealously to perform all things to the glory of God the Father) but ye shook off from you by your unbelief Him That cometh from above and proceedeth from God: but ye will surely receive (for as God, I know things to come) the falsely-called, who does not offer the glory to God the Father, and demands credence from you, yet works in his own name. Whence I suppose the blessed Paul too, having understanding, says something true concerning the Jews and the son of transgression, Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved, for this cause God sendeth them an operation of error, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be doomed who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. This then which is said is a proof that the Pharisees were not slandered by our Saviour Christ with empty words, for it introduces a prophecy of an event which should come to pass in its time.

44 How can ye believe, which receive glory of men, and seek not the glory that is of the only God?

He accuses the Pharisees of love of rule and of prizing honours from men, covertly hinting that they do exceeding ill, in unadvisedly putting the diseases of their own soul upon God Who can by no means know disease. Next He says that they, fast held by vain glory, thereby lose the fairest prize, meaning faith in Him: whereof Paul too speaketh clearly to us: for if (says he) I were yet pleasing men; I should not be Christ’s servant. It usually then as of necessity befalls those who hunt for honours from men, to fail of the glory that cometh from above and from the only God, as saith the Saviour. He says only, opposing God to the gods of the Gentiles, and not excluding Himself from the honour of the Only. For as we have often said already, the Fullness of the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity mounteth up to One Nature and glory of Godhead.

45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father; there is that accuseth you, Moses, in whom YE have hoped.

Having said that the Pharisees cared more to live vaingloriously than piously, and having taught that hence they turned aside to unmeasured unbelief, He says that they were accused by Moses himself, of whom it was their custom to boast very vehemently. And indeed when the man who was blind from his birth once said to them of Christ, Will YE also be His disciples? immediately they cry out and say openly, THOU art His disciple, but WE are Moses’ disciples. Even Moses himself therefore (says He) shall accuse you, in whom ye put all your hope, and he despised with the rest will denounce before God your innate folly. And we do not deem that they who believe not in Him will be without blame from Christ, by reason of His saying to the Jews, Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. For what shall we say when we hear Him saying, Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I too confess before My Father which is in Heaven: but whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in Heaven? shall we not reasonably suppose, that they shall be accused to God the Father for their denial, who meet with this from Christ? But I suppose this is clear to every one. The Jews then are not surely free from accusal who have through long unbelief denied Christ, but this applies to them most naturally. For since they shook off His admonitions, and made no account of His Divine and Heavenly teaching, but are ever about duly keeping the Mosaic law, so as to be seen at length even more nakedly crying out, WE know that God hath spoken unto Moses, this man we know not from whence He is:—most necessarily does He convict them of transgressing against that Moses, in whom they boast, and says that they need no other accuser, but that the law given through him will alone suffice for their with reason being accused for their unbelief in Him, even though the Voice of the Judge, that is, Christ, should be dumb.

46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for of Me he wrote.

Having said that the Jews would be accused by the all-wise Moses, and would undergo indictment at his hands for their unbelief in Him; He profitably subjoins these things also, teaching that He was not finding fault with them for nothing, or otherwise repudiating the suspicion of being given to railing, for it is evident that He is making no untrue speech. Be it then (saith He) that ye reject My words, I will bear with not being believed: receive your own Moses, give credence to him whom ye admire, and ye shall know of a surety Him whom not knowing ye dishonour. Break off your types which travail with the truth. For I am shadowed out in his books. Therefore will Moses himself also accuse you (saith He) when he seeth you disbelieving his writings about Me.

We ought then perhaps having interpreted what is before us, to proceed in order, committing it to sincere lovers of learning to investigate the images of Christ through Moses. For his books are full of passages, and there is much said by him, yet full of difficulty to understand and replete with exceeding subtle and hidden meanings. But lest we seem to let indolence have the mastery over us, and unreasonably to shirk so glorious a toil, by simply clothing with difficulty the books of Moses, we will apply ourselves to this too, knowing what is written, The Lord will give utterance to them who evangelize with much power.

But since there are, as we have said, many words on these things, and since the all-wise Moses hath through many forms foretypified the Mystery of Christ, we shall not deem it necessary to heap up a great multitude before our readers, but having chosen one out of the whole number, we will essay to make clear proof that the Word of our Saviour was true, which He spake to the Jews, saying, If ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed Me, for of Me he wrote.








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