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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter we have an account of a miracle wrought by our Divine Redeemer at Jerusalem in the cure of an infirm man, who had been suffering under his infirmity for eight and thirty years, after having waited in vain for the miraculous cures witnessed from time to time, at the pond of Probatica (1–9).

The attempts on the part of the Jews as was their wont, to arraign our Lord for a violation of the Sabbath, and their persecution of Him (10–16). Our Lord justifies His mode of acting, by declaring His Divinity, His identity of nature, and operation with His Father, who conferred on Him all power, especially the power to judge the world, and by His all-powerful voice to raise the dead from their graves, and pass upon them, an immutable judgment, entailing everlasting misery or happiness (16–30).

He refers to several witnesses of His Divinity, the Baptist, His own works—the testimony of His Father Himself, and, finally, the testimony of Scripture, of which they boasted so much (30–39).

He charges them with vain glory and pride, the great obstacles to their embracing the faith (40–44).

He charges them with paying no attention to the writings of Moses, who bore testimony of Him (44–47).

Commentary

1. “After these things,” etc. The Evangelist here passes over several occurrences that took place in connexion with our Lord in Galilee; His many miracles, the vocation of the Apostles, the sermon on the Mount, etc., recorded by St. Matthew (4–12).

“A festival.” It is a subject of controversy among Commentators, what festival is here referred to. Some understand it of the Feast of Purim or Lots, instituted by Mardochai (Book of Esther 9:17); others, of the Feast of Tabernacles; others, with St. Chrysostom, Cyril, etc., of the Feast of Pentecost; others, with St. Ireneus, etc., whose opinion seems the more probable, of the Pasch, the Great Festival, by excellence. This corresponds best with the time referred to in 4:25, where our Lord speaks of the harvest being four months off. Now, the harvest occurred between the Pasch and Pentecost. Hence, the Pasch was the next great festival. It is generally held by the learned, that our Lord attended four Paschs after his baptism, duing the three years and a half of His public mission. The first (2:13); the second, here; the third (4:6); and the last (19:14). If the festival referred to here were not the Pasch, he would have attended only three Paschs. To these reasons may be added, that the article is prefixed in the Greek ἡ ἑορτη, to indicate that there was question of the feast, the greatest of the three, which were annually celebrated at Jerusalem. But even were the article omitted, it would not militate against this opinion, as it is omitted in several places, where the Pasch is referred to (19:14; Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:6; Luke 23:17).

Our Lord went up to Jerusalem on the occasion of each recurring festival, to show that far from being the enemy of the Law, He was most observant of all its ordinances. He also had in view, to work miracles and deliver His heavenly doctrines, when the people assembled in great crowds at the several festivals.

2. “A pond called Probatica.” There is reference here to a pool of water, called “Probatica,” because it was close to the gate through which the sheep destined for sacrifice passed. According to St. Jerome (de locis Hebraicis), the sheep were washed in this pool in preparation for sacrifice. In the ordinary Greek, the reading is, επι τη προβατικη, near the sheep, gate, πυλη, is understood. That προβατικη, refers to a gate, may be seen from Nehemias or 2 Esdras (3:1), where there is reference to this flock-gate built by the Priests. “A pond”—κολυμβητρα. It was of sufficient dimensions to form a swimming ground.

“Which in Hebrew is named Bethsaida.” The common reading is Bethesda.

“Having five porches,” fronting the pool, and roofed, as a protection against the sun and rain.

3. “Waiting for the movement,” etc. The reason is assigned in the next verse, because the time of such movement was uncertain.

4. The authenticity of this verse, owing to its having been omitted in several versions and MSS., has been called in question by the Anabaptists. They, moreover, chiefly rely on this circumstance, that no mention has been made of it by Josephus. But, the preponderance of evidence from versions and the Fathers is in favour of its authenticity. The context requires it: otherwise, the answer of the man (v. 7), would be unintelligible. As for Josephus, he was the enemy of Christianity, and would not speak of this pool, as it would seem to corroborate the miracle wrought by our Redeemer. The same author passes over several other matters (v. g.), the coming of the Magi, the infanticide, etc. Surely, the positive description by St. John ought to carry with it greater weight than the omission on the part of Josephus.

“The Angel of the Lord.” “Lord” is not in the Greek. The sense, however, is the same, as, doubtless, there is question of an Angel sent by God. In the Greek we have, “For, an Angel descended,” etc., giving a reason for the foregoing “at certain times,” at some unknown time. How often in the year cannot be ascertained, as we have no information respecting the pool anywhere else save here.

“And the water was troubled.” The more probable reading is in the active form, και εταρασσε το ὕδωρ, and he troubled the water.

“And he who went down first,” etc. Besides this statement of the Evangelist, the fact of invalids of every description (v. 3), remaining in the porches would seem to show, that the healing power of the water was not confined to any one sort of disease; that it had an universal efficacy, extending to diseases of every description, which would show the miraculous and supernatural character of the cure, which is corroborated by the circumstance that on every occasion, the cure was confined to the first who entered, after the movement of the waters, and that, immediately and invariably.

Even if these waters had a natural curative efficacy, this would not militate against the truth of the Gospel narrative, as the Angel might invisibly use such natural curative power to impart to it, on occasions, supernatural efficacy also.

The Evangelist refers to this pool, etc., by way of preparing us for the subsequent history of the miracle wrought by our Blessed Redeemer.

5. “Under his infirmity,” generally supposed to be paralysis. It is not stated, how long He lay in the porch.

8. Our Lord’s words here were not only expressive; but, practical and effective of what He wished.

9. The intervening verses need no explanation.

10. The chief men of influence who met Him carrying His bed, said to Him, “It is not lawful for thee to take thy bed.” (Jeremias 17:21: “Take heed to your souls, and carry no burdens on the Sabbath day,” etc.) (See Matthew 12:6, 7.)

14. “Sin no more,” etc. From this it would appear his infirmity was the punishment of sin. Our Lord also in this showed His Omniscience. He knew the cause from which the man’s infirmity had sprung. Hence, in some cases, diseases are the punishment of sin. In other cases, God sends diseases to test His servants, to try their patience; thus to increase their merit and save them from sin, by chastening them in this life, as an antidote against sin.

15. As it is incredible that this man would mean, in giving this information, to betray his benefactor, who cured him of his inveterate disease of soul and body, one being the effect of the other, Commentators, in general, hold that he did this out of a feeling of gratitude, to make known and proclaim the glory of his benefactor, and possibly, with a view of making known to others labouring under bodily distempers, to what source they might profitably have recourse, for the recovery of bodily health. St. Chrysostom observes, that in informing the Jews, the man made no mention of the charge preferred against our Lord by the Jews, of His having told him to take up his bed on the Sabbath day. He only mentions the act of beneficence; or the cure effected. “It was Jesus who made him whole.”

16. “Therefore did the Jews,” especially the Scribes and Pharisees, “persecute Jesus.” Some Greek copies have, “and sought to kill Him.” They make this apparent violation of the letter of the Law, a pretext; the real cause being envy, on account of the glory our Lord received, and His denunciation of their crimes and hypocrisy, which affected them the more, as they affected such sanctity of life.

17. The Evangelist enumerates, without expressing it, that the Jews came to our Lord, after being informed by the sick man, that it was He who worked the cure, and charged Him with a violation of the Sabbath. Hence, in reply, He defends His conduct. On other occasions, He defends His action, in like cases, on human grounds, and adduces reasons from human examples, among the rest that of David (Matthew 12:3, 4). Here, He defends His action on higher grounds, viz., on the ground of His Divinity, of His equality and identity in nature with the Eternal Father. He says, “MY Father,” not OUR Father, since the paternity of which He speaks no one else had in common with Him. They are the adopted sons, He, the natural Son of God. “Worketh until now.” As if He said: you charge Me with violating the Sabbath, which was instituted in commemoration and celebration of God’s rest on the seventh day, after having, on the six preceding days, perfected the works of creation. Now, My Father did not rest on the seventh day, save as regards the creation of new species. But, He always continues to work, “and works until now,” even on the Sabbath, in preserving, holding together, conserving creation, in governing the world, in moving the heavens, in nourishing and feeding every creature—a work by no means servile, but truly benevolent. Were He to withdraw His protecting hand, all creation would crumble. Hence, His work did not cease, on the seventh day. On His conserving Power, every creature depends.

“And I work.” “And,” in like manner; I, who am His eternal consubstantial Son, work jointly with Him. As well, then, might you accuse the Eternal Father of violating the Sabbath, as accuse Me. As the Father is exempt from the Sabbatical law; so, am I, His Eternal Son.

18. “Hereupon, therefore, the Jews sought the more to kill Him.” The Jews were anxious to put our Lord to death, on the pretext of having violated the Sabbath. But now they were stimulated the more to kill Him; “but also said God was His Father,” making Himself not only God’s ADOPTED Son, like the saints and just; but, His natural Son, “MY Father.”

“Making Himself equal to God,” as His natural, consubstantial Son, who works not only after His example, but conjointly with Him. “And I work,” “and” meaning, I work conjointly with Him. Hence, according to them, He was guilty of the shocking crime of blasphemy, which the Law punished with death (Leviticus 24:16).

19. Far from repudiating the conclusion arrived at by the Jews, viz., that He made Himself equal with God, He rather confirms it.

The words, “Amen, amen,” show the solemn importance of the statement to which they are prefixed.

“The Son cannot do any thing of Himself, but what He sees the Father doing.” In this our Lord proves that in curing on the Sabbath day—a work of mercy—He did not violate the Sabbath any more than the Father, who still works, violated it: nor can the Son do anything contrary to what the Father does. From this follows unity and identity of operation in the Father and the Son. Both work together. What one does, the other does. The Son does nothing of Himself; because, owing to unity of operation, the Son does nothing without the Father, nor does the Father act without the Son. Hence, the words imply no imbecility in the Son, any more than in the Father; because, both operate conjointly and inseparably.

Our Lord speaks of His Divine nature. For, as man, even as man God, He does some things which the Father doth not (v. g.), pray, walk on the waters, etc.

The words, “sees the Father doing,” imply no dependence or imperfection. They only indicate the relation of Divine origin in the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, as His eternally begotten Word. “Vide do enim natus est et nascendo videt.”—“Videre est accipere Divinam Cognitionem.”—St. Augustine.

“For whatever things He doth,” etc. The Jews preferred a twofold charge against Him, viz.: the violation of the Sabbath, and making Himself equal to God. The former charge He refutes in the preceding words; far from denying the latter, He proves it by declaring in the most general, unexceptionable terms, that every thing done by the Father is done by the Son “in like manner.”

20. “For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth Him all things,” etc., and communicates to Him all knowledge of doing what He does. In this verse, is assigned a reason why the Son does all the Father doth. It arises from the identity of nature in both. In begetting His son by an eternal generation, the Father singularly loves Him, and communicates to Him, with the fulness of the Divine nature, a knowledge of all He does and conceives in the Divine mind. The word, “sees,” in reference to the Son (v. 19), and “shows,” in reference to the Father, are correlative terms, indicating the communication of the Divine nature from the Father to the Son, and the eternal generation of the Son, in which He receives all things, To “show,” on the part of the Father, refers to the generation of the Son, “to see,” on the part of the Son, denotes his generation from the Father.—St. Augustine.

“And greater works then these will He show Him, that you may wonder.” This showing on the part of the Father, was communicated from eternity, in the eternal generation of the Son. The power then given Him was displayed in past times, and lately exhibited in the cure of the paralytic; and it shall be exhibited in future, in works and effects still more brilliant than the cure of the paralytic, such as raising the dead and the exercise of judiciary power over all men. These will be calculated to excite your wonder and astonishment, though they may fail in their intended effect of generating in you the divine virtue of faith.

“Will show Him,” is used in the future, in accommodation to human ideas, there being question of a future event; but as regards God, with whom every thing is present, it is not future. As regards Him, it is eternal, though the result be future in regard to man.

21. This is one of the greater works, He will show and communicate to His Son, viz., the power of raising up the dead and restoring them to life. “As the Father raiseth,” etc. The present tense, “raiseth,” denotes perpetuity.

“So, the Son giveth life,” etc. This indicates equality of Divine power. Unlike the Prophets of old, He raises them by His own innate power. To God is it peculiarly attributed, that He alone can restore life to the dead (1 Kings 2). “Dominus mortificat et vivificat.” “Ego, Dominus occidam et ego vivere faciam.” He adds, “to whom He wills,” to show full liberty and independence of power, equal, with the Father, without subjection to Him. The Father always wills to vivify those whom the Son wills to restore to life, there being but one will in the Godhead. The Son raised Lazarus to life, and also the only son of the widow of Naim, etc. He will resuscitate all men in the day of judgment, and He will restore to spiritual life sinners who are spiritually dead. He exercises, just as He wills, His spiritual power in their regard.

22. “For neither doth the Father judge any one,” etc. This is interpreted by some as expressing another instance of greater works, and in proof of v. 20. Although the Father and the Holy Ghost judge equally with the Son, since they cannot abdicate their power; they do not, however, judge visibly Hence, the Father from eternity communicated to His Son the power of judging all mankind, to be exercised by Him alone visibly. This, too, proves the Divine nature of the Son; since, to God alone does it belong to judge the world in equity. The Father, who ceases not to be judge, will not display the majesty of judge visibly. This He leaves to the Son to be exercised, in time, in the visible nature He was to assume.

Many Commentators of note understand resurrection, or resuscitation to life referred to, of the spiritual life of grace. It is likely, however, that, in this entire passage, as far as v. 30, our Lord speaks principally, in a literal sense, of the resurrection of the body, as an instance of the greater works referred to, and incidentally, in a mystical or spiritual sense, of the spiritual life of grace, which although a no less stupendous exercise of power, is still less perceptible—to encourage us to gain that life, which is a necessary means of securing the glorious life, in the resurrection. For, resurrection to punishment can hardly be called life.

23. “That all may honour the Son, as they honour the Father.” In conferring this supreme judiciary power on His Son, which was communicated from eternity, to be exercised by Him visibly, as man God, after His Incarnation, the Father had in view that all men would honour the Son with the same Divine worship which was due to the Father. The Jews, who here refused to honour the Son of God, or acknowledge Him as such, will, on the day of judgment, on seeing the majesty of the man God, the Sovereign Judge, be reluctantly forced to honour Him. “As they honour,” etc. “As,” denotes equality, since it has reference to subjects, who have the same common or Divine nature.

“He who honoureth not the Son,” etc. The dishonour shown the Son is also shown the Father, the nature and majesty of both being the same, and their claims to Divine honour being, therefore, equal.

“Who sent Him,” not as His servant or inferior; but, as His equal, to be honoured, as such, by men. If he who dishonours the legate, dishonours Him whose legate He is, how much more is this the case when both, as here, are equal. In this, He would seem to censure the Jews, who pretended that they meant to honour God the Father, while withholding due honour from His Son, who, as consubstantial with the Father, is entitled to the same undivided supreme worship and honour due to God alone.

24. “Amen, amen.” This repetition of the word shows the great importance of the statement about to be made, “that he who heareth,” with a docile heart, in other words, obeys “My word,” My commandments, both in regard to subjects of faith and morals, “and believeth Him that sent Me,” in which is contained belief in our Lord Himself. For, the Father sent His Son to teach the world. Their word is the same, and in this, is also implied the Mystery of the Trinity. For, the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son. He who believes in this fundamental truth, and all other truths revealed by God, “hath life everlasting,” in an inchoate state here, through grace; and he has a right to eternal life, should he finally persevere in grace and faith.

“And cometh not,” will not come—the present is used for the future—“into judgment,” shall not be condemned.

“But is passed from death to life.” “Is passed,” has already, by anticipation, before the time of judgment, passed from the death of the soul, and consequent liability to eternal death induced by sin, to spiritual life by grace, which is the prelude to life everlasting.

“Is passed,” may also have a future signification—will surely pass—as if He had already done so—from the death of the body, to the eternal life enjoyed by the saints in heaven.

25. Our Lord here refers to the exercise of His Divine power, in the resuscitation which He was soon to accomplish in three particular cases, viz., the son of the widow of Naim, the daughter of the ruler of the Synagogue, and Lazarus. “The hour cometh, and now is,” near at hand, before our Lord Himself departed out of life. Others, understand it of the general resurrection, which they say is to occur in “the last hour,” or during the religious dispensation, which “now is.” For, the period of the Christian religion is termed in Sacred Scripture, “the last hour.” But the words (v. 28,) referring to all who are in their graves, militates against this opinion; and the Lord refers to this latter event, as a subject of greater wonder. Some understand this of the power exercised in the spiritual resuscitation to a life of grace; because, He says restrictively, “they who shall hear shall live.” It may be, He refers to this too. The restrictive clause, “those who shall hear, shall live,” may, in the literal sense, also be interpreted, those who shall hear, or, to whom the power of His voice shall be addressed, shall be resuscitated and shall live.

26. “For, as the Father hath life in Himself,” being essentially life, the source of all life, which He communicates at will, preserves at will, in all creatures, or takes away at will.

“So He hath given to the Son also,” in His eternal generation, “to have life in HIMSELF,” to be Himself essential life, the source of all life, in every thing that exists, in every thing made by Him. Those therefore, who hear His voice and are called by Him, with a command to arise, will come forth to life.

27. As God, He had, from his eternal generation from the Father, essential life, with the power of imparting it to others. As God man, appearing visibly in the flesh, in which He vouchsafed to redeem mankind, He received from His Father, who Himself judges no one (v. 22), the power which, as God, He had from eternity to judge mankind, to be exercised in time.

“Because He is the Son of man.” It is on account of His having assumed human nature, that He is constituted judge of mankind; so that those who here below despised Him, may see their judge visibly in majesty. The wicked cannot see Him, in the form of God. The vision of God is withheld from them. Hence, they who maltreated Him (Apoc. 1:7) shall see Him, in the form of man, coming in great power and majesty (Matthew 26:64).

28. “Wonder not at this,” viz., at My saying that the Father hath given Me the power of raising the dead at will, and of judging mankind. “For, the hour cometh,” is just at hand—(this shall occur at the close of the Gospel dispensation)—when this twofold power shall be exercised by Me. “All who are in their graves,” all the dead, whether their ashes are consigned to their graves, or scattered any where else, “shall hear the voice of the Son of God,” viz., the Archangel’s trumpet, to which the power of rousing the dead shall be imparted by our Lord; hence, called “The voice of an Archangel.” (1 Thess. 4:15, etc.) It is also called “the trumpet of God,” “the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52, “trumpet and a great voice” (Matthew 24:30).

29. “Shall come forth”—from their graves—“unto the resurrection of life,” to enter on a life of eternal happiness. “Resurrection of judgment,” viz., condemnation to hell’s eternal torments, which is contrasted with the “life” of the just. That, which is but an eternal dying life, can hardly be called “life” on the part of the reprobate. “They that have done good.” It is by our works, we shall be rewarded or condemned. Hence, faith alone without good works, cannot save us. Oh! how the reprobate would wish for their annihilation? how they must curse the day they were born, “melius illi, si natus non fuisset.” What a dread subject for reflection is the last judgment, with all its horrors, which are so vividly depicted for us beforehand by a merciful Saviour, in order to save us from the eternal anguish of the damned.

30. Having said that He had all power of judging, “because He is the Son of man,” He now shows that all His judgments are righteous and just, whether, as Son of God, or Son of man. For, as God, He can do nothing of Himself alone (v. 19). Every thing He does, as God, is done by the Father also. Every thing He does, as man, is in accordance with what God wishes. He judges as He “hears” his Father judging. This, in reference to his Divinity, regards eternal generation. In reference to His humanity, He judges “as” inspired by the Father. “Hearing” is the same as “seeing” (v. 19).

“My judgment is just,” as God’s judgment must ever be. “Because I seek not my own will.” My will, as God is identical with that of the Father, and My human will is ever conformable to the Divine will; hence, when judging, as man God, I judge in accordance with the Divine will, and, therefore, justly.

31. “My testimony is not true.” If I am alone in bearing witness regarding myself as the Eternal Son of God, as having received judiciary power to judge the world, etc., my testimony, from a human point of view, or according to the rules of human evidence (since no one would be admitted without other evidence as witness in his own cause), “is not true,” worthy of acceptance; nor, from a human point of view, legitimate or beyond suspicion. However, granting this in general for a moment, without admitting it, in My particular case, it does not hold.

32. I can appeal to other witnesses both on earth and in Heaven. On earth, to Moses and the Prophets; in heaven, to my Father, who is “another that beareth testimony of Me.” This he did at my baptism, declaring Me to be His well-beloved Son.

“And I know,” from the infinite knowledge and science imparted to me from eternity, that the testimony rendered by Him “is true,” undoubted and beyond suspicion. Some Expositors understand, “another,” of the Baptist (next verse).

33. Our Lord adduces different testimonies in His own favour. He commences with John the Baptist, although He had still stronger evidence in reserve (verse 36).

“You sent to John” (c. 1. vv. 19, etc.), whom you regarded as deserving of the highest veneration, as a witness deserving of all credit.

“And he bore testimony to the truth,” both in regard to himself, as a “mere voice,” etc., and Me, as “the Lamb of God,” also: “This is the Son of God” (1:34), thus proclaiming Me to be the promised Messiah.

34. When I appeal to the testimony of John, I do not mean that I require testimony from any man living. I have not done so on my own account, who am the Eternal Son of God, who received glory from my Father, before the world began; by whom John and the Prophets were taught; and from whom they derive all their holiness. It is solely on your account, I adduce his testimony, “that you may be saved,” by receiving his testimony regarding Me, “saved,” by believing in Me.

35. Lest it might be imagined, that in the foregoing He undervalued John, he adds, “He (John) was a burning and shining light,” “a light,” or rather lamp, enlightened by the true light, Christ. He was not himself the true light; but he borrowed all his brightness and lustre from the source of all light, Christ He was “burning” with charity, zeal and sanctity of life. “Shining” with the light of true faith and doctrine. A Prophet who, after a long silence on the part of other Prophets, closed the old Dispensation and ushered in the new, holding, as it were, a middle place between both.

“You rejoiced in his light.” Showed singular pleasure and exultation in seeing and hearing him, but it was only “for a time,” until he began fearlessly to upbraid you with your vices, to summon you, to do penance, denouncing you, as a “brood of vipers,” calling on you to “fly from the wrath to come,” to point Me out, in My humility, as your long-expected Messiah. Then it was the “Pharisees and lawyers despised the counsels of God against themselves, not being baptized by him” (Luke 7:30), and charged him with having a devil” (7:33). In the words, “for a time,” He taxes the inconstancy and perversity of the chief men among the Jews.

36. “I have a greater testimony than that of John.” “Greater,” less liable to cavil or exception, less liable to be ascribed to human friendship or earthly consideration, than the testimony of John, which you rejected, after he had boldly spoken the truth.

“The works which the Father hath given Me to perfect.” The miracles of every description performed without number, at every time and at every place; performed, also in proof of my Divine Sonship, performed also by my own Divine power, foretold of me by the Prophets, the revelation of the most hidden thoughts of the human heart, the prediction of future events,—all these are the works, which I received the essential power of performing from My Father, in My eternal generation, and the limited faculty of performing, conferred on My human nature, at My Incarnation.

“The works themselves” (I say) “which I do, give testimony that My Father hath sent Me.” For, they were performed in proof of His having done this, and they sealed this truth with the Divine seal, which cannot be counterfeited or falsified, God’s own veracity being pledged to it (see c. 10:37, 38).

37. And not only has My Father borne testimony to me through the medium of works; but, He has borne testimony immediately Himself, when at my baptism, He loudly and openly declared Me to be His well-beloved Son. Besides this direct testimony of the Father; others say, there is also reference made to the testimony rendered by the Father in former times, through the Scriptures, Moses and the Prophets, as in next verse.

“Nor have you heard His voice,” etc. The connection of this with the preceding is not easily seen. It seems to be allusive to the occurrences that took place on the occasion of the people receiving the Law in Sinai (Exod. 20:19–21; Deut. 4:12; 5:22–27; 18:15). The people, terrified at all the dreadful appearances there exhibited, earnestly prayed that God would discontinue these frightful and terrifying phenomena, and appoint a mediator, Moses, who would communicate to them his commands (Exodus 20:19; Deut. 5:27). “Let me (the people) not hear any more the voice of the Lord my God neither let me see any more this exceeding great fire, lest I die” (Deut. 18:16). The Lord yielding to their earnest prayer, of which He approved, “they have spoken all things well” (v. 17), withheld the terrifying sound of His voice, and withdrew His appearance, manifested in the burning fire, thunders and lightning. He entered into a solemn covenant with them, that He would send them a Prophet, whose voice they should hear; at the same time, threatening His Divine vengeance against such as would disregard His voice (Deut. 18:19). The Lord had observed His part of the covenant, while they did not keep theirs.

38. “His word,” or command, about hearing the Prophet, “you have not abiding in you.” They refused to obey. “For whom He hath sent, you believe not.” Far from believing, they rather despised and scornfully rejected Himself, the Prophet referred to “whom God hath sent.”

The words of preceding verse, “you have not heard his voice,” etc., are clearly allusive to the passage, “we will not hear His voice nor see His shape.” What you formerly prayed for through fear, from your Father, He granted you. You have not heard the terrible voice of God, nor seen His frightful shape; His word, however, or covenant by which you bound yourselves, you have not kept, viz., to hear the Prophet of your own nation, whom He was to send you. What you have engaged to do, you have not done, viz., to believe in Me, the Prophet whom He promised to send. Hence, “His word,” does not abide in you.

39. “Search the Scriptures.” Both in the Greek and Latin versions, these words are of doubtful construction. They may be understood, either in the Indicative or Imperative mood. Some, with St. Cyril, understand them Indicatively. “You search the Scriptures; for, in them you think to have life everlasting.” You think, that by observing what is prescribed or commanded in them, as well in regard to faith as to morals, you have in them the means of salvation. This could not be, unless you found Christ in them. “They bear testimony of me.” This construction derives great probability from the entire context, in which all the words are in the Indicative; also from the words, “For in them you think,” etc., a reason, why they read them; also from the words, “and you will not come to Me,” etc. (v. 40), as if He said, although you are in the habit of searching the Scriptures, and find in them undoubted evidence in favour of Me; still, owing to your obstinate and perverse wills, you will not come to me. Others, with St. Chrysostom, understand these words, Imperatively, as conveying an exhortation to them to “search the Scriptures” of the Old Testament; and that thus, they will find in them new evidence. By this appeal to Scripture, He adduces a new argument in His own favour.

“And the same are they,” etc. “And,” signifies, for. They bear testimony of our Lord in every part, both in the Law and in the Prophets. For, “the end of the Law is Christ” (Rom. 10:4). “To Him all the Pophets bear testimony” (Acts 10:43).

In what sense soever understood, whether indicatively or imperatively, this passage furnishes no ground for argument in favour of the indiscriminate reading of Scripture by all classes of people; nor do they convey any precept to that effect.

Taken indicatively, as they are understood by several Protestant Commentators, it is evident they convey no precept to read the Scripture. They only convey a reproach, to the Jews, who derived such little profit from the reading of the Sacred Scriptures.

If read in the imperative mood, they have reference to the Scribes and Pharisees, those learned in the Law, whom alone our Lord here addresses. Any precept they might possibly be construed to convey, is addressed, not to the followers of our Lord, but to the Jews, and not to the Jews generally; not to the multitude; but, to the Scribes and Pharisees, as is clear from the attempt of this latter class to persecute our Lord (v. 16), and from their receiving glory from one another (v. 44). Now, this is true only of the Priests, the Scribes, etc.; but, not of the people, who always glorified God, on witnessing the wonderful works of our Lord. Far from denying that the Priests, the pastors and teachers of the people, are bound to read and search the Scriptures, as is mentioned here, we rather affirm it, as “the lips of the Priest should keep knowledge, and the Law they should require at his mouth” (Malachias 2:7).

As regards the great body of the Jewish people, it was not from their own private reading of the Scriptures, they were, ordinarily, to derive a knowledge of the Law; but, from the teachers legitimately constituted, viz., the Priests, Scribes, Levites, appointed for this purpose (Matthew 23:2, 3). On this account, the Levites and Priests dwelt among the several tribes. (Josue 21) In case of doubt, they should have recourse to the proper authority. (Deuter. 17:8, etc.) It was necessary that the Priests should teach the Law to the people. It was impossible for the people, generally, to read the Scripture. For, in the interval between the captivity and our Lord’s time, the Jews of Palestine, who spoke the Syro-Chaldaic, had no version in that language. Moreover, it was impossible to multiply a sufficient number of copies. We know that, even in the kingdom of Judea, the pious King Josephat sent teachers among the people, carrying with them, for that purpose, “the Book of the Law of the Lord” (2 Paralip. 17:7–9). Hence, the copies were not in indiscriminate use among the people.

The Catholic Church does not interdict the reading of the Sacred Scripture, in the original languages. It is not forbidden to the Priests, in any language, nor to the people generally, save with some salutary restrictions, which experience and common sense would dictate, as necessary against the profane and injurious use of the Bible. The people are allowed to read them in the vulgar tongue, if they do so with proper dispositions, the chief among which is, a due feeling of respect and subordination in regard to the teaching of the Church, and to the interpretation of the Holy Fathers.

Without meaning to disparage the reading of the SS. Scripture by the laity, when done in accordance with the wise prescriptions of the Church and the proper dispositions, it may not be undeserving of remark, as showing the evil of reading the SS. Scripture without the proper dispositions, that among even the Jews, it was the rulers who read them, that rejected our Lord; whereas, it was the people who were charged with being ignorant of the Law, that received Him. “Hath any of the rulers believed in Him, or of the Pharisees? But this mutitude that knoweth not the Law are iccursed” (John 7:48, 49).

The discipline of the Church in interdicting the indiscriminate reading of the SS. Scriptures in the vulgar tongue can be easily justified:—

1. From the declaration of St. Peter regarding the difficulties of certain passages of Scripture, which “the unstable and unlearned” even in his day, “wrested and distorted to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

2. From the practice of the Apostles, in withholding certain doctrines, from that description of men, who were incapable of comprehending them, for whom such doctrines, however true and indisputable, were utterly unsuited, nay, noxious. Just as strong food would injure those, who were only fit to receive the milk of babes.

3. From a consideration of the different subjects contained in the Bible, relating to history, obscure doctrinal teachings, morals, passages apparently contradictory, literal and figurative language, legislation, precepts, some of passing; others, of permanent obligation; some, dispensable; others, unchangeable, admitting of no dispensation, under any circumstances. Do not all these subjects require a master mind, to elucidate and explain their meaning and import? Into what confusion would not the indiscriminate consideration of these various subjects throw the mind of an untutored peasant; or of a doubting, unstable Christian, be he ever so learned? Common sense itself justifies the wise economy of the Church, on this all-important subject.

4. From sad experience of the disastrous results of this indiscriminate reading, as testified by the history and the shocking conduct of modern heretics; all, directly traceable to this abuse of the SS. Scriptures, to this “giving holy things to dogs, this casting of pearls before swine.”

40. “And you will not come to Me,” notwithstanding that the Scriptures of the Old Testament—the only books of Scripture then extant—by clearly attesting my Divine mission, sent you to Me, as the only source of eternal life “For, I am the way, the truth and the life.” Still, owing to your perversity and malice, you refuse to embrace the only means of salvation pointed out to you, in your own inspired Scriptures, of which you boast, and in which you glory so much.

41. Having adduced several testimonies in His own favour, He now upbraids the Jews with their stubborn incredulity. If you charge Me with proclaiming Myself as the Son of God, the divinely sent teacher, in order that I might reap glory from man, and exalt Myself unduly, you are guilty of injustice. You do Me a wrong.

“I receive not glory from man.” I undervalue it. In thus proclaiming My own Divine mission, I have only in view your salvation, which can be secured only through faith in Me.

42. “But I know,” etc. In virtue of that Divine insight into the secrets of hearts, “I know that you have not the love of God in you,” that you are full of pride and ambition, which are the cause of your rejecting the clear testimonies adduced in My favour, and of your refusal to believe in Me.

Some make verse 41 parenthetical, as if He said, think not that I reproach you thus, because, I receive glory from men. Then, in verse 42, He upbraids them with incredulity, which proceeded not from the obscurity of Scripture, bearing testimony of Him; but, from their want of the love of God, owing to which they cannot comprehend the things of God.

43. In proof of your not having the love of God in your hearts, “I am come in the name of My Father,” performing all My works by His authority and for His glory, proving My Divine mission beyond all doubt, by My works, and by fulfilling all the Prophecies that regarded Me.

“And you receive Me not,” as sent by My Father, having the same Divine nature, and doing all My works in union with Him. Such is your perversity, that, “if another shall come in his own name,” self sent, on his own authority, “him you will receive.” Our Lord here tacitly predicts the coming of false prophets, who were soon to make their appearance before the final destruction of Jerusalem. (Matt. 24) Among them was Barchochebas, or Son of the Star, who arose in the days of Adrian. Likely, Antichrist, who is to precede the final end of all things, is also included.

44. “How can you believe,” etc. They placed an insuperable obstacle to their embracing the faith, on account of their hypocrisy and vain glory, with which our Lord taxes them here, as He did elsewhere. He gently makes a retort on them, in regard to His supposed love of human applause. The Pharisees were hypocrites, who performed all their actions to please men and gain human applause. This was their damning fault. (Matt. 23) They preferred to be honoured by men, rather than that they themselves would honour God.

“And the glory which is from God,” etc., the true glory which God bestows on the humble, who perform good actions to please Him they undervalue and despise.

Pride is one of the chief obstacles to embracing the faith, as well in the case of individuals, as of entire nations. It is simply folly to expect that a nation, that has lost the faith will ever return, till first they are humbled by God, and made to feel their own misery and dependence on Him. Pride, and an insatiable desire to indulge in sensuality are leading obstacles to the conversion of a country as well as of individuals. While addicted to these two kindred vices—one being inflicted in punishment of the other—we can never hope for the conversion of a people or of individuals.

45. The Pharisees would have justified themselves for rejecting our Lord, on the ground, that they did so out of love of God and zeal for His honour. Our Lord convicts them of the contrary feelings, in the foregoing. He convicts them, viz., of having been influenced by ambition, personal jealousy, and vain glory. He now deprives them of another plea of justification, viz., that they rejected Him, on account of their adhering to the teachings of Moses (John 9:28). He says, that He Himself need not be the first to accuse them, that Moses, in whom they believed and so much confided, as their advocate; in turn, accuses, and would be the first to accuse them before the Father, of disbelief in his teachings and of the injury done him by such disbelief. The accusation by Moses simply means, that their sin of incredulity against the testimony of Moses, will render them deserving of condemnation before God.

46. “For, if you did believe Moses, you would perhaps believe in Me.” The Greek word for “perhaps” (αν) is generally rendered, surely. Its meaning of “perhaps,” would indicate the liberty of action on the part of the believer, under the influence of Divine grace; but, certainty, as regards the effect or event. “For he wrote of Me.” Moses proclaimed our Lord as the Messiah, whom they should, if they believed in Moses’ words, receive as such. Special reference is made to Deut. 18:18, “I will raise them up a Prophet out of the midst of their brethren,” etc.; also, to the prophecy of Jacob (Genesis 49) and the several passages in the Pentateuch, referring to our Lord. The end, the scope of the Law and the Prophets, was Christ.

47. “If you believe not his writings,” in My favour, which you receive as authoritative. If you believe not Him whom you place far above Me, “how will you believe My words?” not, My writings. Our Lord had not written anything, save the few words (John 8:6). Our Lord, here has recourse to an argumentum ad hominem, in which He makes a comparison between Himself and Moses, between words and writing. The Jews could easily have seen, that our Lord was referred to by Moses, had they approached this solemn subject, with the proper dispositions; or, had they not been blinded by jealousy and pride. Hence, their gross, affected ignorance was grievously culpable.








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