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

That a type of Christ was the holy Tabernacle which led the people in the wilderness, and that the ark that was in it and the lamp and the altar, as well that of incense as that of sacrifice, signified Christ Himself.

68 Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go away? Thou hast the words of eternal life.

BY the mouth of one the chief do all speak, preserving the knowledge that is in truth most well befitting saints, that in this too they might be found an ensample to those who should come after them, to wit of sober and admirable reasoning. For it was meet that they should speak in the ears of their Master, not all confusedly hurrying to get before the rest, and unmeetly seize on speech, but wisely to be ready to give way to those who had the first place, both in wisdom and rank. Wherefore Paul too saith, Let the prophets speak two or three, and by course. For not because they were honoured with the grace of prophecy, was it therefore decreed that they should speak in a disorderly manner; but because they were wise, therefore were they commanded to speak the more wisely to their hearers. It was then an act of wisdom befitting saints, to leave it to him alone to answer for all, who had the preeminence in place. To whom therefore shall we go away (he says) instead of, who shall instruct us in like wise? or, to whom shall we go, and find what is better? Thou hast the words of eternal life: not hard words, as those say, but words which bring us up to the chiefest of all, to unceasing, endless life, and removed from all decay. It is (I suppose) perfectly clear to us from these words that we must sit by One only Teacher, Christ, and cleave unceasingly and indissolubly to Him, and make Him our Master, who knoweth well to guide our feet into the unending life. For thus, thus shall we mount up to the Divine and heavenly courts, and hastening into the church of the first-born, shall feast on the good things that pass man’s understanding. For that it is a good thing and salutary to desire to follow Christ Alone and ever to be with Him, the very nature of the thing will indubitatively prove: yet no less shall we see it from the elder Scriptures.

When therefore they of Israel having put off the tyranny of the Egyptians were pressing forward to the land of promise, God suffered them not to make disorderly marches, nor did the Law-giver let each go where he would. For there is not a doubt that having no leader they would have gone utterly astray. Wherefore it is written again for our ensample, in the book called Numbers, And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely the tent of the testimony; and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning. So it was alway: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. And when the cloud went up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents: at the commandment of the Lord shall they set forth, and the children of Israel shall keep the charge of God and shall not rise up. By the voice of the Lord shall they pitch and by the command of the Lord shall they journey. Thou seest how they are bidden to follow, and to journey with the journeying of the cloud, and to halt again with it and with it to rest. For the being with their guide was salvation both then of them of Israel, and to us now the not departing Christ is so. For He was with them of old under the form of tabernacle and cloud and fire. But the order of the narrative shall be transferred (as far as we are able) to the spiritual interpretation, for when Wisdom, as it is written, builded her an house, and pitched the truer tabernacle, that is, the Temple of the Virgin, God the Word, Who is in the Bosom of God the Father, came down there-into in a manner incomprehensible and God-befitting, and was made Man, that to those who are already enlightened, and walk as in the day, as Paul saith, He might be a cloud overshadowing them, and put an end to the heat of our passions from infirmity: but to those who are still ignorant, and straying, and living as it were in night and darkness, a fire to give light and transform to fervency of spirit. For we believe that those who are good are warm through the Spirit. For I think that for no other cause did the cloud appear over the tabernacle by day and the fire by night, than for that given above by us. But Ho enjoined those who were appointed to follow, not to set out of their own accord on their journey, but to set out with the tabernacle and with it to halt, that in type again you may understand what is said by Christ, He that ministereth to Me, let him follow Me: and where I am, there shall My minister also be. For steadfastness in following, and constancy in cleaving, is signified by his accompanying Him, uninterruptedly. And the accompanying the Saviour Christ and following Him, is not to be understood at all of the body, but is attained rather by virtue in action, in regard whereof the most wise disciples having fast fixed their mind, and having refused as leading to destruction, to go back with them that believed not, with reason cry out, Where can we go? as though they said, With Thee will we abide and will ever cleave to Thy commands, and will receive Thy words, not finding fault with ought, nor with the uninstructed ones, think that hard which Thou sayest in Thine instruction, but think rather, How sweet are Thy Words unto my throat, above honey and the honeycomb unto my mouth.

Such then is the meaning of this passage. But that the tabernacle was to them of old a type of Christ we shall know, by applying a subtle mind to the things said respecting it unto the holy Moses. Our discourse on these matters may haply seem discursive to some, but it will produce no slight advantage. For we ought (I deem) zealously to refine on these points, repudiating the censoriousness of those who unreasonably blame us. The Divine oracle then is on this wise: for we will set it forth in order, refining the shadow of the letter, as far as we can. And the LORD spake (it says) unto Moses, saying, On one day of the first month at new moon, shalt thou rear the tabernacle. What induced the Lord of all (one more diligent in learning may reasonably ask) to order the tabernacle to be set up in one day, and not in two, or three, and in the new moon, and that not simply of any month, but of the first. Such things may reasonably cause us a long investigation, since nought of the things said in the Scriptures is for nothing. Therefore (for we will follow up our own discourse on these things) the tabernacle that was reared signifies the Holy Body of Christ and (so to say) the pitching of His Precious Tabernacle, wherein it was well pleasing that all the fulness of the Godhead should dwell bodily. Moreover He commands it to be pitched in one day, and this most wisely and economically, in order that by the one day you might understand the existing life, in which alone Ho became Man. It is fit that we understand by the new moon, nothing else save the sojourn of our Saviour which reneweth us, by which old things are passed away, all things are become new. For a new season was manifested to us in Christ, thrusting away the oldness of the legal worship, and re-ordering us unto a new and fresh life through the Gospel teachings, yea and renewing unto the beginning of righteousness them which had waxen old from sin, and were ready to vanish away, and undoing the oldness of the corruption that had been brought in, and beautifying with the newness of incorruption those that through faith had hastened unto eternal life. For if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, as it is written.

But He commands the Divine tabernacle to be reared in the first month, when the beauty of spring-time shines forth, washing away (as it were) the dejection of winter, and the earth is softly cherished by now brighter and purer suns, and the vines bloom, and the husbandman revels in the sweet odours of the flowers, and the plains bear grass, and whole fields bristle with the ears of corn, as certain of the Greek poets say,. when the winter is past, as it is written, the rain is over and gone, when the time of pruning is come on All these you will understand spiritually, that the winter at its end and the rain passing away, are the temptations that fall on us of devilish tyranny, and his ambitious usurpations over all; for the might of the devils was brought to an end in the days of Christ, and the bright Sun rose upon us, to wit, that whereof God the Father says, And the Sun of Righteousness shall arise upon you, warming with fervency of the Spirit, those who were swooned in sin, unto righteousness. The spiritual vines again and flowers and ears of corn, you will understand to be the Saints which excel in manifold piety towards God, and shoot forth the many-hued fruit of virtue. And (we must speak briefly) the spring brings forth flowers and prepares the whole earth to bear grass, and crowns the meadows with new bloom, and brings into fresh youth the trunks long dry with the intolerable violence of the winter, and brings them to a goodlier appearance., and makes them bud around with their wonted leafage, and prepares the husbandman who owns them to glory in their natural fruits. Some such thing shall we find happen as regards ourselves too. For we who have long been withered by reason of the sin that reigneth over us, and destitute of fruit unto virtue, have revived unto righteousness through Christ, and do now yield the fresh and new fruit through faith to the Dresser of our spirits. And thus do we fitly understand that which is spoken by one of the holy Prophets as in the Person of Christ, I who speak, am at hand as the spring upon the mountains. But what the spring, i. e., the season of spring, worketh upon the mountains, we have already spoken of.

Profitably then does He command that the tabernacle be set up in one day, holding out a type of Christ, that you may understand thereby His Death once for all in this one present time. For He will not be born again hereafter, nor yet will die, having once for all been born and died and risen from the dead. For the Resurrection, which is as it were, a pitching of the holy tabernacle, must of necessity follow His Death. But it is in the new moon, because in Christ we have a new age: for what is in Him, are a new creature. And the first month is taken, signifying the renewal of human nature from death and decay to life and incorruption, and its passing at length from barrenness to fruitfulness, and its escape from the tyranny of the devil, like the winter now passed away and come to its close. Again in another way does he shew us Immanuel in type and figure saying, And thou shall place the ark of the testimony, and cover the ark with the vail. For in the preceding the Word was limned in the complete tabernacle (for it was the House of God indwelling therein, to wit, the Holy Body of Christ) but no less is the same signified to us by the ark individually. For it was constructed of undecaying wood, that you might understand His Body incorruptible: it was overlaid with pure gold within and without, as it is written; for all belonging to Him is Precious and royal, both the Divinity and the Humanity, and in all things He hath the preeminence as Paul saith. And the gold is taken as a type of honour and excellence above all things. The ark then was fashioned of undecaying wood, and overlaid with gold, and had the Divine law deposited therein, for a type of God the Word indwelling in, and united to, His Holy Flesh (for the Law too was the Word of God, although not the Hypostatic Word, as the Son is). And it is covered by the veil. For God the Word Incarnate was unseen of the many, having His Own Body as a covering, and lying hid within His Own Flesh as with a veil, so that thence certain not knowing His God-befitting Dignity, at one time endeavoured to stone Him, imputing it to Him, as a crime, that He being Man, said He was God, at another time, they blushed not to say, Is not this Jesus the Son of Joseph, whose father and mother WE know? how doth He now say, I have come down from heaven? The veil then cast upon the ark, signifieth that Jesus will not be known by the many. The ark too was therefore a type of Him, wherefore also did it precede them of Israel in the wilderness, filling the place of God: for He was the leader of the people. And the Psalmist is a witness of this, saying, O God, when Thou wentest forth before Thy people, when Thou didst march through the wilderness, the earth shook, the heavens also distilled. For in that the ark ever marched before and preceded, God is openly declared to have gone before. You may have a clearer proof of this, considering this. God once commanded to them of Israel by Moses to go up boldly unto mount Seir, and to besiege the Amorite, but they who were so commanded having fallen into feeble cowardice, and attributing success to their own strength, and not rather trusting to the succour from above, sat and began weeping by the mountain, as it is written, whereat the Law-giver was justly provoked, and threatened that He would not bring them into the land of promise. They cut at last by the threat, and urged to an unseasonable repentance, attempted to go up, by a second disobedience, and snatched up arms against the Amorites. But God foretold them the result by Moses: for He said unto them Ye shall not go up (it says) and ye shall not fall before your enemies for I am not among you. But they every way diseased with disobedience, forced themselves and went up unto the mountain, as it is written. Nevertheless (it says) the ark of the covenant of the Lord went not up with them, for it remained in the camp. Seest thou that upon God’s saying, I am not among you, the ark goeth not up with the disobedient, shewing clearly to them of more understanding that it held the place of their leader God? Yea and it was borne around Jericho by the priests, and the lofty wall thereof fell down, not by applying engines and rams, but rather by trumpets and shouting: and this again we shall find to be true in Christ. For He it is Who is borne by saints and holy men and overturns the whole might of the devil, not by arms, but by a shout and a trumpet, that is by Apostolic and Evangelic preaching, and the assent of all the people, confessing their own Lord in uprightness of faith. This too we see accomplished in the Mystic doxologies, the priestly trumpet, that is, the voice of the minister, preceding the people, and thus falls and is shattered the power of the adversaries, for our weapons are not carnal, as Paul saith, but mighty to God. That Christ is after a sort borne and rests on His saints, both the prophet Habakkuk will declare saying, Thou wilt ride upon thine horses and Thy chariots are salvation, and the Saviour Himself no less will teach us, saying to Ananias concerning Paul, Go thy way, for this man is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name before all the Gentiles.

Yea and thou shalt bring in the table (it says moreover) and set in order what layeth thereon and thou shalt bring in the candlestick, and set thereon his lamps. You will understand Christ by both, for He is co-figured under the form of a table having bread set upon it, because in Him are all nourished unto life Eternal, according as He says, I am the Bread Which came down from heaven and giveth life unto the world: if any man eat of This Bread, he shall live for ever; and the Bread that I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world. That then, which is set forth upon the table, i. e., the loaves, signifies the Holy Body of Christ, which nourisheth all men unto Eternal Life. But since the blessed David, and they that were with him, being an hungred, as it is written, did eat the shewbread, let us see whether something mystical be not hereby too recorded. It was not lawful to taste of the shewbread, save by the Priests alone, by appointment of the Law: but David and they that were with him, being not of the priestly tribe, took of the most holy food, that hereby again might be signified the faith of the Gentiles, and in part of them of Israel. For Christ was due to them of Israel, as to them who were more holy by reason of the fathers, and the Law: but the multitude of the Gentiles although they were, by reason of their straying, profane, somehow entered in too, and did eat the Bread of life, David accompanying them and as it were filling up a type of the preserved of Israel, which the blessed Isaiah too calls a remnant. For many of them have believed on Christ.

Thus therefore will Christ be conceived of through the holy Table: but He is again the candlestick, as giving. light to the whole house, that is, the world (for I am the Light of the world, He says) but it holdeth seven lamps and not one: for manifoldly doth He illumine and by diverse graces enlighten the souls of the faithful: again it is of pure gold, in that it is above all and Precious: moreover it has a solid stem (for so is written) for there is nothing empty nor yet light in Christ. It has lilies too by reason of its good savour of holiness, according to, I am a flower of the plain, a lily of the vallies. Its feeders again signify the ministrations of Divine graces. Moreover the prophet Zechariah testified that two olive branches are round about it, that you may understand that the people compassionated are two, whom he called sons also of fatness and says that they stand by the Lord of the whole earth, although in that the olive branches are seen by the lamp, he hereby gives the clearest demonstration that Christ is the candlestick, Who through obedience and faith set by Himself both the people of the Gentiles and that of the Jews.

He proceeds, manifoldly pointing Him out to us, And thou shalt set the altar of gold for the incense before the ark and put the hanging of the veil at the door of the tabernacle of witness, and the altar of burnt offerings thou shalt set at the door of the tabernacle of witness and shalt cover the tabernacle, and all things that are therein shalt thou hallow all round. For we must observe how Christ is represented to us in both altars. For after He had ordered the golden altar to be laid by, whereon was the incense before the ark, and had said that hangings should be put across before the doors of the tabernacle, that the interior might not be seen, He. commands the altar of burnt-offerings to stand at the door of the tabernacle of testimony, not invisible, nor hidden: for it was without the veil. Behold Him then, by the altar of incense ascending up as an odour of a sweet smell to God the Father (for this the incense signifies), by the altar of burnt offering, offered up as an Offering and a Sacrifice in our behalf. But the golden altar was hidden by the veil (for hidden was the glory of Christ), the other, that of burnt offerings, whereon are the sacrifices, was visible, for manifest was the Death of Christ and known to all. Their position is not without a distinction, for the one was over against the ark, the other by the doors of the tabernacle. And the position of the golden altar in front of the ark, as it were in the Presence of God the Father, darkly hints that marvellous is the glory of the Son, as it is said, No man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father. But the position of the altar of burnt offering at the very doors of the tabernacle, holding out a type of His Death and of His Sacrifice for all, again signifies, that no otherwise can we come to God the Father, save by the Sacrifice of Christ, as He says, I am the Door, and No man cometh unto the Father but by Me. He commanded the tabernacle to be pitched round about, comprehending all things that were therein, that it might be seen to be one, and not many. For One is Christ among us, even though He be manifoldly conceived of, a tabernacle by reason of the veil of Flesh, an Ark holding the Divine law as the Word of God the Father, a table again as Life and Food, a candlestick as spiritual Light, both altar of incense, as an odour of a sweet smell in sanctification, and altar of burnt offering, as a Sacrifice for the Life of the world. And all things that are therein are sanctified; for Christ is holy All of Him and howsoever He be conceived of.

Since the holy tabernacle then was their leader, they of Israel are commanded with it to set out and with it to rest: God again instructing us and teaching us to our profit, to take as our Leader and Guide in the way unto salvation, God the Word Who for our sakes was Incarnate, and by obeying unhesitatingly His Commands, to mount up unto eternal life. And this they who had been instructed in the mysteries in many words not chusing to do, went back and walked no more with Him. But most wisely does the blessed Peter say to the Saviour, Where can we depart? for in no way to go astray from God, but rather to strive to be with Him spiritually, is in truth most comely for saints.

69 And WE have believed and know that THOU art the Christ, the Holy One of God.

Marvellous is the faith of the holy Apostles, fervent their manner of confession, most loveable and pre-eminent their understanding. For not like certain of the more ignorant, or like them who used to call the Word of the Saviour hard, did they rightly go back and fall, nor of lightness readily caught were they called to belief, but being fully assured beforehand and persuaded of a truth that their Instructor was full of life-giving Words, the Teacher of heavenly doctrines. Exceeding stable is such faith, but that which is not so, is (as is like) easily spurned, and having no root as its assurance, is very readily worn away out of the mind of man. And verily the Saviour Himself in Parables, when He was discoursing of the sower, that which fell upon the rock (He says) and hath no root withered away, darkly saying that the mind which is dried up and can in no wise receive the Word once cast into it, is a rock. For the wretched Jews being now in this case from their utter ignorance, were being taught by the Prophet’s voice, Rend your hearts and not your garments. For as before the casting in of the seed, the custom of husbandry advises that the ground should first be cleft with the plough: so I deem ought they who approach to receive the Divine Words in some sort to open out aforehand their hearts by desires thereunto: and thus receiving it, do they render the soul travailing like fruitful soil. Therefore in full assurance of faith do the most wise disciples say that they know and are confident that He is Christ the Son of the Living God. And with great wisdom will you find their speech constructed as to this again. For they say they believe and know, joining both together. For one must both believe and understand: nor, because the more Divine things are to be received in faith, ought we therefore completely to depart from all investigation respecting them, but rather we should try to attain even so unto a moderate knowledge, as in a glass and a riddle, as Paul saith. Well again do they not say first that they know, then believe, but putting faith first, they bring in knowledge, and not before faith, as it is written, If ye will not believe, neither shall ye understand. For simple faith having been fore-laid in us, as a kind of foundation, knowledge is afterwards built up upon it by degrees, and brings us up to the measure of the mature age that is in Christ, to a perfect and spiritual man. Wherefore God also somewhere says, Behold I will lay for the foundations of Sion a stone, choice, a corner stone, precious. For Christ is to us a Beginning and foundation unto sanctification and righteousness, through faith, that is, and not otherwise: for thus He dwelleth in us.

But observe how they say throughout in the singular number, and with the article prefixed, THOU art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, removing from the many who are called in grace unto sonship, as One and Special, Him who is truly Son, in Whose likeness WE too are sons. Again they call Him the Christ as One: but we must know that He is not called Christ on His own account, or as being so Essentially just as He is Son, yet is He One in truth and specially (for none among anointed ones is as He is) yet in respect of His likeness to us is He called Christ. For His Own Proper and specially distinct Name and Reality in truth, is SON; but that which is common with us is Christ. For since He was anointed in that He was made Man, therefore is He Christ. If then we attribute the being anointed to the need of human nature, He will be conceived of as Christ in respect of His likeness to us, and not in the same way as He is Son, nevertheless One Only by Nature and Specially, both before Flesh and with Flesh, and not two, as some suppose, who (it seems) understand not the depth of the Mystery. For not into a man hath the Word of God the Father come down, as the grace of the Spirit upon one (for example) of the holy Prophets, but Himself was made Flesh, as it is written, to wit Man. Indivisible therefore is He after the Union, and is not severed into two Persons, even though we conceive of the Word of God as something other than the Flesh wherein He hath dwelt. And since the whole choir of the holy Apostles confirms to us the faith herein, in that they say they know (and that peculiarly) that He is the Christ the Son of God, we shall not, if we deem aright, admit those who shrink not of their folly from making innovations on these things.

70 Jesus answered them, Did not I choose you twelve, and one of you is a devil? 71 He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon, for he it was that should betray Him, being one of the twelve.

He continues His reproach, and clenches them with severer words, cutting off that which is slack and fallen into negligence in their desire to be wise. For He almost seems to say somewhat of this sort, “O My disciples, this is the time for heed and wit and a mind braced unto the desire of salvation. For most slippery is the way of perdition, which drags downwards not only the feeble mind, but also that which already thinketh it standeth fast. Very perilous and of many forms is sin, which bewitches the mind of man by its manifold pleasures and most smooth lusts, dragging it to what it ought not. Your own case (He saith) shall be an example of what I say. For I will tell you; none of those who from lightness have now fallen back, did I choose as I have done you who were good (for as God, I knew what was in you) yet did Satan get hold of one of you through greed of gain, and My Judgment was surely not deceived. For in man is free-will and choice to go to both, either to the right hand, or to the left, i. e., to virtue or vice.” Therefore at once by His severer chiding, does He both rouse unto becoming watchfulness, and render each one more steadfast regarding himself, for He does not yet say clearly who shall betray Him, but laying the burden of iniquity upon one alone and indefinitely, He was bringing them all to the contest, and inviting them to more careful circumspection, each one dreading the loss of his own soul, and at the same time was He working another thing for the benefit of His disciples’ faith. For when they confessed that they knew, and firmly believed, that He is the Son of God, He shews that He fore-knows things to come, by this too shewing as it were that their confession regarding Him was sure. For the knowledge of things to come befitteth none save One Alone, Him That is by Nature God, of Whom it is also written, Who knoweth all things before they be. But He called the worker of the Devil’s will a devil, and not untruly. For as he that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit, so is the reverse also true.

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