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

A dissertation upon the rest of the Sabbath, manifoldly shewing of what it is significant.

23 If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision that the law of Moses should not be broken, are ye angry at Me, because I made a whole man well on the sabbath day?

THE verse is unintelligible to the many and not very clear as to its subdivisions; we will therefore speak of that first. We will therefore read it bit by bit, changing the structure of the verse; for thus you will clearly understand the meaning. If then (He says) a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, are ye angry at Me, that the law of Moses should not be broken, because I made a whole man well on the sabbath day? For a man does not receive circumcision on the sabbath day, that the Law of Moses be not broken: for it is broken when the sabbath is made void by circumcision. For as we taught before, yea rather as the Saviour Himself said, circumcision is not of Moses but of the fathers. So that by reason of the circumcision from the fathers, the Law of Moses is broken, I mean that respecting the sabbath. Therefore we must connect the words, that the Law of Moses should not be broken, to our Saviour’s words: for He says, are ye angry at Me, that the Law of Moses should not be broken, because I made a whole man well on the sabbath day? The case of the sub-division then has been now herein settled, we must go to the interpretation of the things signified too, even though they are exceedingly hard to understand. Circumcision, then (He says) is a way of taking care for a man, and it surpasses the ordinance itself of the sabbath. For it was of necessity that the suffering should be made whole. What then is the hindrance, or how will the ordinance of the sabbath reasonably stand in the way of healing the whole body, since it permits already without blame its breach by a partial and slight healing? for a man is circumcised and healed of the wound without blame on the Sabbath day. Vainly then (He says) are ye indignant, to the Worker of the better things objecting the transgression of the Law, when the law is not grieved at being put aside by Moses for a petty circumcision. By these things is enwoven an argument, persuading them to agree that they ought not vainly to be annoyed, since Moses had already been a type thereof, whom they foolishly thought they ought to take the part of, and making no account of his law, were being hurried off to the duty of committing murder.

24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.

The Law (He says) which ye are so zealous to take the part of, and for the sake of which ye were kindled even unto fierce wrath, openly cries aloud, Ye shall not respect persons in judgment, for the judgment is God’s. Ye then who condemn Me as a transgressor on account of the sabbath, and decide that it is most fitting to be angry at this, do ye care for the honour of the Law, take shame at the message, Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. For if ye put Moses forth from transgression, and rightly consider that he has no portion of condemnation for this, albeit he breaketh the ordinance of the sabbath on account of circumcision [which is] of the fathers, do ye free from blame the Son too Who ever agreeth with the mind of the Father, and approveth His will, and whatsoever things He doeth, these likewise is He too wont to do. But if ye condemn the Son only, and do not condemn Moses, although he is involved (He saith) in equal blame to that wherein ye suppose that I too am involved on account of the sabbath, how will ye not be found to be trampling on the Divine Law, and be taken insulting the decrees from above, out of respect to some corrupting the command to judge righteousness, and rendering superior to the Divine commands him to whom ye transgressing pay reverence from respect of persons?

Let the wise hearer observe again the wondrous skill of our Saviour Christ. When accused of the breach of one Law, He convicts them as transgressors by very many arguments, all but uttering the Gospel words, And why lookest thou at the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? An evil thing then is it to condemn others. For wherein a man judgeth another, he condemneth himself, as it is written. Wherefore by the Saviour too Himself was it said, Judge not and ye shall not be judged, condemn not and ye shall not be condemned. And this we say in respect of ourselves: for Christ will never become a transgressor by changing His own Laws to whatsoever He will, and overlaying with the fair beauty of truth the shadows of the Law: that at length, the things enjoined in a more carnal sense to them of old, may be changed into a spiritual interpretation.

But since our discourse, which was upon the mention of the sabbath, hath flowed into that of the circumcision, I think that not less profit than is due will accrue to the true searcher after wisdom, through his clearly beholding, what the seventh day rest means, what again is signified by the circumcision on the eighth day, and by his learning in addition, why circumcision is received on the sabbath itself, not enduring to keep the legal-rest: rightly examining each point, as well as I can, I will endeavour to make it clear. The first consideration will be that of the seventh day, or sabbath, and its rest. For so will the enquiry into what follows be most convenient. Therefore let us enquire into the first appointed law on this subject, how and in what manner it arose.

For when God brought Israel out of the bondage in Egypt unto their original and ancient freedom, by the hand of the all-wise Moses, and having miraculously brought them through the midst of the sea, with foot somehow dry and unwetted, commanded them to hasten on unto the land of promise, at length, accustoming them of necessity to purify themselves beforehand and cleanse themselves, He called them to an assembly in mount Sinai: and having descended upon it in the likeness of fire, He gave them decrees unto salvation, saying, I am the LORD thy God, Which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods but Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any image nor any likeness that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth, thou shalt not worship them nor serve them, for I am the LORD thy God, a jealous God. For it was fitting, it was fitting thence to commence the ordinance of what was profitable, and first to fore-initiate with the doctrines of Divine knowledge, them who had once given themselves to the service and obedience of God. For knowledge of God is the root of all virtue, and the foundation of piety is faith. Having therefore revealed Himself, and as it were made Himself manifest by saying, I am the LORD thy God, and having first wrought in them faith by knowledge, and having wholly interdicted the making of an image and the worship of falsely-called gods, He shews that their transgression will not be unpunished, and sets before them the punishment of turning aside, crying, Thou shalt not take the Name of the LORD thy God in vain, that is, thou shalt not put about a vain idol the Divine and most dread Name: for the LORD (He says) will not hold him guiltless that taketh His Name in vain. Having then said that he shall be guilty of no slight transgression, who shall please to worship another, and to enrol himself under a false god, and having threatened them accordingly, as people newly brought to the faith and having a feebler understanding, He adds in order, and as it were establishes a second law, saying, Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy: six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God, in it thou shalt not do any work. Then profitably shewing Whom they will imitate in so doing, He says, For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth and the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.

What then (will a man say) did the ordinance of the Sabbath purport? Or why, after the threatening against transgressions was a second and similar Law straightway introduced? To this we say, that it was right not only to threaten trangressors that they should undergo dreadful sufferings, nor by fear alone to stablish Israel unto piety (for the service of fear is of a more slavish sort) but to shew of what they will be partakers and to what end they will come, who are firmly fixed in love to Him. He defines therefore, and gives them as in type the promise of the future good things. For the law hath a shadow of the good things to come, as it is written, and its form is shewn to be an exercise preparatory to the truth. For He commands them to rest on the last day of the week, that is, the sabbath, and to cease from all work, and give it over, and to practise rest thereon, signifying thereby the rest and enjoyment that should be to the saints at the completion of ages, when they having ended their life in the world, and having cleansed away the sweat of their good works, they who are in Christ shall live the life without toil and free from all weariness, according to that which is spoken concerning them by the mouth of the prophet: for they shall forget their former tribulation, and it shall not come into their heart, but everlasting joy shall be upon their head, for upon their head praise, and joy shall take hold on them, sorrow and grief and sighing are fled away They too imitating the Creator who ceased and all but rested from the toils of creation, will cease from their labours in this life, attaining unto the delight to be given by Christ at the end of ages. And to this end I think that the appointed rest on the sabbath tends.

But note how the Law-giver says negatively, Thou shalt not worship any other gods, but on giving the kindred commandment about the sabbath which follows it, He says, Remember, and why? Because the time for not worshipping other gods was now gone by (for therefore He immediately commanded them to be diligent about this) but by means of memory it was possible to behold things to come, and to see aforehand in thought what was already limned in types. We must moreover notice this too. For I when He had well enforced our position with regard to our faith, He straightway adds the memorial of the promise at the end of ages, and then ordains the remaining laws, Honour thy father and thy mother, thou shalt not kill, and so on: that we may not think we are justified by works, nor look for the ungrudged bounteousness of God as the fruit of our own toils, but that we shall have it of faith. Therefore before the laws of godly conversation, grace hath straightway entered in as the next neighbour to our faith of the good things in hope.

The sabbath rest then signifies the life of the saints in rest and holiness, when they, having at length put off all that is troublous, and ceased from every toil, shall delight in the good things from God. And verily the blessed Paul, when he discoursed to us of these things, and most excellently essayed to enquire into the mode of the rest of the people, saith thus, And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not? And we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. For since certain were supposing that that was the land of rest, whereinto they came that came forth out of Egypt, albeit that is taken as a type of the one which shall be given to the saints by Christ, which David called the land of the living, the most wise Paul endeavours to shew, that that which was then given for an inheritance to the children of Israel by the command of Joshua was a type of that which is looked for. For that these things are taken as a type of the truth, he diligently proves, bringing an argument demonstrative of what has been said. For he saith thus, Seeing therefore it remaineth that some enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief, He again limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To-day, after so long a time: as it is foresaid To-day if ye will hear His Voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation; for if Jesus had given them rest, then would He not afterward have spoken of another day. Seest thou how diligently he overthrew the apparent objection? For one striving with Jewish arguments might straightway have said; “What then art thou saying most excellent Sir? hath not Joshua brought the people into the land of promise? did they not rest and keep sabbath in it?” “yea” (he saith) “but in type and imitation of the true.” For if in these things only the grace of God and the measure of His Promise is marked out, and in them have been fulfilled to Israel their hopes, and the letter of the law signifies nothing else besides, how, as though Joshua had not given them rest, is again another period of rest marked out by blessed David although he was so long after? Wisely then and very skilfully does he, after having shewn that the historical incidents are a type and image of spiritual things, reveal the still concealed and hidden interpretation of the sabbath, adding, There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God; for he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His. How then will it not be hence at length clearly confessed, that the mind of the saints knows that the resting from toils, i. e., those of our labours, is the sabbath-keeping, when the bright band of the saints shall delight in their good deeds before wrought in this life, after the likeness of the Creator of all things, Who rested and rejoiced on the seventh day, as Wisdom saith in the book of Proverbs, I was she in Whom He delighted: daily rejoiced I before Him at every-time, when He was rejoicing on having completed the earth, and was rejoicing in the sons of men? Therefore (for I will return again to the original subject, and will recapitulate the bent of the whole discourse), the rest of the sabbath denotes the toilless life of the saints. For without toil shall all good things be given at that time to the saints by God, nor shall we then work sin the foundation of ills, because it shall perish root and branch from us, together with him who was wont to sow it in us, according as it is said, No lion shall be there, nor shall ought of evil beasts go up there-on, but a pure way shall be there, and it shall be called, An holy way. Yea, and the mind of the saints will retain all good things without toil. Therefore he too who gathered sticks on the sabbath day died by stoning, as having wronged the truth in the type. For after having ceased, and arrived at that rest, we shall never go forth of that habit both admirable and illustrious in virtues, as they did from their tent, nor shall we any more collect sin, which is the food and mother of fire, as did that man the wood, through his exceeding senselessness, not understanding the types which point to the truth. Therefore also with senseless stones, as himself taken in much senselessness, was he stoned by the avengers, having the character of his manners inscribed in his punishment. That we shall not then commit any abominable sin, is therefore manifest, nor yet shall we by sweat attain what is profitable; and this again we shall see shewn as it were darkly in the books of Moses. For God showered down the Manna like dew upon the sons. of Israel in the wilderness, and gave them angels’ bread, as it is written, and then He appointed a law too respecting it by the allwise Moses. For thus did he make proclamation. Eat to-day: for to-day is a sabbath unto the LORD, ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather, but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. For he hints that before the completion of the ages it is convenient that we collect with toil that which profiteth and nourisheth us unto everlasting life, as they traversing the wide wilderness, gathered together from all quarters manna for their food; but on the seventh, that is, in the final end, the time for collecting what is profitable is gone by, and we shall delight ourselves in the things already provided, according as it is said by the Psalmist, Thou shalt eat the fruit of thy toils.

God the Lawgiver then, not taking pleasure in the shadows, but looking beforehand to the very image of the things, issued proclamation that we ought not to labour on the sabbath. But certain men having despised the Law given them about this, and not shrinking from fool-hardily offending the Lord of all, determined that they ought to go out to gather manna even on the sabbath, and not in counsels only was their daring endeavour, but in very deed they accomplished what seemed them good. The Law-giver therefore for this again finds fault with them, and says, How long chuse ye not to keep My commandments and My law? See, for that the LORD gave you this day for a Sabbath, therefore He hath given you on the sixth day the bread of two days, abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. Seest thou how He forming beforehand for us life free from all sweat and toil, in the typical rest, enjoins them to do nothing at all on the sabbath? For He does not permit them to gather, and enjoins them besides, not to leave their house and go anywhither, nor to go forth from their own place. And what again He wills us to learn by this, we will set forth, bringing forward a kindred and similar command. The blessed Prophet Jeremiah spake then to the Jews on this wise, Thus saith the LORD, Keep your souls, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, and go not forth of the gates of Jerusalem, neither carry forth burdens out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work: hallow the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. And what thence? Urging as aforesaid to a watchful habit, he bids us keep our own soul, for thus will our duty of hastening unto the hoped-for Sabbath-keeping be easily accomplished. But how many good things shall be revealed to those who possess this, He beautifully makes known by the introduction of the other things. For He does not suffer any to be laden with a burden, since no one at that time will take up the heavy burden of sin. For it is the time of holiness, when our old sin having departed to utter destruction, the soul of each is renewed to a habit of virtue unwavering. Yea and He does not suffer them to go forth of the gates of Jerusalem. For according to the true and orthodox doctrine the glorious choir of the saints shall dwell securely in the heavenly Jerusalem, and shall not go forth of the holy city, but rather shall be therein for ever, held fast by the Divine power so as never to be able to run away from the good things once for all given them. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, according to S. Paul. But in saying again, Ye shall not go forth every man from his place, He seems to imply this most clearly. For many in truth are the mansions with God the Father according to the Saviour’s word (and of this was the holy tabernacle in all glory fulfilling the type, which had ten chambers) and to each shall be given according to his deserts and proportionately to his good deeds, his abode. But they that are wholly in possession of their tabernacles there, they shall dwell there for ever, and will never come to fall from the things allotted to them by the Divine free gift. And a true witness hereof shall be introduced by us. For the Prophet Isaiah having clearly stated these things, speaketh thus, Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem, a wealthy city, tabernacles that shall not be shaken nor shall be removed for ever: for in saying that the tabernacles in the wealthy city shall not be shaken, he shews the immutability of the abode and habitation therein. Yea, he says moreover, and Neither do ye any work thereon, but hallow ye the sabbath day. As we have already often said, the time of rest and refreshment belongs to both, and it is wholly kept holy as a feast to Christ.

Again that we ought to do no work on the sabbath day, but to rest as it were and cease from every thing that inviteth to sweat and toil, we shall know from other sources also. For He says in Exodus, Six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof, but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still. And in Leviticus; When ye come into the land which I give you, the land which I give you shall keep a sabbath unto the LORD. Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof, but in the seventh year shall be a rest unto the land, a sabbath to the LORD. For it is not the land which is insensible to toil that He releases, nor yet to it doth He in reality give this law, but He brought it about to those who possessed it, that they should not toil, through His giving a release to the land. For in many ways did He point out our feast in Christ, in which they who have lived in the Divine fear shall hasten unto the perfect and complete liberty which is in holiness, and to the most wealthy grace of the Spirit. And this again we shall know from the Mosaic commands themselves. For it runs thus, When thy brother, an Hebrew man or an Hebrew woman, is sold unto thee, six years shall he serve thee, in the seventh year a release. For we who were of old slaves to sin, and by taking pleasure in evil had in some sort sold ourselves to the devil, being justified in Christ through faith, shall mount up to the true and holy sabbath-keeping, clothed with the liberty which is through grace, and glorified with the good things from God.

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