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

That no work of Jewish might was the Suffering on the Cross, nor did Christ die from the tyranny of any, but Himself of His own will suffered this for us that He might save all.

20 These words spake He in the Treasury as He taught in the Temple, and no man laid hands on Him, because His hour had not yet come.

THE most wise Evangelist profitably makes plea in behalf of the saving Passion and shews that the Death on the Cross was not of human necessity, nor did Jesus suffer death against His will from the tyranny of another, but rather did offer Himself for us a spotless Sacrifice to God the Father by reason of His inherent love for us. For since He must needs suffer (since thus would the imported corruption and sin and death be overturned), He hath given Himself a Ransom for the life of all. What then will be found in the words before us making for the saving Passion, and what of profit the aim of the thoughts therein is replete with, do thou again hear. For Christ (he says) was speaking these words not outside of Jerusalem, nor in any city of those round about, nor yet in a more insignificant town or village of Judæa, for He was standing by the very treasury, i. e., in the midst of the very courts in the Temple itself was He making His Discourse on these matters. But the Pharisees, albeit deeply cut to the heart and grieved exceedingly at what was said by Him, laid not hands upon Him, when it was in their power most easily to do this; for He was, as I said, within the meshes. What then was it that persuaded to be quiet even against their will, those who are raging like fierce beasts? what was it that checked their anger? how was the bloodthirsty heart of the Pharisees charmed? Not yet, he says, had His hour come, that is, not yet was the time of His Death at hand, by no other hand marked out for the Saviour Christ, nor yet cast upon Him by fate (as the lying fables of the Greeks say) or by the hour (after their babbling speech), but rather marked out by Him according to the good pleasure of God the Father. For being God by Nature and Very and unknowing to miss of what was fit, full well did He know how long time it was right to live in Flesh with those on the earth, and when again to depart to heaven, having destroyed death by the death of His own Flesh. For that not by the tyranny of any, was death brought upon Him That is by Nature Life, is I suppose clear to all who are wise: for how should the bonds of death prevail over the Life by Nature? and the Lord Himself somewhere testifieth saying, No man taketh My life from Me, I lay it down of Myself: I have power to lay it down, and again I have power to take it. For if the time in which He must surely suffer death, were laid down as of necessity by some other, how should we find it in His own power to lay down that Life? for it would have been taken even against His will, if His Passion were not in His own power. But if He lays it down of Himself, we shall see the Passion to be not in the Power of any other but in His own Will. For then did He permit to Jewish folly to go through to its own end, when He saw that the fit time for His Death had now come.

Let not then the haughty Pharisee brag of his own daring deeds, nor puffed up with exceeding ill-counsel say, If Christ were by Nature God, how came He not to be without my meshes? how escaped He not my hands? for he will hear in reply from those who love Him, Not thy meshes, O sir, prevailed, for it were nought hard for God supreme over all to crush thy snare, and pass forth of the net of thy impiety: but the Suffering was the salvation of the world, the Passion the undoing of death, the Mighty Cross the overthrow of sin and corruption. This He knowing as God, submitted Himself to thy unholy daring. For what, tell me, was the hindrance to thy enfolding Him then especially when thou wert gnashing thy teeth at Him, as He was teaching by the very treasury? and if it was the work of thy might to overcome Christ, why didst thou not make Him a prisoner then? But thou stoodst in anger unmitigated to bloodshed all revealed, yet doing nought of the things thou wouldest. For not yet did He will to suffer, Who was persuaded by thy mad folly, as by bits which may not be snapped. These things may one with reason opposing to the vain talk of the Jews, shame them even against their will, into not bragging of what they least ought. And one may well admire the holy Evangelist reasonably shewing, and clearly saying that the Saviour was teaching these things in the temple by the Treasury and no man laid hands on Him: for he was witnessing so to speak to Christ’s own words, which He said to the Jews when they were at hand to take Him, As against a robber are ye come out with swords and staves for to take Me? daily did I sit teaching in the temple and ye laid no hold on Me. And one would not (I suppose) say, if one thought rationally, that He was blaming the Jews, that they had not brought on His Passion untimely, nor yet that letting slip the right time, they were advancing too slowly to shed blood: but rather He is convicting them, as unwisely supposing that they should have prevailed even against His will, and could have seized by force Him who may not suffer except He will. For I was sitting teaching in the temple and ye laid no hold on Me, for then I willed it not, nor would ye now avail to do this, except I willingly subjected Myself to your hands. Hence one may on all sides see, that no work was it of Jewish might to put our Lord to death; but to their unholy daring may one attribute the attempt, to our Saviour Christ the will to suffer for all, that He might free all and, having bought them with His own Blood, present them to God the Father. For God, as Paul saith, was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, and in all forgiveness restoring that which had fallen away from friendship with Him, unto what it was in the beginning.

21 He said therefore unto them again, I go My way, and ye shall seek Me and shall die in your sins.

That we must needs take hold of the present time for whatever one may receive profit from to oneself, does Christ herein well declare unto us. For to be too late in what is good and to take after-counsel for what is profitable, clearly brings no gain but ministers wailing befitting the neglect. Our Lord therefore being good and gracious, as it is written, both bears with those who dishonour Him and aids those who insult Him and is found as God superior to all the littleness of man. Yet does He for their good threaten to depart from them, and says plainly I go My way, that He may implant in them a more resolved mind, and that they considering that they ought not to leave their Redeemer when present frustrate of His work, He may whet them to pass on to the faith and may make them now at length more ready unto obedience. And having cried out, I go My way, and threatened departure from the whole nation, He subjoined economically the damage therefrom ensuing unto them. For (He says) Ye shall die in your sins; and we shall see the nature of the thing bringing in the truth of what is said. For they who did not at all receive Him Who came to us from Heaven that He might justify all through faith, how shall they not beyond all contradiction die in their sins, and not receiving Him Who can cleanse them, how will they not have lasting defilement from their impiety? For to die unredeemed, yet laden with the weight of sin, to whom is it any doubt where this will conduct the soul of man? For deep Hades will, I deem, receive such an one, and he will continue in great darkness, yea he will inhabit fire and flames, with reason numbered among those of whom it has been said by Prophet’s voice, Their worm shall not die neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be for a sight to all flesh. Whereof that they may escape the trial, Christ kept manifoldly calling them to a speedy turning away from their wonted unbelief, saying not only that He should leave them and go away, but also of necessity putting before them how great misfortune they will thence undergo. For ye shall die (He says) in your sins. But since He put in between, And ye shall seek Me, and hitherto we do not find the Jews seeking Him, we shall reasonably go to some other meaning: for He must needs be True. For even though they now in the body and yet in full enjoyment of the pleasures of the flesh, for their exceeding senselessness seek not their Redeemer, yet when they wretched fall into hell and have their abode in the place of punishments, when they are in the ill itself, then, then will they seek even against their will. For there (He says) is weeping and gnashing of teeth, each (it is likely) of those there wailing his carelessness in what was good, and well-nigh saying what is in the Book of Proverbs, I have not obeyed the voice of him that instructed me and taught me. Therefore as Paul saith, Let us therefore fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into His Rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For we must run, that we may obtain, and not by our disbelief insult Him Who draws us out of bitter bondage, but submit ourselves and with upturned hands lay hold on the grace.

and whither I go, YE cannot come.

Not only does He say that they shall die in their sins, but declares clearly that, ascending not to the mansions above, they will remain outside of the good things of the kingdom: for they who received not Him Who came from above, how could they also follow Him ascending up? Doable therefore is the punishment to them who believe not, and not in any single thing their loss. For just as they who have fallen into bodily loss of health must needs suffer and endure the trials of the suffering and besides be deprived of the pleasures of health; so and not otherwise do they who have departed into Hades, and there undergo punishment proportionate to the sins, both endure the state of punishment and lose the enjoyment of the hope of the saints. Most excellently then does our Lord Jesus Christ say not only that they shall die in their sins, but also that they shall not mount up to the mansions above: for binding them as by a twofold cord, does He haste to draw them away from their inherent ill-counsel. From all sides saving that which was lost and binding up the broken and raising up that which was broken down (for these are the ways of a Good Shepherd and One Who readily gives His Life for the salvation of the sheep) does He tell His own disciples, I will go and prepare a place for you, and will come again and receive you with Myself, shewing that the very heaven will be accessible to the saints and teaching that the mansions above have been prepared for them that love Him, but to those who have chosen to disbelieve Him, rightly and needs does He say, Whither I go YE cannot come. For who at all will follow the All-holy Christ, if he love not the cleansing that is through faith? or how shall he that is yet defiled and that has not cleared off the filth from his passions be with our Lord Who loves us? What communion hath light with darkness, as Paul saith? For I deem that they ought to be holy who would say to the All-Pure God, My soul cleaveth after Thee.

I think that this meaning has now too not amiss been put on the words before us, but if one must go about and view it differently, and say yet something else besides, we will not shrink from doing this too. Whither I go, YE cannot come. Being Very God, I am absent from no one, I fill all things, and being with all, I dwell specially in Heaven, gladly having abode with holy spirits. But since I am the human-loving Framer of all things, I deemed intolerable the loss of My creation, I beheld man going away to utter destruction, I viewed him falling from sin unto death, I must needs reach forth an helping Hand to him as he lay, I must needs in every way aid him overcome and falling. How then was it meet to save that which was lost? it needed that the Physician should be with those in peril, it needed that Life should be there present with the dying, it needed that Light should have its abode with those in darkness. But it were not possible that ye being men by nature should take wing to Heaven and have your abode with the Saviour. Therefore have I Myself come to you, I heard the Saints oftentimes crying aloud, Bow Thy Heavens o Lord and come down; I bowed the Heavens therefore and have come down; for in no other way could ye look to come hither. Yet do I endure to remain with you, do ye more resolutely lay hold of life, purify yourselves through faith while He is with you Who knows to, and can, compassionate with authority. For I shall go, yea shall return again whither YE cannot come; even though ye should seek the Giver of salvation by an untimely after-counsel, ye shall not find Him: what follows ye may see. For ye shall surely die in your sins, and weighed down by your own transgressions, shall go mourning to the prison-house of death, there to pay the penalty of your lengthened unbelief. The Saviour then being good and exceeding loving to man, compels the Jews by fears of future punishment even against their will to be saved.

23 And He said unto them, YE are from beneath, I am from above.

Some one haply of those who have a more studious mind and are wont to approve the more subtle of the Divine Thoughts, will enquire what it was that induced our Lord Jesus Christ, Who but now addressed the Jews and said, I go My way, and ye shall seek Me, to add as something necessary, YE are from beneath, I am from above. For these words seem somehow not to harmonise altogether with those above, but they are replete with a hidden economy. For since He is God, having no need as the Divine Evangelist John himself somewhere says, that any one should testify of man, for He knew what was in man, for He penetrateth even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow and is a discerner of the thoughts and conceptions of the heart: He is not ignorant of the unlearned fantasies of the Jews, who, since a gross and feeble mind was their inmate, when they heard from the Saviour’s Lips, I go My way, foolishly thought either that leaving Judæa He would flee somewhere or that He is saying somewhat of this kind, While I live and survive believe, lest death should befall me. For, I go My way, taken in its common meaning signifies this too. And it is no wonder if the Jews have fallen into such uncounsel as even to imagine something of this kind as to Christ. For they knew not that He is God by Nature, but looking only to this body which is of the earth, they imagined that He was a man as one of us. Therefore does the Saviour blaming them say, YE judge after the flesh. Removing them therefore from so puerile and grovelling a notion, He again teaches them that not of any one subject to birth and decay are they reasoning such things, but of Him Who is in truth begotten from above and from God the Father. Not to Me therefore (He says) will belong death and flight, for I am from above, i. e., God from God (for God is above all) but you will this rather befit. For from beneath are ye, that is of nature subject to death and falling under decay and dread. Of Me therefore (He says) do ye letting go your own weakness imagine nought of this sort, for not of equal honour with the Lord is the bond, with Him Who is from above and begotten of God the Father that which is from beneath and of the earth.

But that from above signifies the Eternal Generation of the Son from God the Father, wise reasoning will persuade us to hold. For from above understood of place signifies the being from Heaven, but nought would be in the Son special above the creature that is below and subject to God, if He come only from Heaven, since the more part of the angels too sent forth to minister walk below, ordering some of the affairs on the earth, descending from above and from Heaven. And the Saviour is a witness to us saying, Verily verily I say unto you, ye shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. Since then angels too descend from above, from heaven, why vainly does Christ boast as of something great and surpassing the whole creation, in having come I mean from above? But one may without the smallest toil and trouble see Who is by Nature the Only-Begotten, what the angels that are from Him. Needs therefore does from above signify to us not this From Heaven which is common [to Him and the Angels] but that the Son beamed forth from the Nature Which is most exalted and above all things. Therefore doth from above in regard to the Only-Begotten Alone, signify the being from God and nought else. For while all things are said to be and to exist from God, the Son has this special above all, viz., to be of the Very Essence of the Father by Generation and not as creatures by creation.

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