Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 34: John, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Afterwards, Jesus went across the sea of Galilee, which is called (the sea) of Tiberias. 2. And a great multitude followed him, because they had seen his miracles, which he performed on those who were diseased. 3. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. 4. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5. Jesus therefore, lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great multitude came to him, saith to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that those men may eat? 6. (Now he said this, trying him; for he himself knew what he would do.) 7. Philip answered him, Two hundred denarii of bread is not sufficient for them, that each of them may take a little. 8. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith to him, 9. There is here a boy, who hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes; but what are these among so many? 10. And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. (Now there was much grass in that place.) The men therefore sat down, in number about five thousand. 11. And Jesus took the loaves, and, having given thanks, distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those who had sat down, and likewise of the fishes, as much as they wished. 12. And after they were satisfied, he said to his disciples, Gather the fragments which are left, that nothing may be lost. 13. They therefore gathered, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five loaves which were left by those who had eaten.
1. Afterwards, Jesus went. Although John was accustomed to collect those actions and sayings of Christ, which the other three Evangelists had omitted, yet in this passage, contrary to his custom, he repeats the history of a miracle which they had related. But he does so for the express purpose of passing from them to Christ’s sermon, which was delivered next day at Capernaum, because the two things were connected; and therefore this narrative, though the other three Evangelists have it in common with him, has this peculiarity, that it is directed to another object, as we shall see. The other Evangelists (Mt 14:13; Mr 6:32; Lu 9:10) state that this happened shortly after the death of John the Baptist, by which circumstance of time they point out the cause of Christ’s departure; for when tyrants have once imbrued their hands in the blood of the godly, they kindle into greater cruelty, in the same manner as intemperate drinking aggravates the thirst of drunkards. Christ therefore intended to abate the rage of Herod by his absence. He uses the term, Sea of Galilee, as meaning the lake of Gennesareth. When he adds that it was called the Sea of Tiberias, he explains more fully the place to which Christ withdrew; for the whole lake did not bear that name, but only that part of it which lay contiguous to the bank on which Tiberias was situated.
2. And a great multitude followed him. So great ardor in following Christ arose from this, that, having beheld his power in miracles, they were convinced that he was some great prophet, and that he had been sent by God. But the Evangelist here omits what the other three relate, that Christ employed a part of the day in teaching and in healing the sick, and that, when the sun was setting, his disciples requested him to send away the multitudes, (Matt. 14:13, 14; Mark 6:34, 35; Luke 9:11, 12;) for he reckoned it enough to give the substance of it in a few words, that he might take this opportunity of leading us on to the remaining statements which immediately follow.
Here we see, in the first place, how eager was the desire of the people to hear Christ, since all of them, forgetting themselves, take no concern about spending the night in a desert place. So much the less excusable is our indifference, or rather our sloth, when we are so far from preferring the heavenly doctrine to the gnawings of hunger, that the slightest interruptions immediately lead us away from meditation on the heavenly life. Very rarely does it happen that Christ finds us free and disengaged from the entanglements of the world. So far is every one of us from being ready to follow him to a desert mountain, that scarcely one in ten can endure to receive him, when he presents himself at home in the midst of comforts. And though this disease prevails nearly throughout the whole world, yet it is certain that no man will be fit for the kingdom of God until, laying aside such delicacy, he learn to desire the food of the soul so earnestly that his belly shall not hinder him.
But as the flesh solicits us to attend to its conveniences, we ought likewise to observe that Christ, of his own accord, takes care of those who neglect themselves in order to follow him. 118 For he does not wait till they are famished, and cry out that they are perishing of hunger, and have nothing to eat, but he provides food for them before they have asked it. We shall perhaps be told that this does not always happen, for we often see that godly persons, though they have been entirely devoted to the kingdom of God, are exhausted and almost fainting with hunger. I reply, though Christ is pleased to try our faith and patience in this manner, yet from heaven he beholds our wants, and is careful to relieve them, as far as is necessary for our welfare; and when assistance is not immediately granted, it is done for the best reason, though that reason is concealed from us.
3. Jesus therefore went up into a mountain. Christ unquestionably sought a place of retirement till the feast of the Passover; and therefore it is said that he sat down on a mountain with his disciples. Such was undoubtedly the purpose which he formed as man; but the purpose of God was different, which he willingly obeyed. Although, therefore, he avoided the sight of men, yet he permits himself to be led by the hand of God as into a crowded theater; for there was a larger assembly of men in a desert mountain than in any populous city, and greater celebrity arose from the miracle than if it had happened in the open market-place of Tiberias We are therefore taught by this example to form our plans in conformity to the course of events, but in such a manner that, if the result be different from what we expected, we may not be displeased that God is above us, and regulates everything according to his pleasure.
5. He saith to Philip. What we here read as having been said to Philip alone, the other Evangelists tell us, was said to all. But there is no inconsistency in this; for it is probable that Philip spoke according to the opinion entertained by all, and, therefore, Christ replies to him in particular; just as John, immediately afterwards, introduces Andrew as speaking, where the other Evangelists attribute the discourse to all alike. Perceiving that they have no conception of an extraordinary remedy, he then arouses their minds, which may be said to be asleep, so that they may, at least, have their eyes open to behold what shall be immediately exhibited to them. The design of all that is alleged by the disciples is, to persuade Christ not to detain the people; and, perhaps, in this respect they consult their private advantage, that a part of the inconvenience may not fall upon themselves. Accordingly, Christ disregards their objections, and proceeds in his design.
7. Two hundred denarii. As the denarius, according to the computation of Budaeus, is equal to four times the value of a carolus and two deniers of Tours, this sum amounts to thirty-five francs, or thereby. 119 If you divide this sum among five thousand men, each hundred of them will have less than seventeenpence sterling 120 If we now add about a thousand of women and children, it will be found that Philip allots to each person about the sixth part of an English penny, 121 to buy a little bread But, as usually happens in a great crowd, he probably thought that there was a greater number of people present; and as the disciples were poor and ill supplied with money, Andrew intended to alarm Christ by the greatness of the sum, meaning that they were not wealthy enough to entertain so many people.
10. Make the men sit down. That the disciples were not sooner prepared to cherish the hope which their Master held out, and did not remember to ascribe to his power all that was proper, was a degree of stupidity worthy of blame; but no small praise is due to their cheerful obedience in now complying with his injunction, though they know not what is his intention, or what advantage they will derive from what they are doing. The same readiness to obey is manifested by the people; for, while they are uncertain about the result, they all sit down as soon as a single word of command has been pronounced. And this is the trial of true faith, when God commands men to walk, as it were, in darkness. For this purpose let us learn not to be wise in ourselves, but, amidst great confusion, still to hope for a prosperous issue, when we follow the guidance of God, who never disappoints his own people.
11. After having given thanks. Christ has oftener than once instructed us by his example that, whenever we take food, we ought to begin with prayer. For those things which God has appointed for our use, being evidences of his infinite goodness and fatherly love towards us, call on us to offer praise to Him; and thanksgiving, as Paul informs us, is a kind of solemn sanctification, by means of which the use of them begins to be pure to us, (1Ti 4:4.) Hence it follows, that they who swallow them down without thinking of God, are guilty of sacrilege, and of profaning the gifts of God. And this instruction is the more worthy of attention, because we daily see a great part of the world feeding themselves like brute beasts. When Christ determined that the bread given to the disciples should grow among their hands, we are taught by it that God blesses our labor when we are serviceable to each other.
Let us now sum up the meaning of the whole miracle. It has this in common with the other miracles, that Christ displayed in it his Divine power in union with beneficence, It is also a confirmation to us of that statement by which he exhorts us to seek the kingdom of God, promising that all other things shall be added to us, (Mt 6:33.) For if he took care of those who were led to him only by a sudden impulse, how would he desert us, if we seek him with a firm and steady purpose? True, indeed, he will sometimes allow his own people, as I have said, to suffer hunger; but he will never deprive them of his aid; and, in the meantime, he has very good reasons for not assisting us till matters come to an extremity.
Besides, Christ plainly showed that he not only bestows spiritual life on the world, but that his Father commanded him also to nourish the body. For abundance of all blessings is committed to his hand, that, as a channel, he may convey them to us; though I speak incorrectly by calling him a channel, for he is rather the living fountain flowing from the eternal Father. Accordingly, Paul prays that all blessings may come to us from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, in common, (1Co 1:3;) and, in another passage, he shows that
in all things we ought to give thanks to God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Eph 5:20.)
And not only does this office belong to his eternal Divinity, but even in his human nature, and so far as he has taken upon him our flesh, 122 the Father has appointed him to be the dispenser, that by his hands he may feed us. Now, though we do not every day see miracles before our eyes, yet not less bountifully does God display his power in feeding us. And indeed we do not read that, when he wished to give a supper to his people, he used any new means; and, therefore, it would be an inconsiderate prayer, if any one were to ask that meat and drink might be given to him by some unusual method.
Again, Christ did not provide great delicacies for the people, but they who saw his amazing power displayed in that supper, were obliged to rest satisfied with barley-bread and fish without sauce. 123 And though he does not now satisfy five thousand men with five loaves, still he does not cease to feed the whole world in a wonderful manner. It sounds to us, no doubt, like a paradox, that
man liveth not by bread alone, but by the word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God,
For we are so strongly attached to outward means, that nothing is more difficult than to depend on the providence of God. Hence it arises that we tremble so much, as soon as we have not bread at hand. And if we consider every thing aright, we shall be compelled to discern the blessing of God in all the creatures which serve for our bodily support; 124 but use and frequency lead us to undervalue the miracles of nature. And yet, in this respect, it is not so much our stupidity as our malignity that hinders us; for where is the man to be found who does not choose to wander astray in his mind, and to encompass heaven and earth a hundred times, rather than look at God who presents himself to his view?
13. And filled twelve baskets. When four thousand men were fed by seven loaves, Matthew relates that the number of baskets filled with fragments was exactly the same with the number of the loaves, (Mt 15:37.) Since, therefore, a smaller quantity is sufficient for a greater number of men, and since the quantity left is nearly double, hence we see more clearly of what value is that blessing of God, against the sight of which we deliberately shut our eyes. We ought also to observe, in passing, that though Christ commands them to fill the baskets for illustrating the miracle, yet he likewise exhorts his disciples to frugality, when he says, Gather the fragments which are left, that nothing may be lost; for the increase of the bounty of God ought not to be an excitement to luxury. Let those, therefore, who have abundance, remember that they will one day render an account of their immoderate wealth, if they do not carefully and faithfully apply their superfluity to purposes which are good, and of which God approves.
14. Those men, therefore, when they saw the miracle which Jesus had performed, said, This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world. 15. And when Jesus knew that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he again withdrew alone into a mountain. 16. And when it was evening, his disciples went down to the sea. 17. And having entered into a ship, they came across the sea into Capernaum; and it was now dark, and Jesus had not come to them. 18. And the sea arose by means of a great wind that blew. 19. When therefore they had rowed about five-and-twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea; and when he approached the ship, 125 they were terrified. 20. But he saith to them, It is I, be not terrified. 21. They were willing, therefore, to receive him into the ship; and immediately the ship reached the place to which they were going.
14. Those men, therefore. The miracle appears to have been attended by some advantage, that they acknowledge the author of it to be the Messiah; for Christ had no other object in view. But immediately they apply to a different and improper purpose the knowledge which they have obtained concerning Christ. And it is a fault extremely common among men, to corrupt and pervert his truth by their falsehoods, as soon as he has revealed himself to them; and even when they appear to have entered into the right path, they immediately fall away.
15. To make him a king. When those men intended to give to Christ the title and honor of king, there was some ground for what they did. But they erred egregiously in taking upon themselves the liberty of making a king; for Scripture ascribes this as peculiar to God alone, as it is said,
I have appointed my king on my holy hill of Zion,
Again, what sort of kingdom do they contrive for him? An earthly one, which is utterly inconsistent with his person. Hence let us learn how dangerous it is, in the things of God, to neglect His word, and to contrive anything of our own opinion; for there is nothing which the foolish subtlety of our understanding does not corrupt. And what avails the pretense of zeal, when by our disorderly worship we offer a greater insult to God than if a person were expressly and deliberately to make an attack on his glory?
We know how furious were the efforts of adversaries to extinguish the glory of Christ. That violence, indeed, reached its extreme point when he was crucified. But by means of his crucifixion salvation was obtained for the world, 126 and Christ himself obtained a splendid triumph over death and Satan. If he had permitted himself to be now made a king, his spiritual kingdom would have been ruined, the Gospel would have been stamped with everlasting infamy, and the hope of salvation would have been utterly destroyed. Modes of worship regulated according to our own fancy, and honors rashly contrived by men, have no other advantage than this, that they rob God of his true honor, and pour upon him nothing but reproach.
And take him by force. We must also observe the phrase, take by force They wished to take Christ by force, the Evangelist says; that is, with impetuous violence they wished to make him a king, though against his will. If we desire, therefore, that he should approve of the honor which we confer upon him, we ought always to consider what he requires. And, indeed, they who venture to offer to God honors invented by themselves are chargeable with using some sort of force and violence towards him; for obedience is the foundation of true worship. Let us also learn from it with what reverence we ought to abide by the pure and simple word of God; for as soon as we turn aside in the smallest degree, the truth is poisoned by our leaven, so that it is no longer like itself. They learned from the word of God that he who was promised to be the Redeemer would be a king; but out of their own head they contrive an earthly kingdom, and they assign to him a kingdom contrary to the word of God. Thus, whenever we mix up our own opinions with the word of God, faith degenerates into frivolous conjectures. Let believers, therefore, cultivate habitual modesty, lest Satan hurry them into an ardor of inconsiderate and rash zeal, 127 so that, like the Giants, they shall rush violently against God, who is never worshipped aright but when we receive him as he presents himself to us.
It is astonishing that five thousand men should have been seized with such daring presumption, that they did not hesitate, by making a new king, to provoke against themselves Pilate’s army and the vast power 128 of the Roman empire; and it is certain that they would never have gone so far, if they had not, relying on the predictions of the Prophets, hoped that God would be on their side, and, consequently, that they would overcome. But still they went wrong in contriving a kingdom of which the Prophets had never spoken. So far are they from having the hand of God favorable to aid their undertaking that, on the contrary, Christ withdraws. That was also the reason why wretched men under Popery wandered so long in gross darkness — while God was, as it were, absent — because they had dared to pollute the whole of his worship by their foolish inventions. 129
16. His disciples went down. Christ undoubtedly intended to conceal himself until the crowd should disperse. We know how difficult it is to allay a popular tumult. Now, if they had openly attempted to do what they had intended, it would have been no easy matter afterwards to wipe off the stain which had once been fixed upon him. Meanwhile, he spent all that time in prayer, as the other Evangelists (Mt 14:23; Mr 6:46) relate; probably, that God the Father might repress that folly of the people. 130 As to his crossing the lake in a miraculous manner, it is intended to profit his disciples by again confirming their faith. The advantage extended still farther; for next day all the people would easily see that he had not been brought thither by a boat or ship, 131 but that he had come by his own power; for they blockaded the shore from which he had to set out, and would scarcely have been drawn away from it, if they had not seen the disciples cross to a different place.
17. It was now dark. John passes by many circumstances which the other Evangelists introduce; such as, that for several hours they struggled with a contrary wind; for it is probable that the storm arose immediately after the night began to come on; and they tell us that Christ did not appear to his disciples till about the fourth watch of the night, (Mt 14:28; Mr 6:48.) Those who conjecture that they were still about the middle of the lake when Christ appeared to them, because John says that they had then advanced about twenty-five or thirty furlongs, are led into a mistake by supposing that they had sailed to the farther or opposite bank; for Bethsaida, near which town, Luke tells us, the miracle was performed, (Lu 9:10,) and Capernaum, which the ship reached, (Joh 6:16,) were situated on the same coast.
Pliny, in his fifth book, states that this lake was six miles in breadth, and sixteen in length. Josephus (in the third book of the Wars of the Jews) assigns to it one hundred furlongs in length, and forty in breadth; 132 and as eight furlongs make one mile, we may easily infer how little the one description differs from the other. So far as relates to the present sailing, my opinion is, that they did not go over so great a space by direct sailing, but through being driven about by the tempest. 133 However that may be, the Evangelist intended to show that, when Christ presented himself to them, they were in the utmost danger. It may be thought strange that the disciples should be tormented in this manner, while others had nothing to disturb them in sailing; but in this manner the Lord often makes his people fall into alarming dangers, that they may more plainly and familiarly recognize him in their deliverance.
19. They were terrified. The other Evangelists explain the cause of that fear to have been, that they thought that it was an apparition, (Mt 14:26; Mr 6:49.) Now it is impossible not to be seized with consternation and dread, when an apparition is presented before our eyes; for we conclude that it is either some imposture of Satan, or some bad omen which God sends us. Besides, John here holds out to us, as in a mirror, what kind of knowledge of Christ we may obtain without the word, and what advantage may be reaped from that knowledge. For if he present a simple demonstration of his divinity, we immediately fall into our imaginations, and every person forms an idol for himself instead of Christ. After we have thus wandered in our understanding, this is immediately followed by trembling and a confused terror of heart. But when he begins to speak, we then obtain from his voice clear and solid knowledge, and then also joy and delightful peace dawn upon our minds. For there is great weight in these words:
20. It is I: be not terrified We learn from them that it is in Christ’s presence alone that we have abundant grounds of confidence, so as to be calm and at ease. But this belongs exclusively to the disciples of Christ; for we shall afterwards see that wicked men were struck down by the same words, It is I, (Joh 18:6.) The reason of the distinction is, that he is sent as a Judge to the reprobate and unbelievers for their destruction; and, therefore, they cannot bear his presence without being immediately overwhelmed. But believers, who know that he is given to them to make propitiation, as soon as they hear his name, which is a sure pledge to them both of the love of God and of their salvation, take courage as if they had been raised from death to life, calmly look at the clear sky, dwell quietly on earth, and, victorious over every calamity, take him for their shield against all dangers. Nor does he only comfort and encourage them by his word, but actually removes also the cause of the terror by allaying the tempest.
22. Next day, the multitude standing on the other side of the sea, when they saw that there was no other ship there but only that into which his disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered into the ship with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone; 23. And other ships came from Tiberias, near the place where they had eaten bread, after that the Lord had given thanks. 24. When therefore the multitude saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they also entered into the ships, and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25. And having found him on the opposite side of the sea, they said to him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither?
22. Next day. Here the Evangelist relates circumstances from which the multitude might conclude that Christ had gone across by divine power. There had been but one ship; they see it go away without Christ; next day, ships come from other places, by which they are conveyed to Capernaum; and there they find Christ. It follows that he must have been conveyed across in a miraculous manner. There is an intricacy and apparent confusion (ἀνακόλουθον) in the words, but still the meaning of them is plain enough; for, in the 22nd verse, John says that there had been but one ship, and that all saw it leave the shore and that place, and that it had not Christ as a passenger; and, in the 23rd verse, he adds that ships came from Tiberias, by which the multitude passed over, which had remained on the shore, blockading, as it were, every outlet, that Christ might not escape.
23. Near the place where they had eaten bread. The meaning of the words is doubtful; for they may be explained, either that Tiberias was near the place where Christ had fed them with five loaves, or that the ships reached the shore which was near and below that place. I approve more highly of the latter exposition; for Bethsaida, near which Luke states that the miracle was performed, is half-way between Tiberias and Capernaum. Accordingly, when ships came down from that place, which was farther up the lake, they sailed along that shore on which the multitude were standing; and there can be no doubt that they came to land for the purpose of taking in passengers.
After that the Lord had given thanks. When John again mentions that Christ gave thanks, it is not a superfluous repetition; for he means that Christ obtained by prayer that those few loaves were sufficient for feeding so many people; and as we are cold and indolent in prayer, he presses upon us the same thing a second time.
25. On the other side of the sea. We have already said that Capernaum was not situated on the opposite shore; for Tiberias is situated on that part of the lake where it is broadest, Bethsaida follows next, and Capernaum lies near the lowest part, not far from where the river Jordan issues from the lake. Now, when John places it on the other side of the lake itself, we must not understand him as if its position were directly across, but because, at the lower extremity, the lake made a large winding, and, on account of the bay that intervened, it was impossible to go by land without a very circuitous journey. The Evangelist therefore says, on the other side of the sea, adopting the mode of expression used by the common people, because the only direct and ordinary mode of conveyance was by a boat.
26. Jesus answered them, and said, Verily, verily, I say to you, You seek me, not because you saw miracles, but because you ate of the loaves, and were satisfied. 27. Labour for food, not that which perisheth, but the food which endureth to eternal life, which the Son of man shall give to you; for him hath God the Father sealed. 28. They said therefore to him, What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? 29. Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that you may believe in him whom he hath sent.
26. Jesus answered them. Christ does not reply to the question put to him, which would have been fitted to show to them his power in having come thither by a miracle. 134 But, on the contrary, he chides them for throwing themselves forward without consideration; for they were not acquainted with the true and proper reason of what he did, because they sought in Christ something else than Christ himself. The fault which he complains of in them is, that they seek Christ for the sake of the belly and not of the miracles And yet it cannot be denied that they looked to the miracle; nay more, the Evangelist has already told us that they were excited by the miracles to follow Christ. But because they abused the miracles for an improper purpose, he justly reproaches them with having a greater regard to the belly than to miracles. His meaning was, that they did not profit by the works of God as they ought to have done; for the true way of profiting would have been to acknowledge Christ as the Messiah in such a manner as to surrender themselves to be taught and governed by him, and, under his guidance, to aspire to the heavenly kingdom of God. On the contrary, they expect nothing greater from him than to live happily and at ease in this world. This is to rob Christ of his chief power; for the reason why he was given by the Father and revealed himself to men is, that he may form them anew after the image of God by giving them his Holy Spirit, and that he may conduct them to eternal life by clothing them with his righteousness.
It is of great importance, therefore, what we keep in view in the miracles of Christ; for he who does not aspire to the kingdom of God, but rests satisfied with the conveniences of the present life, seeks nothing else than to fill his belly. In like manner, there are many persons in the present day who would gladly embrace the gospel, if it were free from the bitterness of the cross, and if it brought nothing but carnal pleasures. Nay, we see many who make a Christian profession, that they may live in greater gaiety and with less restraint. Some through the expectation of gain, others through fear, and others for the sake of those whom they wish to please, profess to be the disciples of Christ. In seeking Christ, therefore, the chief point is, to despise the world and
seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
Besides, as men very generally impose on themselves, and persuade themselves that they are seeking Christ in the best manner, while they debase the whole of his power, for this reason Christ, in his usual manner, doubles the word verily, as if by the oath he intended to bring to light the vice which lurks under our hypocrisy.
27. Labour for food, not that which perisheth. He shows to what object our desires ought to be directed, namely, to eternal life; but because, in proportion as our understandings are gross, we are always devoted to earthly things, for this reason he corrects that disease which is natural to us, before he points out what we ought to do. The simple doctrine would have been, “Labour to have the incorruptible food;” but, knowing that the senses of men are held bound by earthly cares, he first enjoins them to be loosed and freed from those cords, that they may rise to heaven. Not that he forbids his followers to labor that they may procure daily food; but he shows that the heavenly life ought to be preferred to this earthly life, because the godly have no other reason for living here than that, being sojourners in the world, they may travel rapidly towards their heavenly country.
Next, we ought to see what is the present question; for, since the power of Christ is debased by those who are devoted to the belly and to earthly things, he argues what we ought to seek in him, and why we ought to seek it. He employs metaphors adapted to the circumstances in which his sermon was delivered. If food had not been mentioned, he would have said, without a figure, “You ought to lay aside anxiety about the world, and strive to obtain the heavenly life.” But as those men were running to their fodder like cattle, without looking to anything better, 135 Christ presents his sermon in a metaphorical dress, and gives the name of food to everything that belongs to newness of life. We know that our souls are fed by the doctrine of the gospel, when it is efficacious in us by the power of the Spirit; and, therefore, as faith is the life of the soul, all that nourishes and promotes faith is compared to food
Which endureth to eternal life. This kind of food he calls incorruptible, and says that it endureth to eternal life, in order to inform us that our souls are not fed for a day, but are nourished in the expectation of a blessed immortality; because the Lord
commences the work of our salvation, that he may perform it till the day of Christ, (Php 1:6.)
For this reason we must receive the gifts of the Spirit, that they may be earnests and pledges of eternal life. For, though the reprobate, after having tasted this food, frequently reject it, so that it is not permanent in them, yet believing souls feel that enduring power, when they are made partakers of the power of the Holy Spirit in his gifts, which is not of short duration, but, on the contrary, never fails.
It is a frivolous exercise of ingenuity to infer, as some do, from the word labor or work, that we merit eternal life by our works; for Christ metaphorically exhorts men, as we have said, to apply their minds earnestly to meditation on the heavenly life, instead of cleaving to the world, as they are wont to do; and Christ himself removes every doubt, when he declares that it is he who giveth the food; for what we obtain by his gift no man procures by his own industry. There is undoubtedly some appearance of contradiction in these words; but we may easily reconcile these two statements, that the spiritual food of the soul is the free gift of Christ, and that we must strive with all the affections of our heart to become partakers of so great a blessing.
For him hath God the Father sealed. He confirms the preceding statement, by saying that he was appointed to us for that purpose by the Father. The ancient writers have misinterpreted and tortured this passage, by maintaining that Christ is said to be sealed, because he is the stamp and lively image of the Father. For he does not here enter into abstruse discussions about his eternal essence, but explains what he has been commissioned and enjoined to do, what is his office in relation to us, and what we ought to seek and expect from him. By an appropriate metaphor, he alludes to an ancient custom; for they sealed with signets what they intended to sanction by their authority. Thus Christ — that it may not appear as if he claimed anything of himself, or by private authority 136 — declares that this office was enjoined on him by the Father, and that this decree of the Father was manifested, as if a seal had been engraven on him. It may be summed up thus: As it is not every person who has the ability or the right 137 to feed souls with incorruptible food, Christ appears in public, and, while he promises that he will be the Author of so great a blessing, he likewise adds that he is approved by God, and that he has been sent to men with this mark, which is, as it were, God’s seal or signet 138
Hence it follows that the desire of those who shall present their souls to Christ, to be fed by him, will not be disappointed. Let us know, therefore, that life is exhibited to us in Christ, in order that each of us may aspire to it, not at random, but with certainty of success. We are, at the same time, taught that all who bestow this praise on any other than Christ are guilty of falsehood before God. Hence it is evident that the Papists, in every part of their doctrine, are altogether liars; for as often as they invent any means of salvation in the room of Christ, so often do they — by erasing, as it were, the impression which has been made — spoil and deface, with wicked presumption and base treachery, this seal of God, which alone is authentic. That we may not fall into so dreadful a condemnation, let us learn to keep pure and entire for Christ all that the Father has given to him.
28. What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? The multitude understood well enough that Christ had exhorted them to aim at something higher than the conveniences of the present life, and that they ought not to confine their attention to the earth, since God calls them to more valuable blessings. But, in putting this question, they are partly mistaken by not understanding the kind of labor; for they do not consider that God bestows upon us, by the hand of the Son, all that is necessary for spiritual life. First, they ask what they ought to do; and next, when they use the expression, the works of God, they do not understand what they say, and talk without any definite object. 139 In this manner they manifest their ignorance of the grace of God. And yet they appear here to murmur disdainfully against Christ, as if he were accusing them groundlessly. “Dost thou suppose,” say they, “that we have no solicitude about eternal life? Why, then, dost thou enjoin us to do what is beyond our power?” By the works of God we must understand those which God demands, and of which he approves.
29. The work of God is this. They had spoken of works Christ reminds them of one work, that is, faith; by which he means that all that men undertake without faith is vain and useless, but that faith alone is sufficient, because this alone does God require from us, that we believe For there is here an implied contrast between faith and the works and efforts of men; as if he had said, Men toil to no purpose, when they endeavor to please God without faith, because, by running, as it were, out of the course, they do not advance towards the goal. This is a remarkable passage, showing that, though men torment themselves wretchedly throughout their whole life, still they lose their pains, if they have not faith in Christ as the rule of their life. Those who infer from this passage that faith is the gift of God are mistaken; for Christ does not now show what God produces in us, but what he wishes and requires from us.
But we may think it strange that God approves of nothing but faith alone; for the love of our neighbor ought not to be despised, and the other exercises of religion do not lose their place and honor. So then, though faith may hold the highest rank, still other works are not superfluous. The reply is easy; for faith does not exclude either the love of our neighbor or any other good work, because it contains them all within itself. Faith is called the only work of God, because by means of it we possess Christ, and thus become the sons of God, so that he governs us by his Spirit. So then, because Christ does not separate faith from its fruits, we need not wonder if he make it to be the first and the last. 140
That you believe in him whom he hath sent. What is the import of the word believe, we have explained under the Third Chapter. It ought always to be remembered that, in order to have a full perception of the power of faith, we must understand what Christ is, in whom we believe, and why he was given to us by the Father. It is idle sophistry, under the pretext of this passage, to maintain that we are justified by works, if faith justifies, because it is likewise called a work First, it is plain enough that Christ does not speak with strict accuracy, when he calls faith a work, just as Paul makes a comparison between the law of faith and the law of works, (Ro 3:27.) Secondly, when we affirm that men are not justified by works, we mean works by the merit of which men may obtain favor with God. Now faith brings nothing to God, but, on the contrary, places man before God as empty and poor, that he may be filled with Christ and with his grace. It is, therefore, if we may be allowed the expression, a passive work, to which no reward can be paid, and it bestows on man no other righteousness than that which he receives from Christ.
30. They said therefore to him, What sign doest thou then, that we may see and believe thee? What dost thou work? 141 31. Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness, as it is written, He gave them bread of heaven to eat, (Ex 16:15; Ps 78:24.) 32. Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Moses gave you not bread from heaven, but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. 142 33. For the bread of God is this which hath come down from heaven, and giveth life to the world.
30. What sign doest thou? This wickedness abundantly proves how truly it is said elsewhere, This wicked generation seeketh a sign, (Mt 12:39.) They had been at first drawn to Christ by the admiration of his miracles or signs, and afterwards, through amazement at a new sign, they acknowledged Christ to be the Messiah, and, with that conviction, wished to make him a king; but now they demand a sign from him, as if he were a man unknown to them. Whence came such sudden forgetfulness, but because they are ungrateful to God, and, through their own malice, are blind to his power, which is before their eyes? Nor can it be doubted that they treat disdainfully all the miracles which they had already beheld, because Christ does not comply with their wishes, and because they do not find him to be what they imagined him to be. If he had given them expectation of earthly happiness, he would have been highly applauded by them; they would undoubtedly have hailed him as a Prophet, and the Messiah, and the Son of God; but now, because he blames them for being too much addicted to the flesh, they think that they ought not to listen to him any more. And in the present day, how many are there who resemble them! At first, because they promise to themselves that Christ will flatter their vices, they eagerly embrace the gospel, and call for no proof of it; but when they are called to deny the flesh and to bear the cross, then do they begin to renounce Christ and ask whence the gospel came. In short, as soon as Christ does not grant their prayers, he is no longer their Master.
31. Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness. Thus we see that Christ put his finger on the sore, when he told them that they came like brute beasts to fill their belly; for they discover this gross disposition, when they demand a Messiah by whom they are to be fed. And as to the magnificent terms in which they extol the grace of God in the manna, they do this cunningly, in order to bury the doctrine of Christ, by which he condemned them for immoderate desire of corruptible food; for they contrast with it the magnificent title bestowed on the manna, when it is called heavenly bread But when the Holy Spirit bestows on the manna the honorable appellation of the bread of heaven, (Ps 78:24,) it is not with this intention, as if God fed his people, like a herd of swine, and gave them nothing more valuable; and, therefore, they are without excuse, when they wickedly reject the spiritual food of the soul, which God now offers to them.
32. Verily, verily, I say to you, Moses gave you not bread from heaven. Christ appears to contradict what was quoted from the psalm, but he speaks only by comparison. The manna מן is called the bread of heaven, but it is for the nourishment of the body; but the bread which ought truly and properly to be reckoned heavenly, is that which gives spiritual nourishment to the soul. Christ therefore makes a contrast here between the world and heaven, because we ought not to seek the incorruptible life but in the kingdom of heaven. In this passage, truth is not contrasted with shadows, as is often done elsewhere; but Christ considers what is the true life of man, or, in other words, what it is that makes him different from brute beasts, and excellent among the creatures.
My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. When he adds these words, the meaning is,” The manna which Moses gave to your fathers did not bring heavenly life, but now heavenly life is truly exhibited to you.” True, it is the Father whom he calls the giver of this bread, but he means that it is given by his own hand. Thus the contrast relates, not to Moses and God, but to Moses and Christ. Now, Christ represents his Father rather than himself as the Author of this gift, in order to procure for himself deeper reverence; as if he had said, “Acknowledge me to be the minister of God, by whose hands he wishes to feed you to eternal life.” But, again, this appears to be inconsistent with the doctrine of Paul, who calls the manna — spiritual food, (1Co 10:3.) I reply, Christ speaks according to the capacity of those with whom he has to deal, and this is not uncommon in Scripture. We see how variously Paul speaks about circumcision. When he writes about the ordinance, he calls it the seal of faith, (Ro 4:11;) but when he has to contend with false apostles, he calls it rather a seal of cursing, and that by taking it with the qualities which they ascribed to it, and according to their opinion. 143 Let us consider what was the objection made against Christ, namely, that he did not prove himself to be the Messiah, if he did not supply his followers with bodily food. Accordingly, he does not inquire what it was that was prefigured by the manna, but maintains that the bread with which Moses fed their bellies was not true bread.
33. For the bread of God. Christ reasons negatively from the definition to the thing defined, in this manner: “The heavenly bread is that which hath come down from heaven to give life to the world In the manna there was nothing of this sort; and, therefore, the manna was not the heavenly bread.” But, at the same time, he confirms what he formerly said, namely, that he is sent by the Father, in order that he may feed men in a manner far more excellent than Moses. True, the manna came down from the visible heaven, that is, from the clouds; but not from the eternal kingdom of God, from which life flows to us. And the Jews, whom Christ addresses, looked no higher than that the bellies of their fathers were well stuffed and fattened in the wilderness.
What he formerly called the bread of heaven, he now calls the bread of God; not that the bread which supports us in the present life comes from any other than God, but because that alone can be reckoned the bread of God 144 which quickens souls to a blessed immortality. This passage teaches that the whole world is dead to God, except so far as Christ quickens it, because life will be found nowhere else than in him.
Which hath come down from heaven. In the coming down from heaven two things are worthy of observation; first, that we have a Divine life in Christ, because he has come from God to be the Author of life to us; secondly, that the heavenly life is near us,
so that we do not need to fly above the clouds or to cross the sea,
(Deut. 30:12, 13; Ro 10:6-8;)
for the reason why Christ descended to us was, that no man could ascend above.
34. They said therefore to him, Lord, give us always this bread. 35. Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth in me shall never thirst. 36. But I have told you that you have also seen me and do not believe. 37. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will not cast out; 38. For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39. And this is the will of the Father who sent me, that of all that he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40. And this is the will of him who sent me, that whosoever seeth the Son, and believeth in him, shall have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
34. Give us always this bread. There is no doubt that they speak ironically, to accuse Christ of vain boasting, when he said that he was able to give the bread of life. Thus wretched men, while they reject the promises of God, are not satisfied with this evil alone, but put Christ in their room, as if he were chargeable with their unbelief.
35. I am the bread of life. First, he shows that the bread, which they asked in mockery, is before their eyes; and, next, he reproves them. He begins with doctrine, to make it more evident that they were guilty of ingratitude. There are two parts of the doctrine; for he shows whence we ought to seek life, and how we may enjoy it. We know what gave occasion to Christ to use those metaphors; it was because manna and daily food had been mentioned. But still this figure is better adapted to teach ignorant persons than a simple style. When we eat bread for the nourishment of the body, we see more clearly not only our own weakness, but also the power of divine grace, than if, without, bread, God were to impart a secret power to nourish the body itself. Thus, the analogy which is traced between the body and the soul, enables us to perceive more clearly the grace of Christ. For when we learn that Christ is the bread by which our souls must be fed, this penetrates more deeply into our hearts than if Christ simply said that he is our life
It ought to be observed, however, that the word bread does not express the quickening power of Christ so fully as we feel it; for bread does not commence life, but nourishes and upholds that life which we already possess. But, through the kindness of Christ, we not only continue to possess life, but have the beginning of life, and therefore the comparison is partly inappropriate; but there is no inconsistency in this, for Christ adapts his style to the circumstances of the discourse which he formerly delivered. Now the question had been raised, Which of the two was more eminent in feeding men, Moses or Christ himself? This is also the reason why he calls it bread only, for it was only the manna that they objected to him, and, therefore, he reckoned it enough to contrast with it a different kind of bread The simple doctrine is, “Our souls do not live by an intrinsic power, so to speak, that is, by a power which they have naturally in themselves, 145 but borrow life from Christ.”
He who cometh to me. He now defines the way of taking this food; it is when we receive Christ by faith. For it is of no avail to unbelievers that Christ is the bread of life, because they remain always empty; but then does Christ become our bread, when we come to him as hungry persons, that he may fill us. To come to Christ and to believe mean, in this passage, the same thing; but the former word is intended to express the effect of faith, namely, that it is in consequence of being driven by the feeling of our hunger that we fly to Christ to seek life.
Those who infer from this passage that to eat Christ is faith, and nothing else, reason inconclusively. I readily acknowledge that there is no other way in which we eat Christ than by believing; but the eating is the effect and fruit of faith rather than faith itself. For faith does not look at Christ only as at a distance, but embraces him, that he may become ours and may dwell in us. It causes us to be incorporated with him, to have life in common with him, and, in short, to become one with him, (Joh 17:21.) It is therefore true that by faith alone we eat Christ, provided we also understand in what manner faith unites us to him.
Shall never thirst. This appears to be added without any good reason; for the office of bread is not to quench thirst, but to allay hunger. Christ therefore attributes to bread more than its nature allows. I have already said, that he employs the word bread alone because it was required by the comparison between the manna and the heavenly power of Christ, by which our souls are sustained in life. At the same time, by the word bread, he means in general all that nourishes us, and that according to the ordinary custom of his nation. For the Hebrews, by the figure of speech called synecdoche, use the word bread for dinner or supper; and when we ask from God our daily bread, (Mt 6:11,) we include drink and all the other parts of life. The meaning therefore is, “Whoever shall betake himself to Christ, to have life from him, will want nothing, but will have in abundance all that contributes to sustain life.”
36. But I have told you. He now reproves them for wickedly rejecting the gift of God, which is offered to them. Now, that man is chargeable with wicked contempt of God, who rejects what he knows that God has given him. If Christ had not made known his power, and plainly showed that he came from God, the plea of ignorance might have alleviated their guilt; but when they reject the doctrine of him whom they formerly acknowledged to be the Lord’s Messiah, it is extreme baseness. It is no doubt true, that men never resist God purposely, so as to reflect that they have to do with God; and to this applies the saying of Paul,
They would never have crucified the Lord of glory, if they had known him
But unbelievers, because they willingly shut their eyes against the light are justly said to see that which immediately vanishes from their sight, because Satan darkens their understandings. This, at least, is beyond all controversy, that when he said that they saw, we must not understand him to mean his bodily appearance, but rather that he describes their voluntary blindness, because they might have known what he was, if their malice had not prevented them.
37. All that the Father giveth me. That their unbelief may not detract anything from his doctrine, he says, that the cause of so great obstinacy is, that they are reprobate, and do not belong to the flock of God. His intention, therefore, in distinguishing here between the elect and the reprobate is, that the authority of his doctrine may remain unimpaired, though there are many who do not believe it. For, on the one hand, ungodly men calumniate and utterly despise the word of God, because they are not moved by reverence for it; and, on the other hand, many weak and ignorant persons entertain doubts whether that which is rejected by a great part of the world be actually the word of God. Christ meets this offense, when he affirms, that all those who do not believe are not his own, and that we need not wonder if such persons have no relish for the word of God, but that it is embraced by all the children of God. In the first place, he says, that all whom the Father giveth him come to him; by which words he means, that faith is not a thing which depends on the will of men, so that this man and that man indiscriminately and at random believe, but that God elects those whom he hands over, as it were, to his Son; for when he says, that whatever is given cometh, we infer from it, that all do not come. Again, we infer, that God works in his elect by such an efficacy of the Holy Spirit, that not one of them falls away; for the word give has the same meaning as if Christ had said, “Those whom the Father hath chosen he regenerates, and gives to me, that they may obey the Gospel.”
And him that cometh to me I will not cast out. This is added for the consolation of the godly, that they may be fully persuaded that they have free access to Christ by faith, and that, as soon as they have placed themselves under his protection and safeguard, they will be graciously received by him. Hence it follows, that the doctrine of the Gospel will be salutary to all believers, because no man becomes a disciple of Christ who does not, on the other hand, feel and experience him to be a good and faithful teacher.
38. For I came down from heaven. This is a confirmation of the preceding statement, that we do not seek Christ in vain. For faith is a work of God, by which he shows that we are his people, and appoints his Son to be the protector of our salvation. Now the Son has no other design than to fulfill the commands of his Father. Consequently, he will never reject those whom his Father hath sent. Hence, finally, it follows, that faith will never be useless. As to the distinction which Christ makes between his own will and the will of the Father, in this respect, he accommodates himself to his hearers, because, as the mind of man is prone to distrust, we are wont to contrive some diversity which produces hesitation. To cut off every pretense for those wicked imaginations, Christ declares, that he has been manifested to the world, in order that he may actually ratify what the Father hath decreed concerning our salvation.
39. And this is the will of the Father. He now testifies, that this is the design of the Father, that believers may find salvation secured in Christ; from which again it follows, that all who do not profit by the doctrine of the Gospel are reprobate. Wherefore, if we see that it turns to the ruin of many, we have no reason to despond, because those men willingly draw down the evil on themselves. Let us rest satisfied with this, that the Gospel will always have power to gather the elect to salvation.
That I should lose none of it. That is, “That I should not suffer it to be taken from me or perish;” by which he means, that he is not the guardian of our salvation for a single day, or for a few days, but that he will take care of it to the end, so that he will conduct us, as it were, from the commencement to the termination of our course; and therefore he mentions the last resurrection. This promise is highly necessary for us, who miserably groan under so great weakness of the flesh, of which every one of us is sufficiently aware; and at every moment, indeed, the salvation of the whole world might be ruined, were it not that believers, supported by the hand of Christ, advance boldly to the day of resurrection. Let this, therefore, be fixed in our minds, that Christ has stretched out his hand to us, that he may not desert us in the midst of the course, but that, relying on his goodness, we may boldly raise our eyes to the last day.
There is also another reason why he mentions the resurrection. It is because, so long as our life is hidden, (Col 3:3,) we are like dead men. For in what respect do believers differ from wicked men, but that, overwhelmed with afflictions, and like sheep destined for the slaughter, (Ro 8:36,) they have always one foot in the grave, and, indeed, are not far from being continually swallowed up by death? Thus there remains no other support of our faith and patience but this, that we keep out of view the condition of the present life, and apply our minds and our senses to the last day, and pass through the obstructions of the world, until the fruit of our faith at length appear.
40. And this is the will of him who sent me. He had said that the Father had committed to him the protection of our salvation; and now he likewise describes the manner in which it is accomplished. The way to obtain salvation, therefore, is to obey the Gospel of Christ. This point he had, indeed, glanced at a little before but now he expresses more fully what he had spoken somewhat obscurely. And if it is the will of God that those whom he has elected shall be saved, and if in this manner he ratifies and executes his eternal decree, whoever he be that is not satisfied with Christ, but indulges in curious inquiries about eternal predestination, such a person, as far as lies in his power, desires to be saved contrary to the purpose of God. The election of God is in itself hidden and secret; the Lord manifests it by calling, that is, when he bestows on us this blessing of calling us 146
They are madmen, therefore, who seek their own salvation or that of others in the whirlpool of predestination, not keeping the way of salvation which is exhibited to them. Nay more, by this foolish speculation, they endeavor to overturn the force and effect of predestination; for if God has elected us to this end, that we may believe, take away faith, and election will be imperfect. But we have no right to break through the order and succession of the beginning and the end, since God, by his purpose, hath decreed and determined that it shall proceed unbroken. 147 Besides, as the election of God, by an indissoluble bond, draws his calling along with it, so when God has effectually called us to faith in Christ, let this have as much weight with us as if he had engraven his seal to ratify his decree concerning our salvation. For the testimony of the Holy Spirit is nothing else than the sealing of our adoption, (Ro 8:15.) To every man, therefore, his faith is a sufficient attestation of the eternal predestination of God, so that it would be a shocking sacrilege 148 to carry the inquiry farther; for that man offers an aggravated insult to the Holy Spirit, who refuses to assent to his simple testimony.
Whosoever seeth the Son, and believeth in him. He uses the words, see and believe, in contrast with what he had formerly said; for he had reproached the Jews with not believing, even though they saw, (verse 36.) But now, speaking of the sons of God, with the feeling which they have of the power of God in Christ, he joins the obedience of faith. Moreover, these words show that faith proceeds from the knowledge of Christ; not that it desires anything beyond the simple word of God, but because, if we trust in Christ, we must perceive what he is, and what he brings to us.
41. The Jews therefore murmured concerning him, because he said, I am the bread which have come down from heaven. 42. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How therefore doth he say, I have come down from heaven? 43. Jesus therefore answered, and said to them, Murmur not among yourselves. 44. No man can come to me, unless the Father, who hath sent me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45. It is written in the Prophets, And they shall be all taught by God; whosoever therefore hath heard my Father, and hath learned, 149 cometh to me.
41. The Jews therefore murmured concerning him. The Evangelist explains the cause of the murmuring to have been, that the Jews were offended at the mean condition of Christ’s human nature, 150 and did not perceive in him any thing Divine or heavenly. Yet he shows that they had a twofold obstruction. One they had framed for themselves out of a false opinion, when they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we hnow? Another arose from a wicked sentiment, that they did not think that Christ was the Son of God, because he came down to men clothed with our flesh. 151 But we are guilty of excessive malignity, if we despise the Lord of glory because on our account
he emptied himself, and took upon him the form of a servant,
for this was rather an illustrious proof of his boundless love towards us, and of his wonderful grace. Besides, the Divine majesty of Christ was not so concealed under the mean and contemptible appearance of the flesh, as not to give out the rays of his brightness in a variety of ways; but those gross and stupid men wanted eyes to see his conspicuous glory.
We, too, sin daily in both of these ways. First, it is a great hinderance to us, that it is only with carnal eyes that we behold Christ; and this is the reason why we perceive in him nothing magnificent, for by our sinful views we pervert all that belongs to him and to his doctrine, so unskilful are we to profit by them, or to view them in the proper light. 152 Secondly, not satisfied with this, we adopt many false imaginations, which produce a contempt of the Gospel. Nay, there are even many who frame for themselves monsters, that they may make them a pretense for hating the Gospel. In this manner the world deliberately drives away the grace of God. Now the Evangelist expressly names the Jews, in order to inform us that the murmuring proceeded from those who gloried in the title of faith and of the Church, that we may all learn to receive Christ with reverence, when he comes down to us, and that, in proportion as he comes nearer to us, we may more cheerfully approach to him, that he may raise us to his heavenly glory.
43. Murmur not among yourselves. He throws back on them the blame of the murmuring, as if he had said, “My doctrine contains no ground of offense, but because you are reprobate, it irritates your envenomed breasts, and the reason why you do not relish it is, that you have a vitiated taste.”
44. No man can come to me, unless the Father, who hath sent me, draw him. He does not merely accuse them of wickedness, but likewise reminds them, that it is a peculiar gift of God to embrace the doctrine which is exhibited by him; which he does, that their unbelief may not disturb weak minds. For many are so foolish that, in the things of God, they depend on the opinions of men; in consequence of which, they entertain suspicions about the Gospel, as soon as they see that it is not received by the world. Unbelievers, on the other hand, flattering themselves in their obstinacy, have the hardihood to condemn the Gospel because it does not please them. On the contrary, therefore, Christ declares that the doctrine of the Gospel, though it is preached to all without exception, cannot be embraced by all, but that a new understanding and a new perception are requisite; and, therefore, that faith does not depend on the will of men, but that it is God who gives it.
Unless the Father draw him. To come to Christ being here used metaphorically for believing, the Evangelist, in order to carry out the metaphor in the apposite clause, says that those persons are drawn whose understandings God enlightens, and whose hearts he bends and forms to the obedience of Christ. The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, 153 as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.
45. It is written in the Prophets. Christ confirms by the testimony of Isaiah what he said, that no man can come to him, unless he be drawn by the Father He uses the word prophets in the plural number, because all their prophecies had been collected into one volume, so that all the prophets might justly be accounted one book. The passage which is here quoted is to be found in Isa 54:13, where, speaking of the restoration of the Church, he promises to her, sons taught by the instruction of God Hence it may easily be inferred, that the Church cannot be restored in any other way than by God undertaking the office of a Teacher, and bringing believers to himself. The way of teaching, of which the prophet speaks, does not consist merely in the external voice, but likewise in the secret operation of the Holy Spirit. In short, this teaching of God is the inward illumination of the heart.
And they shall be all taught by God. As to the word all, it must be limited to the elect, who alone are the true children of the Church. Now it is not difficult to see in what manner Christ applies this prediction to the present subject. Isaiah shows that then only is the Church truly edified, when she has her children taught by God Christ, therefore, justly concludes that men have not eyes to behold the light of life, until God has opened them. But at the same time, he fastens on the general phrase, all; because he argues from it, that all who are taught by God are effectually drawn, so as to come; and to this relates what he immediately adds,
Whosoever therefore hath heard my Father. The amount of what is said is, that all who do not believe are reprobate and doomed to destruction; because all the sons of the Church and heirs of life are made by God to be his obedient disciples. Hence it follows, that there is not one of all the elect of God who shall not be a partaker of faith in Christ. 154 Again, as Christ formerly affirmed that men are not fitted for believing, until they have been drawn, so he now declares that the grace of Christ, by which they are drawn, is efficacious, so that they necessarily believe.
These two clauses utterly overturn the whole power of free will, of which the Papists dream. For if it be only when the Father has drawn us that we begin to come to Christ, there is not in us any commencement of faith, or any preparation for it. On the other hand, if all come whom the Father hath taught, He gives to them not only the choice of believing, but faith itself. When, therefore, we willingly yield to the guidance of the Spirit, this is a part, and, as it were, a sealing of grace; because God would not draw us, if He were only to stretch out his hand, and leave our will in a state of suspense. But in strict propriety of language He is said to draw us, when He extends the power of his Spirit to the full effect of faith. They are said to hear God, who willingly assent to God speaking to them within, because the Holy Spirit reigns in their hearts.
Cometh to me. He shows the inseparable connection that exists between him and the Father. For the meaning is, that it is impossible that any who are God’s disciples shall not obey Christ, and that they who reject Christ refuse to be taught by God; because the only wisdom that all the elect learn in the school of God is, to come to Christ; for the Father, who sent him, cannot deny himself.
46. Not that any man hath seen the Father, but he who is from God; he hath seen the Father. 47. Verily, verily, I say to you, He who believeth in me hath eternal life. 48. I am the bread of life. 49. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50. This is the bread which hath come down from heaven, that any man may eat of it, and not die. 51. I am the living bread which hath come down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread which I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.
46. Not that any man hath seen the Father. As he has hitherto magnified the grace of his Father, so now he earnestly directs believers to himself alone. For both must be joined together; that no knowledge of Christ can be obtained, until the Father enlighten by his Spirit those who are by nature blind; and yet that it is in vain to seek God, unless Christ go before; for the majesty of God is so lofty, that the senses of men cannot reach him. Nay, more, all that knowledge of God which men may think that they have attained out of Christ will be a deadly abyss. When he says that he alone hath known the Father, he means that it is an office which belongs peculiarly to himself, to manifest God to men, who would otherwise have been concealed.
47. He who believeth in me. This is an explanation of the former statement. For we are taught by these words that it is when we believe in Christ that God is made known to us; for then do we begin to see, as in a mirror, or as in a bright and lively image, God who was formerly invisible. Accursed then be every thing that is declared to us concerning God, if it do not lead us to Christ. What it is to believe in Christ I have already explained; for we must not imagine a confused and empty faith, which deprives Christ of his power, as the Papists do, who believe in Christ just as far as they think fit. For the reason why we obtain life by faith is, that we know that all the parts of our life are contained in Christ.
The inference which some draw from this passage — that to believe in Christ is the same thing as to eat Christ, or his flesh — is not well founded. For these two things differ from each other as former and latter; and in like manner, to come to Christ and to drink him, for coming to him is first in order. I acknowledge that Christ is not eaten but by faith; but the reason is, because we receive him by faith, that he may dwell in us, and that we may be made partakers of him, and thus may be one with him. To eat him, therefore, is an effect or work of faith.
48. I am the bread of life Besides what he formerly said, that he is the life-giving bread, by which our souls are nourished, in order to explain it more fully, he likewise repeats the contrast between this bread and the ancient manna, together with a comparison of the men.
49. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead. He says that the manna was a perishing food to their fathers, for it did not free them from death. It follows, therefore, that souls do not find anywhere else than in him that food by which they are fed to spiritual life. Besides, we must keep in remembrance what I formerly stated, that what is here said does not relate to the manna, so far as it was a secret figure of Christ; for in that respect Paul calls it spiritual food, (1Co 10:3.) But we have said that Christ here accommodates his discourse to the hearers, who, caring only about feeding the belly, looked for nothing higher in the manna. Justly, therefore does he declare that their fathers are dead, that is, those who in the same manner, were devoted to the belly, or, in other words, who thought of nothing higher than this world. 155 And yet he invites them to eat, when he says that he has come, that any man may eat; for this mode of expression has the same meaning as if he said, that he is ready to give himself to all, provided that they are only willing to believe. That not one of those who have once eaten Christ shall die — must be understood to mean, that the life which he bestows on us is never extinguished, as we stated under the Fifth Chapter.
51. I am the living bread. He often repeats the same thing, because nothing is more necessary to be known; and every one feels in himself with what difficulty we are brought to believe it, and how easily and quickly it passes away and is forgotten. 156 We all desire life, but in seeking it, we foolishly and improperly wander about in circuitous roads; and when it is offered, the greater part disdainfully reject it. For who is there that does not contrive for himself life out of Christ? And how few are there who are satisfied with Christ alone! It is not a superfluous repetition, therefore, when Christ asserts so frequently that he alone is sufficient to give life. For he claims for himself the designation of bread, in order to tear from our hearts all fallacious hopes of living. Having formerly called himself the bread of life, he now calls himself the living bread, but in the same sense, namely, life-giving bread. — Which have come down from heaven He frequently mentions his coming down from heaven, because spiritual and incorruptible life will not be found in this world, the fashion of which passes away and vanishes, but only in the heavenly kingdom of God.
If any man eat of this bread. Whenever he uses the word eat, he exhorts us to faith, which alone enables us to enjoy this bread, so as to derive life from it. 157 Nor is it without good reason that he does so, for there are few who deign to stretch out their hand to put this bread to their mouth; and even when the Lord puts it into their mouth, there are few who relish it, but some are filled with wind, and others — like Tantalus — are dying of hunger through their own folly, while the food is close beside them.
The bread which I shall give is my flesh. As this secret power to bestow life, of which he has spoken, might be referred to his Divine essence, he now comes down to the second step, and shows that this life is placed in his flesh, that it may be drawn out of it. It is, undoubtedly, a wonderful purpose of God that he has exhibited life to us in that flesh, where formerly there was nothing but the cause of death. And thus he provides for our weakness, when he does not call us above the clouds to enjoy life, but displays it on earth, in the same manner as if he were exalting us to the secrets of his kingdom. And yet, while he corrects the pride of our mind, he tries the humility and obedience of our faith, when he enjoins those who would seek life to place reliance on his flesh, which is contemptible in its appearance.
But an objection is brought, that the flesh of Christ cannot give life, because it was liable to death, and because even now it is not immortal in itself; and next, that it does not at all belong to the nature of flesh to quicken souls. I reply, though this power comes from another source than from the flesh, still this is no reason why the designation may not accurately apply to it; for as the eternal Word of God is the fountain of life, (Joh 1:4,) so his flesh, as a channel, conveys to us that life which dwells intrinsically, as we say, in his Divinity. And in this sense it is called life-giving, because it conveys to us that life which it borrows for us from another quarter. This will not be difficult to understand, if we consider what is the cause of life, namely, righteousness. And though righteousness flows from God alone, still we shall not attain the full manifestation of it any where else than in the flesh of Christ; for in it was accomplished the redemption of man, in it a sacrifice was offered to atone for sins, and an obedience yielded to God, to reconcile him to us; it was also filled with the sanctification of the Spirit, and at length, having vanquished death, it was received into the heavenly glory. It follows, therefore that all the parts of life have been placed in it, that no man may have reason to complain that he is deprived of life, as if it were placed in concealment, or at a distance.
Which I shall give for the life of the world. The word give is used in various senses. The first giving, of which he has formerly spoken, is made daily, whenever Christ offers himself to us. Secondly, it denotes that singular giving which was done on the cross, when he offered himself as a sacrifice to his Father; for then he delivered himself up to death for the life of men, and now he invites us to enjoy the fruit of his death. For it would be of no avail to us that that sacrifice was once offered, if we did not now feast on that sacred banquet. It ought also to be observed, that Christ claims for himself the office of sacrificing his flesh. Hence it appears with what wicked sacrilege the Papists pollute themselves, when they take upon themselves, in the mass, what belonged exclusively to that one High Priest.
52. The Jews therefore debated among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 53. Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have not life in you. 54. He who eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55. For my flesh is truly food, and my blood is truly drink. 56. He who eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 57. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live on account of my Father; and he who eateth me, even he shall live for my sake. 58. This is the bread which hath come down from heaven; not as your fathers ate manna, and are dead; he who eateth this bread shall live for ever.
52. The Jews therefore debated among themselves. He again mentions the Jews, not by way of honor, but to reproach them with their unbelief, because they do not receive the well known doctrine concerning eternal life, or, at least, do not inquire modestly into the subject, if it be still obscure and doubtful. For when he says that they debated, it is a sign of obstinacy and contempt; and those who dispute so keenly do, indeed, block up against themselves the road to the knowledge of the truth. And yet the blame imputed to them is not simply that they inquired into the manner; for the same blame would fall on Abraham and the blessed Virgin, (Ge 15:2; Lu 1:34.) Those persons, therefore, are either led astray through ignorance, or are deficient in candour, who, without taking into account the hardihood and eagerness to quarrel, which alone the Evangelist condemns, direct all their outcry against the word how; as if it had not been lawful for the Jews to inquire about the manner of eating the flesh of Christ 158 But it ought rather to be imputed to sloth than ascribed to the obedience of faith, if we knowingly and willingly leave unsolved those doubts and difficulties which are removed for us by the word of the Lord. Not only is it lawful, therefore, to inquire as to the manner of eating the flesh of Christ, but it is of great importance for us to understand it, so far as it is made known by the Scriptures. Away, then, with that fierce and obstinate pretense of humility, “For my part, I am satisfied with that single word of Christ, when he declares that his flesh is truly food: to all the rest I willingly shut my eyes.” As if heretics would not have equal plausibility on their side, if they willingly were ignorant that Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, because, believing that he is the seed of Abraham, they make no farther inquiry. Only we ought to preserve such moderation about the secret works of God, as not to desire to know anything more than what he determines by his word.
53. Verily, verily, I say to you. The just resentment which Christ felt, 159 when he saw his grace rejected with such haughty disdain, constrained him to employ this oath. For he does not now make use of simple doctrine, but likewise mingles threatenings for the purpose of striking terror. He denounces eternal perdition against all who refuse to seek life from his flesh; as if he had said, “If you hold my flesh in contempt, rest assured that there remains for you no other hope of life.” The vengeance that awaits all despisers of the grace of Christ is, that with their pride they miserably perish; and the reason why they must be urged with plainness and severity is, that they may not continue to flatter themselves. For if we threaten with death those diseased persons who refuse to take medicines, what must we do with wicked men, when they strive, as far as lies in their power, to destroy life itself?
Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man. When he says, the flesh of the Son of man, the expression is emphatic; for he reproves them for their contempt, which arose from perceiving that he resembled other men. The meaning therefore is: “Despise me as much as you please, on account of the mean and despicable appearance of my flesh, still that despicable flesh contains life; and if you are destitute of it, you will nowhere else find any thing else to quicken you.”
The ancients fell into a gross error by supposing that little children were deprived of eternal life, if they did not dispense to them the eucharist, that is, the Lord’s Supper; 160 for this discourse does not relate to the Lord’s Supper, but to the uninterrupted communication of the flesh of Christ, 161 which we obtain apart from the use of the Lord’s Supper. Nor were the Bohemians in the right, when they adduced this passage to prove that all without exception ought to be admitted to the use of the cup. With respect to young children, the ordinance of Christ forbids them to partake of the Lord’s Supper; because they are not yet able to know or to celebrate the remembrance of the death of Christ. The same ordinance makes the cup common to all, for it commands us all to drink of it, (Mt 26:27.)
54. He who eateth my flesh. This is a repetition, but is not superfluous; for it confirms what was difficult to be believed, That souls feed on his flesh and blood, in precisely the same manner that the body is sustained by eating and drinking Accordingly, as he lately testified that nothing but death remains for all who seek life anywhere else than in his flesh, so now he excites all believers 162 to cherish good hope, while he promises to them life in the same flesh.
And I will raise him up at the last day. It ought to be observed, that Christ so frequently connects the resurrection with eternal life, because our salvation will be hidden till that day. No man, therefore, can perceive what Christ bestows on us, unless, rising above the world, he places before his eyes the last resurrection From these words, it plainly appears that the whole of this passage is improperly explained, as applied to the Lord’s Supper. For if it were true that all who present themselves at the holy table of the Lord are made partakers of his flesh and blood, all will, in like manner, obtain life; but we know that there are many who partake of it to their condemnation. And indeed it would have been foolish and unreasonable to discourse about the Lord’s Supper, before he had instituted it. It is certain, then, that he now speaks of the perpetual and ordinary manner of eating the flesh of Christ, which is done by faith only. 163 And yet, at the same time, I acknowledge that there is nothing said here that is not figuratively represented, and actually bestowed on believers, in the Lord’s Supper; and Christ even intended that the holy Supper should be, as it were, a seal and confirmation 164 of this sermon. This is also the reason why the Evangelist John makes no mention of the Lord’s Supper; and therefore Augustine follows the natural order, when, in explaining this chapter, he does not touch on the Lord’s Supper till he comes to the conclusion; and then he shows that this mystery is symbolically represented, whenever the Churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in some places daily, and in other places only on the Lord’s day.
55. For my flesh is truly food. He confirms the same statement by other words, “As the body is weakened and consumed by the want of food, so the soul, if it be not fed with heavenly bread, will soon perish with hunger.” For when he declares that his flesh is truly food, he means that souls are famished, if they want that food. Then only wilt thou find life in Christ, when thou shalt seek the nourishment of life in his flesh. Thus we ought to boast, with Paul, that we reckon nothing to be excellent but Christ crucified; because, as soon as we have departed from the sacrifice of his death, we meet with nothing but death; nor is there any other road that conducts us to a perception of his Divine power than through his death and resurrection. Embrace Christ, therefore, as the Servant of the Father, (Isa 42:1,) that he may show himself to thee to be the Prince of life, (Ac 3:15.) For when he emptied himself, (Php 2:7,) in this manner we were enriched with abundance of all blessings; his humiliation and descent into hell raised us to heaven; and, by enduring the curse of his cross, he erected the banner of our righteousness as a splendid memorial of his victory. 165 Consequently, they are false expounders of the mystery of the Lord’s Supper, 166 who draw away souls from the flesh of Christ.
And my blood is truly drink. But why does Christ mention his blood separately, when it is included in the word flesh? I reply, he did so in condescension to our weakness. For when he expressly mentions food and drink, he declares that the life which he bestows is complete in every respect, that we may not imagine to ourselves a life which is only half or imperfect; as if he had said, that we shall want nothing that belongs to life, provided that we eat his flesh and drink his blood. Thus also in the Lord’s Supper, which corresponds to this doctrine, not satisfied with the symbol of the bread, he adds also the cup, that, having in him a twofold pledge, we may learn to be satisfied with him alone; for never will a man find a part of life in Christ, until he has entire and complete life in him.
56. He who eateth my flesh. This is another confirmation; for while he alone has life in himself, he shows how we may enjoy it, that is, by eating his flesh; as if he had affirmed that there is no other way in which he can become ours, than by our faith being directed to his flesh. For no one will ever come to Christ as God, who despises him as man; and, therefore, if you wish to have any interest in Christ, you must take care, above all things, that you do not disdain his flesh.
Dwelleth in me, and I in him. When he says that he dwelleth in us, the meaning is the same as if he had said, that the only bond of union, and the way by which he becomes one with us, is, when our faith relies on his death. We may likewise infer from it, that he is not now speaking of the outward symbol, which many unbelievers receive equally with believers, and yet continue separated from Christ. It enables us also to refute the dream of those who say, that Judas received the body of Christ as well as the other apostles, when Christ gave the bread to all; for as it is a display of ignorance to limit this doctrine to the outward sign, so we ought to remember what I have formerly said, that the doctrine which is here taught is sealed in the Lord’s Supper. Now, it is certain, in the first place, that Judas never was a member of Christ; secondly, it is highly unreasonable to imagine the flesh of Christ to be dead and destitute of the Holy Spirit; and, lastly, it is a mockery to dream of any way of eating the flesh of Christ without faith, since faith alone is the mouth — so to speak — and the stomach of the soul.
57. As the living Father hath sent me. Hitherto Christ has explained the manner in which we must become partakers of life. He now comes to speak of the principal cause, for the first source of life is in the Father. But he meets an objection, for it might be thought that he took away from God what belonged to him, when he made himself the cause of life. He makes himself, therefore, to be the Author of life, in such a manner, as to acknowledge that there was another who gave him what he administers to others.
Let us observe, that this discourse also is accommodated to the capacity of those to whom Christ was speaking; for it is only with respect to his flesh that he compares himself to the Father. For though the Father is the beginning of life, yet the eternal Word himself is strictly life But the eternal Divinity of Christ is not the present subject; for he exhibits himself such as he was manifested to the world, clothed with our flesh.
I also live on account of the Father. This does not apply to his Divinity simply, nor does it apply to his human nature simply and by itself, but it is a description of the Son of God manifested in the flesh. Besides, we know that it is not unusual with Christ to ascribe to the Father every thing Divine which he had in himself. It must be observed, however, that he points out here three degrees of life. In the first rank is the living Father, who is the source, but remote and hidden. Next follows the Son, who is exhibited to us as an open fountain, and by whom life flows to us. The third is, the life which we draw from him. We now perceive what is stated to amount to this, that God the Father, in whom life dwells, is at a great distance from us, and that Christ, placed between us, is the second cause of life, in order that what would otherwise be concealed in God may proceed from him to us.
58. This is the bread which came down from heaven. He returns to the comparison between the manna and his flesh, with which he had begun; for it was necessary that he should close the sermon in this manner: “There is no reason why you should prefer Moses to me, because he fed your fathers in the wilderness; since I supply you with far more excellent food, for I bring heavenly life with me.” For — as was formerly said — the bread is said to have come down from heaven, because it has nothing earthly or corruptible in its nature, but breathes the immortality of the kingdom of God. They who were only bent on feeding the belly, did not find such virtue in the manna; for while the manna had a twofold use, the Jews, with whom Christ is now disputing, beheld in it nothing else than bodily food. But the life of the soul is not fading, but makes continual progress until the whole man is renewed.
59 He spoke these things in the synagogue, while he was teaching in Capernaum. 60. Many of his disciples, therefore, having heard it, said, This is a harsh saying; 167 who can hear it? 61. But Jesus knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, Doth this offend you? 62. What if you shall see the Son of man ascend to where he was before? 63. It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing. The words which I speak to you are spirit and life. 64. But there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that did not believe, and who he was that would betray him.
59. He spoke these things in the synagogue. John points out the place, that we may know that there were many present, and likewise, that a sermon was delivered as on a weighty and important subject. But it immediately follows that out of so great a multitude there were scarcely to be found a very few who profited by it; and — what is worse — it proved to be the occasion of desertion to many who professed to be disciples of Christ. If the Evangelist had said that only some of them were offended, that ought to have been accounted monstrous; but when they rise up in crowds and conspire together against him, what name shall we give to such an action? Let this narrative then be deeply impressed on our minds, that we may never murmur against Christ when he speaks; and if in the present day we perceive any thing of this kind in others, let not their pride disturb our faith.
60. This is a harsh saying. On the contrary, it was in their hearts, and not in the saying, that the harshness lay. But out of the word of God the reprobate are thus accustomed to form stones to dash themselves upon, and when, by their hardened obstinacy, they rush against Christ, they complain that his saying is harsh, which ought rather to have softened them. For whoever shall submit with true humility 168 to the doctrine of Christ will find nothing in it harsh or disagreeable; but to unbelievers, who oppose themselves with obstinacy, it will be a hammer which breaketh the rocks in pieces, as the Prophet calls it, (Jer 23:29.) But since the same hardness is natural to us all, if we judge of the doctrine of Christ according to our feelings, his words will be just so many strange and incredible 169 statements. All that remains for us, therefore, is, that every one commit himself to the guidance of the Spirit, that he may inscribe on our hearts what otherwise would never have even entered into our ears.
Who can hear it? Here we see the awful wickedness of unbelief; for they who impiously and basely reject the doctrine of salvation, not satisfied with excusing themselves, have the hardihood to put the Son of God in their room as if he were guilty, and to declare that he is unworthy of being heard Thus, in the present day, Papists not only reject the Gospel in a daring manner, but likewise break out into horrid blasphemies, that it may not be thought that they have no good reason for opposing God. And, indeed, since they desire darkness, we need not wonder if Satan deceives them by strange monsters, where there is nothing but the open highway. 170 But that which they, through their rage and fury, cannot endure will not only be tolerable to modest and teachable persons, but will support and comfort them. Yet the reprobate, by their obstinate slanders, will do nothing more than bring down on themselves more dreadful condemnation.
61. But Jesus knowing. Christ knew indeed, that the offense which the reprobate had taken up could not be removed; for, to tell the truth, 171 the doctrine does not so much wound them as it exposes the putrid ulcer which they inwardly nourished in their hearts. But he wished by all methods to try if there were not one of those who were offended that was not yet beyond the reach of cure, and to stop the mouths of the rest. By putting the question, he means that they have no reason to be offended, 172 or, at least, that the ground of offense does not lie in the doctrine itself. Thus we ought to repress the wickedness of those who, urged on by nothing but the rage of mastiff dogs, slander the word of God; and thus too we ought to chastise the folly of those who inconsiderately attack the truth.
Knowing in himself. He says that Jesus knew in himself, because they had not yet declared openly what gave them uneasiness, but secretly murmured and groaned within themselves, and, therefore, he anticipates their open complaints. If it be objected, that the nature of those complaints was not difficult to understand, because in express terms they rejected the doctrine of Christ, I acknowledge that the words which John has formerly related are plain enough; but still I say that, like persons who are disgusted at any thing, they whispered those words to each other in low murmurs. For if they had spoken to Christ, there would have been better ground of hope, because the way would have been opened up for teaching them; but now, when they indulge in secret murmurings, they shut up against themselves the way to gain instruction. So then, when we do not immediately perceive the Lord’s meaning, there is nothing better than to go straight to him, that he may solve all our difficulties.
Doth this offend you? Christ appears here to increase the offense instead of removing it; but if any person examine very closely the ground of offense, there was in the following statement what ought to have pacified their minds.
62. What if you shall see the Son of man ascend to where he was before? The mean and despicable condition of Christ which they saw before their eyes, while, clothed with flesh, he was not at all different from other men, prevented them from submitting to his Divine power; but now — by withdrawing, as it were, the veil — he calls them to behold his heavenly glory, as if he had said, “Because I converse among men without honor, I am despised by you, and you recognize in me nothing that is Divine; but ere long God will adorn me with splendid power, and, withdrawing me from the contemptible state of mortal life, will raise me above the heavens.” For, in the resurrection of Christ, so great was the power displayed by the Holy Spirit, that it plainly showed Christ to be the Son of God, as Paul also shows, (Ro 1:4.) And when it is said,
Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee,
the resurrection is brought forward as a proof from which that glory of Christ ought to be acknowledged, and his ascension to heaven was the completion of that glory. When he says that he was formerly in heaven, this does not apply strictly to his human nature, and yet he speaks of the Son of man; but since the two natures in Christ constitute one person, it is not an unusual way of speaking to transfer to one nature what is peculiar to the other.
63. It is the Spirit that quickeneth. By these words Christ shows the reason why the Jews did not profit by his doctrine to be, that, being spiritual and quickening, it does not find ears well prepared. But as this passage has been variously expounded, it will be of importance first to ascertain the natural meaning of the words; from which it will be easy to perceive Christ’s intention. When he affirms that the flesh profiteth nothing, Chrysostom improperly, in my opinion, refers it to the Jews, who were carnal I readily acknowledge that in heavenly mysteries the whole power of the human mind is utterly unavailing; but the words of Christ do not bear that meaning, if they be not violently tortured. Equally forced would be that opinion, as applied to the apposite clause; namely, it is the illumination of the Spirit that quickeneth. Nor do I approve of the views of those who say, that the flesh of Christ profiteth, so far as he was crucified, but that, when it is eaten, it is of no advantage to us; for, on the contrary, we must eat it, that, having been crucified, it may profit
Augustine thinks that we ought to supply the word only, or by itself, as if it had been said, “The flesh alone, and by itself, profiteth not,” 173 because it must be accompanied by the Spirit This meaning accords well with the scope of the discourse, for Christ refers simply to the manner of eating. He does not, therefore, exclude every kind of usefulness, as if none could be obtained from his flesh; but he declares that, if it be separated from the Spirit, it will then be useless. For whence has the flesh power to quicken, but because it is spiritual? Accordingly, whoever confines his whole attention to the earthly nature of the flesh, will find in it nothing but what is dead; but they who shall raise their eyes to the power of the Spirit, which is diffused over the flesh, will learn from the actual effect and from the experience of faith, that it is not without reason that it is called quickening
We now understand in what manner the flesh is truly food, and yet it profiteth not It is food, because by it life is procured for us, because in it God is reconciled to us, because in it we have all the parts of salvation accomplished. It profiteth not, if it be estimated by its origin and nature; for the seed of Abraham, which is in itself subject to death, does not bestow life, but receives from the Spirit its power to feed us; and, therefore, on our part also, that we may be truly nourished by it, we must bring the spiritual mouth of faith.
As to the sentence breaking off in so abrupt a manner, it is probable that this was done because Christ saw that it was necessary to act in this manner towards unbelievers. By this clause, therefore, he suddenly closed the sermon, because they did not deserve that he should speak to them any longer. Yet he did not overlook those who are godly and teachable; for they have here, in a few words, what may abundantly satisfy them.
The words which I speak to you. This is an allusion to the preceding statement, for he now employs the word Spirit in a different sense. But as he had spoken of the secret power of the Spirit, he elegantly applies this to his doctrine, because it is spiritual; for the word Spirit must be explained to mean spiritual Now the word is called spiritual, because it calls us upwards to seek Christ in his heavenly glory, through the guidance of the Spirit, by faith, and not by our carnal perception; for we know that of all that was said, nothing can be comprehended but by faith. And it is also worthy of observation, that he connects life with the Spirit He calls his word life, from its effect, as if he had called it quickening; but shows that it will not be quickening to any but those who receive it spiritually, for others will rather draw death from it. To the godly, this commendation bestowed on the Gospel is most delightful, because they are certain that it is appointed for their eternal salvation; but at the same time, they are reminded to labor to prove that they are genuine disciples.
64. But there are some of you who do not believe. He again imputes blame to them, because, being destitute of the Spirit, they wickedly corrupt and debase his doctrine, and thus turn it to their ruin. For otherwise they might have objected: “You boast, indeed, that what you speak is quickening, but we experience nothing of that nature.” He therefore says, that by themselves it is prevented; for unbelief, as it is always proud, will never understand any thing in the words of Christ which it despises and disdains. Wherefore, if we wish to profit at all under this Teacher, let us bring minds well disposed to listen to him; for if the entrance to his doctrine be not opened up by humility and reverence, our understandings are harder than stones, and will not receive any part of sound doctrine. And therefore, when in the present day we see so few people in the world profiting by the Gospel, we ought to remember that this arises from the depravity of men. For how many will you find who deny themselves, and truly submit to Christ? As to his saying only that there were some who did not believe, though almost all of them were liable to this charge, his reason for doing so appears to have been that, if there were any who were not yet beyond the possibility of cure, they might not cast down their minds in despair.
For Jesus knew from the beginning. The Evangelist added this, that none might think that Christ formed an opinion at random about his hearers. Many professed to belong to his flock, but a sudden apostacy exposed their hypocrisy. But the Evangelist says that their treachery, even while it was unknown to others, was well known to Christ. And this is stated, not so much on his account, as that we may learn not to form a judgment except on subjects which we have thoroughly investigated; for as to their being known to Christ from the beginning, this was peculiar to his Divinity. It is otherwise with us; for since we do not know the hearts, we ought to delay forming a judgment, until impiety be manifested by outward signs, and thus the tree be known by its fruits, (Mt 7:16.)
65. And he said, Therefore have I told you that no man can come to me, unless it be given to him by my Father. 66. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. 67. Jesus therefore said to the twelve, Do you also wish to go away? 68. Simon Peter therefore answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. 69. And we have believed and known that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 70. Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? 71. Now he spoke of Judas Iscariot, son of Simon; for it was he that would betray him, although he was one of the twelve.
65. Therefore have I told you. He again states that faith is an uncommon and remarkable gift of the Spirit of God, that we may not be astonished that the Gospel is not received in every place and by all. For, being ill qualified to turn to our advantage the course of events, we think more meanly of the Gospel, because the whole world does not assent to it. The thought arises in our mind, How is it possible that the greater part of men shall deliberately reject their salvation? Christ therefore assigns a reason why there are so few believers, namely, because no man, whatever may be his acuteness, 174 can arrive at faith by his own sagacity; for all are blind, until they are illuminated by the Spirit of God, and therefore they only partake of so great a blessing whom the Father deigns to make partakers of it. If this grace were bestowed on all without exception, it would have been unseasonable and inappropriate to have mentioned it in this passage; for we must understand that it was Christ’s design to show that not many believe the Gospel, because faith proceeds only from the secret revelation of the Spirit.
Unless it be given him by my Father. He now uses the word give instead of the word which he formerly used, draw; by which he means that there is no other reason why God draws, than because out of free grace he loves us; for what we obtain by the gift and grace of God, no man procures for himself by his own industry.
66. From that time many of his disciples went back. The Evangelist now relates what trouble was the consequence of that sermon. It is a dreadful and monstrous thing, that so kind and gracious an invitation of Christ could have alienated the minds of many, and especially of those who had formerly professed to belong to him, and were even his ordinary disciples. But this example is held out to us for a mirror, as it were, in which we may perceive how great is the wickedness and ingratitude of men, who turn a plain road into an occasion of stumbling to them, that they may not come to Christ. Many would say that it would have been better that a sermon of this kind should never have been preached, which occasioned the apostacy of many. But we ought to entertain a widely different view; for it was then necessary, and now is daily necessary, that what had been foretold concerning Christ should be perceived in his doctrine, namely, that
he is the stone of stumbling, (Isa 8:14.)
We ought, indeed, to regulate our doctrine in such a manner that none may be offended through our fault; as far as possible, we ought to retain all; and, in short, we ought to take care that we do not, by talking inconsiderately or at random, 175 disturb ignorant or weak minds. But it will never be possible for us to exercise such caution that the doctrine of Christ shall not be the occasion of offense to many; because the reprobate, who are devoted to destruction, suck venom from the most wholesome food, and gall from honey. The Son of God undoubtedly knew well what was useful, and yet we see that he cannot avoid 176 offending many of his disciples. Whatever then may be the dislike entertained by many persons for pure doctrine, still we are not at liberty to suppress it. Only let the teachers of the Church remember the advice given by Paul, that the word of God ought to be properly divided, (2Ti 2:15;) and next let them advance boldly amidst all offenses. And if it happen that many apostatize, let us not be disgusted at the word of God, because it is not relished by the reprobate; for they who are so much shaken by the revolt of some that, when those persons fall away, they are immediately discouraged, are too delicate and tender.
And walked no more with him. When the Evangelist adds these words, he means that it was not a complete apostacy, but only that they withdrew from familiar intercourse with Christ; and yet he condemns them as apostates. Hence we ought to learn that we cannot go back a foot breadth, without being immediately in danger of falling into treacherous denial of our Master.
67. Jesus therefore said to the twelve. As the faith of the apostles might be greatly shaken, when they saw that they were so small a remnant of a great multitude, Christ directs his discourse to them, and shows that there is no reason why they should allow themselves to be hurried away by the lightness and unsteadiness of others. When he asks them if they also wish to go away, he does so in order to confirm their faith; for, by exhibiting to them himself, that they may remain with him, he likewise exhorts them not to become the companions of apostates. And, indeed, if faith be founded on Christ, it will not depend on men, and will never waver, though it should see heaven and earth mingling. We ought also to observe this circumstance, that Christ, when deprived of nearly all his disciples, retains the twelve only, in like manner as Isaiah was formerly commanded to
bind the testimony and seal the law among the disciples,
By such examples, every one of the believers is taught to follow God, even though he should have no companion.
68. Simon Peter therefore answered him. Peter replies here in the name of all, as he does on other occasions; because all of them were of the same mind, except that in Judas there was no sincerity. This reply contains two clauses; for Peter first states the reason why he cheerfully adheres to Christ, along with his brethren; namely, because they feel that his doctrine is wholesome and quickening; and, secondly, he acknowledges that to whomsoever they might go, if they left Christ, there remained for them nothing but death.
Thou hast the words of eternal life. When he says the words of life, by the phrase of life, he means quickening, using the genitive case instead of the adjective, which is a very common mode of expression among the Hebrews. It is a remarkable commendation bestowed on the Gospel, that it administers to us eternal life, as Paul testifies, that
it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believeth,
True, the Law also contains life, but because it denounces against all transgressors 177 the condemnation of eternal death, it can do nothing but kill. Widely different is the manner in which life is offered to us in the Gospel, that is, when God reconciles us to himself through free grace, by not imputing our sins, (2Co 5:19.) It is no ordinary assertion that Peter makes concerning Christ, when he says that he has the words of eternal life; but he ascribes this to Christ as belonging to him alone. Hence follows the second statement which I glanced at a little ago, that as soon as they have gone away from Christ, there remains for them everywhere nothing but death. Certain destruction, therefore, awaits all who, not satisfied with that Teacher, fly to the inventions of men.
69. And we have believed and known. The verbs are in the past tense, but they may be changed into the present tense, we believe and know, but it makes little difference in the meaning. In these words Peter gives a brief summary of faith. But the confession appears to have nothing to do with the matter in hand, for the question had been raised about eating the flesh of Christ. I reply, although the twelve did not at once comprehend all that Christ had taught, yet it is enough that, according to the capacity of their faith, they acknowledge him to be the Author of salvation, and submit themselves to him in all things. The word believe is put first, because the obedience of faith is the commencement of right understanding, or rather, because faith itself is truly the eye of the understanding. But immediately afterwards knowledge is added, which distinguishes faith from erroneous and false opinions; for Mahometans and Jews and Papists believe, but they neither know nor understand any thing. Knowledge is connected with faith, because we are certain and fully convinced of the truth of God, not in the same manner as human sciences are learned, but when the Spirit seals it on our hearts.
70. Jesus answered them. Since Christ replies to all, we infer from it that all spake by the mouth of Peter. Besides, Christ now prepares and fortifies the eleven apostles against a new offense which was already at hand. It was a powerful instrument of Satan for shaking their faith, when they were reduced to so small a number, but the fall of Judas might take away all their courage; for since Christ had chosen that sacred number, who would ever have thought that any portion of the whole number could be torn away? That admonition of Christ may be interpreted thus: “You twelve alone remain out of a large company. If your faith has not been shaken by the unbelief of many, prepare for a new contest; for this company, though small, will be still diminished by one man.”
Have not I chosen you twelve? When Christ says that he has chosen or elected twelve, he does not refer to the eternal purpose of God; for it is impossible that any one of those who have been predestinated to life shall fall away; but, having been chosen to the apostolic office, they ought to have surpassed others in piety and holiness. He used the word chosen, therefore, to denote those who were eminent and distinguished from the ordinary rank.
And one of you is a devil. He unquestionably intended, by this name, to hold up Judas to the utmost detestation; for they are mistaken who extenuate the atrocity implied in the name and indeed we cannot sufficiently execrate those who dishonor so sacred an office. Teachers who faithfully discharge their office are called angels
They should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the angel of the Lord of Hosts,
Justly, therefore, is he accounted a devil, who, after having been admitted to so honorable a rank, is corrupted through his treachery and wickedness. Another reason is, that God allows more power and liberty to Satan over wicked and ungodly ministers, than over other ordinary men; and therefore, if they who were chosen to be pastors are driven by diabolical rage, so as to resemble wild and monstrous beasts, so far are we from being entitled, on that account, to despise the honorable rank to which they belong, that we ought rather to honor it the more, when the profanation of it is followed by so fearful a punishment.
71. He spoke of Judas Although Judas had a bad conscience, still we do not read that he was at all moved. Hypocrites are so stupid that they do not feel their sores, and in the presence of men they have such hardened effrontery, that they do not scruple to prefer themselves to the very best of men.
“Pour le suyvre.”
The value of the old French coins passed through so many changes, that all reasoning about them must be involved in uncertainty; but, so far as we have been able to ascertain, the value of a carolus of Tours, in Calvin’s time, was nearly that of a penny sterling, and the denier was the tenth part of it, or nearly a modern centime of Paris. “Four times the carolus, with two deniers,” would thus be 4 and 1/5 pence sterling, and, multiplying that by 200, we have three pounds, ten shillings. Again, taking the franc (as Cotgrave rates it) at two shillings, 35 francs are also equal to three pounds, ten shillings. This is, at least, a curious coincidence, and the reader may compare it with a computation made from the livre Parisis, (Harmony, volume 2, page 234, n. 2.) It would appear, however, that Budaeus and Calvin had estimated the denarius at little more than half its real value, which was sevenpence halfpenny sterling, taking silver at five shillings per ounce; so that two hundred denarii would be equal to six pounds, five shillings sterling. — Ed.
“Quatorze (fourteen) sols Tournois.” According to Cotgrave, the sol Tournois is the tenth part of our shilling, or one part in six better than our penny.” — Ed.
“Sesquituronicum;” — “un denier Tournois et maille;” — “one and a half denier of Tours.”
“Mesme en son humanite, et entant qu’il a pris nostre chair.”
“De poissons sans sausse.”
“En toutes creatures qui servent a nostre nouriture.”
“Ils voyent Jesus cheminant sur la mer, s’approchant de la nasselle, dont ils eurent peur.” — “They see Jesus walking on the sea, and approaching the ship, at which they were afraid.”
“Le salut a este acquis aux hommes;” — “salvation was obtained for men.”
“En une ardeur de zele inconsidere et temeraire.”
“La grande puissance.”
“Par leurs folles inventions.”
On our Savior’s retirement into the mountain to pray, our Author has made very interesting and profitable observations. Harmony of the Evangelists, volume 2, page 237. — Ed.
“Par basteau ou navire.”
Our Author quotes inaccurately the measurement given by Josephus, whose words are: “Now this lake of Gennesareth is so called from the country, adjoining to it. Its breadth is forty furlongs, and its length one hundred and forty.” — Wars of the Jews, III. 10. 7. — Ed.
“Mais estans agitez de tempeste.”
“Ce qui eust este propre pour leur monstrer sa puissance, en ce qu’il estoit la venu par miracle.”
“Sans regarder a rien de meilleur.”
“A fin qu’il ne semble que Christ vueille de soy-mesme et d’une authorite privee s’attribuer quelque chose.”
“Que ce n’est pas une chose facile et commune a chacun.”
“Qui est comme le seau ou cachet de Dieu.”
“Ils n’entendent point ce qu’ils disent, et parlent sans certain but.”
“Proram et puppim,” literally, “stem and stern,” a Latin idiom for the whole. The Author’s French version (ed. 1558) renders the clause, “il ne se faut point esbahir s’il constitue en elle la fin et le commencement;” — “we must not be astonished if he makes it to be the end and the beginning;” and in ed. 1564, it runs thus, “ce n’est pas merveille que la foy est tout ce que Dieu requiert;” — “it is not wonderful that faith is all that God requires.”
“Quelle oeuvre fais-tu?” — “What work doest thou?”
“Moyse ne vous a point donne le pain du ciel; mais mon Pere vous donne le vray pain du ciel.” — “Moses gave you not the bread of heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread of heaven.”
“Et ce en la prenant avec les qualitez qu’ils luy attribuoyent, et selon leur sens.”
“Pain de Dieu.”
“Qu’elles ayent en elles naturellement.”
“C’est a dire, quand il nous fait ce bien de nous appeler.”
“Or ne nous est-il permis de rompre l’ordre et la suite du commencement avec la fin, puis que Dieu par son conseil l’a ainsi ordonne et voulu que cela allast d’un fil.”
“Un sacrilege horrible.”
“Quiconque donc a ouy mon Pere, et a appris.”
“De la petitesse de Christ, et de sa humaine condition;” — “at the meanness of Christ, and of his human condition.”
“Prenant nostre chair.”
“Tant nous sommes mal adroits a faire nostre profit des choses, et les prendre de la sorte qu’il faut.”
“Que nuls ne sont tirez sinon ceux qui le veulent estre.”
“Qu’il n’y en a pas un de tous les eleus de Dieu qui ne viene a estre participant de la foy.”
“C’est a dire, ne pensoyent plus haut que ce monde.”
“Il nous escoule et vient a estre mis en oubli.”
“Laquelle seule fait que nous tirons vie de ce pain.”
“De manger la chair de Christ.”
“Un juste despit que Christ a conceu.”
“C’est a dire, la Cene.”
“De la chair de Christ.”
“Tous les fideles.”
“De la maniere perpetuelle et ordinaire de manger la chair de Christ, qui se fait par la foy seulement.”
“Comme nn seau et confirmation.”
“Il a dresse l’enseigne de nostre justice comme un memorial magnifique de sa victoire.”
“Ceux-la donc ne sont pas bons et droicts expositeurs du mystere de la Cene.”
“Ceste parole est dure, ou, rude;” — “this saying hard, or, harsh.”
“En vraye humilite.”
“Estranges et incroyables.”
“La ou il n’y a que le beau plein chemin.”
“Pour dire a la verite.”
“De se scandalizer.”
“Comme s’il estoit dit, La chair seule et par soy ne profite de rien.”
“Tant aigu soit il.”
“Inconsiderement, ou a la volee.”
“Il ne peut eviter.”
“A tous transgresseurs.”