Early Church Fathers
John viii. 31, 32.-"Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed. And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
[1.] Beloved, our condition needs much endurance; and endurance is produced when doctrines are deeply rooted. For as no wind is able by its assaults to tear up the oak, which sends down its. root into the lower recesses of the earth, and is firmly clenched there; so too the soul which is nailed by the fear of God none will be able to overturn. Since to be nailed is more than to be rooted. Thus the Prophet prayeth, saying, "Nail my flesh by Thy fear" (Ps. cxix. 120, Ps. cxix. 120 LXX.); "do Thou so fix and join me, as by a nail riveted into me." For as men of this kind are hard to be captured, so the opposite sort are a ready prey, and are easily thrown down. As was the case of the Jews at that time; for after having heard and believed, they again turned out of the way. Christ therefore desiring to deepen their faith that it might not be merely superficial, diggeth into their souls by more striking words. For it was the part of believers to endure even reproofs, but they immediately were wroth. But how doth He this? He first telleth them, "If ye continue in My word, ye are My disciples indeed: and the truth shall make you free." All but saying, "I am about to make a deep incision, but be not ye moved"; or rather by these expressions He allayed the pride of their imagination. "Shall make you free": from what, tell me? From your sins. What then say those boasters?
Ver. 33. "We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man."
Immediately their imagination dropped, and this happened from their having been fluttered1 about worldly things. "If ye continue in My word," was the expression of One declaring what was in their heart, and knowing that they had indeed believed, but had not continued. And He promiseth a great thing, that they should become His disciples. For since some had gone away from Him before this, alluding to themHe saith, "If ye continue," because they also had heard and believed, and departed becausethey could not continue. "For many of His disciples went back, and walked no more openly with Him."2 (c. vi. 66.)
"Ye shall know the truth," that is, "shall know Me, for I am the truth. All the Jewishmatters were types, but ye shall know the truth from Me, and it shall free you from your sins." As to those others He said, "Ye shall die in your sins," so to these He saith, "shall make you free." He said not, "I will deliver you from bondage," this He allowed them to conjecture. What then said they?
"We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man." And yet if they must needs have been vexed, it might have been expected that they would have been so at the former part of His speech, at His having said, "Ye shall know the truth"; and that they would have replied, "What! do we not now know the truth? Is then the Law and our knowledge a lie?" But they cared for none of these things, they are grieved at worldly things, and these were their notions of bondage. And certainly even now, there are many who feel shame at indifferent matters, and at this kind of bondage, but who feel none for the bondage of sin, and who would rather be called servants to this latter kind of bondage ten thousand times, than once to the former. Such were these men, and they did not even know of any other bondage, and they say, "Bondsmen callest thou those who are of the race of Abraham, the nobly born, who therefore ought not to be called bondsmen? For, saith one, we were never in bondage to any man." Such are the boastings of the Jews. "We are the seed of Abraham," "we are Israelites." They never mention their own righteous deeds. Wherefore John cried out to them, saying, "Think not to say that we have Abraham to our father." (Matt. iii. 9.) And why did not Christ confute them, for they had often been in bondage to the Egyptians, Babylonians, and many others? Because His words were not to gain honor for Himself, but for their salvation, for their benefit, and toward this object He was pressing. For He might have spoken of the four hundred years, He might have spoken of the seventy, He might have spoken of the years of bondage during the time of the Judges, at one time twenty, at another two, at another seven; He might have said that they had never ceased being in bondage. But He desired not to show that they were slaves of men, but that they were slaves of sin, which is the most grievous slavery, from which God alone can deliver; for to forgive sins belongeth to none other. And this too they allowed. Since then they confessed that this was the work of God, He bringeth them to this point, and saith,
Ver. 34. "Whosoever committeth sin is. the servant of sin."
Showing that this is the freedom of which He speaketh, the freedom from this service.
Ver. 35. "The servant abideth not in the house, but the Son abideth forever."
Gently too from this He casts down the things of the Law,3 alluding to former times. For that they may not run back to them and say, "We have the sacrifices which Moses commanded, they are able to deliver us," He addeth these words, since otherwise what connection would the saying have? For "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace" (Rom. iii. 23, 24), even the priests themselves. Wherefore Paul also saith of the priest, that "he ought as for the people so also for himself to offer for sins, for that he also is compassed about with infirmity." (Heb. v. 3, 2.) And this is signified by His saying, "The servant abideth not in the house." Here also He showeth His equal honor with the Father, and the difference between slave and free. For the parable has this meaning, that is, "the servant hath no power," this is the meaning of "abideth not."
[2.] But why when speaking of sins doth He mention a "house"? It is to show that as a master hath power over his house, so He over all. And the, "abideth not," is this," hath not power to grant favors, as not being master of the house"; but the Son is master of the house. For this is the, "abideth forever," by a metaphor drawn from human things. That they may not say, "who art thou?""All is Mine, (He saith,) for I am the Son, and dwell in My Father's house," calling by the name of "house" His power. As in another place He calleth the Kingdom His Father's house, "In My Father's house are many mansions." (c. xiv. 2.) For since the discourse was of freedom and bondage, He with reason used this metaphor, telling them that they had no power to set free.4
Ver. 36. "If the Son therefore shall make you free."
Seest thou the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, and how He declareth that He hath the same power as the Father? "If the Son make you free, no man afterwards gain-sayeth, but ye have firm freedom." For "it is God that justifieth, who is He that condemneth?" (Rom. viii. 33, 34.) Here He showeth that He Himself is pure from sin, and alludeth to that freedom which reached only to a name; this even men give, but that God alone. And so he persuaded them not to be ashamed at this slavery, but at that of sin. And desiringto show that they were not slaves, except byrepudiating that liberty, He the more showeth them to be slaves by saying,5
"Ye shall be free indeed."
This is the expression of one declaring that this freedom was not real. Then, that they might not say, "We have no sin," (for it was probable that they would say so,) observe how He bringeth them beneath this imputation. For omitting to convict all their life, He bringeth forward that which they had in hand, which they yet desired to do, and saith,
Ver. 37. "I know that ye are Abraham's seed but ye seek to kill Me."
Gently and by little doth He expel them from that relationship, teaching them not to be high-minded because of it. For as freedom and bondage depend on men's actions, so also doth relationship. He said not directly, "Ye are not the seed of Abraham, ye the murderers of the righteous"; but for a while He even goeth along with them, and saith, "I know that ye are Abraham's seed." Yet this is not the matter in question, and during the remainder of this speech He useth greater vehemence. For we may for the most part observe, that when He is about to work any great thing, after He hath wrought it, He useth greater boldness of speech, as though the testimony from His works shut men's mouths. "But ye seek to kill Me." "What of that," saith some one, "if they sought to do so justly." But this was not so either; wherefore also He puts the reason;
"Because My word hath no lace in you."
"How then was it," saith some one, "thatthey believed on Him?" As I before said, they changed again. On which account He touched them sharply. "If ye boast the relationship of Abraham ye ought also to show forth his life." And He said not, "Ye do not contain6 my words," but, "My word hath no place in you," thus declaring the sublimity of His doctrines. Yet not for this ought they to have slain, but rather to have honored and waited on Him so as to learn. "But what," saith some one, "if thou speakest these things of thyself?" On this account He added,
Ver. 38. "I speak that which I have seen with My Father, and ye do that which ye have heard from7 your father."
"As," He saith, "I both by My words and by the truth declare the Father, so also do ye by your actions (declare yours). For I have not only the same Substance, but also the same Truth with the Father."
Ver. 39, 40. "They said unto Him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye had Abraham to your father, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill Me."
He here repeatedly handleth their murderous intention. and maketh mention of Abraham. And this He doth desiring to draw off their attention from this relationship, and to take away their excessive boasting, and also to persuade them no longer to rest their hopes of salvation in Abraham, nor in the relationship which is according to nature, but in that which is according to the will.8 For what hindered their coming to Christ was this, their deeming that relationship to be sufficient for them to salvation. But what is the "truth" of which He speaketh? That He is equal with the Father. For it was on this account that the Jews sought to slay Him; and He saith,
"Ye seek to kill Me because I have9 told you the truth, which I have heard of My Father."10
To show that these things are not opposed to the Father, He again betaketh Himself to Him. They say unto Him,
Ver. 41. "We be not born of fornication, we have one Father, even God."
[3.] "What sayest thou? Ye have God for your Father, and do ye blame Christ for asserting this?" Seest thou that He said that God was His Father in a special manner? When therefore He had cast them out of their relationship to Abraham, having nothing to reply, they dare a greater thing, and betake themselves to God. But from this honor also He expelleth them, saying,
Ver. 42-44. "If God were your Father, ye would love Me; for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do ye not understand My speech? Even because ye cannot hear My word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth:11 when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own."
He had driven them out of their relationship to Abraham, and when they dared greater things, He then addeth a blow, telling them that they not only are not Abraham's children, but that they are even children of the devil, and inflicting a wound which might counterbalance their shamelessness; nor doth He leave it unsupported, but establisheth it by proofs. "For," He saith, "to murder12 belongeth to the wickedness of the devil." And He said not merely, "ye do his works," but,"ye do his lusts," showing that both he and they hold to murder,13 and that envy was the cause. For the devil destroyed Adam, not because he had any charge against him, but only from envy. To this also He alludeth here.
"And abode not in the truth." That is, in the right life. For since they continually accused Him of not being from God, He telleth them that this also is from thence.14 For the devil first was the father of a lie, when he said, "In the day that ye eat thereof your eyes shall be opened"(Gen. iii. 5), and he first used it. For men use a lie not as a thing proper, but alien to their nature, but he as proper.
Ver. 45. "And because I tell you the truth, ye believe Me not."
What kind of consequence is this? "Having no charge against Me, ye desire to kill Me. For because ye are enemies of the truth, therefore ye persecute Me. Since had this not been the reason, ye would have named your charge." Wherefore He added,
Ver. 46. "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?"
Then they said, "We be not born of fornication." Yet in fact many of them were born of fornication, for they practiced unbefitting unions. Still He doth not convict them of this, but setteth Himself to the other point. For when He hath proved them to be, not of God, but of the devil, by all these signs, (for to do murder is of the devil, and to lie is of the devil, both which ye do,) then He showeth that to love is the sign of being of God. "Why do ye not understand My speech?" Since they were always doubting, saying, "What is it that he saith, `Whither I go ye cannot come'?" therefore He telleth them, "Ye do not understand My speech," "because ye have not the word of God. And this cometh to you, because that your understanding is groveling, and because what is Mine is far too great for you." But what if they could not understand? Not to be able here means not to be willing; for "ye have trained yourselves to be mean, to imagine nothing great." Because they said that they persecuted Him as being themselves zealous for God on this account He everywhere striveth to show that to persecute Him is the act of those who hate God, but that, on the contrary, to love Him is the act of those who know God.
"We have one Father, even God." On this ground they pride themselves, on their honor not their righteous deeds. "Therefore your not believing is no proof that I am an enemy to God, but your unbelief is a sign that you do not know God. And the reason is, from your being willing to lie and to do the works of the devil. But this is the effect of meanness of soul; (as the Apostle saith, `For whereas there is among you envying and strife, are ye not carnal?') (1 Cor. iii. 3.) And why is it that ye cannot15 ? Because ye will to do the lusts of your father, ye are eager, ye are ambitious (to do them)." Seest thou that "ye cannot" express a want of will? For "this did not Abraham." "What are his works? Gentleness, meekness, obedience. But ye set yourselves on the contrary part, being hard and cruel."
But how came it into their thoughts to betake themselves to God? He had shown them unworthy of Abraham; desiring therefore to escape this charge, they mounted higher. For when He reproached them with murder, they said this,16 making it, as it were, a kind of excuse for themselves that they were avenging God. Therefore He showeth that this very thing is the act of men opposing God. And the, "I came forth," showeth that He was from thence.17 He saith, "I came forth," alluding to His arrival among us. But since they would probably say to Him, "Thou speaketh certain things strange and new,18 " He telleth them that He was come from God. "And therefore with good reason ye hear them not, because ye are of the devil. For on what account would ye kill Me? What charge have ye to bring against Me? If there be none, why do ye not believe Me?" Thus then having proved them to be of the devil by their lying and their murder, He showeth them also to be alien from Abraham and from God, both because they hated One who had done no wrong, and because they would not hear His word; and in every way He proveth that He was not opposed to God, and that it was not on this account that they refused to believe, but because they were aliens from God. For when One who had done no sin, who said that He came from God and was sent of God, who spake the truth, and so spake it as to challenge all to the proof, after this was not believed, it is clear that He was not believed because of their being carnal. Since sins do use, yea they do use to debase a soul. Wherefore It saith, "Seeing ye are become dull of hearing." (Heb. v. 11.) For when a man cannot despise earthly things, how shall He ever be wise concerning heavenly things?
[4.] Wherefore, I exhort you, use we every means that our life may be righteous, that our minds may be cleansed, so that no filthiness be a hindrance to us; kindle for yourselves the light of knowledge, and sow not among thorns. For how shall one who knows not that covetousness is an evil, ever know the greater good? how shall one who refrains not from these earthly things ever hold fast to those heavenly? It is good to take by violence, not the things that perish, but the Kingdom of heaven. "The violent," it saith, "take it by force." (Matt. xi. 12.) It is then not possible to attain to it by sluggishness, but by zeal. But what meaneth "the violent"? There is need of much violence, (for strait is the way,) there is need of a youthful soul and a noble. Plunderers desire to outstrip all other, they look to nothing, neither to conviction, nor accusation, nor punishment, but are given up to one thing only, the getting hold of what they desire to seize, and they run past all that are before them in the way. Seize we then the Kingdom of heaven, for here to seize is no fault but rather praise, and the fault is the not seizing. Here our wealth comes not from another's loss. Haste we then to seize it. Should passion disquiet us, should lust disquiet us, let us do violence to our nature, let us become more gentle, let us labor a little, that we may rest forever. Seize not thou gold, but seize that wealth which showeth gold to be but mud. For tell me, if lead and gold were laid before thee, which wouldest thou take? Is it not clear that thou wouldest take the gold? Dost thou then, where one who seizes is punished, prefer that which is the more valuable, but where one who seizes is honored, give up what is the more valuable? If there were punishment in both cases, wouldest thou not rather aim at this latter19 ? But in this case there is nothing like punishment, but even blessedness. And, "How," saith some one, "may one seize it?" Cast away the things which thou hast already in thy hands; for so long as thou graspest them20 thou wilt not be able to seize the other. For consider, I pray you, a man with his hands full of silver, will he be able, as long as he retains it, to seize on gold, unless he first cast away the silver, and be free? Because he that seizes a thing must be well-girt so as not to be detained. And even now there are adverse powers running down against us to rob us, but let us fly them, let us fly them, trailing after us nothing that may give a hold, let us cut asunder the cords, let us strip ourselves of the things of earth. What need of silken garments? How long shall we be unrolling this mockery? How long shall we be burying gold? I desired to cease from always saying these things, but ye will not suffer me, continually supplying me with occasions and arguments. But now at least let us desist, that having instructed others by our lives, we may obtain the promised good things, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, now and ever and world without end. Amen.