Early Church Fathers
John viii. 48, 49.-"Then answered the Jews, and said unto Him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honor My Father."
[1.] A Shameless and a forward1 thing is wickedness, and when it ought to hide itself, then is it the fiercer. As was the case with the Jews. For when they ought to have been pricked by whatwas said, admiring the boldness and conclusiveness2 of the words, they even insult Him, calling Him a Samaritan, and saying that He had a devil, and they ask, "Said we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" Because when He uttereth anything sublime, this is thought among the very senseless to be madness. Yet nowhere before did the Evangelist say that they called Him "a Samaritan"; but from this expression it is probable that this had been often asserted by them.
"Thou hast a devil," saith some one. Who is it that hath a devil? He that honoreth God, or he that insulteth Him that honoreth Him? What then saith Christ, who is very meekness and gentleness? "I have not a devil, but I honor Him3 that sent me." Where there was need to instruct them, to pull down their excessive insolence, to teach them not to be proud because of Abraham, He was vehement; but when it was needful that He being insulted should bear it, He used much gentleness. When they said, "We have God and Abraham for our Father," He touched them sharply; but whenthey called Him a demoniac, He spake submissively, thus teaching us to avenge insults offered to God, but to overlook such as are offered to ourselves.
Ver. 50. "I seek not Mine own glory."
"These things," He saith, "I have spoken to show that it becometh not you, being murderers, to call God your Father; so that I have spoken them through honor for Him, and for His sake do I hear these reproaches, and for His sake do ye dishonor Me. Yet I care not for this insolence4 ; to Him, for whose sake I now hear these things, ye owe an account of your words. For `I seek not Mine own glory.' Wherefore I omit to punish you, and betake Myself to exhortation, and counsel you so to act, that ye shall not only escape punishment, but also attain eternal life."
Ver. 51. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death."
Here He speaketh not of faith only, but of a pure life. Above He said, "shall have everlasting life," but here, "shall not see death." (c. vi. 40.) At the same time He hinteth to them that they could do nothing against Him, for if the man that should keep His saying should not die, much less should He Himself. At least they understood it so, and said to Him,
Ver. 52. "Now we know that thou hast a devil; Abraham is dead, and the Prophets are dead."
That is, "they who heard the word of God are dead, and shall they who have heard thine not die?"
Ver. 53. "Art thou greater than our father Abraham?"
Alas for their vainglory! Again do they betake themselves to his relationship. Yet it would have been suitable to say, "Art thou greater than God? or they who have heard thee than Abraham?" But they say not this, because they thought that He was even less than Abraham. At first, therefore, He showed that they were murderers, and so led them away from the relationship; but when they persevered, He contrived this in another way, showing that they labored uselessly. And concerning the "death," He said nothing to them, neither did He reveal or tell them what kind of death He meant, but in the meantime He would have them believe, that He is greater than Abraham, that even by this He may put them to shame. "Certainly," He saith, "were I a common man I ought not to die, having done no wrong; but when I speak the truth, and have no sin, am sent from God, and am greater than Abraham, are ye not mad, do ye not labor in vain when ye attempt to kill Me?" What then is their reply? "Now we know that thou hast a devil." Not so spake the woman of Samaria. She said not to Him, "Thou hast a devil"; but only, "Art thou greater than our father Jacob?" (c. iv. 12.) For these men were insolent and accursed, while she desired to learn; wherefore she doubted and answered with proper moderation, and called Him, "Lord." For one who promised far greater things, and who was worthy of credit, ought not to have been insulted, but even admired; yet these men said that He had a devil. Those expressions of the Samaritan woman were those of one in doubt; these were the words of men unbelieving and perverse. "Art thou greater than our father Abraham?" so that this (which He had said) maketh Him to be greater than Abraham. "When therefore ye have seen Him lifted up,5 ye shall confess that He is greater." On this account He said,"When ye have lifted Me6 up, ye shall know that I Am." (Ver. 28.) And observe His wisdom. Having first rent them away from Abraham's kindred, He showeth that He is greater than Abraham, that so He may be seen to be very exceedingly greater than the Prophets also. Indeed it was because they continually called Him a prophet that He said, "My word hath no place in you." (Ver. 37.) In that other place7 He declared that He raiseth the dead, but here He saith, "He that believeth shall never see death," which was a much greater thing than not to allow believers to be holden, by death. Wherefore the Jews were the more enraged. What then say they?
"Whom makest thou thyself?"
And this too in an insulting manner. "Thou art taking somewhat upon thyself," saith one of them. To this then Christ replieth;
Ver. 54. "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing."
[2.] What say the heretics here? That He heard the question, "Art thou greater than our father Abraham?" and dared not to say to them, "Yea, I am greater," but did so in a covert manner. What then? Is His honor "nothing"? With respect to them8 it is nothing. And as He said, "My witness is not true" (c. v. 31), with reference to the opinion they would form of it, so also doth He speak here.
"There is One9 that honoreth Me."
And wherefore said He not, "The Father that sent Me," as He did before, but,
"Of whom ye say that He is your God."
Ver. 55. "Yet ye have not known Him." Because He desired to show that they not only knew not His Father, but that they knew not God.
"But I know Him."
"So that to say, `I know Him,' is not a boast, while to say, `I know Him not,' would be a falsehood; but ye when ye say that ye know Him, lie; as then ye, when ye say that ye know Him, lie, so also should I, were I to say that I know Him not."
"If I honor Myself." Since they said, "Whom makest thou thyself?" He replieth, "If I make (Myself anything,) My honor is nothing. As then I know Him exactly, so ye know Him not." And as in the case of Abraham, He did not take away their whole assertion, but said, "I know that ye are Abraham's seed," so as to make the charge against them heavier; thus here He doth not remove the whole, but what? "Whom ye say."10 By granting to them their boast of words, He increaseth the force of the accusation against them. How then do ye "not know Him"? "Because ye insult One who saith and doeth everything that He11 may be glorified, even when that One is sent from Him." This assertion is unsupported by testimony, but what follows serves to establish it.
"And I keep His saying."
Here they might, if at least they had anything to say, have refuted Him, for it was the strongest proof of His having been sent by God.
Ver. 56. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad."
Again, He showeth that they were aliens from the race of Abraham, if they grieved at what he rejoiced in. "My day," seems to me to mean the day of the Crucifixion, which Abraham foreshowed typically by the offering of the ram and of Isaac. What do they reply?
Ver. 57. "Thou art not yet forty12 years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?"
So that we conclude13 that Christ was nearly forty.
Ver. 58, 59. "Jesus saith unto them, Before Abraham was, I Am. Then took they up stones to cast at Him."
Seest thou how He proved Himself to be greater than Abraham? For the man who rejoiced to see His day, and made this an object of earnest desire, plainly did so because it was a day that should be for a benefit, and belonging to one greater than himself. Because they had said, "The carpenter's son" (Matt. xiii. 55), and imagined nothing more concerning Him, He leadeth them by degrees to an exalted notion of Him. Therefore when they heard the words, "Ye know not God," they were not grieved; but when they heard, "before Abraham was, I Am," as though the nobility of their descent were debased, they became furious, and would have stoned Him.
"He saw My day, and was glad." He showeth, that not unwillingly He came to His Passion, since He praiseth him who was gladdened at the Cross. For this was the salvation of the world. But they cast stones at Him; so ready were they for murder, and they did this of their own accord, without enquiry.
But wherefore said He not, "Before Abraham was, I was," instead of "I Am"? As the Father useth this expression, "I Am," so also doth Christ; for it signifieth continuous Being, irrespective of all time. On which account the expression seemed to them to be blasphemous. Now if they could not bear the comparison with Abraham, although this was but a trifling one, had He continually made Himself equal to the Father, would they ever have ceased casting stones at Him?
After this, again He fleeth as a man, and concealeth Himself, having laid before them sufficient instruction: and having accomplished His work, He went forth from the Temple, and departed to heal the blind, proving by His actions that He is before Abraham. But perhaps some one will say,"Why did He not paralyze their strength?14 So they would have believed." He healed the paralytic, yet they believed not; nay, He wrought ten thousand wonders; at the very Passion He cast them to the ground, and darkened their eyes, yet they believed not; and how would they have believed if He had paralyzed their strength? There is nothing worse than a soul hardened in desperation; though it see signs and wonders, it still perseveres in retaining the same shamelessness. Thus Pharaoh, who received ten thousand strokes, was sobered only while being punished, and continued of this character until the last day of his life, pursuing those whom he had let go. Wherefore Paul continually saith, "Lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Heb. iii. 13.) For as the callosities15 of the body, when formed, become dead, and possess no sensation; so the soul, when it is occupied by many passions, becomes dead to virtue; and apply what you will to it, it gets no perception of the matter, but whether you threaten punishment or anything else, continues insensible.
[3.] Wherefore I beseech you, while we have hopes of salvation, while we can turn, to use every means to do so. For men who have become past feeling, are after that in the blind state16 of despairing pilots, who give up their vessel to the wind, and themselves contribute no assistance. Thus the envious man looks to one thing only, that is, to satisfy his lust, and though he be like to be punished or even slain, still he is possessed solely by that passion; and in like manner the intemperate and avaricious. But if the sovereignty of the passions be so great, much greater is that of virtue; if for them we despise death, much more for this; if they (sinners) regard not their own lives, much less ought we to do so in the cause of our salvation. For what shall we have to say, if when they who perish are so active about their own perdition, we for our own salvation manifest not even an equal activity, but ever continue wasting with envy? Nothing is worse than envy; to destroy another it destroys itself also. The eye of the envious wastes away in grief, he lives in a continual death, he deems all men, even those who have never wronged him, his enemies. He grieves that God is honored, he rejoices in what the devil rejoices in. Is any honored among men? This is not honor, envy him not. But is he honored by God? Strive and be thou like him. Thou wilt not? Why then dost thou destroy thyself too? Why castest thou away what thou hast? Canst thou not be like unto him, nor gain any good thing? Why then dost thou besides this take for thyself evil, when thou oughtest to rejoice with him, that so even if thou be not able to share his toils, thou mayest profit by rejoicing with Him? For often even the will is able to effect great good. At least Ezekiel saith, that the Moabites were punished because they rejoiced over the Israelites, and that certain others were saved because they mourned over the misfortunes of their neighbors. (Ezek. xxv. 8.) Now if there be any comfort for those who mourn over the woes of others, much more for those who rejoice at the honors of others. He charged the Moabites with having exulted over the Israelites, yet it was God that punished them; but not even when He punisheth will He have us rejoice over those that are punished. For it is not His wish to punish them. Now if we must condole with those who are punished, much more must we avoid envying. those who are honored. Thus, for example, Corah and Dathan perished with their company, making those whom they envied brighter, and giving themselves up to punishment. For a venomousbeast is envy, an unclean beast, a deliberate vice which admits not of pardon, a wickedness stripped of excuse, the cause and mother of all evils. Wherefore let us pluck it up by the roots, that we may be freed from evil here, and may obtain blessings hereafter; 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.