|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
8:37-40 Our Lord opposed the proud and vain confidence of these Jews, showing that their descent from Abraham could not profit those of a contrary spirit to him. Where the word of God has no place, no good is to be expected; room is left there for all wickedness. A sick person who turns from his physician, and will take neither remedies nor food, is past hope of recovery. The truth both heals and nourishes the hearts of those who receive it. The truth taught by philosophers has not this power and effect, but only the truth of God. Those who claim the privileges of Abraham, must do Abraham's works; must be strangers and sojourners in this world; keep up the worship of God in their families, and always walk before God.
Verse 39. - They answered and said. If the second interpretation be accepted, then, irritated by the suggestion that "the Father" whose properties and claims he saw and revealed to them was different from "the father" whose nature and ways they "heard" and practised, and counting, moreover, on the concession of the fact that they were Abraham's "seed," they cried, Our father is Abraham; we are spiritually, ethically, related to him, and if we are doing that which we have heard from our father, then we can claim that all we are doing is along the lines of our Abrahamic dignity. But if ver. 38 be regarded as a final expostulation, according to the first of the interpretations of ποιεῖτε, then the Jews merely disclosed their determination to misapprehend the plain words of the Divine Lord, and when he was reminding them of the Father, of their Father, they at once stood back upon their hereditary pride, and declared that they were doing the works of their great ancestor. Jesus saith to them, If ye are Abraham's children, as you say - for the position of "children" is involved in the idea and claim of spiritual Fatherhood which ye boast - then, with such spiritual and ethical relations as these, ye would do the works of Abraham - works of faith; you would be open to the access of spiritual revelations with childlike simplicity; you would have accepted the heavenly voice; you would have known whence it came; you would have resembled him in his moral sensitiveness, in his gentle loving kindness, in his victorious faith; but -
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They answered and said unto him,.... On account of his making mention of a father, whose works they did, and whom they imitated:
Abraham is our father; meaning their only one, nor had they any other:
Jesus saith unto them, if ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham; for who should children imitate but their parents? Abraham was a merciful, charitable, and hospitable man, as well as a man of strict justice and integrity; he feared God, believed in him, and was ready to receive every message and revelation which came from him; and they are his genuine children and offspring, who walk in the steps of his faith, charity, justice, and piety: and this is a rule which the Jews themselves give (m), whereby the seed of Abraham may be known:
"whoever is merciful to the creature (man), it is evident that he is of the seed of Abraham, our father; but whoever has not mercy on the creature, it is a clear case that he is not of the seed of Abraham our father.''
And if this is a sure rule of judging, these men could not be the seed of Abraham, who were a merciless, barbarous, and cruel generation. Another of their writers (n) has this observation, agreeably to the way of reasoning Christ uses;
"a disciple is to be judged of according to his manners; he that walks in the ways of the Lord, he is of the disciples of Abraham, our father, seeing he is used to his manners, and learns of his works; but the disciple who is corrupt in his manners, though he is of the children of Israel, lo, he is not of the "disciples of Abraham", seeing he is not accustomed to his manners.''
Whence it appears, that they say these things not to distinguish themselves from other people who claimed a descent from Abraham, as the Ishmaelites or Saracens did; as did also the Spartans or Lacedemonians; for so writes Areus their king, to Onias the high priest of the Jews,
"it is found in writing, that the Lacedemonians and Jews are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham,'' (1 Maccab. 12:20,21)
But to distinguish those who were religious and virtuous among the Jews themselves, from those that were not; and so our Lord means not to deny, that the Jews, though they were evil men, were the seed of Abraham, according to the flesh; but that they were not so in a spiritual sense, they did not tread in his steps, or do the works he did. The Persic version reads in the singular number, "ye would do the work of Abraham"; and if any particular work is designed, it is most likely to be the work of faith, since it was that which Abraham was famous for; and the doing of which denominated men, even Gentiles, the children of Abraham, and which the Jews were wanting in, they disbelieving and rejecting the Messiah.
(m) T. Bab. Betza, fol. 82. 2.((n) Abarbinel Naehaleth Abot, fol. 183. 1.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
39. If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham—He had just said He "knew they were Abraham's children," that is, according to the flesh; but the children of his faith and holiness they were not, but the reverse.
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