Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
We have in the gospels a faithful record of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, Acts 1:1. These two are interwoven, because what he taught explained what he did, and what he did confirmed what he taught. Accordingly, we have in this chapter a miracle and a sermon. I. The miracle was the cure of an impotent man that had been diseased thirty-eight years, with the circumstances of that cure (v. 1–16). II. The sermon was Christ’s vindication of himself before the sanhedrim, when he was prosecuted as a criminal for healing the man on the sabbath day, in which, 1. He asserts his authority as Messiah, and Mediator between God and man (v. 17–29). 2. He proves it by the testimony of his Father, of John Baptist, of his miracles, and of the scriptures of the Old Testament, and condemns the Jews for their unbelief (v. 30–47).
This miraculous cure is not recorded by any other of the evangelists, who confine themselves mostly to the miracles wrought in Galilee, but John relates those wrought at Jerusalem. Concerning this observe,
I. The time when this cure was wrought: it was at a feast of the Jews, that is, the passover, for that was the most celebrated feast. Christ, though residing in Galilee, yet went up to Jerusalem at the feast, v. 1. 1. Because it was an ordinance of God, which, as a subject, he would observe, being made under the law; though as a Son he might have pleaded an exemption. Thus he would teach us to attend religious assemblies. Heb. 10:25. 2. Because it was an opportunity of good; for, (1.) there were great numbers gathered together there at that time; it was a general rendezvous, at least of all serious thinking people, from all parts of the country, besides proselytes from other nations: and Wisdom must cry in the places of concourse, Prov. 1:21. (2.) It was to be hoped that they were in a good frame, for they came together to worship God and to spend their time in religious exercises. Now a mind inclined to devotion, and sequestering itself to the exercises of piety, lies very open to the further discoveries of divine light and love, and to it Christ will be acceptable.
II. The place where this cure was wrought: at the pool of Bethesda, which had a miraculous healing virtue in it, and is here particularly described, v. 2-4.
1. Where it was situated: At Jerusalem, by the sheep-market; epi teµ probatikeµ. It might as well be rendered the sheep-cote, where the sheep were kept, or the sheep-gate, which we read of, Neh. 3:1, through which the sheep were brought, as the sheep-market, where they were sold. Some think it was near the temple, and, if so, it yielded a melancholy but profitable spectacle to those that went up to the temple to pray.
2. How it was called: It was a pool (a pond or bath), which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda—the house of mercy; for therein appeared much of the mercy of God to the sick and diseased. In a world of so much misery as this is, it is well that there are some Bethesdas—houses of mercy (remedies against those maladies), that the scene is not all melancholy. An alms-house, so Dr. Hammond. Dr. Lightfoot’s conjecture is that this was the upper pool (Isa. 7:3), and the old pool, Isa. 22:11; that it had been used for washing from ceremonial pollutions, for convenience of which the porches were built to dress and undress in, but it was lately become medicinal.
3. How it was fitted up: It had five porches, cloisters, piazzas, or roofed walks, in which the sick lay. Thus the charity of men concurred with the mercy of God for the relief of the distressed. Nature has provided remedies, but men must provide hospitals.
4. How it was frequented with sick and cripples (v. 3): In these lay a great multitude of impotent folks. How many are the afflictions of the afflicted in this world! How full of complaints are all places, and what multitudes of impotent folks! It may do us good to visit the hospitals sometimes, that we may take occasion, from the calamities of others, to thank God for our comforts. The evangelist specifies three sorts of diseased people that lay here, blind, halt, and withered or sinew—shrunk, either in one particular part, as the man with the withered hand, or all over paralytic. These are mentioned because, being least able to help themselves into the water, they lay longest waiting in the porches. Those that were sick of these bodily diseases took the pains to come far and had the patience to wait long for a cure; any of us would have done the same, and we ought to do so: but O that men were as wise for their souls, and as solicitous to get their spiritual diseases healed! We are all by nature impotent folks in spiritual things, blind, halt, and withered; but effectual provision is made for our cure if we will but observe orders.
5. What virtue it had for the cure of these impotent folks (v. 4). An angel went down, and troubled the water; and whoso first stepped in was made whole. That this strange virtue in the pool was natural, or artificial rather, and was the effect of the washing of the sacrifices, which impregnated the water with I know not what healing virtue even for blind people, and that the angel was a messenger, a common person, sent down to stir the water, is altogether groundless; there was a room in the temple on purpose to wash the sacrifices in. Expositors generally agree that the virtue this pool had was supernatural. It is true the Jewish writers, who are not sparing in recounting the praises of Jerusalem, do none of them make the least mention of this healing pool, of which silence in this matter perhaps this is the reason, that it was taken for a presage of the near approach of the Messiah, and therefore those who denied him to be come industriously concealed such an indication of his coming; so that this is all the account we have of it. Observe,
(1.) The preparation of the medicine by an angel, who went down into the pool, and stirred the water. Angels are God’s servants, and friends to mankind; and perhaps are more active in the removing of diseases (as evil angels in the inflicting of them) than we are aware of. Raphael, the apocryphal name of an angel, signifies medicina Dei—God’s physic, or physician rather. See what mean offices the holy angels condescend to, for the good of men. If we would do the will of God as the angels do it, we must think nothing below us but sin. The troubling of the water was the signal given of the descent of the angel, as the going upon the tops of the mulberry trees was to David, and then they must bestir themselves. The waters of the sanctuary are then healing when they are put in motion. Ministers must stir up the gift that is in them. When they are cold and dull in their ministrations, the waters settle, and are not apt to heal. The angel descended, to stir the water, not daily, perhaps not frequently, but at a certain season; some think, at the three solemn feasts, to grace those solemnities; or, now and then, as Infinite Wisdom saw fit. God is a free agent in dispensing his favours.
(2.) The operation of the medicine: Whoever first stepped in was made whole. here is, [1.] miraculous extent of the virtue as to the diseases cured; what disease soever it was, this water cured it. Natural and artificial baths are as hurtful in some cases as they are useful in others, but this was a remedy for every malady, even for those that came from contrary causes. The power of miracles succeeds where the power of nature succumbs. [2.] A miraculous limitation of the virtue as to the persons cured: He that first stepped in had the benefit; that is, he or they that stepped in immediately were cured, not those that lingered and came in afterwards. This teaches us to observe and improve our opportunities, and to look about us, that we slip not a season which may never return. The angel stirred the waters, but left the diseased to themselves to get in. God has put virtue into the scriptures and ordinances, for he would have healed us; but, if we do not make a due improvement of them, it is our own fault, we would not be healed.
Now this is all the account we have of this standing miracle; it is uncertain when it began and when it ceased. Some conjecture it began when Eliashib the high priest began the building of the wall about Jerusalem, and sanctified it with prayer; and that God testified his acceptance by putting this virtue into the adjoining pool. Some think it began now lately at Christ’s birth; nay, others at his baptism. Dr. Lightfoot, finding in Josephus, Antiq. 15.121-122, mention of a great earthquake in the seventh year of Herod, thirty years before Christ’s birth, supposed, since there used to be earthquakes at the descent of angels, that then the angel first descended to stir this water. Some think it ceased with this miracle, others at Christ’s death; however, it is certain it had a gracious signification. First, it was a token of God’s good will to that people, and an indication that, though they had been long without prophets and miracles, yet God had not cast them off; though they were now an oppressed despised people, and many were ready to say, Where are all the wonders that our fathers told us of? God did hereby let them know that he had still a kindness for the city of their solemnities. We may hence take occasion to acknowledge with thankfulness God’s power and goodness in the mineral waters, that contribute so much to the health of mankind; for God made the fountains of water, Rev. 14:7. Secondly, It was a type of the Messiah, who is the fountain opened; and was intended to raise people’s expectations of him who is the Sun of righteousness, that arises with healing under his wings. These waters had formerly been used for purifying, now for healing, to signify both the cleansing and curing virtue of the blood of Christ, that incomparable bath, which heals all our diseases. The waters of Siloam, which filled this pool, signified the kingdom of David, and of Christ the Son of David (Isa. 8:6); fitly therefore have they now this sovereign virtue put into them. The laver of regeneration is to us as Bethesda’s pool, healing our spiritual diseases; not at certain seasons, but at all times. Whoever will, let him come.
III. The patient on whom this cure was wrought (v. 5): one that had been infirm thirty-eight years. 1. His disease was grievous: He had an infirmity, a weakness; he had lost the use of his limbs, at least on one side, as is usual in palsies. It is sad to have the body so disabled that, instead of being the soul’s instrument, it is become, even in the affairs of this life, its burden. What reason have we to thank God for bodily strength, to use it for him, and to pity those who are his prisoners! 2. The duration of it was tedious: Thirty-eight years. He was lame longer than most live. Many are so long disabled for the offices of life that, as the psalmist complains, they seem to be made in vain; for suffering, not for service; born to be always dying. Shall we complain of one wearisome night, or one fit of illness, who perhaps for many years have scarcely known what it has been to be a day sick, when many others, better than we, have scarcely known what it has been to be a day well? Mr. Baxter’s note on this passage is very affecting: "How great a mercy was it to live thirty-eight years under God’s wholesome discipline! O my God," saith he, "I thank thee for the like discipline of fifty-eight years; how safe a life is this, in comparison of full prosperity and pleasure!"
IV. The cure and the circumstances of it briefly related, v. 6-9.
1. Jesus saw him lie. Observe, When Christ came up to Jerusalem he visited not the palaces, but the hospitals, which is an instance of his humility, and condescension, and tender compassion, and an indication of his great design in coming into the world, which was to seek and save the sick and wounded. There was a great multitude of poor cripples here at Bethesda, but Christ fastened his eye upon this one, and singled him out from the rest, because he was senior of the house, and in a more deplorable condition than any of the rest; and Christ delights to help the helpless, and hath mercy on whom he will have mercy. Perhaps his companions in tribulation insulted over him, because he had often been disappointed of a cure; therefore Christ took him for his patient: it is his honour to side with the weakest, and bear up those whom he sees run down.
2. He knew and considered how long he had lain in this condition. Those that have been long in affliction may comfort themselves with this, that God keeps account how long, and knows our frame.
3. He asked him, Wilt thou be made whole? A strange question to be asked one that had been so long ill. Some indeed would not be made whole, because their sores serve them to beg by and serve them for an excuse for idleness; but this poor man was as unable to go a begging as to work, yet Christ put it to him, (1.) To express his own pity and concern for him. Christ is tenderly inquisitive concerning the desires of those that are in affliction, and is willing to know what is their petition: "What shall I do for you?" (2.) To try him whether he would be beholden for a cure to him against whom the great people were so prejudiced and sought to prejudice others. (3.) To teach him to value the mercy, and to excite in him desires after it. In spiritual cases, people are not willing to be cured of their sins, are loth to part with them. If this point therefore were but gained, if people were willing to be made whole, the work were half done, for Christ is willing to heal, if we be but willing to be healed, Mt. 8:3.
4. The poor impotent man takes this opportunity to renew his complaint, and to set forth the misery of his case, which makes his cure the more illustrious: Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool, v. 7. He seems to take Christ’s question as an imputation of carelessness and neglect: "If thou hadst had a mind to be healed, thou wouldest have looked better to thy hits, and have got into the healing waters long before now." "No, Master," saith the poor man, "It is not for want of a good will, but of a good friend, that I am unhealed. I have done what I could to help myself, but in vain, for no one else will help me." (1.) He does not think of any other way of being cured than by these waters, and desires no other friendship than to be helped into them; therefore, when Christ cured him, his imagination or expectation could not contribute to it, for he thought of no such thing. (2.) He complains for want of friends to help him in: "I have no man, no friend to do me that kindness." One would think that some of those who had been themselves healed should have lent him a hand; but it is common for the poor to be destitute of friends; no man careth for their soul. To the sick and impotent it is as true a piece of charity to work for them as to relieve them; and thus the poor are capable of being charitable to one another, and ought to be so, though we seldom find that they are so; I speak it to their shame. (3.) He bewails his infelicity, that very often when he was coming another stepped in before him. But a step between him and a cure, and yet he continues impotent. None had the charity to say, "Your case is worse than mine, do you go in now, and I will stay till the next time;" for there is no getting over the old maxim, Every one for himself. Having been so often disappointed, he begins to despair, and now is Christ’s time to come to his relief; he delights to help in desperate cases. Observe, How mildly this man speaks of the unkindness of those about him, without any peevish reflections. As we should be thankful for the least kindness, so we should be patient under the greatest contempts; and, let our resentments be ever so just, yet our expressions should ever be calm. And observe further, to his praise, that, though he had waited so long in vain, yet still he continued lying by the pool side, hoping that some time or other help would come, Hab. 2:3.
5. Our Lord Jesus hereupon cures him with a word speaking, though he neither asked it nor thought of it. Here is,
(1.) The word he said: Rise, take up thy bed, v. 8. [1.] He is bidden to rise and walk; a strange command to be given to an impotent man, that had been long disabled; but this divine word was to be the vehicle of a divine power; it was a command to the disease to be gone, to nature to be strong, but it is expressed as a command to him to bestir himself. He must rise and walk, that is, attempt to do it, and in the essay he should receive strength to do it. The conversion of a sinner is the cure of a chronic disease; this is ordinarily done by the word, a word of command: Arise, and walk; turn, and live; make ye a new heart; which no more supposes a power in us to do it, without the grace of God, distinguishing grace, than this supposed such a power in the impotent man. But, if he had not attempted to help himself, he had not been cured, and he must have borne the blame; yet it does not therefore follow that, when he did rise and walk, it was by his own strength; no, it was by the power of Christ, and he must have all the glory. Observe, Christ did not bid him rise and go into the waters, but rise and walk. Christ did that for us which the law could not do, and set that aside. [2.] He is bidden to take up his bed. First, To make it to appear that it was a perfect cure, and purely miraculous; for he did not recover strength by degrees, but from the extremity of weakness and impotency he suddenly stepped into the highest degree of bodily strength; so that he was able to carry as great a load as any porter that had been as long used to it as he had been disused. He, who this minute was not able to turn himself in his bed, the next minute was able to carry his bed. The man sick of the palsy (Mt. 9:6) was bidden to go to his house, but probably this man had no house to go to, the hospital was his home; therefore he is bidden to rise and walk. Secondly, It was to proclaim the cure, and make it public; for, being the sabbath day, whoever carried a burden through the streets made himself very remarkable, and every one would enquire what was the meaning of it; thereby notice of the miracle would spread, to the honour of God. Thirdly, Christ would thus witness against the tradition of the elders, which had stretched the law of the sabbath beyond its intention; and would likewise show that he was Lord of the sabbath, and had power to make what alterations he pleased about it, and to over-rule the law. Joshua, and the host of Israel, marched about Jericho on the sabbath day, when God commanded them, so did this man carry his bed, in obedience to a command. The case may be such that it may become a work of necessity, or mercy, to carry a bed on the sabbath day; but here it was more, it was a work of piety, being designed purely for the glory of God. Fourthly, He would hereby try the faith and obedience of his patient. By carrying his bed publicly, he exposed himself to the censure of the ecclesiastical court, and was liable, at least, to be scourged in the synagogue. Now, will he run the hazard of this, in obedience to Christ? Yes, he will. Those that have been healed by Christ’s word should be ruled by his word, whatever it cost them.
(2.) The efficacy of this word (v. 9): a divine power went alone with it, and immediately he was made whole, took up his bed, and walked. [1.] He felt the power of Christ’s word healing him: Immediately he was made whole. What a joyful surprise was this to the poor cripple, to find himself all of a sudden so easy, so strong, so able to help himself! What a new world was he in, in an instant! Nothing is too hard for Christ to do. [2.] He obeyed the power of Christ’s word commanding him. He took up his bed and walked, and did not care who blamed him or threatened him for it. The proof of our spiritual cure is our rising and walking. Hath Christ healed our spiritual diseases? Let us go whithersoever he sends us, and take up whatever he is pleased to lay upon us, and walk before him.
V. What became of the poor man after he was cured. We are here told,
1. What passed between him and the Jews who saw him carry his bed on the sabbath day; for on that day this cure was wrought, and it was the sabbath that fell within the passover week, and therefore a high day, ch. 19:31. Christ’s work was such that he needed not make any difference between sabbath days and other days, for he was always about his Father’s business; but he wrought many remarkable cures on that day, perhaps to encourage his church to expect those spiritual favours from him, in their observance of the Christian sabbath, which were typified by his miraculous cures. Now here,
But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
We have here Christ’s discourse upon occasion of his being accused as a sabbath-breaker, and it seems to be his vindication of himself before the sanhedrim, when he was arraigned before them: whether on the same day, or two or three days after, does not appear; probably the same day. Observe,
I. The doctrine laid down, by which he justified what he did on the sabbath day (v. 17): He answered them. This supposes that he had something laid to his charge: or what they suggested one to another, when they sought to slay him (v. 16), he knew, and gave this reply to, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. At other times, in answer to the like charge, he had pleaded the example of David’s eating the show-bread, of the priests’ slaying the sacrifices, and of the people’s watering their cattle on the sabbath day; but here he goes higher and alleges the example of his Father and his divine authority; waiving all other pleas, he insists upon that which was instar omnium—equivalent to the whole, and abides by it, which he had mentioned, Mt. 12:8. The Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day; but he here enlarges on it. 1. He pleads that he was the Son of God, plainly intimated in his calling God his Father; and, if so, his holiness was unquestionable and his sovereignty incontestable; and he might make what alterations he pleased of the divine law. Surely they will reverence the Son, the heir of all things. 2. That he was a worker together with God. (1.) My Father worketh hitherto. The example of God’s resting on the seventh day from all his work is, in the fourth commandment, made the ground of our observing it as a sabbath or day of rest. Now God rested only from such work as he had done the six days before; otherwise he worketh hitherto, he is every day working, sabbath days and week-days, upholding and governing all the creatures, and concurring by his common providence to all the motions and operations of nature, to his own glory; therefore, when we are appointed to rest on the sabbath day, yet we are not restrained from doing that which has a direct tendency to the glory of God, as the man’s carrying his bed had. (2.) I work; not only therefore I may work, like him, in doing good on sabbath days as well as other days, but I also work with him. As God created all things by Christ, so he supports and governs all by him, Heb. 1:3. This sets what he does above all exception; he that is so great a worker must needs be an uncontrollable governor; he that does all is Lord of all, and therefore Lord of the sabbath, which particular branch of his authority he would now assert, because he was shortly to show it further, in the change of the day from the seventh to the first.
II. The offence that was taken at his doctrine (v. 18): The Jews sought the more to kill him. His defence was made his offence, as if by justifying himself he had made bad worse. Note, Those that will not be enlightened by the word of Christ will be enraged and exasperated by it, and nothing more vexes the enemies of Christ than his asserting his authority; see Ps. 2:3-5. They sought to kill him,
1. Because he had broken the sabbath; for, let him say what he would in his own justification, they are resolved, right or wrong, to find him guilty of sabbath breaking. When malice and envy sit upon the bench, reason and justice may even be silent at the bar, for whatever they can say will undoubtedly be over-ruled.
2. Not only so, but he had said also that God was his Father. Now they pretend a jealousy for God’s honour, as before for the sabbath day, and charge Christ with it as a heinous crime that he made himself equal with God; and a heinous crime it had been if he had not really been so. It was the sin of Lucifer, I will be like the Most High. Now, (1.) This was justly inferred from what he said, that he was the Son of God, and that God was his Father, patera idion—his own Father; his, so as he was no one’s else. He had said that he worked with his Father, by the same authority and power, and hereby he made himself equal with God. Ecee intelligunt Judaei, quod non intelligunt Ariani—Behold, the Jews understand what the Arians do not. (2.) Yet it was unjustly imputed to him as an offence that he equalled himself with God, for he was and is God, equal with the Father (Phil. 2:6); and therefore Christ, in answer to this charge, does not except against the innuendo as strained or forced, makes out his claim and proves that he is equal with God in power and glory.
III. Christ’s discourse upon this occasion, which continues without interruption to the end of the chapter. In these verses he explains, and afterwards confirms, his commission, as Mediator and plenipotentiary in the treaty between God and man. And, as the honours he is hereby entitled to are such as it is not fit for any creature to receive, so the work he is hereby entrusted with is such as it is not possible for any creature to go through with, and therefore he is God, equal with the Father.
1. In general. He is one with the Father in all he does as Mediator, and there was a perfectly good understanding between them in the whole matter. It is ushered in with a solemn preface (v. 19): Verily, verily, I say unto you; I the Amen, the Amen, say it. This intimates that the things declared are, (1.) Very awful and great, and such as should command the most serious attention. (2.) Very sure, and such as should command an unfeigned assent. (3.) That they are matters purely of divine revelation; things which Christ has told us, and which we could not otherwise have come to the knowledge of. Two things he saith in general concerning the Son’s oneness with the Father in working:—
[1.] That the Son conforms to the Father (v. 19): The Son can do nothing of himself but what he sees the Father do; for these things does the Son. The Lord Jesus, as Mediator, is First, Obedient to his Father’s will; so entirely obedient that he can do nothing of himself, in the same sense as it is said, God cannot lie, cannot deny himself, which expresses the perfection of his truth, not any imperfection in his strength; so here, Christ was so entirely devoted to his Father’s will that it was impossible for him in any thing to act separately. Secondly, He is observant of his Father’s counsel; he can, he will, do nothing but what he sees the Father do. No man can find out the work of God, but the only-begotten Son, who lay in his bosom, sees what he does, is intimately acquainted with his purposes, and has the plan of them ever before him. What he did as Mediator, throughout his whole undertaking, was the exact transcript or counterpart of what the Father did; that is, what he designed, when he formed the plan of our redemption in his eternal counsels, and settled those measures in every thing which never could be broken, nor ever needed to be altered. It was the copy of that great original; it was Christ’s faithfulness, as it was Moses’s, that he did all according to the pattern shown him in the mount. This is expressed in the present tense, what he sees the Father do, for the same reason that, when he was here upon earth, it was said, He is in heaven (ch. 3:13), and is in the bosom of the Father (ch. 1:18); as he was even then by his divine nature present in heaven, so the things done in heaven were present to his knowledge. What the Father did in his counsels, the Son had ever in his view, and still he had his eye upon it, as David in spirit spoke of him, I have set the Lord always before me, Ps. 16:8. Thirdly, Yet he is equal with the Father in working; for what things soever the Father does these also does the Son likewise; he did the same things, not such things, but tauta, the same things; and he did them in the same manner, homoioµs, likewise, with the same authority, and liberty, and wisdom, the same energy and efficacy. Does the Father enact, repeal, and alter, positive laws? Does he over-rule the course of nature, know men’s hearts? So does the Son. The power of the Mediator is a divine power.
[2.] That the Father communicates to the Son, v. 20. Observe,
First, The inducement to it: The Father loveth the Son; he declared, This is my beloved Son. He had not only a good will to the undertaking, but an infinite complacency in the undertaker. Christ was now hated of men, one whom the nation abhorred (Isa. 49:7); but he comforted himself with this, that his Father loved him.
Secondly, The instances of it. He shows it, 1. In what he does communicate to him: He shows him all things that himself doth. The Father’s measures in making and ruling the world are shown to the Son, that he may take the same measures in framing and governing the church, which work was to be a duplicate of the work of creation and providence, and it is therefore called the world to come. He shows him all things ha autos poiei—which he does, that is, which the Son does, so it might be construed; all that the Son does is by direction from the Father; he shows him. 2. In what he will communicate; he will show him, that is, will appoint and direct him to do greater works than these. (1.) Works of greater power than the curing of the impotent man; for he should raise the dead, and should himself rise from the dead. By the power of nature, with the use of means, a disease may possibly in time be cured; but nature can never, by the use of any means, in any time raise the dead. (2.) Works of greater authority than warranting the man to carry his bed on the sabbath day. They thought this a daring attempt; but what was this to his abrogating the whole ceremonial law, and instituting new ordinances, which he would shortly do, "that you may marvel!" Now they looked upon his works with contempt and indignation, but he will shortly do that which they will look upon with amazement, Lu. 7:16. Many are brought to marvel at Christ’s works, whereby he has the honour of them, who are not brought to believe, by which they would have the benefit of them.
2. In particular. He proves his equality with the Father, by specifying some of those works which he does that are the peculiar works of God. This is enlarged upon, v. 21–30. He does, and shall do, that which is the peculiar work of God’s sovereign dominion and jurisdiction—judging and executing judgment, v. 22–24, 27. These two are interwoven, as being nearly connected; and what is said once is repeated and inculcated; put both together, and they will prove that Christ said not amiss when he made himself equal with God.
(1.) Observe what is here said concerning the Mediator’s power to raise the dead and give life. See [1.] His authority to do it (v. 21): As the Father raiseth up the dead, so the Son quickeneth whom he will. First, It is God’s prerogative to raise the dead, and give life, even his who first breathed into man the breath of life, and so made him a living soul; see Deu. 32:30; 1 Sa. 2:6; Ps. 68:20; Rom. 4:17. This God had done by the prophets Elijah and Elisha, and it was a confirmation of their mission. A resurrection from the dead never lay in the common road of nature, nor ever fell within the thought of those that studied only the compass of nature’s power, one of whose received axioms was point blank against it: A privatione ad habitum non datur regressus—Existence, when once extinguished, cannot be rekindled. It was therefore ridiculed at Athens as an absurd thing, Acts 17:32. It is purely the work of a divine power, and the knowledge of it purely by divine revelation. This the Jews would own. Secondly, The Mediator is invested with this prerogative: He quickens whom he will; raises to life whom he pleases, and when he pleases. He does not enliven things by natural necessity, as the sun does, whose beams revive of course; but he acts as a free agent, has the dispensing of his power in his own hand, and is never either constrained, or restrained, in the use of it. As he has the power, so he has the wisdom and sovereignty, of a God; has the key of the grave and of death (Rev. 1:18), not as a servant, to open and shut as he is bidden, for he has it as the key of David, which he is master of, Rev. 3:7. An absolute prince is described by this (Dan. 5:19): Whom he would he slew or kept alive; it is true of Christ without hyperbole.
[2.] His ability to do it. Therefore he has power to quicken whom he will as the Father does, because he has life in himself, as the Father has, v. 26. First, It is certain that the Father has life in himself. Not only he is a self-existent Being, who does not derive from, or depend upon, any other (Ex. 3:14), but he is a sovereign giver of life; he has the disposal of life in himself; and of all good (for so life sometimes signifies); it is all derived from him, and dependent on him. He is to his creatures the fountain of life, and all good; author of their being and well-being; the living God, and the God of all living. Secondly, It is as certain that he has given to the Son to have life in himself. As the Father is the original of all natural life and good, being the great Creator, so the Son, as Redeemer, is the original of all spiritual life and good; is that to the church which the Father is to the world; see 1 Co. 8:6; Col. 1:19. The kingdom of grace, and all the life in that kingdom, are as fully and absolutely in the hand of the Redeemer as the kingdom of providence is in the hand of the Creator; and as God, who gives being to all things, has his being of himself, so Christ, who gives life, raised himself to life by his own power, ch. 10:18.
[3.] His acting according to this authority and ability. Having life in himself, and being authorized to quicken whom he will, by virtue hereof there are, accordingly, two resurrections performed by his powerful word, both which are here spoken of:—
First, A resurrection that now is (v. 29), a resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, by the power of Christ’s grace. The hour is coming, and now is. It is a resurrection begun already, and further to be carried on, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God. This is plainly distinguished from that in v. 28, which speaks of the resurrection at the end of time. This says nothing, as that does, of the dead in their graces, and of all of them, and their coming forth. Now, 1. Some think this was fulfilled in those whom he miraculously raised to life, Jairus’s daughter, the widow’s son, and Lazarus; and it is observable that all whom Christ raised were spoken to, as, Damsel, arise; Young man, arise; Lazarus, come forth; whereas those raised under the Old Testament were raised, not by a word, but other applications, 1 Ki. 17:21; 2 Ki. 4:34; 13:21. Some understand it of those saints that rose with Christ; but we do not read of the voice of the Son of God calling them. But, 2. I rather understand it of the power of the doctrine of Christ, for the recovering and quickening of those that were dead in trespasses and sins, Eph. 2:1. The hour was coming when dead souls should be made alive by the preaching of the gospel, and a spirit of life from God accompanying it: nay, it then was, while Christ was upon earth. It may refer especially to the calling of the Gentiles, which is said to be as life from the dead, and, some think, was prefigured by Ezekiel’s vision (ch. 37:1), and foretold, Isa. 26:19. Thy dead men shall live. But it is to be applied to all the wonderful success of the gospel, among both Jews and Gentiles; an hour which still is, and is still coming, till all the elect be effectually called. Note, (1.) Sinners are spiritually dead, destitute of spiritual life, sense, strength, and motion, dead to God, miserable, but neither sensible of their misery nor able to help themselves out of it. (2.) The conversion of a soul to God is its resurrection from death to life; then it begins to live when it begins to live to God, to breathe after him, and move towards him. (3.) It is by the voice of the Son of God that souls are raised to spiritual life; it is wrought by his power, and that power conveyed and communicated by his word: The dead shall hear, shall be made to hear, to understand, receive, and believe, the voice of the Son of God, to hear it as his voice; then the Spirit by it gives life, otherwise the letter kills. (4.) The voice of Christ must be heard by us, that we may live by it. They that hear, and attend to what they hear, shall live. Hear and your soul shall live, Isa. 55:3.
Secondly, A resurrection yet to come; this is spoken of, v. 28, 29, introduced with, "Marvel not at this, which I have said of the first resurrection, do not reject it as incredible and absurd, for at the end of time you shall all see a more sensible and amazing proof of the power and authority of the Son of man." As his own resurrection was reserved to be the final and concluding proof of his personal commission, so the resurrection of all men is reserved to be a like proof of his commission to be executed by his spirit. Now observe here,
a. When this resurrection shall be: The hour is coming; it is fixed to an hour, so very punctual is this great appointment. The judgment is not adjourned sine die—to some time not yet pitched upon; no, he hath appointed a day. The hour is coming. (a.) It is not yet come, it is not the hour spoken of at v. 25, that is coming, and now is. Those erred dangerously who said that the resurrection was past already, 2 Tim. 2:18, But, (b.) It will certainly come, it is coming on, nearer every day than other; it is at the door. How far off it is we know not; but we know that it is infallibly designed and unalterably determined.
b. Who shall be raised: All that are in the graves, all that have died from the beginning of time, and all that shall die to the end of time. It was said (Dan. 12:2), Many shall arise; Christ here tells us that those many shall be all; all must appear before the Judge, and therefore all must be raised; every person, and the whole of every person; every soul shall return to its body, and every bone to its bone. The grave is the prison of dead bodies, where they are detained; their furnace, where they are consumed (Job 24:19); yet, in prospect of their resurrection, we may call it their bed, where they sleep to be awaked again; their treasury, where they are laid up to be used again. Even those that are not put into graves shall arise; but, because most are put into graves, Christ uses this expression, all that are in the graves. The Jews used the word sheol for the grave, which signifies the state of the dead; all that are in that state shall hear.
c. How they shall be raised. Two things are here told us:—(a.) The efficient of this resurrection: They shall hear his voice; that is, he shall cause them to hear it, as Lazarus was made to hear that word, Come forth; a divine power shall go along with the voice, to put life into them, and enable them to obey it. When Christ rose, there was no voice heard, not a word spoken, because he rose by his own power; but at the resurrection of the children of men we find three voices spoken of, 1 Th. 4:16. The Lord shall descend with a shout, the shout of a king, with the voice of the archangel; either Christ himself, the prince of the angels, or the commander-in-chief, under him, of the heavenly hosts; and with the trumpet of God: the soldier’s trumpet sounding the alarm of war, the judge’s trumpet publishing the summons to the court. (b.) The effect of it: They shall come forth out of their graves, as prisoners out of their prison-house; they shall arise out of the dust, and shake themselves from it; see Isa. 52:1, 2, 11. But this is not all; they shall appear before Christ’s tribunal, shall come forth as those that are to be tried, come forth to the bar, publicly to receive their doom.
d. To what they shall be raised; to a different state of happiness or misery, according to their different character; to a state of retribution, according to what they did in the state of probation.
(a.) They that have done good shall come forth to the resurrection of life; they shall live again, to live for ever. Note, [a.] Whatever name men are called by, or whatever plausible profession they make, it will be well in the great day with those only that have done good, have done that which is pleasing to God and profitable to others. [b.] The resurrection of the body will be a resurrection of life to all those, and those only, that have been sincere and constant in doing good. They shall not only be publicly acquitted, as a pardoned criminal, we say, has his life, but they shall be admitted into the presence of God, and that is life, it is better than life; they shall be attended with comforts in perfection. To live is to be happy, and they shall be advanced above the fear of death; that is life indeed in which mortality is for ever swallowed up.
(b.) They that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation; they shall live again, to be for ever dying. The Pharisees thought that the resurrection pertained only to the just, but Christ here rectifies that mistake. Note, [a.] Evil doers, whatever they pretend, will be treated in the day of judgment as evil men. [b.] The resurrection will be to evil doers, who did not by repentance undo what they had done amiss, a resurrection of damnation. They shall come forth to be publicly convicted of rebellion against God, and publicly condemned to everlasting punishment; to be sentenced to it, and immediately sent to it without reprieve. Such will the resurrection be.
(2.) Observe what is here said concerning the Mediator’s authority to execute judgment, v. 22–24, 27. As he has an almighty power, so he has a sovereign jurisdiction; and who so fit to preside in the great affairs of the other life as he who is the Father and fountain of life? Here is,
If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
In these verses our Lord Jesus proves and confirms the commission he had produced, and makes it out that he was sent of God to be the Messiah.
I. He sets aside his own testimony of himself (v. 31): "If I bear witness of myself, though it is infallibly true (ch. 8:14), yet, according to the common rule of judgment among men, you will not admit it as legal proof, nor allow it to be given in evidence." Now, 1. This reflects reproach upon the sons of men, and their veracity and integrity. Surely we may say deliberately, what David said in haste, All men are liars, else it would never have been such a received maxim that a man’s testimony of himself is suspicious, and not to be relied on; it is a sign that self-love is stronger than the love of truth. And yet, 2. It reflects honour on the Son of God, and bespeaks his wonderful condescension, that, though he is the faithful witness, the truth itself, who may challenge to be credited upon his honour, and his own single testimony, yet he is pleased to waive his privilege, and, for the confirmation of our faith, refers himself to his vouchers, that we may have full satisfaction.
II. He produces other witnesses that bear testimony to him that he was sent of God.
1. The Father himself bore testimony to him (v. 32): There is another that beareth witness. I take this to be meant of God the Father, for Christ mentions his testimony with his own (ch. 8:18): I bear witness of myself, and the Father beareth witness of me. Observe,
(1.) The seal which the Father put to his commission: He beareth witness of me, not only has done so by a voice from heaven, but still does so by the tokens of his presence with me. See who they are to whom God will bear witness. [1.] Those whom he sends and employs; where he gives commissions he give credentials. [2.] Those who bear witness to him; so Christ did. God will own and honour those that own and honour him. [3.] Those who decline bearing witness of themselves; so Christ did. God will take care that those who humble and abase themselves, and seek not their own glory, shall not lose by it.
(2.) The satisfaction Christ had in this testimony: "I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. I am very well assured that I have a divine mission, and do not in the least hesitate concerning it; thus he had the witness in himself." The devil tempted him to question his being the Son of God, but he never yielded.
2. John Baptist witnessed to Christ, v. 33, etc. John came to bear witness of the light (ch. 1:7); his business was to prepare his way, and direct people to him: Behold the Lamb of God.
(1.) Now the testimony of John was, [1.] A solemn and public testimony: "You sent an embassy of priests and Levites to John, which gave him an opportunity of publishing what he had to say; it was not a popular, but a judicial testimony." [2.] It was a true testimony: He bore witness to the truth, as a witness ought to do, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Christ does not say, He bore witness to me (though every one knew he did), but, like an honest man, He bore witness to the truth. Now John was confessedly such a holy, good man, so mortified to the world, and so conversant with divine things, that it could not be imagined he should be guilty of such a forgery and imposture as to say what he did concerning Christ if it had not been so, and if he had not been sure of it.
(2.) Two things are added concerning John’s testimony:—
[1.] That it was a testimony ex abundanti—more than he needed to vouch (v. 34): I receive not testimony from man. Though Christ saw fit to quote John’s testimony, it was with a protestation that it shall not be deemed or construed so as to prejudice the prerogative of his self-sufficiency. Christ needs no letters or commendation, no testimonials or certificates, but what his own worth and excellency bring with him; why then did Christ here urge the testimony of John? Why, these things I say, that you may be saved. This he aimed at in all this discourse, to save not his own life, but the souls of others; he produced John’s testimony because, being one of themselves, it was to be hoped that they would hearken to it. Note, First, Christ desires and designs the salvation even of his enemies and persecutors. Secondly, The word of Christ is the ordinary means of salvation. Thirdly, Christ in his word considers our infirmities and condescends to our capacities, consulting not so much what it befits so great a prince to say as what we can bear, and what will be most likely to do us good.
[2.] That it was a testimony ad hominem—to the man, because John Baptist was one whom they had a respect for (v. 35): He was a light among you.
First, The character of John Baptist: He was a burning and a shining light. Christ often spoke honourably of John; he was now in prison under a cloud, yet Christ gives him his due praise, which we must be ready to do to all that faithfully serve God. 1. He was a light, not phoµs—lux, light (so Christ was the light), but lyknos—lucerna, a luminary, a derived subordinate light. His office was to enlighten a dark world with notices of the Messiah’s approach, to whom he was as the morning star. 2. He was a burning light, which denotes sincerity; painted fire may be made to shine, but that which burns is true fire. It denotes also his activity, zeal, and fervency, burning in love to God and the souls of men; fire is always working on itself or something else, so is a good minister. 3. He was a shining light, which denotes either his exemplary conversation, in which our light should shine (Mt. 5:16), or an eminent diffusive influence. He was illustrious in the sight of others; though he affected obscurity and retirement, and was in the deserts, yet such were his doctrine, his baptism, his life, that he became very remarkable, and attracted the eyes of the nation.
Secondly, The affections of the people to him: you were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. 1. It was a transport that they were in, upon the appearing of John: "You were willing—eµtheleµsate, you delighted to rejoice in his light; you were very proud that you had such a man among you, who was the honour of your country; you were willing agalliastheµnai—willing to dance, and make a noise about this light, as boys about a bonfire." 2. It was but transient, and soon over: "You were fond of him, pros hoµran—for an hour, for a season, as little children are fond of a new thing, you were pleased with John awhile, but soon grew weary of him and his ministry, and said that he had a devil, and now you have him in prison." Note, Many, that seem to be affected and pleased with the gospel at first, afterwards despise and reject it; it is common for forward and noisy professors to cool and fall off. These here rejoiced in John’s light, but never walked in it, and therefore did not keep to it; they were like the stony ground. While Herod was a friend to John Baptist, the people caressed him; but when he fell under Herod’s frowns he lost their favours: "You were willing to countenance John, pros hoµran that is, for temporal ends" (so some take it); "you were glad of him, in hopes to make a tool of him, by his interest and under the shelter of his name to have shaken off the Roman yoke, and recovered the civil liberty and honour of your country." Now, (1.) Christ mentions their respect to John, to condemn them for their present opposition to himself, to whom John bore witness. If they had continued their veneration for John, as they ought to have done, they would have embraced Christ. (2.) He mentions the passing away of their respect, to justify God in depriving them, as he had now done, of John’s ministry, and putting that light under a bushel.
3. Christ’s own works witnessed to him (v. 36): I have a testimony greater than that of John; for if we believe the witness of men sent of God, as John was, the witness of God immediately, and not by the ministry of men, is greater, 1 Jn. 5:9. Observe, Though the witness of John was a less cogent and less considerable witness, yet our Lord was pleased to make use of it. We must be glad of all the supports that offer themselves for the confirmation of our faith, though they may not amount to a demonstration, and we must not invalidate any, under pretence that there are others more conclusive; we have occasion for them all. Now this greater testimony was that of the works which his Father had given him to finish. That is, (1.) In general the whole course of his life and ministry— his revealing God and his will to us, setting up his kingdom among men, reforming the world, destroying Satan’s kingdom, restoring fallen man to his primitive purity and felicity, and shedding abroad in men’s hearts the love of God and of one another—all that work of which he said when he died, It is finished, it was all, from first to last, opus Deo dignum—a work worthy of God; all he said and did was holy and heavenly, and a divine purity, power, and grace shone in it, proving abundantly that he was sent of God. (2.) In particular. The miracles he wrought for the proof of his divine mission witnessed of him. Now it is here said, [1.] That these works were given him by the Father, that is, he was both appointed and empowered to work them; for, as Mediator, he derived both commission and strength from his Father. [2.] They were given to him to finish; he must do all those works of wonder which the counsel and foreknowledge of God had before determined to be done; and his finishing them proves a divine power; for as for God his work is perfect. [3.] These works did bear witness of him, did prove that he was sent of God, and that what he said concerning himself was true; see Heb. 2:4; Acts 2:22. That the Father had sent him as a Father, not as a master sends his servant on an errand, but as a father sends his son to take possession for himself; if God had not sent him, he would not have seconded him, would not have sealed him, as he did by the works he gave him to do; for the world’s Creator will never be its deceiver.
4. He produces, more fully than before, his Father’s testimony concerning him (v. 37): The Father that sent me hath borne witness of me. The prince is not accustomed to follow his ambassador himself, to confirm his commission viva voce—by speaking; but God was pleased to bear witness of his Son himself by a voice from heaven at his baptism (Mt. 3:17): This is my ambassador, This is my beloved Son. The Jews reckoned Bath-kol;—the daughter of a voice, a voice from heaven, one of the ways by which God made known his mind; and in that way he had owned Christ publicly and solemnly, and repeated it, Mt. 17:5. Note, (1.) Those whom God sends he will bear witness of; where he gives a commission, he will not fail to seal it; he that never left himself without witness (Acts 14:17) will never leave any of his servants so, who go upon his errand. (2.) Where God demands belief, he will not fail to give sufficient evidence, as he has done concerning Christ. That which was to be witnessed concerning Christ was chiefly this, that the God we had offended was willing to accept of him as a Mediator. Now concerning this he has himself given us full satisfaction (and he was fittest to do it), declaring himself well-pleased in him; if we be so, the work is done. Now, it might be suggested, if God himself thus bore witness of Christ, how came it to pass that he was not universally received by the Jewish nation and their rulers? To this Christ here answers that it was not to be thought strange, nor could their infidelity weaken his credibility, for two reasons:—[1.] Because they were not acquainted with such extraordinary revelations of God and his will: You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape, or appearance. They showed themselves to be as ignorant of God, though they professed relation to him, as we are of a man we never either saw or heard. "But why do I talk to you of God’s bearing witness of me? He is one you know nothing of, nor have any acquaintance or communion with." Note, Ignorance of God is the true reason of men’s rejecting the record he has given concerning his Son. A right understanding of natural religion would discover to us such admirable congruities in the Christian religion as would greatly dispose our minds to the entertainment of it. Some give this sense of it: "The Father bore witness of me by a voice, and the descent of a dove, which is such an extraordinary thing that you never saw or heard the like; and yet for my sake there was such a voice and appearance; yea, and you might have heard that voice, you might have seen that appearance, as others did, if you had closely attended the ministry of John, but by slighting it you missed of that testimony." [2.] Because they were not affected, no, not with the ordinary ways by which God had revealed himself to them: You have not his word abiding in you, v. 38. They had the scriptures of the Old Testament; might they not by them be disposed to receive Christ? Yes, if they had had their due influence upon them. But, First, The word of God was not in them; it was among them, in their country, in their hands, but not in them, in their hearts; not ruling in their souls, but only shining in their eyes and sounding in their ears. What did it avail them that they had the oracles of God committed to them (Rom. 3:2), when they had not these oracles commanding in them? If they had, they would readily have embraced Christ. Secondly, It did not abide. Many have the word of God coming into them, and making some impressions for awhile, but it does not abide with them; it is not constantly in them, as a man at home, but only now and then, as a wayfaring man. If the word abide in us, if we converse with it by frequent meditation, consult with it upon every occasion, and conform to it in our conversation, we shall then readily receive the witness of the Father concerning Christ; see ch. 7:17. But how did it appear that they had not the word of God abiding in them? It appeared by this, Whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. There was so much said in the Old Testament concerning Christ, to direct people when and where to look for him, and so to facilitate the discovery of him, that, if they had duly considered these things, they could not have avoided the conviction of Christ’s being sent of God; so that their not believing in Christ was a certain sign that the word of God did not abide in them. Note, The in-dwelling of the word, and Spirit, and grace of God in us, is best tried by its effects, particularly by our receiving what he sends, the commands, the messengers, the providences he sends, especially Christ whom he hath sent.
5. The last witness he calls is the Old Testament, which witnessed of him, and to it he appeals (v. 39, etc.): Search the scriptures, ereunate.
(1.) This may be read, either, [1.] "You search the scriptures, and you do well to do so; you read them daily in your synagogues, you have rabbies, and doctors, and scribes, that make it their business to study them, and criticize upon them." The Jews boasted of the flourishing of scripture-learning in the days of Hillel, who died about twelve years after Christ’s birth, and reckoned some of those who were then members of the sanhedrim the beauties of their wisdom and the glories of their law; and Christ owns that they did indeed search the scriptures, but it was in search of their own glory: "You search the scriptures, and therefore, if you were not wilfully blind, you would believe in me." Note, It is possible for men to be very studious in the letter of the scripture, and yet to be strangers to the power and influence of it. Or, [2.] As we read it: Search the scriptures; and so, First, It was spoken to them in the nature of an appeal: "You profess to receive and believe the scripture; here I will join issue with you, let this be the judge, provided you will not rest in the letter" (haerere in cortice), "but will search into it." Note, when appeals are made to the scriptures, they must be searched. Search the whole book of scripture throughout, compare one passage with another, and explain one by another. We must likewise search particular passages to the bottom, and see not what they seem to say prima facie—at the first appearance, but what they say indeed. Secondly, It is spoken to us in the nature of an advice, or a command to all Christians to search the scriptures. Note, All those who would find Christ must search the scriptures; not only read them, and hear them, but search them, which denotes, 1. Diligence in seeking, labour, and study, and close application of mind. 2. Desire and design of finding. We must aim at some spiritual benefit and advantage in reading and studying the scripture, and often ask, "What am I now searching for?" We must search as for hidden treasures (Prov. 2:4), as those that sink for gold or silver, or that dive for pearl, Job 28:1–11. This ennobled the Bereans, Acts 17:11.
(2.) Now there are two things which we are here directed to have in our eye, in our searching the scripture: heaven our end, and Christ our way. [1.] We must search the scriptures for heaven as our great end: For in them you think you have eternal life. The scripture assures us of an eternal state set before us, and offers to us an eternal life in that state: it contains the chart that describes it, the charter that conveys it, the direction in the way that leads to it, and the foundation upon which the hope of it is built; and this is worth searching for where we are sure to find it. But to the Jews Christ saith only, You think you have eternal life in the scriptures, because, though they did retain the belief and hope of eternal life, and grounded their expectations of it upon the scriptures, yet herein they missed it, that they looked for it by the bare reading and studying of the scripture. It was a common but corrupt saying among them, He that has the words of the law has eternal life; they thought they were sure of heaven if they could say by heart, or rather by rote, such and such passages of scripture as they were directed to by the tradition of the elders; as they thought all the vulgar cursed because they did not thus know the law (ch. 7:49), so they concluded all the learned undoubtedly blessed. [2.] We must search the scriptures for Christ, as the new and living way that leads to this end. These are they, the great and principal witnesses, that testify of me. Note, First, The scriptures, even those of the Old Testament, testify of Christ, and by them God bears witness to him. The Spirit of Christ in the prophets testified beforehand of him (1 Pt. 1:11), the purposes and promises of God concerning him, and the previous notices of him. The Jews knew very well that the Old Testament testified of the Messiah, and were critical in their remarks upon the passages that looked that way; and yet were careless, and wretchedly overseen, in the application of them. Secondly, Therefore we must search the scriptures, and may hope to find eternal life in that search, because they testify of Christ; for this is life eternal, to know him; see 1 Jn. 5:11. Christ is the treasure hid in the field of the scriptures, the water in those wells, the milk in those breasts.
(3.) To this testimony he annexes a reproof of their infidelity and wickedness in four instances; particularly,
[1.] Their neglect of him and his doctrine: "You will not come tome, that you might have life, v. 40. You search the scriptures, you believe the prophets, who you cannot but see testify of me; and yet you will not come to me, to whom they direct you." Their estrangement from Christ was the fault not so much of their understandings as of their wills. This is expressed as a complaint; Christ offered life, and it was not accepted. Note, First, There is life to be had with Jesus Christ for poor souls; we may have life, the life of pardon and grace, and comfort and glory: life is the perfection of our being, and inclusive of all happiness; and Christ is our life. Secondly, Those that would have this life must come to Jesus Christ for it; we may have it for the coming for. It supposes an assent of the understanding to the doctrine of Christ and the record given concerning him; it lies in the consent of the will to his government and grace, and it produces an answerable compliance in the affections and actions. Thirdly, The only reason why sinners die is because they will not come to Christ for life and happiness; it is not because they cannot, but because they will not. They will neither accept the life offered, because spiritual and divine, nor will they agree to the terms on which it is offered, nor apply themselves to the use of the appointed means: they will not be cured, for they will not observe the methods of cure. Fourthly, The wilfulness and obstinacy of sinners in rejecting the tenders of grace are a great grief to the Lord Jesus, and what he complains of. Those words (v. 41), I receive not honour from men, come in a parenthesis, to obviate an objection against him, as if he sought his own glory, and made himself the head of a party, in obliging all to come to him, and applaud him. Note, 1. He did not covet nor court the applause of men, did not in the least affect that worldly pomp and splendour in which the carnal Jews expected their Messiah to appear. He charged those whom he cured not to make him known, and withdrew from those that would have made him king. 2. He had not the applause of men. Instead of receiving honour from men, he received a great deal of dishonour and disgrace from men, for he made himself of no reputation. 3. He needed not the applause of men; it was no addition to his glory whom all the angels of God worship, nor was he any otherwise pleased with it than as it was according to his Father’s will, and for the happiness of those who, in giving honour to him, received much greater honour from him.
[2.] Their want of the love of God (v. 42): "I know you very well, that you have not the love of God in you. Why should I wonder that you do not come to me, when you want even the first principle of natural religion, which is the love of God?" Note, The reason why people slight Christ is because they do not love God; for, if we did indeed love God, we should love him who is his express image, and hasten to him by whom only we may be restored to the favour of God. He charged them (v. 37) with ignorance of God, and here with want of love to him; therefore men have not the love of God because they desire not the knowledge of him. Observe, First, The crime charged upon them: You have not the love of God in you. They pretended a great love to God, and thought they proved it by their zeal for the law, the temple, and the sabbath; and yet they were really without the love of God. Note, There are many who make a great profession of religion who yet show they want the love of God by their neglect of Christ and their contempt of his commandments; they hate his holiness and undervalue his goodness. Observe, It is the love of God in us, that love seated in the heart, a living active principle there, that God will accept; the love shed abroad there, Rom. 5:5. Secondly, The proof of this charge, by the personal knowledge of Christ, who searches the heart (Rev. 2:23) and knows what is in man: I know you. Christ sees through all our disguises, and can say to each of us, I know thee. 1. Christ knows men better than their neighbours know them. The people thought that the scribes and Pharisees were very devout and good men, but Christ knew that they had not the love of God in them. 2. Christ knows men better than they know themselves. These Jews had a very good opinion of themselves, but Christ knew how corrupt their inside was, notwithstanding the speciousness of their outside; we may deceive ourselves, but we cannot deceive him. 3. Christ knows men who do not, and will not, know him; he looks on those who industriously look off from him, and calls by their own name, their true name, those who have not known him.
[3.] Another crime charged upon them is their readiness to entertain false Christs and false prophets, while they obstinately opposed him who was the true Messias (v. 43): I am come in my Father’s name, and you receive me not. If another shall come in his own name, him you will receive. Be astonished, O heavens, at this (Jer. 2:12, 13); for my people have committed two evils, great evils indeed. First, They have forsaken the fountain of living waters, for they would not receive Christ, who came in his Father’s name, had his commission from his Father, and did all for his glory. Secondly, They have hewn out broken cisterns, they hearken to every one that will set up in his own name. They forsake their own mercies, which is bad enough; and it is for lying vanities, which is worse. observe here, 1. Those are false prophets who come in their own name, who run without being sent, and set up for themselves only. 2. It is just with God to suffer those to be deceived with false prophets who receive not the truth in the love of it. 2 Th. 2:10, 11. The errors of antichrist are the just punishment of those who obey not the doctrine of Christ. They that shut their eyes against the true light are by the judgment of God given up to wander endlessly after false lights, and to be led aside after every ignis fatuus. 3. It is the gross folly of many that, while they nauseate ancient truths, they are fond of upstart errors; they loathe manna, and at the same time feed upon ashes. After the Jews had rejected Christ and his gospel, they were continually haunted with spectres, with false Christs and false prophets (Mt. 24:24), and their proneness to follow such occasioned those distractions and seditions that hastened their ruin.
[4.] They are here charged with pride and vain-glory, and unbelief, the effect of them, v. 44. Having sharply reproved their unbelief, like a wise physician, he here searches into the cause, lays the axe to the root. They therefore slighted and undervalued Christ because they admired and overvalued themselves. Here is,
First, Their ambition of worldly honour. Christ despised it, v. 41. They set their hearts upon it: You receive honour one of another; that is, "You look for a Messiah in outward pomp, and promise yourselves worldly honour by him." You receive honour:—1. "You desire to receive it, and aim at this in all you do." 2. "You give honour to others, and applaud them, only that they may return it, and may applaud you." Petimus dabimusque vicissim—We ask and we bestow. It is the proud man’s art to throw honour upon others only that it may rebound upon himself. 3. "You are very careful to keep all the honours to yourselves, and confine them to your own party, as if you had the monopoly of that which is honourable." 4. "What respect is shown to you you receive yourselves, and do not transmit to God, as Herod." Idolizing men and their sentiments, and affecting to be idolized by them and their applauses, are pieces of idolatry as directly contrary to Christianity as any other.