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John 2:23-25

23. And when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, many believed in his name, beholding the signs which he performed. 24. But Jesus himself did not confide in them, because he knew them all. 5353     “Il les cognoissoient tous,” 25. And needed not that any should testify of man; for he knew what was in man.

 

23. Many believed. The Evangelist appropriately connects this narrative with the former. Christ had not given such a sign as the Jews demanded; and now, when he produced no good effect on them by many miracles — except that they entertained a cold faith, which was only the shadow of faith — this event sufficiently proves that they did not deserve that he should comply with their wishes. It was, indeed, some fruit of the signs, that many believed in Christ, and in his name, so as to profess that they wished to follow his doctrine; for name is here put for authority. This appearance of faith, which hitherto was fruitless, might ultimately be changed into true faith, and might be a useful preparation for celebrating the name of Christ among others; and yet what we have said is true, that they were far from having proper feelings, so as to profit by the works of God, as they ought to have done.

Yet this was not a pretended faith by which they wished to gain reputation among men; for they were convinced that Christ was some great Prophet, and perhaps they even ascribed to him the honor of being the Messiah, of whom there was at that time a strong and general expectation. But as they did not understand the peculiar office of the Messiah, their faith was absurd, because it was exclusively directed to the world and earthly things. It was also a cold belief, and unaccompanied by the true feelings of the heart. For hypocrites assent to the Gospel, not that they may devote themselves in obedience to Christ, nor that with sincere piety they may follow Christ when he calls them, but because they do not venture to reject entirely the truth which they have known, and especially when they can find no reason for opposing it. For as they do not voluntarily, or of their own accord, make war with God, so when they perceive that his doctrine is opposed to their flesh and to their perverse desires, they are immediately offended, or at least withdraw from the faith which they had already embraced.

When the Evangelist says, therefore, that those men believed, I do not understand that they counterfeited a faith which did not exist, but that they were in some way constrained to enroll themselves as the followers of Christ; and yet it appears that their faith was not true and genuine, because Christ excludes them from the number of those on whose sentiments reliance might be placed. Besides, that faith depended solely on miracles, and had no root in the Gospel, and therefore could not be steady or permanent. Miracles do indeed assist the children of God in arriving at the truth; but it does not amount to actual believing, when they admire the power of God so as merely to believe that it is true, but not to subject themselves wholly to it. And, therefore, when we speak generally about faith, let us know that there is a kind of faith which is perceived by the understanding only, and afterwards quickly disappears, because it is not fixed in the heart; and that is the faith which James calls dead; but true faith always depends on the Spirit of regeneration, (James 2:17, 20, 26.) Observe, that all do not derive equal profit from the works of God; for some are led by them to God, and others are only driven by a blind impulse, so that, while they perceive indeed the power of God, still they do not cease to wander in their own imaginations.

24. But Christ did not rely on them. Those who explain the meaning to be, that Christ was on his guard against them, because he knew that they were not upright and faithful, do not appear to me to express sufficiently well the meaning of the Evangelist. Still less do I agree with what Augustine says about recent converts. The Evangelist rather means, in my opinion, that Christ did not reckon them to be genuine disciples, but despised them as volatile and unsteady. It is a passage which ought to be carefully observed, that not all who profess to be Christ’s followers are such in his estimation. But we ought also to add the reason which immediately follows:

Because he knew them all. Nothing is more dangerous than hypocrisy, for this reason among others, that it is an exceedingly common fault. There is scarcely any man who is not pleased with himself; and while we deceive ourselves by empty flatteries, we imagine that God is blind like ourselves. But here we are reminded how widely his judgment differs from ours; for he sees clearly those things which we cannot perceive, because they are concealed by some disguise; and he estimates according to their hidden source, that is, according to the most secret feeling of the heart, those things which dazzle our eyes by false luster. This is what Solomon says, that

God weighs in his balance the hearts of men, while they flatter themselves in their ways, (Proverbs 21:2.)

Let us remember, therefore, that none are the true disciples of Christ but those whom He approves, because in such a matter He alone is competent to decide and to judge.

A question now arises: when the Evangelist says that Christ knew them all, does he mean those only of whom he had lately spoken, or does the expression refer to the whole human race? Some extend it to the universal nature of man, and think that the whole world is here condemned for wicked and perfidious hypocrisy. And, certainly, it is a true statement, that Christ can find in men no reason why he should deign to place them in the number of his followers; but I do not see that this agrees with the context, and therefore I limit it to those who had been formerly mentioned.

25. For he knew what was in man. As it might be doubted whence Christ obtained this knowledge, the Evangelist anticipates this question, and replies that Christ perceived every thing in men that is concealed from our view, so that he could on his own authority make a distinction among men. Christ, therefore, who knows the hearts, had no need of any one to inform him what sort of men they were. He knew them to have such a disposition and such feelings, that he justly regarded them as persons who did not belong to him.

The question put by some — whether we too are authorized by the example of Christ to hold those persons as suspected who have not given us proof of their sincerity — has nothing to do with the present passage. There is a wide difference between him and us; for Christ knew the very roots of the trees, but, except from the fruits which appear outwardly, we cannot discover what is the nature of any one tree. Besides, as Paul tells us, that charity is not suspicious, (1 Corinthians 13:5,) we have no right to entertain unfavorable suspicions about men who are unknown to us. But, that we may not always be deceived by hypocrites, and that the Church may not be too much exposed to their wicked impostures, it belongs to Christ to impart to us the Spirit of discretion.


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