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John 5:20-24

20. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things which he doeth; and he will show him greater works than these, that you may wonder. 21. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; so also the Son quickeneth whom he will. 22. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son; 23. That all men may honor the Son, as they honor the Father: he who honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father who sent him. 24. Verily, verily, I say to you, That he who heareth my word, and believeth in him who sent me, hath eternal life, and shall not come into condemnation, but hath passed from death to life.

 

20. For the Father loveth the Son. Every body sees how harsh and far-fetched is the exposition of this passage which is given by the Fathers. “God,” they say, “loves himself in the Son.” But this statement applies beautifully to Christ as clothed with flesh, that he is beloved by the Father. What is more, we know that it is by this excellent title that he is distinguished both from angels and from men, This is my beloved Son, (Matthew 3:17.) For we know that Christ was chosen, that the whole love of God might dwell in him, and might flow from him to us as from a full fountain. Christ is loved by the Father, as he is the Head of the Church. He shows that this love is the cause why the Father does all things by his hand. For when he says that the Father SHOWTH to him this word must be understood to denote communication, as if he had said, “As the Father hath given to me his heart, so he hath poured out his power on me, that the Divine glory may shine in my works, and — what is more — that men may seek nothing Divine but what they find in me.” And, indeed, out of Christ it will be in vain to seek the power of God.

He will show him greater works than these. By these words he means that the miracle, which he had performed in curing the man, was not the greatest of the works enjoined on him by the Father; for he had only given in it a slight taste of that grace of which he is properly both minister and Author; namely, to restore life to the world.

That you may wonder. By adding these words, he indirectly charges them with ingratitude in despising so illustrious a demonstration of the power of God; as if he had said, “Though you are dull and stupid, yet the works which God shall afterwards perform by me will draw you, however reluctantly, into admiration.” Yet this appears not to have been fulfilled, for we know that seeing, they saw not; as Isaiah also says that the reprobate are blind amidst the light of God. I reply, Christ did not now speak of their disposition, but only threw out a suggestion as to the splendor of the demonstration which he would soon afterwards give that he was the Son of God.

21. For as the Father raiseth up the dead. Here he gives a summary view of the nature of the office which had been given to him by the Father; for though he appears to specify one class, yet it is a general doctrine in which he declares himself to be the Author of life Now life contains within itself not only righteousness, but all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and every part of our salvation. And certainly this miracle must have been so remarkable a proof of the power of Christ, as to yield this common fruit; that is, to open a door to the Gospel. We ought also to observe in what manner Christ bestows life upon us; for he found us all dead, and therefore it was necessary to begin with a resurrection Yet, when he joins the two words, raiseth up and quickeneth, he does not use superfluous language; for it would not have been enough that we were rescued from death, if Christ did not fully and perfectly restore life to us. Again, he does not speak of this life as bestowed indiscriminately on all; for he says that he giveth life to whom he will; by which he means that he specially confers this grace on none but certain men, that is, on the elect.

22. For the Father judgeth no man. He now states more clearly the general truth, that the Father governs the world in the person of the Son, and exercises dominion by his hand; for the Evangelist employs the word judgment, agreeably to the idiom of the Hebrew language, as denoting authority and power We now perceive the amount of what is stated here, that the Father hath given to the Son a kingdom, that he may govern heaven and earth according to his pleasure. But this might appear to be very absurd, that the Father, surrendering his right to govern, should remain unemployed in heaven, like a private person. The answer is easy. This is said both in regard to God and to men; for no change took place in the Father, when he appointed Christ to be supreme King and Lord of heaven and earth; for he is in the Son, and works in him. But since, when we wish to rise to God, all our senses immediately fail, Christ is placed before our eyes as a lively image of the invisible God. There is no reason, therefore, why we should toil to no purpose in exploring the secrets of heaven, since God provides for our weakness by showing himself to be near in the person of Christ; but, on the other hand, whenever the inquiry relates to the government of the world, to our own condition, to the heavenly guardianship of our salvation, let us learn to direct our eyes to Christ alone, as all power is committed to him, (Matthew 28:18,) and in his face God the Father, who would otherwise have been hidden and at a distance, appears to us so that the unveiled majesty of God does not swallow us up by its inconceivable brightness.

23. That all men may honor the Son. This clause sufficiently confirms the suggestion which I threw out a little ago, that when it is said that God reigns in the person of Christ, this does not mean that he reposes in heaven, as indolent kings are wont to do, but because in Christ he manifests his power and shows himself to be present. For what else is the meaning of these words, that all men may honor the Son, but that the Father wishes to be acknowledged and worshipped in the Son? Our duty, therefore, is to seek God the Father in Christ, to behold his power in Christ, and to worship him in Christ. For, as immediately follows, he who honoureth not the Son deprives God of the honor which is due to him. All admit that we ought to worship God, and this sentiment, which is natural to us, is deeply rooted in our hearts, so that no man dares absolutely to refuse to God the honor which is due to him; yet the minds of men lose themselves in going out of the way to seek God. Hence so many pretended deities, hence so many perverse modes of worship. We shall never, therefore, find the true God but in Christ, nor shall we ever worship Him aright but by kissing the Son, as David tells us, (Psalm 2:12;) for, as John elsewhere declares,

He who hath not the Son hath not the Father,
(1 John 2:23.)

Mahometans and Jews do indeed adorn with beautiful and magnificent titles the God whom they worship; but we ought to remember that the name of God, when it is separated from Christ, is nothing else than a vain imagination. Whoever then desires to have his worship approved by the true God, let him not turn aside from Christ. Nor was it otherwise with the Fathers under the Law; for though they beheld Christ darkly under shadows, yet never did God reveal himself out of Christ. But now, since Christ has been manifested in the flesh and appointed to be King over us, the whole world must bend the knee to him, in order to obey God; for the Father having made him sit at his right hand, he who forms a conception of God without Christ takes away the half of him.

24. He that heareth my word. Here is described the way and manner of honoring God, that no one may think that it consists solely in any outward performance, or in frivolous ceremonies. For the doctrine of the Gospel seems as a scepter to Christ, by which he governs believers whom the Father has made his subjects. And this definition is eminently worthy of notice. Nothing is more common than a false profession of Christianity; for even the Papists, who are most inveterate enemies of Christ, do in the most presumptuous manner boast of his name. But here Christ demands from us no other honor than to obey his Gospel. Hence it follows, that all the honor which hypocrites bestow on Christ is but the kiss of Judas, by which he betrayed his Lord. Though they may a hundred times call him King, yet they deprive him of his kingdom and of all power, when they do not exercise faith in the Gospel.

Hath eternal life. By these words he likewise commends the fruit of obedience, that we may be more willing to render it. For who ought to be so hardened as not to submit willingly to Christ, when the reward of eternal life is held out to him? And yet we see how few there are whom Christ gains to himself by so great goodness. So great is our depravity that we choose rather to perish of our own accord than to surrender ourselves to obey the Son of God, that we may be saved by his grace. Both, therefore, are here included by Christ — the robe of devout and sincere worship which he requires from us, and the method by which he restores us to life. For it would not be sufficient to understand what he formerly taught, that he came to raise the dead, unless we also knew the manner in which he restores us to life. Now he affirms that life is obtained by hearing his word, and by the word hearing he means faith, as he immediately afterwards declares. But faith has its seat not in the ears, but in the heart. Whence faith derives so great power, we have formerly explained. We ought always to consider what it is that the Gospel offers to us; for we need not wonder that he who receives Christ with all his merits is reconciled to God, and acquitted of the condemnation of death; and that he who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit is clothed with a heavenly righteousness, that he may walk in newness of life, (Romans 6:6.) The clause which is added, believeth on him who sent him, serves to confirm the authority of the Gospel: when Christ testifies that it came from God, and was not invented by men, as he elsewhere says that what he speaks is not from himself, but was delivered to him by the Father, (John 7:16; 14:10.)

And shall not come into condemnation. There is here an implied contrast between the guilt to which we are all naturally liable, and the unconditional acquittal which we obtain through Christ; for if all were not liable to condemnation, what purpose would it serve to free from it those who believe in Christ? The meaning therefore is, that we are beyond the danger of death, because we are acquitted through the grace of Christ; and, therefore, though Christ sanctifies and regenerates us, by his Spirit, to newness of life, yet here he specially mentions the unconditional forgiveness of sins, in which alone the happiness of men consists. For then does a man begin to live when he has God reconciled to him; and how would God love us, if he did not pardon our sins?

But hath passed. Some Latin copies have this verb in the future tense, will pass from death to life; but this has arisen from the ignorance and rashness of some person who, not understanding the meaning of the Evangelist, has taken more liberty than he ought to have taken; for the Greek word μεταβέβηκε (hath passed) has no ambiguity whatever. There is no impropriety in saying that we have already passed from death to life; for the incorruptible seed of life (1 Peter 1:23) resides in the children of God, and they already sit in the heavenly glory with Christ by hope, (Colossians 3:3,) and they have the kingdom of God already established within them, (Luke 17:21.) For though their life be hidden, they do not on that account cease to possess it by faith; and though they are besieged on every side by faith, they do not cease to be calm on this account, that they know that they are in perfect safety through the protection of Christ. Yet let us remember that believers are now in life in such a manner that they always carry about with them the cause of death; but the Spirit, who dwells in us, is life, which will at length destroy the remains of death; for it is a true saying of Paul, that

death is the last enemy that shall be destroyed,
(1 Corinthians 15:26.)

And, indeed, this passage contains nothing that relates to the complete destruction of death, or the entire manifestation of life. But though life be only begun in us, Christ declares that believers are so certain of obtaining it, that they ought not to fear death; and we need not wonder at this, since they are united to him who is the inexhaustible fountain of life.

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