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John 6:26-29

26. Jesus answered them, and said, Verily, verily, I say to you, You seek me, not because you saw miracles, but because you ate of the loaves, and were satisfied. 27. Labour for food, not that which perisheth, but the food which endureth to eternal life, which the Son of man shall give to you; for him hath God the Father sealed. 28. They said therefore to him, What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? 29. Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that you may believe in him whom he hath sent.

 

26. Jesus answered them. Christ does not reply to the question put to him, which would have been fitted to show to them his power in having come thither by a miracle. 134134     “Ce qui eust este propre pour leur monstrer sa puissance, en ce qu’il estoit la venu par miracle.” But, on the contrary, he chides them for throwing themselves forward without consideration; for they were not acquainted with the true and proper reason of what he did, because they sought in Christ something else than Christ himself. The fault which he complains of in them is, that they seek Christ for the sake of the belly and not of the miracles And yet it cannot be denied that they looked to the miracle; nay more, the Evangelist has already told us that they were excited by the miracles to follow Christ. But because they abused the miracles for an improper purpose, he justly reproaches them with having a greater regard to the belly than to miracles. His meaning was, that they did not profit by the works of God as they ought to have done; for the true way of profiting would have been to acknowledge Christ as the Messiah in such a manner as to surrender themselves to be taught and governed by him, and, under his guidance, to aspire to the heavenly kingdom of God. On the contrary, they expect nothing greater from him than to live happily and at ease in this world. This is to rob Christ of his chief power; for the reason why he was given by the Father and revealed himself to men is, that he may form them anew after the image of God by giving them his Holy Spirit, and that he may conduct them to eternal life by clothing them with his righteousness.

It is of great importance, therefore, what we keep in view in the miracles of Christ; for he who does not aspire to the kingdom of God, but rests satisfied with the conveniences of the present life, seeks nothing else than to fill his belly. In like manner, there are many persons in the present day who would gladly embrace the gospel, if it were free from the bitterness of the cross, and if it brought nothing but carnal pleasures. Nay, we see many who make a Christian profession, that they may live in greater gaiety and with less restraint. Some through the expectation of gain, others through fear, and others for the sake of those whom they wish to please, profess to be the disciples of Christ. In seeking Christ, therefore, the chief point is, to despise the world and

seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
(Matthew 6:33.)

Besides, as men very generally impose on themselves, and persuade themselves that they are seeking Christ in the best manner, while they debase the whole of his power, for this reason Christ, in his usual manner, doubles the word verily, as if by the oath he intended to bring to light the vice which lurks under our hypocrisy.

27. Labour for food, not that which perisheth. He shows to what object our desires ought to be directed, namely, to eternal life; but because, in proportion as our understandings are gross, we are always devoted to earthly things, for this reason he corrects that disease which is natural to us, before he points out what we ought to do. The simple doctrine would have been, “Labour to have the incorruptible food;” but, knowing that the senses of men are held bound by earthly cares, he first enjoins them to be loosed and freed from those cords, that they may rise to heaven. Not that he forbids his followers to labor that they may procure daily food; but he shows that the heavenly life ought to be preferred to this earthly life, because the godly have no other reason for living here than that, being sojourners in the world, they may travel rapidly towards their heavenly country.

Next, we ought to see what is the present question; for, since the power of Christ is debased by those who are devoted to the belly and to earthly things, he argues what we ought to seek in him, and why we ought to seek it. He employs metaphors adapted to the circumstances in which his sermon was delivered. If food had not been mentioned, he would have said, without a figure, “You ought to lay aside anxiety about the world, and strive to obtain the heavenly life.” But as those men were running to their fodder like cattle, without looking to anything better, 135135     “Sans regarder a rien de meilleur.” Christ presents his sermon in a metaphorical dress, and gives the name of food to everything that belongs to newness of life. We know that our souls are fed by the doctrine of the gospel, when it is efficacious in us by the power of the Spirit; and, therefore, as faith is the life of the soul, all that nourishes and promotes faith is compared to food

Which endureth to eternal life. This kind of food he calls incorruptible, and says that it endureth to eternal life, in order to inform us that our souls are not fed for a day, but are nourished in the expectation of a blessed immortality; because the Lord

commences the work of our salvation, that he may perform it till the day of Christ, (Philippians 1:6.)

For this reason we must receive the gifts of the Spirit, that they may be earnests and pledges of eternal life. For, though the reprobate, after having tasted this food, frequently reject it, so that it is not permanent in them, yet believing souls feel that enduring power, when they are made partakers of the power of the Holy Spirit in his gifts, which is not of short duration, but, on the contrary, never fails.

It is a frivolous exercise of ingenuity to infer, as some do, from the word labor or work, that we merit eternal life by our works; for Christ metaphorically exhorts men, as we have said, to apply their minds earnestly to meditation on the heavenly life, instead of cleaving to the world, as they are wont to do; and Christ himself removes every doubt, when he declares that it is he who giveth the food; for what we obtain by his gift no man procures by his own industry. There is undoubtedly some appearance of contradiction in these words; but we may easily reconcile these two statements, that the spiritual food of the soul is the free gift of Christ, and that we must strive with all the affections of our heart to become partakers of so great a blessing.

For him hath God the Father sealed. He confirms the preceding statement, by saying that he was appointed to us for that purpose by the Father. The ancient writers have misinterpreted and tortured this passage, by maintaining that Christ is said to be sealed, because he is the stamp and lively image of the Father. For he does not here enter into abstruse discussions about his eternal essence, but explains what he has been commissioned and enjoined to do, what is his office in relation to us, and what we ought to seek and expect from him. By an appropriate metaphor, he alludes to an ancient custom; for they sealed with signets what they intended to sanction by their authority. Thus Christ — that it may not appear as if he claimed anything of himself, or by private authority 136136     “A fin qu’il ne semble que Christ vueille de soy-mesme et d’une authorite privee s’attribuer quelque chose.” — declares that this office was enjoined on him by the Father, and that this decree of the Father was manifested, as if a seal had been engraven on him. It may be summed up thus: As it is not every person who has the ability or the right 137137     “Que ce n’est pas une chose facile et commune a chacun.” to feed souls with incorruptible food, Christ appears in public, and, while he promises that he will be the Author of so great a blessing, he likewise adds that he is approved by God, and that he has been sent to men with this mark, which is, as it were, God’s seal or signet 138138     “Qui est comme le seau ou cachet de Dieu.”

Hence it follows that the desire of those who shall present their souls to Christ, to be fed by him, will not be disappointed. Let us know, therefore, that life is exhibited to us in Christ, in order that each of us may aspire to it, not at random, but with certainty of success. We are, at the same time, taught that all who bestow this praise on any other than Christ are guilty of falsehood before God. Hence it is evident that the Papists, in every part of their doctrine, are altogether liars; for as often as they invent any means of salvation in the room of Christ, so often do they — by erasing, as it were, the impression which has been made — spoil and deface, with wicked presumption and base treachery, this seal of God, which alone is authentic. That we may not fall into so dreadful a condemnation, let us learn to keep pure and entire for Christ all that the Father has given to him.

28. What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? The multitude understood well enough that Christ had exhorted them to aim at something higher than the conveniences of the present life, and that they ought not to confine their attention to the earth, since God calls them to more valuable blessings. But, in putting this question, they are partly mistaken by not understanding the kind of labor; for they do not consider that God bestows upon us, by the hand of the Son, all that is necessary for spiritual life. First, they ask what they ought to do; and next, when they use the expression, the works of God, they do not understand what they say, and talk without any definite object. 139139     “Ils n’entendent point ce qu’ils disent, et parlent sans certain but.” In this manner they manifest their ignorance of the grace of God. And yet they appear here to murmur disdainfully against Christ, as if he were accusing them groundlessly. “Dost thou suppose,” say they, “that we have no solicitude about eternal life? Why, then, dost thou enjoin us to do what is beyond our power?” By the works of God we must understand those which God demands, and of which he approves.

29. The work of God is this. They had spoken of works Christ reminds them of one work, that is, faith; by which he means that all that men undertake without faith is vain and useless, but that faith alone is sufficient, because this alone does God require from us, that we believe For there is here an implied contrast between faith and the works and efforts of men; as if he had said, Men toil to no purpose, when they endeavor to please God without faith, because, by running, as it were, out of the course, they do not advance towards the goal. This is a remarkable passage, showing that, though men torment themselves wretchedly throughout their whole life, still they lose their pains, if they have not faith in Christ as the rule of their life. Those who infer from this passage that faith is the gift of God are mistaken; for Christ does not now show what God produces in us, but what he wishes and requires from us.

But we may think it strange that God approves of nothing but faith alone; for the love of our neighbor ought not to be despised, and the other exercises of religion do not lose their place and honor. So then, though faith may hold the highest rank, still other works are not superfluous. The reply is easy; for faith does not exclude either the love of our neighbor or any other good work, because it contains them all within itself. Faith is called the only work of God, because by means of it we possess Christ, and thus become the sons of God, so that he governs us by his Spirit. So then, because Christ does not separate faith from its fruits, we need not wonder if he make it to be the first and the last. 140140     “Proram et puppim,” literally, “stem and stern,” a Latin idiom for the whole. The Author’s French version (ed. 1558) renders the clause, “il ne se faut point esbahir s’il constitue en elle la fin et le commencement;” — “we must not be astonished if he makes it to be the end and the beginning;” and in ed. 1564, it runs thus, “ce n’est pas merveille que la foy est tout ce que Dieu requiert;” — “it is not wonderful that faith is all that God requires.”

That you believe in him whom he hath sent. What is the import of the word believe, we have explained under the Third Chapter. It ought always to be remembered that, in order to have a full perception of the power of faith, we must understand what Christ is, in whom we believe, and why he was given to us by the Father. It is idle sophistry, under the pretext of this passage, to maintain that we are justified by works, if faith justifies, because it is likewise called a work First, it is plain enough that Christ does not speak with strict accuracy, when he calls faith a work, just as Paul makes a comparison between the law of faith and the law of works, (Romans 3:27.) Secondly, when we affirm that men are not justified by works, we mean works by the merit of which men may obtain favor with God. Now faith brings nothing to God, but, on the contrary, places man before God as empty and poor, that he may be filled with Christ and with his grace. It is, therefore, if we may be allowed the expression, a passive work, to which no reward can be paid, and it bestows on man no other righteousness than that which he receives from Christ.


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