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John 6:52-58

52. The Jews therefore debated among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 53. Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have not life in you. 54. He who eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55. For my flesh is truly food, and my blood is truly drink. 56. He who eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 57. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live on account of my Father; and he who eateth me, even he shall live for my sake. 58. This is the bread which hath come down from heaven; not as your fathers ate manna, and are dead; he who eateth this bread shall live for ever.

 

52. The Jews therefore debated among themselves. He again mentions the Jews, not by way of honor, but to reproach them with their unbelief, because they do not receive the well known doctrine concerning eternal life, or, at least, do not inquire modestly into the subject, if it be still obscure and doubtful. For when he says that they debated, it is a sign of obstinacy and contempt; and those who dispute so keenly do, indeed, block up against themselves the road to the knowledge of the truth. And yet the blame imputed to them is not simply that they inquired into the manner; for the same blame would fall on Abraham and the blessed Virgin, (Genesis 15:2; Luke 1:34.) Those persons, therefore, are either led astray through ignorance, or are deficient in candour, who, without taking into account the hardihood and eagerness to quarrel, which alone the Evangelist condemns, direct all their outcry against the word how; as if it had not been lawful for the Jews to inquire about the manner of eating the flesh of Christ 158158     “De manger la chair de Christ.” But it ought rather to be imputed to sloth than ascribed to the obedience of faith, if we knowingly and willingly leave unsolved those doubts and difficulties which are removed for us by the word of the Lord. Not only is it lawful, therefore, to inquire as to the manner of eating the flesh of Christ, but it is of great importance for us to understand it, so far as it is made known by the Scriptures. Away, then, with that fierce and obstinate pretense of humility, “For my part, I am satisfied with that single word of Christ, when he declares that his flesh is truly food: to all the rest I willingly shut my eyes.” As if heretics would not have equal plausibility on their side, if they willingly were ignorant that Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, because, believing that he is the seed of Abraham, they make no farther inquiry. Only we ought to preserve such moderation about the secret works of God, as not to desire to know anything more than what he determines by his word.

53. Verily, verily, I say to you. The just resentment which Christ felt, 159159     “Un juste despit que Christ a conceu.” when he saw his grace rejected with such haughty disdain, constrained him to employ this oath. For he does not now make use of simple doctrine, but likewise mingles threatenings for the purpose of striking terror. He denounces eternal perdition against all who refuse to seek life from his flesh; as if he had said, “If you hold my flesh in contempt, rest assured that there remains for you no other hope of life.” The vengeance that awaits all despisers of the grace of Christ is, that with their pride they miserably perish; and the reason why they must be urged with plainness and severity is, that they may not continue to flatter themselves. For if we threaten with death those diseased persons who refuse to take medicines, what must we do with wicked men, when they strive, as far as lies in their power, to destroy life itself?

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man. When he says, the flesh of the Son of man, the expression is emphatic; for he reproves them for their contempt, which arose from perceiving that he resembled other men. The meaning therefore is: “Despise me as much as you please, on account of the mean and despicable appearance of my flesh, still that despicable flesh contains life; and if you are destitute of it, you will nowhere else find any thing else to quicken you.”

The ancients fell into a gross error by supposing that little children were deprived of eternal life, if they did not dispense to them the eucharist, that is, the Lord’s Supper; 160160     “C’est a dire, la Cene.” for this discourse does not relate to the Lord’s Supper, but to the uninterrupted communication of the flesh of Christ, 161161     “De la chair de Christ.” which we obtain apart from the use of the Lord’s Supper. Nor were the Bohemians in the right, when they adduced this passage to prove that all without exception ought to be admitted to the use of the cup. With respect to young children, the ordinance of Christ forbids them to partake of the Lord’s Supper; because they are not yet able to know or to celebrate the remembrance of the death of Christ. The same ordinance makes the cup common to all, for it commands us all to drink of it, (Matthew 26:27.)

54. He who eateth my flesh. This is a repetition, but is not superfluous; for it confirms what was difficult to be believed, That souls feed on his flesh and blood, in precisely the same manner that the body is sustained by eating and drinking Accordingly, as he lately testified that nothing but death remains for all who seek life anywhere else than in his flesh, so now he excites all believers 162162     “Tous les fideles.” to cherish good hope, while he promises to them life in the same flesh.

And I will raise him up at the last day. It ought to be observed, that Christ so frequently connects the resurrection with eternal life, because our salvation will be hidden till that day. No man, therefore, can perceive what Christ bestows on us, unless, rising above the world, he places before his eyes the last resurrection From these words, it plainly appears that the whole of this passage is improperly explained, as applied to the Lord’s Supper. For if it were true that all who present themselves at the holy table of the Lord are made partakers of his flesh and blood, all will, in like manner, obtain life; but we know that there are many who partake of it to their condemnation. And indeed it would have been foolish and unreasonable to discourse about the Lord’s Supper, before he had instituted it. It is certain, then, that he now speaks of the perpetual and ordinary manner of eating the flesh of Christ, which is done by faith only. 163163     “De la maniere perpetuelle et ordinaire de manger la chair de Christ, qui se fait par la foy seulement.” And yet, at the same time, I acknowledge that there is nothing said here that is not figuratively represented, and actually bestowed on believers, in the Lord’s Supper; and Christ even intended that the holy Supper should be, as it were, a seal and confirmation 164164     “Comme nn seau et confirmation.” of this sermon. This is also the reason why the Evangelist John makes no mention of the Lord’s Supper; and therefore Augustine follows the natural order, when, in explaining this chapter, he does not touch on the Lord’s Supper till he comes to the conclusion; and then he shows that this mystery is symbolically represented, whenever the Churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in some places daily, and in other places only on the Lord’s day.

55. For my flesh is truly food. He confirms the same statement by other words, “As the body is weakened and consumed by the want of food, so the soul, if it be not fed with heavenly bread, will soon perish with hunger.” For when he declares that his flesh is truly food, he means that souls are famished, if they want that food. Then only wilt thou find life in Christ, when thou shalt seek the nourishment of life in his flesh. Thus we ought to boast, with Paul, that we reckon nothing to be excellent but Christ crucified; because, as soon as we have departed from the sacrifice of his death, we meet with nothing but death; nor is there any other road that conducts us to a perception of his Divine power than through his death and resurrection. Embrace Christ, therefore, as the Servant of the Father, (Isaiah 42:1,) that he may show himself to thee to be the Prince of life, (Acts 3:15.) For when he emptied himself, (Philippians 2:7,) in this manner we were enriched with abundance of all blessings; his humiliation and descent into hell raised us to heaven; and, by enduring the curse of his cross, he erected the banner of our righteousness as a splendid memorial of his victory. 165165     “Il a dresse l’enseigne de nostre justice comme un memorial magnifique de sa victoire.” Consequently, they are false expounders of the mystery of the Lord’s Supper, 166166     “Ceux-la donc ne sont pas bons et droicts expositeurs du mystere de la Cene.” who draw away souls from the flesh of Christ.

And my blood is truly drink. But why does Christ mention his blood separately, when it is included in the word flesh? I reply, he did so in condescension to our weakness. For when he expressly mentions food and drink, he declares that the life which he bestows is complete in every respect, that we may not imagine to ourselves a life which is only half or imperfect; as if he had said, that we shall want nothing that belongs to life, provided that we eat his flesh and drink his blood. Thus also in the Lord’s Supper, which corresponds to this doctrine, not satisfied with the symbol of the bread, he adds also the cup, that, having in him a twofold pledge, we may learn to be satisfied with him alone; for never will a man find a part of life in Christ, until he has entire and complete life in him.

56. He who eateth my flesh. This is another confirmation; for while he alone has life in himself, he shows how we may enjoy it, that is, by eating his flesh; as if he had affirmed that there is no other way in which he can become ours, than by our faith being directed to his flesh. For no one will ever come to Christ as God, who despises him as man; and, therefore, if you wish to have any interest in Christ, you must take care, above all things, that you do not disdain his flesh.

Dwelleth in me, and I in him. When he says that he dwelleth in us, the meaning is the same as if he had said, that the only bond of union, and the way by which he becomes one with us, is, when our faith relies on his death. We may likewise infer from it, that he is not now speaking of the outward symbol, which many unbelievers receive equally with believers, and yet continue separated from Christ. It enables us also to refute the dream of those who say, that Judas received the body of Christ as well as the other apostles, when Christ gave the bread to all; for as it is a display of ignorance to limit this doctrine to the outward sign, so we ought to remember what I have formerly said, that the doctrine which is here taught is sealed in the Lord’s Supper. Now, it is certain, in the first place, that Judas never was a member of Christ; secondly, it is highly unreasonable to imagine the flesh of Christ to be dead and destitute of the Holy Spirit; and, lastly, it is a mockery to dream of any way of eating the flesh of Christ without faith, since faith alone is the mouth — so to speak — and the stomach of the soul.

57. As the living Father hath sent me. Hitherto Christ has explained the manner in which we must become partakers of life. He now comes to speak of the principal cause, for the first source of life is in the Father. But he meets an objection, for it might be thought that he took away from God what belonged to him, when he made himself the cause of life. He makes himself, therefore, to be the Author of life, in such a manner, as to acknowledge that there was another who gave him what he administers to others.

Let us observe, that this discourse also is accommodated to the capacity of those to whom Christ was speaking; for it is only with respect to his flesh that he compares himself to the Father. For though the Father is the beginning of life, yet the eternal Word himself is strictly life But the eternal Divinity of Christ is not the present subject; for he exhibits himself such as he was manifested to the world, clothed with our flesh.

I also live on account of the Father. This does not apply to his Divinity simply, nor does it apply to his human nature simply and by itself, but it is a description of the Son of God manifested in the flesh. Besides, we know that it is not unusual with Christ to ascribe to the Father every thing Divine which he had in himself. It must be observed, however, that he points out here three degrees of life. In the first rank is the living Father, who is the source, but remote and hidden. Next follows the Son, who is exhibited to us as an open fountain, and by whom life flows to us. The third is, the life which we draw from him. We now perceive what is stated to amount to this, that God the Father, in whom life dwells, is at a great distance from us, and that Christ, placed between us, is the second cause of life, in order that what would otherwise be concealed in God may proceed from him to us.

58. This is the bread which came down from heaven. He returns to the comparison between the manna and his flesh, with which he had begun; for it was necessary that he should close the sermon in this manner: “There is no reason why you should prefer Moses to me, because he fed your fathers in the wilderness; since I supply you with far more excellent food, for I bring heavenly life with me.” For — as was formerly said — the bread is said to have come down from heaven, because it has nothing earthly or corruptible in its nature, but breathes the immortality of the kingdom of God. They who were only bent on feeding the belly, did not find such virtue in the manna; for while the manna had a twofold use, the Jews, with whom Christ is now disputing, beheld in it nothing else than bodily food. But the life of the soul is not fading, but makes continual progress until the whole man is renewed.


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