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John 7:14-19

14. And about the middle of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. 15. And the Jews wondered, saying, How doth this man know letters, since he did not learn them? 16. Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but that of him who sent me. 17. If any man wish to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, if it be of God, or if I speak from myself. 18. He who speaketh from himself seeketh his own glory; but he who seeketh the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is no unrighteousness in him. 19. Did not Moses give you the law, and not one of you keepeth the law? Why do you seek to kill me?

 

14. Jesus went up into the temple. We now see that Christ was not so much afraid as to desist from the execution of his office; for the cause of his delay was, that he might preach to a very large assembly. We may sometimes, therefore, expose ourselves to dangers, but we ought never to disregard or omit a single opportunity of doing good. As to his teaching in the temple, he does so according to the ancient ordinance and custom; for while God commanded so many ceremonies, he did not choose that his people should be occupied with cold and useless spectacles. That their usefulness might be known, it was necessary that they should be accompanied by doctrine; and in this manner, external rites are lively images of spiritual things, when they take their shape from the word of God. But almost all the priests being at that time dumb, and the pure doctrine being corrupted by the leaven and false inventions of the scribes, Christ undertook the office of a teacher; and justly, because he was the great High Priest, as he affirms shortly afterwards, that he attempts nothing but by the command of the Father.

15. And the Jews wondered Those who think that Christ was received in such a manner as to be esteemed and honored are mistaken; for the wonder or astonishment of the Jews is of such a nature, that they seek occasion from it to despise him. For such is the ingratitude of men that, in judging of the works of God, they always seek deliberately an occasion of falling into error. If God acts by the usual means and in the ordinary way, those means which are visible to the eyes are — as it were — veils which hinder us from perceiving the Divine hand; and therefore we discern nothing in them but what is human. But if an unwonted power of God shines above the order of nature and the means generally known, we are stunned; and what ought to have deeply affected all our senses passes away as a dream. For such is our pride, that we take no interest in any thing of which we do not know the reason.

How doth this man know letters? It was an astonishing proof of the power and grace of God, that Christ, who had not been taught by any master, was yet eminently distinguished by his knowledge of the Scriptures; and that he, who had never been a scholar, should be a most excellent teacher and instructor. But for this very reason the Jews despise the grace of God, because it exceeds their capacity. Admonished by their example, therefore, let us learn to exercise deeper reverence for God than we are wont to do in the consideration of his works.

16. My doctrine is not mine. Christ shows that this circumstance, which was an offense to the Jews, was rather a ladder by which they ought to have risen higher to perceive the glory of God; as if he had said, “When you see a teacher not trained in the school of men, know that I have been taught by God.” For the reason why the Heavenly Father determined that his Son should go out of a mechanic’s workshop, rather than from the schools of the scribes, was, that the origin of the Gospel might be more manifest, that none might think that it had been fabricated on the earth, or imagine that any human being was the author of it. Thus also Christ chose ignorant and uneducated men to be his apostles, and permitted them to remain three years in gross ignorance, that, having instructed them in a single instant, he might bring them forward as new men, and even as angels who had just come down from heaven.

But that of him who sent me. Meanwhile, Christ shows whence we ought to derive the authority of spiritual doctrine, from God alone. And when he asserts that the doctrine of his Father is not his, he looks to the capacity of the hearers, who had no higher opinion of him than that he was a man. By way of concession, therefore, he allows himself to be reckoned different from his Father, but so as to bring forward nothing but what the Father had enjoined. The amount of what is stated is, that what he teaches in the name of his Father is not a doctrine of men, and did not proceed from men, so as to be capable of being despised with impunity. We see by what method he procures authority for his doctrine. It is by referring it to God as its Author. We see also on what ground, and for what reason, he demands that he shall be heard. It is, because the Father sent him to teach. Both of these things ought to be possessed by every man who takes upon himself the office of a teacher, and wishes that he should be believed.

17. If any man wish to do his will. He anticipates the objections that might be made. For since he had many adversaries in that place, some one might readily have murmured against him in this manner: “Why dost thou boast to us of the name of God? For we do not know that thou hast proceeded from him. Why, then, dost thou press upon us that maxim, which we do not admit to thee, that thou teachest nothing but by the command of God?” Christ, therefore, replies that sound judgment flows from fear and reverence for God; so that, if their minds be well disposed to the fear of God, they will easily perceive if what he preaches be true or not. He likewise administers to them, by it, an indirect reproof; for how comes it that they cannot distinguish between falsehood and truth, 185185     “Entre la faussete et la verite.” but because they want the principal requisite to sound understanding, namely, piety, and the earnest desire to obey God?

This statement is highly worthy of observation. Satan continually plots against us, and spreads his nets in every direction, that he may take us unawares by his delusions. Here Christ most excellently forewarns us to beware of exposing ourselves to any of his impostures, assuring us that if we are prepared to obey God, he will never fail to illuminate us by the light of his Spirit, so that we shall be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Nothing else, therefore, hinders us from judging aright, but that we are unruly and headstrong; and every time that Satan deceives us, we are justly punished for our hypocrisy. In like manner Moses gives warning that, when false prophets arise, we are tried and proved by God; for they whose hearts are right will never be deceived, (Deuteronomy 13:3.) Hence it is evident how wickedly and foolishly many persons in the present day, dreading the danger of falling into error, by that very dread shut the door against all desire to learn; as if our Savior had not good ground for saying,

Knock, and it shall be opened to you, (Matthew 7:7.)

On the contrary, if we be entirely devoted to obedience to God, let us not doubt that He will give us the spirit of discernment, to be our continual director and guide. If others choose to waver, they will ultimately find how flimsy are the pretences for their ignorance. And, indeed, we see that all who now hesitate, and prefer to cherish their doubt rather than, by reading or hearing, to inquire earnestly where the truth of God is, have the hardihood to set God at defiance by general principles. One man will say that he prays for the dead, because, distrusting his own judgment, he cannot venture to condemn the false doctrines invented by wicked men about purgatory; and yet he will freely allow himself to commit fornication. Another will say that he has not so much acuteness as to be able to distinguish between the pure doctrine of Christ and the spurious contrivances of men, but yet he will have acuteness enough to steal or commit perjury. In short, all those doubters, who cover themselves with a veil of doubt in all those matters which are at present the subject of controversy, display a manifest contempt of God on subjects that are not at all obscure.

We need not wonder, therefore, that the doctrine of the Gospel is received by very few persons in the present day, since there is so little of the fear of God in the world. Besides, these words of Christ contain a definition of true religion; that is, when we are prepared heartily to follow the will of God, which no man can do, unless he has renounced his own views.

Or if I speak from myself. We ought to observe in what manner Christ wishes that a judgment should be formed about any doctrine whatever. He wishes that what is from God should be received without controversy, but freely allows us to reject whatever is from man; for this is the only distinction that he lays down, by which we ought to distinguish between doctrines.

18. He who speaketh from himself. Hitherto he has showed that there is no other reason why men are blind, but because they are not governed by the fear of God. He now puts another mark on the doctrine itself, by which it may be known whether it is of God or of man. For every thing that displays the glory of God is holy and divine; but every thing that contributes to the ambition of men, and, by exalting them, obscures the glory of God, not only has no claim to be believed, but ought to be vehemently rejected. He who shall make the glory of God the object at which he aims will never go wrong; he who shall try and prove by this touchstone what is brought forward in the name of God will never be deceived by the semblance of right. We are also reminded by it that no man can faithfully discharge the office of teacher in the Church, unless he be void of ambition, and resolve to make it his sole object to promote, to the utmost of his power, the glory of God. When he says that there is no unrighteousness in him, he means that there is nothing wicked or hypocritical, but that he does what becomes an upright and sincere minister of God.

19. Did not Moses give you the Law? The Evangelist does not give a full and connected narrative of the sermon delivered by Christ, but only a brief selection of the principal topics, which contain the substance of what was spoken. The scribes mortally hated him, 186186     “Les scribes le haissoyent mortellement.” and the priests had been kindled into rage against him, because he had cured a paralytic; and they professed that this arose from their zeal for the Law. To confute their hypocrisy, he reasons, not from the subject, but from the person. All of them having freely indulged in their vices, as if they had never known any law, he infers from it that they are not moved by any love or zeal for the Law. True, this defense would not have been sufficient to prove the point. Granting that — under a false pretense — they concealed their wicked and unjust hatred, still it does not follow that Christ did right, if he committed any thing contrary to the injunction of the Law; for we must not attempt to extenuate our own blame by the sins of others.

But Christ connects here two clauses. In the former, he addresses the consciences of his enemies, and, since they proudly boasted of being defenders of the Law, he tears from them this mask; for he brings against them this reproach, that they allow themselves to violate the Law as often as they please, and, therefore, that they care nothing about the Law. Next, he comes to the question itself, as we shall afterwards see; so that the defense is satisfactory and complete in all its parts. Consequently, the amount of this clause is, that no zeal for the Law exists in its despisers. Hence Christ infers that something else has excited the Jews to so great rage, when they seek to put him to death. In this manner we ought to drag the wicked from their concealments, whenever they fight against God and sound doctrine, and pretend to do so from pious motives.

Those who, in the present day, are the fiercest enemies of the Gospel and the most strenuous defenders of Popery, have nothing more plausible to urge in their behalf than that they are excited by ardor of zeal. But if their life be narrowly examined, they are all filled with base crimes, and openly mock at God. Who knows not that the Pope’s court is filled with Epicureans? 187187     “Que la cour du Pape est remplie d’Epicuriens.” And as to Bishops and Abbots, have they as much modesty as to conceal their baseness, that some appearance of religion may be observed in them? Again, as to monks and other brawlers, are they not abandoned to all wickedness, to uncleanness, covetousness, and every kind of shocking crimes, so that their life cries aloud that they have altogether forgotten God? And now that they are not ashamed to boast of their zeal for God and the Church, ought we not to repress them by this reply of Christ?


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