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John 7:37-39

37. Now on the last day, which was the greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood, and exclaimed, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. 38. He who believeth in me, as the Scripture saith, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39 But this he spoke of the Spirit which they who believed in him were to receive. For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

 

37. On the last day. The first thing that ought to be observed here is, that no plots or intrigues of enemies terrified Christ, so as to cause him to desist from his duty; but, on the contrary, his courage rose with dangers, so that he persevered with greater firmness. This is proved by the circumstance of the time, the crowded assembly, and the freedom he used in exclaiming, while he knew that hands were stretched out on all sides to seize him; for it is probable that the officers were at that time ready to execute their commission.

We must next observe, that nothing else than the protection of God, on which he relied, enabled him to stand firm against such violent efforts of those men, who had every thing in their power. For what other reason can be assigned why Christ preached on the most public day of the festival, in the midst of the temple, over which his enemies enjoyed a quiet reign, and after that they had prepared a band of officers, but because God restrained their rage? Yet it is highly useful to us, that the Evangelist introduces Christ exclaiming aloud, Let all who thirst come to me For we infer from it that the invitation was not addressed to one or two persons only, or in a low and gentle whisper, but that this doctrine is proclaimed to all, in such a manner that none may be ignorant of it, but those who, of their own accord shutting their ears, will not receive this loud and distinct cry.

If any man thirst. By this clause he exhorts all to partake of his blessings, provided that, from a conviction of their own poverty, they desire to obtain assistance. For it is true that we are all poor and destitute of every blessing, but it is far from being true that all are roused by a conviction of their poverty to seek relief. Hence it arises that many persons do not stir a foot, but wretchedly wither and decay, and there are even very many who are not affected by a perception of their emptiness, until the Spirit of God, by his own fire, kindle hunger and thirst in their hearts. It belongs to the Spirit, therefore, to cause us to desire his grace.

As to the present passage, we ought to observe, first, that none are called to obtain the riches of the Spirit but those who burn with the desire of them. For we know that the pain of thirst is most acute and tormenting, so that the very strongest men, and those who can endure any amount of toil, are overpowered by thirst. And yet he invites the thirsty rather than the hungry, in order to pursue the metaphor which he afterwards employs in the word water and the word drink, that all the parts of the discourse may agree with each other. And I have no doubt that he alludes to that passage in Isaiah, All that thirst, come to the waters, (Isaiah 55:1.) For what the Prophet there ascribes to God must have been at length fulfilled in Christ, as also that which the blessed Virgin sung, that

those who are rich and full he sendeth empty away,
(Luke 1:53.)

He therefore enjoins us to come direct to himself, as if he had said, that it is he alone who can fully satisfy the thirst of all, and that all who seek even the smallest alleviation of their thirst anywhere else are mistaken, and labor in vain.

And let him drink. To the exhortation a promise is added; for though the wordlet him drink — conveys an exhortation, still it contains within itself a promise; because Christ testifies that he is not a dry and worn-out cistern, but an inexhaustible fountain, which largely and abundantly supplies all who will come to drink Hence it follows that, if we ask from him what we want, our desire will not be disappointed.

38. He who believeth in me. He now points out the manner of coming, which is, that we must approach, not with the feet, but by faith; or rather, to come is nothing else than to believe, at least, if you define accurately the word believe; as we have already said that we believe in Christ, when we embrace him as he is held out to us in the Gospel, full of power, wisdom, righteousness, purity, life, and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Besides, he now confirms more plainly and fully the promise which we lately mentioned; for he shows that he has a rich abundance to satisfy us to the full.

Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. The metaphor appears, no doubt, to be somewhat harsh, when he says that rivers of living water shall flow out of the belly of believers; but there can be no doubt as to the meaning, that they who believe shall suffer no want of spiritual blessings. He calls it living water, the fountain of which never grows dry, nor ceases to flow continually. As to the word rivers being in the plural number, I interpret it as denoting the diversified graces of the Spirit, which are necessary for the spiritual life of the soul. In short, the perpetuity, as well as the abundance, of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, 195195     “Des dons et graces du Sainct Esprit.” is here promised to us. Some understand the saying — that waters flow out of the belly of believers — to mean, that he to whom the Spirit has been given makes a part to flow to his brethren, as there ought to be mutual communication between us. But I consider it to be a simpler meaning, that whosoever shall believe in Christ shall have a fountain of life springing up, as it were, in himself, as Christ said formerly,

He who shall drink of this water shall never thirst,
(John 4:14;)

for while ordinary drinking quenches thirst only for a short time, Christ says that by faith we draw the Spirit, that he may become a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life

Still he does not say that, on the first day, believers are so fully satisfied with Christ, that ever afterwards they neither hunger nor thirst; but, on the contrary, the enjoyment of Christ kindles a new desire of him. But the meaning is, that the Holy Spirit is like a living and continually flowing fountain in believers; as Paul also declares that he is life in us, (Romans 8:10,) though we still carry about, in the remains of sin, the cause of death. And, indeed, as every one partakes of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, according to the measure of his faith, we cannot possess a perfect fullness of them in the present life. But believers, while they make progress in faith, continually aspire to fresh additions of the Spirit, so that the first-fruits which they have tasted carry them forward to perpetuity of life. But we are also reminded by it, how small is the capacity of our faith, since the graces of the Spirit scarcely come into us by drops, which would flow like rivers, if we gave due admission to Christ; that is, if faith made us capable of receiving him.

As the Scripture saith. Some confine this to the former clause, and others to the latter clause; for my own part, I extend it to the entire scope of the discourse. Besides, Christ does not here, in my opinion, point out any particular passage of Scripture, but produces a testimony drawn from the ordinary doctrine of the Prophets. For whenever the Lord, promising an abundance of his Spirit, compares it to living waters, he looks principally to the kingdom of Christ, to which he directs the minds of believers. All the predictions of living waters, therefore, have their fulfillment in Christ, because he alone hath opened and displayed the hidden treasures of God. The reason why the graces of the Spirit are poured out on him is,

that we may all draw out of his fullness, (John 1:16.)

Those persons, therefore, whom Christ so kindly and graciously calls, and who wander in every direction, deserve to perish miserably.

39. But this he spoke of the Spirit. The word water is sometimes applied to the Spirit on account of its purity, because it is his office to cleanse our pollutions; but in this and similar passages this term is employed in a different acceptation, which is, that we are destitute of all the sap and moisture of life, unless when the Spirit of God quickens us, and when he waters us, as it were, by secret vigor. Under one part he includes the whole; 196196     “Sous une partie il comprend le tout.” for under the one word water he includes all the parts of life. Hence we infer also, that all who have not been regenerated by the Spirit of Christ ought to be reckoned dead, whatever may be the pretended life of which they boast.

For the Holy Spirit was not yet given. We know that the Spirit is eternal; but the Evangelist declares that, so long as Christ dwelt in the world in the mean form of a servant, that grace of the Spirit, which was poured out on men after the resurrection of Christ, had not been openly manifested. And, indeed, he speaks comparatively, in the same manner as when the New Testament is compared to the Old. God promises his Spirit to his elect and believers, 197197     “A ses eleus et fideles.” as if he had never given him to the Fathers. At that very time, the disciples had undoubtedly received the first-fruits of the Spirit; for whence comes faith but from the Spirit? The Evangelist, therefore, does not absolutely affirm that the grace of the Spirit was not offered and given 198198     “Offerte et donnee.” to believers before the death of Christ, but that it was not yet so bright and illustrious as it would afterwards become. For it is the highest ornament of the kingdom of Christ, that he governs his Church by his Spirit; but he entered into the lawful and — what may be called — the solemn possession of his kingdom, when he was exalted to the right hand of the Father; so that we need not wonder if he delayed till that time the full manifestation of the Spirit.

But one question still remains to be answered. Does he mean here the visible graces of the Spirit, or the regeneration which is the fruit of adoption? I answer: The Spirit, who had been promised at the coming of Christ, appeared in those visible gifts, as in mirrors; but here the question relates strictly to the power of the Spirit, by which we are born again in Christ, and become new creatures. That we lie on earth poor, and famished, and almost destitute of spiritual blessings, while Christ now sits in glory at the right hand of the Father, and clothed with the highest majesty of government, ought to be imputed to our slothfulness, and to the small measure of our faith.


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