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John 12:37-41

37. And though he had done so many signs in their presence, they believed not in him: 38. That the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, Lord, who hath believed our report? 2828     “Qui a creu a nostre ouye, ou, parole?” — “Who hath believed our report, or, speech,?” and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? 39. Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah saith again, 40. He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes, and under- stand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. 41. These things said Isaiah, when he saw his glory, and spoke of him.

 

37. And though he had done so many signs. That no man may be disturbed or perplexed at seeing that Christ was despised by the Jews, the Evangelist removes this offense, by showing that he was supported by clear and undoubted testimonies, which proved that credit was due to him and to his doctrine; but that the blind did not behold the glory and power of God, which were openly displayed in his miracles. First, therefore, we ought to believe that it was not owing to Christ that the Jews did not place confidence in him, because by many miracles he abundantly testified who he was, and that it was therefore unjust and highly unreasonable that their unbelief should diminish his authority. But as this very circumstance might lead many persons to anxious and perplexing inquiry how the Jews came to be so stupid, that the power of God, though visible, produced no effect upon them, John proceeds further, and shows that faith does not proceed from the ordinary faculties of men, but is an uncommon and extraordinary gift of God, and that this was anciently predicted concerning Christ, that very few would believe the Gospel.

38. That the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled. John does not mean that the prediction laid a necessity on the Jews; for Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1; Romans 10:16) uttered nothing but what the Lord revealed to him from the secret treasures of his purpose. Indeed, it must have happened, though the prophet had not spoken of it; but as men would not have known what should take place, if God had not testified by the mouth of the prophet, the Evangelist places before our eyes in the prediction, as in a mirror, what would otherwise have appeared to men obscure and almost incredible.

Lord, who hath believed? This sentence contains two clauses. In the former, Isaiah, having begun to speak of Christ, fore-seeing that all that he proclaims concerning Christ, and all that shall afterwards be made known by the Apostles, will be generally rejected by the Jews, exclaims, as if in astonishment at something strange and monstrous, Lord, who shall believe our report, or, our speech? 2929     “Qui eroira a nostre ouye, ou, a nostre parole?”

To whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? In this second clause he assigns the reason why they are few; and that reason is, that men do not attain it by their own strength, and God does not illuminate all without distinction, but bestows the grace of his Holy Spirit on very few, 3030     “A bien peu ae gens.” And if among the Jews the obstinate unbelief of many ought not to have been an obstacle to believers, though they were few in number, the same argument ought to persuade us, at the present day, not to be ashamed of the Gospel, though it has few disciples. But we ought first to observe the reason which is added, that what makes men believers is not their own sagacity, but the revelation of God. The word arm, it is well known, denotes power. The prophet declares that the arm of God, which is contained in the doctrine of the Gospel, lies hid until it is revealed, and at the same time testifies that all are not indiscriminately partakers of this revelation. Hence it follows, that many are left in their blindness destitute of inward light, because hearing they do not hear, (Matthew 13:13.)

39. Therefore they could not believe. This is somewhat more harsh; because, if the words be taken in their natural meaning, the way was shut up against the Jews, and the power of believing was taken from them, because the prediction of the prophet adjudged them to blindness, before they determined what choice they should make. I reply, there is no absurdity in this, if nothing could happen different from what God had foreseen. But it ought to be observed, that the mere foreknowledge of God is not in itself the cause of events; though, in this passage, we ought to consider not so much the foreknowledge of God as his justice and vengeance. For God declares not what he beholds from heaven that men will do, but what He himself will do; and that is, that he will strike wicked men with giddiness and stupidity, and thus will take vengeance on their obstinate wickedness. In this passage he points out the nearer and inferior cause why God intends that his word, which is in its own nature salutary and quickening, shall be destructive and deadly to the Jews. It is because they deserved it by their obstinate wickedness.

This punishment it was impossible for them to escape, because God had once decreed to give them over to a reprobate mind, and to change the light of his word, so as to make it darkness to them. For this latter prediction differs from the former in this respect, that in the former passage the prophet testifies that none believe but those whom God, of his free grace, enlightens for his own good pleasure, the reason of which does not appear; for since all are equally ruined, God, of his mere good pleasure, distinguishes from others those whom he thinks fit to distinguish. But, in the latter passage, he speaks of the hardness by which God has punished the wickedness of an ungrateful people. They who do not attend to these steps mistake and confound passages of Scripture, which are quite different from each other.

40. He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart. The passage is taken from Isaiah 6:9, where the Lord forewarns the prophet, that the labor which he spends in instructing will lead to no other result than to make the people worse. First then he says, Go, and tell this people, Hearing, hear and do not hear; as if he had said, “I send thee to speak to the deaf.” He afterwards adds, Harden the heart of this people, &c. By these words he means, that he intends to make his word a punishment to the reprobate, that it may render them more thoroughly blind, and that their blindness may be plunged in deeper darkness. It is indeed a dreadful judgment of God, when He overwhelms men by the light of doctrine, in such a manner as to deprive them of all understanding; and when, even by means of that which is their only light, he brings darkness upon them.

But it ought to be observed, that it is accidental to the word of God, that it blinds men; for nothing can be more inconsistent than that there should be no difference between truth and falsehood, that the bread of life should become a deadly poison, and that medicine should aggravate a disease. But this must be ascribed to the wickedness of men, which turns life into death. It ought also to be observed, that sometimes the Lord, by himself, blinds the minds of men, by depriving them of judgment and understanding; sometimes by Satan and false prophets, when he maddens them by their impostures; sometimes. too by his ministers, when the doctrine of salvation is injurious and deadly to them. But provided that prophets labor faithfully in the work of instruction, and commit to the Lord the result of their labor, though they may not succeed to their wish, they ought not to give way or despond. Let them rather be satisfied with knowing that God approves of their labor, though it be useless to men’ and that even the savor of doctrine, which wicked men render deadly to themselves elves, is good and pleasant to God, as Paul testifies, (2 Corinthians 2:15.)

The heart is sometimes in Scripture put for the seat of the affections; but here, as in many other passages, it denotes what is called the intellectual part of the soul. To the same purpose Moses speaks:

God hath not given you a heart to understand,
(Deuteronomy 29:4.)

Lest they should see with their eyes. Let us remember that the prophet speaks of unbelievers who had already rejected the grace of God. It is certain that all would continue to be such by nature, if The Lord did not form to obedience to him those whom he has elected. At first, therefore, the condition of men is equal and alike, but when reprobate men have, of their own accord, and by their own wickedness, rebelled against God, they subject themselves to this vengeance, by which, being given up to a reprobate mind, they continually rush forward more and more to their own destruction. It is their own fault, therefore, if God does not choose to convert them, because they were the cause of their own despair. We are briefly instructed also, by these words of the prophet, what is the beginning of our conversion to God. It is when he enlightens the hearts, which must have been turned away from him, so long as they were held by the darkness of Satan; but, on the contrary, such is the power of Divine light, that it attracts us to itself, and forms us to the image of God.

And I should heal them. He next adds the fruit of conversion, that is, healing. By this word the prophet means the blessing of God and a prosperous condition, and likewise deliverance from all the miseries which spring from the wrath of God. Now, if this happens to the reprobate, contrary to the nature of the word, we ought to attend to the contrast implied in the, opposite use of it; namely, that the purpose for which the word of God is preached is, to enlighten us in the true knowledge of God, to turn us to God, and reconcile us to him, that we may be happy and blessed.

41. These things spoke Jesus. Lest readers should think that this prediction was inappropriately quoted, John expressly states, that the prophet was not sent as a teacher to a single age, but, on the contrary, that the glory of Christ was exhibited to him, that he might be a witness of those things which should take place under his reign. Now the Evangelist takes for granted, that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ; and hence he infers, that Isaiah accommodates his instruction to the future state of Christ’s kingdom.


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