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John 12:42-46

42. Nevertheless, many of the rulers believed on him, but on account of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be cast out of the synagogue. 43. For they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God. 44. And Jesus stood, and said, He who believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him who sent me; 45. And he who seeth me seeth him that sent me. 46. I am come into the world as a light, that whosoever believeth on me may not remain in darkness.

 

Nevertheless, many even of the rulers believed on Him. The murmuring and fierceness of the Jews, in rejecting Christ, having risen to such a height of insolence, it might have been thought that all the people, without exception, conspired against him. But the Evangelist says that, amidst the general madness of the nation, there were many who were of a sound mind. A striking instance, truly, of the grace of God; for, when ungodliness has once prevailed, it is a sort of universal plague, which infects with its contagion every part of the body. It is therefore a remarkable gift, and special grace of God, when, amidst a people so corrupt, there are some who remain untainted. And yet we now perceive in the world the same grace of God; for though ungodliness and contempt of God abound everywhere, and though a vast multitude of men make furious attempts to exterminate utterly the doctrine of the Gospel, yet it always finds some places of retreat; and thus faith has — what may be called — its harbors or places of refuge, that it may not be entirely banished from the world.

The word even is emphatic; for in the order of the rulers, there existed so deep and inveterate a hatred of the Gospel, that it could scarcely be believed that a single believer could be found amongst them. So much the greater admiration was due to the power of the Spirit of God, which entered where no opening was made; though it was not a vice, peculiar to a single age, that rulers were rebellious and disobedient to Christ; for honor, and wealth, and high rank, are usually accompanied by pride. The consequence is, that they who, swelled with arrogance, scarcely acknowledge themselves to be men, are not easily subdued by voluntary humility. Whoever, then, holds a high station in the world, will, if he is wise, look with suspicion on his rank, that it may not stand in his way. When the Evangelist says that there were many, this must not be understood as if they were the majority or the half; for, as compared with others who were vastly numerous, they were few, but yet they were many, when viewed in themselves.

On account of the Pharisees. It may be thought that he speaks incorrectly, when he separates faith from confession; for

with the heart we believe to righteousness,
and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation,
(Romans 10:10)

and it is impossible that the faith, which has been kindled in the heart, shall not put forth its flame. I reply, he points out here how weak was the faith of those men who were so lukewarm, or rather cold. In short, John means that they embraced the doctrine of Christ, because they knew that it had come from God, but that they have not a lively faith, or a faith so vigorous as it ought to have been; for Christ does not grant to his followers a spirit of fear, but of firmness, that they may boldly and fearlessly confess what they have learned from him. Yet I do not think that they were altogether silent; but as their confession was not sufficiently open, the Evangelist, in my opinion, simply declares that they did not make profession of their faith; for the proper kind of profession was, openly to declare that they were the disciples of Christ. Let no man, therefore, flatter himself who, in any respect, conceals or dissembles his faith for fear of incurring the hatred of men; for however hateful the name of Christ may be, that cowardice which compels us to turn aside, in the smallest degree, from the confession of him, admits of no excuse.

It must also be observed, that rulers have less rigor and firmness, because ambition almost always reigns in them, which is the most slavish of all dispositions; and, to express it in a single word, earthly honors may be said to be golden fetters, which bind a man, so that he cannot perform his duty with freedom. On this account, persons who are placed in a low and mean condition ought to bear their lot with the greater patience, for they are, at least, delivered from many very bad snares. Yet the great and noble ought to struggle against their high rank, that it may not hinder them from submitting to Christ.

John says that they were afraid of the Pharisees; not that the other scribes and priests freely permitted any man to call himself a disciple of Christ, but because, under the semblance of zeal, cruelty burned in them with greater fierceness. Zeal, in defending religion, is, indeed, an excellent virtue; but if hypocrisy be added to it, no plague can be more dangerous. So much the more earnestly ought we to entreat the Lord to guide us by the unerring rule of his Spirit.

Lest they should be thrown out of the synagogue. This was what hindered them, the fear of disgrace; for they would have been thrown out of the synagogue. Hence we see how great is the perversity of men, which not only corrupts and debases the best of God’s ordinances, but turns them into destructive tyranny. Excommunication ought to have been the sinew of holy discipline, that punishment might be ready to be inflicted, if any person despised the Church. But matters had come to such a pitch, that any one who confessed that he belonged to Christ was banished from the society of believers. In like manner, at the present day, the Pope, in order to exercise the same kind of tyranny, falsely pretends to a right of excommunicating, and not only thunders with blind rage against all the godly, but endeavors to cast down Christ from his heavenly throne; and yet he does not hesitate impudently to hold out the right of sacred jurisdiction, with which Christ has adorned his Church.

43. For they loved the glory of men. The Evangelist expressly states that those men were not guided by any superstition, but only endeavored to avoid disgrace among men; for if ambition had greater influence over them than the fear of God, it follows, that it was no vain scruple of conscience that gave them uneasiness. Now, let the reader observe how great ignominy is incurred before God, by the cowardice of those who, from the fear of being hated, dissemble their faith before men. Can any thing be more foolish, or rather, can any thing be more beastly, than to prefer the silly applause of men to the judgment of God? But he declares that all who shrink from the hatred of men, when the pure faith ought to be confessed, are seized with this kind of madness. And justly; for the apostle, in applauding the unshaken steadiness of Moses, says that

he remained firm, as if he had seen him who is invisible,
(Hebrews 11:27.)

By these words he means that, when any person has fixed his eyes on God, his heart will be invincible, and utterly incapable of being moved.

Whence, therefore, comes the effeminacy 3131     “D’ou vient done la delicatesse?” , which causes us to give way to treacherous hypocrisy, but because, at the sight of the world, all our senses grow dull? For a true sight of God would instantly chase away all the mists of wealth and honors. Away with those who look upon an indirect denial of Christ as some trivial offense, or, as they call it, a venial sin! For, on the contrary, the Holy Spirit declares that it is more base and monstrous than if heaven and earth were mingled.

To love the glory of men means, in this passage, to desire to enjoy reputation among men. The Evangelist, therefore, means, that those men were so much devoted to the world, that they were more desirous to please men than to please God. Besides, when he accuses of this crime those who denied Christ, he, at the same time, shows that the excommunication, which the priests abused, contrary to all that was right and lawful, had no value or efficacy. Let us know, therefore, that all the excommunications which the Pope now mutters against us are mere bugbears to frighten children, 3232     “Ne sont qu’espouvantemens de petits enfants.” since we are fully convinced, in our own consciences, that he aims at nothing else than to lead us away from Christ.

44. And Jesus cried. The object of Christ, in this statement, is to encourage his followers to a proper and unshaken steadfastness of faith; but it contains also an implied reproof, by which he intended to correct that perverse fear. The cry is expressive of vehemence; for it is not a simple doctrine, but an exhortation intended to excite them more powerfully. The statement amounts to this, that faith in Christ does not rely on any mortal man, but on God; for it finds in Christ nothing but what is divine, or rather, it beholds God in his face. Hence he infers, that it is foolish and unreasonable for faith to be wavering or doubtful; for it is impossible to offer a greater insult to God, than not to rely on his truth. Who is it then that has duly profited by the Gospel? It is he who, relying or this confidence, that he does not believe men but God, quietly and steadily contends against all the machinations of Satan. If, then, we would render to God the honor due to him, we must learn to remain firm in faith, not only though the world were shaken, but even though Satan should disturb and overturn all that is under heaven.

He that believeth on me believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. Believers are said not to believe on Christ, when they do not fix their whole attention on his human countenance. Comparing himself with the Father, he bids us look at the power of God; for the weakness of the flesh has no firmness in

itself. When we shall, afterwards, find him exhorting the disciples to believe on him, it will be in a different sense; for, in that passage, God is not contrasted with man, but Christ is brought forward with all his gifts and graces 3333     “Avec toutes ses graces et dons.” which ought to be sufficient for upholding our faith.

45. And he who seeth me. The word see is here taken for knowledge; for, in order to give true and thorough tranquillity to our consciences, which would otherwise have been constantly liable to various agitations, he sends us to the Father. The reason why the stability of faith is firm and secure is, that it is stronger than the world, and is above the world. 3434     “Pource qu’elle est plus forte que le monde, et pardessus le monde.” Now, when Christ is truly known, the glory of God shines in him, that we may be fully persuaded that the faith which we have in him does not depend on man, but that it is founded on the eternal God; for it rises from the flesh of Christ to his Divinity. And, if it be so, not only must it be fixed perpetually in our hearts, but it must likewise show itself boldly in the tongue, when it is necessary.

46. I am come into the world as a light. In order to render his disciples more bold and persevering, he proceeds still farther in maintaining the certainty of faith. And, first, he testifies that he came into the world to be a light, by which men might be delivered from darkness and errors; and, at the same time, he points out the means of obtaining so great a benefit, when he says, that whosoever believeth in me may not remain in darkness. Besides, he accuses of ingratitude all who, after having been taught by the Gospel, do not separate themselves from unbelievers; for the higher the excellence of this benefit, of being called from darkness to light, the less excusable are they who, through their indolence or carelessness, quench the light that had been kindled in them.

The words, I am come into the world as a light, are highly emphatic; for though Christ was a light from the beginning, yet there is a good reason why he adorns himself with this title, that he has come to perform the part of a light. That we may perceive distinctly the various steps, he shows, first, that he is a light to others rather than to himself; secondly, that he is a light, not only to angels, but also to men; thirdly, that he was manifested in the flesh, in order that he might shine with full brightness.

The term, whosoever, appears to have been added on purpose, partly, that all believers, without exception, may enjoy this benefit ill common, and partly, to show that the reason why unbelievers perish in darkness is, that, of their own accord, they forsake the light. Now, if the whole wisdom of the world were collected into one mass, not a single ray of the true light would be found in that vast heap; but, contrary, it will be a confused chaos; for it belongs to Christ alone to deliver us from darkness.


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