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§ 196. The Connexion between Steadfastness, Truth, and Freedom. (John, viii., 30-32.) Freedom and Servitude; their typical Meaning (33-38).

The Divine superiority with which Christ silenced his opponents completed the impressions of his previous ministry in the minds of many of the people: “As he spake these words, many believed on him.” But he did not suffer himself to be carried away by the enthusiasm of the multitude. He says that many of them lacked true, spiritual faith, and knew that they would easily be turned aside, if he should not, as Messiah, satisfy their expectations. In order, therefore, to point out the requisites of true discipleship, and to show what they might, and what they might not, expect of him, he said (v. 31, 32), “Only by holding fast my doctrine can ye be my disciples indeed; and then only (when you shall have incorporated the truth with your life) will you know the truth (the knowledge, therefore, springing from the life), and the power of the truth, thus rightly known, shall make you partakers of true freedom.”

Judas of Gamala and the Zelotists had incited the people to expect in Messiah a deliverer from the temporal yoke of the Romans. In the words above cited, Christ contrasted his own aims with such as these. Those who were inclined to look upon him as a temporal Messiah were to be taught that the true freedom, without which there can be no other, is inward and spiritual; and that this alone was the freedom which he had come to bestow, a liberty not to be communicated from without, but to spring up from within, through the interpenetration of His truth with the practical life. The fact that his words were perverted or misunderstood (v. 33), even if not by those who had attached themselves to him with some degree of susceptibility, gave him occasion to develope their import still further.

The same persons who were wont to sigh under the Roman yoke as a disgraceful servitude, now felt their Theocratic pride offended because Christ described them as “servants, who had to be made free,” a disgrace for descendants of Abraham (v. 33). In view of this pride 297of the Theocratic people, and the carnal confidence which they indulged in their outward dignity, a dignity unaccompanied by proper dis. positions, Jesus said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin, The servant abideth not in the house forever; he may be expelled for his faults; but the Son of the house abideth in it ever. And the Son of the house may obtain liberty for the servant, and make him a free member of the household. Think not, therefore, that ye have an inalienable claim to the kingdom of God; you may, for your unfaithfulness, like disobedient servants, be excluded from it. Only when the Son of God, who guides the Theocracy in the name of the Father, shall make you free, will you be free indeed; no more as servants of the kingdom of God, but as free members thereof, as children.”

They boasted without reason, he told them, of being Abraham’s children. By attempting the life of one who was offering them the truth, and thus acting as enemies to the truth, they showed themselves children of Satan536536   Cf. p. 148. rather than of Abraham; their disposition and actions savoured more of the Father of lies than the Father of the faithful (v. 37-44). The cause of their unbelief, therefore, was precisely this, that their disposition of heart was the reverse of Abraham’s. Him, whom Abraham longed for, they sought to destroy. He employed thus the misunderstanding of the Jews to bring anew before them the idea of Messiah as Son of God in the higher sense, an idea always a stumbling-block537537   Cf. p. 266. to those who entertained carnal conceptions of Messiah. This excited their rage anew, and drew upon him the accusation of blasphemy.538538   As interpreters have often remarked on John, viii., 57, the expression of the Jews was not inconsistent with the fact of Christ’s being just thirty years old. “Thou art not yet fifty, and hast thou seen Abraham, who lived so many centuries ago?” (Christ was at the beginning of the middle period of life, ending with fifty, in which year the Levites were freed from the regular service of the Temple, Numb., iv., 3; viii., 25.) Nothing but wilfulness could lead Weisse and Gförer to conclude, in contradiction to all the accounts and to internal probability, that Jesus was much older than is generally supposed when he entered on his public ministry. On the tradition that Jesus was nearly fifty, which arose from a misunderstanding of these words, cf. my Geschichte des Apostol. Zeitalters, 3d. ed.. vol. ii., p 539.

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