43. The next day Jesus wished to go into Galilee, and found Philip, and said to him, Follow me.44. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.45. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith to him, We have found Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, of whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets write.46. Nathanael said to him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see.
43. Follow me. When Philip was inflamed by this single word to follow Christ, we infer from it how great is the efficacy of the word of God; but it does not appear indiscriminately in all, for God addresses many without any advantage, just as if he struck their ears with a sound which vanished into air. So then the external preaching of the word is in itself unfruitful, except that it inflicts a deadly wound on the reprobate, so as to render them inexcusable before God. But when the secret grace of God quickens it, all the senses must be affected in such a manner that men will be prepared to follow wherever God calls them. We ought, therefore, to pray to Christ that he may display in us the same power of the Gospel. In the case of Philip, there was no doubt a peculiarity about his following Christ; for he is commanded to follow, not like one of us, but as a domestic, and as a familiar companion. But still the calling of all of us is illustrated by this calling of Philip.
44. Was of Bethsaida. The name of the city appears to have been mentioned on purpose, that the goodness of God to the three Apostles may be more illustriously displayed. We know how severely, on other occasions, Christ threatens and curses that city, (Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13.) Accordingly, when God brought into favor with him some out of a nation so ungodly and wicked, we ought to view it in the same light as if they had been brought out of the lowest hell. And when Christ, after having drawn them out of that deep gulf, honors them so highly as to make them Apostles, it is a distinguished favor and worthy of being recorded.
45. Philip findeth Nathanael. Though proud men despise these feeble beginnings of the Church, yet we ought to perceive in them a brighter display of the divine glory, than if the condition of the Kingdom of Christ had been in every respect, from the outset, splendid and magnificent; for we know to how rich a harvest this small seed afterwards grew. Again, we see in Philip the same desire of building which formerly appeared in Andrew. His modesty, too, is remarkable, in desiring and seeking nothing else than to have others to learn along with him, from Him who is a Teacher common to all.
We have found Jesus. How small was the measure of Philip's faith appears from this circumstance, that he cannot utter a few words about Christ without mingling with them two gross errors. He calls him the son of Joseph, and says, that Nazareth was his native town, both of which statements were false; and yet, because he is sincerely desirous to do good to his brother, and to make Christ known, God approves of this instance of his diligence, and even crowns it with good success. Each of us ought, no doubt, to endeavor to keep soberly within his own limits; and, certainly, the Evangelist does not mention it as worthy of commendation in Philip, that he twice disgraces Christ, but relates that his doctrine, though faulty and involved in error, was useful, because it nevertheless had this for its object, that Christ might be truly known. He foolishly says that he was the son of Joseph, and ignorantly calls him a native of Nazareth, but yet he leads Nathanael to no other than the Son of God who was born in Bethlehem, (Matthew 2:1,) and does not contrive a false Christ, but only wishes that they should know him as he was exhibited by Moses and the Prophets. We see, then, that the chief design of doctrine is, that those who hear us should come to Christ in some way or other.
There are many who engage in abstruse inquiries about Christ, but who throw such darkness and intricacy around him by their subtleties that they can never find him. The Papists, for example, will not say that Christ is the son of Joseph, for they distinctly know what is his name; but yet they annihilate his power, so as to hold out a phantom in the room of Christ. Would it not be better to stammer ridiculously, like Philip, and to hold by the true Christ, than by eloquent and ingenious language to introduce a false Christ? On the other hand, there are many poor dunces in the present day, who, though ignorant and unskilled in the use of language, make known Christ more faithfully than all the theologians of the Pope with their lofty speculations. This passage, therefore, warns us that, if any unsuitable language has been employed concerning Christ by ignorant and unlearned men, we ought not to reject such persons with disdain, provided they direct us to Christ; but that we may not be withdrawn from Christ by the false imaginations of men, let us always have this remedy at hand, to seek the pure knowledge of him from the Law and the Prophets.
46. Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? At first, Nathanael refuses, the place of Christ's nativity (as described by Philip) having given him offense. But, first of all, he is deceived by the inconsiderate discourse of Philip; for what Philip foolishly believed Nathanael receives as certain. Next, there is added a foolish judgment arising from hatred or contempt of the place. Both of these points ought to be carefully observed by us. This holy man was not far from shutting out against himself all approach to Christ. Why was this? Because he rashly believes what Philip spoke incorrectly about Christ; and next, because his mind was under the influence of a preconceived opinion that no good thing could come out of Nazareth. If then we are not carefully on our guard, we shall be liable to the same danger; and Satan labors every day, by similar obstacles, to hinder us from coming to Christ; for he has the dexterity to spread many falsehoods, the tendency of which is to excite our hatred or suspicion against the Gospel, that we may not venture to taste it. And next, he ceases not to try another method, namely, to make us look on Christ with contempt; for we see how many there are who take offense at the degradation of the cross, which appears both in Christ the head and in his members. But as we can hardly be so cautious as not to be tempted by those stratagems of Satan, let us at least remember immediately this caution:
Come and see. Nathanael allowed his twofold error to be corrected by this expression which Philip uttered. Following his example, let us first show ourselves to be submissive and obedient; and next, let us not shrink from inquiry, when Christ himself is ready to remove the doubts which harass us. Those who read these words not as a question, but as an affirmation, Some good thing may come out of Nazareth, are greatly mistaken. For, in the first place, how trivial would such an observation be? And next, we know that the city Nazareth was not at that time held in estimation; and Philip's reply shows plainly enough that it was expressive of hesitation and distrust.