17. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.18. For this reason, therefore, the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath, but likewise called God his Father, making himself equal with God.19. Jesus then answered, and said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, The Son cannot do any thing of himself but what he hath seen the Father do; for whatsoever things he doeth, those also doeth the Son likewise.
17. My Father worketh hitherto. We must see what kind of defense Christ employs. He does not reply that the Law about keeping the Sabbath was temporary, and that it ought now to be abolished; but, on the contrary, maintains that he has not violated the Law, because this is a divine work. It is true that the ceremony of the Sabbath was a part of the shadows of the Law, and that Christ put an end to it by his coming, as Paul shows, (Colossians 2:16;) but the present question does not turn on that point. For it is only from their own works that men are commanded to abstain; and, accordingly, circumcision -- which is a work of God, and not of men -- is not at variance with the Sabbath.
What Christ insists upon is this, that the holy rest which was enjoined by the Law of Moses is not disturbed when we are employed in works of God. And for this reason he excuses not only his own action, but also the action of the man who carried his bed; for it was an appendage, and -- as we might say -- a part of the miracle, for it was nothing else than an approbation of it. Besides, if thanksgiving and the publication of the divine glory be reckoned among the works of God, it was not a profanation of the Sabbath to testify the grace of God by feet and hands. But it is chiefly concerning himself that Christ speaks, to whom the Jews were more hostile. He declares that the soundness of body which he has restored to the diseased man is a demonstration of his divine power. He asserts that he is the Son of God, and that he acts in the same manner as his Father.
What is the use of the Sabbath, and for what reasons it was enjoined, I do not now argue at greater length. It is enough for the present passage, that the keeping of the Sabbath is so far from interrupting or hindering the works of God, that, on the contrary, it gives way to them alone. For why does the Law enjoin men to abstain from their own works, but in order to keep all their senses free and occupied for considering the works of God? Consequently, he who does not, on the Sabbath, allow a free course and reign to the works of God, is not only a false expounder of the Law, but wickedly overturns it.
If it be objected, that the example of God is held out to men, that they may rest on the seventh day, the answer is easy. Men are not conformed to God in this respect, that He ceased to work, but by abstaining from the troublesome actions of this world and aspiring to the heavenly rest. The Sabbath or rest of God, therefore, is not idleness, but true perfection, which brings along with it a calm state of peace. Nor is this inconsistent with what Moses says, that God put an end to his works, (Genesis 2:2;) for he means that, after having completed the formation of the world, God consecrated that day, that men might employ it in meditating on his works. Yet He did not cease to sustain by this power the world which he had made, to govern it by his wisdom, to support it by his goodness, and to regulate all things according to his pleasure, both in heaven and on earth. In six days, therefore, the creation of the world was completed, but the administration of it is still continued, and God incessantly worketh in maintaining and preserving the order of it; as Paul informs us, that in him we live, and move, and are, (Acts 17:28;) and David informs us, that all things stand so long as the Spirit of God upholds them, and that they fail as soon as he withdraws his support, (Psalm 104:29.) Nor is it only by a general Providence that the Lord maintains the world which He has created, but He arranges and regulates every part of it, and more especially, by his protection, he keeps and guards believers whom he has received under his care and guardianship.
And I work. Leaving the defense of the present cause, Christ now explains the end and use of the miracle, namely, that by means of it he may be acknowledged to be the Son of God; for the object which he had in view in all his words and actions was, to show that he was the Author of salvation. What he now claims for himself belongs to his Divinity, as the Apostle also says, that
he upholdeth all things by his powerful will, (Hebrews 1:3.)
But when he testifies that he is God, it is that, being manifested in the flesh, he may perform the office of Christ; and when he affirms that he came from heaven, it is chiefly for the purpose of informing us for what purpose he came down to earth.
18. For this reason, therefore, the Jews sought the more to slay him. This defense was so far from allaying their fury that it even enraged them the more. Nor was he unacquainted with their malignity and wickedness and hardened obstinacy, but he intended first to profit a few of his disciples who were then present, and next to make a public display of their incurable malice. By his example he has taught us that we ought never to yield to the fury of wicked men, but should endeavor to maintain the truth of God, so far as necessity demands it, though the whole world should oppose and murmur. Nor is there any reason why the servants of Christ should take it ill that they do not profit all men according to their wish, since Christ himself did not always succeed; and we need not wonder if, in proportion as the glory of God is more fully displayed, Satan rages the more violently in his members and instruments.
Because he not only had broken the Sabbath. When the Evangelist says that the Jews were hostile to Christ, because he had broken the Sabbath, he speaks according to the opinion which they had formed; for I have already showed that the state of the case was quite the contrary. The principal cause of their wrath was, that he called God his Father. And certainly Christ intended that it should be understood that God was his Father in a peculiar sense, so as to distinguish himself from the ordinary rank of other men. He made himself equal to God, when he claimed for himself continuance in working; and Christ is so far from denying this, that he confirms it more distinctly. This refutes the madness of the Arians, who acknowledged that Christ is God, but did not think that he is equal to the Father, as if in the one and simple essence of God there could be any inequality.
19. Jesus therefore answered. We see what I have said, that Christ is so far from vindicating himself from what the Jews asserted, though they intended it as a calumny, that he maintains more openly that it is true. And first he insists on this point, that the work which the Jews cavilled at was a divine work, to make them understand that they must fight with God himself, if they persist in condemning what must necessarily be ascribed to him. This passage was anciently debated in various ways between the orthodox Fathers and the Arians. Arius inferred from it that the Son is inferior to the Father, because he can do nothing of himself The Fathers replied that these words denote nothing more than the distinction of the person, so that it might be known that Christ is from the Father, and yet that he is not deprived of intrinsic power to act. But both parties were in the wrong. For the discourse does not relate to the simple Divinity of Christ, and those statements which we shall immediately see do not simply and of themselves relate to the eternal Word of God, but apply only to the Son of God, so far as he is manifested in the flesh.
Let us therefore keep Christ before our eyes, as he was sent into the world by the Father to be a Redeemer. The Jews beheld in him nothing higher than human nature, and, therefore, he argues that, when he cured the diseased man, he did it not by human power, but by a Divine power which was concealed under his visible flesh. The state of the case is this. As they, confining their attention to the appearance of the flesh, despised Christ, he bids them rise higher and look at God. The whole discourse must be referred to this contrast, that they err egregiously who think that they have to do with a mortal man, when they accuse Christ of works which are truly divine. This is his reason for affirming so strongly that in this work, there is no difference between him and his Father.