46. Not that any man hath seen the Father, but he who is from God; he hath seen the Father.47. Verily, verily, I say to you, He who believeth in me hath eternal life.48. I am the bread of life.49. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead.50. This is the bread which hath come down from heaven, that any man may eat of it, and not die.51. I am the living bread which hath come down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread which I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.
46. Not that any man hath seen the Father. As he has hitherto magnified the grace of his Father, so now he earnestly directs believers to himself alone. For both must be joined together; that no knowledge of Christ can be obtained, until the Father enlighten by his Spirit those who are by nature blind; and yet that it is in vain to seek God, unless Christ go before; for the majesty of God is so lofty, that the senses of men cannot reach him. Nay, more, all that knowledge of God which men may think that they have attained out of Christ will be a deadly abyss. When he says that he alone hath known the Father, he means that it is an office which belongs peculiarly to himself, to manifest God to men, who would otherwise have been concealed.
47. He who believeth in me. This is an explanation of the former statement. For we are taught by these words that it is when we believe in Christ that God is made known to us; for then do we begin to see, as in a mirror, or as in a bright and lively image, God who was formerly invisible. Accursed then be every thing that is declared to us concerning God, if it do not lead us to Christ. What it is to believe in Christ I have already explained; for we must not imagine a confused and empty faith, which deprives Christ of his power, as the Papists do, who believe in Christ just as far as they think fit. For the reason why we obtain life by faith is, that we know that all the parts of our life are contained in Christ.
The inference which some draw from this passage -- that to believe in Christ is the same thing as to eat Christ, or his flesh -- is not well founded. For these two things differ from each other as former and latter; and in like manner, to come to Christ and to drink him, for coming to him is first in order. I acknowledge that Christ is not eaten but by faith; but the reason is, because we receive him by faith, that he may dwell in us, and that we may be made partakers of him, and thus may be one with him. To eat him, therefore, is an effect or work of faith.
48. I am the bread of life Besides what he formerly said, that he is the life-giving bread, by which our souls are nourished, in order to explain it more fully, he likewise repeats the contrast between this bread and the ancient manna, together with a comparison of the men.
49. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead. He says that the manna was a perishing food to their fathers, for it did not free them from death. It follows, therefore, that souls do not find anywhere else than in him that food by which they are fed to spiritual life. Besides, we must keep in remembrance what I formerly stated, that what is here said does not relate to the manna, so far as it was a secret figure of Christ; for in that respect Paul calls it spiritual food, (1 Corinthians 10:3.) But we have said that Christ here accommodates his discourse to the hearers, who, caring only about feeding the belly, looked for nothing higher in the manna. Justly, therefore does he declare that their fathers are dead, that is, those who in the same manner, were devoted to the belly, or, in other words, who thought of nothing higher than this world. And yet he invites them to eat, when he says that he has come, that any man may eat; for this mode of expression has the same meaning as if he said, that he is ready to give himself to all, provided that they are only willing to believe. That not one of those who have once eaten Christ shall die -- must be understood to mean, that the life which he bestows on us is never extinguished, as we stated under the Fifth Chapter.
51. I am the living bread. He often repeats the same thing, because nothing is more necessary to be known; and every one feels in himself with what difficulty we are brought to believe it, and how easily and quickly it passes away and is forgotten. We all desire life, but in seeking it, we foolishly and improperly wander about in circuitous roads; and when it is offered, the greater part disdainfully reject it. For who is there that does not contrive for himself life out of Christ? And how few are there who are satisfied with Christ alone! It is not a superfluous repetition, therefore, when Christ asserts so frequently that he alone is sufficient to give life. For he claims for himself the designation of bread, in order to tear from our hearts all fallacious hopes of living. Having formerly called himself the bread of life, he now calls himself the living bread, but in the same sense, namely, life-giving bread. -- Which have come down from heaven He frequently mentions his coming down from heaven, because spiritual and incorruptible life will not be found in this world, the fashion of which passes away and vanishes, but only in the heavenly kingdom of God.
If any man eat of this bread. Whenever he uses the word eat, he exhorts us to faith, which alone enables us to enjoy this bread, so as to derive life from it. Nor is it without good reason that he does so, for there are few who deign to stretch out their hand to put this bread to their mouth; and even when the Lord puts it into their mouth, there are few who relish it, but some are filled with wind, and others -- like Tantalus -- are dying of hunger through their own folly, while the food is close beside them.
The bread which I shall give is my flesh. As this secret power to bestow life, of which he has spoken, might be referred to his Divine essence, he now comes down to the second step, and shows that this life is placed in his flesh, that it may be drawn out of it. It is, undoubtedly, a wonderful purpose of God that he has exhibited life to us in that flesh, where formerly there was nothing but the cause of death. And thus he provides for our weakness, when he does not call us above the clouds to enjoy life, but displays it on earth, in the same manner as if he were exalting us to the secrets of his kingdom. And yet, while he corrects the pride of our mind, he tries the humility and obedience of our faith, when he enjoins those who would seek life to place reliance on his flesh, which is contemptible in its appearance.
But an objection is brought, that the flesh of Christ cannot give life, because it was liable to death, and because even now it is not immortal in itself; and next, that it does not at all belong to the nature of flesh to quicken souls. I reply, though this power comes from another source than from the flesh, still this is no reason why the designation may not accurately apply to it; for as the eternal Word of God is the fountain of life, (John 1:4,) so his flesh, as a channel, conveys to us that life which dwells intrinsically, as we say, in his Divinity. And in this sense it is called life-giving, because it conveys to us that life which it borrows for us from another quarter. This will not be difficult to understand, if we consider what is the cause of life, namely, righteousness. And though righteousness flows from God alone, still we shall not attain the full manifestation of it any where else than in the flesh of Christ; for in it was accomplished the redemption of man, in it a sacrifice was offered to atone for sins, and an obedience yielded to God, to reconcile him to us; it was also filled with the sanctification of the Spirit, and at length, having vanquished death, it was received into the heavenly glory. It follows, therefore that all the parts of life have been placed in it, that no man may have reason to complain that he is deprived of life, as if it were placed in concealment, or at a distance.
Which I shall give for the life of the world. The word give is used in various senses. The first giving, of which he has formerly spoken, is made daily, whenever Christ offers himself to us. Secondly, it denotes that singular giving which was done on the cross, when he offered himself as a sacrifice to his Father; for then he delivered himself up to death for the life of men, and now he invites us to enjoy the fruit of his death. For it would be of no avail to us that that sacrifice was once offered, if we did not now feast on that sacred banquet. It ought also to be observed, that Christ claims for himself the office of sacrificing his flesh. Hence it appears with what wicked sacrilege the Papists pollute themselves, when they take upon themselves, in the mass, what belonged exclusively to that one High Priest.