59 He spoke these things in the synagogue, while he was teaching in Capernaum.60. Many of his disciples, therefore, having heard it, said, This is a harsh saying; who can hear it? 61. But Jesus knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, Doth this offend you? 62. What if you shall see the Son of man ascend to where he was before? 63. It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing. The words which I speak to you are spirit and life.64. But there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that did not believe, and who he was that would betray him.
59. He spoke these things in the synagogue. John points out the place, that we may know that there were many present, and likewise, that a sermon was delivered as on a weighty and important subject. But it immediately follows that out of so great a multitude there were scarcely to be found a very few who profited by it; and -- what is worse -- it proved to be the occasion of desertion to many who professed to be disciples of Christ. If the Evangelist had said that only some of them were offended, that ought to have been accounted monstrous; but when they rise up in crowds and conspire together against him, what name shall we give to such an action? Let this narrative then be deeply impressed on our minds, that we may never murmur against Christ when he speaks; and if in the present day we perceive any thing of this kind in others, let not their pride disturb our faith.
60. This is a harsh saying. On the contrary, it was in their hearts, and not in the saying, that the harshness lay. But out of the word of God the reprobate are thus accustomed to form stones to dash themselves upon, and when, by their hardened obstinacy, they rush against Christ, they complain that his saying is harsh, which ought rather to have softened them. For whoever shall submit with true humility to the doctrine of Christ will find nothing in it harsh or disagreeable; but to unbelievers, who oppose themselves with obstinacy, it will be a hammer which breaketh the rocks in pieces, as the Prophet calls it, (Jeremiah 23:29.) But since the same hardness is natural to us all, if we judge of the doctrine of Christ according to our feelings, his words will be just so many strange and incredible statements. All that remains for us, therefore, is, that every one commit himself to the guidance of the Spirit, that he may inscribe on our hearts what otherwise would never have even entered into our ears.
Who can hear it? Here we see the awful wickedness of unbelief; for they who impiously and basely reject the doctrine of salvation, not satisfied with excusing themselves, have the hardihood to put the Son of God in their room as if he were guilty, and to declare that he is unworthy of being heard Thus, in the present day, Papists not only reject the Gospel in a daring manner, but likewise break out into horrid blasphemies, that it may not be thought that they have no good reason for opposing God. And, indeed, since they desire darkness, we need not wonder if Satan deceives them by strange monsters, where there is nothing but the open highway. But that which they, through their rage and fury, cannot endure will not only be tolerable to modest and teachable persons, but will support and comfort them. Yet the reprobate, by their obstinate slanders, will do nothing more than bring down on themselves more dreadful condemnation.
61. But Jesus knowing. Christ knew indeed, that the offense which the reprobate had taken up could not be removed; for, to tell the truth, the doctrine does not so much wound them as it exposes the putrid ulcer which they inwardly nourished in their hearts. But he wished by all methods to try if there were not one of those who were offended that was not yet beyond the reach of cure, and to stop the mouths of the rest. By putting the question, he means that they have no reason to be offended, or, at least, that the ground of offense does not lie in the doctrine itself. Thus we ought to repress the wickedness of those who, urged on by nothing but the rage of mastiff dogs, slander the word of God; and thus too we ought to chastise the folly of those who inconsiderately attack the truth.
Knowing in himself. He says that Jesus knew in himself, because they had not yet declared openly what gave them uneasiness, but secretly murmured and groaned within themselves, and, therefore, he anticipates their open complaints. If it be objected, that the nature of those complaints was not difficult to understand, because in express terms they rejected the doctrine of Christ, I acknowledge that the words which John has formerly related are plain enough; but still I say that, like persons who are disgusted at any thing, they whispered those words to each other in low murmurs. For if they had spoken to Christ, there would have been better ground of hope, because the way would have been opened up for teaching them; but now, when they indulge in secret murmurings, they shut up against themselves the way to gain instruction. So then, when we do not immediately perceive the Lord's meaning, there is nothing better than to go straight to him, that he may solve all our difficulties.
Doth this offend you? Christ appears here to increase the offense instead of removing it; but if any person examine very closely the ground of offense, there was in the following statement what ought to have pacified their minds.
62. What if you shall see the Son of man ascend to where he was before? The mean and despicable condition of Christ which they saw before their eyes, while, clothed with flesh, he was not at all different from other men, prevented them from submitting to his Divine power; but now -- by withdrawing, as it were, the veil -- he calls them to behold his heavenly glory, as if he had said, |Because I converse among men without honor, I am despised by you, and you recognize in me nothing that is Divine; but ere long God will adorn me with splendid power, and, withdrawing me from the contemptible state of mortal life, will raise me above the heavens.| For, in the resurrection of Christ, so great was the power displayed by the Holy Spirit, that it plainly showed Christ to be the Son of God, as Paul also shows, (Romans 1:4.) And when it is said,
Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee,
the resurrection is brought forward as a proof from which that glory of Christ ought to be acknowledged, and his ascension to heaven was the completion of that glory. When he says that he was formerly in heaven, this does not apply strictly to his human nature, and yet he speaks of the Son of man; but since the two natures in Christ constitute one person, it is not an unusual way of speaking to transfer to one nature what is peculiar to the other.
63. It is the Spirit that quickeneth. By these words Christ shows the reason why the Jews did not profit by his doctrine to be, that, being spiritual and quickening, it does not find ears well prepared. But as this passage has been variously expounded, it will be of importance first to ascertain the natural meaning of the words; from which it will be easy to perceive Christ's intention. When he affirms that the flesh profiteth nothing, Chrysostom improperly, in my opinion, refers it to the Jews, who were carnal I readily acknowledge that in heavenly mysteries the whole power of the human mind is utterly unavailing; but the words of Christ do not bear that meaning, if they be not violently tortured. Equally forced would be that opinion, as applied to the apposite clause; namely, it is the illumination of the Spirit that quickeneth. Nor do I approve of the views of those who say, that the flesh of Christ profiteth, so far as he was crucified, but that, when it is eaten, it is of no advantage to us; for, on the contrary, we must eat it, that, having been crucified, it may profit
Augustine thinks that we ought to supply the word only, or by itself, as if it had been said, |The flesh alone, and by itself, profiteth not,| because it must be accompanied by the Spirit This meaning accords well with the scope of the discourse, for Christ refers simply to the manner of eating. He does not, therefore, exclude every kind of usefulness, as if none could be obtained from his flesh; but he declares that, if it be separated from the Spirit, it will then be useless. For whence has the flesh power to quicken, but because it is spiritual? Accordingly, whoever confines his whole attention to the earthly nature of the flesh, will find in it nothing but what is dead; but they who shall raise their eyes to the power of the Spirit, which is diffused over the flesh, will learn from the actual effect and from the experience of faith, that it is not without reason that it is called quickening
We now understand in what manner the flesh is truly food, and yet it profiteth not It is food, because by it life is procured for us, because in it God is reconciled to us, because in it we have all the parts of salvation accomplished. It profiteth not, if it be estimated by its origin and nature; for the seed of Abraham, which is in itself subject to death, does not bestow life, but receives from the Spirit its power to feed us; and, therefore, on our part also, that we may be truly nourished by it, we must bring the spiritual mouth of faith.
As to the sentence breaking off in so abrupt a manner, it is probable that this was done because Christ saw that it was necessary to act in this manner towards unbelievers. By this clause, therefore, he suddenly closed the sermon, because they did not deserve that he should speak to them any longer. Yet he did not overlook those who are godly and teachable; for they have here, in a few words, what may abundantly satisfy them.
The words which I speak to you. This is an allusion to the preceding statement, for he now employs the word Spirit in a different sense. But as he had spoken of the secret power of the Spirit, he elegantly applies this to his doctrine, because it is spiritual; for the word Spirit must be explained to mean spiritual Now the word is called spiritual, because it calls us upwards to seek Christ in his heavenly glory, through the guidance of the Spirit, by faith, and not by our carnal perception; for we know that of all that was said, nothing can be comprehended but by faith. And it is also worthy of observation, that he connects life with the Spirit He calls his word life, from its effect, as if he had called it quickening; but shows that it will not be quickening to any but those who receive it spiritually, for others will rather draw death from it. To the godly, this commendation bestowed on the Gospel is most delightful, because they are certain that it is appointed for their eternal salvation; but at the same time, they are reminded to labor to prove that they are genuine disciples.
64. But there are some of you who do not believe. He again imputes blame to them, because, being destitute of the Spirit, they wickedly corrupt and debase his doctrine, and thus turn it to their ruin. For otherwise they might have objected: |You boast, indeed, that what you speak is quickening, but we experience nothing of that nature.| He therefore says, that by themselves it is prevented; for unbelief, as it is always proud, will never understand any thing in the words of Christ which it despises and disdains. Wherefore, if we wish to profit at all under this Teacher, let us bring minds well disposed to listen to him; for if the entrance to his doctrine be not opened up by humility and reverence, our understandings are harder than stones, and will not receive any part of sound doctrine. And therefore, when in the present day we see so few people in the world profiting by the Gospel, we ought to remember that this arises from the depravity of men. For how many will you find who deny themselves, and truly submit to Christ? As to his saying only that there were some who did not believe, though almost all of them were liable to this charge, his reason for doing so appears to have been that, if there were any who were not yet beyond the possibility of cure, they might not cast down their minds in despair.
For Jesus knew from the beginning. The Evangelist added this, that none might think that Christ formed an opinion at random about his hearers. Many professed to belong to his flock, but a sudden apostacy exposed their hypocrisy. But the Evangelist says that their treachery, even while it was unknown to others, was well known to Christ. And this is stated, not so much on his account, as that we may learn not to form a judgment except on subjects which we have thoroughly investigated; for as to their being known to Christ from the beginning, this was peculiar to his Divinity. It is otherwise with us; for since we do not know the hearts, we ought to delay forming a judgment, until impiety be manifested by outward signs, and thus the tree be known by its fruits, (Matthew 7:16.)