39. They answered, and said to him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith to them, If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham.40. But now you seek to kill me, a man who have spoken to you the truth which I have heard from God: Abraham did not this.41. You do the works of your father. They said therefore to him, We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, who is God.42. Jesus said to them, If God were your Father, you would love me: for I proceeded and came from God, for I did not proceed from myself, but he sent me.
39. Abraham is our father. This altercation shows plainly enough how haughtily and fiercely they despised all Christ's reproofs. What they continually claim and vaunt of is, that they are Abraham's children; by which they do not simply mean that they are the lineal descendants of Abraham, but that they are a holy race, the heritage of God, and the children of God. And yet they rely on nothing but the confidence of the flesh. But carnal descent, without faith, is nothing more than a false pretense. We now understand what it was that so greatly blinded them, so that they treated Christ with disdain, though armed with deadly thunder. Thus the word of God, which might move stones, is ridiculed in the present day by Papists, as if it were a fable, and fiercely persecuted by fire and sword; and for no other reason but that they rely on their false title of |the Church,| and hope that they will be able to deceive both God and man. In short, as soon as hypocrites have procured some plausible covering, they oppose God with hardened obstinacy, as if he could not penetrate into their hearts.
If you were the children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham. Christ now distinguishes more plainly between the bastard and degenerate children of Abraham, and the true and lawful children; for he refuses to give the very name to all who do not resemble Abraham True, it frequently happens that children do not resemble, in their conduct, the parents from whom they are sprung; but here Christ does not argue about carnal descent, but only affirms that they who do not retain by faith the grace of adoption are not reckoned among the children of Abraham before God. For since God promised to the seed of Abraham that he would be their God, saying,
I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee,
all unbelievers, by rejecting this promise, excluded themselves from the family of Abraham.
The state of the question therefore is this: Ought they to be accounted Abraham's children who reject the blessing offered to them in the word, so that, notwithstanding of this, they shall be a holy nation, the heritage of God, and a royal priesthood? (Exodus 19:6; Joel 3:2.) Christ denies this, and justly; for they who are the children of the promise must be born again by the Spirit, and all who desire to obtain a place in the kingdom of God ought to be new creatures. Carnal descent from Abraham was not indeed useless, and of no value, provided that the truth were added to it. For election dwells in the seed of Abraham, but it is free, so that all whom God sanctifies by his Spirit are accounted heirs of life.
40. But now you seek to kill me. He proves from the effect, that they are not the children of God, as they boasted, because they oppose God. And, indeed, is there any thing in Abraham that is more highly commended than the obedience of faith? This then is the mark of distinction, whenever we are required to distinguish between his children and strangers; for empty titles, whatever estimation they may procure before the world, are of no account with God. Christ therefore concludes again, that they are the children of the devil, because they hate with deadly hatred true and sound doctrine.
41. We were not born of fornication. They claim no more for themselves than they did formerly, for it was the same thing with them to be Abraham's children and to be God's children. But they erred grievously in this respect, that they imagined that God was bound to the whole seed of Abraham. For they reason thus: |God adopted for himself the family of Abraham; therefore, since we are Abraham's descendants, we must be the children of God.| We now see how they thought that they had holiness from the womb, because they were sprung from a holy root. In short, they maintain that they are the family of God, because they are descended from the holy fathers. In like manner, the Papists in the present day are exceedingly vain of an uninterrupted succession from the fathers. By sorceries of this description Satan deceives them, so that they separate God from his word, the Church from faith, and the kingdom of heaven from the Spirit.
Let us know, therefore, that they who have corrupted the seed of life are at the farthest remove from being the children of God, though, according to the flesh, they are not bastards, but pretend a right to the plausible title of the Church. For let them go about the bush as much as they please, still they will never avoid the discovery that the only ground of their arrogant boasting is, |We have succeeded the holy fathers; therefore, we are the Church.| And if the reply of Christ was sufficient for confuting the Jews, it is not less sufficient now for reproving the Papists. Never indeed will hypocrites cease to employ the name of God falsely, with most wicked effrontery; but those false grounds of boasting, on which they plume themselves, will never cease to appear ridiculous in the eyes of all who shall abide by the decision of Christ.
42. If God were your Father, you would love me. Christ's argument is this: |Whoever is a child of God will acknowledge his first-born Son; but you hate me, and therefore you have no reason to boast, that you are God's children.| We ought carefully to observe this passage, that there is no piety and no fear of God where Christ is rejected. Hypocritical religion, indeed, presumptuously shelters itself under the name of God; but how can they agree with the Father who disagree with his only Son? What kind of knowledge of God is that in which his lively image is rejected? And this is what Christ means, when he testifies that he came from the Father.
For I proceeded and came from God. He means that all that he has is divine; and therefore it is most inconsistent that the true worshippers of God should fly from his truth and righteousness. |I did not come,| says he, |of myself. You cannot show that anything about me is contrary to God. In short, you will find nothing that is either earthly or human in my doctrine, or in the whole of my ministry.| For he does not speak of his essence, but of his office.