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[1.] Beloved, our condition needs much endurance; and endurance is produced when doctrines are deeply rooted. For as no wind is able by its assaults to tear up the oak, which sends down its root into the lower recesses of the earth, and is firmly clenched there; so too the soul which is nailed by the fear of God none will be able to overturn. Since to be nailed is more than to be rooted. Thus the Prophet prayeth, saying, “Nail my flesh by Thy fear” ( Ps. cxix. 120 , LXX.); “do Thou so fix and join me, as by a nail riveted into me.” For as men of this kind are hard to be captured, so the opposite sort are a ready prey, and are easily thrown down. As was the case of the Jews at that time; for after having heard and believed, they again turned out of the way. Christ therefore desiring to deepen their faith that it might not be merely superficial, diggeth into their souls by more striking words. For it was the part of believers to endure even reproofs, but they immediately were wroth. But how doth He this? He first telleth them, “If ye continue in My word, ye are My disciples indeed: and the truth shall make you free.” All but saying, “I am about to make a deep incision, but be not ye moved”; or rather by these expressions He allayed the pride of their imagination. “Shall make you free”: from what, tell me? From your sins. What then say those boasters?
Immediately their imagination dropped, and this happened from their having been fluttered1469
“Ye shall know the truth,” that is, “shall know Me, for I am the truth. All the Jewish matters were types, but ye shall know the truth from Me, and it shall free you from your sins.” As to those others He said, “Ye shall die in your sins,” so to these He saith, “shall make you free.” He said not, “I will deliver you from bondage,” this He allowed them to conjecture. What then said they?
“We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man.” And yet if they must needs have been vexed, it might have been expected that they would have been so at the former part of His speech, at His having said, “Ye shall know the truth”; and that they would have replied, “What! do we not now know the truth? Is then the Law and our knowledge a lie?” But they cared for none of these things, they are grieved at worldly things, and these were their notions of bondage. And certainly even now, there are many who feel shame at indifferent matters, and at this kind of bondage, but who feel none for the bondage of sin, and who would rather be called servants to this latter kind of bondage ten thousand times, than once to the former. Such were these men, and they did not even know of any other bondage, and they say, “Bondsmen callest thou those who are of the race of Abraham, the nobly born, who therefore ought not to be called bondsmen? For, saith one, we were never in bondage to any man.” Such are the boastings of the Jews. “We are the seed of Abraham,” “we are Israelites.” They never mention their own righteous deeds. Wherefore John cried out to them, saying, “Think not to say that we have Abraham to our father.” ( Matt. iii. 9.) And why did not Christ confute them, for they had often been in bondage to the Egyptians, Babylonians, and many others? Because His words were not to gain honor for Himself, but for their salvation, for their benefit, and toward this object He was pressing. For He might have spoken of the four hundred years, He might have spoken of the seventy, He might have spoken of the years of bondage during the time of the Judges, at one time twenty, at another two, at another seven; He might have said that they had never ceased being in bondage. But He desired not to show that they were slaves of men, but that they were slaves of sin, which is the most grievous slavery, from which God alone can deliver; for to forgive sins belongeth to none other. And this too they allowed. Since then they confessed that this was the work of God, He bringeth them to this point, and saith,
Gently too from this He casts down the things of the Law,1471
[2.] But why when speaking of sins doth He mention a “house”? It is to show that as a master hath power over his house, so He over all. And the, “abideth not,” is this,“hath not power to grant favors, as not being master of the house”; but the Son is master of the house. For this is the, “abideth forever,” by a metaphor drawn from human things. That they may not say, “who art thou?” “All is Mine, (He saith,) for I am the Son, and dwell in My Father’s house,” calling by the name of “house” His power. As in another place He calleth the Kingdom His Father’s house, “In My Father’s house are many mansions.” ( c. xiv. 2.) For since the discourse was of freedom and bondage, He with reason used this metaphor, telling them that they had no power to set free.1472
Ver. 36. “If the Son therefore shall make you free.”
Seest thou the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, and how He declareth that He hath the same power as the Father? “If the Son make you free, no man afterwards gain-sayeth, but ye have firm freedom.” For “it is God that justifieth, who is He that condemneth?” ( Rom. viii. 33, 34.) Here He showeth that He Himself is pure from sin, and alludeth to that freedom which reached only to a name; this even men give, but that God alone. And so he persuaded them not to be ashamed at this slavery, but at that of sin. And desiring to show that they were not slaves, except by repudiating that liberty, He the more showeth them to be slaves by saying,1473
This is the expression of one declaring that this freedom was not real. Then, that they might not say, “We have no sin,” (for it was probable that they would say so,) observe how He bringeth them beneath this imputation. For omitting to convict all their life, He bringeth forward that which they had in hand, which they yet desired to do, and saith,
Gently and by little doth He expel them from that relationship, teaching them not to be high-minded because of it. For as freedom and bondage depend on men’s actions, so also doth relationship. He said not directly, “Ye are not the seed of Abraham, ye the murderers of the righteous”; but for a while He even goeth along with them, and saith, “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed.” Yet this is not the matter in question, and during the remainder of this speech He useth greater vehemence. For we may for the most part observe, that when He is about to work any great thing, after He hath wrought it, He useth greater boldness of speech, as though the testimony from His works shut men’s mouths. “But ye seek to kill Me.” “What of that,” saith some one, “if they sought to do so justly.” But this was not so either; wherefore also He puts the reason;
“How then was it,” saith some one, “that they believed on Him?” As I before said, they changed again. On which account He touched them sharply. “If ye boast the relationship of Abraham ye ought also to show forth his life.” And He said not, “Ye do not contain1474
“As,” He saith, “I both by My words and by the truth declare the Father, so also do ye by your actions (declare yours). For I have not only the same Substance, but also the same Truth with the Father.”
He here repeatedly handleth their murderous intention, and maketh mention of Abraham. And this He doth desiring to draw off their attention from this relationship, and to take away their excessive boasting, and also to persuade them no longer to rest their hopes of salvation in Abraham, nor in the relationship which is according to nature, but in that which is according to the will.1476
To show that these things are not opposed to the Father, He again betaketh Himself to Him. They say unto Him,
[3.] “What sayest thou? Ye have God for your Father, and do ye blame Christ for asserting this?” Seest thou that He said that God was His Father in a special manner? When therefore He had cast them out of their relationship to Abraham, having nothing to reply, they dare a greater thing, and betake themselves to God. But from this honor also He expelleth them, saying,
Ver. 42-44. “If God were your Father, ye would love Me; for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do ye not understand My speech? Even because ye cannot hear My word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth:1479
He had driven them out of their relationship to Abraham, and when they dared greater things, He then addeth a blow, telling them that they not only are not Abraham’s children, but that they are even children of the devil, and inflicting a wound which might counterbalance their shamelessness; nor doth He leave it unsupported, but establisheth it by proofs. “For,” He saith, “to murder1480
What kind of consequence is this? “Having no charge against Me, ye desire to kill Me. For because ye are enemies of the truth, therefore ye persecute Me. Since had this not been the reason, ye would have named your charge.” Wherefore He added,
Then they said, “We be not born of fornication.” Yet in fact many of them were born of fornication, for they practiced unbefitting unions. Still He doth not convict them of this, but setteth Himself to the other point. For when He hath proved them to be, not of God, but of the devil, by all these signs, (for to do murder is of the devil, and to lie is of the devil, both which ye do,) then He showeth that to love is the sign of being of God. “Why do ye not understand My speech?” Since they were always doubting, saying, “What is it that he saith, ‘Whither I go ye cannot come’?” therefore He telleth them, “Ye do not understand My speech,” “because ye have not the word of God. And this cometh to you, because that your understanding is groveling, and because what is Mine is far too great for you.” But what if they could not understand? Not to be able here means not to be willing; for “ye have trained yourselves to be mean, to imagine nothing great.” Because they said that they persecuted Him as being themselves zealous for God, on this account He everywhere striveth to show that to persecute Him is the act of those who hate God, but that, on the contrary, to love Him is the act of those who know God.
“We have one Father, even God.” On this ground they pride themselves, on their honor not their righteous deeds. “Therefore your not believing is no proof that I am an enemy to God, but your unbelief is a sign that you do not know God. And the reason is, from your being willing to lie and to do the works of the devil. But this is the effect of meanness of soul; (as the Apostle saith, ‘For whereas there is among you envying and strife, are ye not carnal?’) ( 1 Cor. iii. 3.) And why is it that ye cannot1483
But how came it into their thoughts to betake themselves to God? He had shown them unworthy of Abraham; desiring therefore to escape this charge, they mounted higher. For when He reproached them with murder, they said this,1484
[4.] Wherefore, I exhort you, use we every means that our life may be righteous, that our minds may be cleansed, so that no filthiness be a hindrance to us; kindle for yourselves the light of knowledge, and sow not among thorns. For how shall one who knows not that covetousness is an evil, ever know the greater good? how shall one who refrains not from these earthly things ever hold fast to those heavenly? It is good to take by violence, not the things that perish, but the Kingdom of heaven. “The violent,” it saith, “take it by force.” ( Matt. xi. 12.) It is then not possible to attain to it by sluggishness, but by zeal. But what meaneth “the violent”? There is need of much violence, (for strait is the way,) there is need of a youthful soul and a noble. Plunderers desire to outstrip all other, they look to nothing, neither to conviction, nor accusation, nor punishment, but are given up to one thing only, the getting hold of what they desire to seize, and they run past all that are before them in the way. Seize we then the Kingdom of heaven, for here to seize is no fault but rather praise, and the fault is the not seizing. Here our wealth comes not from another’s loss. Haste we then to seize it. Should passion disquiet us, should lust disquiet us, let us do violence to our nature, let us become more gentle, let us labor a little, that we may rest forever. Seize not thou gold, but seize that wealth which showeth gold to be but mud. For tell me, if lead and gold were laid before thee, which wouldest thou take? Is it not clear that thou wouldest take the gold? Dost thou then, where one who seizes is punished, prefer that which is the more valuable, but where one who seizes is honored, give up what is the more valuable? If there were punishment in both cases, wouldest thou not rather aim at this latter1487