<< John VI: Spiritual Meaning and Commentary >>
This chapter contains a remarkable discourse of our Lord’s, which has not found a place in. any of the other gospels. He had fed a multitude of people, by miraculously multiplying a few loaves and fishes. And he now turns the attention of the multitude from the perishable food, with which he had fed their bodies, to himself as the living bread, with which he desired to feed their souls. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is recorded in the fourteenth chapter of Matthew; where we have also a record of the miracle that followed, when Jesus walked on the sea. Both having been already explained, it may suffice to give a brief outline of their meaning, except in the case of the particulars in which the two accounts differ.
1. After these things, Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. The Lord was now passing from the western to the eastern side of the lake, leaving Canaan for the country on the other side Jordan, to carry the blessings of his gospel to a more purely Gentile population. The sea over which he passed was representative of the Word, the truths of which are meant by its waters. When called the Sea of Galilee, from the region which it skirts, it means the Word with respect to the good which it teaches; and when called the Sea of Tiberias, from the town on its shore, it means the Word with respect to its doctrine; and when both these names are applied both meanings are involved. The Lord passes over to the people who are out of the church by the good of simple truth, as revealed in the letter of his Word. And if we consider this progression as it respects the individual, the Lord’s descent into the very lowest degree of the mind being represented by his passing over from Galilee to the other side of Jordan, then by his passing across the Galilean sea is signified his entrance through the good and truth of his Word, as these exist in the natural mind.
2 When on the other side, a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. The healing of the diseases of the soul, indicated by these miracles, draws to the Lord the numerous natural affections and thoughts of the mind; and these follow him, by striving to follow his example.
3 Separating himself from the multitude, Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. The disciples, as distinguished from the multitude, are the affections and perceptions of the spiritual mind, as distinguished from those of the natural mind. The Lord’s retiring, on this and other occasions, with his disciples, presents a symbol of that state of common experience, when the thoughts and affections are withdrawn from the world, to commune with the Lord on the things of spiritual and eternal life. Our sphere of active Christian usefulness is the world. But there are times and seasons when we desire and need to retire into the chamber or ascend into the mount, away from the busy crowd of worldly thoughts and feelings, to seek new strength for the spiritual affections and perceptions, by a nearer intercourse with the Lord of life.
4 It is here mentioned that the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. There is not perhaps any obvious connection between the Jewish feast and the circumstances related in this chapter. There is, however, a relation of the feast of the passover to the feeding of the multitude, and more especially to the eating of the flesh of the Son of Man, of which the Lord afterwards treats so largely. Jesus was our passover; and his completed work of redemption and glorification, in which the feast was to receive its fulfilment, was nigh.
5, 6. The Lord, with his disciples, having retired, the multitude followed him. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat ? By retiring into the mountain, and drawing the multitude after him, we learn, that when the Lord raises the higher affections of the mind to himself and heaven, the lower are elevated also. Jesus, who knew of the movements of the multitude, is spoken of as lifting up his eyes and seeing them coming. The lifting up of the eyes, so often recorded in the Word, means, in relation to man, the elevation of the understanding; the consequent sight of the object being expressive of perception. In reference to the Lord this means the application and operation of his wisdom. “His eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men” (Ps. xi. 4). But the true lifting up of the Lord’s eyes takes place in the minds of those in whom he dwells. He sees when he gives them to see; for all spiritual sight is the perception which his truth imparts to the intellect. The question which the Lord, on seeing the great company come unto him, proposed to Philip, is interesting, more especially as we are informed that he himself knew what he would do. Such questions are intended to prove the faithful. Yet the proof is intended, not for the Lord’s satisfaction, but for the disciples’ improvement. The Lord proves us, not to see what is in us, but to enable us to see what is in ourselves, and to prepare us for recognising his divine goodness and wisdom in the removal of the difficulty to which our reflection leads us. But this circumstance teaches us, that the mind itself has a kind of double consciousness, and even that faith, like the moon, has its light and dark sides, its believing and its unbelieving phase, like the man who exclaimed, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark ix. 24).
7 Philip answered the Lord’s question by saying, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. The Lord had inquired, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat1?” Our first and natural idea is to rely upon meritorious goodness, or that which we purchase for ourselves. Yet, with the sincere disciple, there is a sense of the inadequacy of the supply which even our utmost means and powers can procure. Two hundred pence was probably all the money which the bag contained, yet, though a considerable sum, it was not enough for the occasion. When we think of feeding the mind with purchased bread, and yet see that our knowledge, however large, is insufficient to procure enough to satisfy our hunger, or even to provide that every one of our affections may take a little, we are in some measure prepared to accept the good that the Lord alone can give, and which is more than sufficient to supply every want.
8, 9. The conviction and acknowledgment, that the utmost extent to which self-righteousness goes does not suffice to satisfy the cravings of the soul, is followed by another and higher state of mind, which brings us a step nearer the solution of the difficulty, and the discovery of the real answer to the divine question, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes ; but what are they among so many ? Andrew evidently stands higher in the scale of discipleship than Philip. We have already (i. 43) spoken of Philip as representing a more obscure perception of truth, and a lower degree of faith, than those of which Andrew is the type. While Philip thinks only of purchasing bread for the multitude, Andrew discovers a supply among themselves. Spiritually understood, the lad, or youth, is the good affection of early life, in which the remains or germs of heavenly goodness and truth have been implanted by the Lord, and have been preserved, so that, the time and state having arrived, they can be brought forth to form the beginning of the new man. These remains are meant by the loaves and the fishes. “Five, like ten, denotes remains, but in loss abundance ; the quality of these remains of natural goodness being indicated by the loaves being of barley. The fact of the loaves being few and of barley, and the fishes still fewer and small, expresses, representatively, how scanty and poor were the remains of what was good and true in the church at the time of our Lord’s Advent. But little as there was, and little as there may be, of such remains in the mind of any one, and inadequate as these may themselves be in relation to the newly created desires of the mind, yet, in the Divine hand, they grow into such abundance as to be more than enough to satisfy the present cravings and pressing wants of the soul.
10. Thus scantily provided, Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. The arranging or disposing the affections in the order of heaven, represented by the people sitting down, is one of the means by which the Lord prepares them for the reception and appropriation of the principles of goodness and truth; the abundant grass on which they sat signifying abundance of natural truth, such as the letter of the Word contains, and on which the ordinated affections rest.
11-13. Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down ; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. In the Lord’s miracles of feeding the multitudes, there is this one particular to be observed. He does not immediately create the necessary quantity of food, which would seemingly be a greater exhibition of power; but he takes a small quantity, which some one present supplies, and makes that the seed, so to speak, from which, under his beneficent hand, the abundant harvest springs. Can we suppose this is done without a purpose and a moral’? Does it not teach us that even in the spiritual concerns of the soul nothing is brought out of nothing ? There must be a nucleus, a rudiment, a germ, as a beginning, without which even Omnipotence does not create for us the means of spiritual life. That very germ, it is true, is the gift of God, for we have nothing of ourselves ; but it is a gift he bestows on every soul, by the operation of his Spirit, with the co-operation of angels and parents, during the early period of life, while the soul is yet in the Eden of infantile innocence. Through this supply, however small, the divine power can produce such abundance, that not only all the wants of the mind shall be satisfied, and the powers strengthened for the immediate uses of life, but that the twelve baskets shall be filled with the fragments that remain, that nothing that comes from God out of heaven may be lost. The fragments of the loaves and fishes, like the pot of manna, is laid up in the sanctuary, which is the inmost affection of the soul, there to he preserved as a memorial of the Divine mercy, in giving us, during our pilgrimage, bread from heaven to eat.
14, 15. This miracle produced two effects. The people acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, and determined to make him a king. These are two particulars not mentioned in the other gospels. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world. The conviction, as we find, was, in this case, as in many others produced by miracles, in some of the multitude at least, superficial and transitory. The attempt they made to bring their faith to a practical result, in a way congenial to the national passion, shows how natural as well as shallow their faith was. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone. There was nothing more natural than that a multitude of Jews, suddenly convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah, should be inspired with the desire to make him a king, that he might conquer for them deliverance from the hated Roman yoke. They had not learnt, and had no desire to learn, that, though the Lord ways a king, his kingdom was not of this world. This ignorance and this error are still those of every early Christian disciple. He regards the Lord’s regal character and his kingdom rather as earthly than heavenly. He is willing that the Lord should be his king, but only that his power may be exalted in his natural affections, for natural ends. But in this state of the mind, the Lord withdraws himself into the good affection of the inner man, as he retired into the mountain, to maintain his hold on the inner life, till he can again descend with advantage into the thoughts and affections of the natural mind.
16-21. The storm which the disciples encountered while on their passage across the lake, and the two miracles of Jesus, his coming to them walking on the sea, and his stilling the tempest, are to be considered as having a connection with the feeding of the multitude with the loaves and fishes. Goodness and truth are not confirmed but by means of temptation. The reception of these spiritual principles is described by the feeding of the five thousand, and the temptation which follows their reception, and is the necessary means of their confirmation, is meant by the storm.
In the early part of the chapter we find the Lord, his disciples, and the multitude together ; at the beginning of this portion of the record we find them apart, the Lord gone up into a mountain alone, his disciples gone into a ship, and the people remaining on the other side, and standing on the sea-shore. These are representative of different but alternate states. The disciples represent the spiritual thoughts and affections of the inner man, and the people, the natural thoughts and affections of the outer man, while the Lord is the truth and Me that enlighten and sustain both. These sometimes act unitedly, sometimes distinctly—unitedly when man looks to the Lord and heaven; distinctly, and it may be separately, when he looks to himself and the world. In this state it is that he is exposed to temptation. This is the state which is described, in the present relation, by the experience both of the disciples on the sea and the multitude on the shore. These we now briefly consider.
16-18. And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea, and entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And the sea arose, by reason of a great wind that blew. All this is descriptive of a state of trial and temptation. It was now even, and soon it becomes dark, and a great wind raises the sea into a storm. This historical symbolism it is not difficult to interpret. Darkness and tempest in this outer world are obvious images of the mental and spiritual obscurity and tribulation, which form part of the common experience of all Christian disciples in passing through the religious life, of which going over the sea to Capernaum is but one of the stages. The sea to which they go down is the letter of the Word; the Lord’s own city, Capernaum, is the doctrine of the Lord, as God in his humanity; the one ship into which they enter is the knowledge of that one Lord and Saviour. But while they go down to, and pass over the sea, Jesus is not come to them; he is away in the mountain alone, above the region of their active thoughts and feelings, leaving them for a while to themselves, but ready to descend to succour them when the time of deliverance comes. But it may be useful to consider how and whence these states of obscurity and tribulation arise. Alternations of state arise from the alternate activity of our spiritual and natural thoughts and affections. These alternations are unavoidable and useful. In their orderly succession they are like the regular vicissitudes of day and night. The mind is no more able to maintain u state of constant wakefulness and activity than the body. The angels themselves have their alternations of state. They rise into activity and sink into repose; and these changes both improve their state and exalt their happiness. They lay them down in peace and sleep, for the Lord sustains them. During these passive states, not only does the Lord keep their city, but he builds up their house as a habitation for himself ; for so he giveth to his beloved in sleep. This sleep is sweet, and when they awake they awake in his likeness. But to those who are yet on earth, these vicissitudes are not always of this orderly and peaceful kind. ” In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Here we have not only our twilight but our darkness, not only our gentle breezes to carry our bark along, but our great wind, that raises the sea into a storm, which threatens to make shipwreck of our souls. In these storms, ” they who go down to the sea in ships, mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths, their soul is melted because of trouble.” It is thus that, outwardly or inwardly, ” they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses ” (Ps. cvii. 23—28). This is the extremity in which the disciples are when, having rowed about five-and-twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship. Severe as was the storm, they continued to row; they did not lay down their oars and give themselves up for lost, but rather, we may suppose, exerted themselves the more as the storm increased. And they made progress. They had rowed about five-and-twenty or thirty furlongs when the Lord appeared to them. Twenty-five and thirty, like the simple numbers five and six, of which they are the product, indicate not so much the amount of spiritual progress as the quality of their spiritual state, as being one in which the remains of love and truth are brought out by the labours of temptation. Their striving had not indeed brought them to the other side, and would in all probability have failed even to save them. But it brought them so far on the way, and even towards him who came to them walking on the water. They were now far from the land, in the midst of the sea, with the raging tempest threatening their destruction. In such perilous circumstances, how welcome the prospect of deliverance. With what wonder and gratitude must they have been filled when they recognised Jesus coming towards them, walking securely upon those troubled waves, that threatened every moment to engulph them. Yet not hope, but fear, was their first emotion. They were afraid. According to Matthew, they supposed they saw a spirit, and, perhaps looking upon it as a messenger of death, they cried out for fear. Our slates give u shape and complexion to the objects that come upon us suddenly. In spiritual experience and in the spiritual world this is invariably the case. And more is it so with divine than even with spiritual things ; they are more remote from our conceptions. The fear with which the Lord’s presence inspired the disciples is the experience of all other disciples. Fear precedes love, that in love there may be holy fear. That which the divine presence first inspires is slavish fear, the fear which arises from a consciousness of our sinfulness. The fear of the disciples was from their not knowing that it was Jesus that appeared to them. And so with all slavish fear. So long as we regard the Lord as an object of dread, we do not know him; we may indeed know his name, but we are ignorant of his character. When he reveals himself to us, as he did to the disciples, not merely by the hearing of the ear, but through the affections of the heart, our fear is changed into love, or rather our love casts out fear, for he himself has said unto us, It is I, be not afraid. And as the disciples willingly received him into the ship, those to whom he reveals himself joyfully receive him into their hearts and minds, as the very object and life of the knowledge by which they sought to come to him. Thus does he bring them to their desired haven, or, as the evangelist records, immediately the ship was at the land whither they went. This marvellous, if not miraculous speed, was the result of the Lord’s presence. The spiritual idea of speed is certainty, for there is no time in the spiritual world. But speed means joy as well as certainty, for spiritual distances are the measures of state; joyful states are short, sorrowful states are long. All spiritual trials and temptations which bring us to the Lord, and bring and reveal the Lord to us, are such as bring us with certainty and joy to the land whither all true disciples are going, and finally to the land of Canaan above, our desired haven of eternal security and rest.
22-24. The evangelist, having recorded the arrival of the ship with its precious freight at Capernaum, now returns to the multitude who had been left on the other side of the lake. The day following, when the people, which stood on the other side of the sea, saw that there was none other boat there, save that one whereinto his disciples were entered, and that Jesus went not with his disciples into the boat, but that his disciples were gone away alone; (howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias, nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks:) when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus. The day following is a new state, the quality of which is indicated by the transactions that belong to it. The first state of the people, as representatively described in the narrative, is an external one: they stood on the side of the sea opposite to that on which the disciples were, and out of the land of Canaan. They saw that there was no other boat there, save that one into which his disciples were entered. This one boat into which the disciples had entered, is, we-have seen, the knowledge of the one great truth, that Jesus is the Author and Object of all true faith, the Giver of all good; a truth into which none but the disciples of the Lord can enter. They saw also that Jesus went not with the disciples into the boat, but that the disciples were gone away alone. They had a perception that this knowledge of Jesus was not filled with the fulness of his love and goodness. Temptation, like the storm, had yet to be endured before the saving presence of the Lord, as the Saviour, could be given. Knowing that Jesus went not with his disciples, the people supposed that he had remained behind. Not finding him in that place, they determined to cross the lake in search of him. They found some ships from Tiberias, nigh unto the place where they had eaten bread. These ships had either arrived after the disciples had left, or were found at another place, near to Bethsaida. The knowledge of the one truth that Jesus is the Christ is that one which leads directly to him. Howbeit there are other knowledges of truth which lead to him, though less directly; but these must come from Tiberias in the land of Canaan; for all true knowledge that leads to the Lord must come from the church where the Word is. The people who took shipping and came to Capernaum seeking for Jesus, had a desire of a certain kind, to find him and profit by him; but it appears from the sequel that theirs was not a very noble object. Like that of some others, their attachment to the Lord was not founded oil the pure and disinterested love of his goodness and truth.
25 When they had found him on the other side of the sea, then said unto him, Rabbi, when earnest thou hither ? This title, by which the people address the Lord, is in accordance with their professed object in seeking for him; for a Rabbi, or teacher, signifies the truth, which he is supposed to teach. The Lord, as Rabbi, is the Truth itself. But the people who now addressed him, did not, it will appear, regard him in this exalted character. Nor did they seek him as a teacher, that he might lead them, by the knowledge of truth, to the possession of goodness, unless to that which was perhaps to them, the highest good, the loaves and fishes, with which they had been and might again be filled. The question, spiritually considered, indicates that such inquirers after Jesus have only an intellectual, not a moral purpose in their search after him as the teacher. They ask him, When earnest thou hither1? Time means state, but state in relation to truth, as place means state in relation to goodness. They had, it is true, no intention of embodying any such idea in the terms of their question. But there is a profound depth of causation in the expressions we use, and divine inspiration fills them with a corresponding spiritual
26. Instead of replying to their question, Jesus answered them, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. The miracles to which the Lord referred were those he had performed on the diseased. The healing of diseases represented the removing of evils. To seek the Lord for the meat he gives, but not because of the miraculous cures he performs, is to seek to be filled with good, without being delivered from evil. Those who are of this character desire to eat of the fruit of the tree of life, which is for food, without first submitting to be healed with its leaves, which are for medicine. The good we desire to possess or to do, without hating and ceasing to do evil, is not spiritual but natural, not heavenly but earthly. This, it is evident from what now follows, was the kind of good for which the people sought Jesus; and is that kind of good which is desired by those who follow him, not because they see his miracles of curing the diseases of the mind and life, but because they have eaten arid been filled with the natural good and truth which even natural men are willing to receive.
27 The first words of exhortation which the Lord addresses to them show his knowledge of their character. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. But the lesson which was thus delivered to them is of universal application, and is designed for the use of all disciples, and of all others who seek the Lord. How much is expressed in this one word, labour ! Labour is the heritage of man. God, in his wisdom, and not only in his wisdom, but in his goodness, has so constituted us, that labour is a necessity of our nature. We cannot rise above the condition of the animal without it. But labour was not intended by the Divine Being to be employed only to supply our animal or other temporal wants. God had an eternal end in view in the appointment of human labour. And if our end in life were in harmony with God’s, our labour, even for the requirements of the body, would, at the same time, discipline and enrich the mind, and thus equally advance our temporal and eternal welfare. God is in all his laws, both of creation and providence, working out by them his eternal ends : and we need only to become workers together with him, that his will and pleasure may be realized in our happiness. But by sin we have separated what God had joined together. And now we labour only for the meat which perishes, without any desire for that which endures. “We spend our money for that which is not bread, and our labour for that which satisfieth not. Such being our natural state, the Lord came down from heaven to direct our labour to an eternal instead of a temporal end; to provide us with that spiritual meat which is required for the soul, and which endures unto everlasting life. The meat which endures, as that which nourishes the soul, is the good which is received by the inner man. And this meat is that which the Son of Man gives unto us. This name is expressive, not only of the Lord’s human nature, but of his divine truth, both as manifested in his own person and as revealed in his Word. He gives, both from himself and through his Word, the spiritual and eternal goodness which alone is imperishable, and which therefore is alone deserving of our labour. And this the Son of Man gives; for him hath God the Father sealed. God has impressed the seal of his eternal divinity on his humanity. The Son is the express image, the stamped impression of the Father’s substance. The Son of Man was sealed by the Father when the humanity of the Lord was glorified by his divinity; as the faithful are said to be sealed by being regenerated. The Lord, as Divine Truth, is sealed by Divine Love; and thus he gives us enduring goodness, he being eternal goodness itself, given as we are able to receive it.
28, 29. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto than, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. Still thinking naturally of the meat which the Lord declared himself able to give, the people ask what they should do to work the works of God, by which that meat was to be obtained. The Lord’s answer is a striking one. The work of God is to believe on him whom he hath sent. To the Jews, who rested their hopes on the works of the Mosaic law, this must have seemed to remove the foundations of their religion. For their elaborate system of observances was to be substituted belief in One whom they could, at best, regard and recognise as a Rabbi. But faith in Jesus, in whom all the Mosaic law was fulfilled, and who was its substance, was an essential condition of the salvation and eternal life he came to bestow. Perhaps Christians arc too much inclined to take the Jewish view of this subject. They are liable to commit the error of supposing that the faith of Jesus Christ is a substitute, not only for Jewish but for Christian works, and that it is the only condition of salvation : that faith, in fact, includes works, and that the whole work of God consists in believing on him whom he hath sent. Belief in Jesus, as the manifested God, is indeed essential to the very existence of Christianity and the Christian life. Christian faith is not a substitute for works, but a power of working. Faith in Jesus is Jesus dwelling in us by faith. And when the Lord dwells in us, he it is who doeth the works. He who inspires us with the love, and bestows on us the wisdom, and gives us the power, is himself the author of the good we are enabled to do. The faith which saves is not alone. There is no true faith Avithout love, and neither faith nor love without works.
30 When the Lord had instructed them that the work of God was to believe in him, They said unto him. What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee ? What dost thou work ? They had seen the Lord perform miracles, and they themselves had been fed by one of the greatest of them, and still they demanded a sign. A sign differs from a miracle. A miracle is a work that affects the will, and inclines it to listen to him who performs it; but a sign acts upon the understanding, and forces its consent. The understanding is not convinced’ by signs, but by reasons. No work, however marvellous, can convince, which does not enlighten. And to compel belief without rational conviction, does not produce, but destroys, true faith. It induces a faith in which there is no truth; and faith without truth is blind faith, which is not conviction but persuasion. It was for this reason that the Lord refused a sign to those who demanded that evidence of his truthfulness. An evil generation seeks after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah, which pointed to the Lord’s own resurrection, and unto his glorification, which is the only and convincing sign to those disinclined to believe in his teaching.
31 But the people not only demand a sign, but they indicate the nature of the sign which they desired. Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. These very persons who appealed to this miracle, had just been fed in the desert with bread from heaven, provided for them by as great a miracle as that by which their fathers had been sustained. Yet they appeal to the manna, and ask Jesus for an equally convincing proof of his power. And such is ever the demand of the unbelieving. Yet no work, bub one which would effect a moral change in themselves, can convince them; and without this change of heart signs may be multiplied to infinity only to make them more negative than before.
32 Our Lord calls their attention, therefore, away from the outward miracle and sustenance, to the inward work and life. He says to them, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven. The literal meaning of this requires attention. Some understand it to mean that the bread of the Israelites, though produced by a miracle, did not come from heaven; others, that the manna, though from heaven, was not the true bread. The passage literally is, “Moses gave you not the bread from heaven.” That which Moses gave you was not the true bread—the bread of life. My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. The contrast here is most important. The Lord teaches that the bread which their fathers had received under Moses was for the body, while that which was now provided for and offered to them by Jesus, was for the soul. He thus endeavours to lead their thoughts from the natural to the spiritual, from the type to the antitype.
33 The Lord, as is his wont, sheds his light upon them gradually. He now brings it to bear a little more directly upon them. The bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. To us this language is plain enough; but the Jews did not yet understand its true meaning or full force; they did not yet see that the Lord meant that he himself was the true bread which nourishes the soul, but that he had bread, and would give it to support human life, by which they understood the life of the body. Their notions exactly correspond with those of the woman of Samaria. “When Jesus spoke of his being able to give her living water, she understood him to speak of some natural spring which was inexhaustible. The present case is an exact counterpart of this, though the result seems much less favourable. There, the subject is the water of life, here, it is the bread of life: there, it is the living and life-giving truth, here, it is the living and life-giving goodness. Both are equally necessary for spiritual life, but both are not equally easy to receive.
34 The answer of the Jews is the same as that of the Samaritan woman: Lord, evermore give us this bread. How ready we are to accept from the Lord what is agreeable to ourselves. How glad should we be to have our bodies, and even our minds supplied, without stint or interruption, with the things which they are willing to recognise as good, and which is their bread of life. Yet, as not all who uttered this desire were natural men, since they were not all offended with the plain truth, when it came to be declared to them, the prayer is in itself an expressive one. The true desire, evermore to be fed with the true bread that came down from heaven in the person of the Lord, containing in himself all that the soul can need or receive, to fill it with goodness and truth, as the very principles of spiritual and eternal life, is the hunger and thirst after righteousness, which Jesus has promised to satisfy. “Evermore give us this bread” is, therefore, a petition which the true as well as the nominal follower of the Lord will offer, when the light first breaks in upon his mind, that the bread of God is he who cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. The same in form with all, but different in essence in the real and the nominal believer.
35. Jesus answers their petition, by still more plainly revealing the truth in relation to himself. I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. It will be seen that, as in the case of the Samaritan woman, the Lord builds his doctrine on the foundation his inquirers had laid. They supply a material basis, and he builds upon it a spiritual superstructure. The history of the Israelites was a representative history of human redemption and salvation. The work of redemption was represented by the deliverance of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, and the work of salvation, by their journey through the wilderness and their settlement in Canaan. The bread that came down from heaven to feed them, and the water that was given, even out of the rock, to quench their thirst, were types of the good and truth with which the Lord feeds the soul, and gives it spiritual life. The whole experience of the Israelites was typical. “All were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: (for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them; and that Bock was Christ). Now these things were our ensamples” (1 Cor. x. 2). Although the Lord speaks only of the bread as being typical of him, as the living bread, yet he includes the water as typical of him, as the living water; for he says that they who come to him shall never hunger, and they that believe on him shall never thirst. All who come to the Lord with their will, and believe in him with their understanding, will have the deepest cravings of their immortal nature satisfied. They shall never hunger any more, neither thirst any more. They will have no unsatisfied desires. They will not lust after what is evil and false, but only desire what is good and true. These are the meat and drink of angels, and must be the food of those who desire to become angels. The Lord, as the supreme Good and Truth, is the very bread and water of life; and all who truly come to him, and believe on him, shall receive of his fulness.
36 Although the multitude that Jesus addressed had seen him, and beheld his wonderful works, and been fed by a miracle, they yet remained unbelieving. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. The Jews were those of whom it is said, that seeing, they see not, or, seeing, see and do not perceive. ” For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed : lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matt. xiii. 15). To see without believing is to have a merely intellectual apprehension of the truth, without any inward consent grounded in affection. This our Lord reveals in what he now says, as recorded in the next verse.
37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me. It has been inferred from this and some similar statements, that God had elected a certain number, on whom he was pleased to bestow his grace and confer the gift of salvation; and that these he would bring to Christ, none others having the power to come. The present statement affords, even in the literal sense, no ground for such an opinion. In the original “all” is neuter, and does not mean persons but tilings. The proper rendering would be, Everything that the Father giveth me will come to me. By everything that the Father gives is meant every affection and thought, inclination and motive, in the mind or heart of man, in which there is anything of heavenly goodness. When, therefore, the Lord says that every such thing will come to him, he means that wherever there is anything truly good in the interiors of the human mind, there is in that good an acknowledgment of the Lord and his truth, and a disposition to obey him. And as every such good conies from God, and indeed from his love, by its very nature it returns to him again, and receives the truth, which raises it up into actual life by regeneration. But within the literal sense of the Lord’s words, there is a spiritual sense, which accounts for the form of the declaration. The Father is the Lord’s divine love, and the Son is his divine wisdom. The profound and instructive meaning of the Lord’s words is, that all who suffer themselves to be drawn by the Lord’s love will come to and accept his truth. ISTone else can or will come. A divine influence, acting upon the heart, turns the understanding believinglyto the Lord. The human soul is under the influence of the Lord’s love from the first moment of its existence; and love is acting within the heart long before the understanding is capable of receiving tho knowledge of the, truth. That the work of the Lord’s love precedes that of his truth, the Lord himself declares in the words already considered, ” My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” This is the order of the divine operation, in the individual as well as in the world. Were not this the case, the human mind would neither have the capacity nor the desire for truth. This love does not force, it only draws; nor is there any idea of compulsory drawing, or of necessary yielding, expressed in the original, which the ” shall” of our version conveys. The Lord, as a Father, draws us by his love, and we, as beings he has created free, must freely yield to his attractive influence, otherwise we cannot be saved. If we yield to the ever-constraining influence of love, the blessed promise is, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. The Lord casts out none. Those who are cast out are such as have been drawn to him, as the truth, not by the love of God, but by the love of self. All whom the Father gives to the Son find in him security and happiness.
38 Our hope of acceptance by the Lord rests on this, For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. The will of the Father and the will of the Son are spoken of as distinct, and in some instances as at variance. Considered as divine persons, this were impossible. As the divine and the human natures in the person of the Lord, this distinction and variance are easily understood. The human will could be inimical to the divine. It must have been so. But the Lord’s human will always yielded submission to his divine will; and by this means his human will became divine, that is, divine-human. There is, however, another and more abstract meaning than this in the Lord’s words. He speaks of having come down from heaven to do the Father’s will, and not his own. He, as we have had occasion to remark, came down from heaven as Divine Truth, to do the will of Divine Love. We have also remarked that Divine Truth condemns all, and that Divine Love saves all. This truth no doubt lies at the foundation of the theological notion, that divine mercy and divine justice are opposed to each other. There is this wide difference, however, between the true and the mistaken view. The mistaken view is, that mercy and justice are opposed in the mind of God; ‘the true view is, that they are opposed in the mind of man. The Lord, by incarnation, took upon himself the human mind, in which the opposition between mercy and justice, or love and truth, existed; and his work in the flesh consisted essentially in his reconciling them. Had the Lord come into the world as the Truth only, none could have been saved, for his work would only have been a work of judgment. All would have been cast out, for none could have endured the operation of that which judges. But the Lord, as the Truth, came not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him, the will of his divine love, which is the source of all good, and consequently of all blessedness. Divine truth came to do the will of divine love; not to be author of condemnation, but the instrument of salvation. Yet let us reflect that we are saved, not by divine love willing and working for us, but by divine love working in us, to will and to do of its good pleasure. This is our Father’s will.
39 Having declared that he came to do his Father’s will, the Lord tells the people what that will is. This is the Father’s will, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. Here, again, the ” all” is neuter, and means everything, which is indeed expressed by ” it,” which is to be raised up at the last. All that the Father gives the Son is, as already remarked, all in us that is willing to be drawn to the knowledge and obedience of the truth. Love cannot save us but by bringing us under the teaching and government of truth. If love could save by itself, all would be saved; for God wills that all men should be saved, but he wills that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. It is because love can only save by truth, that divine truth, or the Word, ” came down from heaven,” and was manifested on earth in the person of Jesus Christ. The object of this manifestation was to make divine truth the perfect instrument or medium, even on earth, of divine love in heaven, that whatever could be drawn away from evil to good by the influence of love might be shielded and preserved, purified and enlightened, by the power of truth, so that the Lord’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. Every good affection which God’s love produces in the heart requires a corresponding perception in the understanding for its development and preservation, and every such perception comes from God’s truth. Every human affection is given to the Son when it is brought into the light of truth, and the end in view is, that of all which the Son thus receives, he should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. In reference to the regeneration of man, the last day is the last or the completed state of the new life. Resurrection is rising into newness of life. It is not the raising of what is dead into life, but the raising of what is living out of what is dead. There must be a germ that is capable of being called into life when the seed falls into the ground and dies. The good which the love of God implants in the human heart is only potential, and only becomes actual by the agency of truth. It is truth that raises it up and gives it consciousness and sight, directing it in the performance of use, and giving a sense of delight. It is the divine will, then, that of all the good instructions which Love has given, Truth should lose none, but should raise them up as living and active principles at last, which is not only the completed state of regeneration, but the last or ultimate degree of the regenerate life, that the first things should become also the last, and all scattered things be gathered into one.
40 The Lord further reveals the Father’s will. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him may have everlasting life ; and I will raise him up at the last day. A distinction is made between seeing the Son and believing on him. With respect to us, to see is to know, which is intellectual sight; but belief must be added to knowledge, that we may have everlasting life. But everlasting life is a state, and not merely a condition. It is the Father’s will that this state should succeed belief. Eternal life is a state of heavenly goodness. Goodness is the first state, and it is the last. The first is the good of ignorance, the second is the good of wisdom. The first is good which draws us to truth, the second is good which is purified and enriched by truth. Good is not genuine till it is united to truth, love is not true love till it is united to wisdom. Love is life, but love united to wisdom is eternal life. It is the Lord’s will, therefore, that every one who has any good should receive truth, and it is his will that every one who receives truth should acquire by it that good in which there is everlasting life. These are they whom the Lord promises to raise up at the last day. This cannot mean a resurrection of the dead at the last day of the world’s existence—supposing that such a day is to come. The raising up here promised, is one which is to be enjoyed by believers, and can mean nothing else than that which believers only can experience, resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. This is the resurrection which the Lord promises. There is another resurrection for the righteous: it is their resurrection into heaven, which takes place at the last day of their earthly existence.
41 When Jesus had ended this brief but pregnant address, the Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread that came down from heaven. Hard, no doubt, it was for men, who beheld a human being, to admit his descent as bread from heaven. Yet, they had seen his mighty works, and had eaten of the bread that his power had produced to satisfy the cravings of their hunger. Was not his claim, to be the giver of the bread which satisfies the hunger of the soul, deserving of their serious regard? But they were types of the natural man, and of the natural mind of man, in all times. These murmur at the things of the spirit, and most of all at the highest spiritual things, those which relate to the Lord as the Supreme Good, from whom all that can be called good is derived, both among angels in heaven and among men on earth.
42 Appearances favour this objection to the Lord being the source of all heavenly goodness. To the claim which he made, the Jews answered, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know ? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven ? The reputed son of Joseph, the Lord could not be supposed by the multitude to have come down from heaven. Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God, but for this they sought to kill him; they had seen his mighty works, but these they ascribed to an evil power. When men are natural, all their conceptions, even of divine things, are natural. The same objection which the Jews made against the incarnate Word is made by natural men against the written Word. Because the Word, like the Lord, is clothed in a human form, those who judge from appearance regard it as merely human. The estimate we form of the Word is necessarily similar to that which we form of the Lord, who is the Divine Truth itself, which the Word reveals, and which, in its inmost sense, it is.
43 The dissent and reasoning of the Jews nppear to have been secretly expressed. Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. This exhortation, both in itself and in reference to the declaration which follows, is a most necessary one. Not only among us, but within us, should all murmuring cease. When the thoughts and affections unite in complainings against the teachings of Divine Truth, it is because they are unwilling to become subject to its laws, unless its rule is to be rewarded by temporal benefits. Jesus does not enter into conflict with them on the subject of his divinity and descent from heaven, but seeks to allay their irritation and still their murmurings, that their minds may be prepared to hear the words of eternal truth. These rnurmurings, like those of the children of Israel in the wilderness, are the temptations which, with the faithful, end in the confirmation of truth and good, with the unfaithful, in their rejection.
44 The Lord now reveals to those who had murmured against him the secret ground of their unbelief, and at the same time the origin of true faith. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him. The remarks we have made on similar declarations, especially that contained in verse 37, render it unnecessary to say much in the way of exposition on the present statement. The Father, we have seen, is the essential divinity, and the Son is the divine humanity; the Father is the divine Love, and the Son is the divine Wisdom. The great truth which the Lord teaches is this: that no one can come to him as the incarnate God, unless he be drawn to him by the power of his indwelling divinity; no one can come to him as the divine Wisdom except he be drawn to him by his divine Love. Religion is not of the head only, but also and essentially of the heart. The will is the moving power in every intellectual act, and there originates every act of faith. Every one is drawn to Jesus Christ by some motive; and the Lord here tells us what the only true motive is, which can bring us to him as our Saviour. Some are drawn to him by self-love, some by self-interest. These are the cardinal motives by which natural men are induced to make a profession of religion. They follow Jesus, not because they have seen or experienced his works of goodness and wisdom, healing diseases and casting out devils, opening the blind eyes and unstopping the deaf ears; but because they have eaten of the loaves and lislies, and have thus been filled with the only good which their heart desires. Such motives can never bring us to the Lord as our Saviour. Only his love can draw us savingly to him, and enable us to receive him as the Word made flesh. There can be no faith in the understanding where there is no love in the heart. Nor is love the result of faith, but faith is the result of love. There must be love in the heart before there can be faith in the understanding. Christianity may be accepted from a logical conviction of its truth; but no one can be drawn to Christ himself as “the power of God and the wisdom of God,” but by the attractive power of his love, as a grace of the heart. But how is this love to be acquired? The love that draws us to the Lord is not of ourselves ; it is the gift of God. Nor is it forced upon us. Like all other divine gifts it is free; and, freely offered, it must be freely received. The Lord’s love is the all pervading, all animating heat of that Sun, which he causes to rise on the evil and on the good. There is nothing hid from the heat thereof. It is the life of all that live, naturally, morally, or spiritually. It is ever with us, ready to enter the heart, whenever the heart is disposed and prepared to receive it. Rather, we should say, it is ever in the heart, dwelling in the natural and moral affections which it has inspired or implanted, and ready to unfold itself as spiritual love, when the heart is willing to yield to its expansive and elevating power. The heart is not opened to receive the Lord’s love by simply desiring it, but by removing the evils that oppose its entrance. Self-indulgence shuts the door of the heart, self-denial opens it. We have only, then, to deny ourselves the gratifications of self-love, that the love of God may take its place, and this love will draw us to that wisdom which will make us wise unto salvation. One, word on-the dogmatic sense of the Lord’s words. That the Lord does not speak of the Father as one divine person, and of himself as another, is evident from his own words on another occasion. Here he declares that no one can come to him except the Father draw him: on another occasion he says, ” and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (chap. xii. 32). Whatever we understand the Lord to mean by the Father, it is clear that he and the Father are one. One and yet distinct ; one Person, but distinct Essentials. One and yet distinct, like soul and body, will and understanding, in man. So, in the Lord, are Divinity and Humanity, Love and Wisdom. The Lord himself draws men to him; yet his love is that which draws them, and his wisdom is that to which they are drawn. As love draws to wisdom, wisdom leads to love. But this we will consider when we come to the Lord’s discourse with Philip (chap. xiv. 6).
45 Jesus further says, It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every one therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. The Lord does not here speak of those who are taught of God, as distinguished from those who are instructed of men, but as opposed to those who are taught of self. In the matter of salvation, we are either taught of God or ourselves. If taught of God, we see the truth from the love of God, if taught of ourselves, we see it from the love of self. As the Lord, as the eternal Wisdom, came forth from the eternal Love, so must our acknowledgment of his wisdom come forth from his love. This is to hear and learn of the Father. And every one that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh to the Son. That which enters by the hearing enters through the affection, to which the hearing corresponds: and every affection, which receives the Lord’s love, comes to his truth. To be more specific, the affections turn the thoughts; for it is affection that hears, and thought that learns.
46 The divine teacher continues: Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. According to the teaching of the Old Testament, no one can see God and live; according to the teaching of the Son, no one can see the Father but in the Son. Eternal wisdom alone can comprehend eternal love, and enable us in our degree to comprehend it. Therefore the Lord elsewhere says, ” No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt. xi. 27). The Father draws us to the Son, and when we yield to his attractive love, the Son, as wisdom, leads us to the Father. But while the Lord’s words remind us, that it is necessary for us to hear and learn of the Father, we are not to understand that we can hear or learn of him directly. ” Ye have neither heard the voice of the Father at any time, nor seen his shape.” The Lord’s divinity can only be seen and heard in his humanity, his love in his wisdom. As the Lord, as the eternal wisdom came forth from the eternal love, so must our acknowledgment of his wisdom come forth from his love.
47 The impossibility of our seeing the Father is compensated by our being able to see the Son; for he who seeth the Son seeth the Father also. Love, which cannot be seen, or known, such as it is in itself, can be seen, so far as it can come to human apprehension, as it manifests itself in wisdom. So the Divinity can be seen in the Humanity. Jesus, . as the manifested Jehovah, is therefore the only object of faith and worship. Hence our Lord’s words, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. If he who sees the Son, sees the Father also, he who believes on the Son believes on the Father also.
48-50. Alluding to his former declaration, that he was the true bread, Jesus says, I am that bread of life. And he proceeds to point out the difference between that which had been given to the Jews, and that which was now offered to the whole human race. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which came down from heaven, that a. man may eat thereof, and not die. The Jews who had eaten of the manna, died naturally; those who eat of the true bread, die not spiritually. In the literal sense the cases are not parallel. But, the Lord spake according to the correspondence between natural and spiritual things. The manna of the Israelites fed the body, the true bread, which Christ is, feeds the soul; the manna did not prevent natural death, but the bread of life saves from spiritual death. But there is a deeper view than this. As the rnanna was the type of the Lord as the true bread, it expressed and represented the whole means of maintaining the religious life under the Israelitish dispensation; and as the Israelitish was but the shadow of a true church, nothing that belonged to it was, in itself, living or life-giving. As the blood of bulls and goats could not cleanse from sin, neither could the bread of their meat-offerings give or support the life of righteousness. Death was written on every thing that constituted the Israelitish church; and so far as that church was concerned, death was the portion of those who lived under it. Not that there was no spiritual life or salvation to those who formed it; but life and salvation were received by them through Him to whom all their symbolic worship pointed. Those of them who did eat of the rnanna in faith and obedience, ate by anticipation of the true bread, which was to come down from heaven, and was given for the life of the world, the only bread of which a man may eat, and not die.
51 The Lord further pursues this subject, for the purpose of introducing a more perfect and comprehensive analogy of his life-giving power. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If a man eat of this bread he shall live for ever; and the bread which I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Lord had called himself the bread of life; he now calls himself the living bread : he had declared that the eating of this bread gave immunity from death; he now declares that it secures eternal life. It is true that whatever gives life must itself be living, but it is only by receiving life from the Lord that we come to see that the Lord is life. It is true also that deliverance or immunity from death is the preservation and possession of life; yet to be saved from death and to receive life are two distinct things, one being the removal of evil, and the other the reception of good; and one precedes the other, for evil must be removed before good can be received. Another distinction our Lord now introduces. He had spoken of himself as bread; he now speaks of himself as flesh. Taken from the Jewish economy, these analogies are found in the manna, with which the people were fed, and in the flesh of the sacrifices which they offered. These were laid upon the altar, as food which the Lord was pleased to accept at their hands, and were called the bread of God. But in the offerings which are called sacrifices, as distinguished from burnt-offerings, certain parts were burnt upon the altar, and the remaining parts were eaten by the priests, and, in some cases, by the people. In. offering the sacrifice, the priest, besides being a type of Jesus, represented the persons who offered, as Jesus himself stood in the place of the people, he having come to do for them what they were no longer able or willing to do for themselves. When, therefore, Jesus declared that he was the living bread, and that the bread he would give was his flesh, he claimed to be to his people what the flesh of the sacrifice and the manna had been to their fathers. In him mankind have the divine and spiritual principles, by which they have eternal life, that were foreshadowed in the means by which the representative people had temporal life. The bread of which he had been speaking was his flesh, his very body, as he afterwards expresses it. And this must be regarded as more than a figure; for if the Lord gives from himself that which nourishes the soul, he must give of his own substance ; nor can we live by any other. But we need not enter further into the consideration of this declaration till we conie to one still more minute.
52 We need hardly wonder that the Jews strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat ? How gross their conception, when, after all the Divine Teacher had said about himself, as the bread that came down from heaven to give eternal life, they should be utterly unable to rise above the merest natural idea of his flesh, by which the world was to be fed. Yet, why should we severely blame them ? Do not even some Christians believe, that the flesh of which the Lord spake was that of the material body he then inhabited, such Christians differing from the Jews only in supposing that they now eat of the Lord’s body by a figure? They receive by faith the merit of the Lord’s life and sufferings in the flesh, elevating their thoughts little above those of the Jews. But the Jews differed in this respect, that they considered it impossible for the Lord to give them his flesh to eat. They are the true types of the natural man, who apprehends all spiritual truth naturally, and then objects to it because it is natural.
53 This doubting question brought out the Lord’s doctrine on the subject in all its plainness and fulness. Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. When we are doubting or disputing about a truth, or even when we are hesitating whether we shall admit it, how necessary is it sometimes to be reminded that life and death depend upon the decision and choice we make. If there is no life in us, except we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, it is of the very first importance that we understand clearly what is meant by this singular and startling declaration. What are the flesh and blood of the Son of man? Flesh and blood constitute the all of the body, and in this instance of the Lord’s body. The Lord, as he afterwards explained, did not speak literally but spiritually; he did not speak of his material, but of his glorified and divine body. This body, in which he rose from the dead, and in which he now is, consists of two divine Essentials, which are Goodness and Truth. For the Lord’s body is his Divine Humanity, or his divinity made human, and thus brought down to the capacities and necessities of fallen man. His divine goodness and truth, or love and wisdom, which constitute the very body in which the divinity now dwells, are the life of angels and men; they are the food of their souls, without receiving which they can have no life in them. So true is it, therefore, that except we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, we have no spiritual life. This only living and life-giving food comes to us both directly from the Lord and through his Word. The name Son of man means the Lord as Divine Truth, and thus as the Word, whose goods and truths are the Lord’s flesh and blood. Eating and drinking are expressive and important in their symbolism. These physical acts express the corresponding mental acts of receiving, digesting, and assimilating the spiritual elements of life, which acts may be expressed by the single word appropriation, in the sense of making a thing our own, by its actually being made a part of our spiritual bodies, as the food we eat becomes a part of our natural bodies. This doctrine is thus grounded in analogy ; so that every time we eat or drink, for the nourishment of our perishable bodies, we have a living and instructive image, that will teach us, if we are disposed to learn, how the immortal soul must be nourished, if we would have eternal life. But the most perfect image of this is presented in the Holy Supper, instituted to be a perpetual representation of the Divine principles of Goodness and Truth, which constitute the Lord’s glorified Body, on which our souls are to feed, and by which they are to be nourished unto eternal life.
54 The Lord continues to set forth and enforce this divine lesson. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. He thus gives the affirmative, as he had just before given the negative, side of this momentous truth, renewing the promise of resurrection unto life, when the day of our regeneration is ended. And as no one has life except by eating his flesh and drinking his blood; so, whoso eateth and drinketh hath eternal life. The language implies the freeness of the offered mercy. Any one and every one may come to the Saviour, that he may be filled with his love and truth, which, while they are freely offered, may be freely received.
55 The reason why those who eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man have eternal life, the Lord declares. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. Flesh and blood are essential goodness and truth, which are meat and drink indeed, compared, not only with the food of the body, but with all other food of the mind. The mind requires moral and intellectual food, besides that which is strictly religious and spiritual; but, compared with all such food, that which the Lord gives is meat indeed. All others are accessories, this is essential; all others are temporal, this is eternal.
56 The Lord says still further, He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in him. The appropriation of the Lord’s goodness and truth makes us, as it were, parts of himself, not indeed parts of his divine body, but members of his mystical body, living members of the Church on earth, and afterwards of the Church in heaven. The conjunction with the Lord, which the reception of his love and truth secures, is most intimate; and it is important to observe that it is reciprocal-—we dwell in him and he dwells in us. This mutual life, if we may so express it, gives us a finite participation in all the Lord’s attributes, in his mercy, truth, holiness; and in all the blessedness which belongs to them. This mutual indwelling of the Lord and man, is produced and continued by man’s constantly returning, in life and worship, the divine operation of which every one is the subject. The Lord dwells in us by action, we in him by reaction. The life which the believer thus receives from the Lord is the divine life accommodated to his reception—the life of the divine in the human. This statement of our Lord is a most edifying one. We are saved, not merely by the Lord living in us, but by our living in him. He is in every one, but every one is not in him. He is in us by his omnipresence ; and where he is, there are his goodness and truth; all that is required, therefore, for our salvation and happiness, is that we be in him. If we loved him as he loves us, we should be in him, as he is in us.
57 The Lord further says, As the living Feather hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This reveals the purpose and use of the Lord’s incarnation. The Father sent the Son. We must not think of this sending and coming as having anything to do with space. God, who is omnipresent, cannot come personally nearer to us by any new means. Sending and coming, in the Divine sense, can mean only a way of making his presence obvious or felt—bringing himself nearer to our apprehensions and feelings. This the Eternal did by assuming human nature, the effect of which was to bring his divine love, wisdom, and power, thus himself, nearer to our human thoughts and affections: not merely nearer to the senses, as was the case with those who saw and heard the Lord in the days of his personal manifestation, but nearer to our conceptions, by a mental realization of the power and actions of Jesus while he sojourned on earth, and nearer especially to our human faculties of understanding and will. By incarnation, he who dwelt in the inmost of the soul, as the secret place of the Most High, and in the heaven of angels as his habitation, came down into the outermost region of human thought and feeling, and thus into the Church on earth as the court of his temple, and so brought himself forth to view. The human nature which the Lord glorified is therefore a living power, that can transform ours into the image of his own. This humanity of the Lord has all the life and power of his divinity. When the Lord says, ” I live by the Father,” he teaches us that the human lives by the divine, that the life of the Human is the Divine life brought down to man. But the sublime practical truth which the Lord here teaches, is that with which he concludes, when, he says, “as I live by the Father; so HE THAT EATETH ME SHALL LIVE BY ME.” This clearly shows that in order to feed the souls of men, the Almighty brought himself down to them. If we may so express it, the Divine feeds the human, and the human feeds us. In other words, the Lord’s humanity prepares, by accommodation, the divine gifts and graces for human reception. Very obvious is it then, that but for the medium of the Lord’s humanity, no saving grace and truth could reach and nourish the mind of man. Thus it is that the Lord lives by the Father, and we live by him.
58 Truly this is the bread that came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. We may here speak of this subject in,its particular and practical meaning. The manna, as distinguished from the true bread, is the good which man receives from heaven during childhood and youth, before he has come to the age of rationality and liberty, and before regeneration has commenced actually. The true bread, which the Lord the Saviour came down from heaven to give, is the good which man receives from the Lord out of heaven during the regenerate life. The good of childhood is not truly good, because not spiritual and saving. That which man receives from the Lord by regeneration is truly good, because it is chosen as necessary for salvation. The first state passes away, and if it is the only state, the soul dies spiritually and eternally; but the second state does not, and he who enters upon and perseveres in it lives for ever. This state is often called a resurrection, for it is a raising up of the good of early life into a new and higher condition, making it truly spiritual and living.
59 These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. A synagogue, we have seen, signifies doctrine, and Capernaum an external condition of the church. To say in the synagogue, while teaching in Capernaum, is to bring forth internal truths out of the external truths of the church.
60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it ? The great doctrine which the Lord had now delivered to his hearers offended, not only the Jews, but even many who had become his disciples, The truths of the gospel are hard to the natural mind, and those who are not yet freed from its dominion, are easily turned aside by their practical application. These nominal disciples considered this saying, about the necessity of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of man, as too hard for any one to hear; too much opposed both to the intellect and the will to be accepted as a matter of faith and life.
61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you ? Another instance we have here of the Lord’s omniscience. It would appear that the disciples murmured among themselves privately, and in themselves secretly. It may seem surprising that they should not have known the power of Jesus to perceive their murmurings, after the evidence he had given of his divinity. But are we not all liable to think and act as they did ? We confess that the Lord is omniscient, and yet we often think and act as if he neither saw nor heard us. There is another lesson to us in this and similar intimations of the Lord’s perception of our thoughts and acts. When the letter tells us, that Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at his doctrine, the spirit teaches us, that our murmurings penetrate into the interior life of the truth, as it is present in our minds, and react against it, so as to weaken or even destroy its power in and over us. The subject of the present murmuring was the Lord’s requiring his hearers to eat his flesh and drink his blood. And he demands of them, Doth this offend you? Startling it may have been, when first put forth; but the language and imagery of their own Scriptures might have led them to divine its meaning. They had been accustomed to eat the flesh of their own sacrifice as a holy thing. There was, therefore, nothing incomprehensible or inconsistent in the idea of eating the flesh of him who was to become the great sacrifice. The whole of their sacrificial worship pointed to this great fact. Why then should this be to the Jew a stumbling-stone and rock of offence ? Because they were carnally minded. And the same cause lies at the foundation of all stumbling at this grand doctrine of the gospel. We would rather eat, ” every man the flesh of his own arm,” or appropriate and trust to the power of our own natural goodness, than draw our soul’s support from the goodness of the Lord, the Saviour, who came down from heaven to feed us with his own flesh.
62 Even in enunciating this requirement, the Lord had made but a moderate demand on their faith and practice, but now he directs their minds to something more marvellous. What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before ? That the Lord had come down from heaven, his disciples, we may conclude, had been able to comprehend; but none of them, even the greatest, had yet, nor did they have at any subsequent period of his life on earth, any just conception of what he meant by ascending up where he was before. But how few of the Lord’s disciples, at the present day, are able to receive this saying? Many are still offended at it. All Christians admit that the Lord made a sensible ascent into heaven; but few conceive, or will be disposed to believe, what that ascent involved. The Lord’s coming down from heaven involves the making his divinity human, and his ascending up into heaven involves the making his humanity divine. Many disciples acknowledge that the Lord’s divinity put on humanity; few acknowledge that his humanity put on divinity. So hard is it to hear this essential and necessary truth of the gospel, that hardly any one in the professing Christian church at this day admits it. Those who would be disciples of the Lord indeed, must receive this precious truth, and must strive to realize it, by ascending with the Lord into the heavens of a new and beatified life.
63 To encourage his disciples to leave the carnal notions and inclinations that caused them to stumble, the Lord tells them, It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. When the Lord spoke of his flesh, he meant not the flesh of his material body, but of his divine body. The soul is quickened by the operation of the spirit, by its receiving living principles from the living body of a glorified Saviour; by its partaking of the virtues of a divine, not of a Unite humanity. The sayings of the Lord are to be spiritually understood. They are spirit and life; they inspire the understanding and animate the heart. We may understand these words of our Lord to have a wider application than the immediate subject of his address. All his words were spiritual and living. Uttered by his human lips, they came from the infinite depths of his divine mind, and were, like himself, divine wisdom clothed in a finite human form. So far as they relate to the present subject, they contain a very important truth. We are all, like his early disciples, disposed to judge by appearances. There is no danger of our following them, in supposing that the Lord requires his disciples literally to eat his material flesh and drink his material blood. But the result shews that we are liable to take the Lord’s words in a figurative rather than a spiritual sense. Many believe that the Lord’s flesh and blood did, and do yet, profit. The flesh which suffered, and the blood which was shed, are believed to have had a vicarious value in the Father’s estimation ; and the disciple is supposed to receive them, through faith in their efficacy, in receiving the pardon and sanctification which the Saviour has purchased for his people. The Lord spake in the language, not of metaphor, but of analogy. By his flesh and blood, he meant the flesh and blood of his divine, not of his material body. He meant the divine principles of his glorified humanity, which are analogous to the flesh and blood of the body in which his disciples beheld him. Unless understood as referring to the Lord’s humanity, we entirely miss the meaning of his words, and their important signification in relation to ourselves. It was because his Divine love and wisdom had ceased to be received by mankind, in such a measure and manner as to be sufficient for their salvation, that the Lord became man, by which his love and wisdom were brought into a new relation to them, so as that they might be accommodated to their altered state and condition, as fallen and degenerate creatures, all whose faculties and powers had become enfeebled.
64 Notwithstanding this encouraging explanation, all could not receive the Lord’s saying. The Lord told them so. But there are some of you that believe not. This evidently means that they were possessed by the spirit of unbelief, which was proof against the clearest evidence. Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and even who should betray him. Again the omniscience of the Saviour is set before us. Foreknowledge does not interfere with human freedom. It may be said that the fate of all men is already decided. Yes; but by what they will choose for themselves. God does not decide for them; he only knows how they will decide. His knowledge, so far from doing them injury, does them good; for his foreknowledge enables him to apply his Providence so as to moderate evils which it cannot prevent.
65 Again the Lord repeats his saying, No man can come unto me, except it were given him of my Father, and tells them that it was because he knew their unbelief that he said this unto them. This teaches, we have seen, that men must be drawn to belief by love. Divine Love is ever present and pressing upon the hearts of all men; and if they harden their hearts against it, that cannot be the result of the will of God, but of man. We may remark here that this often repeated declaration is but another and higher form of the doctrine, that charity is the first-born grace of the soul, and the first principle of the church. Where there is no charity in the heart, there can be no faith in the understanding. Charity consists in doing the will of God; for “he that doeth my commandments, he it is that loveth me;” and he that doeth the will of God shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God. All these are but different modes of stating the same fact, that true faith, though it belongs to the intellect, has its root in the heart.
66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. The first great exposition of his principles, or of tho principles of eternal life, scattered his disciples. How expressive the language, how melancholy the fact! They turned their backs upon the Author of eternal life, and their feet from the path that would have led them to heaven. How should we be warned of the danger, of the folly and ingratitude, of turning our minds away from the lessons of eternal truth, and our lives from the example of eternal goodness. How fearful the state—”they went back, and walked no more with him !”
67 There were others left after this defection, but only, it would appear, those who were called apostles. Then said Jesus unto the twelve. Will ye also go away ? How affecting this appeal; not for his own sake, but for the sake of those to whom it was addressed. The apostles were, no doubt, compared with the disciples at this period, spiritual men, and represent spiritual principles. Like some other questions of our Lord, this is intended for the hearers’ reflection, not for the speaker’s information. It is designed to lead to self-examination, that the disciples may discover the ground of their belief in the Lord, and of their adherence to his cause. Considered in reference to the individual believer, it teaches the necessity, when any backsliding or disobedience arises out of the corruptions and reasonings of the natural mind, of looking into the inner life, to see whether this is also inclined to yield.
68 Happy will it be for us if there be found in the midst of our affections a faith like that of Peter among the twelve, ready to exclaim, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. Among the many memorable sayings that occur in the Scriptures, this is one of the most instructive and precious. When temptations or allurements, acting upon our perverse hearts and frail nature, would turn us away from Him who has fed and helped us hitherto, how desirable and necessary the confiding question, Lord, to whom shall we go ? Peter’s noble exclamation is but another form of the Psalmist’s— “”Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none on earth I desire besides thee.” (Ps. lxxiii. 25.) And whom shall the faithful desire, and to whom, shall they go, since the Lord, and he alone, has the words of eternal life ? Only the eternal “Word has the words of eternal life. The apostle’s declaration of confidence in the Lord forms a noble contrast to the weak and faithless conduct of those disciples who found the grand doctrine of Jesus, respecting himself as the giver of life, an hard saying, and who went back and walked no more with him. An example like that which these miserable disciples gave, while it has a great influence over the weak and vacillating, tends only to strengthen the strong and confirm the steadfast. Crucial times and states are good for the church and for the individual Christian. They remove the branches that bear no fruit, and purge and strengthen the others, that they may produce the more. Nor is this a trial only among the disciples ; it is also within them. It separates between the true and the false, the genuine and the spurious, in their own minds, and raises the true and genuine into a closer connection and more intimate relation with the supreme good which the Lord is. It brings out more fully that loving and living faith, of which Peter was so worthy a representative.
69 And what a noble testimony does this bold and devoted disciple bear to the character of him whom he and his fellow apostles were resolved to follow. And we believe, and are sure, that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is the famous confession which procured for him, who pronounced it, the name of Peter, or a Kock, on which the Lord builds his church, and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. The acknowledgment? of Jesus as the Christ, or, according to some copies, the Holy One, is in. unison with Peter’s previous declaration; for Christ, and also the Holy One, are names applied to the Lord as the Divine Truth, the Fountain of truth and holiness to men, and to the church as. formed of the faithful. The confidence with which the apostle speaks is deserving of our admiration. ” We believe, and are sure.” The belief of the apostles, in whose name Peter spoke, had no background of uncertainty. They did not, like some disciples, consider it presumptuous to be confident; much less did they regard faith the more worthy, the less clear the evidence on which it rests. True, however, it is, that the faith and certainty of the true disciple do not rest entirely upon outward, but chiefly and essentially upon inward evidence. His is a faith that rests upon knowledge, a certainty that has grown out of experience, that the Lord is the author of immutable and saving truth, and of spiritual and eternal life. He, who uttered the impassioned words we are now considering, knew from conviction and experience that Jesus was the infinite Wisdom of infinite Love. As if he had said, Our understandings tell us, our hearts assure us, that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God; the Truth that came forth from Love. We have seen and have felt that thou art all that feeble and sinful man needs or can desire.
70 To this fervid declaration and confession of Peter, the Lord answers, Have not I chosen you twelve ? and one of you is a devil ? This would seem intended to intimate, that although the apostles as a body remained faithful, when many of the disciples proved faithless, yet there was even among their chosen number a root of bitterness, and an element of something still worse than defection. The apostles represent all the principles which constitute the church in the human mind. But where they are called the twelve, they signify all things pertaining to faith, by which man is initiated into celestial and spiritual states during regeneration; for whilst man is being regenerated, thus whilst from being dead he is made alive, or from being earthly he is made heavenly, he is led by the Lord through various states; the general states through which he is led being meant by the Lord’s successively choosing the twelve apostles, as, in the Old Testament, they had been represented by the successive birth of the twelve patriarchs. One of the apostles was a devil, to represent the corrupt selfhood of man, which enters more or less into all his activities, especially during the early stages of the regenerate life. This element in human nature was represented by the serpent, which originally deceived man, which reigned from. Adam to Christ, which tempted and betrayed the Lord, and was only finally overcome and cast down by his completed work of redemption.
71 The one to whom the Lord referred was Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve. Judas, the son of Simon, is the symbol of evil derived from falsity. Each of us, even in our partially regenerate state, has a Judas in his own heart; for Satan still comes among the sons of God, even when they assemble in the divine presence. Nay, Judas is chosen among the twelve, not because he is approved by the Being who chooses him, but because he is the only one that is there to choose for the place and office. By this the Lord would teach us that, even when we are able from a sincere faith to acknowledge him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, we have lurking in our hearts one that may even betray him whom we rejoice to confess; but who will himself be crushed under the weight of his own transgression. In the regenerate man, however, the Judas of his heart is not permitted to commit the crime of the actual betrayal of the Lord. The temptation to betray the Lord who bought him may come from hell, and act upon the evil of his corrupt nature, but the deed remains undone; the temptation ends in the rejection of the evil through which the temptation comes, and the Lord triumphs over all the power of the enemy.
Author: William Bruce –1870
Pictures: James Tissot—-Courtesy of the Brooklyn museum