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Gentile parents, and therefore the fruits of fornication ; (for a connection with idolaters is represented in the Jewish scriptures as a breach of the marriage-covenant;) but the natural descendents of Abraham, and the children of God.
1. The Jewish people, of whose temper this passage affords us a specimen, exhibit a melancholy example of the unhappy effect of worldly views, in blinding the understanding, and in preventing it from receiving the plainest truth, even when the reception of it is necessary to salvation. Nothing could be clearer than the justness of Christ's claims to a divine commission; for they were supported by the most abundant evidence; by the repeated declarations of Jesus himself, confirmed and established with the testimony of God, who bore witness to their truth by a great variety of beneficent miracles :-in short, by stronger and more satisfactory proofs than those of any other prophet, not excepting Moses : yet all this evidence made no impression upon the majority of the Jewish nation, because Jesus was a teacher of pure morals and unaffected piety, and presented them with nothing which was calculated to gratify their pride, their vanity, or their ambition. No evidence could convince them that a person of this character could be their Messiah. Instructed by their example, let us be careful that we suffer not our minds to be corrupted by the same evil passions; particularly by that inordinate love of the world, which would lead us to suppose that there is nothing valuable but wealth and splendour : no opinion can be more unfavourable to the reception of the truth, or make us more unwilling to suffer in its defence. Let it be our maxim that truth and wisdom are the most valuable treasure; these will not always give us riches, but they will give us what is more valuable-peace of mind and security from danger.
2. Let us value the gospel of Christ, here called the truth, as the source of the most important practical effects. It is not an idle theory or speculation, but an active and powerful principle, producing the happiest influence upon the conduct; freeing the mind from the slavery of vice, from the bondage of fear, and inspiring it with the noblest views and most animating hopes. Such is the genuine effect of the gospel of truth; exalting man to the true dignity and happiness of his nature. Let us seach for it in its purity with diligence, and endeavour to free it from that mass of corruption with which it has been loaded; and when found, let us present it to the mind continually.
3. We learn from the character of these Jews, of what little value it is to be descended from worthy ancestors, while we do not imitate their conduct. They valued themselves for being descended from Abraham, the father of the faithful, and the friend of God: they treated with contempt all those who could not boast of so illustrious an origin: but their character was in every respect the reverse of his, neither believing the declarations of God, obeying his voice, nor seeking his favour; and they were therefore abandoned by him to those evils which they had merited by their sins. If the virtues of Abraham could not benefit his posterity, nor save them from ruin, much less can we ex. pect these effects from ancestry of inferior character. Some advantages indeed they afford us, by furnishing incitements to imitate worthy deeds: but these motives to goodness it is possible to resist, and then they only serve to aggravate the guilt of those who could not be restrained from wickedness by such advantages, and to render the degeneracy of their character so much the more conspicuous. Let us remember that there is no just claim to excellence, but what is founded upon personal virtue, and that there is nothing else which can recommend us to the divine favour.
John viii. 42. to the end. 42. Jesus said unto them, 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.
Jesus had told the Jews who attended him in the temple, and had a design to apprehend him and put him to death, that they did the works of their father, meaning the devil. To this they had replied, that God was their father, and that they were entitled to the name and character of his children. Jesus answers, that if they had possessed the temper of the children of God, they would have respected him, who was his messenger, and accompanied with such evidence of his mission as the children of God must have submitted to. This passage plainly shows, that the phrases coming from God, coming down from heaven, coming or being sent into the world, and others of a like kind, do not signify any local descent, but coming with a divine commission: for what Jesus sets in opposition to these phrases is coming of himself, or without any divine authority.
43. Why do ye not understand my speech ? Even because ye cannot hear my word.
The reason why you do not understand and believe what I have said concerning my divine mission, is obvious : your minds are so prejudiced, that you will not attend with due care to what I say. Christ now tells the Jews plainly what he meant by saying, verse fortyone, that they did the works of their father.
44. Ye are of your father, the devil; and the lusts of your father ye will do; that is, ye are ready to perform; he was a murderer from the beginning,
This may be supposed to refer to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, a deed which took place at the beginning of the world, and to which he is supposed to have been instigated by the devil, the source of moral as well as of natural evil. The lusts or wishes of this being the Jews had shown themselves ready to fulfil, by endeavouring unjustly to take away the life of Jesus; which proved that they were his children, in as much as they bore his image. There was another circumstance likewise in which they resembled this evil being, and that was their disregard of the truth.
And abode not in the truth, that is, « kept not the truth,” because there is no truth in him : when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar and the father of it.
The last clause of this verse has been translated in the following manner; “When any one speaketh a lie, he speaketh according to his own kindred: for his father also is a liar;" for this rendering, however, it is acknowledged that the Greek Text, as it now stands, lays no foundation, but it makes the passage so intelligible and natural, and the common rendering is so obscure and so unconnected, that I cannot help thinking it must have stood so originally. The change, too, which it requires is so inconsiderable, that the common reading may easily be supposed to have been made at first by accident or mistake, and to have afterwards crept into all our present copies.
It is observable that the Jews, in the latter period of their history at least, appear to speak of natural and moral evil as originating with an evil being, who is supposed to have power over the bodies and minds of men for this purpose. Thus we are told, I Chron. xxi. I, that Satan stood up against Israel, and moved
David to number Israel. And in the New Testament, a woman who was long bound together by weakness, Satan is said to have bound eighteen years. Peter also, in his first address to his countrymen after the resurs rection of Jesus, tells them that Jesus went about healing all such as were oppressed of the devil. Other examples of a like nature might be produced from the apostolic writings. Whether those who used this language conceived of the devil or Satan as a real being, or only as an allegorical personage, is not so easy to determine; but whatever might be their opinion, it does not appear that they derived it from divine revelation, which uniformly speaks of evil as well as good as proceeding from one and the same being. Their faith, therefore, is no rule for ours. They probably acquired this notion, or this language, during the Babylonish captivity, from the Chaldeans, among whom, as well as the Persians, the doctrine of a good and evil principle prevailed. Whether Jesus thought differently from the rest of his countrymen upon this subject, is a matter more of curiosity than importance: for as the notion prevailed before his time, and as he does not pretend to any revelation upon the subject, we are left at liberty to receive or reject it, as it may appear to us well or ill founded. As, however, he adopts the language of the people, it is probable that his opinion corresponded with theirs. Making use of this liberty, I have no scruple in saying that the existence of such a being as the devil, possessed of the powers usually ascribed to him, is highly improbable: for it is to suppose that the Deity has created a being who is continually altering or suspending the laws of nature, and tempting men to sin, without their having the power to resist his artifices. Christ now goes on to prove the resemblance of the Jews to the devil, from their dislike of the truth. '
45. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
46. Which of you convinceth me, rather, “ convicteth me," of sin? And