The rest of the chapter is taken up with debates between Christ and contradicting sinners, who cavilled at the most gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth. It is not certain whether these disputes were the same day that the adulteress was discharged; it is probable they were, for the evangelist mentions no other day, and takes notice (John 8:2) how early Christ began that day’s work. Though those Pharisees that accused the woman had absconded, yet there were other Pharisees (John 8:13) to confront Christ, who had brass enough in their foreheads to keep them in countenance, though some of their party were put to such a shameful retreat; nay perhaps that made them the more industrious to pick quarrels with him, to retrieve, if possible, the reputation of their baffled party. In these verses we have,
I. A great doctrine laid down, with the application of it.
1. The doctrine is, That Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12): Then spoke Jesus again unto them; though he had spoken a great deal to them to little purpose, and what he had said was opposed, yet he spoke again, for he speaketh once, yea, twice. They had turned a deaf ear to what he said, and yet he spoke again to them, saying, I am the light of the world. Note, Jesus Christ is the light of the world. One of the rabbies saith, Light is the name of the Messiah, as it is written, Dan. 2:22; And light dwelleth with him. God is light, and Christ is the image of the invisible God; God of gods, Light of lights. He was expected to be a light to enlighten the Gentiles (Luke 2:32), and so the light of the world, and not of the Jewish church only. The visible light of the world is the sun, and Christ is the Sun of righteousness. One sun enlightens the whole world, so does one Christ, and there needs no more. Christ in calling himself the light expresses, (1.) What he is in himself—most excellent and glorious. (2.) What he is to the world—the fountain of light, enlightening every man. What a dungeon would the world be without the sun! So would it be without Christ by whom light came into the world, John 3:19.
2. The inference from this doctrine is, He that followeth me, as a traveller follows the light in a dark night, shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. If Christ be the light, then, (1.) It is our duty to follow him, to submit ourselves to his guidance, and in every thing take directions from him, in the way that leads to happiness. Many follow false lights—ignes fatui, that lead them to destruction; but Christ is the true light. It is not enough to look at this light, and to gaze upon it, but we must follow it, believe in it, and walk in it, for it is a light to our feet, not our eyes only. (2.) It is the happiness of those who follow Christ that they shall not walk in darkness. They shall not be left destitute of those instructions in the way of truth which are necessary to keep them from destroying error, and those directions in the way of duty which are necessary to keep them from damning sin. They shall have the light of life, that knowledge and enjoyment of God which will be to them the light of spiritual life in this world and of everlasting life in the other world, where there will be no death nor darkness. Follow Christ, and we shall undoubtedly be happy in both worlds. Follow Christ, and we shall follow him to heaven.
II. The objection which the Pharisees made against this doctrine, and it was very trifling and frivolous: Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true, John 8:13. In this objection they went upon the suspicion which we commonly have of men’s self-condemnation, which is concluded to be the native language of self-love, such as we are all ready to condemn in others, but few are willing to own in themselves. But in this case the objection was very unjust, for, 1. They made that his crime, and a diminution to the credibility of his doctrine, which in the case of one who introduced a divine revelation was necessary and unavoidable. Did not Moses and all the prophets bear witness of themselves when they avouched themselves to be God’s messengers? Did not the Pharisees ask John Baptist, What sayest thou of thyself? 2. They overlooked the testimony of all the other witnesses, which corroborated the testimony he bore of himself. Had he only borne record of himself, his testimony had indeed been suspicious, and the belief of it might have been suspended; but his doctrine was attested by more than two or three credible witnesses, enough to establish every word of it.
III. Christ’s reply to this objection, John 8:14. He does not retort upon them as he might (“You profess yourselves to be devout and good men, but your witness is not true”), but plainly vindicates himself; and, though he had waived his own testimony (John 5:31), yet here he abides by it, that it did not derogate from the credibility of his other proofs, but was necessary to show the force of them. He is the light of the world, and it is the property of light to be self-evidencing. First principles prove themselves. He urges three things to prove that his testimony, though of himself, was true and cogent.
1. That he was conscious to himself of his own authority, and abundantly satisfied in himself concerning it. He did not speak as one at uncertainty, nor propose a disputable notion, about which he himself hesitated, but declared a decree, and gave such an account of himself as he would abide by: I know whence I came, and whither I go. He was fully apprised of his own undertaking from first to last; knew whose errand he went upon, and what his success would be. He knew what he was before his manifestation to the world, and what he should be after; that he came from the Father, and was going to him (John 16:28), came from glory, and was going to glory, (John 17:5). This is the satisfaction of all good Christians, that though the world know them not, as it knew him not, yet they know whence their spiritual life comes, and whither it tends, and go upon sure grounds.
2. That they are very incompetent judges of him, and of his doctrine, and not to be regarded. (1.) Because they were ignorant, willingly and resolvedly ignorant: You cannot tell whence I came, and whither I go. To what purpose is it to talk with those who know nothing of the matter, nor desire to know? He had told them of his coming from heaven and returning to heaven, but it was foolishness to them, they received it not; it was what the brutish man knows not, Ps. 92:6. They took upon them to judge of that which they did not understand, which lay quite out of the road of their acquaintance. Those that despise Christ’s dominions and dignities speak evil of what they know not, Jude 1:8, 10. (2.) Because they were partial (John 8:15): You judge after the flesh. When fleshly wisdom gives the rule of judgment, and outward appearances only are given in evidence, and the case decided according to them, then men judge after the flesh; and when the consideration of a secular interest turns the scale in judging of spiritual matters, when we judge in favour of that which pleases the carnal mind, and recommends us to a carnal world, we judge after the flesh; and the judgment cannot be right when the rule is wrong. The Jews judged of Christ and his gospel by outward appearances, and, because he appeared so mean, thought it impossible he should be the light of the world; as if the sun under a cloud were no sun. (3.) Because they were unjust and unfair towards him, intimated in this: “I judge no man; I neither make nor meddle with your political affairs, nor does my doctrine or practice at all intrench upon, or interfere with, your civil rights or secular powers.” He thus judged no man. Now, if he did not war after the flesh, it was very unreasonable for them to judge him after the flesh, and to treat him as an offender against the civil government. Or, “I judge no man,” that is, “not now in my first coming, that is deferred till I come again,” John 3:17. Prima dispensatio Christi medicinalis est, non judicialis—The first coming of Christ was for the purpose of administering, not justice, but medicine.
3. That his testimony of himself was sufficiently supported and corroborated by the testimony of his Father with him and for him (John 8:16): And yet, if I judge, my judgment is true. He did in his doctrine judge (John 9:39), though not politically. Consider him then,
(1.) As a judge, and his own judgment was valid: “If I judge, I who have authority to execute judgments, I to whom all things are delivered, I who am the Son of God, and have the Spirit of God, if I judge, my judgment is true, of incontestable rectitude and uncontrollable authority, Rom. 2:2. If I should judge, my judgment must be true, and then you would be condemned; but the judgment-day is not yet come, you are not yet to be condemned, but spared, and therefore now I judge no man;” so Chrysostom. Now that which makes his judgment unexceptionable is, [1.] His Father’s concurrence with him: I am not alone, but I and the Father. He has the Father’s concurring counsels to direct; as he was with the Father before the world in forming the counsels, so the Father was with him in the world in prosecuting and executing those counsels, and never left him inops consilii—without advice, Isa. 11:2. All the counsels of peace (and of war too) were between them both, Zech. 6:13. He had also the Father’s concurring power to authorize and confirm what he did; see Ps. 89:21; Isa. 42:1. He did not act separately, but in his own name and his Father’s, and by the authority aforesaid, John 5:17; 14:9, 10. [2.] His Father’s commission to him: “It is the Father that sent me.” Note, God will go along with those that he sends; see Exod. 3:10, 12: Come, and I will send thee, and certainly I will be with thee. Now, if Christ had a commission from the Father, and the Father’s presence with him in all his administrations, no doubt his judgment was true and valid; no exception lay against it, no appeal lay from it.
(2.) Look upon him as a witness, and now he appeared no otherwise (having not as yet taken the throne of judgment), and as such his testimony was true and unexceptionable; this he shows, John 8:17, 18, where,
[1.] He quotes a maxim of the Jewish law, John 8:17. That the testimony of two men is true. Not as if it were always true in itself, for many a time hand has been joined in hand to bear a false testimony, 1 Kgs. 21:10. But it is allowed as sufficient evidence upon which to ground a verdict (verum dictum), and if nothing appear to the contrary it is taken for granted to be true. Reference is here had to that law (Deut. 17:6), At the mouth of two witnesses shall he that is worthy of death be put to death. And see Deut. 9:15; Num. 35:30. It was in favour of life that in capital cases two witnesses wee required, as with us in case of treason. See Heb. 6:18.
[2.] He applies this to the case in hand (John 8:18): I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me bears witness of me. Behold two witnesses! Though in human courts, where two witnesses are required, the criminal or candidate is not admitted to be a witness for himself; yet in a matter purely divine, which can be proved only by a divine testimony, and God himself must be the witness, if the formality of two or three witnesses be insisted on, there can be no other than the eternal Father, the eternal Son of the Father, and the eternal Spirit. Now if the testimony of two distinct persons, that are men, and therefore may deceive or be deceived, is conclusive, much more ought the testimony of the Son of God concerning himself, backed with the testimony of his Father concerning him, to command assent; see 1 John 5:7, 9-11. Now this proves not only that the Father and the Son are two distinct persons (for their respective testimonies are here spoken of as the testimonies of two several persons), but that these two are one, not only one in their testimony, but equal in power and glory, and therefore the same in substance. St. Austin here takes occasion to caution his hearers against Sabellianism on the one hand, which confounded the persons in the Godhead, and Arianism on the other, which denied the Godhead of the Son and Spirit. Alius est filius, et alius pater, non tamed aliud, sed hoc ipsum est et pater, et filius, scilicet unus Deus est—The Son is one Person, and the Father is another; they do not, however, constitute two Beings, but the Father is the same Being that the Son is, that is, the only true God. Tract. 36, in Joann. Christ here speaks of himself and the Father as witnesses to the world, giving in evidence to the reason and conscience of the children of men, whom he deals with as men. And these witnesses to the world now will in the great day be witnesses against those that persist in unbelief, and their word will judge men.
This was the sum of the first conference between Christ and these carnal Jews, in the conclusion of which we are told how their tongues were let loose, and their hands tied.
First, How their tongues were let loose (such was the malice of hell) to cavil at his discourse, John 8:19. Though in what he said there appeared nothing of human policy or artifice, but a divine security, yet they set themselves to cross questions with him. None so incurably blind as those that resolve they will not see. Observe,
a. How they evaded the conviction with a cavil: Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? They might easily have understood, by the tenour of this and his other discourses, that when he spoke of his Father he meant no other than God himself; yet they pretend to understand him of a common person, and, since he appeals to his testimony, they bid him call his witness, and challenge him, if he can, to produce him: Where is thy Father? Thus, as Christ said of them (John 8:15), they judge after the flesh. Perhaps they hereby intend a reflection upon the meanness and obscurity of his family: Where is thy Father, that he should be fit to give evidence in such a case as this? Thus they turned it off with a taunt, when they could not resist the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke.
b. How he evaded the cavil with a further conviction; he did not tell them where his Father was, but charged them with wilful ignorance: “You neither know me nor my Father. It is to no purpose to discourse to you about divine things, who talk of them as blind men do of colours. Poor creatures! you know nothing of the matter.” (a.) He charges them with ignorance of God: “You know not my Father.” In Judah was God known (Ps. 76:1); they had some knowledge of him as the God that made the world, but their eyes were darkened that they could not see the light of his glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ. The little children of the Christian church know the Father, know him as a Father (1 John 2:13); but these rulers of the Jews did not, because they would not so know him. (b.) He shows them the true cause of their ignorance of God: If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. The reason why men are ignorant of God is because they are unacquainted with Jesus Christ. Did we know Christ, [a.] In knowing him we should know the Father, of whose person he is the express image, John 14:9. Chrysostom proves hence the Godhead of Christ, and his equality with his Father. We cannot say, “He that knows a man knows an angel,” or, “He that knows a creature knows the Creator;” but he that knows Christ knows the Father. [b.] By him we should be instructed in the knowledge of God, and introduced into an acquaintance with him. If we knew Christ better, we should know the Father better; but, where the Christian religion is slighted and opposed, natural religion will soon be lost and laid aside. Deism makes way for atheism. Those become vain in their imaginations concerning God that will not learn of Christ.
Secondly, See how their hands were tied, though their tongues were thus let loose; such was the power of Heaven to restrain the malice of hell. These words spoke Jesus, these bold words, these words of conviction and reproof, in the treasury, an apartment of the temple, where, to be sure, the chief priests, whose gain was their godliness, were mostly resident, attending the business of the revenue. Christ taught in the temple, sometimes in one part, sometimes in another, as he saw occasion. Now the priests who had so great a concern in the temple, and looked upon it as their demesne, might easily, with the assistance of the janizaries that were at their beck, either have seized him and exposed him to the rage of the mob, and that punishment which they called the beating of the rebels; or, at least, have silenced him, and stopped his mouth there, as Amos, though tolerated in the land of Judah, was forbidden to prophesy in the king’s chapel, Amos 7:12, 13. Yet even in the temple, where they had him in their reach, no man laid hands on him, for his hour was not yet come. See here, 1. The restraint laid upon his persecutors by an invisible power; none of them durst meddle with him. God can set bounds to the wrath of men, as he does to the waves of the sea. Let us not therefore fear danger in the way of duty; for God hath Satan and all his instruments in a chain. 2. The reason of this restraint: His hour was not yet come. The frequent mention of this intimates how much the time of our departure out of the world depends upon the fixed counsel and decree of God. It will come, it is coming; not yet come, but it is at hand. Our enemies cannot hasten it any sooner, nor our friends delay it any longer, than the time appointed of the Father, which is very comfortable to every good man, who can look up and say with pleasure, My times are in thy hands; and better there than in our own. His hour was not yet come, because his work was not done, nor his testimony finished. To all God’s purposes there is a time.