22.If I had not come. He had said that the Jews regarded the Gospel with hatred, because they did not know God. Lest any one should think that this tended to alleviate their guilt, he adds, that it is through malice that they are blind, just as if one were to shut his eyes, that he might not be compelled to see the light. For otherwise it might have been brought as an objection against Christ. “ they do not know thy Father, how comes it that thou dost not cure their ignorance? Why didst thou not at least make trial whether they were altogether incapable of being taught, or not?” He replies, that he has performed the duty of a good and faithful Teacher, but without success, because their malice would not suffer them to acquire soundness of mind. In the person of those men he intended to strike terror into all who reject the truth of God, when it is offered to them, or intentionally fight against it, when it is known. And though a dreadful vengeance awaits them, still Christ, in this passage, looks chiefly to his own disciples, to animate them by the confident and well-grounded expectation of victory, lest, at any time, they should yield to the malice of wicked men; for when we learn that such will be the issue, we may already triumph, as if we were in the midst of the battle.
They would not have sin. It may be thought that Christ intended by these words to say, that there is no other sin but unbelief; and there are some who think so. Augustine speaks more soberly, but he approaches to that opinion; for, since faith forgives and blots out all sins, he says, that the only sin that damns a man is unbelief. This is true, for unbelief not only hinders men from being delivered from the condemnation of death, but is the source and cause of all evils. But the whole of that reasoning is inapplicable to the present passage; for the wordsin is not taken in a general sense, but as related to the subject which is now under consideration; as if Christ had said, that their ignorance is utterly inexcusable, because in his person they maliciously rejected God; just as if we were to pronounce a person to be innocent, just, and pure, when we wished merely to acquit him of a single crime of which he had been accused. Christ’ acquittal of them, therefore, is confined to one kind of sin, because it takes away from the Jews every pretense of ignorance in this sin, (87) of despising and hating the Gospel.
But there is still another question that arises: “ not unbelief sufficient to condemn men before the coming of Christ?” There are fanatics who reason inconclusively from this passage, that all who died before the coming of Christ died without faith, and remained in a state of doubt and suspense till Christ manifested himself to them; as if there were not many passages of Scripture which testify that their conscience alone was sufficient to condemn them. Death, says Paul, reigned in the world even to Moses, (Rom_5:14.) And again he declares, that
they who have sinned without law shall perish without law,
What, then, does Christ mean? There is undoubtedly an admission made in these words, by which he means that the Jews have nothing more to offer in extenuation of their guilt, since they knowingly and willfully rejected the life which was offered to them. Thus the excuse which he makes for them does not free them from all blame, but only extenuates the heinousness of their crime, according to that saying, The servant, who knoweth the will of his master, and despiseth it, shall be severely punished ? (88) For it was not the intention of Christ here to promise pardon to any, but to hold his enemies convicted, who had obstinately rejected the grace of God, that it might be fully evident that they were unworthy of all pardon and mercy.
If I had not come and SPOKEN TO THEM. It ought to be observed, that he does not speak of his coming, as viewed by itself, but as connected with his doctrine, for they would not have been held guilty of so great a crime on account of his bodily presence alone, but the contempt of the doctrine made them utterly inexcusable.
(87) “En ce peche.”
(88) The Author quotes, as he often does, from memory; but the passage stands thus:
“ servant, who knew his master’ will, and did not make himself ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes, (Luk_12:47.)