3.And this is eternal life He now describes the manner of bestowing life, namely, when he enlightens the elect in the true knowledge of God; for he does not now speak of the enjoyment oflife which we hope for, but only of the manner in which men obtain life And that this verse may be fully understood, we ought first to know that we are all in death, till we are enlightened by God, who alone is life Where he has shone, we possess him by faith, and, therefore, we also enter into the possession of life; and this is the reason why the knowledge of him is truly and justly called saving, or bringing salvation. (109) Almost every one of the words has its weight; for it is not every kind of knowledge that is here described, but that knowledge which forms us anew into the image of God from faith to faith, or rather, which is the same with faith, by which, having been engrafted into the body of Christ, we are made partakers of the Divine adoption, and heirs of heaven. (110)
To know thee, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. The reason why he says this is, that there is no other way in which God is known but in the face of Jesus Christ, who is the bright and lively image of Him. As to his placing the Father first, this does not refer to the order of faith, as if our minds, after having known God, afterwards descend to Christ; but the meaning is, that it is by the intervention of a Mediator that God is known.
The only true God. Two epithets are added, true and only; because, in the first place, faith must distinguish God from the vain inventions of men, and embracing him with firm conviction, must never change or hesitate; and, secondly, believing that there is nothing defective or imperfect in God, faith must be satisfied with him alone. Some explain it, That they may know thee, who alone art God; but this is a poor interpretation. The meaning therefore is, That they may know thee alone to be the true God
But it may be thought that Christ disclaims for himself the right and title of Divinity. Were it replied, that the name of God is quite as applicable to Christ as to the Father, the same question might be raised about the Holy Spirit; for if only the Father and the Son are God, the Holy Spirit is excluded from that rank, which is as absurd as the former. The answer is easy, if we attend to that manner of speaking which Christ uniformly employs throughout the Gospel of John, of which I have already reminded my readers so frequently, that they must have become quite accustomed to it. Christ, appearing in the form of a man, describes, under the person of the Father, the power, essence, and majesty of God. So then the Father of Christ is the only true God; that is, he is the one God, who formerly promised a Redeemer to the world; but in Christ the oneness and truth of Godhead will be found, because Christ was humbled, in order that he might raise us on high. When we have arrived at this point, then his Divine majesty displays itself; then we perceive that he is wholly in the Father, and that the Father is wholly in him. In short, he who separates Christ from the Divinity of the Father, does not yet acknowledge Him who is the only true God, but rather invents for himself a strange god. This is the reason why we are enjoined to know God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, by whom, as it were, with outstretched hand, he invites us to himself.
As to the opinion entertained by some, that it would be unjust, if men were to perish solely on account of their ignorance of God, it arises from their not considering that there is no fountain of life but in God alone, and that all who are alienated from him are deprived of life. Now, if there be no approach to God but by faith, we are forced to conclude, that unbelief keeps us in a state of death. If it be objected, that persons otherwise righteous and innocent are unjustly treated, if they are condemned, the answer is obvious, that nothing right or sincere is found in men, so long as they remain in their natural state. Now, Paul informs us that
we are renewed in the image of God by the knowledge of him,
It will be of importance for us now to bring into one view those three articles of faith; first, that the kingdom of Christ brings life, and salvation; secondly, that all do not receive life from him, and it is not the office of Christ to give life to all, but only to the elect whom the Father has committed to his protection; and, thirdly, that this life consists in faith, and Christ bestow, it on those whom he enlightens in the faith of the Gospel. Hence we infer that the gift of illumination and heavenly wisdom is not common to all, but peculiar to the elect. It is unquestionably true that the Gospel is offered to all, but Christ speaks here of that secret and efficacious manner of teaching by which the children of God only are drawn to faith.
(109) “Salutaire, ou apportant salut.”
(110) “Nous sommes fkits participans de l’ Divine, qui nous fait enfans et heritiers du royaume des cieux;” — “ are made partakers of the Divine adoption, which makes us children and heirs of the kingdom of heaven.”