27.Labour for food, not that which perisheth. He shows to what object our desires ought to be directed, namely, to eternal life; but because, in proportion as our understandings are gross, we are always devoted to earthly things, for this reason he corrects that disease which is natural to us, before he points out what we ought to do. The simple doctrine would have been, “ to have the incorruptible food;” but, knowing that the senses of men are held bound by earthly cares, he first enjoins them to be loosed and freed from those cords, that they may rise to heaven. Not that he forbids his followers to labor that they may procure daily food; but he shows that the heavenly life ought to be preferred to this earthly life, because the godly have no other reason for living here than that, being sojourners in the world, they may travel rapidly towards their heavenly country.
Next, we ought to see what is the present question; for, since the power of Christ is debased by those who are devoted to the belly and to earthly things, he argues what we ought to seek in him, and why we ought to seek it. He employs metaphors adapted to the circumstances in which his sermon was delivered. If food had not been mentioned, he would have said, without a figure, “ ought to lay aside anxiety about the world, and strive to obtain the heavenly life.” But as those men were running to their fodder like cattle, without looking to anything better, (135) Christ presents his sermon in a metaphorical dress, and gives the name of food to everything that belongs to newness of life. We know that our souls are fed by the doctrine of the gospel, when it is efficacious in us by the power of the Spirit; and, therefore, as faith is the life of the soul, all that nourishes and promotes faith is compared tofood
Which endureth to eternal life. This kind of food he calls incorruptible, and says that it endureth to eternal life, in order to inform us that our souls are not fed for a day, but are nourished in the expectation of a blessed immortality; because the Lord
commences the work of our salvation, that he may perform it till the day of Christ, (Phi_1:6.)
For this reason we must receive the gifts of the Spirit, that they may be earnests and pledges of eternal life. For, though the reprobate, after having tasted this food, frequently reject it, so that it is not permanent in them, yet believing souls feel that enduring power, when they are made partakers of the power of the Holy Spirit in his gifts, which is not of short duration, but, on the contrary, never fails.
It is a frivolous exercise of ingenuity to infer, as some do, from the word labor or work, that we merit eternal life by our works; for Christ metaphorically exhorts men, as we have said, to apply their minds earnestly to meditation on the heavenly life, instead of cleaving to the world, as they are wont to do; and Christ himself removes every doubt, when he declares that it is he who giveth the food; for what we obtain by his gift no man procures by his own industry. There is undoubtedly some appearance of contradiction in these words; but we may easily reconcile these two statements, that the spiritual food of the soul is the free gift of Christ, and that we must strive with all the affections of our heart to become partakers of so great a blessing.
For him hath God the Father sealed. He confirms the preceding statement, by saying that he was appointed to us for that purpose by the Father. The ancient writers have misinterpreted and tortured this passage, by maintaining that Christ is said to be sealed, because he is the stamp and lively image of the Father. For he does not here enter into abstruse discussions about his eternal essence, but explains what he has been commissioned and enjoined to do, what is his office in relation to us, and what we ought to seek and expect from him. By an appropriate metaphor, he alludes to an ancient custom; for theysealed with signets what they intended to sanction by their authority. Thus Christ — that it may not appear as if he claimed anything of himself, or by private authority (136) — declares that this office was enjoined on him by the Father, and that this decree of the Father was manifested, as if a seal had been engraven on him. It may be summed up thus: As it is not every person who has the ability or the right (137) to feed souls with incorruptible food, Christ appears in public, and, while he promises that he will be the Author of so great a blessing, he likewise adds that he is approved by God, and that he has been sent to men with this mark, which is, as it were, God’ seal or signet (138)
Hence it follows that the desire of those who shall present their souls to Christ, to be fed by him, will not be disappointed. Let us know, therefore, that life is exhibited to us in Christ, in order that each of us may aspire to it, not at random, but with certainty of success. We are, at the same time, taught that all who bestow this praise on any other than Christ are guilty of falsehood before God. Hence it is evident that the Papists, in every part of their doctrine, are altogether liars; for as often as they invent any means of salvation in the room of Christ, so often do they — by erasing, as it were, the impression which has been made — spoil and deface, with wicked presumption and base treachery, this seal of God, which alone is authentic. That we may not fall into so dreadful a condemnation, let us learn to keep pure and entire for Christ all that the Father has given to him.
(135) “Sans regarder a rien de meilleur.”
(136) “A fin qu’ ne semble que Christ vueille de soy-mesme et d’ authorite privee s’ quelque chose.”
(137) “Que ce n’ pas une chose facile et commune a chacun.”