63.It is the Spirit that quickeneth. By these words Christ shows the reason why the Jews did not profit by his doctrine to be, that, being spiritual and quickening, it does not find ears well prepared. But as this passage has been variously expounded, it will be of importance first to ascertain the natural meaning of the words; from which it will be easy to perceive Christ’ intention. When he affirms thatthe flesh profiteth nothing, Chrysostom improperly, in my opinion, refers it to the Jews, who were carnal I readily acknowledge that in heavenly mysteries the whole power of the human mind is utterly unavailing; but the words of Christ do not bear that meaning, if they be not violently tortured. Equally forced would be that opinion, as applied to the apposite clause; namely, it is the illumination of the Spirit that quickeneth. Nor do I approve of the views of those who say, that the flesh of Christ profiteth, so far as he was crucified, but that, when it is eaten, it is of no advantage to us; for, on the contrary, we must eat it, that, having been crucified, it may profit
Augustine thinks that we ought to supply the word only, or by itself, as if it had been said, “The flesh alone, and by itself, profiteth not, ” (173) because it must be accompanied by the Spirit This meaning accords well with the scope of the discourse, for Christ refers simply to the manner of eating. He does not, therefore, exclude every kind of usefulness, as if none could be obtained from his flesh; but he declares that, if it be separated fromthe Spirit, it will then be useless. For whence hasthe flesh power to quicken, but because it is spiritual? Accordingly, whoever confines his whole attention to the earthly nature ofthe flesh, will find in it nothing but what is dead; but they who shall raise their eyes to the power of the Spirit, which is diffused over the flesh, will learn from the actual effect and from the experience of faith, that it is not without reason that it is called quickening
We now understand in what manner the flesh is truly food, and yet it profiteth not It is food, because by it life is procured for us, because in it God is reconciled to us, because in it we have all the parts of salvation accomplished. It profiteth not, if it be estimated by its origin and nature; for the seed of Abraham, which is in itself subject to death, does not bestow life, but receives from the Spirit its power to feed us; and, therefore, on our part also, that we may be truly nourished by it, we must bring the spiritual mouth of faith.
As to the sentence breaking off in so abrupt a manner, it is probable that this was done because Christ saw that it was necessary to act in this manner towards unbelievers. By this clause, therefore, he suddenly closed the sermon, because they did not deserve that he should speak to them any longer. Yet he did not overlook those who are godly and teachable; for they have here, in a few words, what may abundantly satisfy them.
The words which I speak to you. This is an allusion to the preceding statement, for he now employs the word Spirit in a different sense. But as he had spoken of the secret power of the Spirit, he elegantly applies this to his doctrine, because it is spiritual; for the word Spirit must be explained to mean spiritual Now the word is called spiritual, because it calls us upwards to seek Christ in his heavenly glory, through the guidance of the Spirit, by faith, and not by our carnal perception; for we know that of all that was said, nothing can be comprehended but by faith. And it is also worthy of observation, that he connects life withthe Spirit He calls his word life, from its effect, as if he had called it quickening; but shows that it will not be quickening to any but those who receive it spiritually, for others will rather draw death from it. To the godly, this commendation bestowed on the Gospel is most delightful, because they are certain that it is appointed for their eternal salvation; but at the same time, they are reminded to labor to prove that they are genuine disciples.
(173) “Comme s’ estoit dit, La chair seule et par soy ne profite de rien.”