66.From that time many of his disciples went back. The Evangelist now relates what trouble was the consequence of that sermon. It is a dreadful and monstrous thing, that so kind and gracious an invitation of Christ could have alienated the minds of many, and especially of those who had formerly professed to belong to him, and were even his ordinary disciples. But this example is held out to us for a mirror, as it were, in which we may perceive how great is the wickedness and ingratitude of men, who turn a plain road into an occasion of stumbling to them, that they may not come to Christ. Many would say that it would have been better that a sermon of this kind should never have been preached, which occasioned the apostacy of many. But we ought to entertain a widely different view; for it was then necessary, and now is daily necessary, that what had been foretold concerning Christ should be perceived in his doctrine, namely, that
he is the stone of stumbling, (Isa_8:14.)
We ought, indeed, to regulate our doctrine in such a manner that none may be offended through our fault; as far as possible, we ought to retain all; and, in short, we ought to take care that we do not, by talking inconsiderately or at random, (175) disturb ignorant or weak minds. But it will never be possible for us to exercise such caution that the doctrine of Christ shall not be the occasion of offense to many; because the reprobate, who are devoted to destruction, suck venom from the most wholesome food, and gall from honey. The Son of God undoubtedly knew well what was useful, and yet we see that he cannot avoid (176) offendingmany of his disciples. Whatever then may be the dislike entertained by many persons for pure doctrine, still we are not at liberty to suppress it. Only let the teachers of the Church remember the advice given by Paul, that the word of God ought to be properly divided, (2Ti_2:15;) and next let them advance boldly amidst all offenses. And if it happen that many apostatize, let us not be disgusted at the word of God, because it is not relished by the reprobate; for they who are so much shaken by the revolt of some that, when those persons fall away, they are immediately discouraged, are too delicate and tender.
And walked no more with him. When the Evangelist adds these words, he means that it was not a complete apostacy, but only that they withdrew from familiar intercourse with Christ; and yet he condemns them as apostates. Hence we ought to learn that we cannot go back a foot breadth, without being immediately in danger of falling into treacherous denial of our Master.