Thoughts on John 6:68

John 6:68  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
It is interesting to note how, on more than one important occasion, both before and after the resurrection, Peter was privileged to give definite expression to some cardinal and pre-eminent truth. Incidentally we are reminded, if need be, that no slight honor was reserved in the counsels of God for the apostle of the circumcision. As at Pentecost he was the spokesman of the eleven, and proclaimed to the house of Israel that God had made Jesus both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:3636Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:36)); so it was his, before our Lord suffered, to make the great confession (Matt. 16:1616And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)), that He, Who loved to speak of Himself as the Son of Man, was the Christ, the Son of the living God—a doctrine than which none is more central in the whole range of Christianity. Our Lord, as we know, at once declared that this great truth was the rock on which He would build His church. Nor was this the sole occasion on which Peter thus emphasized both the Messiahship and the divinity of the Lord Jesus. He makes the same confession in John 6, after having uttered the words more immediately the subject of the present paper. It would seem that, on this subsequent occasion, it was rather in connection with individual need (“Lord, to whom shall we go?"), whereas in Matthew the words had a corporate significance. With these prefatory remarks (not superfluous perhaps, inasmuch as a lurking and half-unconscious disparagement of the apostle Peter is not uncommon), I pass to our verse.
The time was critical. It was one of those occasions, not rare in the fourth Gospel, when our blessed Lord's deity and manhood seem equally in evidence. At others, one or other may seem uppermost, though these twin threads of gold and silver are indissolubly intertwined. Nor can any essay to gauge that mystery without being baffled and confounded. “Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken.” Our Lord, accordingly, had just uttered the profound words as to the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood—clearly communion with His death (vers. 51-56), as before with His incarnation (vers. 32-50)—and had thereby estranged many who had seemed to follow Him, but who were stumbled by this “hard saying.”
To us, who are familiar with and rejoice in this most precious truth, it is not easy to enter into the feelings of Jews, who had been forbidden by God Himself to eat blood, and to whom therefore of all men this doctrine was most startling. Yet did the Lord most emphatically declare that otherwise they had no life in them. This was the stumbling-block. In fact these words, when not spiritually understood by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, have ever been either abused by superstition or caviled at by unbelief. Here indeed “in the days of His flesh” unbelief prevailed, and so the Lord asks of the twelve, “Will ye also go away?” Weighty words in truth, for did they not suggest the infinite loss in which such abandonment would involve them, as, on the other hand, it is clear that our Savior's human spirit valued their ministrations? Did He not subsequently say, “Ye are they who have continued with Me in My temptations"? (Luke 22:2828Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. (Luke 22:28).) Thus in another aspect we see the mingling of the divine and the human in that inscrutable Presence. And so, in words of earnest deprecation, Simon Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast words of eternal life.” Surely this too had been revealed to the apostle by the Father in heaven, and was doubtless remembered by him long afterward, when he declared, with pathetic emphasis, that they had followed no “cunningly devised fables,” but were eye-witnesses of Christ's majesty.
Science is well in its own sphere; nor is it wise, because of some fancied opposition to the word of God, to challenge, with inadequate mental equipment, fact if indubitable. Time was when pious men would have staked the credit of the Bible on the supposed flatness of the earth! On the other hand, we may rest assured that any conclusion of science, that traverses the explicit language of scripture, is and must be erroneous. For as has often been remarked, scientific facts are one thing, inferences are quite another. Another thing to be borne in mind, and recently pointed out by a writer (who, always eloquent, is not always equally sound), is, that engrossment with some special study is not the way to have correct views on men and things in general, least of all on what concerns the life to come. Persons so absorbed, he says, are apt to see nothing but their peculiar hobby, and seem to be afflicted with a kind of atrophy as to what is outside their individual line. This witness is true. Shall we therefore depend upon such for a decision affecting our eternal welfare—upon men who, after all, discern but fragments of truth, and whose minds may “degenerate into mere machines for grinding out general laws”? Such, at any rate, was the remarkable confession of one1 of them.
And this leads to the question, Is the intellect the highest part of man? Are not moral elements, on the contrary, above what is merely intellectual? It is not necessary to be a theologian to see this. How says the most eminent of recent poets, “I trust we are not wholly brain, magnetic mockeries.” How vain then to anchor one's soul on what at best is but fragmentary, where not positively misleading. I say not that such leaders may not be judicially blinded. The safe and excellent way is to believe God's word because it is His, knowing that difficulties, and mystery here and there, are rather proofs of its divine origin. At any rate to reject revelation on the ground of mystery is surely illogical. I suppose we ourselves, spirit, soul, and body—are a mystery in one sense: is it not “nearer to us than hands and feet?”
Science therefore can have no direct word on what concerns man's eternal interests. Of course she may speak as handmaid, and sometimes with some effect, as when, for instance, it is shown that the darkness at the crucifixion can have been occasioned by no eclipse, which a mere tyro in astronomy knows can only happen when the moon is full. Or, again, by specific knowledge some ancient manuscript is deciphered, which may shed important light perhaps on a disputed passage of the New Testament. But yet science is un-moral, so to speak. It has no direct connection with what concerns the soul. Moreover, is it not often tentative only? How fatuous then and worse to depend upon so shifty a guide in relation to the life to come!
Shall we then have recourse to art and culture? Shall we emulate the Greek spirit? Alas! is it not abroad all around us? Not that it is wrong to love beautiful color, or musical notes; it is fatal to deify beauty. This was what the Greeks did, and moderns imitate with infinitely less excuse. On the other hand, bare Puritanism is not Christianity. For it is significant that when the Holy Spirit would portray that which is brightest and holiest in heaven, He employs as symbols that which is accounted most lovely on earth, it matters not whether it be the breastplate of Aaron, or the foundations of the Holy City. Clearly then the evil does not consist in appreciating what is lovely in its proper sphere, but in making it an end. A vain dream!
But what of philosophy, said to be “divine by its votaries,” and “full of nectared sweets” but coupled with “vain deceit” by the Spirit of God? Will this give us peace? Truly the scripture adds “falsely so-called,” but even when legitimate, philosophy, and science, and art, are impotent in man's extremity. And is it not notorious that some of those who have discoursed most eloquently on morality, &c., have been most unhappy, where indeed they have not sunk below ordinary decency? Let us not be too hard upon the Socrates and Platos. They groped in the dark, and often with noble aspirations) the True Light had not yet shone. But no such apology can be extended to those who reject God's living oracles, and prefer the first man to the second. Surely it is not surprising that modern systems should reach lower depths than ancient ones (witness spiritualism, theosophy, and similar enormities), inasmuch as they have given up the true God. Alas ! such will increase to more ungodliness. But at least such doctrines as these testify that no mere materialism will satisfy the human heart. Hence the believer may well reply, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Whether it be things excellent in their own place, or things essentially evil, all leave an aching void. Science is cold, and “Art is long,” and the end draweth near. What matters it if we have truly heard those words of eternal life? Do they not point out “an anchor for the soul both sure and steadfast"? “The words that I speak unto you,” said the Saviour, “they are spirit and they are life.” All other voices are like the idle wind. Β. B., JNE.
1. Darwin.