43. Why do you not understand my language, that you cannot hear my word? 44. You are of your father the devil, and you wish to execute the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and he did not remain in the truth, because there is no truth in him. 45. And because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.
43. Why do you not understand my language? In this passage, he reproaches the Jews with their obstinacy, which was so great, that they could not even endure to hear him speak. Hence he infers, that they are actuated and hurried away by diabolical rage. Some make a distinction here between language and speech, as if speech had a more extensive meaning; but I do not see it; 1 and besides, it would not be appropriate that the word which means less should be placed first. Many point this verse in such a manner as to make the question close with the word language; 2 as if the question consisted only of these words, Why do you not understand my language? So that the reason is immediately assigned, Because you cannot hear my word. But I think that it ought rather to be read in immediate connection, as if he had said, "What is the reason why my speech appears to you barbarous and unknown, so that I gain nothing by speaking to you, and so that you do not even deign to open your ears to receive what I say?" In the former clause, therefore, he reproves their stupidity; in the latter, he reproves their obstinate and ungovernable hatred of his doctrine; and he afterwards assigns a reason for both, when he says, that they are sprung from the devil. For by putting the question, he intended to take out of their hands what was the subject of their continual boasting, that they are led by reason and judgment to oppose him.
44. You are of your father the devil. What he had twice said more obscurely, he now expresses more fully, that they are the devil's children. But we must supply the contrast, that they could not cherish such intense hatred to the Son of God, were it not that they had for their father the perpetual enemy of God. He calls them children of the devil, not only because they imitate him, but because they are led by his instigation to fight against Christ. For as we are called the children of God, not only because we resemble him, but because he governs us by his Spirit, because Christ lives and is vigorous in us, so as to conform us to the image of his Father; so, on the other hand, the devil is said to be the father or those whose understandings he blinds, whose hearts he moves to commit all unrighteousness, and on whom, in short, he acts powerfully and exercises his tyranny; as in 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2, and in other passages.
The Manicheans foolishly and ineffectually abused this passage to prove their absurd tenets. For since, when Scripture calls us the children of God, this does not refer to the transmission or origin of the substance, but to the grace of the Spirit, which regenerates us to newness of life; so this swing of Christ does not relate to the transmission of substance, but to the corruption of nature, of which man's revolt was the cause and origin. When men, therefore, are born children of the devil, it must not be imputed to creation, but to the blame of sin. Now Christ proves this from the effect, because they willingly, and of their own accord, are disposed to follow the devil.
He was a murderer from the beginning. He explains what are those desires, and mentions two instances, cruelty and falsehood; in which the Jews too much resembled Satan. When he says that the devil was a murderer, he means that he contrived the destruction of man; for as soon as man was created, Satan, impelled by a wicked desire of doing injury, bent his strength to destroy him. Christ does not mean the beginning of the creation, as if God implanted in him the disposition to do injury; but he condemns in Satan the corruption of nature, which he brought upon himself. This appears more clearly from the second clause, in which he says,
He did not remain in the truth. For though those who imagine that the devil was wicked by nature, endeavor to make evasions, yet these words plainly state that there was a change for the worse, and that the reason why Satan was a liar was, that he revolted from the truth. That he is a liar, arises not from his nature having been always contrary to truth, but because he fell from it by a voluntary fall. This description of Satan is highly useful to us, that every person for himself may endeavor to beware of his snares, and, at the same time, to repel his violence and fury; for
he goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,
(1 Peter 5:8,)
and has a thousand stratagems at his command for deceiving. So much the more ought believers to be supplied with spiritual arms for fighting, and so much the more earnestly ought they to keep watch with vigilance and sobriety. Now, if Satan cannot lay aside this disposition, we ought not to be alarmed at it, as if it were a new and uncommon occurrence, when errors exceedingly numerous and varied spring up; for Satan stirs up his followers like bellows, to deceive the world by their impostures. And we need not wonder that Satan puts forth such strenuous efforts to extinguish the light of truth; for it is the only life of the soul. So, then, the most important and most deadly wound for killing the soul is falsehood. As all who have eyes to see perceive, in the present day, such a picture of Satan in Popery, they ought, first, to consider with what enemy they carry on war, and, next, to betake themselves to the protection of Christ their Captain, under whose banner they fight.
Because the truth is not in him. This statement, which immediately follows the other, is a confirmation a posteriori, as the phrase is; that is, it is drawn from the effect. For Satan hates the truth, and therefore cannot endure it, but, on the contrary, is entirely covered with falsehoods. Hence Christ infers, that he is entirely fallen from the truth, and entirely turned away from it. Let us not wonder, therefore, if he daily exhibits the fruits of his apostacy.
When he speaketh falsehood. These words are generally explained as if Christ affirmed that the blame of falsehood does not belong to God, who is the Author of nature, but, on the contrary, proceeds from corruption. But I explain it more simply, that it is customary with the devil to speak falsehood, and that he knows nothing but to contrive corruptions, frauds, and delusions. And yet we justly infer from these words, that the devil has this vice from himself, and that, while it is peculiar to him, it may likewise be said to be accidental; for, while Christ makes the devil to be the contriver of lying, he evidently separates him from God, and even declares him to be contrary to God. For he is a liar, and the father of it. The word father has the same object as the preceding statement; for the reason why Satan is said to be the father of falsehood is, because he is estranged from God, in whom alone truth dwells, and from whom it flows as from the only fountain.
45. But because I speak the truth. He confirms the preceding statement; for, since they have no other reason for opposing, but because truth is hateful and intolerable to them, they show plainly that they are the children of Satan.