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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
John 1



Other Authors

[1. Prologue (John 1:1-18).

THE WORD (1) was God (John 1:1-5);

(2) became man (John 1:6-13);

(3) revealed the Father (John 1:14-18).]

Verse 1

(1) In the beginning.—The reference to the opening words of the Old Testament is obvious, and is the more striking when we remember that a Jew would constantly speak of and quote from the book of Genesis as Berçshîth (“in the beginning”). It is quite in harmony with the Hebrew tone of this Gospel to do so, and it can hardly be that St. John wrote his Berçshîth without having that of Moses present to his mind, and without being guided by its meaning. We have then, in the earlier words, a law of interpretation for the later, and this law excludes every such sense as “the Everlasting Father” or “the divine wisdom,” which is before all things, though both these have been supported by here and there a name of weight; much more does this law, strengthened as it is by the whole context, exclude any such sense as “the commencement of Christ’s work on earth,” which owes its existence to the foregone conclusion of a theory, and is marked by the absence of any support of weight. Our law seems equally to exclude from these words the idea of “anteriority to time,” which is expressed, not in them, but in the substantive verb which immediately follows. The Mosaic conception of “beginning” is marked by the first creative act. St. John places himself at the same starting point of time, but before he speaks of any creation he asserts the pre-existence of the Creator. In this “beginning” there already “was” the Word. (See expressions of this thought in John 17:5; Proverbs 8:23; 1 John 1:1; Revelation 3:14.)

Was the Word.—See Excursus A: Doctrine of the Word.

With God.—These words express the co-existence, but at the same time the distinction of person. They imply relation with, intercourse with. (Comp. the “in the bosom of the Father” of John 1:18, and “Let us make man” of Genesis 1:26.) “Throned face to face with God,” “the gaze ever directed towards God,” have been given as paraphrases, and the full sense cannot be expressed in fewer words. The “with” represents “motion towards.” The Being whose existence is asserted in the “was” is regarded as distinct, but not alone, as ever going forth in communion with God. (Comp. the use of the same word “with” in Matthew 13:56; Matthew 26:11; Mark 6:3; Mark 9:19; 1 Corinthians 16:6-7; Galatians 1:18; Galatians 4:18.)

Was God.—This is the completion of the graduated statement. It maintains the distinction of person, but at the same time asserts the oneness of essence.

Verse 2

(2) The same was.—This is a summary in one clause of the three assertions made in the first verse.

The same, that is, the Word who was God, existed before any act of creation, and in that existence was a person distinct from God. Yet it is more than a re-statement. We have arrived at the thought that the Word was one in nature with God. From this higher point of view, the steps below us are more clearly seen. The Word was God; the eternal pre-existence and personality are included in the thought.

Verse 3

(3) From the person of the Word we are guided to think of His creative work. The first chapter of Genesis is still present to the mind, but a fuller meaning can now be given to its words. All things came into existence by means of the pre-existent Word, and of all the things that now exist none came into being apart from Him.

All things.—The words express in the grandeur of an unthinkable array of units what is expressed in totality by “the world” in John 1:10. The completion of the thought by the negative statement of the opposite brings sharply before us the infinitely little in contrast with the infinitely great. Of all these units not one is by its vastness beyond, or by its insignificance beneath His creative will. For the relation of the Word to the Father in the work of creation, comp. Note on Colossians 1:15-16.

For the form of this verse, which is technically known as antithetic parallelism, comp. John 5:20; John 5:23; John 8:23; John 10:27-28; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:27, et al. It is found not unfrequently in other parts of the New Testament, but it is a characteristic of St. John’s Hebrew style. Its occurrence in the poetry of the Old Testament, e.g., in the Psalms (Psalms 89:30-31, et al.) will be familiar to all.

Verse 4

(4) In him was life.—The creation, the calling into existence life in its varied forms, leads up to the source of this life. It is in the Word by original being, while of the highest creature made “in the image of God” we are told that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).

“Life” has here no limitation, and is to be understood in its widest sense; the life of the body, even of organisms which we commonly think of as inanimate, the life of the soul, the life of the spirit; life in the present, so far as there is communion with the eternal source of life; life in the future, when the idea shall be realised and the communion be complete.

Was.—This is in the Greek the same verb of existence that we have had in John 1:1-2, and is different from the word in John 1:3. Comp. Notes on John 1:6, and John 8:58. It places us, then, at the same starting point of time. The Word was ever life, and from the first existence of any creature became a source of life to others. But the “was” of the first clause of this verse should not be pressed, for we are not quite certain that the original text contained it. Two of our oldest MSS. have “is,” which is supported by other evidence, and is not in itself an improbable reading. The meaning in this case would be “in the Word there ever is life.” Creation is not merely a definite act. There is a constant development of the germs implanted in all the varied forms of being, and these find their sustaining power in the one central source of life. The thought will meet us again in John 1:17; but see especially the expression, “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3, Note).

And the life was the light of men.—We are led from the relation of the Word to the universe to His relation to mankind. That which to lower beings in the scale of creation was more or less fully life, as the nature of each was more or less receptive of its power, is to the being endowed with a moral nature and made in the divine image the satisfaction of every moral need, and the revelation of the divine Being. The “was” still carries us back to the first days of time, when creation in all the beauty of its youth was unstained by sin, when no night had fallen on the moral world, but when there was the brightness of an ever-constant noon-tide in the presence of God. But here, too, the “was” passes in sense into the “is.” “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” In every man there are rays of light, stronger or feebler, in greater or lesser darkness. In every man there is a power to see the light, and open his soul to it, and the more he has it still to crave for more. This going forth of the soul to God, is the seeking for life. The Word is the going forth of God to the soul. He is life. In the feeling after, there is finding. The moral struggle is the moral strength. The eye that seeks for light cannot seek in vain. The life was and is the light of men.

Verse 5

(5) And the light shineth in darkness.—The vision of brightness is present but for a moment, and passes away before the black reality of the history of mankind. The description of Paradise occupies but a few verses of the Old Testament. The outer darkness casts its gloom on every page. But in the moral chaos, too, God said, “Let there be light; and there was light.” The first struggle of light into and through darkness until the darkness received it, rolled back before it, passed away into it—the repeated comprehension of light by darkness, as in the dawn of every morning the night passes into day, and the earth now shrouded in blackness is now bathed in the clear white light of an Eastern sun—this has its counterpart in the moral world. There, too, the Sun of Righteousness has shone, is ever shining; but as the Apostle looks back on the history of the pre-Christian world, or, it may be, looks back on the earthly ministry of Christ Himself, he seeks in vain for the victory of truth, for the hearts of nations, or of men, penetrated through and through with heaven’s light, and he sums up the whole in one sad negation, “The darkness comprehended it not.” Yet in this very sadness there is firm and hopeful faith. The emphatic present declares that the light still, always, “shineth in darkness.” True are those words of patriarch, lawgiver, prophet, as they followed the voice which called, or received God’s law for men, or told forth the word which came to them from Him; true are they of every poet, thinker, statesman, who has grasped some higher truth, or chased some lurking doubt, or taught a nation noble deeds; true are they of every evangelist, martyr, philanthropist, who has carried the light of the gospel to the heart of men, who has in life or death witnessed to its truth, who has shown its power in deeds of mercy and of love; true are they of the humblest Christian who seeks to walk in the light, and from the sick-chamber of the lowliest home may be letting a light shine before men which leads them to glorify the Father which is in heaven. The Light is ever shining, ofttimes, indeed, coloured as it passes through the differing minds of different men, and meeting us across the space that separates continents, and the time that separates ages, in widely varying hues; but these shades pass into each other, and in the harmony of all is the pure light of truth.

Comprehended it not.—The meaning of this word differs from that rendered “knew not” in John 1:10. The thought here is that the darkness did not lay hold of, did not appropriate the light, so as itself to become light; the thought there is that individuals did not recognise it. Comp. Notes on Romans 9:30; 1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:12-13, where the same Greek word occurs. See also Ephesians 3:18, which is the only passage in the New Testament, besides the present one, where the word is rendered by “comprehend.”

Verse 6

(6) There was a man, or, There appeared a man. The word is the same as that which is used in John 1:3, “were made,” “was made,” and, as contrasted with the verb “was” in John 1:1-2; John 1:4, signifies the coming into being, as contrasted with original existence. In the same way “man” is emphatically opposed to “the Word,” who is the subject of the previous verses. “The Word was God:” the man was “sent from God.”

On the mission of John, see Notes on Matthew 3. The name was not uncommon, but it is striking that it is given here without the usual distinctive “Baptist.” The writer stood to him in the relation of disciple to teacher. To him he was the John. A greater teacher had not then appeared, but when He did appear, former teacher and disciple alike bear witness to Him. Great as was the forerunner, the least in the kingdom of heaven became greater than he was, and to after ages the disciple became the John, and his earlier master is given the title “Baptist,” which distinguishes the man and commemorates the work.

Verse 7

(7) For a Witness.—Stress is laid upon the work of John as “witness.” This was generally the object of his coming. It was specially to “bear witness of the Light.” The purpose of testimony is conviction “that all men through him might believe,” i.e., through John, through his witness. Compare with this purpose of the Baptist’s work the purpose of the Apostle’s writing, as he himself expresses it in the closing words of John 20; and also the condition and work of the Apostleship, as laid down by St. Peter at the first meeting after the Resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). The word “witness,” with its cognate forms, is one of the key-notes of the Johannine writings recurring alike in the Gospel the Epistles, and the Apocalypse. This is partly concealed from the general reader by the various renderings “record,” “testimony,” “witness,” for the one Greek root; but he may see by consulting any English concordance under these words, how frequently the thought was in the Apostle’s mind. See especially Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9, Notes.

Verse 8

(8) He was not that Light, but was sent.—It is necessary to repeat the statement of John’s position and work in an emphatic form. Now first for 400 years a great teacher had appeared in Israel. The events of his birth and life had excited the attention of the masses; his bold message, like the cry of another Elias, found its way in burning words to the slumbering hearts of men; and even from the least likely classes, from Pharisee and Sadducee, from publican and soldier, there came the heart’s question, “What shall we do?” The extent of the religious revival does not impress us, because it passed into the greater which followed, but the statement of a publican living at the time is that “Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan, went out to Him, and were baptized of Him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6). But what was this power in their midst? Who could be the person uttering these more than human words? A comparison of John 1:19-20 in this chapter with Luke 3:15 shows a widespread opinion that he was at least possibly the Messiah. He himself with true greatness recognised the greater, but as in many a like case in after days, the followers had not all the leader’s nobility of soul. We shall meet signs of this in John 3:26; John 4:1. We find traces of it in Matthew 9:14, &c. (see Note at this place), and even in Ephesus, as late as St. Paul’s third missionary journey, we find “certain disciples” knowing nothing more than “John’s baptism” (Acts 19:1-6). It was at Ephesus that this Gospel was written and the existence of a body of such “disciples” may have led to the full statement in this verse made by one who had himself been among the Baptist’s earliest followers.

It was otherwise with the disciple who wrote these words. He is content to claim for his master as for himself the noblest human work, “to bear witness of that Light.” No one may add to it; all may, in word and life, bear witness to it. Every discovery in science and advance in truth is a removal of some cloud which hides it from men; every noble character is bearing it about; every conquest of sin is extending it. It has been stored in mines of deepest thought in all ages. The heedless pass over the surface unconscious of it. The world’s benefactors are they who bring it forth to men as the light and warmth of the rays of the Sun of Righteousness. (Comp. John 5:35, and Note there.)

Verse 9

(9) That was the true Light.—The right rendering of this verse is uncertain. It would, probably, give a better sense to translate it, The true Light which lighteth every man was coming into the world, i.e., was manifesting itself at the time when John was bearing witness and men were mistaking the lamp for the light. (Comp. John 5:35, Note.)

The true Light was not “true” as opposed to “false,” but “true” as answering to the perfect ideal, and as opposed to all more or less imperfect representations. The meaning of the Greek is quite clear. The difficulty arises from the fact that in English there is but one word to represent the two ideas. The word for the fuller meaning of “ideally true” is not confined to St. John, but is naturally of very frequent recurrence in his writings. The adjective is used nine times in this Gospel, and not at all in the other three. A comparison of the passages will show how important it is to get a right conception of what the word means, and will help to give it. (See John 4:23; John 4:37; John 6:32; John 7:28; John 8:16; John 15:1; John 17:3; John 19:35.) But, as ideally true, the Light was not subject to the changing conditions of time and space, but was and is true for all humanity, and “lighteth every man.”

Verse 10

(10) In the world.—This manifestation in the flesh recalls the pre-incarnate existence during the whole history of the world, and the creative act itself. (Comp. John 1:2-3, Note). The two facts are the constant presence of the true Light, and the creation of the world by Him. The world, then, in its highest creature man, with spiritual power for seeing the true Light, ought to have recognised Him. Spirit ought to have felt and known His presence. In this would have been the exercise of its true power and its highest good. But the world was sense-bound, and lost its spiritual perception, and “knew Him not.” This verse brings back again the thought of John 1:3-5, to prepare for the deeper gloom which follows.

Verse 11

(11) He came, as distinct from the “was” of the previous verse, passes on to the historic advent; but as that was but the more distinct act of which there had been foreshadowings in every appearance and revelation of God, these Advents of the Old Testament are not excluded.

His own is neuter, and the same word which is used in John 19:27, where it is rendered “his own home.” (Comp. John 16:32, margin, and Acts 21:6.) What then was the “home?” It is distinguished from the “world” of John 1:10, and it cannot but be that the home of Jewish thought was the land, the city, the temple bound up with every Messianic hope. Traces of this abound in the Jewish Scriptures. Comp. especially Malachi 3:1, “The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple.” (See also Luke 2:49, Note.)

His own in the second clause is masculine—the dwellers in His own home, who were His own people, the special objects of His love and care. (See Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalms 135:4; Isaiah 41:9, and Notes on Ephesians 2:19 and Titus 2:14.) We turn from the coldness of a strange world to the warmth and welcome of a loving home. The world knew Him not, and He came to His own, and they despised Him!

Received him not is stronger than “knew him not” of John 1:10. It is the rejection of those for whom no plea of ignorance can be urged, of those “who see, and therefore their sin remaineth” (John 9:41).

There has been an increasing depth in the tone of sadness which cannot now grow deeper. As the revelation has become clearer, as the moral power and responsibility of acceptance has been stronger, the rejection has passed into wilful refusal. The darkness comprehended not; the world knew not; His own received not.

Verse 12

(12) Yet the light ever shineth, and the better things lie hidden.

As many as received him.—The words are less wide and yet more wide than “His own.” The nation as such rejected Him; individuals in it accepted Him; but not individuals of that nation only. All who according to their light and means accept Him, receive from Him an authority and in Him a moral power, which constitutes them members of the true none to which He came, and the true children of God. They receive in acceptance the right which others lost in rejection. (Comp. Romans 9-11) The word rendered “received” is not quite the same as the word so rendered in John 1:11. The latter is the welcome which may be expected as due from His own home. This is the reception given without a claim.

To them that believe on his name repeats the width of the condition, and at the same time explains what receiving Him means. It seems natural to understand the “name” of the only name which meets us in this context, that is, of the Logos or Word, the representation of the will, character, nature of God. (See on John 1:18.) To “believe on” is one of St. John’s characteristic words of fuller meaning. To believe is to accept as true; “devils believe and tremble” (James 2:19). To believe in is to trust in, confide in. To believe on, has the idea of motion to and rest upon: it is here the going forth of the soul upon, and its rest upon, the firm basis of the eternal love of the eternal Spirit revealed in the Word. (Comp. Pearson On the Creed, Art. 1, p. 16.)

Verse 13

(13) Which were born.—The result of receiving Him remains to be explained. How could they become “sons of God?” The word which has been used (John 1:12) excludes the idea of adoption, and asserts the natural relation of child to father. The nation claimed this through its descent from Abraham. But they are Abraham’s children who are of Abraham’s faith. There is a higher generation, which is spiritual, while they thought only of the lower, which is physical. The condition is the submissive receptivity of the human spirit. The origin of life is “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Verse 14

(14) And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt.—The reality of the moral power and change wrought in those that believed recalls and is itself evidence of the reality of that in which they believed. Man came to be a son of God, because the Son of God became man. They were not, as the Docetæ of that time said, believers in an appearance. “The Word was made flesh.” The term “flesh” expresses human nature as opposed to the divine, and material nature as opposed to the spiritual, and is for this reason used rather than “body,” for there may be a purely spiritual body (see Note on 1 Corinthians 15:40-44); and rather than “man,” which is used in John 5:27; John 8:40, for of man the spiritual is the highest part. It is not the approach of the divine and human nature in the region of the spiritual which is common to both that strikes the writer with wonder, but that men should have power to become sons of God, and that the Word, of whose glory he has spoken in the earlier verses, should become flesh. (Comp. Philippians 2:6-8; 2 Corinthians 8:9, Notes.)

Dwelt among us.—The Greek word means “tabernacled.” “sojourned” among us. It was, probably, suggested by the similarity of sound with “Shekhînah,” a term frequently applied in the Targums or Chaldee Paraphrases, though the substantive nowhere occurs in the Old Testament itself, to the visible symbol of the divine Presence which appeared in the Tabernacle and the Temple. The Targums, moreover, frequently identify the Shekhînah with the “Memra” or Word. (Comp. Excursus A.) The thought, then, of this Presence brings back to the writer’s mind the days and weeks and months they had spent with the Word who had pitched His tent among them. He had been among the first to follow Him, and of the last with Him. He had been of those who had seen the glory of the Transfiguration, who had entered with their Master into the chamber of death, who had been with Him in the garden of Gethsemane. His eye, more than that of any other, had pierced the veil and gazed upon the Presence within. And now the old man, looking forward to the unveiled Presence of the future, loves to think and tell of the past, that the Presence may be to others all it had been to him. He is conscious that the statement of this verse needs evidence of no common order; but this is present in the words and lives of men whose whole moral being declared it true, and the test is within the power of all. (Comp. especially 1 John 1)

The glory.—Comp. John 2:11; John 11:4. There is probably a special reference here to the Transfiguration. (See Note on Matthew 17:2, and comp. the testimony of another eye-witness in 2 Peter 1:17.)

As of the only begotten.—Better, as of an only begotten—i.e., glory such as is the attribute of an only begotten Son. The term as applied to the person of our Lord, is found only in St. John, John 1:18; John 3:16; John 3:18; 1 John 4:9. It is used four times elsewhere in the New Testament, and always of the only child. (Luke 7:12; Luke 8:42; Luke 9:38; Hebrews 11:17.) The close connection here with the word Father, and the contrast with the sonship by moral generation in John 1:12, fixes the sense as the eternal generation of the Word, “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds.”

Of the Father.—The English does not fully express the meaning. It would be better to read, from with the Father. (Comp. John 6:46; John 7:29; John 16:27.) The thought is of the glory witnessed on earth of the only begotten Son who had come from God.

Full of grace and truth.—These words do not refer to the “Father,” or to “the glory,” but to “the Word.” The structure of the English sentence is ambiguous, but the meaning of the Greek words is quite clear. They represent a Hebrew formula, expressing a divine attribute, and the passage which is almost certainly present to the thought here is the revelation of the divine nature to Moses (Exodus 34:6. Comp. 2 Samuel 2:6; Psalms 25:10; Psalms 57:10; Psalms 89:15). These witnesses, too, had seen God, not indeed in the mountain only, but as dwelling among them. Every word a ray of truth, and every act a beam of love, they thought of that life “as one with the divine Essence; of that glory” as of the only begotten of the Father. (Comp. John 1:17.)

Verse 15

(15) John bare witness of him, and cried.—Better, John beareth witness of him, and crieth. The latter verb is past in tense, but present in meaning. For the sense comp. Note on John 7:37. The writer thinks of the testimony as ever present, ever forceful. Twice on successive days had he heard them from the lips of the Baptist; three times within a few verses does he himself record them. (Comp. John 1:27; John 1:30.) They are among the words stamped on the heart in the crisis of life, and as fresh in the aged Apostle as they had been in the youthful inquirer. He remembers how he heard them, and from whom they came. That wondrous spiritual power in their midst which all men felt, whose witness men would have accepted had he declared that he was himself the Christ, uttered his witness then, and it holds good now. It is quoted here as closely bound up with the personal reminiscence of John 1:14, and with the thought of John 1:6-7.

Verse 16

(16) And of his fulness.—Not a continuance of the witness of John, but the words of the evangelist, and closely connected with John 1:14. This is seen in the “all we,” and in “fulness” (“full”) and “grace,” which are key-words of both verses.

Fulness is a technical theological term, meeting us again in this sense in the Epistles to, as here in the Gospel from, the Asiatic Churches. (Comp. especially Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13.) The exposition belongs to the Notes on these passages. Here it means the plenitude of divine attributes, the “glory . . . full of grace and truth.” “Of,” or better, out of this fulness does each individual receive, and thus the ideal church becomes “his body, the fulness of him that filleth all things in all.”

Have all we received.—Better, we all received. The point of time is the same as in John 1:12, and the “we all” is co-extensive with “as many as.” The power to become children of God was part of the divine fulness which they received in receiving him.

And grace for grace.—Perhaps, even grace for grace gives the meaning less doubtfully. The thought is, We all received of His fulness, and that which we received was grace for grace. The original faculty of reception was itself a free gift, and in the use of this grace there was given the greater power. The words mean “grace in exchange for, instead of, grace.” The fulness of the supply is constant; the power to receive increases with the use, or diminishes with the neglect, of that which we already have. “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath” (Matthew 13:12). No truth is in precept or in parable of the Great Teacher more constant than this; no lesson is more brightly or more sadly illustrated in the lives of those who heard Him. What instances of its meaning must have crowded on the writer’s mind in the nation, in the disciples, in the Twelve, and even in the differing power of perception in the inner circle of the Three! “We all received,” but with what difference of degree!

Verse 17

(17) The word “for” connects this verse by way of explanation with what has gone before. The Old Testament thought of grace and truth has been already present in John 1:14. The fulness of these divine attributes has been beheld in the glory of the Word. The revelation of them, that is, the removing of the veil which hides the knowable, has been made dependent on the use of the already known. But this is the essence of Christianity as distinct from Judaism; of a spiritual religion developed from within as distinct from a formal religion imposed from without; of a religion of principles, and therefore true for all time and for all men, as distinct from a religion of works, based, indeed, on an eternal truth (the oneness and the righteousness of God) but still specially designed for a chosen people and for a period of preparation. The law was given (from without) by the human agency of Moses. The true grace and truth came into being by means of Jesus Christ. Therefore it is that we receive grace for grace, there being in Him an ever constant fulness of grace, and for the man who uses the grace thus given an ever constant realisation of deeper truth. Note that here, when the divinity and humanity have both been dwelt upon, and in contrast to the historic Moses, the name Jesus Christ first appears. Is there, too, in this union of the human and divine names a reference to the union in Him of the faculty to receive and the truth to fulfil? St. Luke speaks of Him as “increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favour (grace) with God and man” (Luke 2:52; see Note there).

Verse 18

Verse 19

(19) The narrative is connected with the prologue by the record of John, which is common to both (John 1:15), and opens therefore with “And.”

The Jews.—This term, originally applied to the members of the tribe of Judah, was extended after the Captivity to the whole nation of which that tribe was the chief part. Used by St. John more than seventy times, it is to be understood generally of the representatives of the nation, and of the inhabitants of Judæa, and of these as opposed to the teaching and work of Christ. He was himself a Jew, but the true idea of Judaism had led him to the Messiah, and the old name is to him but as the husk that had been burst in the growth of life. It remains for them to whom the name was all, and who, trying to cramp life within rigid forms, had crushed out its power.

Priests and Levites.—The word “Levite” occurs only twice elsewhere in the New Testament—in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:32), and in the description of Joses (Acts 4:36). It is clear from such passages as 2 Chronicles 17:7-9; 2 Chronicles 35:3; Nehemiah 8:7, that part of the function of the Levites was to give instruction in the Law, and it is probable that the “scribes” were often identical with them. We have, then, here two divisions of the Sanhedrin, as we have two in the frequent phrase of the other Evangelists, “scribes,” and “elders,” the scribes (Levites) being common to both, and the three divisions being priests, Levites (scribes), and elders (notables). (Comp. John 1:24, and Note on Matthew 5:20.)

From Jerusalem is to be taken with “sent,” not with “priests and Levites.” Emphasis is laid upon the fact that the work of John had excited so much attention that the Sanhedrin sent from Jerusalem to make an official inquiry. The judgment of the case of a false prophet is specially named in the Mishna as belonging to the Council of the Seventy One. (Comp. Luke 13:33)

Verse 20

(20) Confessed, and denied not; but confessed.—Comp. for the style, Note on John 1:3.

I am not.—The better reading places the pronoun in the most emphatic position: “It is not I who am the Messiah.” He understands their question, then, “Who art thou?” as expressing the general expectation, “Is it thou who art the Messiah?”

Verse 21

(21) What then?—Not “What art thou then?” but expressing surprise at the answer, and passing on with impatience to the alternative, “Art thou Elias?” (Comp. on this and the following question, Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 18:18; Isaiah 40 ff.; Malachi 4:5; 2 Maccabees 2:1-8; and Note on Matthew 16:14). The angel had announced that “he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias.” The Lord declared “Elias is come already” (Matthew 18:12-13), and yet the Forerunner can assert that, in the literal sense in which they ask the question and would understand the answer, he is not Elias, still less “the prophet,” by which, whether thinking of the words of Moses or the fuller vision of Isaiah from which he immediately quotes, he would understand the Messiah himself,

Verse 22

(22) That we may give an answer.—He has given the “No” to all the ideas they had formed of him. There is nothing left to them but to draw the definite statement from himself, or to return to their senders empty handed.

Verse 23

(23) But he still gives the “No.” They think of his person and his work. He thinks of neither. His eye is fixed on the coming One. In this presence his own personality has no existence. He is as a voice, not to be inquired about but heard. They are acting as men who ask questions about the messenger of a great king who is coming to them and is at hand, instead of hastening with every effort to make ready for him. (Comp. Note on Matthew 3:3.)

Verse 24

(24) They which were sent.—The best MSS. omit the relative, and the verse thus becomes, “And they had been sent from the Pharisees.” (For account of the Pharisees, see Note on Matthew 3:7.) The statement is made to explain the question which follows, but it should be observed that in this Gospel, where the Sadducees are nowhere mentioned, the term “Pharisees” seems to be used almost in the sense of “Sanhedrin.” (Comp. John 4:1; John 8:3; John 11:46; John 11:57.)

Verse 25

(25) Why baptizest thou then?—Baptism, which was certainly one of the initiatory rites of proselytes in the second or third century A.D., was probably so before the work of the Baptist. It is not baptism, therefore, which is strange to the questioners, but the fact that he places Jews and even Pharisees (Matthew 3:7) in an analogous position to that of proselytes, and makes them to pass through a rite which marks them out as impure, and needing to be cleansed before they enter “the kingdom of heaven.” By what authority does he these things? They had interpreted such passages as Ezekiel 36:25 ff. to mean that Baptism should be one of the marks of Messiah’s work. None less than the Christ, or Elias, or “the prophet” could enact a rite like this. John is assuming their power, and yet is not one of them.

Verse 26

(26) I baptize with water.—The passage of Ezekiel is probably present to the mind, with its contrast between water and spirit.

Verse 27

(27) He it is . . . is preferred before me.—Insertions made to harmonise the verse with John 1:15; John 1:30. Omitting them we have, “He who cometh after me” as the subject of the verb “standeth,” and the whole sentence, is “He who cometh after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to unloose, standeth among you and ye know Him not.” This is the authority for baptism, the outer sign of the Messiah’s Advent, for He is already standing in their midst. Here is the answer to their question. John’s work is simply ministerial. The baptism of the Spirit is at hand. The coming One has come. (Comp. Notes on Matthew 3:11 and Mark 1:7.)

Verse 28

(28) Bethabara beyond Jordan should be, Bethany beyond Jordan. Origen found “Bethany” in “almost all the copies,” but not being able to find the place, he came to the conclusion that it must be Bethabara which he heard of, with a local tradition that John had baptised there; and in this he is followed by the Fathers generally. In support of this the etymology of Bethabara (= “ford-house”) is compared with a possible meaning of Bethany (= “ship-house”), and the two are regarded as popular names of some well-known ford, one of which gradually ceased to be known as the name of this place, because it became appropriated as a name of the Bethany made prominent in the closing scenes of our Lord’s life. On the other hand, it is believed that this argument from etymology is at least precarious; that ignorance of the place after three hundred years—and these years of war and unsettlement—is not unnatural; that the tradition in favour of Bethabara, which was then a favourite place for baptism, is one likely to have grown with this fact; and that we are not justified in adopting the critical decision of Origen, who rejected the almost unanimous evidence of MSS. in favour of this tradition at second hand. We are, moreover, ignorant of the site of Bethabara, and the identification with either Beth-barah (Judges 7:24), or Beth-nimrah (Numbers 32:36; Joshua 13:27), which in some readings of the LXX. had taken the forms Bethabra and Betharaba, gives a position much too far to the south, for the writer is clearly speaking of a place within easy approach of Galilee (John 1:43 and John 2:1), and he is careful to note the succession of days and even hours. It is not inconsistent with this that the narrative in Matthew 3:5 and Mark 1:5 seems to require a place of easy access from Jerusalem, for the positions are not necessarily the same, and the account there is of a general impression, while here we have the minute details of an eye-witness. Himself a disciple of John, he remembers the place where he was then dwelling and baptising, and he knows that this Bethany is “beyond Jordan,” just as he knows that the other is “the town of Mary and her sister Martha” (John 11:1), and that it “was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off (John 11:18). Dr. Caspari believes that a “Bethany” answering the demands of the context is to be found in the village Tellanîje or Tellanihje, which is in the Iolan to the north of the Sea of Galilee (comp. John 10:40). It is near a ford of the Jordan, with several brooks intervening. The identity of name depends upon the frequent substitution by the Arabs of “Tell” (= “hill”) for “Beth” (=“house”), so that the present word represents Beth-anîje, or Bethany. Dr. Caspari’s statement is now accessible to the English reader. Few, perhaps, will fully accept the author’s opinion, “With regard to the accuracy of our conclusion respecting the site, there can, therefore, be no doubt” (Chron. and Geogr., Introd., p. 93), but it is based upon a reading of which there can be no doubt, and is, at least, a probable interpretation.

We have in these verses also a note of time. John now knows the Messiah, though others do not. This inquiry of the legates from Jerusalem was, therefore,, after the baptism of our Lord (John 1:31; John 1:33), and if so, after the Temptation also. (See Note on Matthew 4:1.)

Verse 29

(29) The next day.—We pass on to the witness of John on the second day, when he sees Jesus coming unto him, probably on the return from the Temptation. Forty days had passed since they met before, and since John knew at the baptism that Jesus was the Messiah. These days were for the One a period of loneliness, temptation, and victory. They must have been for the other a time of quickened energy, wondering thought, and earnest study of what the prophets foretold the Messianic advent should be. Prominent among those prophecies which every Rabbi of that day interpreted of the Messiah, was Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:12. We know that on the previous day the fortieth chapter is quoted (John 1:23), and that this prophet is therefore in the speaker’s thoughts. Side by side with these thoughts was the daily continuing tale of grief and sorrow and sin from those who came to be baptised. How often must there have came to the mind such words as, “He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” “He was wounded for our transgressions,” “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter,” “He bare the sin of many”! The Messiah, then, was the servant of Jehovah, the true Paschal Lamb of Isaiah’s thought. While the heart burns with this living truth that all men needed, and that one heart only knew, that same Form is seen advancing. It bears indeed no halo of glory, but it bears marks of the agonising contest and yet the calm of accomplished victory. “He hath no form nor comeliness,” “no beauty that we should desire Him.” John looks at Him as He is coming, sees there living, walking in their midst, the bearer of the world’s sin and sorrow; and utters words than which in depth and width of meaning none more full have ever come from human lips, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”

The margin gives “beareth” as an alternative rendering for “taketh away,” and this union exactly expresses the force of the original. He is ever taking away sin, but this He does by bearing the burden Himself. (Comp. 1 John 3:5.) A reference to the words of Isaiah 53:4, above, fully establishes this. The Baptist probably used the very word of the prophet; but the Evangelist does not, in recording this for Greek readers, use the word of the LXX. as St. Peter does (1 Peter 2:24, “bare our sin in His own body”), but are-translates, and chooses the wider word which includes both meanings.

Verse 30

(30) This is he.—These words meet us here for the third time. They come in John 1:15, and in part in John 1:27. Here, as before, they are a quotation of an earlier and unrecorded statement of the Baptist, uttered in proverbial form, and to be understood in their fulfilment. (Comp. John 3:30.)

Verse 31

(31) And I knew him not.—Better, and I also knew Him not; so again in John 1:33. The reference is to “whom ye know not” of John 1:26, and the assertion is not, therefore, inconsistent with the fact that John did know Him on His approach to baptism (Matthew 3:13, see Note). In the sense that they did not know Him standing among them, he did not know Him, though with the incidents of His birth and earlier years and even features he must have been familiar. It cannot be that the Son of Mary was unknown to the son of Elizabeth, though One had dwelt in Nazareth and the other “was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel” (Luke 1:80; Luke 2:51). He knew not all, but there must have been many wondering thoughts of that wondrous life. Could it be the life that all looked for? but no; there was little of the Jewish idea of the Messiah in the carpenter of a country village (comp. Mark 6:3). What he did know was, that his own work as herald declared “that He should be made manifest to Israel,” and in that conviction he proclaimed the coming King, and began the Messianic baptism. The Person would be His own witness. Heaven would give its own sign to those who could spiritually read it. The Baptiser with the Spirit would Himself be so fully baptised with the Spirit coming upon and dwelling in Him, that to the spiritual eye it would take visual form and be seen “as a dove descending from heaven.”

Am I come.—Better, came.

Verse 32

(32) I saw.—Better, I have seen, or beheld. The vision is in its result ever present, and is all-conclusive evidence. (Comp. the words in their historic setting, Matthew 3:16, Note.)

Verse 32-33

(32, 33) In these verses the Evangelist again makes prominent the solemn witness of John, giving the process by which conviction had come to his own mind.

Verse 34

(34) And I saw and bare record.—Better, and I have seen and have borne witness, as in John 1:32. The result of personal conviction was, that he forthwith testified to others, and continued to do so until the present. One of the sayings taught to his scholars was, “He was (existed) before me.” The revelation of the baptism and the voice heard from heaven (Matthew 3:17) has given to this its true meaning. Teacher has now learnt, and learner is now taught, that Jesus is this pre-existent Being, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Verse 35

(35) Again the next day after John stood.—Better, The next day again John was standing. The description is of a scene present to the mind, and by one of the two disciples (John 1:40). The “again” refers to John 1:29.

Two of his disciples.—There is no reason for thinking that these were absent on the previous day, and that the testimony is specially repeated for them. Rather it is that, in that band of disciples too, there is an inner circle of those who, because they can receive more, are taught more. They had heard the words before, it may be had talked together about them, at least in individual thought had tried to follow them, and now they have come to the Teacher again. Can we doubt what questions fill the heart or shape themselves in word? He had passed through their struggle from darkness into light. There is a Presence with them which he now knows, and before which his own work must cease. The passing voice is no longer needed now that the abiding Word has come. Can we doubt what his answer is?

Verse 36

(36) And looking upon.—Better, and he looked upon Jesus as He was walking, and saith. The word “looked upon” expresses a fixed, earnest gaze. (Comp. John 1:42; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:21; Mark 10:27; &c.) At this look, all the old thoughts in their fulness come crowding back. Yes. It is He. “Behold the Lamb of God!”

Verse 37

(37) The disciples understand the words as the teacher meant them. There is no word cutting the link between himself and them; that would have been hard to speak, hard to hear. There is no word bidding them follow Jesus; that cannot be needed.

Verse 38

(38) Jesus turned, and saw them following.—They follow wishing, and yet not daring, to question Him. He sees this, and seeks to draw them forth by Himself asking the first question. They are not prepared for this question, and wish for more than a passing interview. They inquire, “Where dost thou sojourn?” “Where are you staying for the night?” They will visit Him and ask the many things they seek. They address Him as “Rabbi,” placing themselves in the position of His scholars; but they have not yet learnt all that John had taught them of His office. The title is natural from them, for it was the then current title of a revered teacher, and one that John’s disciples applied to him (John 3:26); but the writer remembers it was a modern word (comp. Matthew 23:7-8), known to Jews only since the days of Hillel (president of the Sanhedrin about B.C. 30), not likely to be known to Greeks at all, and he therefore translates it, as he does Messias and Cephas in this same section.

Verse 39

(39) Come and see.—They think of a visit later, it may be, on the following day. He bids them come at once. We know not where. We have no hint of any words spoken. It was the sacred turning-point of the writer’s own life, and its incidents are fixed in a depth of thought and feeling that no human eye may penetrate. But he remembers the very hour. It was as we should say four o’clock in the afternoon (see marg.), for there is no sufficient reason for thinking that the Babylonian method of counting the hours, usual at Ephesus as at Jerusalem, is departed from in this Gospel.

Verse 40

(40) One of the two.—The Evangelist will even here draw the veil over his own identity (see Introduction). The one is Andrew, even now marked out as brother of the better-known Simon Peter. On these names comp. Note on Matthew 10:2-4; but it should be observed here, that on this first day, as the earnest of the harvest to come, we have the two pairs of brothers, the sons of Zebedee (comp. next verse), and sons of Jonas, who are ever leaders in the apostolic band.

Verses 40-42

Personal Service

One of the two that heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He findeth first his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah (which is, being interpreted, Christ). He brought him unto Jesus.—John 1:40-42.

According to St. John’s narrative, Andrew and John (who characteristically does not name himself in the narrative) were the first men who heard and responded to the Master’s call, the first whom He enlisted in His little cohort of disciples. They had previously been followers of John the Baptist; but one day as Christ passed by they heard that prophet speak of Him as the Lamb of God, and they looked into His face and felt some wonderful attraction drawing them to Him, and all uninvited they followed and abode with Him one day. What Christ did with them and what He said on that day we know not, but it removed every doubt from their minds if any doubt had lingered there. It was a day of revelation, a day of grace, the most wonderful and the happiest day that these men had yet known, for they had found the Saviour of the world.

And then we have this incident recorded. Andrew had no sooner made his great discovery, than he burned to impart the secret to others. Quickly therefore he sought his own brother Simon and passed on the glad tidings—“We have found the Christ,” and “he brought him to Jesus.” Here, then, we have to deal with (1) a great discovery, (2) a great enthusiasm kindled by that discovery, and (3) a great service accomplished as the result of the enthusiasm.

This is one of the famous personal work chapters. There are three “findeths” in it. Andrew findeth his brother Peter. That was a great find. John in his modesty does not speak of it, but in all likelihood he findeth James his brother. Jesus findeth Philip, and Philip in turn findeth Nathanael, the guileless Prayer of Manasseh 1:1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Service, 27.]


A Great Discovery

“We have found the Messiah.”

1. It was a great day in the life of Andrew when he uttered these words. It was a great day also in the life of the race, for he announced to his brother, Peter, a discovery fraught with importance far beyond his own comprehension.

(1) “We have found.” They had been looking for Him. The Jews were the nation of hope. Both Andrew and Peter, we may be sure, had heard of the Messiah, the hope of Israel, all their lives. From the earliest antiquity, down through the centuries of the tragic, chequered, strange career of this extraordinary people, there had presented itself, with varying degrees of distinctness, the hope of a Coming One who would be the source of great, although for many centuries undefined, blessings. They had been taught as children, as young men, to put the precious promises of Scripture together, just as nowadays family treasures are taken out and scanned, and arranged and re-arranged, and put back again, from time to time. These promises were the splendid inheritance of the great Jewish family, carried by it everywhere in its sufferings—carried by it throughout the civilized world; and the Galilean peasants, like all others of the race of Israel, felt that they were ennobled by having a share in this great possession. How much that we cannot even understand, in this age of the world, was gathered into those pregnant words: “We have found the Messiah.”

(2) “The Messiah (which is, being interpreted, Christ).” What did Andrew mean when he said “Christ”? In the thought of the best men of that time the word “Christ” set forth a Heaven-commissioned Prince, the Deliverer of the oppressed people, who should lead His followers to dignity, freedom, and happiness, and in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. This indeed Christ fulfilled, though not in the way Andrew imagined when he ran to Peter with his great discovery. For to the popular conception of the Christ our Lord added the momentous fact that the Messianic goal was to be reached by suffering, humiliation, and death, and that His supreme duty as the Anointed of God was to give Himself up for the race that rejected Him.

(3) How did Andrew find out Jesus to be the Messiah? There is no reason to think that Jesus told him so. The more carefully we study our Lord’s own words about Himself, the more convinced we shall be that He made no such revelation to an inquiring disciple at this early period. He had seen no miracles to convince him, for it is not till the next chapter that we hear of Christ’s first miracle. As far as we can judge, every sign of outward power was wanting; for all he could see, Jesus might be the weakest and the most helpless of mankind. What was it then that led him to speak so confidently to Peter? Surely it must have been, first, the effect of Christ’s unutterable goodness; and, secondly, that of Christ’s inward power, the power of spirit over spirit. Good men, no doubt, as we commonly call men good, he had seen and known before, as almost all of us have done; but here was One whose deep and perfect goodness made Andrew feel as if he were in the presence of God Himself. His own heart was sound and right enough to know the true marks of One come from God.

(4) But when Andrew spoke thus, he knew little of the real Christ. During the next three years he was to be continually finding Christ. He found Him anew in the Sermon on the Mount. He grew larger to his thought as he saw Him heal the sick, teach the inquiring, forgive the sinning. He grew still mightier as he watched Him feed the thousands, still the storm, and raise the dead. And the Christ in the upper room, in Gethsemane, and on Calvary, towered still higher above the Christ to whom he introduced his brother, and was in turn surpassed by the Christ of the Resurrection morning and the Ascension Mount. It is a red-letter day in any man’s life when he finds Christ, but that is only the beginning of his religious life. From that point we “follow on to know the Lord.”

2. To-day our Lord is living and working among us, revealing His glory and manifesting His power, to a far greater degree than when He trod the plains of Galilee, or taught in the Temple courts. But of this the majority of men are little conscious. The need of our times is for men and women who can say with the conviction of Andrew, “We have found the Christ.” Amidst the perplexities of our modern life, there is a cry for those who can speak with certainty of Divine things. It was the peerless personality of the Son of God that first attracted Andrew, and made him declare to Peter the discovery he had made. And the same attraction is operating to-day. Men are not won by beliefs about Christ, but by Christ Himself.

(1) If we would find Christ, we must be looking for Him, and preparing for Him. God taught His own chosen people for whole generations. He taught them about the Messiah, who He would be, what He would do, preparing by His messengers the way before Him; and the consequence of all that steady, systematic teaching was that, when the fulness of the time was come, and one brother said to another, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write,” they had not to ask who was meant; they took all their old religious knowledge and religious teaching in their hand and went to Jesus, and found Him to be all that they had learnt He would be. And so with our teaching of religious truth; we teach the history of Christ, and His sermons and His parables and His miracles; and we teach, laboriously perhaps, and in the sweat of our brow, the meaning of His Word and of His Sacraments. It is not labour lost. When the fire from heaven descends upon the sacrifice to consume it, it does so all the more readily because the prophet had previously prepared the altar, and set the wood in order, and laid the sacrifice on the wood.

(2) But we must not be content to know about Christ. We must come into personal contact with Him. We must be in the house with Him, we must learn to know Him as the Son of God and the Lamb of God—as that One who came from His Father to be our Brother, to share our nature and to bear our sins and to take us back to God as His Father and our Father, His God and our God—a Friend in sickness and sorrow and death, who points us through death to life eternal. This is the one great discovery, compared with which all other inventions are shortlived opiates of an hour—a little ease on the road to death.

(3) Having recognized the Master when we are brought face to face with Him, we must trust Him as Andrew did. Possibly these early disciples may have thought that, having “found Christ,” the rest was easy and secure; that the new Kingdom of great David’s greater Son would present no difficulties, either to flesh and blood or to mind or spirit; that, having found and recognized and honoured the King, there was nothing to follow but position and privilege, and glory such as the Kingdom could and would liberally supply. If this was their thought, they were quickly to be undeceived. The King, though personally dearer to them every day, seemed every day to become more mysterious and unintelligible, and His Kingdom more disappointing and more remote. If He began to tell them about His coming Kingdom, He spoke in parables which they could not understand. If He showed evidence of His superhuman power, it seemed to be His policy to restrain the publication of those miraculous proofs as much as possible. When they suggested that an exhibition of His wrath in the way of punishment might be a warning to His opponents, He rebuked their ignorance of the very spirit of His Kingdom. When they expected Him to be telling them of coming triumph, He could speak only of persecution and suffering and death, until the uncontrollable “Be it far from thee” broke from the lips of their scandalized spokesman. What, then, was the charm, what was the bond, which held the Master and followers together? We answer without hesitation, it was their personal love of the Christ whom they had found. This was what made all disappointment at His want of success and all perplexity as to His doctrine equally unable to break up their little society. They did not pretend to understand His methods or His objects, but when He laid before them one of the hardest and most difficult of His doctrines, that which caused many of His disciples to go back, and walk no more with Him, Peter, answering for the Apostles, could neither turn back nor yet pretend to say that he understood the difficult matter in question; but in all the helplessness of a constraining love, with all the confidence of such a plenary devotion as has no other choice and wishes for no other, he put the seal on his former declaration, “We have left all, and followed thee,” by adding to it, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”

(4) If we can say “We have found the Messiah,” it is now, as of old, enough. John in the desert, Andrew on the morrow after meeting the Redeemer, did not look like the men who were to initiate nothing less than the spiritual conquest of the world. But one truth, seriously believed and proclaimed with the accents of sincerity, will go a great way with any single soul. If, indeed, we have found the Messiah, not merely in a literature, not merely as an explanation of existing institutions, not merely as the centre of much thought and activity in this our time and day, not merely as an historical personage that must needs be recognized by intelligent men,—if we have found Him for ourselves, found Him as a still living friend, found Him in our prayers, found Him in our Bibles, found Him in our efforts to conquer deep-seated evil within us, found Him in our intercourse with His living servants, found Him in the appointed Sacrament of His love,—if we have found Him as the pardoner of sin and as the conqueror of sin, then we have motives enough and to spare for working for the evangelization of others, for bringing all whom we can to that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, to such ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there may be no place left either for error in religion or for viciousness in life.

3. Society must find Christ. The conception of Christ as the Saviour of individuals only is insufficient for the fulfilling of prophecy or the solution of historic problems. The institutions of men must be saved as truly as individual souls. The Christian design for the world is not an anarchy of good individuals. And it is as society finds Christ that it rejoices in the exhilarating pulsations of a diviner life than the older dispensations ever dreamed of. Modern civilization, so far as it is virtuous, philanthropic, and high-principled, is the result of Andrew’s discovery. And one of the great needs of our age is to extend the beneficent influence of this discovery. The spirit of Christ claims dominion over all life, and the principle of Christ’s own life must be the principle of the home, the shop, the school, the court, and in the work of every department of our many-sided activities. It is as men realize this, and practise it, that the time is hastened when the new Jerusalem shall descend out of heaven from God, having peace for its walls, righteousness for its foundations, and love for its law.

There is a great deal of good talk these days about regenerating society. It used to be that men talked about “reaching the masses.” Now the other putting of it is commoner. It is helpful talk whichever way it is put. The Gospel of Jesus is to affect all society. It has affected all society, and is to do so more and more. But the thing to mark keenly is this, the key to the mass is the man. The way to regenerate society is to start on the individual. The law of influence through personal contact is too tremendous to be grasped. You influence one man and you have influenced a group of men, and then a group around each man of the group, and so on endlessly. Hand-picked fruit gets the first and best market. The keenest marksmen are picked for the sharpshooters’ corps.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Service, 29.]


A Great Enthusiasm

“He first findeth his own brother Simon.”

Andrew does not dream of keeping his great discovery to himself. His first thought is to tell it to his brother Simon. He is full of it—can think or talk of nothing else. His eye flashes, his face shines, his voice rings with the music of it. “Simon, we have found Christ.”

I like greatly the motto of the Salvation Army. It must have been born for those workers in the warm heart of the mother of the Army, Catherine Booth. That mother explains much of the marvellous power of that organization. Their motto is, “Saved to Serve.”2 [Note: lbid. 141.]

1. There is no joy known to human hearts so glorious, so imperative—breaking down all strongholds and through all restraints—as the joy of a heart in its first gladness in finding the Lord and knowing the forgiveness of sins. As Morley Punshon, the famous English preacher, said, there was joy in the breast of the sage of Syracuse when he shouted aloud his glad “Eureka” in the hearing of the people who deemed him mad; there was joy in the soul of Sir Isaac Newton when the first conception of the law of gravitation burst upon his thought as he sat under his orchard tree; there was joy in the heart of Columbus in that moment of triumph over doubt and mutiny, when the tiny land-birds settled upon the sails of his vessel, bearing upon their timid wings the welcomes of the new world; there is joy for the gold-finder, when he sees the precious ore shining in his gold-pan; joy for children when new marvels of the world open on their vision; joy for the poet when he sends through the world a glad thought that stirs the pulse of mankind; but none of these can compare with the joy of the ransomed sinner who can clasp his brother’s hand and say, “Come, brother, we have found the Lord.”

I remember well how I used to pray for joy. I was told that a Christian must be joyful. I prayed and prayed, and I must say I did not get it. Why not? Because it does not come by prayer alone. It may come that way, but not alone. I used to think that joy was kept in lumps—packets which were stored up and then doled out—or injected like morphia—and that if I prayed a lump would come. This is a material conception that many hold. They want virtues and graces, and they set-to and pray. They pray for rest, peace, love, joy, and they hope these will drop from heaven and stay with them for ever. But these are Fruits. How can you have Fruits without Branches? Where are your branches to bear fruit, where is your blossom to precede it? What’s the use of a lump of joy if there are no branches? Now, gentlemen, look up in your Bibles and find out how to get joy; find the cause of joy. Work by the law you know of as “cause and effect.” Joy is an effect, find the cause. There is one, just as surely as you have a cause for toothache. Turn to the fifteenth of John, and there you will read the parable of the Vine in the words of Jesus. He tells His disciples about the tree and its branches, and then He tells them the “why” of these things:—“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” That is the end of the parable—the cause of joy, something of which the effect is joy. Joy comes of a great law. But what is the condition? Go home and look and see. It is to do good. Abide in Christ and bring forth fruit, then comes the joy, and you can’t help yourself. You don’t make the joy. It simply follows after a certain cause, and I defy any man in this hall to go off and do something for somebody, comfort them, help them, any one whom you may meet—I say, I defy him to do that and not come back happier and full of joy.1 [Note: Drummond, in Smith’s Life of Henry Drummond, 496.]

2. Andrew started at once to spread the good tidings. The day after his conversion was the day in which he became a soul-winner. How instinctive and natural the impulse is, when a man has found Jesus Christ, to tell some one else about Him. Nobody said to Andrew, “Go and look for your brother”; and yet, as soon as he had fairly realized the fact that this Man standing before him was the Messiah, though the evening seems to have come, he hurried away to find his brother, and share with him the glad conviction. That is always the case. If a man has any real depth of conviction, he cannot rest till he tries to share it with somebody else. Why, even a dog that has had its leg mended will bring other limping dogs to the man who was kind to it. Whoever really believes anything becomes a propagandist. Look round about us to-day! and hearken to the Babel, the wholesale Babel of noises, where every sort of opinion is trying to make itself heard. It sounds like a country fair where every huckster is shouting his loudest. That shows that the men believe the things they profess. Thank God that there is so much earnestness in the world! And are Christians to be dumb whilst all this vociferous crowd is calling its wares, and quacks are standing on their platforms shouting out their specifics, which are mostly delusions? Have we not a medicine that will cure everything, a real heal-all, a veritable pain-killer? If we believe that we have, certainly we will never rest till we share our boon with our brethren.

I am, and have for a long time been, persuaded that if the Christian Church were to claim that fulness of the Holy Spirit which is her birthright, her equipment, the greatest of all her needs, the proportion of what we call evangelists to pastors and teachers would be very much larger than it is at present. Touched with this flame, not only a multitude of ministers, but of the laity, who have hardly tasted the ecstasy of soul-winning, would joyously respond to God’s call with a fervent “Here am I, send me!” Then He could and would send them, and they would come back laden with trophies of victory.1 [Note: T. Waugh, Twenty-three Years a Missioner, 65.]

3. Andrew did not wait until the Master had given him full equipment and training. He started with imperfect knowledge. As yet, and for long after, there was an earthly and mistaken element in Andrew’s idea of the Messiah whom he had found. He knew that the Messiah had come, but of the vast consequences to the world, to the soul, of that coming—consequences extending through the sphere of time into the depths of the eternal future, as we find these things developed in the Epistles of St. Paul—of these at such a time he must have had only an indistinct perception. One truth was clearly present to him, whatever else it might involve, and that one truth sufficed to kindle every affection and power of his spirit, to concentrate in its analysis every ray of his understanding,—“We have found the Messiah.” He had seen enough of Jesus in those few hours to be awed, attracted, won,—enough to know instinctively that John was right,—enough to know that here was one whom he could perfectly love and trust,—enough to know that the best thing he could possibly do for those nearest and dearest to himself was to tell them of his own experience.

In a list of Indian missionaries of Mohammedanism, published in the journal of a religious and philanthropic society of Lahore, says Arnold in The Preaching of Islam, “We find the names of schoolmasters, government clerks in the Canal and Opium Departments, traders, including a dealer in camel carts, an editor of a newspaper, a bookbinder, and a workman in a printing establishment. These men devote the hours of leisure left them after the completion of the day’s labour to the preaching of their religion in the streets and bazaars of Indian cities, seeking to win converts from among Christians and Hindus, whose religious belief they controvert and attack.” This is what constitutes the power of Islam. With no missionary organization, with no missionary order, the religion yet spread over Western Asia and Northern Africa, and retains still its foothold on the soil of Europe. Where the common man believes his religion and spreads it, other men believe it, too.1 [Note: R. E. Speer, A Young Man’s Questions, 55.]


A Great Service

“He brought him unto Jesus.”

“He brought him unto Jesus”; it was the kindest and best service that any human being could do to any other.

1. Consider the nature of the man who performed this service.

(1) Andrew was an ordinary man. He was not a genius. He does not play a conspicuous part in the gospel drama. We know him better than some of the other disciples, better than Bartholomew and Jude, but not nearly so well as Peter and John. He is one of the subordinate characters stepping on the stage here and there to do a bit of modest work, and then vanishing into the background. Men like Andrew are the one-talented men who use their one talent sweetly and nobly, and show us all the way we ought to go and the work which we can do.

We often think that if we had that man’s means or that man’s ability or that man’s opportunity, we could do something worth doing; but, as we are, there is no possibility of any great thing. Yet God does not want us to fill any other man’s place, or to do any other man’s work. God wants us to improve our own opportunity with the possessions and the powers that He has given us. It is a very great thing for us to do the very best we can do just where and as we are. God asks no one of us to do more than this, nor has any one of us a right to do less.1 [Note: M. D. Babcock, Thoughts for Everyday Living, 19.]

(2) Andrew had come from communion with Christ. He had spent a night with the Master, and in the sacred, secret converse of those few mysterious hours his whole life was altered. He had seen and had found the Christ. Here we have the secret of success. It is to be found in communion with Christ. This is the indispensable qualification of every Christian worker. It makes of the dwarf a giant, and without it the giant becomes a dwarf. In the Christian realm we can influence others only as we ourselves are influenced.

Place a bar of iron, cold and lifeless, by a piece of wood. The wood is not influenced at all, but when the iron is placed in the furnace and left there for a while and afterwards withdrawn, a change is then effected, for the iron seems to have ceased to be iron and to have become a mass of fire. If placed then by the side of the piece of wood how different is the result; as it has been influenced, so it influences, and the wood too becomes a mass of fire.2 [Note: William Arthur, The Tongue of Fire.]

(3) This ordinary man, coming from communion with Christ, shows three remarkable qualities—the courage which initiates, the sympathy which communicates with others, the humility which obliterates self. Courage, sympathy, humility—three chief elements in the saintly character.

(a) There is first of all the courage of the man, the boldness which takes the first step, the spirit which comes bravely forward while all others are hanging back, timid or irresolute. We have many phrases which bear testimony to the value and the rarity of this courage. We speak of breaking the ice, of shooting Niagara. It is a plunge into an unknown future, where none has gone before, of which none can foretell the consequences. We say that it is the first step which costs. We are lost in admiration of the soldier who steps forward to lead the forlorn hope, to storm the breach, though almost certain death is his destiny. The forlorn hope—does not the very phrase tell its own tale? Yes, it is the first step which costs. Where one—though only one—has gone before, it does not cost half—not a twentieth part—of the bravery, the resolution, for a second to follow. And for a third and a fourth the degree of courage required lessens in a rapidly decreasing scale. The first step was taken by Andrew. He was the leader of the forlorn hope of Christendom, the first to storm the citadel of the Kingdom of heaven, taking it as alone it can be taken—taking it by force. Be not deceived. Only the violent enter therein—only the brave, resolute, unflinching soldiers, who will brook no opposition, who make straight for truth and righteousness and love, come what may, who are ready to lose their lives that they may save them. This unique glory is Andrew’s. Peter may have held a more commanding position in the Church of Christ; Paul may have travelled over a larger area and gathered greater numbers into the fold; but Andrew’s crown has a freshness and a brightness of its own which shall never fade—a glory of which no man can rob it.

On Sunday afternoons the boys in his passage would often indulge in pillow fights or games of a somewhat rowdy order. In order to stop this, Hogg, now one of the eldest boys at Joynes’, suggested that they should all club together and have tea in his room, and then read aloud. He collected a large quantity of old Chambers’s Journals, in which he would look out any curious or interesting articles for these Sunday afternoons. After a time he proposed that before separating a chapter of Scripture should be read and a prayer offered. It must have cost any boy a great effort to make such a suggestion, though the fact that a strong religious revival was then moving England, and that the movement had touched even the great public schools, may have made it a slightly less difficult innovation than one would imagine. Yet his contemporaries own they “would not have stood it from any one else”; and he himself spoke of it as a “sore struggle.” As a matter of fact, very little opposition or ridicule was met with. Most of the boys respected him for having the courage of his convictions; the majority responded to the invitation; those who held aloof were by no means antagonistic. Young Hogg used to read the chapter, and usually made some remarks as he did so; occasionally other boys would take an active part, and thus gradually the Chambers’s Journals were dropped, and the gathering became a regular Bible Class.1 [Note: Quintin Hogg, 36.]

(b) The second quality is wholly different. It is the sympathy which mediates; the temper and character which draws others together; the “conductivity” of the man. It is a remarkable fact that, after this first meeting with Christ, every subsequent notice of Andrew specially brings out this feature in his character. It is not that he does any great thing himself, but that he is the means of getting great things done for or by others. What was his first impulse, what was his first act, after his call? Not the establishment of his own position with Christ, not the proclamation of his discovery on the housetops, nothing of self or self-seeking in any, even in its highest, form; but “he first findeth his own brother Simon”; “and he brought him to Jesus”—brought him who was henceforward to be the leader of the Apostles, the foremost after the Ascension to proclaim his risen Lord to a hostile world, the earliest to gather the first-fruits of the Gentiles into the garner of Christ.

Dr. Trumbull was often spoken of as being a man of exceptional “tact.” He practised pretty constantly at individual soul-winning from the time when he first found his Saviour, at twenty-one, until his death more than fifty years later. People who knew him and his ways, and his lifelong habit, have said of him, “Oh, it was ‘second nature’ to Dr. Trumbull to speak to a man about his soul. He simply couldn’t help doing it, it was so easy for him. I never could get his ease in the work.” And in so saying they showed how little they knew of him or of the demands of this work upon every man. The book on Individual Work was written after its author was seventy years of age. Hear what he had to say as to the “ease” which his long practice had brought him: “From nearly half a century of such practice, as I have had opportunity day by day, I can say that I have spoken with thousands upon thousands on the subject of their spiritual welfare. Yet, so far from my becoming accustomed to this matter, so that I can take hold of it as a matter of course, I find it as difficult to speak about it at the end of these years as at the beginning. Never to the present day can I speak to a single soul for Christ without being reminded by Satan that I am in danger of harming the cause by introducing it just now. If there is one thing that Satan is sensitive about, it is the danger of a Christian’s harming the cause he loves by speaking of Christ to a needy soul. He [Satan] has more than once, or twice, or thrice, kept me from speaking on the subject by his sensitive pious caution, and he has tried a thousand times to do so. Therefore my experience leads me to suppose that he is urging other persons to try any method for souls except the best one.”1 [Note: C. G. Trumbull, Taking Men Alive, 53.]

(c) The third feature in his character is intimately connected with the second. To Andrew was given the humility which obliterates self. He, who brought others forward, was content himself to retire. Just as at a later date Barnabas, the primitive disciple, took Saul by the hand, introduced him to the elder Apostles, and started him on his career as an Evangelist, content that his own light should wane in the greater glory of this new and more able missionary of Christ, so was it now. Andrew was the first called Apostle. Andrew brought Simon Peter to Christ. Yet Andrew is known only as Simon Peter’s brother. We know in what school he had learnt this lesson. Andrew was the Baptist’s disciple, and was not this the lesson of the Baptist’s life? “He must increase, but I must decrease”—obscuration, eclipse, obliteration of self. The personality of Andrew is lost in the personality of Simon. So it is truly said that the world knows nothing of its greatest benefactors. They are lost in their work, or are lost in others.

Lord, I read at the transfiguration that Peter, James, and John were admitted to behold Christ; but Andrew was excluded. So again at the reviving of the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, these three were let in, and Andrew shut out. Lastly, in the agony, the aforesaid three were called to be witnesses thereof, and still Andrew left behind. Yet he was Peter’s brother, and a good man, and an apostle; why did not Christ take the two pair of brothers? was it not a pity to part them? But methinks I seem more offended thereat than Andrew himself was, whom I find to express no discontent, being pleased to be accounted a loyal subject for the general, though he was no favourite in these particulars. Give me to be pleased in myself, and thankful to thee, for what I am, though I be not equal to others in personal perfections. For such peculiar privileges are courtesies from thee when given, and no injuries to us when denied.1 [Note: Thomas Fuller.]

2. Consider the manner of the service.

(1) It was service rendered as the result of experience.—No sermon did Andrew preach that day. He simply uttered one sentence, “We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.” Who could not have uttered such a sentence, if he had possessed the experience? The man who had experienced the effect of his eyes being opened, the woman who had experienced the opening out of her life before her eyes—both spoke with such power that men believed the words they uttered. So Andrew had found the Messiah, and the words of such a man, though few, had a weight such as those of a Demosthenes could not carry. Eloquence can never make up for the lack of experience. Experience with one sentence can move men as eloquence without it can never do, and Andrew with his one sentence brought Peter to Christ. When the Holy Ghost fell upon the Apostles they went out stating that God had “shed forth this”; so, to-day, the man who has spent the night with the Christ can go forth and, with the light of joy in his life, and the ring of conviction in his tone, can say, “We have found the Christ,” and men will listen to his message.

Some of us are influenced by argument and some of us are not. You may pound a man’s mistaken creed to atoms with sledge-hammers of reasoning, and he is not much nearer being a Christian than he was before; just as you may pound ice to pieces and it is pounded ice after all. The mightiest argument that we can use, and the argument that we can all use, if we have got any religion in us at all, is that of Andrew, “We have found the Messiah.”2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

When John Wesley went as a missionary to Georgia, he went, as he writes, “to save his own soul”; but two years later he returned to England a disappointed man, having saved neither his own soul nor those of the colonists and Indians. “I who went to America to convert others,” he says, “was never myself converted.” Then, with a new accession of self-forgetfulness, he turned from his own salvation to the service of others. The words spoken of his Master came home to him: “He saved others; himself he cannot save.” He was no longer Wesley the ritualist, but Wesley the missionary. “He first findeth his own brother Simon,” and soon his own life acquired confidence and peace. “His soul was saved,” says his biographer, “because he had found his work.”1 [Note: F. G. Peabody, Mornings in the College Chapel, ii. 59.]

(2) It was service rendered by the utterance of one sentence.—Andrew was a young convert and had no learning. He could not argue about it, and he could not preach about it—all of which was a great mercy. Because he could do nothing else he had to stick to the point—“We have found the Messiah.” The simple sentence uttered by one man to another is often the way by which men are brought into touch with Christ. We cannot all be preachers to the crowd, nor are we all called to such a work; but we are all qualified and we are all called to pass the message on to any one into whose company we may be thrown.

The real powers of the Early Church were not men who could harangue crowds or arouse congregations by their fervid appeals, but men who could talk to a brother, a friend, a companion, a neighbour, about the wonderful love and beauty of Jesus Christ, and out of the fulness of their own joys testify to those nearest them of the new life which they had found. It was in that way chiefly, and not by the orators of the Church, that Christianity was spread in the early days. A man who had realized the blessedness of it passed it on to the one next to him. It went like a forest fire, each tree kindled set fire to another. Each convert was as good as two, for each one made a second. The Christian plant, like every other, propagated itself; the flower of its joy dropped seed as it ripened into fruit. Prisoners whispered the glad secret to their gaolers, soldiers to their comrades, servants to their masters, women to every one who would listen. Each saved soul was eager to save another, eager to pluck a brand from the burning and win a jewel for Christ. So the work went on, so the army of the Lord grew, so the great Roman Empire was slowly subdued under the Cross, and Christianity made the ruling faith of the world.1 [Note: J. G. Greenhough.]

I recently read a story in some newspaper or other about a minister who preached a very elaborate course of lectures in refutation of some form of infidelity, for the special benefit of a man who attended his place of worship. Soon after, the man came and declared himself a Christian. The minister said to him, “Which of my discourses was it that removed your doubts?” The reply was, “Oh! it was not any of your sermons that influenced me. The thing that set me thinking was that a poor woman came out of the chapel beside me, and stumbled on the steps, and I stretched out my hand to help her, and she said, ‘Thank you!’ Then she looked at me and said, ‘Do you love Jesus Christ, my blessed Saviour?’ And I did not, and I went home and thought about it; and now I can say I love Jesus.”2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

(3) Andrew did not wait till he could talk to a crowd; he took the message to one.—Have you ever noticed what stress the Scripture lays upon one soul—as if with a tender regard for the hidden workers who deal with the one at a time? There is joy among the angels in the presence of God over one sinner that repenteth. It is the one sheep that the Shepherd seeketh, and bringeth home with rejoicing. It is the one piece of money that the woman makes so much of. It is the one son that has all to himself the loveliest parable that earth—or surely heaven either—has ever listened to. “He brought him to Jesus”—do not wait for them.

We are told of a minister in Scotland, who was called to task by some of the Church officers because of his want of success. And he had to confess that during the whole year only one young man had joined the Church, so that his heart was sick within him. But that very night the same young man spoke to his pastor of his intention of becoming a missionary. Then the pastor’s grief was turned into joy, and he thought that the work would be judged by quality rather than by quantity. The young man was Robert Moffat, who afterwards became famous by his mission work in the dark continent. The year of his conversion was not barren in the annals of that country parish after all.3 [Note: H. C. Williams.]

In the Introduction to his Lives of Twelve Good Men, Burgon gives a sketch of two or three others whom he knew and who deserved to be called “good.” Among them is Charles Portalés Golightly. He says: The Rev. T. Mozley (who is not promiscuous in his bestowal of praise) “acknowledges the greatest of obligations” to him. “Golightly” (he says) “was the first human being to talk to me, directly and plainly, for my soul’s good; and that is the debt that no time, no distance, no vicissitudes, no differences, can efface; no, not eternity itself.” On which, Dean Goulburn remarks—“But this was what Golightly was always doing; and, for the sake of doing which, he cultivated the acquaintance of all undergraduates who were introduced to him; showed them no end of kindness, walked with them, talked with them, took them with him for a Sunday excursion to his little parish of Toot Baldon.”1 [Note: J. W. Burgon, Lives of Twelve Good Men, i., xxv.]

(4) The closer the tie, the more emphatic the testimony.—It is what brother says to brother, husband to wife, parent to child, friend to friend, far more than what preacher says to hearer, that carries with it irresistible, persuasive power. When the truth of the utterance is vouched for by the obvious gladness and purity of the life; when the finding of the Christ is obviously as real as the finding of a better situation and as satisfying as promotion in life, then conviction will be carried with the announcement.

Some who would not hesitate to speak of spiritual things to casual strangers find their tongues tied when they ought to speak for God to a wife, a husband, a brother, or a child. It is perhaps because we have an instinctive feeling that our intimate associates know us too well; they would feel that some inconsistency, not to say insincerity, in our Christian conversation should make us silent. Let the thought of our duty to those we love drive us to commune with our hearts and discover what it is that ties our tongue and hinders us from giving the word of warning or exhortation that is due.2 [Note: C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, 10.]

3. Consider the success of the service.

Andrew gained his brother. Simon yielded and went, and the first interview must have gladdened Andrew’s heart. When Jesus beheld him He said: “Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A Stone.” We cannot now tell all that Peter did; how his boldness and open confession of Christ confirmed the hearts of Andrew and his fellow-disciples; how, though he fell, he received this charge: “Strengthen thy brethren”; how thousands were converted in a day by his preaching; and how, in the Epistles he has left, he has been made such an instrument for comforting and building up the people of God in all ages. We hear very little afterwards of Andrew; no doubt he continued to work in the spirit of his first mission effort, and no doubt also he had his continued success; yet he had not the ability and energy of Peter, and he retires into the shade. But we cannot forget that it is to Andrew we owe Simon Peter, and all that he did. Often afterwards, we may well believe, when Andrew saw Peter’s character unfolding, when he beheld him opening the door of faith on the Day of Pentecost, and standing forth as one of the pillars of the Christian Church, he must have thanked Christ that He not only touched his own heart, but put it into his heart to bring his brother.

God often uses minnows to catch salmon. It may be the consolation that He gives to the ungifted, that they should be the means of bringing to Jesus the eminently useful. There is Ananias leading the blind Saul to the Saviour; and little Bilney leading sturdy Hugh Latimer; and John Bunyan drawn by the godly gossip of the old women at Bedford; and John Wesley led by the simple Moravians. In our own time instances are plentiful enough. We think of Spurgeon going burdened to the Primitive Methodists, and hearing from some plain man who murdered the Queen’s English the way of life everlasting. We think of Thomas Binney, led by the simple workman to the Methodist Class-meeting, and there having the good seed sown. Andrew did a good day’s work when he brought Simon to Jesus. It is a sign of genius when you can turn to good account the gifts of other people. Let us be geniuses of that sort if we cannot be of any other. And the best way to turn any man’s gifts to good account is to bring him to Jesus.

Consider the untold capacities for high saintliness which lie buried in the mass of men who, as yet, know nothing of grace and truth. Our cities—these great hives of agglomerated human beings—abound with men and women who are, in the eye of society—who are, it may be, in the eye of the law—among the worst and the vilest, but who have bright and clear understandings; who have warm and generous hearts; who need but the illumination of truth, and the invigorating touch of grace, to become great in the true sense of that much misused word. “I have much people in this city,” was the motto traced by Christ Himself over one of the most vicious towns of ancient heathendom. Humanity is like a mine wherein flints and diamonds lie side by side in an indistinguishable disorder until the light of Divine knowledge is poured in upon the buried mass, and the hidden beauties of lives outwardly degraded are revealed. How often does it happen that the found are greater, far greater, than the finder; that Peter, in the event, takes precedence altogether of Andrew; that those who enter last into the Kingdom of heaven are bidden, in the eternal presence-chamber, to stand among the first.1 [Note: Canon Liddon.]

Personal Service


Assheton (R. O.), The Kingdom and the Empire, 51.

Banks (L. A.), Christ and His Friends, 56.

Bickersteth (C.), The Gospel of Incarnate Love, 1.

Boyd (A. K. H.), Changed Aspects of Unchanged Truths, 54.

Broughton (L. G.), The Soul-Winning Church, 62.

Burrell (D. J.), Christ and Men, 40.

Chapman (J. W.), Bells of Gold, 56.

Darlow (T. H.), The Upward Calling, 90.

Greenhough (J. G.), in Men of the New Testament, 83.

Hall (W. A. N.), “Do Out the Duty,” 67.

Horne (C. S.), The Relationships of Life, 31.

Hort (F. J. A.), Village Sermons, i. 117.

Ker (J.), Sermons, ii. 100.

Liddon (H. P.), Sermons (Contemporary Pulpit Library), iv. 109.

Lightfoot (J. B.), Sermons on Special Occasions, 160.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: John i.–viii. 62.

Matheson (G.), Rests by the River, 246.

Peabody (F. G.), Mornings in the College Chapel, ii. 58.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, i. 337.

Punshon (W. M.), Sermons, i. 1.

Raleigh (A.), From Dawn to the Perfect Day, 250.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, x. (1864) No. 570; xv. (1869) No. 855.

Stuart (J. G.), Talks about Soul Winning, 63.

Virgin (S. H.), Spiritual Sanity, 61.

Watts-Ditchfield (J. E.), Here and Hereafter, 105.

Wells (J.), Christ in the Present Age, 61.

Wheeler (W. C.), Sermons and Addresses, 9.

Williams (H. C.), Christ the Centre, 114.

Christian World Pulpit, xxxvii. 177 (Sloan); lxiv. 139 (Gregg).

Churchman’s Pulpit: Mission Work: xvii. 223 (Maguire).

Examiner, Feb. 2, 1905, p. 100 (Jowett).

Verse 41

[(2) JESUS MANIFESTS HIMSELF TO INDIVIDUALS (John John 1:41 to John 2:11):

(a) To the first disciples—the witness of man (John 1:41-51);

(b) At Cana of Galilee—the witness of nature (John 1:1-11).]

(41) He first findeth his own brother.—The probable explanation of this verse, and the only one which gives an adequate meaning to “first” and “his own,” is that each of the two disciples in the fulness of his fresh joy went to seek his own brother, that Andrew found Peter first, and that John records this, and by the form in which he does so implies, but does not state, that he himself found James. To have stated this would have been to break through the personal reserve which he imposed upon himself. (Comp. Matthew 4:18-21; Mark 1:16-19; Luke 5:1-10.)

We have found.—Implying a previous seeking, and that both were under the impulse of the general movement leading men to expect the Messiah. It is implied, too, that Simon was near, and therefore probably a hearer of the Baptist.

Messias.—The Hebrew form of the name occurs in the New Testament only here and in John 4:25, in both cases in a vivid picture of events fixed in the memory. Elsewhere, John, as the other sacred writers, uses the LXX. translation, “Christ,” and even here he adds it (comp., e.g., in this John John 1:20; John 1:25). Both words mean “anointed” (see margin, and comp. Psalms 45:8).

Verse 42

(42) Beheld.—See Note on John 1:29.

A Stone.—Better, Peter, as in margin. The word means a stone, but the writer translated for Greek, not for English readers. The rule of the previous verse, which places the Greek word in the text and the English word in the margin, should be followed here.

Cephas.—The word occurs only in this place in the Gospels, elsewhere in the New Testament only in St. Paul (1 Cor. and Gal.). Remembering the general significance of Hebrew names, the changes in the Old Testament as of Abram, Sarai, and Jacob, and among these first disciples as of James and John (Mark 3:16; Mark 3:18), all these names of Peter seem meant to characterise the man,—“Thou art now Hearer, the Son of Jehovah’s Grace; thou shalt be called and be a Rock-man.” (Comp. Note on Matthew 16:17.)

Verse 43

(43) The day following, that is, the fourth day from the inquiry by the Sanhedrin (see John 1:29; John 1:35; John 1:43).

Findeth Philip.—Just as he was going forth from his lodging of the previous night (John 1:39). Philip is mentioned in the other Gospels only in the lists of the Twelve. The touches of character are all found in St. John. (Comp. John 6:5; John 12:21; John 14:8.)

Follow me.—This command, so full of meaning, is never used in the Gospels except as spoken by our Lord Himself, and is addressed to but one outside the circle of the Apostles, the rich young man whom Jesus loved (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21). In other parts of the New Testament it is used but once, in the words of the angel to Peter (Acts 12:8). We cannot, therefore, limit the words to an invitation to accompany Him on that day’s walk, though this is included, and in that walk from Bethania to Bethsaida there came the revelation which made the “Follow Me” a power binding for the whole of life. (Comp. Matthew 8:22.)

Verse 44

(44) Of (or rather, from) Bethsaida, is added as one of the minute touches of local knowledge which give to this Gospel the colour and vividness that an eye-witness only could impart. It explains the meeting. Philip was going home, and Bethsaida was on the way which Jesus would naturally take from Bethania to Cana (John 2:1-2). It explains, too, the process by which Philip passed from Messianic hope to a full belief in the Christ. He was a fellow townsman of Andrew and Peter. These two had talked together of ancient prophecy and future expectation. One had announced to the other in striking language, “We have found the Messias,” and it is with the same word that Philip tells the good news to Nathanael. This “Bethsaida of Galilee,” as it is called in describing Philip in John 12:21, is thus distinguished from the Bethsaida Julias, which was on the eastern side of the lake. (See Jos. Ant. xviii. 2, § 1, and comp. Note on Luke 9:10.)

Verse 45

(45) Philip findeth Nathanael.—See John 1:41; John 1:44. Nathanael is the Hebrew of the Greek word Theodorus, God’s gift. The former is found in Numbers 1:8; 1 Chronicles 2:14. The latter is preserved in the names Theodore and Dorothea. He belonged to the town to which Jesus was going (Cana of, Galilee, John 21:2). Philip then probably went with Jesus and found Nathanael at or near Cana (John 1:48). He is, perhaps, the same person as Bartholomew; but on this, see John 21:2, and Note on Matthew 10:3. The more formal statement of the proof in this case, as compared with that of the two brothers (John 1:41), agrees with the general character of Philip and with the less close relationship.

Of Nazareth.—Better, from Nazareth. Nothing can be argued from these words, or those which follow, as to ignorance of the fact of, or the events attending, the birth at Bethlehem. It is to be noted that the words are Philip’s, not the writer’s. Very possibly, one who had been in the company of Jesus for a few hours only was then unacquainted with these incidents. In any case he expresses the common belief of the neighbourhood and the time, and it is an instance of St. John’s dramatic accuracy that he gives the words as they were spoken, and does not attempt to interpret them by later events or by his own knowledge. (Comp. John 7:42; John 7:52; John 8:53, et al.)

Verse 46

(46) The question is not, “Can the Messiah come out of Nazareth,” but “Can there any good thing come?” The question is asked by an inhabitant of a neighbouring village who looks upon the familiar town with something of local jealousy and scorn; but the form of the question would seem to point to an ill repute in reference to its people. The place is unknown to earlier history, and is not mentioned even in Josephus; but what we find in Mark 6:6 and Luke 4:29 agrees with Nathanael’s opinion. (For account of the town, comp. Note on Luke 1:26.)

Come and see expresses the fulness of his own conviction. An interview had brought certainty to his own mind. It would do so likewise to that of his friend.

Verse 47

(47) Jesus saw Nathanael coming.—Nathanael is at once willing that his prejudice should give way before the force of truth. He is coming, when the look directed towards others rests also upon him. It finds the character which it tests earnest and honest. What gave rise to the form in which this is expressed is not stated. There is clearly some unexpressed link with the history of Jacob. The word for “guile” is the same word as the LXX. word for “subtlety” in Genesis 27:35. The thought then is, “Behold one who is true to the name of Israel, and in whom there is nothing of the Jacob (Genesis 27:36). There is something in the words which comes as a revelation to Nathanael. Were they a proof that the Presence before whom he stood read to the very depths of his own thought? Under the shade of a tree, where Jews were accustomed to retire for meditation and prayer, had the Old Testament history of Jacob been present to his mind? Was he too “left alone,” and did he “prevail with God?” And does he now hear the inmost thought expressed in words, carrying certainty to his soul, and giving him too the victory of seeing God “face to face with life preserved?” (Genesis 32:24).

Verse 48

(48) The natural explanation of the verse seems to be that Nathanael was at his own house when Philip called him to hear the glad news of the Messiah. The words rendered “under the fig-tree” include the going there and being there. It was the fig-tree of his own garden (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4; Zechariah 3:10) where, and not at the corners of the streets, or to be seen of men, he was in the honesty of his heart praying to God. Unseen as he thought by any eye, he was seen by Him to whose coming every true Israelite looked, and the answer to the true thought and prayer was then as ever close at hand; but at hand, in the human form in which men find it so hard to read the Divine, and in the ordinary events in which men find it hard to realise God. A travelling Rabbi! He is the Messiah. From Nazareth the All Good cometh! This meeting, then, was not the first. There was an actual Messianic Presence in Nathanael’s inmost thought. He is now startled, and asks, “Whence knowest Thou me?” We have never seen each other before. But in the deepest sense, the Messiah was there; “when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee.”

Verse 49

(49) Thou art the Son of God.—The recognition begets recognition. That strange Presence he had felt as a spiritual power quickening hope and thought, making prophets’ words living truths, filling with a true meaning the current beliefs about the Messiah;—yes; it goes through and through him again now. It is there before him. “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.” (For these titles as existing in the Messianic expectation of the day, comp. John 11:27; John 12:13; John 12:15; Matthew 26:63; Mark 3:11; Mark 5:7. See also Note on the quotation from Zech. in Matthew 21:5.)

Verse 50

(50) Believest thou.—This is not necessarily a question, and a fuller sense is obtained by taking it as an assertion. (Comp. the same word in John 16:31; John 20:29.) On this evidence thou believest; the use of the faith-faculty strengthens it. Thou shalt see greater things than these.

Verse 51

(51) Verily, verily.—This is the first use of this formula of doubled words, which is not found in the New Testament outside St. John’s Gospel. They are always spoken by our Lord, and connected with some deeper truth, to which they direct attention. They represent, in a reduplicated form, the Hebrew “Amen,” which is common in the Old Testament as an adverb, and twice occurs doubled (Numbers 5:22; Nehemiah 8:6). In the Hebraic style of the Apocalypse the word is a proper name of “the faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14).,

I say unto you . . . ye shall see.—The earlier words have been addressed to Nathanael. The truth expressed in these holds for all disciples, and is spoken to all who were then present—to Andrew and John and Peter and James (John 1:41) and Philip, as well as to Nathanael.

Hereafter is omitted by several ancient authorities, including the Sinaitic and Vatican MSS., but there is early evidence for the insertion, and as the omission removes a difficulty in the interpretation, it is probably to be traced to this source. If retained, the better rendering is, henceforth, from this time onwards.

Heaven opened.—More exactly, the heaven opened, made and continuing open. The thought was familiar, for Psalmist and Prophet had uttered it to God in the prayers, “Bow Thy heavens, O Lord, and come down” (Psalms 144:5); “O that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down” (Isaiah 64:1). The Presence then before Nathanael was the answer to these longings of the soul.

The angels of God ascending and descending.—Referring again to the history of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-13).

The Son of man.—This is probably the first time that this phrase, which became the ordinary title used by our Lord of Himself, fell from His lips; but it meets us more than seventy times in the earlier Gospels, and has been explained in the Note on Matthew 8:20. It will be enough to observe here that it is suggested by, and is in part opposed to and in part the complement of, the titles used by Nathanael. He could clothe the Messianic idea only in Jewish titles, “Son of God,” “King of Israel.” The true expression of the idea was not Hebrew, but human, “the Son of Man,” “the Word made flesh;” the Son, the true representative of the race, the Second Adam, in whom all are made alive; the Son of Man. The word is ἄνθρωπος, not ἀνήρ; homo, not vir. It is man as man; not Jew as holier than Greek; not free-man as nobler than bond-man; not man as distinct from woman: but humanity in all space and time and circumstance; in its weakness as in its strength; in its sorrows as in its joys; in its death as in its life. And here lies the explanation of the whole verse. The ladder from earth to heaven is in the truth “The Word was made flesh.” In that great truth heaven was, and has remained, opened. From that time onwards messengers were ever going backward and forward between humanity and its God. The cry of every erring and helpless child to its Father for guidance and strength; the silent appeal of the wronged and down-trodden to the All-Just Avenger; the fears and hopes of the soul burdened by the unbearable weight of sin, and casting itself on the mercy of the Eternal Love—all these are borne by messengers who always behold the face of God (Matthew 18:10). And every light that falls upon the path, and strength that nerves the moral frame; every comfort to the heart smarting beneath its wrong; every sense of forgiveness, atonement, peace—all these like angels descend that ladder coming from heaven to earth. Ascending precedes descending, as in the vision of old, Heaven’s messengers are ever ready to descend when earth’s will bid them come. The revelation of the fullest truth of God is never wanting to the heart that is open to receive it. The ladder is set up upon the earth, but it reaches to heaven, and the Lord stands above it. It goes down to the very depths of man’s weakness, wretchedness, and sin; and he may lay hold of it, and step by step ascend it. In the Incarnation, Divinity took human form on earth; in the Ascension, Humanity was raised to heaven.


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 1:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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