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CHAPTER John 1:1-18
THE ETERNAL NATURE AND INCARNATION OF THE WORD
1. The Logos is divine, pre-existent, eternal, and appears in His relation to God (John 1:2); to creation and providence (John 1:3); and as the life and light of humanity, which has become darkened by sin.
2. The Logos was made flesh, as all prophecy foretold (John 1:6-8); and He Himself as the inspirer of the prophetic word prepared the way for His appearing (John 1:9-14).
3. The Logos is the revelation of the Father (John 1:14-18).
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 1:1. In the beginning, etc.—ἐν . The בְּרֵאשִׁית etc., of Genesis 1:0 denotes the beginning of that movement of the divine creative energy from which sprang the visible universe. The Evangelist’s words take us beyond this definite point into the immeasurable eternity. In the beginning the Word was. The Logos was not then called into being. He existed “before all worlds” (John 17:5; John 17:24), i.e. before time, which measures the visible universe, had begun. As eternity has neither beginning nor end the Word is eternally existent (for the meaning of the term Logos see Introduction, p. 10, and notes below).
John 1:2. The same.—οὗτος. This [Word], etc. The distinct personal existence of the Word is more definitely asserted and emphasised to show that He was “anterior to the fact of creation of which He is the agent” (John 1:3).
John 1:3. All things, etc.—For the contents of πάντα see Colossians 1:16. Made.—I.e. became. “Creation is a ‘becoming’ in contrast with the ‘being’ emphasised before” (Westcott). Without Him.—The entire community between God and the Word is here declared (Godet); and see John 15:5.
John 1:4. In Him was life.—For the universe. The “fulness” of life dwells in Him, and He is the source of all life physical and spiritual. He is light through life. Life comes to men through Christ; and the result of that life in renewed hearts is light—the light of goodness, truth, holiness.
John 1:5. The light shineth, etc.—The Word was, ere the fall, the light of man, not only potentially, but actually. After the fall darkness covered the moral world. And now again at the Incarnation the light anew rises in power. The conflict evident in all history between light and darkness was now to end in the victory of light. Comprehended.—I.e. seized or laid hold of in a hostile sense; but perhaps what is here meant is a passive hostility—did not appropriate, i.e. comprehend or receive; did not permit the light to penetrate its massive bulwarks.
John 1:6. There was a man, etc.—ἐγένετο, there “became,” appeared. Notice the contrast between a man and the Word. The Word was; that is essential being. The man “became”; his being is derived. John.—i.e. the grace of God (Luke 1:13-14). He was well known, and therefore his testimony was of great force. The Evangelist called him by this name before the title of Baptist had become general (Halcombe, see Introduction).
John 1:7. Through him.—I.e. through his preaching. The Evangelist does not tell the subject of John’s preaching in the same terms as the Synoptists; but repentance is implied in believing, i.e. in saving faith.
John 1:8. He was not that light, etc.—Many were disposed to believe that John was the Messiah (John 1:19-20; Luke 3:15). It is supposed by some that there may have been those in Ephesus and its vicinity who still believed in John’s baptism only (Acts 19:3), and that it was with those in view that the evangelist penned these words; but they seem rather simply to emphasise further the distinction between the Logos and the man. “John was a light which was enlightened, but had not the light in itself” (Aug. in Wordsworth’s Greek Testament).
John 1:10. He was in the world, etc.—The Logos had ever been in the world (John 1:3-4), for by Him all things consist (Colossians 1:17). But He was now especially in it when the Baptist testified of Him, and when “the world knew Him not.” The world means the inhabited world, the material earth with its inhabitants blinded by sin.
John 1:11. His own (τὰ ἴδια) things.—T eated by and for Him (Colossians 1:16); but perhaps better His own home (Psalms 132:14, etc.), i.e. the land of Israel; and “His own (οἱ ἴδιοι, i.e. the chosen people who inherited the land of promise) received Him not,” though they should have done so gladly, and as His Church will do in the end (Revelation 21:2).
John 1:12. The term name must here be taken in the sense in which it is frequently used in Scripture. The name expressed the power of the divine nature of Christ.
John 1:13. Not of blood (see John 8:33; John 8:39; John 8:41-42).—Pride of descent from Abraham gave no claim to entrance into the kingdom of God. The will of the flesh.—i.e. of the lower animal nature and its desires. Nor of the will of man (man = ἀνδρός).—Perhaps the meaning here i the divinely implanted desire for offspring (Psalms 127:3), which is a higher motive than the former. But in every view of it “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” The new life comes from God. True children of God are born “from above” (John 3:3).
John 1:14. The Word became flesh, etc.—He did not assume a mere appearance of man, as the Docetæ urged; nor did the Logos take to Himself only a body and not also a human soul, as Apollinarius and others held; nor was the Word simply united with the perfect man Jesus, as Nestorius maintained. He became flesh; He did not cease to be the Word, but He made the human nature which He assumed (“a true body and a reasonable soul”) one with Himself, in one person. So that thenceforward He was the God-man, Emmanuel. The Word and humanity were one (Revelation 19:11-16). And thus He dwelt (tabernacled) among us.—“Christ pitched not His tent in any particular person already existing, but in us, i.e. in our nature” (Bishop Wordsworth’s Greek Testament). We beheld His glory.—As the glory of God was manifested in the tabernacle in the wilderness, so it was exhibited in all its brightness in that tent in which the Word tabernacled here. “The σκηνὴ (tabernacle) of our humanity became the Shechinah of Deity” (1 John 1:1-2). As of an only begotten (born) son.—μονογενής, only son or child (Colossians 1:15), eternally standing in this relation to the Father. His relation to the Father is unique and unparalleled (Westcott), of the Father, or from with the Father, pointing to the manifestation of the divine glory of that sonship as beheld by men here. Grace and truth.—The same character which is ascribed to Jehovah in the Old Testament is here applied to Christ (Exodus 34:6). He expressed the fulness of the Father’s love, and as the Truth He revealed the Father’s will and way most fully to men.
John 1:15. John beareth witness of Him and hath cried.—The first verb is present, the last is perfect. His preaching was past when this prologue was written; but it was still powerful as a witness to Christ. The Baptist being dead yet spake.
John 1:16. Fulness.—πλήρωμα (see Colossians 2:9). “The plenitude, the full measure of all the divine powers and graces which were concentrated in Christ, the incarnate Word” (Westcott).
John 1:17. The law, etc.—“The law was given (Hebrews 3:5) by the servant, and made men guilty. The grace which came by the King freed them from guilt” (Aug. in Wordsworth’s Greek Testament).
John 1:18. No man hath ever yet seen, etc.—But there will in the end to the “pure in heart” be granted a divine vision (Matthew 5:8). The only begotten Son, etc.—Or, as the best MSS. (א, B, L, etc.), God. But this does not change the meaning of the passage. The Logos alone has declared and interpreted God to men (Matthew 11:27). In the bosom.—He alone has that filial intercourse with God which marks Him out as the only begotten. Thus He alone fully knows the divine mind and will, and can declare them to men.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 1:1-18
The revelation of the eternal Word, its influence and its end.
[The prologue to the Fourth Gospel treats of the eternity and divinity of Christ, the Word, as the end of divine revelation, and of His reception by men. This opening or introductory section sets forth the aim and intention of the Fourth Gospel, viz. to proclaim and testify to Christ as the Son of God (John 20:30-31). It may be questioned whether this Gospel as it stands is the product of an earlier or later apostolic age (vide Introduction). It may, however, be reasonably considered as the setting forth by the apostle John, toward the end of his life, in systematic form, of what had been constantly taught by him, with this prologue prefixed to meet and disarm Gnostic opinions that were pressing in on the Church. The prologue declares that though not understood by the world and rejected by “His own,” yet Christ was the divine Son, the long-promised Messiah.]
As Christ came to Israel He comes to us. The end of His coming is “life through faith in His name.” We as the men of John’s day have to answer the question, “What think ye of Christ?”
I. Who is He that comes to us for acceptance with such lofty claims?—
1. He is the eternal Word—thus called because He reveals God and the hidden things of God (Ephesians 3:9; Revelation 6:1), and in Himself declares the beauty of the divine nature, since He is “the brightness of His glory,” etc. (Hebrews 1:3).
2. He is eternal, for He was in the beginning the only begotten Son, “the firstborn before all creation” (Colossians 1:15). He did not become the Son of God. He was not created. He was. He existed with God, not in God, but with Him, the Man who is God’s “fellow” (Zechariah 13:7). He was not merely an attribute or a power of God, but a divine person co-equal with God from all eternity; for “the same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2). And as a divine Person His position is the highest, cannot be higher, for He was God; so exalted is the Being here revealed. And when this truth has been grasped we are prepared for the further declaration that this exalted Being is—
3. The Creator of the universe, of all created things (John 1:3). He revealed God in creation. With the Father and the Holy Spirit He is the creator and upholder of all existences—not only of the ὕλη (hyle), i.e. material existences, but of all things, “the things in the heavens and the things on the earth,” etc. (Colossians 1:16). In Him are the sources of all beauty and order, all power and wisdom, all riches and fulness. He is the source of all; and thus when His people rest on Him they know no want, for His fulness is infinite. And as the upholder of all things, in whom all things subsist, He is—
4. The source and spring of life for men, for He is the life absolutely (John 11:25), life essentially, which He communicates to men, which takes its rise in the divine fulness of life, and which has its continuance in communion with God. By Christ men escape from spiritual corruption. He gives life in reconciliation, sanctification, glorification—eternal life. Whoso abides not in Him abides in death.
5. And this life brings light. “The human soul on whose consciousness God arises, and into which the divine life enters, becomes thus enlightened. This enlightened soul then sees itself and the world in light, i.e. in God” (Petri). Christ is essentially the light for men. From the hour when the first promise of restoration fell on the ears of fallen men, down through patriarch and prophet until His manifestation in time; and since His ascension, through His truth He has proved Himself to be the light of men. And despite the darkness which cannot comprehend it (John 1:5). His light is shining toward the perfect day. Then the last and most wonderful step in the manifestation of Himself is—
6. “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14), and men beheld His glory. It was no merely supernatural or superhuman manifestation that He made to men. “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). Christ the eternal Son took on Himself the nature of man. The manifestation was not confined to a mode in which men could not comprehend it. In love to men He came in human form to dwell among them, and to make clear to them the truth of truths. And in His coming He brought blessing. He was full of grace and truth; in Him there was fulness of divine blessing for men. Such was He who was thus gloriously revealed, and to whom the heaven-sent forerunner bare witness as the true light, etc. (John 1:9).
II. How did men receive Him?—
1. “He was in the world,” etc. (John 1:10). The darkened world did not comprehend Him. The world here means the lost race of men, for the material world did recognise its Creator and obeyed Him. But men have strayed from the light. The love of God, by which we chiefly know God, does not exist in the heart of the natural man. Though most sad, yet this is not exceeding wonderful. But it is more than sad to consider that—
2. “He came unto His own,” etc. (John 1:11). He came to those who were descendants of Abraham, who looked for the Star of Jacob, the Son of David (Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 11:1). Yet though He was the seed of David according to the flesh (Acts 2:30), “sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), His own, shut up in the darkness of formalism and traditionalism, did not receive Him, as this Gospel specially shows, although they should have been attracted to Him and bound by double ties of loyalty and love (Isaiah 1:2-3). Though prepared by prophecy and promise, and especially warned and called to repentance, in view of His manifestation among men, by the forerunner, they turned away. This means more than the world’s want of knowledge. That was, indeed, the manifestation of the pitiable blindness of man’s fallen nature. Here we have the deeper blindness of unbelief and spiritual pride—the rejection of the guidance of the Spirit, who through the Word would have enlightened them. What a depth of judgment lies in the words, “His own received Him not”!
3. All did not reject. “To as many as received Him,” etc. (John 1:12). Thus there were some who believed in His name—in Him as the only begotten Son. They were not bound by the material Messianic conceptions of the unbelieving Jews. And to all such He gave “power to become children of God.” Christ is God’s Son by nature. Men by nature are “the children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). But united to Christ by faith they become His brethren, and in living union with Him are one with the Father. The Spirit of the Son is imparted to them, dwells in them, so that they cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:11; Romans 8:15).
4. Christendom has been highly favoured—far more so than was Judaism. What shall be the result of not receiving Him now after all the proofs of His divine power and glory? (Hebrews 10:28-29). Let us receive Him with reverence, in view of what He is—with faith in His revealed word and finished work—with longing, feeling our need of all grace. Let us increase in union with Him, participating in His life, radiant with His light, growing through the fulness of His grace.
III. Christ is manifested as the end of divine revelation.—
1. The law was a partial and dim revelation of God’s mind and will. The law was given by Moses. It was an external economy given through a human lawgiver, who passed away. “The law was sent by a servant; grace and truth came by the Son.” The connection of Moses with the law was temporary; and the law, as a preparatory economy, was “a shadow of good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). Grace and truth, like the Son, are for ever. These gifts come with Him, as part of Himself; they are received with Him, bestowed by Him in their fulness on those who receive Him. And in this coming among men—
2. He revealed the Father. “No man hath seen God,” etc. (John 1:18). Even Moses was vouchsafed only a partial revelation of the divine glory (Exodus 33:18-23). No man can see God in His own essential glory (1 Timothy 6:16). The partial revelation given to the holy men of old was given through the grace of Christ, and they rejoiced to think of the fuller revelation that was to be made (John 8:56). Christ alone fully declares the Father to those who believe in Him (Matthew 11:27). And the centre, the crown of this revelation is that of the Father, i.e. of eternal love (1 John 4:8). “That they may know that Thou hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me” (John 17:23)—this is the end of revelation.
John 1:1-4; John 1:14. “The Word was God.”—None of the gospel writers touch deeper chords of the eternal mysteries than the Evangelist John. He was doubtless, in the divine order, best fitted for conveying to men those deeper truths. “The disciple whom Jesus loved,” he perhaps understood better and sympathised more deeply with his Master than the other disciples. Hence he was likened to the eagle by ancient Church writers, as best able of all the Evangelists to look fixedly on the glory of the Sun of righteousness. His flight indeed is so lofty and prolonged that sometimes men can hardly follow him, even those gifted with keen spiritual vision. In this introductory portion of the prologue to his Gospel the Evangelist emphasises the Godhead of the Redeemer. The theme in all its fulness is far beyond finite, human comprehension. Men can advance only to the threshold of the divine mystery here revealed. There are two great facts meet us.
I. The eternity and divinity of the Word.—“In the beginning was the Word,” etc.
1. The imperfection of human language and the limitations of human thought make it impossible for even this most highly gifted and inspired writer to unfold fully the divine mysteries. But so far as careful and exact expression of thought can compass it, the divinity and eternity of Christ are here set forth. In these words the Evangelist passes beyond the limits of time and space into the eternities—into the presence of “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15). And there is revealed the existence in the Godhead of certain relations. In the beginning, and therefore in eternity, before all created existences were called into being, there existed, with God [or “in relation with God” (Godet)], One here called the Word. This divine Person, or hypostasis, though distinct, was yet in perfect unity with the divine Father, and “was God” [where Θεὸς without the article, “used as an attribute, simply expresses the notion of kind. It is an adjective which, while maintaining the personal distinction between God and the Logos, ascribes to the latter all the attributes of the divine Essence” (Godet)]. There was perfect unity between them, not only in Being, but in the revelation of the divine in the world.
2. The term “word” may be taken to mean generally “the expression of hidden thought,” etc. But it is more. It is the expression of our being, our true selves, when it is genuine and not feigned. So THE ETERNAL WORD is the expression not only of the thoughts, etc., but also of the Being of God. He is distinguished from God the Father, yet they are one. He is eternal, like the Father, and thus is before all things (Proverbs 8:22-28). And as words when sincere reveal men’s thought and their true being, so Christ, THE WORD, reveals the true nature of the Father, and His thoughts toward men; for “He is the brightness of God’s glory,” etc. (Hebrews 1:3). Thus He is the way to the Father, whilst still one with Him, as He claimed to be (Matthew 11:27).
3. This divine relationship is of such a nature that it may be described as like the relationship between father and son. The thought in us is what is hidden. The expression in speech or action or character of our thought is the revelation of ourselves. So the Father, “dwelling in light that no man can approach unto,” etc. (1 Timothy 6:16), is revealed by the Son to men in His incarnation, of which many think there were premonitory tokens in His appearing as the Jehovah-Angel (Genesis 22:11); the Prince of the host of the Lord (Joshua 5:13-15); the Angel of the covenant (Malachi 3:1). He was predicted as the Son (Isaiah 9:6); as Jehovah Himself (Jeremiah 23:6; Zechariah 2:8); as He whose outgoings are from eternity (Micah 5:2). And as the Revealer of God He has been the light of men in all ages,—in the law written in men’s consciences, and given with ordinances to Israel; in the prophetic word; in His special dealings with Israel, and His general dealings with men; in the dim starlight of heathendom, as in the glimmering dawn in Israel.
4. He is also the life of men as the creative Word (1 Corinthians 8:6); and because this power continues “in Him all things consist.” A word implies a corresponding thought. That which is revealed in Jesus is God. He is not the Father; but as the Son He is eternally what He is with and through the Father.
II. In the eternal Godhead of Jesus the Word there is proclaimed to us:
1. The eternity of divine love. “Thou lovedst Me,” etc. (John 17:24). And therefore as “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world” He was the centre and channel to man of that heavenly love that never failed. Thus His redeeming power was not restricted to the ages following His atoning work on earth, but looked backward to the ages past. His coming in time and all it implied was a necessary part of that work which has not ceased since Eden’s fall, etc.
2. This great truth also is a cause of rejoicing to us in the present. This rejoicing comes in the individual Christian’s happy experience, in the general spread of righteousness, in the evidence of the power of His gospel to raise men higher and nearer to God. It is the foundation of the Christian’s confident hope of the ultimate victory of Christ over sin and death, of the high honour and lofty destiny of humanity through Christ’s “not taking on Him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16).
3. And there is hope for the eternal future for humanity in this great fact. He who is the eternal Word, “the same yesterday,” etc. (Hebrews 13:8), who so cared for sinful men that He died for them, who by His gospel has advanced and continues to elevate the whole race, will not in the eternal future fail those who trust in Him. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” but His promises will not fail. No power can prevail against Him, and He can and will give freely all things to those who are His (1 Corinthians 3:22). Therefore
“All hail the power of Jesu’s name,” etc.
John 1:3. Christ the creator.—These verses may be compared to the massive foundation courses of the structure of gospel history. They are laid deep and broad in eternity; they proclaim in truth that divine Rock on which our faith may rest secure, whatever storms may blow, whatever foes assail. Apart from this eternal foundation, humanity can rear no firm and abiding, spiritual and moral structures for the soul’s refuge amid the tempests that will arise. The structures reared on the shifting sands of merely human opinion have fallen and will fall. The building reared on this foundation will stand the test of the day of trial. In these simple phrases two grand truths present themselves for consideration, i.e. that Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, is the active agent in creation, and that by Him all things consist. Thus the sustaining and upholding of the created universe are part of His work—on Him it depends for its continuance. All things were created by Him (the original creative act was His), and without or apart from Him was not anything made that hath been made, i.e. the continued existence of created things depends on Him (see Dr. A. Maclaren, in loc.). We consider Christ as the agent in creation.
I. Christ was before creation.—
1. We are wont to think of the Redeemer more especially in reference to His redemptive work, and to leave out of sight His divine, eternal existence, which gives to His redemptive work its unique and incomparable value.
2. This foundation truth is revealed to us in Scripture—that Jesus Christ existed before all worlds. As the Son of the eternal Father, eternally derived from the Father, He is of the same substance, “equal in power and glory.”
3. Christ is expressly regarded as pre-existent by the New Testament writers. “He is the image of the invisible God,” wrote the apostle; and the Evangelist-apostle, in words in which he seems to struggle to give utterance to the grand truth, declares that the Word was God. Our Lord Himself claimed this eternal existence in the memorable words, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
4. In such declarations we are led beyond the bounds of time and space, before those shining orbs were swung in the abyss by the word of creative power. In the fathomless depths of eternity, in seeking to penetrate which thought and even imagination are powerless, Christ existed, i.e. with the Father, as the eternal Word.
5. There is community of nature between these divine Persons. The Son is not merely to be regarded as some attribute or power of the divine nature—not merely possessing some scintilla of the divine nature, as angels, or even man; but He is the complete reflection or image of the divine Father; He is the complete expression of the divine thought toward what is without; and also of the divine love, not alone toward what is without, but as that object in which God’s love found not only its expression but its satisfaction. “For only God is sufficient for God—the eternal Son for the eternal Father.”
II. Christ is the eternal manifestation of God.—
1. He is not merely the outward revelation of the Father, but He is so because He is eternally in and with the Father. All the fulness of the Godhead exists in Him. “It pleased the Father that in Him all fulness should dwell.” All the power, all the wisdom, and all the glory of the divine Father are communicated to the Son, residing in and issuing forth from Him with the same fulness.
2. The divine Word stands in this relation of unity with the Father, not beside Him as if He were another, equal to the first simply, but with Him in His eternal glory, so that all that the Father has the Son has, not from Himself, but eternally in and from the Father. “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way,” etc. (Proverbs 8:22).
3. The Word, however, has this further relationship toward what is without, if we may so speak, as the manifestation of God. “He is the Son as the brightness of the divine glory,” etc. (Hebrews 1:0), as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). He manifests the divine wisdom in creation, the divine love in providence and redemption.
4. And it is to this expression of the divine love going forth through the divine Son and Word that all things owe their being. As thought becomes visible, so to speak, through the spoken word, so that thought of the divine love and wisdom was expressed by the Son in works of love and wisdom.
“Love is the root of creation; God’s essence worlds without number
Lie in His bosom like children; He made them for this purpose only—
Only to love and to be loved again. He breathed forth His Spirit
Into the slumbering dust; and upright standing, it laid its
Hand on its heart, and felt it was warm with a flame out of heaven.”—Longfellow.
5. Christ the Lord is one with the Father; but He is also to be distinguished from the Father as receiving His fulness from Him and revealing and manifesting it within the bounds of space and time.
III. Christ manifests the divine glory in creation.—
1. We are wont to think and speak of Christ’s first advent, meaning thereby His appearing as the incarnate Son, and of His second advent in reference to His coming again to “make all things new.” But it must never be forgotten that there was what might be called the original and prior advent of the divine Word in creation.
2. “All things were made by Him”; “By Him God made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:2); “In Him were all things created” (Colossians 1:16). He is the centre into which the creative energy is poured in all its fulness by the eternal Father. “There is but one God, the Father, in whom are all things.” But Christ is the expression of the divine thought, and thus of the divine wisdom. He is the Son in full accord with the divine will; and as the manifestation of that will, working by love, “He made the worlds.” Thus “there is to us one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
3. All created things therefore exist in and through Him. “But He Himself draws everything from the Father, and refers everything to the Father.” Thus has been manifested to created intelligences the glory of God. We see and know and adore His power and wisdom and love, His essential glory, in those works which are His works done by and through the eternal Son, in whom His divine fulness dwells.
We may learn here:
1. The essential and eternal glory of the Saviour. We are not to regard Him merely from the side of His incarnation, although that is His crowning glory. We should remember also who and what He is by nature, so that our adoration and service may be reverent as well as loving.
2. To rejoice that this world was made by Him whose nature and name is Love, and who pronounced all things “very good.”
John 1:3, last clause, and 4, first clause. Christ the source of the world’s life and the world’s upholder.—Christ reveals God in creation not only by the original creative act, so that all existences in the created universe bear the impress of His wisdom and power as the manifestation of the Father; He also communicates to the world those vital forces in virtue of which it continues to exist. The continued existence and order of all created things depend on Him.
I. Christ is the source of continued life for the world.—
1. “In Him was life,” etc. “In Him all things consist’ (hold and stand together). It is not only spiritual life we owe to Him, but life in all its grades. In the created universe physical as well as spiritual life depends on Him.
2. This also was included in that infinite fulness which it pleased the Father should dwell in Him. The continuance of all created things depends on Him. Without Him we can do nothing, and we are nothing (John 15:5).
3. Thus we can in some measure realise how much in accord with His nature it was that He (even when incarnate and with His glory veiled) should be able to make the material universe supply Him with the means of physical life (John 6:1-13), and that He should be able to bid back the power of death and restore to life those who were in the power of the last enemy (John 11:43-44). For when He appeared in the world as the visible manifestation of the invisible God He came unto His own (things) (John 1:11), τὰ ἴδια, which He created and sustains.
II. Christ orders and controls the universe created by Him.—
1. He is not a demiurge, who, having created an imperfect world, also controls it imperfectly, or leaves it uncontrolled (Hebrews 1:3). He has all power and might, and is able to order and direct the universe He has framed. And even though for a time He laid aside the heavenly glory and tabernacled among men, He showed His power over the forces of nature, etc.
2. “And now the Father hath highly exalted Him,” etc. “He hath put all things under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:27). All rule, all authority and power, shall be subject unto Him. “All power is committed to Him in heaven and in earth.” “All things are delivered to Me of My Father.”
3. And this is true not only of physical nature, but of the spiritual and moral worlds. He reigns and rules in them also as King of kings; and He is guiding and controlling all things for an appointed end, for
“that great divine event
Toward which the whole creation moves.”
III. Christ’s rule in the universe brings joy and hope to men.—
1. He is the manifestation of God’s love and care for man; and whilst eternal Love, “the same yesterday, to-day,” etc., is on the throne of universal power, then all things shall be, must be well. Righteousness shall in the end prevail.
2. This hope we need in the midst of so much that is dark and terrible in the world and the history of the race. When the wicked seem to prosper and go unpunished, etc., still even the wrath of man shall praise Him; and He can make even the sorrows and trials of life redound to the good of His people. All things shall work together for their good, etc.
3. It brings, therefore, joy and hope to God’s people—to them only—to know that, however untoward the course of history may seem, however full of tribulation to themselves the experiences of life, Christ, who loved men and gave Himself for them in accordance with the Father’s will and desire, reigns in love on the throne of the universe. So they may cry exultingly with the poet,—
“God’s in His heaven. All’s right with the world” (Browning), and
“His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour” (Cowper), etc.
John 1:4-5. Christ the life as the light of men.—In Scripture God and His working in the world are often symbolised by light and its effects. Indeed, from the first word of power (Genesis 1:2) to the final description of the new heavens and earth (Revelation 21:0), the working of the divine energy in the universe is very frequently symbolised by light. The divine life and light are constantly linked together. Wherever the divine life is in reality, there also is the divine light; and wherever that light shines, there we know is life, spiritual and eternal. Thus it could not have been otherwise that, when the eternal Son came to the world, He came as the life and light of men. As the sent of God, bearing His image (Hebrews 1:3), He could not have given a clearer revelation of the divine nature.
I. This was the revelation for which humanity longed.—For this they prayed all down the ages. They needed a quickening life which would help them to throw off the mortal and moral malady which had brought their whole being under the dominion of death. They needed light, not only that they might know themselves and the meaning of the present, but that they might have some assurance for the future. For this the race longed—light to illumine the way in which they should go, life to quicken them to walk therein (Psalms 43:3; Psalms 119:37).
II. But are not man’s deepest needs forgiveness and freedom from sin?—Did not Jesus come “to save His people from their sins”? (Matthew 1:21). Yes. But this is only another aspect of the same great truth. Sin is the cause of the darkness; nay, is that darkness that “covers the earth,” and the gross darkness that covers the people (Isaiah 60:2). Sin is the moral and mortal malady that is destroying the race. Therefore Christ, the true and only light, comes to disperse the darkness. Christ the life comes to save the perishing. This He does by imparting His life and light to men. Thus they become centres of the same? and thus ever more surely the darkness passes and the true light shines, the dominion of death is restricted and driven back.
III. Spiritual life and light are correlative.—
1. We cannot imagine the world of animated being existing without the great centre of the material world’s light, the sun.—In creation the first movement which led to the birth of order and beauty was the creation of light: “The ethereal first of things, quintessence pure” (Milton). When it vibrated in the chaotic elements, as the effect and accompaniment of the living, creative Spirit, it contained the promise and potency of the order and beauty which vanquished chaos and darkness. And in reference to this, Christ the Word is the light of the world (John 1:3; Proverbs 2:10-22, etc.).
2. So too is He the light of the moral world.—Humanity, by fatal choice, had become morally and spiritually dark—like a dark, sunless land. No perfectly healthy spiritual life could exist naturally in those fields of time in human nature—no bloom and fragrance of the higher virtues and graces of character could be expected—no fruit of higher service could be looked for. Not that all men at all times, during the long course of history until Christ came, were entirely in this dark state spiritually. Here and there among all tribes and families, in every period of earth’s history, some there were who saw the light, even though dimly and imperfectly. But those often solitary examples only served to emphasise more the intensity of the surrounding darkness. From the dawn of history we may trace the process of unfolding of the divine life in the intellectual and moral life of humanity. Although this life was never utterly destroyed by sin, it was yet enfeebled and darkened. Men lived in a dim moral and intellectual twilight, in which they erred from the heavenward path, as in the gloomy reaches of some vast, primeval forest, through which they vainly struggled often toward the light. Often they wandered further from the path to perish in the gloom. What a confused tangle, as of a gigantic, impenetrable undergrowth, has been the moral history of men! How few clearings were there where a glimpse of sun or star could be obtained! Through what thickets of ignorance, error, and moral obliquity have they had to press ere they could gain the light of freedom, truth, righteousness! But wherever the light of God, the Spirit of Christ, came, the darkness fled.
3. In one race this was conspicuous.—They gained a vantage-ground, through divine grace, from which the paths of truth and righteousness could in part be traced. But it is since Jesus, the light of the world, came to earth, that men have been guided more readily from the tangled mazes of ignorance and sin into the paths of truth and rectitude. This is not the statement of a theological dogma merely. It is the testimony of the annals of our race. It is an indisputable fact that wherever Christ’s Spirit comes with power, there in a marked degree intellectual life quickens and expands and a higher moral order reigns.
IV. But these effects arise ultimately from a change in the spiritual nature of men.—
1. It is there that the deepest darkness has reigned, and there emphatically that Christ is the light of every man. Through the working of His Spirit alone, quickening to a new and higher life, can man attain to true life and light. Hear one of the ancients: “By the conclusions of reason we cannot learn the will of the gods.” Thus spoke Socrates; and his great disciple also said: “If the gods themselves do not reveal the heavenly, you will search the universe in vain for it.” Thus the wisest among the heathen spoke words that amply confirmed the apostle’s saying: “The world by wisdom knew not God.”
2. As a consequence of this darkness all spiritual life was paralysed.—In Israel the moon of revelation of type and ceremony gave a pale, prophetic light. But among the heathen darkness as to God’s will and way reigned supreme. Now here certainly Christ is the light of men. Not only by His teaching but by His life he manifested the divine will and made known the Father to men. And with this revelation a new love comes into men’s hearts. Heat rays accompany the light rays. The nature that lay frozen in the spiritual darkness thaws beneath this combined influence. The heart that was hard and selfish is softened and transformed. The light brings a quickening power. During the long winter of the arctic circle, when only a fleeting aurora lights up the gloom, nature lies frozen and lifeless. But in summer, when the sun rises not to set for many days, the frost unlooses its hold, and under the combined influence of light and heat rays vegetation advances rapidly, quickened into sudden vigorous life—emblem of the nature of man when it is turned toward Christ, the life and light of men! The records of history and the continual testimony of experience declare that Christ is “the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
John 1:6-7. The forerunner.—Here we have delineated the true character of John the Baptist, and his chief function as the forerunner of our Lord. He was a witness for Christ, and came for that end.
Consider the witness of John the Baptist to Christ, and the testimony of Christ to His forerunner.
I. The witness of John the Baptist to Jesus Christ.—This forerunner sent from God had all the characteristics of a perfect witness.
1. He was a faithful and disinterested witness;
2. A witness fully instructed and enlightened;
3. A faithful and irreproachable witness;
4. A zealous and ardent witness;
5. A constant and steadfast witness.
II. The testimony of Christ regarding John.—The Saviour of the world honoured His forerunner, and bore witness concerning:
1. The greatness of his personality: “Among those born of woman,” etc.
2. The dignity of his ministry: “What went ye out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet,” etc.
3. The excellency of his preaching: he was “a burning and a shining light.”
4. The efficacy of his baptism: Jesus cometh unto John to be baptised of him.
5. The holiness of his life: “What went ye out to see? a reed shaken with the wind? a man clothed in soft raiment?”
Lesson.—Let us seek to live a holy life, so that Jesus Christ may confess us one day before His Father; and let us fear lest He may have to witness against us in view of the contradiction He may find between our life and conduct and that of John the Baptist.—Bourdaloue.
John 1:12-13. The divine sonship of believers.—The great races of heathen antiquity loved to trace their descent from the gods, and the father of gods and men, through a long line of demigods and heroes. This was no doubt a reminiscence dimmed and blurred of the great truth that man is made in the divine image. Far otherwise is it with a large section of scientific and literary thinkers of this age. They are seeking strenuously to prove that man is of the earth earthy. But materialism means death to human progress, and gives the lie to the feelings and aspirations of men. Therefore even leading materialists are fain to take refuge in agnostic theories or even spiritualistic puerilities. These theories of materialistic evolution are exercising a widespread influence. Even in the Church are found men who seek to reduce religion also into a product of the dust. But there have not been wanting others who have taken up arms against such attacks, even many who have given no special allegiance to the Church. Many of our greatest modern thinkers uphold the truth that men are offspring of the Eternal.
I. Men by nature are the offspring of God.—
1. God is “the Father of our spirits.”—Objections have been urged against this truth. It is said the only relationship of men to God is that of subjects to their sovereign ruler, creatures to their creator. But can they not bear the other relation also? Can it not be so among men, and shall the Creator be less free than the creature? True, it is not specifically in the material part of our being that we are God’s offspring. His image is reflected in the conscious, reasoning intelligence—in the heart or moral nature—in that conscience by which His law is authoritatively revealed for our guidance; whilst the signs of His fatherly love and care are all around us, and a bountiful provision is accorded to us far above what is bestowed on all other living creatures in the world. Divine revelation upholds this truth also (Malachi 2:10; Isaiah 63:16; 1 Corinthians 8:6).
2. This truth is not negatived by the fact that God deals retributively with those who despise His government and break His laws.—Many a ruler has had so to deal with a law-breaking child. God’s spiritual children by creation have rebelled against His righteous government, and have banished themselves, as it were, from the divine presence—have alienated themselves from God, and laid themselves open to the penalty which inevitably follows as a consequence of the breaking of divine law.
3. But even though they are fallen and alienated, no longer able to call God Father, yet He shows a paternal interest in them, proves that He cares for them with a father’s love.—For has He not devised a way by which His law may be vindicated and His rebellious children reconciled? Surely the fact of His doing this is an indisputable proof of fatherly love—above all, when it is considered in what manner that tender love and compassion were manifested, etc. When this is considered, the prophet’s words will become luminous—“Thou art our Father, O Lord, our Redeemer,” etc.
II. But the text speaks evidently of another sonship than the relationship all men bear to God by nature. The true Light of men is represented as giving power to those who believe on Him to become sons of God.
1. Why was this needful? i.e. if men were already sons of God. They have become estranged from God through sin, from their heavenly Father’s fellowship—have lost the privileges and repudiated the obligations of sonship. They do not regard God with filial reverence and affection and confidence. The gifts of His providence are still bestowed on them; but they have no claim to, and naturally no desire for, the inheritance of the saints. But God’s love is not turned from them. He is ready to receive them if they will return. This is impossible in their state of alienation; they could have no taste for the life of God’s children, could not keep the laws and rules of the Father’s house, or be fitted for the communion of saints. Of themselves they cannot return. Sin has choked the springs of wise and higher affection.
“Sin only is it that enslaveth him,
And maketh him unlike the Good Supreme.”
Dante, “Par.,” vii. 79.
2. But what is impossible with men is not so with God.—In no other action was God’s fatherly love to men more manifest than in His method of redeeming men (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9).
“Therefore it God behoved in His own way
To bring man back into the perfect path.”
Dante, “Par.,” vii. 31–34.
“To as many as recognised Him” (as the true light), etc. Men must recognise Christ as their Saviour, must awaken to a sense of their lost and ruined state, and look to Him as the way of return to God. To such He gives power, etc., i.e. not only pardon, freedom from guilt of sin, peace (to many these alone seem necessary), but also a new spiritual life, in which they break the fetters of evil and step once more into that spiritual liberty and communion with God for which they were created. This is the way of return to this high dignity—not by descent as children of Abraham, or as born in the Christian Church, or by any man-made plans or means (John 1:13); but by recognising Christ as the only begotten Son, and by the power of His love, through the grace and truth of His Spirit, being transformed into His likeness, do men attain the end of their creation and become again children of God (Ephesians 2:13; Galatians 4:6).
III. This is the grand purpose and aim of the gospel.—This restoration of men reveals in higher measure than could otherwise have been done God’s unspeakable love to fallen men. “Behold what manner of love,” etc. (1 John 3:1). What, in comparison of this, is the state of princes or the pomp of kings? And of what shall they be thought worthy—what shall be the end of those who, by continuing in a state of sin and alienation, not only rebel against God’s rightful authority as Creator, etc., but despise and think lightly of His wondrous love? Oh think, impenitent ones, what it is ye are rejecting to your own eternal loss! Children of God in Christ Jesus, remember your high privileges and duties! To you infinite Goodness promises every good and perfect gift: help in time of need; chastening when discipline is necessary; ever-growing communion through the Spirit indwelling, and in the end the assured hope of the blessed inheritance. Such are your privileges; and your duty may here be summed up in one word: “Walk as children of God, as children of the light and of the day.”
“Like as a wheel is equally revolved,
So let your will and your desire be moved
By the love which moves the sun and other stars.”
Dante, “Par.,” xxxiii. 143.
John 1:12-13. Children of God.—It would be impossible to analyse all that is contained in this astonishing and grand statement. It will suffice for edification, and prove a stimulus in the way of duty, to consider a few of the conceptions called up by such words. Eternity will not exhaust their meaning. Consider:—
I. The greatness of the thought brought before us.—
1. In pondering it we seem to be like explorers standing on the borders of a vast undiscovered territory: mighty rivers, great mountains, vast plains rise to their wondering gaze.
2. But what are all such wonders compared with the marvellous vista opened up in these words in time and eternity? “Children of God”—who can comprehend its fulness, who can tell its greatness and glory? The astronomer gazes with awe and wonder on the sublime spectacle of the starry heavens, and gets glimpses of the glory of the universe.
“Then felt I like, some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.”—John Keats.
But here there are glimpses given of truths more astonishing and glorious than those of astronomy.
3. The Psalmist had some conception of these truths when he wrote: “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” etc. (Psalms 8:4). But the Evangelist sees more deeply through Christ into the mystery of divine goodness and love when he writes: “As many as received Him,” etc.
II. May men become children of God?—
1. At the present time the tendency seems to be to show that man is nothing more than the offspring of the dust—a higher kind of beast, but all the same simply a lineal descendant of the beasts that perish. It is not man’s future which concerns so many nowadays, but his past.
2. Whatever truth may lie at the basis of modern development-theories it has not yet been definitely and indubitably stated. It does not really matter much whether man physically was made by a direct act of the Almighty, or evolved from lower forms. All that can be said is that the theory is still a theory merely.
3. The main question is, What is man’s present and future? Is he a “magnetic mockery, wholly brain,” or is there within him that which tells of his relation to a higher sphere? Is there not within him a spirit which is his true self, and which may be brought into close relation with Him who is the source of all true life, moral and spiritual?
4. Men know their weakness and sinfulness so well that many stand abashed before this lofty height to which they are called to attain—to be children of God, or, as the apostle said “partakers of the divine nature.” Many seem to think it might be possible for an Enoch, etc., who look down so serenely from the lofty height of their character, to achieve this; but not ordinary men. But they were “men of like passions with ourselves”—with the same temptations, etc. And to us as to them the command is issued, “Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
III. How can men attain to this height?—
1. What is the nature of the divine Being? He is “wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” Because He is so He is the eternal and unchangeable Jehovah. And it is by becoming like Him, by being made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), that men become His children.
2. But how shall we who cleave to the dust be able to build up within us this lofty character? Without some inner spring it would be impossible. The text tells us “as many as received Him, to them gave He power.” The receiving of Christ brings men into permanent union with the source of divine spiritual life. They are then born not of merely earthly elements. The reception of Christ is followed by the communication of a new principle, divine and heavenly, from which the heavenly character grows.
3. And the constraining force from within, which flows from this new life and which contains all its characteristics, is the power of love. It is the foundation principle of the divine nature. God is love. “Every one that loveth is born of God.” It is the love of God reconciling sinners to Himself that made it possible for men through redemption to become His children; and it is the mighty constraining power of this love within that gives them the power to live and walk as His children.
4. The power of a pure affection among men to constrain and bless cannot be estimated. And thus love to God working within, quickened by the Spirit of all grace, helps men to remove those obstructions that hinder their divine fellowship. When loving Him they realise His mercy, love, goodness, etc., in some measure; they will not continue to harbour what God abhors—sin, to remove which the Redeemer suffered and died. The love of Christ leads men to imitate Him, to empty their hearts of self, to take up the cross and follow Him. And as all the attributes of the divine nature inhere, so to speak, in this principle of love, so when the love of Christ constrains men it is that they should become holy, etc., as He is—i.e. children of God in Him.
IV. The condition of attaining.—
1. It is not in ourselves, but in Christ. We must know Him and receive Him in faith. The Jews as a people did not receive Him. To those who did He gave the right—which comes from God through union with His Son. They are adopted as spiritual children, babes in Christ, and thenceforward grow in the divine likeness (2 Peter 1:3-4). They are even here members of God’s great spiritual family—“of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
2. They seek through His grace to escape the corruption that is in the world through lust—to advance daily in the knowledge of Christ.
3. There is an easy gospel preached by too many. The New Testament reveals only two courses of life. In the one men rise by grace through victory over self to become children of God. The end of this course is eternal blessedness and joy. In the other men fall ever further away from God, the source of all true life and light. The end of this course is darkness and death. Those who receive and follow the Saviour shall be like Him. Those who live for this passing, perishing world, and are filled with the world’s spirit and life, cannot be called “children of God” (1 John 2:15-17).
John 1:14. The Word made flesh.—No one can for one moment doubt that this refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. Observe:—
1. His peculiar denomination, “The Word.”—John is the only one of the sacred writers who speaks of Him under this name; but this does not render it less worthy of regard, for “he wrote as he was moved by the Holy Ghost.” Three things seem to be derived from John’s use of the title.
(1) It is intended to mark a person. Nothing can be more forced than the meaning that it here means the wisdom of God. How could the wisdom of God be made flesh, etc., and be called the Only Begotten, etc.?
(2) The term marks previous existence. This is evident from the phrase The Word was made flesh, etc.
(3) The term is designed to mark a divine person. The name given to God is expressly given to the “Word.” Creation is ascribed to Him. This could not have been affirmed of a mere creature, or even of a super-angelic being. John here declares that He was God; and that He was the source of all life and existence.
2. Christ’s incarnation.—The Word was made flesh—i.e. He became man, although not ceasing to be God. As He was God before, so He could not cease to be God after He took on Him our nature; for He took not on Him, etc. (Hebrews 2:16). Hence the Scriptures ascribe many things to Him which will not apply to His divine nature or agree with His human nature separately. “Unto us a Child is given” does not refer to Him as God. “And His name shall be called Wonderful” does not refer to Him as man. There is neither contradiction nor impossibility in the incarnation of the Son of God; but it is a mystery, and will perhaps ever remain so. It is thus that the Deity is brought down to our apprehension—that He becomes our example, is able to sympathise—thus to suffer, bleed, die for us, etc.—W. Jay.
John 1:14. The end of Christ’s humiliation.—The apostles preached “Christ.” The only object that can give peace to the soul is “Christ and Him crucified.” To know Him is life. The first truth taught here is the humiliation of the Son. It is laid down in two parts.
I. The humiliation of the Son of God consisted in His being made flesh.—
1. What is not meant.
(1) It is not meant that He really took a body without a soul. As He dwelt among us He had also a loving human soul (John 12:27).
(2) It was not a sinful body. “He offered Himself without spot to God.” The one thing in which He differed from men was sin (Hebrews 4:15). His humanity was holy.
2. What is meant. He, the Word, became one with a holy human soul, and with a body with our infirmities, such as thirst, pain, etc. Why was He made flesh? (a) That He might obey the law of God in the same nature that had broken the law. He was made under the law that He might obey it, and under the curse of the law that He might endure it. It is the first of these that is brought forward here. He came that He might obey the law and do more honour to it than if it had never been broken. This is one reason why He remained so long on the earth—to show that the law is good. (b) He was made flesh that He might die, and bear the law’s curse (Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 2:14). If He had remained in the bosom of the Father He could not have suffered. Therefore, in order to die He became flesh. (c) He became flesh that He might have sympathy with men (Hebrews 2:17). None but those who have felt as we have can have compassion and sympathy (Exodus 23:9). So God says to Christ, You know the heart of a man.
3. The second part of His humiliation. He dwelt among us. “Tabernacled among us as in a tent.” His life was one of poverty—He had not where to lay His head, etc.
II. The glory that burst through His humiliation.—We beheld His glory, etc. Angels saw it. The doctors in the temple were astonished at His words. At the marriage of Cana of Galilee, etc., it was seen. What is it? The glory of the divine perfections, divine wisdom, divine love, etc.
1. The glory of the divine wisdom was shining through Him.—This was seen not so much in His miracles, etc., as in the plan of redemption—the scheme He accomplished when He said, “It is finished.”
2. The glory of the divine love.—His very appearance in the manger at Bethlehem was a display of this love. When the sinner is brought to peace, when the soul says of Christ, “Here will I rest”—here is the glory of the divine love. Have we seen it?
3. The glory of the provision laid up in Christ.—“Full of grace and truth.” Some may say, If Christ be so glorious I cannot come to Him; I can only say with Peter, “Depart from me,” etc. How can I come? There is but one answer: He is full of grace and truth. He is full of grace for them who deserve wrath. How could the publicans and sinners sit beside Him in Levi’s house? “He was full of grace.” How suitable a Saviour! He is full of truth. “The law given by Moses,” etc. The law was a shadow; Christ is the substance. All that is in Christ is truth. The pardon He gives is a true pardon. The peace He gives is true peace. Come to Him. There are these two reasons why all should come:
(1) He is full of grace;
(2) He is full of truth. You need a divine Saviour, and yet you need one full of grace. There is none but Christ answers to this description. He is full of grace, though full of glory. Will you not let Him save you?—McCheyne.
John 1:16. Christ’s fulness of grace and truth.—The fulness of Christ here spoken of is the fulness of the divine attributes dwelling in Him, manifesting itself in that glory, full of grace and truth, which men beheld. And it pleased the Father that this “fulness” should be in Him as the Redeemer, so that men united to Him might freely receive of it; and that the Church of His redeemed might become “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”
I. In Christ’s divine fulness there is provision for man’s need.—
1. God saw our need of all things—our “emptiness and woe”—our need of light on the path of life, of guidance and direction in the way of duty, of comfort in view of death, of peace in view of sin.
2. And Christ has filled up all these needs of ours. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. He is the Light of the world. When He speaks Heavenly Wisdom speaks. Dwelling in the bosom of the Father, He has perfectly revealed the divine will. He brings peace through His atonement, and thus meets our utter need of salvation and grace. And He was able to effect this because in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
II. This provision is unfailing and inexhaustible.—
1. Christ is the same yesterday, etc. (Hebrews 13:8). The streams of grace and truth are ever full and overflowing from that perennial fountain.
2. “All we have received,” etc. To the Church during all these centuries grace has followed in the train of grace.
3. Have any ever found this fountain to fail when they have come in faith and longing? Has not each blessing received prepared the way for another (Matthew 13:12)? Every measure of grace gained by the faithful disciple fits him for receiving a fuller measure (2 Peter 3:18).
4. From the eternal fulness of the river of grace all may drink without diminishing one drop of its full tide. And then for millions now and in eternity it shall flow.
John 1:17. The law and grace—Sinai and Calvary.—In these words there is brought before us the preparatory and the final, the incomplete and the perfect revelation of God’s will—the temporary, typical, and the eternally abiding manifestation of His righteousness, mercy, and love. “The law was given by Moses.” It was a truly grand manifestation of the righteousness and holiness of God. It pointed out clearly the way to Himself. “Without holiness,” without conformity to that moral order revealed on Sinai, “no man shall see the Lord.” And if this revelation had stood alone it would have been, so far as men are concerned, a revelation of despair. “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Romans 3:20). To those who sought by this way alone access to God there was opposed an impassable barrier—the barrier of moral inability. “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law” (Galatians 3:21). But even the law itself, on its ceremonial side, showed its inability to give life, and pointed the faithful to the promise both concealed and revealed in it. The law led men, by showing them their inability to attain to its standard, directly to the promise, whilst the promise pointed and led them to Christ. And in Him that ability to attain is found. He does not give a mediate and partial revelation of God’s mind and will, as did Moses. He Himself is the embodiment and manifestation of the Father’s nature, of His love toward men; and thus also He is the revealer of that blessed truth, in part revealed, in part hidden, in law and promise. To-day then we stand in view of the two mountain peaks of divine revelation. On the one hand rises Sinai, stern and forbidding, filling the sinner with awe. Yet to the faithful, relying on the promise, even at Sinai hope shines amid the darkness, telling that the God who thus has revealed Himself has done so for men’s weal, and points them to that higher mountain—morally higher—rising beyond, wherein Christ grace and truth meet, where righteousness and peace are reconciled (Psalms 85:10).
Let us gaze to-day fixedly at those two peaks of divine revelation, Sinai and Calvary, so that we may be led to rest more trustingly under the cross of Him who suffered on Calvary—“Jesus, the mediator of the New Testament.”
I. On Sinai we behold the forceful lawgiver publishing an inexorable law; on Calvary the suffering Redeemer manifesting the fulness of divine grace.—
1. How vast is the difference between the two scenes presented to our view! The law was given on Sinai under conditions of awful solemnity befitting its nature: the thick cloud covering the mount, with lightning flash and thunder roll; the trumpet sounding louder and louder as the stern proclamation was given that the people should not draw near (Exodus 19:16-20). It was a fitting accompaniment to the delivery of a law that revealed the divine holiness and truth, the divine justice and judgment, awful in their unswerving onward march to those who stand unprotected and unreconciled opposing them. For to sinful men the law was no proclamation of peace and life. As a revelation of the righteous character and will of God, as a formulation of those statutes written on men’s hearts by the Holy One, and by men violated all along the course of their history, it showed forth the divine glory, and pointed to the summit toward which men must strive if they would escape the penalty of the broken law. But although it was given to Moses to proclaim this divinely revealed law, he could not implant in the hearts of his people the spirit of obedience; he could not impart, or only dimly and imperfectly, the secret of that motive power which leads men to obey. The divine Sovereignty loomed conspicuous behind the thou shalts and thou shalt nots of the positive commands. The work of Moses, the stern lawgiver and leader, endowed with power to proclaim the divine will, to threaten and punish the disobedient, was a necessary work. In order to do God’s will men must first know it, have it proclaimed to them in its purity and fulness. God cannot be truly known, and men’s relation to Him, until the awfulness of His purity, and the horror and condemnation of sin, are seen in the light of His law. And men still need this revelation. It is still a light thing with many to “commit these abominations” that “fill the land with violence” (Ezekiel 8:17) and bring the divine judgments upon men. Thus to the end Moses and the law will bring to men “the knowledge of sin.”
 Divisions after Gerok.
2. But should we wish this to be all? Could we bear that yoke which even the chosen people were unable to bear? Could it bring us peace to listen to Moses alone, as many would actually have us do? No. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Galatians 3:10). And therefore we must turn to that fuller revelation of the mind of God given on Calvary. It is another voice that speaks to us from that holy mount, another and yet the same. For whilst there we still hear echoes of the voice that of old brought dread to Israel; and see in that crucified and thorn-crowned form, as in a mirror, the awful penalty of sin—
“Sins not His own His spotless soul
With bitter anguish tore.”
Yet we hear still more clearly in that same voice the accents of love and mercy, and see in the suffering Redeemer “the mediator of a new covenant,” etc. (Hebrews 8:6).
II. Sinai speaks of judgment and death; Calvary of righteousness and life.
1. There is something congruous and harmonious between the natural aspect of “the mount of the Lord,” where the law was proclaimed to Israel, and the meaning of the law itself in its reference to man.—The mountain top is a scene of desolate and solitary grandeur—giant cliffs of granite rising in sublime loneliness into the blue of heaven. But at the mountain foot stretches a small, but comparatively fertile plain, whilst here and there among the wadies, where springs gush forth, are patches of verdure and fertile spaces. So on the summit of the moral Sinai sits the divine Lawgiver in awful solitude. None of human kind by himself may venture to approach—can approach—that solitary height. And yet to those who, in times long gone, heard in the intervals behind the thunder tones of the divine Majesty the “still, small voice” of divine pity, compassion, and mercy, there were even at the base of Sinai fertile reaches, where they might dwell in safety, discerning in faith that the promise was above the law, which cannot annul the promise (Galatians 3:17).
Sinai still speaks to men as to Israel of old of condemnation and death. The Mosaic economy is expressly called by St. Paul “the ministration of condemnation.” Thus condemnation, judgment, is the end of the law. And is it not so still? It was emblematic of what the law would be and is to men of all time that at its delivery the summit of the mountain “was altogether on a smoke,” that a thunderstorm enwrapped it, and that the earth trembled and quaked. Well might earth tremble with her sons when it is remembered what the issues were that depended on that day’s revelation—blessing or curse, life or death (Deuteronomy 11:26-28; Deuteronomy 27:14-26; Deuteronomy 30:15).
And so to men now the mountain smokes, the thunders roll, the earth trembles when they seek anew a way to God by the law of Sinai; and they are compelled to add their Amen to the apostle’s word: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). Which of us will dare to say with the young ruler, as the ten words are laid before us: “All these things have I kept from my youth up” in thought, word, and deed? (Matthew 19:20; Job 9:3). There is none—no, not one—can stand before the Holy One when He reckons with us for His broken law. By way of the mount of the law there is no peace or safety for men—rather condemnation and death.
“Christian turned out of his way to go to Mr. Legality’s house for help; but, behold, when he was got now hard by the hill (Mount Sinai), it seemed so high, and also that the side of it that was next the wayside did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid to venture further, lest the hill should fall on his head: wherefore, there he stood still, and wotted not what to do. Also his burden now seemed heavier to him than while he was in his way. There came also flashes of fire out of the hill that made Christian afraid that he should be burnt; here, therefore, he did sweat and quake for fear.”—Pilgrim’s Progress.
By this way there is no attainment, no bringing to perfection—sometimes lofty purposes ruined, attempts at the higher life frustrated—until the soul despairing cries out like the apostle: “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).
2. And it is here that those who desire deliverance will be led to look past and beyond Sinai, and in view of Calvary to exclaim: “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (John 1:25).—How different is the aspect of Calvary when compared with that of Sinai! In place of the towering, frowning, forbidding cliffs of the latter, the little hill of Calvary is insignificant. But in moral grandeur it far overtops Sinai’s most majestic peak. There are no elements of fear and terror there. It is true, that uplifted Victim bleeding and dying on the cross of shame speaks of judgment and righteousness—so also do the darkened heavens and trembling earth. But it is for Him who hangs there that these portents appear. It is He, bearing Himself the sin of the world, whom those ministers of divine wrath against sin, suffering and death, compel to drink the bitter cup to the dregs. But, beyond that, Calvary tells us of eternal love and eternal spiritual life. For He who hangs there is sent in love by Him who uttered His voice on Sinai; and He came willingly to do that to which Sinai pointed, but in which the law failed, and must fail. “What the law could not do,” etc. (Romans 8:3). Therefore the voice that speaks from Calvary is the voice of love. It does not bid men stand back, but rather calls them near. “Look unto Me,” etc. (Isaiah 45:22). “Ye are come to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant,” etc. (Hebrews 12:24). Here on Calvary’s mount true righteousness blooms and fructifies for men. On Sinai’s granite top men cannot plant trees of righteousness; for them no flower and fruit of holiness can bloom there. But on Calvary a perennial fountain springs; there all the plants of righteousness may grow, and there fertility and beauty abound. “Blessed are they that hunger,” etc. (Matthew 5:6). “Satisfied not through their own efforts, but by grace divine.” “O blessed office of the New Testament, which preaches righteousness, and yet proclaims redemption and life in the name of Jesus to all who seek salvation! Though I could bring water from the smitten rock like Moses, and though I could call fire from heaven like Elias, yet would I rather proclaim to a sinful, penitent heart, ‘Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee’; I would rather open heaven to a troubled human soul by preaching the eternal love of God, and the heavenly home of His children” (Gerok).
III. On Sinai there was ordained a temporary economy; on Calvary Christ is the mediator of a covenant which is enduring.—
1. At Sinai there is no abiding.—The Israelites paused near it for a time; and having received the law passed on to realise it in the concrete form of a separated and consecrated people and nation. For many a century they strove to realise what the law pointed to and required. “But the law made nothing perfect.” The rites and sacrifices of the old covenant, when observed and offered according to the letter only as means of salvation, and without reference to their hidden typical, spiritual meaning, were worse than useless (Isaiah 1:13-15). And even the moral law, when regarded merely as an objective standard to which the outward life and conversation were to be conformed, became a galling yoke, an unspeakable burden, The law, in its outward, objective form, was passing and temporary. It is “our schoolmaster—to bring us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). Its rites and ordinances passed away when Christ appeared and completed His atoning work. They were but shadows, that was the reality. Its moral precepts could not pass away, for they are the eternal reflection of the all-perfect character of God. To the believer, however, they are no longer an objective law, but a subjective standard, whereby aided by divine grace we may test and regulate our lives.
2. Thus the temporary economy passed away to give place to the abiding Covenant of Calvary.—“Jesus was worthy of more honour than Moses, inasmuch as He who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.” Moses was faithful as a servant over the House of God; but Christ as a Son over His own House abideth ever (Hebrews 3:3; Hebrews 3:5-6). “Christ alone brings to men the grace of life in communion with God; and truth, which is the beautiful reflection of the divine holiness. For Christ alone is eternally full of grace and truth as the only begotten Son” (Besser). Thus the new covenant which He makes is unchanging as His own eternal nature. He, as God, is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” The preparatory testament passes; but the gospel remains. The offerings and sacrifices of the legal covenant are rendered nugatory by that “blood of sprinkling which speaketh better things than that of Abel.” But the moral precepts of the old law remain as our criterion of life and attainment. And it is thus by Sinai that most earnest souls are startled at the view of their own weakness and sinfulness, and led to Calvary for redeeming grace and spiritual strength.
John 1:3-4. The only begotten Son of God is called “the Word” because:
1. He reveals what is hidden;
2. Manifests what is unseen;
3. Actively and creatively expresses the divine thought. He speaks and it is done, commands and it stands fast. “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” With what the heart is filled the mouth runs over. That with which the heart of God is filled is locked up in the Word, who is with God and was God.
The Word was with God and was God.—The Evangelist here warns us against and keeps us from:
1. A Judaistic numbing idea of the solitariness of the divine nature in the phrase the Word was with God; and
2. From a heathenish polytheistic idea when we further read and realise that the Word was God.
3. Without blasphemy, therefore, or the deification of man, do we in Christian baptism baptise in the name of Christ, as the name of the Son equal with the Father, as we baptise in the name of the Father and of the Holy Ghost.—From Kögel.
The starting-point of St. John.—Instead of opening his narrative at the human birth of our Lord, or at the commencement of His ministry, St. John places himself in thought at the starting-point (as we should conceive it) of all time. Nay rather, it would seem that if בראשׁית at the beginning of Genesis signifies the initial moment of time itself, ἐν rises absolute conception of that which is anterior to, or rather independent of, time. Then, when time was not, or at a point to which man cannot apply his finite conception of time, there was—the Logos or Word. When as yet nothing had been made, He was. What was the Logos? Such a term, in a position of such moment, when so much depends on our rightly understanding it, has a moral no less than an intellectual claim upon us, of the highest order. We are bound to try to understand it, just as certainly as we are bound to obey the command to love our enemies. No man who carries his morality into the sphere of religious thought can affect or afford to maintain that the fundamental idea in the writings of St. John is a scholastic conceit, with which practical Christians need not concern themselves. And, indeed, St. John’s doctrine of the Logos denotes at the very least something intimately and everlastingly present with God, something as internal to the Being of God as thought is to the soul of man. In truth, the divine Logos is God reflected in His own eternal thought; in the Logos, God is His own object. This infinite Thought, the reflection and counterpart of God, subsisting in God as a Being or Hypostasis, and having a tendency to self-communication—such is the Logos. The Logos is the Thought of God, not intermittent and precarious like human thought, but subsisting with the intensity of a personal form. The very expression seems to court the argument of Athenagoras, that since God could never have been ἄλογος, the Logos must have been not created but eternal. It suggests the further inference that since reason is man’s noblest faculty, the uncreated Logos must be at least equal with God. In any case it might have been asked why the term was used at all, if these obvious inferences were not to be deduced from it; but, as a matter of fact, they are not mere inferences, since they are warranted by the express language of St. John. St. John says that the Word was “in the beginning.” The question then arises: What was His relation to the self-existent Being? He was not merely παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ, along with God, but πρὸς τὸν Θεόν. This last preposition expresses, beyond the fact of co-existence or immanence, the more significant fact of perpetuated intercommunion. The face of the everlasting Word, if we may dare so to express ourselves, was ever directed towards the face of the everlasting Father. But was the Logos then an independent being, existing externally to the one God? To conceive of an independent being, anterior to creation, would be an error at issue with the first truth of monotheism; and therefore Θεὸς ἧν ὁ Λόγος. The Word is not merely a divine Being, but He is in the absolute sense God. Thus from His eternal existence we ascend first to His distinct Personality, and then to the full truth of His substantial Godhead. Yet the Logos necessarily suggests to our minds the further idea of communicativeness; the Logos is speech as well as thought. And of His actual self-communication St. John mentions two phases or stages: the first creation, the second revelation. The Word unveils Himself to the soul through the mediation of objects of sense in the physical world, and He also unveils Himself immediately. Accordingly St. John says that “all things were made” by the Word, and that the Word who creates is also the revealer: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.” He possesses δόξα, that is in St. John the totality of the divine attributes. This “glory” is not merely something belonging to His essential nature, since He allows us to behold it through His veil of flesh.—Canon Liddon.
John 1:5. The world a dark place.—In paradise, before sin entered the world, spiritual darkness was unknown. But when sin entered it was like a cloud shutting out the light of God’s love, of His law, His will, His way. The world—the world of men—became truly a dark place.
I. But the light shone in the darkness.—
1. In the promises;
2. In the law;
3. In prophecy. Christ is the radiant centre of the Old Testament Revelation 4:0. And even among the heathen there were witnesses of the divine presence, glimmerings of divine light (Acts 14:17; Acts 18:27).
II. The darkness comprehended it not.—The world of men apart from God is darkness (Isaiah 60:2).
1. One chief reason why the darkness cannot comprehend the light is that unrighteousness reigns in men’s hearts. “He that doeth truth cometh to the light”; whilst those who do evil “hate the light” (John 3:20).
2. The entrance of light disturbs—shows what is noisome and unlovely in the moral world, causes pain and dissatisfaction. Men, therefore, do not desire naturally that light should penetrate the darkness. It is the love of darkness that prevents the light shining in on men.
John 1:6; John 1:8. “There was a man sent from God,” etc.—
1. “John was not that light.” He was but the aurora—the dawn, the herald of the sun-rising.
2. He was not the Word, but was a voice proclaiming the Word.
3. He was not the Way through the wilderness, but a guide to lead men to faith. Is it not the glory of the office of preacher, that the servant of the Word should speak all given to him by God, in order to lead men to Christ, and not to put himself forward?—After Kögel.
The true light.—τὸ φῶς, τὸ : the true light. The epithet ἀληθινὸν is not true in contrast to false, but true in contrast to that which is derived or subordinate. The Greek has two words to express these ideas, ἀληθὴς and ἀληθινός, corresponding to verax and verus in Latin; but the English language has only one word, and we are obliged to express both ideas by the word true. In the preceding verse it is said of the Baptist: “He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light”; and then follow the words: “the true light was He who came into the world.” The Baptist, in one sense, was the true light. He was, as our Lord Himself says, “a bright and shining light” (John 5:35): ἀληθής, true, as opposed to false. But, in another sense, he was not the true light: ἀληθινός, true, as opposed to that which is subordinate and derived. Christ was as the sun, the original source of light; the Baptist was as the moon, deriving all its light from the sun. Ἀληθινὸς is a favourite term with St. John. It occurs twenty-eight times in the New Testament, and twenty-three of these occur in the writings of St. John—nine in the Gospel, four in his First Epistle, and ten in the Apocalypse. Thus our Lord declares Himself to be the true bread (ὁ ), which came down from heaven (John 6:32), not implying that the manna was not also the bread which came down from heaven; but that He was the original, of which the manna was only the type and emblem. So here Christ is the true Light, the archetype, the origin of all lights; all other lights are derived from Him as their source. As Archbishop Trench observes: “The eternal Word is declared to be τὸ φῶς τὸ , not denying thereby that the Baptist was also a burning and a shining light, or that the faithful are lights in the world, but only claiming for a Greater than all, to be ‘the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.’ In the words of our own great poet:—
“ ‘Our little systems have their day,
They have their day and cease to be;
They are but broken lights of Thee,
And Thou, O Lord, art more than they,’ ”
ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον: coming into the world.—Here consists the difficulty in the exegesis of the passage. In the original the language is ambiguous, and grammatically admits of two different translations; and hence the true meaning is to be determined by other than grammatical considerations. There are two distinct series of interpretations:
1. Ἐρχόμενον may be taken in the accusative, agreeing with πάντα ἄνθρωπον, its nearest antecedent.
2. It may be taken in the nominative neuter, agreeing with τὸ φῶς. Adopting the first interpretation, we have the translation, “The true Light was, or was existing, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” This is the meaning preferred by Meyer, one of the greatest of modern exegetes, and was generally adopted by the early expositors. It is the meaning given in the Authorised Version. The great objection to it is that the words “that cometh into the world” are superfluous, as they are already implied in every man. To this Meyer replies, “There is such a thing as a solemn redundance, and we have here an epic fulness of words.” But such as “that cometh into the world” is never used in Scripture of ordinary birth, whereas it is frequently employed of the Incarnation—Christ’s coming into the world. In St. John’s Gospel it occurs seven times.…
Christ is the light of men: He is the source of all spiritual light to the saints both under the Old and under the New Testament dispensation; He is the source of all devout thoughts and all holy aspirations among the heathen; He is the voice of God speaking in the conscience of men. He is the Sun of righteousness shining in the midst of the darkness. All truth, all righteousness, all holiness, proceed from Him. He is not merely the Head of His body, the Church, but the King of the souls of men. He is the Spirit of all history. He regulates the events of the world. He rules and disposes all the affairs of men. Everything that happens is predetermined by Christ. He holds in His hands the destinies of the nations, and renders all things conducive to the accomplishment of His purposes. He is made Head of all things for the good of His Church. It is this living Christ in the world and in the soul that explains Christianity, and is the reason of its success and diffusion. If it were not for Christ, the world and the Church would both perish. In Christ all things consist. There is a sense in which it is true that Christ is in every man. In Him is life, and the life is the light of men—the true Light that lighteth every man.—Dr. J. Paton Gloag in “The Thinker,” December 1893.
John 1:13. “Not of blood,” etc.—And we, with all our literary fame and technical activity, with our pride in our religious reformation, cannot say we deserve to be called sons of God. To whom much is given, of them much will be required.… God’s children, as the name implies, must be born of God. As James writes (John 1:18), “Of His own will begat He us,” etc. Pride drives men to better their position. Jesus must give them the power, however, to change their condition. Who among us desire to be God’s children, and pray that they may be so? Who among us solemnly resolve, “I will arise and go to my Father”? Who among us are yielding themselves to be encouraged and strengthened by Him who has said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me”?—Kögel.
John 1:1-14. Three advent questions arising from this subject:
1. Do we diligently read the Scriptures?—One ought to read on one’s knees the Gospel of John, which, as it has been well said, has the simplicity not of a child, but of a seraph. When, many years ago, there was published in France a so-called Life of Christ—a sceptical, superficial work, which was much read in our own city—one of the greatest of German historians said, “A single line of the Gospel of John will prostrate that image of clay in the dust.” And it cannot be forgotten by me how the two Dutchmen—the physician Dr. Abraham Capadose, and the poet Isaac da Costa, both Jews originally, and both baptised in one day in Leyden—told me what an influential part in their conversion was due to reading the introduction of St. John’s Gospel, with its attractive power in the union of simplicity and majesty. Untouched by the novelties of the day, etc., the Gospel of John will continue to be read. “For God’s ways are not our ways,” etc.; and the natural man understands not the things of the Spirit of God. The heart will harden, the people become shallow, when they will not study the thoughts of God. Rather follow the Psalmist (Psalms 119:17-18).
2. Do we rest on God’s eternal counsel of love?—Jesus saw the wrath of foes enkindling, and He said, looking toward the gates of eternity, “Before Abraham was, I am.” He saw the cup, the cross, and stood fast as He prayed, “Father, glorify Me,” etc. (John 17:5). The more restlessly and inconstantly the waves of the world roll, so much the more blessedly will the child of God be sensible of the anchor which “reaches unto that within the veil.” … See what St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:29. These promises rest, as he shows, on the preexistence of the Son of God—His divinity. On this rests His prophetic office; the atonement, in His office as great high priest; the right to His kingly title; the effect of His resurrection; His right of possession of the souls of men; His power for final judgment.
3. Have we received Jesus?—Not as a burdensome lodger, not as an occasional guest, coming and going on Sundays and feast-days, but as our legitimate Lord, our best friend, truest counsellor, most gracious advocate, and almighty intercessor? Or, alas! shall the complaint of Him who was homeless on earth rise against us, “The foxes have holes,” etc.? He who is the Alpha and Omega … does He not still come unto His own? Do we bring Him our children, give Him our hearts, defend Him against a faithless world? Will we be saved through Him, and through Him alone?—Abridged from Dr. R. Kögel.
John 1:1. The “Word.”—Without noticing even in outline any of the learned inquiries and discussions as to where the evangelist found this name, and in what sense he meant it, it is enough to say that it was already in use at the time he wrote, and probably long before. In particular it had been woven into elaborate religious speculations by the Jews living in Alexandria. Just as our modern scientific culture, or the scientific spirit, as it is called, is exerting a wide influence in the domain of religious thought to-day, so did Greek philosophy, particularly that of Plato, among these Jews. Taking the writings of the Old Testament as the divine source of spiritual knowledge, and rejecting mere verbal literalism of interpretation, they endeavoured to give philosophic expression to the truths they apprehended, and to build them into a philosophic system. Under such conditions the doctrines of the Word (the Logos) took shape in the school represented by Philo, and no doubt soon became widely known. There is no ground, however, for supposing that the evangelist borrowed the name from Philo; it was in far wider and older use, having its origin as far back as the first chapter of Genesis, which I have no doubt was vividly present in his mind as he wrote, “And God said,” “and God made”: so it runs throughout that chapter, preparing for the utterance of the Psalmist, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” A word is a thought or emotion or volition expressed in sound, and abiding where it is lodged after the sound has passed away. You put yourself into your word, if it is a true word—your own mind, your own heart, your own will. In telling us that the Word was in the beginning, does the Evangelist then simply mean that God spake and called things into being by the word of His power? and that it was not “holy light” (as Milton sings), but voice or sound, that was the “offspring of heaven firstborn”? And is the voice of God here personified, as His “wisdom” is personified in the Book of Proverbs? Shall we say that God’s word in the beginning called the heavens and the earth into existence—that it afterwards came forth, generation after generation, to the children of men through the prophets—that in the fulness of time it came forth as a living and holy humanity—that God’s final word to men is a Man, even the Man Christ Jesus, who is the truth of God, the wisdom of God, and the power of God? We might be inclined to answer, Yes, it is but a strongly figurative way of telling us this, were it not that the marks of personality are so numerous and decisive, not merely in separate expressions, but in the whole scope of the paragraph. The English Version is right in naming the Word He, and not It; He, the person—not It, the voice.—Dr. John Culross.
John 1:3-4. Not only is Jesus Christ the creator of nature, but He holds it together.—By Him all things consist, and so of all the unconscious forces of the world He is Lord; and those who wrote over the grave of one killed on the Riffelhorn the words, “It is I; be not afraid,” understood in whose hands are all the powers of the universe that seem so blind and unreined. But putting it more generally, Jesus Christ is the Lord of providence—the true King with plenary power. It is He who rules over the evolution of events and the disclosing of the epochs in the world’s history. “There is much to confirm the thought which has visited all in hours of gloom—that history is nothing more than a shifting phantasmagoria of passions and desires. Sometimes men seem to be flung together, a rude and chaotic mass of creatures, who fight and howl over each other, and die, and are laid in the hopelessness of a beast’s grave. Sometimes history seems no more than a series of petty stage-plays, without connection and leading to no issue. But even sceptical thinkers admit the organic unity of all history. Only to many each event is but a link in the long chain of the harmony of the universe; to such the organic development of history will mean the unbroken sweep of natural law, without one breath of the creative spirit from on high; while to a higher school of thought the one purpose of history is the purpose of everlasting love worked out in and through human personality by a personal redeeming God” (Dr. Robertson Smith). We see above it all the throne where the King sits, who holds all things in His hand, and guides them according to the purposes of changeless love. The true exposition and idea of history are to be found in the kingdom of redemption.—Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll.
John 1:5. The joy of light.—The pleasant, welcome, benignant, and gladdening natural light of the world is almost universally considered an image of similar spiritual conditions, and signifies, therefore happiness, prosperity, peace, joy, health, and blessedness. The opposites of light—night, darkness, obscurity, which are to us unpleasant, unwelcome, frightful, and terrible—are indications of an entirely contrary and highly repulsive condition. Hence they include the ideas of unhappiness, injury, dispeace, sin, wickedness, pain, sorrow, and misery. With especial frequency do we meet with this great opposition between light and darkness in the Johannine writings.—Lisco.
John 1:12. The grandeur of man’s being.—Many of the leaders of men have most strenuously opposed the degrading materialism of the age, and the degradation of man to a level with perishing things. Such men as Richter, Lotze, Ulrici, Tennyson, Carlyle, have done so. No one more convincingly than the last, in this century, has preached the truths of the grandeur of man’s being and destiny. “The essence of our being, the mystery in us that calls itself ‘I’—ah! what words have we for such things?—is a breath of heaven: the highest Being reveals Himself in man.… We are the miracle of miracles—the great inscrutable mystery of God. We cannot understand it, we know not how to speak of it; but we may feel and know, if we like, that it is verily so” (Carlyle).
John 1:12. Man differentiated from other existences.—Unprejudiced science also, cultivated by men who have not been dazzled by the glamour of empirical, scientific, “explain-all” nostrums, does not deny that there has been in man from the beginning that which differentiates and separates him from all other living and material existences within our ken. Geology finds no indubitable trace of man before the current epoch of the world’s material history, when seas and lands received their present conformation, and were peopled by those genera and species which, with few exceptions, now exist. And when man does appear it is with a new power—the power of intellect (underived from merely material existences and forces), bringing in its train changes and innovations, of anything like which the long preceding ages knew nothing (vide A. R. Wallace, etc.). In short, in opposition to all ghastly materialistic fancies, however famous the names of those who uphold them, unprejudiced science and philosophy alike confirm Scripture in bolding that “there is a spirit in man: and the breath of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8).
John 1:12. Better born.—A human analogy may help toward an understanding of this truth. In the slums of a great city there may sometimes be met, floating about on the malodorous tide which sweeps through those melancholy straits, one who, amid his rags and wretchedness, gives tokens that he is not a native of those dreary coasts. His speech, even when interlarded with the blasphemy and brutality of slumdom, betrays him. Something indefinite in manner and appearance—under all his swagger and bravado, under the rags and grime of the city’s purlieus—proclaims him as having been socially at one time of another sphere. As inquiries are made those suspicions are confirmed. The wretched waif was at one time in a high social sphere. He has perhaps noble blood in his veins. He was well educated. In his drunken fits he may quote Greek and Latin to enjoy the wonderment of a lodging-house crowd. Dissipation in various forms has brought him to the low level where he now lies. Is he fit for his former position? Could he in his rags and wretchedness live in his former noble home with parents and friends? Were he admitted even, would it bring any true pleasure to him any more than to them? Suppose a father’s love did descend to those depths, and bore away the prodigal to his home, clothed him, and gave him as far as possible the outward appearance of a gentleman, could there be any happiness to either whilst the old passions and habits still ruled the heart of the son, leading to many an outbreak and shameful scene? No. The man must first reform—break away from his debasing habits and associates—become a new man. Then he might, would, be received again into the old home as a son, doubly dear because rescued from a living death, and reinstated in the inheritance from which for the time he had been reluctantly cut off. Now, so far as a human analogy will serve, this shows us how men have lost that divine sonship, which was theirs originally, and how they can return by the way opened up by Christ. Surely a terrible thought for human kind it would be were there no hope for men beyond. Awful indeed it would be were all our strivings, all our advances in thought and knowledge to end for us at the cold grave’s brink! that men of one generation should leave for those who follow them wider ideas of the grandeur and possibilities of life, making the cup of existence more sweet, only that it may be dashed from their lips for ever at the gates of death!
John 1:12-13. Spiritual relationships.—Fellowship in the Spirit brings compensation for what is sweetest on earth—for the bonds of human love and friendship. It is truly a bitter loss and deprivation, which lasts through life, when a child is deprived of a mother’s love and a father’s care. But, nevertheless, faith gives superabounding compensations; and there is no orphan child, however poor and forsaken, whom we cannot point heavenwards and say: There thou hast a Father, the true Father of all who are called children in heaven and earth; there watches over thee more than a mother’s love, the love of Him who says, Though a mother should forget her child, yet will I not forget thee. It is truly a sorrowful position in which a bereaved wife weeps for the husband of her youth, the friend of her heart, the stay of her weakness. But blessed is she when she can stay herself on the best and heavenly Friend, the most faithful Counsellor, the Lord Jesus Christ. Many a lonely heart may with sadness regard a neighbour around whom joyful children are blooming, who gladden the evening of life. But knowest thou not that thou mayest beget spiritual children when thou dost edify immortal souls by word and walk, dost win hearts for God and His kingdom, just as a Paul or a John in their letters called those won by them their dear children? It is truly a bitter experience to stand alone in the world without friend or intimate. But it is sweet when a man realises that be is a member of the great fellowship of saints, bound up in the Spirit with all those who love the Lord, and can say: Whoever in the wide world does the will of God and believes in Christ, the same is my brother and sister and mother. It is truly sad when friend after friend is carried away from us by death; but there is also a most blessed comfort to be able to rejoice in hope of the shining company of blessed spirits in the heavenly Jerusalem above, of the innumerable company of angels, the Church of the firstborn and of the spirits of just men made perfect, of the vision of God and of Jesus the mediator of the New Testament. Yes; these are friendships which weigh thousandfold more than any earthly friendship. There fails not also of joy by which in the kingdom of God the joy of human fellowship is made up for. In place of the voice of father and mother there is the Word of God; in place of converse with a human friend, the converse of the heart with God, prayer; in place of an earthly dwelling of one’s own, the House of God, where one is best at home; in place of earthly pleasure this meat, to do the will of the Father in heaven; in place of human friendship this blessedness, to belong wholly to the Lord; in place of worldly cares for one’s self and one’s own, the peace of a soul satisfied with God. For earthly deprivation is given heavenly hope; and in the evening of life this comfort—I have fought a good fight; and beyond, the hope of the white robe of those who have come out of great tribulation, and the crown of the victor, and the fellowship of all the children of God. O Lord, take from us all, if it must be so, on earth; but only send us Thyself, and the blessed fellowship of Thy Spirit, and thine eternal, heavenly kingdom.—Translated from Karl Gerok.
John 1:14. God manifest in the flesh.—The eternal Son of God divested Himself of His glory, took upon Him the form of a servant, was found in the likeness of man, was found in fashion as a man—the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is manifestly the great mystery which this Christmas season has anew proclaimed to us. And when we besides behold our Saviour on His earthly pilgrimage from the manger to the sepulchre, growing up in the cottage at Nazareth, teaching in the company of His disciples, eating at the table of the publican, sleeping in the ship on the lake, weeping at the grave of Lazarus, shuddering on the ground in Gethsemane, bleeding on the cross on Golgotha, ever and always we may realise for the comfort of our weak flesh and blood, “God is made manifest in the flesh.” In our poor flesh and blood the eternal goodness has clothed itself. How gently and confidingly does the eternal divine Majesty look on us out of those human eyes! how simply and graciously does eternal Wisdom speak to us from those human lips! how tenderly and sweetly are the divine love and pity stretched forth to thee in the human hand of our Lord Jesus Christ! We rejoice and are touched when we read in the lives of great men how they were men like ourselves, had human feelings, had laboured and suffered,—when we read how Alexander the Great, once on a difficult march in a waterless desert, poured out the water brought to him by a soldier in his helmet, the only drops that could be obtained in a wide circle, because the king would not taste it before the most ordinary soldier in the army; or how Charlemagne went on all his life wearing simple linen garments, while his courtiers paraded their silks and sables; Low the good King Henry IV. was once surprised by a foreign ambassador sitting on the floor of his room playing with his children; or how the warlike Luther, when during the day he had boldly joined issue with king and pope, world and devil, in preaching and writing, sat together with wife and child in the evening like a good father of the household, and sang to the accompaniment of his lute. But all such human traits of great men, what are they in comparison with the condescension of the King of kings, who went about on earth in the form of a servant—in comparison with the gentleness with which the holy Son of God encountered sinners—in comparison with the deprivations He endured from the cradle to the cross—in comparison with the humble coverings in which He concealed His glory, from the swaddling-bands in which they enswathed the infant, to the grave-clothes which they wound round His body! God is manifested in the flesh. Therefore let all flesh rejoice. Yes, through this great Brother how is our flesh and blood ennobled, through this dear Guest how has this poor earth been honoured! The garment which a famous man has worn, were it ever so poor and threadbare, men will regard after the lapse of centuries as a precious heritage. Behold, O man, Christ has also worn that dress thou wearest—that dress of flesh and blood: must not then this body become holy to you, even to the fingers on your hand, at the thought, My Redeemer has worn this garment also? The house in which a great man has first seen the light of this world or has dwelt long years, or has drawn his last breath, is regarded after centuries as a holy place. A golden inscription above the door makes it known to the traveller, and from far-off lands men make pilgrimages to visit it. Behold, O man, this world which was for three-and-thirty years the dwelling-house of the holy Son of God. Here on the ground on which thou dost walk, here under the heavens that shine down on you, He was born, He walked, He suffered, He died. Must not then this world be dear to thee and worthy of honour, in spite of its penury, with all its sins and sorrows, at the thought: My Saviour was also pleased to be here, saw also all this, went through it all?—Translated from Karl Gerok.
John 1:14. “Full of grace and truth.”—To be full of grace and truth was indeed a glory. It was the meeting of two things which in the souls of men are antagonistic to one another. There are souls which easily bestow grace, which find it not hard to forgive, but they have often a dim perception of the majesty of that truth which has been violated. There are souls which have a clear perception of the majesty of truth and a deep sense of the sin that swerves from it, but they are often inexorable in their justice and unable to pardon; they have more truth than grace. Here there is a perfect blending of extremes—fulness of grace united to fulness of truth. There is a forgiveness which is valueless, because there is no sense of wrong; there is a sense of wrong which is forbidding, because there is no power of forgiveness. Here perfect forgiveness is joined with perfect perception. The glory of Christ’s love is that it comes not from darkness, but from light; He forgave the sinner because He bore the sin. Never was His forgiveness so complete as when He bore His fullest witness to the awful truth. When did He cry, “Father, forgive them: they know not what they do”? Was it when He began to think lightly of a violated law? Nay, it was when the violated law was pressing upon His soul, and the reproach of sin was breaking His heart. His love was born of His pity, and His pity was born of His purity. He felt that we had already lost what He called our souls. He saw us blind in a world of light, deaf in a world of music, cold in a world of warmth, heartless in a world of love, dead in a world of life, and He lifted up His eyes and cried: Father, I am clouded in their darkness, give them light; I am wounded in their sorrow, give them joy; I am pierced in their coldness, give them warmth; I am crucified in their death, give them life eternal. O Son of man, that was Thine hour of glory. There, as in tints of blended rainbow, met colours that before had been disjoined—righteousness and peace, justice and forgiveness, penalty and pardon, the sentence of death and the message of life. Heaven and earth met together, judgment and mercy embraced each other, in the fulness of Thy glory. The hour of sin’s condemnation was the hour of a world’s redemption. Grace and truth stood side by side.—Dr. George Matheson.
PART II. (A.)
CHAPTERS John 1:19 to John 4:54
I. THE MANIFESTATION OF THE WORD AS LIGHT AMONG THOSE PREPARED TO RECEIVE HIM (John 1:19-51)
1. The testimony of John the Baptist:
(1) he is not the Christ, etc. (John 1:19-21);
(2) he is the voice of the promised herald (John 1:23).
2. He proclaims to the messengers of the Sanhedrin the dignity of Christ (John 1:24-28).
3. He testifies, to his disciples, of Christ as the antitype of divine ordinance and the fulfilment of prophetic promise (John 1:29-31), his faith having been confirmed by the incidents which transpired at the baptism of Jesus (John 1:32-34).
4. John’s disciples are pointed to Jesus (John 1:35-40).
5. Jesus reveals Himself to individual disciples:
(1) to Simon (John 1:41-42);
(2) to Philip (John 1:43-44); and
(3) to Nathanael the Israelite without guile (John 1:45-51).
6. To these He reveals Himself as
(1) the Messiah (John 1:41);
(2) the Son of God, in whom Old Testament predictions find their fulfilment (John 1:45-49);
(3) the Son of man, by whom the heavenly stairway which Jacob saw in a vision is realised and completed (John 1:50-51).
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
THE WITNESS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (John 1:19-37)
John 1:19. Here the historical narrative of the gospel begins. The point of time may be considered as soon after the baptism of Jesus by John, which was to the latter the testimony of Jesus’ Messiahship (John 1:33-34). This is the record, etc.—As we learn from Matthew 3:7, many of the Jewish leaders had been attracted by the Baptist’s teaching; and the people as a whole were so moved by it that “all men mused in their hearts of John whether he were the Christ” (Luke 3:15). Indeed so much attention did John’s teaching attract that the Jews “sent priests and Levites … to ask him, Who art thou?” St. John was writing his Gospel as a universal treatise, and it was necessary for him to use the term the Jews, as he constantly does. It frequently refers to the ecclesiastical leaders of the people. The term is used historically. The Levites are seldom mentioned in the New Testament, and the general idea of expositors is that they were identical with the Scribes. At all events it seems reasonable to conclude from such a passage as Nehemiah 8:7-8, that the remnant of this tribe in our Lord’s day still continued to be students and scribes of the law. Who art thou?—Bishop Wordsworth remarks that there is here “an indirect testimony” to the miraculous occurrences of which the birth of John the Baptist was the centre. There is no doubt that these occurrences would be known and remembered in priestly and ecclesiastical circles. Hence the willingness of the Jewish leaders to accept John as the Messiah.
John 1:20. John’s answer shows that he as well as his interrogators understood the bearing of this question. “He confessed” indicates in effect the spontaneity and eagerness with which the declaration was made. The same thought follows in a negative form, “he denied not,” to show that he did not for an instant yield to the temptation to deny. Finally the second “he confessed” is added to the first in order to attach it to the profession which follows. ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ὁ Χριστιός, i.e. I am not, etc., but there is One who is.
John 1:21. Elias.—Malachi 4:5-6. John came in the spirit and power of Elijah, it is true (Luke 1:17); but according to the Jewish expectation of a literal return of the old prophet, the Baptist could return only a negative answer. That (the) prophet.—Deuteronomy 18:15. The interpretation of this old prophecy given in Acts 3:19-24 was evidently that held by John. Thus again he answered no.
John 1:22-23.—In his positive answer the Baptist appropriated to himself the grand prophecy of Isaiah 40:3. Notice the agreement with the Synoptists, who all refer this prophecy to John (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:3-6).
John 1:24. And they had been sent from the Pharisees.—The best MSS. omit the οἱ, but this does not alter the sense, as the messengers would no doubt be themselves Pharisees. The clause is inserted to explain the sequel.
John 1:25.—The Pharisees, versed in the law and tradition, were well acquainted with the meaning of the baptismal rite—as, e.g., applied to proselytes. But why did John enforce it in the case of all, Jews as well as others, if he were not the Messiah, or Elias, whom they expected to enact “a great national lustration to inaugurate the kingdom of Messiah” (Godet)? Ezekiel 36:25-27; Zechariah 13:1.
John 1:26-27. I baptise, etc.—This is the continuation of his call to repentance (John 1:23, “Make straight,” etc.), as well as the answer to the question of the Pharisees. In the very fact that he announces to them the presence of the Messiah in the midst of them, their question is resolved. “If the Christ is there He is known by him and him alone,—the Messianic time has come; he is its initiator, and his baptism is thereby justified” (Godet). Latchet, etc.—The coming Messiah should be so glorious that John felt himself unworthy of serving Him in the most menial office. The phrase ὃς ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν is wanting in the best MSS.
John 1:28. In Bethabara should be read ἐν Βηθανίᾳ—in Bethania, or Bethany beyond Jordan. The change of name from the Bethany of the oldest MSS. seems to have been effected by Origen. In his day the name had been obliterated from the region of the Jordan; but finding that tradition pointed to a place called Bethabara as that where John baptised, he inserted that name. But, according to Godet, “As to the Bethany near the Jordan, it is more probable that its name is derived from Beth-Onijah (אניה-navis), place of the ferry-boat. This last sense would almost coincide with that of Bethabara, place of the ford” (Judges 7:24). Caspari identifies it with Tell (i.e. Beth sometimes is so translated in Arabic) Anihje, a village some miles north of the Sea of Galilee on the east side of Jordan. The conclusion of Godet and others (given above) is perhaps the most reasonable in view of all the facts of the case. There were two Bethanys, just as there were two Cæsareas, etc.
John 1:31-33. I knew Him not also.—John, though knowing that Jesus had some important work to do, and a lofty destiny far higher than his own, had not yet arrived at the knowledge of Him as the hope of Israel. The divine lineage and lofty mission of Jesus as the Messiah were not fully known to John until after that scene at Jordan, when the Spirit descended on the Saviour “from heaven like a dove and abode upon Him.” Then the Baptist knew by an express divine revelation that this was He who should baptise with the Spirit, that this was indeed The Son of God.
John 1:34. And I saw and bare record (have seen, etc.).—The perfects denote a completed fact. The meaning is not that Jesus became (was constituted) at His baptism the Son of God, but simply that this momentous truth was then revealed to John and testified to by him.
John 1:35-37. Again (vide John 1:29). Two of His disciples, etc.—The minute details are interesting as showing how deep an impression this day’s events had made on the writer of this Gospel, who was one of the two mentioned.
(36) Looking on Jesus as He walked.—Regarding Him with earnest gaze. Christ and the Baptist henceforward were each independently to carry on their individual work; but John was now to be guided by the action of Jesus. Like all men, John also must “behold the Lamb of God.”
(37) “The disciples understand the words as the teacher meant them.… There is no word bidding them follow Jesus; that cannot be needed” (Watkins).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 1:19-37
The witness of John the Baptist.—John the Baptist was aware that his preparatory ministry was nearing its close, that his prophetic ray would grow dim and fade away as the Sun of righteousness, now risen visibly on the world, shed abroad its heavenly light. The Baptist is a noble figure as he meets us in this Gospel, as he bears unfaltering witness to the Messiah, and directs his loved disciples to Jesus. His uprightness, candour, humility, boldness, and power form traits of a character that wins the esteem and admiration of all noble minds. “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). But now his work was nearly done—and well done. Therefore like a modest herald he steps aside at the coming of the Prince whose way he had prepared. The witness of John is given in threefold form:—
I. His testimony as to his own person and work.—“The Word was made flesh” is the theme of the prologue to this Gospel. The witness of John that Jesus is the incarnate Word is the subject of this section.
1. The Evangelist had already referred to the witness of the Baptist (John 1:6-8; John 1:15), as the herald of the Messiah about to be revealed, when he preached “repentance” to those who flocked to his ministry and declared that “the kingdom of the heavens was at hand” (John 1:15 : compare Matthew 3:1-3; Matthew 3:11). His preaching, which was with power, and his employment of the rite of baptism, which was to be a significant sign of the times of the Messiah (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Isaiah 52:15; Zechariah 13:1), made so deep an impression on all classes of the community, that “all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not” (Luke 3:15). It was this circumstance which led to his first historical testimony to Christ recorded here. The religious rulers could not allow such events to transpire and such thoughts to spread without making strict inquiry as to John’s person and the meaning of his work. Therefore the Jews (under which designation we are to understand most probably the Sanhedrin, on which devolved the oversight of the religious teaching and worship of the people) “sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?” (John 1:19). By the Levites probably the scribes are meant (Nehemiah 8:7-8). As men versed in the law, they were sent to discover and define John’s position. All of them were members of the party of the Pharisees, the sect which laid the greatest stress on the outward observances of the law, and the greatest store by the “traditions” of the fathers. Thus we may expect that (as afterward in the case of Christ) they approached John the Baptist, if not as enemies, yet with no very friendly disposition.
2. Their question was a sign of the times. As in the human soul, when seeking after salvation, there may be, and usually is, a period of uncertainty, when the soul can find no rest, and looks hither and thither in order to find it, so at the time when Christ appeared men were anxiously looking for a Redeemer. Not only among the Jews, but even among the heathen, there was an expectation that a deliverer of the race was nigh at hand. But more especially was this the case among the Jews, groaning as they were under the yoke of subjection to Rome.
3. Pious Israelites, and even the formalists, were anxiously hoping that the promised hour was near (Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38). And as they heard of John’s preaching, of the crowds that were drawn to his baptism, and of the revival of religion that was proceeding under his startling calls to repentance, it was little wonder that “the people were in expectation” (Luke 3:15). It was certainly time to ask John publicly, “Who art thou?”
4. There was no delay or hesitation in the Baptist’s answer. That is the meaning of the words, “He confessed, and denied not.” His confession was open and prompt, without dubiety. Without arrière pensée, without any thought of his own honour or self-advantage, he unhesitatingly repudiated any claim to be the Messiah, as he doubtless realised that this definite question lingered behind the general one.
5. Satisfied on this point, the deputation then endeavoured to discover something concerning John himself. “Art thou Elias?” is the next question. And the Baptist’s answer is, “I am not,” i.e. not Elias in person, according to your expectation. “Art thou that prophet?” i.e. that prophet foretold by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 18:18). And John answered, “No,” as if by this brevity he would signify that he did not desire them to linger on the subject of own personality. Then in response to their further demand that he would positively declare who he was, he answered, “I am the voice,” etc. Of himself he would not speak further: his office, and not himself, to him was most important. He desired to draw attention away from himself, so as to concentrate it on the Messiah. Therefore he described himself as “the voice crying in the wilderness” spoken of by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3), to prepare the way of the Messiah. “A man becomes a voice when he desires nothing for himself, when he does not consider himself, but when his message is everything” (Luther). The wilderness was a fitting image of the moral condition of his people, whose hearts needed to be “prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-18; Luke 1:76) by true repentance.
6. In the next question the true character of the messengers of the Jewish religious leaders shows itself. They were zealous in a way for the law, but they were even more so for their traditions. “Why baptisest thou with water?” etc. They knew that before the days of the Messiah there should be a cleansing of the people (vide above, Ezekiel 36:25, etc.); but if John were not the Messiah, nor one of the prophets who should precede Him, what right had he to presume to use that symbolic rite? This question led to the testimony the Baptist was so desirous to make: “I baptise with water,” etc. (John 1:26-27). You ask me for my authority to baptise: it is my right and duty in the office committed to me. I must prepare the way of the Lord; and to this end I preach repentance and baptise, i.e. prepare those who shall receive the Messiah. And this is so much more needful, as the Messiah no longer delays His coming, but even now stands among you, i.e. has already begun His public ministry in Israel. Thus in the lofty position of Him whose forerunner John was, in the necessity of the forsaking of sin as a preparation for His coming, lay John’s authority for his baptism.
II. John’s testimony in the presence of Jesus.—
1. John confessed that he had not recognised the high destiny of Jesus, but only the fact that He should be made manifest to Israel. This does not mean that John was unacquainted with Jesus personally. Probably he had heard something of the marvellous circumstances attending the birth of Jesus, and the expectations raised by these circumstances in pious hearts. But that He who at Nazareth appeared in such humble guise in the form of a servant should be the promised Messiah was far from John’s thought.
2. A fuller revelation dawned on him at the baptism of the Redeemer. He who was formerly known only as the son of Joseph was now revealed as the Son of God. He whom the Baptist saw as One so pure and true as to need no cleansing, nor therefore the symbolic sign of cleansing, was now revealed as He who should baptise with the Holy Ghost. John’s baptism, like the Old Testament offerings, was intimately related to the forgiveness of sin. And as the offerer was purged from sin by looking in faith toward what those offerings symbolised, so those who received John’s baptism in faith as a preparation for the coming of God’s kingdom participated in that forgiveness which membership in that kingdom implies. But, like the Old Testament offerings, this baptism was typical and temporary. It could not confer that spiritual life by which renewed men are enabled “to mortify the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). And it was revealed to John at Christ’s baptism that He it was who “should baptise with the Holy Ghost.” And therefore John was now prepared to testify, as he did, that—
3. Christ is the Lamb of God, etc.—the Son of God—the Messiah of Israel. But why was it necessary that the Spirit should descend on the Redeemer at His baptism? Was He not the eternal Son? Did not the fulness of the Godhead bodily dwell in Him? Was He not “conceived of the Holy Ghost”? Yet it is said, “God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him.” The meaning seems to be that our Lord’s humanity needed this preparation, this bestowal of the Holy Spirit, for its high office. God “was manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit” (1 Timothy 3:16).
III. John’s testimony to Jesus among his disciples.—
1. When John saw Jesus coming as conqueror from the wilderness conflict he had pointed Him out as the “Lamb of God” to all who heard him speak. On the following day he directed his disciples especially to this heavenly Teacher and Redeemer, to bear witness to whom was now his high office and his deepest joy.
2. Apparently John prompted his disciples to follow the Saviour. His words, “Behold the Lamb of God,” would be to them equivalent to a command to go after Him.
Learn, preachers and teachers:
1. To lose sight of self in witnessing for Christ;
2. To be open and bold in confessing Christ;
3. To rejoice in being able to direct others to the Saviour.
John 1:22. “Who art thou?” (A Christmas Homily.)—We consider this question—
I. As a question put to ourselves.—The Saviour has been born. God became man. Then comes the question, O God, what am I that Thou shouldst give Thy Son for me? Some give to this question—
1. No reply.—John gave a reply; we seek to back out of it. Who art thou? This is no police inquiry what you are in the world, and how much you are worth. It is a question of conscience to our hearts. Conscience seeks to know how we stand toward God. Your possessions, the duties of your office, the newest form of entertainment, political news, etc., you know; but to your own heart you are a stranger. You do not venture to look into it, it is so unpleasant to do so. So you seek to hear not, or to ignore this question, Who art thou? and are silent. But your silence is also an answer.
2. A vain-glorious answer.—John gave a humble answer; you an answer of self-commendation. You can look the question boldly in the face. You fulfil what is incumbent on you; you envelop yourself in the cloak of your good name as a citizen. You measure yourself complacently with others. You know nothing of a troubled conscience, and you have nothing to seek for at the manger-cradle of the Son of God.
3. An embarrassed and undetermined answer.—John gave a definite and clear answer; you give a doubtful one. You hear the question plainly, Who art thou? Are you already converted? Are you a child of God, a member of Christ? Can you die assured? But you seek to shun the question; you give an embarrassed and undetermined answer.
4. An honest answer.—There are those who answer faithfully. Their answer is a troubled one, and runs, I am a sinner. And it brings the troubled soul to the Saviour. Or their answer is a plaintive one, for they sigh for the comfort of grace, and have it not yet. Therefore they cry out, “It is for Thee I sigh; comfort Thou my heart.” Or their answer is a joyful one, and runs, “I am a sinner, but I have found grace. Christ is born for me.”
II. As a question put concerning the Lord.—Men turn aside from the question, Who art thou? They do not know themselves, and therefore they do not know the Lord. They know not the meaning of Christian joy. But those who seek to answer the question go to the manger-bed and ask, Who is this Child? Of Him our gospel says:—
1. He is so near, and is yet so far above us.—He has come into your midst, Him whom ye knew not. This is true now as then.
2. He is so high, and yet so lowly.—He who comes after me is preferred before me. He is God from eternity, and yet has appeared in time, and lies as an infant of days in His manger-bed.
3. He is so holy, and yet so full of grace.—He it is the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. We are not worthy tremblingly to offer Him the lowliest service; and yet He appears as the Lamb of God who beareth away the sins of the world.—Appuhn, in J. L. Sommer.
John 1:27. Christ’s disciples follow Him.—I. Christ’s disciples follow Him as their Redeemer. This is the first and chiefest reason why we should go after Him.
1. It is good to be attracted to Him for any reason; but all will be useless unless we recognise and act upon the great need of our nature, and the promise that it will be granted, which is discovered in the very name of the Saviour: “He shall be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” And men must come to Him for this eternally important and all-inclusive blessing of redemption. Otherwise they cannot truly follow Him in any fashion. The prisoner manacled and fettered in his cell cannot walk on the highway, however eagerly he may desire to do so. His chains and fetters must be taken off, and he must come forth from his cell a free man first. Now by nature we are bound by sin, enslaved by sin; and ere we can follow Jesus to any good purpose we must be delivered.
2. But how can we attain deliverance and follow Christ if we are bound and fettered? Here is the grace and simplicity of the gospel. When men feel their need, and desire deliverance truly and sincerely, in that very moment the fetters are broken, and they are enabled to go to the Redeemer for pardon, peace, and every heavenly gift. “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). “He hath lifted up and borne away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); “He hath borne our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24); “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). He hath taken away the guilt of our sin.
3. But more than that—if we follow Him as our redeemer He enables us “to die unto sin.” We are delivered from the power of that baleful disorder which has laid hold of our humanity, from the grip of that subtle foe that seeks our undoing. How miserable has this foe made earnest men who have tried to free themselves from his power! Again and again they have wrestled and striven, only to fall yet once more before his onslaught. And, on the other hand, how blessed is the experience of those who have felt their own impotence, have looked to Christ for deliverance, and of whom it can be said: “Sin shall have no more dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
4. And thus do Christ’s disciples attain to peace. The old terror of God passes away, as they see sin’s guilt removed at the cross; the old misery and wretchedness in the ineffectual strife with the power of sin is banished when Christ frees them from their bondage. Then peace and joy and unfading hope fill their souls. Old-fashioned and simple teaching? Yes; but ever fresh and welcome to those who receive and act upon it. Consequently it is of supreme importance as a test for ourselves to ask: Have all we obeyed the earnest exhortations of faithful preachers of the cross? Have we, like John’s disciples, followed Jesus, and is the full blessedness of redemption ours?
II. Christ’s disciples follow Him as their pattern.—To do this aright is impossible until we have learned to follow Him as the Redeemer. Hence there are many who profess to follow Him, by taking Him as their example, who in reality go astray at the very first step. They overlook the essential purpose for which God’s Son became incarnate, and for which He calls men to Him: “Look unto Me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth.” But when this first step has been made, then we are to follow Christ as our heavenly pattern.
1. Men need such a pattern—one who in human form would reveal and exemplify the life and walk of the “perfect man,” according to the heavenly ideal. Such was never seen in human life—at least after the fall. Men could not know or understand the perfect human life, which is summed up in the phrase “walking with God,” until it was revealed in Christ. Nothing remained but the mystic and brief record of that primæval period of Edenic blessedness, ere sin entered the world. And afterward, although in some hearts still the desire for heavenly communion so prevailed that of an Enoch and a Noah it was said that they “walked with God,” yet this brief record also implies and records the presence of imperfection. There were flaws—“In much the best life faileth.”
2. But all men, as we have seen, conform their lives to one pattern or another. The child imitates the parent; the friend is influenced by the more powerful personality, the genius, the amiability, the intelligence of some dearly loved friend. We are influenced, often insensibly, by one conspicuous in the religious, the social, the political sphere. Hence the need of choosing as our patterns those influenced by principles of righteousness. Hence, also, the need of all those who are professedly Christ’s followers, and who have their influence in greater or less degree as parents, friends, public men, to see that their influence is for good—that in this they are imitators of Christ.
3. But it is well, above all, that we should daily look to that “perfect pattern” in whose steps we are commanded to follow, to that sacred height of holiness toward which we are to climb.
(1) We are to follow Him in His willing obedience to the Father. “He was obedient unto death,” even. No murmur escaped His lips, however bitter the cup, however painful and shameful the cross. A cheerful compliance with all that must needs be done was the conspicuous feature of His life. In His prophetic word, ages before His incarnation, He declared: “Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, O My God; yea, Thy law is within My heart” (Psalms 40:7-8). And when He did assume the lowly guise of a servant on earth, it was to reaffirm that word: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). And this is the spirit in which all true sons of God will seek to serve the heavenly Father.
(2) He is our pattern also in His patient endurance in love and activity for men. Who, of all who have lived, has kept perfectly the second great commandment of the law but Christ?
(3) And we are to follow Him also in His victorious conquest of evil. From the hour when the vanquished adversary retired foiled from the mountain top, until on the cross the Saviour cried “It is finished,” the powers of evil sought to conquer Him in vain. In vain! for the resurrection morning proclaimed them vanquished for ever.
(4) In this way must we follow Christ—on the path of obedience, in the way of the service of humanity, in the conquest of evil—and we shall be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
III. “Through Him who loved us.” This leads to the further thought that we are to follow Christ as our guide and shepherd. Christ our pattern of attainment! Is it not to us an impossible one? Yes, but for His promise, “Lo, I am with you always.” Therein lies our hope.
1. He is our guide.—Without an experienced guide even skilled mountaineers will not attempt to scale giddy Alpine peaks; and even such skilled guides may err, so that guide and traveller may rush to death. But our heavenly Guide never errs—He is unfailing. His hold is never relinquished—no blinding storm, nor slippery path, nor yawning crevasse can daunt or stay Him. And those who trust Him He will safely guide on the perilous path of life, until they rest on the summit in the serene sunshine of heaven, far above the storms and clouds of earth.
2. But more comforting still is the assurance that He is the shepherd of His people. We need not only a guide for the upward path—we need to be strengthened and refreshed for the way. And His people find all needed nourishment in the green pastures of His word and gospel, whereby their souls are strengthened for the journey; whilst there is continual refreshing for them in the waterbrooks of grace. He strengthens them to resist their spiritual foes: “in temptation’s dangerous hour” He stands near to help them; when the wolf—the enemy of God and man—draws near to steal, kill, destroy, and His flock look to Him for aid, He will not be afar; when they must pass through the darkness of death He shines as their example, comforts with His rod and staff, and at eventide brings them safely folded into “the greener pastures of paradise, and the waterbrooks of everlasting life.”
John 1:29. The Lamb of God.—John’s action here shows (John 1:19-27) how faithful he was in his office as forerunner of the Messiah. It was not his own influence, honour, glory, he thought upon. Having recognised in Jesus his Lord and the promised Deliverer, he pointed his disciples to Him, contented that his preparatory work should come to an end, that his influence should wane whilst that of Jesus waxed, that as the herald of the dawn he should fade from view at the rising of the Sun of righteousness.
I. What is the meaning of this title, “the Lamb of God”?—What would John’s hearers understand by those words? One common idea is that they refer to the passover lamb. No doubt this in a sense is true. The sprinkling of His blood is a sign of safety to the redeemed. But this is not the only meaning. The reference is in greater measure to the lamb of the trespass offering (Leviticus 4:32-35; Leviticus 14:12-14, etc.). The image brought before a Jewish mind by this descriptive title would be the sacrifices offered in a special sense for sin—more particularly, perhaps, the lamb of the daily morning and evening sacrifice. It would call to mind the ascending altar smoke, rising like a prayer for forgiveness, and the typical sacrifices ever pointing forward to One who was to complete and end them all. Especially would they be reminded of that prophetic picture of the Messiah in which He is represented thus: “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter,” etc. (Isaiah 53:7). Now it is in this sense chiefly that men are called upon to “behold the Lamb of God.” He is the great atonement for sin, for His atoning work is potent to take away the guilt of sin and free men from its curse. It is sufficient here to point out that this word is in agreement with the leading idea of the New Testament when it speaks of Christ “bearing away” the world’s sin. The full force of the word (αἴρειν) is to “lift up” as a burden and “carry away”—the meaning being that Jesus lifted up the burden and penalty of sin from believers, Himself bearing the penalty for them. This was done by expiation—by rendering satisfaction for the breaking and outraging of God’s law through sin. Nothing less could bring peace; and Christ brings peace by removing the guilt of sin. “Surely He hath borne,” etc. (Isaiah 53:4-5). Thus the Old Testament seer spoke of the coming Messiah. And when He had completed His work on earth, the New Testament writers speak of that work thus: “It behoved Christ to suffer,” etc. (Luke 24:26); “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin” (1 John 1:7); “Christ appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Such words testify plainly as to the nature of Christ’s redemptive work. His sacrificial death accomplished what the typical sacrifice of the old covenant pointed to. He shed His blood “for the remission of sin” (Matthew 26:28). Make of it what men may, this is a cardinal doctrine of Scripture. “God hath set Him forth,” etc. (Romans 3:25). There is an experimental proof of the truth of this doctrine which to believers is irrefragable. It is the fact that those who truly have faith in Christ know the blessedness that springs from forgiven sin. Does it form a firm foundation for our Christian hope? They who have this proof need no other that Christ is “the Lamb of God.”
II. Whilst the foregoing is the primary sense of the text, and that which would first occur to John’s Jewish hearers, there is another sense in which it appeals to the Christian. Christ is here held up as the example we must follow if we would be free from sin and grow in holiness. His disposition and life are held up for our imitation. The redeeming work and power of Christ are many-sided—a truth often forgotten in disputes as to the meaning of the Atonement.
1. In this descriptive title there is an intimation of the gentleness of Christ’s character. He never did nor will “quench the smoking flax,” etc. He never did nor will spurn true penitents, how great soever their sin and guilt. He wore no forbidding aspect, did not display the fulness of His power in wrath. The mild rays of love and mercy shone in all His life. Tender acts, gentle words, showed what forces moved His matchless life. He was ever willing to sheathe the sword of justice and stretch out a helping hand to erring men if they would cease their rebellion. He felt for weak humanity, sorrowed with men and women in their trials, rejoiced with them in their innocent joys, tenderly loved little children, bore compassionately with the waywardness of children of a larger growth. He was meek and lowly—the Lamb of God. True, there were not wanting elements of divine strength from His character—anger at sin, scorn of evil (Matthew 23:0, etc.). But He showed this only when gentleness, even divine, would not reclaim, and divine indignation must needs show itself. Still, this was exceptional. And so, too, exalted in the heavens, the same tender compassion characterises Him. He will yet, no doubt, speak in judgment, and terrible will be the wrath of the Lamb. But “His nature and His name is love,” and with tender entreaty He invites men to look to Him and live.
2. The purity and sinlessness of Jesus are suggested by the title of the text. He was as “a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19), the true sacrificial antitype. His life all through was beautiful, pure, true. There was about it that which made wicked men shrink from it as darkness from light. As the pellucid flood reflects the blue heaven, so the pure human life of Jesus reflected as in a mirror the purity and holiness of heaven. His lynx-eyed enemies could not disprove His innocence; at His trial hired witnesses had to be set up to accuse Him, as no honest man could be found to speak an accusing word. Pilate had to confess, “This man hath done nothing amiss.” So He stands before the world gentle and tender, pure and innocent—the Lamb of God.
3. And by this display of character and life Jesus Christ is in a true and genuine sense taking away the sin of the world. Not only does His sacrifice free men from the guilt of sin—through faith in Him the heart is endowed with a new spiritual power by which the believer overcomes the world. Yet this would not be sufficient were there no example for the Christian to follow, and some goal pointed out toward which he may strive. But there is such an example and such a goal. Christ is our example, and calls us to follow Him, the perfect man, bending down to us from the height of holiness toward which we are to strive to attain. His example and His invitations are like an immense magnet force drawing men, when they submit to its power, nearer to itself. The more men become familiar with Christ’s character, the more will they be dissatisfied with themselves and with sin, the more attracted to holiness and the divine service.
III. Attend therefore to the exhortation of the Baptist.—“Behold,” etc. Men must do so whether they will or no. Toward Him all eyes in the civilised world are directed. Even His enemies cannot help themselves. To ignore Him would be to ignore the luminous centre of a dark world. Behold Him! ye who have not yet trusted in Him. You have tasted of sin’s bitterness, felt its misery, have trembled at the thought of death and eternity. You feel it is a curse in the happiness of “being.” But there is one power can burst asunder the fetters of evil, can purify and bless. It is Christ’s gospel. Behold the Lamb of God! in simple faith accept Him, and the blessedness of pardon will visit your sin-sick nature like a healing balm, and peace like restful eventide will descend upon your souls. In vain will the like result be sought in other ways. Try this way! Behold Him, Christians! and let the view animate your souls and stir you to greater efforts to attain. The conflict between good and evil is fierce and protracted. Take your stand beside the cross. Let not men say your example was such that, if you were representative Christians, they could see no great hope of a higher life or any great profit in passing to the position in which you profess to stand. Follow the Lord’s example: “Let your profiting appear unto all men.” Remember how unweariedly He toiled and endured for you amidst danger and in temptation. Therefore be not weary in well-doing, and let your hands be quick to good. See Him and become Christlike; let His loving character be reproduced in your lives. For if men do not behold Him earnestly and lovingly in the day of life, a time will come when they shall not be able to choose. “Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him” (Revelation 1:7)—comes no more with messages of peace, but awful as the Judge of quick and dead. May it be ours to labour diligently now as His disciples and servants, so that we may joyfully look for His appearing, and join the mighty host of the redeemed whom John in vision heard saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,” etc. (Revelation 5:12). And till then may we raise that prayer which has ascended since the Church was founded in many a stormy time, and which still ascends: “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.” Amen.
John 1:29-34. The result of beholding Christ in faith as the Lamb of God.—In view of all that Christ is, of all His greatness and glory, of all His love and condescension, what position should we assume toward Him? When we remember that not only does He bring us salvation, but that He is governing and controlling all things, coming in His judgments among the nations and individuals, until He shall come at last in His glory, it well becomes us to ask: How are we receiving Him? Is He coming to us in love and mercy, and are we rejoicing in Him? There can be joy to those alone to whom the coming of Christ signifies grace and not judgment. Do we believe Him to be what the Scriptures declare He is? Then it will be the part of true wisdom to ask how we stand related to Him. All things, all created beings, “were created by Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). What then is our duty?
I. We should submit ourselves willingly to His rule.—
1. When the King of kings makes His presence felt, we should receive Him with honour and reverence, and prepare ourselves for His service. At His advent as the incarnate Son it was foretold that His forerunner should “go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). And the forerunner declared that he himself was the voice of one crying, etc. (John 1:23).
2. Therefore we should prepare our hearts to receive Christ, by repentance of sin and turning away from it—“Prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight” (Matthew 3:2-3). So we must humble ourselves before Him, remembering our sins, through His grace turn from sin and submit ourselves to Him, to be freed from spiritual bondage, and made free citizens of His spiritual kingdom—“fellow-citizens of the saints and of the household of God.”
3. And receiving Christ thus, we shall reach true joy and peace in life; for then we shall be occupying our true position as subjects of our King and as creatures of our Creator. Duty and destiny are both then clear and plain. Doubt as to the one and darkness as regards the other vanish away.
4. Let us submit ourselves to our Maker and King then, for in this way alone do we attain our true position in time and our true hope for eternity. But we must also do so in adoring gratitude when we remember His love and mercy—that He the Son and Word of God became man, emptied Himself of His glory, suffered and died that we might live. When we have thus submitted ourselves, then—
II. We should labour for Him.—
1. The true and loyal citizen of a country delights to spend and be spent in the service of country and ruler. The statesman spends laborious days and nights, often for a lifetime, without fee or reward, in the service of his fatherland. The philanthropist, in his enthusiasm for humanity; gives himself up to his benevolent labours, not only without a grudge, but with positive pleasure, finding in well-doing and in blessing others the highest reward.
2. Do not such examples put many of those called Christians to confusion? Are not those who profess that they believe in Christ citizens of a kingdom far more grand and glorious than the most glorious dominion that the world has ever seen? Are they not subjects of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Creator and Governor of all, who also when His subjects rebelled “was made flesh,” in order that He might bring them back from their alienation?
3. And yet how feebly and haltingly do they serve Him and labour for Him, and the building up and extension of His kingdom! But His true subjects make this their continual aim. Even in what is erroneously called their secular labour, they will be ever seeking to do His will and work. The glory of Christ and His kingdom will be the one aim of life to them. It is the true aim of men, and leads to the best and most blessed end, if men would but see this. When we have attained to being workers together with Christ, then—
III. We should bear witness to Him.—
1. This Christ’s forerunner did (John 1:15). This is a distinctive mark of true subjects of Christ. “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem,” etc. (Acts 1:8).
2. They should bear witness by their righteous, joyful lives, showing in this way, unto all men, whose they are and whom they serve, attracting men to the kingdom by their radiant Christian character (Matthew 5:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:8).
3. They should witness for Him in word, rebuking what is evil in His name (Luke 3:7-9), and pointing to Him as the way of salvation (Luke 3:16-18), testifying from experience what He has done for their souls.
4. Nor must their testimony end with their immediate surroundings. To every true Christian man and woman is given the promise, “Ye shall be My witnesses unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Each cannot do this personally. But when the Church at Philippi is filled with the Spirit of Christ, then it will be eager to uphold and aid the missionary apostle to bear the truth, that has blessed them, to those wandering in error (Philippians 4:14)—to bring the light of salvation, which has arisen on them, making their hearts glad, to those who are still in spiritual darkness. True citizens of the spiritual kingdom should need no persuasion to invite them to missionary effort.
John 1:19-38. Who art thou, journalist with far-heard speaking-trumpet of thy newspaper? thou poet or literary man? thou preacher in the pulpit or speaker on the political platform? Will you allow yourself to be addressed generally in regard to your prophetic calling, as the Baptist was spoken to, as to whether you use your calling on the basis of self-knowledge and self-denial? Do you know what your dangers are, and the weak points in your armour? Are you venal like the prophet Balaam, or incorruptible like Simon Peter in presence of the sorcerer? Are you fearful like Jonah, or undismayed like Nathan? Do you, like Saul, even when he was by chance found among the prophets, hold fast to the old evil Ego, or are you personally consecrated to God as was that other Saul when he became Paul? A consecrated voice of to-day speaks in wrath against all the egoistic and selfish doings of blatant popular orators: “They frequently rave about freedom whilst all the time the slaves of their own lusts; they speak about the eternal rights of man, and mean only their own little ego!” What do you say of yourself? no matter whether you are surrounded by the madding crowd, or by silent loneliness; whether men weave thorns or laurels for your crown; whether the one side seek to pamper, or the other to scoff you? Are you as wholesomely distrustful of yourself as was Paul, who not only thought lightly of man’s judgment, but in view of the possibility of being self-deceived declared: “Yea, I judge not mine own self: it is God who judgeth me” (1 Corinthians 4:3). Do you confess and deny not: I am not my own Christ; as the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so crieth and thirsteth my soul for Him who is full of grace and truth—full of forgiveness and salvation? Do you confess and deny not: I am of unclean lips, and need the expiating call from above? This is indeed the distinction, frequently overlooked, between simple modesty and Christian humility,—that modesty is a gracious adornment, humility a religious virtue; that modesty has learned the limits of individual knowledge and ability, humility, on the contrary, the feeling of sinfulness and misery; that modesty thinks it sufficient not to intrude one’s self and strut vainly before men, whilst humility bends the knee before the all-holy God. Thinking of one’s self too highly—this is the mildew on the sowing of the preacher, the poison on the pen of the author, the rust upon the harp of the poet. Wherefore sings a noble singer: “And were my song, waiting for the world’s favour, to court the reward of vanity, then should I dash my harp to pieces, and shuddering be silent eternally before Thee.” In the kingdom of God the prophet discovers his true relation to Christ, to his fellow-labourers, to his people, as well as a true activity, only when he lets the night of his Ego become ever shorter, and the day of the great spiritual Sun ever longer, in his life: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”—Dr. R. Kögel.
John 1:19-37. The world is weary with its cumbrous and futile methods of obtaining deliverance from sin.—Consciousness of moral law, and the ever-growing conviction of the comprehensiveness and inflexibility of the physical and mental consequences of actions, deepen the harrowing sense of moral evil, fasten on the transgressor the Nessus-shirt of fire, from which in this nineteenth century, as well as in the first, he struggles hard to be free. “The sin of the world” is even now revealed with awful distinctness to some minds. It is not necessary to go to the cell of the anchorite, where some child of superstition is combating those phantoms of despair which are conjured up by excited brain and morbid tradition. Nor is it requisite to follow the explorer or the missionary into haunts of vice and homes of cruelty, where bold badness deliberately crushes broken hearts and blasphemes Heaven. It is scarcely needful to lift the thin veil of poor excuse and preposterous flattery with which a flimsy philosophy conceals the evil. The grim, gaunt forms of sin loom through the veil, and the fear of men is not hushed by being told that they should be virtuous and calm, that evil is an accident and responsibility a dream. Nature—the word being used as another name for God—may be very beautiful in her glowing sunrise, and fascinating when the light and the mist conceal very much from view; but Nature, bearing man in her bosom, and evolving him, sin and all, out of her eternal depths, “without any interference” of God or devil, is very ghastly and terrible. Under this awful vision, the hearts of thousands have been hurried, crushed and blaspheming, into the darkness. The sin of the world, in its individual forms and its terrible aggregate, presses upon conscience as a fault and a removable evil. Hence its awful burden. From this springs the whole history of sacrifices and atonements. If sin is to be taken away from the world, the twofold process of redemption and renewal must be involved in the Acts 1:0. The conscience must be assured that the law has not been trifled with; that it is safe and right to believe in God as able to save, ready to forgive, waiting to bless; that the universal voice of nature has failed to speak all the truth; that a Father’s heart pulsates behind the eternal laws; that He has revealed Himself, in a higher form than nature can ever approach, through a human life which still towers above the loftiest evolution of humanity; that Holy Love is at the heart of the universe; that Grace will reign through righteousness unto eternal life! But,
2. More than this, the sin itself, as well as all its natural consequences, must be expelled from the individual and the aggregate. There must be the new life, as well as the new relationship with God.—Dr. H. R. Reynolds.
John 1:29. Permanent convictions.—John found no greater word to describe the glory of the noon than that through which he had seen the dawn. It was the same light in its zenith as when it first greeted him through the mist. Surely it is worth while to investigate a revelation like this, which was as much to the aged seer as it was to the young fisherman. How beautiful is a life of which the early days, the middle, and the latest hold the same convictions, only growing with the man’s growth, and widening with his experience. How beautiful when the life is based on truths which no experience can overthrow, which experience only renders more precious; and how different from the lives of men who flit restlessly from one faith to another, and find no abiding home. It is beautiful when we see the father and the young man and the child bound together by the faith which goes through all the stages of life, the end circling round the beginning, only with a deeper conviction and a stronger love at last. To understand the meaning of this profound phrase we must go back to the Old Testament, in which the mind of him who first uttered it was steeped. Perhaps the passage which was most clearly before him as he spoke was that in the climax of evangelical prophecy where Jesus is described as a Lamb led to the slaughter, and where it is said that as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. Forty days before Christ had been baptised, and in the interval John had no doubt been meditating deeply on the prophecies that announced the Messiah; and this would stand more clearly before his mind than any. Besides, through those days and before them, he had been hearing countless stories of grief and sin from those who came to be baptised of him; and would he not think of One into whose ear sorrow would never be sobbed in vain—One who was to deal with sin adequately and finally by taking it away? “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed.” But along with this we must include a reference to the Paschal Lamb. Few thoughts in John’s Gospel are more distinct than that of the relation of Jesus Christ to the Paschal sacrifice and feast. The Passover, which was the most conspicuous symbol of the Messianic deliverance, was not far off; flocks of lambs were passing by to Jerusalem to be offered at the coming feast, and the sight may have brought home the thought. Further, there is no difficulty in believing that the forerunner, who had deeply meditated the Messianic prophecies and the meaning of the sacrifices, saw, with prophetic insight, that Christ was to suffer, thus standing for a time on a higher level than any of the disciples.—Dr. W. R. Nicoll.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 1:38-43. Jesus turned, etc.—Jesus saw these two young men modestly following Him, too diffident to accost Him. He, therefore, with friendly invitation encouraged them. “What seek ye?” The apparently irrelevant answer of the disciples, “Rabbi, where dwellest Thou?” may be understood as simply expressing a desire for further acquaintance and conversation with the Saviour. The use of the word Rabbi with the interpretation shows that this Gospel was intended in part for Gentiles.
John 1:39. Come and see are His friendly words; and in response to His invitation they went with Him for the remainder of that day, i.e. from the tenth hour (between three and four o’clock in the afternoon) until sunset. Of the place of Jesus’ abode no record is given.
John 1:40. Andrew.—The apostle better known as Peter’s brother (vide also John 6:8). The other disciple, modestly unnamed, is the Evangelist himself.
John 1:41.—On the impulse of simple, glowing faith Andrew first sought his own brother, Simon, as dearest to him, so that he might impart to him this new-found treasure. It is to be inferred that John also sought his own brother, James, with a like intention. We have found Messias (משׁיח).—The use of this Hebrew word, with its Greek interpretation, again shows that the Gospel was intended for a mixed community, a community where a Greek element existed.
John 1:42. Cephas.—“He is called Petrus, ‘a stone,’ from Petra, ‘the rock’ ” (Aug.). “Petrus (or Peter) has the same meaning in Greek as Cephas (פּיפּא) in Syriac (Aram.); and the apostle was called Peter from the firmness of his faith, by which he clave to that Petra, or Rock, of whom the apostle Paul speaks: ‘That Rock was Christ’ ” (Chr. Wordsworth). See also Matthew 16:18. The latter passage denotes an advance. Here Simon’s name is changed to Peter; in St. Matthew, “Thou art Peter,” says Christ, “and this name henceforth describes thy character.” The passages are independent, and throw light on each other. Thus if Petrus = a stone, then the explanation is found in 1 Peter 2:5.
John 1:43. On the morrow, etc.—I.e. the fourth day from the incident recorded in John 1:29. He would (ἠθέλησεν) go forth, and as He did so He found Philip. The words Jesus addressed to Philip, “Follow Me,” are more than a mere invitation to accompany Him. No doubt other words of teaching were spoken which are not here recorded, but the result is seen in this word of command and its upshot.
John 1:44. Bethsaida.—Jesus met Philip on the way from Bethania to Cana. This Bethsaida was on the west side of the Lake of Galilee, and is called Bethsaida of Galilee, ch. 12. (probably on a site north of Khan Minyeh), to distinguish it from Bethsaida Julias on the east side.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 1:38-44
Jesus manifests Himself to His first disciples.—The choice of His disciples was a matter of great moment to Jesus. It was necessary that some of them should be witnesses of His life and work from the beginning of His public ministry (John 15:27), that they might learn to know and understand Himself and His mission, so as to be fitted to carry out the work of His kingdom. He did not choose those “hide-bound” by the traditions of the rabbinic schools, with fixed and earthly notions of His state and kingdom, nor those who rejected the divine word (Sadducees), to be His witnesses. He chose men of simple, unsophisticated, yet strong and earnest mind, already led to repentance by the Baptist’s teaching, and waiting in their own honest fashion (not idly dreaming, but actively working) for “the consolation of Israel.”
I. Such were the first two disciples led to the Saviour. Acting on John’s indication, they “followed Jesus,” not at first apparently presuming to accost and speak to Him. But He ever knows His own. He saw them coming after Him, and with a simple question led them to that great, that important decision, which changed the whole current of their lives, and made their names shine amongst the most honoured and revered in history.
1. How simple and natural the story of it all is! “Rabbi,” they say, “where dwellest Thou?” in answer to His question, “What seek ye?” This simple and almost irrelevant question of theirs “breaks the ice” for them, so to speak. It was their wish, probably, to converse with Him at some other time, as the day was declining apace, and they might not wish to disturb Him when evening was approaching. But,
2. His answer at once decided them—“Come and see”: words of simple invitation, but implying so much on the lips of Him who spoke them. We know not where it was that Jesus was dwelling. It is Himself and not the place that is important. Where He is as our friend and host, there is all heaven. The writer of this account (one of the two) was so impressed by the events of that afternoon interview with Jesus, never to be forgotten, that he recollects the hour when first he heard the voice of that Jesus whose teaching he was to assimilate and understand so deeply—whose latest word he was to hear from the cross (John 19:30), whom he was to recognise first of all the disciples after the resurrection (John 21:7), and whom again he was to hear in apocalyptic vision speaking in words of power (Revelation 1:17-20).
3. And is not the first meeting of the Saviour with all His true disciples, when they first recognise Him as the Sent of God and their Redeemer, a time to be cherished in memory?
II. The second incident has a special interest.—It tells us:
1. That those who truly come to Christ do not go back from Him. They come to know Him in all His loveliness and tenderness, His grace and truth. But, more than that, they become—
2. Active workers for Jesus. John modestly records Andrew’s action only; but no doubt at the same time he led his own brother James to Jesus. It is interesting and instructive to notice that no sooner did these two come to Christ than they became witnesses to Him. They are the first distinctively gospel preachers.
3. A notable member of the apostolic band came in response to Andrew’s call. Jesus recognised the great qualities of this man, Simon, son of Jona (best MSS. John), and to signalise his entrance in the service of the kingdom gave him a new name, distinctive of the prominent and important work he was to do. But there is nothing in this, or in any of the gospel narratives, or the New Testament generally, to lead us to suppose that he ever occupied a position analogous to that given him in mediæval Church history. “In Church history St. Peter is everything and St. Andrew nothing; but would there have been an apostle Peter but for Andrew?” (Plummer).
III. The third incident is also noteworthy in an especial manner from this fact, that in bringing Philip into the circle of the disciples Jesus for the first time issued that oft-repeated direct call, “Follow Me.”
1. This command is in the Gospels issued only by our Lord Himself. It is “addressed to but one outside the circle of the apostles, the rich young man, whom Jesus loved (Matthew 19:21, etc.). In other parts of the New Testament it is used but once (Acts 12:8), in the words of the angel to Peter” (Watkins).
2. This word implies that now there is a new centre for humanity—not Moses, not Jerusalem, but Christ (John 1:17; John 4:23-26).
3. Obedience to this command is a test of genuine Christianity:
(1) In the preacher of the cross. His chief duty is to direct, like John, his hearers to Christ, and to be able to say like St. Paul, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
(2) Those who hear this call should, like Philip, promptly and unhesitatingly obey it.
1. As men are constituted they must follow some leader—are drawn by some power to choose a certain direction in life.
2. The leaders of men also are led. They too are dominated by some power, not themselves, which makes either for righteousness or unrighteousness; they are moved either by principle or caprice; they are swayed either by the desires and passions of their lower nature, or by reason and conscience. And so much power have those prominent and noteworthy men we call leaders, that they attract to themselves a following of disciples, more or less numerous, and exert an influence that not only tells on human history here, but extends into eternity. We cannot compute or measure the results for good and for evil that have flowed from the activity of great leaders of men past and present.
3. Therefore the necessity of choosing men of principle, unswerving in their love of righteousness, as leaders in the social, political, and ecclesiastic spheres. For if they be not men of principle, however plausible and good their schemes or measures may seem, something will lie behind that will vitiate all. It is true men here are imperfect, and much of evil may often mingle with what is good; but are righteousness, truth, benevolence, principle, the prominent and ruling traits in the character of one who offers himself as a leader of men, then let them rejoice, for undoubtedly such a one is heavensent. And if men in choosing their leaders fixed on such, the world would speedily be happier and better.
4. We believers in Christ have a fixed standard by which men may be tried who offer themselves as our guides, especially in things religious. Again and again St. Paul calls on his converts to follow him and his fellow-workers; but he shows that his words and actions must be tested by the ultimate standard, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Here is the standard to which our leaders should be conformed, especially our religious leaders. And as the mass of men in the present state of the world still depend, to a great extent, on teachers and guides, prominent human leaders, it is greatly to be desired that they should be led in choosing them to ascertain in how far they conform to the perfect pattern given us in Christ. “He is our example that we should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). He called His disciples to “follow” Him.
5. And the test by which teachers and leaders in the religious sphere should be tried is this: do they lead those who come under their influence to follow Christ Himself? When to John the Baptist it was revealed at the baptism of Jesus that the Son of Mary was indeed no other than the Son of God, the promised Messiah, he did not delay to point his own disciples to the Lamb of God, so that “they followed Jesus.” This is the spirit of all faithful teachers and guides in the Church. “Not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth,” but, guided by the Holy Ghost, and therefore “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4), they point men to Christ. They forget and lose themselves in Him whom they proclaim. O, si sic omnes!
The Peter name.—“Thou art Simon, son of Jona; thou shalt be called Peter.” The apostle received this grand and astonishing word deep in his heart. It revealed to him a great and mysterious destiny. It would rise before him as a warning, and often in reproach. Always, whatsoever he might do, it would start into remembrance. Ah! what did it say in that hour of his fall and triple denial? With what remorse would it transpierce his soul. And if at times pride laid hold of the thought of this great vocation which his name presaged, how would he then learn in his weakness that God alone who called him to this destiny could give him power to realise it. Brethren, all called by Jesus Christ to serve and follow Him as Peter was, what name would your Saviour give you were He present now in our midst? Ah, without doubt, as to Simon, a name which would express the end you ought to press toward, and the new character you ought to assume: to you who are yet fearful and weak in your faith a name which would express firmness; to you who are besieged by temptations that humiliate you a name expressive of the liberty of a purified soul; to you dominated by obstinate pride and ambition a name which would recall you to humility, to the discipline which you require. Well then, you must accept and lay hold of this glorious destiny; you must attain to this end; you must respond to the divine will, for fear lest, following the stern words of Scripture, you “frustrate the grace of God concerning you.” Simon, remember that thou art called Peter. Oh, you who hear me, remember you have been redeemed by the Saviour! No, you were not made for this life only, to be entirely absorbed by the preoccupations of the world, by those dreams of fortune, of glory, and of egoistic happiness. No, you are not made for that inward servitude, that shameless slavery of hidden passion which weakens you, paralyses you, and eats away the substance of your life and your moral strength. No, my sister, you were not made for this insensate dissipation by which your days are wasted, for those vain dreams of vanity, for that lying homage, for that idolatry which is so pleasing to you. It is to another way, to another aim, which those prayers by which you have been encompassed have called you, those pure and sweet remembrances of a Christian childhood, those deep emotions, those tears at former times shed at the Saviour’s feet, those multiplied warnings sent by the love of a faithful God. Christian soul, soul redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, called to eternal life, awake, throw off your slave chains, and return to God, who is willing to save you. And Thou, Saviour whose love is so faithful; Thou whose gifts, according to Thy word, are without repentance; Thou who dost call and who dost save, who dost convert and sanctify, who dost commence and finish; Thou who dost place before us so great a destiny, who desirest that we should be conquerors of the world and of ourselves, and inheritors of eternity, citizens of heaven, kings and priests, fulfil in us Thy will, make us submissive to Thy holy law, and in place of these fleshly hearts, subject to vanity, give us new hearts, freed from evil and consecrated to Thee for evermore.—Translated from Eug. Bersier.
“To live unto righteousness”—thus alone to the honour of my Saviour and Redeemer ought I to live, to suffer, to die. Such a life—a new life in righteousness—does the Saviour implant in all His own. Has it begun in you to germinate, to put forth buds, to flourish, this new spiritual life? Are there souls among you in which the Holy Ghost has begun His work; plants of righteousness who to-day, in the springtide glow of their first love to the Saviour, in the vernal dress of a pure youthhood stand before the Lord like a tree covered with white, fragrant blossom?… Oh that those blossoms of “first love” may not fall off as blighted blossoms, but may ripen into fruit, into “the fruits of righteousness.” Oh that all who hitherto have been like dry wood might yet flourish in very righteousness and holiness! There is nothing more beautiful on earth than a son or daughter, blooming not alone in body, but also in soul, flourishing before God in innocency, and growing up by their Saviour, as a rose which has climbed up around the cross. Oh that in us all, even in aged hearts, the new divine life once more would stir, the blossoms of godly love would finally open, the fruits of righteousness would yet ripen, by which the Lord knows His own! That would indeed be a lovely May blossom, a most blessed springtide of the soul.—From an Easter Address to Catechumens, Dr. Karl Gerok.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 1:45-51. Nathanael = Theodorus. The gift of God (נְתַנְאֵל). Probably this is the disciple mentioned afterward as Bartholomew (Matthew 10:3). How quickly did those early followers of Jesus discover the marks of true discipleship! Philip was no sooner convinced than he sought Nathanael. Jesus from Nazareth.—It is not implied that the Evangelist was ignorant of the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem: he is only reporting Philip’s words.
John 1:46. Nazareth was not apparently a place particularly distinguished, whilst the religious character of the inhabitants seems to have been a sort of unreasoning, not to say bigoted, Jewish orthodoxy (Luke 4:29). But probably a little of the scorn of an inhabitant of a neighbouring village, which plumed itself on being as good or better than Nazareth, may account for this language of Nathanael. But see also John 7:52.
John 1:47. No guile.—Not a Jacob, a supplanter, a man of guile; but an Israel, one who recognises his condition, and through prayer prevails with God (Hosea 12:4-5). As Jacob’s character was changed, so his true descendants have no affinity with that side of his character by which he was known as the “Supplanter.”
John 1:48. Whence knowest Thou me?—The reply shows that Nathanael was not prepared to receive Jesus without some further testimony than that of Philip. The fig tree (1 Kings 4:25; Zechariah 3:10).—Equivalent to home. Under the fig tree in garden or vineyard was probably a place sacred to meditation (Luke 13:6). I saw thee, etc. (John 1:49).—Nathanael realised that his most secret and sacred thoughts were known by this Person in whose presence he stood. Who could He be but the very Searcher of hearts Himself? “Thou art the Son of God”—therefore the King of Israel, the promised Messiah-King (Psalms 2:2; Psalms 2:6-7; Psalms 2:12).
John 1:50. Jesus answered, etc.—This is not a question; it is rather a recognition by our Lord of the fact of Nathanael’s faith, leading Him to give the assurance to Nathanael and the other disciples present that their faith would be still more fully and gloriously confirmed.
John 1:51. Verily, verily (Ἀμὴν ).—This formula is found twenty-five times in this Gospel. “Thence is derived the title of Jesus, the Amen (Revelation 3:14). This word (from אמן firmum fuit) is, properly speaking, a verbal adjective, firm, worthy of faith … the repetition implies a doubt to be overcome in the mind of the hearer” (Godet). Angels, etc.—“Angels are instruments of divine power in the domain of nature (see the angel of the waters, Revelation 16:5; of the fire, John 14:18). This saying refers therefore to phenomena which, while passing in the domain of nature, are due to a causality superior to the laws of nature. Can Jesus characterise His miracles more clearly without naming them?” (Godet). The reference is evidently to Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:12-13). But we must not exclude the appearance of angelic visitants in Gethsemane, at the Resurrection, and the Ascension.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 1:45-51
Nathanael, the guileless disciple.—Philip of Bethsaida, on receiving the divine call, at once obeyed. And like all true disciples of Jesus, the longer he companied with Him, the more blessed did His intercourse become, until he found Jesus clearly revealed to him as “He of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write.” And like all other true disciples, he found that it was impossible to keep this “good news” to himself alone. He must make it known to others. Meeting with a friend, one Nathanael, an inhabitant of the village to which Jesus was going—Cana—he told. him the joyful news. In this Nathanael a type of man meets us different from any of the other disciples yet mentioned. He was a man of pious disposition and devotional feeling, perhaps with a considerable leaning toward Rabbinic and Pharisaic ideas concerning Messiah and His kingdom (John 1:46). Above all, he seems to have been a man transparently honest and open, “an Israelite indeed without guile.” Probably he is the same as Bartholomew (see Explanatory Notes). It is easy to understand that his surname might be son of Ptolemœus. Under the name Nathanael he is mentioned only once again (John 21:2). From the narrative we learn that Nathanael was:—
I. A true Israelite waiting and praying for “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25).—
1. Before Philip called him (John 1:48) he was engaged, apparently in prayerful meditation, under the fig tree. This fig tree was most likely in a retired spot in his garden or vineyard (Luke 13:6), under whose shade he retired in the hot March day for uninterrupted communion.
2. What his thoughts were precisely, what turn they took on that particular day, is not directly revealed; but if it may be surmised from Philip’s words, then it must have been on that supreme subject which the Mosaic economy with its sacrifices, and the prophets in their predictions, all pointed to. In spite of training and prepossessions, he may have been coming to realise that the Messianic hopes of his time were little in accord with what was revealed in the law and prophets concerning the Messiah. It may have cost him a pang to break even in thought with traditional opinion; but he was a man too honest and sincere not to follow the guidance of truth, when it was clearly revealed.
3. There may have been other and personal thoughts and feelings, personal dealings with God, secret and solemn; but this question of questions to the pious Jew would not, it may be safely assumed, be far away.
II. Nathanael was further careful in discriminating the claims of one described to him as the Messiah.—
1. While revolving these thoughts in his mind his friend Philip, evidently brimful of intelligence of some sort, met him. After exchange of greetings, and inquiry as to each other’s doings, Philip, no doubt without delay, spoke on the subject of which his mind and heart were full.
2. Strange, was this a reply to his prayers, a clearing up of his difficulties, the realisation of his hopes? What did Philip say? “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!” Oh, impossible! Where was there any promise regarding Messiah connected with Nazareth?—above all places Nazareth, unnoted in the sacred writings, not even equal to his own Cana! Hence his in part disappointed and melancholy, in part pitying, reply to his more simple friend: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
3. But his simply believing friend is not to be daunted. He is aware of his own inability to reason this Nathanael into belief. But there is a better way, a way sure of success. So he says to his friend, “Come and see!” The best counsel that could have been given. The weightiest proof of Christianity is personal experience of the blessedness of personal knowledge of Christ, and of participation in His life. In knowing Him in reality we know all. Nathanael, being an earnest man really seeking for truth, did not answer: “What need! He, whatever He is, cannot be Messiah if He is from Nazareth. Is not Christ to be born at Bethlehem?” Like the honest man he was, he would not take information on so momentous a subject on second hand, he would see for himself. There might be a mistake somewhere; his friend’s information might prove to be defective. He would see this new claimant of the Messiahship. The wonderful things related by Philip as having been said by John the Baptist (an upright, incorruptible man, a true prophet!) might be the prelude to some extraordinary revelation. If however this Jesus were not what He apparently claimed to be, it would be a friend’s duty to seek to rescue Philip from his delusion.
III. Nathanael’s earnest confession.—
1. As the two friends came into the presence of Jesus, Nathanael was astonished at the greeting which fell on his ears: “Behold an Israelite indeed,” etc. He saw his character laid bare in a sentence. We are not to think that there was anything like a want of modesty in Nathanael accepting without disclaimer this description of himself. It was the goal of character he had set before him, to be an earnest, candid seeker after truth. There was no false modesty about the man, any more than there was about the apostle Paul when he said, “I have lived in all good conscience,” etc. (Acts 23:1). “Whence knowest Thou me?” is his astonished inquiry.
2. The answer fills him with still deeper surprise, even with awe, finally deepening to conviction. Who was this whose eye marked him in his most secret moments, who penetrated into the recesses of his thought, and read at a glance character and life (John 1:47)? This must be none other than the Searcher of hearts (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Jeremiah 17:10). Philip’s words, this strange greeting and stranger reading of his life, and the personal authority Jesus exerted on all good and earnest men who came under His influence, combined with overwhelming force to carry home conviction to the mind and heart of Nathanael, so that in assurance and reverence he cried, “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God,” etc. (John 1:49).
3. The answer of Jesus is a gracious promise of a higher revelation still of His Messiahship to all His disciples—a promise first made in type at Bethel. Through Christ’s incarnation the stairway uniting earth and heaven, humanity and God, was completed, and through “the new and living way” all blessings, angelic and others, would come to man (John 1:51).
John 1:48. Spiritual conflict.—The Jews, like other Easterns, loved to meditate and study the sacred word under the shadow of some spreading tree; to engage in prayer and spiritual conflict (as our great Example did, Luke 22:39), or in intercourse with friends in some quiet retreat, under the open heaven, and surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature.
1. There must have been some special conflict, or the debating of some special question, in the mind of Nathanael on this particular occasion, as the sequel shows—something known to himself and to God alone.
2. Every earnest honest man will, like Nathanael, have his fig tree, or its equivalent, some haven of quiet retreat in which the momentous questions of life, of time and eternity, may occupy the mind in meditation and prayer. And it is well for men to be honest, thoroughly guileless and honest, with themselves at such times; for there is Another present, though unseen, who marks each secret thought, etc.
“He sees my wants, allays my fears,
And counts and treasures up my tears.”
So it was with Nathanael, and how blessed was the result!
3. But whether men follow Nathanael’s example or not, the Searcher of hearts can read their secret thoughts. What would He say to us were we to come before Him now? what will He say when we do stand before Him? In view of this, “what manner of persons ought ye to be,” etc. (2 Peter 3:10-14).
John 1:45-49. Natural and spiritual growth.—
1. The law of nature is said to be development; in the spiritual world it is called the new birth. In the stillness, but not without pain, does the New Man behold the light of a new day. On Nathanael’s forehead, as he tarried in loneliness under the fig tree, there lay the rosy beams of a new day, the light of eternity.
2. It must have been a great hour that then struck for him, when the Lord, reminding him of an inward condition, and not of an external circumstance merely, unveiled to himself the astonished and agitated man: “I saw thee,” etc. No, it was no hour occupied by vain dreaming, by impure imaginings or burning desires for honour, that had passed there, “under the fig tree,” beneath the watchful gaze of the Lord. The greeting, “Behold an Israelite,” etc., points to a sacred, decisive occurrence in the breast of Nathanael.
3. The name Israelite, when all called Israel were not really of Israel, speaks of a spiritual affinity with Jacob.
4. The phrase In whom is no guile refers to such as follow the footsteps of David, as the latter from individual experience cried, “Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven,” etc. (Psalms 32:1-5), because the secret curse is removed—all guile freely and fully confessed and repented of. Nathanael was an Israelite indeed because in solitariness he had striven like Israel, confessed and repented like David. And behold the greeting of the Lord is the assurance of forgiveness, is the proclamation of a new condition in truth, freedom, and activity. Brethren, the Israelite indeed finds, acknowledges, and prays to the true King of Israel, “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel!”—Dr. R. Kögel.
John 1:50-51. Ancient visions realised.—Jesus said to Nathanael, “Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree,” etc. Jacob’s dream of the heavenly ladder has become a reality. The Son of man unites and reconciles heaven and earth; His angels carry the needs and prayers of believers up, and bring answers and aid down, this ladder. How the water becomes wine? No, thou wilt see greater things than these! Thou wilt see how Jesus comes with “water and blood”; how He who dies on the cross rises from the grave and ascends into heaven! And greater still than this, thou wilt at last be like Him, changed into His image from one degree of glory to another. With such sacred prospects Nathanael begins his public career. And Nathanael’s outward activity as an apostle would have been neither so hidden nor so fruitful, had not his life as a disciple been so retiring and receptive.—Idem.
Phases of discipleship.—The closing verses of this chapter carry us back to the early dawn of Christianity, and it is there we shall learn much concerning the true method of regarding it and the law of its progress. And one of the first things that strikes us is that while each disciple was led to Jesus in a different way, while each had different peculiarities of temperament and forms of belief, yet they each found in Christ Him for whom their souls had been longing. John and Andrew, the two disciples of the Baptist, heard their master speak of Christ as the “Lamb of God,” and at once followed Him. The words of the stern prophet of the wilderness having roused in them the sense of sin, they sought the Sin-bearer, and believed in Jesus as the One who should fulfil that deep necessity. On the other hand, the impetuous Peter, expecting the Messiah, and eager for His advent, was led by his brother to Christ, and with characteristic ardour followed Him. Philip, called by Christ Himself, feeling His mighty and mysterious influence, advanced in faith beyond them all, and proclaimed that that was He of whom prophecy for ages had been telling. And Nathanael, with his reflective, devout, guileless nature, found One who had read his devotional thoughts, and confessed Him to be the Son of God. Led by such different experiences, their faith was simply this: He whom their own spirits had been looking for had come, and because He fulfilled their necessities they believed He was the Christ. Marked by these strong differences of temperament, which always give rise to different forms of belief, they had yet one faith in common—faith in the living Christ. It was in that quiet simplicity, with that simple belief in a personal Saviour, that the great Christian age began.—E. L. Hull, B.A.
“Thou shalt see greater things than these.”—“And He said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open,” etc. The reference here seems to be to the vision of Jacob, and that vision helps us to understand Christ’s meaning. Christ declares the ancient dream to be fulfilled by faith in Him. The patriarch at Bethel found God near to him as his friend and guide, found the earth where he lay “a dreadful place,” and found the spiritual world close to him. These three things are actually realised by Christian faith—these are the “greater things” that follow its dawning:—
1. The felt presence of God.—As to Jacob heaven was opened and the Eternal near, so to the Christian heaven is unveiled and God revealed. To the eye of faith the Son of man becomes the ladder between earth and heaven on which the angels of God ascend and descend. This is the consummation of faith. It does not come suddenly, but as the soul advances in the divine life, sin’s harsh discords die, the clouds which once veiled the heaven roll away, disclosing the smile of love and pity in the eternal countenance, and the believer walks with God as with a friend.
2. The sacredness of life.—“And Jacob was afraid and said,” etc. The dream vision made him feel the sacredness of life. Again, this suggests a result of faith. Man naturally feels his nature defiled; faith in Christ, who wore it, transforms it into a sacred thing. In the light of that faith all life becomes glorified.
3. Union with the angelic world.—“The angels of God ascending,” etc. To the unbeliever that world is a myth—he sees nothing beyond the material sphere; but were he convinced of its existence the belief would be terrible. We feel instinctively that sin has excluded us from that “glorious brotherhood.” But Christ brings us into it once more. Faith sees in Him the Son of man as our brother and representative there, uniting us with “the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
We have greater things yet to see. Another world is dawning, its sights and sounds are near. Nothing but the veil of the body hides us from its scenes. We long sometimes for the land of constant spring, of mountain grandeur, and southern beauty. My friends, great lands are coming. We long for the glorious companionships of the past, of the great dead, of our own friends; we shall know them if we are “counted worthy to obtain that world.” Therefore fight on. There are many weary conflicts before you yet, but “add to your faith patience,” and you shall see the “greater things” when the lamps of faith and hope expire in the eternal light of heaven.—Idem.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent