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(The Preface to this Volume can be found below, after "Notes".)
THE Gospel of John, which begins with these verses, is in many respects very unlike the other three Gospels. It contains many things which they omit. It omits many things which they contain. Good reason might easily be shown for this unlikeness. But it is enough to remember that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote under the direct inspiration of God. In the general plan of their respective Gospels, and in the particular details,—in everything that they record, and in everything that they do not record,—they were all four equally and entirely guided by the Holy Ghost.
About the matters which John was specially inspired to relate in his Gospel, one general remark will suffice. The things which are peculiar to his Gospel are among the most precious possessions of the Church of Christ. No one of the four Gospel-writers has given us such full statements about the divinity of Christ,—about justification by faith,—about the offices of Christ,—about the work of the Holy Ghost,—and about the privileges of believers, as we read in the pages of John. On none of these great subjects, undoubtedly, have Matthew, Mark, and Luke been silent. But in John’s Gospel, they stand out prominently on the surface, so that he who runs may read.
The five verses now before us contain a statement of matchless sublimity concerning the divine nature of our Lord Jesus Christ. He it is, beyond all question, whom John means, when he speaks of "the Word." No doubt there are heights and depths in that statement which are far beyond man’s understanding. And yet there are plain lessons in it, which every Christian would do well to treasure up in his mind.
We learn, firstly, that our Lord Jesus Christ is eternal. John tells us that "in the beginning was the Word." He did not begin to exist when the heavens and the earth were made. Much less did He begin to exist when the Gospel was brought into the world. He had glory with the Father "before the world was." (John 17:5.) He was existing when matter was first created, and before time began. He was "before all things." (Colossians 1:17.) He was from all eternity.
We learn, secondly, that our Lord Jesus Christ is a Person distinct from God the Father, and yet one with Him. John tells us that "the Word was with God." The Father and the Word, though two persons, are joined by an ineffable union. Where God the Father was from all eternity, there also was the Word, even God the Son,—their glory equal, their majesty co-eternal, and yet their Godhead one. This is a great mystery! Happy is he who can receive it as a little child, without attempting to explain it.
We learn, thirdly, that the Lord Jesus Christ is very God. John tells us that "the Word was God." He is not merely a created angel, or a being inferior to God the Father, and invested by Him with power to redeem sinners. He is nothing less than perfect God,—equal to the Father as touching His Godhead,—God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds.
We learn, fourthly, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Creator of all things. John tells us that "by Him were all things made, and without Him was not any thing made that was made." So far from being a creature of God, as some heretics have falsely asserted, He is the Being who made the worlds and all that they contain. "He commanded and they were created." (Psalms 148:5.)
We learn, lastly, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the source of all spiritual life and light. John tells us, that "in Him was life, and the life was the light of men." He is the eternal fountain, from which alone the sons of men have ever derived life. Whatever spiritual life and light Adam and Eve possessed before the fall, was from Christ. Whatever deliverance from sin and spiritual death any child of Adam has ever enjoyed since the fall, whatever light of conscience or understanding any one has obtained, all has flowed from Christ. The vast majority of mankind in every age have refused to know Him, have forgotten the fall, and their own need of a Savior. The light has been constantly shining "in darkness." The most have "not comprehended the light." But if any men and women out of the countless millions of mankind have ever had spiritual life and light, they have owed all to Christ.
Such is a brief summary of the leading lessons which these wonderful verses appear to contain. There is much in them, without controversy, which is above our reason; but there is nothing contrary to it. There is much that we cannot explain, and must be content humbly to believe. Let us however never forget that there are plain practical consequences flowing from the passage, which we can never grasp too firmly, or know too well.
Would we know, for one thing, the exceeding sinfulness of sin? Let us often read these first five verses of John’s Gospel. Let us mark what kind of Being the Redeemer of mankind must needs be, in order to provide eternal redemption for sinners. If no one less than the Eternal God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, could take away the sin of the world, sin must be a far more abominable thing in the sight of God than most men suppose. The right measure of sin’s sinfulness is the dignity of Him who came into the world to save sinners. If Christ is so great, then sin must indeed be sinful!
Would we know, for another thing, the strength of a true Christian’s foundation for hope? Let us often read these first five verses of John’s Gospel. Let us mark that the Savior in whom the believer is bid to trust is nothing less than the Eternal God, One able to save to the uttermost all that come to the Father by Him. He that was "with God," and "was God," is also "Emmanuel, God with us." Let us thank God that our help is laid on One that is mighty. (Psalms 89:19.) In ourselves we are great sinners. But in Jesus Christ we have a great Savior. He is a strong foundation-stone, able to bear the weight of a world’s sin. He that believeth on Him shall not be confounded. (1 Peter 2:6.)
[The Gospel According to John.] The following prefatory remarks on John’s Gospel, may prove useful to some readers.
Firstly.—There is no doubt that this Gospel was written by John, the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, and brother of James, once a fisherman on the sea of Galilee, and afterwards called to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus, an eye-witness of all Christ’s ministry, and a pillar of the church. John, be it remembered, is specially called "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He was one of the chosen three who alone saw the daughter of Jairus raised—were eye-witnesses of the transfiguration—and were by-standers during our Lord’s agony in the garden. He was the one who leaned on Christ’s breast at the last supper, and to whom our Lord committed the care of Mary, when He was dying on the cross. It is an interesting fact, that he was the disciple who was specially inspired to write the deepest things concerning Christ.
Secondly.—There is little doubt that this Gospel was written at a much later date than the other three Gospels. How much later, and at what precise time, we do not know. It is commonly supposed that it was written after the rise of heresies about the Person and natures of Christ, such as those attributed to Ebion and Cerinthus. It is not likely that it was written at so late a period as the destruction of Jerusalem. If this had been the case, John would hardly have spoken of the "sheep-market" at Jerusalem as still standing. (John 5:2.)
Thirdly.—The substance of this Gospel is, for the most part, peculiar to itself. With the exception of the crucifixion, and a few other matters, the things which John was inspired to record concerning our Lord, are only found in his gospel. He says nothing about our Lord’s birth and infancy,—His temptation,—the Sermon on the Mount,—the transfiguration,—the prophecy about Jerusalem, and the appointment of the Lord’s Supper. He gives us very few miracles, and even fewer parables. But the things which John does relate are among the most precious treasures which Christians possess. The chapters about Nicodemus,—the woman of Samaria,—the raising of Lazarus, and our Lord’s appearance to Peter after His resurrection at the sea of Galilee,—the public discourses of the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and tenth chapters,—the private discourses of the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters,— and, above all, the prayer of the seventeenth chapter, are some of the most valuable portions of the Bible. All these chapters, be it remembered, we owe to John.
Fourthly.—The style of this Gospel is no less peculiar than its substance. There appears extraordinary simplicity in many of its statements, and yet there is a depth about them which no man can entirely fathom.—It contains many expressions which are used in a profound and spiritual sense, such as "light," "darkness," "world," "life," "truth," "to abide," " to know."—It contains two names of the second and third Persons of the Trinity, not found in the other Gospels. These are, "the Word," as a name of our Lord, and "the Comforter," as a name of the Holy Ghost.—It contains, from time to time, explanatory comments and remarks on our Lord’s words.—Moreover, it contains frequent short explanations of Jewish customs and terms, which serve to show that it was not written so much for Jewish readers as for the whole church throughout the world. "Matthew," (says Gregory Nazianzen, quoted by Ford,) "wrote for the Hebrews ; Mark, for the Italians; Luke, for the Greeks; the great herald, John, for all."
Lastly.—The preface of this Gospel is one of the most striking peculiarities about the whole book. Under the term preface, I include the first eighteen verses of the first chapter. This preface forms the quintessence of the whole book, and is composed of simple, short, condensed propositions. Nowhere in the Bible shall we find such clear and distinct statements about our Lord Jesus Christ’s divine nature. Nowhere shall we find so many expressions, which for want of mental power, no mortal man can fully grasp or explain. In no portion of Scripture is it so deeply important to notice each word, and even each tense employed in each sentence. In no portion of Scripture do the perfect grammatical accuracy and verbal precision of an inspired composition shine out so brightly. It is not, perhaps, too much to say, that not a single word could be altered in the first five verses of John’s Gospel, without opening the door to some heresy.
The first verse of John’s Gospel, in particular, has always been allowed to be one of the sublimest verses in the Bible. The ancients used to say that it deserved to be written in golden letters in every Christian Church. It has well been said to be an opening worthy of him whom Jesus called "a son of thunder."
v1.—[In the beginning, &c.] This wonderful verse contains three things. It tells us that our Lord Jesus Christ, here called the Word, is eternal,—that He is a distinct Person from God the Father, and yet most intimately united to him,—and that He is God. The term "God," be it remembered, in the second clause, is to be taken personally, for God the Father, and in the third to be taken essentially, as signifying the Divine Being.
The expression, "in the beginning," means in the beginning of all creation. It is like the first verse of Genesis, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1.)
The expression "was" means "existed, was existing." The whole sentence signifies that when the world was first called into being, however long ago that may be,—when matter was first formed, however many millions of ages ago that may be,—at that period the Lord Jesus Christ was existing. He had no beginning. He was before all things. There never was the time when He was not. In short, the Lord Jesus Christ is an eternal Being.
Several of the fathers dwell strongly on the immense importance of the word "was" in this sentence, and on the fact that it is four times repeated in the two first verses of this Gospel. It is not said, "the Word was made," but "the Word was." Basil says, "Those two terms, ’beginning’ and ’was,’ are like two anchors," which the ship of a man’s soul may safely ride at, whatever storms of heresy may come.
The expression, "the Word," is a very difficult one, and is peculiar to John. I see no clear proof that it is used by any other New Testament writer. The texts, Acts 20:32, and Hebrews 4:12, are, to say the least, doubtful proofs. That it here signifies a "person," and not a spoken word, and that it is applied to our Lord Jesus Christ, is clear from the after sentence, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." That it was a term familiar to the Jews is undeniable. But why this particular name is used by John, both here and in his other writings, is a point on which commentators have differed greatly.
Some think, as Tertullian, Zwingle, Musculus, Bucer, and Calvin, that Christ is called "the Word" because He is the wisdom of God, and the "wisdom" of the Book of Proverbs. These would have the expression translated, "reason, wisdom, or counsel."
Some think, as some of the fathers, that Christ is called "the Word," because He is the image and offspring of the Father’s mind, "the express image of the Father’s person," just as our words, if honest and sincere, are the image and representation of our minds.
Some think, as Cartwright and Tittman, that Christ is called "the Word," because He is the Person who is spoken of in all the Old Testament promises, and the subject of prophecy.
Some think, as Melancthon, Rollock, Gomarus, and Scott, that Christ is called "the Word," because He is the speaker, utterer, and interpreter of God the Father’s will. It is written in this very chapter, that "the only begotten Son hath declared the Father." It is also written, that "God hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son." (Hebrews 1:1.)
I think the last of these views the simplest and most satisfactory. All of them are at best only conjectures. There is probably something about the expression which has not yet been discovered.
It is thought by many that the expression "the Word," is used in several places of the Old Testament, concerning the Second Person in the Trinity. Such places are Psalms 33:6; Psalms 107:20, and 2 Samuel 7:21, compared with 1 Chronicles 17:19. The proof in all these cases is somewhat doubtful. Nevertheless the idea is strengthened by the fact that in Rabbinical writing’s the Messiah is often spoken of as "the Word." In the third of Genesis, the Chaldee paraphrase says that Adam and Eve "heard the Word of the Lord walking in the garden."
Arrowsmith, in his admirable work on this chapter, suggests a probable reason why John did not say, "In the beginning was the Son of God," but "the Word."—"John would not at first alienate the hearts of his readers. He knew that neither Jews nor Gentiles would endure the term, the Son of God. They could not endure to hear of a sonship in the Deity and Godhead: but with this term ’Word,’ applied to the Godhead, they were well acquainted."—Poole observes that no term was so abhorred by the Jews as the term "Son of God."—Ferus remarks, that by calling our Lord "the Word," John excludes all idea of a material, carnal relationship between the Father and the Son. This is also shown by Suicer to be the view of Chrysostom, Theodoret, Basil, Gregory, Nyssen, and Theophylact.
Whatever difficulty we may feel about this expression, "the Word," in our times, there does not seem to have been the same difficulty felt about it, either by Jews or Gentiles, when John wrote his Gospel. To say, as some have done, that he borrowed the expression from the philosophers of his time, is dishonouring to inspiration. But we may safely say that he used an expression, of which the meaning was quite familiar to the first readers of his Gospel, as a name of the Second Person of the Trinity. With this we may be content. Those who wish more information, should consult Witsius’ Dissertation on the Word Logos, Suicer’s Thesaurus, and Adam Clarke’s Commentary.
[The word was with God.] This sentence means, that from all eternity there was a most intimate and ineffable union between the first and second Persons in the blessed Trinity,—between Christ the Word, and God the Father. And yet, though thus ineffably united, the Word and the Father were from all eternity two distinct Persons. "It was He," says Pearson, to whom the Father said, "Let us make man in our image." (Genesis 1:26.)
The truth contained in this sentence, is one of the deepest and most mysterious in the whole range of Christian theology. The nature of this union between the Father and the Son, we have no mental capacity to explain. Augustine draws illustrations from the sun and its rays, and from fire and the light of fire, which, though two distinct things, are yet inseparably united, so that where the one is the other is. But all illustrations on such subjects halt and fail. Here, at any rate, it is better to believe than to attempt to explain. Our Lord says distinctly, "I am in the Father and the Father in me." "I and the Father are one." "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (John 14:9-11; John 10:30.) Let us be fully persuaded that the Father and the Son are two distinct Persons in the Trinity, co-equal and co-eternal,—and yet that they are one in substance and inseparably united and undivided. Let us grasp firmly the words of the Athanasian Creed, "Neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance." But here let us stop.
Musculus remarks on this sentence, how carefully John writes that "the Word was with God," and not "God was with God." He would have us remember that there are not two Gods but one. And yet "the Word was with God, and was God."
[The Word was God.] This sentence means that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, was in nature, essence, and substance very God, and that "as the Father is God, so also the Son is God." It seems impossible to assert Christ’s divinity more distinctly than it is here asserted. The sentence cannot possibly mean that the Father is God, since no one ever thought of disputing that. Nor yet can it possibly mean that the title of God was conferred on some being inferior to God and uncreated, as the princes of this world are called "gods." He who is here called God, is the same who was uncreated and eternal. There is no inferiority in the Word to God the Father. The Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one. To maintain in the face of such a text, as some so-called Christians do, that our Lord Jesus Christ was only a man, is a mournful proof of the perversity of the human heart.
The whole verse, honestly and impartially interpreted, is an unanswerable argument against three classes of heretics. It confutes the Arians, who regard Christ as a Being inferior to God.—It confutes the Sabellians, who deny any distinction of Persons in the Trinity, and say that God sometimes manifested Himself as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Spirit, and that the Father and the Spirit suffered on the cross!—Above all it confutes the Socinians and Unitarians who say that Jesus Christ was not God but man, a most holy and perfect man, but only a man.
In leaving this verse, it is useless to deny that there are deep mysteries in it which man has no mind to comprehend, and no language to express. How there can be a plurality in unity, and a unity in plurality, three Persons in the Trinity and One God in essence,—how Christ can be at the same time in the Father, as regards the unity of the essence, and with the Father, as regards the distinction of his Person,—these are matters far beyond our feeble understanding. Happy are we, if we can agree with Bernard’s devout remark about the subject, "It is rashness to search too far into it. It is piety to believe it. It is life eternal to know it. And we can never have a full comprehension of it, till we come to enjoy it."
v2.—[The same was in the beginning, &c.] This verse contains an emphatic repetition of the second clause of the preceding verse. John anticipates the possible objection of some perverse mind, that perhaps there was a time when Christ, the Word, was not a distinct Person in the Trinity. In reply to this objection, he declares that the same Word who was eternal, and was God, was also from all eternity a Person in the Godhead distinct from God the Father, and yet with Him by a most intimate and ineffable union. In short, there never was a time when Christ was not "with God."
There are two passages in the Old Testament which throw strong light on the doctrine of this verse. The one is in the Book of Proverbs 8:22-31. The other is in Zechariah 13:7. The passage in Proverbs seems intended to explain the verse before us. The passage in Zechariah contains an expression which is almost a parallel to the expression "with God." "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD." "The man that is my fellow," according to the best commentators, means the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and a reference to Poole’s Synopsis will show that the words signify "the man that is near me, or joined to me."
Arrowsmith says, "Ask the sun, if ever it were without its beams. Ask the fountain, if ever it were without its streams. So God was never without His Son."
We must not suppose that the repetition of this second verse is useless or unmeaning. Arrowsmith remarks that "Repetitions have divers uses in Scripture. In prayer they argue affection. In prophecy they note celerity and certainty. In threatenings they note unavoidableness and suddenness. In precepts they note a necessity of performing them. In truths, like that before us, they serve to show the necessity of believing and knowing them."
v3.—[All things...made by him.] This sentence means that creation was the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, no less than of God the Father. "By him were all things created." (Colossians 1:16.) "Thou Lord in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth." (Hebrews 1:10.) Now He that made all things must needs be God.
The expression, we must carefully remember, does not imply any inferiority of God the Son to God the Father, as if God the Son was only the agent and workman under another. Nor yet does it imply that creation was in no sense the work of God the Father, and that He is not the maker of heaven and earth. But it does imply that such is the dignity of the eternal Word, that in creation as well as in every thing else, He co-operated with the Father. "What things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." (John 5:19.) "By whom also He made the worlds." (Hebrews 1:2.) When we read the expression "by me kings reign," (Proverbs 8:15,) we do not for a moment suppose, that kings are superior in dignity to Him by whom they reign.
Jansenius remarks that this verse completely overthrows the heretical notion entertained by the Manichees that the material world was formed by an evil spirit, as well as the notion of the Platonic school that some part of creation was made by angels and demons.
[Without him was not anything made, &c.] This sentence appears added, to show the utter impossibility of our Lord Jesus Christ being no more than a created being. If not even the slightest thing was created without Him, it is plain that He cannot possibly be a creature Himself.
The fathers raised curious speculations about the origin of evil from the expression now before us. "If nothing was made without Christ," they argued, "from whence came sin?" The simplest answer to this question is, that sin was not among the things which were originally created at the beginning. It came in afterwards, at the fall, "By one man sin entered into the world." (Romans 5:12.) That it could not have entered without divine permission, and that its entrance has been overruled to the display of divine mercy in redemption, are undeniable truths. But we have no right to say that sin was among the "all things," which were "made by Christ."
v4.—[In Him was life.] This sentence means that in the eternal counsels of the Trinity, Christ was appointed to be the source, fountain, origin, and cause of life. From Him all life was to flow. As to the kind of " life" which is here meant, there is much difference of opinion among commentators.
Some think as Cyril, Theophylact, Chemnitius, and Calvin, that the expression refers specially to the continued preservation of all created things by Christ’s providence. Having created all things, He keeps all alive and in order.
Some think as Zwingle, Cartwright, Arrowsmith, Poole, Alford, and most modern commentators, that the expression includes all sorts of life, both vegetable, animal, and spiritual. "Thou sendest forth thy spirit, and they are created." (Psalms 104:30.) "In Him we live, and move, and have our being." (Acts 17:28.)
Some think, as Luther, Melancthon, Brentius, Flacius, Lightfoot, Lampe, and Pearce, that the expression applies solely to spiritual life, and that it is meant to declare that Christ alone is the source of all life to the souls of men, whether in time or eternity. He was the creator of all things, and He also was the author of new creation. To this opinion I decidedly incline. For one thing, natural life seems already included in the preceding verse about creation. For another thing, it is the view which seems to agree best with the conclusion of the verse, and to be in harmony with the words, ’’With thee is the fountain of life: in thy light we shall see light." "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." (Psalms 36:9; 1 John 5:11.)
[The life was the light of men.] This sentence means that the life which was in Christ, was intended before the fall to be the guide of man’s soul to heaven, and the supply of man’s heart and conscience,—and that since the fall of man it has been the salvation and the comfort of all who have been saved. It is those and those only who have followed Christ as their light, who have lived before God and reached heaven. There has never been any spiritual life or light enjoyed by men, excepting from Christ.
v5.—[The light shineth in darkness.] This sentence means that the spiritual light which Christ, the source of life, offers to man, has always been neglected since the fall, and is still neglected by unregenerate men. It has been like a candle shining in a dark place, a light in the middle of a world of darkness,—making the darkness more visible. Unregenerate men are darkness itself about spiritual things. "Ye were darkness." (Ephesians 5:8.)
Arrowsmith remarks on this sentence, "Christ hath shined in all ages in the works of creation and providence. He left not Himself without witness. Every creature is a kind of professor that readeth man a lecture concerning God, of His wisdom, and power, and goodness."
[The darkness comprehended it not.] This sentence means that the natural heart of man has always been so dark since the fall, that the great majority of mankind have neither understood, nor received, nor laid hold upon the light offered to them by Christ.
The difference in the tenses of the two verbs used in this verse is very remarkable. About the "light" the present tense is used; "It shineth now as it has always shone; it is still shining."—About the "darkness" the past tense is used; "It has not comprehended the light; it never has comprehended it from the first, and does not comprehend it at the present day."
The Greek word which we render "comprehended," is the same that is used in Ephesians 3:18. In Acts 4:13, it is translated "perceived,"—in Romans 9:30, "attained,"—in Philippians 3:13, "apprehend,"—in John 8:3, "taken,"—and in 1 Thessalonians 5:4, "overtake."
At this point, the remark of Bengel upon the whole passage deserves attention. "In the first and second verses of this chapter, mention is made of a state before the creation of the world; in the third verse, the world’s creation; in the fourth, the time of man’s uprightness; in the fifth, the time of man’s decline and fall."
I cannot close these notes on the opening verses of John’s Gospel without expressing my deep sense of the utter inability of any human commentator to enter fully into the vast and sublime truths which the passage contains. I have laboured to throw a little light on the passage, and have not hesitated to exceed the average length of these notes on account of the immense importance of this part of Scripture. But after saying all that I have said, I feel as if I had only faintly touched the surface of the passage. There is something here which nothing but the light of eternity will ever fully reveal.
I SEND forth the volume now in the reader’s hands, with much diffidence, and a very deep sense of responsibility. It is no light matter to publish an exposition of any book in the Bible. It is a peculiarly serious undertaking to attempt a Commentary on the Gospel of John.
I do not forget that we are all apt to exaggerate the difficulties of our own particular department of literary labor. But I think every intelligent student of Scripture will bear me out when I say, that John’s Gospel is pre-eminently full of things "hard to be understood." (2 Peter 3:16.) It contains a large portion of our Lord Jesus Christ’s doctrinal teaching. It abounds in "deep things of God," and "sayings of the King," which we feel instinctively we have no line to fully fathom, no mind to fully comprehend, no words to fully explain. It must needs be that such a book of Scripture should be difficult. I can truly say that I have commented on many a verse in this Gospel with fear and trembling. I have often said to myself, "Who is sufficient for these things?"—"The place whereon thou standest is holy ground." (2 Corinthians 2:16; Exodus 3:5.)
The nature of the work now published, requires a few words of explanation. It is a continuation of the "Expository Thoughts on the Gospels," of which four volumes, comprising the first three Gospels, have been already sent forth. Like the volumes on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the basis of the work is a continuous series of short expositions, intended for family or private reading, or for the use of those who visit the sick and the poor. But, unlike the previous volumes, the work now in the reader’s hands contains full explanatory notes on every verse of the portions expounded, forming, in fact, a complete Commentary.
This "Commentary is so extensive that it occupies far more space than the "Expository Thoughts," and is, I must honestly confess, the principal part of the work. To some it may appear far too long and full. But the circumstances of the times are my justification. [Footnote: The expectations of Bengel, the German commentator, appear likely to be fulfilled with curious accuracy in the present day. He said, in the year A. D. 1740,—"Though Socinianism and Popery at present appear mutually aloof, they will in process of time form a mighty confluence, that will burst all bounds, and bring everything to a crisis. We may expect it in the following way. The residue of heavenly influence on the professing Church, as a body, will have utterly evaporated, its holy things having been already more and more prostituted to the spirit of this world. The Holy Spirit being thus withdrawn from the camp at large, the world will deem its own victory and triumph secured. Now, therefore, a spirit of liberal Latitudinarianism will prevail everywhere,—a notion that every one may be right in his own way of thinking, and consequently that all is well with the Jew, the Turk, and the Pagan. Ideas of this kind will wonderfully prepare men for embracing the false prophet." (Life of Bengel, Walker’s edition, page 322.) How painfully correct these prognostications, made 125 years ago, have proved, any one who observes the state of religious feeling in England must know only too well!] We live in a day of abounding vagueness and indistinctness on doctrinal subjects in religion. Now, if ever, it is the duty of all advocates of clear, well-defined, sharply-cut theology, to supply proof that their views are thoroughly borne out by Scripture. I have endeavored to do so in this Commentary. I hold that the Gospel of John, rightly interpreted, is the best and simplest answer to those who profess to admire a vague and indistinct Christianity.
The theological stand-point which the writer of this Commentary occupies will be obvious to any intelligent reader. Such an one will see at a glance that I belong to that school in the Church of England which, rightly or wrongly, is called "Evangelical." He will see that I have no sympathy whatever with either Romish or Neologian tendencies. He will see that I hold firmly the distinctive theological views of the Reformers and doctrinal Puritans, and that I totally disapprove the loose and broad theology of some modern schools of divines.—But while I say all this, I must be allowed to add, that in interpreting Scripture, I "call no man master or father." I abhor the idea of wresting and warping God’s Word in order to make it support party views. Throughout this Commentary I have endeavored honestly and conscientiously to find out the real meaning of every sentence on which I have commented. I have evaded no difficulty, and shrunk from no inference. I have simply followed Scripture wherever its words seemed to point, and accepted whatever they seemed to mean. I have never hesitated to express my disagreement from the views of other commentators if occasion required; but when I have done so I have tried to do it with courtesy and respect.
On one point of vast importance in the present day, the reader will see that I hold very decided opinions. That point is inspiration. I feel no hesitation in avowing, that I believe in the "plenary inspiration" of every word of the original text of Holy Scripture. I hold not only that the Bible contains the Word of God, but that every jot of it was written, or brought together, by Divine inspiration, and is the Word of God. I entirely disagree with those who maintain that the writers of the Bible were partially inspired, or inspired to such a limited extent that discrepancies, inaccuracies, and contradictions to the facts of science and history, must be expected and do exist in their writings. I utterly repudiate such a theory. I consider that it practically destroys the whole value of God’s Word, puts a sword in the hands of infidels and sceptics, and raises far more serious difficulties than it pretends to solve.
I grant freely that the theory of "plenary verbal inspiration," involves some difficulties. I do not pretend to answer all the objections brought against it, or to defend all that has been written by its supporters. [Footnote: When I speak of "plenary verbal inspiration," I do not for a moment admit the absurd theory that all parts of the Bible are equally important. I should never dream of saying that the catalogues in Chronicles are of as much value to the Church as the Gospel of John. But I do maintain that all parts of the Bible are equally "given by inspiration of God," and that all are to be regarded as "God’s Word." If we do not see the Divine character of any particular part, it is because we have at present no eyes to see it. The humblest moss is as much the handiwork of God’s creative power as the cedar of Lebanon. Yet it would be foolish to say it was an equally important part of creation. The least verse in the Bible is just as truly "given by inspiration" as the greatest. But it does not follow that it is equally valuable.] I am content to remember that all inspiration is a miraculous operation of the Holy Ghost, and, like every operation of the Holy Ghost, must needs be mysterious. It is an operation of which not forty men in the world have been made the subjects, and the manner of which not one of the forty has described. It stands to reason that the whole question of inspiration, like everything else supernatural, must necessarily contain much that is mysterious, and much that we cannot explain.—But the difficulties of the "plenary verbal" theory appear to me mere trifles, compared with those which surround the counter theory of "partial inspiration." Once admit the principle that the writers of the Bible could make mistakes, and were not in all things guided by the Spirit, and I know not where I am. I see nothing certain, nothing solid, nothing trustworthy in the foundations of my faith. A fog has descended on the Book of God, and enveloped every chapter in uncertainty! Who shall decide when the writers of Scripture made mistakes, and when they did not? How am I to know where inspiration ends, and where it begins? What I think inspired, another may think uninspired! The texts that I rest upon, may possibly have been put in by a slip of the pen! The words and phrases that I love to feed upon, may possibly be weak earthly expressions in writing which the author was left to his own private uninspired mind!—The glory is departed from my Bible at this rate. A cold feeling of suspicion and doubt creeps over me as I read it. I am almost tempted to lay it down in flat despair. A partially inspired Bible is little better than no Bible at all. Give me the "plenary verbal" theory, with all its difficulties, rather than this. I accept the difficulties of that theory, and humbly wait for their solution. But while I wait, I feel that I am standing on a rock.
I grant the existence of occasional difficulties, and apparent discrepancies, in Scripture. They are traceable, in some cases, I believe, to the errors of early transcribers; and in others to our ignorance of explanatory circumstances and minute links and details. To tell us that things cannot be explained, merely because we are not at present able to explain them, is childish and absurd! "He that believeth shall not make haste." (Isaiah 28:16.) A true philosopher will never give up a sound theory, on account of a few difficulties. He will rather say,—"I can afford to wait. It will all be plain one day." For my own part, I believe that the whole Bible, as it came originally from the hands of the inspired writers, was verbally perfect and without flaw. I believe that the inspired writers were infallibly guided by the Holy Ghost, both in their selection of matter and their choice of words. I believe that even now, when we cannot explain alleged difficulties in Holy Scripture, the wisest course is to blame the interpreter and not the text, to suspect our own ignorance to be in fault, and not any defect in God’s Word. The theological system of modern days, which delights in magnifying the so-called mistakes of the Bible, in explaining away its miraculous narratives, and in making as little as possible of its Divine character and supernatural element, is a system that I cannot away with. It seems to me to take a rock from beneath our feet, and plant us on a quicksand. It robs us of bread, and does not give us in its place so much as a stone.
Nothing, to my mind, is so unutterably painful as the patronizing tone of compassion which the modern advocates of "partial inspiration" adopt in speaking of the writers of the Bible. They write and talk as if Paul and John, and their companions, were nothing better than well-meaning pious men, who on some points were greatly mistaken, and far below our enlightened age! They speak with pity and contempt of that system of divinity which satisfied the master-builders and giants of the Church in by-gone days! They tell us complacently that a new theology is needed for our age, and that a "freer handling" of the Bible, with pens untrammelled by the fetters which cumbered former interpreters, will produce, and is producing, wonderful results! I thoroughly distrust these new theologians, however learned and plausible they may be, and I expect the Church will receive no light from them. I see nothing solid in their arguments, and am utterly unmoved by them. I believe that the want of our age is not more "free" handling of the Bible, but more "reverent" handling, more humility, more patient study, and more prayer. I repeat my own firm conviction, that no theory of inspiration involves so few difficulties as that of "plenary verbal inspiration." To that theory I entirely adhere, and on that theory my readers will find this Commentary is written.
In preparing this Commentary I have made it a point of duty to look through every work on John’s Gospel which I could meet with. I append a list of books, partly because it may be interesting and useful to some readers, and partly because I wish to show that when I differ from the authors, I have not written in ignorance of their opinions.
The commentaries and expository works on John which I have looked through are the following:—
I. Of Fathers. Origen, Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Augustine, Theophylact, Euthymius, and the Catena Aurea.
II. Of Foreign Reformers and their successors, to the close of the seventeenth century. Melancthon, Zwingle, Calvin, Ecolampadius, Brentius, Bucer, Bullinger, Gualter, Pellican, Flacius Illyricus, Musculus, Beza, Aretius, Chemnitius [Footnote: The work I here refer to is the Commentary on the "Harmony of the Gospels," begun by Chemnitius, and continued by Lyserus and Gerhard.], Diodati, Calovius, De Dieu, Cocceius, Gomarus, Nifanius, Heinsius, Glassius [Footnote: The work of Glassius to which I here refer, is his "Expositions of the Gospels and Epistles appointed for Sundays." It is a collection of Homilies.], Critici Sacri.
III. Of Roman Catholic Writers. Rupertus, Feras, Arias Montanus, Toletus, Barradius, Maldonatus, Cornelius à Lapide, Jansenius, Quesnel.
IV. Of Scotch and English Writers. Rollock, Hutcheson. Poole’s Synopsis and Annotations, Cartwright, Trapp, Mayer, Leigh, Lightfoot, Baxter, Hammond, Hall, Henry, Burkitt, Whitby, Pearce, Gill, Scott, Bloomfield, Doddridge, A. Clarke, Barnes, Burgon, Alford, Webster, Wordsworth, J. Brown, D. Brown, Ford. To this list I may also add Arrowsmith, on John 1:1-51.; Dyke, on John 2:3.; Hildersam, on John 4:1-54; Trench, on Miracles; and Schottgen’s Horæ Hebraicæ.
V. Of German Writers, from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the present day. Lampe, Bengel, Tittman, Tholuck, Olshausen, Stier, Besser.
Of course no man can spend years, as I have now done, in looking through this formidable mass of books, with out forming some decided opinions about the comparative merits of their respective authors. Some of these opinions I have no hesitation in putting down, as they may be of use to some of my younger brethren in the ministry.
(A.) The Fathers appear to me greatly overrated, as commentators and expositors. Cyril and Chrysostom are far the most valuable of them, in my judgment, on John.
(B.) The Continental Reformers and their successors appear to me greatly underrated and neglected. Brentius and Musculus, for instance, abound in excellent thoughts and suggestions, but seem quite ignored by most modern commentators.
(C.) The Roman Catholic writers often contain much that is useful and little that is objectionable. Happy would it be for the Church of England if all her Clergy knew their Bibles as well as such men as Ferus and Toletus!
(D.) The few German writers that I have consulted appear to me to be far too highly esteemed, with the exception of Bengel and Lampe. Stier is always reverential, but tremendously diffuse. As to Olshausen, Tholuck, and Tittman, I have generally laid down their works with unmixed disappointment. What people can mean by telling us that we-have much to learn from modern German writers on Scripture passes my comprehension!—I can only suppose, from my own acquaintance with them, that many say it without having read them, or without having read other expositors.
(E.) The Scotch and English commentators I shall pass over in silence, as most of them are well known. I must confess that I think we have little to show in this department of Theological literature. Of our old writers, Rollock, the Scotch divine, is incomparably the best. In fact, I do not know such a "buried treasure" as his Latin commentary on John. [Footnote: Rollock was born A.D. 1555, and died A.D. 1598. He was principal of the University of Edinburgh.]—Of modern writers Burgon and Wordsworth strike me as two of the most valuable, though I differ widely from them on such points as the Church and the Sacraments. But I admire their reverential spirit.—Alford is almost always able and clear, but not always in my opinion a safe theological guide.—A thoroughly satisfactory critical commentary on the Greek Testament, in the English language, is a great desideratum.
I have only to add that on all points of philology, grammar, etc., I have consulted Flacius, Ravanel, Parkhurst, Leigh, Schleusner, Raphelius, Suicer, Glassius, and Winer.
The vexed question of "various readings," I have deliberately left alone. It is not because I have no opinion on the subject. But the real extent to which all the various readings would affect the meaning of Scripture, if they were admitted, is so much exaggerated, that it does not seem to me worth while to mix up the question with such a work as that which I have undertaken. The Greek text which I have been content to use throughout is that of the third Edition of Stephens (1550), edited by Scholefield. I do not say for a moment that it is the best text. I only say I have used it.
The occasional short-comings of our authorized English translation I have not hesitated to notice. I have frequently pointed out expressions which in my judgment are not rendered so literally or accurately as they might have been. There is nothing perfect on earth. Our excellent translators undoubtedly fail occasionally to give the full sense of Greek words, and are not always sufficiently careful about tenses and the article. But it is useless to expect perfection in any translation. Translators are not inspired, and are all liable to err. The "plenary verbal inspiration" which I firmly maintain, is that of the original text of Scripture, and not of any translation.—I have no sympathy however with those who wish to have a new authorized English version of the Bible. I concede the short-comings of the old version, but judging by the specimens of "new and improved" versions which I have seen, I doubt much whether we should gain anything by attempting to mend it. Taking it for all in all, the authorized English version is an admirable translation. I am quite content to "let well alone."
I now conclude this preface with an earnest prayer, that it may please God to pardon the many deficiencies of this volume, and to use it for His own glory and the good of souls. It has cost me a large amount of time and thought and labour. But if the Holy Ghost shall make it useful to the Church of Christ, I shall feel abundantly repaid.
Ignorance of Scripture is the root of every error in religion, and the source of every heresy. To be allowed to remove a few grains of ignorance, and to throw a few rays of light on God’s precious word, is, in my opinion, the greatest honour that can be put on a Christian.
J. C. RYLE, B.A.,
CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD.
Stradbroke Vicarage, Suffolk, February, 1865.
P.S. I feel it due to many of my readers to offer some explanation of the long delay which has taken place since the publication of this work on John began. An interval of almost five years has elapsed between the publication of the first four chapters and of the fifth and sixth. This delay, I am afraid, has caused inconvenience and annoyance in many quarters. For this I am unfeignedly sorry.
But the delay has been unavoidable, and has arisen from circumstances entirely beyond my own control. Deaths, domestic anxieties, illness, and change from one residence to another, have had much to do with it. The principal cause has been my removal to my present parish. The work was begun in a little quiet parish of 300 people. It has been resumed in a widely-scattered parish of 1400 people, requiring almost the whole of my attention.
Even now, in sending forth the first volume of the "Expository Thoughts on John," I dare not promise anything certain as to the time when the work will be completed. I have the will to finish it, but I find it almost impossible to secure the necessary leisure. What absolute need there is of entire freedom from distraction and interruption in writing a Commentary, none know but those who have attempted it. What endless petty interruptions a clergyman must submit to in a poor rural parish of 1400 people, where there is no resident landlord, and no layman who has leisure, and where many things must necessarily hinge on the clergyman, no one can know unless he has filled the position.
If the great Head of the Church intends me to finish this work, I believe that He will make my way plain, and remove all obstacles. But my readers must kindly make allowances for my altered position. There are but twelve hours in the day. I cannot create time. It is not one of the primary duties of a parochial clergyman’s office to write Commentaries. If therefore the work does not go on so fast as they could wish, they must have the goodness to consider my position, and to believe that there is a cause.
JOHN, after beginning his gospel with a statement of our Lord’s nature as God, proceeds to speak of His forerunner, John the Baptist. The contrast between the language used about the Savior, and that used about His forerunner, ought not to be overlooked. Of Christ we are told that He was the eternal God,—the Creator of all things,—the source of life and light. Of John the Baptist we are told simply, that "there was a man sent from God, whose name was John."
We see, firstly, in these verses, the true nature of a Christian minister’s office. We have it in the description of John the Baptist: "He came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe."
Christian ministers are not priests, nor mediators between God and man. They are not agents into whose hands men may commit their souls, and carry on their religion by deputy. They are witnesses. They are intended to bear testimony to God’s truth, and specially to the great truth that Christ is the only Savior and light of the world. This was Peter’s ministry on the day of Pentecost.—"With many other words did he testify." (Acts 2:40.) This was the whole tenor of Paul’s ministry.—"He testified both to the Jews and Greeks repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21.) Unless a Christian minister bears a full testimony to Christ, he is not faithful to his office. So long as he does testify of Christ, he has done his part, and will receive his reward, although his hearers may not believe his testimony. Until a minister’s hearers believe on that Christ of whom they are told, they receive no benefit from the ministry. They may be pleased and interested; but they are not profited until they believe. The great end of a minister’s testimony is "that through him, men may believe."
We see, secondly, in these verses, one principal position which our Lord Jesus Christ occupies towards mankind. We have it in the words, "He was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world."
Christ is to the souls of men what the sun is to the world. He is the center and source of all spiritual light, warmth, life, health, growth, beauty, and fertility. Like the sun, He shines for the common benefit of all mankind,—for high and for low, for rich and for poor, for Jew and for Greek. Like the sun, He is free to all. All may look at Him, and drink health out of His light. If millions of mankind were mad enough to dwell in caves underground, or to bandage their eyes, their darkness would be their own fault, and not the fault of the sun. So, likewise, if millions of men and women love spiritual "darkness rather than light," the blame must be laid on their blind hearts, and not on Christ. "Their foolish hearts are darkened." (John 3:19; Romans 1:21.) But whether men will see or not, Christ is the true sun, and the light of the world. There is no light for sinners except in the Lord Jesus.
We see, thirdly, in these verses, the desperate wickedness of man’s natural heart. We have it in the words, Christ "was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not."
Christ was in the world invisibly, long before He was born of the virgin Mary. He was there from the very beginning, ruling, ordering, and governing the whole creation. By Him all things consisted. (Colossians 1:17.) He gave to all life and breath, rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons. By Him kings reigned, and nations were increased or diminished. Yet men knew Him not, and honored Him not. They "worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator." (Romans 1:25.) Well may the natural heart be called "wicked"!
But Christ came visibly into the world, when He was born at Bethlehem, and fared no better. He came to the very people whom He had brought out from Egypt, and purchased for His own. He came to the Jews, whom He had separated from other nations, and to whom He had revealed Himself by the prophets. He came to those very Jews who had read of Him in the Old Testament Scriptures,—seen Him under types and figures in their temple services,—and professed to be waiting for His coming. And yet, when He came, those very Jews received Him not. They even rejected Him, despised Him, and slew Him. Well may the natural heart be called "desperately wicked"!
We see, lastly, in these verses, the vast privileges of all who receive Christ, and believe on Him. We are told that "as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name."
Christ will never be without some servants. If the vast majority of the Jews did not receive Him as the Messiah, there were, at any rate, a few who did. To them He gave the privilege of being God’s children. He adopted them as members of His Father’s family. He reckoned them His own brethren and sisters, bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh. He conferred on them a dignity which was ample recompense for the cross which they had to carry for His sake. He made them sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.
Privileges like these, be it remembered, are the possession of all, in every age, who receive Christ by faith, and follow Him as their Savior. They are "children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26.) They are born again by a new and heavenly birth, and adopted into the family of the King of kings. Few in number, and despised by the world as they are, they are cared for with infinite love by a Father in heaven, who, for His Son’s sake, is well pleased with them. In time He provides them with everything that is for their good. In eternity He will give them a crown of glory that fadeth not away. These are great things! But faith in Christ gives men an ample title to them. Good masters care for their servants, and Christ cares for His.
Are we ourselves sons of God? Have we been born again? Have we the marks which always accompany the new birth,—sense of sin, faith in Jesus, love of others, righteous living, separation from the world? Let us never be content till we can give a satisfactory answer to these questions.
Do we desire to be sons of God? Then let us "receive Christ" as our Savior, and believe on Him with the heart. To every one that so receives Him, He will give the privilege of becoming a son of God.
v6.—[There was a man sent from God...John.] This is a short and striking description of John the Baptist. He was the messenger whom God promised to send before Messiah’s face. He was born when his parents were aged, by God’s miraculous interposition. He was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb. He received a special commission from God to preach the baptism of repentance, and to proclaim the immediate coming of Christ. In short, he was specially raised up by God to prepare the way for the Messiah. For all these reasons he is here called "a man sent from God." It is, in one sense, the common mark of all true ministers of the Gospel. Ignorant, blind, and unconverted ministers may be ordained and sent by man. But they are not "sent from God."
v7.—[Came for a witness.] This does not mean, as it might at first sight appear, "came to be a witness." The Greek word which we translate "witness," does not mean "a person," but the testimony which a witness bears.
[To bear witness of the light.] This means, to testify concerning Jesus Christ the light of the world, that He was the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Bridegroom, the Almighty Saviour, to whom all dark souls ought to apply.
[All men.] This cannot of course signify "all mankind." It means all who heard John’s testimony, and all Jews who were really looking for a Redeemer. One end of John the Baptist’s testimony was that all such should believe on Christ the true light.
[Through him.] This does not mean "through Christ" and Christ’s grace, but through John the Baptist and John’s testimony. It is one of those texts which show the immense importance of the ministerial office. It is a means and instrument through which the Holy Spirit is pleased to produce faith in man’s heart. "Faith cometh by hearing." Through John the Baptist’s testimony, Andrew was led to believe in Jesus and become a disciple. Just so now, through the preaching of ministers sinners learn to believe on Christ and are saved.
v8.—[He was not that light.] This expression would be more literally rendered, "He was not the light," the promised light of sinners, the light of the world. The Greek article "the," is used in a similar emphatic manner, to denote eminence and distinction, in the following passages. "That bread." John 6:32. "That prophet." John 1:21-25. "That day." 1 Thessalonians 5:4. "That way." Acts 9:2.
Let it be noted that our Lord himself calls John the Baptist at a later period, "The burning and shining light." (John 5:35.) But it is a curious fact that the Greek word there rendered "light," is not the one used here. It is a word which is frequently translated "candle." John the Baptist was a "candle," but not the light itself. Believers are called "the light of the world." (Matthew 5:14,) but only as members of Christ the light, and borrowing light from him. Christ alone is the great sun and fountain of all light, the light itself.
v9.—[That was the true light.] The force of the expression "true" in this sentence, is well brought out by Arrowsmith in his commentary on this verse. He says that Christ is "the true light" in four respects. Firstly, He is undeceiving light, the true light in opposition to all the false lights of the Gentiles.—Secondly, He is real light, true in opposition to ceremonial types and shadows.—Thirdly, He is underived light, true in opposition to all light that is borrowed, communicated, or participated from another.—Fourthly, He is supereminent light, true in opposition to all that is ordinary and common.
[Which lighteth every man...cometh...world.] This sentence has caused much difference of opinion among commentators, in respect to two points.
(a.) In the first place, men differ as to the application of the words, "that cometh into the world." Some connect these words with "the true light," and read the words, "this is the true light that coming into the world lighteth every man." In favour of this view, the words "light is come into the world," (John 3:19,) and "I am come a light into the world," (John 12:46,) deserve notice.—Others connect the words with "every man," and regard them as a sweeping description of every one naturally born of the seed of Adam. That "coming into the world " is a Hebrew phrase for being born, is shown by Nifanius. The construction of the whole verse in the original Greek, is such that either rendering is grammatical and correct.
Opinions are so nicely balanced on this point, and so much may be said on either side, that I venture my own judgment with much hesitation. But I am inclined to think on the whole, with Chemnitius and Glassius, that our translators are right, and that the clause "that cometh into the world," is better connected with "every man" than with "the true light."—If the verse is rendered "this is the true light that coming into the world lighteth every man," it seems rather to narrow the blessing of the true light, and to confine his illumining benefits to the times after His incarnation. This, be it remembered, is precisely the view of the Socinian. And yet it is unquestionably true that Christ’s incarnation increased greatly the spiritual light in the world. John says, "The darkness is past and the true light now shineth." (1 John 2:8.) If, on the other hand, the verse is rendered as our version has it, the words "that cometh into the world," seem very suitably joined to "every man," as expressing the universality of the blessings which Christ confers on man. He is not only the true light of the Jew, but of "every man that is born into the world," of every name, and people, and tongue. To suppose, as some have done, that this application of the words "come into the world," involves the preexistence of souls, is, to say the least, a foolish thought.
The point is, happily, one on which men may agree to differ. Sound doctrine may be got out of either view.
(b.) The second difference of opinion respecting this verse arises from the words, "lighteth every man." This expression has received widely different interpretations. All, except heretics, are agreed that the words cannot mean that all are converted, and cannot signify the final, universal salvation of all mankind. What then do they mean?
Some think, as Cyril, that Christ "the true light," lighteth every man and woman on earth with the light of reason, intelligence, and consciousness of right and wrong. This view is partially true, and yet it seems weak and defective.
Some think, as the Quakers are reported to do, that Christ lighteth every man and woman on earth with an inward light of grace, sufficient to save him, if he will only use it. This view is a dangerous one, and beside contradicting many texts of Scripture, leads on to downright Pelagianism.
Some think, as Augustine, that Christ lighteth all that are lighted by His grace, and that "every man" is practically the same as every believer. They quote in support of this view, the verse, "The LORD upholdeth all that fall," (Psalms 145:14,) where "all" can only mean, "all those that are upheld are upheld by the Lord." A favourite illustration of this view is the saying, that a schoolmaster "teaches all the boys in a town," that is, "all who are taught are taught by him." This interpretation, however, is not thoroughly satisfactory, and has an appearance of quibbling and unfairness about it.
Some think, as Chrysostom, and Brentius in his Homilies, and Lightfoot, that Christ is really given to be the light of all mankind. They think that when it is said, He "lighteth every man," it means that He shines sufficiently for the salvation of all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles, (like the sun shining upon all creation,) though the majority of men are so blinded by sin that they do not see Him. Yet Christ is for every man. "He lighteth all," says Chrysostom, "as far as in Him lies."—"There is power and good will in the light," says Chemnitius, "to illumine all; but some love darkness rather than light." Arrowsmith says, "Christ doth dispense to every one light sufficient to leave him without excuse. But Christ doth not dispense to every one converting light sufficient to bring him to salvation."
I believe this last view to be the most probable one, though I confess that it is not unattended by difficulties. But I rest in the conclusion that Christ is offered as a light to all the world, and that every one born into the world will prove at last to have been in some way indebted to Christ, even though not saved.
Pearce says of the Greek word rendered "lighteth," that, "in the Hebrew tongue that which is only intended to be done is often expressed as a thing actually done." He regards this expression before us as a similar one. He gives, as parallel instances, 1 Corinthians 10:33, "please," for "intend to please," Galatians 5:4, "justified," for "intend to be justified," and 1 John 2:26, "seduce," for "intend to seduce."
The Greek word rendered "lighteth" is used eleven times in the New Testament, and is translated "to give light, to light, to bring to light, to enlighten, to illuminate."
v10.—[He was in the world, &c...knew him not.] This verse describes the unbelief of the whole world before Christ’s incarnation. He "was in the world" invisibly, before He was born of the virgin Mary, as in the days of Noah. (1 Peter 3:19.) He was to be seen in His works and in His providential government of all things, if men had only had eyes to see Him. And yet the very world which He had made, the work of his hands, did not acknowledge, believe, or obey Him. It knew Him not. At Athens, Paul found an altar "to the unknown God."
That the expression applies to Christ before His incarnation, and not after, is said by Lampe to be the unanimous opinion of Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Cyril, Theodoret, Beda, Theophylact, and Euthymius.
There is a striking similarity between the declaration of this Terse and the contents of the latter part of the 1st chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. In fact the line of argument by which Paul shows the Gentiles to be guilty, in the first chapter of that epistle, and the Jews to be equally guilty and excuseless in the second chapter, is only a full exposition of what John here states briefly in two verses.
v11.—[He came unto his own...received him not.] This verse describes the unbelief of the Jewish nation after the incarnation of Christ, and during His ministry among them. He came to a people who were peculiarly His own, by their redemption from Egypt, by their introduction into the land of Canaan, and by their possession of the law of Moses, and the covenants, and yet they did not believe on Him, or receive Him, but actually rejected and slew Him.
There is a peculiarity about the Greek words rendered "his own," in this verse, which ought not to be overlooked. The first "his own" is in the neuter gender, and means literally "his own things." The second "his own" is in the masculine gender, and means "his own men, servants or subjects." It is probably meant to show that our Lord came to a people whose land, territory, cities, temple, were all His own property, and had been originally granted by Himself. The Jews, Palestine, Jerusalem, the temple, were all Christ’s peculiar possession. Israel was "His inheritance." (Psalms 78:71.)—This made the sin of those who "received Him not," even more sinful.
v12.—[As many as received Him.] This expression signifies, "as many as believed on Christ, and acknowledged Him as the Messiah." It is only another form of the expression at the end of the verse, "believed on His name." To receive Christ is to accept Him with a willing heart, and to take Him as our Saviour. It is one of many forms of speech, by which that justifying faith which unites the sinner’s soul to Christ is expressed in the Bible. To believe on Christ with the heart, is to receive Him, and to receive Him is to believe on Him.—Paul says to the Colossians, "As ye have received Christ, so walk ye in Him." (Colossians 2:6.)
The Greek word rendered, "As many as," is literally, "whosoever," "whatsoever persons." Glassius remarks, that the expression denotes the universality of the benefits which Christ conferred. "Whosoever" received Him, Pharisees, Sadducees, learned or unlearned, male or fi-male, Jews or Gentiles, to them He gave the privilege of sonship to God.
[To them gave he power to become the sons of God.] This expression means, "He gave them the privilege of adoption into God’s family." They became the "children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26.) "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." (1 John 5:1.) There is no sonship to God without living faith in Christ. Let this never be forgotten. To talk of God being men’s Father, and men being God’s children, while they do not believe on the Son of God, is contrary to Scripture. Those are not children of God who have not faith in Jesus.
The word "power" in this sentence requires careful guarding against misrepresentation. It means, as the marginal reading says, "right or privilege." It does not mean strength or ability. It does not mean that Christ confers on those who receive Him a spiritual and moral strength, by which they convert themselves, change their own hearts, and make themselves God’s children. No doubt Christ gives to all His people all needful grace to supply all the wants of their hearts, and the necessities of their position. No doubt He gives them strength to carry the cross, fight the good fight, and overcome the world. But that is not the truth taught in the words before us, and must be sought in other places. The words before us only mean that Christ confers the privilege of adoption on all believers, and did so especially on His first disciples. While their unbelieving fellow-countrymen were boasting of being children of Abraham, Christ gave His disciples the far higher privilege of being children of God.
The Greek word rendered "power" is used 102 times in the New Testament, and never on one occasion in the sense of physical, moral, or spiritual strength to do a thing. It is generally translated, "authority, right, power, liberty, jurisdiction."
[To them that believe on His name.] These words are added to make clearer, if possible, the character of those who have the privilege of being sons of God. They are they who receive Christ and believe on His name. Arrowsmith remarks, "The word ’name,’ in the Scripture, is often put for person. The receivers of Christ are said to believe on His name, because the direct object of their faith is the person of Christ. It is not the believing that Christ died for all, or for me, or for the elect, or any such proposition, that saveth. It is believing on Christ. The person, or name of Christ, is the object of faith."
The expression, "believe on His name," ought not to be overlooked. Arrowsmith remarks that there is a known distinction amongst divines, between believing God, that there is such a Being,—believing God, that what He says is true,—and believing on God in the way of faith and confidence as our God. And he observes, most truly, that precisely the same distinction exists between faith that there is such a Saviour as Christ,—faith that what Christ says is true,—and faith of reliance on Christ as our Saviour. Believing on Christ’s name is exactly this faith of reliance, and is the faith that saves and justifies.
v13.—[Which were born, &c., &c...of God.] The birth here spoken of is the new birth, or regeneration, that complete change of heart and nature which takes place in a man when he becomes a real Christian. It is a change so great that no other figure but that of birth can fully express it. It is as when a new being, with new appetites, wants, and desires is brought into the world. A person born of God is "a new creature, old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17.)
The persons who believe on Christ’s name are said to be born "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The interpretation of this expression which is usually given by commentators appears to me neither correct nor seemly. The true meaning of the words, I believe, is this. Believers did not become what they are "by blood," that is by descent from Abraham or blood connection with godly people. "Grace does not descend from parent to child.—Nor yet did believers become what they are by the will of the flesh,—that is by the efforts and exertions of their own natural hearts. Nature can never change itself. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh."—Nor yet did believers become what they are by the will of man,—that is by the acts and deeds of others. Neither ordained ministers, nor any one else, can confer grace upon another. Man cannot regenerate hearts.—Believers become what they are solely and entirely by the grace of God. It is to God’s free grace, preventing, calling, converting, renewing and sanctifying, that they owe their new birth. They are born of God, or, as the third chapter says more distinctly, "born of the Spirit."
The word which we render "blood," in the singular number, is, in the Greek, plural, "bloods."—This peculiarity has made some conjecture that the expression refers to the blood shed in circumcision and sacrifice, and teaches the inability of these things to regenerate man. But this idea seems far-fetched and improbable. The use of the plural number appears to me intended to exclude all fleshly confidence in any descent or relationship. It was neither the blood of Abraham, or of David, or of Aaron, or of Judah, or of Levi, which could give grace or make any one a child of God.
This is the first time the new birth is spoken of by name in Scripture. Let us not fail to notice how carefully the doctrine is fenced against errors, and how emphatically we are told what this new birth does not come from, as well as what it does come from. It is a striking fact that when Peter mentions the new birth, he fences it in like manner, (1 Peter 1:23,) and when he speaks of baptism "saving" us, he carefully adds that it is "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh." (1 Peter 3:21.) In the face of all these cautions, it is curious to observe the pertinacity with which many overthrow the whole doctrine of the new birth by the assertion that all baptized persons are born again!
We must be careful that we do not interpret the words "which were born" as if the new birth was a change which takes place in a man after he has believed in Christ, and is the next step after faith. Saving faith and regeneration are inseparable. The moment that a man really believes in Christ, however feebly, he is born of God. The weakness of his faith may make him unconscious of the change, just as a new-born infant knows little or nothing about itself. But where there is faith there is always new birth, and where there is no faith there is no regeneration.
THE passage of Scripture now before us is very short, if we measure it by words. But it is very long, if we measure it by the nature of its contents. The substance of it is so immensely important that we shall do well to give it separate and distinct consideration. This single verse contains more than enough matter for a whole exposition.
The main truth which this verse teaches is the reality of our Lord Jesus Christ’s incarnation, or being made man. John tells us that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."
The plain meaning of these words is, that our divine Savior really took human nature upon Him, in order to save sinners. He really became a man like ourselves in all things, sin only excepted. Like ourselves, he was born of a woman, though born [conceived] in a miraculous manner. Like ourselves, He grew from infancy to boyhood, and from boyhood to man’s estate, both in wisdom and in stature. (Luke 2:52.) Like ourselves, he hungered, thirsted, ate, drank, slept, was wearied, felt pain, wept, rejoiced, marveled, was moved to anger and compassion. Having become flesh, and taken a body, He prayed, read the Scriptures, suffered being tempted, and submitted His human will to the will of God the Father. And finally, in the same body, He really suffered and shed His blood, really died, was really buried, really rose again, and really ascended up into heaven. And yet all this time He was God as well as man!
This union of two natures in Christ’s one Person is doubtless one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian religion. It needs to be carefully stated. It is just one of those great truths which are not meant to be curiously pried into, but to be reverently believed. Nowhere, perhaps, shall we find a more wise and judicious statement than in the second article of the Church of England. "The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed virgin of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and the manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very man." This is a most valuable declaration. This is "sound speech, which cannot be condemned."
But while we do not pretend to explain the union of two natures in our Lord Jesus Christ’s Person, we must not hesitate to fence the subject with well-defined cautions. While we state most carefully what we do believe, we must not shrink from declaring boldly what we do not believe. We must never forget, that though our Lord was God and man at the same time, the divine and human natures in Him were never confounded. One nature did not swallow up the other. The two natures remained perfect and distinct. The divinity of Christ was never for a moment laid aside, although veiled. The manhood of Christ, during His life-time, was never for a moment unlike our own, though by union with the Godhead, greatly dignified. Though perfect God, Christ has always been perfect man from the first moment of His incarnation. He that is gone into heaven, and is sitting at the Father’s right hand to intercede for sinners, is man as well as God. Though perfect man, Christ never ceased to be perfect God. He that suffered for sin on the cross, and was made sin for us, was "God manifest in the flesh." The blood with which the Church was purchased, is called the blood "of God." (Acts 20:28.) Though He became "flesh" in the fullest sense, when He was born of the virgin Mary, He never at any period ceased to be the Eternal Word. To say that He constantly manifested His divine nature during His earthly ministry, would, of course, be contrary to plain facts. To attempt to explain why His Godhead was sometimes veiled and at other times unveiled, while He was on earth, would be venturing on ground which we had better leave alone. But to say that at any instant of His earthly ministry He was not fully and entirely God, is nothing less than heresy.
The cautions just given may seem at first sight needless, wearisome, and hair-splitting. It is precisely the neglect of such cautions which ruins many souls. This constant undivided union of two perfect natures in Christ’s Person is exactly that which gives infinite value to His mediation, and qualifies Him to be the very Mediator that sinners need. Our Mediator is One who can sympathize with us, because He is very man. And yet, at the same time, He is One who can deal with the Father for us on equal terms, because He is very God.—It is the same union which gives infinite value to His righteousness, when imputed to believers. It is the righteousness of One who was God as well as man.—It is the same union which gives infinite value to the atoning blood which He shed for sinners on the cross. It is the blood of One who was God as well as man.—It is the same union which gives infinite value to His resurrection. When He rose again, as the Head of the body of believers, He rose not as a mere man, but as God.—Let these things sink deeply into our hearts. The second Adam is far greater than the first Adam was. The first Adam was only man, and so he fell. The second Adam was God as well as man, and so He completely conquered.
Let us leave the subject with feelings of deep gratitude and thankfulness. It is full of abounding consolation for all who know Christ by faith, and believe on Him.
Did the Word become flesh? Then He is One who can be touched with the feeling of His people’s infirmities, because He has suffered Himself, being tempted. He is almighty because He is God, and yet He can feel with us, because He is man.
Did the Word become flesh? Then He can supply us with a perfect pattern and example for our daily life. Had he walked among us as an angel or a spirit, we could never have copied Him. But having dwelt among us as a man, we know that the true standard of holiness is to "walk even as He walked." (1 John 2:6.) He is a perfect pattern, because He is God. But He is also a pattern exactly suited to our wants, because He is man.
Finally, did the Word become flesh? Then let us see in our mortal bodies a real, true dignity, and not defile them by sin. Vile and weak as our body may seem, it is a body which the Eternal Son of God was not ashamed to take upon Himself, and to take up to heaven. That simple fact is a pledge that He will raise our bodies at the last day, and glorify them together with His own.
v14.—[And the word was made flesh.] This sentence means that the eternal Word of God, the second Person in the Trinity, became a man, like one of ourselves in all things, sin only excepted. This He accomplished, by being born of the virgin Mary, after a miraculous manner, through the operation of the Holy Ghost. And the end for which He became flesh, was that He might live and die for sinners.
The expression "the ’Word," shows clearly that "the Word" who "was with God and was God," must be a Person. It could not reasonably be said of any one but a Person, that He became "flesh and dwelt among us.’’ Whether John could have found any other name for the second Person of the Trinity equally proper, we need not trouble ourselves to inquire. It certainly would not have been accurately correct to say that "Jesus was made flesh," because the name Jesus was not given to our Lord till after His incarnation. Nor yet would it have been correct to say, "In the beginning was Christ," because the name Christ belongs to the times after the fall of man.
This is the last time that John uses this expression, "The Word," about Christ in his Gospel. From the time of His incarnation he generally speaks of Him as "Jesus," or "the Lord."
[Was made.] This expression might perhaps have been better translated "became." At any rate, we must carefully remember that it does not signify "was created." The Athanasian Creed says truly, "The Son is of the Father alone, neither made nor created, but begotten."
[Flesh.] The use of this word, instead of "man," ought not to be overlooked. It is purposely used in order to show us that when our Lord became incarnate, He took upon Him nothing less than our whole nature, consisting of a true body and a reasonable soul. As Arrowsmith says, "That which was not taken could not be healed. If Christ had not taken the whole man, He could not have saved the soul."—It also implies that our Lord took upon Him a body liable to those weaknesses, fatigues, and pains, which are inseparable from the idea of flesh. He did not become a man like Adam before the fall, with a nature free from all infirmity. He became a man like anyone of Adam’s children, with a nature liable to every thing that fallen humanity is liable to, except sin. He was made "flesh," and "all flesh is grass."—Finally, it teaches that our Lord did not assume the human nature of any one family, or class, or people, but that nature which is common to all Adam’s children, whether Jews or Gentiles. He came to be a Saviour for "all flesh," and so was made "flesh."
The subject of this sentence is a deeply mysterious one, but one about which it is most important to have clear views. Next to the doctrine of the Trinity, there is no doctrine on which fallen man has built so many deadly heresies as the incarnation of Christ. There is unquestionably much about this union of two natures in one person which we cannot explain, and must be content to believe. There is much that we cannot understand, be it remembered, in the union of body and soul in our own persons. But there are some points in the subject of Christ’s incarnation which we must hold fast, and never let go.
(a.) In the first place, let us carefully remember, that when "the Word became flesh," He became so by the union of two perfect and distinct natures in one Person. The manner of this union we cannot explain, but the fact we must firmly believe. "Christ," says the Athanasian Creed, "is God and Man; God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the world, and man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect man. Who, although He be God and man, yet He is not two but one Christ; one not by conversion of the godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God." These words are very important. The Word was not made flesh by changing one nature into another, or by laying aside one nature and taking up another. In all our thoughts about Christ, let us take care that we do not divide His Person, and that we maintain steadily that He has two distinct and perfect natures. The old Latin line on the subject, quoted by Gomarus, is worth remembering. It represents "the Word made flesh," as saying, "I am what I was, that is God:—I was not what I am, that is man:—I am now called both, that is both God and man."
(b.) Secondly, when "the Word became flesh," He did not cease for a moment to be God. No doubt He was pleased to veil His divinity and to hide His power, and more especially so at some seasons. He emptied Himself of external marks of glory and was called "the carpenter." But He never laid His divinity aside. God cannot cease to be God. It was as God-man that He lived, suffered, died, and rose again. It is written that God ’’has purchased the Church with His own blood." It was the blood of one who was not man only, but God.
(c.) Thirdly, when "the Word became flesh," He was made a man in the truth of our nature like unto us in all things, and from that hour has never ceased to be man. His humanity was not a humanity different from our own, and though now glorified is our humanity still. It was perfect man no less than perfect God, who resisted temptation, fulfilled the law perfectly, endured the contradiction of sinners, spent nights in prayer, kept His will in subjection to the Father’s will, suffered, died, and at length ascended up to heaven with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to man’s nature. It is written, that in "all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren." Moreover, He did not lay aside His humanity when He left the world. He that ascended up on the mount of Olives, and is sitting at the right hand of God to intercede for believers, is one who is still man as well as God. Our High Priest in heaven is not God only, but man. Christ’s humanity as well as divinity are both in heaven. One in our nature, our elder Brother has gone as our Forerunner to prepare a place for us.
(d.) Lastly, when "the Word became flesh," He did not take on Him "peccable flesh." It is written that He was made in "the likeness of sinful flesh." (Romans 8:3.) But we must not go beyond this. Christ was "made sin for us." (2 Corinthians 5:21.) But He "knew no sin," and was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and without taint of corruption. Satan found nothing in Him. Christ’s human nature was liable to weakness, but not to sin. The words of the fifteenth Article must never be forgotten, Christ was "void from sin, both in His flesh and in His Spirit."
For want of a clear understanding of this union of two natures in Christ’s Person, the heresies which arose in the early Church were many and great. And yet Arrowsmith points out that no less than four of these heresies are at once confuted by a right interpretation of the sentence now before us.
"The Arians hold that Jesus Christ was not true God. This text calleth Him the Word, and maketh Him a Person in the Trinity.
"The Apollinarians acknowledge Christ to be God, yea, and man too; but they hold that He took only the body of a man, not the soul of a man, while His divinity supplied the room of a soul. We interpret the word ’flesh’ for the whole human nature, both soul and body.
"The Nestorians grant Christ to be both God and man: but then they say the Godhead made one person, and the manhood another person. We interpret the words ’was made’ as implying an union, in which Christ assumed not the person of man, but the nature of man.
"The Eutychians held but one person in Christ; but then they confounded the natures. They say the Godhead and manhood made such a mixture as to produce a third thing. Here they also are confuted by the right understanding of the union between the Word and flesh."
He then goes on to show how the ancient Church met all these heretics with four adverbs, which briefly and conveniently defined the union of two natures in Christ’s person. They said that the divine and human natures when "the Word was made flesh," were united truly, to oppose the Arians,—perfectly, to oppose the Apollinarians,—undividedly, to oppose the Nestorians,—and unmixedly, to oppose the Eutychians.
Those who wish to examine this subject further, will do well to consult Pearson on the Creed, Dods on the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, and Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity, B. v., chap. 51, 52, 53, 54.
[Dwelt among us.] The Greek word rendered dwelt, means literally "tabernacled," or "dwelt in a tent." The sentence does not mean that Christ dwelt in His human body as in a tabernacle, which He left when He ascended up to heaven. "Christ," says Arrowsmith, "continueth now, and shall for ever, as true man as when He was born of the virgin Mary.—He so took human nature as never to lay it down again." The sentence only means that Christ dwelt among men on earth for thirty-three years. He was on earth so long conversing among men, that there could be no doubt of the reality of His incarnation. He did not appear for a few minutes, like a phantom or ghost. He did not come down for a brief visit of a few days, but was living among us in His human body for the duration of a whole generation of men. For thirty-three years He pitched His tent in Palestine, and was going to and fro among its inhabitants.
Arrowsmith remarks that three sorts of men are described in the Bible as living in tents; shepherds, sojourners, and soldiers. He thinks that the phrase here used has reference to the calling of all these three, and that it points to Christ’s life on earth being that of a shepherd, a traveller, and a soldier. But it may be doubted whether this is not a somewhat fanciful idea, however pleasing and true. The Greek word rendered "dwelt" is only used in four other places in the New Testament, (Revelation 7:15; Revelation 12:12; Revelation 13:6; Revelation 21:3,) and in each of them is applied to a permanent, and not a temporary dwelling.
[We beheld his glory.] John here declares, that although "the Word was made flesh," he and others beheld from time to time His glory, and saw manifest proof that He was not man only, but the "only begotten Son of God."
There is a difference of opinion among commentators as to the right application of these words. Some think that they apply to Christ’s ascension, which John witnessed, and to all His miraculous actions throughout His ministry, in all of which, as it is said of the miracle of Cana, He "manifested forth his glory," and His disciples saw it.—Others think that they apply especially to our Lord’s transfiguration, when He put on for a little season His glory, in the presence of John, James, and Peter. I am on the whole inclined to think that this is the true view, and the more so, because of Peter’s words in speaking of the transfiguration, (2 Peter 1:16, 2 Peter 1:18,) and the words which immediately follow in the verse we are now considering.
[The glory as of the only begotten of the Father.] This sentence means "such glory as became and was suitable to one who is the only begotten Son of God the Father." These words will hardly apply to Christ’s miracles. They seem to confine the glory which John says "we beheld," to the vision of glory which he and his two companions saw when Christ was transfigured, and they heard the Father saying, "This is my beloved Son."
Lightfoot’s paraphrase of this expression is worth reading though he does not apply the passage to the transfiguration: "We saw His glory as what was worthy, as became, the only begotten Son of God. He did not glisten in any worldly pomp or grandeur, according to what the Jewish nation fondly dreamed their Messiah would do. But He was dressed with the glory of holiness, grace, truth, and the power of miracles."
We must carefully remember that the adverb "as" in this place, does not imply comparison, or similitude, as if John only meant that the Word’s glory was like that of the only begotten Son of God. Chrysostom says, "The expression ’as’ in this place does not belong to similarity or comparison, but to confirmation and unquestionable definition, as though he said, we beheld glory such as it was becoming and likely that He should possess, who is the only begotten and true Son of God and King of all." He also remarks that it is a common manner of speaking, when people are describing the appearance of a king in state, to say that "he was like a king," meaning only that he was a real king.
Glassius, in his Philologia, makes the same comment on the expression, and quotes as parallel cases of the use of the adverb "as," 2 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:19; Philemon 1:9; Romans 9:32; Matthew 14:5; 2 Corinthians 3:18. He thinks it a Hebraism, denoting not the similitude, but the reality and truth of a thing, and quotes Psalms 122:3, and Hosea 4:4, as Old Testament instances.
[The only begotten of the Father.] This remarkable expression describes our Lord’s eternal generation, or Sonship. He is that Person who alone has been begotten of the Father from all eternity, and from all eternity has been His beloved Son.
The phrase is only used five times in the New Testament, and only in John’s writings. That God always had a Son appears in the Old Testament. "What is his son’s name," says Agur. (Proverbs 30:4.) So also the Father says to Messiah, "Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee." (Psalms 2:7.) But the Sonship now before us, we must carefully remember, is not to be dated from any "day." It is the everlasting Sonship of which John speaks.
The subject is one of those which we must be content to believe and reverence, but must not attempt to define too narrowly. We are taught distinctly in Scripture that in the unity of the Godhead, there are three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We are taught, with equal distinctness, that "Sonship" describes the everlasting relation which exists between the first and second Persons in the Trinity, an that Christ is the only begotten and eternal Son of God. We are taught, with equal distinctness, that the Father loveth the Son, and loved Him before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24.) But here we must be content to pause. Our feeble faculties could not comprehend more if more were told us.
Let us however remember carefully, when we think of Christ as the only begotten Son of the Father, that we must not attach the least idea of inferiority to the idea of His Sonship. As the Athanasian creed says, "The Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son." And yet the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father. The argument of the ancient Arians, that if Christ is the Son of God, he must necessarily be inferior in dignity to God, and subsequent in existence to God, is one that will not stand for a moment. The reply is simple. We are not talking of the relationship of mortal beings, but of the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity, who are eternal. All analogies and illustrations drawn from human parents and children are necessarily defective. As Augustine said, so must we say, "Show me and explain to me an eternal Father, and I will show you and explain to you an eternal Son." We must believe and not try to explain. Christ’s generation, as God, is eternal,—who shall declare it? He was begotten from everlasting of the Father. He was always the beloved Son. And yet "He is equal to the Father as touching his godhead, though inferior to Him as touching his manhood."
[Full of grace and truth.] These words do not refer to the Father, though they follow His name so closely. They belong to "the Word." The meaning of them is differently explained.
Some think that they describe our Lord Jesus Christ’s character, during the time that He was upon the earth, in general terms. Full of grace were His lips, and full of grace was His life. He was full of the grace of God, the Spirit dwelling in Him without measure, full of kindness, love, and favour to man;—full of truth in His deeds and words, for in His lips was no guile, full of truth in His preaching concerning God the Father’s love to sinners, and the way of salvation, for He was ever unfolding in rich abundance all truths that man can need to know for his soul’s good.
Some think that the words describe especially the spiritual riches that Christ brought into the world, when He became incarnate, and set up His kingdom. He came full of the gospel of grace, in contradistinction to the burdensome requirements of the ceremonial law. He came full of truth, of real, true, solid comfort, in contradistinction to the types, and figures, and shadows of the law of Moses. In short the full grace of God, and the full truth about the way of acceptance, were never clearly seen until the Word became flesh, dwelt among us on earth, opened the treasure-house, and revealed grace and truth in His own person.
I decidedly prefer the second of these two views. The first is truth, but not the truth of the passage. The second appears to me to harmonize with the 17th verse, which follows almost immediately, where the law and the gospel are contrasted, and we are told that "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
THE passage before us contains three great declarations about our Lord Jesus Christ. Each of the three is among the foundation principles of Christianity.
We are taught, firstly, that it is Christ alone who supplies all the spiritual wants of all believers. It is written that "of his fullness have we all received, and grace for grace."
There is an infinite fullness in Jesus Christ. As Paul says, "It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell."—"In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:3.) There is laid up in Him, as in a treasury, a boundless supply of all that any sinner can need, either in time or eternity. The Spirit of Life is His special gift to the Church, and conveys from Him, as from a great root, sap and vigor to all the believing branches. He is rich in mercy, grace, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Out of Christ’s fullness, all believers in every age of the world, have been supplied. They did not clearly understand the fountain from which their supplies flowed, in Old Testament times. The Old Testament saints only saw Christ afar off, and not face to face. But from Abel downwards, all saved souls have received all they have had from Jesus Christ alone. Every saint in glory will at last acknowledge that he is Christ’s debtor for all he is. Jesus will prove to have been all in all.
We are taught, secondly, the vast superiority of Christ to Moses, and of the Gospel to the Law. It is written that "the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
Moses was employed by God "as a servant," to convey to Israel the moral and ceremonial law. (Hebrews 3:5.) As a servant, he was faithful to Him who appointed him, but he was only a servant. The moral law, which he brought down from Mount Sinai, was holy, and just, and good. But it could not justify. It had no healing power. It could wound, but it could not bind up. It "worked wrath." (Romans 4:15.) It pronounced a curse against any imperfect obedience.—The ceremonial law, which he was commanded to impose on Israel, was full of deep meaning and typical instruction. Its ordinances and ceremonies made it an excellent schoolmaster to guide men toward Christ. (Galatians 3:24.) But the ceremonial law was only a schoolmaster. It could not make him that kept it perfect, as pertaining to the conscience. (Hebrews 9:9.) It laid a grievous yoke on men’s hearts, which they were not able to bear. It was a ministration of death and condemnation. (2 Corinthians 3:7-9.) The light which men got from Moses and the law was at best only starlight compared to noon-day.
Christ, on the other hand, came into the world "as a Son," with the keys of God’s treasury of grace and truth entirely in His hands. (Hebrews 3:6.) Grace came by Him, when He made fully known God’s gracious plan of salvation, by faith in His own blood, and opened the fountain of mercy to all the world.—Truth came by Him, when He fulfilled in His own Person the types of the Old Testament, and revealed Himself as the true Sacrifice, the true mercy-seat, and the true Priest. No doubt there was much of "grace and truth" under the law of Moses. But the whole of God’s grace, and the whole truth about redemption, were never known until Jesus came into the world, and died for sinners.
We are taught, thirdly, that it is Christ alone who has revealed God the Father to man. It is written that "no man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."
The eye of mortal man has never beheld God the Father. No man could bear the sight. Even to Moses it was said, "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live." (Exodus 33:20.) Yet all that mortal man is capable of knowing about God the Father is fully revealed to us by God the Son. He, who was in the bosom of the Father from all eternity, has been pleased to take our nature upon Him, and to exhibit to us in the form of man, all that our minds can comprehend of the Father’s perfections. In Christ’s words, and deeds, and life, and death, we learn as much concerning God the Father as our feeble minds can at present bear. His perfect wisdom,—His almighty power,—His unspeakable love to sinners,—His incomparable holiness,—His hatred of sin, could never be represented to our eyes more clearly than we see them in Christ’s life and death. In truth, "God was manifest in the flesh," when the Word took on Him a body. "He was the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person." He says Himself, "I and my Father are one." "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." "In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (Colossians 2:9.) These are deep and mysterious things. But they are true. (1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; John 10:30; John 14:9.)
And now, after reading this passage, can we ever give too much honor to Christ? Can we ever think too highly of Him? Let us banish the unworthy thought from our minds forever. Let us learn to exalt Him more in our hearts, and to rest more confidingly the whole weight of our souls in His hands. Men may easily fall into error about the three Persons in the holy Trinity if they do not carefully adhere to the teaching of Scripture. But no man ever errs on the side of giving too much honor to God the Son. Christ is the meeting-point between the Trinity and the sinner’s soul. "He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father which sent Him." (John 5:23.)
v15.—[John bare witness....cried.] The time at which John the Baptist bore this testimony is not specified. We have not yet come to the historic part of John’s Gospel, properly speaking. We are still in the introductory preface. It seems therefore probable, as Lightfoot says, that the sentence before us describes the habitual character of John’s testimony to Christ. He was throughout his ministry, continually proclaiming Christ’s greatness and superiority to himself, both in nature and dignity.
[Cried.] The Greek word so rendered, implies a very loud cry, like that of one making a proclamation. Parkhurst defines it in this place as "speaking out very openly."
[He that cometh after me....preferred before....was before me.] This sentence has caused much discussion and some difference of opinion. The Greek words literally translated would be, "He that cometh after me has become, or been made, in front of me,—for he was first of me." I feel no doubt that our English version gives the correct meaning of the sentence.—Hammond’s note on the text is very good.
The first "before," signifies before in place, position, or dignity. The Greek adverb so rendered, is used forty-nine times in the New Testament, but never once in the sense of "before in point of time or age."
The second "before," signifies before in point of time or existence. "He was existing before me, at the time when I was not." The expression is certainly remarkable and uncommon, but there is another exactly like it in this Gospel, "It hated me before it hated you," where the literal rendering would be, "it hated me first of you."
The sentence "he was before me," is a distinct statement of Christ’s pre-existence. He was born at least six months after John the Baptist, and was therefore younger in age than John. Yet John says, "He was before me. He was existing when I was born." If he had meant only, that our Lord was a more honourable person than himself, he would surely have said, "He is before me."
The greatness of John the Baptist’s spiritual knowledge appears in this expression. He understood the doctrine of Christ’s pre-existence. Christians are apt to think far too slightingly of John the Baptist’s attainments, and the depths of his teaching.
v16.—[Of His fulness have all we received.] This sentence means, "all we who believe on Jesus, have received an abundant supply of all that our souls need out of the full store that resides in Him for His people. It is from Christ and Christ alone, that all our spiritual wants have been supplied."
Waterland, in his book on the Trinity, calls particular attention to this expression. He thinks that it was specially used with a view to the strange doctrines of the Gnostics in general, and the Cerinthians in particular, whose heresies arose before John’s Gospel was written. They seem to have held that there was a certain fulness or plenitude of the Deity, into which only certain spiritual men, including themselves, were to be received, and from which others who were less spiritual, though they had grace, were to be excluded. "John," says Waterland, "here asserts, that all Christians, equally and indifferently, all believers at large, have received of the plenitude or fulness of the divine Word, and that not sparingly, but in the largest measure, even grace upon grace."
Melancthon on this verse, calls particular attention to the word "all." He observes that it embraces the whole Church of God, from Adam downwards. All who have been saved have received out of Christ’s fulness, and all other sources of fulness are distinctly excluded.
[Grace for grace.] This expression is very peculiar, and has caused much difference of opinion among commentators.
1. Some think it means "the new grace of the Gospel in place of, or instead of, the old grace of the law." This is the view of Cyril, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Rupertus, Lyranus, Bucer, Beza, Scaliger, De Dieu, Calovius, Jansenius, Lampe, and Quesnel.
2. Some think that it means "grace, on account of God’s grace or favour, and specially His favour towards His Son." This is the view of Zwingle, Melancthon, Chemnitius, Flacius, Rollock, Grotius, Camerarius, Tarnovius, Toletus, Barradius, Cartwright, and Cornelius à Lapide.
3. Some think that it means "grace on account of, or in return for, the grace of faith that is in us." This is the view of Augustine, Gomarus, and Beda.
4. Some think that it means "grace answering to, or proportioned to, the grace that is in Christ." This is the view of Calvin, Leigh, and Bridge.
5. Some think that it means "grace for the propagation of grace." This is the view of Lightfoot.
6. Some think that it means "accumulated grace, abundant grace, grace upon grace." This is the view of Schleusner, Winer, Bucer, Pellican, Musculus, Gualter, Poole, Nifanius, Pearce, Burkitt, Doddridge, Bengel, A. Clarke, Tittman, Olshausen, Barnes, and Alford.
Brentius, Bullinger, Aretius, Jansenius, Hutcheson, Gill, Scott, and Henry, give several views, but signify their adhesion to no one in particular.
On the whole, I am inclined to think that the sixth and last is the correct view. I admit fully that the Greek preposition, here rendered ’’for," is only found in three senses in the Greek Testament,— viz.: "In the room or place of," (Matthew 2:22,) "In return for," (Romans 12:17,) and "On account of," (Acts 12:23; Ephesians 5:31.) In composition it also signifies "opposition," but with that we have nothing to do here. In the present case I think the meaning is "grace in the place of grace, constant, fresh, abundant supplies of new grace, to take the place of old grace, and therefore unfailing, abundant grace, continually filling up and supplying all our need."
v17.—[For the law was given, &c.] This verse seems intended to show the inferiority of the law to the Gospel. It does so by putting in strong contrast the leading characteristics of the Old and New dispensations,—the religion which began with Moses, and the religion which began with Christ.
By Moses was given the law,—the moral law, full of high and holy demands, and of stern threatenings against disobedience;—the ceremonial law, full of burdensome sacrifices, ordinances, and ceremonies, which never healed the worshipper’s conscience, and at best were only shadows of good things to come.
By Christ, on the other hand, came grace and truth,—grace by the full manifestation of God’s plan of salvation, and the offer of complete pardon to every soul that believes on Jesus,—and truth, by the unveiled exhibition of Christ Himself, as the true sacrifice, the true Priest, and the true atonement for sin.
Augustine, on this verse, says, "The law threatened, not helped; commanded, not healed; showed, not took away, our feebleness. But it made ready for the Physician, who was to come with grace and truth."
v18.—[No man hath seen God, &c.] This verse seems intended to show the infinite personal superiority of Christ to Moses, or to any other saint that ever lived.
No man hath ever seen God the Father; neither Abraham nor Moses, nor Joshua, nor David, nor Isaiah, nor Daniel. All these, however holy and good men, were still only men, and quite incapable of beholding God face to face, from very weakness. What they knew of God the Father, they knew only by report, or by special revelation, vouchsafed to them from time to time. They were but servants, and "The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth." (John 15:15.)
Christ on the other hand, is the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father. He is one who is most intimately united from all eternity to God the Father, and is equal to Him in all things. He, during the time of His earthly ministry here, fully showed to man all that man can bear to know concerning His Father. He has revealed His Father’s wisdom, and holiness, and compassion, and power, and hatred of sin, and love of sinners, in the fullest possible way. He has brought into clear light the great mystery how God the Father can be just, and yet justify the ungodly. The knowledge of the Father which a man derived from the teaching of Moses, is as different from that derived from the teaching of Christ, as twilight is different from noon-day.
We must carefully remember that none of the appearances of God to man, described in the Old Testament, were the appearances of God the Father. He whom Abraham, and Jacob, and Moses, and Joshua, and Isaiah, and Daniel saw, was not the First Person in the Trinity, but the Second.
The speculations of some commentators on the sentence now before us, as to whether any created being, angel or spirit, has ever seen God the Father, are, to say the least, unprofitable. The sentence before us speaks of man, being written for man’s use.
The expression, "Which is in the bosom of the Father," is doubtless a figurative one, mercifully accommodated to man’s capacity. As one who lies in the bosom of another is fairly supposed to be most intimate with him, to know all his secrets, and possess all his affections, so is it, we are to understand, in the union of the Father and the Son. It is more close than man’s mind can conceive.
The Greek word rendered "declared," means literally, "hath expounded." It is the root of the words, which are well known among literary students of the Bible, "exegesis and exegetical." The idea is that of giving a full and particular explanation. (Acts 15:14.) Whether the "Declaring of God the Father," here described, is to be confined to Christ’s oral teaching about the Father, or whether it means also that Christ has in His Person given a visible representation of many of the Father’s attributes, is a doubtful point. Perhaps both ideas are included in the expression.
In leaving this passage, I must say something about the disputed question, To whom do the three verses beginning, "And of his fulness," belong? Are they the words of John the Baptist, and a part of his testimony? Or are they the words of John the Gospel-writer, and an explanatory comment of his, such as we occasionally find in his Gospel?—There is something to be said on both sides.
(a.) Some think that these three verses were spoken by John the Baptist, because of the awkwardness and abruptness with which his testimony ends upon the other theory,—because they run on harmoniously with the fifteenth verse,—and because there is nothing in them which we might not reasonably expect John the Baptist to say.
This is the opinion of Origen, Athanasius, Basil, Cyprian, Augustine, Theophylact, Rupertus, Melancthon, Calvin, Zwingle, Erasmus, Chemnitius, Gualter, Musculus, Bucer, Flacius, Buillinger, Pellican, Toletus, Gomarus, Nifanius, Rollock, Poole, Burkitt, Hutcheson, Bengel, and Cartwright.
(b.) Others think, that the three verses are the comment of John the Gospel-writer, arising out of John’s testimony about Christ’s pre-existence, and out of the expression, Grace and truth, in the fourteenth verse.—They regard the verses as an exposition of the expression, "Full of grace and truth."—They question whether the language is such as would have been used by John the Baptist,—whether he would have said "all we," after just saying "me,"—whether he would have used the word "fulness,"—whether he would, at so early a period, have contrasted the religion of Moses and of Christ,—and whether he would have so openly declared Christ to be the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father.—Finally, they think that if these were John the Baptist’s words, the Gospel would not have begun again in the nineteenth verse, "This is the record of John."
This is the opinion of Cyril, Chrysostom, Euthymius, Beda, Lyranus, Brentius, Beza, Ferus, Grotius, Aretius, Barradius, Maldonatus, Cornelius à Lapide, Jansenius, Lightfoot, Arrowsmith, Gill, Doddridge, Lampe, Pearce, Henry, Tittman, A. Clarke, Barnes, Olshausen, Alford, and Wordsworth,—Baxter and Scott decline any decided opinion on the point, and Whitby says nothing about it.
The arguments on either side are so nicely balanced, and the names on either side are so weighty, that I venture an opinion with much diffidence. But on the whole, I am inclined to think that the three verses are not the words of John the Baptist, but of John the Evangelist.—The remarkable style of the first eighteen verses of this chapter makes the abruptness and brevity of the testimony which John the Baptist bears, upon this theory, appear to me not strange.—And the connection between the three verses, and the words "full of grace and truth" in the fourteenth verse, appears to me much more marked and distinct, than the connection between John’s testimony, and the words "of his fulness all we have received."
Happily the point is one which involves no serious question, and is therefore one on which Christians may be content to differ, if they cannot convince one another.
THE verses we have now read begin the properly historical part of John’s Gospel. Hitherto we have been reading deep and weighty statements about Christ’s divine nature, incarnation, and dignity. Now we come to the plain narrative of the days of Christ’s earthly ministry, and the plain story of Christ’s doings and sayings among men. And here, like the other Gospel-writers, John begins at once with "the record" or testimony of John the Baptist. (Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:2.)
We have, for one thing, in these verses, an instructive example of true humility. That example is supplied by John the Baptist himself.
John the Baptist was an eminent saint of God. There are few names which stand higher than his in the Bible calendar of great and good men. The Lord Jesus Himself declared that "Among them that are born of woman there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11.) The Lord Jesus Himself declared that he was "a burning and a shining light." (John 5:35.) Yet here in this passage we see this eminent saint lowly, self-abased, and full of humility. He puts away from himself the honor which the Jews from Jerusalem were ready to pay him. He declines all flattering titles. He speaks of himself as nothing more than the "voice of one crying in the wilderness," and as one who "baptized with water." He proclaims loudly that there is One standing among the Jews far greater than himself, One whose shoe-latchet he is not worthy to unloose. He claims honor not for himself but for Christ. To exalt Christ was his mission, and to that mission he steadfastly adheres.
The greatest saints of God in every age of the Church have always been men of John the Baptist’s spirit. In gifts, and knowledge, and general character they have often differed widely. But in one respect they have always been alike;—they have been "clothed with humility." (1 Peter 5:5.) They have not sought their own honor. They have thought little of themselves. They have been ever willing to decrease if Christ might only increase, to be nothing if Christ might be all. And here has been the secret of the honor God has put upon them. "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 14:11.)
If we profess to have any real Christianity, let us strive to be of John the Baptist’s spirit. Let us study humility. This is the grace with which all must begin, who would be saved. We have no true religion about us, until we cast away our high thoughts, and feel ourselves sinners.—This is the grace which all saints may follow after, and which none have any excuse for neglecting. All God’s children have not gifts, or money, or time to work, or a wide sphere of usefulness; but all may be humble.—This is the grace, above all, which will appear most beautiful in our latter end. Never shall we feel the need of humility so deeply, as when we lie on our deathbeds, and stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. Our whole lives will then appear a long catalogue of imperfections, ourselves nothing, and Christ all.
We have, for another thing, in these verses, a mournful example of the blindness of unconverted men. That example is supplied by the state of the Jews who came to question John the Baptist.
These Jews professed to be waiting for the appearance of Messiah. Like all the Pharisees they prided themselves on being children of Abraham, and possessors of the covenants. They rested in the law, and made their boast of God. They professed to know God’s will, and to believe God’s promises. They were confident that they themselves were guides of the blind, and lights of them that sat in darkness. (Romans 2:17-19.) And yet at this very moment their souls were utterly in the dark. "There was standing among them," as John the Baptist told them, "One whom they knew not." Christ Himself, the promised Messiah, was in the midst of them, and yet they neither knew Him, nor saw Him, nor received Him, nor acknowledged Him, nor believed Him. And worse than this, the vast majority of them never would know Him! The words of John the Baptist are a prophetic description of a state of things which lasted during the whole of our Lord’s earthly ministry. Christ "stood among the Jews," and yet the Jews knew Him not, and the greater part of them died in their sins.
It is a solemn thought that John the Baptist’s words in this place apply strictly to thousands in the present day. Christ is still standing among many who neither see, nor know, nor believe. Christ is passing by in many a parish and many a congregation, and the vast majority have neither an eye to see Him, nor an ear to hear Him. The spirit of slumber seems poured out upon them. Money, and pleasure, and the world they know; but they know not Christ. The kingdom of God is close to them; but they sleep. Salvation is within their reach; but they sleep. Mercy, grace, peace, heaven, eternal life, are so nigh that they might touch them; and yet they sleep. "Christ standeth among them and they know him not." These are sorrowful things to write down. But every faithful minister of Christ can testify, like John the Baptist, that they are true.
What are we doing ourselves? This, after all, is the great question that concerns us. Do we know the extent of our religious privileges in this country, and in these times? Are we aware that Christ is going to and fro in our land, inviting souls to join Him and to be His disciples? Do we know that the time is short and that the door of mercy will soon be closed for evermore? Do we know that Christ rejected will soon be Christ withdrawn?—Happy are they who can give a good account of these inquiries and who "know the day of their visitation"! (Luke 19:44.) It will be better at the last day never to have been born, than to have had Christ "standing among us" and not to have known Him.
v19.—[This is the record.] The Greek word translated "record," is the same that is rendered "witness" in John 1:7. The sentence means, "this is the testimony that John bore."
[When.] This word raises the question, "At what time was this testimony of John borne?" It appears to have been after our Lord Jesus Christ’s baptism, and at the end of His forty days’ temptation in the wilderness. John 1:29 tells us, that "the next day John seeth Jesus coming to him." It is worthy of notice that nowhere in the Gospels do we find "days" so carefully marked, as in that portion of the first chapter of John, which we have now begun.
[The Jews.] This expression is remarkable, as peculiar to John’s Gospel. He generally speaks of our Lord’s enemies and questioners, as "the Jews." It seems to indicate that John did not write his Gospel in Palestine or at Jerusalem, and that it was written especially for the Gentile Christians scattered over the world, and much later than the other three Gospels.
[Sent Priests and Levites....Jerusalem.] These words show that those who questioned John the Baptist on this occasion, were a formal deputation, sent with authority from the Sanhedrim, or ecclesiastical council of the Jews, to inquire about John’s proceedings, and to report what he taught, and whom he gave himself out to be.
Wordsworth remarks, that "More honour was paid by the Jews to John than to Christ, both in the persons sent, and in the place from which they were sent. They esteemed John for his sacredotal lineage." When Christ appeared, they called Him the Carpenter’s Son. Our Lord refers to this great respect at first shown to John, when He says, "ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light." (John 5:35.)
[To ask him, Who art thou?] We can hardly suppose that these Priests and Levites were ignorant that John was the son of a priest, Zacharias, and therefore a Levite himself. Their inquiry seems to refer to John’s office. "What did he profess to be? Did he assume to be the Messiah? Did he claim to be a prophet? What reason could he assign for his having taken up his remarkable position as a preacher and a baptizer at a distance from Jerusalem? What account could he give of himself and his ministry?"
Two things are plainly taught in this verse. One is, the great sensation which John the Baptist’s ministry caused throughout Palestine. He attracted so much notice, and such crowds followed him, that the Sanhedrim felt it necessary to inquire about him.—The other is, the state of expectation in which the minds of the Jews were at this particular season. Partly from the seventy weeks of Daniel having expired, partly from the sceptre having practically departed from Judah, there was evidently an expectation that some remarkable person was about to appear.—As to the sort of person the Jews expected, it is plain that they only looked for a temporal King, who would make them once more an independent nation. They had no idea of a spiritual Saviour from sin. But as to the fact that this vague expectation existed throughout the East at this particular time, we have the direct testimony of Latin historians. The extraordinary ministry of John the Baptist, at once suggested the idea to the Jews at Jerusalem, that he might possibly be the expected Redeemer. Therefore they sent to ask, "Who art thou? Art thou the long expected King?"
v20.—[He confessed....denied not....confessed, &c.] This is a peculiar form of speech, implying a very positive, unmistakable, emphatic asseveration. It gives the idea of a man shrinking with holy indignation from the very thought of being regarded as the Christ;—"Pain me not by suggesting that such an one as I can be the Christ of God. I am one far inferior to Him."
Bengel says on this verse, "Whilst John denied himself, he did not deny Christ."—Luther makes some excellent remarks on the strong temptation which was here put in John’s way, to take honour to himself, and the humility and faith which he showed in overcoming it.
v21.—[Art thou Elias?] This question was not an absurd and unnatural one, as some commentators have thought fit to say. It was based upon that prophecy of Malachi, which speaks of God "sending Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD." (Malachi 4:5.) The manner, dress, and ministry of John the Baptist, as well as his appearing in the wilderness, constituted a great similarity between him and Elijah, and suggested the idea that John might possibly be Elijah. "If this man," thought the Priests and Levites, "is not the Christ, perhaps he is his forerunner, the prophet Elijah."
[And he saith, I am not.] This answer of John’s deserves particular notice, and involves a grave difficulty. How could John say, "I am not Elias," when Christ says distinctly in another place, "This is Elias." How shall we reconcile these two statements?—To me it seems impossible to explain John’s words, except on the simple theory, that there are two comings of Elijah the prophet. The first was only a coming in spirit and in power, but not a literal coming. The second will be a literal and real appearance on earth of him whom Elisha saw taken up into heaven. The first coming took place at Christ’s first advent, and was fulfilled by John the Baptist going before Messiah’s face in the spirit and power of Elijah. The second coming of Elijah will take place at the second advent of Jesus Christ, and will he fulfilled by Elijah himself once more coming as a prophet to the tribes of Israel.
It is of this second, future, literal coming of Elias that John speaks in this place. When he says, "I am not Elias," he means, "I am not that Elijah you mean, who was taken up to heaven 900 years ago. The coming of that Elijah is yet a future thing. I am the forerunner of the first advent in humiliation, not of the second advent in glory. I am not the herald of Christ coming to reign, as Elijah will be one day, but the herald of Christ coming to suffer on the cross. I am not come to prepare the way for a conquering King, such as you fondly expect, but for a meek and lowly Saviour, whose great work is to bear our sins and to die. I am not the Elias you expect."
In confirmation of this view, our Lord’s remarkable words in another Gospel, ought to be carefully studied. He says distinctly "Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things," (Matthew 17:11.) And yet He adds in the same breath, "I say unto you that Elias is come already," that is, "He is come, in a certain sense, by John the Baptist going before my face in the spirit and power of Elias." In short, our Lord says at the same time, "Elias shall come," and "Elias is come"!—To me His words seem a plain proof of the theory I am here maintaining, that there are two comings of Elias. In spirit Elias came, when John the Baptist came, a man like to Elias in mind and habits. But in the flesh Elias has not yet come, and is yet to appear. And it was in the view of this future, literal coming, that John the Baptist said, "I am not Elias."—He knew that the Jews were thinking of the times of Messiah’s glory, and of the literal coming of Elijah, which would usher in those times. Therefore he says, "I am not the Elias you mean. I belong to a different dispensation."
The other view, which is undoubtedly maintained by the vast majority of commentators, appears to me surrounded with insuperable difficulties. According to them, there never was to be more than one fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy about Elias. It was to be fulfilled by John the Baptist; and when he appeared, it had received its full accomplishment. How John the Baptist’s answer in this place can be satisfactorily explained, according to this theory, I am quite unable to see. The Jews ask him plainly, whether he is Elias, that is, whether he is the person who is to fulfil Malachi’s prophecy. This, at any rate, was evidently the idea in their minds. He answers distinctly that he is not. And yet according to the theory against which I contend, he was Elias, and he ought to have replied, "I am." In short, he appears to say that which is not true!—There never was to be any one after him, who was to fulfil Malachi’s prophecy, and yet he declares in effect that he does not fulfil it, by saying that he is not Elias!
About the future literal coming of Elijah the prophet, when the Jews will at last see a living person, who will say, "I am Elias," this is not the place to speak. Whether or not he will minister to any but the Jews,—whether or not he will prove one of the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation, (Revelation 11:3,) are interesting and disputed questions. I will only remark, that the subject deserves far more attention than it ordinarily receives.
The following quotations from the Fathers will show that the opinion I have expressed is not a modern one:
Chrysostom, on Matthew 17:10, says, "As there are two comings of Christ,—first, to suffer,—secondly, to judge, so there are two comings of Elias; first of John before Christ’s first coming, who is called Elias, because he came in the manner and spirit of Elias; secondly, of the person of Elijah, the Tishbite, before Christ’s second coming."—Jerome and Theophylact say just the same.
Gregory, quoted by Mayer, says, "Whereas John denieth himself to be Elias, and Christ after affirmeth it, there is no contradiction. There is a double coming of Elias. The one is in spirit, before Christ’s coming to redeem; the other in person, before Christ’s coming to judgment. According to the first, Christ’s saying is true, ’This is Elias.’ According to the second, John’s speech is true, ’I am not.’ This was the fittest answer to men asking in a carnal sense."
Augustine says, "What John was to the first advent, Elias will be to the second advent. As there are two advents, so there are two heralds."
[Art thou that prophet?] There are two views of this question. Some think, as Augustine and Gregory, that the words should be as our marginal reading has them, "Art thou a prophet?" Others think, as Cyril and Chrysostom, that the question referred to "the prophet," of whom Moses foretold that he would come. (Deuteronomy 18:15.) I decidedly prefer the latter view. It seems very improbable that John the Baptist would entirely deny that he was a prophet.—Besides this, it seems not unreasonable that the Jews would ask whether he was "the great prophet foretold by Moses." And to this question, John answers most truly, that he was not.—It admits of doubt, whether the Jews who questioned him, clearly saw that the "prophet like unto Moses," and the "Messiah," were to be one and the same. It rather looks as if they thought "Christ" and "the prophet" were two different persons.
Lightfoot thinks that the question refers to a common expectation among the Jews, that the prophets were to rise again at the coming of Messiah, and that John’s questioners meant, "Art thou one of the prophets raised from the dead?" This superstitious notion explains the words of the disciples in Luke, "Others say that one of the old prophets is risen again." (Luke 9:19.) But the Greek article in the words before us, seems to me too strong to be rendered "a prophet."
v22.—[An answer to them that sent us.] This expression confirms the opinion already given, about the character of those who questioned John. They were not idle inquirers, but a formal deputation sent down from the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem, with a commission to find out who John was, and to make a report of what they discovered.
v23.—[He said, I am the voice, &c.] John the Baptist’s account of himself in this verse, consists of a reference to Scripture. He reminds the Priests and Levites who wanted to know who he was, of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the times of the Messiah. (Isaiah 40:3.) They would there find Isaiah saying, with the abruptness of an inspired prophet, and speaking as if he saw what he was describing, "The voice of Him that crieth in the wilderness." That means, "I hear in spirit, as I look forward to Messiah’s time, a man crying in a wilderness, prepare ye the way of the LORD."—"That prophecy," says John the Baptist, "is this day fulfilled in me. I am the person whom Isaiah saw and heard in vision. I am come to prepare the way for Messiah, like a man going before a King in a desert country, to prepare a road for his master. I am come to make ready the barren hearts of the Jewish nation for Christ’s first advent, and the kingdom of God. I am only a voice. I do not come to work miracles. I do not want disciples to follow me, but my master. The object of my mission is to be a herald, a crier, a warning voice to my fellow-countrymen, so that when my master begins His ministry they may not be found unprepared.
[The wilderness.] The common view of this expression is, that it refers to John the Baptist’s ministry having begun in the wilderness of Judæa. I rather doubt the correctness of this idea. The whole quotation is undeniably figurative. The prophet compares Messiah’s forerunner to one preparing a road for a King through a desert or uninhabited country. The "way" or road, is unquestionably figurative, and the straightness of the way too. No one supposes that Isaiah meant that John the Baptist was literally to make a road. But if the "way" is figurative, the country through which it is made must surely be figurative too. I therefore think that the wilderness is a prophetical and figurative description of the spiritual barrenness of Israel, when the Messiah’s forerunner began his ministry. At the same time, I fully admit that John’s retired and ascetic habits and his residence in the wilderness, form a remarkable coincidence with the text.
The expression "voice," has often been remarked as a beautiful illustration of the general character of John’s ministry. He was eminently a humble man. He was one who desired to be heard, and to awaken attention by the sound of his testimony, but not to be seen or visibly honoured.
v24.—[And they....sent....Pharisees.] The object of this verse is somewhat doubtful. Some think that it refers to the verse preceding, which contains a quotation from Isaiah. They which were sent, being Pharisees, and not Sadducees or Herodians, should have seen and admitted the Scriptural character of John’s mission.—Some think, as Bengel, that it refers to the following verse, in which a question was raised about baptism. They which were sent, being Pharisees, were specially strict about ceremonies, ordinances, and forms. Therefore they were not satisfied with a reference to Scripture. They asked John’s authority for baptizing. Some think that it refers generally to the notorious’ enmity and dislike with which the Pharisees regarded John the Baptist all through his ministry. Our Lord says in another place, "They rejected the counsel of God, not being baptized by him." (Luke 7:30.) The text before us would then mean, that they which asked all these questions, asked them with a thoroughly unfriendly spirit, and with no real desire to learn God’s truth, because they were Pharisees.
v25.—[Why baptizest thou....if thou be not, &c.] This verse evidently implies that John’s questioners expected the Messiah, or his forerunner, to baptize whenever he appeared. It is not unlikely, as Lightfoot says, that the idea arose from the text in Ezekiel, describing Messiah’s time, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean," &c. (Ezekiel 36:25.)
Luther thinks, that this verse shows that the questioners who came to John, now changed their tone. Hitherto they had flattered. Now they began to threaten.
One thing is very clear from this verse. The Jews were not unacquainted with baptism as a religious ordinance. It was one of the ceremonies, according to Lightfoot, by which proselytes were admitted into the Jewish Church. Moreover it is worthy of notice, that when proselytes were so admitted, their children were baptized together with them. It was not therefore the fact of John baptizing, which the Pharisees here called in question, but his authority for administering baptism.
v26.—[I baptize with water; but &c.] The answer of John the Baptist here reported is very elliptical, and the full meaning of what he said must be supplied from other places. He seems to say, "I do not baptize by my own authority, but by a commission from One far higher than either you or I. I only baptize with water; and I do not do it to make disciples for myself, but for my master. I form no party. I ask no man to follow me. I tell all whom I baptize to believe on that Mighty One who is coming after me. I am only the servant of One far greater than myself, who is even now standing among you, if you had eyes to see him. He is one so much above me in nature and dignity, that I am not worthy to be his humblest servant. He can baptize hearts, and will fulfil the promises about Messiah, to which you are vaguely referring. In the mean time I only baptize with water all those who profess repentance and willingness to receive my master.—I baptize for another and not for myself."
[There standeth one among you.] I doubt whether these words literally mean, "There is standing in the crowd of you my hearers." I prefer the sense, "there is already living and abiding among you in this land of Judæa one greater than I." I think this the sense because of the words in the 29th verse, "John seeth Jesus coming to him," which seem to imply that he was not with him the previous day.—The thought seems parallel to that contained in the words, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation."—"The messenger of God cometh suddenly to his temple." (Malachi 3:1; Luke 17:20.) All serve to point to the same truth, viz.—that when Messiah came the first time, He came quietly, without noise, without display, without the nation of the Jews knowing it, so that he "stood among them," and yet they were not aware of His presence.
The Greek word rendered "standeth," is in the perfect tense, and would be literally rendered, "there hath stood," that is, ’’hath stood for some little time, and is still standing." The Messiah has come and is present. Bengel renders it, "hath taken his stand."
The view I have maintained of the meaning of the word "standeth," is held by Parkhurst, who defines it as "being or living," and quotes John 6:22, as a parallel instance. Pearce takes the same view, and quotes Acts 26:22. Jansenius renders it, "has conversed among you, as when he sat among the doctors" in the temple. Aretius renders it, "He is present in the flesh, and walking in Judæa."
[Ye know not.] This seems to mean, not only that the Jews knew not Jesus the Messiah by sight, but that they had no spiritual knowledge of him, and of the true nature of his office, as the Saviour of sinners.—"Ye look for a conquering, reigning Messiah. Ye know not the suffering Messiah, who came to be cut off, and to be crucified for sinners."
Bengel remarks, that John is here specially "addressing inhabitants of Jerusalem, who had not been present at the baptism of Jesus. And he whets their desires, that they may be anxious to become acquainted with him."
v27.—[Coming after....preferred before.] The remarks made on John 1:15 apply fully to this expression. John declares, that though his master, in point of time, began his ministry after him, in point of dignity he was far above him. To exalt Christ, and abase himself, seem ideas never long out of John’s mind.
[Shoe’s latchet....worthy to unloose.] This is evidently a proverbial expression. "I am so inferior to Him that came after me, that in comparison with him, I am like the humblest servant compared to his master." To be not fit to carry a person’s shoes, in our times, is a well-known proverb, describing inferiority.
v28.—[These things....done in Bethabara.] In hot countries like Palestine, it was evidently important for John the Baptist to be near a supply of water, suited to the baptism of the multitudes who came to him. If Beth-barah, spoken of in Gideon’s history is the same place, it is worthy of notice that it is specially mentioned as near "waters." (Judges 7:24.)
The name of the place ought always to be dear to the hearts of Christians. It is the place where the first disciples of Jesus were made, and the foundation of the Christian church was laid. It was here, "the next day," that Jesus was publicly proclaimed as the "Lamb of God." It was here, "the day after," that Andrew and another disciple followed Jesus. Here then the Church of Christ, properly so called, began.
In leaving this passage, let us remember that John the Baptist’s ministry left the Jews entirely without excuse, when afterwards they refused to believe on Christ. They could never plead that our Lord’s ministry came on them unawares and took them by surprise. The whole nation dwelling in Palestine, from the great ecclesiastical council down to the humblest classes, were evidently aroused to a state of attention by John’s doings.
THIS passage contains a verse which ought to be printed in great letters in the memory of every reader of the Bible. All the stars in heaven are bright and beautiful, and yet one star exceedeth another star in glory. So also all texts of Scripture are inspired and profitable, and yet some texts are richer than others. Of such texts the first verse before us is preeminently one. Never was there a fuller testimony borne to Christ upon earth, than that which is here borne by John the Baptist.
Let us notice, firstly, in this passage, the peculiar name which John the Baptist gives to Christ. He calls Him "The Lamb of God."
This name did not merely mean, as some have supposed, that Christ was meek and gentle as a lamb. This would be truth no doubt, but only a very small portion of the truth. There are greater things here than this! It meant that Christ was the great sacrifice for sin, who was come to make atonement for transgression by His own death upon the cross. He was the true Lamb which Abraham told Isaac at Moriah God would provide. (Genesis 22:8.) He was the true Lamb to which every morning and evening sacrifice in the temple had daily pointed. He was the Lamb of which Isaiah had prophesied, that He would be "brought to the slaughter." (Isaiah 53:7.) He was the true Lamb of which the passover lamb in Egypt had been a vivid type. In short, He was the great propitiation for sin which God had covenanted from all eternity to send into the world. He was God’s Lamb.
Let us take heed that in all our thoughts of Christ, we first think of Him as John the Baptist here represents Him. Let us serve him faithfully as our Master. Let us obey Him loyally as our King. Let us study His teaching as our Prophet. Let us walk diligently after Him as our Example. Let us look anxiously for Him as our coming Redeemer of body as well as soul. But above all, let us prize Him as our Sacrifice, and rest our whole weight on His death as an atonement for sin. Let His blood be more precious in our eyes every year we live. Whatever else we glory in about Christ, let us glory above all things in His cross. This is the corner-stone, this is the citadel, this is the rule of true Christian theology. We know nothing rightly about Christ, until we see him with John the Baptist’s eyes, and can rejoice in Him as "the Lamb that was slain."
Let us notice, secondly, in this passage, the peculiar work which John the Baptist describes Christ as doing. He says that "he taketh away the sin of the world."
Christ is a Saviour. He did not come on earth to be a conqueror, or a philosopher, or a mere teacher of morality. He came to save sinners. He came to do that which man could never do for himself,—to do that which money and learning can never obtain,—to do that which is essential to man’s real happiness,—He came to "take away sin."
Christ is a complete Savior. He "taketh away sin." He did not merely make vague proclamations of pardon, mercy, and forgiveness. He "took" our sins upon Himself, and carried them away. He allowed them to be laid upon Himself, and "bore them in His own body on the tree." (1 Peter 2:24.) The sins of every one that believes on Jesus are made as though they had never been sinned at all. The Lamb of God has taken them clean away.
Christ is an almighty Savior, and a Savior for all mankind. He "taketh away the sin of the world." He did not die for the Jews only, but for the Gentile as well as the Jew. He did not suffer for a few persons only, but for all mankind. The payment that He made on the cross was more than enough to make satisfaction for the debts of all. The blood that He shed was precious enough to wash away the sins of all. His atonement on the cross was sufficient for all mankind, though efficient only to them that believe. The sin that He took up and bore on the cross was the sin of the whole world.
Last, but not least, Christ is a perpetual and unwearied Savior. He "taketh away" sin. He is daily taking it away from every one that believes on Him,—daily purging, daily cleansing, daily washing the souls of His people, daily granting and applying fresh supplies of mercy. He did not cease to work for His saints, when He died for them on the cross. He lives in heaven as a Priest, to present His sacrifice continually before God. In grace as well as in providence, Christ worketh still. He is ever taking away sin.
These are golden truths indeed. Well would it be for the Church of Christ, if they were used by all who know them! Our very familiarity with texts like these is one of our greatest dangers. Blessed are they who not only keep this text in their memories, but feed upon it in their hearts!
Let us notice, lastly, in this passage, the peculiar office which John the Baptist attributes to Christ. He speaks of Him as Him "which baptizeeth with the Holy Ghost."
The baptism here spoken of is not the baptism of water. It does not consist either of dipping or sprinkling. It does not belong exclusively either to infants or to grown up people. It is not a baptism which any man can give, Episcopalian or Presbyterian, Independent or Methodist, layman or minister. It is a baptism which the great Head of the Church keeps exclusively in His own hands. It consists of the implanting of grace into the inward man. It is the same thing with the new birth. It is a baptism, not of the body, but of the heart. It is a baptism which the penitent thief received, though neither dipped nor sprinkled by the hand of man. It is a baptism which Ananias and Sapphira did not receive, though admitted into church-communion by apostolic men.
Let it be a settled principle in our religion that the baptism of which John the Baptist speaks here, is the baptism which is absolutely necessary to salvation. It is well to be baptized into the visible Church; but it is far better to be baptized into that Church which is made up of true believers. The baptism of water is a most blessed and profitable ordinance, and cannot be neglected without great sin. But the baptism of the Holy Ghost is of far greater importance. The man who dies with his heart not baptized by Christ can never be saved.
Let us ask ourselves, as we leave this passage, Whether we are baptized with the Holy Ghost, and whether we have any real interest in the Lamb of God? Thousands, unhappily, are wasting their time in controversy about water baptism, and neglecting the baptism of the heart. Thousands more are content with a head-knowledge of the Lamb of God, or have never sought Him by faith, that their own sins may be actually taken away. Let us take heed that we ourselves have new hearts, and believe to the saving of our souls.
v29.—[The next day.] This means the day after the conversation between John the Baptist and the deputation of priests and Levites. The careful marking of days by John at this stage of his gospel deserves particular notice.
[Seeth Jesus coming unto him.] These words seem to prove that Jesus was not present on the preceding day, during the conversation with the priests and Levites, and that John’s words, "standeth among you," cannot be literally taken.
It seems probable, as before observed, that our Lord came back to John after His temptation in the wilderness. The Spirit took Him into the wilderness "immediately" after His baptism, (Mark 1:12,) and it was upon His return, at the end of forty days, that John the Baptist saw him again.
[And saith, behold.] This appears to have been a public, open proclamation made by John to his disciples and the multitude who surrounded him. "Behold that person who is coming towards us. He is the Lamb of God, the Messiah of whom I have been preaching to you, and on whom I have told you to believe."
[The Lamb of God.] There can be no reasonable doubt that John gave this name to our Lord because He was the true sacrifice for sin, the true antitype of the passover lamb, and the lamb prophesied of by Isaiah. (Isaiah 53:7.) The idea that he only refers to the quietness and meekness of our Lord’s personal character is utterly unsatisfactory. He is describing our Lord’s official character as the great propitiation for sin.
The expression, "Lamb of God," according to some, signifies "that eminent, great, divine, and most excellent Lamb." It is a well-known Hebraism to describe anything very great as a thing "of God." Thus we read of "thunderings of God," and "trembling of God," (Exodus 9:28; 1 Samuel 14:15.)—According to others it signifies the Lamb which God has provided from all eternity, and which God has long covenanted and promised to send into the world to be slain for sinners. Both views make good doctrine, but the second seems the preferable one.
Bengel thinks that John called our Lord "the Lamb of God," with a special reference to the Passover, which was then near. (John 2:13.) He also sees a parallel between the expression "Lamb of God," and the phrase, "sacrifice of God," (Psalms 51:17,) which means "the sacrifice which God acknowledges as pleasing to Him."
Chemnitius thinks, in addition to other reasons why John calls our Lord "the Lamb," that he desired to show that Christ’s kingdom was not political. He was neither the ram nor the he-goat described in Daniel. (Daniel 8:20.)
[Taketh away.] The Greek word so rendered, is given in the marginal reading, "beareth." Both ideas are included. It means "taketh away by his expiatory death." The Lamb of God "beareth" the sin of the world by taking it upon Himself. He allowed our guilt to be laid upon Him, and carried it away like the scapegoat, so that there was none left. It is one of the many expressions which describe the great Scripture truth, that Christ’s death was a vicarious sacrifice for sin. He became our substitute. He took upon Him our sin. He Was made sin for us. Our sins were imputed to Him. He was made a curse for us.
The word here rendered "taketh away" is found at least 100 times in the New Testament. In 82 places it is rendered, "take,"—"take up,"—or "take away." In 5 places it is, "bear." In 4 it is, "lift up." In 2 it is, "remove." In most of the other places it is the imperative expression, "away with!" All point to the same view of the text before us, viz., "a complete atonement for sin."
The use of the present tense, "taketh away," is remarked by all the best commentators, ancient and modern. It is intended to show the completeness of Christ’s satisfaction for sin, and the continual application of His once-made sacrifice. He is always taking sin away. Rollock observes, "The influence of Christ’s sacrifice is perpetual, and His blood never dries up."
The idea maintained by some, that "taking away sin," in this place, includes sanctification as well as justification, seems to me quite untenable. That Christ "takes away" the power of a believer’s sins, when He applies His redemption to his soul, is no doubt true. But it is not the truth of this text.
[The sin.] Let it be noted that the singular number is used here. It is "the sin," not "the sins." The expression seems to me purposely intended to show that what Christ took away, and bore on the cross, was not the sin of certain people only, but the whole accumulated mass of all the sins of all the children of Adam. He bore the weight of all, and made an atonement sufficient to make satisfaction for all.
The idea propounded by some, that "the sin" which Christ is said here to take away, is only man’s original sin,—and that for man’s actual sins each man must make satisfaction himself, is destitute of the slightest foundation in Scripture, contradicts scores of plain texts, and utterly overthrows the whole Gospel.
[Of the world.] It is almost needless to say that there are two views of this expression. Some say, that it only means, that Christ takes away the sins of Gentiles as well as Jews, and that it does not mean the sin of any but the elect. Others say, that it really means that Christ "taketh away" the sin of all mankind, that is, that He made an atonement sufficient for all, and that all are salvable, though not all saved, in consequence of His death.
I decidedly prefer the latter of these two views. I hold as strongly as any one. that Christ’s death is profitable to none but to the elect who believe on His name. But I dare not limit and pare down such expressions as the one before us. I dare not say that no atonement has been made, in any sense, except for the elect. I believe it is possible to be more systematic than the Bible in our statements. When I read that the wicked who are lost, "deny the Lord that bought them." (2 Peter 2:1,) and that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself," (2 Corinthians 5:19,) I dare not confine the intention of redemption to the saints alone. Christ is for every man.
I am aware the objection is often made, that "if Christ taketh away the sin of the world, and yet the vast majority of men die in their sins and are lost, Christ’s work for many was wrought in vain." I see no force in this objection. I think we might as well argue, that because sin came into the world and marred creation, creation was in vain. We are not talking of the works of men, but of the eternal Word, and we must be content to see much in His works that we do not entirely understand. Though multitudes are lost, I have no doubt the last day will prove that nothing that Christ did for them was in vain.
I rest in the view of the text, that in some ineffable and inscrutable way, the whole world’s sin was borne and atoned for by Christ. "He taketh away, or makes atonement for, the sin of all the men and women in the world." I have no doubt, from Scripture, that the vast majority of "the world’s" inhabitants will be found at last to have received no benefit from Christ, and to have died in their sins. I repudiate the idea of universal salvation, as a dangerous heresy, and utterly contrary to Scripture.—But the lost will not prove to be lost because Christ did nothing for them. He bore their sins. He carried their transgressions. He provided payment, but they would not put in their claim to any interest in it. He set the prison door open to all; but the majority would not come out and be free. In the work of the Father in election, and of the Spirit in conversion, I see limitation in the Bible most clearly. But in the work of Christ in atonement I see no limitation. The atonement was made for all the world, though it is applied to and enjoyed by none but believers.—Christ’s intercession is the peculiar privilege of His people. But Christ’s atonement is a benefit which is offered freely and honestly to all mankind.
In saying all this I am fully aware that the word "world" is sometimes used in a qualified sense, and must be interpreted with some limitation. When it is said, "The world knew him not," (John 1:10,) it cannot mean that not a single person in the world knew Him. But in the text before us I see no necessity for limitation. I see the whole mass of mankind’s guilt brought together in one singular word, "the sin of the world," and that sin, I am told, Christ "taketh away." And I believe the true meaning to be, that the Lamb of God has made atonement sufficient for all mankind, though efficient unquestionably to none but believers.
Augustine remarks, "How weighty must be the blood of the Lamb, by whom the world was made, to turn the scale when weighed against the world!"
Calvin, in his commentary on this verse, says, "John uses the word sin in the singular number for any kind of iniquity; as if he had said that every kind of unrighteousness which alienates men from God is taken away by Christ. And when he says ’The sin of the world,’ he extends this favour indiscriminately to the whole human race, that the Jews might not think that He had been sent to them alone. Hence we infer that the whole world is involved in the same condemnation; and that as all men, without exception, are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they need to be reconciled to Him. John the Baptist, by speaking generally of the sin of the world, intended to impress upon us the conviction of our own misery, and to exhort us to seek the remedy. Now our duty is to embrace the benefit which is offered to all, that each of us may be convinced that there is nothing to hinder him from obtaining reconciliation in Christ, provided that he comes to Him by the guidance of faith."
Brentius says, "Although all the men in the world do not receive the benefit of Christ’s passion, because all do not believe on Christ, yet that benefit is so offered to the whole world, that whosoever, whether circumcised or uncircumcised, king or peasant, high or low, rich or poor, sick or well, old or young, receives Christ by faith, is justified before God, and saved with an eternal salvation."
Musculus says, "John places before us no one particular person whose sins the Lamb has come to take away; but under the expression ’the world,’ he comprehends the whole race of mortals from the very beginning of the world to the end of it."
Melancthon says, "He taketh away the sin, that is the universal condemnation, of the human race."
Chemnitius says, "John affirms that the benefits of Christ belong not to the Jews only, but to the whole world, and that no one who is in the world is excluded from them, if he is only willing to receive them by faith."
The deep spiritual knowledge exhibited by John the Baptist in this verse, ought not to be overlooked. Such a sentence as the one before us never fell from the lips of any other disciple of Christ before the day of Pentecost. Others could say that our Lord was the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Son of David, the King of Israel, the Son of the Blessed, who was to come into the world. But none seem to have seen so clearly as John that Christ was the sacrifice for sin, the Lamb that was to be slain. Well would it be for the Church of Christ in the nineteenth century, if all its ministers possessed as much knowledge of Christ’s atonement as is here shown by John the Baptist! John saw the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, before He died on the cross. Many so-called Christians cannot see Christ’s vicarious sacrifice even at this day!
v30.—[This is he of whom I said.] These words appear to have been spoken in our Lord’s presence, and to have been specially intended to point the multitude to Him. "This person before you is He of whom I have repeatedly spoken in my ministry, as the coming One who is far greater than myself. You see Him now before you."
[A man...he was before me.] The human and divine natures of our Lord are here brought together by John in one sentence, "He of whom I spake to you is a man, and yet at the same time He is One who was before me, because He has existed from all eternity."
v31.—[I knew him not.] This means "I was not acquainted with Him in time past. There has been no private collusion or arrangement between Him and me. I did not even know Him by sight until the day when He came to be baptized." The difficulty connected with these words of John will be considered fully at the 33rd verse.
[That he should be made manifest to Israel, &c.] John here declares that the great end of his ministry was, that this wonderful Person, whom he had just pointed out, should be manifested and made known to the Jews. He did not come to form a party of his own, or to baptize in his own name. The whole object of his preaching and baptizing was now before his hearers. It was simply to make known to Israel the Mighty One, the Lamb of God, whom they now saw.
v32.—[And John bare record.] These words seem to denote a public and solemn testimony borne by John to the fact, that our Lord had been visibly acknowledged by God the Father as the Messiah. If his hearers would have further proof that this Person, to whom he was pointing them, was really the Christ, he would tell them what he had seen with his own eyes. He would bear witness that he had seen visible proofs that this Person was really the Messiah.
[I saw.] This means, "At the time when our Lord was baptized, I saw this heavenly vision." Whether any beside John saw this vision, and heard the voice of the Father, which accompanied it, may well be doubted. At any rate, if they did, they did not understand either what they saw or heard.
[The Spirit descending, &c.] This means that John saw something coming down from heaven after the manner of a dove flying downwards, and that what he saw was the Holy Spirit, graciously revealing Himself in a visible manner.
[It abode upon him.] This means that the heavenly vision of the Holy Spirit rested upon Christ at the time of His baptism. It lighted down upon Him as a dove would settle down, and did not leave Him.
I cannot satisfy myself that the expression "like a dove" in this verse, means that any dove was really seen by John, when our Lord was baptized. All the four Gospel-writers describe an appearance "like a dove." Luke distinctly speaks of "a bodily shape." That something visible was seen by John is plain, and that its appearance descending on our Lord, resembled the downward flight of a dove, is also plain. But I am unable to see that the Holy Ghost took upon Him the actual form of a dove.
Some think, as Augustine, that the likeness to a dove was especially employed at this time, to answer the figure of Noah’s flood. He says, "As a dove did at that time bring tidings of the abating of the water, so doth it now of the abating of the wrath of God, upon the preaching of the Gospel."
We must beware of supposing for a moment, that this vision of the Spirit descending was meant to imply, that our Lord first received the grace of the Holy Ghost at that particular time, or that He had not received it before in the same degree. We must not doubt that the Holy Ghost dwelt in Jesus "without measure" from the very time of His incarnation. The vision was meant to show the Church, that when Christ’s ministry began, a fuller revelation of all Three Persons in the Trinity was made at once to mankind. It was meant at the same time to be a formal testimony to John the Baptist that the Messiah was before him,—that this was the promised Saviour whom God had anointed with the Holy Ghost and sent into the world,—that the time of Christ’s ministry had begun,—that He who had the Spirit to bestow on men was before him,—and that His entrance on His public work was attested by the presence both of the Father and the Holy Ghost, in short, by a manifestation of all three Persons in the Trinity at one time.
As a Levite, John doubtless was familiar with all the ceremonies by which the Jewish high priests and kings were solemnly inducted into their office. For his satisfaction, therefore, our Lord received visible attestation from heaven, and was publicly recognized as the Messiah, the anointed Priest, and King, and Prophet, before his forerunner’s eyes.
Musculus on this verse remarks, "The Spirit did not descend on Christ’s account, who was never separate, either from the Holy Spirit or from the Father,—but on our account, that He who came to redeem the world, might be made manifest, through John’s declaration of Him."
v33.—[I knew him not.] The Greek word so rendered, both here and at John 1:31, is literally, "I had not known him." There is a difficulty connected with the expression which demands explanation. Matthew tells us, that when our Lord came to John to be baptized, John said to him, "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" (Matthew 3:14,) showing plainly by these words that he knew He was before him. And yet here we find John saying, "I knew him not." How can this apparent inconsistency be reconciled?
Some think, as Chrysostom, that "John is speaking of former times, and not of the times near to his baptism."
Some think, as Augustine, that it means, "I had not known till that day that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Ghost, although I had long known him personally, and had recognized him as the Christ of God. But when He came to be baptized, it was also revealed to me, that He would confer on men the great gift of the Holy Ghost."
Some think, as Brentius and Beza, that it means, "I had not known Jesus by sight until the day when He came to be baptized. I knew that He had been born of the virgin Mary, but was not personally acquainted with Him, having been myself brought up ’in the desert.’ (Luke 1:80.) I had only been told by Him who sent me to baptize, that whenever the Messiah came to be baptized, I should recognize Him by the descent of the Holy Ghost. When He did come, I received a secret revelation from God that Messiah stood before me, and under the power of that feeling I confessed my unworthiness to baptize Him. But when at last I did baptize Him, I received a full confirmation of my faith by beholding the promised sign of the descent of the Holy Ghost." Those who hold this view, think the case of Samuel receiving a secret revelation about Saul, an illustration of the matter. (1 Samuel 9:15-17.)
Some think, as Poole, that it means, "I knew him not perfectly and distinctly, though I had an impression when I first saw Him coming to be baptized, that He was One far greater than myself, and under that impression demurred to baptizing Him. After His baptism I saw clearly who He was."
The last explanation is perhaps the simplest, and most probable. That John at one time did not know our Lord by sight at all, that he afterwards knew Him imperfectly, and that his perfect knowledge of Him, His nature, office, and work, was not attained till the time when the Spirit descended at His baptism, are points that seem clear. The time when he said, "I have need to be baptized of thee," would seem to be the time of imperfect knowledge, when the fact that Jesus was the Messiah began to dawn upon him, and made him cry out, "comest thou to me?"
Chrysostom observes, that the expression is a proof "that the miracles which they say belong to Christ’s childhood are false, and the invention of those who bring them to notice. For if He had begun from His early age to work miracles, neither could John have been ignorant of Him, nor would the multitude have needed a teacher to make Him known."
[He that sent me...same said.] This expression indicates that John the Baptist had many special revelations of God concerning His work, of which we have no record given to us. He seems to have been taught and instructed like one of the old prophets.
[He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.] The remarkable description of our Lord, here given by John the Baptist, has received three very different interpretations.
Some think that it means, "This is He who shall institute Christian baptism, with which the gift of the Holy Ghost shall be connected. His baptism shall be like mine, a baptism of water. But it shall not be a baptism of water only, as mine is, but a baptism accompanied by the regenerating grace of the Spirit."
Some think that it means, "This is He who shall baptize with the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, and confer miraculous gifts on the church."
Some think it means, "This is He who shall baptize the hearts of men, which neither thou canst do nor any other human minister. He has the prerogative of giving spiritual life. He is the giver of the Holy Spirit to all who believe on Him."
I am decidedly of opinion that this third view is the correct one. It is the only one which seems at all answerable to the majesty of the person spoken of, the dignity of the speaker, and the solemnity of the occasion.—To say, "This is He who shall institute Christian baptism" seems a very lame and impotent account of the expression.—To say, "This is He who shall bestow miraculous gifts at the day of Pentecost," is a degree better, but gives a picture of our Lord’s office confined to a single generation.—But to say, "This is He who, in every age of the church, will baptize the hearts of his people by the Holy Ghost, and by this baptism continually replenish the ranks of His mystical body," is saying that which exactly suits the occasion, and describes our Lord’s work in the world in a worthy manner.
Musculus, on this verse, remarks, "What is it to baptize with the Holy Ghost? It is to regenerate the hearts of the elect, and consecrate them into the fellowship of the sons of God." Again, he says, "It is Christ alone who baptizes with the Holy Ghost, a power which, as divine, He keeps in His own hands and never communicates to any minister."
The view I have maintained is ably set forth in Bucer’s commentary on this place. He says, "By the baptism of water we are received into the outward Church of God; by the baptism of the Spirit into the inward Church." The opinion of one who was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, in the reign of Edward the Sixth, and the personal friend and adviser of Cranmer and the other English reformers, deserves much consideration. It proves, at any rate, that the doctrine of inward baptism of the Spirit, which Christ alone gives to every believer, and the identity of this baptism with conversion or new birth, are not such modern and contemptible notions as some persons are pleased to think.
The untenableness of the view, held by many, that John’s baptism was not the same as Christian baptism. to all intents and purposes, is ably shown by Lightfoot, in his Harmony of the Four Evangelists. If it was not Christian baptism, it would be hard to prove that some of the disciples ever received Christian baptism at all. There is not the slightest evidence that Andrew, Peter, and Philip were baptized by Jesus.
The familiarity which John displays with the Holy Ghost and his work, deserves particular attention. To say, as many do, that the Holy Ghost was not known until the day of Pentecost, is saying what cannot be proved. The Holy Ghost has always been in the hearts of believers in every age of the world. His abundant outpouring is undoubtedly a leading mark of the days since Christ came into the world. But the Holy Ghost was ever in God’s elect, and without Him there never was a soul saved.
v34.—[I saw and bare record, &c.] This means, "I saw perfectly, and from that time have distinctly and unhesitatingly testified that the person whom you now see before you is the Christ, the Son of the living God. From the day of His baptism I have been fully convinced that this is the Messiah."
John here declares his own firm conviction of our Lord’s divinity and eternal generation. He was satisfied that our Lord was not the son of Mary only, but the Son of God.
THESE verses ought always to be interesting to every true Christian. They describe the first beginnings of the Christian Church. Vast as that church is now, there was a time when it consisted of only two weak members. The calling of those two members is described in the passage which is now before our eyes.
We see, for one thing, in these verses, what good is done by continually testifying of Christ.
The first time that John the Baptist cried, "Behold the Lamb of God," no result appears to have followed. We are not told of any who heard, inquired, and believed. But when he repeated the same words the next day, we read that two of his disciples "heard him speak and followed Jesus." They were received most graciously by Him whom they followed. "They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day." Truly it was a day in their lives most eventful, and most blessed! From that day they became fast and firm disciples of the new-found Messiah. They took up the cross. They continued with Him in His temptations. They followed Him whithersoever He went. One of them at least, if not both, became a chosen apostle, and a master builder in the Christian temple. And all was owing to John the Baptist’s testimony, "Behold the lamb of God." That testimony was a little seed. But it bore mighty fruits.
This simple story is a pattern of the way in which good has been done to souls in every age of the Christian Church. By such testimony as that before us, and by none else, men and women are converted and saved. It is by exalting Christ, not the church,—Christ, not the sacraments,—Christ, not the ministry,—it is by this means that hearts are moved, and sinners are turned to God. To the world such testimony may seem weakness and foolishness. Yet, like the ram’s horns, before whose blast the walls of Jericho fell down, this testimony is mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. The story of the crucified Lamb of God has proved in every age, the power of God unto salvation. Those who have done most for Christ’s cause in every part of the world, have been men like John the Baptist. They have not cried, Behold me, or Behold the church, or Behold the ordinances, but "Behold the Lamb." If souls are to be saved, men must be pointed directly to Christ.
One thing, however, must never be forgotten. There must be patient continuance in preaching and teaching the truth, if we want good to be done. Christ must be set forth again and again, as the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." The story of grace must be told repeatedly,—line upon line, and precept upon precept. It is the constant dropping which wears away the stone. The promise shall never be broken, that "God’s word shall not return unto him void." (Isaiah 55:11.) But it is nowhere said that it shall do good the very first time that it is preached. It was not the first proclamation of John the Baptist, but the second, which made Andrew and his companion follow Jesus.
We see, for another thing, what good a believer may do to others, by speaking to them about Christ.
No sooner does Andrew become a disciple, than he tells his brother Simon what a discovery he has made. Like one who has unexpectedly heard good tidings, he hastens to impart it to the one nearest and dearest to him. He says to his brother, "We have found the Messias," and he "brings him to Jesus." Who can tell what might have happened if Andrew had been of a silent, reserved, and uncommunicative spirit, like many a Christian in the present day? Who can tell but his brother might have lived and died a fisherman on the Galilean lake? But happily for Simon, Andrew was not a man of this sort. He was one whose heart was so full that he must speak. And to Andrew’s out-spoken testimony, under God, the great apostle Peter owed the first beginning of light in his soul.
The fact before us is most striking and instructive. Out of the three first members of the Christian Church, one at least was brought to Jesus, by the private, quiet word of a relative. He seems to have heard no public preaching. He saw no mighty miracle wrought. He was not convinced by any powerful reasoning. He only heard his brother telling him that he had found a Savior himself, and at once the work began in his soul. The simple testimony of a warm-hearted brother was the first link in the chain by which Peter was drawn out of the world, and joined to Christ. The first blow in that mighty work by which Peter was made a pillar of the Church, was struck by Andrew’s words, "We have found the Christ."
Well would it be for the Church of Christ, if all believers were more like Andrew! Well would it be for souls if all men and women who have been converted themselves, would speak to their friends and relatives on spiritual subjects, and tell them what they have found! How much good might be done! How many might be led to Jesus, who now live and die in unbelief! The work of testifying the Gospel of the grace of God ought not to be left to ministers alone. All who have received mercy ought to find a tongue, and to declare what God has done for their souls. All who have been delivered from the power of the devil, ought to "go home and tell their friends what great things God has done for them." (Mark 5:19.) Thousands, humanly speaking, would listen to a word from a friend, who will not listen to a sermon. Every believer ought to be a home-missionary, a missionary to his family, children, servants, neighbors, and friends. Surely, if we can find nothing to say to others about Jesus, we may well doubt whether we are savingly acquainted with Him ourselves.
Let us take heed that we are among those who really follow Christ, and abide with Him. It is not enough to hear Him preached from the pulpit, and to read of Him as described in books. We must actually follow Him, pour out our hearts before Him, and hold personal communion with Him. Then, and not till then, we shall feel constrained to speak of Him to others. The man who only knows Christ by the hearing of the ear, will never do much for the spread of Christ’s cause in the earth.
v35.—[The next day.] Let John’s particularity in noting days at this period of our Lord’s history, be observed again in this verse. If, as many suppose, John was one of the two who this day followed Jesus and became His disciples, we can well understand that it was a memorable day to him.
[John stood.] This expression seems to imply that there was some particular spot near Bethabara, where John the Baptist was in the habit of standing, to preach, and to receive those who came to be baptized. While he "stood" here, the event which follows took place.
v36.—[Looking....Jesus, as he walked.] This probably means that he saw Jesus walking among the crowd of persons who were attracted to Bethabara, alone, without followers, and as yet not recognized by any one as the Messiah.
Stier remarks, "John saw Jesus walking, in silent meditation, waiting for His hour, and His Father’s commands; in full preparation for the world and its sin: equipped for the testimony to the truth, with that armour, which has been tested and approved in His first great spiritual conflict; and for the utterance of the new words of God, which the Father has given Him."
[He saith, behold, &c.] This seems to have been a second public proclamation of our Lord’s office and character, a partial repetition of what had been said the day before; and yet, as the event shows, a more effective proclamation. The same truth may do good the second time that it is preached, which does nothing the first time.
v37.—[Heard....speak....followed.] The three steps described in this verse, are very noteworthy. John the Baptist "speaks." The disciples "hear." After hearing they ’’follow Jesus." This is a succinct summary of God’s way of saving myriads of souls.
Rollock on this verse remarks, "We learn by this example, how powerful is the preaching of Christ,—yea, one or two words about Christ and the cross, how powerful are they in changing the hearts of men! Preach, if you like, about the great deeds of kings and generals, and their courage and glory;—these things will please men for a little time, but they will not convert them. But preach concerning Him that was crucified, a subject apparently ignominious and foolish,—and then the story of the cross, which is foolishness to them that perish, will be the power and wisdom of God to them that believe."
v38.—[What seek ye?] We cannot doubt that our Lord knew perfectly well the hearts and motives of these two disciples. In asking this question, therefore, He spoke partly for their encouragement, and partly to stir them up to self-inquiry. "What seek ye? Is there anything that I can do for you, any truth that I can teach you, any burden that I can take away? If so, speak, and be not afraid."—"What seek ye? Are you sure that you are following me with right motives? Are you sure that you are not regarding me as a temporal ruler? Are you sure that you are not, like other Jews, seeking riches, honour, greatness, in this world? Prove your own selves, and be sure that you are seeking the right object."
[Which is to say, being interpreted.] This is one of a class of expressions which shows that John wrote for Gentile readers rather than Jews. A Jew would not have needed this parenthetical comment. This same remark applies to John 1:41.
[Where dwellest thou?] This question seems to imply a desire for conversation and private communion. "We would fain know more of Thee. We are drawn to Thee by John the Baptist’s proclamation. We would like to go aside with Thee from the crowd, and inquire of Thee more privately and quietly, at thy dwelling, nbout the things which are upon our hearts."
To apply the text, as many do, to our Lord’s spiritual dwelling in "contrite hearts," &c., (Isaiah 57:15,) may produce good doctrinal and practical theology. But it is not the point of the text.
v39.—[Come and see.] The great affability, and condescension of these first words of our Lord’s after His public appearance as Messiah, ought not to be overlooked. The very first thing that we hear Him saying, after He has been publicly proclaimed as the "Lamb of God," is "Come and see." It is a pleasant type of what He has been ever saying to the sons of men from that day down to this, "Come and see who I am, and what I am. Come and be acquainted with me."
Schottgen and Lightfoot both remark, that the expression "Come and see," is a very common one in Rabbinical writings, and would be very familiar to the Jews.
[Where he dwelt.] We can only suppose that the place where our Lord was dwelling at this time, was some temporary residence in or near Bethabara. At the best, it was probably some humble lodging. It is not impossible that It was nothing more than a cave. He often "had not where to lay His head." If the two disciples had the least relic of Jewish expectation, that Messiah would appear in royal dignity and glory, our Lord’s dwelling would go far to disabuse their minds of the idea.
[Abode with Him that day...tenth hour.] The Jewish day began; at six o’clock in the morning. The tenth hour therefore means, four o’clock in the afternoon. At this late hour of the day, His disciples found it impossible to conclude their conversation with Jesus, and therefore remained in the same lodging with Him all night.
Many commentators, from Augustine downwards, make the natural remark, that this evening must have been a blessed evening for these two disciples; and that it would have been pleasant if the conversation had been given to us! Yet if it had been good for us to know the conversation, it would doubtless have been recorded. There are no deficiencies in Scripture.
v40.—[One of the two....was Andrew.] The priority of Andrew to Peter ought not to be overlooked. Peter, to whom the Church of Rome boastfully attributes a primacy among the apostles, was neither converted nor made acquainted with Christ, so soon as his brother.
Who the other of these two disciples was, we are not told. It is highly probable, as Chrysostom and Theophylact conjecture, that it was John himself. On seven other occasions in this Gospel he humbly withholds his name. (John 13:23; John 19:26; John 19:35; John 20:2; John 21:7; John 21:20; John 21:24.) It is therefore very likely that he withheld it here.—The supposition of Musculus, and others, that the other disciple was a person of less zeal and sincerity than Andrew, and is therefore not named, appears to me improbable.
v41.—[He first.] This expression must either mean that Andrew was the first of the two disciples who brought a brother to Jesus,—or that he was the first disciple, speaking generally, who spoke to others of the Messiah, when he had found Him,—or that he was the first to tell his brother Peter, and Peter was not the first to tell him about Christ.
[We have found.] This expression implies an unexpected and joyful discovery. The evening’s conversation which Andrew had held with Jesus, had convinced him that He was indeed the Christ.
[The Messias....interpreted...Christ.] It is almost needless to remark, that these names mean the "anointed one." The first is Hebrew, and the second is Greek. Kings, prophets, and priests, in the Old Testament, were anointed, and our Lord as the Prophet, Priest, and King of the Church was called the Anointed One, not because He was really anointed with oil, but because he was "anointed with the Holy Ghost." (Acts 10:38.)
The extent of Andrew’s religious knowledge ought not to be overlooked. Poor and humble in station as he was, he seems, like all the Jews, to have known what the Old Testament prophets had foretold about Messiah, and to have been prepared to hear of a person appearing in the character of Messiah. It is one of many expressions in the Gospels which show that the lower orders among the Jews were far better acquainted with the letter of the Old Testament Scriptures, than the poor in our own day generally are with the letter of the New Testament, or indeed of any part of the Bible.
Calvin remarks on Andrew’s conduct, "Woe to our indolence, if we do not, after having been fully enlightened, endeavour to make others partakers of the same grace."
v42.—[When Jesus beheld....said....thou art Simon.] Our Lord here displayed His perfect knowledge of all persons, names, and things. He needed not that any should tell Him who and what a person was. This knowledge was supposed by the Jews to be a peculiar attribute of Messiah, whenever He came. He was to be one of "quick understanding." (Isaiah 11:3.) Enough for us to know that it is a peculiar attribute of God. He alone knows the hearts of men. Our Lord’s perfect knowledge of all hearts was one among many proofs of His divinity. The same knowledge appears again in His address to Nathanael, in this chapter, John 1:47, and in His conversation with the Samaritan woman. (John 4:18, etc.)—The effect produced in both cases, is very worthy of notice.
[Cephas.] This is a Syriac word, and is equivalent to the Greek word Petros, which we render Peter. Both mean a stone, a portion of a rock. "Petra" means a rock, "Petros" a piece of a rock. Peter was the latter, but not the former.
[A stone.] The marginal reading here, as Lightfoot remarks, would have been much better than that which the translators have put in our version. If the words were "Cephas, which is by interpretation Peter," it would have conveyed our Lord’s meaning far more clearly.
The custom of having two names appears to have been common in New Testament times. The apostle Peter seems to have been only known as "Cephas" in the Corinthian Church. Out of the five other places in the New Testament where the name Cephas is found, four are in the epistle to the Corinthians, while the name Peter is not used in that epistle at all.
Nifanius gives the names of three Popes who have so grossly mistaken the origin of the word Cephas as to suppose that it is derived from the Greek word which signifies "a head," and that it indicated Peter’s headship in the Church! Such a palpable blunder is one of a thousand proofs that Popes are no more infallible than other men. Calovius makes the same charge against no less a person than Cardinal Bellarmine.
If it be asked why our Lord gave Simon this new name, the best answer appears to be that it was given with a special reference to the change which grace was to work in Simon’s heart. Naturally impulsive, unstable, and unsteady, he was finally to become a firm, solid stone in the Church of Christ, and to testify his unshaken adherence to Christ by suffering martyrdom.
Chrysostom thinks that our Lord altered Simon’s name "to show that it was He who gave the old covenant, that it was He who called Abram Abraham, and Sarai Sarah, and Jacob Israel."
Lightfoot, on these verses, after noticing the error which Roman Catholic writers attempt to found upon it, about Peter being the rock upon which the Church is built, makes the following curious observation,—"If they will so pertinaciously adhere to it, let us apprehend our Lord speaking prophetically, and foretelling the grand error that would spring up in the Church, namely that Peter is a rock, than which the Christian Church has known nothing more sad and destructive."
Let it be noted, in leaving this passage, that the selection of such humble unlearned men as those here described, to be the first apostles and preachers of the Gospel, is a strong evidence of the truth of Christianity. A religion which was propagated by such weak instruments, in the face of persecution and opposition from the great and learned, must be a religion from God. Such results from such instrumentality cannot possibly be accounted for on natural principles.
LET us observe, as we read these verses, how various are the paths by which souls are led into the narrow way of life.
We are told of a man, named Philip, being added to the little company of Christ’s disciples. He does not appear to have been moved, like Andrew and his companions, by the testimony of John the Baptist. He was not drawn, like Simon Peter, by the out-spoken declaration of a brother. He seems to have been called directly by Christ Himself, and the agency of man seems not to have been used in his calling. Yet in faith and life he became one with those who were disciples before him. Though led by different paths, they all entered the same road, embraced the same truths, served the same Master, and at length reached the same home.
The fact before us is a deeply important one. It throws light on the history of all God’s people in every age, and of every tongue. There are diversities of operations in the saving of souls. All true Christians are led by one Spirit, washed in one blood, serve one Lord, lean on one Savior, believe one truth, and walk by one general rule. But all are not converted in one and the same manner. All do not pass through the same experience. In conversion, the Holy Ghost acts as a sovereign. He calleth every one severally as He will.
A careful recollection of this point may save us much trouble. We must beware of making the experience of other believers the measure of our own. We must beware of denying another’s grace, because he has not been led by the same way as ourselves. Has a man got the real grace of God? This is the only question that concerns us.—Is he a penitent man? Is he a believer? Does he live a holy life?—Provided these inquiries can be answered satisfactorily, we may well be content. It matters nothing by what path a man has been led, if he has only been led at last into the right way.
Let us observe, secondly, in these verses, how much of Christ there is in the Old Testament Scriptures. We read that when Philip described Christ to Nathanael, he says, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write."
Christ is the sum and substance of the Old Testament. To Him the earliest promises pointed in the days of Adam, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. To Him every sacrifice pointed in the ceremonial worship appointed at Mount Sinai. Of Him every high priest was a type, and every part of the tabernacle was a shadow, and every judge and deliverer of Israel was a figure. He was the prophet like unto Moses, whom the Lord God promised to send, and the King of the house of David, who came to be David’s Lord as well as son. He was the Son of the virgin, and the Lamb, foretold by Isaiah,—the righteous Branch mentioned by Jeremiah,—the true Shepherd, foreseen by Ezekiel,—the Messenger of the Covenant, promised by Malachi,—and the Messiah, who, according to Daniel, was to be cut off, though not for Himself. The further we read in the volume of the Old Testament, the clearer do we find the testimony about Christ. The light which the inspired writers enjoyed in ancient days was, at best, but dim, compared to that of the Gospel. But the coming Person they all saw afar off, and on whom they all fixed their eyes, was one and the same. The Spirit, which was in them, testified of Christ. (1 Peter 1:11.)
Do we stumble at this saying? Do we find it hard to see Christ in the Old Testament, because we do not see His name? Let us be sure that the fault is all our own. It is our spiritual vision which is to blame, and not the book. The eyes of our understanding need to be enlightened. The veil has yet to be taken away. Let us pray for a more humble, childlike, and teachable spirit, and let us take up "Moses and the prophets" again. Christ is there, though our eyes may not yet have seen Him. May we never rest till we can subscribe to our Lord’s words about the Old Testament Scriptures, "They are they which testify of me." (John 5:39.)
Let us observe, thirdly, in these verses, the good advice which Philip gave to Nathanael. The mind of Nathanael was full of doubts about the Savior, of whom Philip told Him. "Can there any good thing," he said, "come out of Nazareth?" And what did Philip reply? He said, "Come and see."
Wiser counsel than this it would be impossible to conceive! If Philip had reproved Nathanael’s unbelief, he might have driven him back for many a day, and given offence. If he had reasoned with him, he might have failed to convince him, or might have confirmed him in his doubts. But by inviting him to prove the matter for himself, he showed his entire confidence in the truth of his own assertion, and his willingness to have it tested and proved. And the result shows the wisdom of Philip’s words. Nathanael owed his early acquaintance with Christ to that frank invitation, "Come and see."
If we call ourselves true Christians, let us never be afraid to deal with people about their souls as Philip dealt with Nathanael. Let us invite them boldly to make proof of our religion. Let us tell them confidently that they cannot know its real value until they have tried it. Let us assure them that vital Christianity courts every possible inquiry. It has no secrets. It has nothing to conceal. Its faith and practice are spoken against, just because they are not known. Its enemies speak evil of things with which they are not acquainted. They understand neither what they say nor whereof they affirm. Philip’s mode of dealing, we may be sure, is one principal way to do good. Few are ever moved by reasoning and argument. Still fewer are frightened into repentance. The man who does most good to souls, is often the simple believer who says to his friends, "I have found a Savior; come and see Him."
Let us observe, lastly, in these verses, the high character which Jesus gives of Nathanael. He calls him "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile."
Nathanael, there can be no doubt, was a true child of God, and a child of God in difficult times. He was one of a very little flock. Like Simeon and Anna, and other pious Jews, he was living by faith and waiting prayerfully for the promised Redeemer, when our Lord’s ministry began. He had that which grace alone can give, an honest heart, a heart without guile. His knowledge was probably small. His spiritual eyesight was dim. But he was one who had lived carefully up to his light. He had diligently used such knowledge as he possessed. His eye had been single, though his vision had not been strong. His spiritual judgment had been honest, though it had not been powerful. What he saw in Scripture, he had held firmly, in spite of Pharisees and Sadducees, and all the fashionable religion of the day. He was an honest Old Testament believer, who had stood alone. And here was the secret of our Lord’s peculiar commendation! He declared Nathanael to be a true son of Abraham,—a Jew inwardly, possessing circumcision in the spirit as well as in the letter,—an Israelite in heart, as well as a son of Jacob in the flesh.
Let us pray that we may be of the same spirit as Nathanael. An honest, unprejudiced mind,—a child-like willingness to follow the truth, wherever the truth may lead us,—a simple, hearty desire to be guided, taught, and led by the Spirit,—a thorough determination to use every spark of light which we have,—are a possession of priceless value. A man of this spirit may live in the midst of much darkness, and be surrounded by every possible disadvantage to his soul. But the Lord Jesus will take care that such a man does not miss the way to heaven. "The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way." (Psalms 25:9.)
v43.—[The day following.] This is the fourth successive day which is specially named by John, and its events described. The first contained John the Baptist’s reply to the priests and Levites,—the second, his public announcement of our Lord as the Lamb of God,—the third, the calling of Andrew and his companion, and Peter,—the fourth describes the calling of Philip and Nathanael.
[Would go forth.] The Greek word rendered "would," signifies that our Lord "willed or had a will."
[Findeth Philip.] It does not appear where Philip was when Jesus called him. He must either have been at Bethabara, among John’s hearers,—or at some place on the road from Bethabara to Galilee,—or at his own native place, Bethsaida. The last is perhaps the most probable idea.
[Follow me.] This simple sentence describes the direct quickening voice of an almighty Saviour. It is evident that the power of the Holy Ghost accompanied our Lord’s words, and that as soon as they were spoken, Philip, like Matthew the publican, arose, left all, and became a disciple. In conversion God acts as a sovereign. One is called in one way, and another in another. Rollock observes on this verse, "This teaches us that Christ is able to call any one whom He pleases into the kingdom of heaven, without the ministry either of angel or man."
v44.—[Philip...of Bethsaida...city... Andrew...Peter.] This verse seems to make it probable that Philip’s conversion and calling took place at Bethsaida. Andrew and Peter having been converted and become companions of Jesus on His way to Galilee, would appear to have taken Him to their own native place, Bethsaida.
v45.—[We have found him.] Philip, like his fellow-citizen, Andrew, seems to have expected the appearance of Messiah.
Chrysostom remarks, "Seest thou what a thoughtful mind he had, how assiduously he meditates on the writings of Moses, and expected the advent ? The expression, ’we have found,’ belongs always to those who are in some way seeking."
[Him....Moses....prophets did write.] Here, as in the case of Andrew, we should notice the familiarity with the general contents of Scripture which a poor Jew like Philip possessed. He thoroughly understood that "Moses and the prophets" held forth the promise of a coming Redeemer, and that a better Priest, Prophet, and King were foretold in their writings. "The Old Testament," as the Church of England Article wisely declares, "is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old Testament and New, everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ." We must beware, in these latter days, of despising the Old Testament. It is one by-path to infidelity.
[Jesus of Nazareth...son of Joseph.] Philip here describes our Lord according to the common report about Him, and in all probability according to his own present knowledge. His heart was at present better than his head. The miraculous conception of Christ was hidden from him. Yet it is not unworthy of remark, that this ignorant account of our Lord was very likely the cause of Nathanael’s doubt and prejudice, exhibited in the next verse. The mistakes of young converts are often mighty stumbling-blocks in the way of other people’s souls. We must not, however, despise Philip because of his mistake. Rollock remarks, "I had rather a man should stammer and babble about Christ, providing he does it sincerely and from his heart, and has before him as an object the glory of God and salvation of men, than say many things eloquently about Christ, for ostentation and vain glory."
v46.—[Can any good thing...come...Nazareth?] This question shows the low estimate in which Nazareth, where our Lord had been brought up, was held. It was an obscure town in a corner of Galilee, not far from the borders of the province, and its reputation seems to have been very bad. Nathanael could not remember any prophecy about Messiah coming out of Nazareth, and at once stumbled at the idea of Him whom "Moses and the prophets" had described, belonging to such a contemptible place.
The condescension of our Lord in living thirty years in such a place as Nazareth, is strongly brought out by Nathanael’s question.
Augustine, Cyril, Origen, and others thought that the sentence before us ought not to be interpreted as a question, but as a simple affirmation, "Some good thing may come out of Nazareth." Wycliffe’s version also takes this view. The sentence would then be the expression of a calm and unprejudiced mind, acknowledging the possibility of good coming from Nazareth. Musculus thinks it possible, in this view of the expression, that Nathanael might have had in his mind the remarkable prophetical saying quoted in Matthew, "He shall be called a Nazarene." The judgment of the great majority of interpreters agrees with our own translation, that it is a question, and not an assertion; and it is by far the more probable view of the text.
[Come and see.] How common this expression was among the Jewish religious teachers has been already noticed. Philip’s wisdom in not arguing and reasoning with Nathanael, should be observed. Ford gives a good quotation from Adam, "Little good comes by disputing. Pride is generally at the bottom of it, and not charity or love of truth; and it is seldom managed with decency or candour enough to produce any good effect. Let fall a word in season, and wait in patience till the rain drops on it from heaven."
v47.—[In whom is no guile.] It is very likely that in using this expression our Lord referred to the 32nd Psalm, where the character of the godly man is described. He is not only one whose iniquities are forgiven, but one "in whose lips there is no guile." The expression implies a true heart, a really converted man, a genuine son of Abraham by faith, as well as a son according to the flesh.
Hutcheson observes, "The true mark of a true Israelite in spirit, is not sinlessness or perfection, but sincerity."
v48.—[Whence knowest thou me?] This question implies Nathanael’s surprise that Jesus should exhibit any knowledge of his character.
[When...under...fig-tree I saw thee.] The common opinion about this expression is, that Nathanael was praying or holding communion with God under the fig-tree. It may be so. We are told nothing about it, and are entirely left to conjecture. If it had been good for us to know, it would have been told us. Sufficient for us to understand that when Nathanael thought he was alone and no eye upon him, the Lord Jesus, by His divine power of seeing and knowing all things, was perfectly acquainted with all that Nathanael said, thought, and did. His "eyes are in every place." (Proverbs 15:3.)
Chrysostom and Theophylact think that the expression only refers to the conversation between Philip and Nathanael about Jesus, -which had taken place under a fig-tree. Grotius takes the same view.
Grill mentions a tradition in the Syriac dictionary, "that Nathanael’s mother had laid him under a fig-tree when the infants were slain at Bethlehem by Herod," (Matthew 2:16,) and that our Lord showed His perfect knowledge by referring to this fact.
Heinsius thinks there is a reference to the prophecy of Zechariah, "In that day ye shall call every man his neighbour, under the vine and under the fig-tree," (Zechariah 3:10,) and that hence Nathanael drew the inference that Messiah’s days were come, and Messiah before him.
Augustine sees an allegory in the fig-tree, and gravely says, "that as Adam and Eve, when they had sinned, made themselves aprons of fig-leaves, fig-leaves must signify sins. Nathanael therefore being under the fig-tree, signifies being under the shadow of death"!
v49.—[Thou art...Son of God...King of Israel.] These words are the outburst of a heart convinced at once that Jesus was the Messiah. They are a noble confession that our Lord was that divine Person who was promised to come into the world to redeem sinners, and that King who was prophesied of as the future Gatherer and Ruler of the tribes of Israel. Whether Nathanael clearly understood the nature of our Lord’s kingdom at this time, may be reasonably doubted. But that he saw, like Peter, that He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, we cannot doubt. The restoring of the kingdom to Israel was a subject which we know from other passages of Scripture, was one of the last which the first disciples were able to understand aright. (Acts 1:6.)
The history of Nathanael’s calling at this point should be compared with that of the woman of Samaria, in the fourth chapter of this Gospel. It is striking to observe that a discovery and conviction of our Lord’s perfect knowledge of the most secret things, was in both cases the turning point.
It should not be forgotten, that the title "King of Israel," was one which our Lord never refused during His ministry, though He never took to Himself His great power and actually reigned.
The angel Gabriel foretold that the "Lord God would give unto Him the throne of His father David, and that He would reign over the house of Jacob, and that of His kingdom there would be no end." (Luke 1:32-33.) When the wise men came from the East, they inquired for him who was born "King of the Jews." (Matthew 2:2.) When our Lord was crucified, the title over His head was, "King of the Jews." All this shall yet be literally true. Christ shall yet be King in Zion, and reign over the gathered and restored tribes of Israel at His second coming. And then the words of Nathanael shall be seen completely fulfilled. He shall be acknowledged by all as the "Son of God, and King of Israel."
v50.—[Believest thou?] It admits of a question whether this expression would not be better rendered, as it might be with perfect grammatical correctness, "thou believest." It would then be very like our Lord’s words to Thomas, "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed." (John 20:29.) The sense would be, "Because I said I saw thee under the fig-tree thou believest. It is well. Great is thy faith. But I tell thee for thy comfort and encouragement, that thou shalt one day see far greater proofs of my divinity and Messiahship than these." Wycliffe’s, Tyndale’s, and Cranmer’s versions, all render the expression as an affirmation, and not as a question. Aretius maintains the same view.
v51.—[Verily, verily I say.] This expression is peculiar to John’s Gospel, and very remarkable. It is the word which is familiar to all Christians, "Amen," twice repeated. It is found twentyfive times in this Gospel, always at the beginning of a sentence, and always used by Christ. In every place it implies a very solemn, emphatic assertion of some great truth, or heart-searching fact. No other writer in the New Testament, except John, ever gives the double "Amen."
[Hereafter...ye shall see...heaven...angels...Son of man.] This prediction is very remarkable. It should be carefully observed, that it is not addressed to Nathanael alone. The preceding verse says, "thou shalt see." The present verse says, "ye shall see,"—that is, "thou and all my other disciples."
About the true meaning of the prediction, commentators differ exceedingly. Arguing, as nearly all do, that the words plainly refer to Jacob’s vision of the ladder reaching from heaven to earth, (Genesis 28:12,) they disagree about the way in which the prediction is fulfilled.
Some think, as Stier, that the prediction must be interpreted figuratively, and that it was fulfilled when our Lord was upon earth. They think it only means that Nathanael and the other disciples would see a still fuller revelation of Christ and the Gospel by and bye. They would see a figurative fulfilment of Jacob’s vision, and a way opened from earth to heaven for all true Israelites or believers. They would see still greater proofs, in the shape of miracles and signs, that Jesus was the Son of God. Heaven, in a spiritual sense shut by the sin of the first Adam, would be opened by the obedience of the second Adam. "The heavenly ladder," says Bonaventura, quoted by Calovius, "was broken in Adam and repaired in Christ."—According to this view, "the angels of God" in the text mean nothing in particular, which, to say the least, seems a very loose and unsatisfactory explanation.
Others think, as Rollock, that the prediction must be interpreted literally, and that it was fulfilled while our Lord was on earth. They think it was accomplished when our Lord was transfigured,—when an angel appeared in the garden of Gethsemane,—and when our Lord ascended on the Mount of Olives. This view also seems very unsatisfactory. The transfiguration and the agony in the garden, were not seen by Nathanael at all. There is nothing whatever said about angels appearing, either at the transfiguration or the ascension. And as to "angels ascending and descending," there is nothing at any period of the Gospel history at all answering to the expression.
The only true and satisfactory view, I believe, is that which makes the whole prediction apply to events which are still future. Our Lord spoke of His second coming and kingdom. When He comes the second time to take His great power and reign, the words of this text shall be literally fulfilled. His believing people shall see heaven open, and a constant communication kept up between heaven and earth,—the tabernacle of God with men, and the angels visibly ministering to the King of Israel, and King of all the earth.
The context confirms me in this view of the text. Nathanael believed Jesus to be the Messiah, when he was lowly and poor. Jesus rewards his faith by assuring him that, lowly as He now seems, He shall one day come in the clouds of heaven and reign as a King.
I am further confirmed by the striking likeness between our Lord’s words here, and those He addressed to the chief priests, in the day that He was arraigned as a prisoner before them: "Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:64.)
This view of the prediction is maintained by Gomarus.
I am aware that some maintain, in opposition to the view I support, that the Greek word rendered "hereafter," must mean "from henceforth," i.e. "immediately after the present time, and ever hereafter," and does not imply a distant event. In reply, I would have it specially noted, that the Greek word here translated "hereafter," is the very same that is used by our Lord in the solemn words, just quoted, which he addressed to the chief priests when He was arraigned. (Luke 22:69.) In that case, there cannot be any reasonable doubt that He spoke of a far distant event and time. I believe, that in like manner, He speaks of a far distant event and time in this place.
As to the nature of Christ’s future kingdom, and the intercourse which shall then be kept up by angels between earth and heaven, this is not the place to speak. I only remark, that the words before us will probably receive a far more real and literal accomplishment than many of us are expecting.
It is worthy of remark that Nathanael calls our Lord "the Son of God." Jesus in His prediction tells him he shall see angels ascending and descending on the "Son of man." He whom Nathanael now saw as a man, would yet appear as man glorified in the heavenly kingdom. He would even then be God-man. The expression "Son of man," here first used by John, seems derived, as Chemnitius says, from Daniel’s words in a prophecy about Messiah. (Daniel 7:13-14.) It is never applied to our Lord by any but Himself, except by Stephen. (Acts 7:56.) Lightfoot thinks that "it is used so often by our Saviour about Himself, as intimating that he is the second Adam, the true seed of the woman."
In leaving this passage, the question naturally arises, Who was Nathanael? How is it that we hear so little afterwards of so good a man and so clear-sighted a believer?
Some think, as Augustine and others, that Nathanael was purposely not placed among our Lord’s immediate companions and apostles, because he was a man of learning and knowledge, lest any should say that our Lord chose learned men to be His first ministers. I can see nothing in this argument. There is no evidence to my own mind that Nathanael was more learned than other Jews of humble birth, in our Lord’s time. Moreover he was a friend of Philip, one of our Lord’s apostles, and most probably a man of similar position and attainments.—In fact we are told elsewhere that he lived at "Cana of Galilee." (John 21:2.)
Some think, because Nathanael lived at Cana, that he was the same person as the apostle Simon the Canaanite. (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18.)
Some think, that he was Stephen the martyr, because Stephen saw the heavens opened in vision. (Acts 7:56.)
The most probable opinion to my own mind is, that Nathanael was the apostle who is called elsewhere Bartholomew, and who, like others of the apostles, had two names. In favour of this opinion there are three remarkable facts. The first is, that in three lists of the twelve apostles out of four, the names of Philip and Bartholomew are always found together. (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14.)—The second is, that Nathanael is specially mentioned after our Lord’s ascension as a companion of Peter, Thomas, James, John, and two other disciples.—The third is, that John never once mentions the name of Bartholomew in his Gospel.—The objection that Nathanael’s name is never mentioned by Matthew, Mark, or Luke, is of no weight. No one of the three, it may be replied, tells us that Peter was called Cephas. Only Matthew gives Jude, the brother of James, the name of Lebbæus.
The point happily is not one of any particular importance. I only say that the conjectural probability that Nathanael was an apostle, and was the same as Bartholomew, seems to me very strong and well founded.
In leaving this chapter the observation of Aretius is worth quoting. He remarks that the chapter is singularly rich in names or epithets applied to the Lord Jesus Christ. He numbers up the following twenty-one. 1. The Word. 2. God. 3. Life. 4. Light. 5. The true light. 6. The only begotten of the Father. 7. Full of grace and truth. 8. Jesus Christ. 9. The only begotten Son. 10. The Lord. 11. The Lamb of God. 12. Jesus. 13. A Man. 14. The Son of God. 15. Rabbi. 16. Teacher. 17. Messiah. 18. Christ. 19. The Son of Joseph. 20. The King of Israel. 21. The Son of man.
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 1". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34