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DIVINITY OF CHRIST
John 1:1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
WHAT astonishing majesty and dignity are displayed in these brief but comprehensive words! The other Evangelists commence their histories at the period of our Saviour’s incarnation: but St. John carries us back to eternity itself; and informs us, not only what Christ did and suffered, but who he was. He calls him by a very peculiar name; “The Word;” and, in other places, “The Word of Life [Note: 1 John 1:1-2.];” “The Word of God [Note: Revelation 19:13.].” This name, as applicable to the Messiah, was not altogether unknown to the Jews [Note: See Bishop Pearson on the Creed, pp. 117, 118.]: and it seems peculiarly proper to the Son, because it is by the Son that God has in all ages revealed his mind to man. And perhaps this very explanation of the term was intended to be conveyed to us by St. John, when he says, within a few verses after my text, “No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of his Father, he hath declared him [Note: ver. 18.].”
But, without dwelling upon matters of conjecture, let us consider,
The testimony here given to the Lord Jesus Christ—
The beloved Apostle, speaking of the Lord Jesus, here declares,
His eternal existence—
[“In the beginning was the Word,” even before the creature existed, either in heaven or on earth: and from him every created being derived its existence [Note: ver. 3.]. So St. Paul also informs us: “By him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things; and by him all things consist [Note: Colossians 1:16-17.].” Though he was born into the world in time, yet in his divine nature he existed from eternity: “He was the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever [Note: Hebrews 13:8.]:” “His goings-forth were of old from everlasting [Note: Micah 5:2.]:” “He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last [Note: Revelation 1:8; Revelation 1:11.].”]
His distinct personality—
[From all eternity “he was with God;” “having a glory with him before the worlds were made [Note: John 17:5.];” and having a perfect participation of all that the Father possessed, whether of wisdom and knowledge [Note: Matthew 11:27.], or of authority and power [Note: John 5:17.]. This appears from the council held, as it were, between the Father and the Son, respecting the formation of man [Note: Genesis 1:26.]; and man’s consequent expulsion from Paradise [Note: Genesis 3:22.]; and the confounding of the projects of man’s apostate race by changing their language at Babel [Note: Genesis 11:7.]. Hence the Lord Jesus is said to have “come forth from God [Note: John 16:27-28.],” even “from his bosom,” where had been his everlasting abode. The importance of this truth is marked by the repetition of it by St. John, in the words following my text, “The same was in the beginning with God.”]
His proper deity—
[“The Word was God,” even “the mighty God [Note: Isaiah 9:6.],” “the great God [Note: Titus 2:13.],” “God over all, blessed for ever [Note: Romans 9:5.].” “He was in the form of God; and thought it no robbery to be equal with God [Note: Philippians 2:6.];” and was therefore rightly “named Emmanuel, God with us [Note: Matthew 1:23.];” and is with truth declared to be “God manifest in the flesh [Note: 1 Timothy 3:16.].”]
Now, that this is not a mere speculative subject, I will proceed to shew, by pointing out,
The deep interest we have in it—
On the very face of the question, “Whether our Saviour be God, or only a created being?” it cannot fail of appearing a subject of extreme importance. Know, then, that Christ is truly God, as well as man: and on this truth depends,
The efficacy of all that he did and suffered for us on earth—
[Had he been only a creature, he could only have done what was his duty to do; and therefore he could have merited nothing at the hands of God: or, at all events, could have merited only for himself. But being God, his whole undertaking was gratuitous; there was no obligation lying upon him, to do any thing, or suffer any thing, for us. What he did and suffered, therefore, may well be put to our account; more especially since it was so concerted between him and his Father, when he undertook to redeem our ruined race. His sufferings, though only for a season, may well be regarded as equivalent to the eternal sufferings of man; and his obedience to the law be justly considered as if all mankind had obeyed it. On both the one and the other his Deity stamps an infinite value; so that, “he having been made sin for us, we may well be made the righteousness of God in him [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:21.].”]
The efficacy of all that he is yet doing for us in heaven—
[There is our adorable Saviour seated at the right hand of God; and all judgment is committed to him, that he may complete for his people the work which he began on earth. He is appointed “Head over all things to the Church [Note: Ephesians 1:22.].” But supposing him to be a mere creature, how can he attend to all at once, and supply the necessities of all, in every quarter of the universe, at the same instant of time? But there is no room for such a question as that, seeing he is the omnipresent, omniscient, Almighty God. “Our help is, indeed, laid upon One that is mighty [Note: Psalms 89:19.],” upon One that is Almighty, “in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily [Note: Colossians 2:9.].” We need not fear, therefore, however great our necessities; but be fully assured, that “he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him [Note: Hebrews 7:25.].”]
Behold then, brethren,
How inconceivably great is the condescension of our God!
[I wonder not at the unbelief of those who call in question the Divinity of Christ: for if it were not so fully revealed, as that it is impossible for a truly enlightened man to doubt it, I should be ready to doubt it myself; so inconceivable does it appear, that God should become a man, and make himself the surety and substitute of his own rebellious creatures. But he is God, and therefore can do it: he is God, and therefore cannot be judged by the finite capacity of man. In doing what he has done, he has acted like himself. He is God, and therefore I believe all that he has done for sinful man. Though himself eternal, he has been born in time: though eternally with God, he has come down and tabernacled with man: though himself the true and Living God, he has become a man, yea, and died for man upon the cross. I believe it, because he has revealed it. It believe it, because nothing less than this would have been adequate to my necessities. And were this not true, I should most gladly take my portion for ever under rocks and mountains.]
What unbounded consolation has he provided for sinful man!.
[This doctrine meets my every want. I have guilt, which nothing less than “the blood of God” can wash away [Note: Acts 20:28.]. I have corruptions, which none but the Spirit of God can subdue and mortify. I have wants, which none but the all-sufficient God can supply. But, having Jehovah for my friend, my surety, my righteousness, my all, I fear nothing. I hope in him; and believe in him; and glory in him; and make him “all my salvation and all my desire.” Trusting in him, I will defy all my enemies [Note: Romans 8:31.]: and, “believing in him,” I will anticipate in my soul all the glory and blessedness of heaven [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.].]
CHRIST THE ONLY TRUE LIGHT
John 1:9. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
AS in the material world there is but one source of light to all the heavenly bodies; so in the spiritual world there is one Sun of Righteousness, that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. There are other lights: John himself was a burning and a shining light. But he, and all the rest, shined with a borrowed lustre. Christ is the only true source both of light and life; as St. John has told us; and as I propose in the present discourse to shew.
He was the only true light previous to his incarnation—
As being the Creator of all things, it was He who said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” As the Former both of angels and men, he gave to each their intellectual and moral powers. Men, the lower order of beings, he endued with reason and conscience; distinguishing them by these faculties from the brute creation, which possess only that which we call instinct. When man had fallen, and lost, to a considerable degree, the faculties with which he had been invested, the Lord Jesus, agreeably to the covenant he had entered into with the Father, undertook to restore to man such a measure of light as his necessities required. This he did,
By the republication of his law—
[It was the Son of God who led his people out of Egypt through the wilderness: for that people, by their murmurings, we are told, “tempted Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:9.].” The law, therefore, both moral and ceremonial, we suppose to have been given by him. At all events, we are sure that they were, each of them in its place, rays emanating from him; “he being the end of both [Note: Romans 10:4.],” the end to which each looked, and the end by which both were fulfilled. The moral was “a schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith [Note: Galatians 3:23-24.]:” and the ceremonial shadowed him forth, in all his offices [Note: Colossians 2:17.].]
By a long train of prophecies—
[It was “by the Spirit of Christ” that all the prophets spoke, from the very beginning [Note: 1 Peter 1:12.]. And thus, with progressive clearness, was the mind of God revealed, relative to the restoration of fallen man. Whatever was made known respecting the Father and his eternal councils, it was all declared by the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: ver. 18.]. No information on these inscrutable subjects ever proceeded from any other quarter: all the light that was in the world emanated from Christ alone; and was confined to his chosen people. All the rest of the world were left in the grossest darkness that can be imagined [Note: Isaiah 60:2.].]
He was the only true light, also, during his sojourning on earth—
[So he himself repeatedly and strongly affirms [Note: John 8:12; John 9:5; John 12:46.] — — — He explained the law, which had been obscured and corrupted by the false glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees [Note: Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:27-28.] — — — and made himself known, in the plainest terms, as the only Saviour of the world: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me [Note: John 14:6.].” Nor was he less a light by his example, “shewing, in the whole of his deportment, how men ought to walk and to please God,” even “by following his steps [Note: 1 Peter 2:21.],” and “walking as he walked [Note: 1 John 2:6.].” Hence he cautioned the people of that day: “Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light [Note: John 12:35-36.].”]
I add, that,
He is the only true light at this day—
[“God, in covenant, gave him to be a light to the Gentiles;” “to bring the blind by a way that they knew not, and to lead them in paths which they had not known; to make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight [Note: Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 42:16.].” And all this he does at this moment, even as St. Paul has testified respecting him [Note: Acts 26:23.]. What other source of light has any man but the written word, which our blessed Lord has inspired? or what other teacher has any man but his Holy Spirit, which Christ has promised, “to guide us into all truth?” The heathen philosophers, so far from adding one ray of light to the Scriptures of truth, have only “darkened counsel by words without knowledge.” “The truth of God has been foolishness to them;” and “their wisdom has been altogether foolishness in the sight of God.” Indeed, as the blind cannot see even the meridian sun, so “neither can the natural man, by any faculties of his own, discern the things of the Spirit [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.].” “The eyes of our understanding must be opened by the Spirit of God, before we can be fully brought out of darkness into the marvellous light of his Gospel [Note: Ephesians 1:18.].” As “the Day-spring from on high hath visited the world, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide their feet into the way of peace [Note: Luke 1:78-79.];” so must “the Day-star arise in our hearts,” before we shall have any just discernment of “the things which have been freely given to us of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9-12.].’]
Inquire then, I pray you,
What light you have received from the Lord Jesus Christ—
[I ask not what proficiency you have attained in worldly knowledge; for that, however excellent, can never save the soul. But I ask, “Has God, who commanded light to shine out of darkness, shined in your heart, to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.]?” — — — This is saving knowledge: this alone can save you [Note: John 17:3.]. And this can be obtained from none but the Lord Jesus Christ, whose office it is to “open the blind eyes [Note: Isaiah 35:5-6. Matthew 11:5.],” and to “make you wise unto salvation by faith in him.” To every one amongst you, then, I say, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light [Note: Ephesians 5:14.].”]
How far you are reflecting around you the light you have received—
[This is done by all the planets, moving in their orbits: and this must be done by all who profess to receive their light from Christ. All must “be as stars in his hands [Note: Revelation 1:16.]:” all must “reflect his virtues [Note: 1 Peter 2:9. the Greek and 2 Corinthians 3:3.]:” and, though it must of necessity be, that “one star should differ from another star in glory,” yet “must all shine as lights in a dark world [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.];” and, in all who are truly and savingly enlightened, “their light will shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day [Note: Proverbs 4:18.].” Let it he seen then, my brethren, by your life and conversation, “whose you are, and whom you serve.” Let Christ be your pattern in all things: endeavour to “walk in the light, as he is in the light [Note: 1 John 1:7.]:” so shall you be found “children of the light and of the day [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5.]:” and “Christ shall be glorified in you,” both in this world and in the world to come [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:12.].]
BENEFIT OF RECEIVING CHRIST
John 1:10-12. He 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. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.
THE blessings which administer to our worldly interest or bodily comfort, are equally welcomed by persons of all ranks and conditions: but those which have relation only to our spiritual good, are despised by many, and desired by very few. The light of the sun is not less prized by one than by another: all are sensible of its benefits, and value it accordingly. But “the Sun of Righteousness has arisen upon us,” and the benighted world regards him not: “he shines in the darkness, and the darkness apprehends him not [Note: ver. 5.].” Some however there are, who rejoice in his advent: and as they only have learned to appreciate his worth, they only shall enjoy the full benefits he confers.
The words of the Evangelist will lead us to shew,
The contempt poured on Christ by the unbelieving world—
What was said of him in that day is equally true in this:
His own creatures “do not know him”—
[It was Christ who formed the universe: “the world was made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made [Note: ver. 3. with the text.].” He has moreover “been in the world” from the very beginning, “upholding it by his power [Note: Hebrews 1:3.],” and ordering every thing in it by his superintending providence. Yet, before his incarnation, he was not known; neither yet now is he known as the Creator and Governor of the world. His name indeed is known: but he is considered only as a great prophet. The generality of those who doctrinally maintain his proper Deity, never practically realize the thought, that “by him all things subsist [Note: Colossians 1:17.].”]
His own people “do not receive him”—
[The Jews were called “Christ’s own,” because he had separated them from all other people, brought them out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness, and derived his human nature from the stock of Abraham, their father. Their very country was called “Emmanuel’s land [Note: Isaiah 8:8.]. But we are his in a still more appropriate sense; because he has bought us with his blood; and we have been baptized into his name; and profess ourselves his followers. Yet we “do not really receive him,” any more than the Jews themselves did. We do not receive him in the character which he bears in the Holy Scriptures [Note: He is a Prophet to teach us, a Priest to atone for as, a King to rule over us and in us. Do we receive him under these characters?] — — — We do not receive him for the ends and purposes for which he came [Note: He came to justify us by his blood, to sanctify us by his grace, and to save us with an everlasting salvation. Do we receive him for these ends?] — — —]
Alas! what contempt is this which we pour upon him! We can shudder at the indignities offered him by the Jews; but we ourselves are no less criminal than the people who crucified and slew him: they through ignorance apprehended and executed him as a malefactor: we, with our eyes open, cry, “Hail, Master!” and betray him [Note: Matthew 26:49.].]
But that we may not continue to treat him thus, let us consider,
The honour he confers on those who believe in him—
A “receiving of Christ,” and a “believing in him,” are represented in the text as of precisely the same import. It is superfluous therefore to add any thing more in explanation of the terms. The benefits accruing from faith are the objects which next demand our attention. Unspeakable is the honour of becoming a child of God: yet to every one that believes in him, our blessed Lord gives,
To bear this relation to God—
[“To the Jews belonged the adoption [Note: Romans 9:4.],” as far as related to the external privileges of it. But we, on believing, “are made partakers of the Divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.].” We become the children of God as well by regeneration as adoption: yea, faith is at once the means [Note: Galatians 3:26.], and the evidence [Note: 1 John 5:1.], of our sonship with God. There is no interval of time left for us to give proofs of our sincerity, before God will acknowledge us as his: but the instant we believe in Christ, we are “sons and danghters of the Lord Almighty [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:18.].”]
To enjoy the privileges of this relation—
[The children of a stranger are not noticed by us, while our own children are admitted freely into our presence, and are the objects of our tenderest solicitude, our unremitted attention. We feed them, we clothe them, we protect them, we provide every thing for them that is suited to our circumstances, and that will contribute to their welfare. In all these respects believers find God a Father to them. They can go into his presence, “crying, Abba, Father [Note: Galatians 4:6.]!” and obtain from him whatever is necessary either for their support or comfort.]
To possess an inheritance worthy of that relation—
[Parents account it a duty to provide for the future maintenance of their children, and not merely for their present subsistence. With this view they lay up fortunes for them, which they are to inherit after the decease of their parents. Similar to this is the provision made for those who believe in Christ. They are “begotten again to an inheritance that is incorruptible, and undefiled, and never-fading [Note: 1 Peter 1:3.].” “Being sons, they are heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ [Note: Romans 8:17.].” Nor shall they merely divide their Father’s inheritance among them; but every one of them shall enjoy the whole, and have his happiness enlarged, rather than diminished, by the communication of it to others.]
Learn then from hence,
The folly of unbelievers—
[One would suppose, that, in calling them to believe in Jesus Christ, we urged them to make the greatest sacrifices, and to resign every thing that could conduce to their happiness. But, on the contrary, we only invite them to “receive;” to receive “the greatest gift” which God himself is able to bestow [Note: John 4:10.]: to receive Him, in whom they will find all that they can possibly desire. We require them to surrender nothing but what will make them miserable; and to receive nothing which will not make them happy. How unreasonable does their conduct appear when viewed in this light! If we were to offer them bags of gold, we should find them willing enough to accept as many as we could bestow. But when we exhort them to accept Him who is of more value than ten thousand worlds, they turn a deaf ear to our most importunate entreaties. See, ye unbelievers, see your extreme folly! and remember, that the day is coming, when that rejection of Christ, in which you now glory, will become the ground of your bitterest lamentation.]
The unspeakable benefit of faith—
[There are many things which put a considerable difference between one man and another. The influence of wealth and dignity exalts some far above the level of their fellow-creatures. The acquisition of knowledge and wisdom has no less effect in elevating the characters and conditions of men. But all the distinctions in the universe do not avail to dignify a man so much as faith. Faith brings Christ into the soul, and puts the poorest of men into the possession of “unsearchable riches.” Faith makes him, from a child of the devil, a child of God; from an heir of misery, an heir of glory. Faith elevates him from death to life, from infamy to honour, from hell to heaven. “Faith, even though it be small as a grain of mustard-seed,” produces all these wonderful effects. Cultivate then, my brethren, this divine principle. Labour to have it in more continued exercise. Let Christ, the greatest object of faith, be more and more precious to your soul. Thus shall you be really the most distinguished characters on earth, and ere long “inherit the kingdom prepared for you by your heavenly Father.”]
CHRISTIANS BORN OF GOD
John 1:13. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
IT is obvious, that there is at this day, even as there was in the days of Christ himself, a most essential difference between persons enjoying the same privileges and making the same professions. All the Jews professed themselves to be the people of the Lord; and Christ came to them, as bearing that relation to him. But they did not all receive him. The great majority of the Jewish nation rejected him: as it is said, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not: but to as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on his name.” Now, whence arose the difference between those widely-different persons? or from whence arises a similar difference amongst ourselves? The answer is given us in the words of my text: from whence I shall take occasion to shew,
To whom Believers are indebted for all that they possess—
This is marked with very peculiar precision:
It is not from any creature whatever that they receive one spiritual blessing—
[It is “not from blood,” or from natural descent, that they obtain any thing. Ishmael was as much the child of Abraham as Isaac was; and Esau was the son of Isaac as much as Jacob: but their descent from holy parents was of no avail to transmit to them the grace of God. So, in after-ages, we are told, that “all were not Israel who were of Israel; neither because all were the seed of Abraham were they all children; that is, they who were the children of the flesh were not therefore the children of God; the children of promise alone being counted for the seed [Note: Romans 9:7-8.].” So neither at this day does holiness flow in the blood of any person; nor can we become the Lord’s people by virtue of our descent from the holiest of men.
“Nor is it of the will of the flesh,” or by virtue of any power inherent in us, that we are made the Lord’s people. All are equally “dead in trespasses and sins;” “nor can any man quicken his own soul.”
“Nor is it of the will of man,” or by any efforts of our friends, that we are made holy. We may adopt any person, whom we will, into our own family; but we cannot bring him into the family of God. Samuel, David, Hezekiah, would never have left their own children to perish, if they could, by any efforts of their own, have saved them: nor would Paul, who “had continual heaviness and sorrow in his heart for his brethren’s sake,” have failed to communicate to them effectual aid, if he had had it at his own disposal.]
It is “of God alone” that any true Believer “is born”—
[“From God alone comes every good and perfect gift [Note: James 1:17.].” If saving grace be imparted to any of us, it is owing to the exercise of his sovereign will, and the operation of his effectual grace. To this the whole Scriptures bear witness. “Of his own will begets he us with the word of truth [Note: James 1:18.].” From all eternity did he select the objects of his choice, predestinating them to the adoption of children; that to all eternity they may be “to the praise of the glory of his grace [Note: Ephesians 1:4-6.].” All this is altogether irrespective of any works of theirs, past, present, or future [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9. Titus 3:3-6.]. In a word, that is true which the Apostle so strongly states in the Epistle to the Romans, and in such perfect conformity with the words of my text: “God hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and hath compassion on whom he will have compassion. So, then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy [Note: Romans 9:15-16.].”]
This being, for the most part, an unpalatable truth, I will not leave it till I have established it beyond the possibility of doubt—
[Behold the persecuting Saul; and trace, in all its steps, the conversion of his soul. Read the account of it in the ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. “Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the Disciples of the Lord, went unto the high-priest, and desired of him (he was altogether a volunteer in this matter) letters to Damascus (a foreign country, not under the government of Judah), to the synagogues; that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, (such was his humanity!) he might bring them bound to Jerusalem [Note: Acts 9:1-2.].” I ask, Could any one of his party be further off from conversion than he? “But, as he journeyed, he came near to Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven. And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man [Note: Acts 9:3-7.].” To him a man named Ananias was then sent by God himself, in these memorable words: “Go thy way to him; for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel [Note: Acts 9:8-15.].” Thus was he converted; the only one of all the party, as far as we know;—he, the most embittered of them all, the ringleader of them all, the most unlikely of all. What a comment was this on the words of my text! and what an example of the truth contained in them! The Apostle, speaking of it to the Galatians, puts this very construction upon it all: “It pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen [Note: Galatians 1:15-16.].” Now precisely thus it is with every one that is brought to the faith of Christ: he is born, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Nor is there one upon the face of the whole earth who must not say, “By the grace of God I am what I am [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.].”]
Trusting that the point we have been endeavouring to establish is fully conceded to us, we will proceed to shew,
What encouragement we derive from that all-important consideration—
Unspeakably encouraging are these two thoughts connected with it:
All Believers have the same God to go unto for all that they can stand in need of—
[Had their divine life originated from man, either from themselves or others, they must have looked to man to carry it forward. But who that knows the weakness and mutability of man must not have trembled for them? The friend, by whose kind attentions they had been converted, is absent on a journey, or is dead, and his help can no more be obtained. Or the good dispositions which they themselves put forth, and by virtue of which they were brought to God, have been over-powered by temptation, and are no longer at their command. They feel a hardness of heart which they cannot remove, and a distraction of mind which they cannot fix. What then is to be done? The water has failed them, not in the channel merely, but at the fountain-head. But let them reflect on God as the alone source of all that they have possessed, and then they will have this rich consolation in the midst of all their trouble and perplexity: ‘Who is it that has brought me hitherto? and what did He find in me as an inducement to him to magnify his grace in me? He saw nothing in me but sin: he loved me only because he would love me: he consulted nothing but his own sovereign will: he chose me, and not I him: and apprehended me, before he was apprehended by me. Then to him will I look: in him will I hope: to him will I apply. If “he was found of me when I sought him not, and made known to me when I inquired not after him,” I may hope he will not turn his back upon me when I seek him; nor turn a deaf ear to me when I call upon him. My only ground of fear is, either that he is not able, or that he is not willing, to afford me the succour which I stand in need of. But of his ability how can I doubt, when I reflect on what he has already done for me, in quickening me when dead, and bringing me thus far on my journey heaven-ward? Nor can I doubt of his willingness to help me, since the very first motions of my heart towards him were the gift of his sovereign grace, who “gave me both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” ’ Surely these thoughts must afford unspeakable encouragement to the believer, under all the trials to which he can ever be exposed; whilst, on the contrary, if he had only a created power whereon to rely, he must on many occasions sink into utter despondency.]
The mercies they have received are to them a pledge of future blessings—
[This necessarily arises from the thought of God’s electing love. For, why did he ever choose us? Was it to abandon us again? Why did he ever quicken us? Was it to give us over to death again? Why did he ever translate us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son? Was it that we might ultimately perish with an accumulated weight of condemnation? He has told us, that the gift of “his Holy Spirit is an earnest of our heavenly inheritance.” Now, an earnest is a part of a payment, and a pledge that the remainder shall in due time be paid: and, consequently, the work of grace already wrought in the hearts of his people is a pledge that he will carry on and perfect it within them. For “he is a God that changeth not; and therefore we neither are, nor shall be, consumed.” “His gifts and calling are without repentance or change of mind, on his part.” “Whom he loveth, he loveth to the end.” And the consideration of this is a rich consolation to his believing people; as he has said: God, “willing more abundantly to shew unto his people the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it with an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before us.” Hence the believer may be confident that “God will not cast him off;” but that, whatever he may have to contend with, “nothing shall ever be permitted to separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”]
But that this subject may not be made an occasion of any undue confidence,
Let us inquire whether we have ever experienced this great change—
[It is evident there is a change to be experienced, which no created power can effect. Now then, I ask, Has any such change taken place in you? Think again: It is a change that depends not on your descent from Christian parents; a change which no endeavours of friends can ever accomplish, and which no efforts of your own can ever merit or effect: it is a new creation; and a work of God alone, as much as the creation of the universe itself. Perhaps you will say, ‘Tell me more distinctly wherein this change consists.’ I will do so. It is “a receiving of the Lord Jesus Christ” as the gift of God to your souls; and “a believing in him” as your “all in all.” To these is “the privilege of becoming the sons of God” assigned; and to these alone. If, then, you are “born of God,” these marks must, of necessity, be found in you. You have felt your need of a Saviour; you have cried to God for mercy with your whole hearts: and you have embraced the Lord Jesus Christ as “all your salvation and all your desire.” Examine into this matter, my beloved brethren. Here is the precise point of difference between the children of God and the children of the wicked one. Those who are born of the flesh only, may be moral and externally religious: but the child of God lives altogether by faith on the Son of God, receiving all blessings out of his fulness, and improving them all for his glory. This is a new birth: and were you as moral as Nicodemus himself, you must experience it, at the peril of your souls; and, except ye be thus born from above, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God. I pray you, brethren, settle this well in your minds: for to those only who stand in this relation to their God is there “any inheritance among the saints in light.”]
Let us endeavour to manifest it, by a suitable life and conversation—
[God had one only dear Son, whom he sent down from heaven to sojourn upon earth. And the Scripture fully informs us what dispositions he exercised, and what conduct he pursued. And every one who is born of God will follow his steps, and “walk as he walked.” He will “no longer walk according to the course of this world, according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” He will be no longer of the world, any more than Jesus Christ was of the world. He will rise above it. He will be crucified unto it; and regard it as a crucified object, that has no longer any charms for him, or any power over him. His tempers, too, will be mortified and subdued. He will have the meekness and gentleness of Christ in his whole deportment: and, if he be not able perfectly to attain the measure that was in Christ Jesus, he will aspire after it, and be satisfied with nothing less. In a word, he will not live unto himself, but unto God, making it “his meat and his drink to do the will of his Saviour and Redeemer.” Now, then, brethren, this is the way in which you will live, if you are sons of God. “You will shine as lights in a dark world;” and “your light will shine brighter and brighter to the perfect day.” Once attain this conformity to your Saviour’s image, and you will need no one to tell you whence it came, or by whose power it has been wrought. You will readily give all the glory to your God; and ascribe on earth, as you will to all eternity ascribe in heaven, salvation to Him who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.]
INCARNATION AND CHARACTER OF CHRIST
John 1:14. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
IN treating on divine subjects, the mind should be impressed with holy awe: whenever we approach them, we should apply to ourselves the injunction given to Moses, and “pull off our shoes as standing upon holy ground.” But of all subjects, that of the incarnation of our blessed Lord should be contemplated with the profoundest reverence. It has heights and depths, which even the heavenly intelligences themselves are unable to explore. “They are ever looking into it;” and to all eternity will behold in it fresh wonders to admire. But “great as is this mystery of Godliness, God manifest in the flesh,” it cannot for one moment be questioned by any one who believes the Scriptures. The Evangelists, as inspired by the Holy Ghost, declare it; whilst, as “eye-witnesses of his Majesty,” they attest it. Let us then with all humility of mind proceed to the consideration of the Apostle’s testimony in our text; wherein we notice both the incarnation and the character of Christ.
The incarnation of Christ—
[The person here said to be made flesh, is “the Word:” and it is manifest, that the Apostle speaks, as knowing that the persons to whom he spoke were familiar with the terms he used. It does not appear probable that the Jews should borrow the term Logos (here translated “the Word,” and elsewhere translated “Wisdom,”) from the Platonists; or that the Apostle would adopt it from them. We rather suppose that the Jews, and consequently the Apostle also, received the term from the Scriptures themselves: for the Psalmist says, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made:” and Solomon, in the Book of Proverbs, speaks of “Wisdom” in almost the same terms as the Apostle uses in reference to “the Word [Note: Proverbs 8:22-30.].” At all events, we know from the whole preceding context, as also from the text itself, that the Logos or “the Word” is no other than “the only-begotten Son of God.” We know that he subsisted from all eternity; that he was personally distinct from God the Father; that, nevertheless, he was truly and properly God; and, finally that, so far from being himself a creature, he was the Creator of all things, without any limitation or exception [Note: ver. 1–3. This is confirmed by Philippians 2:6-7. Colossians 1:16-17.].
This divine Person (the Second Person in the ever-adorable Trinity,) “was made flesh;” that is, he assumed our nature with all its sinless infirmities; and “was made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted” — — — In that state of humiliation he sojourned upon earth, as once he dwelt with his people in the wilderness; his Deity being veiled by human flesh, as formerly it had been by the Shechinah, the bright cloud, which, as the symbol of his presence, dwelt in the tabernacle first, and afterwards in the temple.
We stop not to enlarge upon this stupendous mystery; wishing rather to shorten our discussion, that we may have the more room for a practical improvement of it.]
The Apostle, as we might well expect, after mentioning the incarnation of Christ, proceeds to notice,
[In the primary sense of the passage, the terms “full of grace and truth” refer to the official character of Christ. He came to introduce a dispensation very different from that which had hitherto existed. The law which Moses had given to the Israelites “was a ministration of death and condemnation:” and though the ceremonial law had held forth hopes of pardon and acceptance, yet it consisted merely in ritual observances, which in themselves were of no value, and which could never take away sin. But Jesus Christ came to proclaim pardon and peace to all; and was himself the substance, of which all the rites of Moses were only types and shadows. View the types of every description; and there was not one which had not its accomplishment in him: view the prophecies; all of which were fulfilled in him: and at the same time all the curses denounced by the moral law are turned into blessings, to all them who embrace his Gospel. Hence he is justly said to be “full of grace and truth.”
But we may not improperly include under these words the personal character of Christ. Whilst all his instructions exactly accorded with the mind and will of God, his life was wholly without spot or blemish: he was “full of truth;” and “in him was no sin,” “no guile” whatever.
As to the “grace” that was in him, listen only to any of his discourses; hear his gracious invitations even to the chief of sinners; see him conversing with publicans and harlots, and allowing them to have the freest access to him; behold him “going about doing good,” healing all who came to him, even hundreds and thousands in a day, and proclaiming to all of them the glad tidings of a free and full salvation: and then say whether he was not also full of grace, even like an overflowing fountain, “out of whose fulness all that believed on him might receive?”
If we needed any express testimony respecting his character, we have it from those “whose ears heard, whose eyes saw, and whose hands handled this Word of life:” “they beheld his glory, as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father:” they beheld it in his miracles (“by which he manifested forth his glory”); they beheld it in his transfiguration; in the audible attestations which he repeatedly received from heaven; in the perfections of wisdom, power, holiness, &c. which he displayed; and finally in his resurrection, and glorious ascension to the right hand of God: they beheld him in all these things, shining as “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person:” veiled as his Godhead was from common eyes, they beheld in him a radiance, altogether suited to his august character.]
That we may not entertain these thoughts in a merely speculative manner, we would entreat you to “suffer a word of exhortation”—
Inquire wherefore Christ became incarnate—
[When we hear of such an astonishing event, methinks we should naturally inquire into the reasons of it. Surely there was some occasion for it; nay, we cannot conceive that it should take place without some urgent necessity. What then was that necessity? It was this. The whole human race were become guilty before God, and were no more able to restore themselves to the Divine favour than the fallen angels were. Is any one disposed to doubt this truth? let him tell us then, why God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son became incarnate. In vain will he seek for a reason, except (where St. Paul found it) in the lost state of man: “If one died for all, then were all dead” — — — Know ye then, beloved, every one of you, that you are, in yourselves, lost and hell-deserving sinners; and that, if ever you be saved at all, it must be by the blood and righteousness of your incarnate God — — —]
Endeavour to obtain clearer views of his character—
[Though there are days expressly set apart for the consideration of the most important things relating to Christ, his formation in the womb, his nativity, his circumcision, his death, his resurrection, and ascension, yet few, very few, are in the habit of directing their attention to him. Instead of “counting all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of him,” they scarcely think of him at all, or desire to receive any instruction respecting him. Hence that supineness which we behold on every side — — — But how different would be the state of men, if they once saw his glory, and had just views of his “grace and truth!” What “a gathering of the people to him” would there then be! How would they “flock to him as the doves to their windows!” — — — O that God would take the veil from our hearts — — — And that we might so “behold his glory, as to be changed by it into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of our God!”]
Seek after a closer union with him—
[We may all be said to be united with him in some respect, because “we are partakers of flesh and blood, and he likewise has taken part of the same. But it is not his union with our nature that will save us, but our union with him; not his being one flesh with us, but our being “one spirit with him.” We must exercise faith on him; and by means of that faith be united to him as branches to the vine, or as members to the head — — — Without this, we can never hope to receive out of his fulness those blessings which we stand in need of — — — Let none of you then imagine that you have any interest in his salvation, till you are brought daily to live a life of faith upon him, and, through the influences of his Spirit, to devote yourselves unreservedly to his service.]
Aspire after that which was the great end of his coming—
[We are constantly reminded that he came into the world, that they who believe in him might become sons of God, and enjoy everlasting life [Note: Galatians 4:4-5.] — — — Shall we then be indifferent about that which brought him down from heaven? How shall we bear the sight of him in the day of judgment, when we shall behold him in the very same body which he assumed on earth? How will that stupendous effort of his love reproach and confound us! How shall we even wish that we had been permitted to perish like the fallen angels, instead of being left to contract that more aggravated guilt of sinning against a God in our own nature, and rejecting the salvation which he died to purchase for us! If we could suppose the Saviour now capable of weeping, as once he did over the impenitent Jerusalem, methinks he must be now weeping over many of us, to see how his love has been disregarded by us, and that the only effect of it is to aggravate our condemnation. Let us awake from this fatal stupor; let us follow him in our hearts to those realms of glory where he now dwells; and strive incessantly for the attainment of that kingdom, where we shall be with him and like him for ever.]
THE BELIEVER’S INTEREST IN CHRIST’S FULNESS
John 1:16. Of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
THE sacred writers never seem to be afraid lest they should exalt Christ too much, or ascribe to him a glory which did not properly belong to him. St. John in particular evinces a desire to magnify him as much as possible, and sets forth his perfect equality with the Father in as strong and perspicuous terms as language would afford. In the chapter before us he declares that Christ was not only co-existent with God before the world, but that he himself was God, the sole Creator of the universe; and in the words we have just read, he represents him as the only source of all good [Note: If ver. 15. be considered as in a parenthesis, the connexion between ver. 14 and 16. will be clear and manifest.].
That we also may be led to glorify his name, we shall shew,
What is that fulness spoken of in the text—
Jesus Christ has in himself all the fulness of the Godhead [Note: Colossians 2:9.]. But this cannot be the fulness of which the Apostle speaks, because the Godhead is absolutely incommunicable to the creature. There is another fulness, which, according to the Father’s appointment, dwells in him as our Mediator [Note: Colossians 1:19.], namely, a fulness of every thing which his redeemed people can stand in need of—
[Are we immersed in darkness, and sitting in the shadow of death? He is “the light of the world; and whosoever followeth him shall not abide in darkness, but shall have the light of life [Note: John 8:12.].” Are we inexpressibly guilty, and incapable of working out a righteousness for ourselves? He is “Jehovah our Righteousness [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.],” and “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth [Note: Romans 10:4.].”—Are we so depraved as to be “altogether filthy and abominable,” and “insufficient of ourselves even to think a good thought?” He has within himself a fountain of grace to “cleanse us from our filthiness,” and to purify us unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works [Note: 1 Timothy 2:14; 1 Timothy 2:141 Timothy 2:14.]. Are we exposed to severe afflictions and manifold temptations? In him is boundless compassion to sympathize with us, and irresistible power to succour and support us [Note: Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 2:18.]. Thus has he in himself a fulness of light to instruct, of merit to justify, of grace to renew, of compassion to pity, and of power to save us, even “to the very uttermost” of all our wants [Note: Hebrews 7:25.].]
This fulness, however, is not the same with that which resides in his believing people—
[There is a fulness with which believers are filled, even “all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:19.].” But theirs is widely different from his. Theirs is limited, being only “according to the measure of the gift of Christ [Note: Ephesians 4:7.];” but his is unbounded; “the Father giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him;” “he has the residue of the Spirit,” dwelling and abiding in him [Note: John 3:34.Malachi 2:15; Malachi 2:15.]. Theirs moreover is derived from him as its proper source and fountain; but his is essentially inherent in him: “in him was life” originally: “as the Father has life in himself, even so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself [Note: John 1:4; John 5:26.].” Theirs is for themselves alone; they have not any to communicate to others [Note: Matthew 25:9.]: His is for the use and benefit of his Church: he possesses it, that, being Head over all, he may impart out of it, and “fill all things with it [Note: Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 4:10.].” Theirs is perishable: though they be filled with it now, even as a house with light from the meridian sun, they would be destitute of it in an instant, if the communications of heaven were intercepted or withheld: but his is immutable and eternal: he is “the same yesterday, today, and for ever [Note: Hebrews 13:8.].”]
That our inquiries about this fulness are not merely speculative, will appear, while we shew,
What interest believers have in it—
Every believer receives out of the fulness that is in Christ—
[To state the precise mode in which Jesus communicates his blessings to the soul, is impossible; nor while we remain strangers to so many things in nature, must we wonder, if there be some things in the dispensations of Grace which we cannot fully comprehend [Note: John 3:8.]. But the illustrations, with which the Scripture furnishes us, are sufficiently clear for any purposes of useful instruction. Christ is represented as a vine, of which we are the branches; and as a Head, to which we are united as the members. Now, as between these a vital union and constant communication are necessary, in order to the support of animal or vegetative life; so is it by constant, though invisible, supplies of grace from Christ that the believer is enabled to maintain his spiritual life and vigour [Note: John 15:5.Ephesians 4:15-16; Ephesians 4:15-16.]—]
He receives from Christ “grace for grace”—
[The terms “grace for grace” are variously interpreted; nor is it easy to ascertain which of the different senses is the true one. Some explain it of “the substantial grace of the Gospel,” which all, both Jews and Gentiles, receive; “instead of the shadowy grace that was contained in the legal dispensation:” others understand it as importing “grace upon grace,” administered in copious and successive portions: others again think it means, “grace answerable to the grace that is in Christ Jesus;” and others, “grace for grace sake.” Without determining which of these interpretations we should exclusively retain, we may observe, in reference to them all, that all those blessings which believers under the law enjoyed by means of types and ceremonies, we have conveyed to us in a fuller measure, and by the more simple channel of the written word: “Christ came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly [Note: John 10:10.].” Nor is there any intermission to the communications which we receive from Christ; they flow, like the waves of the sea, in constant succession and the richest abundance: whatever we have received, it will always be found true, that “he giveth more grace [Note: James 4:6.].” His aim in bestowing on us such “abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness,” is, that he may transform us into his own likeness. And this is the effect which he produces: as a parent begets a child in his own likeness, or a seal stamps its own image on the wax impressed by it, so does the Lord Jesus communicate to us the very graces that there are in him, till we are “changed into his image from glory to glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].” All this he does purely “of his own good pleasure,” and for the honour of his Father’s name. He sees not any thing in us which can merit such unspeakable favours; “he is gracious because he will be gracious, and has compassion because he will have compassion [Note: Romans 9:15-16.].” Nor must we forget that this is the privilege of “all:” the Apostles themselves could draw from no other fountain; and it is alike open to all who will go to it [Note: John 7:37.].”]
How glorious is Christ in himself, and how suited to our necessities!
[We admire the sun in the firmament because it pours out its blessings upon so many at once: but that can enlighten only half the globe at one time. Not so the glorious Person of whose fulness we speak: if every person in the whole creation should call upon him at the same moment, he would have no occasion to defer an answer to the request of any; he is all eye to see, all ear to hear, all hand to relieve; in the very same instant he could replenish all, out of his own inexhaustible, undiminished fulness. Who then can hesitate a moment to pronounce him “God over all, blessed for ever?” And is not this exactly such a Saviour as we need? Are not we all emptiness and poverty, all weakness and misery? Is that description exaggerated which represents us as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked [Note: Revelation 3:17.]?” Let us adore our God for giving us such a Saviour: and let us “live continually by faith on the Son of God,” making him our “wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our complete redemption.”]
How highly privileged are all true believers!
[The believer may survey all the fulness that there is in Christ, and claim it all as his own. All which Christ possesses in himself, all which he can do on earth, and all which he can bestow in heaven, is the portion of every the weakest saint, according to the measure of the grace that is in him, and according to the capacity which he has for receiving more grace. Every vessel of the sanctuary, from “the smallest cups to the largest flagons,” shall be filled [Note: Isaiah 22:24.]: if any be straitened in the blessings they receive, they are “straitened in themselves, and not in him [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:12.].” Blessed, thrice blessed are all that “hang upon him!” But can the text be applied to all this assembly? Can we say respecting you, without exception, “Out of his fulness have we all received?” Would to God we could! Would to God that the graces, which were in Christ, were so conspicuous in you all, and were poured out upon you in such an abundant measure, that there might be no room to doubt of your union with him! But let this matter be no longer in suspense: let us all go to the Fountain-head, and “draw water with joy out of the wells of salvation [Note: Isaiah 12:3.]:” let us “aspire after the blessedness of God’s chosen, that we may rejoice for ever in the gladness of his nation, and glory with his inheritance [Note: Psalms 106:5.].”]
THE MANIFESTATION WHICH CHRIST HAS GIVEN OF THE FATHER
John 1:18. 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 knowledge of God is the great source of blessings to mankind, but the heathen world were altogether ignorant of him, nor were the Jews themselves fully instructed concerning him: to make a full revelation of him to the world was a part of that work which was reserved for Christ himself; and this office he performed, to the unspeakable comfort of his Church and people The Evangelist unites his testimony with that of John the Baptist in confirmation of this truth.
We shall inquire,
What Christ has declared of the Father—
God himself is invisible to the eye of sense [Note: 1 Timothy 6:16.]: even Moses was permitted to see only his back parts [Note: Exodus 33:23.]. But Christ had a peculiar relation to the Father as “his only-begotten Son;” and a most intimate acquaintance with him, as being from all eternity, and at that very hour, “in his bosom.” He has made known the Father to us, and declared,
[Mankind had gross conceptions of the Deity as a material Being: but Christ has assured us of his perfect Spirituality [Note: John 4:24.]. Nor was the Unity of God clearly ascertained among the Gentiles: but Christ has left no room for doubt upon this subject [Note: Mark 12:29.]. He has, moreover, revealed to us a Trinity of persons in the Godhead. He has affirmed in the plainest terms his own Oneness with the Father [Note: John 10:30.]. He has spoken of the Holy Ghost as co-existing with himself and with the Father [Note: John 15:26.], and has joined the Three together as equal in authority and honour [Note: Matthew 28:19.]. Thus has he enabled us by faith to “see him who is invisible.”]
[God had long since proclaimed his own name to Moses [Note: Exodus 34:6-7.]; but Christ has afforded us more abundant discoveries of all his attributes. He has clearly shewn us that his goodness is unbounded [Note: Matthew 5:45.], his sovereignty uncontrolled [Note: Matthew 11:25-26.], his power irresistible [Note: Matthew 26:53.], his justice inflexible [Note: Matthew 26:42.], his mercy infinite [Note: John 3:16-17.], and his truth inviolable [Note: Luke 16:17.]. There is not any thing relating to his Father, the knowledge of which could be at all serviceable to us, that he has not revealed [Note: John 15:15.].]
He did not however merely utter these things like the prophets of old:
How he declared him—
Christ had formerly spoken of God in and by the prophets [Note: 1 Peter 1:11.]; but now he declared the Father in a different manner:
By exhibiting a perfect pattern of him—
[He was himself an exact resemblance of the Father [Note: Hebrews 1:3.], and in his conduct exhibited every perfection of the Deity [Note: John 8:29.]. Hence a sight of him was, in fact, a sight of the Father himself [Note: John 14:7-9.].]
By making known his counsels—
[Much of the Father’s counsels had lain hid from the foundation of the world, or had been very imperfectly revealed. Christ opened them to his hearers as they were able to bear them [Note: John 16:12.]. He made known God’s intention to admit the Gentiles into his Church [Note: Matthew 8:11-12.], and assured us that the most abandoned of mankind should be cordially received the very instant he returned to God [Note: Luke 15:20.]; but that none of whatever character could be saved, unless they sought acceptance with God through his mediation [Note: John 14:6.]. Thus by these declarations he has enabled us to attain a more perfect knowledge of the Father’s mind and will.]
By exerting a secret energy on the minds of men—
[No man could know the Father unless Christ revealed him inwardly by his Spirit, as well as outwardly by the word [Note: Matthew 11:27.]. His very Disciples understood not until he opened their eyes [Note: Luke 24:45.]: nor can we attain to a true knowledge of God in any other way. The “word must come to us in power and in the Holy Ghost,” or it will come in vain [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:5.]; but, when applied by his Spirit, it shall teach us plainly of the Father [Note: John 16:25.].]
How glorious a person must Christ be!
[The description given of him shews his superiority above every created being: He is not the Son of God by creation, as the angels are, nor by regeneration and adoption, as men; but by an inexplicable generation, his “Only-begotten;” and, as well in his incarnate as in his pre-existent state, was continually “in the bosom of the Father [Note: John 3:13.].” Nor was any other worthy to reveal the Father to us. Let us then entertain just conceptions of his worth and dignity, and manifest our delight in him as the saints in heaven do [Note: Revelation 5:5-9.].]
How precious ought the Scriptures to be to us!
[Job and David had but a small portion of the Scriptures in their hands: yet did they value them above every thing in the world [Note: Job 23:12, Psalms 119:72.]. How much more should we, who possess the sacred oracles entire! In these is recorded every thing that Christ has declared; and by these we may be made wise unto salvation [Note: 2 Timothy 3:15.]. Let us then search them with diligence, and treasure them up in our hearts; nor let a day pass without our digging into those invaluable mines [Note: Proverbs 2:4.].]
How inexcusable are they who are ignorant of God!
[It is to our shame that many of us are still ignorant of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:34.]: we have not that knowledge of him that produces correspondent affections towards him. But what excuse can we offer in extenuation of our guilt? Has not Christ declared the Father in order that we might know him? And is he not willing also to reveal him in us by his powerful energy on our souls? Some, doubtless, are more guilty than others in proportion as they have possessed means of instruction; but all will find the consequences of their ignorance most tremendous [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:8.]. Let all begin then to inquire after God with their whole hearts, nor rest till they have attained that knowledge of him which is life eternal [Note: John 17:3.].]
CHRIST THE LAMB OF GOD
John 1:29. Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
IN the general estimation of the world, they are reputed great who bear sway over their fellow-creatures, and are surrounded with pomp and splendour. But, with God, men are accounted great according as they possess a knowledge of his ways, and advance the ends of his government. Hence we are told by our Lord himself that John the Baptist, a plain rustic man, clothed with coarse raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle, and subsisting on the spontaneous produce of the wilderness, was the greatest of all men that had ever been born. And what was it that so exalted him, not only above all the monarchs of the mightiest empires, but above Abraham, or Moses, or David, or any other of the prophets? It was this: they had seen Christ only at a distance, and spoken of him only in dark prophecies; but he beheld him personally; and, having discovered him by an infallible sign from heaven, pointed him out to others as that very Lamb of God, who should take away the sin of the world. Through the goodness of God, we may be as much exalted above him, as he was above others, if we behold Jesus in the character which is here assigned him; because the completion of his sacrificial work, together with the more perfect revelation of it, which we have in the New Testament, enables us to enter far more deeply into the mystery of redemption, and more fully to comply with the ends and designs of God in it [Note: Matthew 11:11.]. To forward therefore your truest advancement, we shall,
Illustrate the character of our Lord as it is here described—
[Under the law there were lambs offered every morning and evening in sacrifice to God; and it is to these, and not to the Paschal Lamb, that St. John refers. They were to be of the first year, and without blemish [Note: Exodus 29:38-41. Num 28:3-8]: and by the continual offering up of them God was pacified, as it were, so that his wrath did not break forth to destroy his people on account of their daily transgressions. Such a lamb was Christ: he was the Lamb, whom all the others typified. He was truly without spot or blemish [Note: 1 Peter 1:19.]; and was offered on the altar of his cross, not merely for the good, but in the stead, of sinners [Note: 1 Peter 3:18. Galatians 3:13.]. He was really a propitiatory sacrifice, inasmuch as he bore in his own body the curse due to sin [Note: 1 Peter 2:24.], and expiated all its guilt. As there was no variation of the daily sacrifices, but only a repetition of the same, so his one offering of himself is the sole cause of our acceptance with God: nor need that to be repeated, because the virtue of it extends from the beginning to the end of time; “he is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world [Note: Revelation 13:8.].” Nor is it the sin of one nation only that he takes away, but the sin of the whole world [Note: 1 John 2:2.]. He was eminently the Lamb of God, having been chosen to that office by God, and being accepted by him on our behalf in the discharge of it: He was “an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour [Note: Ephesians 5:2.].”]
Call more particularly your attention to him—
Let the careless sinner “behold” him—
[It is but too evident that they, who live in the neglect of God and their own souls, know little of the evil and malignity of sin. But let such persons view the Son of God leaving the bosom of his Father, and assuming our nature to atone for sin: let them go to Gethsemane and behold him bathed in a bloody sweat through the agonies of his soul: let them follow him to Calvary, and hear him crying in the depths of dereliction, “My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” Let them view him expiring under the curse and condemnation of the law; and then let them judge, whether sin be so light and venial an evil as they imagine? Let them bethink themselves, “if such things were done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry [Note: Luke 23:31.]?” Let them behold him whom they have pierced, yea, whom they are daily crucifying afresh, and mourn [Note: Zechariah 12:10.]. Let them know that what he suffered was for them; and that, if they be only willing to humble themselves for their iniquities, the benefits of his death shall extend to them. O that we might all so behold him, as to experience the efficacy of his blood in the removal of our sins!]
Let the self-righteous moralist “behold” him—
[How strange is it that any one, who bears the name of Christ, should expect salvation by the works of the law! Why should that Lamb of God have come down from heaven to expiate our guilt, if sin could have been taken away by means of any repentance or righteousness of ours? What truth could there be in the Baptist’s assertion, if pardon were to be obtained in any other way than through the sacrifice of Christ? Yea, for what end could so many thousands of lambs have bled upon the altar, but to shew, that “without shedding of blood there could be no remission [Note: Hebrews 9:22.];” and consequently, to lead the attention of all to that Lamb of God, that should in due time be offered on the cross? Let such indignity then be no longer shewn to the Saviour of the world: but, as it is his office to take away our sin, let us renounce all self-righteous hopes, and trust entirely in his all-atoning sacrifice.]
Let the mourning penitent “behold” him—
[No sight under heaven can be so welcome to a contrite soul as a sight of Jesus dying in the place of sinners: for, can we suppose, that he was appointed of God to make atonement for us, and that he executed his commission by dying on the cross, and that, after all, he is unable or unwilling to take away our sin? Was he designed to be a “propitiation for the sins of the whole world,” and is there such malignity in the sins of any individual, that there is not a sufficiency in his blood to atone for them? Let us put away such disparaging thoughts of this Lamb of God: let us view him as infinite both in power and grace: let us listen to his encouraging invitation, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth [Note: Isaiah 45:22.]:” and let us, whatever be our state, trust in him, as “able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.”]
Let the professor of godliness “behold” him—
[Well may you rejoice in the sufficiency of your Saviour’s merits; well may you glory in the security which his blood affords you. But remember, it is not the guilt of sin only that he removes, but the power of it also: and the experience of the latter is our only evidence that we have experienced the former. “To redeem us from the love and practice of iniquity, and to purify us unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works,” was no less the intent of his death, than to deliver us from condemnation [Note: Titus 2:14. 1 Peter 2:24.].” While therefore we behold the Lamb of God as the ground of our hope, let us also behold him as a pattern for our imitation [Note: 1 Peter 2:21.]. Let us follow his steps in all meekness and patience, in all purity and holiness: and let us convince the world that faith in Christ, so far from relaxing our zeal for good works, is the strongest incentive to the performance of them.]
SIGHT OF JESUS, A SOURCE OF JOY
John 1:45. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
A GENERAL expectation of the Messiah prevailed in Israel at the time of our Saviour’s advent: and when his forerunner, John the Baptist, was sent, very wonderful were the effects produced by his ministry. Though he did no miracle, yet he excited the attention of the whole Jewish nation. The sanctity of his character, and the power of his words, soon gained him the name of a prophet: and, as there had been no prophet in Israel for the space of about four hundred years, his labours were hailed as a return of God’s love to his people; and persons of all ranks and orders flocked to him, and submitted to his baptism. Many began to suppose that he was the Messiah himself. That, however, he disclaimed: but he avowed himself to be the person spoken of by the Prophet Isaiah eight hundred years before, as sent of God to make known the Messiah, who was already come. Accordingly, he pointed out the Lord Jesus Christ to them, as “the Lamb of God that should take away the sin of the world [Note: ver. 29.].” This testimony of his, supported by the visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Lord Jesus at his baptism, gained credit with some. We do not read that Jesus had yet awhile wrought any miracle: but there was in his appearance what seemed amply sufficient to justify John’s testimony respecting him; and those who were introduced to the knowledge of him were very desirous to impart to others the benefit they had received. The first to whom the discovery of the Messiah was made, was Andrew; and he immediately communicated the glad tidings to his brother Peter. The next to whom Jesus made himself known was Philip: and he also, like Andrew, sought some friend to whom to impart this joyful intelligence; and, on finding Nathanael, endeavoured to make him a partaker of his joy, saying, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
That you, also, may be partakers of the same joy, I will shew,
How amply the Lord Jesus Christ is described in the writings of the Old Testament—
We may notice it,
More generally in the writings of Moses—
[At the very beginning of the world, even whilst man was yet in Paradise, Moses informs, that the Messiah was foretold, as “the seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent’s head,” and deliver men, though not without grievous sufferings to himself, from the fatal effects of Adam’s transgression [Note: Genesis 3:15.]. He, at a period far distant from that, announces the Saviour as a descendant of Abraham; and as one “in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed [Note: Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18.]. Afterwards, he comes more fully to declare both the time of his advent, and the character he should sustain. He informs us that this Almighty Shiloh should come into the world before the power vested in the tribe of Judah should have departed from it. All the other scribes should long since have been reduced to a dependence on foreigners: but Judah’s dominion should remain, and not be utterly destroyed, till the Messiah should have appeared in the world [Note: Genesis 49:10.]. Moreover, he should come as a prophet; as “a prophet like unto Moses [Note: Deuteronomy 18:18.];” uniting in himself the offices of a Legislator, an Instructor, a Mediator, a Governor, a Saviour.
Thus fully did Moses speak of him, independently of all the types which most accurately and minutely delineated the whole of his work and office.]
More particularly, in the writings of the prophets—
[Nothing can be conceived more ample or minute than the descriptions given of the Messiah in the prophetic writings. The family from which he should spring was restricted to that of David [Note: Psalms 132:11.Acts 2:30; Acts 2:30. Isaiah 11:1.]. Yet he should not be born in a way of natural generation, but of a pure Virgin [Note: Isaiah 7:14.]. The place of his birth was distinctly foretold: it should be Bethlehem: and not the Bethlehem in the land of Naphtali, but Bethlehem Ephratah in the land of Judah [Note: Micah 5:2.]. The time also was fixed; for he must come whilst the second temple was yet standing [Note: Malachi 3:1.]. In his appearance, however, he should be so mean, that it should raise many doubts amongst his followers, and prove a stumbling-block to many: he should be “as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he should have no form nor comeliness in the eyes of those who beheld him, nor any beauty for which he should be desired [Note: Isaiah 53:2.].” In consequence of his having none of the attractions of carnal men, he should be despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: men should hide their faces from him, as one despised and held in no esteem [Note: Isaiah 53:3.].” The end of his coming was also very fully declared: he should come to “bear the sins of many,” “to be wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was to be upon him; and by his stripes we were to be healed [Note: Isaiah 53:5-6.].” The mode in which he should conduct himself under all these trials, was also made known: “He should be led as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so should he not so much as open his mouth [Note: Isaiah 53:7.].” The manner in which he should be put to death was to be by crucifixion [Note: Zechariah 12:10.]; though that was not a Jewish, but a Roman punishment. And yet he should be exempted from that which was a customary attendant on it—the breaking of his legs: for, though pierced in his hands, his feet, his side, “not a bone of him was to be broken [Note: Exodus 12:46.].” Time would fail me to speak of the incidents which were foretold relative to his treatment whilst yet upon the cross, the insults they offered him [Note: Psalms 22:7.], the giving him vinegar to drink [Note: Psalms 69:21.], the casting lots on his vesture [Note: Psalms 22:18.], their putting him to death between two malefactors [Note: Isaiah 53:12.]; or the mode of his interment in the tomb of a rich man, though in his death he was numbered with the most abject of the human race [Note: Isaiah 53:9.]:—I will pass over these things, and only mention his resurrection, with the precise time it should take place, even the third day, before his body should have seen corruption [Note: Psalms 16:10.]; and his ascension, also, to the highest heavens [Note: Psalms 68:18.]; and his sending down of the Holy Spirit, to testify of him, and to qualify his Disciples for the work of propagating his Gospel, and establishing his kingdom in the world [Note: Joel 2:28-29.]. Let all these things be considered; and you will say, there was such a body of evidence relating to the Messiahship of Jesus, as, in any considerate mind, must preclude a possibility of doubt.]
The joy expressed at the finding of Jesus will lead me to shew,
What an acquisition He is to all who can truly say, “We have found him—”
A distant prospect of him, from the remotest ages, had been a ground of very exalted joy—
[We cannot doubt but that our first parents rejoiced much in the promise given them relative to “the seed of the woman;” and that Abel also felt rich consolation in his soul, whilst offering up a firstling of his flock, in token of his dependence on him. But in the case of Abraham we are not left to conjecture: we know infallibly, that he did foresee the day of Christ; and that, in the prospect of it, he greatly rejoiced [Note: John 8:56.]. Indeed the designation given him by the prophet, as “the Desire of all Nations [Note: Haggai 2:7.],” clearly shews in what light he was regarded by those who had any insight into his proper character.]
At the time of his advent, and during his sojourning on earth, the discovery of him was deemed a subject of self-congratulation—
[As announced by the angelic choir to the shepherds, we behold him in this view: “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people: for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord [Note: Luke 2:10-11.].” And how his Virgin Mother gloried in him, you well know: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour [Note: Luke 1:46-47.].” In truth, all who waited for his coming, looked for him as “the Consolation of Israel [Note: Luke 2:25.].” The delight expressed by Andrew and Philip, on their introduction to him, has been already noticed: and we cannot doubt but that all his Apostles, who so willingly left their all to follow him, found in him an ample compensation for all that they had lost [Note: Mark 10:28-29.]. In truth, the experience of Zaccheus must have pervaded multitudes, whilst they listened to his words of grace, and felt, in their bodies and in their souls, the mighty working of his power [Note: Luke 19:5-6.] —]
The joy of his servants, after the publication of his Gospel, was yet greater, in proportion to the clearer discoveries which they had of his transcendent excellence—
[Behold the thousands on the day of Pentecost! What a change was wrought on them by the revelation of Christ to their souls! In the morning, their hearts were as full of all malignity as that of Satan himself: in the evening, you find them “eating their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, blessing and praising God [Note: Acts 2:41; Acts 2:46.].” The people of Samaria, the Ethiopian Eunuch, the Jailor and his family, all, as soon as they heard of him, found the sure accompaniment of faith in him [Note: Acts 8:8; Acts 8:39; Acts 16:34.]. And what shall I say of the Apostle Paul? No man ever had so much of his own to glory in as he: yet did he account it all but loss for Christ; yea, he counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord [Note: Philippians 3:4-8.].”]
And is there any difference in the experience of his servants at this day?
[None at all. I will appeal to all who know him. I will ask, Whether, in their estimation, he do not fully answer to “the treasure hid in a field;” and to “the pearl of great price,” which every one who finds, will sell all that he has to purchase [Note: Matthew 13:44-46.]? What, though we behold him not with our bodily eyes, is our joy the less on that account? No: for “though we see him not, we love him: yea, though now we see him not, yet, believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; receiving even now the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls [Note: 1 Peter 1:8-9.].”]
In conclusion, I would beg to ask two questions:
Have you attained this happiness yourselves?
[The Lord Jesus Christ has been fully made known among you, and “has even been set forth, as it were, crucified before your eyes [Note: Galatians 3:1.].” Observe on what slight evidence of his Messiahship his first Disciples rejoiced. Neither he, nor John his Forerunner, had wrought any miracle: yet, because the Holy Ghost had descended in a visible shape upon him at his baptism, both John and others believed on him. They, moreover, could have but very indistinct views of his character; and yet they rejoiced in him. How strong, then, should be your faith, and how exalted your joy, now that you have a full discovery of his glory; a discovery, which not even the angels in heaven enjoyed, till it was given to them through the medium of the Christian Church [Note: Ephesians 3:10.]! Surely you have cause to be ashamed, if, amidst all your privileges, you remain ignorant of the Saviour’s love, or strangers to the salvation which he has obtained for you.]
Are you endeavouring to impart it to others?
[You find not any in the days of old, who, having found the Saviour themselves, did not endeavour to make him known to others. It is indeed impossible to feel our need of him, and to be experimentally acquainted with the blessedness of his salvation, and not to labour, according to our ability, to make others partakers of our joy. I know full well, that a zeal for his glory, and for the salvation of our fellow-men, will entail upon us a considerable measure of reproach, as enthusiastic, and “righteous overmuch.” But why should we regard such a contemptible imputation as that? It is remarkable, that Philip was under a mistake, when he announced Jesus as “of Nazareth;” for he was not of Nazareth, but of Bethlehem. Yet because Philip supposed him to be of Nazareth, where he was not born, but had only sojourned, he willingly proclaimed his Master as of that place, notwithstanding the obloquy universally attached to it [Note: ver. 46.]. So let us never be ashamed of Christ, because of the odium that attaches to a profession of his name. We should not indeed, by ignorance and inadvertence, put a stumbling-block in the way of any: but, if despised for the sake of Christ, we should welcome the shame, and rejoice that we are counted worthy to bear it. No consideration whatever should intimidate us: but, having found “Christ precious to our own souls,” we should “confess him openly before all,” and commend him to all around us, as “all our salvation, and all our desire.”]
EVIL, AND CURE, OF PREJUDICE
John 1:46. Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
KNOWLEDGE is not given to any man for himself alone. As “a light is not put under a bed or under a bushel, but is set on a candlestick, that it may give light to those who are in the house;” so knowledge is imparted by God, in order that it may be rendered subservient to the good of those who are in intellectual or spiritual darkness. The example of those who were first called to attend upon our Lord is worthy of imitation in this respect. Andrew, having been directed to Christ by John the Baptist, and having been convinced, by personal intercourse with Jesus, that he was indeed the Messiah, “he finds his own brother Simon, and says to him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus [Note: ver. 36–42.].” The next day, Philip, who was of the same city as Andrew and Peter, was called to follow Christ: and “he, also, finding Nathanael, said to him, We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph [Note: ver. 43–45.].” In the mind of Nathanael, however, there existed a prejudice against Nazareth, as being the last place from whence a person of so exalted a character would ever proceed: and therefore he asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” It is generally supposed that this prejudice was called forth by Philip speaking of Jesus as belonging to Nazareth; when it was known that the Messiah was to be born at Bethlehem [Note: Matthew 2:4-6.]. But, had that been the case, I conceive that the answer would rather have been, “Can the Messiah come out of Nazareth?” and not, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” For, though Bethlehem was to give birth to the Messiah, it was not the only city from whence any good could proceed. I rather imagine, therefore, that it was to the general bad character of Nazareth that Nathanael referred; intimating, that, so far from giving birth to the Messiah, it was scarcely possible that any good whatever should proceed from it. This prejudice was not altogether without foundation; for Nazareth was deservedly infamous even in Galilee, the whole province of which was considered as less honourable than any other part of Judζa [Note: John 7:52.]. The conduct of the Nazarenes, both at the first opening of our Lord’s ministry there [Note: Luke 4:22-23; Luke 4:28-30.], and on a subsequent occasion [Note: Matthew 13:54-56.], clearly shewed, that they were a blind and wicked people. Yet that was no reason why nothing good should come forth from thence. And, if this prejudice had not been corrected, it might have terminated in a continued ignorance of Christ, and a consequent lost of his salvation.
Let me then, from this history, shew you,
The evil of prejudice—
Prejudice is deeply rooted in the heart of fallen man: and it is productive of most injurious effects,
To those who are the objects of it—
[Prejudice has always some ground. It may indeed be founded on error, as well as on truth: but the very existence of it supposes that the person exercising it beholds, in his own opinion at least, something blame-worthy in him who is the object of it: and it usually operates most forcibly in those who have taken the least pains to ascertain the truth. Nicodemus no sooner heard of the Lord Jesus as belonging to Nazareth, than he concluded, from that very circumstance, that he could not be the true Messiah: and he even appealed to Philip, whether any good thing could come out of Nazareth; insinuating, that on so plain a point, there could not be any reasonable doubt: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Now here was extreme injustice done to the people of that city: for though the majority of them might be worthless, there might be some as estimable characters as any in Israel. But it is in this way that prejudice condemns both things and persons in the mass. Nations will entertain these very notions respecting each other; so that the belonging to a rival nation shall be sufficient to make a person our enemy, though we are utter strangers to his character. The same malignant principle operates also very strongly between different societies belonging to the same nation. As, in Catholic countries, rival orders of men hate each other; so even in this Protestant land, where greater liberality might be expected to prevail, churchmen and dissenters are ready to question whether almost any measure of truth or piety be in the party to which they are opposed. It is scarcely necessary to say how strongly this unhallowed disposition prevails against individuals. A man may have embraced sentiments which are deemed strict and precise; and may, in conformity to them, be living a more holy, mortified, and self-denying life than others around him; and this shall be quite sufficient to render him odious and contemptible to all around him. From that moment, every one shall feel himself at liberty to speak evil of him; and nobody shall dare to defend him. All he says, and all he does, shall be an occasion of offence. John Baptist, because he was of secluded and mortified habits, was said “to have a devil:” and our blessed Lord, because he was of more “easy and social habits,” was called “a gluttonous man, and a wine-bibber.” And so, if we be truly religious, it will be done to us: whether we “pipe or mourn,” we shall find no sympathy, but be alike objects of condemnation; every thing being viewed through the medium of prejudice, and therefore deemed extravagant and absurd. Every one who will follow the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity shall surely find that he has this cross to bear: he shall be despised, and hated, and “have all manner of evil spoken against him falsely, for Christ’s sake. In truth, the real Christian does not live under the same laws as others; nor must he expect that measure of protection that is accorded to other men. He may be traduced, insulted, injured by all: and no one will take his part: whilst, if he were to act, in one single instance, towards others, as every one feels at liberty to act towards him, the mouths of all would be opened against him, and a fire would be kindled which would not readily be extinguished: so true is that saying of the prophet Isaiah, “He that departeth from evil, maketh himself a prey.”]
To those who indulge it—
[Prejudice blinds the mind to truth, and utterly indisposes us for the reception of it. A person under its influence can see no good in him whom it condemns, and will listen to nothing that shall tend to the vindication of his character. We have a remarkable illustration of this, in the conduct of the people of Ephesus. When they perceived that the preaching of the Apostle Paul was likely to lessen the veneration of many for the goddess whom they worshipped, they set the whole city in an uproar: and when a person, named Alexander, stood forth to vindicate him, the people, as soon as they saw that he was a Jew, instead of listening to a single word that he had to say, all, for the space of about two hours, cried out, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians [Note: Acts 19:34.]!” Thus they shut out all means of conviction, and kindled in their own breasts the keenest resentments against those who sought only to make known unto them the way of life and salvation. In the common affairs of life, men act not thus. Our blessed Lord placed this matter in its true light, in answer to those who in the same perverse way rejected him: “When ye see a cloud rising in the west, ye say there will be rain, and it comes to pass. And when the south wind blows, ye say there will be heat: and it is so. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the earth, and of the heavens; and how is it that ye discern not this time [Note: Luke 12:54-57.]?” The truth is, that if prejudice once blind the eyes, nothing whatever will suffice to remove it: and men will rather ascribe the miracles of our Lord to Satanic influence, than acknowledge the plain and obvious inference that should be deduced from them. Thus, whilst this hateful disposition vents itself against the most deserving objects, it inflicts the deadliest wound on him who indulges it; inasmuch as it calls forth into activity all his basest passions, and shuts up his soul in impenetrable darkness.
Happily for Nathanael, he had a friend, who, if not able to satisfy all his doubts, was capable of giving him such advice, as, if duly followed, would issue in the removal of them.]
In this advice of Philip we shall see,
The remedy of it—
Inquiry is the obvious remedy to be applied, in all cases. To all then, who are under the influence of prejudice, I would say, “Come and see.”
To the profane Atheist—
[I will grant that your prejudices are not wholly destitute of some plausible grounds whereon to stand. There are in the world many things which seem calculated to impress the mind with an idea that there is no controlling Providence, to protect the good, and to punish the workers of iniquity. It does appear strange that the ungodly should be permitted so to triumph, and that the righteous should be so exposed to their malignity. But, whilst I grant that these things may prove a stumbling-block to the inconsiderate, I must say, that, on a closer inspection, there will be found such evidence of a Divine agency in the world as will be abundantly sufficient to remove all doubts upon the subject. If we look at the earth, we cannot conceive that it came into existence by a fortuitous concussion of atoms: nor, if we survey the heavenly bodies, and trace them in their various courses, can we imagine, that they are left to themselves, without any one to uphold them in their orbits. If we behold a watch, or any other complicated machine, we never suppose that it made itself, or that it needs not the superintendence of an intelligent agent to regulate its motions. How much less, then, can we contemplate the infinitely diversified objects of the whole creation, all preserved in their order for thousands of years, and not confess a creating power, and a superintending Providence? Only let any man “come and see,” and his doubts will vanish, like the mist before the noon-day sun.]
To the proud infidel—
[You, too, have specious reasons for disbelieving the Holy Scriptures. There are in the sacred volume many things which you cannot comprehend. But is this a just ground for denying its divine authority? Are there not truths in human sciences which surpass your comprehension? Why, then, may you not expect to find such in a revelation from God? Look at the evidences of our holy religion: see whether the prophecies, so numerous, so minute, so incapable of being accomplished by any collusion or confederacy whatever, do not determine, beyond a possibility of doubt, that they were inspired by an omniscient and Almighty God. Mark the miracles, too, by which the doctrines both of the Old and New Testament were confirmed; and say whether they do not, of necessity, commend themselves as of divine origin. Only “come and see” with a candid mind, and you shall be fully satisfied that the Scriptures are indeed the word of God.]
To the self-justifying moralist—
[You persuade yourself, that because we deny to works the office of justifying the soul before God, we discourage the performance of them; and that, consequently, the doctrine which we preach, of salvation by faith alone, cannot be true. But your conclusions are erroneous altogether. If you will but examine for yourselves, you shall find, that no other way of salvation than that which the Gospel has proclaimed is suited to fallen man; nor will any other be found worthy of Almighty God. His justice must be honoured, as well as his mercy; and it is only by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ that its demands are, or can be, satisfied. And as to the performance of good works, respecting which you are so jealous, look and see whether any person, from the foundation of the world, ever exhibited a brighter pattern of morality than Paul; who yet said, “I desire to be found in Christ, not having my own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ.” Only be candid in your examination of this point, and it shall force itself upon your mind with an evidence that is irresistible.]
The licentious worldling—
[‘How can that be a source of happiness, which would rob me of all that T have ever delighted in, and constrain me to mortify my flesh; and, after all, would subject me to the contempt and hatred of all my friends?’ This appears to you a difficulty that cannot be removed. But I would say to you also, “Come, and see:” try what religion will really do for you: see whether its ways be not ways of pleasantness and peace: see whether there be not a more refined pleasure arising from self-denial for the Lord’s sake, than in all the self-indulgence that you ever experienced. Come, and see what happiness there is in communion with God, in the testimony of a good conscience, and in a prospect of a blessed immortality. I will venture to affirm, that if you give the experiment a fair trial, you shall find incomparably greater happiness in God than you ever found in the gratifications of sense.]
Learn then, from this subject, how to act,
In reference to your own prejudices—
[Every man living is more or less influenced by this principle. Piety itself will not altogether exempt us from it. Nathanael was “an Israelite indeed;” yet, though “without guile,” he was not without prejudice: and therefore it becomes us all to be open to conviction, and to be willing to have our prejudices removed: we should never decline using the means of information that are open to us; but should be intent only on ascertaining the truth. Whether our prejudice refer to persons or things, we should find a real delight in having our views rectified, and should spare no pains to acquire a more perfect way.
In this point of view, the Bible Society has rendered most important services to the Church of Christ. It has brought together multitudes who were once, through the force of prejudice, alienated from each other; and has diffused among them a principle of mutual love. And if we were to cultivate more of a friendly spirit with those of the Jewish nation, it is highly probable that our mutual animosities would be soon abated, and that an easier way might be opened for them into the fold of Christ. At all events, on our own part, prejudice should cease; and on every subject, and towards every man, our minds should be unbiassed, and our souls be intent only on rectitude and truth. We should “prove all things, and hold fast that which is good [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:21.].”]
In reference to the prejudices of others—
[Be not offended if you see in others the infirmities which you feel in yourselves. Be careful, too, not to irritate or despise those who labour under them: but, with kindness and gentleness, endeavour to guide them to the knowledge of the truth.
In this respect, as in all others, our blessed Lord must be our example: “Learn of me,” says he; “for I am meek and lowly in heart;” that is, I can bear with your ignorance, and be content to administer instruction in a way suited to your capacity. Philip’s conduct, too, was worthy of imitation: for, though fully convinced himself, he did not begin to argue and dispute with Nathanael, but invited him rather to examine and judge for himself. Thus we also should act: we should adopt such methods of instruction and persuasion as are most likely to remove the veil that is on our brother’s heart; and should labour, not so much for the establishment of our own dogmas, as for the best interests of his soul. And, if we find any persons disposed to hold fast their delusions, we should “in meekness instruct them, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth [Note: 2 Timothy 2:25.].”]
AN ISRAELITE INDEED
John 1:47. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
IT is comfortable to reflect, that there are many whose hearts are upright before God, while, from a variety of circumstances, they are unknown to the world. Nathanael was not yet evangelized; nor had he attained that eminence in the divine life whereby he was afterwards distinguished: yet was he among the Lord’s “hidden ones,” and justly entitled to the encomium passed upon him in the text. We shall,
Consider the character of Nathanael—
If ever the character of any human being deserved particular attention, surely that must, which was drawn by our Lord himself. Let us notice,
The terms in which our Lord’s testimony is expressed—
[The whole body of the Jews were called Israelites as being descended from Jacob, to whom the name of Israel was given by God himself. But we are taught to distinguish between those who were “Israelites after the flesh,” and those who were Israelites in a higher and more appropriate sense; fur “all were not Israel who were of Israel:” those only who partook of Jacob’s spirit, were numbered amongst his spiritual seed: and hence it was that Nathanael, being a heavenly-minded man, and an earnest wrestler with God in prayer, was called “an Israelite indeed.” But Jacob was represented as “a plain man,” in opposition to his brother Esau, who was “a cunning man:” and though on two occasions his conduct was far from corresponding with this character, yet, on the whole, he was a person of guileless simplicity: and it is in reference to this that Nathanael is further said to be, a man “in whom was no guile.”]
The facts by which that testimony is confirmed—
[The first evidence which we have of Nathanael’s integrity, is his openness to conviction. He laboured under the prejudices which obtained through the whole of his nation, and thought that nothing good could proceed from Galilee: but when invited by Philip to “come and see” for himself, he instantly complied, in order that he might form a right judgment respecting the momentous question that was then agitated, the Messiahship of Jesus. Such candour uniformly characterizes the true Israelite — — —
The next thing we notice in him is, his readiness to follow his convictions. What were the particular circumstances that had taken place under the fig-tree, whether Nathanael had been adverting to Jacob’s vision, or had been praying for divine instruction relative to the expected Messiah, or indeed what had been the precise workings of his mind, it is not possible for us to say: but Jesus intimated to him that he knew all that had passed there, and had approved the workings of his mind. This declaration, accompanied with a decided testimony respecting his character, convinced Nathanael that he was the true Messiah; and drew from him an unequivocal acknowledgment of his divine mission. Such a readiness to receive the truth is a further ingredient of guileless integrity — — —
We have yet another proof of his sincerity in his determination to approve himself to God at all events. He could not but know that the prejudices he had imbibed, were common to the whole nation; and that to become an open follower of Jesus would expose him to much obloquy and contempt. But he would not confer with flesh and blood: having found the truth, he embraced it boldly; and from that moment became a stated attendant on his Lord. This, above all, displayed the uprightness of his soul: and this decided conduct, this prosecuting of his duty without any fear of consequences, is the surest test of radical and unalloyed integrity — — —
If our Lord’s testimony stood in need of confirmation, we could not wish for more ample proof of its truth than arises from the facts that are here adduced.]
After such a delineation of Nathanael’s character, we may well,
Commend it to your imitation—
It is not to gratify our curiosity, but to edify our souls, that so many bright examples are set before us in the Scriptures. St. Paul exhorts us not only to be followers of him, but to “mark those who walk after his example.” That you may be induced to imitate the example now set before you, consider,
The excellence of such a character—
[The righteous is deservedly said to be “more excellent than his neighbour.” To compare a guileless person with one that is sensual or profane, would be to compare “light with darkness, and Christ with Belial.” Let us therefore institute the comparison rather between a true Israelite, and the most moral and specious of those who retain any allowed guile: and then the superiority of a Nathanael will appear in its true light: the hypocrite may have clearer views of divine truth, and appear in many respects to greater advantage before men, but he is radically a lover of sin, and a vassal of the wicked one; while the guileless person is transformed into the divine image, and is a friend, a favourite, a child of God.
Shall not this consideration operate upon us? Can we need any other inducement to imitate the glorious character before us?]
The importance of attaining it—
[The time is shortly coming when all of us must appear in the presence of Christ: and, as he discerned the character of Nathanael so as to pronounce upon it with infallible certainty, so does he now weigh our spirits, as in a perfect balance, in order that he may give to every man his proper portion of censure or applause. Of those who were truly upright he will say, ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile: I saw him under the fig-tree; I heard his groans; I saw his wrestlings with God in prayer; I treasured up his tears in my vial; and I testify before all, that his heart was right with God.’ But of those who harboured any secret iniquity he will say, ‘Behold a man that was called an Israelite, but he was in reality a dissembler with God: he had “ a name to live, but he was really dead:” I saw him under the fig-tree; I marked the secret lusts which he harboured in his heart, and the allowed neglects of which he was habitually guilty: he would follow his convictions, and devote himself to me as far as his ease, his honour, and his interests would permit, but no further: and therefore, on account of his secret reserves, and his allowed guile, he must take his portion with the hypocrites and unbelievers.’
Who can reflect on the consequences of that decision, and not desire so to live that Jesus may bear a favourable testimony on his behalf?]
Those who do not so much as profess to be true Israelites—
[You boast perhaps that, whatever you are, you are not hypocrites: but, though you make no profession of religion before men, the very calling of yourselves Christians implies that you acknowledge yourselves bound to follow the steps of your Divine Master. Compare then your conduct with your obligations, and think what your doom must be in the day that he shall judge the world.]
Those who are Israelites, but not in truth—
[If it were as easy to deceive God as it is to maintain a blameless appearance before man, we should be less anxious about your eternal interests. But the Lord Jesus searcheth the heart and trieth the reins; and will adjudge men to happiness or misery, according to the real state of their souls. We are told that he who committeth sin is of the devil; and, that whosoever is born of God sinneth not. This must certainly imply, that if we have any allowed guile, we are not true Israelites, nor can we have our portion with them. O lay to this to heart; and seek “that ye may be found of God in peace, without spot and blameless,”]
Those who are Israelites indeed—
[The ungodly world may brand you with the name of hypocrites and deceivers; but the Lord Jesus looks upon you with pleasure and delight, and will now in your hearing, as it were, and ere long in their hearing also, bear testimony to your integrity, to the unspeakable comfort of your souls. O be careful to keep a conscience void of offence both towards God and towards man. Remember that, as your comfort depends on the preservation of your integrity, so does his honour. The ungodly may do what they will, and no reflections are cast upon religion: but if an Israelite do any thing unworthy of his profession, the Gospel itself, yea, and the Lord Jesus Christ also, is condemned for it. Cut off occasion then from those who seek occasion to calumniate the way of truth; that while you have the comfort of your integrity, God may be glorified by it, and his enemies be put to silence.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on John 1". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29