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THE title of the book is differently given in the manuscripts and ancient versions, and the differences are so considerable that they cannot be referred to the original text. The simplest form of the title is found in א, B, D, and is nothing more than "according to John," ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ (B gives only one N in John's name, but א two); and this is followed by the vulgate and Syriac as a running title. The immense proportion of the uncials—A, C, E, F, G, L, and eight or nine others—read "Gospel according to John" (Εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Ιωάννην). This is followed by Tregelles, Lachmann, Alford. The T.R., with a large number of manuscripts, reads, "The Gospel according to John;" and in Stephen's third edition the word "holy" occurs before "Gospel." The cursives 69, 178, 259, read Εὐαγγέλιον ἐκ τοῦ κατὰ Ἰωὰνην. Some cursives read, "Of the (holy) Gospel according to John." The printed texts of the Peschito Syriac have Evangelium sanctum praedicationis Johannis praeconis. The Revisers, with T.R., have placed Τὸ κατα Ἰωάννην Εὐαγγέλιον as their title.
The phrase, "according to," has been thought by some to suggest a type of doctrine or teaching with which the document might be supposed to harmonize, and therefore to set aside the idea of personal authenticity by its very form. This interpretation, seeing it applies to Mark and Luke as well as to John and Matthew, would lose its meaning; for Mark and Luke, by numerous traditionary notices, have been continuously credited, not with having personally set any special type of doctrine before the Church, but as having been respectively the interpreter of Peter or Paul. Consequently the meaning of the phrase compels us to ask whether the word "Gospel" or "Holy Gospel" did in the first instance refer to the book at all. It is not "John's Gospel" that is intended, but the good news or glad tidings of God related by John, of which this and similar titles speak, Moreover, numerous instances occur where the κατὰ is similarly used to denote authorship. Thus "The Pentateuch according to Moses," "The History according to Herodotus," "The Gospel according to Peter," are titles which in every case are meant to suggest the idea of authorship (Godet). We cannot imagine that any other implication was intended by this ancient superscription.
Each of the evangelists starts with a grand "presupposition," or main thesis, of his own, expressed with more or less of explicitness, which it becomes his obvious purpose to sustain.
This main thesis is set forth in the first sentences of each of the synoptists. Thus MARK opened with the memorable words, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God."£ From the first he refers to the prophetic anticipations and historic realization of glad tidings uttered by the Lord, and he based all his teaching on the fact that Jesus Christ was SON OF GOD. MATTHEW, who wished to establish the Lord's special claim to Messiahship, and his official right to the throne of David, began with a genealogical proof of the Lord's descent from David and Abraham. LUKE, who aimed throughout to illustrate the Divine humanity, and to build his narrative on historic facts and chronological data, took up his story with the birth of the Baptist, and, in conjunction with his baptizing of Jesus, presents a lineal genealogy of the supposed father (and probably of the mother) of Jesus, through the line of Nathan to David, thence from David to Abraham, and finally to Adam, the first son of God. In his prologue Luke indicated the biographical use he had made of the material in his hands, and of the personal knowledge he had acquired, and that he aimed to set forth the grounds of security that existed for the things most fully believed by the Church (Luke 1:1-4).
The fourth evangelist was as earnestly set upon giving proof of the Messiahship of Jesus as Matthew was (see John 20:31), and as resolved to emphasize the complete humanity of the Son of God as even Luke himself was (see verse 14, and all the many signs of the Saviour's resemblance to his brethren, and sympathy with their sufferings and joys—John 2:1; John 4:6; John 5:13, John 5:14; John 11:5, John 11:35, etc.). But John had felt more deeply than many of the apostles the effulgence of the Father's glory which gleamed in the face of Jesus Christ. John had heard in the words of Jesus the veritable voice of the living God; "The Word of the Lord (ὁ Λόγος Κυρίου) came to him" in the speech (λαλιά) of Jesus. There was a Divineness about the mission of the Lord which deeply impressed this evangelist—that Jesus had come in a special sense from God, that he was the Giver of eternal life and the Author of eternal salvation, and that he had the "form of God," though in the likeness of men. John's mind revolved all the truth which, long before this prologue or introduction was written, had been proclaimed by Paul and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in every varying phrase. It was in harmony with the whole purpose of his Gospel that he should begin it before the baptism, before the birth, before the conception, of the Lord Jesus; that he should press back in thought to the Divine activity itself—to those ideas of the older revelation which, though not in conflict with the pure monotheism of the Hebrew Scriptures, involved the veritable preparation for the stupendous reality, for the supreme tragedy, for the Divine kingdom which had evolved itself under his very eyes. He looked back into the past, nay, he gazed out of time into eternity; he looked up from the miraculous conception to that holy thing which was conceived in the womb of humanity; he endeavoured to set forth that form of God which could alone become "flesh" and tabernacle among men; and which, though it did this, did not destroy the unity of Deity, but confirmed and established it. He was not slow to reflect on all the methods in which God had ever come near to men, nor could he believe that God Incarnate had never foreshadowed his presence with men, or his manifestation to them, before his own day and hour. When the old man was at Ephesus, many dangerous speculations were rife. Some denied that Christ had ever come in the flesh at all, and said that so Divine a presence as his was no objective reality—was allied to the Docetic "seeming" manifestations made to the patriarchs of the Old Testament. Jesus was to them a theophany, not a living Man. Now, we learn from the First Epistle that such a thesis was, in the opinion of John, the quintessence of antichrist. Others, again, had speculated about the emanations of Deity, until a new mythology was beginning to hover on the borderland between Christendom and heathendom. Essenic and Ebionitic errors had grieved him. At length the moment arrived when the "Son of Thunder," who saw all the glory of the risen Lord, all the majesty of his triumphant reign, uttered these opening words, replying, in every sentence, to one or other of these misconceptions of his Lord's Person. And he proceeded to lay a simple basis deep and strong enough to support the facts upon which the faith of the Church was resting. Men had come veritably to believe that they were children of God, and had been generated as such by the will of God, and, if children, that they were heirs of God through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:16, Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:26). "Grace and truth" were lighting up broken and bewildered hearts when they accepted the reality of the Divine manhood of Jesus, and something better than the mere speculations of the schools of Palestine, Alexandria, or Ephesus was needed in order to explain (as he, the beloved disciple saw it) the mystery of the life of Christ. That which he laid down as the solution of the problem of "the beginning of the Gospel" is called the prologue of this Gospel. Even apart from the inspiration which breathes through it, no passage in literature can be cited which has exercised a more powerful influence upon the thought of the last eighteen hundred years than that which sets forth John's fundamental ideas concerning the essence and character, the idiosyncrasy and the energy, of the Divine fulness which dwelt in Jesus.
The question has been asked—Where does the prologue end? M. Reuss strongly presses the view that tile proem terminated with the fifth verse, and that with the sixth the apostle commenced his historical recital. He urges that there is no break from the sixth to the eighteenth verse; that in this paragraph the author sets forth the general effect of the testimony of the historical Baptist to Jesus; and that, in consequence of it, a limited number of individuals were led to recognize
(1) the Divine nature of the Word manifested in the flesh,
(2) the truth of the assertions of the Baptist,
(3) the radical distinction between Moses and Christ,
(4) the fact that the true knowledge of God can only be obtained by the mediation of the latter.
Some preliminary advantage is thus secured by the critic who seeks to ally this paragraph with the rest of the history, and to impute to the whole Gospel, as well as to the passage in question, the character of a theological or didactic romance. The enormous majority of all scholars, while recognizing new points of departure at verse 6, and again at verses 14-18, do not admit that the evangelist's preliminary representations or presuppositions have come to a pause until he reached the sublime utterance which points so obviously back to verse 1, "No one hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." From the first verse to the eighteenth the evangelist revolves around the fundamental idea of "the Word which was with God and was God." but his aim is to show how the Word came into relations with man, and how man may come into relations with the Godhead through him who was manifested in the flesh in all the fulness of grace and truth.
An obvious method of this author in the Gospel, Epistles, and Apocalypse shows that he was wont to return upon thoughts which he had previously uttered, yet at the same time doing so in fresh cycles and with added meanings (see Introduction). The large spiral of his meditations sweeps at first round the entire region of "all things" which have their centre in the "Word of God:" "All things came into being through him." Then he formally discriminates between "things" and "forces," and especially indicates the relation of "the Word" to the energies and blessedness of the entire universe of sentient and responsible beings which derive all their "life" from the "life that is in him," and their "light" from that "life," indicating, as he proceeds, the presence of the antagonism to the light and life displayed by our imperfect and damaged humanity (verses 1-5). Here the entire testimony of prophecy—gathered up in the person of an historic man, John Baptist,—is broadly characterized, and some conception of the aid which revelation and inspiration have given to men to recognize the light when they see it, and to hear the voice of the Lord God while it speaks. The entire function of prophecy is discriminated from the light force at work in every living man. The special aid given to the holy, prepared, and selected race, by the manner of his self-revelations brings the spiral thought round into the region of the intensified darkness of those who refuse the brightest light (verses 9-11), so that verse 11 corresponds with verse 5. Verses 12, 13 pause in the region of light. Some souls are at least transformed into the light, become conscious of a Divine generation, are born (through faith), independently of all earthly, national, or sacramental means, into the same kind of relation to God that has from eternity been enjoyed by the Word.
At this point a novel revolution of thought is commenced, characterized by more intense brilliancy and efficacity, because revealed in a narrower range of fact. He touches the very focus and centre of Divine manifestation, when he says, "And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us." "The Word" did not become "all things," nor was he identified with life, still less with light. The wide radiance and glorious glancing of the light was not identified with the objects on which through prophetic agencies it alighted. The τὰ ἴδια, the special race of light bearers, were not, even in their highest form of recipiency, incarnations of the Word. Neither conscience, nor prophecy, nor Shechinah glory was of the substance or essence of "the Word," although all the energy of each of these was and is and ever will be the shining of the primal light on humanity.
This is the theory of the writer of this prologue, but his chief contribution to the sum of human thought is that "this Word became flesh." Having announced this stupendous fact, the author relates the evidence of his own personal, living experience; and he records his invincible assent to this unique and central glory of Divine manifestation. This at once leads to a few comprehensive antitheses drawn between the Incarnation and all the most illustrious and luminous of previous revelations. Just as verses 6, 7 revealed the difference between prophecy and the "light of men," so, having come to this focal point of splendour, prophecy again speaks in the person of the Baptist; and verse 15 cites the highest testimony to the supreme rank of the incarnate God above the greatest of the teachers of men. In verse 16 the apostle refers to the Incarnate Word as the Source of all apostolic emotions and life. Through him, and not from the mere teachings of prophecy or conscience, have we all received grace and truth. Then, sweeping back to the grandest epoch-making man and moment of all past history, Moses himself appears to shine only like the light of a waning moon in the advent of the dawn. More than that; neither Adam in Paradise, nor Noah gazing on the averted bow, nor Abraham at Moriah, nor Jacob at Peniel, nor Moses in the cleft of the rock, nor Elijah at Horeb, nor Isaiah in the temple, nor Ezekiel at the river of Chebar, have ever seen, in the sense in which Jesus saw, the face of the Father. The only begotten Son who was with God and was God, and in the bosom of the Father, he hath revealed him. The entire proem does not cease till it reaches this triumphant peroration. Detailed exegesis of the passage can alone justify this estimate of the significance of the prologue. Different commentators have divided it somewhat differently, and many have drawn too sharp a distinction between the preincarnation life of the Logos, and the historical, theocratic, or ecclesiastical manifestation. Surely that which the eternal Logos was before his manifestation and before the humiliation of the infinite love, he was and must have been during the human life of Jesus, he must be now, and he must ever be. In other words: The Word, who was in the beginning with God, is still "with God." All life is continually the effluence of one of his infinite energies; all light is the effulgence of that bright essence uncreate. He is still coming "to his own," and "they receive him not." The processes described in verses 6-13 have never ceased; nay, they are indeed more conspicuous than they ever were before in the ministry of the Word, but they have not exhausted nor diminished one iota of the stupendous activity of the eternal, creative, revealing Logos.
The first part of the Gospel, consisting of ch. 1-4, we have already described as
I. THE REVELATION OF THE LOGOS TO THE WORLD.
1. The hypothesis framed by the evangelist to account for the series of facts which he is about to narrate is seen especially in John 1:14; but before asserting this great fact that the Word was made flesh, he proceeds to show
(1) The pre-existence, personality, and Divinity of the Logos.
In the beginning was the Word. From early times expositors have perceived that the evangelist essayed here a comparison with the ἐν ἀρχῇ ("in the beginning") of the first verse of the Book of Genesis. This can hardly be doubted; but the resemblance immediately ceases or is transformed into an antithesis; for whereas the Mosaic narrative proceeds to indicate the beginning of the creation and of time by saying, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," this passage asserts that the Word then was. He was neither created, nor did he then begin to be. Consequently, there is no reason to gather from this passage the temporal origin of "the Word," or from the first verse of Genesis to argue the eternity of matter. The writer here shows that he was profoundly impressed by the Lord's own self-consciousness which permitted his disciples to believe in a personal Being and glory "before the world was," and "before the foundation of the world" (John 17:5, John 17:24). The idea of existence before the world was is attributed to the Divine (Sophia or) wisdom (Proverbs 8:23 and elsewhere; 1 John 1:1). The same apostle speaks moreover of "that which was (ἀπ ἀρχῆς) from the beginning," but has been manifested to us. The interpretations which made the ἀρχή mean, with Cyril, the Divine "Father;" the valentinian notion that ἀρχή was a distinct hypothesis, distinct from the Father or from the Logos; Origen's notion that it meant the "Divine Wisdom;" the Socinian view that it referred to "the beginning of the preaching of the gospel;"—are not now seriously maintained. "The beginning of time" launches the mind into the abyss of the eternal now. At that starting point of all creation and all Divine manifestation, "the Word was." It would be difficult to express in human speech more explicitly the idea of eternal existence. In Greek usage and philosophy the term ΛΟΓΟΣ sustained the double sense of reason or thought immanent in the supreme Godhead (λόγος ἐνδιάθετος), and also of "speech" or "word" (λόγος προφορικός). Attempts have often been made to identify the λόγος of John with the former phase of its meaning common to Plato or Philo, and to find in the prologue the metaphysical speculations of the Alexandrine school—to identify the λόγος with the Philonic conception of the κόσμος νοητικός, with the Divine "idea of all ideas," the archetype of the universe, the personality of God personified, or the Divine self-consciousness. But Philo's entire system of philosophy by which he tried to explain the creation of the world, his theory of the Logos which was abhorrent to and entirely incapable of incarnation, which was based on a thorough going dualism, which was significantly reticent as to the Messianic idea, and knew nothing of the hopes or national anticipations of Israel, was not the source either of John's revelation or nomenclature (see Introduction). The disciple of the Baptist and of Jesus found in Holy Scripture itself both the phraseology and the idea which he here unfolds and applies. The New Testament writers never use the term Logos to denote "reason," or "thought," or "self-consciousness," but always, denote by it "speech," "utterance," or "word"—the forthcoming, the clothing of thought, the manifestation of reason or purpose, but neither the "thought," nor the "reason," nor the "purpose" itself. The term is used here without explanation, as though it would be well understood by its readers. Numerous explanations have been offered in later times, which are far from satisfactory. Thus Beza regarded the term as identical with ὁ λεγόμενος, "the Promised One"—the Personage spoken of by the prophets. This, even with Hofmann's modification of it, viz. "the Word of God, or Gospel, the great theme of which is the personal Christ," breaks to pieces as soon as it is referred to the various predicates which follow, and especially to the statement of verse 14, that "the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled amongst us." Readers of the Old Testament would not forget that, in the record of the creation in Genesis 1:1-31., the epochs of creation are defined eight times by the expression, "And God said." The omnific Word uttered itself in time, and thus called into being "light" and "life" and "all things," and gave birth to man. The record thus preserved is confirmed by the corresponding teaching of the Psalms: "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (cf. 1 Samuel 3:21; Psalms 33:6; Psalms 107:20; Psalms 148:5; Isaiah 55:10, Isaiah 55:11). Moreover, the Scripture in the Book of Proverbs (8, 9.), Job (Job 28:12), as well as the apocryphal Books of Wisdom, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, had set forth the Divine "wisdom," המָכְחָ, σοφία, with more or less of personification and even personal dignity, answering to the creative energy and resources here attributed to the Logos. From eternity was it brought forth, in the beginning of all God's ways. "The Lord possessed me," Wisdom says, "before his works." In the controversy of the third and fourth centuries the LXX. translation in Proverbs 8:22 of הנָקָ by ἔκτισέ led Arius and others to the idea of the creation of the Logos before all worlds. The vulgate translation, "possessed me," is a far closer approach to the original. The whole of the passage, Proverbs 8:22-27, is in correspondence with the functions and dignity of him who is here described as "in the beginning with God." The Jewish translators and commentators had so thoroughly grasped the idea, that they were accustomed, in their Chaldee paraphrases of the Old Testament, to substitute for the name of the Most High, the phrase Memra-Jah, "The Word of the Lord," as though the Lord, in his activities and energies, and in his relations with the universe and man, could be better understood under the form of this periphrasis than in that which connoted his eternal and absolute Being. The Targum of Onkelos—the oldest, most accurate, and precious of these documents—in numerous places substitutes "the Word of the Lord" for Jehovah, "the Word of Elohim" for Elohim and "the Word of the Lord" for the angel or messenger of Jehovah. Thus in Genesis 7:16 it is said, "The Lord protected Noah by his Word;" John 21:20, "The Word of the Lord was with Ishmael in the wilderness." In Genesis 28:21 Jacob made a covenant that "the Word of the Lord should be his God;" Exodus 19:17, "Moses brought forth the people to meet the Word of God." The term Deburah, which is analogous in meaning to Memra, is also used in the Jerusalem Targum of Numbers 7:89 in a similar sense. The substitution was adopted in the same way by Jonathan ben Uziel, in his paraphrase of Isaiah 63:7 and Malachi 3:1, so that the Jewish mind was thoroughly imbued with this method of portraying the instrument and agent of the Divine revelations, as one savouring of the smallest amount of anthropomorphism, which they were willing to attribute to the Holy One of Israel. Another group of highly important biblical representations of the activity and self-revelation of God consists of the personal "Angel (or Messenger) of Jehovah," who not infrequently appears, even in human form, conversing with the patriarchs, and making covenant with man (see Genesis 32:24, etc.; Exodus 33:12, etc.; Hosea 12:4; Isaiah 63:9; Malachi 3:1 and other places). In some of these passages the Name of Jehovah himself is attributed to his Angel, and the form of Divine manifestation becomes more and more clearly personal. Nevertheless, this Angel appears to stand within, rather than without, the very bosom of the Eternal One. Jehovah does not lose his Name of unapproachable dignity and absolute existence while yet he clothes himself with angelic powers, or even human form, and enters into living and intimate relations with his own people. Kurtz has urged that the numerous references in Old Testament to the "Angel Jehovah," are compatible with the idea of a created spirit, endowed with plenipotentiary functions and titles, and perfectly distinct from the "Logos." The strength of his position is that during the Incarnation and afterwards the New Testament writers still speak of the activity and might of "the Angel of the Lord." But this position is greatly modified by the obvious fact that the Logos did not become depotentiated and limited to the life of Jesus during the thirty years of his earthly manifestation. During the whole of that period, and ever since, the Logos has not ceased to exercise the functions which belong to his eternal glory. It cannot be said that Philo was ignorant of these modes of expression, though in the main he allows the idea of "Word" to pass away from the terra λόγος, and he charged it with a meaning which he found in Platonic and stoical philosophy, and used it, not in the historic or theocratic sense, which was current in the Palestinian schools, but in the metaphysic and speculative sense which enabled him to make the Hebrew Scriptures the vehicle of his ethical system. Word, in the Old Testament and in the Chaldee Paraphrases, represented the nearest possible approach to a definition of the activity and revelations of God; and. that activity is regarded, not as a mere attribute, but as an essential and personal aspect of the Eternal One. In the hands of the Apostle John (unlike Philo's), the Logos was a distinct hypostasis, identifiable with God, and yet in union and relation with him. He was "in the beginning," and therefore before all creation. He did not become. He was not made. He was. As speech answers to the immanent realities of which it is expression, the idea of John in this first verse suggests, though the suggestion does not come into further expression, the "thought" or "reason" which evermore was shaping itself into "word." It would seem as though the apostle had been led to gather together into one teaching the various suggestions of the Old Testament. He realized the significance of the omnific Word. He embodied and improved upon the sapiential philosophy in its conception of Divine Wisdom, of the Brightness of the Father's glory, and the express Image of his substance; he felt the force and justice of the Hebrew periphrases for God, the only God, in his gracious relations with man; and he was not ignorant of the speculations of the Hellenists who found in this term the phasis of all Divine self-consciousness, and the symbol of pure being in its relation with the universe. In the beginning the Logos was. And the Word (Logos) was with God (πρὸς τόν Θεόν). The preposition is difficult to translate; it is equivalent to "was in relation with God,… stood over against," not in space or time, but eternally and constitutionally. It is more, even, than the παρὰ σοί (John 17:5); for, in addition to the idea of proximity, there is that of "motion towards" involved in πρός. A verb of rest is here combined with a preposition of motion, exactly as in ὤν εἰς τὸν κόλπον of verse 15. In Mark 6:3; Mark 9:19; Matthew 13:36; Matthew 26:55; 1 Corinthians 16:6, 1 Corinthians 16:7; Galatians 1:18 the similar use of πρὸς shows that the idea of intercourse is suggested, and mutual acquaintance, so that the personality of the Logos is therefore strongly forced upon us. The strength and peculiarity of the expression precludes the interpretation of some who see here simply some "intuition in the Divine mind," or that "the Word was eternally in the Divine plan." There is relation between these two, laying the foundations of all ethic in the nature and subsistence of Deity. Righteousness and love are inconceivable perfections of an Eternal Monad. But if within the bosom of God there are affirmations, hypostases in relation with each other, the moral nature of the Eternal is assured. Philo's conception of Logos as "the sum total of all Divine energies made it possible for him to urge that God, so far as he reveals himself, is called Logos, and Logos, so far as he reveals God, is called God" (Meyer). But this falls short of the Johannine thought. The Logos was with the God (τὸν Θεόν)—was in relation with the Supreme and Absolute One, was in eternal communion with him. The notion of "Logos" limited to the mere revelation of the Divine to the universe, or the Mediator or Archangel of the Divine counsels to men, is seen to be insufficient. The πρὸς τὸν Θεόν. implies communion as anterior to revelation. And the (Logos) Word was God. Though Θεός precedes the verb, yet the disposition of the article shows that it is the predicate, and not the subject, of the sentence. The absence of the article is important. If Θεός had been written with the article, then the sentence would have identified the Λόγος and Θεός, and reduced the distinction expressed in the previous clause to one that is purely modal or subjective. Again, he does not say Θεῖος, Divine, which, seeing the lofty dignity of the Logos, would have been a violation of the eternal unity, and have corresponded with the δεύτερος Θεός which Philo attributed to the Logos; but he says Θεός simply (not Θεοῦ, according to Crellius, for which there is no justification)—God in his nature, essence, and kind; God, i.e., as distinct from man, from angel, or from the kosmos itself. Thus the Son is not confounded with the Father, but declared to be of the same οὐσία, the same φύσις. Though with God when God is regarded in all the fulness of his eternal being, he is nevertheless of the same order and kind and substance. Luther translates the passage, "Gott war das Wort," but this translation jars on the sublime symmetry of the whole passage, which is not concerned with definitions of God, but with revelations concerning the Logos.
The same Logos whom the writer has just affirmed to have been God himself, was, though it might seem at first reading to be incompatible with the first or third clause of the first verse, nevertheless in the beginning with God—"in the beginning," and therefore, as we have seen, eternally in relation with God. The previous statements are thus stringently enforced, and, notwithstanding their tendency to diverge, are once more bound into a new, unified, and emphatic utterance. Thus the αὐτός of the following sentences is charged with the sublime fulness of meaning which is involved in the three utterances of John 1:1. The first clause
(1) declared that the Logos preceded the origination of all things, was the eternal ground of the world; the second
(2) asserted his unique personality, so that he stands over against the eternal God, in mutual communion with the Absolute and Eternal One; the third clause
(3) maintains further that the Logos was not a second God, nor merely Divine (Θεῖος) or God-like, nor is he described as proceeding out of or from God (ἐκ Θεοῦ or ἀπὸ Θεοῦ), nor is he to be called ὁ Θεός, "the God absolute," as opposed to all his manifestations; but the Logos is said to be Θεός, i.e. "God"—God in his nature and being. This second verse reasserts the eternal relation of such a personality "with God," and prepares the way for the statements of the following verses. The unity of the Logos and Theos might easily be supposed to reduce the distinction between them to subjective relations. The second verse emphasizes the objective validity of the relation.
John 1:3, John 1:4
(2) The creation of all things through the Logos, as the instrument of the eternal counsel and activity of God.
All things (Πάντα, not τὰ πάντα) taken one by one, rather than all things regarded in their totality—"all things," i.e. all beings and elements of things visible or invisible, in heaven, earth, and under the earth (see Colossians 1:16, etc.), came into being through him, through the Logos, who was in the beginning with God, and was God. The Logos is the organ or instrument by which everything, one by one, was made. Two other words are used in the New Testament to denote "creation"—κτίζειν, used in Revelation 4:11 and Colossians 1:16, a word indicating the mind and act of the Creator; and ποιεῖν, which, as in Mark 10:6, points generally to the thing made. The parts of the verb γίγνεσθαι indicate the progress of the work, the process of some creative order, the occurrence of some event in the evolution of Divine providence. This word does not by one solitary expression dogmatically convey the creative act, but the fact of the "becoming," from, it may be, the region of pure thought to that of existence, or from non-observation into prominence, or from an inchoate to a perfect development, or from nothing to something. The context must determine the fulness of its meaning. Occasionally, as in John 8:58, it is powerfully contrasted with existence: "Before Abraham was [had come into being] I am." The context here does not allow us to affirm that St. John repudiated the prior existence of the ὒλη, stuff, of which πάντα were made. He does not affirm nor deny such a prior existency or condition, but by referring the universe in all its parts and items to the Logos, he absolutely ignores the Platonic notion of eternal matter. He could scarcely be ignorant of the speculation as it entered into the Philonic interpretation and formed the basis of the Gnostic speculations which were beginning to infest the early Church. By giving, however, a Divine origin and instrument to the "becoming" of πάντα, and strengthening his statement by the negative coassurance, he absolutely excludes the dualism of Philo and of Gnostic tendency. In asserting that the Logos is he or that through whom all things were made, the writer does not lower the dignity of the Logos by regarding him merely as the ὄργανον of the Father, because the same preposition is used of the relation of the Father to the world or to his servants (Romans 11:36; Galatians 1:1; Hebrews 2:10). Elsewhere St. Paul powerfully affirms the same application of διά (1 Corinthians 8:6) to Christ's part in the Creation, reserving for the One God, the Father, the preposition ἐκ. From God and by or through God are all things, still "all things" derive their existence "through" the activity, the will, the thought, of the Logos. "The sphere contracts as the blessing enlarges [query, 'intensifies']: existence for everything; life for vegetable and animal world; light for men" (Plummer). The same idea is made more explicit by the negative form in which it is restated: and without him—that is, independently of his cooperation and volition (cf. John 15:5)—not even£ one thing came into being. The ὕλη could hardly be spoken of as "one thing," seeing, according to the theory, it was not a unit as opposed to a multiplicity, but the condition of all things. The ἐγένετο would drive harder against any recognition of the ὕλη than would the ἕν. There is not the faintest approach to any supposition on John's part of the existence of such a primeval entity or eternal reality. The γέγονεν gives the student of the text and of the meaning grave difficulty. From very early times the Alexandrine Fathers and numerous uncial manuscripts, and an immense group of quotations and versions, unquestionably close the sentence we have just considered with ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν, and consider the ὅγέγονεν as the subject of the following clause, translating it either, That which has come into being in him was life; or, that which has come into being was (or is) life in him—for one manuscript, א, has rendered the text more grammatical by reading ἔστι instead of ἦν.£ This, adopting the supposed early punctuation, Tregelles and Westcott and Hort have introduced into the text; but R.T. has coincided with T.R. Dr. Westcott has an elaborate note affirming the deep thought involved in the "ancient punctuation," to the effect that the ὅγέγονεν refers, not merely to the original creation, ἐγένετο, but to the continued existence of that which has come into being. Of this, it is said, it derives its life, has its life in the Logos, and that this idea is expressed in a profounder way than by saying ἔχει ζωὴν; that it was life (before it was called into being, or became) in him. This profound and mysterious statement is affirmed by Dr. Moulton and Dr. Westcott to find different but clear expression in Revelation 4:11, "Thou art worthy, our Lord and our God, to receive glory, etc.; for thou didst create all things, and for thy pleasure they were [ἦσαν, the reading preferred by Tisehendorf (8th edit.) and Westcott and Herr, instead of εἶσι, 'they are'] and were created." Dr. Westcott thinks that "life" here represents "the Divine element in creation, that in virtue of which things 'are' each according to the fulness of its being." What has been created represents the eternal thought, the life that it had in the Logos before the world was. Unless one were compelled to take this thought by the exigencies of the textual criticism, we should hesitate to affirm that this can be the author's intention. To us the common punctuation is far more satisfactory m meaning: Apart from him there came into existence not one thing which has come into existence. This, in its grand comprehensiveness and individualizing of every molecule and every force, brings the mind of the reader down from eternity to time, from the creation to the preservation and providence of the world, and it prepares the way for the great assertion of the following verse.
(a) The Life, and therefore inclusive of the fact that the Logos always has been and now is
(b) the Light of men.
In him was£ life. "Life" in all its fulness of meaning—that grand addition to things which confers upon them all their significance for men. There is one impassable chasm which neither history, nor science, nor philosophy can span, viz. that between nothing and something. The evangelist has found the only possible method of facing it—by the conception of One who from eternity has within himself the potency of the transition. There is another impassable chasm in thought—that between non-living atoms and living energies and individualities. The assertion now is that life, ζωή, with all its manifestations and in all its regions; that the life of plant, tree, and animal, the life of man, of society, and of worlds as such; that the life of the body, soul, and spirit, the life transitory and the life eternal (ζωὴ αἰώνιος), was in the Logos, "who was God and in the beginning with God." Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus said that "as the Father had life in himself, so he gave to the Son to have life in himself" (John 5:26); i.e. he communicated to the Son his own Divine self-dependence. The Gospel, however, lays the greatest emphasis on the life-giving powers of the Christ as incarnate Logos. The healing of the impotent man (John 5:1-47.), the raising of the dead Lazarus (John 11:1-57.), are chosen proofs of his life-giving energy. His claim (John 10:1-42.) to retake the life that he would voluntarily relinquish, and the august majesty with which, in his resurrection life (John 20:1-31., John 20:21.), he proclaimed his absolute and final victory over death, constitute the reasons which induced the evangelist to lay down at the very outset that in the Logos was life. Life, in all its energies, past, present, and future, is an outcome, an effluence, of the Eternal Word. And the life was (and is) the light of men. Observe, it is not said here that physical life is a consequence or issue of the solar beam, or of the Word which in the beginning called light out of darkness. All the religious systems of the East and all modern sciences agree to extol and all but worship the light force, with all that seems so inseparably associated with it. The evangelist was reaching after something far more momentous even than that dogma of ancient faith and modern science. He is not speaking of "the light of the sun," but of "the light of men." Whatever this illumination may include, John does not refer it directly to the Logos, but to the life which is "in him." "The light of men" has been differently conceived by expositors. Calvin supposed that the "understanding" was intended—"that the life of men was not of an ordinary description, but was united to the light of understanding," and is that by which man is differentiated from animals. Hengstenberg regards it, in consequence of numerous associations of "light" with "salvation" in Holy Scripture, as equivalent to salvation; Luthardt with "holiness;" and many with the "eternal life," which would introduce great tautology. The context is our best guide. This light is said to be the veritable light which lighteth every man, and to be shining into darkness. Consequently, to make it the complex of all the gracious processes which beautify the renewed soul is to hurry on faster than the apostle, and to anticipate the evolution of his thought. "The light of men" seems to be the faculty or condition, the inward and outward means, by which men know God. "The light of men" is the conscience and reason, the eye of the soul by which the human race comes into contact with truth and right and beauty. The perfections of God answering to these functions of the soul are not, and were never, manifested in mere matter or force. Until we survey the operations of God in life we have no hint of either. The lower forms of life in plant or animal may reveal the wisdom and beneficence and 'beauty of the Logos, and so far some light shines upon man; but even these have never been adequately appreciated until the life of man himself comes into view, then the Divine perfections of righteousness and moral loveliness break upon the eye of the soul. In the life of conscience and reason a higher and more revealing light is made to shine upon man, upon his origin, upon his Divine image, upon his destiny. In the spiritual life which has been superinduced upon the life of the conscience and of the flesh, there is the highest light, the brightest and warmest and most potent rays of the whole spectrum of Divine illumination. "The life" which was in the Logos "was," has always been, is now, will ever be, "the light of men." The plural, "of men" (τῶν ἀνθρώπων), justifies this larger and sweeping generalization. The two "imperfects" (ἦν) placing the process in the past do not compel us to limit the operation to the past or ideal sphere. They assert what was "in the beginning," and which can never cease to be; but they partly imply further consequences, which the actual condition of man has introduced.
(3) The antagonism between light and darkness. The highest manifestation and proof of the following statement will be found in that great entrance of the Eternal Logos into human life which will shed the most complete ray of Divine light upon men; but before that great event, during its occurrence, and ever since, i.e. throughout all times and nations, the light shineth in the darkness. Many expositors, like Godet, after long wavering and pondering, resolve this expression into a distinct epitome of the effect of the Incarnation, the highest manifestation of the light in the theanthropic life, and hesitate to see any reference to the shining of the light upon the darkness of humanity or of the heathen world. They do this on the ground that there is no confirmation or illustration of this idea in John's Gospel. However, let the following parallels and expositions of this thought be considered. Our Lord discriminates between those who "hate the light" and "those who do the truth and come to the light" (John 3:21). He delights in those whom the Father has given to him, and who come to him (John 6:37). He speaks of "other sheep which are not of this fold, who hear his voice" (John 10:16). He tells Pilate that "every one who is of the truth heareth my voice "(John 18:37). In solitary address to the Father (John 17:6), he says, "Thine they were, and thou gavest them me." In all these passages abundant hint is given of a direct treatment of souls antecedent to, or rather irrespective of, the special grace of Christ's earthly mani festation. This passage, so far, in the wide embrace of its meaning, asserts that the light here taken as the effluence of the life itself, perpetually, forever, shineth (φαίνει, not; φωτίζει)—pours forth its radiance by its own essential necessity into the "darkness." "Darkness" and "light" are metaphors for moral conditions. Though there is a "light of men" which is the result of the meeting of man's capacity with Divine revelation, yet, for the most part, there is a terrible antagonism, a fearful negative, a veritable opposition to the light, a blinding of the eye of the soul to the clearest beam of heavenly wisdom, righteousness, and truth. Light has a battle to fight, both with the circumstances and the faculties of men. The ancient light which broke over the childhood of humanity, the brighter beams which fell on consciences irradiated and educated by a thousand ministries, the light which was focused in the incarnate Logos and diffused in all the "entrance of the Divine Word" into the heart of men, have all and always this solemn contingency to encounter—"The light shineth in the darkness." And the darkness apprehended it not. This word translated "apprehended" (κατέλαβε) has, in New Testament Greek, undoubtedly the sense of "laying hold with evil intent," "overtaking", "suppressing" (Lunge), "overcoming" (Westcott and Moulton); and a fine sense would arise from this passage if it means that, while the light shone into the darkness, it did not scatter it, but, on the other hand, neither did the darkness suppress or absorb and neutralize the light. Certainly the darkness was disastrous, tragical, prolonged, but not triumphant, even m the gloomiest moments of the pre-Incarnation period, even in the darkest hour and place of savage persecution, even in the time of outrage, superstitious impenetrability, or moral collapse. There are, however, two classes of difficulty in this interpretation.
(1) Καταλαμβάνω is in LXX. used for &בישִתִ רכַלָ, and אצָםָ, and in many places in the New Testament has its ordinary classical sense, "lay hold of," "apprehend," "comprehend," "understand," "come to know," intelligo, and cognosco (Ephesians 3:18), though in this latter sense it is mostly used in the middle voice.
(2) When the apostle, in greater detail and more immediate reference to the individual illustrations he gives of the relation of the darkness to the light, says in verses 10, 11, Ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω, and Οἱ ἴδιοι αὐτὸν οὐ παρέλαβον; though slightly different words are used, yet the return upon the thought in these parallel sentences is too obvious to be overlooked. The nonsusceptibility of the darkness, the positive resistance it makes to the action of light, finds its strongest illustration in the more defined regions and narrower sphere of the coming of the Logos to the world, and in his special mission to his own people. In this view Alford, Bengel, Schaff, Godet, Luthardt, Tholuck, Meyer, Ewald, coincide, though the suggestion of Origen and Chrysostom, and in later years of Schulthess, Westcott, etc., has been powerfully urged. The broad, general fact is stated, not excluding the exceptions on which the evangelist himself afterwards enlarges. If the darkness had "apprehended" the light, it would no more be darkness. The melancholy fact is that the corruption in the world has been, for the most part, impervious to the light alike of nature, of life, of conscience, and even of revelation. Hence, says Bengel, "the occasion for the Incarnation." This is exaggeration, because the whole record of the incarnate Word is a continuous story of the resistance of the darkness to the light.
(4) The general manifestation of the revealing Logos.
(a) The prophetic dispensation.
There was a man, sent from (παρά Θεοῦ) God, whose name was John. Observe the contrast between the ἐγένετο of John's appearance and the ἦν of the Logos, between the "man" John sent from God and the (ΛΟΓΟΣ ΣΑΡΞ ΕΓΕΝΕΤΟ) "Word became flesh" of verse 14. At this point the evangelist touches on the temporal mission and effulgence of the true Light in the Incarnation; yet this paragraph deals with far more general characteristics and wider ranges of thought than the earthly ministry of Christ on which he is about to enlarge. First of all, he deals with the testimony of John in its widest sense; afterwards he enlarges upon it in its striking detail. Consequently, we think that "the man," "John," is, when first introduced, referred to in his representative character rather than his historical position. The teaching of the prophets and synoptists shows that "John" was rather the exponent of the old covenant than the harbinger of the new. He was the embodiment of the idea of prophet, priest, and ascetic of the patriarchal, Mosaic, and latest Hebraic revelation. He was "more than a prophet." No one greater than he had ever been born of woman, and his functions in these several particulars are strongly impressed upon that disciple who here loses his own individuality in the strength of his Master's teaching. Through this very "man sent from God" the apostle had been prepared to see and personally receive the Logos incarnate. His personality gathered up for our author all that there was in the past of definite revelation, while Jesus filled up all the present and the future. First of all, he treats the mission of the Baptist as representative of all that wonderful past.
This man came (historic, ἦλθε) for witness, that he might bear witness concerning the Light. The entire prophetic dispensation is thus characterized. That which the Baptist did, Malachi, Isaiah, Elijah, Hosea, Moses, had done in their day. He came, and by penetrating insight and burning word, by flashes of moral revelation and intense earnestness, "bare witness concerning the Light" which was ever shining into the darkness. His aim and theirs was to prevent the forces of darkness from suppressing or absorbing the light. He came to sting the apathy and disturb the self-complacency of the darkness. He came to interpret the fact of the Light which was shining but not apprehended; and so did all the prophetic ministry of which he was the latest and most illustrious exponent. He came to assert the meaning for man of all God's perfections; to call conscience from its death sleep; to draw distinctions of tremendous significance between moral and ceremonial obedience; to exalt obedience above sacrifice, and works meet for repentance above Abrahamic privilege; to warn by lurid threatenings of a fiery wrath and a terrible curse which would fall on the disobedient, though consecrated, people. In this he was but the last of a goodly fellowship of prophets who bore witness to the Light of life which had its being in the Eternal Logos of God. He came, as they all had come, with a view of producing results far greater than, as a matter of fact, they have actually achieved. He came to bear such testimony that all through him, i.e. by the force of his appeal or by the fierce glow thus cast upon the perils and follies of the hour, might believe—might realize the full significance of the Light which they had hitherto refused to accept. The greatness of this expectation corresponds with the hope which the ministry of Jesus failed also to realize (Matthew 11:9-14). The splendid ministry of this "burning and shining lamp" might, it would seem, have brought all Israel to acknowledge Christ as the Light of the world; but "the darkness apprehended it not." The entire prophetic dispensation, the testimony which the priestly services and sacrifices bore to the evil of sin and to the awfulness of righteousness, as well as the condemnation of the follies and pleasures of the world, involved in John the Baptist's ascetic profession, might have roused all Israel to believe in the Light. He gathered together all the forces of the Mosaic, prophetic, Levitical, Essenic ministries to bear on the people. Everything that Law could do was done to reveal the Light; but "all" did not believe, for "the darkness apprehended it not."
A solemn warning is given, which forever discriminates the ministry of man from the eternal ministry of the Logos. He (John, and with him all the prophetic, Levitical, ascetic teachers in all ages) was not the Light, but [he was or came] that he might bear witness of the Light. The ἵνα depends upon some unexpressed verbal thought; for even in the passages where it stands alone (John 9:3; John 13:18; John 14:31; John 15:25) the reference is not obscure to some pre-existing or involved verb. The distinction here drawn between John and the Light is thought by some expositors to point to the condition of the Ephesian Church, in the neighbourhood of which there still lingered some who placed John in even a higher position than that accorded to Jesus (Acts 19:3, Acts 19:4); but the teaching of the evangelist is far more comprehensive than this. The Light of men has higher source and wider range of operation than that of any prophetic man. All that he, that any seer whatsoever can do, is to bear witness to it. The prophets, from Moses to John, derived all their power, their sanction, and the corroboration of their message, from the Logos light shining through conscience and blazing through providential events and burning up the stubble of human action with unquenchable fire. The prophets are not the light of God; they are sent to bear witness to it.
(b) The illumination of the archetypal Light before incarnation. There are at least three grammatical translations of this verse. Either
(1) with Meyer, we may give to ἦν the complete sense of existence, presence, and include in it the full predicate of the sentence; thus: "Existing, present (when John commenced his ministry), was the veritable Light which enlighteneth every man coming into the world." But the clause, "coming into the world," would here not only be superfluous, but moreover, while used elsewhere and often of Christ's incarnation, is never used of ordinary birth in the Scriptures, though it is a rabbinical expression.
(2) Lange, Moulton, Westcott, Godet, applying the ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον to the light rather than to man, translate it, "That was the true Light which lighteth every man, by coming into the world, or that cometh into the world." The difficulty of this is that it makes the coming into the world, in some new sense, the occasion of the illumination of every man, although the evangelist has already spoken (John 1:4) of the Life which is the Light of men. A third method is to make the ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον the true predicate of the sentence, and translate thus: The veritable Light which illumines every man was coming (ever coming) into the world;£ and there is a sense and manner of his coming which transcends all others, about which he is to speak at length. This might receive another meaning if ἦν ἐρχόμενον were equivalent to ἦλθε; then a positive reference would here he made to the historic fact of the Incarnation. But it seems to me the evangelist is drawing a contrast between the continuous coming into the world of the veritable Light and the specific Incarnation of John 1:14. Consequently, the author here travels over and connotes a wider theme, namely, the operation of that archetypal Light, that veritable Light which differs from all mere reflections of it, or imitations of it, or luminous testimonies to it. The difference between ἀληθής and ἀληθινός is important. Ἀληθής is used in John 3:33 and John 5:31, and very often to denote the true in opposition to the false, the veracious as distinct from the deceptive. Ἀληθινός is used in the Gospel (John 4:23, John 4:37; John 6:32; John 7:28; John 15:1; John 17:3), First Epistle (1 John 5:20), and Apocalypse (Revelation 3:7), and hardly anywhere else (see Introduction), for the real as opposed to the phenomenal, the archetypal as opposed to the various embodiments of it, the veritable as distinct from that which does not answer to its own ideal. Now, about this veritable light, in addition to all that has been said already, two things are declared.
(1) It illumines every man, giveth light to every individual man, in all time. Though the darkness apprehendeth it not, yet man is illumined by it. Various interpretations have been given of the method or conditions of this illumination.
(a) The light of the reason and conscience—the higher reason, which is the real eye for heavenly light, and the sphere for the operation of grace. This would make the highest intellectual faculty of man a direct effulgence of the archetypal Light, and confirm the poet Wordsworth's definition of conscience as "God's most intimate presence in the world."
(b) The inner light of the mystical writers, and the "common grace" of the Remonstrant theology. Or
(c) the Divine instruction bestowed on every man from the universal manifestation of the Logos life. No man is left without some direct communication of light from the Father of lights. That light may be quenched, the eye of the soul may be blinded, the folly of the world may obscure it as a cloud disperses the direct rays of the sun; but a fundamental fact remains—the veritable Light illumines every man. Then
(2) it is further declared that this Light was ever coming into the world. Bengel and Hengstenberg, as Lange and Baumgarten-Crusius, regard it as in the purely historic sense, declaratory of the great fact of the Incarnation. But Ewald, Keim, Westcott, and others decide that it refers to his continual coming into the world. Up to the time of the Incarnation, the great theme of the prophets is (ὁ ἐρχόμενος) the Coming One. Nor can we conceal the numberless assurances of the old covenant that the Lord of men was always "coming," and did come, to them. At one time he came in judgment, and at another time in mercy; now by worldwide convulsions, then by the fall of empires; again by the sense of need, of guilt and peril, by the bow of promise which often broke in beauty on the retreating storm cloud, by the mighty working of conscience, by the sense given to men of their Divine relationships and their dearness to God,—by all these experiences he has ever been coming, and he cometh still. Ever since the coming in the flesh and the subsequent cessation of that manifestation, he has ever been coming in the grace of the Holy Spirit, in all the mission of the Comforter, in the fall of the theocratic system and city, in the great persecutions and deliverances, the chastisements and reformations, the judgments and revivals of his Church. The eternal, veritable Light which does, by its universal shining, illumine every man, is still coming. The cry, "He is coming," was the language of the noblest of heathen philosophies; "He is coming," is the burden of the Old Testament; "He is coming again," is the great undersong of the Church to the end of time: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
John 1:10, John 1:11
(c) The twofold effect of the pre-Incarnation activity in the elected nation and individuals. The highest expression of this truth was seen in the unique "coming" of which the evangelist had been the spectator and witness; but the words cannot be limited to it—they stretch back to the beginning of the creation of the world and on to the final consummation. They explain or divide the solemn theme of the previous announcement into two related proofs of the fact that the Light which illumines every man shineth in darkness, and that the darkness apprehendeth it not.
Of him who was evermore coming into the world, it is said, In the world he was, and the world was made (came into being) through him, and the world recognized him not. The κόσμος is a term specially used by St. John to denote the ordered whole of the universe, viewed apart from God (see Introduction). Sometimes this is emphasized by the pronoun, "This world," when it is contrasted with the higher and heavenly "order" to which the Lord's personality belonged, both before and after this manifestation in the flesh. From being thus the scene of ordered existence apart from God, it rapidly moves into the organized resistance to the will of God, and therefore it often denotes humanity taken as a whole apart from God and grace. It may be the object of the Divine love and compassion (John 3:16), while the redemption and deliverance of the world from sin is the great end of the ministry and work of Jesus (verse 29); but throughout this gospel "the world" is the synonym of the adverse power and order of humanity, until it is illumined, regenerated, by the Spirit of God. The world here signifies humanity and its dwelling place, considered apart from the changes wrought in any part of it by grace. The three assertions concerning the world drop the imagery of light and life, and by their emphatic concatenation, without the assistance of a Greek particle, tell the tragic story of human departure from God. Thus only can the mystery of the previous verses be explained. At the very forefront of the argument of the Gospel is put a statement which concedes the strange perplexity of the rejection of the incarnate Logos. Not only does the entire narrative illustrate the awful fact, strange and inconceivable as such an idea appears when baldly stated, but the author generalizes the antipathy between the Logos and the world into a more comprehensive, damning, and yet undeniable, proposition. From the beginning, though the world came into being through the Logos, though he was in the world, in every atom of matter, in every vibration of force, in every energy of life, yet the world, notwithstanding all its power of recognizing the fact, yet the world, as concentrated in an antagonistic humanity, did not come to know him fully (ἔγνω). This is the lesson we learn from all the melancholy and tragic perversions of his glorious perfections which every heathenism and every cultus, and even every philosophy, has perpetrated. St. Paul says precisely the same thing: "The world by wisdom knew not God" (see also Romans 1:19-22, which might be taken as an inspired commentary on the whole passage). And the awful statement is still, with reference to the majority of men, true, that "the world knoweth not God, neither the Father, nor the Word, nor the Holy Ghost."
It is not without interest that the ideas contained in these verses did not need a second century to evolve them; they were current in Paul's letters, a hundred years before the date assigned by some to this Gospel. Here the question arises—Has no more direct approach been made to our race than that which is common to every man? Undoubtedly the whole theocratic dispensation would be ignored if this were not the case—and consequently the evangelist continues the recital of the peculiarities and specialties of the approach of the Logos to the human understanding. He came unto his own possession (εἰς τὰ ἴδια). Here all expositors agree to see the special manifestation of the Logos to the house of Israel, which is called in numerous passages of the Old Testament, God's own possession (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalms 135:4; Isaiah 31:9). And his own (people) received him not (παρέλαβον; cf. κατέλαβεν of John 1:4, and ἔγνω of John 1:10). Here, again, the most astonishing, direct and prominent illustration of such a statement is seen in the historic ministry of the Lord Jesus, in the terrible record of his rejection by his own people, by his own disciples, by the theocratic chiefs, by the assembled Sanhedrin, by the very populace to whom Pilate appealed to save him from murderous fury. But the significance of the prologue is to my mind missed, if the earlier agelong rejection of the ministry, and light of the Logos, nay, the perpetual and awful treatment which he continually receives from "his own possession," be not perceived. There was a Divine and special sense in which the perpetual coming of the Logos to the world was emphasized by his gracious self-manifestations to the people of Israel. The great Name of Jehovah, the Angel of the presence, the manifestations to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Elijah, to Isaiah, and Ezekiel; the Shechinah glories, the whole ministry of grace to the house of Israel, was a perpetual coming to his own peculiar possession; but yet the sum total of their history is a continuous repudiation and lapse. They rejected the Lord, they fell in the wilderness, they were turned unto other gods, they went a-whoring after their own inventions. They knew not that God had healed them. The great things of his Law were accounted strange things to them (compare Stephen's apology for an elaborate exposition of this thought). The same kind of treatment has continually been given by the world, and even by those who have boasted of standing in the special lines of his grace. This suggestion cannot he fully expanded here. Chrysostom in loco calls much attention to the argument of the Epistle to Romans (Romans 2:12; Romans 9:30, Romans 9:32; Romans 10:3, Romans 10:12).
John 1:12, John 1:13
But before the apostle advances to the central statement of the entire proem, he stops to show that, though the whole world, though man as an organized mass, though Israel as a favoured and selected theocracy, have refused to know and confess his supreme claims, yet there has always been an election of grace. All have not perished in their unbelief. Some have received him. The twelfth and thirteenth verses do, indeed, in their full meaning, refer unmistakably to the entire ministry of the living Christ to the end of time; but surely every word of it applies primarily (though not exclusively) to the whole previous pleadings of the Light and Life—to the ministry of the pre-existing and eternal Logos, and to the privileges and possibilities consequent thereupon. As many as received him.£ This phrase is subsequently explained as being identical with "believed in his Name." The simple verb ἔλαβον, is less definite than are its compounds with κάτα and παρά, used in the previous verses (5, 11). The acceptance is a positive idea, is broader, more manifold, less restricted as to manner of operation, than the negative rejection which took sharp and decisive form. The construction is irregular. We have a nominativus pendens followed by a clause in the dative; as much as if he had written, "There are, notwithstanding all the rejections, those who received him." To these, the evangelist says, however many or few they may be, who believe in his Name, he—the subject of the previous sentence—gave the authority and capability of becoming children of God. Believing in his Name is discriminated from believing him. The construction occurs thirty-five times in the Gospel, and three times in the First Epistle—and the Name here especially present to the writer is the Logos, the full revelation of the essence, character, and activity, of God. John, writing in the close of his life, surveys a glorious company of individuals who, by realizing as true the sum of all the perfections of the manifested Word, by believing in his Name, have also received as a gift the sense of such union to the Son of God that they become alive to the fact that they too are the offspring of God. This realization of the Divine fatherhood, which had been so obscure before, is itself the origination within them of filial feeling. Thus a new life is begotten and supervenes upon the old life. This new life is a new humanity within the bosom or womb of the old, and so it corresponds with the Pauline doctrine of new creation and of resurrection. Ἐξοσία is more than opportunity, and less than (δύναμις) power; it is rightful claim (which is itself the gift of God) to become what they were not before, seeing that a Divine generation has begotten them again. They are born from above. The Spirit of the Son has passed into them, and they cry, "Abba, Father." This Divine begetting is still further explained and differentiated from ordinary human life. The writer distinctly repudiates the idea that the condition he speaks of is a consequence of simple birth into this world. This is done in a very emphatic manner (οἵ here in the masculine, is the well known constructio ad sensum, and refers to τέκνα Θεοῦ). Who were begotten from God, not from (or, of) blood. John repudiates for this "generation" any connection with mere hereditary privilege. No twice-born Brahmin, no dignified race, no descendant of Abraham, can claim it as such, and the writer further discriminates it, as though he would leave no loophole for escape: Nor yet from the will of the flesh, nor even from the will of the man (ἀνδρὸς not ἀνθρώπου). Some, very erroneously, have supposed that "the flesh" here refers to "woman" in contradistinction to "man," and numerous efforts have been made to point out the threefold distinction. The simplest and most obvious interpretation is that "the will of the flesh" here means the human process of generation on its lower side, and "the will of the man" the higher purposes of the nobler side of human nature, which lead to the same end. Special dignity is conferred by being the son of a special father; but however honoured such might be, as in the case of an Abraham, a David, a Zacharias, such paternity has nothing to do with the sonship of which the evangelist is thinking. Doubtless this triumphant new beginning of humanity can only be found in the full revelation of the name of the incarnate Logos; but surely the primary application of the passage is to the fact that, notwithstanding the stiff-necked rejection of the Logos by the peculiar possession and people of his love, there were, from Abraham to Malachi and to John the Baptist, those who did recognize the Light and live in the love of God. The author of Psalms 16:1-11., 17., 23., 25., 103., 119., and a multitude beyond calculation, discerned and received him, walked in the light of the Lord, were kept in perfect peace, found in the Lord their most exceeding joy. "Like as a father pitieth his chihlren, so the Lord pitied them." He nourished and brought up children, and to the extent to which they appreciated his holy Name they therein received as a gift the capability and claim to call him their Father. This was not a question of human fatherhood or hereditary privilege at all, but of gracious exchanges of affection between these children of his love and the Eternal, who had fashioned them in his image and regenerated them by his Holy Spirit. To restrict any element of this passage to conscious faith in the Christ is to repudiate the activity of the Logos and Spirit before the Incarnation, and almost compels a Sabellian interpretation of the Godhead. Even now the grandeur of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity—a doctrine which treats these relations as eternal and universal—compels us to believe that whenever among the sons of men there is a soul which receives the Logos in this light, i.e. apart from the special revelation of the Logos in the flesh, to such a one he gives the capacity and claim of sonship. John certainly could not mean to imply that there had never been a regenerated soul until he and his fellow disciples accepted their Lord. Up to this point in his argument he has been disclosing the universal and the special operations of the Logos who in the beginning was with God and was God, the Source of all life, the Giver of all light, the veritable Light which shines upon every man, which does more even than that—which made a long continued series of approaches to his own specially instructed and prepared people. Prophecy all through the ages has had a wondrous function to bear witness to the reality of this Light, that all might believe in it, that all might become sons by faith; but, alas[darkness, prejudice, depravity, corruption—"darkness" did not apprehend the nature, name, or mystery, of love. And so he proceeds to describe the greatest, the most surprising, supreme energy of the Eternal Logos—that which illustrates, confirms, brings into the most forcible relief, the nature of his personality, and the extent of the obligation under which he has placed the human race; and proves in the most irresistible way, not only the character and nature of God, but the actual condition of humanity. The great extent of the literature and the imposing controversies which have accumulated over the entirely unique sentence that here fellows render any treatment of it difficult. A volume rather than a page or two is required to exhibit the significance of a verse which is probably the most important collocation, of words ever made.
(5) The incarnation of the Logos. And the Logos became flesh. The καὶ has been variously expanded, some giving it the force of "then" or "therefore," as though John was now resuming the entire argument from the beginning; others the sense of "for," as though the apostle needed to introduce a reason or justification for what had been said in verses 12, 13. It is enough to regard the καὶ as a simple copula, after the same manner in which it is used in verses 1, 4, 5, 10, introducing by it a new and suggestive truth or fact which must be added to what has gone before, qualifying, illumining, illustrating, consummating all previous representations of the activity and functions of the Eternal Logos. Meyer, rejecting all the explicative modifications of the copula, nearly approaches the emphasis which Godet would lay upon it, by saying, "John cannot refrain from expressing the how of that appearing which had such blessed results (verses 12, 13), and which he had himself experienced." The circumstance that in this verse the author goes back to the verbal use of the great term ὁ Λόγος suggests rather the fact that the fourteenth verse follows directly upon the stupendous definitions of verse 1, and indicates a powerful antithesis to the several clauses of that opening sentence. The Logos which was in the beginning has now become; the Logos which was God became flesh; the Logos that was with God has set up his tabernacle among us. If so, the καὶ does suggest a parenthetical treatment of verses 2-13, every clause of which has been necessary to prepare the reader for the vast announcement which is here made. Various things, relations, and powers have been asserted with reference to the Logos. All things became through him; not a single exception is allowed. Not one thing can be, or can have come into existence, independently of him; yet he is not said in any sense to have "become all things." More than that, the twofold form of the expression stringently repudiates the pantheistic hypothesis. All life is said to be "in him," to have its being in his activity; yet he is not said to have become life, as if the life-principle were henceforth the mode of his existence, or a state or condition into which he passed, and so the emanation theories of early Gnostics and of modern pantheistic evolutionists are virtually set aside. "The veritable Light which lighteth every man" is the illumination which the Life pours on the understanding and conscience of men, to which all prophecy bears witness; but he is not said to have become that light. Thus the incarnation of the Logos in every man is most certainly foreign to the thought of the apostle. He is said to have been "in the world" which he made, yet in such manifestation and concealment that the world as such did not apprehend the wondrous presence; and he is said also to have been continually coming to his own people "in sundry times" and "divers manners," in prophetic visions and angelic and even the anthropic form or fashion. Elsewhere in this Gospel we hear that Abraham "saw his day," and Isaiah "beheld his glory;" but it is not said that he became, i.e. entered into permanent and unalterable relations with these theophanic glories. Consequently, the deep self-conscious realization of the glory of his Name, enjoyed by greatest saints and sages of the past, was but a faint adumbration of what John declared he and others had bad distinct historical opportunity of seeing, hearing, handling, of that Word of life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us (1 John 1:1, 1 John 1:2). The statement of this verse, however, is entirely, absolutely unique. The thought is utterly new. Strauss tells us that the apostolic conception of Jesus can have no historic validity, because it represents a state of things which occurs nowhere else in history. This is exactly what Christians contend for. He is in the deepest sense absolutely unique in the history of mankind. Moses, Isaiah, John the Baptist, John the Apostle, Socrates, Buddha, Zoroaster, may have borne witness to the Light; but of not one of them can it be said, and at least it was not said or even imagined by St. John, the Logos became flesh in their humanity. Yet this is what he did think and say was the only explanation of the glory of Jesus; this unspeakable relation to the Eternal Logos was sustained by his well known Friend and Master. And the Word was made flesh. Flesh (σάρξ, answering in the LXX. to רשָׂבָּ) is the term used to denote the whole of humanity, with prominent reference to that part of it which is the region of sensibility and visibility. The word is more comprehensive than (σῶμα) "body," which is often used as the antithesis of vows, ψυχή, and πνεῦμα; for it is unquestionable that the conventional use of σάρξ, and σάρξ καὶ αἷμα, includes oftentimes both soul and spirit—includes the whole of human constitution, yet that constitution considered apart from God and grace, answering in this way to κόσμος. The flesh is not necessarily connotative of sin, though the conditions, the possibilities, the temptableness of created finite nature are involved in it.£ It is nearly equivalent to saying ἄνθρωπος, generic manhood, but it is more explicit than such a dictum would have been. It is not said that the Word became a man, although "became man" is the solemn and suggestive form in which the great truth is further expressed in the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed.£ "The Logos became flesh." Thus it answers to numerous expressions in the Pauline Epistles, which must have been based in the middle of the first century on the direct and well preserved teachings of our Lord himself (Romans 1:3, Γενόμενος κατὰ σάρκα; Romans 8:3, Ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας; 1 Timothy 3:16, Ὅς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί; cf. Philippians 2:7; Hebrews 2:14; and above all 1 John 4:2, where Jesus Christ, the centre of whose personality is the Logos, and is there used in the most transcendent sense, is there spoken of (ἐν σαρκί ἐληλυθότα) as having come in the flesh). Very early in the Christological discussions, even so far back as Praxeas whom Tertullian sought to refute, and by Apollinaris the younger, in the fourth century, it was said that this passage asserted that. though the Logos took or became flesh, he did not become or take upon himself the human νοῦς or πνεῦμα, the reasonable soul or spirit of man, but that the Logos took the place in Jesus of the mind or spirit. Apollinaris explained, in vindication of his view, that thus Christ was neither God nor man, but a blending of the two natures into a new and third nature, neither one nor the other. This view was stoutly resisted by Athanasius and Basil. It reappeared in the fifth century, in the form of Eutychianism, to do duty against the twofold Christ of Nestorianism. The opponents of Praxeas, Apollinaris, and Eutyches were all fain to show that the Gospel of John calls marked attention to the human soul of Jesus (John 12:27) and of his human spirit (John 11:33; John 13:21; John 19:30), to say nothing of Hebrews 5:8, where "he learned obedience," etc. The flesh of Christ is constitutive and inclusive of his entire humanity. Flesh itself is not human flesh without the human ψυχή, nor can there be a human soul without human spirit. The two terms are used interchangeably, and their functions are not to be regarded as different factors of humanity so much as different departments of human activity. There is a complete humanity, therefore, included in this term, not a humanity destitute of one of its most charac teristic features. But the question arises—What is meant by ἐγένετο, "became, was made"? A considerable number of modern Lutheran divines have laid such emphasis on the κένωσις, the "emptying" of his glory on the part of him who was "in the form of God," that nothing short of an absolute depotentiation of the Logos is supposed to have occurred when "he was made flesh" or "man." Gess and Godet have pressed the theory that the ἐγένετο represents a complete transubstantiation and metamorphosis. Thus Logos had been God from eternity, but now, in the greatness of his humiliation, he was no longer Logos at all, nor God, but flesh; so that during the time of the Incarnation the Logos was absolutely concealed, potential only, and that even a consciousness of his eternity and the Divine powers were all in absolute abeyance. This hypothesis, on both its Divine and human side, appears to us hopelessly unthinkable. If the Logos was no longer Logos, and the Godhead thus ineffably truncated, the very argument of the apostle that in him was life and light, etc., must break down. The sources of life and light must have been themselves in eclipse, and God himself was no longer God. Moreover, the hypothetical obliteration of the Logos would deprive the whole argument of the apostle for the Divineness and Godhead of the Lord of its basis in fact. There are many different forms in which this meaning of the ἐγένετο is urged, but they all break to pieces upon the revelation of the self-consciousness of Jesus Christ, the Divine memories and awful centre of his personality, in which the nature of the Godhead and the perfect nature of manhood are blended in one personality. Moreover, the ἐγένετο does not imply annihilation of the Λόγος, or transubstantiation of Λόγος into σάρξ. When the water was made (γεγεννημένον) wine, the water was not obliterated, but it took up by the creative power of Christ other substances into itself, constituting it wine. So when the Λόγος became "flesh," he took up humanity with all its powers and conditions into himself, constituting himself "the Christ." The question arises—Wherein was the humiliation and the kenosis, if the Logos throughout the incarnate life of Christ, as a Person, possessed and exercised all his Divine energies? The answer is, that, in taking human nature in its humbled, suffering, tempted form into eternal, absolute union with himself, and by learning through that human nature all that human nature is and fears and needs, there is an infinite fulness of self-humiliating love and sacrifice. Hypostatic union of humanity with the Logos, involving the Logos in the conditions of a complete man, is an infinite humiliation, and seeing that this involved the bitterest conflict and sorrow, brought with it shame, agony, and death, such a stupendous fact is (we believe) assumed to have taken place once in historic time. It is far more than the manifestation in the flesh of Jesus of the Divine light and life. Such an hypothesis would merely consider Jesus as one supereminent display of "the veritable Light which lighteth every man," whereas what is declared by St. John is that the Word himself, after a new exercise of this infinite potency, became flesh. We are not told how this occurred. The fact of the supernatural birth, as stated by the synoptic writers, is their way of announcing a sublime secret, of which John, who was in the confidence of the mother of Jesus, gave a profounder exposition. In such a fact and event we see what St. Paul meant when he said that in the depths of eternity the infinity of love did not consider the undimmed, unclouded, and unchangeable creative majesty of equality with God to be a prize which must never be relinquished, but emptied himself, was made in the likeness of the flesh of sin, and was found in fashion as a man. There was now and forevermore a part of his being in such organic union with "flesh" that he could be born, could team, could be tempted, suffer from all human frailties and privations, die the death of the cross. The phrase, moreover, implies that the Incarnation was in its nature distinct from the Docetic, angelic, transitory manifestations of the older revelation. In the "Word" becoming "flesh" both Word and flesh remain side by side, and neither is the first nor the second absorbed by the other, and so Monophysitism is repudiated, while the statement of what the Word thus incarnate did, viz. "dwelt among us," etc., cuts away the support of the Nestorian division of the Divine and human natures; inasmuch as what is said of the one nature can be said of the other. To this we turn: "And the Word was made flesh, and set up his tabernacle in our midst." The use of this picturesque word ἐσκήνωσεν points to the tabernacle in the wilderness, in which God dwelt (2 Samuel 7:6; Psalms 78:67, etc.), and to which reference is made in Leviticus 26:11 and Ezekiel 37:28. The localization of Deity, the building a house for the Lord whom the heaven of heavens could not contain, was a wondrous adumbration of the ultimate proof to be given, that, though God was infinitely great, he was yet capable of turning his glorious face upon those who seek him; though unspeakably holy, awful, majestic, omnipotent, he was yet accessible and merciful and able to save and sanctify his people. The glory of the Lord was the central significance of the tabernacle and temple worship. It was always assumed to be present, even if invisible. The Targums in a great variety of passages substitute for the "glory of the Lord," which is a continuous element in the history of the old covenant, the word "Shechinah," "dwelling," and use the term in obvious reference to the biblical use of the verb נכַשָ, he dwelt, when describing the Lord's familiar and accessible sojourn with his people. It is too much to say that John here adopts the Aramaic phrase, or with certainty refers to it. But ἐσκήνωσε recalls the method by which Jehovah impressed his prophets with his nearness, and came veritably to his own possession. "Now," says John, "the Word made flesh took up his tabernacle in our midst." It is not to be forgotten that John subsequently shows that Jesus identified his body with "the temple" of God (John 2:19, etc.). The "us" represents the ground of a personal experience which makes the hypothesis of an Alexandrine origin for the entire representation perfectly impossible. The reference to the old covenant is made more conspicuous: And we contemplated his glory. The δόξα corresponds with the visible manifestations of the presence of Jehovah under the Old Testament (Exodus 24:17; Exodus 40:34; Acts 7:2; Isaiah 6:3; Ezekiel 1:28). Dazzling light at the burning bush, in the pillar of fire, on Mount Sinai, at the dedication of tabernacle and temple, etc., revealed the awful fact of the Divine nearness. The eye of believing men saw the real glory of the Logos made flesh when he set up the tabernacle of his humanity among us. It does not follow that all eyes must have seen what the eye of faith could see. The darkness has resisted all the light, the world has not known the Logos; the susceptibilities of believing men enabled them to perceive the glory of the Lord in regions and by a mode of presentation to which unregenerate men have not attained. The apostles saw it in the absolute moral perfection of his holiness and of his charity; of his grace and truth. We can scarcely exclude here a reference to the wondrous vision upon which John himself gazed on the Mountain of Transfiguration, when the venerable symbol of Light reappeared from within the person of the Lord, so linking his personal manifestation of "the Word" with the theophanies of the Old Testament; nor can we forget the sublime vision which John undoubtedly records in the beginning of his Apocalypse. Nevertheless, the glory which the apostles beheld must be distinct from the "glory" which he had with the Father before the world was, and to which (John 17:24) he prayed that he might return, and the full radiance of which he would ultimately turn upon the eyes of the men whom he had gathered "out of the world." Before that consummation" we," says he, "contemplated his glory as of an only begotten." The ὡς implies comparison with the transcendent conception which had entered into his inspired imagining. The word μονογενής is used by John to refer to the supreme and unique relation of the Son to the Father (John 3:16, John 3:18, and 1 John 4:9). It is used of human sons in Luke (Luke 7:12; Luke 8:42; Luke 9:38), and unigenitus is the translation in the vulgate of the Hebrew דיחִיָּהַ, where the LXX. gives ἀγαπητός, well beloved (see כָדְיחוְGen 22:2, Genesis 22:12, Genesis 22:16). It corresponds with the πρωτότοκος of Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:6, showing that an analogous thought filled the apostolic mind. By laying stress here on the "glory," and giving historic value and emphasis to the supernatural conception of Jesus, many see m this a reference to the Incarnation wherein he became an only begotten Son of the Father. This would be far more probable if the article had been placed before μονογενοῦς. Here the apostle seems to labour to express the glory of One who could thus stand in the eternal relation of the Logos to Θεός, making it correspond with the relation also subsisting between μονογενής and the "Father." Great speciality and peculiarity is here bestowed upon the "only begotten," as it stands in close relationship with those to whom he gives power or capability to become "children of God." They are born into the family of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The glory which John says "we beheld" in his earthly flesh was the effulgence of the uncreated beam which broke through the veil of his flesh, and really convinced us that he was "the Word made flesh." The Tubingen critics see a contradiction here with the prayer of Christ (John 17:5, John 17:24) for "the glory which he had with the Father." If he shone on earth with such glory as John here describes, why should he desire more? Godet resolves it by insisting on the moral glory of his filial consciousness when he had indeed deprived himself of his Divine perfections. Thus Godet repudiates the two natures of his Person. There is no real contradiction, as we have seen. Some difference of opinion occurs also as to the reference of the πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας. Some nave referred πλήρης to the Father, and some to αὐτοῖ, though in both cases a break in the construction would be involved, as the antecedent would have been in the genitive. Others, again (founding on the reading of one uncial manuscript, D, which here has πληρῆ), refer it to δόξαν, and all who thus construe eschew any parenthetical treatment of the previous clause. The latter method is freer from difficulty, as then this clause, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας, is directly and grammatically related with Λόγος. The Word was made flesh, and, full of grace and of truth, set up his tabernacle in our midst. Grace and truth are the two methods by which the glory as of "an only begotten" shone upon us, and we beheld it. The combination of these two ideas of grace and truth pervades the Old Testament description of the Lord (cf. Exodus 34:6; Psalms 40:10, Psalms 40:11; Psalms 61:7; Psalms 25:10). "Grace," the free and royal communication of unlooked for and of undeserved love, is the keynote of the New Testament. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" is the compendium of all his powers of benediction, and corresponds with the life which is "in him," and all the gift of himself to those who came into contact with him. "Truth" is the expression of the thought of God. Truth per se can find no larger definition than the perfect revelation of God's eternal thought concerning himself and his universe, and concerning the relations of all things to each other and to him. That which God thinks about these things must be "truth per se." Christ claimed to be "the Truth" and "the Life" (John 14:6), and John here says that it was in virtue of his being the Logos of God that he was full of these. Grace and truth, love and revelation, were so transcendent in him; in other words, he was so full, so charged, so overflowing with both, that the glory which shone from him gave apostles this conception about it, viz. that it was that of an only begotten (specially and eternally begotten) and with the Father. The παρὰ Πατρός corresponds with the παρὰ σοῦ rather than παρὰ σοί of John 17:5, and does not, therefore, necessarily suggest more than the premundane condition, answering to the πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν of John 17:1, and εἰς τὸν κόλπον of John 17:18. Erasmus, Paulus, and a few others have associated the πλήρης, etc., with the following verse. This is eminently unsatisfactory as unsuited to the character of the Baptist. Moreover, the sixteenth verse, by its reference to Christ's "fulness," positively forbids it.
(6) The testimony to this fact by the prophetic spirit. The evangelist, in support and vindication of the profound impression produced upon himself and others by the Christ, cites the startling and paradoxical testimony of the Baptist, which in John's own hearing the great forerunner had twice uttered, under very extraordinary circumstances (see verses 26, 30). In the later verses this testimony is put in its proper place. Its repetition deepens the impression which the narrative gives of the vivid reality, and of the fact that the evangelist was trusting to a strongly impressed recollection, and is not romanticizing, as the Tubingen critics suppose. The sharp paradoxical form is thoroughly characteristic of the man who called on scribes and Pharisees to "repent," and spoke of God raising up seed to Abraham from the stones of the ground. From the synoptists we learn that John declared that the Coming One was "mightier" than himself, would deal with the Holy Ghost and with fire as he was able to do with water. He knew not the kind of manifestation which was coming on apace. But an enormous change passed over John the Baptist when he came into contact with our Lord, and at his baptism he sank abashed before the revelations which flashed on his soul. The enigmatical form of the Baptist's utterances was the beginning of the evangelist's faith in the personal pre-existence of the Logos who had become flesh in Christ. The testimony of the Baptist is here brought in, as the last great word of the prophetic ministry of the Old Testament, apart from the historic setting in which it afterwards occurs, as if, moreover, it was an abiding word which was yet sounding in the ears of men. The greatest of the sons of woman, and "more than a prophet," he who gathered up in his immense personality all the functions of prophet, priest, Nazarite, and master and teacher of men, the Elijah of the new revelation—John, the very ideal of Divine and supernatural voice in this world of ours, John, the veritable historic man, moreover, to whose disastrous martyrdom some of the Jews (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 18, 5, 2) referred the terrible judgments that befell their nation—John beareth witness.£ That was his function, and his testimony still stands, his "voice" is still heard wherever his great career is known or properly appreciated—in Palestine, in Alexandria, in Ephesus or Corinth. And he crieth (κέκραγεν); or, hath cried; and the cry is still heard among men: This was he of whom I spake; implying that John uttered words of strange enigmatical significance before he saw Jesus coming to his baptism, and that, as the evangelist subsequently shows, on two memorable occasions, the prophet recalled them and reaffirmed their truthfulness. Before I saw him, I said it: He that is coming after me hath become—hath been in mighty activity—before me. He came forth in many ways from the Father, and was the central reality of the old covenant; γέγονεν, he hath come in the voice of the Lord, in the Shechinah glory, in the Angel of the presence, chronologically "before me." The English version has followed the traditionary interpretation from Chrysostom to Lucke, De Wette, Alford, McLellan, and has seen in this ἐμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν a reference to the higher rank or dignity of the Logos incarnate, and translated the second clause "is preferred before me," or "hath been made before me," etc. But such a statement would not have conveyed any thought of great importance. A herald is naturally exceeded and superseded by the dignity and rank of him for whom he prepares the way. Moreover, the two adverbs of place are used in metaphorical sense as adverbs of time (derived from the relative position of individuals in a line or procession), and it is scarcely probable that the second should be used in another sense altogether, which would. have disturbed the antithesis between them. On the other hand, Hengstenberg, Meyer, Lange, Godet, etc., recognize the perception of the Baptist, and his utterance of belief in the pre-existence of the Christ, and that from such passages as Isaiah 6:1 and Malachi 3:1 he knew that he who was coming into the world, and about to baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire, to take the fan in his hand, etc., had been in reality before him. The difficulty of this interpretation is said to be that the proof which follows—because, or for (πρῶτός μου ἤν), he was before me—would be tautologous in the extreme; the reason given for the Lord having become before him being simply the asseveration of the fact. But the two very remarkable expressions, ἐμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν and πρῶτός νου ἤν, are not identical. The first may easily refer to the historic precedence of the activity of the Coming One in all the operations of the Logos; the second may refer to the absolute and eternal precedence of the Logos in itself. If so, the whole significance of the previous fourteen verses is gathered up, and shown to have been flashed upon the consciousness of John the Baptist, and uttered with such intensity that the evangelist caught the idea, and saw in it the key to the whole mystery. It would seem, however, that the ὅτι πρῶτός did not form part of the original utterance of John. After the baptism, the whole truth had broken upon the Baptist, and he clenched or saw an explanation of the mystery.
(7) The experience of the Writer.
There can be little doubt that the fifteenth verse is a parenthetical clause, answering to the sixth and seventh verses, and standing to John 1:14 very much in the same kind of relation that John 1:6, John 1:7 do to John 1:1-5. There is a further reason; the verses which follow are clearly not, as Lange suggests, the continuance of the Baptist's μαρτυρία, but the language of the evangelist, and a detail of his personal experience. The entire context would entirely forbid our taking the αὐτοῦ of John 1:16 as referring to the Baptist. This is still more evident from the true reading of ὅτι in place of καὶ.£ The "because" points back at once to the statements of John 1:14. Hengstenberg and Godet think there is no need to transform the fifteenth verse into a parenthesis, in order, after the recital of John the Baptist's testimony, to proceed to a further experience of the evangelist; translating "and even," Lange makes the whole utterance to be that of the Baptist, which appears to be profoundly inconsistent with the position of the Baptist, either then or subsequently. The grand declaration, that the Logos incarnate was "full of grace and truth," is justified by the author of the prologue, from his conscious experience of the exhaustless plenitude of the manifestation. Because from his fulness we all received. He speaks as from the bosom of a society of persons, who have not been dependent on vision or on individual contact with the historic revelation (comp. John 20:1-31., "Blessed are they [Jesus said] who have not seen [touched or handled], and yet have believed," but have nevertheless discovered a perennial supply of grace and truth in him). We all, my fellow apostles and a multitude which no man can number, received from this source, as from the Divinity itself, all that we have needed. An effort has been made, from the evangelist's use of the word plēroma, to father the "prologue" upon one familiar with the valentinian metaphysic, and thus to postpone its orion to the middle of the second century; but the valentinian plēroma is the sum total of the Divine emanations of the thirty pairs of aeons, which have been produced from the eternal "bythos," or abyss, one only of which is supposed, on valentinian principles, to have assumed a phantasmic form in Jesus Christ. Nothing could be less resembling the position of the author of this Gospel, who clearly regards the Logos incarnate as coincident with the fulness of the Godhead, as containing in himself, in complete self-possession, all the energies and beneficence of the Eternal. With the apostle's doctrine of the Logos as identical with God, as the Creator of everything, as the Life, as the Light of men; and, as becoming the Source of all these energies to men in his incarnation, there is no basis for valentinianism. Though the phraseology of the Gnostics was borrowed in part from the Gospel, and though valentinus may have fancied himself justified in his misuse of texts; the ideas of the Gospel and the Gnostic were directly contradictory of one another (see Introduction). Long before John used this word, St. Paul had used it in writing to the Ephesiaus and Colossians, as though, even in his day, the word had acquired a distinct theological meaning, and one that had naturally arisen from its etymology and usage in Greek writers. Bishop Lightfoot has shown in his dissertation that the form of the word demands a passive sense, id quod impletur, and not an active one which some have given to it in certain New Testament passages, as if it had the meaning of id quod implet. By his examination of numerous passages, he shows that it always has fundamentally the sense of completeness, "the full complement," the plenitude. Πληρώμα is the passive verbal from πληροῦν, to make complete. Thus Colossians 1:19, "The Father was pleased that all the fulness, the totality, should dwell in him," explained elsewhere in the same Epistle, "all the completeness, the plenitude of the Godhead" (Colossians 2:9). The widespread diffusion of the idea of emanations, the hypostatizing of perfections and attributes, the virtual mythology which was creeping through metaphysical subtleties even into Judaism and Christianity, demanded positive repudiation; and, while the whole Church was united in its recognition of the Divine energy of Christ, it became needful to refer to his Divine-human personality all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. In Ephesians St. Paul speaks, however, of the Church which is his body as identified with him, and as (in Ephesians 5:27) a bride made one flesh with her husband, without spot or wrinkle, ideally perfect, as the part of one colossal individuality of which Christ is the Head; or, the one building of which he is the Foundation and the Cornerstone, Hence "the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13) is that in which every member participates, and "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" is equated with the perfect humanity into which all believers come. Hence in Ephesians fit. 19 these individuals are completed in him, and are thus as a whole, by the realization of their union to Christ, participators in the fulness of God. So the difficult expression, Ephesians 1:23, becomes explained, a passage in which the Church itself, his body, is said to be "the fulness of him who filleth all in all." The Church is the organ and sphere in which all the Divine graces are poured, and is considered as ever struggling to embody the ideal perfection of him in whom all the fulness of God dwells. Both ideas, those of both the Christological Epistles, are involved in this great assertion of St. John. And grace for grace. It is said the evangelist might have written χάριν ἐπὶ χάριτι, or ἐπὶ χάριν, grace in addition to grace received already; but the use of the preposition ἀντί, implies more, "grace interchanging with grace" (Meyer)—not the grace of the old covenant replaced by the grace of the new dispensation (Chrysostom, Lampe, and many others), for, though there was grace underlying all God's self-revelation, yet in the next verse the contrast between "Law" and "grace" is too striking to be ignored. The grace replaced by grace means that every grace received is a capacity for higher blessedness. Thus Christian humility is the condition of Divine uplifting; the knowledge that leads to love is the condition of that higher gnosis that is born of love. The faith that accepts mercy blossoms into the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. Reconciliation with God becomes itself transformed into active communion with him; all union to Christ becomes the harbinger of full identification with him, "he in us and we in him." This is the great principle of the Divine kingdom: "To him that hath shall be given."
The χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος is sustained by calling attention to the contrast between the two methods of Divine communication. Because the Law was given through Moses; "Law," which in Paul's writings had been even looked at by itself as an "antithesis to grace" (Romans 4:15; Romans 6:14; Romans 7:3; Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:10; Galatians 4:4). The Law principle of approach to God fails through the weakness of the flesh. The will is too far enslaved for it to yield spontaneously to the majesty of the Lawgiver, or to feel the attractions of obedience. The Law condemns,—it is incapable of justifying the ungodly: the Law terrifies,—it never reconciles. The Law even provokes to sin and excites the passions which it punishes. Law was given through Moses, pointing to the historic fact of the pomp and splendour of its first delivery, associated therefore with the greatest human name in all past history. Law was a "gift," a Divine bestowment of entirely unspeakable value to those who were ignorant of the mind and will of God. Even the ministration of death was glorious. The knowledge of an ideal perfection is a great advance, even though no power should accompany the ideal to draw the soul towards it. To know what is right, even without help to do it, save in the form of sanction, or penalty appealing to the lower nature, is better and nobler than to sin in utter ignorance. The Law was given "through" the mind, voice, conscience, and will of Moses. And alongside of him may be supposed to be ranged all the mighty sages and legislators of the human race—all who have thus been the mouthpiece of the Divine idea, all who have impressed the "ought" and "ought not," the "shall" and "shall not," upon mankind. Moses is not the author of the Law, the "giving" of the Law was not by Moses, but through his instrumentality. Grace and truth, however, came—became, passed into activity in human nature—through Jesus Christ. For "grace and truth" (see notes, John 1:14), the highest manifestation and self-communication of Divine love and Divine thought, came into human experience through Jesus Christ. A vast and wonderful contrast is here made between all earlier or other dispensations and that of which the apostle proceeds to speak. Divine favour and help, the life of God himself in the soul of man, awakening love in response to the Divine love; and Divine thought so made known as to bring all the higher faculties of man into direct contact with reality, are an enormous advance upon Lawgiving. The appropriate human response to Law is obedience; the appropriate human response to love is of the same nature with itself—nothing less than love; so the only adequate response to Divine truth is faith; to Divine thought may follow human thought. All this forth streaming of grace and truth originated in the person of Jesus Christ, and became possible through him. This great Name, this blending of the human and Divine, of saving grace and Messianic dignity, of ancient expectations and recent realization, is only twice more used in the Gospel (John 17:3 and John 20:31); but it pervades it throughout, and, though not actually said to be equivalent to the Word made flesh, yet no shadow of doubt is left that this was the apostle's meaning. Here the full significance of the prologue really bursts into view to one who reads it for the first time (cf. 1 John 1:1-3). Difficulty may be felt by some as to the actual Capacity of Jesus Christ to reveal the Divine thought, or the truth, and so the closing verse of the prologue vindicates the claim of the Saviour of the world to be the truth (cf. John 14:6).
No one hath ever yet seen God. Many visions, theophanies, appearances, angelic splendours, in the desert, on the mountain, in the temple, by the river of Chebar, had been granted to the prophets of the Lord; but they have all fallen short of the direct intuition of God as God. Abraham, Israel, Moses, Manoah, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, saw visions, local manifestations, anticipations of the Incarnation; but the apostle here takes the Lord's own word for it (John 5:37), and he elsewhere repeats it (1 John 4:12). These were but forerunners of the ultimate manifestation of the Logos. "The Glory of the Lord," "the Angel of the Lord," "the Word of the Lord," were not so revealed to patriarchs that they saw God as God. They saw him in the form of light, or of spiritual agency, or of human ministries; but in the deepest sense we must still wait for the purity of heart which will reveal to our weakened faculties the beatific vision. The only begotten Son—or, (God only begotten£)—who is in (or, on) the bosom of the Father, he interpreted (him); became the satisfying Exposition, the Declarer, drawing forth from the depths of God all that it is possible that we shall see, know, or realize. This lofty assertion is augmented by the sublime intensification of the earlier phrase, "with God (πρὸς τὸν Θεόν)," by (εἰς τὸν κόλπον), "in or on the bosom of the Father;" i.e. in most intimate and loving fellowship with the Father as the only begotten. The relations of fatherhood and sonship within the substance of the Godhead give new life, warmth, realization, to the vaster, colder, more metaphysical, metaphenomenal relations of Θεός and Λογός (cf. here Proverbs 8:30). Bengel here says, "In lumbis esse dicuntur qui nascentur homines, in sinu sunt qui nati sunt. In sinu Patris erat Filius, quia nunquam non-natus." In view of the contention of Meyer that the language here refers to no age long, eternal indwelling of the Logos with, or of the Son (God only begotten) on the bosom of, the Father, but to the exaltation of the Christ after his ascension, we can only refer to the present tense (ὁ ὢν), which from the standpoint of the prologue does not transfer itself to the historical standpoint of the writer at the end of the first century. Lange thinks that the whole of this wonderful utterance is attributed by the evangelist to the Baptist; but the standing of the Baptist, lofty as it is in John's Gospel, after the Baptist came into brief fellowship with the One who was before him, certainly falls short of this insight into his eternal Being. John the beloved disciple could thus speak of the revelation and interpretation of God which was made in the life, words, and death of the Only Begotten, from whose fulness he had received "grace for grace;" but in this verse he is speaking of the timeless condition, the eternal fellowship, of the Only Begotten with the Father, as justifying the fulness of the revelation made in his incarnation.
The prologue forms a key to the entire Gospel. It may have been written after the record of the central principles involved in the life work of Jesus had been completed. Every statement in it may be seen to be derived from the recorded words or acts of the Lord, the revelation of the Father in time, the unveiling of the eternal heart of him who made all things, and by one competent to speak of both eternities. The writer of the prologue speaks of himself as one of a group or society who had had ocular evidence of the perfection and glory of the manifestation. This fellowship of men had found themselves children of God, and in the possession of a life, a light, and a hope which were derived entirely from Jesus Christ, who is undoubtedly in a unique sense declared (though not formally defined) to be "the Word made flesh." In the subsequent narrative we find a graduated series of instructions on the powers of Christ and the opposition of the world to his self-manifestation. Thus (John 1:1-51.) the testimony of the Baptist (made after his contact with Christ) to the Person and work of the Lord attributes to him, on prophetic authority, most stupendous functions—those of baptizing with the Holy Spirit, and taking away the sin of the world. He does himself reveal the way to the Father. He is hailed as the "Christ," the "King of Israel," and as the link between heaven and earth, between the invisible and visible, the Divine and the human (John 1:51). In John 2:1-25, with all its other suggestiveness, Christ displays his creative power, and (cf. John 6:1-71.) his relation to the world of things, as well as his organic relation to the old covenant. In John 2:1-25 his "body" is the "temple" of God, where his Father dwelt, thus justifying the ἐσκήνωσεν of verse. 14. The pre-existence of Christ as a self-conscious personality in the very substance of Deity is asserted by himself in John 6:62; John 8:58; John 17:5, John 17:24. The fact that he is the Source of all life (John 1:3), is involved in the teaching of the Gospel from end to end. Eternal life is ministered through him, to believers (John 3:16, etc., 36). He claims to have life in himself (John 5:26). He is the "Bread of life" for starving humanity (John 6:35, John 6:48). The words that he speaks are spirit and life (John 6:63). In John 8:12 the φῶς τῆς ζωῆς links the idea of life and light as they are shown to cohere in the prologue. In John 14:6 he declares himself to be "the Truth and the Life," thus sustaining the great generalization. By raising Lazarus he is portrayed as the Restorer of forfeited life, as well as the original Giver of life to men (John 11:25). The ninth chapter records the symbolic event by which he proved himself to be the Sun of the spiritual universe, "the Light of the world" (cf. John 1:4 with John 8:12; cf. John 12:36, John 12:46). The whole history of the conflict with the people whom he came to save, with "his own," with the world power, and the death doom, is the material which is generalized in the solemn statements of John 1:5-10.
The prologue says nothing in express words of Christ's supernatural conception, of his death, or of his resurrection and eternal glory; yet these objective facts are woven through, and involved in, the entire context, for the incarnation of the Eternal Word is the historic basis of the apostle's experience of such a life as that which he proceeds to sketch. The absolute antagonism of the darkness to the light, and the rejection of the light and life by the world, never had such exposition as that which the repudiation and crucifixion of the Son of God gave to them; while the eternal nature of the central life and being of him who, when incarnate, was thus resisted by unbelief renders the resurrection and ultimate and eternal glory a necessity of thought even to these who have not yet seen, but yet have believed.
2. The testimony of the Baptist.
The historic narrative commences with the nineteenth verse of the chapter. The scene is laid after the ministry of John had reached its climax in the baptism of Jesus—an event presupposed and implied, but not described. John's ministry had produced the most amazing excitement among the people. They had flocked to his side and to his baptism, confessing their sins; they had heard his summons to repentance; they had trembled under his threats of judgment; they had received their appropriate message from the inspired seer. His prophetic indignation against their selfishness and greed, their formalism, and their boast of covenanted immunity from the consequences of moral fault, had roused conscience into preternatural activity. The wail of concern and the excitement of alarmed inquiry had as yet only secured from John the promise of another Teacher, of Another, mightier than he, whose fan was in his hand, who would test, divide, save, and punish. When the Christ came himself to this baptism, came confessing the sins of the whole world, came with awful holiness and yet infinite sympathy for the sorrows and perils of the people, to fulfil all righteousness, a new revelation was made to John. The voice from heaven, the symbol of the Holy Spirit which descended and abode upon him, brought John into a new world. He was as one dazed and bewildered by excess of light. The abundance of the revelations became a new test of his own mission, and a new explanation to him of what his purpose in the world had really been. The contrast between the ministry of John as detailed by the synoptists and the Fourth Gospel is explicable so soon as we observe that the latter takes up the career of John where the former had laid it down. Here, consequently, is a chapter in John's history concerning which the synoptists are silent. When the baptism of Jesus was accomplished, and the Spirit had led him away into the wilderness, John stood, much as Elisha might have done (in the very same region) when Elijah went heavenwards in a chariot of fire. But he proceeded to testify new and strange things about his kinsman. The effect of his ministry was, for the time, greatly augmented by the suspense and expectation of some rapidly approaching manifestation. In the midst of the excitement thus produced we learn from this verse: And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent (to him £) from Jerusalem priests and Levites, that, etc. The copula "and" shows how the narrative roots itself in the prologue, and points back to the citation already made from John's words. In verse 15 they were introduced apart from their historical connection as the summation of the highest and most fruitful mission of the Baptist. Now the precise antecedents which give to them special weight are set forth. "This" is the predicate of the sentence. The occasion referred to is when "the Jews" sent their deputation. The evangelist is accused of always using the term, "the Jews," in a sense that is hostile to them, and thus an argument has been framed against the authenticity of the Gospel. It is true that John uses this term far more frequently than the synoptists, for it is found more than seventy times in his Gospel; but it is not exclusively used in a depreciatory sense (see John 2:13; John 3:1; John 4:22; John 5:1; John 18:33). For the most part he uses the term (now denotative of the entire people, though formerly confined to the tribe of Judah) for the theocratic nation which had ceased, when he composed his Gospel, to have any political existence. More than this, in a vast number of texts he rises the term for the authoritative powers of the nation rather than of the people. According to the narrative of each of the Gospels, the theocratic people displayed, by its highest representatives and ruling powers, rancorous hatred and calculated antagonism to the Son of God. The Jews, the ecclesiastical party, sent a deputation of priests and Levites from Jerusalem, which consisted, as we learn from the twenty-third verse, "of the Pharisees." They came to make a legitimate inquiry from the new prophet. There is no trace of malignity or antagonism in this act. They would learn from his own lips who he was, what character or functions he was sustaining. A similar deputation approached our Lord at a later period, when all their jealousy and hatred had been aroused. There was, however, no better way in which they could learn the facts of the case. The Sanhedrin, or great council of seventy-one members, the elders, high priests (including ex-high priests), and scribes, is variously described. There is no early trace anterior to the time of Antipater and Herod of this body as thus constituted, but it was doubtless formed upon the basis of the older institution of the seventy eiders (Numbers 11:16; Ezekiel 8:11),or of the γερουσία of the Books of Maccabees (1 Macc. 12:6; 2MMalachi 1:10). It is probable (Hengstenberg) that the Levites here mentioned by John represent those who in the other Gospels are described as "scribes," or students of the Law, belonging to the sacred tribe, though not to the family of Aaron. The absence of any reference to the Levites in Matthew and Mark (Luke 10:32; Acts 4:36), and the frequent occurrence of "scribes," make it probable that the profession of the Law was specially followed by the remnant of the tribe of Levi (but see Schurer, 'Jewish People in Time of Christ,' §§ 24, 25). The deputation came to receive and convey to those that sent them definite replies to certain questions. In Luke 3:15 there is said to have been a widespread impression that John the Baptist was supposed to be the Christ of their popular expectation. Such a portentous claim must be sifted by them without delay. They were sent that they should put the question to him; Who art thou? John's profession of a baptizer, and his implied teaching that "Pharisees and Sadducees," the covenanted, sacramental people, needed cleansing and admission by some sacred rite into a fellowship more holy than that of the theocratic nation itself, demanded, immediate examination; and they were justified by the letter of the Law in making the inquiry (Deuteronomy 18:21).
John 1:20, John 1:21
(1) He deflates his own position, negatively.
And he confessed, and denied not. Perhaps the double form of statement, or rather the introduction of the clause, "he denied not," before the repetition of the confession with its contents, was adopted to, indicate that John might have been tempted to "deny" that he was not the Christ. If he had hesitated at all, he would have denied the real Christ, the Son of God, who had been revealed to him by special means. I for my part—very emphatic—am £ not the Christ. This implies, not only that the supposition over which they are brooding is unfounded, not only that he is not the Christ, but that he knows more, and that he knows another to be the Christ. If this reading of the text is correct, the Baptist, by his negative reply, gave to the priests more than they asked.
And they asked him, What then? What is the state of the case? The very repudiation of Messiahship in this form seems to imply some association with the Messianic period of which they had so many conflicting ideas. Malachi (Malachi 4:5) had predicted the coming again from heaven of Elijah the prophet, and the LXX., by translating the passage "Elijah the Tishbite," had strengthened the common mistake of a metempsychosis, or such an abnormal manifestation before the coming of Messiah. Schottgen quotes a variety of proofs of this anticipation, and that Elijah was expected "three days before Messiah; that he would come in the mountains of Israel, weeping over the people, saying, 'O land of Israel, how long will you remain arid and desolate!'" (cf. my 'John the Baptist,' 3. § 4). There was a true sense in which (as our Lord informed his disciples) John was the fulfilment of Malachi's prediction and of the language of the angel to Zacharias (Luke 1:17; Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:12), and that John came veritably in the spirit and power of Elijah. In that sense "Elijah had come already," just as Christ their David had come, in fulfilment of Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 37:24; cf. Jeremiah 30:9; Hosea 3:5), to rule over them. In the physical, superstitious sense, John the son of Zacharias was not the reincarnation of the Prophet Elijah, and so he boldly answered the inquiry, Art thou Elijah? £ with a categorical negative: I am not. They press their question once more. Art thou the Prophet? It is doubtful whether they here take up another popular expectation of the physical return of one of the old prophets, or whether, with an exegesis afterwards modified by the apostles, they point to Deuteronomy 18:15, and reveal the fact that they had not identified the prediction of "the prophet like unto Moses" with their Messiah. If they had identified these representations, they would not, of course, have pressed him with an identical question. It is highly probable that that prophecy had, with the predictions of Malachi and Isaiah, led to numerous expectations more or less identified with the Messianic cycle of coming events. In John 6:14; John 7:40; Matthew 16:14, we see the prevalence of the expectation—of a longing for an old prophet. They yearned for no upstart, but for one of the mighty brotherhood of departed men, in veritable flesh and blood. Now John and now Jesus was crudely suspected by some to be such a resuscitation. The Baptist, like the Samaritan woman, and subsequently St. Peter when full of the Holy Ghost, had sharply identified "the Prophet like unto Moses" with the Messiah himself; and therefore, on either hypothesis, he gives a curt reply to this inquiry, and he answered, No.
John 1:22, John 1:23
(2) He defines his position, positively.
They said therefore (note the demonstrative force of οὖν) to him (as a consequence of his repeated threefold negative), Who art thou? Explain yourself, that we may give an answer to those who sent us (see note, John 20:21, on the two verbs ἀποστέλλω and πέμπω); What sayest thou concerning thyself? Our suppositions about thee are all repudiated one by one, hast thou any information to render to the supreme court of judicature?
He said, I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet. This great utterance had been by the synoptists distinctly applied to the Baptist; here we have the origin of such application. The Baptist quoted from Isaiah 40:3 two sentences; the synoptists cite the whole passage, as finding abundant realization in the mission of John. The prophet felt that the work he had to perform entirely concealed the importance of his own personality. He lost himself in his office and in his message. Isaiah, when foreseeing the revival of the nation, then wandering in a spiritual "wilderness," along rugged ridges, savage precipices, stony gorges, of a symbolic desert, anticipated the return of the Jehovah to his own sanctuary, and declared that ample prophetic preparation was needed, so that the people, by repentance and reformation, might understand that Israel had received double for all her sins. "Hark!" says he, "a crier, or a voice." The herald has gone forth to break the silence that lay between the land of captivity and the land of promise. "In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord." Israel was to see that there was neither self-righteousness nor moral rebellion to impede the approach of One who was mighty to save. A portion of this very oracle is quoted by Malachi when he exclaims, "Behold, I send my messenger before my face, who shall prepare the way before me." This "messenger before the face of the Lord" is no other than he who should come in the spirit and power of Elijah. John, therefore, gathered up the significance of both prophecies, when he spoke of himself as "a voice crying in the wilderness [actual and symbolical], Make straight the way of the Lord." The Hebrew text, as we have translated it above, associates the words, "in the wilderness," with "make straight." rather than with "the voice crying." The quotation by the evangelist from the LXX. will suffer either arrangement of the words.
And they £ had been sent from the Pharisees, which amounts to the same thing as "they which were sent were of the Pharisees," and it is after the manner of John to introduce explanatory, retrospective comment, which may throw light on what follows (verses 41, 45; John 4:30; John 11:5). The οὖν of the following verse shows that we have still to do with the same deputation. The Pharisees were accustomed to lustral rites, but had legal points to make as to the authority of any man who dared to impose them upon the sacred nation, and especially on their own section, which made its special boast of ceremonial exactitude and purity. They might justify an old prophet, or the Elijah of Malachi, and still more the Christ himself, should he call men to baptismal cleansing But the dim mysterious "voice in the wilderness," even if John could prove his words, had no such prescriptive claim. The Pharisaic priests and Levites would take strong views on the baptismal question, and even exalt it into a more eminent place in their thoughts than the fundamental question, "Art thou the very Christ?" The same confusion of essential and accidental elements of religious truth and life was not confined to old Pharisees.
And they asked him (put the question), and said to him, Why baptizest thou, then, if thou be not£ the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet? It would seem that, judging from such expressions as Ezekiel 36:25, Ezekiel 36:26 and Zechariah 13:1, the Jews expected some renewal of ceremonial purification on a grand scale at the Messianic appearance, and John's repudiation of every personal rank, which could, according to their view, justify him called for some explanation.
John 1:26, John 1:27
The answer is not very explicit. John answered them and said, I baptize with water; not as Messiah, or Elijah, or a resuscitated prophet, not as making proselytes to the faith of Abraham's sons, not as an Essene admitting the children of the kingdom to a close spiritual corporation, but because the Messiah has come. Some have laid great emphasis on the limitation which John assigns to his baptism. It is said he thus anticipated the contrast afterwards expressed between it and the Spirit baptism of Jesus. This is. however, reserved for a later utterance. The baptism with water inaugurated the Messianic kingdom, prepared the people to receive the Lord. If, then, Messiah were reasonably expected thus to create a fellowship of those, who, substituted this simple lustration for a cumbrous cycle of ceremonial purifications, John, as the "voice," the "herald," the "crier" in the wilderness, was justified in administering the rite. I baptize with water, seeing that there standeth £ in the midst of you £ one (whom you know not) who is coming after me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to loose. This standing in the very crowd before him of the Mightier than John, now being searched out as it were by the glances of the Baptist, and recognized by him as One over whom the heavens had opened, gave ample support to the Baptist in his baptismal functions. The One coming after John, i.e. "after," because of John's chronological precedence in showing himself to Israel, is yet of such lofty rank and mighty power that John is not fit in his own opinion to be his humblest slave. This solemn assurance justifies to the Sanhedrin the preparatory rite. This closes the first great testimony. Before proceeding to the second, the evangelist supplies a geographical hint, which up to the present day has not been satisfactorily interpreted.
These things were clone in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. £ The fact that John the Baptist, in the previous verses, recognizes the Messiah, and that in verses 31-33 he declares that knowledge to have followed the baptism and the sign then given to him, makes it obvious that the baptism and the forty days of the temptation are now in the past. Every day is clearly marked from the day on which the deputation from the Sanhedrin approached him, till we find Jesus at Cana, on his way to Jerusalem. Consequently, the baptism of Christ, which was the occasion of the higher knowledge that John acquired concerning him, as well as the temptation, had been consummated. Of this last it would seem highly probable John had received, in subsequent conversation with the Lord, a full report. The Lord had passed through the fiery ordeal. He had accepted the position of the Servant of the Lord, who, in the way of privation, suffering, fierce antagonism from world, flesh, and devil, would win the crown of victory and prove himself to be the Life and Light of the world. This chronological hint appears to me to explain the sudden and surprising utterance of the next verse.
On the following day. Next after the day on which the Sanhedrin had heard from John the vindication of his own right to baptize in virtue of the commencement of the Messiah's ministry, which as yet was concealed from all eyes but his own. He [John £] seeth Jesus coming towards him, within reach of observation the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. We should observe, from the later context, that already John had perceived by special signs and Divine inspiration that Jesus was the Son of God, and the veritable Baptizer with the Holy Ghost; that he was before him in dignity, honour, and by pre-existence, although his earthly ministry had been delayed until after John's preparatory work had been done. John had felt that the "confession of sins" made by the guilty multitude, by generations of vipers, was needful, rational, imperative upon them; but that in the case of Jesus this confession was not only superfluous, but a kind of contradiction in terms. The Lord over whom the heavens had opened, and to whom the heavenly name had been given, fulfilling all righteousness by submitting to the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins, was a profound perplexity to the Baptist. Strange was it that he who would have power to deal with the Holy Ghost even as John had been using water should have been called in any real sense to confess the sins of his own nature or life. John believed that Jesus was the Source of a fiery purity and purifying power, and that according to his own showing he had rejected all proposals which might bring Israel to his feet by assuming the role of their conquering Messiah. He had even treated these suggestions as temptations of the devil. Not to save his physical life from starvation would he use his miraculous energies for his own personal ends. Not to bring the whole Sanhedrin, priesthood, and temple guard, nay, even the Roman governor and court, to his feet, will he utter a word or wave a signal which they could misunderstand. His purpose was to identify himself, Son of God though he be, with the world—to "suffer all, that he might succour all." Because John knew that Jesus was so great he was brought to apprehend the veritable fact and central reality of the Lord's person and work. He saw by a Divine inspiration what Jesus was, and what he was about to do. The simple supposition that Jesus had made John the Baptist his confidant, on his return from the wilderness of temptation and victory, and that we owe the story of the temptation to the facts of Christ's experience which had been communicated to John, do more than any other supposition does to expound the standpoint of John's remarkable exclamation. A library of discussion and exposition has been produced by the words which John uttered on this occasion, and different writers have taken opposite views, which in their origin proceed from the same root. The early Greek interpreters were moving in a true direction when they looked to the celebrated oracle of Isaiah lift. as the primary signification of the great phrase, "The Lamb of God." The image used to portray the suffering Sin-bearer is the "Lamb brought silently to the slaughter," "a Sheep dumb before his shearers." Doubtless the first implication of this comparison arose from the prophet's conception of the patience, gentleness, and submission of the sublime but suffering "Servant of God;" but the fourth, fifth, sixth, and twelfth verses of that chapter are so charged with the sin bearing of the great victim, the vicarious and propitiatory virtue of his agony unto death, that we cannot separate the one from the other. He who is led as a Lamb to the slaughter bears our sins and suffers pain for us, is wounded on account of our transgressions: "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all … it pleased the Lord to bruise him," etc. The Servant of God is God's Lamb, appointed and consecrated for the highest work of sacrificial suffering and death. The LXX. has certainly used the verb φέρειν, to bear, where John uses αἴρειν, to take away. Meyer suggests that in the idea of αἄρειν the previous notion of φέρειν is involved and presupposed. The Hebrew formula, אטְחֵ אשָׂןָ and נוֹעָ אשָׂןָ, are variously translated by the LXX., but generally in the sense of bearing the consequences of personal guilt or the sin of another (Numbers 14:34; Le Numbers 5:17; Numbers 20:17; Ezekiel 18:19). In Le John 10:17 it is distinctly used of the priestly expiation for sin to be effected by Eleazar. Here and elsewhere אשָׂןָ is translated in the LXX. by ἀφαιρεῖν, where God as the subject of the verb is described as lifting off sin from the transgressor and by bearing it himself—bearing it away. In several places the LXX. has gone further, translating the word, when God is the subject, by ἀφιεναί, with the idea of forgiveness (Psalms 32:5; Psalms 85:3; Genesis 50:17; Isaiah 33:24). Hence the Baptist, in using the word αἴρειν, had doubtless in his mind the large connotation of the Hebrew word אשָׂןָ with the fundamental prerequisite of the taking away, which the oracle of Isaiah had suggested to him. John knew that the taking away of sin involved the twofold process:
(1) the conference of a new spiritual life by the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit; and
(2) such a removal of the consequences and shame and peril of sin as is involved by the bearing of sins in his own Divine personality. Thus he not only perceived from the accompaniments of the baptism that Jesus was the Son of God and the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost, but that, being these, his meek submission and his triumphant repudiation of the temptations of the devil which were based upon the fact of his Divine sonship proved that he was the Divine sin-bearing Lamb of Isaiah's oracle. Many commentators have, however, seen a special reference to the Paschal lamb, with which Christ's work was, without hesitation, compared in later years (1 Corinthians 5:7). There can be no doubt that the Passover lamb was a "sin offering" (Hengstenberg, 'Christ of the Old Testament,' vol. 4:351; Baur, 'Uber die Ursprung und Bedeutung des Passah-Fest,' quoted by Lucke, 1:404). It was God's sacrifice by pre-eminence, and the blood of the lamb was offered to God to make atonement, and it freed Israel from the curse that fell on the firstborn of Egypt. John, the son of a sacrificing priest, the Nazarite, the stern prophet of the wilderness, was familiar with all the ritual and the lessons of that solemn festival; and might look on the Son of God, selected for this sacrifice, as fulfilling in singular and unique fashion the function of the Passover Lamb for the whole world. But John would not be limited by the Paschal associations. Day by day lambs were presented before God as burnt offerings, as expressions of the desire of the offerers to accept absolutely the supreme will of God. Moreover, the lamb of the trespass offering was slain for atonement (Le John 4:35; John 14:11; Numbers 6:12), either when physical defilement excluded the sufferer from temple worship, or when a Nazarite had lost the advantage of his vow by contact with the dead. Even the ceremonial of the great Day of Atonement, though other animal victims were used, suggested the same great thought of propitiatory suffering and death. These various forms of sacrificial worship must have been in the minds of both Isaiah and John. They are the key to Isaiah's prophecy, and this in its turn is the basis of the cry of John. The New Testament apostles and evangelists, whether accurate or not in their exegesis, did repeatedly take this oracle of Isaiah's as descriptive of the work of the Lord, and other early Christian writers treated the chapter as though it were a fragment of their contemporaneous evidence and exposition (Matthew 8:17; 1 Peter 2:22-25; Acts 8:28; Luke 22:37; Revelation 5:6; Revelation 13:8; Romans 10:16; Clement, '1 Eph. ad Cor.,' 16.). John was standing further back, and on an Old Testament platform, but we have, in his knowledge of Isaiah's prophecies, and his familiarity with the sacrificial system of which that oracle foreshadowed the fulfilment, quite enough to account for the burning words in which he condensed the meaning of the ancient sacrifices, and saw them all transcended in the suffering Son of God. The author of 'Ecce Homo,' by identifying the "Lamb of God" with the imagery of Psalms 23:1-6., supposed that John saw, in the inward repose and spiritual joyfulness of Jesus, the power he would wield to take away the sin of the world. "He (John) was one of the dogs of the flock of Jehovah, Jesus was one of the Lambs of the good Shepherd." There is no hint whatever of these ideas in the psalm. This curiosity of exegesis has not secured any acceptance. Some difficulty has been felt in the fact that John should have made such progress in New Testament thought; but the experience through which John has passed during his contact with Jesus, the sentiment with which he found the Lord whom he sought coming to his baptism, the agony that he foresaw must follow the contact of such a One with the prejudices and sins of the people, above all, the mode in which our Lord was treating the current expectation of Messiah regarding its eagerly desired manifestations as temptations of the devil, flashed the whole of Isaiah's oracle into sudden splendour. He saw the Lamb already led to slaughter, and his blood upon the very door posts of every house; he saw him lifting, bearing, carrying away, the sin of the world, all impurity, transgression, and shame. His atoning sacrifice is already going on. The sins of mankind fall on the Holy One. He sees him pouring out his soul unto death, and making gentle intercession for his murderers; so in a glorious ecstasy he cries, "BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD!".
This is he on behalf of £ whom I said, After me cometh a man (ἀνήρ is used as a term of higher dignity than ἄνθρωπος, and is made more explicit by the positive appearance of the Holy One whom he had just recognized and pointed out to his disciples) who became before me—in human and other activities under the Old Testament covenant—because he was before me; in the deepest sense, having an eternal self-consciousness, a Divine pre-existence, apart from all his dealings and doings with man (see notes on John 1:15, John 1:26, John 1:27). If the shorter reading of John 1:26, John 1:27 be correct, then the occasion on which this great utterance was first made is not described. If it be not expunged from John 1:26, John 1:27, we may imagine that John is now referring to what he said on the previous day to the Sanhedrim. If internal reasons may help to decide a reading, I should be inclined, with Godet as against Meyer, to say that this is the obvious reference. Here, too, the ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν is added as explanation of what was enigmatical in verse 26. The whole saying has already found place in the prologue. The threefold citation reveals the profound impression which the words of the Baptist had made upon his most susceptible disciple.
(3) The purpose of John's own mission was to introduce to Israel the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost.
And I for my part knew him not. This is thought by some to be incompatible with the statement of Matthew 3:14, where the Baptist displayed sufficient knowledge of Jesus to have exclaimed, "I have need to be baptized of thee." Early commentators, e.g. Ammonius, quoted in 'Catena Patrum,' suggested that John's long residence in the wilderness had prevented his knowing his kinsman; Chrysostom, 'Hom. 16. in Joannem,' urged that he was not familiar with his person; Epiphanius, 'Adv. Haer.,' 30., and Justin Martyr, 'Dial.,' 100, 88, refer to a long passage in the 'Gospel of the Ebionites,' which, notwithstanding numerous perversions, yet suggests a method of conciliation of the two narratives, that the sign of the opening heavens and the voice occasioned the consternation of John, and explains his deprecation of the act which he had already performed. Neander has suggested the true explanation: "In contradistinction to that which John now saw in the Divine light, all his previous knowledge appeared to be a non-knowledge." John knew of Jesus, as his kinsman; he knew him as One mightier than himself—One whose coming, as compared with his own, was as the coming of the Lord. When Jesus approached him for baptism, John therefore knew quite enough to make him hesitate to baptize the Christ. He knew more than enough to induce him to say, "I have need to be baptized of thee." Godet imagines that, since baptism was preceded by confession, John found that the confession made by Jesus was of such a lofty, saintly, God-like type of repudiation of sin, as that John himself had never attained to. This representation fails from attributing to John the function of a sacerdotal confessor of later days, and is out of harmony altogether with the meaning and potency of our Lord's confession of the sin of the whole of that human nature which he had taken upon himself. The knowledge which John had of Jesus was as nothing to the blaze of light which burst upon him when he realized the idea that Jesus was the Son of God. The "I knew him not" of this verse was a subsequent reflection of the Baptist when the sublime humility, the dovelike sweetness, and the spiritual might of Jesus were revealed to him. A blind man who had received his sight during the hours of darkness might imagine, when he saw the reflected glory of the moon or morning star in the eye of dawn, that he knew the nature and had felt the glory of light; but amidst the splendours of sunrise or of noon he might justly say, "I knew it not". But that he should be manifested to Israel, for this cause I came baptizing in (with) water. It was traditionally expected that Elijah should anoint Messiah. John perceives now the transitional nature of his own mission. His baptism retires into the background. He sees that its whole meaning was the introduction of Messiah, the manifestation of the Son of God to Israel. It may be said that the ministry of the wilderness, with the vast impression it produced, is represented by the synoptists as of more essential importance in itself. John's own judgment, however, here recorded, is the true key to the whole representation. The synoptic narrative shows very clearly that, as a matter of fact, the Johannine ministry culminated at the baptism of Jesus, and lost itself in the dawn of the great day which it inaugurated and heralded. The Fourth Gospel does but give the rationale of such an arrangement, and refer the origin of the idea to John himself. If John did not intensify the sense of sin which Messiah was to soothe and take away; if John did not, by baptism with water, excite a desire for an infinitely nobler and more precious baptism; if John did not prepare a way for One of vastly more moment to mankind and to the kingdom of God than himself,—his whole work was a failure. In that John saw his own relation to the Christ—he saw his own place in the dispensations of Providence.
John 1:32, John 1:33
And John bore testimony, saying, I have seen (perfect) the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it (he) abode upon him. And I knew him not, but he that sent me to baptize with (in) water, he said to me, Upon whomsoever thou mayest see the Holy Spirit descending, and abiding on him, this (one) is he that baptizeth with (in) the Holy Spirit. The preparation by special teaching for a mysterious vision is the key to the vision itself, which John is here said to have described. There can be no reasonable doubt that the evangelist makes reference to the synoptic tradition of the baptism of Jesus by John, although it may suit some uncompromising opponents of the Fourth Gospel to say that the baptism is here omitted. The act of the rite is not totidem verbis described; but the chief accompaniment and real meaning of the baptism is specially portrayed. All the well known cycles of criticism make their special assault on the narratives at this point. Rationalism finds in a thunderstorm and the casual flight of a pigeon what John magnified into a supernatural portent; Straussianism sees the growth of a legend from prepared sources of Hebrew tradition, and endeavours to aggravate into irreconcilable discrepancy the various accounts; Baur and Hilgenfeld accentuate the objectively supernatural portent, so as the more easily to put it into the region of ignorant superstition; others find the hint or sign of Gnostic handling; and Keim suggests that it is the poetic colouring which a later age unconsciously attributed to the Baptist and the Christ. Let it be noticed:
(1) That the present Gospel does not augment, but diminishes, the miraculous element as compared with the synoptic narrative. The 'Gospel of the Hebrews ' added further embellishments still. Our Gospel compels us to believe that the mind of the Baptist was the chief region of the miracle.
(2) The author of this Gospel might, if he had chosen, have selected his own experience on the Mount of Transfiguration in vindication of a Divine attestation of the Sonship; but he preferred to fall back upon the testimony of his revered master. Peter, James, and John were unprepared for what they saw and heard on that occasion; and Peter knew not what he said, so great was the awful wonder that fell upon him then. Here, however, is recorded a vision for which the mind of the great forerunner was prepared. He expected to see the Spirit of God in some manner blend his energy with that of the individual who would prove to be the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost.
(3) John does not discriminate the methods of the two communications, and from this narrative all that could be inferred positively is that the mind of John, by objective or subjective process, of which we know nothing, received the communication and the sacred impression.
(4) The synoptic narrative, prima facie, differs from this representation. At all events Luke 3:21, Luke 3:22 speaks of "opened heavens," "the Holy Spirit in bodily form as a dove," and a voice addressed to the Lord, "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." This account is taken by Strauss as the key to the other three, and he urges that they must all be interpreted in harmony with it. But from the time of Origen, the exegesis of Matthew's account no less emphatically states (i.e. if with De Wette, Bleck, Baur, and Keim, we take ὁ Ιωάννης as the subject of εἶδεν) that John saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and coming upon (Christ) him, and that the voice was addressed to John, "This is my beloved Son," etc. In Mark's account the εἶδεν and αὐτόν are susceptible of the same interpretation. It should be observed that Luke's narrative clearly implies that our Lord's baptism took place at some unspecified opportunity, and simply gives the summing up of the impression produced upon the mind of John. It is more reasonable to interpret Luke in harmony with the main conception of Matthew and John than to press the latter into forced harmony with the former.
(5) The great difficulty is the expression, σωματικῷ εἴδει. But surely the prophetic mind was accustomed to dwell in the midst of similar visual shapes of spiritual things. There was σωματικὸν εἴδος enough in the cherubim, olive trees, horses, armies, vials, and cities of the Apocalypse, and there were "voices" heard by Ezekiel, Hosea, Elijah, and by John himself which could be, were, and even must be, described in terms of physical facts, which no interpreters have ever felt compelled to transfer into the region of phenomena. There are still intensely vivid intuitions of spiritual fact which transcend all sensible or logical proof. If John saw and heard these things so far as his own consciousness was concerned, there is enough to account forevery peculiarity of the narrative. He saw the Shechinah glory hovering over the Lord Jesus, officially consecrating a human personality. The dove-like (ὡς περιστερὰν) form and motion taken by the heavenly light reminded him of the brooding of the Spirit of God upon the primaeval waters. He looked into the face of the Holy One of God—majesty and meekness, Divine glory, human gentleness, a sanctity as of the holy place, a freedom as of the birds of heaven, force like that of the steeds of the rising sun, inward peace like the calm of a brooding dove, transfigured the Lord. This dovelike splendour abode upon him, passed into him; and the voice (the invincible conviction, the resistless consciousness that often can find no other expression than "Thus saith the Lord") was heard, "This is my beloved Son," etc. We cannot say what John saw; we know what he said; and it covered the consciousness of the most stupendous reality yet enacted on the earth. That which John had been taught to predict as approaching was now seen to have actually come about, he who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost has commenced his wondrous mission.
(6) The whole question as to the relation of the Holy Spirit and the Logos—the relation between the statement of verse 13 and verses 31-33—demands special consideration. A few words here may suffice. Baur, Eichhorn, and others have urged that either the Λόγος and Πνεῦμα are identical, and that that which John means (verses 1-14) by the Logos he afterwards resolves into the pneuma, or that this scene and these words are incompatible with the prologue. It is true that Philo and Justin ('Apol.,' John 1:33) do use the two terms as practically identical. But John has recorded our Lord's own words as to the antithesis of the πνεῦμα and σάρξ (John 3:1-36.), declaring in his prologue that the Logos is the Source of all the life and light of men, and that the Logos came into the world and became flesh. Now, if John did not abide firmly in this thought, he would have represented incarnate God as undergoing the process of regeneration at his baptism, than which nothing would be more abhorrent to his entire theory of the Christ. The relations of the Logos and the Pneuma to each other and to the Father, metaphysically considered, are profoundly intricate, but the relations of Father, Word, and Holy Spirit to the Person of the Lord Jesus have been several times asserted by the apostles, and cannot be interchanged
I for my part have seen and have borne testimony that this is the Son of God. The Old Testament standpoint which John occupied enabled him from the first to identify the Messiah with the "Son of God;" but surely this is the record of the first occasion when the Baptist recognized the token that One who sustained such relation with the Father stood before him. There is much in this Gospel and the synoptic narrative to show that the disciples (Matthew 16:16, Matthew 16:17) identified the Christ with the Son of God. The tempter and the demoniacs are familiar with the idea. The high priest at the trial and the Roman centurion, Nathanael (John 1:49), Martha (John 11:27), hail him as Son of God. Though the Lord for the most part preferred to speak of himself as "Son of man," yet in this Gospel (John 5:19-23; John 6:40; John 10:36) he frequently claims this lofty designation, Nor is it confined to this Gospel, for in Matthew 11:25-27, we have practically the same confession. Now, the declaration of this verse is in intimate connection with what precedes. Neither the Baptist nor the evangelist implies that, by Christ's baptism, and by that which John saw of the descent and abiding of the Spirit upon the Lord, he was there and then constituted "the Son of God." From this misapprehension of the Gospel arose the Gnostic-Ebionite view of the heavenly Soter descending on Christ, to depart from him at the Crucifixion. The main significance of the entire paragraph is the special revelation given to John, his consequent illumination and momentous testimony, one that sank into the soul of his most susceptible disciples, and thus made this declaration the "true birth hour of Christendom" (Ewald, Meyer). The narrative does not imply that Christ's own consciousness of Divine sonship then commenced. He knew who he was when he spoke, at twelve years of age, of "the business of my Father;" but it would be equally inadequate exegesis to suppose that no communication was titan made to the sacred humanity which had been fashioned by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin, and by which he became from the first "the Son of God." The Lord's humanity did become alive to the solemn and awful responsibilities of this public recognition. He knew that the hour was come for his Messianic activity, and the distinct admission of this was the basis of each of the diabolic temptations from which he immediately suffered. There was a unique glory in this sonship which differed from all other usage of the same phrase. Many an Oriental mystic and Egyptian pharaoh and even Roman emperor had thus described themselves; but the Baptist did not speak of himself in this or any other sense as "Son of God." There was flashed into his mind the light of a Divine relationship between Jesus and the Father which convinced him of the preexisting life of him who was chronologically coming after him. It was probably this momentous utterance which led to the deputation of the Sanhedrin, and induced them to ask for the explanation of a mystery transcending all that John had stud from the day of his showing unto Israel" (see my 'John the Baptist,' lect. 6. § 1). Many commentators here encounter the unquestionable difficulty of John the Baptist's message from the prison. I prefer to discuss it at the close of John 3:1-36. (see my 'John the Baptist,' lect. 7: "The Ministry of the Prison"). Here it is sufficient to observe that the vivid intuition and revelation which John obtained touching the deep things of God in Christ, and the vast and far-reaching testimonies which he bore to the Son of God, to the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost, the pre-existent glory of him that came after him, and to "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world," were, nevertheless, in the evangelist's mind historically coincident with the fact that John never did unite himself to the circle of Christ's immediate followers. The "John" of the Fourth Gospel remained in an independent position—friendly, rejoicing in the Bridegroom's voice, but not one of his followers. The preparatory work with which he began his ministry he continued and pursued to the tragic end.
3. The first disciples, and their testimony.
(1) John directs his own disciples to Jesus.
On the morrow, again John was standing, and two from his disciples; implying that there were many others within hearing of his voice, or, at least, under his influence. The imperfect tense of the verb εἱστήκει suggests the idea that he was waiting for some fresh announcement, some providential event, to determine his course. The "again" refers back to verse 29. Much must be read between the lines as to these disciples, their excited interest in the words already uttered by their master.
And steadfastly regarding—with eager and penetrating glance, as though something might be learned from his slightest movements—Jesus as he walked; "walked," not towards John, as on the previous day, But in some opposite direction. This implies that theft relative functions were not identical, and not to be confounded. This is the last time when the Baptist and the Christ were together, and the sublime meekness of John, and his surrender of all primary claims to deference, throw light on the unspeakable and gentle dignity of Jesus. He saith, Behold the Lamb of God. The simple phrase, without further exposition, implies that he was recalling to their minds the mighty appellation which he had bestowed upon the Saviour on the previous day, with all the additional interpretation of the term with which it had then been accompanied. The brevity of the cry here marks the emphasis which it bore, and the rich associations it already conveyed. The testimony to the method by which John had, at least in part, arrived at the conclusion is very remarkable. Jesus would not have fulfilled in John's mind the prophetic oracle of the Divine Lamb, or the sacrificial offering for the sin of the world, if steps had not been taken to convince John that he was the veritable Son of God. No mere human nature, but only that humanity which was an incarnation of the Eternal Logos, and filled with the abiding of the Holy Spirit, could be God's Lamb. Cf. here the remarkable fact that it was when the disciples had learned more clearly and grasped more firmly the idea of his Divine sonship that the Lord repeatedly proceeded to explain to them the approach of his sacrificial sufferings and death. As Son of God, he must die for man (Matthew 16:21; Luke 9:22, Luke 9:43, Luke 9:44; John 16:29-32).
And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed—became followers of—Jesus. This event, if not profoundly symbolic (as Godet says), is typical of the whole process which has gone on in augmenting rapidity from that day to this. If Jesus were what John said, if they were able on his showing to grasp this much concerning the Lord, they would find in him what John could never be to them. John might awaken the sense of sin, peril, shame, and fear; he had no power to allay it. The lonely Christ has as yet not called one disciple into his fellowship, but as Lamb of God he has power to draw all men to himself. The word now spoken was enough. It divided the bond which up to this time had united the disciples to John, and made them conspicuous forever in the group which "follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." "Primae origines ecclcsiae Christianae" (Bengel).
Then Jesus turned—hearing their footfall, he welcomed their sincere approach, attentive as he ever was to the faintest indication of genuine faith and desire for his best gifts—and beheld them following, and he saith to them, What seek ye? The first words of Jesus, as recorded in this Gospel, reveal the incarnate Logos, anointed of the Holy Spirit, beginning to search the heart and anticipate the unuttered questions of humanity. He assumes their desire for that which he alone can supply. They, on seeing their Christ, the Son of God, all humanly before them, do not fall at his feet, but approach him as a human teacher, and give him the ordinary honorific title of a wise, competent instructor. They said unto him, Rabbi (which is, being interpreted, Teacher). The parenthetic clause reveals the fact that the Gospel was written for Gentile readers. The title "Rabbi" was a modem one, only dating from the days of Hillel, about B.C. 30, and therefore needing interpretation. Where abidest thou? Renan founds on this phrase "Rabbi" the supposition that, when John and Jesus meet, they are both surrounded by groups of followers. The narrative is written to convey a precisely opposite conception. Christ did not refuse this "courtesy title" (Matthew 23:1-39. Matthew 23:8; John 13:13), and we can gather nothing else from the narrative. The question itself reveals the mind of the evangelist. In the opinion of all writers (favourable and hostile), the writer, according to a deliberate method adopted by him, wished to imply that he was one of the two disciples who first left the Baptist to attach themselves to Jesus. The very form of the question adds to the probability. It is a characteristic longing of the disciple, whom Jesus loved so well, to be near and with his Master. He craved no laconic phrase, no solitary word, but some more prolonged fellowship, some undisturbed communion and instruction. The varied emotions of that day, moreover, were conspicuously reproduced in the solemn title which the son of Zebedee most persistently applied to his glorified Lord in the Apocalypse. More than thirty times he refers to him as "the Lamb."
He saith to them, Come, and ye shall see. £ "A parable of the message of faith" (Westcott). Some have compared the expression with ἔρου καὶ βλέπε, thrice repeated (T.R.) in Revelation 6:1-17.; but it is unnecessary to do so. Faith precedes revelation as well as follows it. They came, and saw where he was abiding. We cannot say where; it may have been some cave in the rocks, some humble shelter amid the hills, some chamber in a caravanserai; for he had not where to lay his head. He called no place his home. And they abode with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. The extreme difficulty of reconciling John's statement as to the time of the Crucifixion with that of Mark (see note on John 19:14) has led very able critics, like Townson, McLellan, Westcott, to argue that all John's notices of time are compatible with his having adopted the Roman method of measuring, i.e. from midnight to noon, and from noon to midnight. On that hypothesis the "tenth hour" would be ten a.m., and the two disciples would have remained with our Lord throughout the day. This is not necessarily involved by our present context, and we are not sure that a like supposition will free us from all difficulty in John 19:14. Meyer says that "the Jewish reckoning is involved necessarily in John 11:9; and in John 4:6, John 4:52 it is not excluded." The ordinary New Testament measurement would make the hour four p.m., and on that understanding several hours might still be open for the sacred fellowship. The personal witness shows himself by this delicate hint of exact time, this special note of remembrance concerning the most critical epoch of his life.
(2) The naming and convictions of the disciples.
One of the two who heard from John that Jesus was the Son of God and the Lamb of God, and who, on that astounding intelligence, and at their teacher's own suggestion, followed (became henceforth followers of, ἀκόλουθοι) him, was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter (notice a similar construction at John 6:45, where a clause commences with the copula). The other disciple, with the studied reticence ever preserved about his own designation, is left unnamed by the writer. "Simon Peter" is here spoken of as the better-known man. The bestowment of this designation on Andrew shows that the Gospel was written when Peter's greater name was widely recognized, and the reference is made without the faintest touch of depreciation. Simon Peter's reputation gives force and importance to the record of Andrew's faith. The evangelist's intimate friend Andrew is thus lifted out of his comparative obscurity among the apostolate, not by his association with John, but by his relationship with Simon.
(a) The Messiah. He (Andrew) first £ findeth his own brother Simon. Dr. Plummer here observes, "In Church history St. Peter is everything, and St. Andrew nothing: but would there have been an Apostle Peter but for Andrew?" Hengstenberg, De Wette, and others have explained the curious word "first," as though both the unnamed disciple and Andrew had gone together to search out Simon, and that Andrew had been the first of the two to be successful. This would leave the ἴδιον less satisfactorily accounted for than the simple supposition that each of the disciples started in different directions to find "his own" brother, and that Andrew was more fortunate than his companion. The two pairs of brothers are frequently mentioned as being together. James and John, Andrew and Simon, are partners on the lake of Galilee in their fishing business, and are finally called into full discipleship and apostolate after the visit to Jerusalem. The four are specially mentioned as being together (Mark 13:3), so that it is not unreasonable to suggest that when Andrew first sought "his own" brother Simon, John also sought for "his own" brother James. It is worthy of note that the evangelist never mentions his own name, nor that of James, nor that of their mother Salome, although he does imply their presence. Andrew saith to him (Simon), We have found the Messias—the article is omitted, as Χριστός is merely the translation of" Messiah"—(which, adds the evangelist, is, being interpreted, Christ). Andrew is described on two additional occasions as bringing others to Jesus (John 6:8; John 12:22). Here the rapidity and depth of his convictions are noted. The writer's own impression is implied rather than given. He hides his own faith under the bolder and more explicit utterance of his friend. This was the result upon the mind of two disciples of the first conference with Jesus. Marvellous enough that such a thought should have possessed them, however imperfect their ideas were as yet concerning the Christ! The εὑρήκαμεν implies that they had long been waiting for the Consolation of Israel, looking for his coming, seeking his appearing. "We have sought," they say, "and we have found." A more wonderful Εὔρηκα than that of Archimedes. The plural does not necessitate the presence of John, though it does suggest the agreement of Andrew and his friend in the same august conclusion. What sense of Divine things must have come from the words and looks of Jesus! He who produced such impression on the Baptist as that which the four evangelists report, had done even more with the susceptible spirits of his two disciples. The Baptist never actually called Jesus "the Christ." But when he had testified to the pre-existing glory, the heavenly origin, the sublime functions of the great ἐρχόμενος, and by special revelation on his forewarned spirit had declared that he was the Son of God, the Lamb of God, and the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost and fire: what must not the inference be when his two disciples came into yet closer and more intimate relations with Jesus? The Jewish idea of "Messiah" (Μεσσίας, only occurring here and John 4:25), equivalent to אחָישִׁםְ, Aramaized form, the stat. emphat, of חַישִׁםְ (Hebrew חַישִׁםָ); cf. Ἰεσσαί for ישַׁיִ, was the term used among all classes to denote One who should, as anointed by God, fulfil the functions of Prophet, Priest and King, who should realize the splendid visions of the ancient prophecies, and combine in himself a wonderful exhibition of Divine majesty and even of awful suffering. We see that the Baptist understood what was meant by the title, but denied its applicability to himself. The Samaritans believe in a coming Prophet and Saviour (John 4:25, John 4:29). The people believe that Messiah will work miracles, that he will be born in Bethlehem, that he will abide forever, that he would prove to be the Son of God. The King Messiah is a pre-existing power and presence in their past history. He will come in the clouds, and reign forever and ever (see John 7:26, John 7:31 and John 7:42; John 12:34). According to Wiinsche, the Talmud ('Pesachim,' 54, and 'Nedavim,' 39) declares that Messias, or his Name, was one of the seven things created before the world; and Midrasch ('Schemoth,' par. 19) on Exodus 4:22 declares that the King Messias was the Firstborn of God. The more spiritual ideas of John the Baptist have prepared the two disciples to see, even in the travel-stained, lowly Man, "the Messiah." Of course, their idea of Messiah and their idea of Jesus would suffer wonderful development, and be harmonized and blended into a sublime unity by later instructions; but they had made this great discovery, and hastened to impart it.
He £ brought (the past tense) him to Jesus; as one entirely sympathetic and as eagerly longing for the Christ, for the Lamb of God, for the King of Israel. Seeing that Simon was found so soon—most probably on the evening of the memorable day—we gather that Simon also must have been among the hearers of John. He too must have left his fishing to listen to the Baptist. The entire group must have been drawn away from their ordinary avocations by the trumpet call of the preacher in the wilderness. Jesus looked—intently, with penetrating glance—upon him, and said, Thou art Simon, the Son of John £—that is the name by which thou hast been introduced to me; a time is coming for thee to receive a new name—Thou shalt be called Cephas £ (which is interpreted, Peter). It is perfectly gratuitous of Baur and Hilgenfeld to imagine this to be a fictitious adaptation of the great scene recorded in Matthew 16:1-28. The solemn assertions made there proceed upon the assumption of the previous conference of the name "Peter." There the Lord said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock," etc. On this earlier occasion Jesus said, "Thou art Simon, thou shalt be called Κηφᾶς." The assumption of the Tubingen critics, that a desire to lower Peter from his primacy is conspicuous in this passage, cannot be sustained. Though Andrew and John precede Peter in their earliest relations with Jesus, yet Peter is undoubtedly the most conspicuous character, to whom the Lord from the first gives an honourable cognomen (cf. also John 6:67-69 and John 21:15, etc.). (Compare here, for historic changes of name, Genesis 17:5; Genesis 32:28.) Weiss ('Life of Christ,' Eng. trans., 1:370) says admirably, "There is no ground for assuming that this is an anticipation of Matthew 16:18. Simon was not to bear this name until he was deserving of it. Jesus never called him anything but Simon (Mark 14:37; Matthew 17:25; Luke 22:31; John 21:15-17). Paul calls him by the names Peter and Cephas …The evangelist is right when he beholds in this scene a more than human acumen. .. The history shows he was not deceived in Peter." This narrative cannot be a Johannine setting forth of the first call of the four disciples as given in the synoptists. If it be, it is a fictitious modification. Place, occasion, and immediate result are all profoundly different. The one narrative cannot be twisted into the ether. Are the anti-harmonists correct in saying that they are irreconcilable? Certainly not. There is no indication that before John was cast into prison, before Jesus commenced his public ministry in Galilee, he had called disciples away from their ordinary duties to be his apostles. Some of these four may have returned, as Jesus himself did, to his family and domestic surroundings (John 2:12). John may have accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem and through Samaria. But there is much to make it probable that Simon, Andrew, and at least, were, during the whole of that period, on the lake pondering the future. Christ's solemn, sudden call to them to become "fishers of men," after a manifestation to them of his supernatural powers, presupposes rather than excludes this earlier interview. Simon, on that occasion, by the exclamation recorded (Luke 5:5), reveals an earlier acquaintance with and reverence for his ἐπιστάτης (see an admirable vindication of this position in Weiss, 'Life of Jesus,' vol. 1.). The Lord, in this first interview, penetrates and denominates the character of the most illustrious of his followers. His rocklike fortitude, which, though sorely assailed and chafed by the storms of the great sea of opinion and prejudice, formed the central nucleus of that Church against which the gates of hell have not prevailed. Our Lord implied the strength of his nature, even when he predicted his great fall (Luke 22:32).
John 1:43, John 1:44
On the morrow—i.e. on the fourth day after the deputation from the Sanhedrin—he willed—or was minded—to go forth into Galilee, to commence his homeward journey. Whether this implies an actual beginning of his route, or suggests, before any step was taken in that direction, that the following incidents occurred, cannot be determined, though commentators take opposite sides, as though something important depended upon it. The former supposition is, however, in keeping with the considerable distance, on any hypothesis of the site of Bethany, between it and Cana. And he (the Lord himself "finds;" the two earliest disciples had sought and found him) findeth Philip; very probably on the route from the scene of John's baptism to the Bethsaida on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee. And Jesus saith to him, Follow me; become one of my ἀκόλουθοι. The arguments, the reasons, which weighed with him are not given at first, but we find that he soon learned the same great lesson as that which the other disciples had acquired, and he clothes them in memorable words. Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. This is a remark of the evangelist, who did not consider it necessary to say from what city or neighbourhood he had himself issued. This town has utterly perished (Matthew 11:20), although some travellers (Robinson, 3:359; Wilson and Warren) believe that indications were found north of Khan Minyeh, and others have identified it with Tell-Hum. Some writers ('Picturesque Palestine,' vol. 2:74, 81, etc.) discover it in Ain et Tabighah, where some remains of a fountain reservoir and other buildings are found. It was identified by Thomson with Abu-Zany, on the west of the entrance of Jordan into the lake. The two pairs of brothers must have been familiar with Philip. Some interesting hints of character are attainable from John 6:5, in which an incident occurs where Philip revealed a practical wisdom and confident purpose, and again in John 12:21, John 12:22, where Andrew and Philip are made the confidants of the Greeks, and Philip is the one who seems able and willing to introduce them to Jesus. In John 14:8 Philip uttered one of the great longings of the human heart—a passionate desire to solve all mysteries, by the vision of the Father; but he lets out the fact that be had not seen all that he might have seen and known in Jesus himself. Subsequent history shows that Philip was one of the "great lights of Asia," and was held in the highest esteem (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' 3:31). He must not be confounded with Philip the evangelist, whose daughters prophesied (Acts 8:1-40.; Acts 21:8).
Further convictions of the disciples. (b) The theme of the Old Testament. Philip findeth Nathanael. He has no sooner accepted the Lord who found him, than he is eager to communicate the Divine secret to others. It seems widely accepted, though without any positive proof, that this Nathanael was identical with the Bartholomew (Bar Tolmai, son of Ptolemy) of the four lists of apostles, on the following grounds:
(1) In John 21:2 Nathanael once more appears among the innermost circle of the apostles, and is moreover mentioned there in company with Thomas. In the synoptic Gospels Bartholomew is associated also with Philip, although in Acts, Luke ranks him with Matthew.
(2) It is probable that Nathanael was one of the twelve, and, this being so, it is more probable that he should have been identical with Bartholomew than with any other, he is distinguished from Thomas and the two sons of Zebedee in John 21:2, and the whole circumstance of his call suggests no resemblance to that of Matthew.
(3) His well known name is only that of a patronymic, and suggests the existence of another and a personal name. This identification cannot be proved, but there is no other that is more probable. Nathanael (לאֵגְתַןִ), as a name in Hebrew, is identical with Theodorus, "God is giver" (Num 1:8; 1 Chronicles 2:14; see also 1 Esdras 1:9; 9:22). Thoma endeavours to identify Nathanael with Matthew, and to institute a series of ingenious comparisons between the synoptic "Matthew and Zacchaeus" and this Israelite without guile, and to compare the marriage feast at Nathanael's "Cana" with the feast in Matthew's, or Levi's, house. The subtle fancy and dramatic moral which he attributes to every clause of the narrative render the authorship a greater puzzle than ever. Philip saith unto him, We have found—we, the group of friends already illumined with the sublime hope—him of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets, wrote. This reveals the characteristics of the conversation which had passed between the Lord and the favoured three. It corresponds with what occurred on the way to Emmaus. The Lord rested upon the germinant ideas, and prophetic hopes, suggestive types, and positive predictions of the Old Testament, and met, while he refined and elevated, the current expectations of his time. There was to be no break with the old covenant, except by fulfilling it, establishing its reality and its vast place in the revelation of the supreme will of God. The question naturally arises, "Well, but who is he? what is his name? whither has he come? whence does he hail?" The continuation of the sentence is obviously not in apposition with the ὃν ἔγραψεν, but the direct object of εὑρήκαμεν. We have found Jesus the£ Son of Joseph of Nazareth. This is the simple utterance of a matter of fact—a current piece of intelligence now circulating in the group of the earliest disciples. The idea of his being Joseph's Son was widely diffused; the fact that the Lord spent the first thirty years of his human life in Nazareth, was a commonplace of the synoptic story. The argument of the Tubingen and Straussian criticism, that the fourth evangelist was ignorant of Christ's Birth from above, is contradicted by the prologue, with all the assertions of the Lord's pre-existence, and especially by verse 14 with John 3:6, and John 3:13. That he was ignorant of the birth in Bethlehem, with the numberless proofs of his knowledge of Matthew's and Luke's Gospels, is absurd. The language put into Philip's lips does not exhaust the knowledge of the evangelist on this subject (cf. John 7:42).
(c) The Son of God and King of Israel.
And Nathanael said to him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? The ordinary interpretations of the meaning of this question are not satisfactory.
(1) The prejudice against Nazareth as being a Galilean town cannot have weighed with Nathanael of Cane in Galilee (John 21:2), even though he may have shared the ignorant opinion that "out of Galilee ariseth no prophet" (John 7:52). He might have known that Jonah, Hosea, Nahum, probably Elijah, Elisha, and Amos, were Galileans.
(2) That Nazareth was a secluded and contemptible village seems disproved by the interesting papers of Dr. Selah Merrill, on "Galilee in the Time of our Lord," Amer. Bibl. Sacra., January and April, 1874.
(3) That the character of its people should have been jealous, turbulent, capricious, and led to our Lord's subsequent preference for Capernaum, does not explain the force of the inquiry. The "good thing" may, however, be the contrast between the unimportance of the place in the political or religious history of the people, as compared with Jerusalem, Tiberias, Jericho, Bethlehem. It is never mentioned in the Old Testament or in Josephus. Nathanael may have known its mediocrity, and have been startled by the possibility of a carpenter's son, in a spot utterly undistinguished, being the Messiah of whom their sacred writers spoke. "Despised Nazareth" is a phrase rather due to the splendour of the flower that grew upon its barren soil, and became contrasted afterwards with the unlooked for glory and claims of the Nazarene. Philip saith unto him, Come and see. This was his strongest argument. To look upon him is to believe. He had much more to learn in after days (John 14:8, John 14:9). At this moment he and Nathanael stood on ground consecrated by ancient history, and thrilling with the thunder peals of the Baptist, mazed and wistful from much longing, thinking of the union between heaven and earth which had been revealed in the experience of ancient prophets, dwelling on the careers of Israel, Moses, and Elijah in their rapt transports, musing under fig trees or the like, and longing for the great King. He may naturally have reasoned on this wise: "Can it be true that the Christ, the King of Israel, the Lord of the temple, the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost, is indistinguishable from the rest of mankind in this very crowd? Would that I too might see in him, as John has done, some vision of the opened heaven, that I too might hear some unmistakable voice!" If these were the musings of Nathanael—and surely there is not a trace of unreason in such meditations in the breast of a disciple of the Baptist—the conversation which follows is more easy to understand.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him—for Nathanael at once obeyed the summons of Philip—and saith of him; not, to him—saith in the hearing of the unnamed disciple, who could not leave his Master's side. There are numerous indications in John 1:1-51 and John 2:1-25 of a qualification of Jesus which, in John 2:25, is described as knowing what was in man. He read the thought and character of Simon and Philip, of Nathanael, and of his mother; and here he makes use of his Divine prerogative and, as on a multitude of other occasions, penetrated the surface to the inner motive and heart. Behold, an Israelite indeed; one who fulfils the true idea of Israel, a prince with God, a conqueror of God by prayer, and conqueror of man by submission, penitence, and restitution; one who has renounced the spirit of supplanter and taken that of penitent. "Confident in self-despair," he has relinquished his own strength, and lays hold of the strength of God, and is at peace. In whom is no guile; i.e. no self-deception, and no disposition to deceive others. The (Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2) description of the blessedness of "the man whose transgressions are forgiven,… and in whose spirit [LXX., 'mouth'] there is no guile (δόλος)," is the finest key to the significance of this passage. Christ does not say that this man is sinless, but guileless—free and full in his confession, knowing himself, and sheltering himself under no devices or seeming shows. The publican (it has been well said) was without guile when he cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" The Pharisee was steeped in self-deception and guile when he said, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men." Sincerity, openness of eye, simplicity of speech, no wish to appear other than what he is before God and man, affirms his guilelessness. Alas! the so called Israelite has widely departed from the fundamental idea of such a character, though not more so than Christians have become unlike the ideal disciples of Jesus.
Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Without any title of respect, or admission as yet of any claims or right in him of whom Philip had spoken. There is, in this query, an abruptness of blunt sincerity which to some extent justifies the eulogium upon his innermost life. Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee—irrespective altogether of the excitement he has stirred within thee—when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. "The fig tree" was the type of the Israelite home (1 Kings 4:25; Zechariah 3:10). There, not in the corners of the street, was he accustomed to meditate and pray. The ὄντα clause is in apposition with σε, and (though another translation is grammatical) suggests that Christ saw him under conditions which had nothing whatever to do with those under which Philip called him. Εἰδόν is used for the most part of simple sight, and need not necessarily connote miraculous penetration and recognition of all that was passing in his mind. And yet the obvious intention of the evangelist is to convey more than casual observation. As Weiss says, "What is mentioned is not one isolated glance into the depths of the soul, but past events, along with their outward circumstances, are known to Jesus." "I saw thee"—I have not been ignorant of thee; I watched and thought of thee. The astonishing effect produced by this saying of the Lord has been variously conceived. Some have surmised preternatural optical powers exercised from a distance; others a simple observation without comment at the time when our Lord watched him in one of the places of retirement sacred to solemn meditations and instructions. It seems to me that the occasion to which our Lord referred must have been one of extreme spiritual interest and memorableness to Nathanael; some hour had passed of commanding influence upon his mind—one of those periods of visitation from the living God, when lives are recommenced, when an old world passes away and a new one has been made, of which the lips have never spoken, and which are among the deepest secrets of the soul It was the conviction that his secret meditation had been surprised, that the unknown Stranger had fathomed the depth of his consciousness, which wrought and wrung the great confession of which we have here a crisp outline. I saw thee; and by this implication I can sympathize in all thy longings, [It is interesting to remember that Rabbi Akiba is described as studying the Law under a fig tree; and Augustine heard the voice which ruled his subsequent life "under a fig tree" ('Conf.,' John 8:12, John 8:28); and Buddha's most wonderful convictions and resolves occurred under the bo tree.]
Nathanael was overcome by irresistible conviction that here was the Searcher of hearts, One gifted with strange powers of sympathy, and with right to claim obedience. Answered him £—now for the first time with the title of Rabbi, or teacher—Thou art the Son of God. Nothing is more obvious than that this is the reflection of the testimony of the Baptist. "The Son of God," not "a Son of God," or "a Man of God," but the Personage whose rank and glory my master John had recognized. He may have doubted before whether the Baptist had not gone wild with hallucination, and could have meant what he said. Now the reality has flashed upon his mind from the glance of the Saviour's eye and the tones of his voice (see notes on verse 34). The great term could not have meant to him what it does now to the Church. Still the truth involved in his words is of priceless significance. Luthardt says, "Nathanael's faith will never possess more than it embraces at this moment." Godet adds, "The gold seeker puts his hand on an ingot; when he has coined it, he has it better, but not more." The idea of the Divine sonship comes from the Old Testament prophecy, has its root in Psalms 2:1-12 and Psalms 72:1-20, and in all the strange wonderful literature which recognized in the ideal King upon Zion and upon David's throne One who forevermore has stood and will stand in personal relations with the Father. The Divine sonship is the basis on which Nathanael rears his further faith that he is the King of Israel. He is Messiah-King, because he is "Son of God." The true Israelite recognizes his King (cf. Luke 1:32; Matthew 2:2; John 12:13). We are not bound to believe that Nathanael saw all that Peter subsequently confessed to be the unanimous conviction of the twelve (John 6:69; Matthew 16:16); but the various symphonies of this great confession encompass the Lord from his cradle to the cross. The synoptic narrative is as expressive and convincing as the Johannine.
John 1:50, John 1:51
(d) The Son of man, the link between heaven and earth.
Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said unto thee, that I saw thee underneath the fig tree, thou believest. There is no need to transform this into a question, as though Jesus smiled a gentle reproof upon the rapidity with which Nathanael espoused his cause (cf. John 16:31; John 20:29). The Lord, on the contrary, congratulates him upon the sincerity with which he had at once admitted claims which had never been more explicitly expressed. Thou hast believed because I have made thee feel that I have sounded the depths of thy heart, by means which pass understanding. There are profounder abysses than the human heart. There are powers at my disposal calculated to create a more tender and inspiring faith, one which shall carry thee into other worlds as well as through this. Thou shalt see greater things than these. There shall be vouchsafed a fuller, clearer revelation of what I am, which shall pour new and deeper meaning into the confession thou hast made. Hitherto the Lord was speaking to the one man; but now he says what would be applicable, not only to Nathanael, but to all who had found him, and accepted that outline of his functions and claims which had formed the substance of the latest teaching of John the Baptist.
And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you. The reduplicated Ἀμὴν occurs twenty-five times in John's Gospel, and is in this form peculiar to the Gospel, although in its single form it occurs fifty times in the three synoptists. The word is, strictly speaking, an adjective, meaning "firm," "trustworthy," corresponding with the substantive נםֶ), truth, and הנָמְאָ and הנָמָאֲ, confidence, the covenant (Nehemiah 10:1). The repetition of the word in an adverbial sense is found in Numbers 5:22 and Nehemiah 8:6. In Revelation 3:14 "Amen" is the name given to the Faithful Witness. The repetition of the word involves a powerful asseveration, made to overcome a rising doubt and meet a possible objection. The "I say unto you" takes, on the lips of Jesus, the place which "Thus saith the Lord" occupied on those of the ancient prophets. He speaks in the fulness of conscious authority, with the certain knowledge that he is therein making Divine revelation. He knows that he saith true; his word is truth. Verily, verily, I say unto you, [From £ henceforth] ye shall see the heaven that has been opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. Notwithstanding the formidable superficial difficulty in the common reading, which declares that from the moment when the Lord spake, Nathanael should see what there is no other record that he ever literally saw; yet a deeper pondering of the passage shows the sublime spiritual sense in which those disciples who fully realized that they had been brought into blessed relationship with the "Son of man," saw also—that heaven, the abode of blessedness and righteousness, the throne of God, had been opened behind him and around him. The dream of Jacob is manifestly referred to—the union between heaven and earth, between God and man, which dawned like a vision of a better time upon the old patriarchal life. That which was the dream of a troubled night may now be the constant experience of the disciples of the Lord. The ascension of the angelic ministers is here said to precede their descent. This is due to the original form of the dream of Jacob, but must be supplemented by the Lord's own statement (John 3:13), "No one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven." The free access to the heart of the Father, and to the centre of all authority in heaven and earth, is due only to those who have come already thence, who belong to him, "who go and return as the appearance of a flash of lightning." They ascend with the desires of the Son of man; they descend with all the faculty needed for the fulfilment of those desires. He, "the Son of man," is now on earth to commence his ministry of reconciliation, and is thus now equipped with all the powers needed for its realization. The same truth is taught by our Lord, when he said (cf. notes on John 3:13) that "the Son of man is in heaven," even when he walked the earth. The angelic ministry attendant upon our Lord is so inconspicuous that it does not fulfil the notable description of this verse, nor fill out its suggestions. The miraculous energies, the Divine revelations, the consummate heavenliness of his life, the power which his personality supplied to see and believe in heaven—in heaven opened, heaven near, heaven accessible, heaven propitious, heaven lavish of love—answers to the meaning of the mighty words. Thoma ('Die Genesis des Johannes-Evan.') sees the Johannine interpretation of the angels who ministered to Jesus after the conclusion of his temptation. But why does he call himself "the Son of man," in sharp response to, or in comment, on, the ascription by John the Baptist and Nathanael of the greater title "Son of God"?
(1) The phrase is one that our Lord currently used for himself, as especially descriptive of his position. It has been said that its origin must be looked for in the prophecies of Daniel (Daniel 7:13), where angelic powers are seen in loving lowly attendance on "one like to the Son of man," one whose human-hearted force contrasts with the "beast forces," the uncouth, sphynx-like blending of animal faculties which characterizes all the kingdoms and dynasties which the empire of the one like the Son of man would supersede. The term, "Son of man," is used repeatedly by Ezekiel for humanity set over against the Divine voice and power. There it corresponds with the Aramaic "Bar-Enosh," Son of man—a simple paraphrasis for "man" in his weakness, and often in his depression and sin. The 'Book of Henoch,' in numerous places, identifies "Son of man" with the Messiah (Ezekiel 46:1-24. and 48.), but it cannot be clearly proved that the term was popularly current for the Messiah. Christ seems, in one place, to discriminate the two terms in popular expectation (Matthew 16:13, Matthew 16:16); and in Matthew 8:20 he discriminates his earthly ministry as that of Son of man, from the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, though the dispensation of his human life, and of his eternal Spirit, constitute that of the erie Christ.
(2) Another very remarkable fact is that, though Jesus calls himself "the Son of man" no fewer than seventy times, the apostles never attribute the favourite expression to him. The only instances of its use by other than the Lord himself, is by the dying Stephen, who thus describes his power and exalted majesty (Acts 7:56), and John in the Apocalypse, who says the vision of the Lord was of one like unto the Son of man—a phrase clearly built upon the passage in Daniel 7:1-28.
(3) The Saviour did not throughout the Gospel of John proclaim himself openly to the people as the Christ, avoiding a term which was so miserably degraded from his own conception of it; but he used a multitude of expressions to denote the spiritual force and significance of the Messianic dignity. Thus he described himself" as he that came down from heaven;" as the "Bread of heaven;" as the "Light of the world;" as "the good Shepherd; … I am he;" "that which I said from the beginning," etc.; and therefore, when he adopted the phrase, "the Son of man," he attributed to it very special powers and dignities. The word seems to involve the Man, the perfect Man, the ideal Man, the second Adam, the supreme Flower engrafted on the barren stock of humanity, the Representative of the whole of humankind. Chronologically, this must have been the primary revelation. Through humanity that was archetypal and perfect, answering God's idea of man, the thought of the race has risen to a conception of Divine sonship. But metaphysically, logically, he could only fulfil the functions of Son of man, of the Man, because he was essentially the Son of God.
(4) The dominant thought of the term has fluctuated between that which connotes his earthly ministry and humiliation, and lays stress on the privations and sufferings of the Son of man, and that which recites his highest claim to reverence and homage. Seeing that he claims to be the link between heaven and earth, Judge of quick and dead, the Head of the kingdom of God, who will come in his glory, with his holy angels, to divide sheep from goats, etc., as Son of man; and seeing that, as Son of man, he gave himself for a ransom, and was as one that serveth, and presented his flesh and blood as the spiritual food of all that live;—the synthetic thought that issues from the twofold survey is that his highest glory is based upon his entire and utter sympathy with man. His humanity is that which gives him all his hold upon our heart; his sacrifice is his title to universal sovereignty. "He humbled himself to the death of the cross, wherefore God also has highly exalted him, giving even to him [humanity included] THE NAME that is above every name." Archdeacon Watkins, in loco, has called attention to the fact that it is not ἀνήρ, but ἄνθρωπος, "man as man, not Jew as holier than Greek, not freeman as nobler than bondman, not man as distinct from woman, but humanity …The ladder from earth to heaven is in the truth, 'The Word was made flesh.' In that great truth heaven was and has remained open." The cries of earth, the answers of heaven, are like angels evermore ascending and descending on the Word-made-flesh. It is perfectly true, though in a different sense than that which Thorns adopts it, that this prehistory (vorgeschichte) is the vorgeschichte of Christendom, as of each soul becoming Christian, the different eventualities which lead from one revelation to another betoken the several stations on the blessed pilgrimage (heilsweg).
John 1:1, John 1:2
Prologue of the Gospel.
The prologue is in harmony with the design of a biographic history which is to set forth Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The Fourth Gospel is thus a distinct advance, dogmatically, upon the other Gospels, for Matthew exhibits him in his Messianic royalty; Mark, as the Son of man and the Servant of God; Luke, as the Son of man and Saviour of the race of man, without distinction of Jew or Gentile. The Apostle John exhibits him in the glorious activity of his Divine nature.
I. THE SUBJECT OF THE PROLOGUE. "The Word." Jesus Christ is the Word as he is the essential Revealer of the Divine Being. "There is in the Divine Essence a principle by which God reveals himself—the Logos; and a principle by which he communicates himself—the Spirit." Christ is "the express Image of the Father's Person" (Hebrews 1:3), just as a word is an image or picture of a thought. But he is also the Interpreter of the Divine will. "The only begotten Son hath declared the Father" (John 1:18), through Creation, through prophets, through the Incarnation. He was called the Word.
1. Not as man; for as man he was not in the beginning with God, neither was he Creator.
2. He was the Word before he was man; for it was as the Word he became flesh (verse 14).
3. He was the Word as he was the Son of God—"the only begotten Son of the Father."
4. Yet he is called here the Word rather than the Son of God, because the Jews were familiar with this name as applied to the Messiah, and, as has been suggested, the apostle would not at first alienate their hearts by the title "Son of God," which was so offensive to the unbelieving Jews (John 10:30, John 10:33).
II. THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF THE WORD.
1. He is an absolute Eternal Being. "In the beginning was the Word."
(1) The beginning carries us back to the initial point of time. As the "beginning" of the Book of Genesis starts from that point, dating Creation from it, the apostle carries us still further back, even beyond "the beginning."
(2) The Word existed in the beginning. The word "was" suggests a continuous state. The Word was therefore in existence before time and before Creation. It was "before all things." It was from all eternity. Jesus spoke of the glory which he had with the Father "before the world was" (John 17:5).
(3) This passage condemns alike the Socinian and the Arian theories; for it asserts, against the first, that Christ had an existence before his birth at Bethlehem; and, against the second, that he existed before the highest angels, who are created beings, for he "was," not "he was created." Basil says, "These two terms, 'beginning' and 'was,' are like two anchors," which the ship of a man's soul may safely ride at, whatever storms of heresy may come. There never, therefore, was a time when Christ was not.
2. He is a distinct Person from God, yet one with him. "And the Word was with God." Coleridge remarks upon the significance of the preposition (πρὸς) as implying that the Word was "with God," not in the sense of coexistence, or local proximity, or communion, but of mysterious relation with God. The preposition implies that the Word was with God, before he revealed God. The distinct personality of the Son is asserted against the error of the Sabellians, who held that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are but three Names of one Person. The "life eternal" was not only "manifested to men," but it was "with the Father" (1 John 1:2). Not with God, as if to emphasize the distinction of Persons in the Godhead; not with men or angels, for they were yet to be created; but with the Father in eternal glory. "It was he," says Pearson, "to whom the Father said, 'Let us make man in our image.'" We have no mental capacity to explain the oneness of essence, any more than the distinctness of Persons, in the Godhead. The apostle does not say that "God was with God," but that the "Word was with God." We therefore receive believingly the words of our Lord himself, "I am in the Father, and the Father in me;" "I and the Father are one;" "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," as different expressions of the same Divine truth.
3. He is God. "And the Word was God." The passage asserts the Divinity of Jesus Christ our Lord in the plainest terms. It places him within the unity of the Godhead. The Son is, therefore, not inferior to the Father. The text refutes the Arians, who say he is a super-angelic Being inferior to God; the Socinians, who say he is only Man; and the Sabellians, who deny any distinction of Persons in the Trinity.
4. The doctrine of the Trinity is a deep mystery, but it is fundamental in Christianity. Therefore the apostle reiterates the eternity, the personality, the oneness of the Word with God. "The same was in the beginning with God." Some person might say there was a time when the Word was not a distinct Person in the Trinity. The statement is made that the same Person, who was eternal and Divine, was from eternity a distinct Person of the Godhead. Well may we say with Bernard, "It is rashness to search too far into it. It is piety to believe it. It is life eternal to know it!"
Jesus Christ in relation to creation.
The apostle next shows the relation between the finite and the infinite, the Divine and the human.
I. THE WORD MADE FLESH. "All things were made by him." Therefore he must be God. "He that built all things is God" (Hebrews 3:4). This creation has a double aspect.
1. He made the worlds, tie made matter.
(1) Therefore it is implied that matter exists. The existence of an external world has always been an article in the creed of men.
(2) It has not existed always, as the Gnostics and so many philosophers say. Its atoms have all the character of "a manufactured article." Science can tell us nothing of the time of its creation.
(3) There is a Person great enough to create matter and form the worlds. He did not share, with angels, in the work of creation; for "without him was not anything made that was made." Neither was the world made by evil spirits, as the Gnostics said.
(4) This is not, there[ore, a fatherless world.
(5) The ultimate fact, therefore, is not force, or any unknown power, hut a Person, wise and mighty, who created all things.
(6) Let Christians rejoice that the worlds are the handiwork of their Elder Brother.
2. He made man, who is the crown of creation; for "in him was life."
II. THE WORD IS THE LIFE OF THE WORLD. "In him was life." The Word is Life in its widest signification—the life of the body, the life of the soul, the life of the spirit. The world (including man), which is represented here as made by him, is also represented as in him as the Source of its continued preservation. "After having been the root of the tree, the Logos was also its sap." "For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). There is a perfect development of existence in virtue of his being our Life.
III. THE RELATION OF THE LIFE TO THE LIGHT. "And the Life was the Light of men."
1. This refers to the period orphan's innocence in Paradise, as the next clause to the fact of his fall.
2. Life developed in the form of light. It is peculiar to no being on earth but man.
(1) The light did not spring directly from the Word, but was an emanation of the life that man received from the Word.
(2) The light is not
(a) intellectual knowledge simply,
(b) nor holiness, but
(c) the light of good through the medium of life.
There was a steady Shining of the light in man's conscience and intellect and heart at his creation.
(3) It was the light of the whole race of man, not that of the Jews only.
(4) May there not be an allusion, in the use of the two terms "life" and "light," to the tree of life and the tree of knowledge in Paradise?
IV. THE CONFLICT BETWEEN LIGHT AND DARKNESS. "And the Light shineth in darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not." This points to the period of the fall of man. Life and light suggest the contrasted ideas of death and darkness.
1. Light and darkness exist side by side in the spiritual world. In the natural world, light expels the darkness, or darkness expels the light. The Light has always been shining, either in nature, providence, or revelation. Christ has never left himself without a witness. The Sun of Righteousness is still shining in darkness. Light is really "come into the world."
2. The darkness neither apprehended nor overcame the light. The light still shines, with an ever-widening border, as the darkness is being chased back. The darkness has not overpowered the light. But it has not any the better understood it or assimilated it. "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
The witness of the Baptist to the true Light.
We now come to the historic manifestation of the Word.
I. THE PERSONALITY OF THE BAPTIST. "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John."
1. He was the offspring of pious parents, and his birth was due to miraculous Divine interference.
2. He was a Nazarite in the ascetic aspect of his life.
3. He was the last prophet of the Old Testament dispensation—the link between the prophets of the old and the apostles of the new dispensations.
4. He was the forerunner of the Messiah, who was to come in the power of Elias, to preach the coming of the kingdom of heaven. He was, in truth, "a man sent from God." His forerunnership ended with the baptism of Jesus, who then appeared visibly on the scene of his ministry. But his testimony only ceased with his life.
5. It was by the Baptist that the author of this Gospel was introduced to Christ (verse 35).
II. THE PURPOSE OF HIS TESTIMONY. "The same came for witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe."
1. The witness bearing was necessary, as the Word was to appear "in the likeness of sinful flesh." Man in his blindness could not well discern him without some testimony.
2. Witness bearing is a fundamental idea in Christianity. It implies faith, and a body of facts to be believed.
3. It marks a distinct place for human instrumentality, even in connection with the conversion of souls.
4. Its design is to lead to belief. "That all men through him might believe;" that is, through John's witness.
(1) "Faith cometh by hearing." As through John's testimony Andrew and John became disciples of Christ, so still through the preaching of ministers are men brought to the Saviour.
(2) The essence of the message is universal. It is no longer restricted in its blessings to Israel (Isaiah 49:6).
(3) The scope of the message is not stated. But there can be but one Object of faith—the Lamb of God, the Bridegroom, the Almighty Saviour.
III. CORRECTION OF A GRAVE MISAPPREHENSION RESPECTING THE BAPTIST. "He was not the Light, but came that he might bear witness of the Light."
1. Some of the Jews probably imagined that John was the Christ.
2. He was, by our Lord's own witness, "a burning and a shining light;" rather, a candle, for Christ is himself the true Fountain of all light—the Light itself.
3. It was a sign of the remarkable humility as well as sincerity of the Baptist's Character, that he himself once and again, not only disclaimed the Messiahship, but confessed his own complete inferiority to Christ. He had no inward struggle on effacing himself. "He must increase; I must decrease."
The true Light in its manifestation.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS LIGHT. "There was the true Light."
1. Christ was the true Light, as opposed to false or imperfect lights. He was the ideal Light, not subject to the vicissitudes of time and space.
2. He was the true Light in opposition to ceremonial types and shadows.
3. He was the true Light in opposition to all light that is borrowed from or communicated from another.
II. THE EXTENT OF THIS LIGHT IN ITS ACTION. "It lighteth every man." "The darkness is past: the true Light now shineth." In a strict sense, all men receive the light of reason, and the consciousness of right and wrong; but, biblically considered Christ shines sufficiently for the salvation of all men, both Jews and Gentiles, so as to leave them without excuse if in their blindness they refuse to see him.
III. ITS PROGRESS. It was ever "coming into the world." In prophecy, type, creed, judgment.
John 1:10, John 1:11
The double rejection of the Light.
I. THE FIRST REJECTION. "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." These words describe the world's unbelief before his incarnation.
1. He was here invisibly, though the world had no eyes to see him. In him "all things live, and move, and have their being." The revelation of himself has been continuous since man was made. The Life has always been the Light of men. He was and has ever been in the world.
2. The world's ignorance is all the more remarkable because "the world was made by him." The world did not see the evidences of boundless skill and beauty all around. It is a precious thought to the believer that the Creator of the world is his Friend. "It is my Father's house. It is my Brother's handiwork."
3. The mystery of the world's ignorance. "The world knew him not." "The world by wisdom knew not God." The Apostle Paul found an altar to the "Unknown God" at Athens. What a satire on man's privileges! This darkest page in the world's history may well sadden us every time we read it.
II. THE SECOND REJECTION. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
1. Israel was the home of our Lord. Its land, its cities, its temple, were all his own property, and were originally granted by himself, Israel was "his inheritance."
2. His people, the Jews, were not left to interpret the light of nature, conscience, and history as they could. Light first broke upon them when it broke upon Abraham, but it was only a preparation for the Incarnation, which is the central fact in the world's history—the pivot on which its history turns.
3. His own people rejected him. They "received him not." This is stronger than the statement that the world did not know him. The Jews were more guilty than the Gentiles in their rejection of the Redeemer, because they were of those "who see, and therefore their sin remaineth" (John 9:41). "The God invoked by the nation appears in his temple, and is Crucified by his own worshippers."
John 1:12, John 1:13
The grace of adoption.
The Jews might boast themselves of being children of Abraham, but Christ gives his disciples the far higher privilege of being sons of God.
I. THE NATURE OF THE RIGHT OR PRIVILEGE ENJOYED BY TRUE BELIEVERS. "As many as received him, to them gave he the right to become the children of God."
1. It is more than creation—sonship. It is more than the relationship of God as a Father to all men as rational and moral creatures; that sonship belongs to all men by virtue of their birth.
2. It is more than the restoration to man of his original relation with God before the Fall.
3. It is a new relation, involving a new filial standing and a new filial character, and has for its blessings freedom of access to God, deep fellowship with him, a sure interest in his fatherly care and discipline, and a well grounded hope of enjoying the inheritance of sons.
4. It originates in the free grace of God; for we are "predestinated to the adoption of sons" (Ephesians 1:5). "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1, 1 John 3:2). We are said to "receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:5).
II. THE CONNECTION OF ADOPTION WITH THE PERSON AND MEDIATION OF JESUS CHRIST. Though the Father adopts (1 John 3:1), it is the Son through whom we become sons of God. In virtue of his Mediatorship he gives the right to it. God predestinates us "to the adoption of sons by Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:6).
III. THE ADOPTION IS EFFECTED BY REGENERATION ON GOD'S SIDE, AND BY FAITH ON MAN'S SIDE. Faith is the first and immediate effect of regeneration. Faith may be mentioned before regeneration, because it is, so to speak, that element which is nearest to man, and that clement by which man has his first point of contact with Christ; but there can be no faith till it be given by God's Spirit in regeneration (Philippians 1:29).
1. Regeneration is necessarily connected with the entrance of sinners into evangelical sonship. "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The Jews might believe that they were sons of God by descent from Abraham, or from human parents in direct descent from the patriarch. The apostle says that believers are born:
(1) "Not of blood." We speak of physical descent by this term, as blood is the seat of natural life.
(2) "Nor of the will of the flesh," as a factor in natural birth.
(3) "Nor of the will of man," as representing a will more independent of nature. All believers know that grace does not run in the blood, like the seeds of health or disease. Every godly parent who has ungodly children has sad knowledge of the fact. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh."
(4) "But of God." He is the true Author of regeneration. We are born of the Spirit. This is the first place in which the new birth is spoken of by name in Scripture. The apostle guards us against errors from different sides by showing what are not the sources of it, as well as what is its sole origin. It has no material origin; it springs not from human impulse or human will.
2. The evangelical sonship is effected on man's part by faith in Christ. "Even to as many as believe in his Name." There are other testimonies to the fact. Believers become "children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26). "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1). There is no sonship to God without living faith in the Son of God.
(1) Consider the nature of faith.
(a) It is not a mere belief of the truth, though this is essentially implied in it.
(b) Nor is it a belief of the fact that "Christ died for me," or any such proposition.
(c) It is trusting in a Person. We believe on Christ for salvation.
(2) Consider the object of faith. "His Name." The name is not merely that by which a person is known; "it is the inmost essence of the being in opposition to external manifestations." The Name is here the Word, that is, the Manifestation of the will and love of God.
The reality of the Incarnation.
The apostle explains the saving effects just recorded by the historic fact that "the Word became flesh."
I. THE NATURE OF THE INCARNATION. "The Word became flesh." The miraculous conception is implied, though not expressed, in these words. It is the last time that John uses the term "Word" about Christ in his Gospel. Henceforth the term is "Jesus," or "the Lord." The word "flesh" denotes human nature—the entire human person.
1. It is not said the Word became "body;" because the proper phrase would have been, "The Word took a body;" and why should Jesus in that case speak of his "soul"? Yet the true doctrine of the Incarnation is that Christ took a human body and a human soul. The word "flesh" is not designed to express his visibility among men, but his entire human nature.
2. It implies that the Word did not become a man like Adam before the Fall; for he was made in "the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3). And "all flesh is grass."
3. It does not imply that the Word took upon him "peccable flesh;" for "he knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
4. It implies that he assumed the human nature common to all Adam's descendants. Not that of any race, class, or family. He was to be Saviour for "all flesh."
5. It implies that he became "flesh" in such a sense that he still retains the same nature. "Our nature is on the throne."
6. It implies that, though he "emptied himself" (Philippians 2:7), he did not cease to be God; for the Word still existed.
7. It implies, in a word, the union of two perfect and distinct natures in one Person. This doctrine is a great mystery. but it must be firmly held
(1) against the Arians, who denied his Divinity;
(2) against the Apollinarians, who held that the Word became only a body, the Divinity supplying the place of a soul;
(3) against the Nestorians, who made the Godhead one Person, and the manhood another person;
(4) against the Eutychians, who held that in the one Person there was mixture of the natures so as to produce a third.
8. Consider the importance of this doctrine. If "the Word became flesh,"
(1) the union of the two natures was designed to give infinite value to Christ's atoning sacrifice;
(2) it gives us a Saviour who cannot but be touched with a feeling of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15);
(3) who can give us a perfect human example of excellence;
(4) who dignifies the human body, and places his disciples under the most awful obligations not to defile or dishonour it.
II. THE HISTORICAL VISIBILITY OF THE INCARNATION. "And dwelt among us." The Word not merely entered human life, but remained in it for a time. The original word signifies "tabernacled," or "dwelt in a tent," implying:
1. The transient nature of his visit to earth.
2. His detached existence among men. Yet his visit lasted for three and thirty years.
III. THE PERSONAL WITNESS TO HIS GLORY. "We beheld his glory." The apostle was among those who beheld it with wondering awe, on the Mount of Transfiguration and at the various scenes of miracle in his life of service and suffering. He beheld it; for he speaks in his First Epistle of having heard and seen and handled the Word of life (1 John 1:1)
IV. THE CHARACTER OF THE INCARNATE WORD.
1. It is that of the Only Begotten of the Father. The "glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father." This expression implies the eternal generation of the Son from the Father; for if the Father was Father from all eternity, the Son must have been Son from all eternity, he spoke of "a glory which he had with the Father before the world was" (John 17:5). There is no inferiority involved in this sonship. There is a necessary defectiveness in all analogies taken from human parentage. Augustine said, "Show me and explain to me an eternal Father, and I will show to you and explain to you an eternal Son."
2. It is the fulness of grace and truth. "Full of grace and truth." This does not signify that his own life was filled, with grace and truth, but that he is the Author of these two blessings, as we may infer from verse 17, where "grace and truth" are said to have come "by Jesus Christ."
(1) Grace is the revelation of God's love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16), and the gospel of Christ is full of grace to lost sinners of mankind,
(2) Truth is the revelation of God's light (1 John 1:5), for Christ made known to us the way of acceptance and salvation.
The testimony of John the Baptist.
I. THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE MESSIAH. "This was he of whom I spake." Thus he was the true forerunner of Christ.
II. THE TRUE POSITION OF THE MESSIAH IN RELATION TO THE BAPTIST. "He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me."
1. There is here a recognition of the pre-existence of Christ, as well as of his higher dignity. (John 3:33.)
2. It is a testimony that bespeaks the sincere humility of the Baptist. Though "amongst them that were born of women there was not a greater than John the Baptist," he took his true place of inferiority at the feet of Jesus. To exalt Christ was his mission. He never thinks of himself.
Christ the Fulness of grace and truth.
We next have the testimony of the entire Church.
I. THE FULNESS OF CHRIST REALIZED IN THE CHURCH. "And of his fulness have all we received, even grace for grace."
1. The fulness of Christ. It is the plenitude of Divine attributes and graces.
(1) It is the fulness of the Godhead indwelling bodily in him (Colossians 2:9).
(2) It is that fulness out of which the Christian draws for the needs of his spiritual life. "Ye are in him filled to the full" (Colossians 2:9). It is the fulness, not of a vessel, but of a fountain. All our spiritual wants are supplied out of Christ by virtue of our union with him. His Spirit conveys the sap of grace through all the branches of the vine from him as its Root.
(3) It finds its ultimate embodiment in the "body of Christ," which is "the fulness of him who filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:23).
2. The wide extent of its reception. "We have all received." There may be an allusion to the Gnostic idea that only a certain spiritual class would be received into this fulness. The fulness of Christ is for all believers of both dispensations. Its blessed universality has nothing in common with the esoteric exclusiveness of Gnostic spiritualism.
3. The measure of the reception, "Even grace for grace."
(1) This does not merely imply the abundance of the supply.
(2) But the principle on which the supply is made. Grace makes way for grace. The power to receive it increases or diminishes according to the use we make of it. Therefore we must not "receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1). "Whosoever hath to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance" (Matthew 13:12). "Under the Law a grace is received in exchange for some desert. But in the new order of things it is a grace received which becomes our title to receive a new grace."
II. THE ESSENTIAL GLORY OF CHRISTIANITY AS DISTINGUISHED FROM JUDAISM. "For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
1. Mark the superiority of the gospel to the Law.
(1) Each is Divine; for the Law given by Moses was God's, as well as the gospel. But
(a) Moses was "a servant," Christ a Son (Hebrews 3:5);
(b) the Law could not justify,—it "worked wrath" (Romans 4:15);
(c) the inferiority of the Law is implied in its useful pedagogic function, for "it was the schoolmaster to lead us to Christ" (Galatians 3:24);
(d) it imposed a heavy yoke of service.
(2) Yet we are not to infer that, under the dispensation of Law, there was no grace or truth for Old Testament saints. They were justified by grace like New Testament saints (Romans 4:1-25.), and their spiritual experience showed, especially in the Psalter, their experience of both grace and truth. But the characteristic spirit of the two dispensations is different. The one had a twilight duskiness, which disappeared before the noonday radiance of the other.
2. Mark the distinguishing glory of the gospel. "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." This is the first mention of this name in the Gospel, and it seems fitly to link together the two dispensations; for Jesus is the name of the humanity, and Christ is the name that marks his relation to the old dispensation.
(1) The treasury of grace is in Christ. Take away Moses from the Law, and yet the Law abides in all its authority; but take away Christ from the gospel, and there is no more grace or truth for man.
(a) He gives the gospel of grace.
(b) His salvation is entirely by grace.
(c) He plants grace in the hearts of men.
(2) The treasury of truth is in Christ.
(a) He is the Truth itself, as he is the Light (verse 4).
(b) The gospel reveals the "truth as it is in Jesus."
(c) He is the fulfilment of all the types of the old dispensation.
III. CHRIST THE ONLY REVEALER OF THE FATHER. "No man hath ever yet seen God; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." The apostle intends here to develop the idea of the fulness of truth as it is in Christ.
1. God is invisible to man in this life. The eye of mortal man could not bear the sight of God. "There shall no man see me and live" (Exodus 33:20).
(1) The theophanies of the Old Testament were those of the Son, not of the Father.
(2) It is a useless question to discuss whether man will ever see God even in heaven. All the allusions to God's invisibility in Scripture apply to man's mortal condition on earth. It is implied that the next life will bring to us the sight of God (1 John 3:2).
2. God is revealed to us by his Son.
(1) As he is "the Brightness of the Father's glory, the express Image of his Person" (Hebrews 1:3). "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." "God was manifest in the flesh."
(2) He is the Revealer of the Father's truth, wisdom, love, holiness, and power. He is, above all, the Revealer of the way of salvation.
(3) He is the Revealer, because he is in the bosom of the Father.
(a) The Son reveals God, not simply as God, but as the Father.
(b) Because he is the only begotten Son of the Father, dwelling in his bosom,
(α) implying oneness of essence,
(β) oneness of counsel,
(γ) oneness of affection.
1. We ought to give due honour to the Son. We cannot think too highly of him.
2. We ought to listen to his words with holy awe, and obey him with all the sincerity of our hearts.
The second testimony of John the Baptist.
A deputation, consisting of the priests and Levites from Jerusalem, the ecclesiastical centre of Judaism, visited the Baptist as he was baptizing disciples at Bethany beyond Jordan, for the purpose of ascertaining whether he was the Messiah or the forerunner, of ancient prophecy. The scene is interesting as the place where the first disciples were made and the foundation of the Christian Church laid. The interview occurred after the baptism and the temptation. We now come to the properly historical part of the Gospel.
I. THE POSITION ASSERTED FOR HIMSELF BY JOHN. It is one which displays his true humility. He is clear, frank, and unambiguous. "He confessed, and denied not." He asserts his position:
(1) "I am not the Christ." Some mistakenly thought he was. "All men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not" (Luke 3:15). The members of the deputation may have known that John was the son of Zacharias, a priest, and therefore a Levite himself, and remembered the incident in the temple; but, as his mother was of the house of David, from whom the Messiah was to spring, they might be led to suspect that John was himself the Messiah. They gave John more honour than Jesus: they esteemed the one for his priestly lineage; the other was only the carpenter's Son. The answer of John is perfectly explicit, he claims honour, not for himself, but for Christ.
(2) He is not Elias. "Art thou Elias?" The question was suggested by Malachi's prophecy concerning "God sending Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord" (Malachi 4:5). The deputies thought, "If this is not the Christ, perhaps he is his forerunner, Elijah." How could he say he was not Elias, when Christ himself says elsewhere, "This is Elias" (Matthew 11:14)? The answer of John is, "I am not the Elias who was personally taken up to heaven, and whose return to earth is expected by you." But John was Elias in the sense of being clothed "with the spirit and power of Elias" (Luke 1:17). Elias was the antitype of John. The typical resemblance between the two is remarkable.
(3) He is not the prophet—neither the prophet spoken of by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 18:18), nor "Jeremiah, or one of the prophets" (Matthew 14:14).
2. Positively. He is a voice—"The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord." He points to Isaiah's prophecy concerning himself. He was but a voice to be heard, not a great personage to receive the homage of men.
II. THE OFFICE OF THE BAPTIST. It was simply to baptize as a preparation for the recognition of Christ. The deputies questioned his authority to baptize. "Why baptizest thou, then, if thou be not that Christ, or Elias, or one of the prophets?"
(1) They evidently expected the Messiah or his forerunner to baptize, probably from the language of Ezekiel 36:24, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you."
(2) Besides, the baptism of John was an innovation. The Gentiles had hitherto been baptized on their acceptance of Judaism, but it had been unusual to baptize Jews. The action of John, therefore, had the appearance of inaugurating a new religion. Therefore they demanded his authority.
(3) His answer was practically, "My baptism with water is subordinate to a higher baptism. I baptize for another, not for myself; to make disciples for Christ, the Mighty One, who was before me; not for myself."
(4) He points to Christ as a Person standing among them whom they knew not. He himself was not worthy to unloose the latchet of his shoes; but the Pharisees from Jerusalem, so ultra-conservative of ordinances and usages, could neither see, nor acknowledge, nor believe in him. How natural it was that "they should reject the counsel of God, not being baptized of John" (Luke 7:30)! How true it still is that Christ is still standing among thousands who will neither see, nor reverence, nor trust him!
Third testimony borne by the Baptist to Jesus.
This incident, which occurred on the following day, must have been immediately after the temptation. The Baptist identifies Christ by implication, not by name.
I. THE REDEEMER IS IDENTIFIED BY HIS WORK. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" This title is taken from Isaiah 53:1-12, which the Jewish commentators themselves originally applied to the Messiah. The passage sets forth:
1. The Object offered in sacrifice. "The Lamb of God."
(1) It applies to Christ on account of his personal character—on account of
(a) the innocence and holiness of his life;
(b) his meekness and lowliness;
(c) his patience in suffering.
(2) It applies to Christ as the great Sacrifice for sin. There is but one sacrifice that could correspond to the Paschal sacrifice, and that, as we know, was the basis of the whole sacrificial system of the Jews.
(a) He is God's Lamb;
(α) because God claims him as his own;
(β) because God provides him.
(b) He is "the Lamb"—the only one, not one out of many. Many Iambs were sacrificed in Old Testament times. All the shadows disappeared, when Christ, as the Substance, came. It is an advantage to have the whole attention concentrated upon one glorious spectacle—the Lamb of God!
2. The object or effect of the sacrifice. "Which taketh away the sin of the world." The word signifies bearing as well as taking away. Christ takes away sin by bearing it.
(1) He bears sin. The phrase implies the idea of a heavy burden or of penal endurance, pointing inevitably to the penal consequences inseparable from the sins of mankind. He was "made sin"—the world's sin—and bore it, thus enduring the penalty due to the sins of the world.
(a) The word "beareth sin," in the present tense, is not a mere prophecy as to what would occur at Calvary;
(b) nor does it imply merely the constant efficacy of the sacrifice;
(c) but the fact that he was even then the actual Bearer of the world's sin. Thus there is no foundation for the notion that he was not a Sin-bearer except on the cross. He bore sin all through his life.
(2) "He taketh away" sin. He does it by bearing it. "We know that Jesus Christ was manifested to take away our sins" (1 John 3:5). Therefore we may say that Christ is
(a) a Saviour, not a mere Prophet;
(b) a perfect Saviour (Hebrews 7:25);
(c) an unwearying Saviour.
3. The burden removed by the sacrifice. "The sin of the world."
(1) It is the sin, not the sins.
(a) This does not signify original sin as the root-sin of the world; but sin in the mass, regarded in its unity as the common guilt and corruption of the world.
(b) It does not refer merely to the punishment of sin, for the Lamb of God secures by his sacrifice the complete extirpation of sin.
(2) It is the sin of the world.
(a) Not the sin of the Jews, but of the Gentiles also; for it had been said long before to Abraham, "In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12:3).
(b) The Baptist, in using the singular number, thought, not so much of the extent, as of the nature of sin. The sin of the world is the sin that belongs to the world as such—which is of the world, from the world. On the world's side there is nothing but sin; on God's side nothing but the Lamb of God. See how God overcomes with good the evil of the world.
II. THE REDEEMER IS CLEARLY IDENTIFIED IN HIS PERSON. "This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is become before me: for he was before me." These words now meet us for the third time. The human and Divine natures are exhibited in one sentence. The Baptist believed in the pre-existence of the Messiah.
III. THE EXTRAORDINARY MODE IN WHICH THE REDEEMER WAS IDENTIFIED BY JOHN HIMSELF.
1. "I knew him not." Yet John must have known him, for else he could not have hesitated as he did about baptizing our Lord. "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" (Matthew 3:14). The son of Elisabeth must have personally known the Son of Mary. The Baptist means that he did not know him as Messiah, and the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, which he immediately records, points to the method and circumstances of the revelation.
2. Jesus was revealed to the Baptist by the descent of the Spirit upon him as a dove.
(1) The sign—the descent and abiding of the dove upon Jesus—was seen by the Baptist as an actual fact, and signified the actual consecration of the Redeemer to his.Divine work.
(2) The two baptisms—the baptism in water, and the baptism in the Holy Ghost.
(a) John's baptism was
(α) "that he might be made manifest in Israel;"
(β) it was "unto repentance for remission of sins"—not that it effected such a remission, for John had no such power, and never claimed it—but it pointed to that which could alone take away sin.
(b) Christ's baptism was not
(α) the baptism which he was to institute for the Christian Church,—it was not a baptism of water;
(β) nor was it a baptism which any man can give, whether priest or minister;
(γ) nor was it a baptism for miraculous gifts at Pentecost;
(δ) but it was a baptism of regenerating grace—such a baptism as the dying thief received, though not baptized with water, such a baptism as Simon Magus never received, though he was admitted into the communion of the Church by the ministers of Christ.
IV. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RECORD JUST MADE BY THE BAPTIST. "And I have seen, and I have borne witness that this is the Son of God." The vision is regarded as still present and remaining in its blessed results. He sets forth the abiding record that Jesus is the Son of God as welt as the Son of man, therefore a Divine Being.
The first gathering of disciples to Jesus.
We trace in these words the first beginnings of the Christian Church. It began with two disciples, Andrew and John; and the first disciples became the first preachers.
I. THE BAPTIST'S RENEWED TESTIMONY TO CHRIST. "Behold the Lamb of God!"
1. John and the Redeemer had now met for the last time; and the Baptist was already preparing for the change in their relative positions implied in the entrance of Jesus upon public life. "He must increase, but I must decrease."
2. His last testimony was but a repetition of his first testimony. "Behold the Lamb of God!"
(1) This was but a little seed, but it had a mighty growth.
(2) The doctrine of Christ crucified is forevery age the power of God to salvation.
(3) We need to repeat the same truth, perhaps in a different form, to produce the due effect of the gospel.
II. THE EFFECT OF THIS RENEWED TESTIMONY. The two disciples of John "followed" Jesus. This was the decisive act that determined their destiny forever. The words of John excited their wonder, their admiration, their desire for further knowledge.
1. They seek a more intimate knowledge of Jesus. The Saviour, seeing them follow him, asked them, "What seek ye?" As he knew their hearts, the words were evidently spoken both to encourage and to stimulate to further inquiry. They answer, "Where dwellest thou?" They desired a private interview that they might have a deeper insight into his character and mission. They sought a Person rather than a gift.
2. The Lord fully gratifies their desire, and satisfies all their hopes. "Come and see."
(1) The interview was not postponed till the day after. The Lord bids them come at once. His salvation is a present blessing.
(2) It was a protracted interview. "They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was the tenth hour;" that is, ten in the forenoon.
(a) There was full time to satisfy all their doubts and answer all their questions.
(b) The day was a turning point in their lives; and therefore they fix with exactness the very limits of their stay with Jesus.
(3) The interview had a satisfactory result. The exclamation of Andrew to his brother Simon, "We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ," attests the blessed discovery.
(a) The discovery of Jesus implied a previous seeking.
(b) It was unexpected.
(c) It was joyful.
(d) It was final.
III. THE INTEREST AND IMPORTANCE OF ANDREW'S CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP. "One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother."
1. He was among the first called to be Christ's disciples. He is therefore one of the two first members of the Christian Church.
2. Mark his priority to Peter. That apostle to whom the Church of Rome assigns the primacy, was not the first to accept or follow Christ.
John 1:41, John 1:42
The reception of Peter by Christ.
Andrew's first action is to make his discovery of the Messiah known to his brother.
I. MARK THE PROMPT ZEAL, THE QUIET HELPFULNESS, THE YEARNING FAITH, OF ANDREW. "He first findeth his own brother Simon"—implying that he afterwards found John's brother, James, for a like object—"and brought him to Jesus."
1. Andrew follows a natural instinct in carrying the glad tidings of salvation to his brother. Simon was one of the nearest and the dearest in life. It was an instinct of grace likewise that Andrew should desire his brother to share in the blessings of the common salvation.
2. How much good is often done by the private suggestion or inquiry of a Christian friend!
3. What momentous consequences flowed from Andrew's loving act! He was not
(1) the writer of an Epistle,
(2) nor the founder of a Church,
(3) but the opener of a new career to one of the greatest of the apostles. He was the instrument by whom Peter was first led into the paths of truth, and on that account is to be held in "everlasting remembrance."
(4) Our last notice of Andrew is equally characteristic of him, for, it he found Peter first, he found others afterwards. It was he and Philip who introduced the Greek strangers to Christ (John 12:20).
II. MARK THE MODE OF OUR LORD'S RECEPTION OF PETER. "Thou art Simon, the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone."
1. Our Lord knew Peter's character. The Jews regarded the knowledge of the hearts of men as an attribute of the Messiah.
2. The change of name implies a change of character or position. So it was in the cases of Abraham, Sarah, and Jacob. The Master here takes possession of his servant, and consecrates him at once and wholly to his service.
3. The name Cephas—by which Peter was exclusively known to the Corinthians, and, perhaps, to other Churches—implies strength of character, vigour of resolution, and the power of aggression, which had their place side by side with an honest-hearted impulsiveness.
4. The selection of disciples, like Peter and Andrew, for the propagation of the gospel, unlearned as they were in the world's scholarship, is a powerful evidence of the truth of Christianity.
John 1:43, John 1:44
The calling of Philip.
Jesus was now leaving Bethany beyond Jordan for Galilee; and as he was about to set out, he summoned Philip, a Galilaean, to discipleship.
I. THE CALL OF CHRIST TO PHILIP. "He findeth Philip, and Jesus saith unto him, Follow me."
1. The birthplace of Philip. He was a native of the district of Beth-saida, and belonged to the city of Andrew and Peter, and must therefore have been acquainted with them. Probably through them was he first brought within the sphere of Christ's influence. It was natural that our Lord should seek his first disciples from the district which was to become the scene of his fullest ministry. Philip is a Jew, though he bears a Greek name.
2. Mark in what different ways our Lord draws disciples to himself. While Peter was drawn to him by Andrew, Philip was "found" by Christ himself without any human intervention, just as he finds all who are honestly seeking after the way of life.
3. The command of Christ is urgent. "Follow me." There is no preface, or promise, or explanation. The command implies:
(1) That Philip was to throw in his lot with Christ, as Ruth did with Naomi.
(2) That he was to follow him as a servant obeys a master, "doing his will from the heart," as a learner follows a teacher; like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.
(3) That he was to walk in his steps and conform to his example.
II. PHILIP'S ANSWER TO THE CALL.
1. There is no recorded answer in words. But his obedience was very prompt. There was a slowness of apprehension in Philip observable in later times, which shows that he needed a prompt and sudden call.
2. His response to the call is implied in the words he addresses immediately after to Nathanael. "We have found him, of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph."
(1) This implies that he was an habitual student of the Old Testament, for he quite understood that the Redeemer was foretold by Moses and the prophets. "They are they," says Jesus himself, "which testify of me." We ought not to despise the Old Testament, for there is much of Christ in it.
(2) It implies that he had some personal knowledge of Christ, for, as a native of the Bethsaida district, he must have known Nazareth, and, perhaps, had often seen "the Son of Joseph."
(3) It was the instinct of grace that led him to bring Nathanael to Christ. Perhaps Nathanael was a relative; he was at least a neighbour, for Cana was near to the city of Andrew and Peter.
The calling of Nathanael.
After Jesus finds Philip, Philip finds Nathanael. "One lighted torch serves to light another, and thus faith is propagated."
I. THE CHARACTER OF NATHANAEL, OR BARTHOLOMEW. He was a devout Jew, a student of Scripture, of a thoughtful temper, and of prayerful habits. He was above all a guileless Israelite: "An Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile."
II. THE DIFFICULTIES OF NATHANAEL. "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"
1. A guileless man may have prejudices as well as difficulties; but in this case the difficulties were of more account than the prejudices, because they may have been grounded upon the fact that there was no prediction of a Messiah issuing from Nazareth.
2. It is not inconsistent with his guileless character that he should refuse to be satisfied without sufficient reason. Nathanael was not a simpleton, to be carried about by every wind of doctrine or by every false Christ.
3. It is a proof of a genuinely sincere and straightforward nature that sufficient evidence brings full persuasion to his mind. It is not enough that Jesus unveils his character; he must also give him evidence of a power to know all that Nathanael did as well as thought. "Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee."
III. CONSIDER HOW CHRIST DEALS WITH A GUILELESS MAN. Our Lord uses many tests according to the different characters of men.
1. There is no test like that of personal experience. "Come and see," said Philip. It is impossible to conceive of wiser counsel. Few doubters are influenced by reasoning and argument. Philip says to Nathanael, "I have found a Saviour: come and see him for yourself."
2. Christ welcomes the guileless inquirer. This is evident from the encouraging insight expressed, in the words, "Behold an Israelite indeed!"
3. Christ satisfies him, for he wins his fairly. Nathanael utters the emphatic testimony: "Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel"—a testimony at once to Christ's Divinity and his Messiahship.
4. Christ promises a still fuller satisfaction to the intellect and heart of all disciples. "From henceforth ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
(1) This does not refer to the Transfiguration, which was not witnessed by all to whom these words were addressed;
(2) nor to the Ascension, for the heavens were not opened and angels were not seen on that occasion;
(3) nor to the ministry of angels as they waited on Jesus at the various stages of his trial;
(4) it refers to Jacob's ladder, which signified the opening up of a new and living way into the holiest of all "by Christ's flesh," in virtue of which not only greater proofs, in the shape of miracle and signs, would be given to the sonship of Jesus than any they had yet witnessed, but a constant communication would be kept up between heaven and earth, even after the Son of man should have left the world, through virtue of his Mediatorship. The angels are the messengers of the Redeemer's will, constantly ascending and descending in their errands of mercy and love.
5. Christ reveals himself to the whole race of man as the Son of man. This chapter is singularly rich in the names that are ascribed to Christ. It contains no less than twenty-one names or titles of him. But the most precious to the believer's heart, in the longing for sympathy, is that which Christ only applies to himself, "the Son of man."
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The Divine daybreak.
The evangelist writes as one who loves, admires, and venerates him of whom it is his office to inform his fellow men. He has one great figure to portray, one great name to exalt, one great heart to unfold. His language is such as would not be befitting were he heralding the advent even of a prophet or a saint. How bold, how beautiful, how impressive are his figures! John speaks of the Divine Word, uttering forth the thought and will of God in the hearing of mankind; of the Divine Life, quickening the world from spiritual death; of the Divine Light, scattering human darkness, and bringing in the morning of an immortal day. No terms can be too lofty in which to welcome the advent of the Son of God—a theme worthy of praise forever ardent, of a song forever new.
I. CHRIST IS IN HIMSELF THE TRUE LIGHT.
1. As distinguished from, though symbolized by, physical light. When you watch for the morning, and see the crimson dawn fill all the east with promise of the coming day; when from the hill top at noon you scan the landscape where valley, grove, and river are lit up by the splendour of the summer sun; when you "almost think you gaze through golden sunsets into heaven;" when you watch the lovely afterglow lingering on snow clad Alpine summits; when by night you watch the lustrous moon emerge from a veil of clouds, or trace the flaming constellations;—then, remember this, Christ is the true Light.
2. As contrasting with false lights. It is said that upon some coasts wreckers have been known to kindle misleading lights in order to lure confiding seamen to their destruction. Emblem of teachers and of systems that deceive men by representing his bodily and earthly interests as of supreme importance—that bound his horizon by the narrow limits of time, that tell him that God is unknowable. Opposed to such is that heavenly light which never leads astray, and never pales or sets.
3. As distinct from the imperfect lights, in which there was Divine truth, although but dim. There were in such philosophy as the wise and lofty-minded heathen produced, rays of truth which came from God; but these were mingled with the smoke and mists of human error. The Hebrew prophets proclaimed Divine truth and inculcated Divine righteousness; yet they were lost in the Christ who fulfilled them, as the stars are quenched before the rising sun.
4. Christ was the true Light, as revealing the truth concerning God and his character and purposes of mercy; as pouring the lustre of moral purity over a sin-darkened world; as diffusing abroad spiritual life, and with it spiritual brightness, gladness, and hope. He is both luminous and illuminating.
II. CHRIST IS THE LIGHT COMING INTO THE WORLD. In himself he was and is the true Light; but we have reason to be grateful, because, as the Sun of Righteousness, he has arisen upon the world with healing in his wings.
1. This light came into the world even before the advent—has always been streaming into human nature and human society. Reason and conscience are "the candle of the Lord," by which he lights up our inmost being. He who first said, "Let there be light!" having provided that which is natural, did not withhold that which is spiritual.
2. Yet this "coming" was especially in the earthly ministry of our Redeemer. Conversing with Nicodemus, Jesus said, "The Light is come into the world;" and before the close of his ministry he cried, "I am come a Light into the world"—expressions exactly corresponding with the language here used by John. It was to a world which needed him, which was in darkness and the shadow of death for want of him, that the Saviour came. His whole ministry was a holy, gracious shining; and in his light there were many who loved to walk.
3. The Divine light did not cease to come into the world when Christ ascended. In fact, at first, the world generally neither welcomed nor even recognized its Divine Enlightener. Only after the vain attempt to quench the heavenly light did men learn its preciousness and power. From the celestial sphere this glorious and unquenchable Luminary casts its illumining and vivifying rays in a wider sweep. Christ has by his Spirit been constantly "coming" into the world, and with ever-extending beneficence, and has thus been delivering men from the horrors of a moral midnight gloom.
III. CHRIST IS THE LIGHT THAT LIGHTETH EVERY MAN. The largeness of this language quite accords with the teaching of the New Testament generally.
1. There is in every human breast a Divine light—the light of the Word—not dependent upon human forms of doctrine. A ray from heaven will guide all those who look for it, and who are ready to be led by it.
2. The purpose of Christ's coming into the world was that all men might through him enjoy spiritual illumination. The need of such enlightenment is apparent to all who consider the ignorance and sinfulness of mankind, calling for both a revelation of truth and supernatural motives to obedience. Jews and Gentiles both, if in different measure, required a new and spiritual daybreak. Christ came "a Light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the Glory of God's people Israel." Not merely all the nations of men, but all classes and conditions, and even all characters, needed this Divine shining. Those whose eyes were turned to the light found in him the fulfilment of their desires. Those who had been trying to content themselves with darkness, in many cases learned to cherish a better hope, and came to enjoy a purer satisfaction.
PRACTICAL APPEAL. The day has broken, the sun shines; Christ, the true Light, lighteth every man. Yet it is for each hearer of the gospel to decide whether he will accept the light and walk in it, or not. The mere shining abroad of spiritual light is not enough; there must be an eye to behold the celestial rays, and that eye must be opened by the influences of the Spirit of God, that it may welcome the sacred sunlight. There are still those who love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. For such, until their hatred or indifference towards Christ be changed, the day has dawned, and the Sun has risen, in vain.—T.
Christ rejected and accepted.
It is related by an ancient historian that an Eastern tribe were so afflicted by the blazing and intolerable heat of the sun, that they were accustomed, when the great luminary arose in the morning, to assail him with their united and vehement curses. It is hard to believe that, the benefits of sunlight being so obvious as they are, any should be found other than glad and grateful for the shining of the orb of day. "The light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." The rising of the Sun of Righteousness, however, was, we know, hailed in very different manners by different classes of men; as in these verses is very strikingly pointed out by the inspired evangelist. The same diversity obtains to this day among the hearers of the gospel of Christ. There are still those who reject and those who receive the Saviour.
I. CHRIST REJECTED.
1. By whom? The evangelist speaks, first generally, and then specially, upon this point.
(1) The world at large is said to have refused the offered blessing—to have been insensible to the character, and incredulous as to the claims, of Immanuel. This is the more surprising because the world is full of witnesses to the Divine Word; because it was actually made by him; because his natural attributes are displayed in the physical universe, his moral purposes in providence, his righteous law in conscience.
(2) More particularly it is said that his own people, i.e. the Jewish nation, disclaimed their Messiah. This is the more surprising because the Hebrew race was, as it were, a Church, based upon the expectation of his coming; because they possessed prophecies regarding him; because they were familiar with sacrifices, types, and institutions, all of which in some way witnessed to him. Especially it is surprising when we remember that the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God, which might have prepared them to receive the perfect Divine revelation.
2. In what way?
(1) They "knew him not." Some—both Jews and Gentiles—never paid any attention to Jesus, to his discourses, his mighty works, his holy and benevolent character. Some simply indulged an idle curiosity, in gazing upon his works or listening to his discourses. And others, less inattentive, yet never really comprehended the spiritual purpose of his mission, the spiritual significance of his teaching.
(2) They "received him not;" e.g. the inhabitants of Nazareth thrust him out of their city! The Gergasenes besought him to depart from their borders! A certain village in Samaria refused to receive him! Chorazin and Bethsaida were upbraided by him because of their unbelief and their rejection of his claims! Over Jerusalem Jesus wept, on account of the inattention of the people of the metropolis to his solemn warnings and gracious entreaties!
3. For what reasons?
(1) His humility was an offence to their worldliness and pride.
(2) His holy character was a rebuke to their sin.
(3) His spiritual teaching was a rebuke to their formality.
(4) His life of benevolence was a rebuke to their selfishness and haughtiness.
4. With what results?
(1) Their guilt was aggravated by their rejection of his mission.
(2) They were speedily deprived of the privileges they despised and abused.
(3) The impenitent incurred spiritual disaster and ruin.
II. CHRIST ACCEPTED. John states first, what must have been the general impression during our Lord's ministry, that Jews and Gentiles alike rejected him. Indeed, his unjust, cruel, and violent death was sufficient proof of this. But there was another side to this picture.
1. Observe by whom the Son of God was gratefully and cordially received. This very chapter witnesses to the power of the Lord Jesus over individual souls; for it tells of the adhesion of Andrew and Simon, of Philip and Nathanael. The Gospels relate the call of the twelve and of the seventy. They afford us a passing glimpse into the soul history of such men as Nicodemus and Joseph, of such families as that of Lazarus at Bethany. And they exhibit Christ's attractive power over very different characters, such as Zacchaeus and the penitent thief upon the cross. After the Ascension, Christ's converts were reckoned, not by individuals, but by thousands. And throughout the Christian centuries, men from every clime and of every race have been led by the Spirit to receive Jesus as the Son of God.
2. Observe the description given of their reception of Christ. They "believed on his Name." The "Name" is full of significance. Whether we examine the name "Jesus," or "Christ," or "Immanuel," the Name sets before us the object of our faith. Those who receive the Saviour who is thus designated, believe what prophecy foretold of him and what he declared concerning his own person, character, and work. They trust in him as in an all-sufficient Mediator, and obey him as their Lord.
3. Observe the privilege accruing to those who receive Christ
(1) They partake a spiritual and Divine birth. The new relation begins a new spiritual life. This is further explained in our Lord's conversation with Nicodemus, where Jesus refers this spiritual birth to the Holy Spirit himself.
(2) They become children of God, taking by "right" a place in the Divine family. This exalted and happy position involves participation in Divine favour and love, in the moral image of the heavenly Father, in all the society and the immunities of this glorious kindred, in the eternal inheritance and home.
APPLICATION. Our treatment of the Lord Christ makes the decisive turning point in our spiritual history. Those who are once brought into contact with him, by hearing his gospel, are by that fact placed in a new and solemn position of responsibility. To reject him is to reject pardon, righteousness, and life. To accept him is to enter the Divine family, to enjoy the Divine favour, to live the Divine, the spiritual, the immortal life.—T.
The inference from the human to the Divine.
The parenthesis in this verse is remarkable as written in the first person. There must be a reason for the evangelist's departure from his ordinary practice of writing in the narrative style. It seems that John was so impressed by the solemnity and value of the witness he was bearing, that he was constrained to break his own rule, and. to speak explicitly of what he himself had actually seen, and of what he himself had come firmly to believe. Regarding this parenthesis only, we find here the record of personal observation, and, in closest connection therewith, the declaration of personal conviction.
I. THE STATEMENT OF THE WITNESS. "We beheld his glory."
1. John and his fellow apostles knew Christ in his humanity—in the "flesh" as the expression is in this passage.
2. They knew him as he "tabernacled" among them. John and Andrew, when the Baptist directed their attention to Jesus, inquired of him, "Where dwellest thou?" and at his invitation visited him and abode with him. The writer of this Gospel enjoyed peculiar opportunities of acquaintance, nay, of intimacy, with the Prophet of Nazareth, whose beloved disciple he became. If one human being ever knew another, John knew Jesus; he not only was constantly with him, his disposition and character rendered him specially fit for judging and appreciating him.
3. John and his colleagues bore witness that they recognized their Master's "glory." Why is such language used? Why his "glory"? He was a peasant woman's Son, and remained in the condition of life to which he was born. There was nothing in his garb, his appearance, his associations, the outward circumstances of his lot, which, in the view of men generally, could justify such an expression. These men must have had their own conception of "glory." As spiritual Hebrews, they had a noble idea of the majesty, the righteousness, the purity of God, and also of the moral splendour of the Divine Law. Thus it came to pass that, enlightened by the Spirit, they discerned glory where to the eyes of others there was only humiliation. They saw the moral glory of purity and benevolence in the Lord's Person and character, in the "grace" which he displayed in dealing with suppliants and penitents, in the "truth" which he uttered and embodied. They could not fail to remark the glory of his miracles, of his transfiguration, of his victory over death, of the manner in which he quitted the earth in which he had sojourned. All this, as intelligent and sympathetic witnesses, John and his companions beheld, and to this they testified.
II. THE INFERENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN. The glory was "of the Only Begotten of the Father." They knew well that the world to which Jesus came needed a Divine Saviour. Such a Saviour they were encouraged by the word of prophecy to expect. And their familiarity with the character and the mission of Jesus led them to hail the Son of man as Son of God. If Jesus were not the Only Begotten of the Father, how could they account for the facts of his ministry, for the authority he wielded, the claims he made? He had called himself the Son of God; he had lived like the Son of God; he had wrought the works of God. He had been addressed as the Son of the living God, and had accepted the appellation. Were the disciples to forget all this; to persuade themselves that they had been in a mist of bewilderment; to give up their deepest convictions, their purest and most ennobling beliefs? If not, then they must needs assert their belief that the glory they had seen was that of the Only Begotten of the Father. The same inference is binding upon us. To deny of Jesus what John here affirms of him is to leave the Church without a foundation, the heart without a refuge, the world without a hope. If Christ be not what John represents him as being, then the world can never know and rejoice in a full and personal revelation of the supreme mind and heart and will. It may be said that this is the misfortune of humanity, and that it must be accepted as inevitable. But the text points out to us a better way. The sincere and impressive language of John encourages us first to realize to ourselves the unique moral majesty of Jesus, and then to draw from this the inference which he and other witnesses of Jesus' character and life drew so firmly and conclusively—the inference, namely, that he was none other than the Son of God, deserving of human reverence and faith, love and devotion. The witness of Christ's companions we cannot reject. Their convictions concerning their Master and Friend we are abundantly justified in sharing. If we have a heart capable of appreciating the Saviour's moral glory, we shall not be without guidance in estimating the justice of his claim to superhuman dignity—to Divine authority.—T.
A disclaimer and a claim.
When our Lord Jesus came into this world, he did not come as one isolated from the race he designed to save. He condescended to take his place—the most honourable place—in a long and illustrious succession. He superseded the last prophet of the old dispensation; he commissioned the first prophets of the new. The herald and forerunner of our Lord perfectly comprehended his own relation to his Master, and felt it a dignity to occupy a position of Divine appointment, although a position of inferiority, in respect to him. The query put to John by the leaders of the Jewish Church at Jerusalem was natural and proper; it was evidence of the interest which John's mission was exciting in the land; and it gave the Baptist an opportunity of both declaring himself and witnessing to his Lord.
I. JOHN'S DISCLAIMER. No doubt there was an expectation, general and eager, of One who, in accordance with Hebrew prophecy, should be the Deliverer and Ruler of God's people Israel. From varying motives—in some cases with spiritual yearning, in other cases with political expectation—the Jews turned anxiously towards every personage of distinction and influence who arose among the people. Thus they turned to John, whose character was austere and inflexible as that of a Hebrew seer, and whose popular power was manifest from the multitude of his adherents and admirers. In these circumstances, John's first duty was to give an unequivocal answer to the inquiry of the Jews. This inquiry was pointed and particular. Was John Elias, again visiting the people who revered him as one of their holiest and mightiest saints? There was something in his appearance, his habits, his speech, that suggested this possibility. Or was he "the prophet," less definitely designated? Or could it be that he was none other than the Messiah? The times were ripe for the advent of the promised Deliverer; John evidently possessed a spiritual authority, a popular power, such as Israel had not seen for many a generation. To every such inquiry John had only one answer: "I am not." In this disclaimer we recognize both the intelligence and the candour of the forerunner. A weak mind might have been overpowered by interest so profound and widespread. A self-seeking and ambitious mind might have taken advantage of such an opportunity to assert a personal authority and to climb to the throne of power. John was superior to such temptations. Though greater than others born of women, he did not aspire to a position for which God had not destined him. In fact, he was too great to wish to be aught but the herald and the servant of him who was to come.
II. JOHN'S CLAIM. A just and admirable modesty was not, indeed never is, inconsistent with a due assertion of position and duties assigned by God. He who knows what God has sent him into the world to do, will neither depreciate his own work nor envy another's. The claim made by John was very remarkable. He affirmed himself to be:
1. A fulfilment of prophecy. The circumstances of his birth and education, taken in conjunction with certain declarations of Old Testament Scripture, must have suggested to John that he held a place in the revealed counsels of eternal wisdom.
2. A voice. Often had God spoken to Israel. In John he spake yet again. To him it was given to utter by human lips the thoughts of the Divine mind. Not that this was mechanical function; John's whole soul was inflamed with the grandeur and the burning necessity of that message of repentance which he was called upon to deliver to his fellow countrymen. Nothing but the conviction that his voice was the expression of Divine thought, that he was summoning men in God's Name to a higher life of righteousness and faith, could have animated him to discharge his ministry with such amazing boldness. Nor could any other conviction have overcome the difficulty he must at first have felt in publicly witnessing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ.
3. A herald, and one preparing the way of a great Successor. It was his to make straight the Lord's way. It was his to announce the Messiah's approach, and to direct the attention of Israel to the coming in lowly guise of Israel's King. It was his. to subside into comparative insignificance, to withdraw from publicity, in order that he might make room for One whose presence would bring the realization of the brightest hopes and the most fervent prayers. It was his to administer the humbler baptism with water—the symbol of a better baptism to be conferred by Christ, even that with the Holy Spirit.
1. Learn the completeness and harmony of the Divine plan. The revelation of God proceeds upon an order which may be recognized both by the intellect and by the heart of man. The wisdom of the Eternal arranges that all preparation shall be made for the appearance of the world's Saviour; the morning star heralds the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. God's ways in grace are as regular and as orderly as his ways in providence.
2. Learn the dignity and preciousness of Immanuel. One so honourable as the Baptist yet deemed himself unworthy to serve the meek and lowly Jesus—to act as his meanest attendant. Lowly was his attitude, and reverent his words, when the Son of God drew near. Surely he, who was so regarded and so heralded, demands our homage and deserves our love.—T.
Guests of Jesus.
Although our Lord had not, during any period of his ministry, a settled abode, a temporary home was provided for him, now in one place and anon in other, where he could rest and meditate, and where he could receive his friends. For Jesus was neither an ascetic nor a recluse; he did not disdain the tranquil pleasures of domestic retirement, nor did he withdraw himself from the fellowship of those whose nature he deigned to share. Of our Lord's social disposition this passage furnishes an illustration.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH LED TO THIS INTERVIEW.
1. The educational and spiritual preparation of these guests. Andrew and John were disciples of the forerunner, the Baptist. Like many of the susceptible and ardent spirits of the period, they had been attracted by John's remarkable and impressive personality, and by his stern and authoritative ministry. In the school of the herald they were prepared for the service of the King.
2. The emphatic testimony borne by the forerunner to the Lord. This testimony was undoubtedly intended to draw the attention of the two young men to him "who was to come;" and it is a proof of John's humility and disinterestedness that he should be content to hand over his disciples to One greater than himself.
3. The sacred wonder of the two, and their laudable desire for advanced teaching. It was a proof that they had profited by the lessons of their master John, when they evinced a yearning for the still higher society of Christ.
II. THE INTERVIEW BETWEEN THE DIVINE HOST AND HIS GUESTS.
1. On the part of the disciples, we observe modesty of demeanour in their silently following Jesus, and reverence of spirit and language in their inquiry, "Rabbi, where dwellest thou?" All who repair to Christ in this temper and attitude may be assured of a kind reception.
2. For we remark on the part of Jesus the response of encouragement and invitation. Observing that the two disciples were too timid to address him first, he opened up the way for conversation; and, when they expressed, though indirectly, a desire to visit him, he gave a cordial invitation.
3. Part of a day was devoted to hallowed intercourse. The grace and condescension of the Lord are thus apparent from the very commencement of his ministry. We cannot doubt that he was already resolving upon methods of Messianic ministry, and was planning the means of evangelization afterwards adopted. And he foresaw that these two ardent young disciples were to become able ministers of his gospel to their fellow men. This anticipation doubtless gave a colour to the conversation that took place during those memorable hours.
III. THE RESULTS WHICH FOLLOWED THIS INTERVIEW. Such a visit could not but be fruitful of much good. When natures so prepared by the Spirit of God came into contact with the Son of God, no wonder that the consequences were signal and precious.
1. The conviction was formed in the minds of the two guests that their Host was none other than the Christ foretold in Hebrew prophecy, and desired by devout and waiting expectant spirits.
2. The conviction which they formed they hastened to communicate to their kindred and companions. They had learned good news, and could not keep it to themselves. At once they became preachers of Christ, and. their conduct was an earnest of their subsequent apostleship.
3. They seem to have lost no time in transferring themselves from the school and following of John, whose ministry was now drawing to a close, to the school and following of Jesus, whose official ministerial work was now beginning. What they saw and heard on this memorable day led them to wish to see and to hear yet more. And in following Christ they had the opportunity of satisfying their heart's desire.
1. The society of the Lord Jesus is still to be sought as the means of spiritual good. His direction is "Abide in me, and I in you." This is feasible even to us who see, him not with the bodily eye.
2. Jesus ever welcomes to his society all who truly desire it, and especially the young and those with spiritual aspirations. None are rejected who approach him in a spirit of humility, of reverence, of faith.
3. To be much with Jesus is the best preparation for serving him. Those who would publish his love and grace must first make acquaintance with him, and allow his character, his ministry, his sacrifice, to produce their own impression upon the heart. As at the first, so now, his dearest friends become his most efficient servants.—T.
John 1:40, John 1:42
A brother's love and service.
Little as we know of Andrew, that little presents him in a most interesting and attractive light. The record of his conduct upon the occasion of his attaching himself to Jesus is especially full of instruction and of inspiration. The opportunity which family relationships afford to spiritual usefulness, and the employment of the feelings peculiar to human kinship, are brought out in this brief narrative with exquisite beauty. We have revealed in this incident—
I. THE IMPULSE OF A BROTHER'S HEART. Andrew found in Jesus the Messiah for whom he was looking and hoping. Rejoicing in the great discovery, his earliest impulse was to make those dearest to him partake his joy. He thought of his brother Simon—that noble, eager, affectionate nature, that came afterwards to be consecrated to the friendship and the service of the Christ. A brother's insight divined that news such as that he had to communicate would awaken emotions in Simon's breast similar to those enkindled in his own. Sympathy and love urged him to hasten to his brother, the companion of his boyhood and youth, the sharer of his interests and occupations. Love is never so admirable as when it aims unselfishly at another's good, and especially at his spiritual enlightenment and. happiness. Christianity presses into its service all the beautiful emotions belonging to our humanity.
II. THE TIDINGS FROM A BROTHER'S LIPS. The words which Andrew addressed to his brother seem to have been few; but this brevity was the fit expression of the ardent affection of the speaker and the fit vehicle for tidings so momentous. Andrew's feelings would admit of no delay. His eager, almost blunt, communication must have awakened surprise in Simon's mind. "We have found the Messiah." Did brother ever convey to brother tidings so interesting, so heart stirring? Surely we have here a lesson upon the duty we owe to those nearest akin and nearest in affection to ourselves. In the Church of Christ is room for such services—alas! how often neglected through either carelessness or reserve!
III. THE ACTION OF A BROTHER'S ENERGY. Andrew was not content simply to tell the news. He would have Simon see for himself who Jesus was. "He brought him to Jesus." In this record we have the principle of Christian missions condensed into a few words. It seems a small thing to have done, yet more than this man cannot do for his brother man. A happy exercise of Christian sympathy and enterprise. To wish our dear ones well is good; yet it is not enough. It is for us to exert ourselves to secure their welfare. And how could this end be promoted so surely as by bringing them to Jesus—under the influence of his sacred presence and his winning love?
IV. THE REWARD OF A BROTHER'S DEVOTION. The sympathy, benevolence, and brotherly friendship of Andrew were not in vain. When Simon was brought by Andrew to Jesus, Jesus looked upon him with favour, appreciated, by the exercise of his spiritual insight, the good qualities of the new disciple, designated him by an appropriate name, and implicitly predicted his future eminence and service. This was indeed a rich return!
"Who art thou, that wouldst grave thy name
Thus deeply in a brother's heart?
Look on this saint, and learn to frame
Thy love charm with true Christian art.
"First seek thy Saviour out, and dwell
Beneath the shadow of his roof,
Till thou have scann'd his features well,
And known him for the Christ by proof;
"Then, potent with the spell of Heaven,
Go, and thine erring brother gain,
Entice him home to be forgiven,
Till he, too, sees his Saviour plain." (Keble.)
The great discovery.
Universal interest and pleasure are connected with all striking discoveries; e.g. in geographical knowledge, in physical science, in the arts of life. A new possession, either material or intellectual, is thus acquired. But all discoveries pale before that described in the simple language of the text. To find Christ is better than to find a gold mine, a continent, a faithful wife, a happy home.
I. THE PROCESS OF THIS DISCOVERY. There is here no chance, no accident, no caprice. There are involved:
1. The seeking soul. The soul that is satisfied with itself and its state is not in the way to the great discovery; but the soul that is conscious of destitution, ignorance, and sinfulness is in the right direction. The soul that feels how insufficient is the discovery and acquisition of earthly goods and human friends is prepared to appreciate a Divine revelation.
2. The self-discovering Saviour. It is often represented that the mere desire and aspiration of the soul is sufficient to secure its highest good. But hunger is not enough to secure our satisfaction; there must be bread to correspond with, to supply, the want. So the heart may yearn to little purpose unless the Divine heart of the Saviour respond to the yearning. Now, Jesus is willing to be found, and, indeed, came to earth in order that in him the favour, fellowship, and life of God might be made accessible to man. From the beginning of his ministry he welcomed all who sought him. And still his promise is, "Seek, and ye shall find;" "Come unto me,…and ye shall find rest."
3. The Spirit of God is the Divine Guide that leads the soul to the Saviour. A Divine influence prompts the spiritual quest, sets the glorious Object of that quest before the vision, and urges to a fervent and immediate application for blessing.
II. THE VALUE OF THIS DISCOVERY. Christ is the Treasure hidden, the Pearl of price.
1. They who find him find the mind and heart of the God in whom "we live and move and have our being." As Simon and Nathanael soon found that the Rabbi of Nazareth was the Son of God; so many who have been prejudiced against Jesus have learned how unjust were their prejudices. Time has revealed to them the fulness from which they have received grace for grace.
2. They find in Christ supply for all their wants and satisfaction for all their cravings. He becomes to those who find him, not only Prophet, Priest, and King, but also Counsellor, Friend, and Brother.
III. THE RESULT OF THIS DISCOVERY.
1. Joy. Finding Christ is being found by Christ; and, as he rejoices over the lost ones who are found, so they rejoice in him whom to find is life eternal.
2. Proclamation. It is a discovery which the discoverer cannot keep to himself. In this narrative we observe the happy finders of the Messiah communicating to kindred and to friends their unspeakable happiness. The impulse of glowing benevolence urges to the spiritual ministry of compassion, and thus soul after soul is brought to enter upon that pursuit which is ever rewarded by success and satisfaction.—T.
The candid disciple.
Nathanael is a person of whom we know but very little. That he was of Cana, that he was probably the same as Bartholomew, that, after the resurrection of Jesus, he was in company with Peter upon the Lake of Gennesareth,—this is all we are told concerning him, except what we learn from this passage. Our chief interest in him, therefore, lies in his call to the discipleship of the Lord.
I. MORAL PREPARATION FOR DISCIPLESHIP. Like many of Christ's friends, Nathanael was disciplined and fitted beforehand for the new fellowship.
1. He was devout, meditative, and prayerful. It seems likely that, "under the fig tree," he was engaged in the study of the Scriptures and in prayer.
2. A true and spiritual, and not merely a nominal, a national, Israelite. There were many descended from Abraham who were not Abraham's children spiritually. This man was a true "prince with God"—one worthy of his privileges and his name.
3. Guileless; not indeed free from sin, but transparent in character—candid, open to the light, anxious to be holy and to find God. Such training as this was the best preparative for Christian discipleship.
II. INTELLECTUAL PREJUDICE AGAINST DISCIPLESHIP. This state of mind is not incompatible with that already described. Nathanael was not eager to welcome the new Teacher and Leader of men. Morally cultured though he was, he resented the supposition that the Messiah could spring out of a town so small, insignificant, and despised as Nazareth. His first inclination was to discredit the witness, and to smile at the sudden enthusiasm of his friend Andrew. And in this Nathanael did but anticipate the action of the Jews, who were offended at what they deemed the weakness of the cross, and of the Gentiles, who were offended at what they deemed its folly. It is not only bad men whose prejudices keep them from Christ; good men have their prejudices—prejudices not to be overcome by reasoning, but which will yield to the demonstration of personal experience.
III. DECISIVE MEANS BRINGING ABOUT DISCIPLESHIP. Several steps are here taken, which deserve to be carefully followed.
1. The mediation and testimony of a friend.
2. The invitation to a personal interview with Jesus, accepted as readily as it was wisely suggested.
3. The evident insight possessed by Jesus into human character. He needed not that any man should tell him; he knew immediately what was the character of him who was introduced to him.
4. The revelation of the man's heart to himself by the authority of the Divine Rabbi. Others standing by could not fathom all the depths of this interview and conversation. But Jesus knew all, and Nathanael felt the omniscience of the Being he now began to understand.
IV. BOLD AVOWAL OF DISCIPLESHIP. The process in the scholar's mind was swift, but not rash or unwarranted. His confession was full and rich, but not extravagant. To Nathanael, over whose mind there flashed a flood of revelation, Jesus was
(1) the Rabbi,
(2) the Son of God,
(3) the King of Israel.
This witness seems incapable of expansion. All his afterlife was to Nathanael an opportunity for filling up the outline which his faith thus sketched in a few bold strokes. He never went beyond these first convictions.
V. RECOMPENSE OF DISCIPLESHIP. Such spiritual sympathy, such courageous confession, was not unrewarded. In response, the Messiah:
1. Accepted the new and ardent pupil as one of his own attached and privileged companions.
2. Assured him of progressive illumination and experience.
3. Promised him participation in the glorious vision of the future, in the celestial exaltation of the Son of man.—T.
"Come and see!"
This was the proper counsel for Philip to give to Nathanael, and forevery true friend to give to the man whose mind is possessed with incredulity or with prejudice regarding Christ and his claims. Reasoning is very well; but an appeal to personal experience is in many cases far better. Many a man will draw a just inference for himself, which he will not allow another man to draw for him. In giving this advice Philip showed his knowledge of human nature.
I. COME AND SEE WHAT CHRIST IS. There are many persons who are indifferent to the Saviour only because they do not know him—because he is to them nothing but a name.
1. Study the record of his earthly ministry, and you will find that his character and life possess a peerless interest. Few have really read and studied the four Gospels without feeling themselves brought into contact with a Being altogether unrivalled in human history for qualities of the spiritual nature, for profundity of moral teaching, for self-sacrificing benevolence. And many have, by such study, been brought under a spell for which no ordinary principles could account, and have felt, not only that no personage in human history can rank with Christ, but that none cart even be compared with him.
2. Ponder the character, the claims, the acknowledged work, of Christ, and you will be convinced of his Divine nature and authority. Men who judge of him by hearsay, or by their own preconceptions, may think of Jesus as of an ordinary man; but this is not the case with those who "come and see," who allow him to make his own impression upon their minds. Such are found exclaiming, with the officers, "Never man spake like this Man!" with the disciples, "What manner of Man is this!" with Peter, "Thou art the Christ!" with this very Nathanael, to whom the words of the text were addressed, "Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel!" with the centurion at the Crucifixion, "Truly this was a righteous Man, this was the Son of God!"
II. COME AND SEE WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE.
1. This test—a very reasonable one—may be applied in individual cases. What did Christ effect for Saul of Tarsus? Did he not change him from a zealous and narrow formalist into a man whose name has become the synonym for spirituality of religion, for breadth and catholicity of doctrine, for grandeur of plan and of hope with regard to this ransomed humanity? Did he not find Augustine a wilful and pleasure-seeking young man, who almost broke a pious mother's heart? and did he not transform him into a penitent, a saint, a mighty theologian, a holy power in the realm of human thought? What did Christ do for Luther? He visited him when he was depressed and hopeless because of the conscience of sin, spoke to him the word of peace, called and strengthened him to become the Reformer of half Christendom, the founder of an epoch of light and liberty for mankind. Such instances, to be found in the annals of the illustrious and influential among men, might be multiplied. But it is not only over the great and famous that the Divine Jesus has exercised his power. Among the poorest, the meanest, the feeblest, nay, the vilest, he has proved himself to be the Friend of sinners and the Brother of man. There is no circle of society in any Christian land where evidences of this kind do not abound. You need not go far to see what the Lord Christ can do; this you may learn at your own doors, and every day.
2. But the educated and well informed have within their reach a wider range of proof. The history of Christendom is written in a vast, an open book—a book which the intelligent, and those capable of taking a wide survey of human affairs, are at liberty to read. Secular historians have traced the influence of Christianity upon society, upon the code of morals, upon slavery, upon war, upon the position of woman in society, upon the education of the young, upon the treatment of the poor, the sick, the afflicted. No doubt, exaggeration has often distinguished the treatment of these matters by Christian advocates. Yet, in all fairness and candour, it must be admitted that a contrast between unchristian and Christian society yields results immensely in favour of our religion. Christ has been the chief Benefactor of the human race, has done more than any beside to ameliorate and to improve the conditions and to brighten the prospects of mankind.
III. COME AND SEE WHAT CHRIST WILL DO FOR YOU. This is not a matter of speculation, but of practical moment and interest. It is well to form a just estimate of the character, the mission, the work, of the Son of God. But it is better to take the benefit which he offers to every believing hearer of his gospel.
1. See whether he can give you peace of conscience, by securing to you the pardon of sin, and acceptance with the God against whom you have sinned. This he professes to do; this multitudes will assure you he has done for them. If this is with you an urgent need, will it not be reasonable to put Christ to that test of experience to which he invites you?
2. See whether he can supply you with the highest law and the most sacred motive for the moral life. All human standards are imperfect, and no human principle is sufficient to ensure obedience. What no other can offer, the Saviour claims to impart, and it is reasonable to test his ability and his willingness to fulfil his promises.
3. See whether his fellowship and friendship can uphold and cheer you amidst the sorrows, temptations, and uncertainties of this earthly life. He says, "My grace is sufficient for you." Verify the assertion in your own experience. If he cannot supply this want, certain it is that none else can do so.
4. See whether the Lord Christ can vanquish death for you, and give you the assurance of a blessed immortality. Apart from him, the future is very dark; try his power to illumine that darkness with rays of heavenly light.
1. Defenders and promulgators of Christianity will do well to address to their fellow men the invitation Philip addressed to Nathanael. If they cannot always answer men's cavils and objections, and satisfy men's intellectual difficulties, they can bring men face to face with Christ himself, and leave the interview to produce its own effects. Let men be encouraged to come, to see, and to judge for themselves.
2. The undecided hearers of the gospel may well accept the challenge here given. Why should they shrink from it? It is an opportunity which should not be neglected, an invitation which should not he refused.—T.
HOMILIES BY B. THOMAS
The unrecognized Creator.
We have here three facts briefly stated in the history of our Lord, which are full of interest and significance.
I. HIS APPEARANCE IN THIS WORLD. This involves:
1. The greatest wonder. "He was in the world." But was he not ever in the world since its creation? Yes; in its laws, order, and beauty; in its conscience, reason, and religion; by his Word, Spirit, and revelations. But these words announce his special presence. He was in the world as one of its inhabitants, under its laws and necessities, in human nature, as "the Word made flesh." This is most wonderful. Think, who was he? More than human, else his having been in the world would not be a matter of surprise. He was the Son of God—the Word, which was in the beginning with God, and was God; therefore God was in the world in human form. This is the most wonderful fact in the history of this world, and, perhaps, in that of any other. So wonderful that it has engaged the interest and attention of good men of all ages, and even of angels. One element of its wonder is its mysteriousness and apparent impossibility. We are ready to ask with Nicodemus, "How can these things be?" But, although wonderful and mysterious, "he was in the world."
2. The greatest condescension. We see this when we consider who he was, and what is the world in which he was. Compared with his mansion, it is but a poor cot. In size it is but a particle of dust; in glory, but a flitting ray of the creative sun. And when we look at it from a moral point of view, as fallen, our estimate is much lower still—a territory in rebellion, a valley of dry bones, full of desolation, disease, and death. It would be a great condescension in an angel to come and live in such a world, but how much greater in him who is the Lord of angels! It would be great condescension on his part to look even with any delight on such a world as ours, but infinitely more to live in it, and live under the poorest and most harassing conditions: not in a palace, rolling in wealth and luxury, but born in a stable; wandering from place to place, weary and homeless; poorer than the foxes of the field. What a condescension!
3. The greatest love. No other principle will account for the wonderful fact but love. For in the world there were no attractions for him. In a moral sense its sceneries were frightful, its air pestilential, and its inhabitants not merely unfriendly but hostile—hostile to each other, and bitterly hostile to him their Saviour. In this sense the world was to him repelling. But that which was repelling to his holiness, simply considered, was attractive to his love and mercy. Sin is repelling to holiness; but the distress and danger of sinners in consequence are mighty attractions to Divine pity. Such is the wrecked ship to the lifeboat crew; such are the wounded soldiers on the battlefield to the philanthropic heart, and such was this ruined world to infinite love. So that he was in it.
4. The greatest importance. That he was in the world. So important, that it was foretold by prophets, foreshadowed by priests, kept before the world by Divine ritualism, expected by the world from time to time; and nothing would satisfy the wants and cravings of human nature but the appearance of God among men. So that the fact of his having been in the world is most important to truth—to the Divine fidelity as well as to human want and happiness. The absence of all besides would be of infinitely less consequence than his. If he had not been in the world, the foundation stone of the Divine temple would be wanting. The central fact of the kingdom of God on earth would be absent, and the world itself could not stand.
5. The greatest benefit and honour to the world.
(1) The greatest benefit. The benefit which the world has derived is salvation. This could not be effected without his incarnate life: nothing else would answer the purpose. Hence, what a benefit to the world that he was in it!
(2) The greatest honour. This was the greatest honour ever conferred on the world. And is there any other world which has been so honoured? What is ours compared with many of God's worlds? It is but as Bethlehem-Ephrata—"the least among the thousands of Judah." And does the least attract him? Does he specially help the most helpless, the weakest, the most miserable, and leave the strong to some extent to themselves? Many a spot is sacred as the birthplace or residence of a great man—of great poet or statesman; his presence has honoured the place and made it sacred. If so, is not this world holy and sacred to us; for he was in it? This world will ever be remembered and distinguished as the world in which God was in human flesh. In the great conflagration, will it be burnt? or will it be the last? Or, if some of it shall perish, shall not Bethlehem, Gethsemane, and Calvary be preserved, as parts of the new earth, in commemoration of the great fact that he was in the world?
6. This fact is well attested. Was he really in the world? In answer to this question there is a most emphatic "Yes" coming from heaven and earth. The life of Christ on earth is an incontrovertible fact, and nothing can explain it but that he really was what he himself claimed to be, and what his friends and even his foes represented him to be: the Son of God—God manifested in the flesh. "He was in the world." For proof of this we are not entirely dependent on the distant past, for on "the sands of time" we find footprints which no one but an incarnate God could make. He has left behind him glorious and undeniable proofs of his having been here, in the gracious system of redemption and its ever-growing and mighty effects in the moral restoration of the world.
II. THE CREATION OF THE WORLD BY HIM. "And the world was made by him." This implies:
1. His Divinity. If he made the world, he was God, for creative power is the sole prerogative of Divinity. "The world was made," etc. This is saying much; but, after all, it is saying but little of him of whom it was previously said that "all things were created by him," etc. It is not much to say that he created a drop after saying that he had created the ocean. Here is a descent from the whole to a very small part. But still, in connection with the previous fact that he was in the world, it is quite natural to be reminded that the world was made by him.
2. That he had a perfect piglet to come as he did into the world. For "the world was made by him." Thus he was in his own world absolutely. Although he had let it to the children of men as his tenants, yet he reserved the right to visit when and how he pleased. And when he came he was not an intruder, not an infringer of any right, nor a transgressor of any law; for "the world was made," etc.
3. This fact accounts to some extent for his visit. In every world, as the production of his creative power and wisdom, he takes the deepest interest, and he is responsible for all the possible results of its existence, and all its possible requirements were taken into account when made, and doubtless his incarnate life in this world was involved in its creation. We find that he felt a deep interest in this world, and took an early delight in the visit, being in the original plan. Not every world is made on this plan; but such was the plan of our world, that it was necessary, in "the fulness of time," for God to be manifested in the flesh, and live for a short time on earth as one of its tenants. God will carry out the original plan of every world he made at any cost, though it may involve the greatest condescension and. sacrifice.
III. HIS UNRECOGNITION BY THE WORLD. "And the world knew him not." This is not asserted of the material world, for this knew him; all its laws, elements, and forces knew him at once, and signified their recognition. But it is sadly true of the world's inhabitants. "They knew him not." This indicates:
1. Great guilt. They ought to know him; for "he was in the world"—in their nature and in their midst. They could not plead distance and disadvantages of recognition. They ought to know him; "the world was made by him;" and before their very eyes he proved the authorship beyond any doubt, by touching its laws and forces, and they were pliant to his touch, his word, and even to his will. The world of matter knew him, but that of intelligence, etc., which ought to know him, knew him not. He came to be known—gave every opportunity to this world to know him; but in spite of all, "the world knew him not."
2. Great moral perversion. There is great neglect, great inattention, terrible blindness, and wilful resistance. It was not that they could not, but they would not.
3. A great loss. For he was their Creator and Friend, their Messiah and Redeemer. He was in the world to save and bless it. The condition on which his blessings could be imparted and appropriated was to know and accept him. The condition was disregarded and the blessings lost. This is the greatest loss ever sustained by the world, the greatest blunder the world ever committed, the greatest oversight,—to let its incarnate Creator and Redeemer be in it unknown and unrecognized.
4. This is not exceptional in the history of the world. How many of the world's greatest benefactors have been unrecognized by the age in which they lived, and which they benefited! But this is not to be wondered at—the world began badly with its best and greatest Friend. This was the fate of the Son of God. If he had a tombstone, it could be appropriately written on it, "He was in the world," etc. This is true of all who live before, above, and for their age. It takes ages in such a world as this to know them fully.
1. That the brightest fact in the history of this world is that God was in it in the flesh. Let it be well published and believed; it is full of significance, comfort, and hope.
2. It is one of the blackest spots in the character of the world, that it left him unrecognized when here. This led to terrible results—the Crucifixion, etc.
3. The world should be sorry for not recognizing him—should make an ample apology. The world has made an apology, but not to the extent it ought to yet. It is a source of great comfort that he did not leave in anger, but is willing and ready to receive our apology in repentance and sorrow.
4. While we blame the world for its unrecognition of the Son of God, let us beware lest we commit the same sin. He is in the world now. Do we really know him? and to what extent?—B.T.
John 1:11, John 1:12
The rejected and received Saviour.
These words bring under our notice a most interesting subject—the great subject of the first fifteen verses of this chapter, viz. the coming of the Son of God, the manifestation of the Eternal Word in the flesh. We have here one of the peculiar aspects of his coming in order to carry out the great scheme of human redemption. We have Jesus here—
I. AS COME TO HIS OWN.
1. This is a special coming. He was in the world before and after his Incarnation. But here we have a special description of his manifestation. "He came." He had to do with the Jewish nation for ages, but no previous movement of his could be accurately described in this language. He came now physically, personally, and visibly.
2. This is a special coming to his own. His own land—the land of Palestine; his own people—the Jewish nation. He came to the world at large, but came through a particular locality. He came to humanity generally, but came through a particular nation. This was a necessity, and according to pre-arrangement. The Jewish nation were his own people:
(1) By a Divine and sovereign choice. They were chosen out of the nations of the earth to be the recipients of God's special revelations of his will, the objects of his special care and protection, and the special medium of his great redemptive thoughts and purposes. There was a mutual engagement.
(2) By a special covenant. God entered into a covenant with them by which they were his people, to obey and serve him; and he was their God, to bless and save them.
(3) By special promises. The central one of which was the promise of the Messiah and the blessings of his reign. This promise permeated every fibre of their constitution, and became the soul of their national and religious life.
(4) By a special training. They were divinely disciplined for ages for his advent. They were taught to expect him, and trained to receive him, and, under this training, their expectation grew into a passion. The Messianic idea was fostered among them by a long and careful training, by promises, by the occasional appearance of "the Angel of Jehovah," who was doubtless no other than the Eternal Word himself. They were trained by special privileges, revelations, and protection; by an economy of ceremonial rites and sacrifices, which all pointed to the Messiah as coming. In the light of these facts he was their own Messiah. and they were his own people; and it was necessary, as welt as natural, that he should come to his own. There was a special attraction and affinity felt on his part, and there ought to be on theirs. Had he appeared in any other land than that of Israel, or identified himself with any other nation than the Jewish, he would not have come according to the volume of the book written of him. But there were the most cogent reasons, the fittest propriety, and the most absolute necessity that he should come to his own, and he came.
3. This was a special coming to all his own. Not to some, but to all. Not to a favoured class, but to all classes—rich and poor, learned and unlearned. The unlearned and poor being the large majority of the nation as well as the world, he identified himself rather with them; for he could reach the higher classes better front below, than the lower classes from above. He taught all without distinction, offered the blessings of his coming to all without the least partiality, and invited all to his kingdom by the same road, viz. repentance and faith.
II. AS REJECTED BY THE MAJORITY. "And his own received him not." A few received him; but they were exceptions, and they received him individually, not nationally; as sinners and aliens, and not as his own. So complete was the rejection that it is a sad truth, "his own received him not." Their rejection of him:
1. Was a sad dereliction of duty. A duty they owed to their God and Defender; a duty most sacred, important, and obligatory. A duty for the performance of which they had been chiefly chosen, specially blessed, preserved, and prepared for ages; but when the time came, they sadly failed to perform it. "His own received him not."
2. Was most inexcusable. It is true that they knew him not to be the Son of God, the promised Messiah. This is stated by the apostle. But this is not a legitimate excuse; they ought to know him. They had the most ample advantages; they were familiar with his portraits as drawn by the prophets, and he exactly corresponded. His holy character, his mighty deeds, and his Divine kindness were well known, and even confessed by them. They had the mightiest proofs of his Messiahship and Divinity. So that they had no excuse for their ignorance, and consequently no excuse for their rejection.
3. Was cruelly ungrateful. Ingratitude is too mild a term to describe their conduct. It was cruel. Think who he was—the Son of God, the Prince of Life, their rightful King, their promised and long expected Messiah, come to them all the way from heaven, not on a message of vengeance as might be expected, but on a message of peace and universal good will, to fulfil his gracious engagement and carry out the Divine purposes of redeeming grace. Leaving out the graver charge of his crucifixion, his rejection was cruelly ungrateful and ungratefully cruel. "His own received him not."
4. Was most fatal to them. They rejected their best and only Friend and Deliverer, who had most benevolently come to warn and save them—come for the last time, and their reception of him was the only thing that could deliver them socially and spiritually; but "his own received him not." This proved fatal to them. There was nothing left but national dissolution and ruin, and that was soon the case; and they are the victims of their own conduct to this day. To reject Jesus is ultimately fatal to nations as well as to individuals.
5. Was most discouraging to him. To be rejected, and to be rejected by his own—by those who it might be expected would receive him with untold enthusiasm. Better be rejected by strangers and spurned by professed foes,—this would he expected; but to he rejected by his own is apparently more than he can bear. And not satisfied with leaving him an outcast in his own world, they banish him hence by a cruel death. What will he do? Will he be disheartened, leave with disgust, and hurl on the world the thunderbolts of vengeance? No; but stands his ground, and tries his fortune among strangers, according to ancient prophecy, "He shall not fail, nor be discouraged," etc.
III. AS RECEIVED BY SOME. "But as many as received him," etc. He was received by a minority—a small but noble minority. With regard to the few who received him we see:
1. The independency and courage of their conduct. They received him, though rejected by the majority, which included the most educated and influential. It is one thing to swim with the tide, but another to swim against it. It is easy to go with the popular current, but difficult to go against it. This requires a great independency of action and decision of character. Those who received Jesus at this time did this—they received "the Despised and Rejected of men." They accepted the Stone rejected, and rejected of the builders. This involved admirable independency of conduct and courage of conviction.
2. The reward of their conduct. "But as many as received him, to them gave he power," etc.
(1) The closest relationship to God. His children: children first, then sons; the seed first, then the ripe fruit.
(2) The highest honour that men can enjoy. Children of God.
(3) This is the gift of Christ. "To them gave he power," etc. This word means more than power; it means right as well—power first, then right. Men had neither to sonship, but Christ gave both. The fact is patent—he gave the power. The title is good—he gave the right.
(4) This is the gift of Christ consequent upon receiving him. "But as many as received him, to them," etc. And to none else. But to as many as received him he gave the power. There was not a single failure, not a single exception. They received the Son of God, and became themselves the children of God in consequence. They were not disappointed, but had reasons to be more than satisfied with their choice, and more than proud of their unexpected and Divine fortune. If Jesus were disappointed in his own, those who received him were not disappointed in Jesus—only on the best side; for "to them gave he power," etc.
3. The explanation of their conduct. How did. they receive him while the majority rejected him? How came they possessed of such a high honour—to become the children of God? The answer is, "They believed on his Name." It was by faith. We see:
(1) The discerning power of faith. Faith has a discerning power; it can see through the visible to the invisible, through the immediate present to the distant future. In this instance, faith saw through the outward the inward; through the physical it saw the Divine; through the outward humiliation and poverty it discovered a Divine presence. In "the Man of sorrows" faith saw the Son of God, and in "the Despised and Rejected of men" the Saviour of the world.
(2) The receptive power of faith. Jesus was received by faith. Faith saw, recognized, and consequently received, him as the Messiah. God speaks, faith listens; God offers, faith accepts.
(3) The regenerative and transforming power of faith. "They became the sons of God." How? By the given power of Jesus in connection with faith. Christ gave himself as a Divine Seed; faith received, appropriated, and nursed him so as to result in a Divine regeneration and birth. Faith transforms its object into its possessor; so that the believer in the Son of God becomes the son of God himself. This is a Divine process from beginning to end, in which faith—a Divine gift—plays a prominent part.
(4) Faith in Christ produced the same result in all. "As many as received him," etc. No matter as to position, education, or character.
1. The minority are often right, and the majority wrong. It was so on the plain of Dura, in Babylon, and so here.
2. The minority, generally, are the first to accept great truths; the majority reject them. Think of scientific, reforming and redemptive truths. The Jewish nation rejected the Saviour; a few received him.
3. It is better to be with the minority when right, than with the majority when wrong. They have truth and right, and will ultimately win all to their way of thinking. The few that received Jesus are fast gaining ground. The Saviour of the minority win soon be the Saviour of all.
4. We should be very thankful to the minority for receiving the Saviour. Humanly speaking, they saved the world from eternal disgrace and ruin—from sharing the fate of those who rejected him.
5. We should be infinitely more thankful to the Saviour that he did not leave the world in disgust and vengeance when rejected by his own. But inspired by infinite love, he turned his face to the world at large, stood by the minority, and the minority stood by him. The river of God's eternal purposes cannot be ultimately checked. If checked in one direction, it will take another, and the result will be more glorious. Christ comes to us every day. Do we receive him? Our obligations are infinite.—B.T.
The Divine Revealer.
We have here—
I. CHRIST AS THE REVEALER OF GOD. "He hath declared him."
1. He brought much that was known of God into a clearer light. In this respect his revelation
(1) was confirmative, confirming people in their notions of God as far as they were right.
(2) It was corrective—correcting the false notions of heathenism and Judaism, so that the God of Christ is very different from and far superior to that of the heathen and even that of the Jews.
2. He revealed much that was new, which was not known before. Such as:
(1) The spirituality of God.
(2) His fatherhood.
(3) His gracious will to fallen humanity in the great scheme of redemption which Christ came, not only to reveal, but to work out in his Divine-human life and death.
(4) The way of access to and reconciliation with God.
(5) His spiritual reign in his people on earth, and they with and in him for over in heaven.
II. CHRIST AS A PERFECT REVEALER OF GOD. "He hath declared him."
1. Perfect in the character of his knowledge.
(1) His knowledge was direct. Not borrowed or derived; but as the Son of God, and God himself, it was relationally direct and personally intuitive. He was not only the Channel, but the Fountain.
(2) His knowledge was absolute and exact. In this respect he was the truth itself. He could speak, not about something he had seen some time, but about what was actually present to him then; was not dependent upon memory and association, but on his present vision and personal consciousness.
(3) His knowledge was full, covering his subject in all its vastness and meaning, its fathomless depths, its dizzy heights, and boundless breadth.
2. Perfect in his revealing qualifications. In a perfect revealer of God to man there must be:
(1) Oneness of nature with both parties. Mere man or angel would be deficient. But Christ is perfectly qualified in this respect, being the Son of God and the Son of man, the Eternal Word which was God, but which "became flesh." An inferior mind cannot interpret a superior one. The bed of a brook cannot contain the Amazon. Christ being equal with God, and having assumed human nature, was in a position to reveal God perfectly to the human race; being God-Man, he could speak of God as man to men, in their nature and language.
(2) Intimate fellowship with both parties. Christ was in the bosom of the Father—a position of the most intimate fellowship; and not merely "he became flesh," but also "dwelt among us," lived in the closest fellowship with the human family, and was most intimately acquainted with all their wants, weaknesses, peculiarities, and difficulties.
(3) Thorough sympathy with both parties. This Jesus pre-eminently possessed. Being "the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father"—a position, not merely of the closest fellowship, but also of tenderest affection and mutual sympathy—his heart and will were tenderly sympathetic with the heart of God, and with the saving purposes of his love with regard to the human family. And as the "Word made flesh," he was in tenderest sympathy with mankind—with all their spiritual wants and aspirations; the faintest sigh for God would find in him a most ready and helpful response.
3. Perfect in his mode of revelation. Think of:
(1) Its clearness. It is clearly simple and simply clear, so that a child can understand it, and the blind almost see it. He would talk of God with the same ease and simplicity as he would talk of an object really present to him.
(2) Its suggestiveness. It stirs up the latent aspirations and powers of man to seek for and receive the knowledge of God.
(3) The prominence he gave to his subject. He declared God in all he said, kept him continually before the minds of his hearers; he kept himself in the background, and, as a Teacher, made himself of no reputation, that God his Father and our Father might be known.
(4) Its exemplification. He declared God, not only by precept, but by example. He used homely illustrations from nature, but found the homeliest illustration of God in his own Person and life, so that he could say, "He that hath seen me," etc. And he shirked not even from dying in order to declare God, so that in his. tragic death on the cross we have the most striking and convincing illustration of the love of God to a guilty world.
4. Perfect in the scope of his revelation. "He declared God"—as much as God wished and man required. Less would not do; more would be unnecessary and perhaps injurious. While curiosity is not satisfied, the wants of faith are met; so that God can now be known, "which is life eternal."
III. CHRIST AS THE ONLY PERFECT REVEALER OF GOD. "No man hath seen God," etc.
1. To declare God fully he must be seen. A full vision of him no man ever had, not even Moses, therefore could not fully declare him. Man's knowledge of God at best is limited and imperfect, and therefore incapable of being the medium of the full and essential revelation of God to the world.
2. Christ alone saw God, and he is the only perfect Revealer of him. His position is unique, He stands alone, he occupied a position in relation to God which no other one could occupy—"the Only Begotten," etc.
3. His revelation is infinitely valuable. Because:
(1) Supremely important. All knowledge is valuable, but, compared with the knowledge of God, every other knowledge fails into insignificance. Our eternal well being hangs upon it.
(2) Most reliable. It comes from the highest source, through the highest and most suitable medium, and in the most intelligible and convincing manner.
(3) It is most rare. It is a revelation which we could never get in any other way or from any other source—a revelation which God alone could give, and could only give through his Son.
1. We should hold Jesus in the highest esteem as the Revealer of God to us. No one else could reveal him as he did. We should magnify his grace in making known to us, at an infinite sacrifice, his Father's character, will, and purposes.
2. The gospel is an absolute truth. For what is it but the Son's revelation of the Father?—what he had seen and heard and experienced of him, and been sent to declare: his gracious purposes of grace towards the fallen human family?
3. As such the gospel should be accepted in implicit faith and burning gratitude. To reject is the greatest sin, to receive is the most urgent duty. "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation," etc.—B.T.
The Jewish deputation and the Baptist.
I. THE DEPUTATION'S QUESTION. "Who art thou?" This implies:
1. That a spirit of inquiry trod been awakened. Whether from curiosity, officialism, or jealousy, it was there. It is better to be questioned from any motive than not to be questioned at all. It is better for the questioners themselves. That is a very dull age or person that asks no questions. Asking is the condition of receiving. It is better for the one questioned, especially if he be a public man—a teacher with a truth, or a herald with a message. It proves that his presence and efforts awake attention. This was the case with the Baptist now. It gladdened his heart that a deputation came and questioned him. It proved that his voice had begun to stir the land and awake the spirit of inquiry.
2. That there was a prevalent expectation at the time for the appearance of a great personage. Some expecting the Messiah, some Elijah, some the prophet, and all expecting some great one to appear. Time somehow had reached its fulness; it had been in travail for some time, and a birth was naturally expected. Ancient prophecy also nursed the expectation, and there was a deeply felt need for the fulfilment and for the appearance of a Deliverer. There is a close connection between want and expectation, and between both and inquiry. So that when the Baptist began to burn in the wilderness, the spirit of the age soon caught the flame, and the country was ablaze with inquiry from different motives.
3. A high compliment is paid to John and his ministry, whether meant or not. Especially by the first form of the inquiry, "Art thou the Christ?" No one would ask a taper, "Art thou the sun?" but one would be tempted to ask the question of the moon or the morning star. John would doubtless be satisfied with the simple question, "Who art thou?" and drop it there and listen to the reply; for how many come and go and act on the stage of time without exciting the simple question, "Who art thou?" But John succeeded soon in eliciting this question, not from the thoughtless crowd, but from the mental and moral princes of the nation, and they ask him, "Art thou the Christ?" John was such a shining light that it was pardonable to mistake him for a moment for the Light of the world. The herald partook so much of the majesty of the coming King that it was natural to suspect that he might be the King himself. All this was befitting and natural.
4. Great persistency and demand in their inquiry. They ask in every shape and form, and ask again and again; and in this they are worthy of imitation by all inquirers for truth. If your first question fails, ask again and again. How many have not been admitted to the temple of truth and the heaven of life because they only timidly knocked at the door once and then ran away! But this deputation were persistent and demanding. And in this they were neither wrong, intrusive, nor unwelcome. The ministry of John was such as to deserve and demand inquiry. The public had a right to demand his testimonials, and he was ready to furnish them. Truth suffers not by inquiry, but gains. This inquiry in its persistency and demand was as pleasing to John as it ought to be profitable to the deputation.
5. The inquiry is made of the proper party. Many ask for information everywhere but where they are likely to get it. They try to gather knowledge of a person of everybody but of the person himself. They try to find a risen Saviour in an empty grave, find the stars in the day, and the sun in the night. But this deputation act wisely and intelligently in their search for knowledge concerning John by coming to John himself, and asking him, "Who art thou?" And who was so likely to know and. reply? If you want water, go to the fountain. If you want to know something about the rose, do not go to the oak or even the lily, but go to the rose itself; look at its delicate beauty, and inhale its sweet perfume, if you want truth, go to him who is the Truth. Do not accept things at second hand when you can get them new and fresh. So far as the formality of this inquiry goes, it is wise and intelligent.
II. JOHN'S ANSWER. Negatively. To the form of the inquiry which implied that he might be the Christ, Elijah, or the prophet, he gave a firm denial. This proves his strict honesty as an herald. The temptation would be too strong for an impostor or an ambitious upstart; he would likely reply affirmatively or evasively. These are questions which no one but John had to answer. His position was unique. He had strong individuality and transparent honesty. He would be no other than himself. His only ambition was to occupy his own place, and work out his own mission in life. Affirmatively. He was glad to deny in order to affirm; to say something about himself in order to introduce the great subject of his mission—the coming Messiah. He refers to himself as a subject of ancient prophecy, and therefore a divinely appointed herald (Isaiah 40:1-31.). "Now, I am that voice." We have here:
1. The import of his mission. "Make straight the way of the Lord." This implies:
(1) That the Lord was coming. He was coming in his Son—their long expected Messiah. He was close at hand; in fact, in their midst, although they knew him not.
(2) That his way had become crooked. The way of the Lord, as opened by himself through Moses, was straight, leading directly to the Messiah; but they had made it crooked and uneven with their traditions and wicked conduct.
(3) That it should be immediately straightened. This was their solemn duty, and this they were called to do by suitable preparation—by repentance, by a radical reformation and inward cleansing. The King was at hand, and the way should be worthy of the distinguished traveller. Let every barrier to the progress of his chariot be removed; and, that his march may be triumphant and men be blessed, his way should be straightened.
2. His characteristics as a messenger. In addition to those indicated, we have:
(1) Mysteriousness. "The voice." He was a mystery to himself as well as to others. Born and bred in the desert, holding closer communion with heaven than with earth, with God than with men, with ancient prophets and seers than with his own family, having dreams from early youth of a Divine mission which suddenly burst out into a voice like a peal of thunder upon the wilderness, people listened, wondered, and were stirred to inquiry; and in this whirlwind of excitement he was half a mystery to himself as well as to others.
(2) Self-obliviousness and devotion to his mission. As if he were to say, "You have suspected me of being the Christ, Elijah, or the prophet: I am neither, only the voice of one crying," etc. The voice is that of some one; but never mind that some one, but attend to the voice and its contents: "your Messiah is in it." With John it was not the messenger, but the mission; not the herald, but the coming King. And it should ever be so. The minister is but the voice—the herald of the King, the aural expression of Divine thought, to be heard rather than seen.
(3) There is a striking adaptation. His work was crying, and he was the voice. He was a herald with a Divine message, and he bad a voice to publish it. We should not grumble because we have not some gifts, if we have the necessary gifts for our special calling; if we have not, we have made a mistake. When our land was a moral wilderness, God's old pioneering heralds had voices like thunder. How the wilderness to a great extent is transformed into a garden, and the voice becomes naturally more suppressed. The Baptist was a special herald with a special message in the world's wilderness, and he had a voice like a trumpet.
(4) Awful loneliness. "The voice of one crying in the wilderness." Here is a vast wilderness, and only one crying in it. John was literally so, and morally to a greater extent. He had scarcely any one to sympathize with him, no responsive voice but the echo of his, no inspiration but that from within and from above. The Messiah he heralded was personally unknown to him. Great reformations have commenced with a few—with one—and that one alone bearing a lonely torch through a scene of dense darkness. Let those who labour almost alone in foreign lands remember the lonely crier of the Judaean wilderness, the sources of his inspiration, and the ultimate results.
(5) Terrible earnestness. "The voice of one crying." Not moaning, or muttering, or whispering, but crying. John was terribly earnest. His message burned like fire in his soul, quivered on his lips, and thundered forth in his voice. His whole being was merged into speech—his head and feet, his face, his eyes, especially his trumpet voice, and even his strange garment spoke; so that he could not give a better account of himself than by saying, "I am the voice." He almost felt all voice. And it should ever be so. The observer should be all eyes, the listener all ears, but the herald all voice. Let the preacher be all mind in the study, but all voice in the pulpit.
(6) Great power and effect. There is a great power in a voice, even the mere sound of material forces—the peals of the thunder, the sweeping blast of the storm, the mighty tones of the ocean, or the terrible roar of the cataract; but what is all this sound to the human voice in its various cadences and modulations, as the expression of thought, the flaming chariot of passion and enthusiasm, and the stately vehicle of intelligence? In the thunder and the storm matter only speaks; but in the human voice mind speaks; and in that of a Divine herald God himself speaks. So that in the voice of John could be heard the want of the world and the will of God. The thunder is not much without the lightning. The Baptist had a message of lightning and a voice of thunder, so that it was very powerful and effective. Its first notes were stern and terrible as he came in contact with the awful hypocrisy, infidelity, and vice of the age. Then his voice burst forth into thunders of invective and whirlwinds of condemnation, "O generation of vipers," etc.! But towards the close of his ministry his voice grew more tender and mellow, so that we cannot imagine even the stern Baptist's voice to be otherwise than soft and musical as he uttered the words, the climax of his ministry, "Behold the Lamb," etc.! The ministry of John terrified and charmed, stirred society to its very core, answered its purposes, and drove all nearer to or further from God.
(7) Evanescence. "I am the voice," etc. Notice the difference between the description of Christ and that of John. One is the "Word," abiding and permanent; the other is the "voice," transient and evaporating. John and his ministry were the voice—like the report of a cannon, soon to die away, but not before the shot is sent home. John's voice was soon hushed, but hushed in the music of fulfilment, and in the sweeter voice of the already present King.
1. Many inquire while they ought to know. This deputation and those that sent them were masters in Israel, and ought to know the coming of their Lord and Messiah.
2. Many inquire in proper form, but in a wrong spirit. This deputation were outwardly proper, but inwardly hollow and insincere.
3. Many inquirers at first raise high hopes, but they are soon blighted. Doubtless John at first was elated with such a respectable and apparently genuine deputation; but his hopes were soon blighted by the hoar frost of bigotry and pride. It came to nothing, at least with regard to the majority of them.
4. The faithful herald should publish his message irrespective of consequences, treat all with respect, answer questions. Some may benefit by others failures, and drink the water drawn but left by some one else.—B.T.
The guileless inquirer.
I. THE CHARACTER OF NATHANAEL IN ITS DISTINGUISHING FEATURES. "An Israelite indeed." This title was partly given to Jacob, and assumed by his descendants. But many of them were Israelites only in name, not in deed. Hereditary titles are often hollow and unreal. They were genuine when bestowed at first as tokens and rewards of courage and service, but when assumed on account of birth merely, they often lack reality. Nathanael was a true descendant of Jacob, and even superior to his illustrious spiritual ancestors—"an Israelite indeed." His character was distinguished by:
1. Genuine devotion. This made him an Israelite indeed, a genuine heir of the title conferred on his illustrious ancestor—"a prince of God," one who could in prayer be victorious with the Almighty. What was he doing underneath the fig tree alone? One thing, doubtless, was struggling, wrestling with God in prayer; and he was successful. The shady fig tree was his Peniel. Every Israelite indeed has his Peniel and fig tree somewhere. Genuine devotion is retiring. The most successful victories are won in seclusion very different was Nathanael from Israelites alone in name, who loved to pray standing in public places in order to be seen. The Israelite indeed retires in order not to be seen by any but by the Father of spirits. Every true character is devotional, and the truest devotion is retiring and almost shy. It is the courtship of the soul. It is to be feared that much of the devotion of the present day is mere empty parade. Let ethers have the rostrum and the corners of the streets; give me the fig tree.
2. Transparent sincerity. "In whom there is no guile."
(1) No guile of intellect. There is a guile of intellect, the prolific parent of sophistry, the mental devil of poor humanity.
(2) No guile of heart—the parent and refuge of deceit and secret vice.
(3) No guile of conduct. If absent inwardly, it will be absent outwardly. Gullets peculiarly an inward vice. It shuns publicity, it inhabits the inward recesses of the mind and heart; but when there, it must come to the surface sometimes for breath, occasionally seen by men, always by God. Nathanael was free from this. It is not said that he had no sin, no fault, no weakness; he had, as indicated by his question to Philip, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" He was tainted with the prejudices of his age, and with doubt in consequence; but it was an outward pimple rather than an inward cancer. He had no guile, else it would remain within. Sincerity or guilelessness is an elementary and essential principle of Christian character. Without it Christ was helpless even with regard to the outwardly proper,—he had to leave them with a "woe;" but with it he was triumphantly merciful and saving. Even with regard to the outwardly rebellious and sinful, he was their Friend and Saviour, and they became his followers.
3. Honest and earliest inquiry after saving truth.
(1) He was meditative. He retired regularly under the fig tree, not merely for prayer, but also for holy meditation and honest search for Divine truth. He lived not by bread alone, but felt that his soul must have suitable food as well as his body. tie hungered after truth, and made a diligent search for it.
(2) He made the best use of the advantages he possessed. He had Moses and the prophets, and he was an earnest student of them. He had fully grasped the central truth of their teaching—the promised Messiah; he studied his character and gazed with delight at his portrait as drawn by their inspired pen. Doubtless he had been a spellbound listener of the great herald of the wilderness, and his soul was stirred into burning expectation. In this respect he was an "Israelite indeed," being the genuine growth of the Messianic promises, and waiting for "the Consolation of Israel."
(3) He welcomed every new light. No sooner Philip said, "Come and see," than he at once came to Jesus. He "proved all things," and "held fast that which was good."
4. Intelligence and readiness of faith.
1. He was ready to believe. He had a believing soul. He had lived by faith in the coming Redeemer. There were Christians before the appearance of Christ, looking forward by faith to him; there were Israelites indeed; and Nathanael was one of them.
(2) His faith was discerning. He saw the Son of God in the Son of Joseph, the King of Israel in Jesus of Nazareth; and the mist of prejudice and doubt vanished before the gaze of his faith and the sight of Jesus.
(3) His faith was intelligent. He believed because he was convinced, and was convinced because Christ gave an unmistakable proof of his superhuman knowledge so peculiar to the Messiah. His faith and reason went hand in hand, and were mutually helpful; so that his faith was intelligent and his intelligence faithful.
5. A confession of conviction.
(1) His confession is respectful. "Rabbi"—a title of honour and respect.
(2) His confession is prompt. No sooner was he convinced than he confessed—another proof of his guilelessness. Many of the Pharisees believed, but on account of guile did not confess. The "Israelite indeed" promptly confessed him.
(3) His confession is full, and given in an intelligent manner. "Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel." His conceptions of Jesus are worthy of him and of the "Israelite indeed." The character of Nathanael was altogether so transparent that Jesus could in it see his own image as in a glass, and Nathanael could see in Jesus the Son of God and the King of men.
III. HIS CHARACTER IN RELATION TO JESUS.
1. It was such as to attract the admiring attention of Jesus. Philip was quick in thought and motion with regard to Nathanael. He ran to inform and invite him; but Jesus was before him. "Before Philip called thee,...I saw thee." There is a law of attraction in the spiritual world—Nathanael was attracted by Jesus, and Jesus by Nathanael. The pure are attracted by the pure; the sincere by the sincere; and Israel's King was attracted by the "Israelite indeed."
2. It was such as to cause Jesus to point it out to others. Jesus was frank and open, and loved to reveal his moral taste and likings. "Behold!" he exclaimed; "look at it, it is worth seeing."
(1) It is rare. Comparatively rare in every age, especially in that age of unbelief, hypocrisy, and sham. it was a lonely fruit on the almost barren fig tree of Judaism. It was like a lonely star in a sky of almost universal gloom, like a field of corn in a continent of barrenness, or like a lonely well in a burning desert—a treat to Jesus and to his disciples then and now.
(2) It is very valuable. A genuine coin, a pearl. Most valuable because real and useful. Jesus was going to cultivate the world, plough and sow it; it was most important to have good grain for seed—it was scarce. Jesus could only have a handful, but quality was mere important than quantity. Nathanael had the right quality—a genuine seed of the kingdom of heaven, a pillar of the new temple of truth, and a model of character for all ages.
(3) It was very beautiful. Beauty is ever attractive and worthy of notice, especially spiritual beauty—beauty of character, beauty of soul; and of all beautiful things a beautiful character, a beautiful soul, is the most attractive and most worthy of attention. Jesus points to it, and thus directs the moral taste of the world. The world says," Behold this or that;" but Jesus, "Behold an Israelite indeed," etc. Nathanael's character was beautiful, especially in that age of moral deformity. It was like a lily among thorns.
3. It is such as introduces its possessor to a caesar acquaintance with Jesus, and to brighter visions of his Person, character, and position. "Thou shalt see greater things than these."
(1) Greater proofs of his Divinity and Messiahship. Clearer proofs of his superhuman knowledge, especially of his power in his miracles—his miracles of power and love; new manifestations of the beauty of his Divine and human character.
(2) A clear view of the communication between heaven and earth of which Jesus is the Medium. "Ye shall see heaven open," etc. The heaven was not merely open, but it was opened, and opened by Christ. This was one of the first acts of his redeeming intervention. It was closed by man's sin, opened by the Son of man's grace. Heaven is ever open to the "Son of man," and ever open to faith in him. Jacob saw the communication between heaven and earth in the ladder. Jesus is the reality of his vision. Angels ascend and descend on and through him. Every prayer goes up and every blessing comes down from heaven through him. Through him there is a free trade carried on between heaven and earth. "Angels ascend and descend," etc. They are very fond of him. As soon as he left heaven for earth they were after him, singing the hymns of his advent and the anthems of his loving mission; they were ready to serve him in his temptation, his agonies, and his ascension; they were ever surrounding his Person. And they are fond of all who by faith are related to him; they become "ministering spirits." The descent from and ascent to heaven would be too deep and high for angels but on the Son of man.
1. Many of the most beautiful characters are comparatively private, like Nathanael—rather felt than seen and heard, characterized by quiet usefulness, moral beauty, transparency and sunshine of soul, rather retiring, and to be found under the fig tree rather than on the branches.
2. You must have the Saviour to appreciate them fully and point them out. At the last day he shall exhibit many of these retiring but specially beautiful ones. They are only fully known and valued by him. They shall appear with him in glory.
3. Faith is rewarded here and hereafter. Its reward is seeing great: things, and ever greater things. It is vision of the spiritual and the Divine, and its visions are increasingly grand. Believe in Christ, and heaven is opened; and, once opened, the privileges are great, and the outlook glorious and illimitable.—B.T.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The life that gives light to men.
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth:" so runs the first verse of the Book of Genesis. "In the beginning was the Word:" so runs the first verse in the Gospel of John. This resemblance prompts us to look for other resemblances. "God said, Let there be light: and there was light:" so runs the third verse of the Book of Genesis. And then we perceive that John, correspondingly, would lead his readers to think of the greatest of all lights which come from God. He speaks of the Word that he may tell us of the Life in it, and of the Life that he may tell us of the Light in it. The Word is a living and light giving one. What are sun, moon, and stars, and all lamps compared with this light? John is speaking here for the eye of the heart.
I. THE DARKNESS THIS LIGHT IS MEANT TO ILLUMINATE. Be thankful for the lights forming part of the physical creation. There is sunlight even when there is not sunshine. Be thankful for the higher lights of civilization. Also the increasing light coming with every new discovery and invention. Each new generation finds the world better to live in, in many respects, Magnify what light you have outside of Christ; then you will better understand how small it is compared with what he has to give. For a while we may not at all feel the need of Christ's light. But the world becomes gloomy and cheerless enough to many who once reckoned it constantly radiant with brightness. The world very soon puzzles and perplexes those who are thoroughly in earnest. Life is such a short and broken thing to many. The longest life is like a candle; it burns and burns till it burns down to the socket, but it burns none the less; and then what is there left to show? God has noticed whatever darkness there may be in your heart. "God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all;" and he wants us to be the same—wants to lead us into the light of constant peace, joy, and purity.
II. THE REASON THIS LIGHT IS SO POWERFUL TO TAKE THE DARKNESS AWAY. The light that God sends is a life. What power often dwells in a word—a true and fitting word, coming from the heart, giving just the information and encouragement needed! But then the kindest and wisest human speakers cannot be always present. And so God has a word for us in a life that can never pass away. Think of the power in his life; of the things he did, and did in such a way as to show he could do a great deal more. Think of the goodness of his life—goodness whereby he did good, and goodness whereby he resisted temptation. Think of the joy abounding in his life, even in the midst of straits and sufferings. Think of the confidence he carried through everything, never doubting whence he had come or what he could do. Think especially of the Resurrection, and life in heaven. It is from a world of life and light that this luminous life shines down upon us.
III. HOW THIS LIGHT BECOMES AVAILABLE TO US. He who told his disciples to shine, does his very best to shine himself. But then we must open our eyes to see this light. Lamps are nothing save as men are willing to use them. It is light we have to seek for: the darkness comes without seeking. Let Jesus shine in our hearts for spiritual blessings corresponding to those natural ones which come through ordinary lights. Let us aim to look back from the safety and fulness of the perfect day, saying, "Christ has indeed been a Light to me."—Y.
Receiving Christ, and the result of it.
I. CHRIST IGNORED. "The world knew him not." This statement is humiliating to the world, not to Christ. The world makes a great parade of its insight and its power to give deciding verdicts; but here is its very Maker in its midst, yet it knows him not. Here surely is the crowning sin of the world, that it knows not him who is the Fountain of all its boasted powers. Were the world what it ought to be, it would welcome its Maker, rejoicing in the presence of him who gave its intellect and all the material on which that intellect is so busy. In the face of this statement of John, it should not trouble us that so much of the world's intellect and grandeur ignores Christ. A man with the worldly spirit strong in him is contented with his own infallibility and certainty. Rather let us, when we see the world's complacent ignoring of Christ, contrast it with the Christian's substantial knowledge of him. And seeing that the world, with all its knowledge, knows not Christ, let us bear in mind how many things the Christian himself does not yet know.
II. CHRIST IGNORED WHERE MOST OF ALL HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN RECEIVED. The reference is doubtless to Christ's coming into the land of Israel. He was not only the world's Maker, but Israel's Messiah, and Israel failed to recognize him in either capacity. They did not give him even a provisional reception till such time as his claim could be examined; for such seems the force of παρέλαβον. They were prejudiced against him from the very first. Every word and act were twisted against trim. What candour there is in these admissions of John! Christianity fears no statement of facts. The more emphatic and bitter human rejections became the more clearly the necessity of a Christ was proved.
III. RECEIVING CHRIST, AND ITS RESULT. Here is the whole truth. The world cannot receive Christ, but always there are some who go out from the world because they are not of the world. Among the children of men there is a rejecting spirit and a receiving spirit. He who receives Christ must be all the more determined and cordial in his reception, because he sees so many rejecting; and he who is at all inclined to consider the claims of Christ must be careful not to be turned aside because so many are indifferent. See with your own eyes. All true things have met with scorn and persecution at first. But what is it to receive Christ? Evidently to deliver ourselves over to his rule and authority. If a man should receive a traveller into his house, and give trim henceforth the disposition of everything there, that would give the analogy as to how we should receive Christ; and so receiving Christ, we gain the right to become sons of God. We have our part in the natural world's existence through Christ, and that comes without our willing; but a part in the highest attainment belonging to human life, even sonship towards God, can only come through our voluntary submission to Christ. Jesus gives true and humble disciples the right to become sons of God; and teaching them to say, "Our Father, who art in heaven," he involves the constant remembrance of this right in every true prayer.—Y.
Moses and Christ.
Let us proceed at once to particular instances of the Law given through Moses, and of the grace and truth coming through Jesus Christ. Thus we shall better see how Moses is brought into connection with Christ, and Law into connection with grace and truth. Look, then, at Exodus 20:1-26, where the great principles of the Law given through Moses are stated.
I. CONSIDER, THE BASIS OF JEHOVAH'S CLAIM. "I am Jehovah thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." The fact of deliverance was indisputable, and just as indisputable the fact that the people had not delivered themselves; and for a while the delivered people hardly knew why they were delivered. Left to themselves, they might have scattered; but there was a compulsion on them all the time—a compulsion into liberty, a compulsion to go through the Bed Sea, a compulsion towards the awful solitudes of Sinai. Then at last Jehovah tells them what he expects. He who has done great things for them wants to know what they will do for him; and, lest they be inattentive, he states, to begin with, the solid basis of his claim. Then turn from Moses to Jesus Christ, and we have but another aspect of the same Jehovah. Jehovah was really gracious in the giving of the Law; but the grace got hidden. In Jesus Christ grace is manifest to all. There is the basis of a claim on you. You have but to look back on the experiences of others, human beings like yourselves—like in infirmity, like in manifold needs, like in the pollution of an evil heart, like in suffering and sorrow, like in sickness and mortality. As Jesus in the flesh actually dealt with men in various positions, so now, in the spirit according to his view of your needs, will he deal with you. Jesus turned no water to blood, smote no cattle with pestilence, bruised no fields With hail, gathered no clouds of locusts, wrapt no land in gross darkness, robbed no parents of their firstborn, overwhelmed no armies in the sea. A little child can see that grace and truth are in Jesus Christ.
II. CONSIDER THE CLAIM OF JEHOVAH ITSELF. Take the first item. "Thou shall have no other gods before me." Look at all that is involved in this claim. It means that we are to worship Jehovah alone, and that, of course, assumes that we are actually worshippers of the one God to begin with. What if we are deluding ourselves with mere outward performances before a name? Do we know what we worship? Labelling the unknown with the name of God does not make it better known. And Moses gave no help in revealing the nature of God. He uttered bare law. But Jesus comes with a grace and truth which are strangely self-revealing. He winds gently into the hearts of men, by every entrance he can find. He quietly accepts as his right the reverence and adoration of every heart willing to render them. No long elucidations are needed to make it plain that he is a gracious Being. We need no formal command to worship him. We are instinctively drawn to our knees in his presence. He carries the essence of his commandments charactered in his gracious face. Thus by considering all the ten commandments, we should get illustrations of the grace and truth in Jesus Christ. The ten commandments, just by themselves, however often repeated, can bring comfort to no human being, only a deeper conviction of one's sin and misery. Jesus brings the Law just as vigorously as Moses; but he brings more than Law. Through his demands there shine forth gloriously grace and truth, favour and reality. Not simply good wishes on the one side, or bare reality on the other. Christ brings a grace that is truthful, and a truth that is gracious. He comes as both the kindest and ablest of physicians. He gives strength before he asks service. Grace and truth flow from him to us, and then in due time grace and truth flow forth from us also.—Y.
A question for seekers.
I. A FIRST MEETING WITH SOME OF THE DISCIPLES. Interesting to look back from the concluding to the beginning chapters of this Gospel—from the days when the apostles were trusted friends to the days when Jesus and they were but as strangers. Here we have a record of the first meeting with some of them. Jesus is walking by the banks of the Jordan—a Teacher who has been made fit to teach, waiting now for scholars; and some of the scholars, all unknown to themselves, have been becoming fit for Jesus in the preparatory school of John. To them John must often have spoken of the sin of the world, and the appointed Lamb of God who was to take it away. What wonder, then, that the Lamb of God, really set before their gaze, should draw their footsteps towards him?
II. THE EVIDENT STRONG INTEREST WHICH JESUS HAD EXCITED IN THE MINDS OF THESE TWO MEN. They could not help following him. We cannot but contrast this overmastering interest on their part with the absence of interest in Jesus on our part. Surely, if such an interest was possible to them, it must in some way be possible to us. As we read the Gospels we ought to feel that Jesus of Nazareth was the most important Person in the world at that time, far more important than the greatest of rulers and the wisest of men; far more important to each person who came in contact with him than the nearest of his kindred could be—far more important to John the Baptist than his parents, Zacharias and Elisabeth; far more important to John the disciple than Zebedee his father; far more important to Andrew than Simon his brother; far more important to Philip than Nathanael his friend. If we are not more interested in the doings and claims of Jesus than in the doings and claims of any one else, we shall fail to appreciate Jesus as he ought to be appreciated.
III. HOW CAME THIS STRONG INTEREST TO BE EXCITED? The men had been amply prepared. They had been impressively told of the need Jesus came to supply. Often must John and Andrew have heard the Baptist calling the crowd to repentance. Doubtless the Baptist had often led his disciples to meditate very earnestly on the wickedness, the wants, and the woes of the great world around them, with its Pharisees and Sadducees, its publicans and sinners, its blind and lame, lepers and demoniacs, poor and destitute. How could earnest and pitying men be otherwise than interested in him who was to sweep the sin-caused troubles of the world away? And our interest must come in the same way.
IV. THE QUESTION JESUS ASKS THESE INTERESTED ONES. He seeks to give direction and depth to this interest. He seeks to eliminate all mere curiosity and wonder seeking. Jesus himself was a Seeker having definite and most decided aims. Such a question as met these disciples should meet us in all our formal approaches to God. Are we really seeking anything? and if so, what is it? Only those who are evidently real seekers can ever get anything out of Christ. Such persons will soon be able to answer Christ's question. He helps the intent seeker to find all he wants in him.—Y.
Bringing men to Jesus.
Jesus asks Andrew, "What seek ye?" and the question soon shows fruit in Andrew seeking out his own brother Simon. The New Testament deals with spiritual things, but that does not prevent it from being full of natural touches. What Andrew did is just the very thing which in like circumstances we might have been expected to do. And surely it is the most reasonable of conjectures that Andrew, who began by bringing his own brother, must have been the bringer also of many who were mere strangers. Interest in natural kinsmen would soon be merged in the wider interest a Christian must feel in humanity at large. Peter was Andrew's first gift to Jesus, and he may have been the easiest. To bring a human being into real, loving contact with Jesus is not an easy thing; but what a service, what a blessing and a joy, to every one concerned!
I. Andrew was able to bring Peter to Jesus because HE HAD FIRST OF ALL BEEN BROUGHT HIMSELF. Andrew had first of all been himself the subject of spiritual illumination. God must have shined in his heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He had been brought to Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. The acquaintance had been very short, but a great deal may be done in a short time when the human heart has been getting ready to meet with Christ, when there is perfect openness and simplicity of mind—truth on one side and an eager seeker after it on the other. To get other people as far as Peter, we must first of all have got as far as Andrew ourselves. How should the blind lead the blind? We must not wait for an Andrew. God has his own agency for us. He may send some John the Baptist, saving, "Behold!" to us. We must consider well the obstacles in our way to Jesus, which none can remove but ourselves—procrastination, bosom sins, spiritual indolence, neglect 'of the Scriptures.
II. CONSIDER WHO IT WAS THAT ANDREW BROUGHT. his own brother Simon. So natural brotherhood is distinguished from that spiritual brotherhood which afterwards sprang into existence as regenerated believers in Christ felt the strong tie binding them together. What brother ought not to be to brother, and yet what he may very easily become, is shown from Cain and Abel, and Joseph and his brethren. What brother ought to be to brother is shown in this seeking of Simon by Andrew. Great opportunities are given by natural brotherhood, mutually cherished. Give every good thing in nature a chance to become also a minister of grace.
III. CONSIDER WHAT ANDREW SAID TO PETER. "We have found the Messiah." This is as much good news for us as it was for Peter. What Andrew said he said at first, after a very brief acquaintance; but he would go on saying it all the more as day after day opened up the riches of Messiah's mission and power. Observe the plural form of the announcement. The other disciple agreed with Andrew in his judgment. Look out for those and listen to them who bear the same message as Andrew, though not in quite the same form. We have words and acts of Jesus constantly forced on our attention. If we cannot be brought to Jesus, Jesus is brought to us. All bringing of men to Jesus must be preceded, more or less, by bringing of Jesus to men. Andrew must have brought such a vivid and powerful account of his talk with Jesus as would amount practically tea bringing of Jesus.—Y.
Jesus and Nathanael.
Jesus praises Nathanael both in what he says to others concerning him, and what he says directly to himself. Whatever Jesus may have found praiseworthy in the other four disciples, he said nothing. Nathanael stands out very distinctly as having in him elements of character needing to be published to all disciples. Jesus meant to say to others, "Be ye as this man. Be ye also Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile. Be ye those who have peculiar individual experiences under the fig tree." And so we must try to discover what it is to be "an Israelite indeed," and what it was Jesus specially observed when Nathanael was under the fig tree.
I. Begin with the most definite word, AN ISRAELITE INDEED. Some are Israelites only in appearance—Israelites according to the flesh, perhaps, yet not therefore Israelites indeed. An Israelite indeed is one like Israel. Israel is the man of two names—Jacob to begin with, Israel afterwards. We must look at him in all the scenes of his life. Jacob at Bethel must be specially considered, also that later wrestling till the breaking of the day. On that occasion Jacob was resolved. With him it was now or never. He had a blessing to get that meant salvation and prosperity, and therefore, as a drowning man grasps the rope, he grasped the only Being who could give that blessing. That was how Israel got his name, entered into his privilege, and became an example to us. An Israelite indeed is one who wrestles with the Giver of spiritual blessings; one who has known long agonies of the heart; one who has toiled with strong crying and tears, if only he might get the blessing of a conscience undefiled, and a heart perfectly subjected to the will of God.
II. THE LIGHT THUS CAST ON THE CHARACTER OF NATHANAEL. He was an Israelite indeed. Therefore he had known intense spiritual struggles. His bosom had been the seat of some great searching influence akin to that which Israel passed through when he wrestled to the breaking of the day. Nathanael must have had his time of wrestling under the fig tree. Something was resolved, something attained. What the something was we know not, for Jesus perfectly respects Nathanael's secret, even while he makes Nathanael feel that he knows it.
III. WE ALL SHOULD HAVE OUR TIME UNDER THE FIG TREE. Seek a season wherein the underlying realities of life shall meet us face to face. Struggles like those of Nathanael are indicated again and again in the Book of Psalms. If yea would understand Psalms 139:1-24., you must have had your time under the fig tree. Till you have had such a time you are without a key to the deepest, most precious utterances of Scripture. The thought of Nathanael should stir us up to that struggle which makes a spiritual man so rich and strong, and, above all, so satisfying a sight to the Lord Jesus Christ.
IV. WHEN WE ARE UNDER THE FIG TREE JESUS KNOWS ABOUT IT. Nathanael knows that Jesus has gazed upon his heart and seen its most hidden thoughts. He is not dependent upon the exactness of our recollections, or the fulness of our descriptions. He sees the fulness of the inward life just as it is. Nathanael knew that henceforth to one Being in the universe at least secrets were not secrets. Not merely that Nathanael was seen, but seen by the eye of Jesus, that made the discovery so important. "I saw thee." Put all the fulness of meaning you can into that "I."—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on John 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/