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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
John 1

 

 

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Introduction

CHAP. I.

The divinity, humanity, and office of Jesus Christ. The testimony of John. The calling of Andrew, Peter, &c.

Anno Domini 26.


Verse 1

John 1:1. In the beginning was the Word, "In the beginning, before the foundation of the world, or the first production of any created being, a glorious Person existed, who may properly be called the Word of God, not only because God the Father at first created, and still governs, all things by him, but because, as men discover their sentiments and designs to one another by the intervention of words, speech, or discourse, so God, by his Son, discovers his gracious designs in the fullest and clearest manner to men. All the various manifestations which he makes of himself, whether in the works of creation, providence, or redemption; all the revelations that he has been pleased to give of his will, are conveyed to us through him, and therefore he is, by way of eminence, fitly stiled the Word of God." The evangelist seems here to allude to the first word of Genesis, Berashith, translated by the LXX, εν Αρχη, in the beginning. See on Genesis 1:1. As this divine Word existed at the time when all things were created, (see John 1:3-10.) he existed, consequently, from all eternity. This verse therefore is a direct contradiction of the tenets of Cerinthus, as represented in article 2, 3, and 8, of the foregoingargument. Λογος [Logos,] the name which St.

John applies to the eternal Son of God, signifies, according to the Greek etymology, both discourse and reason. Le Clerc, in his notes on this passage, takes it in the latter sense, when applied to the Son, because, long before St. John wrote, the Platonists, and after them several learned Jews, particularly Philo, had used it in the same sense, to signify the Creator of the world. The Stoics too seem to have affixed a similar idea to the word Logos, when they affirmed that all divine things were formed by reason, or the divine wisdom, in opposition to the Epicurean system, which taught that the world came into being by chance, or was made without reason. Induced by these particulars, Le Clerc fancies, that as the name Logos was familiar to the philosophers and learned Jews, who had imbibed Plato's principles, such Christians as admired the writings of Plato and his followers, must very early have adopted, not the name of Logos only, but all the phrases which the Platonists used in speaking of the person to whom they gave that name, and consequently were in danger of corrupting Christianitywith the errors of Platonism. At the same time he imagines, that though the notions of these philosophers concerning the second person of the Godhead were in general very confused, they had derived certain true ideas of him from tradition; and that the evangelist St. John, for this reason, in speaking of the same Person, made use of the term Logos, to shew in what sense, and how far, it might be used with safety byChristians. But as it is very uncertain whether the primitive Christians studied the writings of Plato and Philo, it is not probable that St. John would think it necessary, in composing his gospel, to adopt the terms and phrases of these philosophers. Accordingly, the generality of commentators have rejected Le Clerc's suppositions, believing that St. John, under the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit, borrowed the name Logos, either from the Mosaic history of the creation, or from Psalms 33:6 where, in allusion to that history, it is said, the heavens were created by the word of God; or from the Jewish Targums, particularly the Chaldee Paraphrases, where the word of God is often substituted for what in the text is Jehovah. Nay, the term is used in such a manner, as to have personal attributes, even the attributes of the Godhead, ascribed to it; and is introduced in all or most of those places where the Hebrew mentions the face, the hands, or the eyes of God. St. John asserts that this Word was with God; namely, before any created being had existed. This perhaps is spoken in allusion to what the Wisdom of God says of himself, Proverbs 8:30. Our version of the Greek particle προς, rendered with, is supported by the best classical writers among the Greeks. This sentence is in opposition to the following verses, wherein we are told, that the Word was made flesh, that he dwelt among us, and was seen, which intimates his pre-existence before these circumstances. It is added, and the Word was God; upon which some have remarked, that as there is no article before the word Θεος, God, it should be read, and God was the Word: but this manner of expression is made use of by this same apostolic writer, Ch. John 4:24.; and several of the purest writers among the Greeks have frequently sentences wherein the substantive with an article, though placed after the verb, is to be construed first, and as the nominative to the verb. Many have eagerly contended, that the word God is used here in an inferior sense; the necessary consequence of which is, as they affirm, that this clause should be rendered the Word was a God, that is, a kind of inferior Deity, as governors are called gods: but it is impossible he should here be so called merely as a governor, because he is spoken of as existing before the production of any creatures whom he could govern; and it is most incredible, that when the Jews were so exceedingly averse to idolatry, and the Gentiles sounhappily prone to it, such a plain writer as this apostle should lay so dangerous a stumbling-block at the threshold of his work, and represent it as the Christian doctrine, that in the beginning of all things there were two Gods, one supreme, and the other subordinate; a difficulty which, if possible, would be yet further increased, by recollecting what has been mentioned in the argument, that this gospel was written with a particular view of opposing Cerinthus and the Ebionites; on which account a greater accuracy of expression must have been necessary. There are so many instances in the writings of this apostle, and even in this chapter, (see John 1:6; John 1:12-13; John 1:18.) where the word Θεος, without the article, is used to signify God, in the highest sense of the word, that it is surprising any stress should be laid on the want of that article as a proof that it is used in a subordinate sense. But indeed St. Paul has fully determined this point; for he evidently insinuates that no being can be God, who is not God by nature. Galatians 4:8. It is observable, that St. John's discourse here rises by degrees: he tells us, first, that the Word in the beginning of the world existed; thus asserting his eternity: next, that he existed with God, thus asserting his co-eternity: and then, that he was God, and made all things; thus asserting his co-equality. I cannot conclude my annotation on this important passage in propererwords than those with which Dr. Doddridge closes his note: "I am deeply sensible of the sublime and mysterious nature ofthe doctrine of Christ's Deity as here declared; but it would be quite foreign to my purpose to enter into a large discussion of that great foundation of our faith. It has often been done by much abler hands: it was, however, matter of conscience with me, thus strongly to declare my belief of it; and I shall only add, with Bishop Burnet, that had not St. John and the other apostles thought it a doctrine of great importance in the gospel scheme, they would rather have waved than inserted and insisted upon it, considering the critical circumstances in which they wrote."


Verse 2

John 1:2. The same was in the beginning with God. The Socinians, who have laboured hard to subvert the authority of this stubborn portion of scripture, most perversely understand this passage of Christ's being taken up into heaven after his baptism, in order to be instructed in the will of God; for which they think they have Christ's own testimony, John 3:13. But they mistake the meaning of that passage (see the note). Besides, the evangelist is here describing the existence of the Word before he was made flesh, John 1:14 and therefore he cannot be understood as speaking of any thing which happened after his incarnation.


Verse 3

John 1:3. All things were made by him; Although the word make is capable of an extensive sense, yet, as in other passages Jesus is said to have created all things, Colossians 1:16 we cannot doubt that St. John uses the word εγενετο in the sense of creation, a meaning which it often has in the Jewish scriptures. It is true, this and the other passages which speak of Christ's making all things, are by some explained of his erecting the Christian dispensation. But let it be observed here, once for all, that if the Socinian explication of the texts, which attribute to the Lord Jesus the names, perfections, and actions of the true God, be admitted, it will be impossible to clear the evangelists from the imputation of having laid in man's way a most violent temptation to idolatry: for it is well known that, as in all ages men have been exceedingly prone to worship false gods, so it was the prevailing vice of the Gentile world when the New Testament was written: that the grossest corruption of morals has ever flowed from this poisonous spring, Romans 1:24; Romans 1:32 and that to destroy idolatry, and bring mankind to the spiritual worship of the true God, was the great end proposed by God in all the revelations which he made of himself to men. This being the case, is it to be imagined, that either Christ himself, who brought the last and best revelation of the divine will, or his apostles, who committed that revelation to writing, would on any occasion have used such expressions, as in their plainand obvious meaning could not fail to lead the believers in that revelation to ascribe to Christ the names, perfections, and actions of the true God, and to pay him divine worship as the true God; while in reality they meant no more than that he was miraculously formed, was commissioned to deliver a new religion to the world, was endowed with the power of miracles, and, in consideration of his exemplary death, was raised from the grave, and had divine honours conferred upon him? Instead of reforming the world, this was to have laid in their way such a temptation to idolatry as they could not well resist; nor has the effect been any other than what was to be expected: for the generality, even of nominal Christians, moved by these expressions, have all along considered Christ as God, and honoured him accordingly, as the God who made all things, and without whom was not any thing made that was made: "not so much as any single thing ( ουδε εν ) having existence, whether among the noblest or meanest of God's works, was made without him." But, if all things were madeby him, he cannot be himself of the number of the things that were made: he is superior therefore to every created being. Besides, it should be remembered, that in the Old Testament the creation of the heavens and the earth is often mentioned as the prerogative of the true God, whereby he is distinguished from the heathen idols. The design of the evangelist in establishing so particularlyand distinctly the dignity, but especially the divinity of Christ, was, first, to give due weight to the fundamental doctrine of his atonement, and, secondly, to raise in mankind the profoundest veneration for his instructions: and without doubt he who is the Word of God, the interpreter of the divine counsels, and who is himself God, ought to be heard with the deepest attention, and obeyed with the most implicit submission. It is this circumstance,—that the Son of God, who is God, came down from heaven to earth, and in person instituted the Christian religion,—which gives it a dignity beyond any thing that can be imagined by men. It would be the work of a treatise rather than of a note, to represent the Jewish doctrine of the creation of all things by the divine Logos, to which, rather than to the Platonic, there may be some reference here.


Verse 4

John 1:4. In him was life, The most ancient fathers who quote this text, so generally join the words at the end of the last verse, ο γεγονεν, which we render that was made, with this 4th verse; and St. John uses so frequently to begin the following sentence with what ended the foregoing, that many judicious commentators think it to be the true reading, and therefore render it,—that which was in him was life; "that fulness of power, wisdom, and benignity which was in him, was the fountain of life to the whole creation;" and the life which was in him, St. John goes on to observe, was the light of men; that is, reason and revelation, the greater and lesser lights of the moral world, were the effects of his energy on the minds of intelligent beings: but, above all, the Light of the divine Spirit, by which alone any thing can be spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:10-14.), is the gift of Jesus, and the purchase of his Blood. The reader will recollect, that Cerinthus (as we have shewn in article 4.)asserted that there were two high aeons distinct from Christ, one called Life, and the other Light; in opposition to which St. John here asserts, that the Word, Life, and Light were the same identical person. As having life in himself is the characteristic of God, St. John, by saying this of Christ, asserts his proper divinity, and intimates, at the same time, that he was the great fountain of life to all creatures. Life and light are frequently connected in scripture; if any one should question how the Logos could be the author of so many things, it is here fully explained, In him was life. And, lest it should be imagined that this power of life could be exhausted in calling so many creatures into being, it is added, that this life was light; light being of that nature, that, though it enlightens many, it is not in the least diminished thereby. The apostle, in another place, tells us, that God is light; here the Word is so-called, and consequently was God, as the evangelist asserts in John 1:1. It is remarkable, that in Midrash the Messiah is described in a most glorious light, exceeding the sun in radiance.


Verse 5

John 1:5. And the light shineth in darkness; We have observed in the former verse, that Christ is the fountain of all spiritual light, so that nothing can be spiritually discerned but by his Spirit. This light shone in the heathen world, and under the dispensation of Moses, and still shineth in darkness, even upon the minds of the most ignorant and wicked part of mankind; darkness being not only used for a state of ignorance, whether wilful or natural, but likewise for a state of obstinate wickedness. See Ephesians 5:8. It is not easy to determine with exactness the sense of the original word κατελαβεν, which we render comprehend. Some have observed, that it signifies to attend to, or embrace, so as to attain or enjoy the end and benefit designed by a thing. Thus it is applied to the knowledge of the law, Sirach 15:7 and to justice, or righteousness, Sirach 27:8 of the same book. Darkness, as we have intimated, is used for persons involved in darkness.—Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are light in the Lord; where we may note the same double use in the word light, which darkness, in St. John's gospel is capable of admitting; as it first signifies persons enlightened, and then simply light itself.


Verse 6

John 1:6. There was a man sent from God, The evangelist, in giving the history of the Baptist's ministry, tells us, in the first place that he was merely a man, in opposition to article 10 in the argument wherein Cerinthus represents John as superior to our Saviour, whom the apostle has already shewn to be God. The evangelist tells us next, that John had aspecial commission from God, being called to his office by divine inspiration, as the prophets were of old; and that he was sent to bear witness of the light, or, to point out the Messiah, whom he had called in the 4th verse the light of men; because it was one of the principal prophetic characters of the Messiah, that he was to enlighten the world. Hence he is called by one prophet, the Sun of righteousness, by another, the light of Sion, and a light to lighten the Gentiles. See ch. John 5:35.


Verse 7

John 1:7. The same came for a witness, To bear testimony. The next sentence may be understood as explanatory of that which goes before, He came for a testimony, that is, to bear testimony concerning that light. Some commentators apply the word Him, in the next clause, to the Light here spoken of, and others to John, as the instrument of men's belief. By believing we are to understand the acknowledgingwiththeunderstanding and heart, and receiving Christ as the Messiah.


Verse 9

John 1:9. That was the true light, "The true light of which he spake, was Christ, even that Sun of righteousness and source of truth, which coming into the world, enlighteneth every man; dispersing his beams, as it were, from one end of the heavens to the other, to the Gentile world, which was in midnight darkness, as well as to the Jews, who enjoyed but a kind of twilight." See John 3:19; John 12:46. Hensius would read the 8th, 9th, and 10th verses, thus: He, John, was not that light, but he was, (that is, he existed or came, taking the ην at the beginning of the 9th verse,) that he might bear witness to that light:—ver. 9. The true light which, &c. John 1:10. Was in the world, &c. Some read John 1:9. The true Light, who came into the world, to enlighten every man, &c. John 1:10. And the world had been made by him, but, &c. To these interpretations it has been objected, that where Christ is said to have come into the world, that expression seems to refer to the manifestation of him to the world, or his appearance in the flesh. Now this appearance of Christ seems to be expressed by St. John, in the two next verses, by the past tense; He was in the world, He came unto his own: whereas the use of the present tense, in the verse before us, rather leads us to think of that spiritual illumination which Christ still imparts,—though no longer manifest in the flesh,—to all who will receive him; according to that of St. Paul, Ephesians 5:14. To which may be added, that as the original word ερχομενον, rendered cometh, immediately follows the word ανθρωπον, man, it seems rather more natural to construe it with that word, than with a word more remote. It may be added further, that this construction is more suitable to St. John's particular design, which was to oppose the doctrine of Cerinthus, who asserted, (article 1.) that the most high God was entirely unknown before the appearance of Christ; in opposition to which the evangelist asserts, that men had received such lights on this head, under the various dispensations through which they passed, as rendered them inexcusable if they remained ignorant. And though this heretic had pretended, (article 7.) that his Demiurgus was the peculiar God and protector of the Israelites; yet is it here shown, that the true Christ had pity and affection for the rest of mankind; and that the light to be diffused by him, was not to be confined to the narrow circle of the Jewish commonwealth, but, like that of the sun, communicated to every man that cometh into the world.


Verse 10

John 1:10. He was in the world, &c.— The Word and Son of God came down to earth; and though the world was made by him, all the inhabitants thereof being the work of his hands, yet that very world, that is, those inhabitants of it, did not know and acknowledge him as their Creator, and as the Word sent to reveal the will of God to them. This is in opposition to the doctrine of Cerinthus, (article 5.) See the Inferences and Reflections on this chapter.


Verse 11

John 1:11. He came unto his own, "He came to the Jewish nation, who were under the most distinguished obligations to him, and to whom he had been expressly promised as their Messiah: yet his own people did not receive him, as they ought, but, on the contrary, treated him in the most contemptuous and ungrateful manner." Thus we have endeavoured to express the difference between the phrase εις τα ιδια, and the other οι ιδιοι, in the original, which is so difficult, that few versions have attempted it: yet, as Grotius has well observed, the energy of the text cannot be understood without attending to it. That the Jewish nation was in some peculiar sense under the care and guardianship of Christ, before his incarnation, this passage strongly intimates, as well as a variety of texts in the Old Testament, where we have not failed to remark this particular.


Verse 12

John 1:12 gave he power, &c.— Gave he the privilege to become sons, &c. Doddridge, &c. See the 12th position in the argument. The word name is frequently used, as we have had occasion to observe, for the person or man who bears it; as likewise for that characteristic by which he is distinguished from all others. The verb πιστευω, to believe, is, in the Greek classics, used with a dative case signifying the person, and with an accusative signifying the thing. Thus when joined to the word man, in the dative, it denotes to believe a man, or to rely upon him; but when joined with the word thing, in the accusative, it signifies to believe that it is true; but in the words to believe in his name, where the word believe is followed with a preposition governing the accusative, the passage has a sense different from the examples produced above, and signifies a religious belief in Christ; which is understood to include a confidence in him as the Saviour of mankind, and ours in particular.


Verse 13

John 1:13. Which were born, not of blood, They who thus believed on him, became possessed of this privilege; not in consequence of their being born of blood, or of their being descended from the loinsof the holy patriarchs, or sharing in circumcision and the blood of the sacrifices; nor could they ascribe it to the will of the flesh, or to their own superior wisdom and goodness; as if by the power of corrupted nature they had made themselves to differ; nor to the will of man, or to the wisest advice and most powerful exhortations which their fellow-creatures might address to them; but must humbly acknowledge that they were born of God; and indebted to the efficacious influences of his unmerited and regenerating grace for all their privileges, and for all their hopes. Compare John 3:1-8 and Titus 3:3-7. This is a very important and edifying sense of the present passage, which is very difficult, and has been variously translated and understood.


Verse 14

John 1:14. And the Word was made flesh, This divine and eternal Word was made flesh;uniteditselftoourinferiormiserablenature,withallitsinnocent infirmities, (see the 9th article in the argument;) and not made a transient visit, but for a considerable time pitched his tabernacle among us,— εσχηνωσεν, which manifestly alludes to the tabernacle of Moses, where the Shechinah, or divine glory, inhabited. So the Logos, or divine nature, shechinized, or tabernacled in the human body, which Christ assumed. The word glory here alludes to this Shechinah, or splendid light, which the Chaldee paraphrase always interprets by the word glory. "We, his disciples, (says St. John,) beheld his glory with admiration, and knew it to be such as became the only-begotten of the Father;" for he was not decked with the glitter of worldly pomp and grandeur, but he shone most beautiful with the glory of the divine perfections; and withal he wrought the greatest and most beneficent miracles, expressly called by this evangelist, His glory, ch. John 2:11. Perhaps also there is an allusion here to the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Jesus at his baptism; to the glory with which his body was adorned at the transfiguration, and to the voice from heaven a little before his crucifixion. The particle ως, rendered as of, does not denote similitude or comparison, but reality and confirmation. In this sense it is used by the LXX, Psalms 73:1. Truly, God, is, &c.—And here it signifies the glory of the true and real Monogenes, or Only-begotten. For this verse asserts, that the Logos and Monogenes were not distinct beings, but one and the same person, in opposition to Cerinthus, (article 2.) The last words full of grace and truth, seem much more naturallyand properly to belong to the Word,—the preceding sentence being read in a parenthesis,—than to the Father, as some wouldconnect them. The meaning is, that as this Word who dwelt among us, was in himself most benevolent and upright, so he made the amplest discoveries of pardon to sinners, which the Mosaic dispensation could not possibly do; and exhibited the most important and substantial blessings; whereas that was at best but a shadow of good things to come. Truth is here used, as it often is in the scripture, not so much in opposition to falsehood, as to hieroglyphics, types, and shadows. See John 1:17. Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:24. Daniel 7:17 and Colossians 3:17.


Verse 15

John 1:15. John bare witness of him, &c.— This might probably happen at the time when Jesus made his first appearance amongthose who came to be baptized by John; when at this offering to receive his baptism, though John had been a stranger to him before, and knew him not by any personal acquaintance with him, yet, by some powerful impression of the mind, he presently discerned that this was He, whom he before had taught the people to expect, and of whose person he had given them so high a character; for it was plain from his knowledge of Jesus, that John at first would have declined baptizing him, as an honour of which he looked upon himself to be utterly unworthy. Nor is it to be doubted, but that when first, he knew the Person of whose appearance he had raised such expectations by his preaching, he would immediately be ready to acquaint his hearers that this was he who was intended by him; which they themselves might have beenready to conclude, from the uncommon veneration and respect wherewith he was treated by the Baptist, who had been always used to treat men with the greatest plainness. Comp. John 1:27; John 1:30 with Matthew 3:14. Erasmus supposes that St. John, in the words, He that cometh after me, is preferred, &c. refers to the honours which he knew had been paid to Jesus in his infancy by the angels, who announced his birth to the shepherds; by the shepherds themselves; by the eastern magi; by Simeon and Anna, &c. honours which could not be paralleled by any thing that had happened to him: but the words have, I doubt not, a more extensive meaning; comprehending the superior dignity of Christ's nature, office, commission, and exaltation as Mediator, as may be collected from Matthew 3:11 the passage here referred to. The Baptist adds, For he was before me; "It is fit that Jesus should be raised above me, because he is a Person superior in nature to me; for though he was born after me, he existed before me." This undoubtedly refers to that state of infinite and eternal glory in which Christ existed before his incarnation, of which the Baptist speaks so plainly, ch. John 3:31. See the 10th article in the Argument.


Verse 16

John 1:16. And of his fulness, &c.— "And I, (John the apostle) who had the honour of being numbered among his most intimate friends, would with pleasure, in my own name, and that of my brethren; add my testimony to that of the Baptist, as I and they have the greatest reason to do; for of his overflowing fulness have we all received whatever we possess as men, as Christians, or as apostles; and he hath given us even grace upon grace—a rich abundance and variety of favours, which will ever make his name most dear and precious to our souls." It is evident, that what is said in this verse, must be considered as the words of the evangelist. John the Baptist had never yet mentioned the name of Jesus; and the expression we all, shews it could not be his words; for those to whom he addressed himself, do not appear to have received grace from Christ. The last French version, with great propriety, includes John 1:15 in a parenthesis, and so connects the 16th with the 14th verse; as if it had been said, He dwelt among us,—full of grace and truth;—and of his fulness have we all received, &c. The interpretation which we have given of Και χαριν αντι χαριτος, even grace upon grace, is approved by Sir Richard Ellis, Doddridge, and many others, and seems the most easy sense. Grotius would render it, Grace of mere grace; that is "the freest grace imaginable;" and others approving the present translation, observe, that the meaning is, that under the gospel dispensation all men receive grace for grace;—privileges and advantages, in proportion, to the improvement which they make of those already bestowed upon them. Comp. Matthew 13:12. James 4:6.


Verse 17

John 1:17. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, &c.— The word εγενετο, rendered came, here implies, that grace and truth were exhibited, or appeared. This verse is delivered in opposition to the Ebionites, who preferred Moses to the Lord Jesus. The gospel is here, as in other places, called grace. The word grace, in its most obvious meaning, signifies favour; favour flowing from mercy and beneficence, to which the person who receives it can make no claim as of right. In this sense, the gospel is most particularly and emphatically grace; in all and every part of it, it was the gift of God, which we could not in any manner be said to deserve. The gospel is grace, as it promises the faithful saints, not only an exemption from punishment, but a resurrection to eternal life. The gospel is grace, as it promises us the divine assistance to comfort us in afflictions, and enable us to work out our salvation. The gospel may be called grace, with respect to the manner in which it was revealed. The law was delivered with a pomp and majesty that struck terror; but the gospel made its appearance with mildness and condescension, and was introduced bythe Son of God, conversing familiarly with men, teaching them by his doctrine and example. Whatsoever was burdensome in the law of Moses, was abolished in the gospel. The gospel is grace, as it contains righteous and equitable laws; the duty that it teaches towards God is a reasonable service, which we are bound in gratitude to perform; and that duty which we owe to our neighbour promotes the happiness of mankind, while that which is enjoined by it to ourselves tends to moderate and subdue every unruly passion. The gospel is grace, as it is a gift offered to all, an invitation from which none are excluded. Again, grace in some places of the New Testament means those extraordinary powers which the Holy Ghost conferred upon the apostles and first believers, as well as the ordinary influences of the Spirit; and in thissense the gospel emphatically is grace. Lastly, grace means holiness, goodness, and moral virtue; in which sense the gospel is grace, as it sets pure morality in a clear light, and enforces the practice of it by the best and most effectual motives. The gospel is called truth, in opposition to the falsehood of paganism, which had over-run the world—truth, as it is the accomplishment of the prophesies of future favours made under the law, and because an image and representation of good things to come was contained in the law; whereas in the gospel these good things are brought to light. The gospel therefore is truth, in opposition to the Jewish dispensation, as it is the substance and reality of all those things which are figured by the law; or as they were mere shadows compared to that solid and substantial truth which Christ has discovered to us.


Verse 18

John 1:18. No man hath seen God at any time; Neither Moses nor any of the prophets, who in former ages delivered the will of God to men, ever saw the divine Being in his essence, and therefore they could not make a full discovery of his perfections and counsels to men. The only Person who ever enjoyed this privilege was the Son of God, who is in the bosom of the Father: he always was and is the darling object of his tenderest affection, and the intimate partner of his counsels; and therefore he was able fully to declare the great purpose of God concerning the redemption of the world. To be in one's bosom, denotes the greatest familiarity and intimacy, a communication of counsels and designs, and entire and tender affection.

Hence it is used, Deuteronomy 13:6; Deuteronomy 28:54 to signify a man's best beloved wife. The word εξηγησατο, rendered declared, signifies to explain, to interpret, to declare, and is particularly applied by the heathen writers to the explanation or declaration of things relating to religion.


Verse 19-20

John 1:19-20. And this is the record of John, &c.— These verses would be better rendered thus, Now this is the testimony of John, (mentioned John 1:15.) When the Jews sent priests, &c. John 1:20 then he confessed, &c. The rulers at Jerusalem having been informed, that the Baptist's extraordinary sanctity, zeal, and eloquence, together with the solemnity of his baptizing, had made so great an impression on the people, that they were beginning to think he might be the Messiah, resolved that certain of their number, whose capacity and learning rendered them equal to the task, should go and examine him. When these messengers arrived at Bethabara, they asked the Baptist if he was the Messiah, or Elias, or that prophet who was said to arise and usher in the Messiah, of whose coming there was at this time a general expectation? And this is the record of John; this is the testimony which John bare publicly to Jesus when the Jews, that is, the sanhedrim, or great council of the nation, who took cognizance of the pretension which any person made to the character and office of a prophet, sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem, persons of the first consideration for learning and office, and who, being maintained at the public expence, had better opportunities of studying the law, and acquiring knowledge, to ask him, Who art thou? "What character dost thou assume to thyself!" The question is not concerning his office, but his person. And he confessed and denied not, but in the strongest terms solemnly protested I am not the Messiah; "I know that the people begin to look on me as their long-expected Deliverer; but I tell you plainly,they are mistaken." To every candid judge, the declaration which on this occasion John made so freely to the priests and Levites, and which on other occasions he repeated publicly in the hearing of the people, will appear a strong proof of his divine mission, notwithstanding he performed no miracle; for when deputies from so august a body as the senate of Israel seemed to signify, (though probably with an ill design,) that, in order to their acknowledginghim as the Messiah, they wanted only a declaration from himself; if he had been an impostor, he would immediately have grasped at the honours offered him, and have given himself out for the Messiah; but he was animated by a different spirit; integrity and truth were evidently the guides of his conduct. Why then should we entertain any doubt of his mission, seeing that he expressly claimed the character of a messenger from God?


Verse 21

John 1:21. Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. It is plain by this question, that they were strangers to the parentage of John the Baptist: and with regard to the reply that he makes to this inquiry,there is no scruple to be made, but that the Baptist might justly deny that he was Elijah; that is, the true and real Elijah, whom the Jews expected personally to return before the coming of the Messiah, though he came in his spirit and power. See on Luke 1:17. The Baptist therefore might truly deny himself to be Elijah in the sense of the inquirers. But still some have asked, why he did not express himself more fully, by acquainting them with his true character, and who he really was; which, as they apprehend, would have best suited with the simplicity and openness of his conduct at other times. But in the evangelist, after the answer given them by the Baptist, it is said, John 1:24. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees: which account of the persons was doubtless not subjoined without some good reason; and may seem to intimate, that they came not barely as inquirers, but with some ill design, which they would have improved, had he given them a more explicit answer. So that he treated them in no other manner than Christ himself thought fit to do upon some like occasions;—as in the case of the tribute-money, Matthew 22:17; Matthew 22:46 and when they asked him if he was the Christ, John 10:24-25. And this method our Lord took while it was necessary in some measure to conceal himself: but afterwards when his time was come, upon the same question being put to him by the high-priest, he answered I am; Mark 14:62 and added further what he knew they would so interpret as to condemn him. Their next question is, Art thou that prophet? bywhich cannot be meant, as some interpret it, "That prophet, namely, the Messiah, whom Moses has assured us God will raise up, and of whom we are in daily expectation;" (see Deuteronomy 18:15-18. John 6:14.) because he had already assured them that he was not this prophet, John 1:20. I am not the Christ. The Greek should be rendered, Art thou a prophet? That is "of the former generation, raised from the dead!" And it is absolutely necessary that this question should be understood with such a limitation, because John the Baptist was really an illustrious prophet, as we may plainlysee from what is said by Christ himself, Matthew 11:9. This interpretation, which is largely vindicated by Castalio, seems much preferable to that of Theophylact and Erasmus; who, because of the article ο προφητης, would render it as we do, that prophet; concluding, without any proof, that the Jews understood Deuteronomy 18:18 not of the Messiah himself, but of some prophet of considerable note, who was to introduce him. Grotius has supposed the question which they offer, to refer to Jeremiah, of whose return to life there was a mighty rumour prevailing among the Jews. See on Matthew 16:14. But there seems no reason to restrain it to a particular prophet; and since, as Limborch well observes, in his dispute with Orobio the Jew, that text in Deuteronomy was the clearest and strongest in all the Mosaic writings, to enforce the necessity of submitting to the Messiah; it is most probable that John would have corrected so great a mistake, if they had put the question to him upon this presumption. The best French versions render it as above; and it seems the word prophet in the evangelist generally signifies one of those holy men, who were the messengers of God to Israel of old; which appears especially from Mark 6:15 where to be a prophet, and to be as one of the prophets, are spoken of as distinct; which they could not be but on this interpretation.


Verse 23

John 1:23. I am the voice, &c.— It is to be feared that Clemens of Alexandria, and Archbishop Fenelon, lay too great a stress on the word φωνη, voice, when the former of these excellent men says, "Does not John call men to salvation, and is he not entirely an exhortatory voice?"—And then the latter endeavours to illustrate the humility of John the Baptist's reply, as if he had said, "Far from being the Messiah, or Elias, or one of the old prophets, I am nothing but a voice, a sound, which as soon as it has expressed the thought, of which it is the sign, dies into air, and is known no more." Had the Baptist said only, I am a voice crying in the wilderness, there might have been more room for such a supposition: but since he calls himself the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the words are plainly to be understood with very great latitude; for they would else imply that he was not the very person that so cried; and designedly referring his hearers to the words of Isaiah, who cannot be imagined to have intended a diminution of this saint's character, they are an instance of that remarkable liberty of expression which the Hebrew language, wherein they were spoken, admits. It is as if he had said, "I am the person of whom Isaiah speaks, when he says, the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness." By a like liberty, the kingdom of heaven is said, Matthew 13:24 to be likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field, that is, as Dr. Doddridge paraphrases the words, "The kingdom of heaven, or the Gospel dispensation, may be compared to that which happened to a man who had sown good seed in his ground." Several very considerable Greek writers express themselves in much the same manner.


Verse 25

John 1:25. Why baptizest thou then, The Jews, it seems, had conceived an opinion that they were all to be baptized, either by Messiah himself, or by some of his retinue; which they drew from Zechariah 13:1.though that prophecy is to be taken in a most spiritual sense. The decisions of the Pharisees were held by the common people as infallible; wherefore they are mentioned John 1:24.; and as this sect had determined that onlyproselytes were to be baptized, they found fault with John for baptizing the Jews, seeing he was neither the Messiah, nor Elias,nor a prophet. They thought his altering, in this manner, their institutions, was an exercise of authority, which, by his own confession, did not belong to him. It is not to be certainly determined from this text, whether the baptism of proselytes was then in use among the Jews or not. The words indeed will make a strong and well-adapted sense, should they be understood as if it had been said, "Why is it then that thou dost institute such a new rite as this?" But surely too they will be very proper in the other sense, if we understand them to imply, "Why is it then that thou takest upon thee, without any commission from the Sanhedrim, to administer baptism; and that not only, as is usual, unto those who before this were heathens, but even to the Jews?" And this seems to be the more probable sense; while the Baptist's use of this ceremony in such a manner was a strong intimation that Jews, as well as Gentiles, must become proselytes to the new dispensation which was then opening to the world; and that however holy they imagined themselves, yet they all stood in absolute need of being washed from their sins, as he had before most emphatically declared, Matthew 3:8-9.


Verses 26-28

John 1:26-28. John answered them, saying, &c.— "I baptize, to shew you the nature and necessity of repentance; but it is with water only, which cannot cleanse you from your sins, as the washing predicted by Zechariah will do" (see the preceding note). "That more efficacious baptism will be dispensed unto you by the Messiah, who is at present among you, though you do not know him, because he hath not manifested himself. Besides, in dignity, he is infinitely my superior; for I am not worthy to be his servant, or to do him the meanest offices." These things were done in Bethabara, or the house of passage; it lay near that part of the river which was miraculously dried up for the Israelites, under the command of Joshua. See Joshua 3:16 and Judges 12:6.


Verse 29

John 1:29. The next day John seeth Jesus, &c.— It seems Jesus returned from the wilderness about the time that the priests and Levitesarrived at Bethabara; for the day after they proposed their questions, he happened to pass by while the Baptist was standing with the multitude on the banks of the Jordan. The great business of the Messiah's forerunner being to lead the people to that Messiah, John embraced this new opportunity of pointing him out to them; "Behold," said he, "with the strictest attention and regard that innocent and holy Person, who may properly be called the Lamb of God, as he is the great atoning sacrifice, of which the lambs, daily offered by divine command in the temple, were intended to be types; which expiates and takes away the sin of the whole world; and is set forth to be a propitiation, not only for the Jews, for whom alone the sacrifices of the law were offered, but for the Gentiles too; that throughhis name whosoever believeth in him, may receive remission of sins." It is well observed by the author of the treatise called "Christ the Mediator," that this is the only sense in which a lamb can be said to take away sin. Comp. Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28. Ephesians 1:7. Colossians 1:14.


Verse 30

John 1:30. For he was before me. For he existed before me. See John 1:15.


Verse 31

John 1:31. And I knew him not: "St. Matthew relates, Matthew 3:14." says Dr. Clarke, "that when Christ came to be baptized, John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? By the history, as given by St. Matthew, John seems to have known Christ before hehad baptized him: whereas in this gospel,

Christ seems to have been first made known to him by the descent of the Holy Ghost after his baptism. See John 1:33. It is most probable that God the Father, having before given John that token to know Christ, did, upon Christ's coming to be baptized, reveal to John that this was the person upon whom he should presently see the signal." Though this supposition be approved by several commentators, there does not appear any necessity for having recourse to it. When the Baptist says, he knew not Jesus, he may be understood to mean that he knew him not with certainty to be the Messiah, and consequently was not yet authorized to declare him such. As he was related to Christ, it is possible that he might personally have known him, and observed him from his infancy; and though we should suppose him not to have been informed by his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, of the miraculous circumstances which attended Christ's birth, yet a character of such unparalleled sanctity might reasonably draw from so modest and humble a person as St. John, an acknowledgment of his own inferiority, and prompt him to say, "I have need to be baptized of thee, rather than perform this office to a person so far my superior in purity and holiness." A circumstance mentioned by St. Matthew himself in the same chapter, John 1:6 and by St. Mark 1:5 makes it still less surprising that the Baptist should thus express himself. Those evangelists inform us, that the people were baptized in Jordan, confessing their sins. If these words imply, as well they may, that every person who came to be baptized, confessed his sins; this circumstance alone might sufficiently distinguish the blessed Jesus from all others, as he alone had no sins to confess, and might lead the Baptist to conclude, that he was the Person appointed to take away the sins of the world. Conscious then as he was of his own imperfections, how naturally might he say to this sinless person, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? But however strongly he might thence presume him to be the Messiah, yet he could not be said to know him to be so, nor therefore, as yet, bear testimony to him under that character. In this sense then he might properly say, And I knew him not: that is, I knew him not to be the Messiah; for so the words whom ye know not, John 1:26 are probably to be understood; and the same expression is used in a like restrained sense by Christ himself, ch. John 14:9. Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? where the words, Hast thou not known me, certainly did not imply that Philip had no personal knowledge of Christ: nor could Socrates (if Imay compare infinitely small things with great,) mean that his friend Apollodorus had no personal knowledge of him, when, as AElian relates, he said, "If Apollodorus imagines that the corpse, which you will soon see lying at your feet, is Socrates, it is plain that he does not know me."


Verse 35

John 1:35. Two of his disciples: It appears from John 1:40 that Andrew was one of these, and perhaps John himself might be the other; who frequently conceals his own name in his gospel. See Ch. John 13:23 and John 20:2.


Verse 36

John 1:36. And looking upon Jesus Looking steadfastly on Jesus, seems the exact signification of the original εμβλεψας . See on John 1:29.


Verses 37-39

John 1:37-39. And they followed Jesus, &c.— As Jesus was a person who had no attendants, and was a stranger, as it were, in this country, we may conclude that he had only some obscure and private lodging here, which must have been at no great distance from the place where John baptized, as may be gathered from his appearing there from day to day: by this means he did an honour to John's ministry, and had an opportunity of receiving his testimony. Jesus, knowing the intentions of the two disciples who followed him, gave them an invitation to his lodging, John 1:38 for they had asked him, "Rabbi, που μενεις, where dost thou lodge?" intimating their inclination to converse with Jesus. Their calling him rabbi, which was a title of great honour and respect, given to men famous for their abilities and instructions, intimates, that they had been informed of this part of his character from John the Baptist. It was about the tenth hour, that is to say, ten in the morning, when they came to him; for this evangelist uses the Roman method of reckoning the hours of the day in his gospel; wherefore the two disciples conversed with Jesus almost a whole day, and no doubt were highly edified and instructed by our Lord's discourses to them.


Verse 40

John 1:40. Which heard John speak, Who had received information from John; namely, that mentioned John 1:36.


Verse 41

John 1:41. He first findeth his own brother Simon, Hence it should seem that both these disciples sought St. Peter different ways. He may perhaps be called Andrew's own brother, to distinguish him from some other who belonged to the family, and who possibly might be his brother-in-law, or was related to him only in half-blood. St. Peter was so remarkable a person, that it might be proper to tell us who was the first instrument of bringing him acquainted with Christ; and if St. John was the other disciple here referred to, he might mean this as a humble intimation, that St. Andrew's zeal in this respect was greater than his own. We may observe here, by the way, that St. Peter was not the first of Christ's disciples,—in which the Papists would have been ready to have gloried; but that another was the occasion of bringing him to an acquaintance with Jesus. The great king whom the Jews expected, is called Messiah by none of the prophets but Daniel; who has named him, Ch. John 9:25. Messiah the Prince: wherefore, as by the present, and many other passages of the gospels, it appears that this name was now familiar to the Jews; it shews how much their attention was turned towards Daniel's prophesy of the seventy weeks, and how firmly they expected the arrival of their king, according to the time fixed in that prop


Verse 42

John 1:42. Thou art Simon, &c.— Though Jesus had never seen Simon before, immediately on his coming in, he saluted him, in full proof of his omniscience, by his own and his Father's name; adding, in proof of his being possessed of the gift of prophesy, that he should afterwards be called Cephas, which means the same in Syriac that Peter does in the Greek, namely, a rock; a name well adapted to his character, on account of that resolute and patient firmness with which he should maintain the cause of the gospel. See on Matthew 16:18. Some have thought that when our Lord said Thou art Simon, he intended an allusion to the name of Simon, which maysignifyahearer;intimatingthecandourandimpartialitywithwhichhewaswilling to hear Christ's instructions.


Verse 43

John 1:43. Jesus would go forth Jesus determined to depart thence. The force of the word θελω seems to be greater than our translation expresses, and perhaps may here intimate, that our Lord on this occasion broke through the importunity of some, who would rather have persuaded him to continue at Bethabara, for the advantage of further testimony from the Baptist; or to have gone to Jerusalem, where they might imagine that his ministry would have opened more honourably than in Galilee; compare John 7:3-4.


Verse 44

John 1:44. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, As it appears from the subsequent part of the history, that Philip was already acquainted with our Lord's character, and believed on him, this observation is made by the evangelist to shew by what means he was brought to Jesus. His townsmen Andrew and Peter had done him the favour. Bethsaida was a town in Galilee, on the sea of Tiberias.


Verse 45

John 1:45. Of whom Moses—and the prophets, did write, Whom, &c. have described. The verb Γραφω is frequently used in the same sense elsewhere; and in particular is justly rendered thus, Romans 10:5. It seems, Peter and Andrew, in their conversation with Philip, had persuaded him to believe on Jesus, byshewing him how the types and predictions of the law and the prophets were fulfilled in him. Perhaps, this was the method which Jesus himself had taken to confirm Peter and Andrew, Philip's instructors, in the good opinion they had conceived of him, by means of the testimonywhich their master, John the Baptist, had given concerning him; though the evangelist has not thought fit to mention this circumstance. Nathanael is thought, as we have observed on Matthew 10:2-4 to have been the same with Bartholomew, that is the son of Tholomew; and the supposition is probable, were it for no other reason but this, that all the other persons who became acquainted with Jesus at Jordan, when he was baptized, and who believed on him there, were chosen to be his apostles.


Verse 46

John 1:46. Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip, not knowing that Jesus was born at Bethlehem, calls him Jesus of Nazareth: upon which occasion Nathanael applies a proverb, by which the rest of the Israelites ridiculed the Nazarenes; and he applied it the rather, as the Messiah's nativity had been determined by the prophet Micah to be at Bethlehem. Nazareth was a mean town, inhabited by fishermen and mechanics of the lowest degree, made up of ignorant Jews, and a mixture of Gentiles: as Nathanael was a native of Galilee, it appears that the Galileans themselves had but an ill opinion of Nazareth, as worse than the rest of that country; and, indeed, by the figure its inhabitants make in the evangelists, they seem to have deserved it. See Matthew 13:54; Matthew 13:58 and Luke 4:16; Luke 4:28-29. In this place Jesus spent a great part of his life, and in that respect might fairly be called a Nazarene. But the Jews, in calling him Jesus of Nazareth,—the prophet of Nazareth, &c. added, to that of his country, the idea of scorn and contempt: "What! that poor despicable fellow, that mean mortal,—he our Messiah! Can any good, any great and enterprizing person, any thing suitable to the character of Christ, come out of Nazareth?" Pilate wrote his inscription, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, with design probably to have it read in this light. He joins together two contradictory titles, in his opinion, that of Nazareth, and that of a king, in order to expose the Jewish hope, and the Christian belief: but the evangelist prepares his reader against prejudices from this appellation. Though the Jews call him a Nazarene in derision, we are not ashamed of that name. What do they mean by it, but a despised, afflicted, suffering man?—And so the Messiah is foretold to be, not in one, but in all the prophets. While therefore theyreproach Jesus as a Nazarene, they actually fulfil the prophesies which describe him as such, and prove Jesus to be the Messiah. See the note on Matthew 2:23. To obviate Nathanael's objection, Philip replies to him, "Do not suffer yourself to be borne away by a vain popular prejudice; but come and see; converse with him yourself, and you will soon be satisfied." The same answer had been received from our Lord the day before. By the way, we may hence learn how cautiously we should guard against popular prejudices, which possessed so honest a heart as that of Nathanael, and led him to suspect that the blessed Jesus himselfwas an impostor, and that no good could be expected from him, because he had been brought up at Nazareth. But his integrity prevailed over that foolish bias, and laid him open to the conviction of evidence, which a candid inquirer will always be glad to admit, even when it brings the most unexpected discovery.


Verse 47

John 1:47. Jesus saw Nathanael Nathanael, being a man of a candid disposition, resolved to go and converse with Jesus, that he might judge with the more certainty concerning his pretensions. He was coming therefore with Philip on this errand, when Jesus, who knew his thoughts, honoured him with the amiable character of a true

Israelite, in whom there was no guile; a plain, upright, honest man, free from hypocrisy, and opento conviction; who not only derived his pedigree from Abraham, but who inherited his virtues. Compare Revelation 3:9 and John 8:39. This contains the character given to Jacob, Genesis 25:27 according to the sense of the Hebrew, which fully shews in what sense our Lord is to be understood, when he calls Nathanael an Israelite without guile.


Verse 48

John 1:48. Whence knowest thou me? "I am a perfect stranger to thee: how is it then that thou canst at once undertake to answer for the most secret part of a stranger's character?" Jesus replied; "I am not so entire a stranger to thy character as thou art ready to suppose: nor do I take it merely from uncertain report: for before Philip called thee, when thou wast alone under the fig-tree, I saw thee; and as I was present in spirit to observe what passed in that secret retirement, I know how well thou deservest the testimony which I have now borne to thine integrity." See the next note.


Verse 49

John 1:49. Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, It is not improbable but Nathanael had been praying under the fig-tree, and that in his prayer he had made confession of his sins in such a particular and ample manner, as to claim, in that respect, the character which Christ gave of him. Accordingly, when Jesus insinuated that he had given it to him on account of what had passed under the fig-tree, Nathanael immediately perceived that he not only knew what was done at a distance, but could also look into men's hearts; and therefore cried out in great astonishment, that he was the long expected Messiah of the Jews. It may not be improper to observe here, that the Jews universally believed the Son of God would appear on earth, and be that great King whom they had for so many ages expected; as appears from the passage before us, and from John 6:69; John 11:27. Matthew 26:63. It is remarkable, that the woman of Samaria draws the same inference with Nathanael from a similar circumstance; (see ch. John 4:29.) which plainly intimates, that they supposed that the Messiah would be endowed with the most perfect knowledge, and have the gift of prophesy in the highest degree. There was a great deal of courage in Nathanael's making such a declaration as that before us, if it was made before a mixed company: for Christ's assuming the title of Son of God, was afterwards interpreted to be no less than blasphemy. See ch. John 10:36, John 19:7 and John 9:22; John 9:34.


Verse 50

John 1:50. Because I said unto thee, I saw thee "You believe, because I told you that I had seen you under the fig-tree: You shall see greater things than these." It is supposed that, under the fig-tree, Nathanael had some revelation or divine impression upon his mind concerning the Messiah, to which our Lord here alludes. Schoettgenius proves that it was then the hour of prayer. See the preceding no


Verse 51

John 1:51. Hereafter ye shall see, &c.— Instead of hereafter, many commentators translate the Greek απ αρτι,— from this time—henceforth,—"From this time you shall see the whole frame of nature subject to my commands, and such a surprising train of miracles wrought by me, in the course of my succeeding ministry, that shall seem as if heaven was opened, and all the angels of God were continually, as they appeared in a vision to Jacob (Genesis 28:12.), ascending and descending to wait upon the Son of man, and to receive and execute his orders." Accordingly, within three days one glorious miracle was performed by Christ at Cana of Galilee; which being the town whereunto Nathanael belonged, there is great reason to believe he was present with the rest of Christ's disciples at it; and if he was the same person with the apostleBartholomew,hemustregardthevisionofangelsattendingChrist'sascension, as a glorious accomplishment of these words; as his final appearance at the day of judgment, when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, will yet more eminently be. "If we understand this prediction," says Mr. Merrick, "concerning the opening of heaven and the vision of the angels, in a literal sense, which seems the most easy method of interpreting it, we may, with Dr. Hammond, refer it to Christ's ascension, when the heaven was opened to receive him, and the angels came down from thence to wait on him, and ascended after him. The appearance of an angel in his agony, might also be referred to: and as many transactions of Christ's life are omitted in the gospels, there might be other appearances not recorded, which, if any of them were exhibited soon after Nathanael's coming to Christ, would determine the phrase απ αρτι, as we have observed, to its most obvious signification, from this time. But we may observe, that as the descending of the angels was previous to their ascending, the order of the facts seems to be inverted, which is not unusual in the classic writers, and is the same in Genesis 28:12 to which our Saviour evidently alludes."—Though there may be much truth in what Mr. Merrick observes, and our Lord's resurrection and ascension may be referred to, as among the greatest of his miracles, and by which the truth of his mission is incontestably proved; yet I cannot help thinking that the passage is of more general import, and means, upon the whole, "You shall be witnesses to such mighty works, and such remarkable interpositions of my divine power, as will leave you no room to doubt of my mission as the true Messiah." It is evident from the change of number in this verse,—ye shall see — οψεσθε, that the words do not refer to Nathanael only.

Inferences.—How solemn and sublime, magnificent and awful, is the account here given of our blessed Lord, as God co-eternal with the Father, a distinct and yet inseparable Person from him, and as intimately present to him, as thought is to mind; as the Creator of all things without restriction or limitation, the proper Fountain of life and honour, and the true Light, who was in the world to illuminate, uphold, and govern it, ever since it was created by him; and as the Object of faith, the divine Author of evangelical truth, whose Verily I say unto you, demands our faith and obedience, and who is the Discerner of the thoughts, and the Ruler of the heart! How adorable is the constitution of his Person, as the eternal Word made flesh, the Son of God, and the Son of man! And what dignity and honour does his divinity put upon his condescension, who tabernacled in flesh among men, full of grace and truth; and died a sacrifice to take away their sins! Behold this Lamb of God; look to him, and be saved; look and love, and follow him. And O how should we exalt him, and abase ourselves before him, as thinking it honour enough to be employed in the meanest services for him! How evidently divine were the testimonies given to this wonderful Person! To him give all the prophets witness, and the eternal Father himself discovered him to John, and miraculously owned him from heaven by an express notification and infallible signal at his baptism. How excellent is a gospel-ministry, which leads us not to man, but to Christ, as God-man Mediator, the great Prophet of the church, and the only propitiation for sin, that all who believe in him might receive of his fulness grace for grace; and as the Author of all the efficacy of gospel-ordinances by the baptism of the Spirit! And yet, alas! how many wilfully remain in darkness in the midst of noon-day light; and how many professing Christians do in reality reject him and his genuine gospel! But, blessed be God, there are a goodly number, who receive him with a true and saving faith by an assent and approbation of the mind, and by a full consent of the will: and O how great is their happiness! They are made partakers of the dignity and privileges of sons of God by adoption, and of a divine nature by regeneration. Whatever objections or prejudices they might before have in their hearts against him, how will a true acquaintance with him effectually cure and answer them all! The souls that cordially believe in Christ, and faithfully rely on his testimony, shall see still greater things, for his glory, and their own consolation and establishment. And O how happy is it to have his approbation of us, as Israelites indeed, in whom there is no deceit or guile. And what a grateful and generous turn does the grace of God give to the temper of a man's heart! He wants to have Christ exalted in every soul, and fain would have all his relations, friends, and acquaintance, brought to a saving knowledge of him, and interest in him. And how securely may we depend upon the infinite merit of his blood, commit our all to him, and surrender up ourselves entirely to his authority, guidance, and grace, as God manifested in the flesh, and as able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God the Father by him!

REFLECTIONS.—1st. St. John opens his gospel with an account of that divine Personage, concerning whom he was about to write. He is called the Word, or Logos; the essential Word of God, to whom he ascribes all the attributes peculiar to the One Jehovah. We have,

1. His eternal self-existence. In the beginning was the Word, not only before his incarnation, but ere creation rose, or time began to measure its periods; from ever-lasting he existed, as the great I Am.

2. His co-existence with the Father. The Word was with God, and the Word was God; not as one God with another, but as one divine Person co-existing with another in the same Godhead, and partaking with the Father in the same divine nature and essential perfections. The same was in the beginning with God, before any creature had yet been spoken into being.

3. His agency, in the formation of the world, and all things therein. All things were made by him, not as a sub-ordinate instrument, but as the self-sufficient Author of them; and without him was not any thing made that was made; from the highest to the lowest all are the creatures of his hand, and such power proves him to be very God. Isaiah 44:24.

4. He is the original of life and light to all the creatures that he hath made. In him was life, self-existent and independent; and he is the eternal fount whence all beings, sensitive or rational, receive their life, and are maintained by supplies out of his fulness; and the life was the light of men; from him was communicated to us all that reason and understanding of which we are possessed; and from him comes all the divine light and life by which we can be restored to the knowledge and enjoyment of God.

5. The light shineth in darkness. By the fall all divine light was utterly banished from the minds of men, and they are by nature sunk into the blackness of spiritual darkness. The glimmering of tradition, and the brighter light of revelation, shining in the shadows and types of the law, or in the prophesies and promises of the Old Testament, were utterly ineffectual to lead men to eternal life and salvation, without divine illumination: the darkness comprehended it not: the plainest and most obvious truths, without his illumination, the natural man can no more comprehend to the salvation of his soul, than the blind can discern the objects before them. He, therefore, who first gave eyes to our bodies, must, by the same divine power, give sight to our darkened minds, or we must for ever remain under spiritual darkness and ignorance; but he does in a measure bestow that divine light on every fallen son of Adam, and, if duly improved, will bestow a sufficiency of it for eternal salvation.

2nd, The clearest revelation of gospel light began with the Baptist's ministry. To him therefore the evangelist refers, as bearing the most glorious testimony of the un-created Word.

1. He relates the mission and preaching of John. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John: his miraculous birth, his extraordinary gifts, and remarkable sanctity, were plain indications of his mission from above. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light; to point out to their notice the sun of righteousness, that was now about to arise; but to whom, through the wilful blindness of their hearts, they were indisposed to pay due attention and regard: and to testify that this was the Messiah of God: that all men through him might believe; who were, without distinction, invited by him to look to Jesus and be saved. He was not that light: though his energetical discourses, and mighty influence, raised in the minds of many an apprehension that he was the promised Christ, he assumed no such title; but his honour was to be the morning-star, the harbinger of day, to usher in the rising sun: he was sent to bear witness of that light, and prepare the way of the Lord. While we rejoice in the light of ministers, we must remember that they are only witnesses to the light; and as they preach not themselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, to him must our eyes be alone directed.

2. Before he proceeds farther with John's testimony, the evangelist enlarges on the glorious character and office of him, to whom the Baptist bore record. That was the true light, in opposition to the false lights of Gentile philosophy, and in contradistinction to the glimmering taper of ceremonial types and figures: he was eminently the true light, the fountain from which all wisdom and knowledge flow, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world; not only as the author of natural reason to all; but as bestowing such a measure of spiritual light on all the children of men, according to their different dispensations, that none shall have reason to accuse him as the cause of their perdition; but all, if faithful to that light, may come to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved. He was in the world, and the world was made by him: from the beginning his power and providence were displayed; but such was the wilful blindness, the wilful stupidity of mankind in general, that the world knew him not, nor in the expanded volume of nature, opened to their view, discerned his eternal godhead. Nay, he came unto his own, appearing incarnate in the fulness of time, and manifesting himself by his doctrine and miracles to the Jewish people, who were his own in a covenant of peculiarity, and his kinsmen according to the flesh; and his own received him not; they were in general wilfully obstinate, and rejected their God and Saviour. But as many as received him in his real character as the promised Messiah, the prophet, priest, and king of his believing people, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. By faith embracing him as their God and Saviour, and placing their whole dependance on his atonement and intercession, they were advanced to the high dignity and privilege of being accounted the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, entitled to the inheritance of glory as joint-heirs with Christ, and endued with all those heavenly graces and filial dispositions which proved their adoption of God. And all who truly believe in and receive the same Jesus into their hearts, trusting on him alone as the atoning Saviour, and continuing faithfully devoted to him as their Lord and Master, shall be made partakers of the same invaluable blessing and honours. We who were by nature children of wrath, are now become the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. And this is not merely a relative change, but a real one: where God confers the dignity of a child, he gives the Spirit of adoption. Those therefore are his sons, which were born, not of blood, not by natural descent; for nothing but corruption naturally runs in the blood of all the fallen sons of Adam; nor by circumcision, which was only the outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, without which that bloody rite availed nothing to the soul; nor of the will of the flesh; our regeneration springs not from any natural power or ability in ourselves; nor does it come of the will of man; the wisest reasoners, the most powerful orators, spend their rhetoric in vain, without divine aid accompanying them; moral arguments in this case are ineffectual, unless enforced by divine operation; and therefore the evangelist adds, but of God; the renovation of the soul is a work of grace, and we can only be quickened from the death of trespasses and sins to spiritual life by the power and energy of the Spirit of Christ; though our own endeavours must accompany this grace, and it is offered to all without exception. And in order to this great design of man's salvation, the Word was made flesh, became incarnate, not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God: he took our nature, that, in the likeness of sinful flesh, he might make reconciliation; and dwelt among us, in all the fulness of the Godhead taking up his abode in the body which was prepared for him, as the Shechinah dwelt in the temple: (and we beheld his glory, the brightness of which darted through the veil that for a time obscured its lustre, and appeared in all the miracles that he wrought, in the transcendant wisdom, goodness, grace, power, and majesty that he displayed on various occasions, and particularly blazed forth at his transfiguration, his resurrection and ascension; all of which divine manifestations of himself, the more they considered, the more they were filled with reverence and godly fear, and could not but regard the glory of Jesus as the glory of the only begotten of the Father) such as it became this divine Personage to appear in, who was the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person; and who was full of grace and truth; full of grace, of all spiritual blessings to bestow on believers; and of truth, fulfilling, in his own person, as the substance, all those typical institutions which were the shadows of good things to come, together with the prophesies which chiefly centred in him, and accomplishing all the engagements that he had undertaken. With what entire satisfaction then may we rest our souls on this adored Redeemer, so admirably qualified for the office of Mediator, possessed of all the excellence which the human nature is capable of receiving, and infinitely exalted in the uncreated glory of the divine? The more we consider his humiliation in becoming incarnate, the more deeply should we be affected with a sense of his grace and love; and, while we view Christ Jesus as the very God of very God, the more confidently should we trust in his infinite merit and intercession.

3rdly, We have,

1. The Baptist's farther testimony of Christ. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me, is preferred before me. He was the herald sent to prepare the way of the king Messiah, to proclaim aloud the coming of the incarnate God, and at his baptism to point him out to the notice of the world, as infinitely his superior in dignity, though after him, in point of time, entering upon his ministry and mission. And this pre-eminence he justly ascribes to him, both in the view of his eternal existence as a divine Person, and also of his constitution to the office of mediator between God and man; for he was before me. Note; (1.) The greatest of ministers and the chief of saints are always most careful to ascribe nothing to themselves, but ever to exalt the name of their adored Lord and Master as alone worthy of all honour and glory. (2.) The younger in office is often seen to be the greater in grace.

2. The evangelist takes up the word, and expatiates on the unsearchable riches of Christ, in connection with what he had said, John 1:14. And of his fulness, the plenitude of gifts and graces resident in this Son of God's eternal love, everlastingly exercised towards him, have all we received: not only they, as apostles, were indebted to their incarnate Lord for all the wondrous abilities with which they were qualified for the discharge of the trust committed to them; but also all Christians, of every degree, in every age, draw from the everflowing, overflowing, fountain of a Saviour's grace, the supply of all their spiritual wants; and grace for grace; which singular expression is differently interpreted; either as representing the fulness as well as the freedom of the gospel blessings, as grace upon grace, heaped up unto glory; or as the supply suited to our necessities, and effectual to strengthen us for all the work and duty to which the Saviour calls us; or such grace as exactly corresponds to that which is in him, transforming us into the same image, as the wax bears the impression of the seal; or as descriptive of the more abundant measures of grace dispensed under the gospel than under the law, to which sense the following verse seems to direct us. For the law was given by Moses: he, as the minister of God, declared his will to the Jewish people; and it was a matter of grace and favour that God by him revealed himself and his law unto them: but one unspeakably greater than Moses is here, the author of a new dispensation, which in glory far excelleth, 2 Corinthians 3:10 for grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. He is the sum and substance of all the types and prophesies, and in him they receive their accomplishment: the gospel, which he declared, contained the brightest discoveries of the divine grace and goodness, and the most reviving promises, ratified with his own blood: and as he reveals the only way of obtaining the divine favour, and how we may walk so as to please God, he offers also the ability for that which he enjoins; and his gospel is a law of the Spirit of life, communicating spiritual life and power to the soul. The greatest prophets who went before him, are not to be compared with him; and his word must necessarily, in the clearness and fulness of it, excel all other revelations of his will which God has been pleased to vouchsafe to the sons of men; for no man hath seen God at any time; neither men nor angels are capable of that intimate knowledge of the divine counsels, nor were ever admitted into his secrets: the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, and by his participation of the Godhead most perfectly understands the whole will of the Father—in nature one with the Father, and infinitely dear to him; he hath declared him, being most transcendently qualified to make such discoveries of God and his counsels, particularly of his wisdom and grace in the redemption of lost sinners, as none of the prophets, nor John himself, could be supposed to do, they being but servants over the house of God; he the Son in his own house; and therefore hath more gloriously and distinctly than ever before, brought life and immortality to light by the gospel. They who went before us, saw but through a glass darkly; we with a distinctness of vision, like that of face to face. May the light of gospel truth, so clearly revealed to us in and by the Son, be accompanied, through believing, with the effectual power of gospel grace to our hearts!

4thly, The testimony of John is here re-assumed, which he delivered to those who were sent from Jerusalem to examine into his credentials.

1. The sanhedrim, whose business it was to take cognizance of all religious matters, sent priests and Levites to inquire who he was, and what character he assumed; the time being at hand when the Messiah, according to the prophets, was now about to appear? And as many took John to be the Christ, or at least an extraordinary personage raised up for some great purposes, they wanted to hear, from his own lips, what he professed himself to be.

2. John's answers to their questions were direct and faithful. As to his being the Messiah, he freely and earnestly disclaims every such pretension: he confessed and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. Note; We must never arrogate to ourselves honours which do not belong to us; but should reject every temptation to pride with abhorrence. In reply to their question, Whether he were Elias? he said, No. The Jews looked for the person of Elias; John only came in the spirit and power of that zealous reformer; and therefore was not the Elijah whom they expected. He declares himself to be neither Jeremiah, nor that prophet of whom Moses spake, nor any of the ancient prophets risen again, one of whom they supposed would precede the coming of Elias. Hereupon they urge him to give them a positive answer who he was, if he was not one of those whom they had mentioned, that they might carry back something determinate to those who sent them. To this he gave a direct answer in the words of Scripture, Isaiah 40:3. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. He was the harbinger of the Messiah: his office was to cry aloud and spare not, rebuking the sins, and rectifying the errors of the people, and thus calling upon them to prepare to meet their God incarnate. And this is the great work of every true minister of Christ: with zeal, which fires his discourses, he labours to call sinners to the Saviour; and, eager in his exhortations, desires to lead them to repentance unto life.—Since he disclaims the character of the Messiah and those prophets which they had mentioned, they expostulated with him on his assuming authority to baptize; for it seems those Pharisees, who were now delegated in this commission, tenacious of their traditions, and proud in the conceit of their own goodness, fancied they needed no repentance; and, unable to brook the freedom and severity of the Baptist's rebukes, would gladly have taken occasion to suppress and silence him. In answer to their question he replied, I baptize with water, as the outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, which I pretend not to confer: but there standeth one among you, or there lately stood one among you, even Jesus who had been baptized by him, whom ye know not, he not having yet publicly appeared in his glorious character as the Messiah; He it is who, coming after me, is preferred before me, as infinitely my superior, whose shoes' latchet I am not worthy to unloose: so transcendently glorious and exalted is his dignity, that to be employed in the meanest office about his person, is an honour far beyond all that I can pretend to deserve. This conversation passed at Bethabara, beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing; but we find no inquiries made after Him concerning whom John informed them.

5thly, Jesus had now finished his glorious conflict with the great enemy of souls, and was returning from the wilderness victorious, to the banks of Jordan. There John saw him, and bore repeated testimony to him as the Christ of God.

1. He points out Jesus to the notice of his disciples, as he walked near the river's side, saying, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. He is the Lamb without spot and blemish, which the daily sacrifice and paschal lamb prefigured; he is the Lamb of God, appointed by him as the great oblation which should once be offered, with whose sacrifice he would be well pleased, taking away the sin of the world, the original sin of Adam, and the sins of all that believe in his name; and by the one oblation that he has once offered, hath fully and completely made the atonement; so that all, in every age or place, under whatever degree of guilt or power of corruption they lie, who come to him, are sure to find mercy and salvation through him: and therefore we are directed to behold him, to look to him with an eye of faith, that we may be made partakers of the redemption that is in him.

2. He declares that this is the Person to whom he had before borne witness: This is he of whom I said after me cometh a man which is preferred before me; for he was before me; a man, yet more than man, even God-man. And I knew him not; there was no personal, or at least intimate acquaintance between them before, nor were they in league together to serve any sinister end or purpose: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water: this was the great end of John's ministry, to point out to Israel the anointed Saviour.

3. He mentions the sign which the Lord had given him to discover that distinguished Personage whose fore-runner he was, but of whom, till then, he had no personal knowledge, at least as the Messiah. The sign given was the visible descent of the Spirit as a dove: and on whomsoever of those, who came to him to be baptized, he should see it light, he might be fully assured that this was he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. This he saw at Jordan when Jesus came to be baptized of him, and heard the voice from heaven mentioned Matthew 3:17. On these sure grounds, therefore, he bare record then, and ever after continued to repeat the same testimony, that this is the Son of God incarnate, the true Messiah promised from the beginning.

4. The next day, again looking earnestly on Jesus as he walked, he pointed him out to two of his disciples, saying, Behold the Lamb of God, desirous to engage their attention to the heavenly Saviour, and to lead them to value, regard, and embrace him, as the one great atoning sacrifice for the sins of men, which all those under the law prefigured and represented. Note; (1.) The doctrine of Christ's sacrifice for our sins is one of the grand leading subjects on which ministers must continually insist. (2.) They who have beheld the excellency of Jesus, cannot but delight to recommend him to the regard of others.

6thly, The first disciples of Jesus now begin to commence their acquaintance with him.

1. The two, who were with John when he pointed out Jesus to their notice, immediately followed him, desiring to be indulged in a greater intimacy with him. And the gracious Lord, who observes and is delighted with the first steps that a soul takes in approaching him, kindly accosted them, and inquired what they sought. With humble and respectful address they replied, Rabbi, where dwellest thou? Rabbi was the title given to the most famed of their wise men; and most deserving of it must he be in whom dwelt all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. They desired to be admitted to a longer conversation with him than they could enjoy as they walked, and would gladly, if they might be permitted, wait upon him to receive his divine instructions. Note; Abiding communion with Jesus, is the thing, that a soul which is at all acquainted with him importunately desires. Christ courteously invites them to his lodgings; Come and see: he was ready to give them an immediate welcome; for his arms are ever open to receive those who desire to come to him. With thankfulness and joy they immediately embraced the offer. Where the soul is at stake, every delay is dangerous. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour: so that they spent that day in delightful conversation with him. The name of one of these disciples was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother; the other probably the author of this gospel, who here, and in other places, modestly suppresses his own name, when the mention of it would be to his honour: a noble instance of his unfeigned humility.

2. A third disciple is added. Andrew, eager to communicate the glad tidings to his brother Simon, findeth him, and with exultation relates the important discovery that they had made, We have found the Messias, (which is being interpreted in the Greek language the Christ) the anointed of God, so often spoken of in the Scriptures; and he brought him to Jesus, who took particular notice of him; and calling him by his name, which, though a stranger to him before, he well knew, he gives him a new name, Cephas, which signifies a stone, as adopting him into his family, and intimating the steadiness of his heart in the work of the gospel, and his being appointed one of those pillars on which, with his brethren and apostles, the church should stand firm, grounded on Jesus the chief cornerstone and sure foundation. Note; (1.) They who have tasted the riches of Christ's grace themselves, cannot but be active to draw others to him. There is in Christ enough for all. (2.) They who are nearly related to us in blood, claim a peculiar interest in our regard and prayers; and the best token of our love to them will be shewn in leading them to Jesus.

7thly, Our Lord, having begun to make choice of his disciples, adds two more to the number, in Galilee, whither he went the day following.

1. Christ himself calls Philip. He saith unto him, Follow me; and he instantly obeyed. He was of Bethsaida, a town on the lake of Gennesareth, and a place very abandoned, Matthew 11:21.: an encouragement to ministers of the gospel, to visit even the worst of places.

2. Philip immediately went in quest of some friends to whom he might carry the glad tidings; and finding Nathanael, he with joy communicated the news, We have found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth the son of Joseph. Probably our Lord had opened these scriptures concerning himself to Philip's fullest satisfaction. But Nathanael, on the mention of Nazareth, starts an objection, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?—a place vile and despicable to a proverb. Philip, unable to solve the difficulty, yet not shaken in his own faith, says, Come and see; persuaded that Jesus himself could easily silence that and every other objection which might be raised against him. Note; (1.) They, who have found Christ, cannot but exult in this happy acquisition. (2.) Though we may not be capable of answering every objection which may be started, we are not therefore to conclude that our religion is a delusion, but examine farther, and then we shall find enough to satisfy us that we have not believed cunningly devised fables. (3.) When we are in doubt, we must come to Jesus, and by prayer and attention to his word may be confident that he will lead us into all truth.

3. Nathanael yielded to Philip's invitation, and quickly was convinced of the unreasonableness of the prejudices which he had entertained. (1.) Christ highly commends his character as he saw him coming near, saying to those who were in company with him at that time, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile, a genuine son of simple-hearted Jacob. Note; It is a great thing to be an Israelite indeed, in spirit and temper such as our profession demands, without allowed guile either towards God or man, but with regard to both keeping a conscience void of offence. (2.) Nathanael expresses his surprise how Jesus should know him whom he had never seen before; but the confirmation of it which Christ gave yet more amazed him, and silenced all his doubts, as it proved his omniscience: Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee. Probably Nathanael had retired thither for some religious exercises, where no eye might see him, and there had offered up his fervent supplications to God for the Messiah's coming; or might be employed in meditation, perhaps on that dream of Jacob, Genesis 28:12; Genesis 28:22 to which our Lord refers, John 1:51.; and such an instance of his knowing both the place of his retirement, and the very sentiments of his soul, could not but give Nathanael the strongest evidence of his being indeed the Messiah, as Philip had affirmed. Note; The eye of Jesus is upon us in our most retired moments, and he is acquainted with every sentiment of our souls. And this cannot but afford as much comfort to a gracious soul, as it speaks confusion to every hypocrite. (3.) Nathanael, fully convinced, bows down before him, and makes solemn profession of his faith in him as the Messiah, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel. His prejudices instantly vanished, and, assured of the divine mission and character of Jesus, he gladly yields himself up a loyal subject to Israel's King, trusting on him for salvation from all enemies.

4. Christ, with approbation of his faith, and admiration of his noble confession, assures Nathanael that he shall shortly see greater and more glorious evidences of his infinite wisdom and power, to confirm his confidence. Verily, verily, I say unto you, who am the faithful and true Witness, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, or from hence-forth, when entering upon his public ministry he should begin to manifest his glory in the miracles that he wrought and the doctrines he taught; and ye shall see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man; either literally, in their ministrations to him at his resurrection and ascension; or, rather figuratively, such a friendly intercourse between heaven and earth would now appear to be restored, and such wonders wrought by Jesus in confirmation of his mission, that it would be proved with evidence as strong and striking as if they saw the heavens themselves opened, and the angels employed in carrying on a correspondence between God the Father and the Son, become man for us men and for our salvation. Note; Through the Son of man the kingdom of heaven is opened to all believers, the angels of God minister for the heirs of salvation, and we may now enter boldly into the holiest of all, ascending by him, who is unto the faithful as the ladder of Jacob, the way to God and glory.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on John 1:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/john-1.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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