“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word, the expression of the Godhead, has eternal being, distinct personality and proper Deity, not merely
Θειότης (Rom. 1:20), but
Θεότης (Col. 2:9). We see One Who was before time began. It is not even the beginning of creation, but before then, when the Word was with God before all things were made by Him. Look back as we may before creation, the Word was-not
ἐγένετο, existed, as One that had commenced to be, but
ἦν, was, the Word increase-yea, the Creator. Further, He “was with God,” not exactly here with the Father as such; for Scripture never speaks with such correlation. “The Word was with God.” Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were there; but the Word was with God, “and the Word was God.” He was no creature, but essentially Divine, though not He alone Divine. Other Persons there were in the Godhead.9
“The same was in the beginning with God” (verse 2); not at a subsequent date, but “in the beginning,” when no creature had commenced its existence. For this truth we are entirely indebted to God. Who could speak of such things but God? It is He Who uses John to write, and all He says is worthy of implicit faith. The Word “was in the beginning with God.” His personality was eternal, no less than His nature or being. He was no mere emanation, as the Indo-Aryans dreamed in the earliest form of their thoughts known to us. For God thus was not really supreme and free, but subject to restraint necessarily incompatible with sovereignty, and ever tending to that pantheism which, making the universe to be God, denies the only true God. Thus, He was merely Tad (That), an abstract energy, yet not in self-sufficiency, but in longing for others to emanate-Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, the Creator, the Preserver, and the Destroyer. In the Hindu system developed later, as the Divinity was thus imaginatively resolved into emanations, so is the universe itself pantheistically to be an emanation rather than a creation formed by Divine will, power, and design. All is flux and illusion. What a contrast is its Triad with the Trinity, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God! And its Avataras, even that of Krishna, late as the legend rose, how remote from the Incarnation! Thereby God and man stand for ever united in one Person, by His death the Reconciler of all creation, heavenly and earthly, and of those who by grace are to reign with Him over all things to the glory of God the Father.3
Then as an added and after communication we are told that “all things were made by Him, and without Him not one thing was made which hath been made” (verse 3). The Word was not made, but Himself made all.4 The Word is the Creator of all that has had a derived being. He created all. No creature received being apart from Him. The Word was the agent. Had He not been God, this must have been a work impossible to Him. Had He not been “in the beginning with God,” it could not have been in any special way attributed to Him, the eternal Word. But creation is here affirmed as His work, not in a positive way only, but without exception for every creature. So in Col. 1:16, 17 we are told that “by (
ἐν, in virtue of) Him were created all things, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or lordships, or principalities, or authorities; all things have been created through Him, and for Him; and He is before all things, and by (
ἐν ) Him all things consist (or, are held together).” What repeated and irrefutable proofs of Deity!5
Each of these scriptures gives us precise instruction of the highest kind. Even Gen. 1, though it points in verses 1 and 2 to states of creation indefinitely anterior to Adam, only begins with John 1:3. But of the details that followed in time no scripture gives us such complete information. What was before creation is wholly omitted by Moses. John 1:1, 2 shows us eternity before creation, as well as creation itself (verse 3), in the most precise terms.9a
But there is much more than the power of an eternal Being. For we come now to a thing higher and more intimate: not to what was brought into being 9b through Him, but to what was in Him. “This is the true God and eternal life” (John 5:20). “In him was life.”6 The only life here noticed is that which, being eternal, is capable of knowing, enjoying, serving, and worshipping God, suited to His presence, and to be there for ever. Believers have life; but it is in the Son, not in them, but in Him. Here, however, it is not pursued beyond its source in Him; its communication will soon follow in due course. The Spirit is occupied with the character of His person. Only He adds at this point the deeply interesting announcement, “and the life was the light of men” (verse 4).11 Not angels but men were the object. He does not say life, but light of men. The life was only for those that believe in His name: the light goes far beyond. That which makes manifest is light. So in Prov. 8, the beautiful introduction of Wisdom, Whom Jehovah possessed in the beginning of His way before His works of old, not more His delight than Wisdom’s delights were with the sons of men.
But men, in fact, were in a fallen condition, and at a distance from God; and so it is intimated here that a worse darkness reigned than the gloom which covered the deep before the six days’ work began. “And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended [that is, apprehended] it not” (verse 5).
Darkness is neither the mother of all, as the heathen said, nor a malignant Demiurge, the never-ceasing opponent of the good Lord of light.7 It is really the moral condition of man, fallen as he is, a negation of the light, differing wholly from the physical reality, inasmuch as it is of itself unaffected by light. Grace only, as we shall see by and by, can deal effectually with the difficulty.
Here it may be noticed that John does not discourse of life absolutely, but of life in the Word, which life is affirmed to be the Light of men. It is exclusive of other objects-at least, the proposition goes not beyond men. So in Col. 1 Christ is said to be the image of the invisible God, Who is here only revealed to perfection in man and to men. He is the light of men, and there is no other: for if man has what scripture calls light, he has it only in the Word, Who is the life. Beyond controversy God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all; but He dwells in unapproachable light, Whom no man has seen, nor can see. Not so with the Word of Whom we are reading. “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” Observe the striking precision of the phrases. It appears in darkness-such is its nature; “it shines,” not “it shone”; whereas the abstract form is changed for the historical, when we are told that the darkness apprehended it not.
Thus we have had the Spirit’s statement of the Word, as related first to God, next to creation, lastly to men, with a solemn sentence on their moral state in relation to the light, and not merely to life.
We are next presented with John sent from God to testify of the light. “There was a man sent from God-his name John. The same came for witness that he might witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but that he might witness about the Light.” God, Who is Love, was active in His goodness to draw attention to the Light; for deep was man’s need. Hence there was a man sent from Him-his name John.12 He, as we are told elsewhere, was the burning and shining lamp (
ὁ λυχνος); but the Word was the Light (
τὸ φῶς ) concerning Whom he came to bear witness. For his mission is here viewed in relation, not to the law or any legal purpose, but to the Light (and hence its scope is far beyond Israel), that he might witness concerning the Light, that all 12a might believe through him. It is a question of personal faith in the Saviour, not merely of moral exhortation to the multitude, tax-gatherers, soldiers, or any others, as in the Gospel of Luke. Every scripture is perfect, and perfectly adapted to the Divine purpose of glorifying Jesus.
The Light is here the object of God’s gracious purpose. John is but an instrument and witness; he was not the Light, but that he might witness concerning the Light. “The true Light was that (or, He was the true Light) which, coming into the world, lighteth every man,” in exclusion of Philonism and Platonism, as we have seen before of eternal matter and Manicheism. The law dealt with those under it-that is, with Israel; the Light, on coming into the world-a cardinal point in the teaching of our Apostle (1 John 1:1-4; 2:8, 14, etc. )-casts its light on every man. Coming, or a comer, into the world is used by the Rabbis for birth as man; but for this very reason it would be the merest tautology if viewed in apposition with
π. ἄνθρ. “every man.”8 It qualifies the relative, and affirms that as incarnate the true Light lights every man-that is, sheds light on him.
The result, however, in itself is, and can only be, condemnation by reason of opposition of nature; for, as we are told, “He was in the world, and the world was made (or, brought into being) through Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not; but as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God, to those that believe on His name; who were born not of blood, nor of flesh’s will, nor of man’s (
ἀνδρὸς) will, but of God.” What infinite and loving condescension that He, the eternal Word, the true Light, should be in the world 14-the world which receiveth its being from Him! How dense its ignorance that the world knew Him not, its Creator! But He had one place on earth which He was pleased to regard as His own peculiar (
τὰ ἴδια )15: there He came; and (
οἱ ἴδιοι ) His own people (it is not said knew Him not, but) received Him not! It was rejection, not ignorance.
This prepared the way for the manifestation of a new thing, men from out of the ruined world separated to a new and incomparably nearer relationship with God, to whom, as many as received Christ (for it is no question of “every man” here), He gave right or title to enter the place of God’s children, to those that believe on His name. Nor is this a mere external position of honour, into which sovereignty might choose, so as to maintain by adoption family name and grandeur. It is a real communication of life and nature, a living birth-tie.16 They were
τέκνα Θεοῦ , God’s children. It is not that they had been better than others. They had been once alienated, and enemies in mind by wicked works. They believed on Christ’s name; they were born of God. It was a work of Divine grace through faith. Receiving the Word, they were begotten of God. Natural generation from either side, effort of one’s own, influence of another however exalted, had no place here.
John nowhere describes believers as
υἱοὶ but as
τέκνα , for his point is life in Christ rather than the counsels of God by redemption. Paul, on the other hand (as in Rom. 8), calls us both
τέκνα Θεοῦ , because he is setting forth alike the high place given us now in contrast with bondage under the law, and also the intimacy of our relationship as children of God. On the other hand, it is notable that Jesus is never called
τέκνον (though as Messiah He is styled
παῖς , or Servant), but
υἱός . He is the Son, the Only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, but not
τέκνον as if He were born of God as we are. Thus it is the name of nearest but derived relationship. This is quite confirmed by the immediately following statement of John, “who were born . . . of God.” So indeed it will be seen invariably elsewhere, despite the Authorised Version, which wrongly represents
τέκνα by “sons” in his First Epistle, (1 John 3). They believe on His name, after the manifestation of what the Word is.17 Every creature source is shut out, as well as all previous relationship closed and done with; a new race is brought in. They were men of course, and cease not to be men as a fact; but they are born afresh spiritually, born of God most truly, partake of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1) in this sense, as deriving their new life from God.
Life, as we may observe ever throughout the writings of John and Paul, is wholly distinct from simple existence. It is the possession of that Divine character of being, which in the Son never had a beginning, for He was the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us. He is our life; because He lives, we also live. It is true in Him and in us: in Him essentially, in us derivatively through grace; yet this is not so as to be for a moment independent of Him, but in Him. Still we have the life now; nowhere is it taught that we shall be born of God, only that as believers we are. “Begotten” now, as distinct from “born,” is false, absurd, and without a shadow of scripture to support it.
From the revelation of the Word in His own intrinsic nature, we now turn to His actual manifestation as man here below. The Incarnation is brought before us, the full revelation of God to man and in man. “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us (and we beheld His glory, glory as of an only-begotten from beside a father), full of grace and truth.” Here it is not what the Word was, but what He became. He was God; He became flesh18 and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
It was no transient vision, however momentous, as on the holy mount. It was a contemplation 19 of His glory vouchsafed to His witnesses, not of an earthly conqueror, nor Messianic even, but glory 20 as of an only-begotten from beside (
παρὰ ) a father.21 No sword girds His thigh, no riding to victory, no terrible things in righteousness: the incarnate Word dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Such is He that was in and from the beginning, and thus known. He was the King undoubtedly, but not so portrayed here. He is infinitely more than King, even God, yet God on earth, man dwelling among men, full of grace and truth. So only could God be displayed, unless in judgment which had left no hope, but only destroyed to the bitter end at once and unreservedly. For infinitely different purposes had He come, as this passage itself declares in due season, perfectly knowing and feeling the universal evil of man. He tabernacled among us full of grace and truth. It was not a visit or a theophany, as in O.T. experiences. So He here manifested God, Who is love. But grace is more; it is love in the midst of evil, rising above it, going down under it, overcoming it with good.
And such was Jesus, sojourning on earth, full of truth withal; for otherwise grace was no more grace, but a base imitation, and most ruinous both for God and to man. Not such was Jesus, but full of grace and truth, and in this order, too. For grace brings in the truth and enables souls to receive truth and to bear it, themselves as sinners judged by it. He, and He only, was full of grace and truth. To make it known, to make God Himself thus known, He came. For as grace is the activity of Divine love in the midst of evil,22 so truth is the revelation of all things as they really are, from God Himself and His ways and counsels down to man and every thought and feeling as well as word and work of man-yea, of every invisible agency for good or evil throughout all time, and throughout all eternity.9 So He dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
Nor did God fail to render testimony to Him thus. “John witnesseth about Him, and hath cried, saying, This was He of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me, for He was before me” (verse 15). Most strikingly is John introduced with his testimony in each of the great divisions of the chapter. Before it was to the abstract revelation of the Light. Here it is to His actual presentation to the world, and as it is historical, so we have what John cries, not merely a description as before. He says, “This was He of whom I said,” etc. The coming of Jesus after John was no derogation from His glory, but the very contrary. No greater prophet than John the Baptist had arisen among those born of women. But Jesus is God. If He was pleased therefore to come after John in time, He had become incomparably before him in place and title; nay, He was really before him, but this only because He is Divine.
The last verse (15) appears to be a parenthesis, however full of instruction. But the direct line of truth runs, “full of grace and truth . . . and of His fulness all we received, and grace for grace” (verse 16). An astonishing truth! He is the gift and the giver-full of grace and truth; and of His fulness did we all receive.10 Such is the portion of the least believer. The strongest is only the stronger, because he better appreciates Him. For there is no blessing outside Him, and consequently no lack for the soul that possesses Jesus. If the Colossian saints, if any others, seek to add any other thing to the Lord, it is a real loss, not gain. It is but to add what detracts from Him. For Christ is all (
τὰ π.), and in all.
The expression “and grace for grace” has perplexed many, but without much reason; for an analogous phrase occurs, even in profane authors not infrequently, which ought to satisfy any inquirer that it simply means grace upon grace,24 one succeeding to another without stint or failure-superabundance of grace, and not a mere literal notion of grace in us answering to grace in Him. It will be noticed, further, that scripture speaks of grace upon grace, not truth upon truth, which last would be wholly unsuitable; for the truth is one, and cannot be so spoken of. The same apostle wrote even to the babes, not because they did not know the truth, but because they do know it, and that no lie is of the truth. The unction, which they, in fact, received from Him, teaches them as to all things, and is true, and is not a lie. But as grace brings the truth, so the truth exercises in grace. How blessed that of His fulness all we received, and grace for grace!
Wholly different was seen at Sinai, “for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (verse 17). Not that the law is sin. Far be the thought. It is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. But it is altogether impotent to deliver man or to reveal God. It has neither life to give nor object to make known. It requires from man what he ought to render both to God and to his fellows; but in vain is it required from man, already a sinner before the law was given. For sin entered the world through Adam no less surely than the law was given through Moses. Man fell and was lost; none could bring eternal life but Jesus Christ the Lord.25 Even this was wholly unavailable to man without His death in expiation of sin. Here, however, we have not yet reached the work of Christ, nor the message of grace that goes out to the world grounded on it in the gospel, but His Person in the world; and to this the testimony is “grace and truth came (
ἐγένετο) through Jesus Christ.” There, and there only, was the Divine love superior to man’s evil; there, and there only, was everything revealed, and in its due relation to God, for such is the truth. Truly Jesus is a Divine Saviour.
But there is yet more than this. God Himself must be known, not merely fulness of blessing come in Christ, or souls be brought into the blessing by redemption. Yet man as such is incapable of knowing God. How is this difficulty to be solved? “No one hath seen God at any time: the11 only begotten Son12 Who is in the bosom of the Father-He declared (Him)” (verse 18). Thus only can God be known as He is, for Christ is the truth, the revealer and revelation of God, as of everything in God’s sight. Nowhere does scripture say with rationalists and, one regrets to add, with theologians, that God is the truth.26a Not so: God is the “I AM,” the self-subsisting One; He is light, He is love. But Christ is the truth objectively, as the Spirit is in power, working in man. And Christ has declared God, as One Who as the Son is in the bosom of the Father, not Who was, as if He had left it; as He left the glory and is now gone back into glory as man. He never left the Father’s bosom. It is His constant place, and His peculiar mode of relationship with the Father. Hence we by the Holy Ghost are in grace privileged to know God, even as the Son declared Him, Who perfectly, infinitely, enjoyed love in that relationship from everlasting and to everlasting. Into what a circle of Divine association does He not introduce us! It is not the Light of men, not yet the Word acting, or becoming flesh, but the only begotten Son Who is in the Father’s bosom, declaring Him according to His own competency of nature and the fulness of His own intimacy with the Father. Even John Baptist, as having his origin in the earth, was of the earth and spoke as of it.26b Jesus alone of men could be said to come out of heaven and be above all, testifying what He had seen and heard, as the Holy Spirit also does. It was for Him to declare God, and this in His own proper relationship.
If the verses which precede comprise the Divine preface, the sections which follow may be viewed as an introduction. The Baptist, in answer to the inquiring deputation, gives an explicit, though in the first place negative, testimony to the Lord Jesus. A singularly fitted vessel of witness to the Messiah, as he was himself filled by the Spirit from his mother’s womb, he was sustained as scarce another had ever been in nothing but the function of making straight the way of Jehovah.27
“And this is the witness of John when the Jews28 sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites that they might ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not, and confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he saith, I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered, No. They said therefore to him, Who art thou, that we may give an answer to those that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I (am the) voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of Jehovah, as said Isaiah the prophet. And they were sent from among the Pharisees; and they asked him and said to him, Why then baptizest thou, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize with (
ἐν) water: in the midst of you standeth, Whom ye know not, He who cometh after me, of Whom I am not worthy to unloose the thong of His sandal. These things took place in Bethany,13 across the Jordan where John was baptizing.”
Thus did God take care to rouse a general expectancy of the Messiah in the minds of His people, and to send them the fullest witness. And never was there a more strictly independent witness than John, born and brought up and kept till the fit moment to testify of the Messiah. For while the minute questions of those sent by the Jews from Jerusalem show how men’s minds were then exercised, how they wished to ascertain the real character and aim of the mysterious Israelite, himself of priestly lineage, and thereby, as they ought to have known excluded from the Messianic title, there was no vagueness in the reply. John was not the Anointed. This was the main aim of their search; and our Gospel very simply and fully attests his reply.
There is somewhat of difficulty in the next answer. For when asked, “Art thou Elijah?” he says, “I am not.” How is this denial from the lip of John himself to be reconciled with the Lord’s own testimony to His servant in Matt. 17:11, 12? “Elijah truly shall first come and restore all things. But I say to you, that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.” And they were right. The key appears to lie in Matt. 11:14: “And if ye will receive it” (says the Lord in vindicating John at a time when, if ever, he seemed to waver in his testimony; for who but One is the Faithful Witness?) “this is Elijah which was [lit. is] to come.” Such a word, however, needed ears to hear. Like the Lord (Son of man no less than Messiah), his testimony and his lot were to be in unison with an advent in shame and sorrow as well as in power and glory. The Jews naturally cared only for the latter; but, to avail not only for God, but for the true wants of man, first must Jesus suffer before He is glorified, and comes again in power. So Elijah came to faith (“if ye will receive it”) in the Baptist, who testified in humiliation and with results in man’s eyes scanty and evanescent. But Elijah will come in a manner consonant with the return of the Lord to deliver Israel and bless the world under His reign. To the Jew, who only looked at the external, he was not come. To point to the Baptist would have seemed mockery; for if they had no apprehension of God’s secrets or His ways, if they saw no beauty in the humbled Master, what would it avail to speak of the servant? The disciples, feeble though they might be, enter into the truths hidden from men, and are given to see beneath the surface the true style of the servant and of the Master to faith.
Nevertheless John does take his stand of witness to Jesus, to His personal and Divine glory; and to this end, when challenged who he was, applies to himself in every Gospel the prophetic oracle attached to him: “I (am the) voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of Jehovah.”30 Jesus was Jehovah, John no more than a voice in the desolation of the earth-yea, of Israel-to prepare the way before Him.
They further inquire why he baptized if neither the Messiah, nor Elijah (that is, the immediate precursor of the kingdom in power and glory over the earth-Mal. 4), nor the prophet (that is, according to Deut. 18, which, however, the apostle Peter in Acts 3 as clearly applies to the Lord Jesus, as the Jews seem to have then alienated it from the Messiah).31 This gives John the occasion to render another testimony to Christ’s glory; for his answer is, that he himself baptized with water; but there stands 32 among them, yet unknown to them, One coming after, Whose sandal-thong he was not worthy to unloose.
It is evident that John’s baptism had a serious import in men’s minds, since, without a single sign or other miracle, it awakened the question whether the Baptist were the Christ. It intimated the close of the old state of things and a new position, instead of being the familiar practice which traditionalists would make it. On the other hand, scripture is equally plain that it is quite distinct from Christian baptism: so much so that disciples previously baptized with John’s baptism had to be baptized to Christ when they received the full truth of the gospel (Acts 19). The Reformers and others are singularly unintelligent in denying this difference, which is not only important but plain and certain. Think of Calvin’s calling it a foolish mistake, into which some had been led, of supposing that John’s baptism was different from ours! The confession of a coming Messiah widely differs from that of His death and resurrection; and this is the root of differences which involve weighty consequences.
From verses 19 to 28 John the Baptist does not rise beyond what was Jewish and dispensational. The next paragraph brings before us the testimony which he rendered when he saw Jesus approaching. And here we have Christ’s work viewed in all the extent of gracious power which might be expected in the Gospel devoted to showing out the glory of His Person.
“On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” There was no image more familiar to a Jew’s mind than that of the lamb. It was the daily sacrifice of Israel, morning and evening. Besides, the paschal lamb was the pledge for the fundamental peace of the year; even as its first institution was coeval with the departure of the sons of Israel from the house of bondage. We can understand, therefore, what thoughts and feelings must have crowded on the heart of those who looked for a Saviour now, when Jesus was thus attested by His forerunner, “Behold the Lamb (
ἀμνὸς ) of God.” In the Book of Revelation He is frequently viewed as the Lamb, but there with a pointedly different word (
ὰρνίον), the holy earth-rejected Sufferer, in contrast with the ravening wild beasts, civil or religious instruments of Satan’s power in the world (chapter 13). Here the idea seems to centre not so much in the slain One exalted on high as in the sacrifice: “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”
John does not say “that will take,” still less “that has taken”; nor does the notion seem at all tenable that He was then taking sin away.33 It is, as frequently in John and elsewhere, the abstract form of speech; and the meaning should be understood in its fullest extent, irrespective of the time of its accomplishment. There was the Person, and this His work. Thus the testimony looks onward to the effects of the death of Christ as a whole; but these were not to appear all at once. The first result was to be the gospel, the message of remission of sins to every believer. Instead of the sin of the world only being before God, the blood of the Lamb is set; and God could therefore meet the world in grace, not in judgment. Not only was love come in Christ’s Person as during His life, but now the blood also shed whereby God could cleanse the foulest; and the gospel is to every creature God’s proclamation of His readiness to receive all, and of His perfectly cleansing all who do receive Christ. In fact, only those that are His now, the Church, receive Him; but the testimony is sent forth to all the creation.
When Christ comes again in His kingdom, there will be a further result; for all creation will then be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and Israel will at length look upon the Messiah Whom they pierced in their blind unbelief. The blessing resulting from the sacrifice of Christ will then be far and wide extended, but not complete. Only the new heavens and new earth (and this exceeds the limited scope of the Jewish prophets, but is the full meaning which the Christian apostles give the words) will behold the ultimate fulfilment; and then indeed it will be seen how truly Jesus was “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” For then, and not till then, will sin have disappeared absolutely and all its active consequences. The wicked having been judged and cast for ever into the lake of fire, as well as Satan and his angels, righteousness will then be the footing of God’s relationship with the world, not sinlessness as at first, nor dealings in Christ in view of sin as since and now, but all things made new.
Observe, however, that the Baptist does not say the “sins” of the world. What a fatality of error haunts men when they venture to handle the truth of God after a human sort! It is not only in sermons or books that one finds this common and grave blunder. The solemn liturgies of Romanism and Protestantism are alike wrong here. They alter and unconsciously falsify the word of God when directly referring to this scripture. In speaking of believers both the apostles Paul and Peter show that the Lord Himself bore their sins upon the cross. Without this, indeed, there could be neither peace secured for the conscience nor a righteous basis for worshipping God, according to the efficacy of the work of Christ. The Christian is exhorted to come boldly into the holies by the blood of Jesus, which has, at the same time, purged his sins and brought himself nigh; but this is only true of the believer. In total contrast is the state and condition of the unbeliever, of every man in nature. He is far off, in guilt, in darkness, in death. The language of the liturgies confounds all this, according indeed to the practice of their worship; for the world is treated as the Church, and the Church as the world. Were Christ the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, all men would stand absolved before God, and might well therefore boldly approach and worship; but it is not so. The blood is now shed for the sin of the world, so that the evangelist can go forth and preach the gospel and assure all who believe of pardon from God; but all who refuse must die in their sins, and only the more terribly be judged because they refused the message of grace.
But God never forgets the personal dignity of the Lord Jesus here. Hence John the Baptist adds, “This is He of Whom I said, After me cometh a Man who is become before (or, hath taken precedence of) me, for He was before me.14 And I knew Him not, but that He might be manifested to Israel, therefore came I baptizing with (
ἐν) water” (verses 30, 31). There is no reference here to His Messianic judgment, as in other Gospels, which, on the other hand, are silent as regards a testimony like this to His glory. Undoubtedly also John did call souls in Israel to repent in view of the kingdom as at hand; but here the one object is the manifestation of Jesus to Israel. It is an absorbing topic of this Gospel indeed. The previous unacquaintance of the Baptist 34 with Jesus made his testimony so much the more solemn and emphatically of God; and whatever the inward conviction he had as the Lord came for baptism, it did not hinder the external sign nor the witness he bears to His Person and His work as he had borne before it.
Hence we read, “And John bore witness, saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and it abode upon Him. And I knew Him not; but He that sent me to baptize with (
ἐν) water, He said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding on Him, this is He that baptizeth with (
ἐν, the) Holy Spirit. And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God.”35
Such was the suited sign for the Saviour. Ravens might have been employed in God’s wisdom to feed the famished prophet at another dark day; but not such was the appearance of the Spirit descending from heaven to abide on Jesus. The dove only could be the proper form, emblematic of the spotless purity of Him on Whom He came. Yet did He come upon Him as man, but Jesus was man without sin; as truly man as any other, but how different from all before or after! He was the second Man in bright contrast with the first. And He is the last Adam: in vain does unbelief look for a higher development, overlooking Him in Whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
Observe, again, the Spirit came before the death of the Lord Jesus. If Christ died, He died for others. If He suffered and became a sacrifice, it was not for Himself. Jesus needed no blood in order that He might subsequently be anointed with the holy oil. He was Himself the Holy One of God in that very nature which in every other case had dishonoured God.
But if the Spirit abode on Him as man, this is He that baptizes with the Holy Spirit. None could so baptize but God. It were blasphemy to say otherwise. It is the fullest prerogative of a Divine Person so to act; and hence John the Baptist utterly disclaimed it, and in every Gospel points to Jesus only as the Baptizer by (
ἐν) the Holy Ghost, as himself had come baptizing with water. It is the mighty work of Jesus from heaven, as He was the Lamb of God on the cross.
Thus, though the immediate aim of John’s mission with baptism attached to it was for the manifestation of Jesus to Israel, he testifies to Him as the Lamb of God in relation to the world, the Eternal at whatever time He came (and surely it was the right moment, “the fulness of the time,” as the great apostle assures us-Gal. 4:4), not merely as the object of the Holy Ghost’s descent to abide on Him, but as baptizing with the Holy Ghost. “And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son15 of God.” Such was His everlasting relationship: not the Son of man Who must be lifted up if we are to have life eternal, but the Lamb of God and the Son of God. On the other hand, it is not here the Father declared by, or revealing Himself in, His only begotten Son, but God in view of the broad fact of the world’s sin, and Jesus His Lamb to take its sin away. So the baptism of the Holy Ghost is not quickening, but that power of the Spirit which acts on the life already possessed by the believer, separates from all that is of flesh and world, and sets in communion with God’s nature and glory as revealed in Christ. He was as man on earth, not only Son of God, but always conscious of it; we becoming so by faith in Him are rendered conscious of our relationship through the Holy Ghost given to us. Nevertheless even Him, as the Gospels show, the descent of the Spirit Who anointed Him placed in a new position here below. All here is public announcement and reaches the world in result.
We have had before us John’s testimony reaching out far beyond the Messiah in Israel; we see now the effect of his ministry. “Again, on the morrow, stood John and two of his disciples; and looking at Jesus as He walked, he saith, Behold, the Lamb of God! and the two disciples heard him speak, and followed Jesus. But Jesus, having turned and beheld them following, saith to them, What seek ye? And they said to Him, Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), where abidest Thou? He saith to them, Come and see. They went therefore16 and saw where He abode, and abode with Him that day. It was about the tenth hour.” It is not the fullest or clearest statement of the truth which most acts on others. Nothing tells so powerfully as the expression of the heart’s joy and delight in an object that is worthy. So it was now. “Looking at Jesus as He walked, he saith, Behold, the Lamb of God!” The greatest of woman born acknowledges the Saviour with unaffected homage, and His own disciples that heard Him speak follow Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” And so it ought to be. Not John, but Jesus, is the centre: a man, but God, for none other could be a centre without derogation from the Divine glory. Jesus maintains that place, but this as man too. Wonderful truth, and for man how precious and cheering! John was the servant of God’s purpose, and his mission was thus best executed when his disciples followed Jesus. The Spirit of God supplants human and earthly motives. How, indeed, could it be otherwise if one really believed that He in His Person was God on earth? He must be the one exclusive and attractive centre for all that know Him; and John’s work was to prepare the way before Him. So here his ministry gathers to Jesus, sending from himself to the Lord.
But if in the Gospel of Matthew the Lord has a city if not a home, which we can name, here in that of John it is unnoticed where He abode. The disciples heard His voice, came and saw where He abode, and abode with Him that day; but for others it is unnamed and unknown. We can understand that so it should be with One Who was not only God in man on earth, but this wholly rejected of the world. And so Divine life effects in those that are His: “therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not” (1 John 3:1).
Nor does the work stop there or then. “Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,36 was one of the two that heard (it) from John and followed Him. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith to him, We have found the Messiah (which is interpreted Christ),37 and he led him to Jesus. Jesus, looking at him, said, Thou art Simon,38 the son of Jonah (or John);17 thou shalt be called Kephas, which is interpreted Peter (or, Stone).”39 Deeply interesting are the glimpses at the first introduction to Jesus of those souls who receiving Him found life eternal in Him, and were called afterwards to be foundations of that new building which would supersede the old, God’s habitation in the Spirit. But all here concentrates in the Person of Jesus, to Whom Simon is brought by his brother, one of the first two whose souls were drawn to Him, however little yet they appreciated His glory. Yet was it a Divine work, and Simon’s coming was answered with a knowledge of past and present and future that told out Who and What He was, Who now spoke to man on earth in grace.
Here the same principle reappears. Jesus, the image of the invisible God, the only perfect manifestation of God, is the acknowledged centre beyond all rivalry. He was to die, as this Gospel relates (John 11), to gather in one the scattered children of God; as He will by and by gather all things in heaven and all things on earth under His headship (Eph. 1:10). But then His Person could not but be the one centre of attraction to every one who saw by faith what He is entitled to be for every creature. Only He was come not only to declare God and show us the Father in Himself the Son, but to take all on the ground of His death and resurrection, having perfectly glorified God in respect of the sin which had ruined all; and thereon to take His place in heaven, the glorified Head over all things to the Church His body on earth, as we know now. On this, however, as involving the revelation of God’s counsels and of the mystery hidden from ages and from generations, we do not enter, as it would carry us rather to the Epistles of the apostle Paul, the vessel chosen for disclosing these heavenly wonders.
Our business now is with John, who lets us see the Lord on earth, a man but very God, and so drawing to Himself the hearts of all taught of God. Had He not been God, it would have been robbery not only from God but sometimes also from man. But not so: all the fulness dwelt in Him-dwelt in Him bodily. He was therefore from the beginning the Divine centre for saints on earth, as afterwards when the exalted Man the centre on high, to Whom as Head the Spirit united them as members of His body. This last could not be till redemption made it possible according to grace, but on the basis of righteousness. What we see in John attaches to the glory of His Divine Person: otherwise to bring to Jesus would have been to separate from God, not to Him, as it is. But, in truth, He was and is the sole revealed centre, as He was and is the only full revealer of God, and this because He is the true God and life eternal, though He Who was manifested in flesh, and so meeting and winning man to God by His death.
“On the morrow He18 would go forth into Galilee, and Jesus findeth Philip and saith to him, Follow me. Now Philip was from Bethsaida,40 of the city of Andrew and Peter.” It is an immense thing to be delivered by Jesus from the waste of one’s own will or from the attachment of the heart to the will of a man stronger than ourselves; an immense thing to know that we have found in Him, not the Messiah merely, but the centre of all God’s revelations, plans, and counsels, so that we are gathering with Him because we are gathering to Him. All else, whatever the plea or pretension, is but scattering, and therefore labour in vain, or worse.
But we need more, and find more in Jesus, Who deigns to be not only our centre, but our “way,” on earth indeed, but not of the world, as He is not. For such He is, no less than the truth and the life. What a blessing in such a world! It is now a wilderness where is no way. He is the way. Do we fear where to walk, what step to take? Here are snares to seduce, there dangers to affright. Above them says the voice of Jesus, “Follow Me.” None other is safe. The best of His servants may err, as all have. But even were it not so, He says “Follow Me.” Christian, hesitate no more. Follow Jesus. You will find a deeper and better fellowship with those that are His; but this by following Him Whom they follow. Only look well to it that it be according to the word, not your own thoughts and feelings; for are they better than those of others? Search your motives according to the light where you walk. “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (Matt. 6:22.) But singleness is secured by looking to Jesus, not to ourselves or others. We have seen enough of ourselves when we have judged ourselves before God. Let us follow Jesus: to Him only and absolutely, a Divine Person on earth, it is due. It is the true dignity of a saint; it is the only security for him who has still to watch against the sin that is in him; it is the path of genuine humility, and of real love, and of faith. In this shall we be sure of the guidance of the Spirit Who is here to glorify Him, taking of His and showing them to us.
He that has found and follows Christ soon seeks and finds others. But they are not always prepared to follow at once. So Philip proves here with the son of Talmai, here called not Bartholomew, but Nathanael.41 And hence, too, we learn that a man otherwise excellent may be hindered by not a little prejudice. It is a wholesome lesson neither to be hasty in our expectations nor to be cast down if a good man be slow to listen, as we may often prove.
“Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith to him, We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus from Nazareth, the Son of Joseph” (verse 46). Nathanael was not at all prepared for this. Most surely did his heart look for Him of Whom Moses and the prophets wrote; but that the Christ was Jesus from Nazareth, the Son of Joseph, he had yet to learn. He believed in the glory of Messiah’s Person, as far as the Old Testament had revealed it beforehand: it had never occurred to him how Messiah could be “from Nazareth,” not to speak of “the Son of Joseph.” For that village was despicable in the eyes even of a despised Galilean, who doubtless felt the more its miserably low moral repute because of his own practical godliness. Had Philip said “from Bethlehem, the Son of David,” no such shock could have been given to the expecting Jew. But in truth, the Lord is here viewed as wholly above all earthly associations, and therefore He could come down to the lowest. For He was the Son of God Who came to Nazareth, and only so could be said to be “from Nazareth” any more than “the son of Joseph.”
However this may be, Nathanael does not withhold his expression of hesitation. “And Nathanael said to him, Can there be any good thing out of Nazareth? Philip saith to him, Come and see” (verse 46). But there was another also to see. For Jesus, Who saw Nathanael coming to Him, gave him to hear words of grace about himself which might well surprise him in His greeting, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (verse 47). If the Spirit of prophecy wrought according to Ps. 32, soon was he to know the Spirit of adoption and the liberty wherewith the Son makes free.
“Nathanael saith to Him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said to him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee” (verse 48). He is God always and everywhere in this Gospel. Unseen, Jesus had seen Nathanael. He had seen him where evidently he thought himself seen by none; but He who heard the musings of his heart in that spot “under the fig-tree” saw him: the irresistible evidence of His own glory, of omniscience, and omnipresence. Yet was He Who saw him evidently a man in flesh and blood. He could be none other than the promised Messiah-Emmanuel, Jehovah’s fellow, “Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2.) His prejudice instantly vanished away as mist before the sun in its strength. He might not be able to explain the connection with Nazareth, or with Joseph;42 but a good man would not, none but a bad one could, resist the positive light of One Who thus knew all things, and told it out in grace to win the heart of Nathanael and of every one who hears His word and fears God since that day to this.
But there is more conveyed here. Surely the fig-tree is not a fact only, or an isolated circumstance, but clothed with the significance usually found in it, at least, in Scripture. In the great prophecy of our Lord, the fig-tree is employed as the symbol of the nation, and so one cannot doubt it is here. If Nathanael were there musing in his heart before God on the expected Messiah and the hopes of the elect people, as many, indeed all men, were at that time through the impulse of John the Baptist, nay, even whether he were the Christ or not (Luke 3:15), we may conceive the better with what amazing force the words of Jesus must have appealed to the heart and conscience of the guileless Israelite. This appears to be powerfully confirmed by the character of his own confession. “Nathanael answered (and saith to)19 him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel” (verse 49). It was a confession precisely of the Messiah according to Ps. 2 He might be Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph; but He could be, He was, none other than “My (Jehovah’s) king,” “the Son” (verses 6, 12), though not yet anointed on Zion, the hill of Jehovah’s holiness.43 Nathanael was prompt and distinct now, as slow and cautious before.
Nor did the Lord check the flow of grace and truth, and Nathanael must borrow vessels not a few, till there was not one more to receive the blessing that would still overflow. “Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to thee, I saw thee under the fig-tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And He saith to him, Verily, verily,44 I say to you, (Henceforth)20 ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (verses 50, 51). Was Messianic glory the horizon of that which Nathanael’s soul saw and confessed in Jesus? Not “hereafter,” but if any word here, “from the present,” should the disciples see, if earthly power were still delayed, the opened heaven, and the homage of its glorious denizens to the rejected Messiah, the Son of man.45 Him all peoples, nations, and languages should serve, when He should enter on His everlasting dominion which should not pass away, and His kingdom which should not be destroyed. Truly these are “greater things”; the pledge of which Nathanael saw thenceforth in the attendance of God’s angels on Him Whom man despised and the nation abhorred to their own shame and ruin, but to the working out of heavenly counsels and an incomparably larger sphere of blessing and glory than in Israel or the land. These the reader may see in Ps. 8, especially if he consult the use made of it in 1 Cor. 15, Eph. 1, and Heb. 2.
2 Cf. “Lectures Introductory to the Gospels,” pp. 408-429.
3 ”I cannot but regard John 1:2 as a striking and complete setting aside of the Alexandrian and Patristic distinction of
λόγος ἐνδίαθετος and
λόγος προφορικός. Some of the earlier Greek fathers, who were infected with Platonism, held that the
λόγος was conceived in God’s mind from eternity, and only uttered, as it were, in time. This has given a handle to Arians, who, like other unbelievers, greedily seek the traditions of men. The apostle here asserts, in the Holy Ghost, the eternal personality of the Word with God” (“Lectures on the Gospels,” p. 409, note).
4 I think the remark not only unhappy but worthy of reprobation, wherein it is said that evil itself implicitly (and not all matter only) was made by the Word. This is false philosophy, the Hegelianism even of many who oppose Hegel. Evil has nothing to do with creation, save as it is an inconsistency with it. The question now is not of evil in the sense of physical punishment; for this is pre-eminently sent of God. But moral evil in any being is a contradiction of the relationship in which God set that being. It is therefore neither in God nor of God, being failure relative to what previously existed as the fruit of God’s pleasure, Who nevertheless permits it in view of government and redemption. Thus the angels left their first estate. Satan stood (or stands) not in the truth, and Adam fell from his original innocence. This is in no way a limitation of Divine power; but, contrariwise, the error I am combating does limit His goodness or His truth. Impossible that there can be in or from God the contrary of what He is, and He is good, He only; in the creature it can easily be, and it is, where creation is not sustained by God, or delivered by His grace.
5 Cf. “Notes on Colossians,” pp. 19-21.
6 The arrangement of verses 3, 4, which Lachmann, Tregelles, and Westeott and Hort [“Notes on Select Readings,” p. 73 f.] prefer (partly because of the absence of interpunction in some very ancient MSS., partly because some copies, versions, and fathers, expressly so take it), is
ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῳ ζωὴ ἦν . So ACpmDGpmL, Vulg. Syrcu Sahid. But with Tischendorf and others [as Weiss and Blass]10 I unqualifiedly decide for a colon or full-stop after
γέγονεν , and begin a new sentence with
ἐν αὐτῳ ζωὴ ἦν . [So Weiss after CcorrEGHKM Syrpesch hcl.] There is an intended contradistinction between what was made or brought into being through the Word with life in Him, which is lost when the new sentence begins with
ὃ γέγ . Is it not false doctrine so to reduce life in the Word? Further it is not Johannean, if grammatical, to take
γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῳ as “made by him.” Again, this life, which would mean the living universe (in itself a strange, unscriptural, and senseless phrase), must then be the light of men, contrary to the express teaching, just after, that the Word exclusively was the light. On the other hand, the phrase, as it usually stands, is in the fullest harmony with the style of the evangelist elsewhere, as Dean Alford has pointed out.
7 See footnote on verse 16.
8 There seems to be no force in taking
ἐρχόμενον as equivalent to an imperfect “came,” even if an independent clause such as
ὃ φ. π. ἆνθρ. might legitimately come between the verb and the participle; which, as far as I know, has not yet been produced, Mark 2:18 (which Lücke advances and Alford approves) being in no way parallel. But were it so, where is the propriety of telling us in this wondrous prologue, where each brief clause-yea, word-is brimful of the profoundest truth, that the true Light which lights every man was in process of coming (not of manifesting Himself, which is quite another thought) into the world? On the other hand, the construction given in the Authorised Version, though vouched by ancient translations, Western and Eastern, and even by Greek fathers, seems not really admissible. It would require the article with
ἐρχόμενον . The anarthrous participle does not mean “that cometh,” but “as” or “on coming,” which could have no proper meaning in connection with
ἄνθρωπον . For how strange the doctrine resulting, that every man on coming into the world of darkness has or receives the light of Christ! With
ὃ it teaches a momentous truth, and this extinguishing, not suggesting, the Quaker idea. For it is the Word in His own nature, not an inward light, Who pours it on every man. He alone coming here is the true Light for man, and sheds it on all, high or low, Jew or Greek. It is like the sun’s light for all mankind, but in a spiritual way.13
9 See further, exposition below of John 14:6.
10 Before our apostle died Gnosticism was sowing its baneful seeds, it would seem even before St. Paul’s death. Early in the second century we know that Basileides had developed the system so far as to separate Jesus from Christ, the latter an emanation [“AEon”] from God united to Jesus at His baptism, and returning to the Fulness on high before His death on the cross.23 Thus the Incarnation was annulled no less than the Atonement. But even Christ in this impious reverie was not the true God, but only an emanation, sent to make known the good God, and expose the Demiurge [Jehovah], who made the world, with all its evils, inseparable from matter. One readily sees how the doctrine of the apostles outs off by anticipation this irreverent and destructive falsehood by stating the simple truth of Christ’s Person and work, though only the germs may have then appeared.
ὁ omitted by KpmBCpmL.
12 BCpmL, 33, Syrr. , not cu. AEth. Rom have the strange reading
θεὸς, God, which Tregelles, Westcott and Hort adopt,the latter having written a learned monograph in its defence. [So Weiss and Zahn.] As the variant seems to be out of all correlation to “Father,” the weight of evidence is against it. [Blass reads “the only begotten, who,” etc., with corrA, etc. See further Note 26 in Appendix.]
13 The best reading according to ancient authorities is
Βηθανία (pm ABCpm EFGHLMSVX
ΓΛΠ pm more than a hundred and thirty cursives, and many ancient versions), not
Βηθαραβᾶ. It was not the well-known village near Jerusalem, but another district of the same name beyond the Jordan.29
14 It is interesting and instructive to note that to the Pharisees John is silent (verse 27) as to Christ’s pre-existent eternity as the ground of His taking precedence of himself, though born after him. Compare verses 15, 30.
pm Syrsin have “chosen,” followed by Blass.
Λ, 33, Memph. read
οὖν, which inferior witnesses omit.
17 So Edd. as BpmL., 33, several Latt. Memph. Æth. “Jonah” is read in ABconX
ΓΛΛΙΙ. Syrpesch pcl and Armen. ÆthH., and Epiph. Chrys. Cyr. Alex.
18 The best copies do not read “Jesus” here, but in the next clause.
19 There is not a little variation here in the copies, even the more ancient.
20 The oldest copies [ BL and versions [some Latt. Memph., etc.] omit
ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι, which, if read, must be rendered “from now” or “henceforth,” not “hereafter.” [The words are rejected by Weiss and Blass.]