A Full Christ for Empty Sinners: Part 1

John 6  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Well does the writer remember the effect on his own mind of the perusal, now many years ago, of a paper in the first volume of the “Christian Witness,” on “The distinct characters of the several writings of the New Testament.” if not the first, it was among the first means of leading him to read Scripture in the light of the characteristic subject and aim of each distinct portion of it. But, while leaning on God's grace as the only efficient cause of true instruction, every attempt to impart to others what has been so precious to his own soul, has served more deeply to convince him of the truth of one remark in the paper above referred to, viz., that, “The expression of one's own thoughts, and the acting so as to awaken similar thoughts in others, are two very different things; and the latter is a rarer and more self-denying attainment than the other.” It is not as attempting much more than the former, that the following thoughts are submitted to such as bring all they read and hear to the test of the word of God itself.
Much that at that time had to some of us all the vividness and freshness of truth newly discovered to the soul, has long, as to the letter of it, at least, been familiar to all who are likely to read these remarks. The way in which the same blessed Person is presented in Matthew as the Messiah of Israel; by Mark, in active service as the Minister of the word; by Luke, in the fullness of that grace, in which He, the Son of man, came to men as such, to seek and to save that which was lost; and by John as the Word which was in the beginning, which was with God, and was God, but which was made flesh, and dwelt among us; all this the reader has doubtless read and heard again and again, until the words remain in the memory, whether they be understood and enjoyed through divine teaching or not. The peculiar character of John's Gospel has been dwelt upon by many. Many have pointed out how the glory which passes before us in that Gospel is the glory of Christ in His highest divine titles and relations; “the glory of the Only—begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Sweetly has it been shown, moreover, that while no other Gospel so freely unfolds this highest Godhead—glory of Christ, no other shows the sinner in such immediate contact with Him, receiving of His fullness. These and other leading features of the book, though never losing their interest, have yet to numbers become familiar truth. What the writer would now suggest may bear no comparison in importance with these chief characteristics of this Gospel; but nothing is lost which contributes in ever so small a degree to acquaintance with the precious record of the glory of Him of whom it is said, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
In perusing any book, inspired or uninspired, if we find certain words occurring often enough to awaken attention to the fact, and then, on examination, discover that they are thus used throughout the book, we immediately conclude that they either express its great theme and object, or at least that which is very closely related thereto. Reading thus the Gospel of John, certain words can scarcely fail to impress the mind with the frequency of their use; while a comparison with the other Evangelists confirms the conviction that the words in question do really bring out what is in closest connection with the great leading subject. For instance, the word life meets the eye almost at the beginning of the book, reappears most prominently in chap. iii., and afterward, indeed with such frequency as to awaken the inquiry, Can this be one of the leading words in this Gospel? Can it have a characteristic force? Let us see.
But, before comparing this Gospel with the others in this respect, we do well to remember that there are more words than one in the New Testament rendered life. One, ζωή, means life, in the strict, absolute sense. I speak only of the use of this, and other words, in the New Testament.1 Another, ψυχή, soul, is frequently represented by the word life; but it is not the natural, ordinary use of the word; and if it were, it is as often so given in John as in any other of the Gospels. The word βίος, used for life, in the secondary sense of living, or way of living, does not occur in our Gospel at all. It is to the first word, life in its absolute sense, that our inquiry relates. It occurs in Matthew, seven times; in Mark, four times; in Luke, six times; and in John, thirty-six times. Its force and bearing, as thus characterizing John, may be estimated by such passages as, “In him was life"; “Not perish, but have everlasting life"; “Passed from death unto life"; “The resurrection of life"; “I am the bread of life"; “I am come that they might have life"; “That he should give eternal life"; “That, believing, ye might have life, through his name.” Is it nothing that in the midst of this world of death, the One who has life in Himself has been here to manifest it in His own person, and to impart it to us who were dead in sins? Nor has His rejection by the world, and His ascension on high interrupted for a moment this outflow of life from Him to dead sinners. He is glorified of the Father, who has given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as the Father “has given” Him.
But let us turn to another word—love. Here, also, we have two words, ἀγαπάω and φιλέω, each with its shade of meaning, rendered to love in the English New Testament. Taking both these verbs, with words immediately related to them, such as the noun love, we find one or other of them in Matthew twelve times; in Mark, five times; in Luke fifteen times; and in John fifty-six times. Nor can we doubt the force of such words as characterizing this Gospel, in view of such passages as the following: “God so loved the world"; “Now, Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus"; “Having loved his own which were in the world"; “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved"; “As I have loved you, that ye also love one another"; “If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him"; “That the world may know that I love the Father"; “Thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” LIFE and LOVE! Precious words! Life the gift of love. Divine love, in the person of the Son, bestowing a life, not only eternal in its duration, but of such a nature that the love wherewith the Father loved the Son can now rest on those of whom He said, addressing the Father, “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it, that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
But in what sphere does the revelation of this love take place? True it is that none profit by it vitally and everlastingly, but they in whom the native opposition of the heart is overcome by almighty grace, in the positive communication of life. But is it only among God's ancient people Israel that such persons are found? Are they the only inheritors of this blessedness, so immeasurably surpassing their fruitful land, the covenanted portion of their tribes? Let us see. The word world is quite as characteristic of our Gospel as either of those which have been under consideration. We stop not to notice the word αἰών, sometimes translated world, but intrinsically referring more to duration than to the world itself, absolutely considered. “The times which pass over it,” the world morally viewed, is what it signifies. The word χόσμος-, the world literally, including both the earth and its human inhabitants, occurs in Matthew nine times, in Mark three times, in Luke three times, and in John seventy-nine times. How it is used, the reader may judge from such instances as— “God so loved the world"; “The Savior of the world"; “I am the light of the world"; “Now is the judgment of this world"; “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world,” “The world seeth me no more,” “The prince of this world"; “I have overcome the world"; “I pray not for the world"; “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world"; “The world hath not known thee.” Could it be more evident than it is, that when the Eternal Word—the only-begotten Son—was made flesh and dwelt among men, the question was one which concerned not Israel alone, or Israel more than others, but the whole world! It was towards the world the love of God was shown in the gift of His only-begotten Son. It was as the Savior of the world that the blessed. Lord Jesus appeared, and as the light of the world He shone; and now that He has left the world, and returned to the Father who sent Him, He has left the world under the solemn responsibility of rejecting Him, and of not knowing the Father of whose love He was both the messenger, the gift, and the expression. If He had tears for Jerusalem, and said, “How often would Ι have gathered thy children together... but ye would not,” with what feelings did He bid farewell to the world, towards which such love had been shown, and by which such love had been repulsed and trodden under foot?
But there is one other word in its comparative use illustrative of the difference between this Gospel and the others. It is the word πιστεύω, to believe. We have it in Matthew eleven times, Mark fifteen times, Luke eight times, and in John ninety-nine times. Nor does this amazing disparity exhibit the whole amount of the difference. Six out of the eleven occurrences of the word in Matthew give it in connection with miracles, or in reference to false prophets, or in the lips of ungodly scoffers. So of eight passages in Mark, out of the fifteen that it contains. But in John, the vast majority of cases in which the word is employed, are those in which it expresses the believing in Christ Himself unto life eternal. “That all through him might believe"; “To them that believe on his name"; “That whosoever believeth on him should not perish"; “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life"; “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins"; “Dost thou believe on the Son of God? Lord, I believe.”
It is added by the Holy Ghost to the last quotation, concerning the man that had been blind, “And he worshipped him.” May we all have his simplicity of faith, and more of the deep joy which filled and overcame his heart in gazing with his new-found sight on the One whom he now beholds by faith as the “Son of God.” It is to faith alone that the discovery is made of His glory and His grace; and faith counts the One whom it receives as unspeakably more precious than all attendant blessings, privileges, and favors, vast and unutterable as these may be. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
Thus have we seen the life revealed in Christ, and bestowed by Him as the gift of the Father's love in Him, not to any class or nation privileged by descent, but to all to whom it is given to believe on Him throughout the wide world. To that world itself, indeed, was the coming down to it of God's well-beloved Son, the expression of a love on God's part, which has no measure but the gift that it bestowed. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Never, till at the moment of now perusing it, had it been noticed by the writer, that in this one verse all our four words are found—life, love, world, believing! Thus does it gather, as into one focus, the light shed throughout the book from the person, mission, and work, the life, death, and resurrection—victory of the Son of God. [W. T.]
(To be continued)