Notes of a Reading on John's Gospel: 1:31-51

John 1:31‑51  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 6
It is because of sin that wrath comes. To deny this is to deny the word. If all that is meant is, that now God is dealing with the world in simple grace, there is nothing to object. But now, sin is the occasion of all His dealings
with the world; grace, mercy, and even providence, which has the character of patience towards the wicked, all have reference to the sin of man.
In this gospel, where grace towards the Church is so fully and distinctly brought out, the gospel towards the world is also much spoken of; it is always, in fact, the world-aspect we get in John, in contrast with the Jews.
It is not here " Lamb of God," in the sense of the Lamb suited to Him, but has more the idea of relationship, God's Lamb, as Abraham said to Isaac: " My son, God will provide himself a Iamb," &c.
Ver. 31. " I knew him not." John did know Christ prophetically, hence he said to Him when He came to him to be baptized, " I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" But he did not know Him as the Son of God until the Holy Ghost pointed Him out. The fact of John sending two of his disciples to Christ to inquire concerning Him, (see Matt. 11,) is collateral proof that John did not fully know who
Jesus was. As in the first eighteen verses we get the testimony of what Christ was Himself, in 19-34 we get John's testimony to Christ, which was that He was the Son of God.
Ver. 35, &c. Here we get another thing-the gathering to Christ of the remnant of Israel. This is the present historical result of the manifestation of Christ among the Jews. First we have the gathering to Christ through the instrumentality of the Baptist, 35 -42; then the gathering of Christ Himself and His disciples, 43-51; then the third day, a marriage in Cana of Galilee. There appears to be five days mentioned here: there are two days of the Baptist's testimony in Judea, a testimony first of darkness—" there stands one among you whom you know not;" (ver. 19-28;) then a testimony of light-" Behold the Lamb of God." (Ver. 29-34.) These two days are preparatory to the others; in them the sphere of the subject is larger-it is the world-but there is no gathering going on. In the three days, of which the marriage in Cana is one, Christ becomes the center round which others gather. In verse 35 John begins to gather to Christ: he sends by his testimony two of his disciples to Christ. Then verse 40, Jesus begins to gather Himself. All this gathering is among the Jews-it is the remnant. In chapter ii. we have the third day, when Christ comes to a marriage in Cana.
A question was now put as to the real force of verse 29, in answer to which it was said, God is now, on the ground of the work of Christ, dealing in grace. This verse refers to the result of Christ's work. Infants are not at all concerned in it especially. It shows the value of the work of Christ, not the application of it. It is not that what people call the guilt of original sin is removed. God is not dealing with men about this, but He will take even this up at the end in judgment; but what is here meant is, that Christ is the one who will eventually remove all sin from the world, so as to make it clear of all evil, and a dwelling-place of righteousness. Now, on the ground of the work of Christ, God is not imputing their trespasses to men; and upon the ground of Christ's being the taker away of the sin of the world, we can say to all men, " Come, for the blood is upon the mercy-seat." It is not merely from the men of the world, but from the world itself, that sin shall eventually be taken away. It is important to understand that I can go to every man in the world and invite him to come to God; but I can say to the believer, " There is something more to tell you, even that He has borne your sins in His own body on the tree." " Taketh away" is a more correct translation than " beareth away." In the passage " The living God who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe," it is God in His providence as the preserver of all men, and especially of those who believe. It does not refer to salvation from sin at all.
It is very clear that God loved all and Christ loved all. Hence He says, " For my love I got hatred." Christ died for all, gave Himself a ransom for all. " I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." He is the universal point of attraction for all. We should keep to this-it is for all. The blood is upon the mercy-seat for all. When Paul says, " I beseech you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God," I get there the action of the Holy Ghost urging men to come to God. Sinners are besought to be reconciled by Christ's ambassadors, but it is very remarkable to notice the following statement of the apostle: " For he hath made him to be.sin for us," &c. He does not say, He hath made Him to be sin for every man, speaking indiscriminately, as he besought them to be reconciled. No; he speaks of his own realization and blessing in company with other believers. It is a very important thing to keep clearly in mind the distinction between beseeching men to be reconciled to God on the ground of what Christ has done, and that special application of His work which enables the soul to say, " For he hath made him to be sin for us," &c.
We get the same distinction in figure under the law. There was the blood upon the mercyseat as a propitiation before God for sin, on the ground of which any soul in Israel could draw near to God; and, again, there was the high priest confessing the sins of a peculiar people over the head of the scapegoat who becomes thus a substitute for the people. The difference is between propitiation and substitution, and error is frequently connected with ignorance of this difference. We find this error in a good deal that is going on around us. It is owned by some that Christ gave Himself in devotedness and love to God for us, but directly substitution is brought in they deny it " in toto."
As to the preaching of the gospel to the world, the first fact I would present to men is, that God was here reconciling the world unto Himself. This strikes at the heart. God unmasks in the person of Christ what the sinner really is, but at the same time shows the fullest grace. Then I can say there has been a perfect atonement offered; come to God through it and you will be received. If any come, to them I can explain what the blood has done for them that believe. A great deal of what we call preaching the gospel is really speaking of the effect of Christ's work; we are really in the epistles. I think that the more we keep to the facts which display God's love, the more power there will be. God is now beseeching through His servants. He has, so to speak, humanized the means of salvation. In His own nature God is abstract. He dwells in light in which none can see Him, and to which none can approach, but He appeals to us through man and in man. But I should take care not to think for a moment that I can persuade any one to come to God. No, the work is God's alone; Ile beseeches by us.
As to the question, " How can you reconcile the fact of God's loving the world and not using His own power compulsorily to bring it to Himself," it may be answered, first-We have no right to judge God, but He will judge us. He has a perfect right to take what course He chooses. We cannot take up the question of God's justice. If the question was the result of a real difficulty in the mind, it might be suggested, that it is of more importance that God's character should be vindicated than that the world should be saved. God always acts for His own glory.
To return, however, to our chapter. When we get into the historical facts which were going on at the time, from the 35th verse, we get what did not occur before " the Christ;" for it is in Israel that the Son of God is found. This was during the first day of gathering. At verse 43 the second day commences. Philip is found by Christ, he finds Nathaniel. Here we find a difference. Christ says, Follow me. Philip gathers to Him. Christ is the center. It is not here, however, of sinners in the world, but of a remnant in Israel. Christ owns Nathaniel as an Israelite without guile. He says without guile, although his heart is full of prejudice, and he does not know Christ.
Nathaniel's being under the fig tree refers to his being in Israel. Nathaniel owns Him as the Son of God and King of Israel. The ground is completely Jewish. Nathaniel seems to have owned Him in the character in which he is spoken of in Psa. 2.
Verse 51. The word in this verse " hereafter," should be " henceforth." It is astonishing how not seeing things intelligently makes it impossible for a translator to give the true sense. There is the same mistake in the passage, " Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven;" it really should be, " Henceforth ye shall see," &c. This verse (51) means that Christ was even then the subject of angelic attendance, which those who, like Nathaniel, by faith discerned in Him the Son of God and King of Israel, should henceforth see Him also as the one upon whom heaven opens and the angels of God ascending and descending upon Him. It refers to the time of Christ's earthly life. The Son of God was, as it were, Jacob at the foot of the ladder. He is not, as is generally thought, the ladder, but is at the foot of it. Heaven is opened and angels are going up and down from and to Him. Heaven is opened upon Christ on earth as an object; until He was there there was no object on earth upon which heaven could open. In the case of Stephen in Acts 7, we get another thing. Heaven is opened to him, and he sees an object up there for us the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. When heaven opened to Christ there was no object up there to Him, but He was Himself the object of heaven upon earth. He was heaven's object here, and now for us heaven is opened, and He is our object up there. Jesus is there, an object to fix our attention in glory, even as He was the object of heaven's attention when He was upon earth. It is a very important and blessed thing to see Christ upon earth the object of heaven. Here the Holy Ghost bears testimony to Him, and also the angels. It is not man which is the object, but the new Man,
Christ. Puseyism and infidelity, and almost every system of error, look upon Christ as one who is to help the old man, instead of seeing Him as the new Man, who has gone into heaven, where He has become an object for us. The reason of this is, that Christ in heaven brings into view the ruin of the old man, and man needs to be convinced of sin in order to receive it. It is therefore the more important for us distinctly to see in these days where so much is made of man upon the earth, that the word takes up a man in heaven.
(Continued from page 380, Vol. VII.)