On the Gospel of John 1

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The first chapter presents to us the Person of the Lord in all its positive aspects-what He is in Himself. Not in His relative characters; He is not here the Christ, nor Head of the church, nor High Priest-that is to say, what He was, or what He is, in relationship with men down here, whether Jews or Christians. But it is Christ personally who is presented to us as well as His work.
The chapter begins with the divine and eternal existence of the Person of Jesus, the Son of God, with that which He is in the essence of His nature, so to speak. Genesis begins with the creation, and the Old Testament gives us the history of responsible man upon the earth, the sphere of that responsibility; John begins with that which preceded creation; he begins all anew here, in the Person of Him who became the second Man, the last Adam.
It is not, " In the beginning God created"; but, " In the beginning was the Word." All is founded upon the uncreated existence of Him who created everything: at the beginning of all things He was there, without any beginning. " In the beginning was the Word," is the formal expression that the Word had no beginning. But there is more in this remarkable passage: the Word was personally distinct, " the Word was with God "; but He was not distinct in nature, " the Word was God." Thus we have the eternal existence, the distinct personality, the identity of nature, of the Word; and all this existed in eternity. The distinct personality of the Word was not, as people have wished to make it, a thing which had a beginning. " In the beginning the Word was with God," V. 2. His personality is eternal as His nature. This is the great and glorious basis of the doctrine of the gospel and of our eternal joy, what the Savior is in Himself, His nature, and His Person.
Now comes what He is in His attributes, being such. First of all, He has created all things, and here we come to the beginning of Genesis. We have to do with Him in that which He is; the world is but that which He has made. All things were made by Him, and there is nothing created of which He was not the Creator. All that subsists, subsists by Him. He was (een); all that began to exist (egeneto) began " by him." He was the Creator of all beings. (Compare Heb. 1:2, 102Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; (Hebrews 1:2)
10And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: (Hebrews 1:10)
The second quality found in Him is, that " in him was life," v. 4. This cannot be said of any creature; many have life, but they have it not in themselves. Christ becomes our life, but it is He who is it in us. " God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son; he that hath the Son, hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life." This is a very momentous truth, as regards Himself, as regards us, and as regards the life that we possess as Christians.
But more; this life is " the light of men," a word of immense value for us. God Himself is light, and it is the divine light as life which expresses itself to men in the Word. It is not the light of angels, though God be light for all, for He is it in Himself, but, as it is relative, adapted to other beings, it is not to angels; His delights were in the sons of men; Prov. 8. The proposition is one which is called reciprocal; that is, the two parts of the proposition have an equal value. I could say just as well, the light of men is the life which is in the Word. It is the perfect expression of the nature, counsels, and glory of God when all shall be consummated. It is in man that God will make Himself to be seen and known. " God was manifest in flesh... seen of angels." The angels are the highest expression of God's power in creation; but it is in man that God has shown Himself, and that, morally, in holiness and love. We ought to walk as Christ walked, to be imitators of God as His dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us; and also, " we are light in the Lord," for He is our life. If we know love, it is in that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. If God chastises us, it is to make us participators of His holiness. We walk in the light, as He is in the light. He has chosen us in Christ, to be " holy and irreproachable before him in love," which is the character of God Himself, a character perfectly realized in Christ. We purify ourselves, even as He is pure, knowing that we shall be like Him-being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord-being renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who hath created us. And this is not a rule, although there be in it a rule (for we ought to walk as He walked), but a life which is the perfect expression of it, the expression of the life of God in man. Ineffable privilege! Wonderful nearness to Jesus! " Both he who sanctifieth, and they that are sanctified, are all of one."
Redemption develops and manifests all the moral qualities of God Himself, and above His qualities, His nature-love and light, and that in man, and in connection with men. We are, as being in Christ, and Christ in us, the fruit and expression of all that God is in the fullness and revelation of Himself. He will show, in the ages to come, the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. But then, in order that all this should be brought out, love and even light, an occasion must present itself; and that, not in an object amiable and intelligent in good (for then man could love), but there, where all the opposite of this nature showed itself; it was necessary also that good should be proved superior to evil, in letting evil have its free course. " The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." Not only was man not light, not only was he darkness, without any glimmering of the nature of God, but there was no power in him of receiving this light; there was opposition of nature. They saw no beauty in Him to desire Him. In that which was nothing else than the exhibition of the divine nature in itself, it was impossible to go further. In natural things, if there is light, there is no more darkness; but in the moral world it is not so; the light, that which is pure in itself, and manifests everything, is there, and it is not perceived who is there. " Is not this the carpenter's son? " " If thou knewest who it is that saith unto thee, Give me to drink." " If this man were a prophet "-it is a definite judgment, pronouncing Him not to be a prophet, when God is there, and shows Himself as such. • For since that which God is in this world reveals that which is above, the mind that reigns there does not associate itself with a single principle which governs the heart and the habits of men. There is in that heart no knowledge of sin, no knowledge of God, no knowledge of the state into which sin has plunged us; sin itself is estimated according to the evil which it has done to ourselves, not according to its opposition to God's nature, although I admit that a conscience has been acquired by the fall; egotism has become the starting point for everything. Then, when the light comes, which, on the contrary, shows what sin is, where this has placed man morally before God, everything is judged of according to egotism as a starting-point; and the manifestation of God finds no entry into the heart. This is an unknown field for man: it is the truth, and man is in a state of falsehood, as he is without God, and he understands nothing here. God is light; and when He is manifested such as He is, but adapted to man, man's state is such that nothing responds to this manifestation. If the conscience, which is from God, is reached, the hatred of the will is awakened. (See the end of Acts 7 and John 3:1919And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19).)
We have, then, in an abstract way, in these first five verses that which the Lord is, divinely, in Himself; and together with this, at the end, the effect of His manifestation in the midst of men, such as they were, still in an abstract way. Thus it is as light that He is here presented; it is not love which is revealed. Come down here as love, He has been active, both towards the world, and efficaciously towards His own, which implies the cross, that is to say, the light rejected. But here it is what the Lord is which is presented to us, not that which He does in divine activity. Verses 16-19 of chapter 3 give us the summary of what He is in these two particulars. God is love; but Christ was the activity of this love, according to the nature and settled purpose of God. (Compare verse 17 of the chapter we are examining) The law demanded of man that which man ought to be; in Christ something " is come " from God-light and love; but this subject will occupy us more fully in a moment. I only repeat, that what is given us, up to the present, is what the Lord is in Himself; but in the character which puts man to the test, which shows what man is; and the passage terminates with the effect of the manifestation of what He is, without His being named. This Light can manifest itself there, where there is nothing that answers to it: it is not comprehended. It is moral incapacity, not hatred; the latter is opposed to love.
We may remark, that, in being made partakers of the divine nature, we become light; Eph. 5:88For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (Ephesians 5:8). It is never said that we are love. God is sovereign in His love; without doubt it is His nature, in communion, and in goodness, and in mercy, but free. We are made partakers of this nature, and we walk in love, as the love has been manifested in Jesus, because He is our life; but it is in obedience that we walk thus, it is a duty, a joyful duty-easy, if we walk with joy, and stronger than the evil, but not free, having its source in ourselves. We cannot say that we are supreme love, a source from which love springs; but the new man is holy in himself; it is that which he is, although this be, in our case, in relation with an object.
In the sixth and following verses we begin the history: Christ should appear. It is not now what He is abstractedly; now we find a forerunner-John the Baptist. God, in His goodness, was not satisfied with giving the light: He announces it by another, so as to draw men's attention. John the Baptist bears witness to the Light, but here it is that all may believe, and not for Israel only: John the Baptist was not the Light, but he came to bear witness to Him who was. Now the true true Light is He who, coming into the world, is light for every man, Pharisee or sinner, Jew or Gentile. He is the Light, who, come from on high, is such for every one, whether He be rejected or received: for a Simon or a Herod, for Nathanael or for Caiaphas. He is the expression of God, and of the mind of God for every man, whatever state he may be in. The subject here is not that of receiving the light into the heart. In that case it is a question of the state of him who receives; here, of the fact of the appearing of the Light in this world. It was in the world in the Person of the Savior; the world was made by Him; but when He was in the world, the world did not know Him; He came to His own, the Jews, He who was their Jehovah and their Messiah, and His own received Him not (v. 9-11).
This is the result of the manifestation of the Light in the midst of men, historically-incapacity to understand it, and rejection when it was directly addressed to those who had already been in relation to it by promises and prophecies, and who had received the law from it, the rule of human life- though always remaining Light. Some, however, received it; and to those He gave the right to take the place of children of God, not that there were some of a better quality, or of a will less perverse than the others; no, they were born again, born of God; " born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The exterior revelation of the light in the Word was accompanied by a quickening power of God, which gave it a vital reality in the soul, in forming the incorruptible seed of God. As life, Christ was there. The man was born of God.
This terminates the exposition of the Word as light in itself, and as revealed in the world and in the midst of His own; presented abstractedly in verses 1-5, and in verses 7-13 historically, but still in its nature as light, and not as a man; then, after all, if it were received, in what the difference consisted.
At verse 14, historical Christianity begins. Up to that, it is what Christ was, as well as what was the state of the sphere in which He was manifested. Now we have that which He became-" The Word became flesh." It was not an appearance, as in the Old Testament, but He took a tabernacle to dwell amongst us, even though it were but for a time. It was a Man in the midst of men (He will keep the tabernacle forever); but He has lived down here full of grace and truth, love and light, adapted to the state of man down here; then we, believers, have received of His fullness and grace upon grace; in short, as the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed the Father. The Word made flesh has been among us, revealing the glory of an only-begotten Son with His Father, full of grace and truth: we have all received of His fullness: then He has revealed the Father. He was the Son in manifestation, Man in the midst of men, the Word, which was God, made flesh. In Him grace and truth came into the world; He is a full source of grace for us, from which we have all received abundance of grace, and He has also revealed the Father. This is the second part of our chapter, the history of the Person of the Christ. To this also John bears witness: he was not the Christ, but His forerunner, the voice that cries in the wilderness, and who, in calling to repentance, prepares the way of the Lord.
This introduces a third point. Whilst announcing His Person, he who presents Him hides himself; he is neither the Christ, nor the prophet promised by Moses, nor Elias, promised by Malachi, but only according to Isaiah's word, the voice to announce another, whom the Pharisees did not know, He who was coming after him, but who was preferred before him, the latchet of whose shoe he was not worthy to unloose. This is turned into personal testimony when Jesus appears before John the next day. (Verse 29, and following.) John designates Him here, not as the Messiah, but in connection with His work, of which there are two parts: He takes away sin, and He baptizes with the Holy Ghost.
Jesus is " the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." Sin must be taken away from before God. The time will come when there will be no more sin before the eyes of God, nor before ours, a time of eternal repose for God and for our hearts. What a true rest, and how blessed for the heart! There has been a paradise of innocence, which depended upon the creature's faithfulness, a state of innocence uncertain, and at once lost: there has been a world of sin, where nevertheless God has been acting in grace: there will be a world of new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell, a state of things which cannot be shaken, morally immutable, for the value of Christ's work remains always the same. This will not be a state of innocence where all depended upon obedience put to the test, and in which man failed, but a happiness where obedience was perfectly tested, and accomplished. Righteousness ensures the stability of this state of things, for God cannot slight the perfection of the work of Christ, for His glory. Also there will be nothing there but holiness. All there will glorify God in all that He is; nothing will be contrary to His nature. Sin will be taken away from before God in the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus is the One who takes it away: the work is done, the result is not yet produced. The passage does not say, " The Lamb of God who hath taken away," nor, " who will take away "-it presents the character of Him who was there before the eyes of John the Baptist, He who was doing the thing. The passage does not treat of the guilt in which we are (a most important subject in its place), that is evident, but of a state of things before God. John takes things habitually thus in their great principles. It is God who has appeared, and all is judged according to the light of His presence. His holiness demands- yea, His majesty, inasmuch as He is holy-that sin be taken away from before His eyes. He who accomplished the work, who was doing it, was now there, present upon the earth. He was " the Lamb of God," the Lamb who suited perfectly the glory of God, the Lamb that God alone could have provided for Himself, who was able to establish His glory, His highest glory, there where sin was found; the Lamb who could give Himself freely for this glory, and to accomplish thus a work which should be the moral foundation (its value being immutable, and subsisting without the possibility of change, for the work was always itself) of an eternal blessing, according to God, and before Him.
The cross is the basis of this blessing. All the moral elements of good and evil have been clearly brought to light, and have been shown each in its proper place, and Christ is at God's right hand, as Man, in the divine glory, in virtue of having resolved every question that was thus raised. There could have been seen, man in his absolute hatred of good, of God Himself manifested in goodness, and that for him, " they have both seen and hated both me and my Father "-all Satan's power, " the prince of this world cometh "; " it is your hour, and the power of darkness "-man in his absolute perfection in Christ; " but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father hath commanded me, so I do "; and that when both had been tested in the most absolute manner-then God, in His righteousness against sin, as nowhere else: sin in us, but God in His infinite love to the sinner. Thus man, in the Person of the Son of God, has entered into quite a new position, in the glory, beyond the reach of sin, death, the power of Satan, and the judgment of God after having passed through it-man, according to the counsels of God, putting the most positive seal upon the responsibility of man as a creature, meeting the consequences of this responsibility, and glorifying God in such a way as to obtain for man, from the love and the righteousness of God, a place which should be the eternal glorifying of God in His sovereign counsels and in His glory, the glorifying of Him who introduced man there to be the vessel of it, whilst, at the same time, the order of creation should subsist in result before God in a state where He would find the response of His nature, and where Christ, the glorified Man, should be the center of all God's ways in their blessed result.
The Savior was to do yet another thing; that is, to baptize with the Holy Ghost. This is introduced by one of the most interesting and touching facts: Jesus receives the Holy Ghost as Man, and the scripture employs the same words as to Him as when it speaks of us: " Jesus of Nazareth... whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit, and with power "; and the Lord Himself said, " Him hath God the Father sealed." Jesus has been sealed as Son, Man down here, in virtue of His own perfection, and His own relationship with the Father as Son; we are sealed, being sons by faith in Him (Gal. 3:2626For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26); ch. 4: 6), in virtue of the redemption that He has accomplished. We, consequently, could not be sealed before He had taken His place as Man on high-witnesses at the same time of the efficacy of redemption, and of that which redemption has acquired for us. " Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground, and die, it remaineth alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit." Thus we read (John 7:3939(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:39)), " The Spirit was not yet [that is, not yet on earth in believers], because Jesus was not yet glorified." It was the witness that He was the Son personally. Now that redemption is accomplished, and that Jesus is glorified, after its accomplishment, the Holy Ghost is given to us who believe in Jesus.
Thus also, although the result of the sacrifice of Christ, taking away the sin of the world, be not yet brought out, we know that that which forms the basis of this blessed result is accomplished, and we enjoy its efficacy in the perfect purification of our conscience, and in the glorious hope of being with Christ, like Him in heaven, the Holy Ghost assuring us of one of these things, in being the earnest of the other. Christ baptizes (or rather now we say has baptized) His own with the Holy Ghost, giving us the consciousness of being sons in full liberty before the Father, who hath sealed Him as being personally the Son of God, perfect in everything. It was this sign given to John the Baptist, that opened his mouth to bear witness that Jesus was the Son of God. John saw clearly that Jesus was a glorious Person, whose shoe-latchet he was not worthy to unloose, and he felt that it was not his place to baptize this Person. But the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus is the clear, heavenly testimony, showing who Jesus was, as to His Person, as Son of God: John saw and bore witness that He was the Son of God Himself in this world. It is very precious for us (although in our case it is no question of our persons, but of sovereign grace) to think that, if ascended into glory He has baptized us with the Holy Ghost (the witness that we are sons and giving us the consciousness of it), He the eternal Son received Himself first of all as Man down here this same testimony, the seal and unction of the Spirit, which enables us to cry, " Abba, Father! " It is the foretaste of that truth, that He which sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one; Heb. 2:1111For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Hebrews 2:11).
But if down here, a divine testimony has been given that Jesus was the Son of God, His title as Lamb of God is that which characterizes Him. John the Baptist's heart recognized Him already as such, for the witness he bears here is not a testimony borne in his preaching. He saw Jesus walking before him, and his heart, full of the deep truth, exclaims, " Behold the Lamb of God! " He had already announced Him in that character, and no one had followed Jesus; but now that which came from his heart in grace attracted hearts; two of John's disciples hear him, and follow the Lord. Thus Jesus begins to gather His disciples. He accepts the position of the center of gathering. The two disciples had received the word of God from the mouth of John the Baptist; but neither John, nor any one of the prophets, had ever taken the place of being a center, around which those who received God's word assembled; now there was One in the world around whom they could thus gather; it was " the Lamb of God." Jesus, seeing the two disciples following Him, said to them, " Whom seek ye? " They said to Him, " Rabbi, where dwellest thou? " He answered, " Come and see."
This is an important principle and fact; there was not only upon earth a testimony but a Person who was a gathering-point for those who received God's word, and this from God Himself. This was the fruit of John the Baptist's testimony. Andrew, one of John's two disciples, finds Simon, his own brother, and announces to him that they had found, not the Lamb of God, but the Christ. The testimony which we receive, always attaches itself to that which is already in the heart; it does not go beyond that which adapts itself to what is there. If all God's love in Christ is preached, if work is done in the soul, this will produce a conviction of sin, perhaps even to make us nearly despair of salvation. " The Lamb of God " goes infinitely further than " the Messiah "; but these sincere souls that we see here, and who had received the word of God in their heart, had found " the Messiah," v. 42. Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, who calls him Cephas, otherwise Peter. The right of giving names is the expression of sovereignty, as we constantly find in the word; only Christ gives the names with a divine knowledge of the persons. He appropriated to Himself supreme authority, but with the competency of a divine Person. Never would John the Baptist have given names to his disciples in this way.
But although Jesus was the center that gathered those who received the testimony of God, He was come to bear witness to the truth, and in carrying out this work He had nowhere to lay His head. He begins this active service in verse 43: He would go into Galilee, where His testimony was to be borne amongst the poor of the flock, and He finds Philip Himself. This is the second character of testimony. The first was John, and that which followed; here it is Christ, and it is a question of following Him, Him who was a pilgrim and stranger in this world. Christ thus appears also in another character; up to this time we have seen Him as center, He received believers, and surrounded Himself with them there, where He dwelt; here they must follow Him, where He was a pilgrim- a second testimony of all-importance.
As the object of John the Baptist's testimony, Jesus was the center, and He is always; but, in fact in His own testimony down here, He was a stranger, and had nowhere to lay His head; He began at the manger, and ended at the cross. All His life was the life of One who was a stranger down here, who walked in the world to bear witness in it to God in grace, but in following a path which no vulture's eye hath seen. The two characters of testimony bring out into bold relief, the state of the world, on the one hand; and on the other, that which Jesus was doing there. Why have in this world a center of gathering, on the part of God, if it be not that the world, and even God's people according to the flesh, had entirely got away from God, and that it needed some one to draw souls out of this state by the revelation of God in the midst of this world? And now, again, the principle is the same, only the blessed Center is in heaven: He gave Himself for our sins, to take us out of this present evil age. Then, why follow Jesus, to be a pilgrim as Jesus always was down here? Adam was not a pilgrim in paradise; we shall not be pilgrims in heaven: there was no need of a road in the one, and we shall find none in the other, as if we wished to get out of it. It was the sabbath of God below; it is the eternal rest of God on high; one will not go out of it; there was no need, and there will be no need, in the one, or in the other, of a path where some one is to be followed. Here it is not so; neither the rest of God, nor the rest of man, is to be found upon the earth, and what we want is a path across the desert. There is only one which is sure, and One alone could trace it; and faith alone discerns it; it is Jesus who says, " Follow me." We need a path, and the path is found. Philip also was of Galilee. God's work was not built upon Jerusalem, the old center according to the flesh; but the basis, the path, and the center, is the Son of God, the revelation of God Himself in the world, Himself the First of all, the despised and rejected of men, but the image of the invisible God.
Philip finds Nathanael, an Israelite, full of prejudices, but a guileless heart, for the Lord found under the fig-tree even, men of this stamp, attached to Judaism-a remnant whose heart was opened to the truth, faithful men, who waited for the redemption of Israel. Nathanael did not think that anything good could come out of Nazareth, that place which, far from being the Jerusalem of promise, was one of the most despised and disreputable places. But it was to Jesus that one must come, it was to His Person that souls were invited to come: " Come and see "! The Lord shows His perfect knowledge of what was passing in Nathanael, declaring him to be without guile, and showing this knowledge in a way to penetrate his heart. Nathanael recognizes Him, according to Psa. 2, as King of Israel and Son of God. In His answer, the Lord recognizes Nathanael's faith, founded upon what He had told him of himself; and He announces to him His own glory, according to Psa. 8, the glory which belonged to a rejected Messiah ' • for in Psa. 2 the Messiah is rejected, in a passage quoted by Peter to this effect, the psalm announcing that God would establish His anointed King over Israel, notwithstanding His rejection. But after the prophetic recital of the sufferings of the remnant in Psa. 3-7, Psa. 8 announces God's counsels as to man in the Person of the Son of man. This guileless man, who is here presented to us under the fig-tree, becomes thus the occasion of the revelation of the Messiah in His connection with Israel, then of the revelation of His glory as the Son of man, whom all the highest creatures should serve, and who should be their object as the means of established relationship between the heavens and the earth.
We should notice that it is here, as we have observed, the second day of testimony; the first being found in verse 35, the second in verse 43. It is not the history of the Gospel, but the testimony borne to Jesus by John the Baptist first of all, and then the testimony borne by Himself. In the first case He takes John the Baptist's place; in the second, it is the manifestation of Himself; a testimony which goes on from His service on earth until the accomplishment of Psa. 8 Looked at already as rejected of the Jews, and unknown to the world (chap. 1:10,11), He takes, from this time, the title of Son of man, the title by which He constantly calls Himself, although He could not take the position itself until He had passed through death. These are the two days of testimony borne to Christ as having come into this world, which are developed in the supremacy which He possesses over all things, presented here in its nature only. For the rest, the heavenly position of the Lord is hardly the subject of the teaching of John's Gospel: allusion is made to it, indeed, but that is all.