The Gospels

(Volume 5 of the Numerical Bible: The Fifth Pentateuch of the Bible)

F. W. Grant.


Scope and Divisions of John.

John, as the final Gospel, is that which above all displays the glory of the Person of Christ as the Divine Word tabernacling in flesh, the Only-begotten Son of the Father. In it, therefore, as in suited connection with this, is seen the divine work in man in its full reality. The results of the previous Gospels are brought forward, and as tested by Christ in it, the Cross has shown the world to be at enmity with God. Man is but flesh, and must be born again to see the Kingdom of God. He is dead Godward, and Christ is here the Eternal Life, the Light of men; and communicating life that they may receive the revelation. Eternal Life is thus the central truth of the book, and in connection with it the Spirit of God is seen as Communicator and Perfecter of it. The whole Triune Godhead is thus displayed in the activity of divine grace towards men. Thus John is also necessarily and pre-eminently, the apostle of love: for God in the activity of His nature is Love.

The aspect of the Lord's work in atonement is that of the burnt-offering; the sweet savor of perfect obedience under the full stress of trial: the fire of sacrifice bringing out nothing else but this.

The development of these truths in the Gospel is such as needs little introduction; John being so much more doctrinal than historical, for the most part a collection of discourses, the subject of each strongly marked, and making the divisions very clear and simple. As in the two preceding Gospels, the main divisions are three: —
1. (John 1 — 2:22): The eternal life in Christ its Source, the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
2. (John 2:23 — 17): Eternal life as communicated and dependent.
3. (John 18 — 21): The perfected offering, and Life in the Risen One.


Division 1. (John 1 — 2:22.)

The Eternal Life in Christ, its Source, the Only-begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth.

The first division gives us eternal life in the Person of the Word become flesh; carrying us back to eternity to behold His glory before any creature existed, and Co show us in Him the Creator of all. In relation to the Father He reveals in manhood the glory of the Eternal, Only-begotten Son; and in Him God, hidden under law, is fully revealed in grace and truth. But this implies also the communication of eternal life to men, that, born of God, and having title to the place of children, they may be able to receive the revelation.

Faith utters its voice in His herald John, proclaiming His glory as the Eternal: for sinners, the Lamb of sacrifice; for saints, baptizing with the Holy Spirit. And now begins the drawing unto Him as such: first we see those who learn from Him where He abides and abide with Him, — characteristically, a heavenly company; then Nathanael, coming to Him as the One of whom Moses and the prophets wrote, owns Him as the Son of God and King of Israel: characteristic of an Israelitish, earthly one. We then see how He waits for the divinely appointed hour for Israel's blessing, when once their purification is more than a hollow form. And lastly, the evil which has hindered God dwelling in His house on earth, is purged out, so that He may return. Through all it is Christ who, as the expression of the mind and will of God (the Word), acts for Him, giving Him at last His rest for ever.

Subdivision 1. (John 1:1-18.)

The Life the Light.

The Life as the Light of men is the theme of the first subdivision; the Word made flesh its full and glorious display. Creation as His work is a revelation also; but darkness having come in with sin, it is no longer a sufficient one. Hence the Word Himself enters the creation He has made, and God is manifest in a new glory among men.

But man is not naturally a seeker after God, unhappy only in not having found Him. No: he has turned his back upon Him, and must be born again, and that not of his own will, in order that he may receive the glorious revelation. The communication of eternal life in this is not openly declared as yet; but those who are born of God have now the title to become His children.

1. John begins "in the beginning." There is no article; and the indefinite form, as the whole connection shows, here carries us back to the most remote that can be imagined. Whenever anything else began, then "the Word was," — not "began." The Word had no beginning.

By the fact of this eternity of existence He is necessarily God: God only is the "Eternal;" but the apostle will not leave us to such an inference: "the Word was with God," he says, "and the Word was God," — a distinct Person in the unity of the Godhead.

"With God" here is literally "toward God"; and this affirms, along with distinctness of Person, the adherence of regard and affection to Him of this Being whose designation as "the Word" points Him out as giving expression to the mind of God. And this Personality and relationship are eternal likewise: the Word is not a development from God, even though a pre-creation one: for "He was in the beginning with God."

Thus a glimpse is permitted us into what is involved in a plurality of Persons in the Godhead. "God is love:" and are we to think of Him before creation as dwelling in a blank and utter solitude, alone, with no outflow for His love? no object towards which it could flow out? even now with no sufficient object worthy of Himself? And He, the Father, was He no Father then? and have His creatures alone given Him the reality of such a title? Nay, there was in the Godhead as such, as this passage already shows, an activity, a reception, an intercommunion of love: "the Word was with God," toward God. The Only-begotten Son was then in the bosom of the Father. That "bosom of the Father" is not a development, but a glorious, everlasting reality.

Now we are given to see in the Word the actual Creator. "All things came into being through Him"; and again the apostle is emphatic as to this: not even a single thing must be excepted, that ever came into being.

We can easily recognize something of the significance of such a statement; but do we recognize how far it will lead us? If the Word be, as should be plain, the One who utters out the mind of God, does this merely show us that creation is the embodiment of that mind? that God willed, and the Word performed? Or does it not, at least, prepare us to believe that creation as His work would be a revelation of His character, His thoughts and purposes? This latter is the only sufficient and worthy reason for the emphasis laid upon the fact that the Word was the Creator. The action of the Word, then, was the speech of God: who, if He speak, speaks not simply because He will, but because He has something to communicate. What is it He has to speak of — He who surely cannot speak an idle word? If we can trust such thoughts, how far will they carry us? far beyond the point at which "natural theology," so-called, leaves us. It will be a little thing then to find that it shows, as any manufactured article might do, that some Being made it, — by the marks of design in it that it had a Designer. Nay, we shall realize it as that which, — written as a universal language which has never suffered from the judgment of Babel — God has used to utter His parables of divine wisdom in every attentive ear. True, they are parables, and need care to interpret them, — need diligence of heart to use the care; but so would lead into the most fruitful exercise of heart and conscience, if by them we sought believingly to draw near to God.

How naturally upon every theme whatever, the Lord's teaching fell into this form of parable, making the world vocal with divine monition and heavenly comfort! How naturally these analogies of spheres so different appeal to reason itself with the force of demonstration! How readily the Teacher above all teachers expects His disciples to apprehend such lessons, as if the key to all this symbolism were in their hands! "Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?" From Genesis to Revelation all Scripture teems with them: surely not applications of mere casual resemblances, but rather, real utterances of the Voice that speaks in them; and with which, if we are not familiar, it is to our shame that we are not.

But indeed, while in one of God's two Books we own Christ to be the theme, the book of nature speaks to most, it is to be feared, as if there were no Christ in it; though "by Him and for Him were all things created."

And how thankful we have reason to be for this symbolical character of nature when we consider that from this lower sphere all our words for the higher are derived. Were the one not really (and therefore divinely) adapted to the other, how surely would this lead us astray! On the other hand to take them frankly as thus fitted to one another, how great a help should it be in the interpretation of spiritual things. But it must be confessed we are little practised in such explorations as this implies; even though Scripture and nature be allowed to be God's two witnesses; which should agree and confirm each other in their witness therefore.

We proceed now to the spiritual sphere, what was in the Word, not made by Him: for "in Him was Life, and the Life was the light of men." Many indeed take life here in the most comprehensive way, "the Word being the Source of all life to the creature," but the latter clause of the verse, it is admitted, can only refer to spiritual life. And how could this be classed with that of plant or beast, for instance? or said to be in Him? He is the Author of it: in that sense, the Source, though it be not exactly the right word for it. Life in Him, the Eternal, is surely eternal life; and having shown sufficiently for his purpose here the relation of the Word to creation generally, John at once proceeds to his grand subject. Only the eternal life could be the light of men.

A real definition of life it is generally confessed we have not. It belongs, indeed, to those essential mysteries in which so much of our knowledge is rooted. Of natural life we can only gather from its phenomena certain general ideas, which still ought to help us, if the natural and spiritual are in such close correspondence as we have claimed for them. What then can we learn phenomenally of natural life?

Life, as we read it in nature, is a spring of ordered activity which controls and manifests itself in the inanimate to which it has communicated itself. The dead material is taken up by it, assimilated, and formed into living tissue, and then into organs which work under the control of a common plan and purpose. Take the plant for example, in which you have the life force simply, without the presence of soul or spirit to perplex the results. Here then the stamp of mind is put upon that in which mind is not. It is the witness of a Mind beyond itself which works through and controls it everywhere in harmonious obedience.

Life is thus naturally self-communicative, propagates itself, proceeds from nothing else but life. This is conceded by science today, as far as science can speak in such a matter. It is a thing not manufactured nor evolved, not working up from below, not the product of dead matter, but an imperial power ruling this, even while freely yielding itself to it, permeating and so lifting it into a higher sphere, according to the constant law of progress disclosed by the world as a divine product.

But life in nature is haunted by its shadow, death; life in the Word is a Life eternal, "that eternal life," says the epistle, "which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us." And how manifested? As life is always here, by self-communication to a lower nature, which could receive its impress and thus display a character beyond its own. "The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us; and we beheld His glory: glory as of an Only-begotten with the Father, full of grace and truth." The mind and purposes of God were manifested in a humanity perfectly attuned to harmonious obedience to that will of God which was the one motive of His being in the world. Thus the Life was the light of men: the glory of Godhead was seen in perfect human righteousness: "As long as I am in the world," He says, "I am the light of the world." The Life is but the activity of His nature, (which is the divine nature,) which has taken up manhood in Him, to reveal itself thus, communicative and imperial.

2. But the next thing we hear of is darkness, and a darkness which the light as such cannot banish. It shines in it, but is not realized. This is the nature of spiritual darkness, which is not a mere absence of light, but in opposition to it. God is light; but man has his back upon God, and walks in his own shadow. He has not faith in God, and as he learned to distrust Him even in Eden, much more as out of Eden and under the consequences of his sin, which he puts to the discredit of his Maker. Thus everything is distorted, for God is the reason of all things, and if He be unknown, all things fall into confusion. Then we must do what we can for ourselves; self is all that is left us to believe in; a self which has lost all but the wreck of the image of God in which man was created.

Over all another shadow broods, of one "a liar from the beginning," and who has persuaded men to believe his lie. Under him darkness becomes a kingdom, and the power by which he reigns: "the god of this world blinds the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Cor. 4:4).

In such a world was this glory now to be displayed. The inspired writer filled with his theme, does not pause to speak of how or how far in former times the light had shone for men: everything seems but contrast to the present revelation; which yet — such the world was — God cannot leave without calling special attention to it. Men must be roused to behold it, and by the voice of one nearer to them, as more upon their level, more intelligible to them, as echoing the voice of conscience in their hearts. Such indeed was the "man sent from God, whose name was John." But he is not yet heard in his testimony, as he will be presently. Simply the fact is given: God sent him, a witness to bear witness concerning the truth, that all might believe through him. What an assurance of a world far away from God, that the Light must have one to proclaim it, the Creator must have one to introduce Him into His own world; and then it is necessary to say, He was not that light," lest men should mistake the witness to Christ for the Christ he witnessed to!

The characteristic of the real light is given, that it is not local, but for all. Sunlike, men cannot hold it in Judea simply. The Baptist was "a burning and a shining light;" but not the day-Luminary, filling heaven and earth with splendor. This universal character, reprobated in its full reality by the narrow Jew, the Evangelist shows in its true glory. Did God create the Jew only? Thus "the world" is one of the prominent words in this Gospel: "God so loved," not Israel merely, but "the world." Zion on her hill-top might catch the first rays of the dawn: let her golden orb rise higher, and it will reach lower too.

Men are equalized after another fashion, and which will make needful either equal judgment or fullest grace. The Light finds everywhere darkness; and darkness which yields not to the Light as light. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not." Falsehood knows not truth, nor hatred love. But more: Israel had been specially prepared by centuries of special dealing for this very time; her own King, Messiah, Deliverer, at last had come to her, to fulfil all her promises: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." The education of a race, and in the divine school, failed; and failed in the very thing which all was designed for.

3. The purpose of God cannot be defeated. The need which it had to meet is now fully declared. Claim there can be none on man's part. Israel is but as the Gentile, save that, with higher privilege, her guilt is greater. The Gospel of John begins where the other Gospels end, and with the Cross as the full revelation of man's condition, as it has never before been revealed: for, if under the law the mind of the flesh is shown hopelessly insubject to the law of God, now it is seen to be "enmity against God." But thus there must be not only a work done for man, such as the other Gospels have fully declared, but also a divine work done in him, which John alone presents in its entirety. He alone speaks of the new birth, quickening, eternal life as a present possession in the soul, as well as of the gift of the Spirit, which gives it its full and "abundant" character. With him, first, the children of God by faith are recognized in their place as such, and the Lord in resurrection sends the message of His coming ascension to His "brethren."

We have now already the new birth and the new place announced, in which the will of God rises above the opposition of His fallen creature, and displays itself in a grace which draws near to Him the objects of His unsought love. "To as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God, — to those believing in His Name." This is, of course, the distinguishing mark of these, that in opposition to His own people Israel, who did not receive Christ, they received Him, thus distinguishing their faith from a mere conviction of the mind. Their belief was such as made them desire and accept Him. His Name — Jesus, the Saviour — becoming the discovery of One who met their divinely awakened need. To these He gave authority to take a place never before possessed by men in the reality of what is involved in it, as children of God by birth and nature. The sonship of the Old Testament was not founded upon this, and carried with it no assurance of salvation nor of spiritual life. God was a Father to Israel, who was thus His "son," His "first-born" (Ex. 4:2; Jer. 31:9). In the passage in Jeremiah it is "Ephraim is My first-born." In Mal. 1:6 He asks, "If I be a Father, where is Mine honor?" In Mal. 2:10, the sense in which He is called so is seen: "Have we not all one Father? has not one God created us?" And similarly in Isa. 64: In the preceding chapter (Isa. 63:16) they cry, "Thou art our Father, our Redeemer" (Goel, Kinsman-Redeemer"); but it is power that they seek to come in for them, as in Egypt. In all these cases, which are all that are in the prophets, the fatherly relationship, though assumed towards Israel in a special way, is founded upon creation.

With this title of first-born, therefore, which is given to Israel, is associated the thought of supremacy upon earth; and in the eighty-ninth psalm it is given to Messiah in the same way: "He shall cry unto Me, Thou art my Father. … Also I will make him My first-born, higher than the kings of the earth" (vers. 26, 27).

In both Psalms and Proverbs, God is compared to a father, and here the tenderest thoughts are expressed: "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him" (Ps. 103:13). But here too, what we are by creation immediately comes in: "For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust." Again in Proverbs (Prov. 3:11-12), we find what the apostle has quoted in the epistle to the Hebrews; "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction: for whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth."

Conversely, the angels are sons of God (Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 38:7), most clearly in the same creative way, and as Paul quotes to the Athenians from one of the Greek poets that "we are His offspring" (Acts 17:28). God is thus the "Father of spirits" (Heb. 12:9), and the possession of a spiritual nature constitutes that image of God in which we are created; though, if man does not answer to the relationship, that relation cannot be acknowledged. Thus the Lord could say to the unbelieving Jews, "If God were your Father, ye would love Me … ye are of your father the devil" (John 8:42, 44) — men such as the devil, and not God, had made them.

This is the Old Testament idea of children, which reaches out after the New Testament idea, but without being able to attain the blessedness of this, founded as it is upon a new creation, a new life and nature, where no fall can again mar what the sovereign grace of God has accomplished. Children of God there were, of course, from the beginning; but now for the first time they are given to take the place of children, owned as such because they have so believed on Christ's name as to have received Him. What underlies this and justifies it is that they are the subjects of a true divine work. They are born again, not of blood — the way of natural birth; not of the will of the flesh, — man in his fallen condition; nor of the will of man — even when renewed; but of God, and God only.

Now the glory of the Light can be seen, the glory of the antitypical tabernacle, to which that of old pointed. Wisdom's delights were of old with the children of men; when Christ was born, the angels celebrated it; but it is John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who lay on His breast, and gathered there the full intelligence of his position, who has revealed to us this new manifestation. "The Word became flesh," he says, "and tabernacled among us; and we beheld His glory; the glory as of an Only-begotten with the Father, full of grace and truth."

God had from the beginning visited His people. With a redeemed people, though it were only the shadow of the later redemption, the witness of what was in His heart was given, and the Pillar of Cloud and Fire became the Leader of His people from the border of Egypt into the land. But all this only prepared the way for the full reality which now appeared: the Word, the personal Wisdom of God, became flesh. An expression is used which most completely declares the reality of manhood into which He entered. It was not some docetic form of it, but the verity of that which we know as such, and which most implies the weakness of the creature. And that He became flesh imports this manhood, not as something outside of or other than His true Self, but assumed into it. While yet this was not, nor could be, transmuted Deity, but the Tabernacle of Deity: the divine and human not being confused together, but united; the Word tabernacling among us by becoming flesh. The Glory beheld was of an Only-begotten with the Father: One in whom the divine nature was, not as what might be in some true sense communicable to the creature, but in a way unique, peculiar to Himself; not derived, therefore, from the Manhood He assumed, but His relationship in the Godhead; "with the Father" implying that communion in the Godhead, the necessary result of this.

The Glory was not hidden, as of old, but beheld — by those that had eyes for it. That which was even necessary goodness under the law, the barrier that kept men from intruding where they could not stand, ceased to be any longer: it was now in grace that God was revealed; grace which did not moreover hide the truth, but prepared the soul for its reception and endeared it evermore. The aspect of the truth was invitation, not repulsion; it preached of life and not of death.

The witness of John to the deity of Christ is appended to this. Strictly it is to His pre-existence; but the one involves the other. No angel could leave the sphere in which God created him, and the Arian view of Christ's Person has no countenance in the Old Testament. So fully is this the case that in his first epistle John can say "come in flesh" as equivalent to declaring the divine-human Person. "He that cometh after me," says the Baptist, "has come to be before me:" He has come into a greater place. And no wonder! "for He was before me." And there, as it seems, the voice of the Church, by the lips of the evangelist, breaks in.* "And out of His fulness have we all received, and grace upon grace." It was grace that even at the second giving of the law could reveal along with this the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." But still that left the law, nay, even the more made it a "ministration of death" for man, as showing the awful reality of his condition. As long as man stands on the footing of his own responsibility before God, his state is hopeless; only Christ before God for him can suffice. And this alone is "grace upon grace," that which we receive from Him, — grace that is all grace, without mixture or limit.

{*There is a similar out-burst in praise and testimony at the commencement of another book of John, Revelation (Rev. 1:5-7).}

Accordingly, the law is put in contrast with this: "the law was given through Moses;" the second tables were written, not by the "finger of God," but by the mediator's hand. But the mediator himself could not behold face to face the glory of the Lord, — could see nothing but His "back parts:" could not see God and live. Still it remains, therefore, spite of all that was declared to him, that "no one hath seen God at any time." But the Only-begotten Son hath not only seen Him: as the Son of His love, in the Father's bosom, He hath declared Him — told Him out. Thus "grace and truth came to be" for us "through Jesus Christ." It is a grace which is identified with truth, as the singular verb joined to the two nominatives shows. It is not, as when the law was given, grace based upon a supposed condition in man, — a condition found not to exist. This caused the inadequacy of law, with whatever limitation: man must be depended on in some way: but in fact, "wherein is he to be accounted of?" The law is helpless, therefore; while the fulness of grace in Christ supposes nothing in man, except a most real need to be met out of this fulness. Here, if there were failure, it would be Christ who failed; and that is impossible. Grace and truth exist together for us now in Christ; and God in righteousness and love is told out fully in the One Mediator, who in Person and work brings God and man together.

Subdivision 2. (John 1:19-34.)

The witness of faith.

The first eighteen verses are, in fact, the witness of God as to Christ — a revelation. Who could know of the Word in eternity, the Creator; or of the Only-begotten Son in the Father's bosom, or of the Word incarnate, except by revelation? But now man is given his place, and allowed to tell his story from his own side, — to show how he has come to rejoice in Christ; and we are called now to listen to the Baptist in this character of witness to his Lord.

1. It is a blessed testimony, and shows us, as the other Gospels scarcely do, the bright side of what elsewhere seems a life so shadowed. But in them we see him rather in his witness to the nation — which is, of course, a witness about Christ too; but more in His relation also to the nation and where their present state spoke sadly of what was to be the outcome of his presentation to them. With Pharisees and Sadducees coming out in their hollow fashion to his baptism of repentance, a vipers, brood, as he calls them, his testimony is largely a warning of coming judgment. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and they must not plead their being children of Abraham as exemption from the wrath at hand. He who comes is going to purge His floor and gather (it is true) His wheat into the garner; but the chaff He will burn up with unquenchable fire. Corresponding to all this is the figure of the preacher in the wilderness, his leathern girdle fastened round his garment of hair. Of this aspect of John's ministry we find here little indeed: for here he is not standing in the presence of the people, but in Another Presence of which he is come to speak. He is standing in the glory of that Light which is in the world, and he is transfigured by it. The austerity has passed out of manner and form, and become the tender abstraction of the worshipper. They come after him, attracted by what they more readily understand, priests and Levites from Jerusalem, seeking the man able thus to stand alone, while with his words he bows the multitudes before him: they find one bowing himself in abasement deeper than that of his stricken hearers. Only not in the shadow, but in the light; not in the alarm of an awakened conscience, but in the joy of a heart that has found its rest in faith.

They came to ask him, "Who art thou?" "And he confessed, and denied not," says the exultant Spirit; "and he confessed, I am not the Christ." Was it not, after all, but a small thing to say that? Yes; but it was the manner of his saying it, unasked, as one who knew in his soul that Christ whom men needed, so as to need nothing else. What did it matter what he himself was, when he and they (but in how different fashion) were standing in the presence of His glory; and they ignorant of it? But they go on: "What then? art thou Elias?" And he saith, "I am not." "Art thou that prophet?" — the Prophet of whom Moses had spoken, and whom they did not know to be Christ also: and he answered, "No;" — shorter and shorter, as one who would be quit of it; but they will not leave it there. "They said to him, therefore, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them 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 the Lord" — of Jehovah — "as said the prophet Esaias."

Vox et praeterea nihil: a "voice," — scarcely a person; a voice whose whole value lies in the message that it brings; a voice, which of necessity must pass away, but which may do a work that shall not pass; here a voice that shall bring to the souls of men the imperishable Word which shall abide for ever. We cannot but realize the voice in John thus to be in suited relation to the Word, which is Christ, and of whom as such the Gospel speaks. Nor is there a moan in this over his mere brief apparition among men. What are men that a name among them and a following from them should be a thing to covet? Nay; but there is a Seeker of men, and for whom they have value, not as aught but as naught; as helpless, astray, lost, ruined. That the speaker knew; and knowing, spoke of it with a joy that would not permit him to be silent, nor permit him to stand before their eyes to hide or lessen the glory which was before his own.

But those who had been sent were of the Pharisees, and they saw nothing; nor, as conscious of their need, did they heed the testimony. They had misinterpreted the ages past, and here was the voice of those ages, and it was strange and distant, and the light in the eyes of him who spoke, had they not seen it before in many a fanatic? But, keen ritualists as they were, they had rightful question with him now, founded on his own confession: for, if he were neither Christ, nor Elias, nor the Prophet, why did he baptize?

In fact, it was a boldness unheard of to impose such a baptism upon Israelites: he a man without miracle to attest him, with nothing indeed save his own unworldly life, and that fervent appeal to the conscience which awoke it to its office, with the startling announcement of heaven's Kingdom and its King at hand. Meet him on the ground of Scripture or of fact they could not; but it was easier to question his personal right to such a prerogative as he claimed, of which they too were the prescriptive judges. But John answers them in his own strange fashion by an attack upon all ritualism in its very essence. Baptize? yes, he baptized — with water! Water symbolically might have deepest meaning; otherwise it could but put away the filth of the flesh. Water does water's work: for which its Maker ordained it. Why make much of this, while in the midst of them stood One, unknown, unnoticed, so great that the Baptist, as he declares, was unworthy to do for Him a menial's office, and had derived from Him all the significance he had.

Thus John was in his person a witness for his Lord. He not merely had a voice to speak for Him: he was that voice. Delivered from the common cravings of men, and standing apart from their contending interests but not their needs, Christ had delivered, Christ sufficed for him. As another could say afterwards, and with fuller intelligence, John could have said in his measure with equal truth, Christ lived in him; Christ's interests absorbed and energized him. A beautiful testimony! His voice might utter itself in the wilderness; his heart abode amid the "precious fruits brought forth by the Sun" which shone upon him, a man "filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb."

2. But with these men for his hearers John cannot get his heart out; as on their part there is no movement of the heart towards the blessed One of whom he testifies. With other audience upon the morrow his joy breaks out; and we see how fully he is one with all whoever since have found in Jesus the rest and satisfaction of their souls. "He seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world." Thus we see how his faith has taken refuge in a Sin-bearer and Saviour, the only Saviour of the world. We have at the outset here the broadest view of Christ's sacrifice, as characteristically throughout the Gospel. The Baptist speaks also of "sin," not "sins." That which has been from the time of the fall ever in view in all God's dealings with the world will through this work be at last completely removed, and eternal righteousness established in its place. Meanwhile the broadest foundation is laid, for every one that will to rest on. Not Israel, not the saints, not even believers as such are given title here, but men as men, sinners with the consciousness of nothing else but sin; for for sinners the sacrifice for sin was offered; and though it be said most truly that only by faith do we receive the fruit of it, yet faith does not eye itself but its object, nor rest in any estimate of one's own condition (as to which we might be deceived) but upon the sure testimony of the Word both as to our condition and as to that which has met the condition.

Thus John's confession here is not too broad to allow of the simplest individual appropriation of it. The rock is not too broad to build upon. Every one is welcome: no question raised as to any one who comes; and none need raise a question.

John adds as to this Lamb of sacrifice his confession of Him as a divine Person, repeating his former words. He adds also that he had been (as the world itself) blind as to His glory. Yet that He might be made manifest to Israel was the whole purport of his own mission. It is the consciousness of the condition in which we were, out of which divine love and power alone have brought us that will enable us to rely upon the same grace for others, and upon nothing else but grace.

3. But this is not the whole of John's testimony. He has seen Christ as a Man marked out by the descent of the Spirit of God upon Him, and had this given to him as the sign by which he should know the One baptizing with the Holy Spirit. He sees and bears witness, therefore, that this is the Son of God.

The oil upon Aaron's head descends to the skirts of his clothing; and thus is accomplished that unity among brethren of which the Psalmist speaks (Ps. 133.) Now that the oil is the type of the Spirit, with which Christ as the true Aaron is anointed without blood, hardly needs demonstration (Ex. 29:7). Every thing combines to show that it was after John's baptism when the Spirit descended to abide on Christ, as the Baptist beheld it here, that this was fulfilled. (See Matt. 3, notes.) He had bowed in Jordan as the true offering in death for the sins of others, just as the Baptist proclaims Him now the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. He is declared, as the Spirit descends upon Him, the Son of God; and that, as the apostle tells us (Heb. 5:5), is His call to the priesthood. The baptism of the Spirit is thus His priestly action, the anointing oil flowing down from the Head, which in the psalm produces the unity of brotherhood in Israel, and could not but as fully apply to that of a heavenly people, or to the Church; the Body of Christ is formed by the baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13); and though we could not have this as yet developed, for us it is the highest expression of spiritual unity, the fullest manifestation of the power of Christ's priestly work. It gives completeness to the Baptist's testimony to our Lord.

Subdivision 3. (John 1:35-42.)

A fore-shadow of a heavenly gathering.

"To Him shall the obedience of the peoples be" was Jacob's word of old as to Shiloh: a word which has waited long for its fulfilment. Of that generation of Israel to which He came He had to say, as foretold by the prophet: "I have labored in vain, and spent my strength for naught, and in vain; yet surely," He adds, "my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God" (Isa. 49:4). Jehovah answers Him accordingly, not only with the assurance that Jacob shall nevertheless be brought to God by Him, but also He shall be a light to the Gentiles, that He may be His salvation to the ends of the earth (ver. 6).

But the full reality of the work among the Gentiles was, even so, not given to the Old Testament to foresee. The mystery of the Church was yet "hid in God" (Eph. 3:9), although the Old Testament had also its witnesses, which on account of their veiled and typical language could not be understood until it pleased Him to lift off that veil. There they serve now to show the place in His heart this supreme grace of His towards men ever had.

Even in the Gospels, with the exception of what is conveyed in the brief words to Peter which Matthew has recorded for us (Matt. 16:18), the Church still lies hidden. John, whose testimony to the Person of Christ is so full, and whose Gospel, from its unfolding of eternal life and the gift of the Spirit, so well deserves the title which has been given to it of the "Christian Gospel," yet says nothing explicitly of the Church of God. It is of the family of God be speaks throughout, even when it is the Church that furnishes his example of the family.

We have, however, something more than this in what we have now before us, though not in explicit statement. The Son of God, the Word made flesh, and stooping to be the Lamb of sacrifice, then and thus Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and bringing men into a spiritual unity which is necessarily communion with the Father and the Son, begins in the power of the grace manifested in Him to draw men to Himself. He becomes the Centre of what we soon discern to be a two-fold gathering, in principle a heavenly and an earthly one. The mind of the Spirit is evidently to show us this by typical example, the Christian and the Jewish assemblies in their characteristic features as these, — the New Testament and the Old finding in Him harmonious fulfilment. How suited is this, after His fulness has been displayed, to show us something of the circles of blessing that shall surround Him, to which eternally this fulness shall flow out. The exact, even minute correspondence forbids any mistake as to what is intended: every word tells. The more we, examine the more shall we realize that here are all the details of a picture such as the Spirit of God alone could have drawn, and which is addressed to our intelligence as Christians to discover.

At the commencement John is still the witness, the Old Testament in him sending its disciples to Him who is the fulfilment of its sacrificial shadows, to the Lamb of God, who satisfies as such the first need of the soul, and in setting it free makes it inalienably His own. The true disciples of the Old Testament are, therefore, those who follow Jesus; and it was as a Jewish remnant that the Church began. But immediately we hear of something beyond this. Jesus sees them following and asks, "What seek ye?" and they seek, in fact, the place where He abides. It is practically the second occurrence of a word which is common in John and characteristic of his Gospel, — related, as it is to that divine side of things with which he has so much to do. Thus the Spirit "abides" on Christ: does not come occasionally, and leave again, as with the prophets of old. The Father also "abides" in Him (John 14:10). The believer "abides" in Christ, and Christ in him; as the branch "abides" in the vine (John 15) and thus the vine — the sap — in the branch. The bread from heaven "abides" unto eternal life (John 6:27). But here the place where Christ abides carries our thoughts at once to His own "where I am," in the Father's house, where are the "abodes" (John 14:2) in which His people are to be with Him for ever. We have in type the heavenly family, who even now by faith see where He abides and abide with Him while night is on the earth, to come out in the morning with Him. No name of earth attaches itself to this His dwelling-place; and though, plainly, as the time indicates, they pass the night with Him, no night is mentioned, for where He is it is day.

All harmonizes thus far; but we have more than this: for "one of the two who heard John speak and followed Him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. Andrew, the "manly," "courageous," is indeed akin to Simon, "the hearkener," the "obedient," who becomes Peter the "stone" the rock-like man; and both together may speak of the energy needed to go through the transition which the name of Peter at once suggests here, and which John further emphasizes for us by interpreting the Messias of Andrew's testimony into the Gentile "Christ." The sacred language itself is changing, as we see in that of the New Testament, which is the language of the outside world.

Andrew brings his brother to Jesus; and at once we have the change of name, which in Matthew takes place at a later time. There it is evidently a confirmation of what is given at the commencement of his discipleship; there the point had come from which the whole transformation could be seen, which here is confined to himself personally. The "hearkener, the son of the dove" (Jonas)* — for with the hearing the dead live (John 5:25), and this life is the Spirit's work — becomes Cephas, Which also is interpreted into the Gentile Peter: that is to say "a stone." Peter himself gives us the full significance of this (1 Peter 2:4-5): "To whom coming, as unto a living Stone, … ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house." Thus the Church is formed; and in what is intimated in this name now conferred we see the heavenly company assuming the full character of the house of God, the dwelling-place of the Spirit. The other aspects of the Church as the body and bride of Christ are to be the subjects of after revelation.

{*The weight of MS. authority is for "John," though they do not agree as to the spelling. The text in Matt. 16 reads "Jonas" without dissent at all; which makes for the less supported reading here.}

Here then is the first gathering to the Lord as it is now, Israel having rejected Him, as in John we see all through. But even on this account John will not leave it there, and we are next to see, after the same representative manner, an Israelitish company, which serves by contrast only to make more distinct, if possible, the character of that which has preceded it.

Subdivision 4. (John 1:43-51).

The earthly gathering.

We have a new day, and the Lord meaning to go forth into Galilee, which we have seen elsewhere to be the typical place of blessing for Israel (see p. 69 notes) where her ruin is most manifest. And now, instead of a continuation of the former gathering by the testimony of disciples, there is a new beginning, and the work of the Lord Himself, who calls Philip. Now the disciples, work begins again: Philip calls Nathanael with a new testimony; "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote, Jesus the son of Joseph, who is from Nazareth." The being the (titular) son of Joseph, which sounds strange as the voice of faith in John's Gospel, gives Him yet His apparent legal title to the throne. Exceptional in this Gospel it plainly is, but the King of Israel is manifestly intended to be now before us: in principle it is an Israelitish gathering that is begun. Nathanael shows also at first the Jewish unbelief: "Can anything good be out of Nazareth?" And yet the Lord testifies of him, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile." Notice that it is as an "Israelite" he is presented to us. "Whence knowest thou me?" he asks in surprise. "Before Philip called thee," the Lord answers, "when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee." Doubtless there had been some special exercise of heart, — something in which he had been seeking God, — that Christ refers to. And with the true remnant of Israel in the last days, we know that the exercises through which they will pass will be as overshadowed by the fig-tree, which is the figure of a remnant of the nation returned to the land, but not returned to God (Luke 13:6-9), and who will receive Antichrist. The Psalms enter largely into these trials and sorrows; and in them God has provided for them beforehand that which will sustain their faith through that unequalled tribulation through which they will have to pass. In them, when they come to see Him face to face they will find how the Christ they have been seeking has been already with them.

Nathanael at once owns him, as the people will, and in the way in which (as we have seen in the other Gospels) He must be owned, to have blessing from Him: "Rabbi, Thou art the Son or God; Thou art, the King of Israel." As Son of God, they rejected Him in the high priest's court; as King of Israel, before Pilate. Here plainly Nathanael shows himself as representing the faith of the nation in the day to come; and in that character the Lord answers him: "Because I said, I saw thee under the fig-tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Henceforth ye shall see heaven opened. and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." If the "henceforth" here is to be accepted, then it would seem even plainer that the Lord anticipates the time when the nation converted to God will make their own the confession of this new disciple. From that time heaven will indeed be opened to them, and they will see the angels its inhabitants attendant upon One who will be manifestly "Son of man." This will be indeed a marvellous and blessed thing to see; and the title "Son of man," we have seen constantly connected by the Lord with His appearing in the clouds of heaven, with the glory of the angels. Doubtless it was also the title He loved to take during His life-time upon earth, as bringing near to those among whom He was the grace of His incarnation but the whole connection as we have traced it, and the full meaning of the words themselves, seem to forbid more than a partial reference of them to the time of His earth-sojourn. Israel on the other hand will in millennial days undoubtedly stand under the glory of the heavens opened; but thus still be in a position short of theirs who will go in where He abides, and abide with Him. The two companies, the heavenly and the earthly, are thus in marked contrast, yet in connection with one another; and we see the Lord in His place as the Centre of each. How suited, we may again say, that after His manifestation in the fulness of His grace, as the evangelist has shown Him, we should see the effect of this in the two circles of blessing which now we see around Him, and which are but the types of those who shall fill heaven and earth and eternity with their joy and praise.

Subdivision 5. (John 2:1-12.)

The governmental order for the reception of the blessing.

The next scene that is presented to us is also in connection with this; and here we have Galilee once more, the third day, and a marriage, to which Jesus and His disciples are invited guests. In connection with Israel these things are suggestive symbols; and while we would in no wise make light of the natural significance, it will surely not do this to show, as others have done before, how the spiritual significance shines through it and adds lustre to every feature. Indeed this is no exceptional character of the scriptures we are now considering. We have been constantly realizing it in the Gospel histories and in those of the Old Testament, as well as in the types and shadows of the law. When we come to the doctrinal epistles this character of the inspired Word is no longer found: for the plain reason that the spiritual is no longer under the veil of the natural, but is openly revealed. In the book of Revelation we find it, however, taken up again, and in a more pronounced way than in any other part; and here the natural significance is for the most part only a veil, the hiding in parabolic enigmas not only of prophetic announcements as to the earth, but of the glories of eternity itself and of those precious realities which we long to know in their full blessedness. Happy he, then, who has best learned this language, which from our Lord's use of it we may call His favored speech, the apocalyptic tongue of heaven.

But let us look at the natural aspect first; in which yet we must not think it strange that the spiritual should come in, since that which is truly natural according to God can never be divorced from the spiritual: the Word, as we have just heard, is the Creator, and creation is therefore but the expression in nature of the spiritual — of the divine mind. With the disappearance of the spiritual, the very basis of the natural would necessarily disappear.

Here in the Lord's first miracle, we do right to expect in some way an introduction to His work in general on and in behalf of nature. For this is the character of all beginnings in the word and work of God. They are really of the nature of introductions to all that follows and which is developed out of them, as the seed encloses and outlines the future plant. Thus it is that the book of Genesis, and above all, the first part of it, gives the germ and outline of all Scripture. Here in the miracle at the marriage feast we shall surely find a "sign" of this kind: it is called a sign — something which has significance after the divine order.

"A marriage" carries us back at once to Eden, and to the divine word whereby it was instituted. "It is not good for man to be alone." He is made for communion, as the gift of language shows — to communicate and to receive communication. And in this, too, he realizes not merely the need of the creature, but is in the likeness of his Creator. In the very preface to his creation, the words, "Let us make man," speak of communion.

Man truly is made to recognize in it the dependence of a creature, to whom independence would be every way unsuited and unwholesome. If not mere misery, the pride through which an angel became a devil would be fostered by it, and God's will is to "hide pride from man." His whole mode of existence here is but one interconnected series of dependencies in which marriage is a central point. And here love finds its opportunity and displays itself in the sweet ministries of life, which reflect so much of the character of God and of His ways who is Love.

Marriage is central, therefore, in the web of human life, the basis of all relationships as God has instituted them. And as marriage (not mere sexual union) it has at most its mere shadow in the temporary attachments of the creatures below man. Personal obligation, voluntarily assumed, and expressed in constant fidelity, distinguishes it by the height of a whole heaven from these partial reflections of it.

We can understand, therefore, the importance of the sanction which the Lord gives by His presence at this marriage feast; and even why He takes at it the place He does, as Maker of all. It is every way harmonious; while the need and limitations brought us by the fall are recognized also and provided for. The wine runs out: the joys of earth pass and cannot be renewed; alas, the empty forms of purification, like the six empty water-pots of stone, provide no basis upon which the blessing can come. Only the servants who draw the water know how, when at his bidding the pots are filled with water, this is changed into the new wine which is alone really "good"; and in which we recognize the memorial of His own deep sorrow, yea, of the blood out-poured for the guilt of man. And here Cana, "purchase," comes to its true significance, as the secret of the return of blessing of which Galilee reminds us. But we shall see all the details of what is here more fully brought out as we take up this story in its connection with the series of pictures in which the glory of Christ is being continuously displayed.

In this, which is the full application, Galilee will speak specifically of the return of blessing to Israel, Cana still showing us how the blessing is regained; and the "marriage" in such connection will take us back to the language of the Old Testament prophets, who figure in this way Israel's relation to Jehovah in time past, broken by her sin, but to be restored again in a more perfect and glorious way (see Hosea 2), in what will be the resurrection time of the nation, of which, no doubt, the "third day" mentioned speaks (Hosea 6:2). Here are the elements of what is now before us. Beside this, the "mother of Jesus" is here: who can only figure Israel, of whom Christ came, as concerning the flesh (Rom. 9:5). And the disciples of Jesus coming with Him to the marriage point to those associated with Him in nearer intimacy and a higher order of blessing than the Jewish bride herself.

But a marriage still for Israel, raised as a nation from the dead, brings up of necessity the thought of her broken vows and the long delay of blessing. The feast, which should have been for her continuous, has failed, the wine has run out. The mother of Jesus, the nation in the flesh, aware in some sense of her condition, appeals to Him vaguely, as we see in this Gospel; would take Him by force even, and make Him a King (John 6:15), from which He can only withdraw Himself. This is the "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" of the chapter here; His "hour," indeed, "is not yet come."

Why? when the need is apparent, and confessed? Ah, the need of wine is; but there is another need, deeper, yea, fundamental, which they do not confess, nor realize. Those six empty water-pots of stone, set there for purifying, but incapable now, symbolize the condition of hollow formalism. Six is the number of labor without rest, though capable of assuming another significance; but how long has this been the suited expression of a people away from God; the practical comment upon His words, "Mine hour is not yet come"! In this interval time is not reckoned, and not as yet have we seen the end of it.

But the time comes at last, and He must work to secure the blessing which without Him will never come. Now He says to the servants, "Fill the water-pots with water"; and they fill them to the brim. The number now may be that of discipline, which we know in fact God will use to bring them under the power of His word, which is His means of purification. "The washing of water" is "by the Word" (Eph. 5:26).

Thus self-judgment is accomplished: the Word received, the basis of blessing is established for the soul: faith is come, and the object of faith will soon be clearly seen. The water changes into the wine of joy, which is identified, as we have seen before, with the remembrance of Christ's precious sacrifice. It is very much the story of any sinner saved by grace; and it will be Israel's in the day at hand. Then indeed will the wine be the best wine; better than the lips have ever before tasted. The words of the master of the feast point the contrast with the world's joys which spoil the taste and then deteriorate. With this there is no intoxication, no perversion of taste, no evil, but only good. It can be said, "Drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved"; and of Judah (the worshipper), "He has washed his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes; his eyes shall be red with wine." The fear of intemperance here is never before the soul.

The numerical structure here emphasizes the governmental order for the reception of blessing, and shows the reason of the long delay of it in the case of Israel. The conditions are the reception of the Word in faith, with the self-judgment which is repentance. And thus Christ becomes the Saviour of the lost, the one Object, for the heart that has known Him so. Thus He takes His throne among men.

Subdivision 6. (John 2:13-22.)

The purging out of evil.

There follows, at Jerusalem, upon the occasion of the "Jews, passover," as John characteristically calls it, a first purging of the temple by Him, which He repeats, as we have seen in other Gospels, after His presentation to them openly as their King. It is given as one of the features of millennial blessing by the prophet Zechariah, that "there shall be no more a Canaanite" — or "trafficker" — "in the house of the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 14:21). The profanation of that which, till he finally leaves it, He always calls His Father's house stirs within Him the zeal for it which, as the psalmist is cited here as saying, consumed Him. How much did that house, God's dwelling-place among men, mean for Him whose great work was to establish it! In His own Person God had come down, and in such a way as implied no mere temporary visitation. His Name Emmanuel had told that out. Wisdom's delights were with the sons of men; yet with iniquity He could not dwell. The precious blood shed for their sins could only make their persistence in them after this more hideous and more hateful. Thus the house must be purged in which God is to dwell; and the glory of God and the blessing of man required its purgation.

As Son of God, therefore, Christ casts out the defilement, taking openly a place of authority which none dare openly dispute. The shadow of future judgment falls upon them and scatters them. The Jews ask what sign He can show that the authority He claims belongs to Him. He answers them with a challenge to "destroy this temple and in three days He would raise it up" — referring to His death and resurrection: a parable which they could not interpret, and applied falsely to Herod's building, still unfinished; while even the disciples understood it only when it was fulfilled. The eyes of those held by externalism were not on Him; while as yet it held even those of true disciples. Thus the blow had to fall even upon the temple itself which left not even one stone upon another, and scattered its worshippers also far and wide over the earth; while the new temple of His humanity, glorified by the out-breaking of the glory that was within, becomes in heaven an open sanctuary, whence the divine Light shall irradiate the earth.