6. — The Word with God: the Only-begotten with the Father

In John's Gospel the Lord Jesus is portrayed according to His essential names rather than His relative titles. He is to be seen there as the Word and as the Son more than as the Messiah; or as the High Priest, or as the Head of His body, the church.

Consequently, the personal glories of God and His Son form the predominating theme of this evangelist rather than the salvation of man. The "Son" sets forth the ineffable love of the Father and manifests the glory of His name. Moreover, while the forgiveness of sins is not mentioned in this Gospel even once, God's gift to the believer of life eternal recurs so frequently that this is an outstanding feature of the Fourth Gospel, easily recognizable by every reader.

The Introductory Verses of John's Gospel

The exceptionally exalted object of the Fourth Gospel is indicated by its opening verses, and the loftiness of the theme is specially noticeable when they are compared with those of its fellow-Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each in accordance with his own specific purpose, display the Lord in His earthly and temporal relations to men as they were foretold in the Old Testament, but John writes of Him in His heavenly and eternal relationship, which was perfectly exhibited among men, yet was not foretold in psalm, prophecy, or type.

Accordingly, the first three Gospels begin by showing that the Lord appeared in fulfilment of the prophecies of old and in the line of genealogical descent therein prescribed. But in John's Gospel there is a marked absence of these preliminaries no Old Testament scripture is quoted, nor any pedigree prefixed. The reason for this striking contrast is at once apparent when we recall that John's pen was inspired to record that "Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God." No human succession, no citation from the law, the prophets or the psalms would have been appropriate in introducing Him, Who was God, and Who was in the beginning with God. The abrupt simplicity of the opening words indicate the inexpressible majesty of the theme.

These introductory verses in John set forth three fundamental truths relating to the Person of the Lord, viz.: —

(1) The Word was God and in the beginning with God.

(2) The Word became flesh and dwelt among men.

(3) The Word was the Only-begotten Son.

The Word in the beginning

We have then, in John 1:1-18, the Holy Spirit's prologue to John's Gospel history, John 1:15 being a parenthesis, containing the Baptist's witness to his own personal inferiority. This preface opens by indicating the supernal elevation of the theme of this Gospel. The veil of past time is at once rent for us in a striking sentence by the Holy Spirit, and a glimpse into the eternity beyond is afforded us: "In the beginning was the Word."

There, effulgent in His essential personal glories, we behold, by the illumination of the Spirit, the Word, the Only-begotten Son of God. Led by the text to look backward, our enraptured gaze travels beyond the confines of all created things and beyond every cycle of measurable time to adore the Eternal Word Who was "in the beginning."*

{*Appendix B — In and From the Beginning

(placed here for convenience)

He was the Word and Son before the time described as "from the beginning." The Eternal Son of the Eternal Father no human mind can fathom; and the incarnation necessarily adds to its inscrutability. But this is not the least ground for not believing what is infinitely above and beyond us; it is revealed without a doubt. And the reason why men break down upon it all is that they reason from man up to God, which is always false. You must reason down from God to man if you are to be in the truth; for who knows the truth but God? And who can reveal the truth but God, as He has done in Christ?

In the Gospel, John is most careful to say that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." It matters not how far one essays back in thought into the depths of eternity. Imagine millions of years! These are not the beginning; though of course one cannot with propriety talk of "years" before the measures of time apply. But go back in imagination into these unmeasured depths, there He subsisted. No beginning had He Who is eternal, and in His own personality He was "with God."

Again, not only was He with God as a distinct Person from the Father and the Spirit; but He was God, Nor is there any property of God more distinctive than His being eternal; if not eternal, not God.

But quite a different thing is referred to in 1 John 2:13. It is not knowing Him that was in the beginning with God, but knowing "Him that is from the beginning." It is the beginning of His taking flesh, the incarnate Word, in this world. Such is the absolutely new fact. "From the beginning" is reckoned from His manifesting Himself as Emmanuel, the God-Man.

This was He Whom the "fathers" knew. What can you know about the Son in eternity except that He was the Only-begotten Son in the Father's bosom, the object of His everlasting delight, as even Prov. 8 tells us?

Such He was when not a creature existed above or below, neither angel nor man nor lower being. There was only the blessed God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as we know now; and there were divine counsels which were afterwards to be divulged to us who now believe. What do we know more than this? But if we look at "Him that is from the beginning," there is, one may say, almost everything to learn and know. Exposition of the Epistles of John, by W.K., pp. 120, 121.}

It is manifest that this declaration of the Word's existence in the beginning conducts us to a point prior to the very earliest creative act comprehended in Genesis 1:1. That is, we are ushered into eternity. Indeed, this absolute precedence of existence is even more definitely declared in the context, where we learn that the Word created every single thing that ever was created or that received being: "All things received being through Him, and without Him not one [thing] received being which has received being" (ver. 3).

The Word becoming Flesh

It is instructive to observe the sequence shown in these verses as they relate to the Word. Having first shown the original glories of the Word in the eternal past, the apostle later in his preface records His incarnation. We read, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth … for of His fulness we all have received, and grace upon grace" (vers. 14-16). We are by these combined statements taught most plainly and definitely that the Word Who became flesh was the Word Who was "in the beginning," long before He became flesh.

The Word of verse 1 is, therefore, the Word of verse 14. The Word, Who, becoming incarnate, tabernacled among us, Whose glory we contemplated, Who was full of grace and truth, was the Word Who was in the beginning, full of wisdom and eternal majesty.

Further unfoldings concerning the Word

In the light of this scripture, it is no difficulty to faith, but an indescribable joy, to receive these unfoldings of the transcendent glories of the Word. Not only was the Word in the beginning, but "the Word was with God" — One Person with Another — as truly "with God" (ver. 1) as in manhood the Word was "among us" (ver. 14). Moreover, the Person abides continuous and unchanging, for "the Word was God" (ver. 1).

Then, in verse 2, His distinctive personality with God in the beginning is affirmed, the emphatic pronoun being used in the original to identify Him beyond dispute with the Word: "He [this very One, just named as the Word] was in the beginning with God." We learn, therefore, our hearts meanwhile being charged with adoration, that the Word Who became flesh was not in the beginning an abstract quality or attribute, nor a special emanation of the Deity, but a Person existing with God; and moreover, that this Word was God Himself. Thus, the Word was not a personal distinction of God, but a distinct Person with God, as well as and as truly as He was God Himself. We do not read God was the Word, but the Word was God; let us carefully store in our hearts this distinctiveness of expression.

Four protecting Walls, strong and high

Surely, every reverent heart must consider this language of the Holy Spirit most precise and emphatic in establishing the Eternal Personality of the Word Himself. It will be noted that the "Word" is made the conspicuous subject of each of the four short sentences in verses 1 and 2, as if to guard against attack from any point of the compass upon the glory of that Name.

(a) In the beginning was the Word,

(b) and the Word was with God,

(c) and the Word was God.

(d) The Same was in the beginning with God.

In the first three sentences, the noun, "Word," is repeated, and in the fourth, the Greek pronoun used has a definite and undeniable reference to the same noun. So that, at the opening of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a fourfold guardianship of the Person of the Eternal Word is provided by these concise and clear statements of inspiration.

It would appear as if these protective phrases were specially designed of God to preserve the saints from the strange doctrine that He was the Word only in incarnation. Such a doctrine can only claim support in these verses by an outrageous garbling of the text. Instead of taking the passage as it stands, a gloss, such as follows within the brackets, must be added to suit the false interpretation:

(a) In the beginning was (He Who became) the Word,

(b) and (He Who became) the Word was with God.

(c) and (He Who became) the Word was God.

(d) The Same (He Who became the Word) was in the beginning with God.

But we never find it stated anywhere in scripture that "God became (egeneto) the Word," nor that "He became the Word," but we do read here that "the Word was (een) God." The Word was God originally, but subsequently, "the Word was made [became, egeneto] flesh" (John 1:14). Historically, the "becoming" in this connection relates to the incarnation. Analogously, we read that the Son of God became "of the seed of David" (Rom. 1:3), "of a woman," and "under the law" (Gal. 4:4), the same Greek verb being employed in each of these passages.

In John 1:1-2, however, the Holy Spirit declares what the Word "was" in the beginning, not what the Word "became" afterwards in manhood. Observe carefully the verb, "was." It is remarkable that in these sentences the past (Greek imperfect, implying continuity) tense is used, and not the present, which is of more frequent occurrence.

Thus, the present tense occurs in the clause, Who "is in the bosom of the Father," referring to the Incarnate Son (John 1:18), and also in another clause, "Who is over all, God blessed for ever," referring to the Incarnate Christ (Rom. 9:5). Is it not significant that the scripture reads, not "The Word is God," which is blessedly true, but, "The Word was God"? By this grammatical means, stress is laid upon the fact that in the beginning, antecedent to the whole creation which is His own handiwork, the Word existed in absolute Deity.

The Personal Word (Logos) in the beginning

Keeping our feet unshod, let us for a little still linger near this "great sight" of revelation. "The Word (Logos) was God," and "the Word (Logos) became flesh" form the Holy Spirit's dual description of what the Word was essentially and what the Word assumed mediatorially. What special significance, then, has this term, "Word"? It is, if we may define it briefly, that which expresses or communicates what is hidden in the mind or thought. Accordingly, the scripture itself is designated the word (logos) of God, in Heb. 4:12 and elsewhere, being an exact expression in writing of divine truth.

But, while in both cases the mind of God is expressed, there is evidently a wide and weighty distinction between the Word of John 1:1 and the written word of scripture. The former is the Person Who was God and Who was in the beginning with God; the latter, which is described as "the word of God," is impersonal; moreover, it only began to come into existence when "holy men of God spake under the power of the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21).

Contrariwise, the Personal Word, being God, had no beginning, but was ever inherently possessed of an absolute competency to express the mind and thought of God. For in the beginning the Word was the Word, the Potential Declarer of the love of God, of the wisdom of God, of the purpose of God, yea, of God Himself Whom no one has seen nor can see. When the Word became flesh, this declaration of God was made known to men in and by Him (John 1:14-18).

The Denial that the Word was Eternal

In view of these transcendent glories which ever kindle afresh our smouldering adoration, we cannot regard as a slight matter any denial that the Lord Jesus was the Word eternally. It surely cannot but be a serious infringement of the revealed truth to teach that the Lord was not the Word until He was in manhood. And yet, strangely and sadly enough, this doctrine is implied by the following question in a recent publication: "Is anything taken from Him by saying that the intelligible expression in Him of every divine thought was in Manhood, and that it awaited His incarnation to be expressed?" What is in this instance stated interrogatively is stated positively elsewhere, for error is progressive in boldness.

We reply that this doctrine takes away altogether the Personal and eternal glory of the Word, which the Holy Spirit gives Him in John 1:1-2. It denies that from all eternity the Word was God in a manner that the Father was not, and that the Holy Spirit was not. It also denies that the Word was the Word in the beginning, limiting the nature of the Holy One by this bold assertion of His incompetency to be the Word until incarnate.

For, as already said, the question quoted implies what is elsewhere plainly affirmed, that only in manhood could there be the intelligible expression of divine thought; "it awaited" the incarnation of the Holy One to be expressed. But with God all things are always possible; and the Word was God. If He was capable of such expression before incarnation, He was the Word, as scripture reveals. If He was incapable until incarnation (may the good Lord pardon the very thought! ) He was not the Word until then, as some daringly allege.

The Personal Logos before Incarnation

It is unquestionably true that in manhood the Word did perfectly express God to men, but what the Word did when He became flesh He Who was God was in Himself able to do before incarnation. In the Godhead, He was the Personal Word, the Logos, "in the beginning." Was He not, therefore, "in the beginning" the "intelligible expression" of "divine thought"? We are in Genesis 1 told of a secret conclave of the Deity, relating to the creation of man, at which there was an expression of "divine thought"; for Elohim said, "Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness" (ver. 26). Was there no expression of the thought and purpose and will of God when, as we read, "Elohim said"? Was not the Word, prior to man's creation, uttering in holy converse within the circle of the Deity the divine counsel respecting man's beginning? In the Word this decision of the Godhead found its expression then, and, translated into human language, was embodied in the inspired record for the ultimate enlightenment of man.

Since "in the beginning was the Word," the Person Who was the Word was there "in the beginning"; and since "the Word was God," this Personal "expression" was there "in the beginning." To whom that "expression" appeared is a circumstance not affecting its existence; our ignorance of this in no way modifies the fact of revelation that "in the beginning was the Word." Whatever communication there was in the past eternity within the Godhead, or subsequently to creatures either celestial or terrestrial, all is comprehended in the activities of the Word. Before and after incarnation, God spoke in and by the Eternal Word, thus expressing His mind and will in the utmost perfection.

The Incarnate Word full of Grace and Truth

The Word existed before His incarnation. The word of man is in his inward thought before it is uttered by his lips for audible reception by others. The Spirit of God reveals that the Word was in the beginning before He became flesh and dwelt among us. The tabernacle made on earth was after the pattern in the heavens shown to Moses. The One seen among men was the One till then unseen by all, dwelling in unapproachable light.

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt (tabernacled) among us … full of grace and truth." The Incarnate Word was the expression of the mind of God in respect of grace and truth. So far as their exhibition in the world is concerned, grace and truth were first seen when the Word was made flesh. And how admirably qualified for this display was the Word, since He was God and in the beginning with God! So far as grace and truth were comprised in the purpose of God before the foundation of the world, so far were they embodied in the Personal Word. Accordingly, the Word when He had become flesh was seen to be "full of grace and truth." These divine qualities were in His Person. There in Him was grace, which is more than love, being love triumphant over evil; and there was truth also, the intrinsic nature of both God and man being faithfully revealed by the very presence of the Incarnate Word on earth.

The Only-Begotten

In scriptural usage, the "Word" is correlated with God, while "Son" is generally correlated with the Father, though it is used with God also, as, for example, "the Son of God." The Word specially reveals God, to Whom man is responsible as his Creator and Governor, and the name, Logos, suggests the fullness and faithfulness of His revelation. The Son reveals God the Father in His love, and the name, Son, suggests depth, exuberance, tenderness, and intimacy in the revelation He makes. Both these revelations are combined in the same Blessed Person, in Whom we see His God and our God, His Father and our Father. The Revealer is both the Word, and the Only-begotten Son.

The "Only-begotten" first (1) occurs in the parenthesis (ver. 14) , which speaks of the Word become flesh: "and we have contemplated His glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with [or, from beside] a father." Here is recorded what was seen by faith through human eyes enlightened by the Spirit. This sight was not a transient glimpse of a divine appearance, as was occasionally granted in Old Testament times, but the glory of the Incarnate Word was contemplated with admiring, adoring delight, in which worship devout men loved to linger, as they do still.

Moreover, the glory of the Word become flesh was a revelation of altogether a new character, and it differed entirely from everything known in Old Testament times. It was not the overwhelming, repelling, Shekinah-glory of Jehovah that dwelt between the cherubim, but the glory of an only-begotten from beside a father. The figure describes the predominating character of the Personal revelation in the Word. The glory of the Word when contemplated in "flesh" was the glory (the manifested excellence) of a unique Paternal and Filial love at home in the heaven of heavens but sojourning on earth in Him.

The glory of the Word Who dwelt "among us," full of grace and truth, had the nature of an Only-begotten's glory with a father. His glory was so perfect and symmetrical in His Personal representation of the Father that it took the character of an only-begotten with a father; hence the Lord said, "He that has seen Me has seen the Father." There was absolute community of nature between the Father and the Son.

In Him, the Word dwelling among men, was the repository of Paternal graciousness and confidential delight such as is known by none but an only-begotten with the father. This was the character of the communion of the Father and the Son in Their eternal Essence before the foundation of the world, and was disclosed to men by the Word in incarnation. The effulgence of the Incarnate Word was the effulgence of the Father's love. "In Thee, most perfectly expressed, The Father's self doth shine."

In the Bosom of the Father

Having first spoken of the Incarnate Word, contemplated "among us," as the Only-begotten (ver. 14), the Holy Spirit then (2) sets forth the Only-begotten Son as the Declarer of the Father's secrets: "No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He (meaning, He and no one else) has declared [Him]."

There is but one Son of the Father — the Only-begotten. The Son, being designated the Only-begotten Son, any rash thought that the Father has Another Son is precluded. All that subsists essentially in God the Son subsists exclusively in the Only-begotten Son. No one ever yet or at any time has seen God, Whose Being is enveloped in impenetrable mystery to all creatures. But now the blank wall reaching from earth to heaven has been demolished, like the veil of the temple rent in twain from the top to the bottom. The eternal secrets in God Who is light and love have now been revealed, the Only-begotten Son Himself being their exponent.

In the bosom! It is in connection with this personal revelation that we find this choice phraseology of the Spirit, describing the relationship of the Son with the Father, which entwines itself about our deepest affections and awakens our loftiest worship — "the Only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father." The Father's bosom! Time was when Jehovah spoke to Israel from "the secret place of thunder" (Ps. 81:7). Now God the Father has spoken from the secret place of eternal love, and by the Son Who ever abode and abides there.

The bosom is the place of love expressed and enjoyed; the Only-begotten Son dwells there to receive and to reciprocate that love, which shares every secret purpose and delight with the One so embosomed (cf. Micah 7:5): "the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that Himself does" (John 5:20). And in Him are now displayed "all those deep affections, Which fill the Father's heart." We learn them now, but shall learn them more fully in the Father's house, from

"The Son Who knows —
He only — all His love;
And brings us as His well-beloved
To that bright rest above;
Dwells in His bosom; knows all
That in that bosom lies;
And came to earth to make it known,
That we might share His joys."