<< John I: Spiritual Meaning and Commentary >>
THE introductory part of this gospel (1-14) treats of a subject at once the most profound and the most important: the most profound, since it relates to the infinite nature of God; and the most important, since it relates to God in Christ, ‘whom to know is life eternal. The evangelist brings Jesus before the minds of men first in his Divine character, as he existed from eternity, and afterwards in his human character, as he appeared in time. John’s gospel is peculiar in this respect, that it gives precedence and prominence to the subject of the Lord’s divinity. Matthew and Luke commence their gospels with an account of the Lord’s miraculous conception and birth into the world; John begins his gospel by showing the pre-existence of him who was thus conceived and born of a human mother. They present more of the human, he presents more of the Divine, side of the Lord’s dual nature. Both views are needed to give the mind a just conception of the person and work of the Saviour. It was necessary that divinity and humanity should be united in the person of him who was to accomplish the great work of human redemption, comprehending in it the subjugation of the powers of darkness and the restoration and glorification of man’s fallen nature, a work which required a human nature and a Divine power. This subject is set forth in the particular statements we have now to consider.
1 The evangelist begins his gospel with the opening words of Genesis: In the beginning. In commencing his history of the redemption of the world he goes back to its creation, not so much to connect the work of redemption with the work of creation, us to identify the Redeemer with the Creator. Moses tells us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth; John tells us that the beginning was the Word, by whom the heavens and the earth were created. When they began their existence he already existed. Pre-existence, in this case, is eternal existence—existence, unlike that of all other beings, underived and independent.
But the language of the evangelist has a deeper meaning than this ; which may be gathered from the Lord’s declaration respecting himself, when he appeared in his glory to John in Patmos ; ” I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, the First and the Last, which was, and which is, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. i. 8, 11). He who thus spake existed indeed from eternity, but he existed as the Alpha, the Beginning, the First; after his incarnation he existed also as the Omega, the Ending, the Last. The Lord from eternity was the Word in its first principles—the Word with God, the Son in the bosom of the lather. As such, all tilings had their beginning from him, and he was in the beginning of all things; but when he became incarnate, all things had their ending in him, and he was in the ending of all things. This is the difference between the Word in its creative and the Word in its redemptive character. As the Creator he is the Beginning, as the Redeemer he is the Ending of all things. Considered in relation to man, who is the crowning work and final cause of creation, this truth may be seen in its true depth and import. Man was so created, that the Lord might dwell with him in the first principles of his uncorrupted nature; and by being thus in the beginning of all his mental activities, of his affections and thoughts, and thence of his words and works, might rule and direct the whole man, as the moral image of his Maker.
THE WORD, the name by which the apostle characterizes him whoso incarnation he is about to declare, is a term that had been employed long before the time of John, to express that principle in the Deity which is analogous to reason in man. It is supposed either to have been introduced by early Christian converts from those philosophical sects who used it, or to have been employed by early Christian teachers, to explain to Gentile hearers an important Scripture doctrine by means of a term with which they were already familiar; and that this term, used in a Christian sense, was finally consecrated to the service of the Lord, by being inscribed in the last of the gospels. This is a striking instance of Divine truth clothing itself in the forms of human thought. A term which had become the common sign of a human idea is taken up by an inspired writer, to become henceforward the continent. and vehicle of a Divine truth. Yet we are to reflect that heathen thoughts on Divine subjects are not always human in their origin, but, when not derived from, the contemporary church, are often the fragmentary truths of an ancient revelation, the traditional forms of a primeval faith. Man can take nothing supernatural except it be given him from heaven.
There is a substantial agreement among Christian writers, from the earliest to the present times, respecting the idea intended to be conveyed by the Word, as a name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Divine Consciousness, Reason, Understanding, Idea, Thought, Wisdom— these are variously given as equivalents for the name by which the eternal Word is here set forth, in his internal relation to God and in his external relation to the world and to man.
While all agree in regarding the Word as the eternal Wisdom, almost all unite in maintaining, that the Word is not an abstract quality but an entity; or, as it would now be generally expressed, is not an attribute but a person. What the Latin Church expressed by the word persona, the Greek Church expressed by the word hypostasis. What was the exact theological meaning of the word persona, at the time it was first employed, or subsequently introduced into the Athanasian Creed, to express the nature of the distinction in the Godhead, is not absolutely certain; nor is it perhaps of much importance, since all sound theologians admit that it is a term of expediency rather than of propriety, and as such is not to be understood, like our word person, to mean a distinct individual being. The Greek word hypostasis means a basis or substance; and is intended to express the idea, that God and the Word are not mere attributes, but are the subjects of attributes.
That there is a real, and not merely a nominal, distinction in the Divine nature, is evident from many parts of Scripture, from none more clearly than the statement we are now considering, which speaks of God and the Word as existing distinctly and unitedly from eternity. While the Scriptures contain the doctrine of a Divine trinity, they emphatically declare the Divine unity; and no doctrine of the trinity can be scriptural, which is not consistent with the absolute oneness of God. There being a trinity in the Divine nature, of what does this trinity consist? In the nature of God there are three Divine essentials, which are Love, Wisdom, and Power. These form a trinity in unity. They can neither be confounded nor divided. Distinct as essentials, they necessarily constitute but one person. Thus understood, the subject involves no conflicting elements of thought. The mind can harmoniously combine the idea of the Divine trinity with that of the Piyine unity.
This view may seem liable to the objection, that it makes the Divine trinity a trinity of attributes. But Love, Wisdom, and Power are not mere attributes; they are essentials of the Divine nature, the subjects of attributes. God is sometimes spoken of as a substance, of which Love, Wisdom, and Power are qualities. This is an idea borrowed from the nature of finite beings, and transferred without qualification to the Infinite. Man is an organized form, created for the reception of love and wisdom; but God is Love itself, and Wisdom itself. Love and Wisdom are not mere qualities of the Divine substance, but the Divine substance itself. They are the Divine will and the Divine understanding; for the Divine will can be nothing but infinite love, and the Divine understanding can be nothing but infinite wisdom; and to these, as constituting the Divine mind, nay, the very Divine Essence, all attributes belong : Power, the third essential of the Deity, being Love and Wisdom as the Divine Proceeding, or Operation, which is the Holy Spirit.
While the Scriptures teach that God and the Word are distinct, but co-eternal and co-equal, they also teach that the Word from eternity was from God as well as with God. Understanding God and the Word to be the Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom, we can see the truth of this; for Love is the parent of Wisdom. Love is the eternally begetting, Wisdom is the eternally begotten. Divine Love begets Divine Wisdom as human affection begets human thought; or as the mind expresses itself by words. All intelligent commentators, ancient and modern, substantially agree with this view of the subject. One of the early Fathers treating of the present text speaks thus:—” Now turn thy attention to that Word. If thou canst have a word in thy heart, as it were a design or idea engendered in thy mind, thy mind giving birth to the design, and the design being in thy mind, the offspring, so to speak, of thy mind, the child of thy heart. For, first, the heart gives birth to an idea, suppose, of constructing some work of art, of some vast edifice oil the earth: here is the idea already born into existence, and the work not yet finished : thou seest what thou art about to make; but another does not admire thy work until thou hast made and reared the pile, and brought the work to its last shape and finish : then men take note of the admirable workmanship, and admire the idea of the work-master; they marvel at what they see and are delighted with what they do not see : who is there that can see an idea 1 If then from some great work of art praise is given to the idea of man, wouldest thou see what an Idea of God is our Lord Jesus Christ, that is; the Word of God ? See what has been made by the Word, and then wilt thou understand what the Word is. Look to these two bodies of the world, the heavens and the earth. What words can express the glorious array of the heavens’? What words can express the prolific fruitfulness of the earth1?”
Substantially the same view of the subject is presented by modem writers. If we regard the Word, or the Son, as the ” eternal thought of Divine love,” as expressed by one, and consider the eternal generation of the Son as ” God thinking himself,” as expressed by another, there can be no reasonable objection to the doctrine of his eternal generation. ” For,” as a recent author observes, ” from the womb of life only life and being can flow forth, moreover, the original Word, or original thought of the eternal God, can only be the consciousness of himself, and which, as perfect consciousness, is equivalent to God.” Some of the early Christian writers compared the eternal generation of the Son by the Father to the issuing of light from the sun. And as it is the very nature of the sun to give forth light, the sun and its light must have been co-existent: so it is the very nature of God to give birth to the Word, which must, therefore, be co-eternal with himself.
These statements and explanations of so profound a subject commend themselves to our reason. But is not the idea of distinct personality, each Divine person having a consciousness of his own, inconsistent with reason, and with every just idea of the nature and unity of God 1 Can the thought, idea, or consciousness of God be a distinct person from, or in, God himself? To make Divine thought a distinct person, in God is comparatively as inconsistent as to make human thought a distinct person in man. We have already seen that the wisdom of God is not a mere attribute, but is an essential of the Divine nature; and this agrees with all the teaching of revelation, and satisfies all the demands of reason. The Word of God is the Wisdom of God; and this will be seen more clearly from what John says further respecting the Word which was with God and was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God. This is generally understood to be in contrast with the statement that occurs at the fourteenth verse. The Word, which in the beginning was God, in the fulness of time became incarnate, that he might dwell among men. Unless this be the meaning of the apostle, the present statement has much the appearance of being a repetition of that which precedes. In the Word, however, there are no useless repetitions. If there be any difficulty in regard to the literal sense, there is none with respect to the spiritual. The beginning, spiritually considered, means the beginning of regeneration, which is a new creation, the creation of a new heart and a right spirit. But regeneration has two beginnings. Every state formed in the mind before instruction is a beginning, considered as an initiament of what is good; and every state formed by means of instruction is a beginning considered as a commencement of what is true. The first is the beginning of spiritual life in the will, and the second is the beginning of spiritual life in the understanding. The first forms the germ of spiritual love; the second forms the rudiment of spiritual faith. The first is derived more especially from the Divine love; the second is derived more especially from the Divine wisdom. These are the beginnings which, by the Divine mercy, are made in the mind of every one, and without which regeneration in after life would be impossible. This is a Divine work effected in the interiors of the mind, before the Lord has become manifested and an object of apprehension.
3 All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. Creation is a purely Divine work, and can only have been performed by an Almighty Being. Self-evident to most of us as this truth is, it was not so clearly seen at the time John’s gospel was written. It was then believed by a philosophical sect, which had partially received and greatly corrupted Christianity, that creation was the work of an inferior and malignant being, and that Christ, a superior and benevolent being, had been sent by the Supreme God to redeem the world from the evil inherent in it by creation. Extravagant as such a notion may seem, it is but another form of the belief that creation, or that preservation which is perpetual creation, is the result of secondary causes, and that redemption is not a purely Divine work. The evangelist, to those who receive his testimony, sets both these questions at rest. Creation and redemption are Divine works, both effected by the same Being.
But these words of John express much more than this. They tell us that creation was not only a work of infinite power, but of infinite love and wisdom. This is not so readily seen from his words as given in our version. The evangelist states that all things were made by means of the Word, or through him as a medium; and this is the invariable testimony of the Scriptures. In creation, as in redemption, the Word was the instrument, God was the agent. In regard to redemption, this is plainly stated by Paul: ” God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (1 Cor. x. 18). The same is declared respecting creation: ” God created all things by Jesus Christ” (Gal, iii. 9). ” To us there is one God the Eather, of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things” (1 Cor. viii. 6).
” For by (or through) him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible” (Col. i. 16). God, from his infinite love, created all .things by his infinite wisdom. Creation had its end in Divine love and its cause in Divine wisdom. Simple yet grand, this truth commends itself to our understandings and appeals to our hearts. It tells us not only that the world in which we live, but that we ourselves who live in it, are by creation all that Divine love, operating by wisdom, could make us, so as to enable us to realize the greatest possible degree of creaturely perfection and happiness. And as creation implies Providence, it assures us that the same infinite love and wisdom that created us watch continually over us for our spiritual and eternal good, and for our temporal welfare also, as subordinate to the final cause of creation. How different and superior is this to the common view of the subject. How can we conceive of one Divine person creating the world by means of another ? But admitting it to have been so, what does it teach us respecting creation 1 It tells us that it is the work of God, but it tells us nothing more; but here we find a revelation,both of the Divine purpose in which creation originated and of the Divine intelligence by which it was effected.
4 Of the Word it is said, in him was life, and the life was the light of men. There is no word in human language more expressive of Deity, none of more profound significance, than the word Life. The grand distinction between the Creator and the creature is this : the Creator is life, the creature is a recipient of life. I AM is the incommunicable appellation of the Deity; this is his name for ever, and this is his memorial throughout all generations. Of us, on the contrary, it is said, In him we live and move and have our being. Creation, strictly considered, does not include life. Life is not creatable. Organisms are created, life is imparted; organisms are given by creation, life is given by influx. Entirely different was it with the Word. In him was life. It did not flow into him as a stream, but was, and is, in him as its fountain. He has the life which is characteristic of Deity—life in himself, as the Lord declared: “As the Eather hath life in himself, so hath he given unto the Son to have life in himself” (chap. v. 26). But the statement of the evangelist has a still more specific meaning than this, which can only be seen when the Word is understood to be the eternal Wisdom, as it existed from eternity in union with eternal Love. Considered in itself, Life is the inmost activity of Divine love and wisdom. But as love is within wisdom, comparatively as heat is within light, life is predicated of love, as light is of wisdom. Love is the life of wisdom, as wisdom is the light of love. When John says of the Word that in him was life, he reveals this blessed truth, that in the Divine wisdom there ever was, and ever is, the Divine love. The Word that framed the worlds was the infinite wisdom of infinite love; nay, it was love itself as wisdom, life itself as light. Divine wisdom is not a receptacle of Divine love, but love itself existing as wisdom; life putting itself forth as light; the Infinite clothing himself with light as with a garment. Therefore does John say that the life which was in the Word was itself the light of men. The life and light of God, like the heat and light of the sun, may be separated in their finite recipients, but they flow from their source as one. in that ” beginning,” when man was yet the moral image of his Maker, they were received by their human recipients united. The life was then truly the light of men; for the life of love in the will became the light of wisdom in the understanding. And still, in the inmost of every soul, where life is in its beginning, Divine love as Divine wisdom is the light of men; for there the Lord has his secret habitation, bestowing on all the gift of immortality, on the good the blessing of happiness, and even on the evil the faculties of liberty and reason.
The truth which the evangelist makes known is, that the Word, which became flesh, had in himself that life which the world needed for its revivification, as well as the light it required for its enlightenment. This is well expressed by the same apostle in his first general epistle, ” That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us” (i. 1). But how inexpressibly grand and comforting does this truth become to us, when we know that life is love, and thus that the Divine life which was in the Word, and was manifested in the person of Christ, was the Divine love itself. Divine love works ever by Divine wisdom, as human love works by human intelligence; so that in all the Divine works love is the moving, as wisdom is the efficient, cause.
5 And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. The state and condition of man, which rendered the manifestation of the Lord as the light necessary, is now described. The light shone in the soul, but such was the darkness of the mind that it did not enlighten. Originally the human mind was open through all its degrees from the highest to the lowest, and the Divine light which entered through the highest degree of the mind descended through all intermediate degrees to the lowest. By the fall and subsequent declension of the human race the mind became successively closed against the light of truth, which then shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. The light of the Divine Sun shines constantly in the human mind, and in every mind alike j but the degree of enlightenment which the mind receives from it depends on the condition of the mind itself. Spiritual, like natural light, only becomes visible when it falls upon and is reflected by suitable objects. The objects of spiritual light are truths that have been acquired from without through the medium of the senses. It is from the perpetual presence of this light that the mind has the faculty of seeing, that is of understanding ; but it is only as the mind is supplied with truths that reflect the light that the mind actually sees or understands. The divine light shines in the soul of the new-born infant, but it shines as yet in darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. As the mind is supplied from without with truths as knowledges, the inner light falls on these as on its proper objects, and in proportion as it is truly and fully reflected, the mind becomes intelligent. When the light falls upon truths relating to nature it becomes the light of science; but when it falls upon truths relating to the spiritual world and the spiritual life it becomes the light of religion. The truths that are the highest objects of this light are those which are revealed in the written Word. When therefore the light of the eternal Word falls upon and is reflected by the genuine truths of the written Word the mind is truly and spiritually enlightened. On the other hand, when the objects with which the mind is supplied are not genuine but apparent truths, the light is imperfectly reflected; but when it falls upon errors instead of truths, or upon truths falsified, the light is turned into darkness. The darkness in which the evangelist tells us the light of life shone, was the darkness both of ignorance and error—ignorance especially among the Gentiles, and error among the Jews. The human mind had become perverted by evil, and the light either shone into emptiness or fell upon objects which absorbed and suffocated all its rays, and so presented nothing to the perceptive faculty but darkness and gloom. Such had become the general state of mankind before the time of the Lord’s corning into the world. Two things were required to remedy this helpless and hopeless condition of the human race, a new operation of the eternal Word from within and of the written Word from without. The Baptist represented the written Word, Jesus himself was the eternal Word, and the new operation of these is described in tho gospel.
6—8. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. When the Lord’s forerunner is announced by name, one which, like that of the Lord himself, was given him from heaven before his birth, we must regard it as significant of the official and representative character he was to sustain. ” John” is a contraction of Johanan, which occurs several times in the Old Testament, and which itself is a contraction of Jehohanan. Like other names of this formation it combines part of the Divine name of Jehovah with a word which has a suitable meaning. John signifies Jehovah graciously gave. Jehovah being the name of God which is most expressive of his love; ” John” was a suitable name for one who represented the written Word, as a gift of divine love, and who was to prepare the way of Him who was the Divine Love itself manifest in the flesh.
7, 8. The description which is here given of John answers precisely to his official and representative character. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through Him might believe. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light. The written Word is the witness of the inward light, because, as we have seen, the inward light is only visible to us when it is reflected by the truths of the written Word as objects existing in our minds. These truths are not themselves the light, but they are witnesses of the light; they are sent and come for a witness, and the purpose of their testimony is, that all men through them may believe. They are the materials of which faith is formed, the life and light of which are immediately from the Lord himself. They form, the body of faith, of which he is the soul. John came to prepare the way of the Lord. He did this personally at the time of the Lord’s coming into the world, and he does this representatively, when the Lord makes his advent into the mind prepared by repentance for his reception. The way of the Lord, as the inward light, can only be prepared by the teaching of the written Word, when that Word is understood in its true sense. It was, therefore, to teach the truth of the Word, in the church where it had been perverted, that John came as the Lord’s forerunner, and it was the Word, thus restored, of which he was the representative.
9 John now delivers his testimony as witness of the light. That was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Jesus is the true light, not only in opposition to all false lights, but the true and actual as distinguished from the shadowy and representative, or as light in its origin is distinguished from light received and reflected. Before the incarnation this light came to men indirectly, through finite channels, or by the mediation of angels; it had now come to men directly from the Lord, through the mediation of his humanity. This distinction is very clearly set before us in this chapter. In the 17th verse, where John is called a burning and a shining light, another word for light is used, which means a lamp; so that John is spoken of as an instrumental means for giving light, but Jesus as the light itself. The Lord, as the eternal Word, is the true light, because he is the truth itself, which is the everlasting and universal light. The human mind being an organized form, created for the reception of light, it is rather a lamp than a light, having, in itself, no light but that which it receives from above. In the inspired declaration, that Jesus is the true light that lighteth every man, we have the assurance, that divine light shines into every human mind. The Lord is the light of the intellectual world. We could no more see intellectually without this Divine light, than we could see physically without the light of the sun. Indeed, the Lord is, not figuratively but actually, the sun of the spiritual world, by the light of which angels and spirits see; and. by the light of which men see intellectually and spiritually; for men, as to their spirits, are in the spiritual world; the only difference between them and angels being, that they are not visibly present there, as those are who have put off the natural body. The light of reason as well as of truth is derived from tho Lord as a sun.
Spiritually, every man that cometh into the world is every truth of the revealed Word that is introduced into the mind, from the earliest to the latest period of life. The truths of revelation are not themselves light, but are the receptacles of light, or the objects on which the light falls. The spirit of truth from the Lord, which enters through the interiors of the mind, finds its fitting receptacles in the truths of revelation that have entered through the senses from without. When the spirit of truth enters the thoughts, it enlightens them; when it enters the affections, it animates them. So long as the truths of the Word remain in the natural mind as facts, they are but the dry bones in the valley; it is only when the spirit enters into them that they live, and become an exceeding great army.
10, 11. The Lord, as the light, was in the world and the church before his manifestation in the flesh. The world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. The Lord, as the Creator and sustainer of the world, was in it, both as the inward light which shone in all minds, and in the manifestations and revelations which he made of himself through angels and men. It is a sign of deep depravity and sinful-ness when God is shut out from the world which he has made. God’s highest purpose in creating the world was, that he might dwell in the souls of men, whom he had created in his own image and for a state of eternal happiness. The soul of man is peculiarly ” his own.” He formed it for himself; he created it as his peculiar habitation. The same may be said of the church, which was designed to be his kingdom upon earth. The church is formed by the truth, and enlightened and animated by the spirit of truth. The church, formed by the truths of the Word received into the minds of men, only becomes a living soul when the Lord breathes into it the breath of life. When the Lord comes to the church he comes to his own, because the truths which formed the church are his. But when these truths are perverted or falsified, they reject or suffocate the light; and then when the Lord comes to his own, his own receive him not. A distinction is made between the world that knew him not and his own that received him not. Literally, his own are those who form his visible church,, and the world are those who are without the church, or who form the world as distinguished from the church. Spiritually, the world are those who are in the knowledge of truth, and his own are those who are in the knowledge of good, or are those knowledges themselves abstractly considered. Neither in the church nor in the world, neither by those who were in the knowledges of faith or of charity was the Lord, as the light, received. The church and the world equally refused the true light, and therefore lay in darkness. Such was the prevailing state of mankind before the coining of the Lord.
12 Although the rejection of the Lord’s light and life had been general, it had not been universal. Some had received him. And as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. To receive the Lord is to admit the spirit of his love into the affections, and to believe on his name is to receive the spirit of his truth into the understanding. But it is those only who both receive him and believe in his name, or who unite in themselves good and truth, or love and faith, that receive power to become the sons of God : for it is only such that can be born of God or regenerated. Abstractly considered, those who receive and believe are the truths themselves in the mind into which the spirit of the Lord’s love and truth is received, and by the reception of which they receive power to become the sons of God. All the power of truth is derived from good, as all the power of good is exercised by truth.. Spiritual power is not in either separately, but in both unitedly.
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Two kinds of birth are here mentioned—birth of blood, of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, and birth of God. In this a most important doctrine is delivered. No one is naturally born for hell. All are born for heaven ; And any one dying in the state in which he is born, or before he has confirmed himself in evil, goes to heaven. “No one indeed is born in a state fit either for heaven or hell; That is, no one is born heavenly minded or infernally minded; No one is born either a child of God or a child of the devil. A second birth is necessary to make any one either. Heaven consists in the union of goodness and truth, and hell consists in the union of evil and falsity. No one is born in possession, much less in the union, of these principles. Every one, therefore, has to acquire and unite them, before he can enter either heaven or hell. This can only be effected by being born of God on the one hand, or of the devil on the other; Man thus becoming either a child of God or a child of the devil. It is sometimes said there are but two states and two places : good and evil, heaven and hell: and that whatever is not good is evil, whatever is not heaven is hell. No doubt the final state and place of every one is either good or evil, heaven or hell. But there is an intermediate state which is neither good nor evil, neither righteous nor wicked. , This may be called the state of positive and even of comparative ignorance. All are born into it and remain in it till they come to the age of reason, but all, whatever be their age, are in it who are in comparative ignorance of what is good and true, evil and false, and who have not confirmed and united evil and falsity in themselves. All who die in infancy pass immediately into heaven, and are there placed under the care of angels; but although they are in heaven they are not of heaven, although they are among the angels they are not themselves angels, until they have arrived at the full measure of the stature of angelic life, until, in fact, the union of goodness and truth, or of love and faith has been effected in their minds; this union being heaven.
In the spiritual sense those who are born of blood are they who do violence to charity and profane truth, those who are born of the will of the flesh are they who are in the evils of self-love, and those who are born of the will of man are they who are in the persuasion of what is false; but those who are born of the will of God are they who are regenerate, by the Lord, and are thence new creatures. These are they who receive the Lord, and who believe in his name, and to whom he gives power to become the sons of God.
14 An event which no human words could adequately describe is set forth in the simplest language: And the Word was made flesh. Yet this simple announcement contains an infinity of great ideas. The event itself was the effect and the expression of infinite love, as it was the immediate manifestation of the eternal wisdom. The incarnation was the complement of creation; and a more complete manifestation of the love and wisdom of God than even revelation and Providence. It involved and provided for a new and spiritual creation, without which the purpose of the first would not have been realized. Incredible as it may appear that God should become man, yet it involves no contradiction. Although there is no proportion, there is a relation, between the infinite nature of God and the finite nature of man, which rendered the assumption of humanity, however marvellous, entirely consistent with Divine order. The Word which was made flesh was man’s Prototype as well as his Creator. God hot only created man, but he made him in his image and likeness. The Divine could not have assumed the human, if it had not been, by creation, a likeness of itself. There was, however, one important peculiarity in the Lord’s case, which rendered it possible for God to dwell bodily in the person of Christ. The assumed humanity was not merely the creature but the offspring of the Divinity. Jesus was not merely created, but begotten of God. That, therefore, which every mere man inherits from his human father, and which is both finite and corrupt, the Lord had not; but in its place he had a principle divine and immaculate. This may be called the soul from the Father. The human soul is the inmost receptacle of life from God, but the Lord’s soul was life itself, and therefore Divine. The divine soul of the humanity is not to be confounded with the soul which was sorrowful unto death, and which he laid down. This is the rational soul (psyche), which alone could sorrow and die. The humanity of the Lord being thus both of divine and of human extraction, Jesus was at once the Son of God and the Son of Man. From his very birth, his humanity, outwardly of the nature of his finite and sinful mother, was inwardly of the nature of his infinite and perfect Father. In virtue of this, the Lord, unlike every other man, could receive the Spirit without measure, and could make his humanity, not only finitely, but infinitely, perfect. Had not Jesus been begotten of God? all the fulness of the Godhead could not dwell in him. Nor could it have been said that ” the Word was made flesh.” And yet this is the grand truth respecting the Lord’s incarnation. God became man. The language in which this truth is here expressed has a peculiar significance. Flesh is another name/for humanity, but for humanity as it exists in the natural world. Angels are men, but they are spirit and not flesh. When God assumed flesh he became man as man exists on earth. At sundry times God had appeared personally among men ; and is sometimes called a man, sometimes an angel. On these occasions the Lord assumed human nature as it is in heaven, by filling an angel with his presence. But these manifestations were only temporary and for special purposes; they had no redemptive effect on the general condition of the race. They did not bring the divine presence down into the fleshly element of human nature, to redeem it from disorder and death. The Lord could indeed have assumed the nature of man as he had assumed the nature of angels, by so filling a man with his presence as to absorb his consciousness and sense of individuality; but neither would this have availed for the redemption and salvation of the race. This required not merely that the Lord should put on flesh, but that he should be made flesh; that he should be. born and live and die as a man, and as a man rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. All this implies more than the assumption of human nature; it implies its glorification. Redemption and salvation required not only that God should be made man, but that man should be made God—that the Divine should be made human, and the human Divine. In a certain sense, God became man by incarnation, and man became God by glorification. Such a dual work could not be effected except in a humanity begotten of God and born of a human mother.
But there is a deeper sense than this in which the Word was made flesh. In the Lord the Divine -was made human, not only in the womb but in the world—by putting on humanity not only by birth, but by a life of human experience. In the strict, or at least in the full sense, a human being is not a man at his birth; he is but the germ or rudiment of a man; he becomes human by means of human knowledge and experience. Nay, a man is not truly human till he is born again; for then only is he raised to the true condition of humanity. So with the Lord himself as a man. The Word was made flesh, in the absolute sense, and in the supereminent degree, when the flesh itself was no longer of the substance of the mother, but of the substance of the Father. And such it was when the Lord said of his risen body, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.” That body in which the door being shut, the Lord stood in the midst of his disciples, was not a material body. But it was not on that account the less substantial. The point, however, which we are now considering, is not so much the glorification as the assumption of human nature, by which the “Word literally dwelt among us. By taking human nature upon him, he who was with God became God with us. He dwelt, or tabernacled, among us. The human nature which he assumed was the tabernacle, of which that in the wilderness was the type, he being the Shekinah, the ineffable glory, which dwelt in it; or in the language of the Scriptures themselves, he was the Divine NAME which the Lord had placed there—the Word which was incarnate, being the Divine name itself, as revealing and manifesting the otherwise incomprehensible nature of God. As the Word made flesh has a deeper meaning than simple incarnation, his dwelling among us means more than his visible presence in the world. The Lord dwelt among us that he might dwell in us, as indeed the word might be rendered. He made his humanity the temple of his Divinity, that he might make us temples of his Holy Spirit, temples in which he might dwell with the spirit of his love and truth, according to the true sense of his own declaration: ” If a man love me he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.” To dwell with us therefore spiritually means to dwell in us.
By the Lord dwelling among us, we beheld His glory. The glory which shone in Jesus was not the outward splendour which strikes and pleases the senses, but the inward refulgence that penetrates and affects the mind. The glory of Jesus, beheld by those who had eyes to see it, was that which shone forth from his benignity and holiness, from his words of wisdom and works of love.
That which the faithful beheld was the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. We have already (ver. 1) spoken of the eternal relation between the Divine love and the Divine wisdom, as analogous to that between father and son. The actual sonship of the Lord Jesus will be considered when we come to verse 18, where the names Father and Son first occur; and are introduced with strict propriety after the Lord’s incarnation has been treated of. Here we observe that the Divine humanity of the Lord was the only begotten of the Father. That which men beheld in Jesus was not the glory itself of the only begotten, but the glory as of the only begotten. The only begotten of the Father was that interior human principle which the Lord derived from the Divine Father, as distinguished from that which he derived from the human mother, indeed that principle considered as Divine goodness; the divine truth in union with this is called glory, which is the effulgence of divine truth. The glory of the Lord’s paternal humanity was only seen, on ordinary occasions, through the maternal humanity which veiled it. That glory shone forth on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the disciples were exalted into a higher than their ordinary state, and saw with their spiritual eyes the inner glory which the maternal humanity obscured, but did not entirely conceal.
The grace and truth of which the Saviour was full, are his divine love and wisdom humanized, and so brought near to men in the Lord’s humanity, and freely offered to them for their salvation. The Lord, as God, being Love itself and Wisdom itself, as man, his fulness of grace and truth was without measure. “It pleased the Father that in him all fulness should dwell” (Col. i. 19); and no attribute can be other than infinite in him, ” in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (ib. ii. 9).
15 It was of this gracious and wise Being that John bare witness and cried; saying, This was he of whom I spake. He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. John testified to the Lord’s priority to himself, both as to rank and time. It is hardly necessary to insist upon the priority of Jesus to John, after the distinct enunciation of the truth, that he was the Eternal Word incarnate. The present declaration has, however, another purpose and a higher meaning. John, we have seen, represented the written Word, Jesus was the Word itself incarnate. John especially represented the Word as written for men, and as understood in the church on earth ; the Lord was the Word or the Divine Truth itself, who made and fills all things, the source of life and the fountain of light to angels and men. But it is said of Jesus that, coming after John, he was preferred before him. This is true in every sense. The law which our Lord announced : “The first shall be last, and the last first,” was eminently exemplified in the case of John and himself. The written Word comes before, and prepares the way of, the incarnate Word, as the life and light of men, and then takes the last place, Jesus himself taking the first. In like manner, in reference to the revealed Word,, apparent truth comes before genuine truth, and the literal sense before the spiritual. We may also say that spiritual truth comes before celestial, and celestial before divine. Yet, in each of these cases, that which comes after is preferred before that which precedes, and, indeed, was before it; for the lower is derived from the higher, and yet is the necessary means by which it is attained.
16 John therefore says of the incarnate Word, And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. We have already (?;. 14) spoken of the fulness that dwelt in Jesus, as being all fulness, even the fulness of the Godhead. But this term has a peculiarly important meaning in reference to the Word made flesh. By incarnation the Lord became Divine Truth in ultimates, and in ultimates divine truth is in its fulness and in its power. Why is it so important to us that all fulness should dwell in Jesus Christ, or in the Lord’s humanity ? Because in him the divine perfections are brought nearer, and made more accessible to us. The humanity of the Lord is nearer to us, that is, nearer to our state and condition, than his divinity. In his humanity the fulness of Divine Love and Wisdom is brought into a nearer relation to fallen and frail humanity. The fulness that dwelt, and that dwells, in Jesus, is that out of which all men are supplied. Of his fulness have all we received. His humanity is the fountain which is opened for us, from which now unfailing streams of love and mercy.
But not only have we all received of his fulness; we have all received grace for grace. This is a peculiar phrase, and has given rise to considerable discussion. < From the words of the evangelist, which follow, the grace must be understood as that which came by Jesus Christ. It has no such meaning, therefore, as substituted grace. The literal sense of the passage, as agreed on by the most eminent commentators, is, grace upon grace, which means abounding grace: ” Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound ” (Rom. v. 20). As the divine fulness of our Lord is connected with this phrase, we must suppose that both are intended to express his abounding goodness and truth brought near and freely offered to all men, but received only by sincere disciples. Grace is commonly understood to mean divine favour, offered to sinners through Jesus Christ, as the great sacrifice for sin. Rightly understood, there can be no objection to this. Grace is the sister of mercy, and both are the offspring. of love. Whether we speak of grace or mercy or love, it is substantially the same. We owe all our salvation and the means of it to the divine love, of which, grace is but an adaptation to our necessities. To speak of divine grace as favour purchased for us by the sufferings and righteousness of Christ, is not to speak the language of Canaan, but a language unknown to the true church, and to the Word of God. Abounding grace is abounding love.
17 John comes now to explain the reason of this : For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The law which was given by Moses and the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ are related to each, other as the Jewish and Christian dispensations, as Judaism and Christianity, as the law and the gospel. These two are in strong contrast, and yet in perfect harmony with each other. They are to each other as type and antitype, shadow and substance, letter and spirit. Between these there is a wide distinction, and yet an intimate relation. Like and unlike, near and yet apart, touching but not uniting, the law and the gospel stand side by side in the Word, as two successive manifestations of the goodness and wisdom of God, in relation to his fallen and sinful creatures. Not only was the law the type but the harbinger of the gospel. ” The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.” This figure presents the law under the idea of one whose office it is to prepare the mind for receiving the lessons of a higher instructor. Yet the law is very generally regarded as a judge rather than a teacher, and one whose only function it is to pronounce the sentence of condemnation. Singular that such an idea should have entered the minds of men! This is partly owing to confounding the moral with the ceremonial law, and supposing that an eternal law was swept away with the statutes of a temporary dispensation. The moral kw must be the rule of life under every dispensation. It is much older than the time of Moses. The commandments which were written with the finger of God on tables of stone, were the same laws of eternal order that had been originally inscribed by the Creator on the tables of the human heart. And all that Christ did, and all that Christianity is to do, is to write them upon the table of the heart again, that man may become what he originally was, and act, not by rules, but from principles. ” But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. xxxi. 33; 2 Cor. viii. 7-10). The old covenant was established on the letter of the law, the condition being outward obedience; the new covenant is established on the spirit of the law, and thus on inward principle. The grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ were not substitutes for the law, but supplements to it: truth to explain its deep meaning to the understanding, and grace to imprint it deeply, on the heart. Grace and truth, in reference to the Lord as their source, are his love and wisdom; and in reference to man, as their recipient, are charity and faith. The Christian, graces of charity and faith came “By Jesus Christ; and these are the spirit of which the Mosaic law was the letter, the substance of which Judaism was the shadow.
What has been said of the law and the gospel in reference to the church and the race, is true of them in respect to the individual. Every one must be under the law as a schoolmaster, to bring him to Christ, as the great Teacher. He must learn and obey the law of divine order as a rule, before he can possess and act from it as a principle ; he must be a disciple of Moses before he can be a disciple of Jesus; he must be under the law before he can be under grace.
18 Christ is not only the giver of spiritual and saving gifts, but the revealer of their previously hidden source and unseen author. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. Instead of God and the Word, we now hear of the Father and the Son. Not till the time of the Incarnation are these names used to express the nature of the distinction in the Godhead, and then first in reference to it. Then only, indeed, were the names first literally applicable. The humanity begotten of God and born of the Virgin Mary was the actual and only begotten Son of God. But these names, thus used to express the paternal and filial relationship between the begetting Divinity and the begotten humanity, were afterwards applied analogically to express the relation between the Divine Love and Wisdom, or between God and the Word, as they existed from eternity. This distinction, and therefore the names by which it is expressed, are peculiar to the New Testament. Why do the names Father and Son never occur in the Old Testament, in reference to this distinction in the Divine nature 1 Some suppose that these names were suppressed, so to speak, to prevent the Jews, who were an external people and prone to idolatry, from falling into polytheism. Certainly many things were but obscurely revealed to them, which are made more clearly known in the gospel; and Christians perceive in the Old Testament various truths which were wisely hid from the children of Israel. But is it not more reasonable to believe that Father and Son, as divine names, never occur in the Old Testament, because the relationship which these names express did not then actually exist 1 God existed in his triune nature; for this is necessary, and therefore eternal; but the actual distinction of Father and Son had no existence till the Incarnation, when the divine and human natures stood in that relationship to each other. When that relationship came actually to exist, it was entirely consistent to extend the idea and the names to the corresponding distinction in the divine nature, even as it was before the Incarnation. The Word, when made flesh, became the Son, being one with the divinely begotten humanity, in which it dwelt, as the soul of man dwells in his body; and God, or the eternal Love, became the Father, since it was by the power of the Highest that the humanity was begotten. Indeed, that divine act is ascribed to the Spirit of God as well as to God himself, which makes it evident that the Spirit is not a person distinct from the Father, but is the Divine energy, or Proceeding, by which the Divine Love became active and operative. And here we may remark, that while there is no indication in the Old Testament of the existence of a Divine Father and a Divine Son, there is frequent mention of a Divine Spirit; because, as we may consistently conclude, the Spirit of God then actually existed, and the Son of God did not. He who became the Son existed as the Word, or the divine Wisdom in the bosom of the divine Love, and revealed or brought the Divine Love forth to view in becoming flesh, or the Word in ultimates. The divine love is incomprehensible except as revealed and manifested by the divine wisdom. No one hath seen God, no one hath heard the voice of the Father at any time, nor seen his shape; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, hath made him manifest.
19-22. The power and influence of John’s baptism had now excited so much interest and fear among the leaders of the church, that the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou ? The Jewish church, sunk as it was in darkness and corruption, was yet desirous to know the pretensions of this new teacher and baptizer of men, whom its leaders regarded with no favourable eye. The men of the church are called Jews, as descendants of Judah, when the will principle of the church is spoken of, and Jerusalem signifies the church as to its intellectual principle, or in regard to its doctrines. The Jews sending from Jerusalem signifies the will sending out from the understanding ; and what the mind thus sends out, or what issues from it, are its affections and thoughts, which are either good and true or evil and false, and these are meant by priests and Levites. The evangelist introduces this account of the Jews sending messengers by saying “this is the record of John,” his witness respecting himself and his mission, and also respecting the Lord. The priests and Levites demand of him, Who art thou 1 a most important question respecting the character of the revealed Word, when thus demanded of the revealed Word itself, which John represented, and one which the Word itself must answer, for no lower testimony will avail. What, then, is the record of John? He confessed, and denied not, but confessed, I am not the Christ. He confessed he was not the Messiah, of whom all men were in expectation. Christ is the Divine Truth itself, the Word incarnate. John was not that Word, nor did he, strictly speaking, represent it. He confessed, and denied not, but confessed, he acknowledged both affirmatively and negatively, that he was not the Christ. And they asked him, What then ? Art thou Elias ? and he saith, I am not. It had been predicted that Elijah was to come before the Lord; and when John confessed that he was not the Messiah, the Jews inquired if he was the promised Elijah. In the spirit of the prophecy he was Elijah, in the letter he was not. To the Jews, who believed that Elijah was to rise from the dead, John was not that prophet. And by those who remain In the letter John cannot be seen or received in this character, for he cannot be seen or received by them in his own true character, therefore not in Elijah’s, since both John and Elijah represented the written Word. The priests and Levites asked John, Art thou that prophet ? and he answered, No. This is understood to refer to the prophet promised in Deut. xviii. 15 ; “The Lord will raise up a prophet like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” That prophet was not the forerunner of the Lord, but the Lord himself; not the written but the incarnate Word. John therefore was not that prophet, nor his representative. But even if we understand it to refer to an ordinary prophet, John was not one, for, as the Lord declared, he was more than a prophet. A prophet represented the Lord as the Prophet. A prophet also represented doctrine derived from the Word; but John was more than a prophet, for he represented the Word itself. The priests and scribes then said unto him, Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself? Their questions hitherto had admitted only of negative answers ; now they request him to make some positive declaration respecting himself. The mind cannot be satisfied with pure negatives. If it is in a negative state, the mind wants something positive to object to; if in an affirmative state, it wants something positive to rest upon. But the Lord does not desire to give positive truth to those who only wish to know it that they may deny or profane it; therefore John first answered the Jews negatively. It was for this reason that the Lord himself did not always answer those who questioned him in a positive or open manner, and at his trial did not answer the high priest at all, till he adjured him by the living God whether he were the Christ or no. For the same reason, when he was falsely accused he answered his accusers never a word. We are now to hear what John says of himself.
23, 24. He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. John representing the written Word, his corning to prepare the way of Jesus, besides his own work of preparing for the reception and acknowledgment of the Messiah, was for the sake of representing that the preparation of the human mind to receive the Lord is by the teaching of the Word. It is true that the Lord was in the world before John proclaimed his approach. Historically, John proclaimed his coming before the world as the great Teacher; but before Jesus commenced his public labours he had lived in private and unknown among men. This has its spiritual realization in those who are regenerate. The Lord is present in the interiors of the mind performing a secret work before he descends into the lower region of the mind to become an object of natural apprehension; and before he can do this the teaching of his written Word must prepare the way for his coining. John was sent to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest the Lord should come and smite the earth with a curse. Especially was this preparation effected by repentance and baptism; and these are still the means by which preparation is made for the acknowledgment of the Lord. Repentance and spiritual purification by divine truth remove evils from the natural mind and outward life, and make them admissive of spiritual love and truth. The Lord, as the eternal Word, works from within, while his revealed Word works from without. This Word is the voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord. The church was then in a desert state. Individually, every mind is a desert, when the voice of heavenly truth first calls man to repentance, and exhorts him to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Repentance makes the way of the Lord straight; for to make the crooked straight is to turn the evil of ignorance into the good of truth.
The evangelist here remarks that they which were sent were of the Pharisees. In the historical sense this explains the reason of the question which they put to John about his baptizing. But the Pharisees represented those who cleanse the outside, but allow the inside to remain full of corruption, and whose character comes out in the question which these messengers ask.
25 Why baptized thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet ? Washings formed a part of the religious ceremonial service of Israel, although baptism in the Christian sense, that of an introductory -rite, is unknown to the Mosaic law. It is considered that they had a traditional faith among them that Elias and the Messiah were to come baptizing. The Pharisees, therefore, demand of John why he baptized, when, according to his own confession, he •was neither the Christ nor Elias? The Jews baptized Gentiles when converted to Judaism; John baptized both Jews and Gentiles when converted to Christianity—so far as then made known. The Pharisees might, therefore, question John about his right to baptize, he being, according to his own confession, neither the Messiah or Christ, nor Elias, nor a prophet. But the Pharisees arc here mentioned to show the repugnance which the natural man has to the purifying process represented by baptism.
26 John answered them, saying, I baptize, with water; but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not. In Matthew, John’s words are: ” I indeed baptize with water,” to distinguish his baptism from that of Jesus, which was with the Holy Ghost. The distinction is no doubt to be understood here, though not expressed. John meant to tell the Pharisees that his baptism was but preparatory to the coming of one greater than himself; that in the midst of them, and yet unknown to them, was the Christ of whom they had inquired. When John said, ” I baptize with water,” he meant to say that his baptism was only external, representing the purification of the external man. If the Pharisees objected to John’s baptism, what would they say of Jesus, of whose work this water-baptism was but the outward sign? Spiritually, it speaks to us all in corresponding terms. John’s baptism with water is the purification effected by the letter of the Word. The water of John’s baptism signified the truths of the literal sense, baptism being the purification effected by their application to life. But while this outward baptism is being effected, there standeth one in the midst whom we know not. This unknown one is present in the inmost of every mind. But the purification of the natural man makes him manifest. Jesus can come forth to public view when John has prepared his way. He then comes forth from the inner into the outer mind, and so makes himself manifest to us as the object of our conscious faith and love.
27 Of Jesus the Baptist testifies : He it is who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. How profound and beautiful is John’s humility in thus testifying to the Lord’s greatness and to his own comparative insignificance ! Of the personal priority and greatness of Jesus, we need not further speak, having already (v. 15) considered a similar declaration. His present mode of illustrating this statement is that which invites our attention. His shoe latchet he was not worthy to unloose. In those times the sandal was removed from the foot of the pilgrim when he sought repose after the fatigue of his journey, a service performed by the very lowest domestics. In declaring himself unworthy to perform this humblest service for the Son of man, lie acknowledged himself to be immeasurably inferior to his Lord as to rank and perfection. But the words, of the Baptist teach more than a general lesson of humility, which we learn from their spiritual meaning. The foot, especially the sole of the foot, as the lowest part of the body, answers by analogy to the natural principle as the lowest degree of the mind; and the sandal which clothes and protects it answers to the corporeal principle, which consists of material ideas belonging rather to the body than the mind, but serving to cover and protect those which are immaterial and truly spiritual. As the shoe or sandal is symbolical of that which is lowest, the shoe latchet is a symbol of that which is least. ” I will not,” said Abram to the king of Sodom, ” take from a thread even to a shoe latchet.” The unloosing of the latchet and the removing of the Lord’s sandal point to the completion of “his works of redemption and salvation, when he had seen the travail of his soul and was satisfied,, and when lie put off all the corporeal principle which he inherited from his human parent, or rather those external things which, like the dust of the earth, itself similar in meaning to the sandal, clave to his maternal humanity during his pilgrimage on earth. In this work of removing from his humanity all that was corporeal and earthly he had no human or angelic assistance; even John, who was more than a prophet and the greatest among those who were born of women, could have no share. As the Lord trod the winepress a] one, and of the people there was none with him, so he alone effected the glorification of his humanity, even to the removal of the last remnant of mortality.
28 The things which the evangelist has just recorded were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. On the best authorities the name of this place should be Bethany. It was on the east side of the Jordan, as the town of Martha and Mary was on the west; but although one was in, and the other was out of, the land of Canaan, the Bethany beyond the Jordan was not strictly speaking out of the region which represented the Church. When the Israelites took possession of the promised land, two tribes and a half chose their inheritance on the other side Jordan. Those on the east of the river represented the external church and the external man, and those in Canaan itself represented the internal church and the internal man; the tribe of Manasseh, half of which was on one side of the Jordan and half on the other, representing the principle of mutual love that forms the conjoining medium between them. Bethany was in the tribe of Reuben, who, among the twelve patriarchs, has the same signification that Peter has among the twelve apostles. It was here, where John was baptizing, that these things took place. As Reuben, like Peter, represented the grace of faith, and Bethany (the place of date trees) represented a state of the perception of the truths of faith, John there proclaimed and pointed out Jesus as the incarnate Word to the Jews and his disciples; and there he taught the relation which he, as the representative of the written Word, bore to the eternal Word himself, who had come into the world to redeem mankind. As this Bethany was beyond Jordan, these things being done there, teaches us, not only that the truths of faith are implanted in the outer man, and form the external church, but that faith itself has its dwelling-place there, as Reuben had his lot beyond Jordan; love to the Lord being the principle of the internal church and of the inner man, as Judah, its type, had his inheritance in, and indeed in the centre of, the land of Canaan. Where these things took place, John was also baptizing. As John’s baptism represented introduction into the church and the purification of the outer man, it was performed on that side of Jordan from which the children of Israel entered, through that river, into the place of their rest; Jordan signifying the truth which instructs and purifies the mind, which baptizes it unto repentance and its works, through which lies the Christian’s passage into the church below, as his home on earth, and into the church above, as his home in heaven.
29. The next day John seeth Jesus doming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. How noble a testimony to Jesus as the Saviour of men ! Thirty years had passed since the angel had announced to the shepherds at Bethlehem the birth of a Saviour which was Christ the Lord; and now, when Jesus was about to show himself unto the world, John proclaims him to be the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. Both the angel and the Baptist were messengers of the Lord; the heavenly messenger preparing the way for the Lord’s advent into the heaven of the inner man, and the earthly messenger preparing the way for his descent into the world of the outer man. The Lord had hitherto been engaged in a great work, but it was inward and hidden; more in the inner depths of his human consciousness than in the outward acts ‘ of his human life, for the Lord glorified himself, as he regenerates man, first internally, next externally; and more in heaven among the angels than among men on earth, for the Lord redeemed angels as well as men. The stages of the Lord’s glorification were coincident with corresponding periods of his life.
The Lord, as to his humanity, is the Lamb of God. This is a name given to him as the great antitype of the Jewish sacrifices, especially of the lamb of the daily sacrifice, and of the paschal lamb, which were types of Jesus, who offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. But it is of the first importance to know what is the true meaning of sacrifice. A sacrifice is that which is devoted to the Lord, or consecrated to his service. Christians have come to think of the Lord’s sacrifice as consisting in his death, as a penal infliction. This view rests mainly on the mistaken notion that the death of the animal offered on the altar of the Jewish church constituted its sacrifice; and, looking from the type to the antitype, in confounding the Lord’s sacrifice with his crucifixion. The death of the animal may indeed be considered analogous to the Lord’s death; but neither the death of the type nor of the antitype constituted their sacrifice. The sacrifice consisted in the offering of the animal upon the altar; and the analogy to this, in our Lord’s case, was not his death, but his resurrection and ascension; for it was his resurrection body that he presented as a living sacrifice to God, and which became for ever consecrated to the service of his indwelling divinity. The crucifixion and sacrifice of the Lord, so far from being identical, are, in their character, the opposites of each other. Crucifixion is the death of what is old; sacrifice is the consecration of what is new. This distinction is plainly made in the Scriptures. ” ” For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection : knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. Vi. 5). So in Galatians: “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (v. 24). And in the same epistle : ” God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (vi. 14). Thus the old man, the body of sin, the flesh with its affections and lusts, the world, are the things we are required to crucify. But never does the apostle speak of sacrificing any of these, and for the simple reason that such sacrifices would be abomination unto the Lord. The sacrifices which alone are acceptable to him are not things dead and unclean, but things pure and living; not the old man with his carnal lusts, but the new man with his heavenly affections. So Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world : but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. xii. 1, 2). In Hebrews we read, “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (xiii. 15). In the Old Testament examples of this kind are numerous. The worshipper is exhorted to offer sacrifices of righteousness, of joy, of thanksgiving; all being comprehended in offering the sacrifice of a broken and a contrite heart.
The same law, which is applicable to all the sacrifices offered by men, was fulfilled in the one great sacrifice, which was offered by the Lord, the sacrifice of himself. It was Ms old man, his frail humanity, that was crucified; it was his new man, his glorified and risen humanity, that was sacrificed (Heb. x. 10). It was in his glorious body that ” Christ gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour (Eph. v. 2); for Jesus “offered himself without spot to God” (Heb. ix. 14). The Lord’s sacrifice was the great antitype of all the sacrifices that burned for ages on the altar of the Jewish church. Sweet to Jehovah was the savour of that offering; for that which was offered was no less than a sanctified, perfected, glorified Humanity. That was the offering of all offerings: ” For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb. x. 10-14).
In what way does the Lord’s sacrifice take away the sin of the world 1 Among heathen nations, sacrifices were offered to propitiate the deity. It is natural for men to suppose that God should be offended with them when they sin, and that they should seek to obtain his forgiveness by some acceptable offering as a sign of their penitence. Revelation gives us the true view of this great matter. God is love, and desires the happiness of all his creatures, the only obstacle to which exists in themselves. Man has become God’s enemy, but God has never ceased to be man’s friend. Man needs therefore to be reconciled to God; God needs not to be reconciled to man. There is indeed an opinion, that while God’s love desires the salvation of all, his justice demanded satisfaction for sin; and redemption is considered to include a scheme by which God’s justice is reconciled to his mercy. Jesus is believed to have come into the world to live the life of the righteous and die the death of the guilty, to satisfy the demands of the divine law; and having done this, sinners may now be saved, not for anything they can do, but for what Christ has done. So deeply does the idea of substitution enter into the plan of redemption, that many, unable to see any other use in the Lord’s Incarnation, will be ready to ask, If Christ did not come into the world to live and die in the room and stead of sinners, what did he come to do 1 We have only to look at the real state of the case, as it was and is between God and man, to obtain a satisfactory answer. Man had forsaken God, and needed to be brought back to God again. “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you” (Isa. lix. 2). This was man’s state and condition. Alienated from God, he needed to be restored; at enmity with God, he needed to be reconciled. So say the Scriptures. ” If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. v. 10). But how was this reconciliation effected ? God assumed man’s alienated and rebellious nature, and in his own person reconciled that nature to himself. But how does this reconciliation of man to God, of the human to the Divine, effect the reconciliation of men to God? No truth is more evident than this, that men are saved by being conformed to the image of the Saviour; and equally evident is it that to be conformed to his image, men must live as the Lord lived, suffer as he suffered, die as he died, rise as he rose. Our work is an image of Ins work, and our glory is an image of his glory; in one word, our regeneration is an image of his glorification. Thus the Lord’s work is the cause and pattern of that work which must be wrought in us, if we are to be saved. But how does glorification in the Lord work out regeneration in us 1 In his perfected humanity the Lord is present with his saving power and efficacy with all men; so that he can perform in every human being the same work, in a finite measure and degree, which he once for all effected in himself. The work which the Lord effected in himself was that very work which was required to be accomplished in man, to fit him for heaven.
“We may now look at the words of John in their spiritual meaning. In the spiritual sense the Lord is called the Lamb of God, as being Innocence itself, and the author of innocence to his people. By innocence we do not mean mere blamelessness, but the very perfection of holiness. Therefore the Lord is represented (Rev. v. 6) as the Lamb in the midst of the throne, to teach us that the Lord’s humanity is innocence, and that this is the inmost of heaven, which is God’s throne. The Lord, as the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world, by making the world free from sin, and restoring it to something of the innocence from which it has departed. There is no other way of salvation for the world but this. We cannot be saved by simply believing what Jesus did for us, but by doing as he did, and by being as he is, having the same mind in us which was also in him. We do not, of course, mean that we can ever, even to eternity, arrive at his measure of perfection. Our perfection must be like his in form, hut can never he like it in degree ; it is no more than its image. As man was created into the image of his Creator, so is he regenerated into the image of his Saviour.
30 John proceeds to say of Jesus, This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me; for he was before me. This declaration, now repeated for the third time, differs from the others in one particular. Jesus is here called a man. It does not of course follow that Jesus was a mere man. He was truly man, as well as truly God. But the Lord was man, not only as the son of Mary, but also as the Son of God; and he is more truly a man since, than he was before, he put off all that he inherited from his human mother. Paul so speaks of him as he now is. ” There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. ii. 5). The Lord is perfect man, because he is a divine man, and therefore a perfect mediator between God and man. We are so much accustomed to think of the human as contrasted with the Divine, that we are apt to forget that the human derives its distinguishing character, not from its unlikeness, but from its likeness, to the Divine. In a high and holy sense God is infinite Man, considered as the prototype of finite man He is a divine person, not an infinitely extended and formless essence. As such he is the divine, and indeed the only Man; we, as men, being but the faint, because the finite, images of him, as the infinitely perfect. And we become more truly men as we acquire more and more of his image and likeness. Although it is not necessary to suppose that finite man is in all respects the exact copy of the Infinite, yet there can be no reasonable doubt that the divine image extends to man’s form as well as to his nature. The human form is not an arbitrary one. It is not constructed but created. It is not built up mechanically as a habitation for the soul, but put forth creatively through the soul as a habitation for itself. It is the human essence concreted into the human shape. No creature can exist in any form but that which is suitable to its nature; that is to say, in its own form; man’s form is the form of his nature. God could not have taken man’s nature upon him, if that nature had not been homogeneous with his own; he could not have appeared in the human form, if that form had not been the image of his own; the Lord therefore was man before ho assumed man’s nature. By incarnation he became man in ultimates, having existed from eternity as man in first principles; and the glorified humanity is man in the perfection of the human form, because it is love and wisdom in their own form.
31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel. How was it that the Messiah should have been unknown to him who had been raised up for the purpose of preparing his way 1 Was it that there might be no appearance of collusion ? There must be a higher reason than this. John knew that the Messiah was come; but he was kept in ignorance of Jesus as the Christ, that he might know him through the sign which was to be vouchsafed to him from heaven. John had been, so to speak, working his way up to the Messiah, while preparing his way by preaching and baptizing. He knew what he was working and labouring for, but he knew not him in whose cause and for whose coming he laboured! The object of his mission was, that the Messiah might be made manifest to Israel, and to the church so far as it was animated by the love of truth, which is the spiritual principle that Israel represented; and to the human mind, in which affection for truth exists; for to none but those who are in the love of truth for its own sake can the Lord be savingly manifested or revealed as Christ, the Saviour of the world. Every one in John’s condition has John’s experience. While we are acquiring a knowledge of the truth and striving to obey it, we are preparing the way of the Lord. We know him., and yet we know him not. We know him theoretically but not practically, potentially but not actually. Only by the heavenly sign, the spirit descending from on high and alighting and abiding on the truth, do we know it as the truth, in and by which the Lord brings salvation to us.
32, 33. The sign by which John was to know Jesus as the Christ was that which took place at his baptism. I saw the spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. If we look at this divine event only from the sensuous side, according to which the literal narrative is written, we shall regard it as teaching not only the distinct but the separate personality of Father, Son, and Spirit. Reason may convince us that the reality is different from the appearance. No reasonable person can suppose that an omnipresent Being can be thus divided and separated, one person in heaven, another on earth, and a third the messenger between them. The appearances spoken of are but the outward visible signs of an inward divine operation, an operation of the Lord’s divinity in his humanity. The dove was not the Spirit itself, but a representative appearance of its nature, as the Spirit of infinite love and wisdom, the motion of the dove representing the descent of the Spirit from the Lord’s divine into his human nature. In the Lord the descent and operation of the Spirit was constant ; but as his glorification advanced not only by continuous but by discrete degrees, there were marked stages whore one discrete degree ended and another began. At one of these stages, marking an epoch in his human life and experience, the Lord’s glorification had now arrived; the baptism of John representing the purification and consecration of the external man, followed by the descent into it of the Spirit of love and wisdom of the inner man. This was the stage of the new life to which the Lord had now advanced. The descent of the Spirit into the more ultimate sphere of the Lord’s human nature was that which prepared him for entering on his public ministry, in which the indwelling Spirit of his love and wisdom was to be brought out in those wonderful words and works designed to enlighten and bless mankind.
This was the promised sign by which Jesus was made known to John. I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. To look at this subject spiritually in relation to ourselves, the same evidence is given to us that was given to John, by which we know Jesus as our Saviour. As regeneration is in effect an image of the Lord’s glorification, and is that by which the Lord is glorified in us, this is given us as a sign by which we come to know the Lord. The descent of the Holy Spirit from the Lord through the will and understanding of the internal man into the baptized and purified life and conversation of the external man is that by which the Lord becomes sensibly known to us; and by which he works out the complete regeneration of the willing and obedient, as he effected the complete glorification of his own humanity. The dove was not only to descend but to remain upon Jesus ; so that not a transitory visit but a continued abiding of the spirit was to be the sign. But these words express something more than this. All motion, especially that of birds, is expressive of the activity of thought, and remaining is expressive of a permanent state in regard to the will. The descending of the dove was therefore symbolical of the operation of the divine wisdom in the Lord’s human understanding, and the remaining upon him of the dove was symbolical of the confirmation of divine love as a principle of his human will. These were to be a sign that Jesus was he who was to baptize with the Holy Spirit. This baptism forms a most important contrast to that of John. John’s baptism was representative, the Lord’s was actual. The difference between them is as the difference between what is dead and what is living. All outward rites and all human agencies are but the forms into which life flows. The baptizing and preaching of men are most useful operations, but they have nothing of vitality in them. They are like the labours of the husbandman, in cultivating and manuring the soil and in sowing and watering the seed; but all life and growth and fruitfulness are from God alone; even the powers of nature do nothing more than dispose the external of the seed for yielding to the operation of the living force, which conies from the Lord through,the sun of heaven. The same may be said of the written “Word which John represented. Its truths are the seed of the kingdom; and all that human teachers can do is to sow them in the minds of others and of themselves. All the vitality which they possess is from the presence in them of the divine life; and all that man can do, and all that he is required to do, is to fulfil the outward conditions analogous to those of the husbandman, that these seeds of eternal truth may take root downwards and bear fruit upwards. If men faithfully baptize with water, the Lord will not fail to baptize with the Holy Spirit.
34 John saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. The Lord, we have seen, was now the Son of God actually, as, before the incarnation, he was potentially. “We have also seen that Jesus was more fully the Son of God at his resurrection than at his birth. By birth, he was the Son of Mary as well as the Son of God; by glorification, he became the Son of God only, having put off all the frail humanity he derived from, his human mother, and put on a perfect humanity from his divine Father. Although at his birth he was justly entitled to be called the Son of God, yet, strictly speaking, this title was only applicable to that principle of his humanity which he derived from the Father ; and as the humanity in which he rose from the dead was wholly divine, this was truly and exclusively the Son of God, he having been “declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The record of Jesus as the Son of God, is the knowledge and acknowledgment, not simply of the Lord’s divinity, but of the divinity of his humanity. Those who regard Jesus as the eternal Son of God, and yet deny the divinity of his humanity, do not really acknowledge him to be the Son of God. There was 110 eternal Son of God. There was a Son born in time and glorified; and this is in very truth the only begotten Son of God. John’s testimony respecting Jesus, as being the Son of God, is of great practical as well as doctrinal importance; for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as God manifest in the flesh, as that One in whom God is Man and Man is God, is the faith which brings salvation, because it brings the soul into connection with him who has the power to save.
35, 36. Again, the next day after, John stood, and two of his disciples : and looking on Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God. John had already borne testimony to Jesus as the “Word made flesh, as the fulness of grace and truth, as Jehovah whose coining was predicted by Isaiah, as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, as the Son of God. He had testified this to the multitude who came to his baptism, and to the priests and Levites sent to ask him who he was, and whether he was the Messiah. He now gives the same testimony before his own disciples. The first disciples of Jesus were, it would appear, disciples of John. So far John had prepared the way of the Lord, not only to the Jews generally, but to his own disciples in particular. And these disciples of John became disciples of Jesus, and one of them became the first of the Lord’s apostles. The two disciples to whom John pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God, and who followed the Lord and became his disciples, represent the two general classes of converts who follow the Lord, those who are in charity and those who are in faith, and abstractly the graces of charity and faith themselves; their leaving John and following Jesus representing the elevation of those principles out of the natural into the spiritual degree of the mind. John and his disciples stood while Jesus walked, a symbol of the completed mission of the one and the commencing mission of the other. John’s work may be said to have ended where the Lord’s work began. The baptism of Jesus was the crowning act of John’s mission. A connection between heaven and earth had been effected by the baptism of men, but heaven itself was opened by the baptism of the Lord. Henceforth the humanity of Jesus became the direct medium of communication between heaven and the church, and between God and man, and the spiritual baptism of regeneration was about to succeed the ceremonial baptism of repentance. The sun having risen in his strength, the star which heralded his approach became hidden in his beams. So John testified of Jesus and of himself: He must increase, but I must decrease. And thus is it with those who pass successfully through the regenerate life. Charity and faith are first the disciples of John. They are received from the written Word as principles of doctrine, and if they are faithfully acted upon as such, they become eventually principles of life; introduced into the mind by the baptism of water, they become quickened by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and being animated with spiritual and heavenly life are raised from the natural into the spiritual mind.
37 The effect of this exclamation was, that the two disciples who heard him speak followed Jesus. Following Jesus, or following the Lord, is frequently mentioned in the New Testament, which historically means becoming his disciples. But following Jesus spiritually and practically is to follow his teaching and example; to follow him as the Truth, and to follow wherever the truth leads. Such only as do this are true followers of the Lord. This the two disciples of John did; and this all true disciples of the letter do, for these not only learn the principles of goodness and truth from the Word, but strive to live according to them; and the life of truth brings them to Jesus as the Spirit of truth, and leads them to follow its higher dictates.
38. Then Jesus turned and saw them following. The Lord turns himself to us when we turn ourselves to him. ” Turn ye unto me and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord.” But the real truth is, the Lord turns us to himself; he draws us, we suffer ourselves to be drawn; he leads us, we sutler ourselves to be led. The Lord’s turning himself away from us is an appearance; and it is only when he turns us to himself that it seems as if he turned himself to us. We must beware, however, of falling into error, by supposing that we are mere passive objects whom the Lord turns at his pleasure. It is always his pleasure to turn his creatures to himself, and he turns all who of their free will yield to the perpetually operating influences of his Spirit. This turning of the Lord has a spiritual significance. Turning the face to any one means to open the mind inwardly to him; and when the Lord is spoken of as turning to any one, it indicates that he who previously saw the Lord externally and obscurely now sees him inwardly and clearly. And so when it is said that the Lord sees any one, as it is here said that, being turned, he saw the two disciples of John following, we are not to understand any new sight on the Lord’s part but on man’s. The Lord -always sees us, but we do not always see him ; and he sees us in the true sense when he enables us to see ourselves. There are two different aspects which the Lord has to men; they see him on the back and they see him on the face. The first is external sight, the second is internal. When the Lord was turned, he asked the two who followed him, What seek ye? An important and searching question this. When we follow the Lord, we should endeavour to know, not only the Lord whom we follow, but what our object is in following him. The two answered this question by asking him another. Addressing Jesus as Master, a title to which no one is spiritually entitled but himself, he alone having authority in matters of faith and practice the disciples say unto him, Where dwellest thou ? As dwelling has relation to a state of goodness in the will, where goodness or love has its dwelling-place and its home, this inquiry indicates a desire of the mind to know the nature of the good to which truth leads, the end to which it is a means. The Lord might have answered, ” I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” But the Lord spake according to outward existing states, yet in the language of correspondence. Place signifies state. The question, Where dwellest thou? asked -with a desire to follow him to the place of his abode, is expressive of a spiritual desire to attain the state which is the Lord’s state, to participate in his goodness, wisdom, and blessedness.
39 To their question the Lord answered, Come and see. To come is an act of the will, to see is an act of the understanding. This, therefore, is an exhortation to them to come to that state themselves, as the best and indeed the only practical way of knowing it. As if the Lord had said, and as he now says to those who occupy the place and have the desire of these disciples, Learn from experience. Follow me to the place of my abode and see for yourselves ; it is a state and place I have prepared for you, that where I am ye may be also. My humble dwelling upon earth is the consecrated symbol of my church on earth and of my kingdom in heaven, of my Father’s house in which are many mansions, the dwelling-place of my love and the home of the loving. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day. Time, like place, signifies state; but place is state in relation to good, and time is state in relation to truth. Place and time thus signify both. Their abiding with Jesus that day signifies a state of good and truth united. The quality of the state on which they had thus entered is expressed by the hour of the day : it was about the tenth hour. Ten is a number which signifies remains, which are the germs or rudiments of states formed in the mind by the Lord, through the insemination of the truths and goods of his Word. Others may be instrumental in communicating the knowledge of these principles, but the Lord alone can cause them to take root. The implantation of remains is the beginning of the regenerate life. Their impar-tation is confined to no period, but their implantation is the first day, and is memorable as the day of our being with Jesus in the place of his abode. The states formed under the teaching of John are the beginnings of those perfected under the teaching of Jesus. Information is preparatory to regeneration.
40 One of the two which heard John speak and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. We are not told who the other disciple was ; some suppose it was John himself. Andrew was the first of the Lord’s disciples, and Peter was the first of his apostles. It is a matter of great interest and importance to know the representative character of that disciple, for as the disciples represented all the graces and virtues of religion, he who was first chosen represents that grace which first exists in the mind and is the beginning of all others. Andrew represented the obedience of faith. But the faith, the obedience of which he represents, is what may be called natural faith, the acknowledgment of the leading truths of the gospel, or their admission into the understanding as doctrines. This may be called faith in the understanding, and obedience to this faith consists in shunning the evil and doing the good which it teaches, from a sense of duty rather than from affection. This obedience is indeed of the will, but it is of the will acting from the law as a rule, but not as a principle. There are two kinds of obedience, which belong to two different stages of the regenerate life. There is obedience to the dictates of truth and obedience to the promptings of love. Obedience is the first, and it is also the last, perfection of the regenerate. We begin with obedience and end with obedience. By obedience we enter on and pursue the upward path until we have arrived at a state of love, and when we have attained to a state of love we descend by obedience into the performance of uses. The first obedience is a labour of duty, the second is a labour of love. Andrew represents the first, and John represents the second. And that obedience is the first element of real religion, for intellectual faith has no actual and permanent existence till it is manifested in obedience, for obedience is that which turns truth into good, and brings the will into conformity and conjunction with the understanding.
41 It is said of Andrew that he first findeth his own brother Simon. Simon Peter is eminently the representation of the Christian grace of faith. When he is called Simon he represents faith in the will, or that faith which exists in the mind as’ a general principle; Peter represents the .same faith when it exists in the understanding ; while Simon Peter is expressive of that faith which is both in the will and in the understanding. The faith represented by Andrew is that which leads to the faith represented by Peter, in other words natural faith leads to spiritual faith, or we should rather say the ‘obedience of natural faith leads to spiritual faith. So it is said of Andrew that he first findeth his own brother Simon, for natural faith is the brother of spiritual faith, and obedience is that which forms the link of connection between them. Andrew saith to him, we have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. No doubt to sincere and earnest Israelites this was a great discovery, and happy must the one have been to announce, and the other to hear, the glad tidings. Spiritually, we find the Messiah, when we receive the Lord as the Word made flesh, as the Truth itself by whom we have redemption. Andrew does not say ” we have heard of him,” but “we have found him,” and in their finding him was implied and comprehended the finding of the Saviour and of salvation. Messias, like Christ, means the anointed, and Jesus as the anointed is the divine truth filled with the divine love. The holy oil with which anointings were effected under the representative dispensation of the Jews, was the type or symbol of the holy oil of divine love with which the Father was to anoint the Son, by which the Lord’s divinity was to glorify his humanity, by making it divine.
42 Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon, the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, a stone. This recognition of the new inquirer, if not convert, is an instance of the truth of the statement, that Jesus needed not that any should testify of man; for if he knew what was in man, it is not surprising that he should know such outward circumstances as these. But Jesus not only knew what Simon was, but he knew what he would be, and in accordance with this knowledge lie gave him at once a new name, that expressed the character which this disciple was to earn for himself. It is worthy of remark that this eminent disciple is, in the brief narrative of his first connection with Jesus, spoken of by all the names by which he is afterwards designated : Simon, Simon Peter, Simon son of Jona. Each has a particular spiritual as well as natural signification. Simon literally means hearing; and he who has ears to hear the truth is one who is inclined to hearken to its lessons of wisdom and precepts of life, and to follow them. Hearing is that sense which communicates more immediately with the will and ministers to the affections, these being affected with, sound and its harmony; while sight communicates more immediately with the understanding, and conveys to it impressions of symmetry and beauty. “When this disciple is called by the name of Simon, it is in reference to the affection of truth, which disposes and opens the mind to its reception. When he is called Peter, which has the same meaning as Cephas, it is in reference to his character as one whose faith is fixed on the immovable rock of divine truth, and eminently on the Lord as the Truth itself—the Rock of Ages; for Peter, as one strong in the faith, and especially as the one who made the famous confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, is the representative of faith, and also of the church itself, as founded upon a rock, and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. But the Lord here salutes him as Simon, son of Jona. Jona means a dove, which, in reference to man, is the emblem of charity, the harmlessness or simplicity of the dove being akin to that innocence of which the lamb is emblematical ; and the charity and simplicity of mind which is meant by the dove, is that singleness of heart and singleness of eye, by which the whole body becomes full of light. Such is the Christian grace represented by Peter, as named by the Lord.
43 The day following, Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. This part of the narrative will be best understood by some general remarks on its connection with what precedes and follows. As Andrew found his brother Simon, and brought him to Jesus, so Philip did with Nathanael. There is, therefore, a relative connection between them. Little is recorded in the gospels respecting these two disciples, but that little enables us to see their representative characters. The place where Jesus abode, to which Andrew followed and Simon came to him, was Judea; Philip and Nathanael he found in Galilee. The Lord’s going forth from Judea into Galilee signifies, in reference to the regenerate, his going forth from the internal into the external man. Philip and Nathanael, therefore, signify principles of goodness and truth, or charity and faith in the natural mind, corresponding to principles of charity and faith in the internal, represented by Andrew and Simon. This appears not only from the general rule, that when two are mentioned together, one has reference to the will and the other to the understanding, but also from what is further said respecting them in the present instance. The account of the Lord’s calling Philip begins with the statement that he would go into Galilee on the day following that on which Peter was brought to him. The following day is a state following in series that represented by the day on which Andrew and Peter were with Jesus, a state of the conjunction of charity and faith in the natural mind, corresponding to a state of the conjunction of the same principles in the spiritual mind. It is thus that regeneration proceeds, sometimes inwards or upwards to the interior affections and thoughts of the mind, and sometimes outwards and downwards towards the words and actions of the life. In the Lord’s journey into Galilee, which represented this outward progression, the Lord finds Philip, whom he commands to follow him.
44 What Philip specially represented is brought out more distinctly in the statement which the evangelist now makes, that Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter, which indicates that the principle he represents has a common connection or affinity with those represented by his two fellow citizens ; and that his character, like theirs, had reference to faith, and to their future function of gathering the faithful into the church, is further evinced by the meaning of Bethsaida, which is a fishing town. All that is known of Philip from the gospels indicates that he has relation to faith, but that the faith which he represents is not free from obscurity and doubt, and is therefore comparatively external or natural. A memorable instance of this was his asking Jesus to show them the Father ; which drew forth from the Lord the gentle reproof, ” Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” (xiv. 9). Yet where there is sincerity there is a true, however imperfect disciple, one who is honored with the direct call to follow the Lord.
45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph. It is a spiritual law, which is a law of life originating in him who is Life itself, that truth, desires good and good desires truth. This spiritual law lies at the foundation of our desire that others should think and feel as we do, that there may be unity of mind and action. This is the case, indeed, with those who are in evil and falsity, as well as with those who are in goodness and truth ; and, as a consequence, men and spirits actuated by those principles desire to make others like themselves. But abuse does not take away use, and this use we see operating in the present case. Philip tells Nathanael, We have found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph. The acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah, whose coming had been foretold by Moses and the prophets, was in itself a great act of faith; yet Philip’s language respecting Jesus does not indicate a clear perception of his character. He does not, like Andrew, speak of Jesus as the Christ, but as the Nazarene; nor does he, like Nathanael, speak of him as the Son of God, but as the son of Joseph, the only instance in which a disciple so calls him. Jesus as the Nazarene is the Lord as to his natural humanity, or the divine truth accommodated to the natural apprehension of man. This principle of the Lord’s humanity glorified, is indeed that by which he has access to the natural minds of men, so as to bring his love and wisdom down to their lowest state of reception, and save men unto the uttermost; but Philip had not yet acquired a just apprehension of the divinity of the Lord’s humanity. This is not indeed to be wondered at in Philip, or in any one who has but newly learnt the truth of the Lord’s being the Messiah; but it expresses and represents a condition of mind and state of intelligence as yet far from those which are characteristic of a spiritual disciple. The true disciple of the Lord sees that Jesus was not merely spoken of by the law and the prophets, but that he was himself the Law and the Prophet; by fulfilling the law and the prophets, he became the truth and the good which the law and the prophets taught. In his life he experienced and acted all that the written Word contains, so that he is that Word in person.
46 Nathanael but expressed the repugnance of the natural mind to divine truth when he answered Philip’s announcement, that they had found the Messiah, with the question, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Goodness, unless it conies in the form of greatness, seldom finds a ready acceptance amongst men, who are so accustomed to judge by appearances. , The assumption of humanity by Jehovah, as a remedy for human disorder and misery, is the great stumbling-block to the natural man, as the prophet declared, it would be to both houses of Israel. For, however much we may be sensible of that want which can only be supplied by the Saviour, we are all naturally disinclined to accept the Saviour in the lowly character in which he presented himself to the Jewish people. Philip answered Nathanael’s question, by asking him to do what Jesus had requested Andrew to do, Come and see. As if he had said, Approach Jesus yourself, and use that faculty which God has given you for discerning the truth, and you will see it to your spiritual benefit and eternal salvation. Nathanael took this wise counsel, as every one should who desires to see the truth as it is in Jesus.
47 Nathanael’s doubt was at once shaken, but not at once removed. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile. Although these words were spoken respecting Nathanael, they were heard by him. The first evidence of Jesus’ Messiahship which this doubting and cautious visitor received was a revelation of his own character. It might have been regarded as a flattering compliment, but that the person of whom it was spoken must have heard it as a voluntary test of the speaker’s claim to being what Philip had represented him to be. Nathanael felt it to be an evidence of supernatural knowledge, and therefore of Jesus as a supernatural Being. He perceived that Jesus knew him. The description which Jesus gives of Nathanael’s interior character is expressive also of the character of those persons and of that Christian grace which he represented. A true Israelite is one who is in the spiritual love of truth. Of this love of truth the Lord says, that in it there is no guile. The love of truth implies the absence of insincerity. Singleness of mind is one of its essential characteristics; and the promise of the Lord is, If thine eye be single thy whole body shall be full of light. Nathanael soon experienced and declared the truth of this promise; and all who are single-minded will have the same experience when they come to Jesus and see him for themselves.
48. Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me ? The love of truth is ever accompanied with the fear of error; and one of the signs by which it is indicated is this, that the mind does not at once accept and confirm the offered truth. Hasty and unquestioning reception and confession of the truth is likely to result in persuasive rather than in rational faith; and, however sincere such a faith may be, it is liable to be shaken like a reed with the ever-varying breath of human opinion. There is a healthy as well as a diseased scepticism; a state of doubt that leads to faith as well as a state of doubt that ends in infidelity. An affirmative principle underlies the doubt that is felt by the true Israelite. He is willing to be convinced, but is aware of the danger of being deceived; and the doubts through which he makes his way to faith only tend to enlarge and confirm it. Such was the process through which Nathanael entered into faith. He was disposed to believe, but did not at once yield to the evidence of the truth. He was convinced that Jesus knew him; he now desired to learn how the Lord possessed that knowledge. Jesus answered Nathaniael, by giving him a still more convincing evidence of his supernatural knowledge. He said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. This disclosure of some circumstance of his private life, which he was sure Jesus could only have known by omniscience, drew from him the full and free confession, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the king of Israel. The connection between the Lord’s declaration and Nathanael’s acknowledgment is not without a spiritual lesson for us. The fig tree is symbolical of the principle of natural goodness, by which we mean, not the goodness which is natural in its origin, but spiritual goodness, as it enters into and influences our natural thoughts and affections; and which may be called natural goodness from a spiritual origin. The divine promises of the peaceful times, when they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid, (Micah iv. 4), and when they shall call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree (Zech. iii. 10), are promises to the faithful, that when the warfare of their spiritual life is accomplished, and all their evil passions and habits are subdued, they shall dwell tranquilly under the shadow and in the enjoyment of all the spiritual and natural goodness they have acquired. Nathanael had as yet, indeed, realized only a part of this promise. His warfare was not yet accomplished; it had not even properly begun. He had conquered his doubts, and had acquired a true faith in Jesus as his Saviour. He had, therefore, entered into intellectual peace on the highest of all subjects, that which relates to the Lord Jesus as the Saviour of men. Although Nathanael had yet a warfare .before him, he had become possessed of that power which was sufficient to make him more than conquerer, for as it is the Lord himself that overcomes our evils and errors, faith in him is that through which his power operates in supporting us in our labors, and bringing us into that peace of heart which passeth all understanding.
50, 51. Promises of a still more perfect manifestation of the Lord whom he had acknowledged were given to Nathanael. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou ? Thou shalt see greater things than these. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. Nathanael had confessed Jesus to be the Son of God; the promise now given relates to the Son of Man. There is no record of this having received a literal fulfilment, unless we regard as such, the angels ministering unto the Lord after his temptation in the wilderness (Matt, iv. 11), and the angel strengthening him during his agony in the garden (Luke xxii. 43). In. these cases the angels and their ministry were representative of a higher agency and work. They were merely passive instruments like those angels of the Old Testament dispensation, in whom God appeared and through whom he spoke. Jesus needed not the aid of angels. The ministering of these angels was the outward representative appearance of an inward divine operation. It was the Lord’s own Divinity that sustained him in his temptations; and that ministered unto him after the conflict was past. The promise to Nathanael is a promise to the Christian disciple, that he shall be privileged to comprehend something of the nature of that divine work, by which the humanity of the Lord was glorified, that his children might be regenerated. The opening of heaven is the opening of the internal man; and the ascending and descending of the angels, through the open heaven, upon the Son of Man, is the reciprocal communication between the divine and the human nature of the Lord; the ascending angels indicating that the human nature was made divine, and the descending angels indicating that the divine was made human. His humanity was made divine by every thought and affection of his human nature being exalted into union with his divinity; and his divinity was made human by infinite love and wisdom being brought down into his humanity. Such, at least, is the manner in which we may attempt to express our human ideas on this divine subject, of which the highest angelic conception is faint and limited. One particular of the Lord’s statement we must, however, remember. Angels ascended as well as descended upon the Son of Man. The angels that ascended had first descended : for no one hath ascended up into heaven, but he that came down from’heaven. And as the angels were “angels of God,” and represented the divinity, whose messengers they were, we learn that the very human thoughts of Jesus were divine in their origin. Divine wisdom put on in the mind of Jesus the form of human thought, divine love put on the form of human affection, and then ascended with them through heaven to the eternal divinity from whom they came. And when all that was human was thus made divine, and all that was divine was thus made human, then wa,s fulfilled the Lord’s divine prayer, ” Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee” (chap. xvii. 1). In regard to man and his regeneration, the Son of Man is the Lord’s divine truth in the natural mind, and God is his divine truth in the spiritual mind; and the ascending and descending angels are the heavenly principles of truth and goodness that serve to bring them into connection and conjunction. Regeneration, considered as a completed work, is the conjunction of the inner and outer man; and this is effected by the opening of the inner man, and by the reciprocal and mutual operation of heavenly principles within. The angels ascend and descend. Regeneration begins at the lowest point and ascends upwards till it reaches the highest, and then descends. Man ascends from knowledge to faith and from faith to love, and from love descends through faith and knowledge into good words and works. This is the circle of regeneration. This upward and downward progress is constantly going on, the angels are ascending and descending at the same time; for the Lord operates with his Spirit from within, and with his Word from without. Ascent and descent are reciprocal and correspondent; and when these two divine agencies meet and unite, regeneration and heaven are the results.
Author: William Bruce –1870
Pictures: James Tissot—-Courtesy of the Brooklyn museum