Austin says (de Civitate Dei, lib. 10, cap. 29) that his friend Simplicius told him he had heard a Platonic philosopher say that these first verses of St. John’s gospel were worthy to be written in letters of gold. The learned Francis Junius, in the account he gives of his own life, tells how he was in his youth infected with loose notions in religion, and by the grace of God was wonderfully recovered by reading accidentally these verses in a bible which his father had designedly laid in his way. He says that he observed such a divinity in the argument, such an authority and majesty in the style, that his flesh trembled, and he was struck with such amazement that for a whole day he scarcely knew where he was or what he did; and thence he dates the beginning of his being religious. Let us enquire what there is in those strong lines. The evangelist here lays down the great truth he is to prove, that Jesus Christ is God, one with the Father. Observe,
I. Of whom he speaks—The Word—ho logos. This is an idiom peculiar to John’s writings. See 1 John 1:1; 5:7; Rev. 19:13. Yet some think that Christ is meant by the Word in Acts 20:32; Heb. 4:12; Luke 1:2. The Chaldee paraphrase very frequently calls the Messiah Memra—the Word of Jehovah, and speaks of many things in the Old Testament, said to be done by the Lord, as done by that Word of the Lord. Even the vulgar Jews were taught that the Word of God was the same with God. The evangelist, in the close of his discourse (John 1:18), plainly tells us why he calls Christ the Word—because he is the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, and has declared him. Word is two-fold: logos endiathetos—word conceived; and logos prophorikos—word uttered. The logos ho eso and ho exo, ratio and oratio—intelligence and utterance. 1. There is the word conceived, that is, thought, which is the first and only immediate product and conception of the soul (all the operations of which are performed by thought), and it is one with the soul. And thus the second person in the Trinity is fitly called the Word; for he is the first-begotten of the Father, that eternal essential Wisdom which the Lord possessed, as the soul does its thought, in the beginning of his way, Prov. 8:22. There is nothing we are more sure of than that we think, yet nothing we are more in the dark about than how we think; who can declare the generation of thought in the soul? Surely then the generations and births of the eternal mind may well be allowed to be great mysteries of godliness, the bottom of which we cannot fathom, while yet we adore the depth. 2. There is the word uttered, and this is speech, the chief and most natural indication of the mind. And thus Christ is the Word, for by him God has in these last days spoken to us (Heb. 1:2), and has directed us to hear him, Matt. 17:5. He has made known God’s mind to us, as a man’s word or speech makes known his thoughts, as far as he pleases, and no further. Christ is called that wonderful speaker (see notes on Dan. 8:13), the speaker of things hidden and strange. He is the Word speaking from God to us, and to God for us. John Baptist was the voice, but Christ the Word: being the Word, he is the Truth, the Amen, the faithful Witness of the mind of God.
II. What he saith of him, enough to prove beyond contradiction that he is God. He asserts,
1. His existence in the beginning: In the beginning was the Word. This bespeaks his existence, not only before his incarnation, but before all time. The beginning of time, in which all creatures were produced and brought into being, found this eternal Word in being. The world was from the beginning, but the Word was in the beginning. Eternity is usually expressed by being before the foundation of the world. The eternity of God is so described (Ps. 90:2), Before the mountains were brought forth. So Prov. 8:23. The Word had a being before the world had a beginning. He that was in the beginning never began, and therefore was ever, achronos—without beginning of time. So Nonnus.
2. His co-existence with the Father: The Word was with God, and the Word was God. Let none say that when we invite them to Christ we would draw them from God, for Christ is with God and is God; it is repeated in John 1:2: the same, the very same that we believe in and preach, was in the beginning with God, that is, he was so from eternity. In the beginning the world was from God, as it was created by him; but the Word was with God, as ever with him. The Word was with God, (1.) In respect of essence and substance; for the Word was God: a distinct person or substance, for he was with God; and yet the same in substance, for he was God, Heb. 1:3. (2.) In respect of complacency and felicity. There was a glory and happiness which Christ had with God before the world was (John 17:5), the Son infinitely happy in the enjoyment of his Father’s bosom, and no less the Father’s delight, the Son of his love, Prov. 8:30. (3.) In respect of counsel and design. The mystery of man’s redemption by this Word incarnate was hid in God before all worlds, Eph. 3:9. He that undertook to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18) was himself from eternity with God; so that this grand affair of man’s reconciliation to God was concerted between the Father and Son from eternity, and they understand one another perfectly well in it, Zech. 6:13; Matt. 11:27. He was by him as one brought up with him for this service, Prov. 8:30. He was with God, and therefore is said to come forth from the Father.
3. His agency in making the world, John 1:3. This is here, (1.) Expressly asserted: All things were made by him. He was with God, not only so as to be acquainted with the divine counsels from eternity, but to be active in the divine operations in the beginning of time. Then was I by him, Prov. 8:30. God made the world by a word (Ps. 33:6) and Christ was the Word. By him, not as a subordinate instrument, but as a co-ordinate agent, God made the world (Heb. 1:2), not as the workman cuts by his axe, but as the body sees by the eye. (2.) The contrary is denied: Without him was not any thing made that was made, from the highest angel to the meanest worm. God the Father did nothing without him in that work. Now, [1.] This proves that he is God; for he that built all things is God, Heb. 3:4. The God of Israel often proved himself to be God with this, that he made all things: Isa. 40:12, 28; 31:4; and see Jer. 10:11, 12. [2.] This proves the excellency of the Christian religion, that the author and founder of it is the same that was the author and founder of the world. How excellent must that constitution needs be which derives its institution from him who is the fountain of all excellency! When we worship Christ, we worship him to whom the patriarchs gave honour as the Creator of the world, and on whom all creatures depend. [3.] This shows how well qualified he was for the work of our redemption and salvation. Help was laid upon one that was mighty indeed; for it was laid upon him that made all things; and he is appointed the author of our bliss who was the author of our being.
4. The original of life and light that is in him: In him was life, John 1:4. This further proves that he is God, and every way qualified for his undertaking; for, (1.) He has life in himself; not only the true God, but the living God. God is life; he swears by himself when he saith, As I live. (2.) All living creatures have their life in him; not only all the matter of the creation was made by him, but all the life too that is in the creation is derived from him and supported by him. It was the Word of God that produced the moving creatures that had life, Gen. 1:20; Acts 17:25. He is that Word by which man lives more than by bread, Matt. 4:4. (3.) Reasonable creatures have their light from him; that life which is the light of men comes from him. Life in man is something greater and nobler than it is in other creatures; it is rational, and not merely animal. When man became a living soul, his life was light, his capacities such as distinguished him from, and dignified him above, the beasts that perish. The spirit of a man is the candle of the Lord, and it was the eternal Word that lighted this candle. The light of reason, as well as the life of sense, is derived from him, and depends upon him. This proves him fit to undertake our salvation; for life and light, spiritual and eternal life and light, are the two great things that fallen man, who lies so much under the power of death and darkness, has need of. From whom may we better expect the light of divine revelation than from him who gave us the light of human reason? And if, when God gave us natural life, that life was in his Son, how readily should we receive the gospel-record, that he hath given us eternal life, and that life too is in his Son!
5. The manifestation of him to the children of men. It might be objected, If this eternal Word was all in all thus in the creation of the world, whence is it that he has been so little taken notice of and regarded? To this he answers (John 1:5), The light shines, but the darkness comprehends it not. Observe,
(1.) The discovery of the eternal Word to the lapsed world, even before he was manifested in the flesh: The light shineth in darkness. Light is self-evidencing, and will make itself known; this light, whence the light of men comes, hath shone, and doth shine. [1.] The eternal Word, as God, shines in the darkness of natural conscience. Though men by the fall are become darkness, yet that which may be known of God is manifested in them; see Rom. 1:19, 20. The light of nature is this light shining in darkness. Something of the power of the divine Word, both as creating and as commanding, all mankind have an innate sense of; were it not for this, earth would be a hell, a place of utter darkness; blessed be God, it is not so yet. [2.] The eternal Word, as Mediator, shone in the darkness of the Old-Testament types and figures, and the prophecies and promises which were of the Messiah from the beginning. He that had commanded the light of this world to shine out of darkness was himself long a light shining in darkness; there was a veil upon this light, 2 Cor. 3:13.
(2.) The disability of the degenerate world to receive this discovery: The darkness comprehended it not; the most of men received the grace of God in these discoveries in vain. [1.] The world of mankind comprehended not the natural light that was in their understandings, but became vain in their imaginations concerning the eternal God and the eternal Word, Rom. 1:21, 28. The darkness of error and sin overpowered and quite eclipsed this light. God spoke once, yea twice, but man perceived it not, Job 33:14. [2.] The Jews, who had the light of the Old Testament, yet comprehended not Christ in it. As there was a veil upon Moses’s face, so there was upon the people’s hearts. In the darkness of the types and shadows the light shone; but such as the darkness of their understandings that they could not see it. It was therefore requisite that Christ should come, both to rectify the errors of the Gentile world and to improve the truths of the Jewish church.