The evangelist designs to bring in John Baptist bearing an honourable testimony to Jesus Christ, Now in these verses, before he does this,
I. He gives us some account of the witness he is about to produce. His name was John, which signifies gracious; his conversation was austere, but he was not the less gracious. Now,
1. We are here told concerning him, in general, that he was a man sent of God. The evangelist had said concerning Jesus Christ that he was with God and that he was God; but here concerning John that he was a man, a mere man. God is pleased to speak to us by men like ourselves. John was a great man, but he was a man, a son of man; he was sent from God, he was God’s messenger, so he is called, Mal. 3:1. God gave him both his mission and his message, both his credentials and his instructions. John wrought no miracle, nor do we find that he had visions and revelations; but the strictness and purity of his life and doctrine, and the direct tendency of both to reform the world, and to revive the interests of God’s kingdom among men, were plain indications that he was sent of God.
2. We are here told what his office and business were (John 1:7): The same came for a witness, an eye-witness, a leading witness. He came eis martyrian—for a testimony. The legal institutions had been long a testimony for God in the Jewish church. By them revealed religion was kept up; hence we read of the tabernacle of the testimony, the ark of the testimony, the law and the testimony: but now divine revelation is to be turned into another channel; now the testimony of Christ is the testimony of God, 1 Cor. 1:6; 2:1. Among the Gentiles, God indeed had not left himself without witness (Acts 14:17), but the Redeemer had no testimonies borne him among them. There was a profound silence concerning him, till John Baptist came for a witness to him. Now observe, (1.) The matter of his testimony: He came to bear witness to the light. Light is a thing which witnesses for itself, and carries its own evidence along with it; but to those who shut their eyes against the light it is necessary there should be those that bear witness to it. Christ’s light needs not man’s testimony, but the world’s darkness does. John was like the night watchman that goes round the town, proclaiming the approach of the morning light to those that have closed their eyes, and are not willing themselves to observe it; or like that watchman that was set to tell those who asked him what of the night that the morning comes, and, if you will enquire, enquire ye, Isa. 21:11, 12. He was sent of God to tell the world that the long-looked-for Messiah was now come, who should be a light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of his people Israel; and to proclaim that dispensation at hand which would bring life and immortality to light. (2.) The design of his testimony: That all men through him might believe; not in him, but in Christ, whose way he was sent to prepare. He taught men to look through him, and pass through him, to Christ; through the doctrine of repentance for sin to that of faith in Christ. He prepared men for the reception and entertainment of Christ and his gospel, by awakening them to a sight and sense of sin; and that, their eyes being thereby opened, they might be ready to admit those beams of divine light which, in the person and doctrine of the Messiah, were now ready to shine in their faces. If they would but receive this witness of man, they would soon find that the witness of God was greater, 1 John 5:9. See John 10:41. Observe, it was designed that all men through him might believe, excluding none from the kind and beneficial influences of his ministry that did not exclude themselves, as multitudes did, who rejected the counsel of God against themselves, and so received the grace of God in vain.
3. We are here cautioned not to mistake him for the light who only came to bear witness to it (John 1:8): He was not that light that was expected and promised, but only was sent to bear witness of that great and ruling light. He was a star, like that which guided the wise men to Christ, a morning star; but he was not the Sun; not the Bridegroom, but a friend of the Bridegroom; not the Prince, but his harbinger. There were those who rested in John’s baptism, and looked no further, as those Ephesians, Acts 19:3. To rectify this mistake, the evangelist here, when he speaks very honourably of him, yet shows that he must give place to Christ. He was great as the prophet of the Highest, but not the Highest himself. Note, We must take heed of over-valuing ministers, as well as of under-valuing them; they are not our lords, nor have they dominion over our faith, but ministers by whom we believe, stewards of our Lord’s house. We must not give up ourselves by an implicit faith to their conduct, for they are not that light; but we must attend to, and receive, their testimony; for they are sent to bear witness of that light; so then let us esteem them, and not otherwise. Had John pretended to be that light he had not been so much as a faithful witness of that light. Those who usurp the honour of Christ forfeit the honour of being the servants of Christ; yet John was very serviceable as a witness to the light, though he was not that light. Those may be of great use to us who yet shine with a borrowed light.
II. Before he goes on with John’s testimony, he returns to give us a further account of this Jesus to whom John bore record. Having shown in the beginning of the chapter the glories of his Godhead, he here comes to show the graces of his incarnation, and his favours to man as Mediator.
1. Christ was the true Light (John 1:9); not as if John Baptist were a false light, but, in comparison with Christ, he was a very small light. Christ is the great light that deserves to be called so. Other lights are but figuratively and equivocally called so: Christ is the true light. The fountain of all knowledge and of all comfort must needs be the true light. He is the true light, for proof of which we are not referred to the emanations of his glory in the invisible world (the beams with which he enlightens that), but to those rays of his light which are darted downwards, and with which this dark world of ours is enlightened. But how does Christ enlighten every man that comes into the world? (1.) By his creating power he enlightens every man with the light of reason; that life which is the light of men is from him; all the discoveries and directions of reason, all the comfort it gives us, and all the beauty it puts upon us, are from Christ. (2.) By the publication of his gospel to all nations he does in effect enlighten every man. John Baptist was a light, but he enlightened only Jerusalem and Judea, and the region round about Jordan, like a candle that enlightens one room; but Christ is the true light, for he is a light to enlighten the Gentiles. His everlasting gospel is to be preached to every nation and language, Rev. 14:6. Like the sun which enlightens every man that will open his eyes, and receive its light (Ps. 19:6), to which the preaching of the gospel is compared. See Rom. 10:18. Divine revelation is not now to be confined, as it had been, to one people, but to be diffused to all people, Matt. 5:15. (3.) By the operation of his Spirit and grace he enlightens all those that are enlightened to salvation; and those that are not enlightened by him perish in darkness. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God is said to be in the face of Jesus Christ, and is compared with that light which was at the beginning commanded to shine out of darkness, and which enlightens every man that comes into the world. Whatever light any man has, he is indebted to Christ for it, whether it be natural or supernatural.
2. Christ was in the world, John 1:10. He was in the world, as the essential Word, before his incarnation, upholding all things; but this speaks of his being in the world when he took our nature upon him, and dwelt among us; see John 16:28. I am come into the world. The Son of the Highest was here in this lower world; that light in this dark world; that holy thing in this sinful polluted world. He left a world of bliss and glory, and was here in this melancholy miserable world. He undertook to reconcile the world to God, and therefore was in the world, to treat about it, and settle that affair; to satisfy God’s justice for the world, and discover God’s favour to the world. He was in the world, but not of it, and speaks with an air of triumph when he can say, Now I am no more in it, John 17:11. The greatest honour that ever was put upon this world, which is so mean and inconsiderable a part of the universe, was that the Son of God was once in the world; and, as it should engage our affections to things above that there Christ is, so it should reconcile us to our present abode in this world that once Christ was here. He was in the world for awhile, but it is spoken of as a thing past; and so it will be said of us shortly, We were in the world. O that when we are here no more we may be where Christ is! Now observe here, (1.) What reason Christ had to expect the most affectionate and respectful welcome possible in this world; for the world was made by him. Therefore he came to save a lost world because it was a world of his own making. Why should he not concern himself to revive the light that was of his own kindling, to restore a life of his own infusing, and to renew the image that was originally of his own impressing? The world was made by him, and therefore ought to do him homage. (2.) What cold entertainment he met with, notwithstanding: The world knew him not. The great Maker, Ruler, and Redeemer of the world was in it, and few or none of the inhabitants of the world were aware of it. The ox knows his owner, but the more brutish world did not. They did not own him, did not bid him welcome, because they did not know him; and they did not know him because he did not make himself known in the way that they expected—in external glory and majesty. His kingdom came not with observation, because it was to be a kingdom of trail and probation. When he shall come as a Judge the world shall know him.
3. He came to his own (John 1:11); not only to the world, which was his own, but to the people of Israel, that were peculiarly his own above all people; of them he came, among them he lived, and to them he was first sent. The Jews were at this time a mean despicable people; the crown was fallen from their head; yet, in remembrance of the ancient covenant, bad as they were, and poor as they were, Christ was not ashamed to look upon them as his own. Ta idia—his own things; not tous idious—his own persons, as true believers are called, John 13:1. The Jews were his, as a man’s house, and lands, and goods are his, which he uses and possesses; but believers are his as a man’s wife and children are his own, which he loves and enjoys. He came to his own, to seek and save them, because they were his own. He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, for it was he whose own the sheep were. Now observe,
(1.) That the generality rejected him: His own received him not. He had reason to expect that those who were his own should have bidden him welcome, considering how great the obligations were which they lay under to him, and how fair the opportunities were which they had of coming to the knowledge of him. They had the oracles of God, which told them beforehand when and where to expect him, and of what tribe and family he should arise. He came among them himself, introduced with signs and wonders, and himself the greatest; and therefore it is not said of them, as it was of the world (John 1:10), that they knew him not; but his own, though they could not but know him, yet received him not; did not receive his doctrine, did not welcome him as the Messiah, but fortified themselves against him. The chief priests, that were in a particular manner his own (for the Levites were God’s tribe), were ring-leaders in this contempt put upon him. Now this was very unjust, because they were his own, and therefore he might command their respect; and it was very unkind and ungrateful, because he came to them, to seek and save them, and so to court their respect. Note, Many who in profession are Christ’s own, yet do not receive him, because they will not part with their sins, nor have him to reign over them.
(2.) That yet there was a remnant who owned him, and were faithful to him. Though his own received him not, yet there were those that received him (John 1:12): But as many as received him. Though Israel were not gathered, yet Christ was glorious. Though the body of that nation persisted and perished in unbelief, yet there were many of them that were wrought upon to submit to Christ, and many more that were not of that fold. Observe here,
[1.] The true Christian’s description and property; and that is, that he receives Christ, and believes on his name; the latter explains the former. Note, First, To be a Christian indeed is to believe on Christ’s name; it is to assent to the gospel discovery, and consent to the gospel proposal, concerning him. His name is the Word of God; the King of kings, the Lord our righteousness; Jesus a Saviour. Now to believe on his name is to acknowledge that he is what these great names bespeak him to be, and to acquiesce in it, that he may be so to us. Secondly, Believing in Christ’s name is receiving him as a gift from God. We must receive his doctrine as true and good; receive his law as just and holy; receive his offers as kind and advantageous; and we must receive the image of his grace, and impressions of his love, as the governing principle of our affections and actions.
[2.] The true Christian’s dignity and privilege are twofold:—
First, The privilege of adoption, which takes them into the number of God’s children: To them gave he power to become the sons of God. Hitherto, the adoption pertained to the Jews only (Israel is my son, my first-born); but now, by faith in Christ, Gentiles are the children of God, Gal. 3:26. They have power, exousian—authority; for no man taketh this power to himself, but he who is authorized by the gospel charter. To them gave he a right; to them gave he this pre-eminence. This power have all the saints. Note, 1. It is the unspeakable privilege of all good Christians, that they are become the children of God. They were by nature children of wrath, children of this world. If they be the children of God, they become so, are made so Fiunt, non nascuntur Christiani—Persons are not born Christians, but made such.—Tertullian. Behold what manner of love is this, 1 John 3:1. God calls them his children, they call him Father, and are entitled to all the privileges of children, those of their way and those of their home. 2. The privilege of adoption is entirely owing to Jesus Christ; he gave this power to them that believe on his name. God is his Father, and so ours; and it is by virtue of our espousals to him, and union with him, that we stand related to God as a Father. It was in Christ that we were predestinated to the adoption; from him we receive both the character and the Spirit of adoption, and he is the first-born among many brethren. The Son of God became a Son of man, that the sons and daughters of men might become the sons and daughters of God Almighty.
Secondly, The privilege of regeneration (John 1:13): Which were born. Note, All the children of God are born again; all that are adopted are regenerated. This real change evermore attends that relative one. Wherever God confers the dignity of children, he creates the nature and disposition of children. Men cannot do so when they adopt. Now here we have an account of the original of this new birth. 1. Negatively. (1.) It is not propagated by natural generation from our parents. It is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of corruptible seed, 1 Pet. 1:23. Man is called flesh and blood, because thence he has his original: but we do not become the children of God as we become the children of our natural parents. Note, Grace does not run in the blood, as corruption does. Man polluted begat a son in his own likeness (Gen. 5:3); but man sanctified and renewed does not beget a son in that likeness. The Jews gloried much in their parentage, and the noble blood that ran in their veins: We are Abraham’s seed; and therefore to them pertained the adoption because they were born of that blood; but this New-Testament adoption is not founded in any such natural relation. (2.) It is not produced by the natural power of our own will. As it is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, so neither is it of the will of man, which labours under a moral impotency of determining itself to that which is good; so that the principles of the divine life are not of our own planting, it is the grace of God that makes us willing to be his. Nor can human laws or writings prevail to sanctify and regenerate a soul; if they could, the new birth would be by the will of man. But, 2. Positively: it is of God. This new birth is owing to the word of God as the means (1 Pet. 1:23), and to the Spirit of God as the great and sole author. True believers are born of God, 1 John 3:9; 5:1. And this is necessary to their adoption; for we cannot expect the love of God if we have not something of his likeness, nor claim the privileges of adoption if we be not under the power of regeneration.
4. The word was made flesh, John 1:14. This expresses Christ’s incarnation more clearly than what went before. By his divine presence he always was in the world, and by his prophets he came to his own. But now that the fulness of time was come he was sent forth after another manner, made of a woman (Gal. 4:4); God manifested in the flesh, according to the faith and hope of holy Job; Yet shall I see God in my flesh, Job 19:26. Observe here,
(1.) The human nature of Christ with which he was veiled; and that expressed two ways.
[1.] The word was made flesh. Forasmuch as the children, who were to become the sons of God, were partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same, Heb. 2:14. The Socinians agree that Christ is both God and man, but they say that he was man, and was made a God, as Moses (Exod. 7:1), directly contrary to John here, who saith, Theos en—He was God, but sarxegeneto—He was made flesh. Compare John 1:1 with this. This intimates not only that he was really and truly man, but that he subjected himself to the miseries and calamities of the human nature. He was made flesh, the meanest part of man. Flesh bespeaks man weak, and he was crucified through weakness, 2 Cor. 13:4. Flesh bespeaks man mortal and dying (Ps. 78:39), and Christ was put to death in the flesh 1 Pet. 3:18. Nay, flesh bespeaks man tainted with sin (Gen. 6:3), and Christ, though he was perfectly holy and harmless, yet appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3), and was made sin for us, 2 Cor. 5:21. When Adam had sinned, God said to him, Dust thou art; not only because made out of the dust, but because by sin he was sunk into dust. His fall did, somatoun ten psychen, turn him as it were all into body, made him earthly; therefore he that was made a curse for us was made flesh, and condemned sin in the flesh, Rom. 8:3. Wonder at this, that the eternal Word should be made flesh, when flesh was come into such an ill name; that he who made all things should himself be made flesh, one of the meanest things, and submit to that from which he was at the greatest distance. The voice that ushered in the gospel cried, All flesh is grass (Isa. 40:6), to make the Redeemer’s love the more wonderful, who, to redeem and save us, was made flesh, and withered as grass; but the Word of the Lord, who was made flesh, endures for ever; when made flesh, he ceased not to be the Word of God.
[2.] He dwelt among us, here in this lower world. Having taken upon him the nature of man, he put himself into the place and condition of other men. The Word might have been made flesh, and dwelt among the angels; but, having taken a body of the same mould with ours, in it he came, and resided in the same world with us. He dwelt among us, us worms of the earth, us that he had no need of, us that he got nothing by, us that were corrupt and depraved, and revolted from God. The Lord God came and dwelt even among the rebellious, Ps. 68:18. He that had dwelt among angels, those noble and excellent beings, came and dwelt among us that are a generation of vipers, us sinners, which was worse to him than David’s swelling in Mesech and Kedar, or Ezekiel’s dwelling among scorpions, or the church of Pergamus dwelling where Satan’s seat is. When we look upon the upper world, the world of spirits, how mean and contemptible does this flesh, this body, appear, which we carry about with us, and this world in which our lot is cast, and how hard is it to a contemplative mind to be reconciled to them! But that the eternal Word was made flesh, was clothed with a body as we are, and dwelt in this world as we do, this has put an honour upon them both, and should make us willing to abide in the flesh while God has any work for us to do; for Christ dwelt in this lower world, bad as it is, till he had finished what he had to do here, John 17:4. He dwelt among the Jews, that the scripture might be fulfilled, He shall dwell in the tents of Shem, Gen. 9:27. And see Zech. 2:10. Though the Jews were unkind to him, yet he continued to dwell among them; though (as some of the ancient writers tell us) he was invited to better treatment by Abgarus king of Edessa, yet he removed not to any other nation. He dwelt among us. He was in the world, not as a wayfaring man that tarries but for a night, but he dwelt among us, made a long residence, the original word is observable, eskenosen en hemin—he dwelt among us, he dwelt as in a tabernacle, which intimates, First, That he dwelt here in very mean circumstances, as shepherds that dwell in tents. He did not dwell among us as in a palace, but as in a tent; for he had not where to lay his head, and was always upon the remove. Secondly, That his state here was a military state. Soldiers dwell in tents; he had long since proclaimed war with the seed of the serpent, and now he takes the field in person, sets up his standard, and pitches his tent, to prosecute this war. Thirdly, That his stay among us was not to be perpetual. He dwelt here as in a tent, not as at home. The patriarchs, by dwelling in tabernacles, confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth, and sought the better country, and so did Christ, leaving us an example, Heb. 13:13, 14. Fourthly, That as of old God dwelt in the tabernacle of Moses, by the shechinah between the cherubim, so now he dwells in the human nature of Christ; that is now the true shechinah, the symbol of God’s peculiar presence. And we are to make all our addresses to God through Christ, and from him to receive divine oracles.
(2.) The beams of his divine glory that darted through this veil of flesh: We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. The sun is still the fountain of light, though eclipsed or clouded; so Christ was still the brightness of his Father’s glory, even when he dwelt among us in this lower world. And how slightly soever the Jews thought of him there were those that saw through the veil. Observe,
[1.] Who were the witnesses of this glory: we, his disciples and followers, that conversed most freely and familiarly with him; we among whom he dwelt. Other men discover their weaknesses to those that are most familiar with them, but it was not so with Christ; those that were most intimate with him saw most of his glory. As it was with his doctrine, the disciples knew the mysteries of it, while others had it under the veil of parables; so it was with his person, they saw the glory of his divinity, while others saw only the veil of his human nature. He manifested himself to them, and not unto the world. These witnesses were a competent number, twelve of them, a whole jury of witnesses; men of plainness and integrity, and far from any thing of design or intrigue.
[2.] What evidence they had of it: We saw it. They had not their evidence by report, at second hand, but were themselves eye-witnesses of those proofs on which they built their testimony that he was the Son of the living God: We saw it. The word signifies a fixed abiding sight, such as gave them an opportunity of making their observations. This apostle himself explains this: What we declare unto you of the Word of life is what we have seen with our eyes, and what we have looked upon, 1 John 1:1.
[3.] What the glory was: The glory as of the only begotten of the Father. The glory of the Word made flesh was such a glory as became the only begotten Son of God, and could not be the glory of any other. Note, First, Jesus Christ is the only begotten of the Father. Believers are the children of God by the special favour of adoption and the special grace of regeneration. They are in a sense homoiousioi—of a like nature (2 Pet. 1:4), and have the image of his perfections; but Christ is homousios—of the same nature, and is the express image of his person, and the Son of God by an eternal generation. Angels are sons of God, but he never said to any of them, This day have I begotten thee, Heb. 1:5. Secondly, He was evidently declared to be the only begotten of the Father, by that which was seen of his glory when he dwelt among us. Though he was in the form of a servant, in respect of outward circumstances, yet, in respect of graces, his form was as that of the fourth in the fiery furnace, like the Son of God. His divine glory appeared in the holiness and heavenliness of his doctrine; in his miracles, which extorted from many this acknowledgment, that he was the Son of God; it appeared in the purity, goodness, and beneficence, of his whole conversation. God’s goodness is his glory, and he went about doing good; he spoke and acted in every thing as an incarnate Deity. Perhaps the evangelist had a particular regard to the glory of his transfiguration, of which he was an eye-witness; see 2 Pet. 1:16-18. God’s calling him his beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased, intimated that he was the only begotten of the Father; but the full proof of this was at his resurrection.
[4.] What advantage those he dwelt among had from this. He dwelt among them, full of grace and truth. In the old tabernacle wherein God dwelt was the law, in this was grace; in that were types, in this was truth. The incarnate Word was every way qualified for his undertaking as Mediator; for he was full of grace and truth, the two great things that fallen man stands in need of; and this proved him to be the Son of God as much as the divine power and majesty that appeared in him. First, He has a fulness of grace and truth for himself; he had the Spirit without measure. He was full of grace, fully acceptable to his Father, and therefore qualified to intercede for us; and full of truth, fully apprized of the things he was to reveal, and therefore fit to instruct us. He had a fulness of knowledge and a fulness of compassion. Secondly, He has a fulness of grace and truth for us. He received, that he might give, and God was well pleased in him, that he might be well pleased with us in him; and this was the truth of the legal types.
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