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HISTORY OF JESUS CHRIST.
JOHN I, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. The same was
in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness : and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men ihrough him might believe. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light. That was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God; even to them that believe on bis name : which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father,) full of grace and truth.
The idea of a beginning involves that of antecedent existence, from which that beginning originated. The beginning of a man's life implies parentage; the being of a tower of a city, necessarily supposes a preexistent head to plan, and a hand to execute. The vast frame of Nature must have had its commencement from a preceding skill to contrive, and a power to perform. The Mosaic account of the Creation is the only one that sound reason can admit. If God created the heavens and the earth, God was before the heavens and the earth. Moses the historian, and John the evangelist carry us back to one and the same era, carry us up to one and the same all-wise, all-powerful Being. Nature and Grace issue from the same source, and tend toward the same grand consummation. The prophet and the apostle employ the selfsame terms to describe the same objects. “ He that built all things is God.”
It has been remarked that the four Evangelists introduce their great subject in a retrograde series of representation. Matthew's gospel opens with a display of the Saviour's humanity, and presents us with his descent as a man. Mark conveys us back to the age of prophecy, and “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God" is traced up to the predictions of Malachi and Isaiah. Luke the beloved physician refers us to the Levitical priesthood, to the altar of incense, and the services of an earthly sanctuary, "a shadow of good things to come.” But John soars above all height; he recurs to the birth of nature, and ascribes that birth to a preexistent, omnific WORD, which in “ the fulness of time was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” We have beheld his glory displayed in the ages before the flood, in the per
sons and predictions of patriarcbs and prophets, by whom “God at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto the fathers.” But Moses and Elias have disappeared; the “ voice crying in the wilderness” is heard no more ; it is lost in a "voice from heaven,” saying, “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye
Him." We are now therefore to contemplate " him, to whom all the prophets gave witness,” in his own person, doctrine, and mighty works; and, as the order of things prescribes, our contemplation must commence in what he was in the beginning, prior to the lapse of time, for “ he is before all things, and by him all things consist." John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved, “ long survived the rest of his fellow-disciples. He knew what some of them had written. He lived to see the progress of the truth as it is in Christ. He saw the divine origin of Christianity demonstrated by its success, and he became a joyful martyr to the truth which he published to the world. A “ brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ,". in common with other saints, he retired into exile in “the isle that is called Patinos," a cheerful victim to “the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” In that sacred retirement, more to be prized than all the blessings of society, he is visited with the visions of the Almighty, and becomes the highly honoured minister of unfolding the character, offices and work of his divine and beloved Master, from the days of eternity to the final consummation, when He who sitieth upon the throne shall say, “ Behold I make all things new.” The Gospel, according to St. John, and the Revelation of St. John, may therefore be considered as together forming an abstract of the plan of Providence from the first dawning of light upon the world of nature to the perfect day of “the restitution of all things." And one and the same Agent is represented as the animating principle which is before all, and through all, and in all.
In the beginning. The mind, with all its powers, loses itself in surveying the works and the ways of God. I have a dark, indistinct recollection of my first emersion into thought. I can remember some of the impressions made, of the sorrows and joys felt, when I was a little child. Soon after I began to exist, I began to perceive that I did exist, but for the knowledge of all that preceded I stand indebted to a father's intelligence, to a mother's tenderness. They were to me the beginning of days and the oracles of truth. Their own pittance of illumination flowed in the same channel. But there must have been a point when thought began. There must have been an intelligence wbich could communicate the power of comprehension ; there must have been a spirit which could breathe into man's nostrils the breath of life; there must have been one without a beginning to make a beginning. And who He was the Evangelist unfolds.
In the beginning was the Word. Let us not contend about the import of a Greek terin. If our evangelist has not an intention to mislead, but one idea can be affixed to that term. He is evidently describing God the creator, in the view of leading us to know and to acknowledge the Redeemer of mankind as one and the same with him. Who “ was made flesh and dwelt among us?" Who " came to his own and his own received him not ?'' Who " was despised and rejected of men ?" The Word that was in the beginning, and who has revealed himself by a display of so many glorious attributes. - Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness : God was manifest in the flesh." Is this proposition to be rejected because it is mysterious ? For the same reason the system of nature, in whole, and in all its parts, is to be rejected. All is mystery; and all is revelation and discovery, from the insect too small for sight swimming in a drop of water, up to yonder flaming orb which revolver at an immeasurable distance over our heads. Is not man a great mystery to
himself? But is he to renounce his being because he is unable to explain it ! Is he to call the union of matter with mind an absurdity because their mutual influence escapes his penetration? How many combinations actually exist of which we have no perception, and which we would pronounce to be impossible! In all the ways and works of the Most High there is a wonderful mixture of luminousness and obscurity, of minuteness and magnitude, of complexness and simplicity. And Scripture exhibits the connexion of extremes similar to that which is apparent in the world of nature and in the ways of Providence. This is a presumption at least, if not a proof that they have all one orignal; and who can that original be but the divine person emphatically, called The Word, which existed in the plenitude of power, wisdom and goodness“ before the world was,” but of whose preexistent state very general ideas only are communicated. Indeed none other can be communicated, for when the mind launches into infinity it is overwhelmed and lost. If the wisdom which cries, and the understanding which puts forth her voice in the writings of Solomon, be the same with the Word which was in the beginning, as a comparison of the two passages will render highly probable, we shall have a sublime and interesting idea of this preexistent state. The evangelist says,
The word was with God, as the deliberative, active, determining principle of the Eternal mind. The wise man expands the thought, and represents the plans of eternal Wisdom as digesting; the framing, arranging, supporting, governing, redeeming of a world, as in contemplation. As if admitted into the counsels of peace, he thus unfolds the purpose of Him who worketh all things after his own will, that all should be to the praise of his glory :
- The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled ; before the hills was I brought forth; while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens I was there ; when he set a compass upon the face of the depth ; when he established the clouds above; when he strengthened the fountains of the deep; when he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; when he appointed the foundations of the earth ; then by him, as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him : rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.” Thus was the Word with God from eternity taking pleasure in the prospect of the fabric which he was about to rear; of the creature whom he was going to frame, and whose nature he was in due time to assume ; that he might make the children of men “partakers of the divine nature," an union as mysterious and incomprehensible as that of soul and body, as that of the persons in the Deity, and as evidently matter of truth and revelation as these are.
And the Word was God. Here “the disciple whom Jesus loved" recognizes in his Master, on whose bosom he leaned at supper, " all the fulness of the godhead dwelling bodily.” Lest the expression, the Word was with God might be supposed to imply separation, difference, as a man who sojourns with his friend is nevertheless a different being from that friend, the evangelist speaks out fairly, fully, unequivocally, the truth which he himself believed, and which he was divinely inspired to deliver to mankind, that they also might believe. If St. John be not in these words delivering the doctrine of the real
proper Deity of Jesus Christ, he is either himself labouring under a delusion, or he intentionally means to deceive, or there is no meaning in language, and consequently no distinct and safe channel of communication between man and man,
The same was in the beginning with God. John speaks as a prophet as well as an evangelist. Foreseeing that “ false teachers” should arise, even denying the Lord that bought them,” he employs a clearness, a copiousness, a force of expression on this momentous point, not to be misunderstood, not to be slighted, not to be explained away. When a master charges his servant with a message of peculiar importance, he repeats it again and again, he puts it into every different form, in order to avoid ambiguity and to prevent mistake. This is evidently the case here. It must not be made a question, “Of whom speaketh” the evangelist thus ? " of himself, or of some other man. The identity of the person is ascertained beyond the reach of doubt. He is the same before time began its race; the same who set time a flowing; the same through every period of duration ; the same under every character and in every condition.
Where is the proof that the Word was God? All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. Behold the execution of the eternal plan. The design is copied to an iota. It is the incommunicable prerogative of Deity to create. He who creates cannot be himself a creature. By the Word were all things made, the WORD therefore could not have been made. What God did by the Word of his power he did by himself; and through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God." Mark the universality of this creative energy; All things were made by Him. The apostle makes a splendid enumeration of those all things, in his epistle to the Collossians, ch. i. v. 16. “For by Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him and for him.” Wherever therefore there is created existence, there is omnipotent, omnipresent, creating and sustaining virtue, and there can be but One Omnipotent, Omnipresent. “Angels" are said to “ excel in strength," but that strength is imparted, and it is exerted or restrained by a will not their own; they “ do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.” Man is capable of doing great things, but his power is limited to the modification of materials provided to his hand. Christians are indeed said to be “ labourers together with God,” and “ workers together with him ;' it is the highest glory of human nature: but this labouring and working is not in aid to feebleness, it goes not to the production of what had no previous being; it simply implies the adoption of the same views with God, and the imitation of his works of goodness and mercy.
The united powers of angels and men are unequal to the formation of a single atom, for, to the ascription of the creation of universal nature to the Word, John subjoins his exclusive title to the character of Creator : it is a glory which he will not give to any other ; “ without him was not any thing made that was mnade.” “He spake, and it was done ; he commanded, and it stood fast.”.. “God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” And who but God could thus speak, thus produce ? In Him was life
. In the vegetable world life is a state of expansion, a progress of fructification, a power of reproduction, but all issuing in the decay and dissolution of the parent germ. A grain of wheat in order to vitality must itself consume. “ That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.” It has not therefore life in itself. It was the divine mandate which first generated, and which still supports the wonderful process. 6 God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself upon the earth, after his kind : and it was so: and God saw that it was good. From the same fountain of life proceeded animal nature : “ All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through
the paths of the seas.” A higher species of life issues from the selfsame
“ The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life ; and man became a living soul.” In all these gradations we behold a vital principle, but that principle derived, standing in need of continual supplies, and hastening to extinction. Here we are presented with life underived, needing no external support, inextinguishable. * In Him” supereminently life;" a life of which man is in a peculiar sense partaker : and the life was the light of men.
“ The light of the body is the eye ;” and a precious gift it is. "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." But the faculty of vision, as well as some others, is bestowed in a higher degree of acuteness on certain of the animal creation, than upon man. He however possesses a light denied to the beasts that perish. " There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding."
“ The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord," by which he is distinguished from, and exalted far above the beasts of the earth and the fowls of heaven. And this “light of men” is the gift of Him who “ has life in himself.” • He that planted the ear, shall he not hear ? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?”
And the light shineth in darkness. Material light necessarily dispels darkness; when the sun rises the shadows flee away. But mental darkness resists the clearest light. The great source of intellectual day has shined through every age and upon every land ; but every age and every land have exhibited men grovelling in the dark, wilfully shutting their eyes, and then denying the existence of light. The history of mankind is a melancholy demonstration of this, " and this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil, for every one that doth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." It is a corrupted heart that disturbs and misleads the intellect. If, therefore.” O man, “the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness !" On whom does this censure fall? On the ruder nations, and the grosser periods of ignorance and barbarism ? Yes, and likewise on periods of illumination and refinement, on nations who, in the pride of their heart, appropriated all wisdom to themselves, and stigmatized the rest of mankind with the name of Barbarian: it falls on the boasted ages of Alexander and of Augustus, on learned Athens and imperial Rome. Of them it is that the apostle Paul thus writes : “ When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools: and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator." This accounts for that earnestness of exhortation employed by the same apostle in his epistle to the Ephesians : " This I say, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart : who, being past feeling, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness." Thus though the Light of the world shone, and still shineth, the darkness comprehended it not. On whom does the censure fall? On pagans of ages past, and on pagans now walking in darkness, and dwelling in the land of the shadow of death ;" on unbelieving Jews and the blinded posterity of Ishmael ? Alas! “ darkness still covers the earth,” of lands donominated Christian, “and gross darkness the people” who bear that, venerable name.