The scope and design of this chapter is to confirm our faith in Christ as the eternal Son of God, and the true Messiah and Saviour of the world, that we may be brought to receive him, and rely upon him, as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and to give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him. In order to this, we have here, I. An account given of him by the inspired penman himself, fairly laying down, in the beginning, what he designed his whole book should be the proof of (v. 1-5); and again (v. 10-14); and again, (v. 16-18). II. The testimony of John Baptist concerning him (v. 6-9, and v. 15); but most fully and particularly (v. 19-37). III. His own manifestation of himself to Andrew and Peter (v. 38-42), to Philip and Nathanael (v. 43-51).
Verses 1-5 Austin says (de Civitate Dei, lib. 10, cap9) that his friend Simplicius told him he had heard a Platonic philosopher say that these first verses of St. Johns 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 speaksThe Word ho logos . This is an idiom peculiar to Johns writings. See 1 Jn. 1:1 1 Jn. 5:7 ; Rev. 19:13 . Yet some think that Christ is meant by the Word in Acts. 20:32 ; Heb. 4:12 ; Lu. 1:2 . The Chaldee paraphrase very frequently calls the Messiah Memrathe 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 (v. 18), plainly tells us why he calls Christ the Wordbecause 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 oratiointelligence 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. 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, Mt. 17:5 . He has made known Gods mind to us, as a mans 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 v. 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 ch. 17:5 ), the Son infinitely happy in the enjoyment of his Fathers bosom, and no less the Fathers delight, the Son of his love, Prov. 8:30 . (3.) In respect of counsel and design. The mystery of mans redemption by this Word incarnate was hid in God before all worlds, Eph. 3:9 . He that undertook to bring us to God (1 Pt. 3:18 ) was himself from eternity with God; so that this grand affair of mans reconciliation to God was concerted between the Father and Son from eternity, and they understand one another perfectly well in it, Zec. 6:13 ; Mt. 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, v. 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, Isa. 40:28 Isa. 41:4 ; and see Jer. 10:11, Jer. 10:12 . [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, v. 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, Mt. 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 (v. 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, Rom. 1:20 . 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 Co. 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, Rom. 1:28 . 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 Mosess face, so there was upon the peoples 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.
Verses 6-14 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 Gods 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 Gods kingdom among men, were plain indications that he was sent of God. 2. We are here told what his office and business were (v. 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 Co. 1:6 1 Co. 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. Christs light needs not mans testimony, but the worlds 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, Isa. 21:12 . 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 Jn. 5:9 . See ch. 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 (v. 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 Johns 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 Lords 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 Johns 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 (v. 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, Mt. 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, v. 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 ch. 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 Gods justice for the world, and discover Gods 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, ch. 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 expectedin 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 (v. 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, ch. 13:1 . The Jews were his, as a mans house, and lands, and goods are his, which he uses and possesses; but believers are his as a mans 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 (v. 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 Gods 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 Christs 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 (v. 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 Christians 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 Christs 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 Christs 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 Christians dignity and privilege are twofold:First, The privilege of adoption, which takes them into the number of Gods 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 ChristianiPersons are not born Christians, but made such. Tertullian. Behold what manner of love is this, 1 Jn. 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. 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 (v. 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 Pt. 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 Abrahams 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 Pt. 1:23 ), and to the Spirit of God as the great and sole author. True believers are born of God, 1 Jn. 3:9 1 Jn. 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, v. 14. This expresses Christs 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 (Ex. 7:1 ), directly contrary to John here, who saith, Theos en He was God, but sarxegeneto He was made flesh. Compare v. 1with 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 Co. 13:4 . Flesh bespeaks man mortal and dying (Ps. 78:39 ), and Christ was put to death in the flesh 1 Pt. 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 Co. 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 Redeemers 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 Davids swelling in Mesech and Kedar, or Ezekiels dwelling among scorpions, or the church of Pergamus dwelling where Satans 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, ch. 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 Zec. 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, Heb. 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 Gods 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 Fathers 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 Jn. 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 Pt. 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. Gods 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 Pt. 1:16-18 . Gods 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.
Verses 15-18 In these verses,I. The evangelist begins again to give us John Baptists testimony concerning Christ, v. 15. He had said (v. 8) that he came for a witness; now here he tells us that he did accordingly bear witness. Here, Observe,1. How he expressed his testimony: He cried, according to the prediction that he should be the voice of one crying. The Old-Testament prophets cried aloud, to show people their sins; this New-Testament prophet cried aloud, to show people their Saviour. This intimates, (1.) That it was an open public testimony, proclaimed, that all manner of persons might take notice of it, for all are concerned in it. False teachers entice secretly, but wisdom publishes her dictates in the chief places of concourse. (2.) That he was free and hearty in bearing this testimony. He cried as one that was both well assured of the truth to which he witnessed and well affected to it. He that had leaped in his mothers womb for joy of Christs approach, when newly conceived, does now with a like exultation of spirit welcome his public appearance.2. What his testimony was. He appeals to what he had said at the beginning of his ministry, when he had directed them to expect one that should come after him, whose forerunner he was, and never intended any other than to lead them to him, and to prepare his way. This he had given them notice of from the first. Note, It is very comfortable to a minister to have the testimony of his conscience for him that he set out in his ministry with honest principles and sincere intentions, with a single eye to the glory and honour of Christ. Now what he had then said he applies to this Jesus whom he had lately baptized, and who was so remarkably owned from heaven: This was he of whom I spoke. John did not tell them that there would shortly appear such a one among them, and then leave them to find him out; but in this he went beyond all the Old-Testament prophets that he particularly specified the person: "This was he, the very man I told you of, and to him all I said is to be accommodated. Now what was it he said?(1.) He had given the preference to this Jesus: He that comes after me, in the time of his birth and public appearance, is preferred before me; he that succeeds me in preaching and making disciples is a more excellent person, upon all accounts; as the prince or peer that comes after is preferred before the harbinger or gentleman-usher that makes way for him. Note, Jesus Christ, who was to be called the Son of the Highest (Lu. 1:32 ), was preferred before John Baptist, who was to be called only the prophet of the Highest, Lu. 1:76 . John was a minister of the New Testament, but Christ was the Mediator of the New Testament. And observe, though John was a great man, and had a great name and interest, yet he was forward to give the preference to him to whom it belonged. Note, All the ministers of Christ must prefer him and his interest before themselves and their own interests; they will make an ill account that seek their own things, not the things of Christ, Phil. 2:21 . He comes after me, and yet is preferred before me. Note, God dispenses his gifts according to his good pleasure, and many times crosses hands, as Jacob did, preferring the younger before the elder. Paul far outstripped those that were in Christ before him.(2.) He here gives a good reason for it: For he was before me, protos mou en He was my first, or first to me; he was my first Cause, my original. The First is one of Gods names, Isa. 44:6 . He is before me, is my first, [1.] In respect of seniority: he was before me, for he was before Abraham, ch. 8:58 . Nay, he was before all things, Col. 1:17 . I am but of yesterday, he from eternity. It was but in those days that John Baptist came (Mt. 3:1 ), but the goings forth of our Lord Jesus were of old, from everlasting, Mic. 5:2 . This proves two natures in Christ. Christ, as man, came after John as to his public appearance; Christ, as God, was before him; and how could he otherwise be before him but by an eternal existence? [2.] In respect of supremacy; for he was my prince; so some princes are called the first; proton , "It is he for whose sake and service I am sent: he is my Master, I am his minister and messenger.II. He presently returns again to speak of Jesus Christ, and cannot go on with John Baptists testimony till v. 19. The 16th verse has a manifest connection with v. 14, where the incarnate Word was said to be full of grace and truth. Now here he makes this the matter, not only of our adoration, but of our thankfulness, because from that fulness of his we all have received. He received gifts for men (Ps. 68:18 ), that he might give gifts to men, Eph. 4:8 . He was filled, that he might fill all in all (Eph. 1:23 ), might fill our treasures, Prov. 8:21 . He has a fountain of fulness overflowing: We all have received. All we apostles; so some. We have received the favour of this apostleship, that is grace; and a fitness for it, that is truth. Or, rather, All we believers; as many as received him (v. 16), received from him. Note, All true believers receive from Christs fulness; the best and greatest saints cannot live without him, the meanest and weakest may live by him. This excludes proud boasting, that we have nothing but we have received it; and silences perplexing fears, that we want nothing but we may receive it. Let us see what it is that we have received.1. We have received grace for grace. Our receivings by Christ are all summed up in this one word, grace; we have received kai charin even grace, so great a gift, so rich, so invaluable; we have received no less than grace; this is a gift to be spoken of with an emphasis. It is repeated, grace for grace; for to every stone in this building, as well as to the top-stone, we must cry, Grace, grace. Observe,(1.) The blessing received. It is grace; the good will of God towards us, and the good work of God in us. Gods good will works the good work, and then the good work qualifies us for further tokens of his good will. As the cistern receives water from the fulness of the fountain, the branches sap from the fulness of the root, and the air light from the fulness of the sun, so we receive grace from the fulness of Christ.(2.) The manner of its reception: Grace for grace -charin anti charitos . The phrase is singular, and interpreters put different senses upon it, each of which will be of use to illustrate the unsearchable riches of the grace of Christ. Grace for grace bespeaks, [1.] The freeness of this grace. It is grace for grace sake; so Grotius. We receive grace, not for our sakes (be it known to us), but even so, Father, because it seemed good in thy sight. It is a gift according to grace, Rom. 12:6 . It is grace to us for the sake of grace to Jesus Christ. God was well pleased in him, and is therefore well pleased with us in him, Eph. 1:6 . [2.] The fulness of this grace. Grace for grace is abundance of grace, grace upon grace (so Camero ), one grace heaped upon another; as skin for skin is skin after skin, even all that a man has, Job. 2:4 . It is a blessing poured out, that there shall not be room to receive it, plenteous redemption: one grace a pledge of more grace. Joseph-He will add. It is such a fulness as is called the fulness of God which we are filled with. We are not straitened in the grace of Christ, if we be not straitened in our own bosoms. [3.] The serviceableness of this grace. Grace for grace is grace for the promoting and advancing of grace. Grace to be exercised by ourselves; gracious habits for gracious acts. Grace to be ministered to others; gracious vouchsafements for gracious performances: grace is a talent to be traded with. The apostles received grace (Rom. 1:5 ; Eph. 3:8 ), that they might communicate it, 1 Pt. 4:10 . [4.] The substitution of New-Testament grace in the room and stead of Old-Testament grace: so Beza. And this sense is confirmed by what follows (v. 17); for the Old Testament had grace in type, the New Testament has grace in truth. There was a grace under the Old Testament, the gospel was preached then (Gal. 3:8 ); but that grace is superseded, and we have gospel grace instead of it, a glory which excelleth, 2 Co. 3:10 . Discoveries of grace are now more clear, distributions of grace far more plentiful; this is grace instead of grace. [5.] It bespeaks the augmentation and continuance of grace. Grace for grace is one grace to improve, confirm, and perfect another grace. We are changed into the divine image, from glory to glory, from one degree of glorious grace to another, 2 Co. 3:18 . Those that have true grace have that for more grace, Jam. 4:6 . When God gives grace he saith, Take this in part; for he who hath promised will perform. [6.] It bespeaks the agreeableness and conformity of grace in the saints to the grace that is in Jesus Christ; so Mr. Clark. Grace for grace is grace in us answering to grace in him, as the impression upon the wax answers the seal line for line. The grace we receive from Christ changes us into the same image (2 Co. 3:18 ), the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29 ), the image of the heavenly, 1 Co. 15:49 .2. We have received grace and truth, v. 17. He had said (v. 14) that Christ was full of grace and truth; now here he says that by him grace and truth came to us. From Christ we receive grace; this is a string he delights to harp upon, he cannot go off from it. Two things he further observes in this verse concerning this grace:(1.) Its preference above the law of Moses: The law was given by Moses, and it was a glorious discovery, both of Gods will concerning man and his good will to man; but the gospel of Christ is a much clearer discovery both of duty and happiness. That which was given by Moses was purely terrifying and threatening, and bound with penalties, a law which could not give life, which was given with abundance of terror (Heb. 12:18 ); but that which is given by Jesus Christ is of another nature; it has all the beneficial uses of the law, but not the terror, for it is grace: grace teaching (Tit. 2:11 ), grace reigning, Rom. 5:21 . It is a law, but a remedial law. The endearments of love are the genius of the gospel, not the affrightments of law and the curse. (2.) Its connection with truth: grace and truth. In the gospel we have the discovery of the greatest truths to be embraced by the understanding, as well as of the richest grace to be embraced by the will and affections. It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation; that is, it is grace and truth. The offers of grace are sincere, and what we may venture our souls upon; they are made in earnest, for it is grace and truth. It is grace and truth with reference to the law that was given by Moses. For it is, [1.] The performance of all the Old-Testament promises. In the Old Testament we often find mercy and truth put together, that is, mercy according to promise; so here grace and truth denote grace according to promise. See Lu. 1:72 ; 1 Ki. 8:56 . [2.] It is the substance of all the Old-Testament types and shadows. Something of grace there was both in the ordinances that were instituted for Israel and the providences that occurred concerning Israel; but they were only shadows of good things to come, even of the grace that is to be brought to us by the revelation of Jesus Christ. He is the true paschal lamb, the true scape-goat, the true manna. They had grace in the picture; we have grace in the person, that is, grace and truth. Grace and truth came, egeneto was made; the same word that was used (v. 3) concerning Christs making all things. The law was only made known by Moses, but the being of this grace and truth, as well as the discovery of them, is owing to Jesus Christ; this was made by him, as the world at first was; and by him this grace and truth do consist. 3. Another thing we receive from Christ is a clear revelation of God to us (v. 18): He hath declared God to us, whom no man hath seen at any time. This was the grace and truth which came by Christ, the knowledge of God and an acquaintance with him. Observe,(1.) The insufficiency of all other discoveries: No man hath seen God at any time. This intimates, [1.] That the nature of God being spiritual, he is invisible to bodily eyes, he is a being whom no man hath seen, nor can see, 1 Tim. 6:16 . We have therefore need to live by faith, by which we see him that is invisible, Heb. 11:27 . [2.] That the revelation which God made of himself in the Old Testament was very short and imperfect, in comparison with that which he has made by Christ: No man hath seen God at any time; that is, what was seen and known of God before the incarnation of Christ was nothing to that which is now seen and known; life and immortality are now brought to a much clearer light than they were then. [3.] That none of the Old-Testament prophets were so well qualified to make known the mind and will of God to the children of men as our Lord Jesus was, for none of them had seen God at any time. Moses beheld the similitude of the Lord (Num. 12:8 ), but was told that he could not see his face, Ex. 33:20 . But this recommends Christs holy religion to us that it was founded by one that had seen God, and knew more of his mind than any one else ever did.(2.) The all-sufficiency of the gospel discovery proved from its author: The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him. Observe here,[1.] How fit he was to make this discovery, and every way qualified for it. He and he alone was worthy to take the book, and to open the seals, Rev. 5:9 . For, First, He is the only-begotten Son; and who so likely to know the Father as the Son? or in whom is the Father better known than in the Son? Mt. 11:27 . He is of the same nature with the Father, so that he who hath seen him hath seen the Father, ch. 14:9 . The servant is not supposed to know so well what his Lord does as the Son, ch. 15:15 . Moses was faithful as a servant, but Christ as a Son. Secondly, He is in the bosom of the Father. He had lain in his bosom from eternity. When he was here upon earth, yet still, as God, he was in the bosom of the Father, and thither he returned when he ascended. In the bosom of the Father; that is, 1. In the bosom of his special love, dear to him, in whom he was well pleased, always his delight. All Gods saints are in his hand, but his Son was in his bosom, one in nature and essence, and therefore in the highest degree one in love. 2. In the bosom of his secret counsels. As there was a mutual complacency, so there was a mutual consciousness, between the Father and Son (Mt. 11:27 ); none so fit as he to make known God, for none knew his mind as he did. Our most secret counsels we are said to hide in our bosom (in pectore); Christ was privy to the bosom-counsels of the Father. The prophets sat down at his feet as scholars; Christ lay in his bosom as a friend. See Eph. 3:11 .[2.] How free he was in making this discovery: He hath declared. Him is not in the original. He has declared that of God which no man had at any time seen or known; not only that which was hid of God, but that which was hid in God (Eph. 3:9 ), exegesato it signifies a plain, clear, and full discovery, not by general and doubtful hints, but by particular explications. He that runs may now read the will of God and the way of salvation. This is the grace, this the truth, that came by Jesus Christ.
Verses 19-28 We have here the testimony of John, which he delivered to the messengers who were sent from Jerusalem to examine him. Observe here,I. Who they were that sent to him, and who they were that were sent. 1. They that sent to him were the Jews at Jerusalem, the great sanhedrim or high-commission court, which sat at Jerusalem, and was the representative of the Jewish church, who took cognizance of all matters relating to religion. One would think that they who were the fountains of learning, and the guides of the church, should have, by books, understood the times so well as to know that the Messiah was at hand, and therefore should presently have known him that was his forerunner, and readily embraced him; but, instead of this, they sent messengers to cross questions with him. Secular learning, honour, and power, seldom dispose mens minds to the reception of divine light. They that were sent were, (1.) Priests and Levites, probably members of the council, men of learning, gravity, and authority. John Baptist was himself a priest of the seed of Aaron, and therefore it was not fit that he should be examined by any but priests. It was prophesied concerning Johns ministry that it should purify the Sons of Levi (Mal. 3:3 ), and therefore they were jealous of him and his reformation. (2.) They were of the Pharisees, proud, self-justiciaries, that thought they needed no repentance, and therefore could not bear one that made it his business to preach repentance.II. On what errand they were sent; it was to enquire concerning John and his baptism. They did not send for John to them, probably because they feared the people, lest the people where John was should be provoked to rise, or lest the people where they were should be brought acquainted with him; they thought it was good to keep him at a distance. They enquire concerning him, 1. To satisfy their curiosity; as the Athenians enquired concerning Pauls doctrine, for the novelty of it, Acts. 17:19, Acts. 17:20 . Such a proud conceit they had of themselves that the doctrine of repentance was to them strange doctrine. 2. It was to show their authority. They thought they looked great when they called him to account whom all men counted as a prophet, and arraigned him at their bar. 3, . It was with a design to suppress him and silence him if they could find any colour for it; for they were jealous of his growing interest, and his ministry agreed neither with the Mosaic dispensation which they had been long under, nor with the notions they had formed of the Messiahs kingdom.III. What was the answer he gave them, and his account, both concerning himself and concerning his baptism, in both which he witnessed to Christ.1. Concerning himself, and what he professed himself to be. They asked him, Sy tis ei Thou, who art thou? Johns appearing in the world was surprising. He was in the wilderness till the day of his showing unto Israel. His spirit, his converse, he doctrine, had something in them which commanded and gained respect; but he did not, as seducers do, give out himself to be some great one. He was more industrious to do good than to appear great; and therefore waived saying any thing of himself till he was legally interrogated. Those speak best for Christ that say least of themselves, whose own works praise them, not their own lips. He answers their interrogatory,(1.) Negatively. He was not that great one whom some took him to be. Gods faithful witnesses stand more upon their guard against undue respect than against unjust contempt. Paul writes as warmly against those that overvalued him, and said, I am of Paul, as against those that undervalued him, and said that his bodily presence was weak; and he rent his clothes when he was called a god. [1.] John disowns himself to be the Christ (v. 20): He said, I am not the Christ, who was now expected and waited for. Note, The ministers of Christ must remember that they are not Christ, and therefore must not usurp his powers and prerogatives, nor assume the praises due to him only. They are not Christ, and therefore must not lord it over Gods heritage, nor pretend to a dominion over the faith of Christians. They cannot created grace and peace; they cannot enlighten, convert, quicken, comfort; for they are not Christ. Observe how emphatically this is here expressed concerning John: He confessed, and denied not, but confessed; it denotes his vehemence and constancy in making this protestation. Note, Temptations to pride, and assuming that honour to ourselves which does not belong to us, ought to be resisted with a great deal of vigour and earnestness. When John was taken to be the Messiah, he did not connive at it with a Si populus vult decipi, decipiaturIf the people will be deceived, let them; but openly and solemnly, without any ambiguities, confessed, I am not the Christ; hoti ouk eimi ego ho Christos I am not the Christ, not I; another is at hand, who is he, but I am not. His disowning himself to be the Christ is called his confessing and not denying Christ. Note, Those that humble and abase themselves thereby confess Christ, and give honour to him; but those that will not deny themselves do in effect deny Christ, [2.] He disowns himself to be Elias, v. 21. The Jews expected the person of Elias to return from heaven, and to live among them, and promised themselves great things from it. Hearing of Johns character, doctrine, and baptism, and observing that he appeared as one dropped from heaven, in the same part of the country from which Elijah was carried to heaven, it is no wonder that they were ready to take him for this Elijah; but he disowned this honour too. He was indeed prophesied of under the name of Elijah (Mal. 4:5 ), and he came in the spirit and power of Elias (Lu. 1:17 ), and was the Elias that was to come (Mt. 11:14 ); but he was not the person of Elias, not that Elias that went to heaven in the fiery chariot, as he was that met Christ in his transfiguration. He was the Elias that God had promised, not the Elias that they foolishly dreamed of. Elias did come, and they knew him not (Mt. 17:12 ); nor did he make himself known to them as the Elias, because they had promised themselves such an Elias as God never promised them. [3.] He disowns himself to be that prophet, or the prophet. First, He was not that prophet which Moses said the Lord would raise up to them of their brethren, like unto him. If they meant this, they needed not ask that question, for that prophet was no other than the Messiah, and he had said already, I am not the Christ. Secondly, He was not such a prophet as they expected and wished for, who, like Samuel and Elijah, and some other of the prophets, would interpose in public affairs, and rescue them from under the Roman yoke. Thirdly, He was not one of the old prophets raised from the dead, as they expected one to come before Elias, as Elias before the Messiah. Fourthly, Though John was a prophet, yea, more than a prophet, yet he had his revelation, not by dreams and visions, as the Old-Testament prophets had theirs; his commission and work were of another nature, and belonged to another dispensation. If John had said that he was Elias, and was a prophet, he might have made his words good; but ministers must, upon all occasions, express themselves with the utmost caution, both that they may not confirm people in any mistakes, and particularly that they may not give occasion to any to think of them above what is meet. (2.) Affirmatively. The committee that was sent to examine him pressed for a positive answer (v. 22), urging the authority of those that sent them, which they expected he should pay a deference to: "Tell us, What art thou? not that we may believe thee, and be baptized by three, but that we may give an answer to those that sent us, and that it may not be said we were sent on a fools errand. John was looked upon as a man of sincerity, and therefore they believed he would not give an evasive ambiguous answer; but would be fair and above-board, and give a plain answer to a plain question: What sayest thou of thyself? And he did so, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Observe,[1.] He gives his answer in the words of scripture, to show that the scripture was fulfilled in him, and that his office was supported by a divine authority. What the scripture saith of the office of the ministry should be often thought of by those of that high calling, who must look upon themselves as that, and that only, which the word of God makes them.[2.] He gives in his answer in very humble, modest, self-denying expressions. He chooses to apply that scripture to himself which denotes not his dignity, but his duty and dependence, which bespeaks him little: I am the voice, as if he were vox et praeterea nihil mere voice. [3.] He gives such an account of himself as might be profitable to them, and might excite and awaken them to hearken to him; for he was the voice (see Isa. 40:3 ), a voice to alarm, an articulate voice to instruct. Ministers are but the voice, the vehicle, by which God is pleased to communicate his mind. What are Paul and Apollos but messengers? Observe, First, He was a human voice. The people were prepared to receive the law by the voice of thunders, and a trumpet exceedingly loud, such as made them tremble; but they were prepared for the gospel by the voice of a man like ourselves, a still small voice, such as that in which God came to Elijah, 1 Ki. 19:12 . Secondly, He was the voice of one crying, which denotes, 1. His earnestness and importunity in calling people to repentance; he cried aloud, and did not spare. Ministers must preach as those that are in earnest, and are themselves affected with those things with which they desire to affect others. Those words are not likely to thaw the hearers hearts that freeze between the speakers lips. 2. His open publication of the doctrine he preached; he was the voice of one crying, that all manner of persons might hear and take notice. Doth not wisdom cry? Prov. 8:1 . Thirdly, It was in the wilderness that this voice was crying; in a place of silence and solitude, out of the noise of the world and the hurry of its business; the more retired we are from the tumult of secular affairs the better prepared we are to hear from God. Fourthly, That which he cried was, Make straight the way of the Lord; that is, 1. He came to rectify the mistakes of people concerning the ways of God; it is certain that they are right ways, but the scribes and Pharisees, with their corrupt glosses upon the law, had made them crooked. Now John Baptist calls people to return to the original rule. 2. He came to prepare and dispose people for the reception and entertainment of Christ and his gospel. It is an allusion to the harbingers of a prince or great man, that cry, Make room. Note, When God is coming towards us, we must prepare to meet him, and let the word of the Lord have free course. See Ps. 24:7 .2. Here is his testimony concerning his baptism. (1.) The enquiry which the committee made about it: Why baptizest thou, if thou be not the Christ, nor Elias, nor that prophet? v. 25. [1.] They readily apprehended baptism to be fitly and properly used as a sacred rite or ceremony, for the Jewish church had used it with circumcision in the admission of proselytes, to signify the cleansing of them from the pollutions of their former state. That sign was made use of in the Christian church, that it might be the more passable. Christ did not affect novelty, nor should his ministers. [2.] They expected it would be used in the days of the Messiah, because it was promised that then there should be a fountain opened (Zec. 13:1 ), and clean water sprinkled, Eze. 36:25 . It is taken for granted that Christ, and Elias, and that prophet, would baptize, when they came to purify a polluted world. Divine justice drowned the old world in its filth, but divine grace has provided for the cleansing of this new world from its filth. [3.] They would therefore know by what authority John baptized. His denying himself to be Elias, or that prophet, subjected him to this further question, Why baptizest thou? Note, It is no new thing for a mans modesty to be turned against him, and improved to his prejudice; but it is better that men should take advantage of our low thoughts of ourselves, to trample upon us, than the devil take advantage of our high thoughts of ourselves, to tempt us to pride and draw us into his condemnation.(2.) The account he gave of it, v. 26, v. 27.[1.] He owned himself to be only the minister of the outward sign: "I baptize with water, and that is all; I am no more, and do no more, than what you see; I have no other title than John the Baptist; I cannot confer the spiritual grace signified by it. Paul was in care that none should think of him above what they saw him to be (2 Co. 12:6 ); so was John Baptist. Ministers must not set up for masters.[2.] He directed them to one who was greater than himself, and would do that for them, if they pleased, which he could not do: "I baptize with water, and that is the utmost of my commission; I have nothing to do but by this to lead you to one that comes after me, and consign you to him. Note, The great business of Christs ministers is to direct all people to him; we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. John gave the same account to this committee that he had given to the people (v. 15): This as he of whom I spoke. John was constant and uniform in his testimony, not as a reed shaken with the wind. The sanhedrim were jealous of his interest in the people, but he is not afraid to tell them that there is one at the door that will go beyond him. First, He tells them of Christs presence among them now at this time: There stands one among you, at this time, whom you know not. Christ stood among the common people, and was as one of them. Note, 1. Much true worth lies hid in this world; obscurity is often the lot of real excellency. Saints are Gods hidden ones, therefore the world knows them not. 2. God himself is often nearer to us than we are aware of. The Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. They were gazing, in expectation of the messiah: Lo he is here, or he is there, when the kingdom of God was abroad and already among them, Lu. 17:21 . Secondly, He tells them of Christs preference above himself: He comes after me, and yet is preferred before me. This he had said before; he adds here, "Whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to loose; I am not fit to be named the same day with him; it is an honour too great for me to pretend to be in the meanest office about him, 1 Sa. 25:41 . Those to whom Christ is precious reckon his service, even the most despised instances of it, an honour to them. See Ps. 84:10 . If so great a man as John accounted himself unworthy of the honour of being near Christ, how unworthy then should we account ourselves! Now, one would think, these chief priests and Pharisees, upon this intimation given concerning the approach of the Messiah, should presently have asked who, and where, this excellent person was; and who more likely to tell them than he who had given them this general notice? No, they did not think this any part of their business or concern; they came to molest John, not to receive any instructions from him: so that their ignorance was wilful; they might have known Christ, and would not.Lastly, Notice is taken of the place where all this was done: In Bethabara beyond Jordan, v. 28. Bethabara signifies the house of passage; some think it was the very place where Israel passed over Jordan into the land of promise under the conduct of Joshua; there was opened the way into the gospel state by Jesus Christ. It was at a great distance from Jerusalem, beyond Jordan; probably because what he did there would be least offensive to the government. Amos must go prophesy in the country, not near the court; but it was sad that Jerusalem should put so far from her the things that belonged to her peace. He made this confession in the same place where he was baptizing, that all those who attended his baptism might be witnesses of it, and none might say that they knew not what to make of him.