Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ, The Word Incarnate
We first submit a brief Analysis of the passage which is to be before us—John 1:14-18. We have here:—
1. Christ’s Incarnation—"The word became flesh": John 1:14.
2. Christ’s Earthly sojourn—"And tabernacled among us:" John 1:14.
3. Christ’s Essential Glory—"As of the only Begotten:" John 1:14.
4. Christ’s Supreme excellency—"Preferred before:" John 1:15.
5. Christ’s Divine sufficiency—"His fulness:" John 1:16.
6. Christ’s Moral perfections—"Grace and truth:" John 1:17.
7. Christ’s Wondrous revelation—Made known "the Father:" John 1:18.
"And the word was made (became) flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). The Infinite became finite. The Invisible became tangible. The Transcendent became imminent. That which was far off drew nigh. That which was beyond the reach of the human mind became that which could be beholden within the realm of human life. Here we are permitted to see through a veil that, which unveiled, would have blinded us. "The word became flesh:" He became what He was not previously. He did not cease to be God, but He became Man.
"And the word became flesh." The plain meaning of these words is, that our Divine Savior took upon Him human nature. He became a real Man, yet a sinless, perfect Man. As Man He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26). This union of the two natures in the Person of Christ is one of the mysteries of our faith—"Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). It needs to be carefully stated. "The word" was His Divine title; "became flesh" speaks of His holy humanity. He was, and is, the God-man, yet the Divine and human in Him were never confounded. His Deity, though veiled, was never laid aside; His humanity, though sinless, was a real humanity; for as incarnate, He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52). As "the word" then, He is the Son of God; as "flesh," the Son of man.
This union of the two natures in the Person of Christ was necessary in order to fit Him for the office of Mediator. Three great ends were accomplished by God becoming incarnate, by the Word being made flesh. First, it was now possible for Him to die. Second, He can now be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Third, He has left us an example, that we should follow His steps.
This duality of nature was plainly intimated in Old Testament prediction. Prophecy sometimes represented the coming Messiah as human, sometimes as Divine. He was to be the woman’s "seed" (Gen. 3:15); a "prophet" like unto Moses (see Deuteronomy 18:18); a lineal descendant of David (see 2 Samuel 7:12); Jehovah’s "Servant" (Isa. 42:1); a "Man of sorrows" (Isa. 53:3). Yet, on the other hand, He was to be "the Branch of the Lord, beautiful and glorious" (Isa. 4:2); He was "the wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Father of the ages, the Prince of peace" (Isa. 9:6). As Jehovah He was to come suddenly to His temple (see Malachi 3:1). The One who was to be born in Bethlehem and be Ruler in Israel, was the One "whose goings forth had been from the days of eternity" (Mic. 5:2). How were those two different sets of prophecy to be harmonized? John 1:14 is the answer. The One born at Bethlehem was the Divine and eternal Word. The Incarnation does not mean that God dwelt in a man, but that God became Man. He became what He was not previously, though He never ceased to be all that He was before. The Babe of Bethlehem was Immanuel—God with us.
"And the word became flesh." It is the design of John’s Gospel to bring this out in a special way. The miracles recorded therein illustrate and demonstrate this in a peculiar manner. For example: He turns the water into wine—but how? He, Himself, did nothing but speak the word. He gave His command to the servants and the transformation was wrought. Again; the nobleman’s son was sick. The father came to the Lord Jesus and besought Him to journey to his home and heal his boy. What was our Lord’s response? "Jesus said unto him, Go thy way, thy son liveth" (John 4:50), and the miracle was performed. Again; an impotent man was lying by the porch of Bethesda. He desired some one to put him into the pool, but while he was waiting another stepped in before him, and was healed. Then the Lord Jesus passed that way and saw him. What happened? "Jesus saith unto him, Rise," etc. The word of power went forth, and the sufferer was made whole. Once more: consider the case of Lazarus, recorded only by John. In the raising of the daughter of Jairus, Christ took the damsel by the hand; when He restored to life the widow’s son of Nain, He touched the bier. But in bringing Lazarus from the dead He did nothing except speak the word, "Lazarus, come forth." In all of these miracles we see the Word at work. The One who had become flesh and tabernacled among men was eternal and omnipotent—"the great God (the Word) and our Savior (became flesh) Jesus Christ." (Titus 2:13).
"And dwelt (tabernacled) among us." He pitched His tent on earth for thirty-three years. There is here a latent reference to the tabernacle of Israel in the wilderness. That tabernacle had a typical significance: it forshadowed God the Son incarnate. Almost everything about the tabernacle adumbrated the Word made flesh. Many and varied are the correspondences between the type and the Anti-type. We notice a few of the more conspicuous.
1. The "tabernacle" was a temporary appointment. In this it differed from the temple of Solomon, which was a permanent structure. The tabernacle was merely a tent, a temporary convenience, something that was suited to be moved about from place to place during the journeyings of the children of Israel. So it was when our blessed Lord tabernacled here among men. His stay was but a brief one—less than forty years; and, like the type, He abode not long in any one place, but was constantly on the move—unwearied in the activity of His love.
2. The "tabernacle" was for use in the wilderness. After Israel settled in Canaan, the tabernacle was superseded by the temple. But during the time of their pilgrimage from Egypt to the promised land, the tabernacle was God’s appointed provision for them. The wilderness strikingly foreshadowed the conditions amid which the eternal Word tabernacled among men at His first advent. The wilderness home of the tabernacle unmistakably foreshadowed the manger-cradle, the Nazarite-carpenter’s bench, the "nowhere" for the Son of man to lay His head, the borrowed tomb for His sepulcher. A careful study of the chronology of the Pentateuch seems to indicate that Israel used the tabernacle in the wilderness rather less than thirty-five years!
3. Outwardly the "tabernacle" was mean, humble, and unattractive in appearance. Altogether unlike the costly and magnificent temple of Solomon, there was nothing in the externals of the tabernacle to please the carnal eye. Nothing but plain boards and skins. So it was at the Incarnation. The Divine majesty of our Lord was hidden beneath a veil of flesh. He came, unattended by any imposing retinue of angels. To the unbelieving gaze of Israel He had no form nor comeliness; and when they beheld Him, their unanointed eyes saw in Him no beauty that they should desire Him.
4. The "tabernacle" was God’s dwelling place. It was there, in the midst of Israel’s camp, He took up His abode. There, between the cherubim upon the mercy-seat He made His throne. In the holy of holies He manifested His presence by means of the Shekinah glory. And during the thirty-three years that the Word tabernacled among men, God had His dwelling place in Palestine. The holy of holies received its anti-typical fulfillment in the Person of the Holy One of God. Just as the Shekinah dwelt between the two cherubim, so on the mount of transfiguration the glory of the God-man flashed forth from between two men—Moses and Elijah. "We beheld his glory" is the language of the tabernacle type.
5. The "tabernacle" was, therefore, the place where God met with men. It was termed "the tent of meeting." If an Israelite desired to draw near unto Jehovah He had to come to the door of the tabernacle. When giving instructions to Moses concerning the making of the tabernacle and its furniture, God said, "And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee" (Ex. 25:21, 22). How perfect is this lovely type! Christ is the meeting place between God and men. No man cometh unto the Father but by Him (see John 14:16). There is but one Mediator between God and men—the Man Christ Jesus (see 1 Timothy 2:5). He is the One who spans the gulf between deity and humanity, because He is Himself both God and Man.
6. The "tabernacle" was the center of Israel’s camp. In the immediate vicinity of the tabernacle dwelt the Levites, the priestly tribe: "But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle" (Num. 1:50), and around the Levites were grouped the twelve tribes, three on either side—see Numbers 2. Again; we read, that when Israel’s camp was to be moved from one place to another, "Then the tabernacle of the congregation shall set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camp" (Num. 2:17). And, once more, "And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the Lord, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the Lord came down in a cloud and spake unto him" (Num. 11:24, 25). How striking is this! The tabernacle was the great gathering center. As such it was a beautiful foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus. He is our great gathering-center. And His precious promise is, that "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).
7. The "tabernacle" was the place where the Law was preserved. The first two tables of stone, on which Jehovah had inscribed the ten commandments were broken (see Exodus 32:19); but the second set were deposited in the ark in the tabernacle for safe keeping (see Deuteronomy 10:2-5). It was only there, within the holy of holies, the tablets of the Law were preserved intact. How this, again, speaks to us of Christ! He it was that said, "Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:7, 8). Throughout His perfect life He preserved in thought, word and deed, the Divine Decalogue, honoring and magnifying God’s Law.
8. The "tabernacle" was the place where sacrifice was made. In its outer court stood the brazen altar, to which the animals were brought, and on which they were slain. There it was that blood was shed and atonement was made for sin. So it was with the Lord Jesus. He fulfilled in His own Person the typical significance of the brazen altar, as of every piece of the tabernacle furniture. The body in which He tabernacled on earth was nailed to the cruel Tree. The Cross was the altar upon which God’s Lamb was slain, where His precious blood was shed, and where complete atonement was made for sin.
9. The "tabernacle" was the place where the priestly family was fed. "And the remainder thereof shall Aaron and his sons eat: with unleavened bread shall it be eaten in the holy place; in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation they shall eat it... The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it: in the holy place shall it be eaten" (Lev. 6:16, 26). How deeply significant are these scriptures in their typical import! And how they speak to us of Christ as the Food of God’s priestly family today, that is, all believers (see 1 Peter 2:5). He is the Bread of Life. He is the One upon whom our souls delight to feed.
10. The "tabernacle" was the place of worship. To it the pious Israelite brought his offerings. To it he turned when he desired to worship Jehovah. From its door the Voice of the Lord was heard. Within its courts the priests ministered in their sacred service. And so it was with the Anti-type. It is "by him" we are to offer unto God a sacrifice of praise (see Hebrews 13:15). It is in Him, and by Him, alone, that we can worship the Father. It is through Him we have access to the throne of grace.
Thus we see how fully and how perfectly the tabernacle of old foreshadowed the Person of our blessed Lord, and why the Holy Spirit, when announcing the Incarnation, said, "And the word became flesh, and tabernacled among us." Before passing on to the next clause of John 1:14, it should be pointed out that there is a series of striking contrasts between the wilderness tabernacle and Solomon’s temple in their respective foreshadowings of Christ.
(1) The tabernacle foreshadowed Christ in His first advent; the temple looks forward to Christ at His second advent.
(2) The tabernacle was first, historically; the temple was not built until long afterwards.
(3) The tabernacle was but a temporary erection; the temple was a permanent structure.
(4) The tabernacle was erected by Moses the prophet (which was the office Christ filled during His first advent); the temple was built by Solomon the king (which is the office Christ will fill at His second advent).
(5) The tabernacle was used in the wilderness—speaking of Christ’s humiliation; the temple was built in Jerusalem, the "city of the great King" (Matthew 5:35)—speaking of Christ’s future glorification.
(6) The numeral which figured most prominently in the tabernacle was five, which speaks of grace, and grace was what characterized the earthly ministry of Christ at His first advent; but the leading numeral in the temple was twelve which speaks of government, for Christ shall rule and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.
(7) The tabernacle was unattractive in its externals—so when Christ was here before He was as "a root out of a dry ground;" but the temple was renowned for its outward magnificence—so Christ when He returns shall come in power and great glory.
"And we beheld his glory." "We beheld" refers, directly, to the first disciples, yet it is the blessed experience of all believers today. "But we all . . . beholding, as in a glass (mirror) the glory of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18). The term used in both of these verses seems to point a contrast. In John 12:41 we read, "These things said Isaiah, when he saw his glory, and spake of him," the reference being to Isaiah 6. The Old Testament celebrities only had occasional and passing glimpses of God’s glory. But, in contrast from these who only "saw," we—believers of this dispensation—"behold his glory." But more particularly, there is a contrast here between the beholding and the non-beholding of God’s glory: the Shekinah glory abode in the holy of holies, and therefore, was hidden. But we, now, "behold" the Divine glory.
"We beheld his glory." What is meant by this? Ah! who is competent to answer. Eternity itself will be too short to exhaustively explore this theme. The glories of our Lord are infinite, for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. No subject ought to be dearer to the heart of a believer. Briefly defined, "We beheld his glory" signifies His supreme excellency, His personal perfections. For the purpose of general classification we may say the "glories" of our Savior are fourfold, each of which is capable of being subdivided indefinitely. First, there are His essential "glories," as the Son of God; these are His Divine perfections, as for example, His Omnipotence. Second, there are His moral "glories," and these are His human perfections, as for example, His meekness. Third, there are His official "glories," and these are His mediatorial perfections, as for example, His priesthood. Fourth, there are His acquired "glories," and these are the reward for what He has done. Probably the first three of these are spoken of in our text.
First, "We beheld his glory" refers to His essential "glory," or Divine perfections. This is clear from the words which follow: "The glory as of the only begotten of the Father." From the beginning to the end of His earthly life and ministry the Deity of the Lord Jesus was plainly evidenced. His supernatural birth, His personal excellencies, His matchless teaching, His wondrous miracles, His death and resurrection, all proclaimed Him as the Son of God. But it is to be noted that these words, "we beheld his glory," follow immediately after the words "tabernacled" among men. We cannot but believe there is here a further reference to the tabernacle. In the tabernacle, in the holy of holies, Jehovah made His throne upon the mercy seat, and the evidence of His presence there was the Shekinah glory, frequently termed "the cloud." When the tabernacle had been completed, and Jehovah took possession of it, we read, "then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Ex. 40:34). It was the same at the completion of Solomon’s temple: "The cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord" (1 Kings 8:10, 11). Here "the cloud" and "the glory" are clearly identified. The Shekinah glory, then, was the standing sign of God’s presence in the midst of Israel. Hence, after Israel’s apostasy, and when the Lord was turning away from them, we are told, "And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city" (Ezek. 11:23). Therefore, when we read, "The Word . . . tabernacled among men, and we beheld his glory" it was the proof that none other than Jehovah was again in Israel’s midst. And it is a remarkable fact, to which we have never seen attention called, that at either extremity of the Word’s tabernacling among men the Shekinah glory was evidenced. Immediately following His birth we are told, "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid" (Luke 2:8, 9). And, at His departure from this world, we read "And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9)—not "clouds," but "a cloud! We beheld his glory," then, refers, first, to His Divine glory.
Second, there also seems to be a reference here to His official "glory," which was exhibited upon the Holy Mount. In 2 Peter 1:16 we read, "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty." The reference is to the Transfiguration, for the next verse goes on to say, "For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." It is the use of the word "glory" here which seems to link the transfiguration-scene with John 1:14. This is confirmed by the fact that on the Mount, "while. he vet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them" (Matthew 17:5).
Third, there is also a clear reference in John 1:14 to the moral "glory" or perfections of the God-Man, for after saying "we beheld his glory," John immediately adds (omitting the parenthesis) "full of grace and truth." What marvelous grace we behold in that wondrous descent from heaven’s throne to Bethlehem’s manger! It had been an act of infinite condescension if the One who was the Object of angelic worship had deigned to come down to this earth and reign over it as King; but that He should appear in weakness, that He should voluntarily choose poverty, that He should become a helpless Babe—such grace is altogether beyond our ken; such matchless love passeth knowledge. O that we may never lose our sense of wonderment at the infinite condescension of God’s Son.
In His marvelous stoop we behold His glory. Greatness is never so glorious as when it takes the place of lowliness. Power is never so attractive as when it is placed at the disposal of others. Might is never so triumphant as when it sets aside its own prerogatives. Sovereignty is never so winsome as when it is seen in the place of service. And, may we not say it reverently, Deity had never appeared so glorious as when It hung upon a maiden’s breast! Yes, we behold His glory—the glory of an infinite condescension, the glory of a matchless grace, the glory of a fathomless love.
Concerning the acquired "glories" of our Lord we cannot now treat at length. These include the various rewards bestowed upon Him by the Father after the successful completion of the work which had been committed into His hands. It is of these acquired glories Isaiah speaks, when, after treating of the voluntary humiliation and death of the Savior, he gives us to hear the Father saying of Christ, "Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death" (Isa. 53:12). It is of these acquired glories the Holy Spirit speaks in Philippians 2, where after telling of our Lord’s obedience even unto the death of the Cross, He declares, "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9). And so we might continue. But how unspeakably blessed to know, that at the close of our great High Priest’s prayer, recorded in John 17, we find Him saying, "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me" (verse 24)!
Before we pass on to the next verse we would point out that there is an intimate connection between the one which has just been before us (John 5:14) and the opening verse of the chapter. Verse 14 is really an explanation and amplification of verse 1. There are three statements in each which exactly correspond, and the latter throw light on the former. First, "in the beginning was the word," and that is something that transcends our comprehension; but "and the word became flesh" brings Him within reach of our sense. Second "and the word was with God," and again we are unable to understand; but the Word "tabernacled among us," and we may draw near and behold. Third, "and the word was God," and again we are in the realm of the Infinite; but "full of grace and truth," and here are two essential facts concerning God which come within the range of our vision. Thus by coupling together verses 1 and 14 (reading the verses in between as a parenthesis) we have a statement which is, probably, the most comprehensive in its sweep, the profoundest in its depths, and yet the simplest in its terms to be found between the covers of the Bible. Put these verses side by side:—
(1) "In the beginning was the word:"
(a) "And the word became flesh" tells of the beginning of His human life.
(2) "And the word was with God"
(b) "And tabernacled among us" shows Him with men.
(3) "And the word was God"
(c) "Full of grace and truth," and this tells what God is.
"John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me" (John 1:15). Concerning the ministry and testimony of John the Baptist we shall have more to say in our next chapter, D.V., so upon this verse we offer only two very brief remarks. First, we find that here the Lord’s forerunner bears witness to Christ’s supreme excellency: "He that cometh after me is preferred before me," he declares, which, in the Greek, signifies Christ had His being "before" John. Second, "For he was before me." But, historically, John the Baptist was born into this world six months before the Savior was. When, then, the Baptist says Christ "was before" him, he is referring to His eternal existence, and, therefore, bears witness to His deity.
"And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace" (John 1:16). The word "fulness" is still another term in this important passage which brings out the absolute Deity of the Savior. It is the same word which is found in Colossians 1:19 and 2:9—"For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; . . . For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." The Greek preposition "ek" signifies "out of." Out of the Divine fulness have all we (believers) "received." What is it we have "received" from Christ? Ah, what is it we have not "received!" It is out of His inexhaustible "fulness" we have "received." From Him we have "received" life (see John 10:28); peace (John 14:27); joy (John 15:11); God’s own Word (John 17:14); the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). There is laid up in Christ, as in a great storehouse, all that the believer needs both for time and for eternity.
"And grace for grace." Bishop Ryle tells us the Greek preposition here may be translated two different ways, and suggests the following thoughts. First, we have received "grace upon grace," that is, God’s favors heaped up, one upon another. Second, "grace for grace," that is, new grace to supply old grace; grace sufficient to meet every recurring need.
"For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). A contrast is drawn between what was "given" by Moses, and what "came" by Jesus Christ; for "grace and truth" were not merely "given," they "came by Jesus Christ," came in all their fulness, came in their glorious perfections. The Law was "given" to Moses, for it was not his own; but "grace and truth" were not "given" to Christ, for these were His own essential perfections. On looking into this contrast we must bear in mind that the great point here is the manifestation of God: God as He was manifested through the Law, and God as He was made known by the Only Begotten Son.
Was not the Law "truth?" Yes, so far as it went. It announced what God righteously demanded of men, and therefore, what men ought to be according to God’s mind. It has often been said, the Law is a transcript of God’s mind. But how inadequate such a statement is! Did the Law reveal what God is? Did it display all His attributes? If it did, there would be nothing more to learn of God than what the Law made known.
Did the Law tell out the grace of God? No; indeed. The Law was holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. It demanded obedience; it required the strictest doing and continuance of all things written in it. And the only alternative was death. Inflexible in its claims, it remitted no part of its penalty. He that despised it "died without mercy," and, "every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward" (Heb. 10:28; see Hebrews 2:2). Such a Law could never justify a sinner. For this it was never given.
The inevitable effect of the Law when received by the unsaved is just that which was produced at Sinai, to whom it first came: "And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Ex. 20:19). "Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die" (Deut. 5:25). Why such terror? Because "they could not endure that which was commanded" (Heb. 12:20). This terror was the testimony which the Law extorts from every sinner, to whom it is brought home as God’s Law; it is "the ministration of condemnation, and of death" (2 Cor. 3:7, 9). It has a "glory," indeed, but it is the glory of thunder and lightning, of fire, of blackness, and of darkness, and the sound of the trumpet, and of the voice of words, which only bring terror to the guilty conscience. But, blessed be God, there is "a glory that excelleth" (2 Cor. 3:10).
"Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." The "glory that excelleth" is the glory of "the word that became flesh, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth." The Law revealed God’s justice, but it did not make known His mercy; it testified to His righteousness, but it did not exhibit His grace. It was God’s "truth," but not the full truth about God Himself. "By the law is the knowledge of sin;" we never read "by the law is the knowledge of God." No; the "law entered that the offense might abound," "sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful." It made known the heinousness of sin; it condemned the sinner, but it did not fully reveal God. It exhibited His righteous hatred of sin and His holy determination to punish it: it exposed the guilt and corruption of the sinner, but for ought it could tell him, it left him to his doom. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3, 4).
"Grace and truth." These are fitly and inseparably joined together. We cannot have the one without having the other. There are many who do not like salvation by grace, and there are those who would tolerate grace if they could have it without the truth. The Nazarenes could "wonder" at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth, but as soon as Christ pressed the truth upon them, they "were filled with wrath," and sought to "cast him down headlong from the brow of the hill whereon their city was built" (Luke 4:29). Such, too, was the condition of those who sought Him for "the meat that perisheth." They were willing to profit from His grace, but when He told them the truth some "murmured" at Him, others were "offended," and "many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him" (John 6:66). And in our own day, there are many who admire the grace which came by Jesus Christ, and would consent to be saved by it, provided this could be without the intrusion of the truth. But this cannot be. Those who reject the truth, reject grace.
There is, in Romans 5:21, another sentence which is closely parallel, and really, an amplification of these words "grace and truth"—"Grace reigns through righteousness, unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." The grace which saves sinners is no mere moral weakness such as is often to be found in human government. Nor is "the righteousness of God," through which grace reigns, some mere semblance of justice. No; on the Cross Christ was "set forth a proptiation (a perfect satisfaction to the broken Law) through faith in his blood, to declare his (God’s) righteousness for the remission of sins" (Rom. 3:25). Grace does not ignore the Law, or set aside its requirements; nay verily, "it establishes the law" (Rom. 3:31): establishes it because inseparably linked with "truth;" establishes it because it reigns "through righteousness," not at the expense of it; establishes it because grace tells of a Substitute who kept the Law for and endured the death penalty on behalf of all who receive Him as their Lord and Savior; and establishes it by bringing the redeemed to "delight" in the Law.
But was there no "grace and truth" before Jesus Christ came? Assuredly there was. God dealt according to "grace and truth" with our first parents immediately after their transgression—it was grace that sought them, and provided them with a covering; as it was truth that pronounced sentence upon them, and expelled them from the garden. God dealt according to "grace and truth" with Israel on the passover night in Egypt: it was grace that provided shelter for them beneath the blood; it was truth that righteously demanded the death of an innocent substitute in their stead. But "grace and truth" were never fully revealed till the Savior Himself appeared. By Him they "came:" in Him they were personified, magnified, glorified.
And now let us notice a few contrasts between Law and Grace:
1. Law addresses men as members of the old creation; Grace makes men members of a new creation.
2. Law manifested what was in Man-sin; Grace manifests what is in God-Love.
3. Law demanded righteousness from men; Grace brings righteousness to men.
4. Law sentences a living man to death; Grace brings a dead man to life.
5. Law speaks of what men must do for God; Grace tells of what Christ has done for men.
6. Law gives a knowledge of sin; Grace puts away sin.
7. Law brought God out to men; Grace brings men in to God.
"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18). This verse terminates the Introduction to John’s Gospel, and summarizes the whole of the first eighteen verses of John 1. Christ has "declared"—told out, revealed, unveiled, displayed the Father; and the One who has done this is "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father." The "bosom of the Father" speaks of proximity to, personal intimacy with, and the enjoyment of the Father’s love. And, in becoming flesh, the Son did not leave this place of inseparable union. It is not the "Son which was," but "which is in the bosom of the Father." He retained the same intimacy with the Father, entirely unimpaired by the Incarnation. Nothing in the slightest degree detracted from His own personal glory, or from the nearness and oneness to the Father which He had enjoyed with Him from all eternity. How we ought, then, to honor, reverence, and worship the Lord Jesus!
But a further word on this verse is called for. A remarkable contrast is pointed. In the past, God, in the fulness of His glory, was unmanifested—"No man" had seen Him; but now, God is fully revealed—the Son has "declared" Him. Perhaps this contrast may be made clearer to our readers if we refer to two passages in the Old Testament and compare them with two passages in the New Testament.
In 1 Kings 8:12 we read, "Then spake Solomon, The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness." Again, "Clouds and darkness are round about him" (Ps. 97:2). These verses tell not what God is in Himself, but declare that under the Law He was not revealed. What could be known of a person who dwelt in "thick darkness!" But now turn to 1 Peter 2:9, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Ah, how blessed this is. Again, we read in 1 John 1:5, 7, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all... but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another." And this, because the Father has been fully "declared" by our adorable Savior.
Once more: turn to Exodus 33:18—"And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory." This was the earnest request of Moses. But was it granted? Read on, "And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shall stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of a rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hind, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen." Character is not declared in a person’s "back parts" but in his face! That Moses saw not the face, but only the back parts of Jehovah, was in perfect accord with the dispensation of Law in which he lived. How profoundly thankful should we be that the dispensation of Law has passed, and that we live in the full light of the dispensation of Grace! How deeply grateful should we be, that we look not on the back parts of Jehovah "for God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). May grace be given us to magnify and adorn that superlative grace which has brought us out of darkness into marvelous light, because the God whom no man hath seen at any time has been fully "declared" by the Son.
We conclude, once more, by drawing up a number of questions on the passage which will be before us in the next chapter (John 1:19-34), so that the interested reader, who desires to "Search the Scriptures" may give them careful study in the interval.
1. Why did the Jews ask John if he were Elijah, John 1:21?
2. What "prophet" did they refer to in John 1:21?
3. What are the thoughts suggested by "voice" in John 1:23?
4. Why did John cry "in the wilderness" rather than in the temple, John 1:23?
5. "Whom ye know not," John 1:26—What did this prove?
6. What are the thoughts suggested by the Savior’s title "The Lamb of God," John 1:29?
7. Why did the Holy Spirit descend on Christ as a "dove," John 1:32?