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1. In the beginning - (Referring to Gen. i, 1, and Prov. viii, 23.) When all things began to be made by the Word: in the beginning of heaven and earth, and this whole frame of created beings, the Word existed, without any beginning. He was when all things began to be, whatsoever had a beginning. The Word - So termed Psalm xxxiii, 6, and frequently by the seventy, and in the Chaldee paraphrase. So that St. John did not borrow this expression from Philo, or any heathen writer. He was not yet named Jesus, or Christ. He is the Word whom the Father begat or spoke from eternity; by whom the Father speaking, maketh all things; who speaketh the Father to us. We have, in the 18th verse, both a real description of the Word, and the reason why he is so called. He is the only begotten Son of the Father, who is in the bosom of the Father, and hath declared him. And the Word was with God - Therefore distinct from God the Father. The word rendered with, denotes a perpetual tendency as it were of the Son to the Father, in unity of essence. He was with God alone; because nothing beside God had then any being. And the Word was God - Supreme, eternal, independent. There was no creature, in respect of which he could be styled God in a relative sense. Therefore he is styled so in the absolute sense. The Godhead of the Messiah being clearly revealed in the Old Testament, (Jer. xxiii, 7; Hosea i, 6; Psalm xxiii, 1, ) the other evangelists aim at this, to prove that Jesus, a true man, was the Messiah. But when, at length, some from hence began to doubt of his Godhead, then St. John expressly asserted it, and wrote in this book as it were a supplement to the Gospels, as in the Revelation to the prophets.
2. The same was in the beginning with God - This verse repeats and contracts into one the three points mentioned before. As if he had said, This Word, who was God, was in the beginning, and was with God.
3. All things beside God were made, and all things which were made, were made by the Word. In the first and second verse is described the state of things before the creation: verse 3, In the creation: verse 4, In the time of man's innocency: verse 5, In the time of man's corruption.
4. In him was life - He was the foundation of life to every living thing, as well as of being to all that is. And the life was the light of men - He who is essential life, and the giver of life to all that liveth, was also the light of men; the fountain of wisdom, holiness, and happiness, to man in his original state.
5. And the light shineth in darkness - Shines even on fallen man; but the darkness - Dark, sinful man, perceiveth it not.
6. There was a man - The evangelist now proceeds to him who testified of the light, which he had spoken of in the five preceding verses.
7. The same came for (that is, in order to give) a testimony - The evangelist, with the most strong and tender affection, interweaves his own testimony with that of John, by noble digressions, wherein he explains the office of the Baptist; partly premises and partly subjoins a further explication to his short sentences. What St. Matthew, Mark, and Luke term the Gospel, in respect of the promise going before, St. John usually terms the testimony, intimating the certain knowledge of the relator; to testify of the light - Of Christ.
9. Who lighteth every man - By what is vulgarly termed natural conscience, pointing out at least the general lines of good and evil. And this light, if man did not hinder, would shine more and more to the perfect day.
10. He was in the world - Even from the creation.
11. He came - In the fulness of time, to his own - Country, city, temple: And his own - People, received him not.
12. But as many as received him - Jews or Gentiles; that believe on his name - That is, on him. The moment they believe, they are sons; and because they are sons, God sendeth forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
13. Who were born - Who became the sons of God, not of blood - Not by descent from Abraham, nor by the will of the flesh - By natural generation, nor by the will of man - Adopting them, but of God - By his Spirit.
14. Flesh sometimes signifies corrupt nature; sometimes the body; sometimes, as here, the whole man. We beheld his glory - We his apostles, particularly Peter, James, and John, Luke ix, 32. Grace and truth - We are all by nature liars and children of wrath, to whom both grace and truth are unknown. But we are made partakers of them, when we are accepted through the Beloved. The whole verse might be paraphrased thus: And in order to raise us to this dignity and happiness, the eternal Word, by a most amazing condescension, was made flesh, united himself to our miserable nature, with all its innocent infirmities. And he did not make us a transient visit, but tabernacled among us on earth, displaying his glory in a more eminent manner, than even of old in the tabernacle of Moses. And we who are now recording these things beheld his glory with so strict an attention, that we can testify, it was in every respect such a glory as became the only begotten of the Father. For it shone forth not only in his transfiguration, and in his continual miracles, but in all his tempers, ministrations, and conduct through the whole series of his life. In all he appeared full of grace and truth: he was himself most benevolent and upright; made those ample discoveries of pardon to sinners, which the Mosaic dispensation could not do: and really exhibited the most substantial blessings, whereas that was but a shadow of good things to come.
15. John cried - With joy and confidence; This is he of whom I said - John had said this before our Lord's baptism, although he then knew him not in person: he knew him first at his baptism, and afterward cried, This is he of whom I said. &c. He is preferred before me - in his office: for he was before me - in his nature.
16. And - Here the apostle confirms the Baptist's words: as if he had said, He is indeed preferred before thee: so we have experienced: We all - That believe: have received - All that we enjoy out of his fulness: and in the particular, grace upon grace - One blessing upon another, immeasurable grace and love.
17. The law - Working wrath and containing shadows: was given - No philosopher, poet, or orator, ever chose his words so accurately as St. John. The law, saith he, was given by Moses: grace was by Jesus Christ. Observe the reason for placing each word thus: The law of Moses was not his own. The grace of Christ was. His grace was opposite to the wrath, his truth to the shadowy ceremonies of the law. Jesus - St. John having once mentioned the incarnation (ver. 14,) no more uses that name, the Word, in all his book.
18. No man hath seen God - With bodily eyes: yet believers see him with the eye of faith. Who is in the bosom of the Father - The expression denotes the highest unity, and the most intimate knowledge.
19. The Jews - Probably the great council sent.
20. I am not the Christ - For many supposed he was.
21. Art thou Elijah? - He was not that Elijah (the Tishbite) of whom they spoke. Art thou the prophet - Of whom Moses speaks, Deut. xviii, 15.
23. He said - I am that forerunner of Christ of whom Isaiah speaks. I am the voice - As if he had said, Far from being Christ, or even Elijah, I am nothing but a voice: a sound that so soon as it has expressed the thought of which it is the sign, dies into air, and is known no more. Isaiah xl, 3.
24. They who were sent were of the Pharisees - Who were peculiarly tenacious of old customs, and jealous of any innovation (except those brought in by their own scribes) unless the innovator had unquestionable proofs of Divine authority.
25. They asked him, Why baptizest thou then? - Without any commission from the sanhedrim? And not only heathens (who were always baptized before they were admitted to circumcision) but Jews also?
26. John answered, I baptize - To prepare for the Messiah; and indeed to show that Jews, as well as Gentiles, must be proselytes to Christ, and that these as well as those stand in need of being washed from their sins.
28. Where John was baptizing - That is, used to baptize.
29. He seeth Jesus coming and saith, Behold the Lamb - Innocent; to be offered up; prophesied of by Isaiah, Isaiah liii, 7, typified by the paschal lamb, and by the daily sacrifice: The Lamb of God - Whom God gave, approves, accepts of; who taketh away - Atoneth for; the sin - That is, all the sins: of the world - Of all mankind. Sin and the world are of equal extent.
31. I knew him not - Till he came to be baptized. How surprising is this; considering how nearly they were related, and how remarkable the conception and birth of both had been. But there was a peculiar providence visible in our saviour's living, from his infancy to his baptism, at Nazareth: John all the time living the life of a hermit in the deserts of Judea, Luke i, 80, ninety or more miles from Nazareth: hereby that acquaintance was prevented which might have made John's testimony of Christ suspected.
34. I saw it - That is, the Spirit so descending and abiding on him. And testified - From that time.
37. They followed Jesus - They walked after him, but had not the courage to speak to him.
41. He first findeth his own brother Simon - Probably both of them sought him: Which is, being interpreted, the Christ - This the evangelist adds, as likewise those words in ver. 38, that is, being interpreted, Master.
42. Jesus said, Thou art Simon, the son of Jonah - As none had told our Lord these names, this could not but strike Peter. Cephas, which is Peter - Moaning the same in Syriac which Peter does in Greek, namely, a rock.
45. Jesus of Nazareth - So Philip thought, not knowing he was born in Bethlehem. Nathanael was probably the same with Bartholomew, that is, the son of Tholomew. St. Matthew joins Bartholomew with Philip, Matt. x, 3, and St. John places Nathanael in the midst of the apostles, immediately after Thomas, chap. xxi, 2, just as Bartholomew is placed, Acts i, 13.
46. Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? - How cautiously should we guard against popular prejudices? When these had once possessed so honest a heart as that of Nathanael, they led him to suspect the blessed Jesus himself for an impostor, because he had been brought up at Nazareth. But his integrity prevailed over that foolish bias, and laid him open to the force of evidence, which a candid inquirer will always be glad to admit, even when it brings the most unexpected discoveries. Can any good thing - That is, have we ground from Scripture to expect the Messiah, or any eminent prophet from Nazareth? Philip saith, Come and see - The same answer which he had received himself from our Lord the day before.
48. Under the fig tree I saw thee - Perhaps at prayer.
49. Nathanael answered - Happy are they that are ready to believe, swift to receive the truth and grace of God. Thou art the Son of God - So he acknowledges now more than he had heard from Philip: The Son of God, the king of Israel - A confession both of the person and office of Christ.
51. Hereafter ye shall see - All of these, as well as thou, who believe on me now in my state of humiliation, shall hereafter see me come in my glory, and all the angels of God with me. This seems the most natural sense of the words, though they may also refer to his ascension.
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