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beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.”
In this solemn and emphatic preface to his gospel history, John has unfolded the character and attributes of the Word of God; that is, of the Son in his original and divine nature. That this is the true meaning of that title, is almost universally allowed by Christian commentators, both ancient and modern; and is, in my opinion, amply proved by the known theology of the Jews, at the time when the apostle wrote. At the conclusion of the passage, we are informed that this divine Word was made flesh (i. e. man,) and dwelt among us; and that so his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten Son of God, became visible. But the order in which the apostle has treated his subject, plainly leads us to suppose that, in the previous verses, he is speaking of Christ in his condition of pre-existence, or at least solely with reference to this original and divine nature. I would suggest that the declarations respecting the Word contained in verses 10 and 11, that he was “in the world” and “ came unto his own,” form no exception to this observation; for these declarations may very properly be explained of the appearances and visitations of the Son of God (whether visible or merely spiritual) before his coming in the flesh. But, even if we interpret these verses as connected with verse 14, and as forming a part of the apostle's account of the incarnation, it certainly appears most probable that the preceding doctrine, respecting Christ, relates to his operations only in that glorious and unchangeable character, in which he was with God in the beginning, and in which he was God.
Accordingly it is declared, first, that by him all things were made ; and, secondly, that in him, (or by him) was life, and that the life was the light of men. Let us then inquire in what sense the eternal Word of God was thus described as the author or medium of life and light. Since all things were made by him, he is undoubtedly the origin of their natural life, and the bountiful giver of those intellectual faculties by which man is distinguished from the inferior animals; but those who take a comprehensive view of the writings of the apostle John, can scarcely suppose that he is here speaking only of the natural life and of the light of reason. The “life," of which in every part of his works he makes such frequent mention, is that of which they only lay hold who are the
true children of God—the spiritual life, in the first place, by which the souls of men are quickened in this world, and the eternal life, in the second place, which is reserved for them in the world to come. That such is here the apostle's meaning is confirmed by a comparison with the opening passage of his first epistle, in which Jesus Christ, in reference to his pre-existence, is expressly denominated that "eternal life” (i. e. that source of eternal life)" which was with the Father.” So, also, the word light is nowhere used by this apostle to designate the intellectual faculty, or the light of
With him it denotes spiritual·light—the light which is enjoyed by those who come to a real knowledge of the truth—the light in which the children of God walk before their Father. I conceive, therefore, that the apostle's doctrine, declared in the fourth verse of his Gospel, is precisely this—that the Son, or Word, of God, or the Messiah, in his original and divine character, was the giver of eternal life, and the spiritual quickener and illuminator of the children of men. And this inference is strengthened by the consideration that the life” here mentioned was "the light;" for it is the peculiar characteristic of the Spirit of Christ, that it quickens and enlightens at the same time. That very Spirit which illuminates our darkness, raises our souls from the death of sin, and springs up within us unto everlasting life.
Since such appears to be the true meaning of verse 4, we cannot reasonably hesitate in our interpretation of verse 9. In the former, the light is said to be in or by the Word; in the latter, according to a very usual figure of speech, the Word being the source of the light, is himself denominated "light.” The light, in either case, must be of the same character; and if there be any correctness in the view we have now taken of the whole passage, it can be no other than the light of the Spirit of the Son of God. Hence, therefore, I conclude, on the authority of the apostle John, that a measure of the light of the Spirit of the Son of God “lighteth every man that cometh into the world."
i See John iii. 15; v. 24, 40; vi. 33, 63; viii. 12; xiv. 6; &c. 2 See John iii. 19; ix. 5; 1 John i. 7; ii. 8; &c.
3 JOHN i. 9. "Ην το φως το αληθινόν και φωτίζει πάντα άνθρωπον ερχόμενον εις τον xóopov. “That was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” It was observed by Augustine, (De Peccatorum Meritis
Such, according to my apprehension of scriptural truth, are the religious advantages which may be deemed the common allotment of mankind in general. God is their equal Judge and compassionate Father : the Son of God, when clothed with humanity, gave his life a ransom for them all : and lastly, through the
operation of his Holy Spirit, a manifestation of the divine law, accompanied with a portion of quickening and purifying power, is bestowed upon them universally. Here, then, we may perceive grounds of union and brotherly kindness coextensive with the whole world : and while we cultivate a sense of these animating truths, we shall be disposed neither to think too highly of ourselves, nor to despise others. On the contrary, a feeling of true charity toward our neighbour, of whatever colour or country, will spread in our hearts; and a lively disposition will arise in us to labour for the happiness of that universal family, who not only owe their ex
et Remiss. lib. i. 9 38) and the suggestion has been adopted by many modern critics, that the words işXópevov cis Tòv koopov in this passage, are capable of being construed in connexion with pws, “the light," instead of with návra år@pwrov, “every man;" in which case the sentence must be rendered as follows: · That was the true light, which, coming into the world, lighteth every man.” Now, it ought to be remarked that the term "every man" is in itself very strong and precise. It denotes every individual man; and, since there is nothing in the context to limit its signification, it must be considered as signifying the whole of mankind. Were we, therefore, to adopt such a construction and translation of the passage, there would still be good reasons for interpreting it, not of that outward knowledge of Christianity which is enjoyed by a comparatively small number of human beings, but of an internal light bestowed universally on man. It is, however, obvious that the commonly adopted construction of this senience is more agreeable to the order of the apostle's words, and therefore more consistent than the other with the general simplicity and perspicuity of his style. That construction is, moreover, confirmed by the consideralion that John has here adopted a phrase well known among the Jews, in iis usual sense. With that people, “ to come into the world” was a common expression, signifying “ to be born;" and "all men who come into the world” was a customary description of “all mankind;" Vide Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. in loc. The ancient fathers in general appear to have construed this passage in the same manner as the authors of our English version. See, for example, Tertullian, adv. Prar. cap. 12. Ed. Semler, ii. 214; Theodotus, Epitom. in Ed. Bened. Clement. Alex. p. 979; Origen, in Lib. Judicum Homil. Ed. Bened. ii. 460. See also the two Syriac, Æthiopic, Persic, and Vulgate versions.
istence to the same Creator, but are the common objects of his fatherly regard and of his redeeming love.
While I am persuaded of the existence of these broad grounds of union; and am well satisfied, that there is bestowed upon all men a measure of the enlightening and quickening influence of the Holy Spirit, I am very far from forming a low estimate of the sinfulness and misery of the heathen world. It is impossible to deny the melancholy fact, that although universally visited by a moral light, mankind have yielded themselves a prey to the depravity of their own hearts. How great are the multitudes, among those who have not enjoyed the benefit of an outward revelation, who “ when they knew God, glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened !” “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”! Hence hath he given them over “to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts,” and hence may be applied to them that awful description used by the apostle—“Gentiles in the flesh,” “ aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world."
We are not to forget that the same apostle who has drawn this affecting picture of the Gentile world, has declared that the Jews, on whom was bestowed the written law, were not “better than they,"3—that all will be judged by a perfectly equitable Being, according to their own demerits, the Gentiles “ without the law,” the Jews" by the law,"4 and finally, that God “hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all."
It is also worthy of remark, that many of the tribes of idolaters, which have been visited by modern travellers, are in a state of extreme intellectual degradation. Hence their apprehension of moral truth, is often found to be peculiarly weak and limited; and we may reverently trust that the principle is, in a great degree, applicable to them, that they who know not their master's will and who “ commit things worthy of stripes," shall be “beaten with few.”
3 Rom üi. 9.
1 Rom. i. 21, 23.
2 Eph. ii. 11, 12.
Nevertheless, a contemplation of their wretched state may serve to convince us of the unutterable advantages of that outward revelation by which are so clearly made known to us the glorious attributes of the one true God, the awful realities of an eternal world, and the offices of that divine Saviour, who is made unto us, of the Father, “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." This consideration naturally leads to the second branch of my present subject, and will fitly introduce a brief view of those religious advantages which are not bestowed upon the world in general, but are common to all true Christians.
II. The visible church of Christ, upon earth, may be regarded, either in its most extensive character, as consisting of the whole of that proportion of mankind who profess Christianity; or in that narrower, yet more accurate, point of view, in which none can be looked upon as its members, except those persons who really love and serve their Redeemer, and who evince, by their conduct and conversation, that they are brought under the influence of vital religion.
It is to such as these alone, that my present observations will be directed. Merely nominal Christians may indeed be considered as partaking in the religious advantages of the church of Christ, so far as they receive their share of benefit from that general improve ment in the moral views and habits of mankind which has, in a remarkable manner, been effected by the introduction of Christianity. But, from the more important, substantial, and enduring, privileges of the followers of Jesus, the careless and disobedient hearers of the truth are plainly excluded. Nothing, indeed, can be more fraught with danger than the condition of those persons who, while they profess to believe in Jesus, and are called by his name, are nevertheless the servants of sin, and are living to the “lusts of the world, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life.” The light of the Sun of righteousness has risen upon them; but they hide themselves from its beams. They love "darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” In despite of those awful truths which, on the authority of their Creator himself, have been proclaimed in their hearing, they pursue without interruption the mad career of vice and dissipation. If there be any class among mankind, by whom, above others, the punishment of “many stripes" may justly be expected, it is surely that class who profess Chris