John 1:18 ESV
Matthew Henry's Commentary
In these verses,
I. The evangelist begins again to give us John Baptist’s testimony concerning Christ, John 1:15. He had said (John 1:8) 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 mother’s womb for joy of Christ’s 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 (Luke 1:32), was preferred before John Baptist, who was to be called only the prophet of the Highest, Luke 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 God’s 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, John 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 (Matt. 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 Baptist’s testimony till John 1:19. The John 1:16 has a manifest connection with John 1:14; 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 (John 1:16), received from him. Note, All true believers receive from Christ’s 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. God’s 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 Pet. 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 (John 1:17); 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 Cor. 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 Cor. 3:18. Those that have true grace have that for more grace, Jas. 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 Cor. 3:18), the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29), the image of the heavenly, 1 Cor. 15:49.
2. We have received grace and truth, John 1:17. He had said (John 1:14) 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 God’s 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 (Titus 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 Luke 1:72; 1 Kgs. 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 (John 1:3) concerning Christ’s 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 (John 1:18): 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, Exod. 33:20. But this recommends Christ’s 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? Matt. 11:27. He is of the same nature with the Father, so that he who hath seen him hath seen the Father, John 14:9. The servant is not supposed to know so well what his Lord does as the Son, John 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 God’s 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 (Matt. 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.