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I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that was from the beginning, &c.—1 John ii. 13, 14.
THE apostle beginneth with the fathers, or grown christians; he describeth them from their long acquaintance with God in Christ, ‘You have known him that was from the beginning.’ So that they are fathers with our apostle who are not only experienced in worldly things, but that which is a much greater honour to them, have attained to the saving knowledge of Christ.
Doct. In the distinction of christians, they are fathers who best know him that was from the beginning.
1. Here is the object to be explained, ‘Him that was from the beginning.’
2. The act, what kind of knowledge it is that constituted ‘fathers.’
3. What is herein proper to fathers, or how this can be any ground of a distinction between them and others; since all christians are to know Christ, it is indispensably required. And, secondly, babes are also said to know the Father.
I. For the object, ‘By him that was from the beginning,’ is meant Christ, who is also thus elsewhere described: John i. 1, 2, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: the same was in the beginning with God;’ 1 John i. 1, ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes.’ This title is given to Christ to note two things (as Zanchy noteth well), that he is from the beginning, quoad virtutem salvificam et quoad personam.
1. As to his office and saving efficacy, so he was the ‘Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,’ as to God’s eternal purpose and decree, Rev. xiii. 8.
2. As to his personal subsistence, so ‘his goings forth were from everlasting,’ Micah v. 2; John xvii. 5, ‘And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory that I had with thee before the world was.’ These two are great points, both his eternal generation and his eternal designation to the office of mediator; and both these are often pressed in scripture, but the first principally by our apostle.
[1.] His eternal designation to the office of mediator is often pressed: 490Titus i. 2, ‘In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began;’ 2 Tim. i. 9, ‘According to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.’ This is pressed upon a double account—partly to show the immutability and unchangeableness of his grace; it is eternal like himself. The terms of it are fixed long before the world was. And partly to obviate both heathenish and Jewish cavils. To them Jesus Christ seemed a new god of a few years standing, whereas both the heathenish and Jewish religion boasted of their antiquity; whereas indeed all other religions were but novelties, and Christ and his gospel the only true ancient religion, as being the result of God’s eternal thoughts.
[2.] The other point, Christ’s eternal subsistence; that our apostle doth much insist upon both in the gospel and this epistle, because of some ancient heretics, Ebion and Cerinthus, with their followers, who denied it in his time, as in our times many now do. Well, then, Christ being from the beginning, signifieth the eternity of the Son of God, which is the great lesson which maketh impression upon fathers.’ To be from the beginning beareth divers senses; sometimes it noteth the time of the delivery of the law: 1 John ii. 7, ‘I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning.’ Sometimes for the first principles, or erecting or setting up of the gospel-state: Luke i. 2, ‘Even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word.’ Sometimes for the first institution of a thing: Mat. xix. 8, ‘But from the beginning it was not so.’ The fall is so called, John viii. 44, ‘He is a liar from the beginning.’ The creation is so called, Gen. i. 1, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ But none of these are meant here. It is sometimes put for all eternity; for it is said, Prov. viii. 23, ‘I was set up from everlasting, or ever the earth was.’ Christ had not only his proper and perfect subsistence before the incarnation, but also before the first point of time, wherein God began to create all things.
Now because this is a weighty point, and the joy of our faith, and the strength of our confidence, and the readiness of our obedience, and our thankfulness to God for the mystery of our redemption, and our victory over the world, and our eternal happiness and felicity doth much depend upon Christ’s being the eternal Son of God, I shall do two things—(1.) I shall show you what the scripture saith concerning his being from the beginning; (2.) The benefit of such a meditation.
(1.) What the scripture saith concerning Christ’s existence, or personal subsistence, before he was conceived in the virgin’s womb.
(1st.) Some places express that existence without any notation of time, but only that he had a being before his incarnation: John vi. 33, ‘The bread of God is he that cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world;’ ver. 38, ‘For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me;’ ver. 62, ‘What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?’ These and many other places prove that Christ was in heaven before he was upon earth. How long, it is not said; but there he was in a state of glory, which he enjoyed before he came down and was made flesh. The Jews, that understood the meaning of these expressions, 401took them in this sense; for it is said, John vi. 41, 42, ‘The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I come down from heaven?’ They knew his meaning, but his words were a riddle to them, because they looked only to his human nature; but they suffice to prove to christians that he had a being before he was incarnate.
(2d.) There are other scriptures which assign a time, but do not go so high as the creation: John viii. 58, ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’ To say nothing of that form of speech, ‘I am,’ which is God-like, Exod. iii. 14, that which I now plead for is, that Christ was before Abraham was. So 1 Cor. x. 9, ‘They tempted Christ in the wilderness;’ called ‘the angel of God’s presence;’ and Moses ‘esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt,’ Heb. XL 26. These places prove that he was long before he was incarnate.
(3d.) Some scriptures show that Christ was as soon as the world was, as the text; and Prov. viii. 22, ‘The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.’ So from the 22d to the end of the 31st verse, wisdom is brought in describing her antiquity in many words; that she was present in creating of the world; that wisdom was Christ, who is often called ‘the Wisdom of the Father;’ and here all along speaketh as a person, and as a person distinct from the Father. So John i. 1, 2, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.’ Christ is called ‘the Word,’ as being the interpreter of his Father’s mind; and he is said to be ‘with God,’ as a person distinct from God; and he is said to be ‘in the beginning,’ when all created things got a being and beginning; as Gen. i. 1, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;’ and in many other places. God made the world by him, Heb. i. 2; and therefore he had a being when the world was made. Because our shallow conceptions can follow eternity no further, but only over the border of time, therefore it is said, ‘in the beginning,’ and ‘from the beginning.’
(4th.) That Christ was before the world was: John xvii. 5, ‘And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was;’ Heb. i. 10, ‘And thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thine hands.’ And the apostle proveth that this is spoken of the Son, ver. 8, ‘But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.’
(5th.) That Christ was from all eternity: Micah v. 2, ‘But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.’ That this is spoken of Christ cannot be denied by the citation, Mat. ii. 6, ‘And thou Bethlehem in the land of Judah art not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come a governor that shall rule my people Israel.’402
(2.) The benefit of this meditation.
(1st.) To further the joy of our faith, in that we see the infinite worth that is in his sufferings to satisfy justice and to expiate sin. He that is from the beginning, who is the eternal Son of God, he offereth to pay a ransom for us. Mere man would not have been of sufficient dignity to interpose between God and man, and to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. Man was grown hateful to God by reason of sin, but Christ reconciled him by offering up himself: Heb. ix. 14, ‘How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your consciences from dead works to serve the living God?’ Acts xx. 28, ‘To feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.’
(2d.) To increase the strength of our confidence against all assaults of the enemies of our salvation: 1 John v. 5, ‘Who is he that over cometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?’ What cannot the Son of God do? He is able to maintain the elect against all the temptations of Satan, frowns of the world, and all the opposition we undergo from the rebellions of the flesh. The mighty God will be a prince of peace, Isa. ix. 6. So John xiv. 1, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me.’ Faith gets sure footing in his essence and attributes; no creature can stand out against God.
(3d.) That we may be more apprehensive of the greatness of his love, which we shall never be till we consider the dignity of his person. He that was ‘God over all, blessed for ever,’ Rom. ix. 5, that had little need of the sons of men, for what can God want? yet he came to seek and to save them for their own good; not to receive from them, but to give to them. He was happy and glorious from all eternity: ‘Who being in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal with God,’ Phil. ii. 6. He was not thrust down, but came down. The angels that exalted themselves were degraded: 2 Peter ii. 4, ‘For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell.’ We can never understand the depth of Christ’s condescension, nor the merit of his sacrifice, but by reflection upon the height wherein he stood when he undertook our cause and business. That he that was in the form of God should appear in the form of a servant; that the great God should come as an infant into the world, wrapped up in swaddling clothes, laid in a cratch, walking up and down, partaking of all the miseries incident to mankind, and at length hang and die upon a cross; are these small matters to you? That the Almighty God should be debased to the weakness of a child and feeble infant, and the fountain of life should die!
(4th.) To show the readiness of our obedience, that we may receive his doctrine, and obey his laws; that we may not be ashamed of his truth, and the profession of his name. He was from the beginning, while yet the world and all the glory of it lay in the womb of nothing; and shall not we give up ourselves to love, and serve, and obey him? Shall things in time frighten or entice us from the duty which we owe to him who was before all time? He can crush his enemies and protect his friends, supply your wants, relieve you in distress; for in him the fulness of the Godhead dwelleth bodily, Col. ii. 9; Heb. ii. 1-3, ‘Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;’ Heb. xii. 25, ‘See that ye refuse not him that speaketh; for if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.’ Let us be willing to do anything and suffer anything for so excellent a Lord.
(5th.) To increase our reverence, and that the ignominy of his cross may not obscure his glory, nor lessen his respect in our hearts, but that we may have high and honourable thoughts of our humbled Lord in his lowest estate. When we are meditating only upon his humiliation, the natural atheism which is in our hearts is apt to turn those thoughts into a snare, and our respects to the majesty of Christ are abated. Therefore we ought again and again to consider his divine nature, and that glorious estate wherein he was from the beginning, so to balance our thoughts of his humiliation. These are compounded: Isa. ix. 6, ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.’ Mary’s child, yet God’s son; a counsellor, yet the mighty God; the prince of peace, but the everlasting father. If we despise him as the carpenter’s son, let us remember he is the great architect who hath built the whole world: Heb. xi. 10, ‘For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.’ If we stumble at his being a child, let us remember also that he is the everlasting Father. If we are offended at his being on the cross, let us think of him as sitting on the throne, and coming to judge the world.
(6th.) To draw our hearts from all created things, and to lessen our respect to worldly vanities, that so our minds and hearts may more look after those things which are eternal and glorious. He that was before the world was will be when the world shall be no more. Christ as God is ‘from everlasting to everlasting,’ Ps. xc. 2. To him should we look, after him should we seek: Rev. i. 8, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty;’ ver. 11, ‘Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last;’ Rev. ii. 8, ‘These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;’ Rev. xxii. 13, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.’ The first cause and the last end. It is for everlasting blessedness, for the enjoyment of an eternal God, for which our souls were made. He that was from the beginning, and will be when all things end, he should take up our minds and thoughts. How can we have room for so many thoughts on fading things when we have an eternal God and Christ to think of? What light can we see in a candle when the sun shineth in his full strength? All things in the world, like flowers, serve only for their season, and then wither; and that season is a short one. Thou gloriest in thy riches and preeminence 404now; but how long wilt thou do so? To-day that house and land is thine, but thou canst not say it will be thine to-morrow. But a believer can say, My God, my Christ, is mine to-day, and will be mine to all eternity. Death taketh all from us, honours and riches, strength and life; but it cannot take God and Christ from us. They are ours to all eternity.
II. What kind of knowledge it is that is here spoken of. There is a twofold knowledge—(1.) Speculative and historical; (2.) Practical and saving.
1. Speculative and historical, which is but an airy speculation of divine things: with this most content themselves. The Jews had μόρφωσιν τὴς γνώσεως ἐν τῷ νόμω, Rom. ii. 20, ‘a form of knowledge;’ and so hath the formal christian: 2 Tim. iii. 5, ‘Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof;’ a map or model of gospel truths. There are different degrees of this,—a memorative knowledge, such as children have, when the field of memory is planted with the seeds of knowledge; as children that are taught to speak of divine mysteries, God, Christ, heaven and hell, sin and righteousness, by rote. As the philosopher observed of young men, that they learned the mathematics with all their hearts and minds, but moral things only to talk of them, τὰ μὲν οὐ πιστεύουσιν οἱ νέοι ἀλλά λέγουσι, rather to rehearse them, and say after others, than believe them. As some rather hear the sound of music than mind the melody and harmony, so they learn divine things, but they do not mind or believe the certainty of those things of which they are instructed; this is the lowest form of speculative knowledge, such as is in children, and those that are childlike affected. Another degree above this is an opinionative knowledge, when they do not only charge their memories, but have a kind of conscience and judgment about these things, so as to be orthodox and right in opinion, and so bustle and contend about that way of religion in which they have been educated, or suiteth best with their fancies and interests. But yet wisdom entereth not upon the heart, Prov. ii. 10. They make men disputers of this world, but not serious practisers of godliness. They have a religion to talk of, but not to live by. They may know much of religion in the notion, and it may be more accurately than a serious christian; as a vintner’s cellar may be better stored with wine than a nobleman’s, but they have it for sale, not for use; so these may dispute for their religion to better effect and purpose than a serious godly man, who yet hath a more intimate perceiving of the truth, though he cannot so accurately form his notions. These are useful in the church, as a rotten post may support a living tree, or as negroes and slaves dig in the mines to bring up gold for others. But for an intimate, deep, heart-affecting knowledge, that is proper to the christian that receives the truth, not only in the light of it, but in the love of it: 2 Thes. ii. 10, ‘They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.’ A blunt iron that is red hot will pierce further into an inch board than a sharp tool that is cold. There is yet beyond these a higher degree of speculative and historical knowledge, and that is when men have some kind of touch upon their hearts; but it is too slender and insufficient to stand out against all temptations when they rise up in any considerable 405strength. So we read of some that may be ‘enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,’ Heb. vi. 4, 5. They may ‘escape the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of Christ,’ 2 Peter ii. 20. It is hard to conceive how such practical and important truths should be understood and considered without some touch upon the heart. Thus it may affect men in part, and produce some partial reformation, and some profession and confession of the truth, and they may have some experience of it in some measure, but do afterwards reject it, and prefer sin before it.
2. Practical and saving. The truth and soundness of our knowledge is mainly known by the effects. We are to ‘know him that was from the beginning,’ so as—
[1.] To believe in him, and to venture our eternal interests in his hands: Ps. ix. 10, ‘For they that know thy name will put their trust in thee;’ 2 Tim. i. 12, ‘For I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day;’ depending upon the sufficiency of his merit, and righteousness, and power to secure us against all the enemies of our salvation.
[2.] To know him so as to esteem and prize him: Phil. iii. 8, 9, ‘Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency o the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith.’ Saving knowledge is always joined with a high esteem of Jesus Christ; when we prefer him above all other things: Mat. xiii. 45, 46, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls; and when he had found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.’ It must be such a knowledge as weaneth the heart from the world and worldly vanities.
[3.] To know him so as to embrace him with love and desire: John iv. 10, ‘If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.’ Christ is then more savingly and rightly known when he is desired and embraced with our dearest affections. No knowledge is allowed for knowledge in scripture but the affectionate knowledge: 1 Cor. viii. 1-3, ‘Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him.’ If our knowledge of God be joined with a sincere love to God and Christ in all temptations, then it is a right knowledge.
[4.] To know him so as to obey him: Jer. xxii. 16, ‘He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the Lord.’ This was to declare their knowledge by the effects; as many men’s actions are an implied blasphemy, if you run them up into their principle: Ps. xxxvi. 1, ‘The transgression of the 406wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes;’ Titus i. 16, ‘They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him, being abominable and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate.’ So many men’s conversations speak out their faith and knowledge, and those holy principles which are rooted in their hearts, 1 John ii. 3, 4. Our evangelist will best explain himself: ‘Now,’ saith he, ‘hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.’ Thus in scripture dialect we are said to know no more than we practise, and our actions to give a better image of our thoughts and imaginations than our words, and the latent principles in our minds are discovered by the course that we take rather than by bare profession. A lie is falsum cum intentione fallendi—a falsehood spoken with an intent to deceive. To live a falsehood is more than to speak a falsehood; they deceive the world and deceive their own souls. Certainly that man hath no religion that hath no God, and he hath no God that preferreth his base lusts before obedience to his precepts. It is but a perjured profession that our carnalists make of the knowledge of God and of Christ, the greatest lie that ever was told, and such a lie as reflecteth upon the honour of God, for they profess a religion which they abhor. All their worship is a lie, and their profession a plain perjury, whilst they live as if they were baptized in the devil’s name to be his bondmen, and had sworn to cherish worldly and fleshly lusts, and not to mortify them; as if in their baptism they had entered a protestation against God and Christ.
III. What is herein proper to fathers, or how can this be a ground of distinction between them and others, since all christians are indispensably bound to know Christ? John xvii. 3, ‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.’ And babes are said to ‘know the Father.’
Answer first, to the first particle.
1. Whatever is said of either age, fathers, young men, or babes, doth certainly belong to all; as to overcome the wicked one, so to know him that was from the beginning. To know the Father is common to all the ranks, only most eminently in one more than in the other. As all sorts of ages have reason, only wisdom is eminent in the aged, strength in the young, affection to parents in the babes.
2. There is some peculiar fitness in these characters, and in the several ages mentioned; as—
[1.] Plenitude of knowledge belongeth to the ancient: Job xii. 12, ‘With the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days understanding.’ Old men have had a great opportunity to gather wisdom; and where should we go for wisdom but to them? Wisdom and knowledge are among the fathers.
[2.] Old men are versed in the knowledge of ancient things, and love to discourse of things done long ago. So the apostle commendeth his fathers, or old men, for that they have known the Ancient of days, or the eternal Son of God, which maketh them more happy than all that knowledge which they have gotten by many years or long experience in the world.407
[3.] Their knowledge is different from the knowledge of others, as begetting—
(1.) A more rooted affection. Young christians have greater qualms and sick fits of love, but these are ‘rooted and grounded in love;’ Eph. iii. 18, 19, ‘That they may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.’ At first our affection to God and heavenly things may more quickly and fervently put forth itself, as the early blossoms in the spring, which are soon withered. The strongest qualms and fits of affection are upon our first acquaintance, and while religion is a novel thing, and our love wholly showeth itself in sensitive expressions. The tide and current of our love may run strong while it is not dispersed into the several channels of obedience. They have at first strange transports of soul, but afterward it cometh to be rooted into a solid affection and fixed bent of heart toward God, and is that disposition of soul which is called godliness, and is distinguished from holiness: 2 Peter iii. 11, ‘What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?’ An addictedness and devotedness to God as our chief happiness and last end.
(2.) Their knowledge begets experience. Knowledge is put for the experimental feeling of the work of grace upon our hearts: Phil. iii. 10: ‘That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death;’ Phil. i. 9, ‘And I pray that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment,’ or in all sense. Now this kind of knowledge is in the fathers; more in old christians than in others; God and they are of long acquaintance: Job xxii. 21, ‘Acquaint thy self with him, and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto thee.’ They have had long trial and experience of him in removing their doubts, answering their prayers, and fulfilling his promises, and so experimentally know him more than others.
The other part of the objection I shall discuss when I come to the last branch; only the object is diversified, though the act be the same. Old men in the gospel find the Ancient of days; and children find a father, and know him more distinctly: 2 Peter i. 5, ‘Add to faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge.’
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