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9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

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9. The true light was. The Evangelist did not intend to contrast the true light with the false, but to distinguish Christ from all others, that none might imagine that what is called light belongs to him in common with angels or men. The distinction is, that whatever is luminous in heaven and in earth borrows its splendor from some other object; but Christ is the light, shining from itself and by itself, and enlightening the whole world by its radiance; so that no other source or cause of splendor is anywhere to be found. He gave the name of the true light, therefore, to that which has by nature the power of giving light

Which enlighteneth every man. The Evangelist insists chiefly on this point, in order to show, from the effect which every one of us perceives in him, that Christ is the light. He might have reasoned more ingeniously, that Christ, as the eternal light, has a splendor which is natural, and not brought from any other quarter; but instead of doing so, he sends us back to the experience which we all possess. For as Christ makes us all partakers of his brightness, it must be acknowledged that to him alone belongs strictly this honor of being called light

This passage is commonly explained in two ways. Some restrict the phrase, every man, to those who, having been renewed by the Spirit of God, become partakers of the life-giving light. Augustine employs the comparison of a schoolmaster who, if he happen to be the only person who has a school in the town, will be called the teacher of all, though there be many persons that do not go to his school. They therefore understand the phrase in a comparative sense, that all are enlightened by Christ, because no man can boast of having obtained the light of life in any other way than by his grace. But since the Evangelist employs the general phrase, every man that cometh into the world, I am more inclined to adopt the other meaning, which is, that from this light the rays are diffused over all mankind, as I have already said. For we know that men have this peculiar excellence which raises them above other animals, that they are endued with reason and intelligence, and that they carry the distinction between right and wrong engraven on their conscience. There is no man, therefore, whom some perception of the eternal light does not reach.

But as there are fanatics who rashly strain and torture this passage, so as to infer from it that the grace of illumination is equally offered to all, let us remember that the only subject here treated is the common light of nature, which is far inferior to faith; for never will any man, by all the acuteness and sagacity of his own mind, penetrate into the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit of God alone who opens the gate of heaven to the elect. Next, let us remember that the light of reason which God implanted in men has been so obscured by sin, that amidst the thick darkness, and shocking ignorance, and gulf of errors, there are hardly a few shining sparks that are not utterly extinguished.

10. He was in the world. He accuses men of ingratitude, because of their own accord, as it were, they were so blinded, that the cause of the light which they enjoyed was unknown to them. This extends to every age of the world; for before Christ was manifested in the flesh, his power was everywhere displayed; and therefore those daily effects ought to correct the stupidity of men. What can be more unreasonable than to draw water from a running stream, and never to think of the fountain from which that stream flows? It follows that no proper excuse can be found for the ignorance of the world in not knowing Christ, before he was manifested in the flesh; for it arose from the indolence and wicked stupidity of those who had opportunities of seeing Him always present by his power. The whole may be summed up by saying, that never was Christ in such a manner absent from the world, but that men, aroused by his rays, ought to have raised their eyes towards him. Hence it follows, that the blame must be imputed to themselves.

11. He came into his own. Here is displayed the absolutely desperate wickedness and malice of men; here is displayed their execrable impiety, that when the Son of God was manifested in flesh to the Jews, whom God had separated to himself from the other nations to be His own heritage, he was not acknowledged or received. This passage also has received various explanations. For some think that the Evangelist speaks of the whole world indiscriminately; and certainly there is no part of the world which the Son of God may not lawfully claim as his own property. According to them, the meaning is: “When Christ came down into the world, he did not enter into another person’s territories, for the whole human race was his own inheritance.” But I approve more highly of the opinion of those who refer it to the Jews alone; for there is an implied comparison, by which the Evangelist represents the heinous ingratitude of men. The Son of God had solicited an abode for himself in one nation; when he appeared there, he was rejected; and this shows clearly the awfully wicked blindness of men. In making this statement, the sole object of the Evangelist must have been to remove the offense which many would be apt to take in consequence of the unbelief of the Jews. For when he was despised and rejected by that nation to which he had been especially promised, who would reckon him to be the Redeemer of the whole world? We see what extraordinary pains the Apostle Paul takes in handling this subject.

Here both the Verb and the Noun are highly emphatic. He came. The Evangelist says that the Son of God came to that place where he formerly was; and by this expression he must mean a new and extraordinary kind of presence, by which the Son of God was manifested, so that men might have a nearer view of him. Into his own. By this phrase the Evangelist compares the Jews with other nations; because by an extraordinary privilege they had been adopted into the family of God. Christ therefore was first offered to them as his own household, and as belonging to his empire by a peculiar right. To the same purpose is that complaint of God by Isaiah:

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel knoweth me not, (Isaiah 1:3;)

for though he has dominion over the whole world, yet he represents himself to be, in peculiar manner, the Lord of Israel, whom he had collected, as it were, into a sacred fold.

12. But to as many as received him. That none may be retarded by this stumbling-block, that the Jews despised and rejected Christ, the Evangelist exalts above heaven the godly who believe in him; for he says that by faith they obtain this glory of being reckoned the sons of God. The universal term, as many, contains an implied contrast; for the Jews were carried away by a blind vaunting, 1919     “D’une vanterie aveuglee; c est a dire, n’entendans pas ce qu’ils disoyent;” — “by a blind vaunting; that is, not understanding what they said.” as if they exclusively had God bound to themselves. The Evangelist declares that their condition is changed, because the Jews have been rejected, and their place, which had been left empty, is occupied by the Jews; for it is as if he transferred the right of adoption to strangers. This is what Paul says, that the destruction of one nation was the life of the whole world, (Romans 11:12;) for the Gospel, which might be said to have been banished from them, began to be spread far and wide throughout the whole world. They were thus deprived of the privilege which they enjoyed above others. But their impiety was no obstruction to Christ; for he erected elsewhere the throne of his kingdom, and called indiscriminately to the hope of salvation all nations which formerly appeared to have been rejected by God.

He gave them power. The word ἐξουσία here appears to me to mean a right, or claim; and it would be better to translate it so, in order to refute the false opinions of the Papists; for they wickedly pervert this passage by understanding it to mean, that nothing more than a choice is allowed to us, if we think fit to avail ourselves of this privilege. In this way they extract free-will from this phrase; but as well might they extract fire from water. There is some plausibility in this at first sight; for the Evangelist does not say that Christ makes them sons of God, but that he gives them power to become such. Hence they infer that it is this grace only that is offered to us, and that the liberty to enjoy or to reject it is placed at our disposal. But this frivolous attempt to catch at a single word is set aside by what immediately follows; for the Evangelist adds, that they become the sons of God, not by the will which belongs to the flesh, but when they are born of God. But if faith regenerates us, so that we are the sons of God, and if God breathes faith into us from heaven, it plainly appears that not by possibility only, but actually — as we say — is the grace of adoption offered to us by Christ. And, indeed, the Greek word, ἐξουσία is sometimes put for ἀξίωσις, (a claim,) a meaning which falls in admirably with this passage.

The circumlocution which the Evangelist has employed tends more to magnify the excellence of grace, than if he had said in a single word, that all who believe in Christ are made by him sons of God. For he speaks here of the unclean and profane, who, having been condemned to perpetual ignominy, lay in the darkness of death. Christ exhibited an astonishing instance of his grace in conferring this honor on such persons, so that they began, all at once, to be sons of God; and the greatness of this privilege is justly extolled by the Evangelist, as also by Paul, when he ascribes it to

God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love
with which he loved us, (Ephesians 2:4.)

But if any person shall prefer to take the word power in its ordinary acceptation, still the Evangelist does not mean by it any intermediate faculty, or one which does not include the full and complete effect; but, on the contrary, means that Christ gave to the unclean and the uncircumcised what appeared to be impossible; for an incredible change took place when out of stones Christ raised up children to God, (Matthew 3:9.) The power, therefore, is that fitness (ἱκανότης) which Paul mentions, when he

gives thanks to God, who hath made us fit (or meet) to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints, (Colossians 1:12.)

Who believe in his name. He expresses briefly the manner of receiving Christ, that is, believing in him. Having been engrafted into Christ by faith, we obtain the right of adoption, so as to be the sons of God. And, indeed, as he is the only-begotten Son of God, it is only so far as we are members of him that this honor at all belongs to us. Here again the notion of the Papists about the word power is refuted. 2020     “Et par ceci derechef est refutee l’imagination des Papistes de laquelle j’ai parle, a scavoir que Dieu donne aux hommes une possibilite, seulement d’estre faits enfans siens;” — “and here again is refuted the notion of the Papists which I spoke of, namely, that God gives to men bare possibility of becoming His children” The Evangelist declares that this power is given to those who already believe. Now it is certain that such persons are in reality the sons of God. They detract too much from the value of faith who say that, by believing, a man obtains nothing more than that he may become a son of God, if he chooses; for instead of present effect they put a power which is held in uncertainty and suspense.

The contradiction appears still more glaring from what immediately follows. The Evangelist says that those who believe are already born of God It is not therefore, a mere liberty of choice that is offered, since they obtain the privilege itself that is in question. Although the Hebrew word, שם (Name) is sometimes used to denote power, yet here it denotes a relation to the doctrine of the Gospel; for when Christ is preached to us, then it is that we believe in him. I speak of the ordinary method by which the Lord leads us to faith; and this ought to be carefully observed, for there are many who foolishly contrive for themselves a confused faith, without any understanding of doctrine, as nothing is more common among the Papists than the word believe, though there is not among them any knowledge of Christ from hearing the Gospel. Christ, therefore, offers himself to us by the Gospel, and we receive him by faith.

13. Who were born not of blood 2121     Here our Author, either from choice or from inadvertency, has adopted the phrase of blood, instead of What he followed in his version of the Text, (see page 35,) of bloods — the literal, though not idiomatic, rendering of ἐξ αἱμάτων, which is itself of rare occurrence, but not without classical authority. — Ed Some think that an indirect reference is here made to the preposterous confidence of the Jews, and I willingly adopt that opinion. They had continually in their mouth the nobleness of their lineage, as if, because they were descended from a holy stock, they were naturally holy. And justly might they have gloried in their descent from Abraham, if they had been lawful sons, and not bastards; but the glowing of faith ascribes nothing whatever to carnal generation, but acknowledges its obligation to the grace of God alone for all that is good. John, therefore, says, that those among the formerly unclean Gentiles who believe in Christ are not born the sons of God from the womb, but are renewed by God, that they may begin to be his sons. The reason why he uses the word blood in the plural number appears to have been, that he might express more fully a long succession of lineage; for this was a part of the boasting among the Jews, that they could trace their descent, by an uninterrupted line, upwards to the patriarchs.

The will of the flesh and the will of man appear to me to mean the same thing; for I see no reason why flesh should be supposed to signify woman, as Augustine and many others explain it. On the contrary, the Evangelist repeats the same thing in a variety of words, in order to explain it more fully, and impress it more deeply on the minds of men. Though he refers directly to the Jews, who gloried in the flesh, yet from this passage a general doctrine may be obtained: that our being reckoned the sons of God does not belong to our nature, and does not proceed from us, but because God begat us willingly, (James 1:18,) that is, from undeserved love. Hence it follows, first, that faith does not proceed from ourselves, but is the fruit of spiritual regeneration; for the Evangelist affirms that no man can believe, unless he be begotten of God; and therefore faith is a heavenly gift. It follows, secondly, that faith is not bare or cold knowledge, since no man can believe who has not been renewed by the Spirit of God.

It may be thought that the Evangelist reverses the natural order by making regeneration to precede faith, whereas, on the contrary, it is an effect of faith, and therefore ought to be placed later. I reply, that both statements perfectly agree; because by faith we receive the incorruptible seed, (1 Peter 1:23,) by which we are born again to a new and divine life. And yet faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in none but the children of God. So then, in various respects, faith is a part of our regeneration, and an entrance into the kingdom of God, that he may reckon us among his children. The illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit belongs to our renewal, and thus faith flows from regeneration as from its source; but since it is by the same faith that we receive Christ, who sanctifies us by his Spirit, on that account it is said to be the beginning of our adoption.

Another solution, still more plain and easy, may be offered; for when the Lord breathes faith into us, he regenerates us by some method that is hidden and unknown to us; but after we have received faith, we perceive, by a lively feeling of conscience, not only the grace of adoption, but also newness of life and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. For since faith, as we have said, receives Christ, it puts us in possession, so to speak, of all his blessings. Thus so far as respects our sense, it is only after having believed — that we begin to be the sons of God. But if the inheritance of eternal life is the fruit of adoption, we see how the Evangelist ascribes the whole of our salvation to the grace of Christ alone; and, indeed, how closely soever men examine themselves, they will find nothing that is worthy of the children of God, except what Christ has bestowed on them.

14. And the Speech was made flesh. The Evangelist shows what was that coming of Christ which he had mentioned; namely, that having been clothed with our flesh, he showed himself openly to the world. Although the Evangelist touches briefly the unutterable mystery, that the Son of God was clothed with human nature, yet this brevity is wonderfully perspicuous. Here some madmen amuse themselves with foolish and trivial subtleties of this sort: that the Speech is said to have been made flesh, because God sent his Son into the world, according to the conception which he had formed in his mind; as if the Speech were I know not what shadowy image. But we have demonstrated that that word denotes a real hypostasis, or subsistence, in the essence of God.

The word Flesh expresses the meaning of the Evangelist more forcibly than if he had said that he was made man. He intended to show to what a mean and despicable condition the Son of God, on our account, descended from the height of his heavenly glory. When Scripture speaks of man contemptuously, it calls him flesh. Now, though there be so wide a distance between the spiritual glory of the Speech of God and the abominable filth of our flesh, yet the Son of God stooped so low as to take upon himself that flesh, subject to so many miseries. The word flesh is not taken here for corrupt nature, (as it is often used by Paul,) but for mortal man; though it marks disdainfully his frail and perishing nature, as in these and similar passages, for he remembered that they were flesh, (Psalm 78:39;) all flesh is grass, (Isaiah 40:6.) We must at the same time observe, however, that this is a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole; for the lower part includes the whole man. 2222     “Car sous la chair et la partie inferieure tout l’homme est comprins;” — “for under the flesh, and the lower part, the whole man is included.” It was therefore highly foolish in Apollinaris to imagine that Christ was merely clothed with a human body without a soul; for it may easily be proved from innumerable passages, that he had a soul as well as a body; and when Scripture calls men flesh, it does not therefore deprive them of a soul.

The plain meaning therefore is, that the Speech begotten by God before all ages, and who always dwelt with the Father, was made man. On this article there are two things chiefly to be observed. The first is, that two natures were so united in one Person in Christ, that one and the same Christ is true God and true man. The second is, that the unity of person does not hinder the two natures from remaining distinct, so that his Divinity retains all that is peculiar to itself, and his humanity holds separately whatever belongs to it. And, therefore, as Satan has made a variety of foolish attempts to overturn sound doctrine by heretics, he has always brought forward one or another of these two errors; either that he was the Son of God and the Son of man in so confused a manner, that neither his Divinity remained entire, nor did he wear the true nature of man; or that he was clothed with flesh, so as to be as it were double, and to have two separate persons. Thus Nestorius expressly acknowledged both natures, but imagined two Christs, one who was God, and another who was man. Eutyches, on the other hand, while he acknowledged that the one Christ is the Son of God and the Son of man, left him neither of the two natures, but imagined that they were mingled together. And in the present day, Servetus and the Anabaptists invent a Christ who is confusedly compounded of two natures, as if he were a Divine man. In words, indeed, he acknowledges that Christ is God; but if you admit his raving imaginations, the Divinity is at one time changed into human nature, and at another time, the nature of man is swallowed up by the Divinity.

The Evangelist says what is well adapted to refute both of these blasphemies. When he tells us that the Speech was made flesh, we clearly infer from this the unity of his Person; for it is impossible that he who is now a man could be any other than he who was always the true God, since it is said that God was made man. On the other hand, since he distinctly gives to the man Christ the name of the Speech, it follows that Christ, when he became man, did not cease to be what he formerly was, and that no change took place in that eternal essence of God which was clothed with flesh. In short, the Son of God began to be man in such a manner that he still continues to be that eternal Speech who had no beginning of time.

And dwelt. Those who explain that the flesh served, as it were, for an abode to Christ, do not perceive the meaning of the Evangelist; for he does not ascribe to Christ a permanent residence amongst us, but says that he remained in it as a guest, for a short time. For the word which he employs (ἐσκήνωσεν) is taken from tabernacles 2323     “Est deduit d’un mot qui signifie Tabernacles, c’est a dire, tentes et avillons;” — “is derived from a word which signifies Tabernacles, that is, tents and pavilions.” He means nothing else than that Christ discharged on the earth the office which had been appointed to him; or, that he did not merely appear for a single moment, but that he conversed among men until he completed the course of his office.

Among us. It is doubtful whether he speaks of men in general, or only of himself and the rest of the disciples who were eye-witnesses of what he says. For my own part, I approve more highly of the second view for the Evangelist immediately adds:

And we beheld his glory. for though all men might have beheld the glory of Christ, yet it was unknown to the greater part on account of their blindness. It was only a few, whose eyes the Holy Spirit opened, that saw this manifestation of glory. In a word, Christ was known to be man in such a manner that he exhibited in his Person something far more noble and excellent. Hence it follows that the majesty of God was not annihilated, though it was surrounded by flesh; it was indeed concealed under the low condition of the flesh, but so as to cause its splendor to be seen.

As of the only-begotten of the Father. The word as does not, in this passage, denote an inappropriate comparison, but rather expresses true and hearty approbation; as when Paul says, Walk as children of light, he bids us actually demonstrate by our works that we are the children of light. The Evangelist therefore means, that in Christ was beheld a glory which was worthy of the Son of God, and which was a sure proof of his Divinity. He calls him the Only-begotten, because he is the only Son of God by nature; as if he would place him above men and angels, and would claim for him alone what belongs to no creature.

Full of grace. There were, indeed, other things in which the majesty of Christ appeared, but the Evangelist selected this instance in preference to others, in order to train us to the speculative rather than the practical knowledge of it; and this ought to be carefully observed. Certainly when Christ walked with dry feet upon the waters, (Matthew 14:26; Mark 6:48; John 6:19,) when he cast out devils, and when he displayed his power in other miracles, he might be known to be the only-begotten Son of God; but the Evangelist brings forward a part of the approbation, from which faith obtains delightful advantage, because Christ demonstrated that he actually is an inexhaustible fountain of grace and truth. Stephen, too, is said to have been full of grace, 2424     This must have been a slip of memory on the part of our Author; for the phrases applied to Stephen are different, though parallel. He is called a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, (Acts 6:5;) full of faith and power, (Acts 6:8;) and full of the Holy Ghost, (Acts 7:55.) — Ed. but in a different sense; for the fullness of grace in Christ is the fountain from which all of us must draw, as we shall have occasion shortly afterwards to explain more fully.

Grace and truth. This might be taken, by a figure of speech, for true grace, or the latter term might be explanatory, thus: that he was full of grace, which is truth or perfection; but as we shall find that he immediately afterwards repeats the same mode of expression, I think that the meaning is the same in both passages. This grace and truth he afterwards contrasts with the Law; and therefore I interpret it as simply meaning, that the apostles acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God, because he had in himself the fulfillment of things which belong to the spiritual kingdom of God; and, in short, that in all things he showed himself to be the Redeemer and Messiah; which is the most striking mark by which he ought to be distinguished from all others.