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4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

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4. In him was life. Hitherto he has taught us, that by the Speech of God all things were created. He now attributes to him, in the same manner, the preservation of those things which had been created, as if he had said, that in the creation of the world there was not merely displayed a sudden exercise of his power, which soon passed away, but that it is manifested in the steady and regular order of nature, as he is said to uphold all things by the word or will of his power, (Hebrews 1:3). This life may be extended either to inanimate creatures, (which live after their own manner, though they are devoid of feeling,) or may be explained in reference to living creatures alone. It is of little consequence which you choose; for the simple meaning is, that the Speech of God was not only the source of life to all the creatures, so that those which were not began to be, but that his life-giving power causes them to remain in their condition; for were it not that his continued inspiration gives vigor to the world, every thing that lives would immediately decay, or be reduced to nothing. In a word, what Paul ascribes to God, that in him we are, and move, and live, (Acts 17:28,) John declares to be accomplished by the gracious agency of the Speech; so that it is God who gives us life, but it is by the eternal Speech

The life was the light of men. The other interpretations, which do not accord with the meaning of the Evangelist, I intentionally pass by. He speaks here, in my opinion, of that part of life in which men excel other animals; and informs us that the life which was bestowed on men was not of an ordinary description, but was united to the light of understanding. He separates man from the rank of other creatures; because we perceive more readily the power of God by feeling it in us than by beholding it at a distance. Thus Paul charges us not to seek God at a distance, because he makes himself to be felt within us, (Acts 17:27.) After having presented a general exhibition of the kindness of Christ, in order to induce men to take a nearer view of it, he points out what has been bestowed peculiarly on themselves; namely, that they were not created like the beasts, but having been endued with reason, they had obtained a higher rank. As it is not in vain that God imparts his light to their minds, it follows that the purpose for which they were created was, that they might acknowledge Him who is the Author of so excellent a blessing. And since this light, of which the Speech was the source, has been conveyed from him to us, it ought to serve as a mirror, in which we may clearly behold the divine power of the Speech

5. And the light shineth in darkness. It might be objected, that the passages of Scripture in which men are called blind are so numerous and that the blindness for which they are condemned is but too well known. For in all their reasoning faculties they miserably fail. How comes it that there are so many labyrinths of errors in the world, but because men, by their own guidance, are led only to vanity and lies? But if no light appears in men, that testimony of the divinity of Christ, which the Evangelist lately mentioned, is destroyed; for that is the third step, as I have said, that in the life of men there is something more excellent than motion and breathing. The Evangelist anticipates this question, and first of all lays down this caution, that the light which was originally bestowed on men must not be estimated by their present condition; because in this corrupted and degenerate nature light has been turned into darkness. And yet he affirms that the light of understanding is not wholly extinguished; for, amidst the thick darkness of the human mind, some remaining sparks of the brightness still shine.

My readers now understand that this sentence contains two clauses; for he says that men are now widely distant from that perfectly holy nature with which they were originally endued; because their understanding, which ought to have shed light in every direction, has been plunged in darkness, and is wretchedly blinded; and that thus the glory of Christ may be said to be darkened amidst this corruption of nature. But, on the other hand, the Evangelist maintains that, in the midst of the darkness:, there are still some remains of light, which show in some degree the divine power of Christ. The Evangelist admits, therefore, that the mind of man is blinded; so that it may justly be pronounced to be covered with darkness. For he might have used a milder term, and might have said that the light is dark or cloudy; but he chose to state more distinctly how wretched our condition has become since the fall of the first man. The statement that the light shineth in darkness is not at all intended for the commendation of depraved nature, but rather for taking away every excuse for ignorance.

And the darkness did not comprehend it. Although by that small measure of light which still remains in us, the Son of God has always invited men to himself, yet the Evangelist says that this was attended by no advantage, because seeing, they did not see, (Matthew 13:13.) For since man lost the favor of God, his mind is so completely overwhelmed by the thralldom of ignorance, that any portion of light which remains in it is quenched and useless. This is daily proved by experience; for all who are not regenerated by the Spirit of God possess some reason, and this is an undeniable proof that man was made not only to breathe, but to have understanding. But by that guidance of their reason they do not come to God, and do not even approach to him; so that all their understanding is nothing else than mere vanity. Hence it follows that there is no hope of the salvation of men, unless God grant new aid; for though the Son of God sheds his light upon them, they are so dull that they do not comprehend whence that light proceeds, but are carried away by foolish and wicked imaginations to absolute madness.

The light which still dwells in corrupt nature consists chiefly of two parts; for, first, all men naturally possess some seed of religion; and, secondly, the distinction between good and evil is engraven on their consciences. But what are the fruits that ultimately spring from it, except that religion degenerates into a thousand monsters of superstition, and conscience perverts every decision, so as to confound vice with virtue? In short, natural reason never will direct men to Christ; and as to their being endued with prudence for regulating their lives, or born to cultivate the liberal arts and sciences, all this passes away without yielding any advantage.

It ought to be understood that the Evangelist speaks of natural gifts only, and does not as yet say any thing about the grace of regeneration. For there are two distinct powers which belong to the Son of God: the first, which is manifested in the structure of the world and the order of nature; and the second, by which he renews and restores fallen nature. As he is the eternal Speech of God, by him the world was made; by his power all things continue to possess the life which they once received; man especially was endued with an extraordinary gift of understanding; and though by his revolt he lost the light of understanding, yet he still sees and understands, so that what he naturally possesses from the grace of the Son of God is not entirely destroyed. But since by his stupidity and perverseness he darkens the light which still dwells in him, it remains that a new office be undertaken by the Son of God, the office of Mediator, to renew, by the Spirit of regeneration, man who had been ruined. Those persons, therefore, reason absurdly and inconclusively, who refer this light, which the Evangelist mentions, to the gospel and the doctrine of salvation.

6. There was a man. The Evangelist now begins to discourse about the manner in which the Son of God was manifested in flesh; and that none may doubt that Christ is the eternal Son of God, he relates that Christ was announced by John the Baptist, as his herald. For not only did Christ exhibit himself to be seen by men, but he chose also to be made known by the testimony and doctrine of John; or rather, God the Father sent this witness before his Christ, that they might more willingly receive the salvation offered by him.

But it might at first sight appear ridiculous that Christ should receive testimony from another, as if he needed it; while, on the contrary, he declares that he does not seek testimony from man, (John 5:34.) The answer is easy and obvious, that this witness was appointed, not for the sake of Christ, but for our sake. If it be objected that the testimony of man is too weak to prove that Christ is the Son of God, it is likewise easy to reply, that the Baptist is not adduced as a private witness, but as one who, having received authority from God, sustained the character rather of an angel than of a man. Accordingly, he receives commendation not for his own virtues, but for this single circumstance, that he was the ambassador of God. Nor is this at variance with the fact, that the preaching of the gospel was committed to Christ, that he might be a witness to himself; for the design contemplated by the preaching of John was, that men might attend to the doctrine and miracles of Christ.

Sent by God. He does not say so for the purpose of confirming the baptism of John, but only mentions it in passing. This circumstance is not sufficient to produce certainty, since many run of their own accord, and boast that God has sent them; but the Evangelist, intending afterwards to speak more fully about this witness, reckoned it enough, for the present, to say in a single word, that John did not come but by the command of God. We shall afterwards see how he himself affirms that God is the Author of his ministry. We must now recollect — what I formerly noticed — that what is asserted about John is required in all the teachers of the Church, that they be called by God; so that the authority of teaching may not be founded on any other than on God alone.

Whose name was John. He states the name, not only for the purpose of pointing out the man, but because it was given to him in accordance with what he really was. There is no room to doubt that the Lord had reference to the office to which he appointed John, when he commanded by the angel that he should be so called, that by means of it all might acknowledge him to be the herald of divine grace. 1616     “Heraut et ambassade de la grace de Dieu;” — “Herald and ambassador of the grace of God.” For though the name יהוחנן 1717     “Le nom de Jean, qui signifie Grace;” — “The name John, which signifies Grace.” (Jehohannan) may be taken in a passive signification, and may thus be referred to the person, as denoting that John was acceptable to God; yet for my own part, I willingly extend it to the benefit which others ought to derive from him. 1818     For the meaning of the name John, derived from the Hebrew Jehohannan, the reader may consult our Author’s Commentary on the Harmony of the Three Evangelists, vol. i. page 15. — Ed.

7. He came for a testimony. The end of his calling is briefly noticed; which was, that he might prepare a Church for Christ, as, by inviting all to Christ, he shows plainly enough that he did not come on his own account.

8. He was not that light. So far was John from needing commendation, that the Evangelist gives this warning, lest his excessive brightness might obscure the glory of Christ. For there were some who gazed so eagerly upon him that they neglected Christ; just as if a person, enraptured with beholding the dawning of the day, would not deign to turn his eyes towards the sun. In what sense the Evangelist employs the word light we shall immediately see. All the godly, indeed, are light in the Lord, (Ephesians 5:8,) because, in consequence of their being enlightened by his Spirit, they not only see for themselves, but likewise direct others by their example to the way of salvation. The apostles likewise are peculiarly called light, (Matthew 5:14,) because they go before, holding out the torch of the Gospel, to dispel the darkness of the world. But here the Evangelist speaks of him who is the only and eternal source of illumination, as he immediately shows more clearly.

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.