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  • Author: Rev. William Bruce
  • Publisher: The Missionary Society of the New Church
  • Publication Date: 1891
  • Total Pages: 522

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Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John

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The gospel of the beloved apostle has so much a character of its own, that it is generally treated separately by those who take a synoptical view of the gospels.

In writing his gospel, John is supposed to have had two objects in view ;-to record some parts. of the Lord's life and teaching which the other evangelists had omitted; and to counteract the influence of Gnosticism, which had even then begun to infect the church, and the tendency of which was, to substitute the visionary embodiment of a time-born AEonfor the actual incarnation of the Eternal Word. There is no reason to doubt that the gospel may have had, a special-as well as a general use to perform; and that the Divine and the human purpose in writing it may have coincided, since every good intention, like every good and every perfect gift, is from above. Such an opinion is only objectionable so far as it assigns to the gospel a merely human authorship, or reduces the inspiration of Scripture to the superintending influence of the Holy Spirit. As this is a point of great importance, and as the present Commentary proceeds on the principle that the Scriptures are divinely inspired, I have treated of this subject in an introductory chapter. My object here is to consider the relation which .John's gospel has to the others, in reference to the Lord, to the church, and to man in his spiritual character.

The Word of God, considered as a series of successive revelations, reflects the character, and is indeed a history, of the human race, as they lived and acted under the several dispensations of the church, to which these revelations were made. As there is. an analogy between the history of the race and that of the individual, these dispensations, which mark the great epochs of man's spiritual history, are analogous to the successive states of human life, from its beginning to the completion of regeneration. The Old Testament describes those states which precede, and are preparatory to, the actual commencement of the regenerate life. The period from Adam to Christ, in the history of the race, is analogous to the period of man's life, from the time of his first, to the time of his second, birth; from the time he is born in the image of the first Adam, who was made a living soul, to the time he is born in the image of the second Adam, who was made a quickening Spirit. The gospels, therefore, which contain the history of the Lord's life, from his birth to his ascension, and thus describe the entire process of his glorification, also include the period, and describe the process, of man's regeneration, as the effect and image of the Lord's work.

While the New Testament has thus a distinct character ill relation to the Old, its several parts have a distinct character in relation to each other. Assuming that the existence of four gospels, each containing a history of the Lord's life, is not of man but of God, we may conclude that this originated in a purpose worthy of Divine wisdom. We cannot, therefore, consistently with their Divine authorship, regard the gospels simply as repetitions, sometimes with perplexing variations, nor even as supplements, one of another. True, every gospel contains something that is not to be found in the others; and John's is not the least conspicuous in this respect. To his gospel we owe the Lord's discourse with Nicodemus on the new birth; with the woman of Samaria on the living water, and with the Jews on the bread of life; with Martha on the resurrection; with his disciples on his oneness with the Father; and his sublime prayer that the Father would perfect in him the work of Glorification, as the crowning act of Reconciliation. To it also we are indebted for the record of some of the Lord's beneficent works; as, the cure of the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda; the gift of sight to one born blind; the raising of Lazarus from the dead; and the washing of His disciples' feet. But there are also some particulars in which John's gospel differs from the others in its character as well as in its contents. The other evangelists relate more of the public, he relates more of the private, life and teaching of our Lord; nearly one half of his gospel being occupied with the record of transactions that took place in the presence of the disciples only, most of them of the profoundest nature and of the deepest import. It is admitted by all commentators that Jolm's gospel is more spiritual in its character than the others; that it concentrates our attention more fully upon the single person of the Lord; and that it gives more of the Lord's doctrine than of his history.

What has been remarked respecting the distinctive characters of the two most eminent of the Lord's apostles,-that John was a lover of Jesus, and that Pete:' was a lover of Christ, may be said of the four evangelists. John's gospel is more the history of Jesus; the others .are more the history of Christ. John presents the Lord to us more in his personal, the others more in his Messianic, character; he presents Him more in His character of Jesus the Saviour, the others more in His character of Christ the King; he presents Him more in the character of Divine Love, they more in the character of Divine Truth. His gospel presents the Lord's life and teaching, more in their moral than in their intellectual aspect; and as more calculated to make Him the Object of love than of faith to His disciples. Perhaps there is no better view of this subject than that suggested by Noble,-that Matthew and Mark relate more to the external, Luke and J ohn more to the internal, life of the Lord and his disciples. According to this view, the gospels may be understood to describe the progressive advancement of the Lord's glorification and of man's regeneration. As John's is the last of the gospels, so does it describe the last and most perfect of these states, and eminently, in relation to man, that state in which all lower graces are centred in love to the Lord, the crowning grace of the religious life.

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