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nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of
but of God. . To which heavenly inheritance they are entitled not by their birth, as Jews, or by becoming such by marriage or proselyteship; but by the good pleasure of God and a holy obedience to his will.
14. And wisdom was made flesh, That is, the divine wisdom was in the fullest manner communicated to the man Christ Jesus. It is observed that flesh is frequently put for man: thus, Psalm Ixv. 2. “O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh,” all men, “come. But it frequently and peculiarly stands for man as mortal,“ subject to infirmities and sufferings, and as such is particularly appropriated to Christ here and in other places.
And dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
The wisdom of God resided in the man Christ Jesus, displaying by him its favours and communications to us, far beyond what were enjoyed under Moses' dispensation. This sense of this latter clause is confirmed by the observation made below, verse 17, “ for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." "In the phrase, wisdom dwelt among us, there is supposed to be a manifest allusion, which is said to be implied in the Greek word cornWON, tabernacled, to what the Jewish doctors call the Shechinah, that is, the presence, the dwelling, the habitation of God among his people in the tabernacle and in the temple. Thus Moses tells us, Exod. xxix. 45, that God said, “and I will dwell among the children of Israel;” and Solomon, at the dedication of the temple, says, 2 Chron. vi. 2. 18, “I have built an house of habitation for thee, and a place for thy dwelling for ever. But will God in very deed dwell with man upon earth?" If, therefore, God was spoken of as dwelling amongst the children of Israel, and dwelling with men in the tabernacle and temple at Jerusalem, on account of the miraculous tokens of his presence and his extraordinary providence vouchsafed to them thence, on particular occasions; with equal propriety, and in a much nobler way, may God be said to have dwelt among men in the person of Jesus, who was the true oracle of God, replenished by him with wisdom and power, for the instruction, guidance and support of his church and people.
In the middle of the fourteenth verse is a clause, which, for the sake of distinctness, is considered separately, and is thus translated and paraphrased by those who adopt the preceding explanation.
And we beheld his glory from the Father, the glory as of the only begotten Son, full of grace and truth.
We beheld in Jesus such marks of divine wisdom and power, that we could not doubt of his being the Messiah. The beholding his glory from the Father, was beholding the tokens of his divine authority in the miracles that accompanied him. Thus Peter, speaking of Jesus, second epistle, i. 17. says, “ He receiyed honor and glory from God the Father.
The only-begotten signifies no more than beloved son, and is as much as to say, the Messiah, the Christ; son of God, in the language of the Jews at this time, being one of the phrases to denote the Messiah; and the apostle adds the term, only-begotten, to express his ideas of the affection with which he was regarded : for an only child is an object of peculiar affection.
I have now set before you one method in which these words have been explained, and it is one adopted by men of great eminence for talents and knowledge of the scriptures; that which supposes what is called by the apostle THE WORD, to be the wisdom of God, and his meaning to be, that this wisdom afterwards resided in the man Christ Jesus ; producing all the mi. raculous effects afterwards attributed to him. I shall now proceed to mention the second method of explaining this language, having first made one or two observations on that which I have already laid before you.
It must be admitted that the interpretation now given of this controverted passage is at least very plausible, and that it removes several difficulties with which the prevailing interpretations are encumbered; particularly that which arises from supposing that the cvangelist, in the very beginning of his gospel, intended to represent Jesus Christ as the eternal God or some great pre-existent spirit, by whom all things in the whole visible creation, or at least in heaven and earth, were made; which is directly contrary to the clear and constant tenor of the sacred writings, which ; uniformly ascribe the creation of the world and of all things besides to God. Nor is it less difficult to allow that the evangelist should begin his history with announcing the existence of this great spirit, a subject upon which the other evangelists are entirely silent, without telling us whence he had this knowledge, concealed, so far as appears, from the apostles and every other Christian. "It is also no less extraordinary that having announced this great Being as that who inhabited the person of Jesus Christ, and given him a particular name, he should never call him by the same name, or speak of him again throughout his history or the rest of his writings. These difficulties afford a strong presumption that the interpretation which they accompany cannot be true, But although that which I have now read to you may not be encumbered with the same, yet candour and justice oblige us to confess that it appears to be accompanied with others of no little weight.
For it is natural to expect that the apostle, in write ing the history of his master for the information of his countrymen and others, would employ expressions which were either well known or might be easily understood by the persons for whose use it was written. Yet, although the term translated wisdom, does undoubtedly signify reason and intelligence, and is so used by heathen writers, I do not recollect any instance in the Greek translation of the Old Testament,
whence the apostle would be most likely to take its meaning, where it is applied to express the wisdom or reason of God. The term used in the book of Proverbs, where the wisdom of God is personified in the passage referred to, is not logos, but another Greek term, SOPHIA.
Again, according to this interpretation, we are told in the fourteenth verse, that the wisdom of God became flesh, that is, dwelt in man, as it has been interpreted; as if it was from that time, and not before, manifested to the world. Yet in the preceding verses we find that this same wisdom is described as having life in it, and this life as being the light of men, as shining in darkness; as lighting every man that cometh into the world; all which things imply that it had been already manifested to the world. But such a construction of the apostle's language represents him as writing in a desultory and incoherent manner, and cannot therefore be true.
Besides, it must be acknowledged, that to say “wisdom became a man,” is an unusual, if not a harsh, expression. Let us see how far these difficulties, and others which might be suggested, can be removed by the second interpretation, to which I have referred.
This interpretation supposes, that the word spoken of by the apostle in the introduction to his gospel, is not the wisdom of God, but the person who is the subject of the rest of his history, or Jesus Christ. I would remind you, before we enter on this explanation, that it is an established rule, founded upon obvious reasons, that to interpret scripture by itself, that is, to employ one part of the sacred writings to explain another, and more especially to infer the sense of an obscure passage from another of the same author, which is more plain, is the safest and fairest mode of interpretation.
1. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was [a] God.
For an explanation of this verse we are are referred to the first epistle of John, which he begins in this imanner: “ That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the word of life-declare we unto you.” In this passage it is evident that by the word of life, which John says that he had seen with his eyes, looked upon and handled, he must intend not the doctrine of the gospel, but Jesus Christ himself, who alone could be the object of these senses. The reason of calling him by that name is pretty obvious: it was the leading design of his mission, both by his discourses and resurrection, to establish the doctrine of eternal life. The propriety of the appellation is evident from the office with which he was invested; and it will occasion 10 surprise to those who recollect that the same personage is called a door; a shepherd, a vine, bread, a stone, the light, the way, the truth, the resurrection, the life and our hope, either by himself or by his apostles, and that he received these various denominations on account of the different purposes which his inission was calculated to answer.
It being admitted then that the word of life, in the epistle of John, signifies Jesus Christ, we easily see that the word, in the beginning of the gospel, is only an ahbreviation of shorter term for the word of life, which was probably familiar to the apostle, and attended with no obscurity to those for whose immediate use he wrote his gospel. If any one, however, should think that the word is put for the word of God, and that that appellation is given to Christ by way of eminence, on account of his communicating the word of God in a more excellent manner than any other prophet, there can be no great objection to the alteration.
Having seen what John means by the word, we are prepared for understanding what he refers tó by tlie beginning, which signifies not the creation of all things, but the beginning of the gospel dispensation; for John, in the passage just referred to in his epistle, says, “ That which was from the beginning declare we unto you,” which no one understands of any thing else than