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Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 2 - The Wooing Lover - part 3

By S.D. Gordon

      The Oldest Family.

      "But," John goes on. That was a steadying "but." It was hard on John to recall how they treated his Friend and Master. But there is a "but." There's another aide, an offset to what he's been saying, a bright bit to offset the black bit. But as many as did receive Him. Some received. Jesus was rejected, yes, abominably, contemptibly rejected. But He was also accepted, gladly, joyously, wholeheartedly accepted, even though it came to mean pain and shame.

      As many as received Him, John says, He received into His family. The conception of a family and of a home where the family lives, runs all through underneath here. They would not receive this Jesus because He didn't belong to the inner circle of the old families which they represented. They regarded themselves as the custodians of the exclusive aristocratic circles of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was the upper circle of Israel.

      And every one knew that Israel was the chiefest, the one uppermost nation, of the earth, with none near enough to be classed second. They were the favourites of God, all the rest were "dogs of Gentiles," outsiders, not to be mentioned in the same breath. To these national leaders of Jesus' day, this was the very breath of their life.

      "And this Jesus!" They spat on the ground to relieve the intensity of their contempt. "Who was He? A peasant! a Galilean! Nazareth!" Nazareth was put in as a sort of superlative degree of contempt. Of course, they could easily have found out about the lineage of Jesus. In the best meaning of the word, Jesus was an aristocrat. Apart from its philological derivation that word means one who traces his lineage back through a worthy line for a long way, and so one who has the noble traits of such lineage. In the best meaning of the word Jesus was an aristocrat. His line traced back without slip or break to the great house of David, and that meant clear back to Adam. The records were all there, carefully preserved, indisputable. They could easily have found this out.

      I recall talking one day in London with a gentle lady of an old, titled Scottish family, an earnest Christian, trained in the Latin Church. In the course of the conversation she remarked, "Of course, Jesus was a peasant." And I replied as gently as I could so as not to seem to be arguing, "Of course, He was not a peasant. He chose to live as a peasant, for a great strong purpose. But He was an aristocrat in blood. His family line traced directly back through the noblest families clear to the beginning. No one living had a longer unbroken lineage. And that is the very essence of aristocracy."

      In some circles, they count much, or most, on old families. In certain cities of our own country, east and south, this is reckoned as the hall-mark of highest distinction. When one goes across the water to England and the Continent, he finds the old families of America are rather young affairs. And as he pushes on into the East, some of the old families of Europe sometimes seem fairly recent. I remember in the Orient running across a family where the father had been a Shinto priest, father and son successively, through forty-five generations; and another where the father of the family has been successively a court-musician for thirty-eight generations. I thought maybe I had run into some really old families at last.

      I come of a rather old family myself. It runs clear back without break or slip to Adam in Eden. I've not bothered much with tracing it, for there are some pretty plain evidences of ugly stains on the family escutcheon, running all through, and repeatedly. And then even more than that I've become intensely interested in another family, an older family, the oldest family of all. Arrangements have been made whereby I have been taken into this oldest family of all with full rights and privileges. My claims to aristocracy are now of the very highest, with all the noble obligations that go with it. That's what John is talking of here. As many as received Him, He received into His family, the oldest family of all.

      These people refused Jesus because He didn't belong to their set. In their utterly selfish prejudice and wilful ignorance, these leaders shut Him out from the circles they controlled. But with great graciousness He received into His circle any, of any circle, high or low, who would receive Him into their hearts. To as many as received Him into their hearts He opened the door into His own family. He gave them the technical right of becoming children of His Father.

      Their part of the thing is put very simply in two ways. They believed. They were told, they listened and thought, they accepted as true, they risked what they counted most precious, they loved. So they believed. And so they received. The door opened, the inner door, the heart door. He went in. That settled things for them. When He graciously entered their hearts, the inner citadel of their lives, that settled their place in this oldest family of all.

      How We Don't Get In, and How We Do.

      It is of intensest interest in our day to have John go on to tell, in his own simple taking way, just how we get into this God-family. First of all, he tells us how we don't get in. Listen: "not of blood," that is, not by our natural generation; "nor of the will of the flesh," that is, not by anything we can do of ourselves, though this has a place, a distinctly secondary place; "nor of the will of man," that is, not by what somebody else can do for us, though this too has its place.

      These are the three "nots"; the three ways we are not saved. And it becomes of intensest interest to notice that these are the very three ways that the crowd is emphasizing to-day, some this, others that, as the way of being saved. The three modern words we commonly use for these three "nots" of John are, family, culture, and influence.

      Some of us seem to be fully expecting to walk into the presence of God, and to get all there is to be gotten there, because of the family we belong to. This is probably stronger in some of us than we are conscious of. It's a matter of blood with us, our blood, our natural generation. We take greatest pride in showing what blood it is that runs in our veins. We trace the line far back to those whose names are well known. And this sort of thing has overpowering influence in our human affairs down here.

      His gracious majesty King George is King of England, because he is the child of Edward and Alexandra. His one and only claim to the English throne is that at the time of accession he was their oldest living son. But that won't figure a farthing's worth when he comes up to the hearthfire of God's family. And I think he understands this full well. I'm expecting to see him there; not as King of England, but as a brother.

      It is not a matter of blood. It's a blessed thing to be well-born. It makes a tremendous difference to have the blood of an old noble family in one's veins, if it is good clean blood. But it'll never save us. Salvation is not by lineal descent, not by family line. It is "not of blood." John clears that ground.

      Some of us put great stress on what we are in ourselves. This looms big with a great crowd scattered throughout the earth. We know so much. We have gotten it by dint of hard work. We can do some things so skilfully. We have worked into positions of great power among men. Our names are known. Sometimes they are spelled in large letters.

      The broad word for this is culture, what we have gained and gotten by our effort, of that which is reckoned good, and which is good. Culture is one of the chief words in our language to-day. Whether spelled the English way or the German, it looms big. It is one of our modern tidbits. It is chewed on much, and pleases our palate greatly. And culture is good, if it is good culture.

      But, have you noticed, that you have to have a thing before you can culture it? No amount of the choicest culture will get an apple out of a turnip, nor a Bartlett pear out of a potato, nor make a Chinese into an Englishman, nor an American into a Japanese. Culture can improve the stock, but it can't change it. It takes some other power than culture to change the kind. Here we have to be made of the same kind as they are up in the old family of God. There must be a change at the core. Then culture of that new stock is only good and blessed.

      This is John's second "not." It seems rather radical. It completely undercuts so much of our present day notions. If John is right, some of us are wrong, radically, dangerously wrong. Yet John had a wonderful Teacher whom he lived with for a while. And after He had gone, John had another Teacher, unseen but very real, who guided, especially in the writing of the old Jesus-story. The whole presumption is in favour of John's way of it being wholly right. And if that makes us wrong, we would better be grateful to find it out now, while there's time to change. Being saved is not a matter of what we can do, of our culture, though this has its proper place.

      And some of us put tremendous stress to-day on influence, what we can command from others, in furtherance of our desires. Influence is spelled in biggest type and printed in blackest ink. Whether in political matters at Washington or at London; in financial, whether Lombard Street or Wall Street; or in the all-important social matters, or even in the educational, the university world, the chief question is, "Whose influence can you get?" "What name can you quote?" "Whose backing have you?" Influence and culture are the twin gods to-day. The smoke of their incense goeth up continuously. Their places of worship are crowded, with bent knees and prostrate forms and reverential hush.

      Have you noticed that Jesus hadn't enough influence with the officials of His day to keep from the cross? No: but He had enough power to break the official emblem of earth's greatest authority, the Roman seal on the Joseph tomb. Rather striking that; intensely significant for us moderns. Peter hadn't enough influence with the authorities to keep out of jail. Sounds rather disgraceful that, does it not? Aye, but he had enough power with God to open jail-doors and walk quietly out against the wish of those highest in authority.

      Influence has its proper place. It's good, if it is. But we are not saved by it. We are not saved by what some one else can do for us; "not of the will of man." Your mother's prayers and your wife's, and the influence of their godly lives will have great weight. It's a great blessing to have them. They help enormously. But the thing itself that takes a man into the presence of God, saved and redeemed, is something immensely more than this, some action of his own that goes to the roots as none of these other things do.

      One time a deputation waited on Lincoln to press a matter of public concern. But his keenly logical mind discerned flaws in their impassioned and carefully worked out arguments. He waited patiently till their case was complete. And then in that quiet way for which he was famous, he said, "How many legs would a sheep have if you called its tail a leg?" As he expected, they promptly answered "Five." "No," he said, "it wouldn't; it would have only four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it one." So a simple bit of his homely sense and accurate logic scattered their finely spun argument.

      Calling either family or culture or influence the chief thing doesn't make it so. These are John's three tremendous "nots." They rather cut straight across the common current of thought and belief and conduct to-day. We may indeed be grateful if a single homely drop of black ink from John's pen put into the beautifully cloudy-grey solution of modern thought clears the liquid and makes a precipitate of sharply defined truth that any eye can plainly see.

      This is how we won't be saved. This is how we don't get into the family of God. It is "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man"; not through family connection, nor by what we can do of ourselves simply, nor by what we can get some of our fellows to do for us, simply.

      "But of God," John says. It is by Someone else, outside of us, above us, reaching down from a higher level, and putting the germ of a new life within us, and lifting us up to His own level. He puts His hand through the open door of our will, what we do in opening up to Him, through "the will of the flesh." He walks along the pathway of the earnest desire of those who would help us up, "the will of man." But it is what He does that does the one thing that all depends upon. His is the decisive action, through our choosing and our friends' helping.

      I said it isn't a matter of blood, of lineage. Yet it is. That statement must be modified. Family relationship is of necessity a matter of blood. That's the very blood of it. This is a matter of blood; but not our blood; His. There has to be a new strain of blood. Our blood is stained. It is at fault. It is impure. There's been a bad break far back there in the family record, a complete break. We were powerless either to purify the stock, or to get over that gap, even if we admitted the need.

      There had to be a bridging of that gap. It had to be from the upper side. The other fell short. The gap was still there. There had to be a new strain of blood. This was, this is, the only way. We get into that old first family only by the Father of the family reaching over the break and putting in the new strain of blood, the germ of the family life, and so lifting us up to the new level. And Jesus was God doing just that.

      Our Tented Neighbour.

      Then John begins a new paragraph. He goes back to tell just how the thing was done. Listen: the Word, this wondrous One, became a man, one of ourselves, and pitched His tent in close amongst our tents.There's only a stretch of canvas between Him and any of us. He wanted to get close, close enough to help, yet never infringing upon the privacy of our tents, only coming in as He was invited. But He has remarkable ears. A whisper reaches Him at once. And He is out of His tent into ours to help at the faintest call. That was why He pitched His tent in amongst ours, to be one of ourselves, and to be at hand in our need.

      And then a touch of awe creeps into John's spirit as he writes, and the light flashes out of his eye with the intensity of an old picture surging to the front of his imagination again. There was more than a tent here, more than a man. Out of the man, out through the tent doorway, and tent canvas, flashes a wondrous, soft, clear light, that transfigures canvas and tent and man. John's face glows as he writes, "and we beheld His glory."

      I suppose he is thinking chiefly of that still night on white Hermon. This despised Man had called the inner three away from the crowd, in the dark of night, and had gently drawn aside the exquisite drapery of His humanity, and let some of the inner glory shine out before their eyes. So the way was lightened for them as their feet were turned with His down towards the dark valley of the cross. I suppose John is thinking chiefly of this.

      But this is not all, I am very sure. There's more, even though this may have been most. Glory is the character of goodness. It is not something tacked on the outside. It is some native thing looking out from within. So much of what we think of as glory and splendour in scenes of magnificence is a something in the externals, the outer arrangements. Splendid garbing, brilliant colours, dazzling shining of lights, seats removed a distance apart and up, magnificent outer appointments,--these seem connected in our thought with an occasion and a scene being glorious.

      But John is using the word in its simple true first meaning. Glory is something within shining out. It is the inner native light that goodness gives out. "We beheld His glory." I think John must have been thinking of Nazareth. Thirty out of thirty-three years were spent in homely Nazareth. Ten-elevenths of Jesus' life was spent in--living, simply living the true pure strong gentle life amid ordinary circumstances, homely surroundings. This was the greatest thing Jesus did short of dying. He lived. Next to Calvary where the glory shined out incomparably, it shined out most in Nazareth. He hallowed the common round of life by living an uncommon life there. This was a revealing of His glory. So He revealed the inner spirit of simple full obedience to His Father's plan for His earth-life.

      If we would only rise to His level! The way up is down. We are likest Him when we live the true Jesus-life regardless of where it is lived, on the street, in the house, amidst the ideals--or lack of ideals--of those we touch closest. It was a wondrous glory John beheld. And the crowd--no wonder that crowd couldn't resist Jesus. They can't even yet, when He is lived.

      Then John goes on quietly to explain about that glory, how it came. He says it was "glory as of an only begotten of a father." The common versions with which we are familiar, the old King James, the English and American revisions, all say "the," "the only begotten of the Father." I suppose the translators wanted to make it quite clear that Jesus was in an exceptional way the very Son of God. And so they don't translate quite as John put it. They try to help him out a little in making his meaning clear.

      But you will notice that this old Book of God never needs any helping out in making the truth quite clear. When you can sift through versions and languages down to what is really being said, you find it said in the simplest strongest way possible.

      Here John is saying, "glory as of an only begotten from a father." It is a family picture, so common in the East. Here in the West, the unit of society is the individual. The farther west you come the more pronounced this becomes, until here in our own land individualism seems at times to run to extremes. Custom in the East is the very reverse of this. There the unit of action is not the individual, but the family. The family controls the individual in everything. We Westerners think we can see where it runs to such extremes as to constitute one of the great hindrances to progress there.

      In the East, if a young man is to be married, he has actually nothing to do with it, except to be present in proper garb when the time comes. The fact that he should now be married, the choice of his bride, the betrothal, the time, all arrangements and adjustments,--all this is done by the families. The two that we Westerners think of as the principals have nothing to do, except to acquiesce in the arrangements of their elders. It is strictly a family affair.

      Even so all that belongs to the family, of wealth, fame, inheritance, distinction, vests distinctly in the head of the family, the father. He stands for the whole family. And so, too, all of this descends directly from the father at his death to his eldest son. In some parts the father retires at a certain age, either really or nominally, and all becomes vested technically in his eldest son. And if the son be an only begotten son, then literally all that is in the father comes into the son. All the fame, the inheritance, the traditions, the obligations, the wealth, in short all the glory of the father comes of itself, by common action of events, to the son.

      Now this is what John is thinking of as he writes, "we beheld His glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father." That is to say, all there is in the Father is in Jesus. When you see Jesus, you are seeing the Father. The whole of God is in this Jesus. This is what John is saying here.

      Grace and Truth Coupled.

      And then John does a bit of exquisite packing of much in little. He tells the whole story of the character, the revealed glory, of Jesus in such a few simple words,--"full of grace and truth." Not grace without truth. That would be a sort of weakly, sickly sentimentalism. And not truth without grace. That would be a cold stern repellent insistence on certain high standards. But grace and truth coupled, intermingling.

      Of course real grace and truth always are coupled. They tell the exquisite poise that is in everything God does. Truth is the back-bone of grace. Grace is the soft cushioning of flesh upon the bony framework of truth. It is the soft warm breath of life in truth. Truth is grace holding up the one only standard of purity and right and insisting upon it. And as we look we know within ourselves we never can reach it. Grace is truth reaching a strong warm hand down to where we are and helping us reach it.

      With God these things are always coupled. We get them separated badly, or would I better say, imitations of them. There is a sort of thing we have called truth. It is not so common now as a generation or more ago. It is a sort of stern elevated preaching of righteousness, but with no warm feel of life to it. I can remember hearing preaching in my immature boy days that made me feel that the man and the thing must be right, but neither had any attraction for me. It was as though a man went fishing with a carefully-made properly-labelled metallic-bait at the end of a long stout cord, and said, as he dangled it in the sinful waters to the elusive fish, "Now, bite; or be damned."

      It was never put so baldly, of course, in words. And I was only a child with immature childish imaginations. Yet that was the feeling about the thing the child got. But it's scarcely worth while talking of that now except to point the contrast; things have swung so far to the other extreme.

      The current thing to-day is grace without truth, or what is supposed to be grace. It is a sort of man-made substitute. It's something like this. Here's a man in the gutter, the moral gutter. It may be the actual gutter. Or, there may be the outer trappings of refinement that easy wealth provides; or, the real refinement that culture and inheritance bring. But morally and in spirit, it's a gutter. The slime of sin and low passion, of selfishness and indulgence and self-ambition, oozes over everything in full sight. The man's in the gutter.

      And along comes the modern philosopher of grace, so-called. He looks down compassionately, and says, "Poor fellow, I'm so sorry for you. Too bad you should have gotten down there. Let me help you a bit, my brother." So he puts some flowering plants down in the slime of the gutter, and he brushes the man's clothes a bit, and his hair, and sprinkles the latest-labelled cologne-water over him, and pats him on the shoulder, and says, "Now, you feel better, my man, don't you?" And the man sniffs the perfume, and is quite sure he does. But he is still in the gutter.

      There seems to be an increasing amount of this sort of thing over in my neighbourhood. How is it in your corner of the planet? There's an intense stress on environment; that means the outside of things. Better sanitation, improved housing, purer milk supply, and segregation of vice which seems to mean putting some of the viler smelling slime of the gutter, the slimer slime, all over in one guttered section by itself. But there can be no health there. It's a change of location that is needed!

      The wondrous Jesus-plan is different. It holds things in poise. Grace and truth. Truth is Jesus stretching His hand up high, up to the limit of arm's length, and saying, "Here is the standard, purity, righteousness, utter honesty of heart and rigid purity of motive and life. You must reach this standard. It can't be lowered by the half thickness of a paper-thin shaving. You must come to this standard. The standard never comes down to you."

      And the man in the gutter says, "I'll never reach it." And he is right. He never will--of himself, alone. Yet that's truth, true truth. "A hopeless case" you say; "utter impractical idealizing! Case ruled out of court." Just wait, that's only half the case, and not the warm half either.

      Grace is Jesus going down into the gutter, the gutterest gutter, and taking the man by his outstretching hand, and lifting him clean up out of the gutter, up, and up, till the man reaches the standard, and is never content till he does. That was a tremendous going down, and a yet more tremendous lifting up. Jesus broke His heart and lost His life in the going down.

      But out from the broken heart came running the blood that proved both cleansing and a salve. And out of the grave of that lost life came a new life that proved an incentive, and a tremendous dynamic. The blood cleanseth the inside of the man in the gutter, and heals his sores, restores his sight and hearing and sensitiveness of touch. The new life put inside the man makes him rise up and walk determinedly out of the gutter to a new location. He is a new man, with a new inside, in a new location. That threefold cord is ahead of Solomon's--it can't be broken.

      And, if you'll mark it keenly, a new inside includes a new outside. The thing that in religious talk is called conversion is a sociological factor that cannot be ignored by the thoughtful student. The drunkard goes down to the old-fashioned sort of mission where they insist on teaching that the blood of Jesus cleanseth from all sin, and that the Holy Spirit will make a new man of you, and burn the sin out.

      And something happens to the drunkard. He kneels a drunkard, drunk; he rises a man, sober. He goes to the hole he calls home. And at once a change begins to work gradually out. He treats his wife and children differently. He works. They are fed better and clothed warmer. He gets a better house in a better neighbourhood. The new sociological factor is at work. It began inside; it revolutionizes the outside.

      Settlement houses, better environment, improved outer conditions of every sort, are blessed, and only blessed, after the inside is fixed or in helping to get it fixed. If that isn't done, they are simply as a lovely bit of pink-coloured court-plaster skilfully adjusted over an ugly incurable ulcer. The man is befooled while the ulcer eats into his vitals.

      It's only the blood-power of a Jesus, the Jesus, that can fix the inside. He cuts out the ulcer and puts in a new strain of blood. Then the inner includes the outer. And the most grateful of all is the man. This is the Jesus-plan, John says, "full of grace and truth."

      Grace is named first. It comes first. That is a bit of the graciousness of it. That's love's exquisite diplomacy. We feel the grateful warmth of the sun in the winter's air, and are drawn by it. We smell the fragrance of the roses and come eagerly nearer. We hear the winsomeness of a gentle wooing voice a-calling, and instinctively answer to it. And then we find the sun's power to heal and cleanse and its insistence on burning up what can't stand its heat.

      We find the inspiring, purifying uplift of the flowers, drawing us up the hillside to the top. We find the voice--the Man--gently but with unflinching unbending determination that never yields a hairbreadth, insisting on our coming clear up to the topmost level. That's a wondrous order of words, and coupling of helps, grace and truth.

      And this is Jesus. This is John's simple tremendous picture. This Man comes down into our neighbourhood, on our earth. He sticks up His stretch of tent-canvas right next ours. He insists on being His own true self in the midst of the unlikeliest surroundings. The glow of His presence shines out over all the neighbourhood of human tents. There's a purity of air that stimulates. Men take deep breaths. There's a fragrance breathing subtly out from His tent that draws and delights. Men come a-running with childlike eagerness.

      Grace Flooding.

      And now as Jesus comes quietly down the river road where John's crowd is gathered, John the witness points his finger tensely out, and eagerly cries out: There He is! This is the man I've been telling you about! He that cometh after me in point of time is become first in relation to me in point of preeminence: for He was before me both in time and in preeminence.

      And then John adds a tremendous bit. He had just been talking about Jesus being full of that great combination of grace and truth. Now his thought runs back to that. Listen: "Of His fullness have we all received."

      There's another translation of this sentence that I have run across several times. It reads in this way: "Of His skimpiness have we all received." I never found that in common print; only in the larger print of men's lives. But in that printing it seems to have run into a large edition, with very wide circulation. Men don't read this old Book of God much; less than ever. They get their impression of God wholly from those who call themselves His followers.

      They watch the procession go by. Here they come crippled diseased maimed weakened in body, piteously pathetically crutching along, singed and burned with the flames of the same low passion that the onlooking crowds know so well, struggling, limping, crutching along bodily and in every other way.

      And that's a crowd with very keen logic, those onlookers. It judges God by those bearing His name, very properly. And it says more or less unconsciously,--"What a poor sort of God He must be those people have. No doubt He has a great job of management on His hands. There are so many of them to provide for. And apparently there can't be any abundance, certainly no overflow, no surplus. He has to piece it out the best He can to make it go as far as possible."

      "I think maybe I needn't be in any hurry to join that crowd, at least till I have to, along towards the end of things here. There would only be one more to carry. He has such a crowd now. And the resources are pretty badly strained, judging by appearances." So the crowd talks. Poor God! How He is misrepresented by some walking translations. "Of His skimpiness---!" Be careful. Don't take too much. Be grateful for the crumbs.

      Please clean your spectacles, and readjust them carefully, and if you are afflicted with the small-print Bible that seems in such common use, get a reading-glass and look here at the proper translation. That crutching, leather-bound translation is grossly inaccurate, if it is in such big print, and in such wide circulation. Look here. Can you see the words? This is the only correct reading: "Of His fullness have all we received." Put that into the print of your life, for your own sake and for the crowd's sake, yes, and for God's sake, too, that the crowd may know the kind of a God God is.

      And as if John had a suspicion about possible bad translations, he did a bit of underscoring. That word fullness is underscored in John's original copy. It's a heavy underscoring, in red. The underscoring is in three words he adds: "Grace for grace." That is, grace in place of grace. It's a sort of picture. Some grace has been received. And it is so wondrous that nothing seems so good. And the man is singing as he goes about his work.

      Then comes a sudden soft inrushing of a flood of grace so great that it seems to displace all that was there. Oh! the man didn't know there was such grace as this. It seems as if he had never known grace before. And the work-song is hushed into a great stillness, though the wondrous rhythm of peace is greater than before.

      And then before he quite knows how it happens in comes another soft subtle inrushing flood-tide of grace that seems to displace all again. Some temptation comes, some sore need, some tight corner. You look to Him; lean on Him; risk all on His response. He responds; and in comes the fresh inrush.

      And then this sort of thing becomes a habit, God's habit of responding to your need, need of every sort. It becomes the commonplace, the blessed commonplace that can never be common. That's John's underscoring of the word "fullness." May the crowds whose elbows we jostle get this underscored translation, bound in shoe-leather, your shoe-leather.

      Then in his eagerness to make us understand the thing really, John makes a contrast. "The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." The law was a thing, given, through a man. Grace and truth was a man coming, the very embodiment in Himself of what the two words stand for.

      The law, the old Mosaic law, was not a statement of the full message of God. That was given much earlier. It was given to all. It came directly. It was given first in Eden, in its flood; and then continuously to every man wherever he was. It was given within each man's own heart, and through the unfailing flooding light in nature above and below and all around. The tide of its coming has never ceased in volume nor in steadiness of flow; and does not cease. That tide came to flood in Jesus. And that flood has never known an ebb.

      But men's eyes got badly affected. They didn't let the light in, either clearly or fully. The light was there, but it was not getting in. Something had to be done to help out those eyes. So the law was given. It was merely a mirror to let a man see his face, what it was like.

      Here's a mother calling to her little son, "Come here and let me wash your face." And he calls out, "It isn't dirty." "Yes, dear, it is very dirty, come at once." "Why, no, mother, it isn't dirty; you washed it this morning." And the child's tone blends a hurt surprise and a settled conviction that his mother is certainly wrong this time about the condition of his face.

      And if the mother be of the thoughtful brooding kind, she says nothing, but gets a hand mirror, and holds it before the child's face. That will always get a child's attention. And the boy looks; he sees his dirty face reflected. The blank astonishment on his face can't be put into words. It tells the radical upsetting revolution in his thought on that subject. How could it have happened that his face got into that condition! And the washing process is yielded to at least; possibly even asked for.

      That's what the law did and does. It showed man his face, his heart, his need. It brings upsetting revolutionary ideas regarding one's self. There it stops. That's its limit. Then the Man who in Himself is grace and truth does the rest.

      The Spokesman of God.

      Then John quietly, deftly draws the line around to the starting point in that first tremendous statement. He completes a circle perfect in its strength and beauty and simplicity, as every circle is. If we follow the order of the words somewhat as John wrote them down, we find the bit of truth coming in a very striking, as well as in a fresh way. "God no one has ever, at any time, seen."

      That seems rather startling, does it not? What do these older pages say? Adam talked and walked and worked with God, and then was led to the gate of the garden. God appeared to Abraham, and gave him a never-to-be-forgotten lesson in star study. Moses spent nearly six weeks with Him, twice over, in the flaming mount, and carried the impress of His presence upon his face clear to Nebo's cloudy top.

      The seventy elders "saw the God of Israel, and did eat and drink," the simple record runs. And young Isaiah that morning in the temple, and Ezekiel in the colony of exiles on the Chebar, and Daniel by the Tigris at the close of his three weeks' fast,--these all come quickly to mind. John's startling statement seems to contradict these flatly.

      But push on. John has a way of clearing things up as you follow him through. Listen to him further: The only-begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father--He has always been the spokesman of God. Look into that sentence of John's a little. It seems quite clear, clear to the point of satisfying the most critical research, that John wrote down the words, "the only-begotten God." The contrast in his mind is not between "God," and the "only begotten Son." It is a contrast whose verbal terms fit with much nicer exactness than that. It is a contrast between "God" and the "only-begotten God."

      There is only one such person whichever way unity. They tell the whole story hanging at the end of John's pen. This little bit commonly called the prologue is a gem of simplicity and compactness.

      It is John's Gospel in miniature, even as John's Gospel is the whole Bible story in miniature. You can see the whole of the sun reflected in a single drop of water. You can see the whole of both Father and Son in the action of love in these simple opening lines of John's Gospel.

      Have you ever been walking down a country road till, weary and thirsty, you stopped at an old farmhouse and refreshed yourself at the old-fashioned well, with its bucket and long sweep? And as you rested a bit by the well you wondered how deep it was. It didn't look deep at all. The water was near, and it was so clear and sweet and refreshing, and so easy to get at for a drink.

      Is it deep? So you fish a rather long bit of string out of your pocket, and tie it to a bit of stone you find lying close by. And you let the stone down, and down, and down, till you are surprised to find that the well is deeper than your string is long.

      Well, John's opening bit is just like that. It seems very simple, easily understood at first flush in the mere statements made. The water is near the top. You easily drink. And you are refreshed. But when you try to find out how deep it is, you are startled to find that it is clear over your head.

      But it is never over your heart. It is too deep for you to grasp and understand. You never touch bottom. But it's never beyond heart-understanding. You can sense and feel and love. You can open the sluice-gates into your heart, and have the blessed flood-tide lift and lift and bear you aloft and along. You can love. And that is the whole story.

      Was John an artist? Is he making a rare painting for us here? Is he studying perspective, shading and spacing, to an exquisite nicety that is revealed in the very way he puts words and sentences and paragraphs together? I do not know. And if any of you think the thing I am about to speak of is due to a mere mechanical chance of the pen, I'll not quarrel with you. Though I shall still have my own personal thought in the matter.

      But will you notice this? John begins his prologue with a description of a wonderful personality. He ends it with another description of this same personality. Both descriptions are rare in beauty and boldness, in simplicity and brevity. And right midway between the two, at almost the exact middle line of the reading, at what is the artistic center, stands the word "came."

      That word "came" gathers up into itself and tells out to you the whole story about this twice-described personality. "He came" John says. That's the whole thing. First the He fills your eye, and then what He did--came. And as you step off a bit for better perspective, and change your personal position this way and that to get the best light, you find the picture standing out before your awed eyes.

      It is a Man coming down the road with face looking into yours. He is truly a man, every line of the picture makes that clear to you. But such a man as never was seen before, with the rarest blending of the kingly and the kindly in His bearing. The purest purity, the utmost graciousness, the highest ideals, the gentlest manner, nobility beyond what we have known, and kindliness past describing,--all these blend in the pose of His body and most of all in the look of His face. And He is in motion. He is walking, walking towards us, with hands outstretched.

      This is John's picture of Jesus. He came to His own. He came because His own drew Him. Out from the bosom of His Father, into the womb of a virgin maid, and into the heart of a race He came. Out of the glory-blaze above into the gloom of the shadow, and the glare of false lights below, He came.

      Out of the love of a Father's heart, the Only-begotten came, into contact with the hate that was the only-begotten of sin, that He might woo us men up, and up, and up, into the only-begotten life with the Father.

      Jesus was God on a wooing errand to the earth.

Back to S.D. Gordon index.

See Also:
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel - Preface
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 1 - John's Story
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 2 - The Wooing Lover - part 1
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 2 - The Wooing Lover - part 2
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 2 - The Wooing Lover - part 3
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 3 - The Lover Wooing - part 1
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 3 - The Lover Wooing - part 2
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 3 - The Lover Wooing - part 3
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 4 - Closer Wooing
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 5 - The Greatest Wooing
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 6 - An Appointed Tryst Unexpectedly Kept
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 7 - Another Tryst
   Quiet Talks on John's Gospel 8 - Footnotes


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