Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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Word was not made; He always was. All that
has been made was made by Him.

To this great assertion of express eternity of
being, there is now added in the second clause an-
other equally great assertion; or rather a greater
assertion, for these three clauses are arranged in a
climactic series. "In the beginning the Word
already was — and the Word was with God."
This new assertion is still under the government
of the words, "in the beginning": it declares the
eternal mode of existence of this eternally ex-
istent Word. And the mode of existence declared
for Him places Him in an ineffable immediacy
of relation to God. The phrase, "with God,"
is not the common expression for "with God,"
but a more pregnant one. It intimates not merely
co-existence, or some sort of local relation,
but an active relation of intercourse. The Word,
existing from all eternity, exists from all eternity
in intercommunion with God. His eternal exist-
ence was not a solitary one. A relation is as-


serted; and a relation implies a duality. The
relation which is asserted is a very intimate one;
and it is a distinctly personal one. There can
be intercourse only between persons. When it is
said, then, that the Word "was" — it is still the
eternal "was" of continuous existence — "in the
beginning" in communion with God, the eternally
distinct personality of the Word is not obscurely
suggested. From all eternity the Word sub-
sisted alongside of God in personal intercom-
munion with Him. He has been from all eternity
God's Fellow.

The intimacy of the relation intimated is start-
lingly brought home to us by a later phrase of
this prologue. Here we are told in language of
almost unexampled pregnancy that the Word —
called on this occasion by the tremendous name
of "God Only-begotten" — is (the timeless pres-
ent of eternal existence) ceaselessly, not merely
in, but "into the bosom of God." This is the
expression for the closest and most intimate re-
lation conceivable for persons; and the language
in which it is cast conveys the idea at once of a
continuation of its unbroken continuity and of its
ceaseless renewal. It is in this intimacy of com-
munion that the Word is declared to have been
eternally "with God."

But even this great assertion is not enough to
declare of the Word. There is a supplement to
even it; and a supplement which is so far a cor-


rection that it seems purposely added to prevent
it from being supposed that enough has already
been said. The Word is not merely even thus
closely associated with God; He is God Himself.
"And the Word was with God — and the Word was
God." Eternally subsisting alongside of and in
communion with God, the Word is yet not a
separate Being over against God. In some deep
sense distinct from God, He is at the same time in
some high sense identical with God.

It is difficult to reproduce in English the strength
of this assertion. The term "God" not only oc-
cupies the position of emphasis, but is placed in
immediate juxtaposition with the words "with
God" of the preceding clause, and, therefore, in
sharp contrast with them. The term "God"
thus comes out with a tremendous corrective
force. "The Word was with God, do I say — nay
God is what the Word was!'' The rapidity of the
movement of thought and the stress thrown thus
on this new assertion are extreme. The meaning
is that John was not willing to have the one state-
ment made without its complement being at once
added to it. He wishes us to understand that it is
too little to say of the Word even that He is God's
co-eternal Fellow. We must say of Him that He
is the eternal God's very self.

The term God in this great assertion is without
the article. This does not weaken the affirmation.
It is primarily merely a grammatical fact. The


predicate regularly lacks the article; quasi-
proper names, like "God," require it only when
an individualizing emphasis is necessary. The
bearing of the absence of the article here on the
force of the assertion is that thus there is thrown
into relief the quality of Godhood in the God with
whom the Word is identified. Whatever makes
God the Being which we call God, that John
affirms the Word to have eternally been. Thus
the Word is with the utmost energy and explica-
tion asserted to be all that God is; and yet the
correction of the assertion that the Word "was
with God" as incomplete, is not pushed into a
contradiction of it as untrue. The Word, though
identical with God, is not in such a manner iden-
tical with God, that he may not also be declared
to be "with God" — in communion with God.
There remains a duality of Persons standing in
the express relation of intercommunion, while
there is established an identity of Being. What
is asserted is that He who has been eternally with
God has been at the same time in an ineffable
fashion eternally God's self.

Certainly these are three tremendous assertions
which John makes here of that Word, who, hav-
ing become flesh, we know as Jesus Christ — eter-
nal subsistence, eternal intercommunion with
God, eternal identity with God. The conception
in which they can combine is certainly not an easy
or a simple one. It is what we know as the doc-


trine of the Trinity. In telling us who and what
Jesus Christ really is, John thus introduces us to
the doctrine of the Trinity. If we were told
nothing about the Trinity except what we are
told in this single verse, it would yet lie before us
in its whole principle. There is no other key
which will unlock the mj^stery of the eternal Being
of the Word as here described to us. We are but
expressing John's meaning, then — in other words,
but nevertheless nothing but his meaning —
when we declare that Jesus Christ is the Second
Person of the Adorable Trinity. This is, in
brief, what John teaches us in the first verse of his


Jno. 5:44: — "How can ye believe, which receive glory one of
another, and the glory that cometh from the only God ye seek not?"

The fifth chapter of John marks one of the great
turning points of his narrative. Up to this point,
he has given us great typical representations of
how Jesus wrought faith in the hearts of His
hearers — at Jerusalem (in the case of Nicodemus),
in Samaria (in the case of the Samaritan woman),
in Galilee (in the case of the nobleman of Caper-
naum). Now he begins to show us the develop-
ment of the opposition. With the fifth chapter
the conflict begins; and in three great typical in-
stances, each gathering around a miracle, we see
how Jesus' work gathered opposition to itself,
until opposition culminated in the black tragedy
of His death. Here we have laid bare the springs,
nature and deeds of unbelief.

Not that we have no longer an exhibition of
Jesus begetting, by word and work, faith in His
life-giving Person. In each instance in which the
process of the hardening of unbelief is pictured to
us, there is a picture of faith too, in contrast with
it. The impotent man, the man born blind, the
family of Lazarus, are heroes of faith, and nothing
can be more beautiful than the manner in which



it is shown how simple, unsophisticated faith fixed
itself on Jesus. But on each occasion of faith-
begetting work, blind unbelief hardened itself to
deeper and deeper blackness, and it is this progress
which forms the salient feature of the narrative.

In the fifth chapter the grounds of unbelief
are laid bare to us, as rooted in an essentially self-
seeking and worldly spirit. No part of the chap-
ter is unimportant for understanding the lesson
which is most pointedly expressed in the verse
more especially before us. The miracle out of
which grew the discourse, of which this verse is
the culmination, is, of course, appropriate to its
lesson; and the conversation and discourse are
carried inevitably up to this end.

The miracle was wrought on an impotent man,
and out of it was to grow the discourse which was
to uncover the impotence of sinners, on their own
part, to believe in the Saviour of the world. Long
had the man lain helplessly by the very pool of
healing, where the ordinary means of cure were;
but he had no power to make a healing use of
them, nor was there any to help him — until Jesus
passed by and spoke the wonderful word of heal-
ing to his weary soul. But it was on the Sabbath
day, and the Jews, the types of that Pharisaic
religiosity which loved to make long prayers on
the corners of the streets and to make broad their
phylacteries to be seen of men, whose religion in a
word was a religion for men to mark and praise,


at once judged that the due observance of the
Sabbath law was of more importance than the
heahng of a diseased sinner. At once are brought
into contrast the religion that seeks God's ap-
proval and that which seeks the applause of men.
Jesus meets the healed man and bids him sin no
more; they meet Jesus and in their rage at the
disregarding of their laws seek to slay him.

Our Lord does not permit the contrast to pass
unnoticed. And this is the burden of His dis-
course. All He did was of the Father and to the
Father and for the Father; and sought only His
approval. All they did was of man and to man
and for the approval of man. His eye was turned
upwards, theirs downwards. And, therefore, they
were impotent to believe in Him; though He, the
water of life, was in their reach, they could not
reach out and take and live. How could they be-
lieve, though in word and work the Father was
bearing witness to Him, when they cared nothing
for the Father, but only for men; when they were
receiving glory from one another and not seeking
glory from God, the Only One.

Now note: —

(1) Our Lord asserts that the Jews were unable
to believe. He asserts a true inability to faith in
them; but by no means allows that they have
thereby become irresponsible. How can ye — how
are ye able to — believe.'^

(2) He traces this inability to its source in a


wrong disposition. He asserts that the reason
that they could not believe was because of their
condition of mind and heart. How are ye able to
believe, seeing that ye are receiving glory one of
another and seek not the glory that cometh from
the Only One.?

(3) The special sin that darkened their eyes to
Christ's truth and worthiness as one sent from God
was the sin of hving for the world's eye, not God's;
of seeking the world's applause, not God's ap-
proval. They wished a Messiah for worldly
glory, not for salvation.

The passage will teach us then :

(1) That a true inability may well consist with
responsibility; an inability that rises out of the
moral condition and is constituted by the im-
manent choice.

(2) That the habit of living for the applause
of our fellow men in religious things is deadly to
the religious affections and life, which in their
very nature are Godward and must look upwards
only to Him.

(3) That from God alone can true glory come;
and He is the sole source of the Christian's

There can be no doubt that our Lord asserts
of these Jews that they could not, were not able,
had not the ability to believe. And He assigns
the reason for this; a reason not derived from any
outward compulsion, and not due to any lack of


evidence. They had sent to John and John had
testified to Jesus, and if they would look to the
Scriptures they witnessed to Him; nay, would
they look to heaven, heaven itself bore witness
to Him in His wonderful works. They were
caught in a network of evidence. Whence it all
the more fully follows that if they believed not, it
was due to some inabihty. Yes, a true inability,
an induration of beheving tissue which rendered
it unable to react to any testimony, however
great. But this inabihty did not render them
irresponsible for their lack of faith. Our Lord
closes His discourse with a solemn asseveration
that they did not need Him to accuse them to the
Father: "There was one that accused them, even
Moses, on whom they had set their hopes. For if
they believed Moses, they would have believed
Him, for he wrote of Him." In a word, our Lord
arraigns them for their inability to believe, not as
though it was an excuse for their lack of faith, but
as though it was the blackest item in the indict-
ment against them. They could not believe, but
it was because of their wicked hearts, because
they had set their hearts on earthly things and
cared not for the heavenly.

And now we understand why the healing of the
impotent man is the miracle out of which this dis-
course grows. All Christ's miracles are parables.
For thirty-eight years this man had lain there just
alongside the healing floods, and he was impotent


to use them for the heahng of his disease — neither
had he anyone who could apply them to him.
And here before these Jews stood One offering
the water of life, and they were impotent to reach
out their hand to take it, because they were re-
ceiving their glory one frt)m another and sought
not the glory that comes from the Only One. It
is the impotence of man by his natural powers to
believe — be the evidence never so convincing —
that Jesus would teach us by His parable and by
His discourse. The impotent man might have
ocular evidence every time the water moved of its
healing virtues. What good did the demonstra-
tion do him, when he could not reach out and take
the healing floods.^ These impotent Jews might
have, did have, demonstrative evidence that the
Lord of Life stood before th'em. John had
spoken, God in His word had spoken, God by
sign and miracle had spoken. And yet what good
did evidence do them so long as they could not
believe, because their hearts were set on the earth
and not on the heavens?

Is it not plain to you that it is not evidence alone
that produces faith .^ Did the abundant evi-
dence of the Divine mission of Christ convince
the Jews; who sought His life the more vindic-
tively for every item of evidence they could not
resist; who answered His demonstration of deity
by hanging Him on the tree? Nay, be the evi-
dence never so perfect, we cannot believe who have


evil hearts of unbelief. Never until that Divine
voice, freighted with supernatural power, which
said to the impotent man, Arise, take up thy bed
and walk, has sounded with a personal message to
our souls, do we gain the power to believe, though
Moses himself and the law written in our hearts
pronounce us inexcusable.

Now as we have learned a doctrinal lesson from
our text, let us learn also a practical one. Surely
the text teaches us that the habit of living in
religious things for the observation and applause
of our fellows is deadly to all religious affections,
and, indeed, to all religious life itself. Nor could
it indeed be otherwise. Are not the religious af-
fections in their very nature God ward .^^ And is
not the religious life dependent on our preserving
in ourselves an attitude of dependence and recep-
tivity with reference to God.^^ Turn our eyes from
Him, and religion in any true sense of the word is
gone. Rites may remain; forms may remain;
genuflections and prayers may remain; a strict
mode of life may remain, but not religion. The
husk of religion — like the shell of nuts — may en-
dure when the kernel is gone; it is often harder
to destroy the hull and husk than that subtle
kernel, for which alone the husk exists. But of
what worth is the husk after what it was formed
to protect is gone.^^ Of course this is not to con-
demn the outward forms of religion. This is in-
volved in the very figure used. Like the shell of a


nut, it is needed; needed for the protection and
preservation of the kernel. But without the ker-
nel? That is a different matter.

As ministers, we have, and we ought to recog-
nize it, special temptations to religiosity, as
distinguished from religion. We are profession-
ally religious men. Let the lesson come home es-
pecially to us then, that the habit of being relig-
ious for the eye of men is deadly to true religion.
It does not follow that we ought to be careless of
our influence over men. It only follows that we
ought to be careful with respect to what we in-
fluence them. We should set an example to
them to be truly religious, lovers of God and
seekers only of His approval; and not only to seem
to be religious. How subtle the temptation is!
How grand a thing to have the reputation of being
the most religious man in the community, the
most careful in our religious services, the most
punctual in our religious duties! Well, the Phar-
isees were all this. No men in the land were more
religious; they were models for all men in the
strictness of their lives. And they could not be-
lieve! There is a better thing than having the
reputation of being religious; and that is being
rehgious. And the difference is just this: That
the one has praise of men and the other of

And thus we are led to lay emphasis, in closing,
on the third point of teaching which I would have


you receive from our text: that all true glory
comes from God only. This is the pointed an-
tithesis of the text; and Christ uses it as the suf-
ficient uncovering of the failure and folly of the
Jews. They received glory from their fellow men,
and did not remember that true glory comes from
God only. It is hard for men to feel this. We
do so long after the approval of our fellows. Men
go in crowds. Truth has a poor show, when the
tide sets against it. How hard it is to face the
gibes of our companions. "Old Fogy," "Nar-
row-minded" — these are not very bad words in
themselves, but they have a baleful power. How
natural to desire to be "in the swim"! How
delightful to feel the approval and to enjoy the aid
of our fellows pressing us on. It is human to love
human applause and to seek it.

But it is Divine to stem the tide for God. Jesus
preached unpopular truth. Men could so little
endure it that they crucified Him for it. Paul
preached unpopular truth, and suffered a thousand
deaths for doing so. Will we say that they were
wrong? After all, it is only when the "vox populi"
is really the "vox dei"as well, that we can afford
to follow it. When the "vox populi" stands in
opposition to the "vox dei," let us breast it at all
hazards! In other words, let it be the "vox dei"
that we unhesitatingly and unwaveringly follow;
and if the "vox populi" agree with it, so much the
better for the "vox populi." As ministers of


God's grace let us make up our minds firmly and
once for all to seek His glory and not men's. After
all, is it not to his own Master that every man
stands or falls?


Jno. 6:68, 69: — "Simon Peter answered him. Lord to whom
shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have
believed and know that Thou art the Holy One of God."

The first impression made on us by this re-
sponse of Peter's to our Lord's pathetic appeal,
"Surely ye too will not wish to go?" is the nobil-
ity of the confession which it contains. We are
not surprised to find one of the commentators,
therefore, speaking of it as "this immortal reply ";
nor are we surprised that it is commonly treated
by commentators and expounders alike from
this point of view. Thus, for instance, one ex-
pounder develops it as a "serious answer" to our
Lord's "searching inquiry"; and finds in it, (1)
a "reverential address" — "Lord"; (2) a signifi-
cant inquiry," which is only a "strong way of
asserting not alone that our Lord's disciples in-
tended to adhere to Him, but that they reckoned
Him the only Teacher, Messiah, Saviour, to whom
they could adhere" ; (3) a "confidant avowal" —
viz., that He had the words of eternal life; and
(4) a "simple confession," that they saw in Him
none other than "the Holy One of God," — God's
own incarnate Son.

Now, we should certainly be sorry to miss this


side of the matter. Surely, the verse does con-
tain, fundamentally, a confession of Peter's and
through him of the apostles' faith; and assuredly
this confession is, in contrast with the thought
of Jesus entertained by the crowds which had
been flocking to Him, a very noble confession,
which explains why the twelve cleaved to Him
in the midst of the general defection that had now
set in. At bottom, this confession does mean
that these men were seeking in Jesus satisfaction
for spiritual and not carnal wants; and that they,
therefore, understood Him incomparably better
than the crowds of carnal men which had hitherto
surrounded Him; and that, finding satisfaction in
Him for their spiritual needs, they could not leave
Him as the others left Him, however puzzlingly
He spoke, but could not fail to recognize in Him
the very consecrated messenger from God whom
their hearts craved.

To mean this was, at that time and in those cir-
cumstances, to mean almost incredibly much.
But it is not to mean everything. There is an-
other side to the declaration, and this other side
is obviously the side that was in John's mind when
he recorded it. For clearly he does not put it
forward as a supreme confession, marking a com-
plete appreciation of Jesus' person and claims,
and standing out, therefore, in startling and in-
structive contrast with the unbelief of others, to
the manifestation of which the whole preceding


chapter is consecrated — as exhibiting in a word
the immense contrast of the fullness of the apos-
tles' faith and appreciation with the slowness or
rather grossness of heart of the lesser followers of
Christ. On the contrary, he presents it evi-
dently as standing in contrast, indeed, with the
unbelief and incapacity to believe of the others,
and therefore marking out the apostles as
Christ's especially faithful followers; but as,
nevertheless, exhibiting more fully the great crisis
that had come into our Lord's life by showing how,
even among His closest companions, there existed
no full appreciation of Him in His work and claims.
When Jesus, out of the midst of the scenes that
lay about Him, turned to this innermost circle of
His followers with the sorrowful inquiry: "Surely
ye too will not go away!" — Oh, the pathos of it! —
He obtained no doubt a reassurance. No, they
would cleave to Him. And this reassurance must
have been a balm to His wounded human spirit.
But the reassurance He obtained was so little
to His mind, that He felt it necessary to meet it
with a rebuke: "Was it not I that chose you — the
twelve; and of you, one is diabohcal!" This very
confession was an element, thus, in the crisis
through which He was passing, the manifestation
of how little even those who were nearest to Him
really understood Him or were ready to carry on
His work.

Surely it will not be without its lessons to us to


seek, without derogating from the essential nobil-
ity of the confession, to trace out also the elements
of incompleteness that enter into it, and that
make it less than what a confession of Christ
ought to be.

First of all, then, we notice that there seems to
be an element of boastfulness in this confession.
This suggests itself by the obtrusion of the personal
pronoun. We might read our English version and
think of the emphasis falling on the beheving
and knowing which is asserted. We cannot so
read the Greek. The emphasis falls rather on
the "we." "And as for us," says Peter, "we at
least" have believed. Peter is contrasting him-
self and his fellow apostles with others and priding
himself on the contrast. We will remember that
our Lord had just said, "The words that I have
spoken unto you are spirit and are life; but there
are of you some who do not believe." Peter
seems to swell with pride to think that he is not
of these. Repeating his Master's words, he says,
"Thou hast words of eternal life, and as for us,
we at least have believed!" You see Peter is
Peter himself in this confession. How often do
we find him pushing forward with his rash and
boastful words. "That be far from Thee, Lord,"
he cries on a similar occasion — to receive the sharp
rebuff, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" "Although
all shall stumble," he had yet to boast on still
another occasion, "yet will not I. If I must die


with Thee, I will not deny Thee." We all know
with what sorrowful sequence. And so here; "As

Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 6 of 27)