15. John testifieth of himself, and cried, saying, This is he of whom I spoke; who, coming after me, was preferred to me, for he was more excellent than I. 16. And out of his fullness have we all received, and grace for grace.17. For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.18. No man hath ever seen God: the only-begotten Son himself, who is in the bosom of the Father, hath declared him.
15. John testifieth. He now relates what was the preaching of John. By using the verb testifieth (marturei) in the present tense, he denotes a continued act, and certainly this doctrine must be continually in force, as if the voice of John were continually resounding in the ears of men. In the same manner he afterwards uses the word cry, to intimate that the doctrine of John was in no degree obscure or ambiguous, and that he did not mutter among a few men, but openly, and with a loud voice, preached Christ. The first sentence is intended to convey the statement, that he was sent for the sake of Christ, and therefore that it would have been unreasonable that he should be exalted, while Christ was lying low.
This is he of whom I spoke. By these words he means that his intention was, from the beginning, to make Christ known, and that this was the design of his public discourses; as, indeed, there was no other way in which he could discharge his office as ambassador than by calling his disciples to Christ.
Who, coming after me. Though John the Baptist was older than Christ by a few months, yet he does not now speak of age; but as he had discharged the office of prophet for a short period before Christ appeared in public, so he makes himself the predecessor with respect to time. With respect, therefore, to public manifestation, Christ came after John the Baptist. The words which follow might be literally rendered, he was made before me, for he was before me; but the meaning is, that Christ was justly preferred to John, because he was more excellent. He therefore surrenders his office to Christ and -- as the proverb runs -- |delivers to him the torch,| or gives way to him as his successor. But as he arose later in the order of time, John reminds his hearers that this is no reason why he should not be preferred to himself, as his rank deserved. Thus, all who are superior to others, either in the gifts of God or in any degree of honor, must remain in their own rank, so as to be placed below Christ.
16. And out of his fullness. He begins now to preach about the office of Christ, that it contains within itself an abundance of all blessings, so that no part of salvation must be sought anywhere else. True, indeed, the fountain of life, righteousness, virtue, and wisdom, is with God, but to us it is a hidden and inaccessible fountain. But an abundance of those things is exhibited to us in Christ, that we may be permitted to have recourse to him; for he is ready to flow to us, provided that we open up a channel by faith. He declares in general, that out of Christ we ought not to seek any thing good, though this sentence consists of several clauses. First, he shows that we are all utterly destitute and empty of spiritual blessings; for the abundance which exists in Christ is intended to supply our deficiency, to relieve our poverty, to satisfy our hunger and thirst. Secondly, he warns us that, as soon as we have departed from Christ, it is ill vain for us to seek a single drop of happiness, because God hath determined that whatever is good shall reside in him alone. Accordingly, we shall find angels and men to be dry, heaven to be empty, the earth to be unproductive, and, in short, all things to be of no value, if we wish to be partakers of the gifts of God in any other way than through Christ. Thirdly, he assures us that we shall have no reason to fear the want of any thing, provided that we draw from the fullness of Christ, which is in every respect; so complete, that we shall experience it to be a truly inexhaustible fountain; and John classes himself with the rest, not for the sake of modesty, but to make it more evident that no man whatever is excepted.
It is indeed uncertain whether he speaks generally of the whole human race, or means only those who, subsequently to the manifestation of Christ in the flesh, have been made more fully partakers of his blessings. All the godly, no doubt, who lived under the law, drew out of the same fullness; but as John immediately afterwards distinguishes between different periods, it is more probable that here he especially recommends that rich abundance of blessings which Christ displayed at his coming. For we know that under the Law the gifts of God were more sparingly tasted, but that when Christ was manifested in flesh, they were poured out, as it were, with a full hand, even to satiety. Not that any of us has obtained a greater abundance of the grace of the Spirit than Abraham did, but I speak of God's ordinary dispensation, and of the way and manner of dispensing. John the Baptist, that he may the more freely invite his disciples to come to Christ, declares that in him is laid up for all an abundance of the blessings of which they are destitute. And yet if any one choose to extend the meaning farther, there will be no absurdity in doing so; or rather, it will agree well with the strain of the discourse, that all the fathers, from the beginning of the world, drew from Christ all the gifts which they possessed; for though the law was given by Moses, yet they did not obtain grace by it. But I have already stated what appears to me to be the preferable view; namely, that John here compares us with the fathers, so as to magnify, by means of that comparison, what has been given to us.
And, grace for grace. In what manner Augustine explains this passage is well known - that all the blessings which God bestows upon us from time to time, and at length life everlasting, are not granted as the reward due to our merits, but that it proceeds from pure liberality that God thus rewards former grace, and crowns his own gifts in us. This is piously and judiciously said, but has nothing to do with the present passage. The meaning would be more simple if you were to take the word for (anti) comparatively, as meaning, that whatever graces God bestows on us, proceed equally from the same source. It might also be taken as pointing out the final cause, that we now receive grace, that God may one day fulfill the work of our salvation, which will be the fulfillment of grace. For my own part, I agree with the opinion of those who say that we are watered with the graces which were poured out on Christ; for what we receive from Christ he does not bestow upon us as being God, but the Father communicated to him what would flow to us as through a channel. This is the anointing with which he was anointed, that he might anoint us all along with him. Hence, too, he is called Christ, (the Anointed,) and we are called Christians.
17. For the Law was given by Moses. This is an anticipation, by which he meets an objection that was likely to arise; for so highly was Moses esteemed by the Jews that they could hardly receive anything that differed from him. The Evangelist therefore shows how far inferior the ministry of Moses was to the power of Christ. At the same time, this comparison sheds no small luster on the power of Christ; for while the utmost possible deference was rendered to Moses by the Jews, the Evangelist reminds them that what he brought was exceedingly small, when compared with the grace of Christ. It would otherwise have been a great hindrance, that they expected to receive from the Law what we can only obtain through Christ.
But we must attend to the antithesis, when he contrasts the law with grace and truth; for his meaning is, that the law wanted both of them. The word Truth denotes, in my opinion, a fixed and permanent state of things. By the word Grace I understand the spiritual fulfillment of those things, the bare letter of which was contained in the Law. And those two words may be supposed to refer to the same thing, by a well-known figure of speech, (hypallage;) as if he had said, that grace, in which the truth of the Law consists, was at length exhibited in Christ. But as the meaning will be in no degree affected, it is of no importance whether you view them as united or as distinguished. This at least is certain, that the Evangelist means, that in the Law there was nothing more than a shadowy image of spiritual blessings, but that they are actually found in Christ; whence it follows, that if you separate the Law from Christ, there remains nothing in it but empty figures. For this reason Paul says that
the shadows were in the law, but the body is in Christ, (Colossians 2:17.)
And yet it must not be supposed that anything was exhibited by the Law in a manner fitted to deceive; for Christ is the soul which gives life to that which would otherwise have been dead under the law. But here a totally different question meets us, namely, what the law could do by itself and without Christ; and the Evangelist maintains that nothing permanently valuable is found in it until we come to Christ. This truth consists in our obtaining through Christ that grace which the law could not at all bestow; and therefore I take the word grace in a general sense, as denoting both the unconditional forgiveness of sins, and the renewal of the heart. For while the Evangelist points out briefly the distinction between the Old and New Testaments, (which is more fully described in Jeremiah 31:31,) he includes in this word all that relates to spiritual righteousness. Now this righteousness consists of two parts; first, that God is reconciled to us by free grace, in not imputing to us our sins; and, secondly, that he has engraven his law in our hearts, and, by his Spirit, renews men within to obedience to it; from which it is evident that the Law is incorrectly and falsely expounded, if there are any whose attention it fixes on itself, or whom it hinders from coming to Christ
18. No man hath ever seen God. Most appropriately is this added to confirm the preceding statement; for the knowledge of God is the door by which we enter into the enjoyment of all blessings; and as it is by Christ alone that God makes himself known to us, hence too it follows that we ought to seek all things from Christ. This order of doctrine ought to be carefully observed. No remark appears to be more common than this, that each of us receives, according to the measure of his faith, what God offers to us; but there are few who think that we must bring the vessel of faith and of the knowledge of God with which we draw.
When he says that no man hath seen God, we must not understand him to refer to the outward perception of the bodily eye; for he means generally, that as God dwells in inaccessible light, (1 Timothy 6:16,) he cannot be known but in Christ, who is his lively image. This passage is usually explained thus that as the naked majesty of God is concealed within himself, he never could be comprehended, except so far as he revealed himself in Christ; and therefore that it was only in Christ that God was formerly known to the fathers. But I rather think that the Evangelist here abides by the comparison already stated, namely, how much better our condition is than that of the fathers, because God, who was formerly concealed in his secret glory, may now be said to have rendered himself visible; for certainly when Christ is called the lively image of God, (Hebrews 1:3,) this refers to the peculiar privilege of the New Testament. In like manner, the Evangelist describes, in this passage, something new and uncommon, when he says that the only-begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, hath made known to us what was formerly concealed. He therefore magnifies the manifestation of God, which has been brought to us by the gospel, in which he distinguishes us from the fathers, and shows that we are superior to them; as also Paul explains more fully in the Third and Fourth chapters of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. For he maintains that there is now no longer any veil, such as existed under the Law, but that God is openly beheld in the face of Christ.
If it be thought unreasonable that the fathers are deprived of the knowledge of God, who have the prophets daily going before them and holding out the torch, I reply, that what is ascribed to us is not simply or absolutely denied to them, but that a comparison is made between the less and the greater, as we say; because they had nothing more than little sparks of the true light, the full brightness of which daily shines around us. If it be objected, that at that time also God was seen face to face, (Genesis 32:30; Deuteronomy 34:10,) I maintain that that sight is not at all to be compared with ours; but as God was accustomed at that time to exhibit himself obscurely, and, as it were, from a distance, those to whom he was more clearly revealed say that they saw him face to face. They say so with reference to their own time; but they did not see God in any other way than wrapped up in many folds of figures and ceremonies. That vision which Moses obtained on the mountain was remarkable and more excellent than almost all the rest; and yet God expressly declares,
thou shalt not be able to see my face, only thou shalt see my back, (Exodus 33:23;)
by which metaphor he shows that the time for a full and clear revelation had not yet come. It must also be observed that, when the fathers wished to behold God, they always turned their eyes towards Christ. I do not only mean that they beheld God in his eternal Speech, but also that they attended, with their whole mind and with their whole heart, to the promised manifestation of Christ. For this reason we shall find that Christ afterwards said, Abraham saw my day, (John 8:56;) and that which is subordinate is not contradictory. It is therefore a fixed principle, that God, who was formerly invisible, hath now made himself visible in Christ.
When he says that the Son was in the bosom of the Father, the metaphor is borrowed from men, who are said to receive into their bosom those to whom they communicate all their secrets. The breast is the seat of counsel. He therefore shows that the Son was acquainted with the most hidden secrets of his Father, in order to inform us that we have the breast of God, as it were, laid open to us in the Gospel.