John has a way of reaching away back, and then by a swift use of pen coming quickly to his own time, and then he keeps swinging back over the ground he has been over, but each time with some added touch, like the true artist he is.
John's statement, |the world was made by Him,| takes one back at once to the early Genesis chapters. There the creating One, who, by a word, brings things into existence is called God. And then, that we may identify Him, is called by a name, Jehovah. The creator is God named Jehovah. And this Jehovah, John says, was the One who afterward became a Man, and pitched His tent among men. And as one reads the old chapters through, this is the God, the Jehovah, who appears in varying ways to these Old Testament men, one after another. He talked and walked and worked with Adam in completing the work of creation, and then broken-hearted led him out of the forfeited garden.
Then to make his standpoint unmistakably plain to every one, before starting in on the witness borne by the herald, he makes a summary. All that he has been saying he now sums up in these tremendous words, |God -- no one ever yet has seen; the only begotten God, in the bosom of the Father, this One has been the spokesman.| In what He was, and in what He did as well as in what He said, He hath been the spokesman. Here is a difference made between the Father God, whom no one has seen, and the only begotten God, who has been telling the Father out.
Now God revealed Himself to men in the Old Testament times. Repeatedly in the Old Testament it distinctly speaks of men seeing God in varying ways and talking with Him. Adam walked with Him, and Enoch, and Noah. Abraham had a vision, and talked with the three men whose spokesman speaks as God. Isaac has a night-vision and Jacob a dream and a night meeting with a mysterious wrestler. Moses spoke with Him |face to face| and |mouth to mouth,| and is said to have seen His |form.| Yet after that first forty days on the mount when Moses hungrily asks for more, He is told that no man could endure the sight of that great glory of God's face. And he is put in to a cleft of the rock, and God's hand put over the opening (in the simple language of the record), and then only the hinder part of God passing is seen, while the wondrous voice speaks. Yet the impression so made upon Moses far exceeds anything previous and completely overawes and melts him down. The elders of Israel |saw God,| yet the most distinct impression of anything seen is of the beautiful pavement under His feet. Isaiah's most definite impression, when the great vision came to him, was of a train of glory, seraphim and smoke and a voice. Ezekiel has rare power in detailed description. He has overpowering visions of the |glory of Jehovah.| Yet the most definite that he can make the description is a storm gathering, a cloud, a fire, a centre spot of brightness, a clearness as of amber, and four very unusual living creatures.
These men |saw| God. He |appeared| to them. Evidently that means many different things, yet the word is always honestly used. It never means as we gaze into another man's face. But always there is that profound impression of having been in God's own presence. They met Him. They saw Him. They heard His voice.
Yet John says here, |God -- no one ever yet at any time has seen; the only begotten God, in the bosom of the Father -- this One has been the spokesman.| Clearly John, sweeping the whole range of past time, means this: they saw Him whom we call Jesus. Jesus is Jehovah, the only begotten God. To all these men the only begotten God was the spokesman of the Father.
Sometimes it was a voice that came with softness but unmistakable clearness to the inner spirit of man, a soundless voice. Sometimes in a dream, a more realistic vision of the night or of the day time; again, in the form of a man, thus foreshadowing the future great coming. This One who came to them in various ways, this Jehovah has come to men as Jesus. This is John's statement. This is the setting of His gospel. The setting becomes a part of the interpretation of what the gospel contains. It explains what this that follows meant to John.
Is it surprising that John's Gospel has been pitched upon as the critics' chief battle-field of the New Testament? Battle-field is a good word. The fire has been thick and fast, needle-guns -- sharp needles -- and machine-guns -- Gatling guns and rattling -- but no smokeless powder. The cloud of smoke of a beautiful scholarly gray tinge has quite filled the air. Men have been swinging away from a man, the Man to a book. But no critic's delicately shaded and shadowing cloud of either dust or smoke, or both, can hide away the Man. He's too tall and big. The simple hearted man who will step aside from the smoke and noise to the shade of a quiet tree, or the quiet of some corner, with this marvellous bit of manuscript from John's pen for his keen, Spirit-cleared eye, will be enraptured to find a Man, the Man, the God-Man.