SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Image Map : Christian Books : Section72. John and the Gospel of Love.

History Of The Christian Church Volume I by Philip Schaff

Section72. John and the Gospel of Love.

(See the Lit. in § 40 p.405.)

General Character.

The unity of Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian theology meets us in the writings of John, who, in the closing decades of the first century, summed up the final results of the preceding struggles of the apostolic age and transmitted them to posterity. Paul had fought out the great conflict with Judaism and secured the recognition of the freedom and universality of the gospel for all time to come. John disposes of this question with one sentence: |The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.| His theology marks the culminating height of divine knowledge in the apostolic age. It is impossible to soar higher than the eagle, which is his proper symbol. His views are so much identified with the words of his Lord, to whom he stood more closely related than any other disciple, that it is difficult to separate them; but the prologue to his Gospel contains his leading ideas, and his first Epistle the practical application. The theology of the Apocalypse is also essentially the same, and this goes far to confirm the identity of authorship.

John was not a logician, but a seer; not a reasoner, but a mystic; he does not argue, but assert; he arrives at conclusions with one bound, as by direct intuition. He speaks from personal experience and testifies of that which his eyes have seen and his ears heard and his hands have handled, of the glory of the Only-begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.

John's theology is marked by artless simplicity and spiritual depth. The highest art conceals art. As in poetry, so in religion, the most natural is the most perfect. He moves in a small circle of ideas as compared with Paul, but these ideas are fundamental and all-comprehensive. He goes back to first principles and sees the strong point without looking sideways or taking note of exceptions. Christ and Antichrist, believers and unbelievers, children of God and children of the devil, truth and falsehood, light and darkness, love and hatred, life and death: these are the great contrasts under which he views the religious world. These he sets forth again and again with majestic simplicity.

John and Paul.

John's type of doctrine is less developed and fortified than Paul's, but more ideal. His mind was neither so rich nor so strong, but it soared higher and anticipated the beatific vision. Although Paul was far superior to him as a scholar (and practical worker), yet the ancient Greek church saw in John the ideal theologian. John's spirit and style may be compared to a calm, clear mountain-lake which reflects the image of the sun) moon, and stars, while Paul resembles the mountain-torrent that rushes over precipices and carries everything before it; yet there are trumpets of war in John, and anthems of peace in Paul. The one begins from the summit, with God and the Logos, the other from the depths of man's sin and misery; but both meet in the God-man who brings God down to man and lifts man up to God. John is contemplative and serene, Paul is aggressive and polemical; but both unite in the victory of faith and the never-ending dominion of love. John's theology is Christological, Paul's soteriological; John starts from the person of Christ, Paul from his work; but their christology and soteriology are essentially agreed. John's ideal is life eternal, Paul's ideal is righteousness; but both derive it from the same source, the union with Christ, and find in this the highest happiness of man. John represents the church triumphant, Paul the church militant of his day and of our day, but with the full assurance of final victory even over the last enemy.

The Central Idea.

John's Christianity centres in the idea of love and life, which in their last root are identical. His dogmatics are summed up in the word: God first loved us; his ethics in the exhortation: Therefore let us love Him and the brethren. He is justly called the apostle of love. Only we must not understand this word in a sentimental, but in the highest and purest moral sense. God's love is his self-communication to man; man's love is a holy self-consecration to God. We may recognize -- in rising stages of transformation -- the same fiery spirit in the Son of Thunder who called vengeance from heaven; in the Apocalyptic seer who poured out the vials of wrath against the enemies of Christ; and in the beloved disciple who knew no middle ground, but demanded undivided loyalty and whole-souled devotion to his Master. In him the highest knowledge and the highest love coincide: knowledge is the eye of love, love the heart of knowledge; both constitute eternal life, and eternal life is the fulness of happiness.

The central truth of John and the central fact in Christianity itself is the incarnation of the eternal Logos as the highest manifestation of God's love to the world. The denial of this truth is the criterion of Antichrist.

The Principal Doctrines.

I. The doctrine of God. He is spirit (pneuma), he is light (phos) he is love (agape). These are the briefest and yet the profoundest definitions which can be given of the infinite Being of all beings. The first is put into the mouth of Christ, the second and third are from the pen of John. The first sets forth God's metaphysical, the second his intellectual, the third his moral perfection; but they are blended in one.

God is spirit, all spirit, absolute spirit (in opposition to every materialistic conception and limitation); hence omnipresent, all-pervading, and should be worshipped, whether in Jerusalem or Gerizim or anywhere else, in spirit and in truth.

God is light, all light without a spot of darkness, and the fountain of all light, that is of truth, purity, and holiness.

God is love; this John repeats twice, looking upon love as the inmost moral essence of God, which animates, directs, and holds together all other attributes; it is the motive power of his revelations or self-communications, the beginning and the end of his ways and works, the core of his manifestation in Christ.

II. The doctrine of Christ's Person. He is the eternal and the incarnate Logos or Revealer of God. No man has ever yet seen God (theon, without the article, God's nature, or God as God); the only-begotten Son (or God only-begotten), who is in the bosom of the Father, he and he alone (ekeinos) declared him and brought to light, once and forever, the hidden mystery of his being.

This perfect knowledge of the Father, Christ claims himself in that remarkable passage in Matthew 11:27, which strikingly confirms the essential harmony of the Johannean and Synoptical representations of Christ.

John (and he alone) calls Christ the |Logos| of God, i.e., the embodiment of God and the organ of all his revelations. As the human reason or thought is expressed in word, and as the word is the medium of making our thoughts known to others, so God is known to himself and to the world in and through Christ as the personal Word. While |Logos| designates the metaphysical and intellectual relation, the term |Son| designates the moral relation of Christ to God, as a relation of love, and the epithet |only-begotten| or |only-born| (monogenes) raises his sonship as entirely unique above every other sonship, which is only a reflection of it. It is a blessed relation of infinite knowledge and infinite love. The Logos is eternal, he is personal, he is divine. He was in the beginning before creation or from eternity. He is, on the one hand, distinct from God and in the closest communion with him (pros ton theon); on the other hand he is himself essentially divine, and therefore called |God| (theos, but not ho theos).

This pre-existent Logos is the agent of the creation of all things visible and invisible. He is the fulness and fountain of life (he zoe, the true, immortal life, as distinct from bios, the natural, mortal life), and light (to phos,which includes intellectual and moral truth, reason and conscience) to all men. Whatever elements of truth, goodness, and beauty may be found shining like stars and meteors in the darkness of heathendom, must be traced to the Logos, the universal Life-giver and Illuminator.

Here Paul and John meet again; both teach the agency of Christ in the creation, but John more clearly connects him with all the preparatory revelations before the incarnation. This extension of the Logos revelation explains the high estimate which some of the Greek fathers, (Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen) put upon the Hellenic, especially the Platonic philosophy, as a training-school of the heathen mind for Christ.

The Logos revealed himself to every man, but in a special manner to his own chosen people; and this revelation culminated in John the Baptist, who summed up in himself the meaning of the law and the prophets, and pointed to Jesus of Nazareth as |the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.|

At last the Logos became flesh. He completed his revelation by uniting himself with man once and forever in all things, except sin. The Hebraizing term |flesh| best expresses his condescension to our fallen condition and the complete reality of his humanity as an object of sense, visible and tangible, in strong contrast with his immaterial divinity. It includes not only the body (soma), but also a human soul (psuche) and a rational spirit (nous, pneuma); for John ascribes them all to Christ. To use a later terminology, the incarnation (ensarkosis,incarnatio) is only a stronger term for the assumption of humanity (enanthropesis,Menschwerdung). The Logos became man -- not partially but totally, not apparently but really, not transiently but permanently, not by ceasing to be divine, nor by being changed into a man, but by an abiding, personal union with man. He is henceforth the Godman. He tabernacled on earth as the true Shekinah, and manifested to his disciples the glory of the only begotten which shone from the veil of his humanity. This is the divine-human glory in the state of humiliation as distinct from the divine glory in his preexistent state, and from the final and perfect manifestation of his glory in the state of exaltation in which his disciples shall share.

The fourth Gospel is a commentary on the ideas of the Prologue. It was written for the purpose that the readers may believe |that Jesus is the Christ (the promised Messiah), the Son of God (in the sense of the only begotten and eternal Son), and that believing they may have life in his name.|

III. The Work of Christ (Soteriology). This implies the conquest over sin and Satan, and the procurement of eternal life. Christ appeared without sin, to the end that he might destroy the works of the devil, who was a liar and murderer from the beginning of history, who first fell away from the truth and then brought sin and death into mankind. Christ laid down his life and shed his blood for his sheep. By this self-consecration in death he became the propitiation (hilasmos) for the sins of believers and for the sins of the whole world. His blood cleanses from all the guilt and contamination of sin. He is (in the language of the Baptist) the Lamb of God that bears and takes away the sin of the world; and (in the unconscious prophecy of Caiaphas) he died for the people. He was priest and sacrifice in one person. And he continues his priestly functions, being our Advocate in Heaven and ready to forgive us when we sin and come to him in true repentance.

This is the negative part of Christ's work, the removal of the obstruction which separated us from God. The positive part consists in the revelation of the Father, and in the communication of eternal life, which includes eternal happiness. He is himself the Life and the Light of the world. He calls himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In him the true, the eternal life, which was from the beginning with the Father, appeared personally in human form. He came to communicate it to men. He is the bread of life from heaven, and feeds the believers everywhere spiritually without diminishing, as He fed the five thousand physically with five loaves. That miracle is continued in the mystical self-communication of Christ to his people. Whosoever believes in him has eternal life, which begins here in the new birth and will be completed in the resurrection of the body.

Herein also the Apocalypse well agrees with the Gospel and Epistles of John. Christ is represented as the victor of the devil. He is the conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah, but also the suffering Lamb slain for us. The figure of the lamb, whether it be referred to the paschal lamb, or to the lamb in the Messianic passage of Isaiah 53:7, expresses the idea of atoning sacrifice which is fully realized in the death of Christ. He |washed| (or, according to another reading, he |loosed|) |us from our sins by his blood;| he redeemed men |of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests.| The countless multitude of the redeemed |washed their robes and made them white (bright and shining) in the blood of the Lamb.| This implies both purification and sanctification; white garments being the symbols of holiness. Love was the motive which prompted him to give his life for his people. Great stress is laid on the resurrection, as in the Gospel, where he is called the Resurrection and the Life. The exalted Logos-Messiah has the keys of death and Hades. He is a sharer in the universal government of God; he is the mediatorial ruler of the world, |the Prince of the kings of the earth| |King of kings and Lord of lords.| The apocalyptic seer likewise brings in the idea of life in its highest sense as a reward of faith in Christ to those who overcome and are faithful unto death, Christ will give |a crown of life,| and a seat on his throne. He |shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life; and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.|

IV. The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology). This is most fully set forth in the farewell discourser, of our Lord, which are reported by John exclusively. The Spirit whom Christ promised to send after his return to the Father, is called the Paraclete, i.e., the Advocate or Counsellor, Helper, who pleads the cause of the believers, directs, supports, and comforts them. He is |another Advocate| (allos parakletos), Christ himself being the first Advocate who intercedes for believers at the throne of the Father, as their eternal High priest. The Spirit proceeds (eternally) from the Father, and was sent by the Father and the Son on the day of Pentecost. He reveals Christ to the heart and glorifies him (eme doxasei); he bears witness to him (marturesei peri emou); he calls to remembrance and explains his teaching (humas didaxei panta kai hupomnesei humas panta ha heipon humin ego); he leads the disciples into the whole truth (hodegesei humas eis ten aletheian pasan); he takes out of the fulness of Christ and shows it to them (ek tou emou lambanei kai anangelei humin). The Holy Spirit is the Mediator and Intercessor between Christ and the believer, as Christ is the Mediator between God and the world. He is the Spirit of truth and of holiness. He convicts (elenchei) the world, that is all men who come under his influnce, in respect of sin (peri hamartias), of righteousness, (dikaiosunes), and of judgment (kriseos); and this conviction will result either in the conversion, or in the impenitence of the sinner. The operation of the Spirit accompanies the preaching of the word, and always internal in the sphere of the heart and conscience. He is one of the three witnesses and gives efficacy to the other two witnesses of Christ on earth, the baptism (to hudor), and the atoning death (to haima) of Christ.

V. Christian Life. It begins with a new birth from above or from the Holy Spirit. Believers are children of God who are |born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.| It is a |new| birth compared with the old, a birth |from God,| as compared with that from man, a birth from the Holy |Spirit,| in distinction from carnal birth, a birth |from heaven,| as opposed to earthly birth. The life of the believer does not descend through the channels of fallen nature, but requires a creative act of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel. The life of the regenerate is free from the principle and power of sin. |Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him; and he cannot sin because he is begotten of God.| Over him the devil has no power.

The new life is the life of Christ in the soul. It is eternal intrinsically and as to duration. Eternal life in man consists in the knowledge of the only true God and of Jesus Christ -- a knowledge which implies full sympathy and communion of love. It begins here in faith; hence the oft-repeated declaration that he who believes in Christ has (echei) eternal life. But it will not appear in its full development till the time of his glorious manifestation, when we shall be like him and see him even as he is. Faith is the medium of communication, the bond of union with Christ. Faith is the victory over the world, already here in principle.

John's idea of life eternal takes the place of Paul's idea of righteousness, but both agree in the high conception of faith as the one indispensable condition of securing it by uniting us to Christ, who is both righteousness and life eternal.

The life of the Christian, moreover, is a communion with Christ and with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Our Lord prayed before his passion that the believers of that and all future ages might be one with him, even as he is one with the Father, and that they may enjoy his glory. John writes his first Epistle for the purpose that his readers may have |fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, and that thus their joy may be made full.| This fellowship is only another word for love, and love to God is inseparable from love to the brethren. |If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.| |God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God and God abideth in him.| Love to the brethren is the true test of practical Christianity. This brotherly fellowship is the true essence of the Church, which is nowhere even mentioned in John's Gospel and First Epistle.

Love to God and to the brethren is no mere sentiment, but an active power, and manifests itself in the keeping of God's commandments.

Here again John and Paul meet in the idea of love, as the highest of the Christian graces which abides forever when faith shall have passed into sight, and hope into fruition.


The incarnation is expressed by John briefly and tersely in the phrase |The Word became flesh| (John 1:14).

I. The meaning of sarx. Apollinaris confined |flesh| to the body, including the animal soul, and taught that the Logos occupied the place of the rational soul or spirit (nous, pneuma) in Christ; that consequently he was not a full man, but a sort of middle being between God and man, half divine and haIf human, not wholly divine and wholly human. This view was condemned as heretical by the Nicene church, but renewed substantially by the Tübingen school, as being the doctrine of John. According to Baur (l.c., p.363) sarx egenetois not equivalent to (anthropos egeneto, but means that the Logos assumed a human body and continued otherwise the same. The incarnation was only an incidental phenomenon in the unchanging personality of the Logos. Moreover the flesh of Christ was not like that of other men, but almost immaterial, so at; to be able to walk on the lake (John 6:16; Comp.7:10, 15; 8:59 10:39). To this exegesis we object:

1. John expressly ascribes to Christ a soul, John 10:11, 15, 17; 12:27 (he psuche mou tetaraktai), and a spirit, 11:33 (enebrimesato to pneumati); 13:21 (etarachthe to pneumati); 19:30 (paredoken to pneuma). It may be said that pneu'ma is here nothing more than the animal soul, because the same affection is attributed to both, and because it was surrendered in death. But Christ calls himself in John frequently |the Son of man| 1:51, etc.), and once |a man| (anthropos,8:40), which certainly must include the more important intellectual and spiritual part as well as the body.

2. |Flesh| is often used in the Old and New Testament for the whole man, as in the phrase |all flesh| (pasa sarx, every mortal man), or mia sar'x(John 17:2; Rom.3:20; 1 Cor.1:29; Gal.2:16). In this passage it suited John's idea better than anthropos,because it more strongly expresses the condescension of the Logos to the human nature in its present condition, with its weakness, trials, temptations, and sufferings. He completely identified himself with our earthly lot, and became homogeneous with us, even to the likeness, though not the essence, of sin (Rom.8:3; comp. Heb.2:14; 5:8, 9). |Flesh| then, when ascribed to Christ, has the same comprehensive meaning in John as it has in Paul (comp. also 1 Tim.3:16). It is animated flesh, and the soul of that flesh contains the spiritual as well as the physical life.

II. Another difficulty is presented by the verb egeneto. The champions of the modern Kenosis theory (Thomasius, Gess, Ebrard, Godet, etc.), while differing from the Apollinarian substitution of the Logos for a rational human soul in Christ, assert that the Logos himself because a human soul by voluntary transformation; and so they explain ejgevneto and the famous Pauline phrase heauton ekenosen, morphen doulou labon(Phil.2:7). As the water was changed into wine at Cana (John 2:9: To hudor hoinon gegenemenon), so the Logos in infinite self-denial changed his divine being into a human being during the state of his humiliation, and thus led a single life, not a double life (as the Chalcedonian theory of two complete natures simultaneously coexisting in the same person from the manger to the cross seems to imply). But

1. The verb egenetomust be understood in agreement with the parallel passages:, |he came in the flesh,| 1 John 4:2 (en sarki eleluthota); 2 John 7 (erchomenon en sarki), with this difference, that |became| indicates the realness of Christ's manhood, |came| the continuance of his godhood. Compare also Paul's expression, ephanerothe en sarki, 1 Tim.3:16.

2. Whatever may be the objections to the Chalcedonian dyophysitism, they cannot be removed by running the Kenosis to the extent of a self-suspension of the Logos or an actual surrender of his essential attributes; for this is a metaphysical impossibility, and inconsistent with the unchangeableness of God and the intertrinitarian process. The Logos did not cease to be God when he entered into the human state of existence, nor did he cease to be man when he returned to the state of divine glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world.

III. Beyschlag (Die Christologie des N. T, p.168) denies the identity of the Logos with Christ, and resolves the Logos into a divine principle, instead of a person. |Der Logos ist nicht die Person Christi ... sondern er ist das gottheitliche Princip dieser menschlichen Persönlichkeit.| He assumes a gradual unfolding of the Logos principle in the human person of Christ. But the personality of the Logos is taught in John 1:1-3, and egenetodenotes a completed act. We must remember, however, that personality in the trinity and personality of the Logos are different from personality of man. Human speech is inadequate to express the distinction.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy