The Lord from Heaven - 6 -THE TESTIMONY OF THE FOURTH GOSPEL

 

As already noticed, the four Gospels have been described as so many different portraits of Christ - portraits, not biographies; and the portrait presented to us in the Gospel of John is that of Christ as Son of God. To the intelligent reader its omissions, of which unbelief makes much for its evil purposes, afford a striking indication of its Divine authorship, and of the purpose for which it has been given.
The Apostle John is the only one of the four Evangelists who was with the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, and yet he is the only one whose Gospel makes no mention of that vision of glory. He is the only one of the Evangelists who witnessed the agony in the Garden, and yet he is the only one whose Gospel is silent with respect to it. And though one of the eleven disciples who were with the Lord on the Mount of Olives when He was "taken up from them into heaven," his book contains never a word of direct record about the Ascension. May not these extraordinary omissions be explained if we remember that in the vision of the Holy Mount the Lord appeared in His glory as Son of Man, whereas the purpose of the Fourth Gospel is to reveal Him as Son of God. So also with regard to Gethsemane, we have the Lord's explicit words, "The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." And though His exaltation, to the right hand of God proclaimed Him to be the Son of God, this was beyond the scope of the Evangelist's commission, for it was of the earthly ministry that He was inspired to write.
But there is another "omission," far more extraordinary even than these. The writer is the disciple to whom the Lord in His dying hour entrusted the care of His mother; "and from that hour," we read, "that disciple took her unto his own home." What talks they must have had together about the sacred birth and childhood! What unnumbered hours he must have spent in listening to her thrilling reminiscences! And how ineffaceably must the record have been stamped upon his memory and his heart! And yet not a word is to be found here about the angel's visit, the Bethlehem inn, or the home life at Nazareth. "He was in the world." "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." And that is all! For though He of whom the Evangelist speaks is the Man of Bethlehem and Nazareth, yet here again it is not of Him as Man that he is inspired to write, but as the Son of God. (Footnote - The Messianic Gospel-Matthew-also omits the Ascension be-cause the closing words of it belong dispenstztionally to the time when Zech. xiv. 4 shall be fulfilled (compare Acts i. 11), and Christ will send out His earthly people as His missionaries to evangelise the world.)
"Inspired," I say again advisedly; for if these omissions are not to be accounted for by the divine guidance and restraint that we call "inspiration," what explanation can be given of them? "Put yourself in his place." If any one of us had had the Apostle John's experiences, is it conceivable that we could write a book about the Lord without referring to them? Indeed, if this Gospel be a merely human work, it presents a psychological phenomenon so extraordinary as to have no parallel in the literature of the world. Here are the opening words of it: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men" (chapter i. 1-4).
The book was written, we are expressly told, that we might believe that He is the Son of God; and it begins by proclaiming that He is God. Could there be a clearer proof of the significance of the title "Son of God"? He is called the "Son of Man" because He is "very man," and He is called the "Son of God" because He is "very God." The book as a whole is designed to confirm faith in His Godhood.
The layman is apt to exaggerate the relative value of direct evidence, but the lawyer recognises that no testimony is more convincing than that which is incidental; and here, as in the preceding notice of the First Gospel, it is to the indirect and incidental proof that I would briefly claim attention.
To the Christian the positive statement that "the Word was God" seems to be "an end of controversy"; but this statement was used by the Arians to prove that He held a subordinate position. And when the alternative reading of verse 18 (" the only begotten God ") was pressed on them, they seized on the words as distinguishing Him from the Father, who alone was God in the highest sense.
1 Chap. xx. 31. 2 Critics who take the Arian view urge the absence of the article before Oeôs in the sentence "the Word was God"; but "the writer could not have written ó eth without manifest absurdity" (Bis)iop Middle-ton), for that would imply that He was God in an exclusive sense.
The Arian controversy indeed affords signal proof of what has been often noticed, that the Fathers were influenced by the paganism which prevailed around them, and in which so many of them had been steeped before their conversion to Christianity. And to the pagan mind there was nothing absurd, or even incongruous, in the conception of a subordinate God; whereas to us, who think of God only as the Supreme Being, it involves a contradiction in terms, and seems mere nonsense. With us, therefore, the issue is a definite and simple one, namely, whether Christ is God, or only man.
Let us, then, shake ourselves free from the prejudices which religion seems to excite in the minds of many, and also from the slovenly-mindedness that leads us to give an unthinking assent to truths which, if really believed, would influence our whole life; and, in the spirit of honest and earnest seekers after truth, let us try to grasp the significance of the words of the Lord Jesus as recorded in this book. Here are a few of His sayings, culled almost at random, and from a single section of it:- "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst" (vi. 35).
"He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life: I am the bread of life" (vi. 47, 48).
"I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (vi. 51).
"He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (vii. 38).
"I am the light of the world" (viii. 12).
"If a man keep My word, he shall never see death" (viii. 51).
"Before Abraham was, I am" (viii. 58).
"Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (x. 17, 18).
"I am the Good Shepherd. . . . My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. . . . I and My Father are one" (x. 11, 27-28, 30).
As we ponder such words as these we seem to be basking in the sunshine, and we are ready to exclaim, as Thomas did, "My Lord and my God." But some of us have minds so constituted that clouds of doubt cover our sky at times, and we ask ourselves, How can we be sure that these are really the very words of Christ ?- Let us then look at other sayings of His, the genuineness of which is confirmed by facts. The following are His words recorded in the fifth chapter (verses 21-29) :- "For as the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself; and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
The Lord here unequivocally claims equal honour with God the Father. He declares that as the Father raises the dead, so He Himself "gives life to whom He will." He has life in Himself: not life derived or delegated, but life as God has life. And He adds that it will be at His command that the graves shall yet give up their dead.
What meaning shall we give to such words as these? The narrative of the eleventh chapter supplies the answer; for there we read that, standing by a tomb which covered a decaying corpse, "He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth; and he that was dead came forth."
Martha's halting faith could credit Him with power to save her brother's life. She held, moreover, a conventional belief in "the resurrection at the last day." But she was utterly incapable of grasping the truth or meaning of His words, "I am the resurrection and the life"; and so, when He directed the opening of the grave, she at once exclaimed, "Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days." "Said I not unto thee," was the Lord's gracious rebuke, "that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?" And then and there she had a vision of that glory, for in obedience to His word, "he that was dead came forth."
People who reject the divine direction implied in inspiration may reasonably doubt the accuracy of a record of spoken words. But this is a narrative of facts. The writer here gives a detailed account of events which happened before his eyes. Lazarus of Bethany he knew personally. And he saw hini come out of his grave in obedience to the call of Christ, "bound hand and foot with grave-clothes." The casuistry of scepticism may belittle the account of miracles of another kind, but here is a case in which mistake was impossible. Unless the whole story be a fabrication - and in that case the writer was a profane impostor - the resurrection of Lazarus is a fact. And if the resurrection is a fact, "the riddle of the universe" is solved: God, "the author and giver of life," has manifested Himself to men. The Deity of Christ is established.
The Rationalist is too intelligent not to recognise this; and so, "to save his face," he rejects the Fourth Gospel. But if any one who professes to believe the Scriptures denies or questions the Deity of Christ, he not only belies his Christian profession, but outrages reason itself. For none but God could give life to a decaying corpse. But it may be said, perhaps, the Apostle Peter called Dorcas back to life, and notable miracles were wrought by the other Apostles also. Yes, and this would in itself be proof of the Deity of the Lord Jesus; for it was in His name that all their mighty works were done. In His name: not in the name of the Father, but of the Son. When the Apostle Paul declared that he was in no respect "behind the very chiefest Apostles," he added "though I be nothing." And to his amazing boast, "I can do all things," he added, "through Christ who strengthens me." In himself he had no power. But here is One who not only has power in Himself, but who can empower others to act in His name. And He has life in Himself - life in the sense in which none but God has life, so that He can say "I am the life."
But, it may be asked, was not His prayer at the grave of Lazarus an acknowledgment of His dependence on the Father? Dependence, yes; but not in the sense of incompetence or weakness, but of entire submission. That prayer is to be read in the light of His words, "I do nothing of Myself." Though He could say, "The Son giveth life to whom He will," that power and that will were held in absolute subjection to the will of the Father.