1. The Work Is Taken up after a Violent Interruption, Which Has Driven the Writer from Alexandria. He Addresses Himself to It Again, with Thanks for His Deliverance, and Prayer for Guidance.
When a house is being built which is to be made as strong as possible, the building takes place in fine weather and in calm, so that nothing may hinder the structure from acquiring the needed solidity. And thus it turns out so strong and stable that it is able to withstand the rush of the flood, and the dashing of the river, and all the agencies accompanying a storm which are apt to find out what is rotten in a building and to show what parts of it have been properly put together. And more particularly should that house which is capable of sheltering the speculations of truth, the house of reason, as it were, in promise or in letters, be built at a time when God can add His free co-operation to the projector of so noble a work, when the soul is quiet and in the enjoyment of that peace which passes all understanding, when she is turned away from all disturbance and not buffeted by any billows. This, it appears to me, was well understood by the servants of the prophetic spirit and the ministers of the Gospel message; they made themselves worthy to receive that peace which is in secret from Him who ever gives it to them that are worthy and who said, (Joh_14:27) “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you.” And look if some similar lesson is not taught under the surface with regard to David and Solomon in the narrative about the temple. David, who fought the wars of the Lord and stood firm against many enemies, his own and those of Israel, desired to build a temple for God. But God, through Nathan, prevents him from doing so, and Nathan says to him, (1Ch_22:8, 1Ch_22:9) “Thou shalt not build me an house, because thou art a man of blood.” But Solomon, on the other hand, saw God in a dream, and in a dream received wisdom, for the reality of the vision was kept for him who said, “Behold a greater than Solomon is here.” The time was one of the profoundest peace, so that it was possible for every man to rest under his own vine and his own fig-tree, and Solomon’s very name was significant of the peace which was in his days, for Solomon means peaceful; and so he was at liberty to build the famous temple of God. About the time of Ezra, also, when “truth conquers wine and the hostile king: and women,” (3 Esdras 4:37, 41, 47) the temple of God is restored again. All this is said by way of apology to you, reverend Ambrosius. It is at your sacred encouragement that I have made up my mind to build up in writing: the tower of the Gospel; and I have therefore sate down to count the cost, (Luk_14:28) if I have sufficient to finish it, lest I should be mocked by the beholders, because I laid the foundation but was not able to finish the work. The result of my counting, it is true, has been that I do not possess what is required to finish it; yet I have put my trust in God, who enriches us (1Co_14:28) with all wisdom and all knowledge. If we strive to keep His spiritual laws we believe that He does enrich us; He will supply what is necessary so that we shall get on with our building, and shall even come to the parapet of the structure. That parapet it is which keeps from falling those who go up on the house of the Word; for people only fall off those houses which have no parapet, so that the buildings themselves are to blame for their fall and for their death. We proceeded as far as the fifth volume in spite of the obstacles presented by the storm in Alexandria, and spoke what was given us to speak, for Jesus rebuked the winds and the waves of the sea. We emerged from the storm, we were brought out of Egypt, that God delivering us who led His people forth from there. Then, when the enemy assailed us with all bitterness by his new writings, so directly hostile to the Gospel, and stirred up against us all the winds of wickedness in Egypt, I felt that reason called me rather to stand fast for the conflict, and to save the higher part in me, lest evil counsels should succeed in directing the storm so as to overwhelm my soul, rather to do this than to finish my work at an unsuitable season, before my mind had recovered its calm. Indeed, the ready writers who usually attended me brought my work to a stand by failing to appear to take down my words. But now that the many fiery darts directed against me have lost their edge, for God extinguished them, and my soul has grown accustomed to the dispensation sent me for the sake of the heavenly word, and has learned from necessity to disregard the snares of my enemies, it is as if a great calm had settled on me, and I defer no longer the continuation of this work. I pray that God will be with me, and will speak as a teacher in the porch of my soul, so that the building I have begun of the exposition of the Gospel of John may arrive at completion. May God hear my prayer and grant that the body of the whole work may now be brought together, and that no interruption may intervene which might prevent me from following the sequence of Scripture. And be assured that it is with great readiness that I now make this second beginning and enter on my sixth volume, because what I wrote before at Alexandria has not, I know not by what chance, been brought with me. I feared I might neglect this work, if I were not engaged on it at once, and therefore thought it better to make use of this present time and begin without delay the part which remains. I am not certain if the part formerly written will come to light, and would be very unwilling to waste time in waiting to see if it does. Enough of preamble, let us now attend to our text.
2. How the Prophets and Holy Men of the Old Testament Knew the Things of Christ.
“And this is the witness of John.” (Joh_1:19) This is the second recorded testimony of John the Baptist to Christ. The first begins with “This was He of whom I said, He that cometh after me,” and goes down to “The only-begotten Son of God who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared him.” Heracleon supposes the words, “No one has seen God at any time,” etc., to have been spoken, not by the Baptist, but by the disciple. But in this he is not sound. He himself allows the words, “Of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace; for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ,” to have been spoken by the Baptist. And does it not follow that the person who received of the fulness of Christ, and a second grace in addition to that he had before, and who declared the law to have been given by Moses, but grace and truth to have come through Jesus Christ, is it not clear that this is the person who understood, from what he received from the fulness of Christ, how “no one hath seen God at any time,” and how “the only-begotten who is in the bosom of the Father” had delivered the declaration about God to him and to all those who had received of His fulness? He was not declaring here for the first time Him that is in the bosom of the Father, as if there had never before been any one fit to receive what he told His Apostles. Does he not teach us that he was before Abraham, and that Abraham rejoiced and was glad to see his day? The words “Of his fulness all we received,” and “Grace for grace,” show, as we have already made clear, that the prophets also received their gift from the fulness of Christ and received a second grace in place of that they had before; for they also, led by the Spirit, advanced from the introduction they had in types to the vision of truth. Hence not all the prophets, but many of them, (Mat_13:17) desired to see the things, which the Apostles saw. For if there was a difference among the prophets, those who were perfect and more distinguished of them did not desire to see what the Apostles saw, but actually beheld them, while those who rose less fully than these to the height of the Word were filled with longing for the things which the Apostles knew through Christ. The word “saw” we have not taken in a physical sense, and the word “heard” we have taken to refer to a spiritual communication; only he who has ears is prepared to hear the words of Jesus – a thing which does not happen too frequently. There is the further point, that the saints before the bodily advent of Jesus had an advantage over most believers in their insight into the mysteries of divinity, since the Word of God was their teacher before He became flesh, for He was always working, in imitation of His Father, of whom He says, “My father worketh hitherto.” On this point we may adduce the words He addresses to the Sadducees, who do not believe the doctrine of the resurrection. “Have you not read,” He says, (Mar_12:20) “what is said by God at the Bush, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” If, then, God is not ashamed to be called the God of these men, and if they are counted by Christ among the living, and if all believers are sons of Abraham, (Rom_4:11) since all the Gentiles are blessed with faithful Abraham, who is appointed by God to be a father of the Gentiles, can we hesitate to admit that those living persons made acquaintance with the learning of living men, and were taught by Christ who was born before the daystar, (Psa_105:3) before He became flesh? And for this cause they lived, because they had part in Him who said, “I am the life,” and as the heirs of so great promises received the vision, not only of angels, but of God in Christ. For they saw, it may be, the image of the invisible God, (Col_1:15; Joh_14:19) since he who hath seen the Son hath seen the Father, and so they are recorded to have known God, and to have heard God’s words worthily, and, therefore, to have seen God and heard Him. Now, I consider that those who are fully and really sons of Abraham are sons of his actions, spiritually understood, and of the knowledge which was made manifest to him. What he knew and what he did appears again in those who are his sons, as the Scripture teaches those who have ears to hear, (Joh_8:39) “If ye were the children of Abraham, ye would do the works of Abraham.” And if it is a true proverb (Pro_16:23) which says, “A wise man will understand that which proceeds from his own mouth, and on his lips he will bear prudence,” then we must at once repudiate some things which have been said about the prophets, as if they were not wise men, and did not understand what proceeded from their own mouths. We must believe what is good and true about the prophets, that they were sages, that they did understand what proceeded from their mouths, and that they bore prudence on their lips. It is clear indeed that Moses understood in his mind the truth real meaning of the law, and the higher interpretations of the stories recorded in his books. Joshua, too, understood the meaning of the allotment of the land after the destruction of the nine and twenty kings, and could see better than we can the realities of which his achievements were the shadows. It is clear, too, that Isaiah saw the mystery of Him who sat upon the throne, and of the two seraphim, and of the veiling of their faces and their feet, and of their wings, and of the altar and of the tongs. Ezekiel, too, understood the true significance of the cherubim and of their goings, and of the firmament that was above them, and of Him that sat on the throne, than all which what could be loftier or more splendid? I need not enter into more particulars; the point I aim at establishing is clear enough already, namely, that those who were made perfect in earlier generations knew not less than the Apostles did of what Christ revealed to them, since the same teacher was with them as He who revealed to the Apostles the unspeakable mysteries of godliness. I will add but a few points, and then leave it to the reader to judge and to form what views he pleases on this subject. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans, (Rom_16:25) “Now, to him who is able to establish you according to my Gospel, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but is now made manifest by the prophetic Scriptures and the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For if the mystery concealed of old is made manifest to the Apostles through the prophetic writings, and if the prophets, being wise men, understood what proceeded from their own mouths, then the prophets knew what was made manifest to the Apostles. But to many it was not revealed, as Paul says, (Eph_3:5) “In other generations it was not made known to the sons of men as it hath now been revealed unto His holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and members of the same body.” Here an objection may be raised by those who do not share the view we have propounded; and it becomes of importance to define what is meant by the word “revealed.” It is capable of two meanings: firstly, that the thing in question is understood, but secondly, if a prophecy is spoken of, that it is accomplished. Now, the fact that the Gentiles were to be fellow-heirs and members of the same body, and partakers of the promise, was known to the prophets to this extent, that they knew the Gentiles were to fellow-heirs and members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ. When this should be, and why, and what Gentiles were spoken of, and how, though strangers from the covenants, and aliens to the promises, they were yet to be members of one body and sharers of the blessings; all this was known to the prophets, being revealed to them. But the things prophesied belong to the future, and are not revealed to those who know them, but do not witness their fulfilment, as they are to those who have the event before their eyes. And this was the position of the Apostles. Thus, I conceive, they knew the events no more than the fathers and the prophets did; and yet it is truly said of them that “what to other generations was not revealed was now revealed to the Apostles and prophets, that the Gentiles were fellow-heirs and members of the same body, and partakers in the promise of Christ.” For, in addition to knowing these mysteries, they saw the power at work in the accomplished fact. The passage, “Many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things ye see and did not see them; and to hear the things ye hear and did not hear them,” may be interpreted in the same way. They also desired to see the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, and of His coming down to carry out the design of His suffering for the salvation of many, actually put in operation. This may be illustrated from another quarter. Suppose one of the Apostles to have understood the “unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter,” (2Co_12:4) but not to witness the glorious bodily appearing of Jesus to the faithful, which is promised, although He desired to see it and suppose another had not only not46 marked and seen what that Apostle marked and saw, but had a much feebler grasp of the divine hope, and yet is present at the second coming of our Saviour, which the Apostle, as in the parallel above, had desired, but had not seen. We shall not err from the truth if we say that both of these have seen what the Apostle, or indeed the Apostles, desired to see, and yet that they are not on that account to be deemed wiser or more blessed than the Apostles. In the same way, also, the Apostles are not to be deemed wiser than the fathers, or than Moses and the prophets, than those in fact who, for their virtue, were found worthy of epiphanies and of divine manifestations and of revelations of mysteries.
3. “Grace and Truth Came Through Jesus Christ.” These Words Belong to the Baptist, Not the Evangelist. What the Baptist Testifies by Them.
We have lingered rather long over these discussions, but there is a reason for it. There are many who, under the pretence of glorifying the advent of Christ, declare the Apostles to be wiser than the fathers or the prophets; and of these teachers some have invented a greater God for the later period, while some, not venturing so far, but moved, according to their own account of the matter, by the difficulty connected with doctrine, cancel the whole of the gift conferred by God on the fathers and the prophets, through Christ, through whom all things were made. If all things were made through Him, clearly so must the splendid revelations have been which were made to the fathers and prophets, and became to them the symbols of the sacred mysteries of religion. Now the true soldiers of Christ must always be prepared to do battle for the truth, and must never, so far as lies with them, allow false convictions to creep in. We must not, therefore, neglect this matter. It may be said that John’s earlier testimony to Christ is to be found in the words. “He who cometh after me exists before me, for He was before me,” and that the words, “For of His fulness we all received, and grace for grace,” are in the mouth of John the disciple. Now, we must show this exposition to be a forced one, and one which does violence to the context; it is rather a strong proceeding to suppose the speech of the Baptist to be so suddenly and, as it were, inopportunely interrupted by that of the disciple, and it is quite apparent to any one who can judge, in whatever small degree, of a context, that the speech goes on continuously after the words, “This is He of whom I spoke, He that cometh after me exists before me, for He was before me.” The Baptist brings a proof that Jesus existed before him because He was before him, since He is the first-born of all creation; he says, “For of His fulness all we received.” That is the reason why he says, “He exists before me, for He was before me.” That is how I know that He is first and in higher honour with the Father, since of His fulness both I and the prophets before me received the more divine prophetic grace instead of the grace we received at His hands before in respect of our election. That is why I say, “He exists before me, for He was before me,” because we know what we have received from His fulness; namely, that the law was given through Moses, not by Moses, while grace and truth not only were given but came into existence47 through Jesus Christ. For His God and Father both gave the law through Moses, and made grace and truth through Jesus Christ, that grace and truth which came to man. If we give a reasonable interpretation to the words, “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” we shall not be alarmed at the possible discrepancy with them of that other saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” If it is Jesus who says, “I am the truth,” then how does the truth come through Jesus Christ, since no one comes into existence through himself? We must recognize that this very truth, the essential truth, which is prototypal, so to speak, of that truth which exists in souls endowed with reason, that truth from which, as it were, images are impressed on those who care for truth, was not made through Jesus Christ, nor indeed through any one, but by God; – just as the Word was not made through any one which was in the beginning with the Father; – and as wisdom which God created the beginning of His ways was not made through any one, so the truth also was not made through any one. That truth, however, which is with men came through Jesus Christ, as the truth in Paul and the Apostles came through Jesus Christ. And it is no wonder, since truth is one, that many truths should flow from that one. The prophet David certainly knew many truths, as he says, (Psa_31:24) “The Lord searcheth out truths,” for the Father of truth searches out not the one truth but the many through which those are saved who possess them. And as with the one truth and many truths, so also with righteousness and righteousnesses. For the very essential righteousness is Christ, “Who was made to us of God wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” But from that righteousness is formed the righteousness which is in each individual, so that there are in the saved many righteousnesses, whence also it is written, (Psa_11:7) “For the Lord is righteous, and He loved righteousnesses.” This is the reading in the exact copies, and in the other versions besides the Septuagint, and in the Hebrew. Consider if the other things which Christ is said to be in a unity admit of being multiplied in the same way and spoken of in the plural. For example, Christ is our life as the Saviour Himself says, (Joh_14:6) “I am the way and the truth and the life.” The Apostle, too, says, (Col_3:4) “When Christ our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.” And in the Psalms again we find, (Psa_68:3) “Thy mercy is better than life;” for it is on account of Christ who is life in every one that there are many lives. This, perhaps, is also the key to the passage, (2Co_13:3) “If ye seek a proof of the Christ that speaketh in me.” For Christ is found in every saint, and so from the one Christ there come to be many Christs, imitators of Him and formed after Him who is the image of God; whence God says through the prophet, (Psa_105:15) “Touch not my Christs.” Thus we have explained in passing the passage which we appeared to have omitted from our exposition, viz.: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ;” and we have also shown that the words belong to John the Baptist and form part of his testimony to the Son of God.
4. John Denies That He Is Elijah or “the” Prophet. Yet He Was “a Prophet.
Now let us consider John’s second testimony. Jews from Jerusalem, (Joh_1:19-21) kindred to John the Baptist, since he also belonged to a priestly race, send priests and levites to ask John who he is. In saying, “I am not the Christ,” he made a confession of the truth. The words are not, as one might suppose, a negation; for it is no negation to say, in the honour of Christ, that one is not Christ. The priests and levites sent from Jerusalem, having there heard in the first place that he is not the expected Messiah, put a question about the second great personage whom they expected, namely, Elijah, whether John were he, and he says he is not Elijah, and by his “I am not” makes a second confession of the truth. And, as many prophets had appeared in Israel, and one in particular was looked for according to the prophecy of Moses, who said, (Deu_18:15) “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up to you of your brethren, like unto me, him shall ye hear; and it shall come to pass that every soul that shall not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people,” they, therefore, ask a third question, not whether he is a prophet, but whether he is the prophet. Now, they did not apply this name to the Christ, but supposed the prophet to be a second figure beside the Christ. But John, on the contrary, who knew that He whose forerunner he was was both the Christ and the prophet thus foretold, answered “No;” whereas, if they had asked if he was a prophet, he would have answered “Yes;” (Joh_1:25) for he was not unconscious that he was a prophet. In all these answers John’s second testimony to Christ was not yet completed; he had still to give his questioners the answer they were to take back to those who sent them, and to declare himself in the terms of the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
5. There Were Two Embassies to John the Baptist; the Different Characters of These.
Here the enquiry suggests itself whether the second testimony is concluded, and whether there is a third, addressed to those who were sent from the Pharisees. They wished to know why he baptized, if he was neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet; and he said: (Joh_1:25, sqq) “I baptize with water; but there standeth one among you whom you know not, He that cometh after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.” Is this a third testimony, or is this which they were to report to the Pharisees a part of the second? As far as the words allow me to conjecture I should say that the word to the emissaries of the Pharisees was a third testimony. It is to be observed, however, that the first testimony asserts the divinity of the Saviour, while the second disposes of the suspicion of those who were in doubt whether John could be the Christ, and the third declares one who was already present with men although they saw Him not, and whose coming was no longer in the future. Before going on to the subsequent testimonies in which he points out Christ and witnesses to Him, let us look at the second and third, word for word, and let us, in the first place, observe that there are two embassies to the Baptist, one “from Jerusalem” from the Jews, who send priests and levites, to ask him, “Who art thou?” the second sent by the Pharisees, (Joh_1:24) who were in doubt about the answer which had been made to the priests and levites. Observe how what is said by the first envoys is in keeping with the character of priests and levites, and shows gentleness and a willingness to learn. “Who art thou?” they say, and “What then? art thou Elijah?” and “Art thou that prophet?” and then, “Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself?” There is nothing harsh or arrogant in the enquiries of these men; everything agrees well with the character of true and careful servants of God; and they raise no difficulties about the replies made to them. Those, on the contrary, who are sent from the Pharisees assail the Baptist, as it were, with arrogant and unsympathetic words: “Why then baptizest thou if thou be not the Christ nor Elijah nor the prophet?” This mission is sent scarcely for the sake of information, as in the former case of the priests and levites, but rather to debar the Baptist from baptizing, as if it were thought that no one was entitled to baptize but Christ and Elijah and the prophet. The student who desires to understand the Scripture must always proceed in this careful way; he must ask with regard to each speech, who is the speaker and on what occasion it was spoken. Thus only can we discern how speech harmonizes with the character of the speaker, as it does all through the sacred books.
6. Messianic Discussion with John the Baptist.
Then the Jews sent priests and levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou And he confessed and denied not; and he confessed, I am not the Christ. (Joh_1:19, Joh_1:20) What legates should have been sent from the Jews to John, and where should they have been sent from? Should they not have been men held to stand by the election of God above their fellows, and should they not have come from that place which was chosen out of the whole of the earth, though it is all called good, from Jerusalem where was the temple of God? With such honour, then, do they enquire of John. In the case of Christ nothing of this sort is reported to have been done by the Jews; but what the Jews do to John, John does to Christ, sending his own disciples to ask him, (Mat_11:3) “Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” John confesses to those sent to him, and denies not, and he afterwards declares, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness;” but Christ, as having a greater testimony than John the Baptist, makes His answer by words and deeds, saying. “Go and tell John those things which ye do hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” On this passage I shall, if God permit, enlarge in its proper place. Here, however, it might be asked reasonably enough why John gives such an answer to the question put to him. The priests and levites do not ask him, “Art thou the Christ?” but “Who art thou?” and the Baptist’s reply to this question should have been, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” The proper reply to the question, “Art thou the Christ?” is, “I am not the Christ;” and to the question, “Who art thou?” – “The voice of one crying in the wilderness.” To this we may say that he probably discerned in the question of the priests and levites a cautious reverence, which led them to hint the idea in their minds that he who was baptizing might be the Christ, but withheld them from openly saying so, which might have been presumptuous. He quite naturally, therefore, proceeds in the first place to remove any false impressions they might have taken up about him, and declares publicly the true state of the matter, “I am not the Christ.” Their second question, and also their third, show that they had conceived some such surmise about him. They supposed that he might be that second in honour to whom their hopes pointed, namely, Elijah, who held with them the next position after Christ; and so when John had answered, “I am not the Christ,” they asked, “What then? Art thou Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” They wish to know, in the third place, if he is the prophet, and on his answer, “No,” they have no longer any name to give the personage whose advent they expected, and they say, “Who art thou, then, that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?” Their meaning is: “You are not, you say, any of those personages whose advent Israel hopes and expects, and who you are, to baptize as you do, we do not know; tell us, therefore, so that we may report to those who sent us to get light ripen this point.” We add, as it has some bearing on the context, that the people were moved by the thought that the period of Christ’s advent was near. It was in a manner imminent in the years from the birth of Jesus and a little before, down to the publication of the preaching. Hence it was, in all likelihood, that as the scribes and lawyers had deduced the time from Holy Scripture and were expecting the Coming One, the idea was taken up by Theudas, who came forward as the Messiah and brought together a considerable multitude, and after him by the famous Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing. (Act_5:36, Act_5:37) Thus the coming of the Messiah was more warmly expected and discussed, and it was natural enough for the Jews to send priests and levites from Jerusalem to John, to ask him, “Who art thou?” and learn if he professed to be the Christ.
7. Of the Birth of John, and of His Alleged Identity with Elijah. Of the Doctrine of Transcorporation.
“And (Joh_1:21) they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? and he said, I am not.” No one can fail to remember in this connection what Jesus says of John, (Mat_11:14) “If ye will receive it, this is Elijah which is to come.” How, then, does John come to say to those who ask him, “Art thou Elijah?” – “I am not.” And how can it be true at the same time that John is Elijah who is to come, according to the words of Malachi, (Mal_4:5, Mal_4:6) “And behold I send unto you Elijah the Tishbite, before the great and notable day of the Lord come, who shall restore the heart of the father to the son, and the heart of a man to his neighbour, lest I come, and utterly smite the earth.” The words of the angel of the Lord, too, who appeared to Zacharias, as he stood at the right hand of the altar of incense, are somewhat to the same effect as the prophecy of Malachi: “And (Luk_1:13) thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.” And a little further on: (Luk_1:17) “And he shall go before His face in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him.” As for the first point, one might say that John did not know that he was Elijah. This will be the explanation of those who find in our passage a support for their doctrine of transcorporation, as if the soul clothed itself in a fresh body and did not quite remember its former lives. These thinkers will also point out that some of the Jews assented to this doctrine when they spoke about the Saviour as if He was one of the old prophets, and had risen not from the tomb but from His birth. His mother Mary was well known, and Joseph the carpenter was supposed to be His father, and it could readily be supposed that He was one of the old prophets risen from the dead. The same person will adduce the text in Genesis. (Gen_7:4) “I will destroy the whole resurrection,” and will thereby reduce those who give themselves to finding in Scripture solutions of false probabilities to a great difficulty in respect of this doctrine. Another, however, a churchman, who repudiates the doctrine of transcorporation as a false one, and does not admit that the soul of John ever was Elijah, may appeal to the above-quoted words of the angel, and point out that it is not the soul of Elijah that is spoken of at John’s birth, but the spirit and power of Elijah. “He shall go before him,” it is said, “in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” Now it can be shown from thousands of texts that the spirit is a different thing from the soul, and that what is called the power is a different thing from both the soul and the spirit. On these points I cannot now enlarge; this work must not be unduly expanded. To establish the fact that power is different from spirit. it will be enough to cite the text, (Luk_1:35) “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” As for the spirits of the prophets, these are given to them by God, and are spoken of as being in a manner their property slaves, as “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” (1Co_14:32) and “The spirit of Elijah rested upon Elisha.” (2Ki_2:15) Thus, it is said, there is nothing absurd in supposing that John, “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” turned the hearts of the fathers to the children, and that it was on account of this spirit that he was called “Elijah who was to come.” And to reinforce this view it may be argued that if the God of the universe identified Himself with His saints to such an extent as to be called the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, much more might the Holy Spirit so identify Himself with the prophets as to be called their spirit, so that when the spirit is spoken of it might be the spirit of Elijah or the spirit of Isaiah. Our churchman, to go on with his views, may further say that those who supposed Jesus to be one of the prophets risen from the dead were probably misled, partly by the doctrine above mentioned, and partly by supposing Him to be one of the prophets, and that as for this misconception that He was one of the prophets, these persons probably fell into their error from not knowing about Jesus’ supposed father and actual mother, and considering that He had risen from the tombs. As for the text in Genesis about the resurrection, the churchman will rejoin with a text to an opposite effect, “God hath raised up for me another seed in place of Abel whom Cain slew;” (Gen_4:25) showing that the resurrection occurs in Genesis. As for the first difficulty which was raised, our churchman will meet the view of the believers in transcorporation by saying that John is no doubt, in a certain sense, as he has already shown, Elijah who is to come; and that the reason why he met the enquiry of the priests and levites with “I am not,” was that he divined the object they had in view in making it. For the enquiry laid before John by the priests and levites was not intended to bring out whether the same spirit was in both, but whether John was that very Elijah who was taken up, and who now appeared according to the expectation of the Jews without being born for the emissaries, perhaps, did not know about John’s birth; and to such all enquiry he naturally answered, “I am not;” for he who was called John was not Elijah who was taken up, and had not changed his body for his present appearance. Our first scholar, whose view of transcorporation we have seen based upon our passage, may go on with a close examination of the text, and urge against his antagonist, that if John was the son of such a man as the priest Zacharias, and if he was born when his parents were both aged, contrary to all human expectation, then it is not likely that so many Jews at Jerusalem would be so ignorant about him, or that the priests and levites whom they sent would not be acquainted with the facts of his birth. Does not Luke declare (Luk_1:65) that “fear came upon all those who lived round about,” – clearly round about Zacharias and Elisabeth – and that “all these things were noised abroad throughout the whole hill country of Judaea”? And if John’s birth from Zacharias was a matter of common knowledge, and the Jews of Jerusalem yet sent priests and levites to ask, “Art thou Elijah?” then it is clear that in saying this they assumed the doctrine of transcorporation to be true, and that it was a current doctrine of their country, and not foreign to their secret teaching. John therefore says, I am not Elijah, because he does not know about his own former life. These thinkers, accordingly, entertain an opinion which is by no means to be despised. Our churchman, however, may return to the charge, and ask if it is worthy of a prophet, who is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, who is predicted by Isaiah, and whose birth was foretold before it took place by so great an angel, one who has received of the fulness of Christ, who shares in such a grace, who knows truth to have come through Jesus Christ, and has taught such deep things about God and about the only-begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, is it worthy of such a one to lie, or even to hesitate, out of ignorance of what he was. For with respect to what was obscure, he ought to have refrained from confessing, and to have neither affirmed nor denied the proposition put before him. If the doctrine in question really was widely current, ought not John to have hesitated to pronounce upon it, lest his soul had actually been in Elijah? And here our churchman will appeal to history, and will bid his antagonists ask experts of the secret doctrines of the Hebrews, if they do really entertain such a belief. For if it should appear that they do not, then the argument based on that supposition is shown to be quite baseless. Our churchman, however, is still free to have recourse to the solution given before, and to insist that attention be paid to the meaning with which the question was put. For if, as I showed, the senders knew John to be the child of Zacharias and Elisabeth, and if the messengers still more, being men of priestly race, could not possibly be ignorant of the remarkable manner in which their kinsman Zacharias had received his son, then what could be the meaning of their question, “Art thou Elijah?” Had they not read that Elijah had been taken up into heaven, and did they not expect him to appear? Then, as they expect Elijah to come at the consummation before Christ, and Christ to follow him, perhaps their question was meant less in a literal than in a tropical sense: Are you he who announces beforehand the word which is to come before Christ, at the consummation? To this he very properly answers, “I am not.” The adversary, however, tries to show that the priests could not be ignorant that the birth of John had taken place in so remarkable a manner, because “all these things had been much spoken of in the hill country of Judaea;” and the churchman has to meet this. He does so by showing that a similar mistake was widely current about the Saviour Himself; for “some said that He was John the Baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Mat_16:13, Mat_16:14 So the disciples told the Lord when He was in the parts of Caesarea Philippi, and questioned them on that subject. And Herod, too, said, (Mar_6:16) “John whom I beheaded, he is risen from the dead;” so that he appears not to have known what was said about Christ, as reported in the Gospel, (Mat_13:55) “Is not this the son of the carpenter, is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?” Thus in the case of the Saviour, while many knew of His birth from Mary, others were under a mistake about Him; and so in the case of John, there is no wonder if, while some knew of his birth from Zacharias, others were in doubt whether the expected Elijah had appeared in him or not. There was not more room for doubt about John, whether he was Elijah, than about the Saviour, whether He was John. Of the two, the question of the outward form of Elijah could be disposed of from the words of Scripture, though not from actual observation, for we read, (2Ki_1:8) “He was a hairy man, and girt with a leather girdle about his loins.” John’s outward appearance, on the contrary, was well known, and was not like that of Jesus; and yet there were those who surmised that John had risen from the dead, and taken the name of Jesus. As for the change of name, a thing which reminds us of mysteries, I do not know how the Hebrews came to tell about Phinehas, son of Eleazar, who admittedly prolonged his life to the time of many of the judges, as we read in the Book of Judges, (Jdg_20:28) to tell about him what I now mention. They say that he was Elijah, because he had been promised immortality in Numbers (Num_25:12), on account of the covenant of peace granted to him because he was jealous with a divine jealousy, and in a passion of anger pierced the Midianitish woman and the Israelite, and stayed the wrath of God as it is called, as it is written, “Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them.” No wonder, then, if those who conceived Phinehas and Elijah to be the same person, whether they judged soundly in this or not, for that is not now the question, considered John and Jesus also to be the same. This, then, they doubted, and desired to know if John and Elijah were the same. At another time than this, the point would certainly call for a careful enquiry, and the argument would have to be well weighed as to the essence of the soul, as to the principle of her composition, and as to her entering into this body of earth. We should also have to enquire into the distributions of the life of each soul, and as to her departure from this life, and whether it is possible for her to enter into a second life in a body or not, and whether that takes place at the same period, and after the same arrangement in each case, or not; and whether she enters the same body, or a different one, and if the same, whether the subject remains the same while the qualities are changed, or if both subject and qualities remain the same, and if the soul will always make use of the same body or will change it. Along with these questions, it would also be necessary to ask what transcorporation is, and how it differs from incorporation, and if he who holds transcorporation must necessarily hold the world to be eternal. The views of these scholars must also be taken into account, who consider that, according to the Scriptures, the soul is sown along with the body, and the consequences of such a view must also be looked at. In fact the subject of the soul is a wide one, and hard to be unravelled, and it has to be picked out of scattered expressions of Scripture. It requires, therefore, separate treatment. The brief consideration we have been led to give to the problem in connection with Elijah and John may now suffice; we go on to what follows in the Gospel.
8. John Is a Prophet, But Not the Prophet.
“Art thou that prophet? And he answered No.” (Joh_1:21) If the law and the prophets were until John, Luk_16:16 what can we say that John was but a prophet? His father Zacharias, indeed, says, filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesying, Luk_1:76 “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the Lord to prepare His ways.” One might indeed get past this passage by laying stress on the word called: he is to be called, he is not said to be, a prophet. And still more weighty is it that the Saviour said to those who considered John to be a prophet, (Mat_11:9) “But what went ye out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.” The words, Yea, I say unto you, manifestly affirm that John is a prophet, and that is nowhere denied afterwards. If, then, he is said by the Saviour to be not only a prophet but “more than a prophet,” how is it that when the priests and levites come and ask him, “Art thou the Prophet?” he answers No! On this we must remark that it is not the same thing to say, “Art thou the Prophet?” and “Art thou a prophet?” The distinction between the two expressions has already been observed, when we asked what was the difference between the God and God, and between the Logos and Logos.48 Now it is written in Deuteronomy, (Deu_18:15 sq.) “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like me; Him shall ye hear, and it shall be that every soul that will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among His people,” There was, therefore, an expectation of one particular prophet having a resemblance to Moses in mediating between God and the people and receiving a new covenant from God to give to those who accepted his teaching; and in the case of each of the prophets, the people of Israel recognized that he was not the person of whom Moses spoke. As, then, they doubted about John, whether he were not the Christ, (Luk_3:15) so they doubted whether he could not be the prophet. And there is no wonder that those who doubted about John whether he were the Christ, did not understand that the Christ and the prophet are the same person; their doubt as to John necessarily implied that they were not clear on this point. Now the difference between “the prophet” and “a prophet” has escaped the observation of most students; this is the case with Heracleon, who says, in these very words: “As, then, John confessed that he was not the Christ, and not even a prophet, nor Elijah.” If he interpreted the words before us in such a way, he ought to have examined the various passages to see whether in saying that he is not a prophet nor Elijah he is or is not saying what is true. He devotes no attention, however, to these passages, and in his remaining commentaries he passes over such points without any enquiry. In the sequel, too, his remarks, of which we shall have to speak directly, are very scanty, and do not testify to careful study.
“They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?” This speech of the emissaries amounts to the following: We had a surmise what you were and came to learn if it was so, but now we know that you are not that. It remains for us, therefore, to hear your account of yourself, so that we may report your answer to those who sent us.
46 Lommatszch omits οὐ before ὴκριβωκότα, but it is necessary to the sense.
48 See page 321.