Addresses on the Gospel of John
H. A. Ironside
Like many of my other books of recent years, this volume consists of addresses, stenographically reported, which were delivered in the Moody Memorial Church of Chicago. While somewhat carefully edited, occasional repetitions will be found and a colloquial style will be apparent, which are almost unavoidable in a series given on Lord’s Days for a period of over a year’s duration and intended for the instruction, not of theologians or scholars, but the masses who attended the meetings in large numbers or listened by many thousands over the radio. They were broadcast over WMBI, the station of the Moody Bible Institute, which is wholly dedicated to the service of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In spite of their many imperfections, I trust they may be useful and blessed to many readers as now sent forth in this more permanent form.
The gospel of John has been well called “The greatest book in the world.” Its presentation of the Eternal Word who became flesh for our redemption has brought life and assurance to millions.
H. A. Ironside
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. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
In beginning a study of any of the Gospels it is a good thing to ask and try to answer the question, Why are there four Gospels and why do they seem to differ from one another? Our God surely could have inspired one of His servants to write a continuous record of what Jesus did and said. Men write books in that manner, but it did not please the Father to do this. Instead of that He has given us four distinct records, and men have tried, since the second century of the Christian era, to weave these into one, as in the so-called “Harmonies of the Gospels.” But often they find it difficult to fit everything together because of ignorance of chronology and many other things connected with the times and customs when Jesus was here. These records are each complete in themselves. They are divinely inspired, and although at times there seems to be evidence of conflicting testimony, it is simply because of our lack of knowledge of the facts.
In Matthew’s gospel we have no difficulty in seeing that the one outstanding object of the Holy Spirit was to present our Lord Jesus as the promised King and Messiah. Therefore, we sometimes call Matthew’s gospel the Jewish Gospel. I always like to guard that expression, however, because of the misuse to which it has been subjected. We do not mean that it has no message to Christians. We do not mean that we can afford to dispense with it, but we mean it is the gospel that was specially designed of God to present the life of the Lord Jesus Christ in such a way as to appeal to the Jewish mind, particularly that of the Jew who is interested in his Old Testament. I wish our modern Jews were more familiar with their Bible. If they were, it would be much easier to preach Christ to them. Unfortunately, through the centuries the Jew has given so much more attention to the Talmud than to the Bible that it is difficult to find an approach to his mind. But Matthew presupposes a knowledge of the Old Testament on the part of his readers, so all the way through we meet such expressions as, “That it might be fulfilled,” “As it was written” by so-and-so, and he gives us incident after incident in the life of Christ that was a direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew presents Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, and his outstanding message is, “Behold your King.”
Mark, on the other hand, seems to write from a different standpoint. He presents Jesus as the great Servant-Prophet, while in this world, doing the will of God. That accounts for the fact that in this book there is no genealogy given. The genealogies are in Matthew and in Luke, but we do not get any kind of genealogy in Mark. Why? Because you know when you advertise for a servant to work for you, you do not say, “Now let me ask, What is your genealogy? Are you descended from some famous character?” Not, “Who was your father?” but, “What can you do?” So in Mark’s gospel we have our blessed Lord accredited thus from the very beginning. He says, “Behold My Servant.”
When we turn to the gospel of Luke we see the Lord Jesus presented as the perfect Man—the only perfect Man who walked this earth. So you have the Lord Jesus entering into all kinds of circumstances. On several occasions you have Him seated at the dinner table. I do not know of any place where a man can be drawn out better than at the dinner table. If you want to draw a man out, just set him down to a good dinner and start him talking! I have read many biographies of Martin Luther, but I never really knew him until after I got hold of Luther’s Table Talks. So a great deal of Luke’s gospel is made up of the “table talk” of our Lord Jesus Christ. He says, “Behold the Man”—the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
Now when we turn to the gospel of John, we see the open heavens and the Eternal Son descending from above, taking His place in the womb of the Virgin— God and Man in one blessed, glorious person—the Eternal Son manifest in the flesh. John says, “Behold your God.” His gospel was written to establish the truth of the Divinity and Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the first twelve chapters we have the divine Son presented to the world and in the character in which He could appeal to a world of sinners. We shall note these various characteristics as we go on with our study.
Beginning with chapter 13 and going on to the end, we have the revelation of our Lord Jesus as the Son, to His own beloved people, as He who keeps their feet free from defilement. This is a marvelous unfolding of His advocacy and the glorious truth of His care for His people during this age. Then we have the promise of His coming again in glory at the end of the dispensation, and the coming of the Comforter, who will guide into all truth.
John’s gospel, then, is emphatically that of the Deity of our blessed Lord. It presents Him as the Eternal Word, who in grace became flesh for our redemption. There is no human genealogy as in Matthew and in Luke, but we are carried back immediately into the past eternity. “In the beginning” here antedates the same expression in Genesis 1:1. There it is the beginning of creation, but here long before creation began we see the Son in the bosom of the Father. When everything that ever had beginning began to be, the Word was. Notice seven things that are brought before us.
- Our Lord’s eternity of being: “In the beginning was the Word” (v. 1a).
- His distinct personality: “The Word was with God” (v. 1b).
- His true deity: “The Word was God” (v. 1c).
- His unchanging relationship: “The same was in the beginning” (v. 2).
- His full creatorial glory: “All things were made by him” (v. 3).
- His life-giving power: “In him was life” (v. 4).
- His incarnation: “The Word [became] flesh” (v. 14).
Let us follow these seven points thoughtfully. First, we note His Eternity of Being. Unitarianism of every kind is ruled out here. The Word never had a beginning. The Son is as truly eternal as the Father. To teach otherwise is to deny the very foundations of our faith. He could not have beginning, for He Himself is “the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13).
But it is not merely that He was eternally in the Godhead. Scripture is equally insistent regarding His distinct personality. This is implied in the expression “The Word was with God.” We are told of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:27, “When He prepared the heavens, I was there.” And again in verse 30, “I was by him, as one brought up with him.” The Eternal Wisdom and the Eternal Word are one and the same. Throughout all the ages of the past Christ was a distinct personality in the Godhead. There was communion between the Father and the Son.
But this does not imply the inferiority of the Son. Full Deity was His: “The Word was God.” Just as truly as the Father was God and the Holy Spirit was God, so the Word was God. More than this could not be said.
The next sentence might seem to be almost a repetition: “The same was in the beginning with God.” But it really adds to what has already been put before us. It tells us of His unchanging personality. He was the same from all eternity; that is, He was the Eternal Son. He did not become the Son when He was born into the world, but “The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour” (1 John 4:14). He did not become the Son after He was sent, He was the Son from the beginning.
Creation is attributed to each person of the Godhead. Here particularly it is stated, “All things were made by him.” Elsewhere we read, “The [Lord] that by wisdom made the heavens” (Ps. 136:5). Elohim, the triune God, created the heavens and the earth. The Father planned, the Word was the agent, and the Spirit was the executor of the divine counsels, and just as it is the Word who produced the first creation, so it is He who is “the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14). This does not mean that He was the first being God created, but rather it is He who produces the creation of God, that is, the new creation to which all believers belong.
Apart from Him there is no life. He is the fountain of life, and that includes both natural and spiritual life. All natural life comes from Him, and concerning spiritual life it is written, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). That life was seen in all its perfection in Him as Man on earth. “The life was the light of men.” As He moved about in this scene, He cast light on every man, showing things up as God Himself sees them.
This brings us to the seventh point—His incarnation. “The Word [became] flesh.” “Became” here is better than “was made.” Strictly speaking, He was never “made” anything, but in lowly grace He became flesh in order that He might reveal the Father to man and redeem man to God.
The gospel of John is devoted to this double theme. As we peruse its sacred pages we see the Eternal Word, having become flesh, moving about among men, glorifying the Father in all His perfect ways, telling out the mind of God completely, and at last giving Himself as a ransom on the cross in order that men may be redeemed to God and share His glory for all the eternity to come.
It is well-known that the “Word” translates the Greek word Logos. This was a term already well-known to thinking people when our Lord appeared on earth. Everywhere in the Greek-speaking world the writings of Plato were circulated. He had spoken of the insolubility of many mysteries, but had expressed the hope that some day there would come forth a “Word” (Logos) from God that would make everything clear. John might even have had this in mind when, directed by the Holy Spirit, he penned the wonderful sentences with which this gospel begins. It is as though God is saying: The “Word” has now been spoken. In Christ the mind of God is fully revealed. He who hears Him hears God, for “in [Him] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
As we glance down the chapter we notice with adoring hearts the many and varied titles and expressions that are used concerning Him. He is “The Christ,” the Anointed One, Israel’s Messiah. John the Baptist points Him out as “The Lamb of God,” the Sin-Bearer, and he also declares Him to be “The Son of God.” The disciples own Him as “Master.” Philip is certain that in Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, as he at that time understood Him to be, he has found the One “of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write” (v. 45). Nathanael also recognizes Him as “the Son of God” and proclaims Him “The King of Israel.” Jesus Himself uses the expression that in the days to follow was so commonly on His lips, “The Son of Man,” and He shows us that this Son of Man is like Jacob’s ladder, the connecting link between earth and heaven upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend.
As we go through this gospel we see Him presented in every possible way that the Spirit of God could portray Him and that the human mind, enlightened by divine grace, could understand.