John 1:8
He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
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(8) He was not that Light, but was sent.—It is necessary to repeat the statement of John’s position and work in an emphatic form. Now first for 400 years a great teacher had appeared in Israel. The events of his birth and life had excited the attention of the masses; his bold message, like the cry of another Elias, found its way in burning words to the slumbering hearts of men; and even from the least likely classes, from Pharisee and Sadducee, from publican and soldier, there came the heart’s question, “What shall we do?” The extent of the religious revival does not impress us, because it passed into the greater which followed, but the statement of a publican living at the time is that “Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan, went out to Him, and were baptized of Him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6). But what was this power in their midst? Who could be the person uttering these more than human words? A comparison of John 1:19-20 in this chapter with Luke 3:15 shows a widespread opinion that he was at least possibly the Messiah. He himself with true greatness recognised the greater, but as in many a like case in after days, the followers had not all the leader’s nobility of soul. We shall meet signs of this in John 3:26; John 4:1. We find traces of it in Matthew 9:14, &c. (see Note at this place), and even in Ephesus, as late as St. Paul’s third missionary journey, we find “certain disciples” knowing nothing more than “John’s baptism” (Acts 19:1-6). It was at Ephesus that this Gospel was written and the existence of a body of such “disciples” may have led to the full statement in this verse made by one who had himself been among the Baptist’s earliest followers.

It was otherwise with the disciple who wrote these words. He is content to claim for his master as for himself the noblest human work, “to bear witness of that Light.” No one may add to it; all may, in word and life, bear witness to it. Every discovery in science and advance in truth is a removal of some cloud which hides it from men; every noble character is bearing it about; every conquest of sin is extending it. It has been stored in mines of deepest thought in all ages. The heedless pass over the surface unconscious of it. The world’s benefactors are they who bring it forth to men as the light and warmth of the rays of the Sun of Righteousness. (Comp. John 5:35, and Note there.)




John 1:8
. - John 5:35.

My two texts both refer to John the Baptist. One of them is the Evangelist’s account of him, the other is our Lord’s eulogium upon him. The latter of my texts, as the Revised Version shows, would be more properly rendered, ‘He was a lamp’ rather than ‘He was a light,’ and the contrast between the two words, the ‘light’ and ‘the lamps,’ is my theme. I gather all that I would desire to say into three points: ‘that Light’ and its witnesses; the underived Light and the kindled lamps; the undying Light and the lamps that go out.

I. First of all, then, the contrast suggested to us is between ‘that Light’ and its witnesses.

John, in that profound prologue which is the deepest part of Scripture, and lays firm and broad in the depths the foundation-stones of a reasonable faith, draws the contrast between ‘that Light’ and them whose business it was to bear witness to it. As for the former, I cannot here venture to dilate upon the great, and to me absolutely satisfying and fundamental, thoughts that lie in these eighteen first verses of this Gospel. ‘The Word was with God,’ and that Word was the Agent of Creation, the Fountain of Life, the Source of the Light which is inseparable from all human life. John goes back, with the simplicity of a child’s speech, which yet is deeper than all philosophies, to a Beginning, far anterior to ‘the Beginning’ of which Genesis speaks, and declares that before creation that Light shone; and he looks out over the whole world, and declares, that before and beyond the limits of the historical manifestation of the Word in the flesh, its beams spread over the whole race of man. But they are all focussed, if I may so speak, and gathered to a point which burns as well as illuminates, in the historical manifestation of Jesus Christ in the flesh. ‘That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.’

Next, he turns to the highest honour and the most imperative duty laid, not only upon mighty men and officials, but upon all on whose happy eyeballs this Light has shone, and into whose darkened hearts the joy and peace and purity of it have flowed, and he says, ‘He was sent’-and they are sent-’to bear witness of that Light.’ It is the noblest function that a man can discharge. It is a function that is discharged by the very existence through the ages of a community which, generation after generation, subsists, and generation after generation manifests in varying degrees of brightness, and with various modifications of tint, the same light. There is the family character in all true Christians, with whatever diversities of idiosyncrasies, and national life or ecclesiastical distinctions. Whether it be Francis of Assisi or John Wesley, whether it be Thomas a Kempis or George Fox, the light is one that shines through these many-coloured panes of glass, and the living Church is the witness of a living Lord, not only before it, and behind it, and above it, but living in it. They are ‘light’ because they are irradiated by Him. They are ‘light’ because they are ‘in the Lord.’ But not only by the fact of the existence of such a community is the witness-bearing effected, but it comes as a personal obligation, with immense weight of pressure and immense possibilities of joy in the discharge of it, to every Christian man and woman.

What, then, is the witness that we all are bound to bear, and shall bear if we are true to our obligations and to our Lord? Mainly, dear brethren, the witness of experience. That a Christian man shall be able to stand up and say, ‘I know this because I live it, and I testify to Jesus Christ because I for myself have found Him to be the life of my life, the Light of all my seeing, the joy of my heart, my home, and my anchorage’-that is the witness that is impregnable. And there is no better sign of the trend of Christian thought to-day than the fact that the testimony of experience is more and more coming to be recognised by thoughtful men and writers as being the sovereign attestation of the reality of the Light. ‘I see’; that is the proof that light has touched my eyeballs. And when a man can contrast, as some of us can, our present vision with our erstwhile darkness, then the evidence, like that of the sturdy blind man in the Gospels, who had nothing to say in reply to the subtleties and Rabbinical traps and puzzles but only ‘I was blind; now I see’-his experience is likely to have the effect that it had in another miracle of healing: ‘Beholding the man which was healed standing amongst them, they could say nothing against it.’ I should think they could not.

But there is one thing that will always characterise the true witnesses to that Light, and that is self-suppression. Remember the beautiful, immovable humility of the Baptist about whom these texts were spoken: ‘What sayest thou of thyself?’ ‘I am a Voice,’ that is all. ‘Art thou that Prophet?’ ‘No!’ ‘Art thou the Christ?’ ‘No! I am nothing but a Voice.’ And remember how, when John’s disciples tried to light the infernal fires of jealousy in his quiet heart by saying, ‘He whom thou didst baptise, and to whom thou didst give witness’-He whom thou didst start on His career-’is baptising,’ poaching upon thy preserves, ‘and all men come unto Him,’ the only answer that he gave was, ‘The friend of the Bridegroom’-who stands by in a quiet, dark corner-’rejoices greatly because of the Bridegroom’s voice.’ Keep yourself out of sight, Christian teachers and preachers; put Christ in the front, and hide behind Him.

II. Now let me ask you to look at the other contrast that is suggested by our other text. The underived light and the kindled lamps.

It is possible to read the words of that second text thus-’He was a lamp kindled and {therefore} shining.’ But whether that be the meaning, or whether the usual rendering is correct, the emblem itself carries the same thought, for a lamp must be lit by contact with a light, and must be fed with oil, if its flame is to be sustained. And so the very metaphor-whatever the force of the ambiguous word-in its eloquent contrast between the Light and the lamp, suggests this thought, that the one is underived, self-fed, and therefore undying, and that the other owes all its flame to the touch of that uncreated Light, and burns brightly only on condition of its keeping up the contact with Him, and being fed continually from His stores of radiance.

I need not say more than a word with regard to the former member of that contrast suggested here. That unlit Light derives its brilliancy, according to the Scriptural teaching, from nothing but its divine union with the Father. So that long before there were eyes to see, there was the eradiation and outshining of the Father’s glory. I do not enter into these depths, but this I would say, that what is called the ‘originality’ of Jesus is only explained when we reverently see in that unique life the shining through a pure humanity, as through a sheet of alabaster, of that underived, divine Light. Jesus is an insoluble problem to men who will not see in Him the Eternal Light which ‘in the beginning was with God.’ You find in Him no trace of gradual acquisition of knowledge, or of arguing or feeling His way to His beliefs. You find in Him no trace of consciousness of a great horizon of darkness encompassing the region where He sees light. You find in Him no trace of a recognition of other sources from which He has drawn any portion of His light. You find in Him the distinct declaration that His relation to truth is not the relation of men who learn, and grow, and acquire, and know in part; for, says He, ‘I am the Truth.’ He stands apart from us all, and above us all, in that He owes His radiance to none, and can dispense it to every man. The question which the puzzled Jews asked about Him, ‘How knoweth this Man letters, having never learned?’ may be widened out to all the characteristics of His human life. To me the only answer is: ‘Thou art the King of glory, O Christ! Thou art the Everlasting Son of the Father.’

Dependent on Him are the little lights which He has lit, and in the midst of which He walks. Union with Jesus Christ-’that Light’-is the condition of all human light. That is true over all regions, as I believe. ‘The inspiration of the Almighty giveth understanding.’ The candle of the Lord shines in every man, and ‘that true Light lighteth every man that cometh into the world.’ Thinker, student, scientist, poet, author, practical man-all of them are lit from the uncreated Source, and all of them, if they understand their own nature, would say, ‘In Thy light do we see Light.’

But especially is this great thought true and exemplified within the limits of the Christian life. For the Christian to be touched with Christ’s Promethean finger is to flame into light. And the condition of continuing to shine is to continue the contact which first illuminated. A break in the contact, of a finger’s breadth, is as effectual as one of a mile. Let Christian men and women, if they would shine, remember, ‘Ye are light in the Lord’; and if we stray, and get without the circle of the Light, we pass into darkness, and ourselves cease to shine.

Brethren, it is threadbare truth, that the condition of Christian vitality and radiance is close and unbroken contact with Jesus Christ, the Source of all light. Threadbare; but if we lived as if we believed it, the Church would be revolutionised and the world illuminated; and many a smoking wick would flash up into a blazing torch. Let Christian people remember that the words of my text define no special privilege or duty of any official or man of special endowments, but that to all of us has been said, ‘Ye are My witnesses,’ and to all of us is offered the possibility of being ‘burning and shining lights’ if we keep ourselves close to that Light.

III. Lastly, the second of my texts suggests-the contrast between the Undying Light and the lamps that go out.

‘For a season ye were willing to rejoice in His light.’ There is nothing in the present condition of the civilised and educated world more remarkable and more difficult for some people to explain than the contrast between the relation which Jesus Christ bears to the present age, and the relation which all other great names in the past-philosophers, poets, guides of men-bear to it. There is nothing in the world the least like the vividness, the freshness, the closeness, of the personal relation which thousands and thousands of people, with common sense in their heads, bear to that Man who died nineteen hundred years ago. All others pass, sooner or later, into the darkness. Thickening mists of oblivion, fold by fold, gather round the brightest names. But here is Jesus Christ, whom all classes of thinkers and social reformers have to reckon with to-day, who is a living power amongst the trivialities of the passing moment, and in whose words and in the teaching of whose life serious men feel that there lie undeveloped yet, and certainly not yet put into practice, principles which are destined to revolutionise society and change the world. And how does that come?

I am not going to enter upon that question; I only ask you to think of the contrast between His position, in this generation, to communities and individuals, and the position of all other great names which lie in the past. Why, it does not take more than a lifetime such as mine, for instance, to remember how the great lights that shone seventy years ago in English thinking and in English literature, have for the most part gone out, and what we young men thought to be bright particular stars, this new generation pooh-poohs as mere exhalations from the marsh or twinkling and uncertain tapers, and you will find their books in the twopenny-box at the bookseller’s door. A cynical diplomatist, in one of our modern dramas, sums it up, after seeing the death of a revolutionary, ‘I have known eight leaders of revolts.’ And some of us could say, ‘We have known about as many guides of men who have been forgotten and passed away.’ ‘His Name shall endure for ever. His name shall continue as long as the sun, and men shall be blessed in Him; all generations shall call Him blessed.’ Even Shelley had the prophecy forced from him-

‘The moon of Mahomet

Arose and it shall set,

While blazoned as on heaven’s eternal noon,

The Cross leads generations on.’

We may sum up the contrast between the undying Light and the lamps that go out in the old words: ‘They truly were many, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death, but this Man, because He continueth ever . . . is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God through Him.’

So, brethren, when lamps are quenched, let us look to the Light. When our own lives are darkened because our household light is taken from its candlestick, let us lift up our hearts and hopes to Him that abideth for ever. Do not let us fall into the folly, and commit the sin, of putting our heart’s affections, our spirit’s trust, upon any that can pass and that must change. We need a Person whom we can clasp, and who never will glide from our hold. We need a Light uncreated, self-fed, eternal. ‘Whilst ye have the Light, believe in the Light, that ye may be the children of light.’

1:6-14 John the Baptist came to bear witness concerning Jesus. Nothing more fully shows the darkness of men's minds, than that when the Light had appeared, there needed a witness to call attention to it. Christ was the true Light; that great Light which deserves to be called so. By his Spirit and grace he enlightens all that are enlightened to salvation; and those that are not enlightened by him, perish in darkness. Christ was in the world when he took our nature upon him, and dwelt among us. The Son of the Highest was here in this lower world. He was in the world, but not of it. He came to save a lost world, because it was a world of his own making. Yet the world knew him not. When he comes as a Judge, the world shall know him. Many say that they are Christ's own, yet do not receive him, because they will not part with their sins, nor have him to reign over them. All the children of God are born again. This new birth is through the word of God as the means, 1Pe 1:23, and by the Spirit of God as the Author. By his Divine presence Christ always was in the world. But now that the fulness of time was come, he was, after another manner, God manifested in the flesh. But observe the beams of his Divine glory, which darted through this veil of flesh. Men discover their weaknesses to those most familiar with them, but it was not so with Christ; those most intimate with him saw most of his glory. Although he was in the form of a servant, as to outward circumstances, yet, in respect of graces, his form was like the Son of God His Divine glory appeared in the holiness of his doctrine, and in his miracles. He was full of grace, fully acceptable to his Father, therefore qualified to plead for us; and full of truth, fully aware of the things he was to reveal.For a witness - To give testimony. He came to prepare the minds of the people to receive him Matthew 3; Luke 3; to lead them by repentance to God; and to point out the Messiah to Israel when he came, John 1:31.

Of the Light - That is, of the Messiah. Compare Isaiah 60:1.

That all men ... - It was the object of John's testimony that all people might believe. He designed to prepare them for it; to announce that the Messiah was about to come, to direct the minds of men to him, and thus to prepare them to believe on him when he came. Thus, he baptized them, saying "That they should believe on him who should come after him" Acts 19:4, and thus he produced a very general expectation that the Messiah was about to come. The testimony of John was especially valuable on the following accounts:

1. It was made when he had no personal acquaintance with Jesus of Nazareth, and of course there could have been no collusion or agreement to deceive them, John 1:31.

2. It was sufficiently long before he came to excite general attention, and to fix the mind on it.

3. It was that of a man acknowledged by all to be a prophet of God - "for all men held John to be a prophet," Matthew 21:26.

4. It was "for the express purpose" of declaring beforehand that he was about to appear.

5. It was "disinterested."

He was himself extremely popular. Many were disposed to receive him as the Messiah. It was evidently in his "power" to form a large party, and to be regarded extensively as the Christ. This was the highest honor to which a Jew could aspire; and it shows the value of John's testimony, that he was willing to lay all his honors at the feet of Jesus, and to acknowledge that he was unworthy to perform for him the office of the humblest servant, Matthew 3:11.

Through him - Through John, or by means of his testimony.

Was not that Light - Was not "the Messiah." This is an explicit declaration designed to satisfy the disciples of John. The evidence that he was not the Messiah he states in the following verses.

From the conduct of John here we may learn,

1. The duty of laying all our honors at the feet of Jesus.

2. As John came that all might believe, so it is no less true of the ministry of Jesus himself. He came for a similar purpose, and we may all, therefore, trust in him for salvation.


8. not that Light—(See on [1755]Joh 5:35). What a testimony to John to have to explain that "he was not that Light!" Yet was he but a foil to set it off, his night-taper dwindling before the Dayspring from on high (Joh 3:30). He was not that Light: John the Baptist was a light, as all saints are light in the Lord, Ephesians 5:8; nay, in a peculiar sense our Saviour beareth him witness, that he was a burning and shining light; but he was not that Light before mentioned, John 1:5, that shineth in darkness; and again John 1:9 which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. John borrowed his light from that original Light; that Light was God, he was but a man sent from God. The men of the world are ordinarily in extremes, either wholly rejecting God’s ministers and witnesses, or else adoring them; as the world is concerned to take heed of the former, so the ministers of Christ are also highly concerned not to admit the latter. See Luke 7:33 Acts 14:13,14; but both John here, and Paul there, were very cautious not to rob their Master of the honour due unto him alone.

But was sent to bear witness of that Light: John, as was said before, came only to bear witness of that Light, that he was come, and shined forth, and was the true Light, as it followeth.

He was not that light,.... He was a light; he was the forerunner of the sun of righteousness, the "phosphorus" of the Gospel day; he had great light in him; he knew that the Messiah was ready to come, and declared it; and upon his baptism he knew him personally, and signified him to others: he had great light into the person and work of Christ; and into the way of salvation by him, and remission of sins through him; into the doctrines of faith in Christ, and of evangelical repentance towards God; and into the abolition of the legal Mosaic and Jewish dispensation; and was an instrument of giving light to others; yea, he was a burning and shining light, in whose light the Jews rejoiced, at least for a season: but then he was not that light, the word and wisdom of God; that uncreated light that dwelt with him from all eternity; nor that which was the light of men, from the creation; nor that light, which was of old promised to the saints and patriarchs of the Old Testament, and shone in the ordinances and predictions of that state; nor that fountain and giver of light, of every sort, to men; not that light in which is no darkness, and always shines; not that true light, or sun of righteousness, the Messiah, or that lightens every man that comes into the world:

but was sent to bear witness of that light; which is repeated, to distinguish him from that light; to show what he was sent for, and that he acted according to his mission; and to express the honourableness to his work.

He was not {o} that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

(o) That light which we spoke of, that is, Christ, who alone can enlighten our darkness.

John 1:8. ἦν is emphatic, and is therefore placed in the front: he was not the Light, but he was to bear witness of the Light; and hence, in the second clause, μαρτυρήσῃ emphatically takes the lead. The object of making this antithesis prominent is not controversy, nor has it the slightest reference to the disciples of John (see the Introduction), but to point out[80] the true position of the Baptist in face of the historical fact, that when he first appeared, men took him for the Messiah Himself (comp. John 1:20; Luke 3:15), so that his witnessshall appear in its proper historical aspect. Comp. Cyril.

ἀλλʼ ἵνα, κ.τ.λ.] From what precedes, we must understand ἦλθεν before ἵνα; a rapid hastening away to the main thought (comp. John 9:3, John 13:18, John 15:25; 1 John 2:19; Fritzsche, ad Matt. 840 f.; Winer, p. 297 [E. T. p. 398]); not imperative (De Wette), nor dependent upon ἦν (Lücke, Lange, Godet): not the latter, because εἶναι, ἵνα (instead of εἰς τό), even if it were linguistically possible, is here untenable on account of the emphasis placed upon the ἦν; while to take ἦν in the sense of aderat, as again understood before ἵνα (Godet), would be more forced and arbitrary than to supply ἦλθεν from John 1:7.

[80] Not: to bring more fully to light the greatness of Christ, through the subordination to Him of the greatest men and prophets, as Hengstenb. asserts. In this case John ought to have been described according to his own greatness and rank, and not simply as in ver. 6.

John 1:8. οὐκ ἦν ἐκεῖνοςφωτός, the thought of the previous verse is here put in a negative form for the sake of emphasis; and with the same object οὐκ ἦν is made prominent that it may contrast with the ἵνα μαρτυρήση. He (or, that man) was not the light, but he appeared that he might bear witness regarding the light. Why say this of John? Was there any danger that he should be mistaken for the light? Some did think he was the Christ. See John 1:19-20.

8. not that Light] Better, not the Light. The Baptist was not the Light, but ‘the lamp that is lighted and shineth’ (see on John 5:35). He was lumen illuminatum, not lumen illuminans. At the close of the first century it was still necessary for S. John to insist on this. At Ephesus, where this Gospel was written, S. Paul in his third missionary journey had found disciples still resting in ‘John’s baptism,’ Acts 19:1-6. ‘By lamp-light we may advance to the day’ (Augustine).

but was sent to ‘was sent’ is not in the Greek. ‘But (in order) that’ is an elliptical phrase occurring several times in this Gospel. It calls attention to the Divine purpose. Comp. John 9:3, John 13:18, John 14:31, John 15:25.

John 1:8. Ἐκεῖνος, That One) Some had suspected, that John was the Light: ἐκεῖνος, that One points out a more remote object.

Verse 8. - A solemn warning is given, which forever discriminates the ministry of man from the eternal ministry of the Logos. He (John, and with him all the prophetic, Levitical, ascetic teachers in all ages) was not the Light, but [he was or came] that he might bear witness of the Light. The ἵνα depends upon some unexpressed verbal thought; for even in the passages where it stands alone (John 9:3; John 13:18; John 14:31; John 15:25) the reference is not obscure to some pre-existing or involved verb. The distinction here drawn between John and the Light is thought by some expositors to point to the condition of the Ephesian Church, in the neighbourhood of which there still lingered some who placed John in even a higher position than that accorded to Jesus (Acts 19:3, 4); but the teaching of the evangelist is far more comprehensive than this. The Light of men has higher source and wider range of operation than that of any prophetic man. All that he, that any seer whatsoever can do, is to bear witness to it. The prophets, from Moses to John, derived all their power, their sanction, and the corroboration of their message, from the Logos light shining through conscience and blazing through providential events and burning up the stubble of human action with unquenchable fire. The prophets are not the light of God; they are sent to bear witness to it. John 1:8He (ἐκεῖνος)

Emphatic, "It was not he who was the light." Compare John 2:21, "He (ἐκεῖνος) spake," bringing out the difference between Jesus' conception of destroying and rebuilding the temple, and that of his hearers.

That light (τὸ φῶς)

Rev., the light. The emphatic that of the A.V. is unnecessary.

Was sent

Rev., came. Neither in the original text. Literally, "He was not the light, but in order that (ἵνα) he might bear witness." So in John 9:3. "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but (he was born blind) that the works," etc. Compare John 15:25.

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