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The context, and circumstances, and other collateral evidences must at length decide it. I shall first inquire,
1. What kind of idea, or notion, Scripture and Christian antiquity give us of one that is truly and really God. And
2. Shall consider what reasons we have to believe that St. John here calls the Aóyos, or WORD, God, in the same sense, or in conformity to that idea.
I. I shall inquire what kind of idea, or notion, Scripture and Christian antiquity give us of one that is really and truly God. If we trace this matter through the Old Testament, we shall find that the Scripture-notion of a Person that is truly God, and should be received as such, includes in it power and might irresistible; perfect knowledge and consummate wisdoms, eternity, immutability", and omnipresence x; creative powers; supremacy, independence, and necessary existence z. These are the distinguishing characters under which God was pleased to make himself known: and it is upon these accounts that he, in opposition to all other Gods, claims to be received and honoured as God. These therefore are what make up the Scripture-idea of a Person who is truly, really, and strictly God. And if Scripture has thus informed us what properties, attributes, and perfections, must be supposed to meet in one that is truly and properly God, our own reason must tell us, that these attributes, &c. must have a subject, and this subject we call substance: and therefore the Scripture-notion of God, is that of an eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, almighty substance. If it be pretended that these are the characters of a supreme
r Deut. iii. 24. vii. 19. x. 17. xxxii. 39. 1 Chron. xxix. 11. Job ix. 4. xii. 16. xlii. 2. Isa. xxvi. 4. xlii. 5.
• Job xxxvi. 4. xxxvii. 16. Dan. ii. 20.
Psal. xciii. 2. Job xxxvi. 26. Gen. xxi. 33. Deut. xxxiii. 27. Isa. lvii. 15, " Mal. iii. 6.
* Deut. iv. 7. Psal. cxxxix. 7, &c. Jer. xxiii. 23, 24.
y 2 Kings xix. 15. Job xxvi. xxxviii. Psal. viii. 4. Isa. xlv. 7, 18. Jer. x.
Exod. iii. 14.
God only, and not of every Person that is true God; I answer that supremacy (negatively a considered in opposition to any superior nature) is one of the characters belonging to any Person that is truly God, as much as omnipotence, omniscience, or any other; and consequently he is not truly God, in the Scripture-notion of God, who is not supreme God. This is the Scripture-notion of one that is truly God; and thus it stood when St. John wrote his Gospel.
Let us next inquire, whether the same notion obtained in the Christian Church after St. John wrote.
Justin Martyr, a very early and excellent writer, within forty or fifty years of St. John, observes, that b God alone is necessarily existing and immutable, (or incorruptible,) and that for this very reason he is God; thereby intimating that without such perfections he could not be God.
Irenæus, another early and judicious writer, almost contemporary with Justin, expresses himself more fully and clearly upon the same head; observing that no Person that has any superior can be justly called God; nor any thing that has been created, or ever began to exist. The same Irenæus has a whole d chapter to prove that the Old Testament, or New, never gave the title of God, absolutely and definitively, to any one that is not truly God.
a I say, negatively; because positive supremacy over others could not commence till the creation.
υ Μόνος γὰρ ἀγέννητος καὶ ἄφθαρτος Θεὸς, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο Θεός ἐςι. Justin. Dial. p. 21. Jebb.
e Qui enim super se habet aliquem superiorem, hic neque Deus neque rex magnus dici potest. Lib. iv. cap. ii. p. 229.
Quæcunque autem initium sumpserunt, et dissolutionem possunt percipere, et subjecta sunt, et indigent ejus qui se fecit, necesse est omnimodo uti differens vocabulum habeant apud eos etiam, qui vel modicum sensum in discernendo talia habent: ita ut is quidem qui omnia fecerit cum verbo suo, juste dicatur Deus et Dominus solus; quæ autem facta sunt, non jam ejusdem vocabuli participabilia esse, neque juste id vocabulum sumere debere, quod est Creatoris. Iren. lib. iii. cap. viii. p. 183.
d Lib. iii. cap. 6.
Tertullian (in the beginning of the third century, or sooner, within a hundred years, or very nearly, of St. John) observes, that the word e God does not, like Lord, signify dominion or power only, but substance; that none but the eternal uncreated substance can justly be called God; that an inferior God is a contradiction in terms.
These testimonies are sufficient to show (without adding any more) how the word God was taken and generally understood by the Christian Church, soon after the Apostle's time; and therefore very probably, in the Apostle's time also. Now let us proceed to consider
II. What reasons we have to believe that St. John, in his first chapter, calls the WORD God, in the same sense, in conformity to that idea which Scripture hath given us of one that is truly God; and which the primitive writers also appear plainly to have embraced.
1. This alone is a strong presumption, in favour of our interpretation, that the Scriptures before, and the Christian Church after, espouse this notion. Would St. John have called the WORD, God, in the manner that he does, without guard or caution, had he not intended it in the strict sense, which Scripture itself so much favours, and in which the generality, at least, would be most apt to take it? Had he meant it in a lower sense, it might have been very proper to have inserted a qualifying clause to prevent any mistake or misconstruction; which yet he is so far from doing, (as we shall see presently,) that he has put together with it many circumstances, all tending to convince us that he used the word in the strict sense, as Scripture had done before, and the Christian Church did after. For
• Deus substantiæ ipsius nomen, id est Divinitatis; Dominus vero non substantiæ, sed potestatis, &c. Tertull. contr. Hermog. p. 234.
Deus jam vocari obtinuit substantia cui ascribo. Hanc invenies solam innatam, infectam; solam æternam, et universitatis conditricem―nega Deum quem dicis deteriorem: nega summum magnum, quem credis minorem. Adv. Marc. lib. i. cap. 6, 7. p. 368.
2. It is observable, that the Apostle does not say, in the beginning God created the WORD, (as the style runs in the first chapter of Genesis, and might have been properly used here, had he intended to signify that the WORD was God, in an inferior or improper sense :) but instead of that, he only says that the WORD was f; intimating that he existed before any thing was created, consequently from all eternity: for whatever existed before any thing was created, was no creature, as is manifest of itself; and if no creature, eternal. This is farther confirmed from the Apostle's repeating it in the next verse, "The same was in "the beginning with God." It is not improbable that the Apostle might intend this in opposition to Cerinthus, who believed the Anusoupyès, or Creator, to be separate and estranged from Gods. Nothing can be more directly levelled against that doctrine than this assertion of St. John's, that the WORD, who was Creator of the world, was from the beginning, or always, with God. But to proceed:
3. Another argument of St. John's intending the word God in the strict sense, may be drawn from the time whereof he is speaking. It was before the creation; he was then God. It is not said, that he was appointed God over the things that should be afterwards created. No; he was God before the world was. Our adversaries sometimes tell us of a throne, a power of judging, a regal au
f Παρὰ δὲ τὸ ἀεὶ συνεῖναι τῷ πατρὶ, λέγεται, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν. οὐ γὰρ ἐγένετο πρὸς τὸν Θεόν. καὶ ταυτὸν ῥῆμα, τὸ ἦν, τοῦ λόγου κατηγορεῖται, ὅτι ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν, καὶ ὅτε πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν ἦν, οὔτε τῆς ἀρχῆς χωριζόμενος, οὔτε τοῦ πατρὸς ἀπόλειπόμενος. Καὶ πάλιν οὔτε ἀπὸ τοῦ μὴ εἶναι ἐν ἀρχῇ γινόμενος ἐν ἀρχῇ, οὔτε ἀπὸ τῷ μὴ τυγχάνειν πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν ἐπὶ τῷ πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν εἶναι γινόμενος. πρὸ γὰρ πάντος χρόνου καὶ αἰῶνος, ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν. Orig. in Joh. p. 45. Οὐκ ἦν γὰρ ὅτε ἀρχὴ ἄλογος ἦν. διὸ λέγεται ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος. Ibid. p. 66. Vid. etiam Athanas. p. 526. Hilar. p. 795. Chrysost. in Joh. p. 25. and other testimonies collected in Suicer. Thesaur. under 'Agxǹ, and Petav. 147, 417.
Iren. lib. iii. cap. 11. p. 188. lib. i. cap. 26. p. 105. Tertull. de Præscript. Hæret. Append. p. 221. Epiphan. Hæres. xxviii. p. 110.
thority belonging to the Son: and that therefore he is God; and they observe h (as they think, shrewdly, but in truth very weakly) that the Holy Ghost has therefore none of that title, as having no regal dominion, &c. And when, in answer to this, we say farther, that the Son was Jehovah, God, and Lord, under the Old Testament; they reply, that he was then v poppy Oo, acting in the name and Person of God, and therefore styled God. Admitting all this, (which is mostly fiction,) yet what will they do with this text of St. John? Here it is plain, that the Son was God before any dominion over the creatures commenced; before he acted as representative of the Father, or was ev μopo sou, in that low fictitious sense: how was he God before the creation? Here they have little left to say, but that "he was partaker of divine power and glory with and from the Father." From hence then we see, that dominion alone is not sufficient to account for the Son's being God; not to mention that the Holy Ghost might have been called God in Scripture, as having been partaker of divine power and glory with and from the "Father," as well as the Son; so that that pretence about the Holy Ghost and this solution hang not well together. To such straits and inconsistencies are men reduced by bringing their hypotheses with them to interpret Scripture by, instead of making Scripture the rule of their faith. But to conclude this article: since then neither dominion, (on account of which princes and magistrates have been sometimes called Gods,) nor vicegerency, nor any thing of like kind, will account for the WORD'S being called God by St. John in this place: and since our adversaries themselves appear to be very sensible that their principles, which serve to help them out at other times, fail them here; and that they are forced rather to say any thing, however slight or trifling, than to be wholly silent: this alone is a strong presumption on our side of
h See Script. Doctr. p. 264. 2d edit.
i Script. Doctr. p. 240. 2d edit.