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by Thomas Coke
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT JOHN.
SAINT JOHN— This gospel is universally agreed to have been written after all the rest, with a view of completing whatever was deficient in them all. Saint John, independently of his divine and infallible inspiration, must be allowed to have a most perfect knowledge of the facts that he relates; and as he undoubtedly examined all the other gospels before he wrote, he is an authentic witness of their veracity. He was of our Lord's near kindred, according to the testimony of the ancients. Before he became acquainted with our Lord, he was a disciple of John the Baptist, and probably one of those two whom he sent to Christ. Our Saviour honoured him with his most intimate confidence, and loved him beyond his other disciples. He, and Peter, and James, were, exclusive of the rest, witness of the raising Jairus's daughter, of Christ's transfiguration, and of his agony in the garden. He was the only Apostle who stood under the cross, when Christ was crucified. Michaelis thinks that Saint John, in the life-time of his Master, wrote down some of heads of his discoures; at least that his stile perfectly resembles that of those who relate the discourses of another, after having taken down the heads while they were spoken. But we are not to consider this gospel merely as an historical narrative, but also as a controversial treatise, designed to refute various heresies; for no sooner was the Christian church established, but its doctrines were obscured, debased, and corrupted by errors and heresies of various kinds. The first heretics assumed the name of Gnostics, that is knowing ones, pretending to superior light and knowledge. They were afterwards followed by the Nicolaitans, whose false tenets were propagated by Ebion and Cerinthus. These heretics prevailed most in Asia: wherefore the Asiatic bishops desired Saint John to draw up a refutation of them; and he, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as well as in compliance with their request, composed his gospel, with a view "to put these heretics to shame, and to shew that God the Father by Christ, his eternal Word and Son, made all things." Wherefore, he does not relate the birth and parentage of Christ, or even those facts of which he, Saint Peter, and Saint James, were eye-witness, exclusive of the other apostles; but he meant only to collect such discourses and miracles as might confirm the doctrines laid down in the first chapter, which were counter-positions to Cerinthus and other heretics, who maintained the grossest errors concerning Christ.
Cerinthus is said to have taught, 1. That the most high God was entirely unknown before the appearance of Christ and dwelt in a remote heaven, called Pleroma, with the chief spirits or aeons. 2. That this supreme God first generated an only-begotten Son, who again begat the word, which was inferior to the first-born. 3. That Christ was a lower aeon, though far superior to some others. 4. That there were two high aeons distinct from Christ; one called life, and the other light. 5. That from the aeons again proceeded inferior orders of spirits; and particularly one Demiurgus, who created this visible world out of eternal matter. 6. That this Demiurgus was ignorant of the supreme God, and much lower than the aeons, who were wholly invisible. 7. That he was however the peculiar God and protector of the Israelites, and sent Moses to them; whose laws and injunctions were to be of perpetual obligation. 8. That Jesus was a mere man, the real son of Joseph and Mary. 9. That the aeon Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove, when he was baptized; revealed to him the unknown Father, and empowered him to work miracles. 10. That the aeon light entered John the Baptist in the same manner, and therefore that John was in some respects to be preferred to Christ. 11. That when Jesus had propagated the knowledge of God, and came to suffer, Christ left him, and fled to the uppermost heaven. 12. That Jesus Christ should reign on earth a thousand years, and his disciples enjoy all sensual delights. Some of the Cerinthian sect denied also the resurrection of the dead, and many of them maintained that Jesus Christ was not yet risen.
Now, we shall find Saint John's gospel divided into three parts. The first, contains doctrines laid down in opposition to those of Cerinthus, Ch. John 1:1-18. The second, delivers proofs of these doctrines in an historical manner, Ch. Joh 1:19 to John 20:29. The third, is a conclusion, or appendix, giving an account of the person of the writer, and of the view he had in writing, including also some additional facts, Ch. Joh 20:30 to the end. In what year this gospel was written, is not agreed among the ancients. It should seem to have been before the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in the year of our Lord 70; for Saint John speaks of that city as subsisting, Ch. John 5:2. There is at Jerusalem, by the sheep-market, a pool, &c. On the other hand, it appears from the gospel itself to have been written after the death of Saint Peter, which is generally placed in the year 78: for the other evangelists, when they relate the cutting off the high-priest's servant's ear, conceal the name of Peter, lest the Jews should have a legal pretence to prosecute him, and deliver him to the Romans, to be capitally punished: whereas Saint John mentions him expressly by name, Ch. John 18:10. Nor could Saint John probably have interpreted the words of Christ, Ch. Joh 21:18 thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, concerning the manner of Saint Peter's death, if it had been written before the crucifixion of that apostle, for before that time the words were ambiguous. This limits the writing of this gospel to the year 69, a year expressly specified by an ancient writer. Others give the date of it so late as the year 97. According to either computation, however, Saint John is allowed to have closed the whole gospel history, to have ratified and confirmed the former gospels, and to have established the evangelical canon on the firmest ground, and most venerable authority.
the Second Week of Advent