The Johannine Writings/Part II, Chapter V

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   THE task that remains is the most attractive of all. We have to enter
   wholeheartedly into the spirit of the other four Johannine writings,
   and to try to realise their importance, on the one hand for their own
   time, and on the other for all times. When we did this in the case of
   the Apocalypse, we could only speak with a good deal of reserve; as
   regards these other writings, however, we are in a much more favourable
   position, especially as regards the Gospel and the First Epistle. At
   this point we assume, of course, that the reader is acquainted with all
   that we have said at the close of the first part of this book (pp.
   151-165) about the intellectual currents observable in the Fourth


   A consideration of the question whether the Gentiles also ought to be
   encouraged to become Christians will perhaps be the clearest way of
   showing that, of all the writings of the New Testament, the Fourth
   Gospel marks the greatest step forward.

   At first Jesus did not think of extending to the Gentiles the benefits
   of his work (p. 34 f.), and he forbade his disciples to undertake
   mission work amongst them, or even among the Samaritans; though perhaps
   the reason was simply that he wished the preaching of salvation to
   reach, at any rate, all the members of his own race before the end of
   the world, which he imagined to be quite near (Mt. x. 5 f. 23). For a
   Gentile was no less capable than a Jew of meeting the requirements for
   entrance into the kingdom of God, a longing for God, humility,
   compassion, purity of heart (Mt. v. 3-9); and in this matter Paul has
   grasped the inmost thought of Jesus more correctly than the original
   apostles. These leave Paul and his associates to go on a mission to the
   Gentiles, while they address themselves solely to the Jews (p. 187);
   and Paul has to fight hard for the principle that the Gentiles do not
   need first to become Jews and to accept circumcision and the whole of
   the Jewish Law before they can become Christians (Gal. ii. 1-10; Acts
   xv. 1, 5). In the Apocalypse only Jews (12,000 from each of the twelve
   tribes) receive the seal on the fore head which protects them against
   the great tribulations of the last days before the end of the world
   (vii. 1-8); and it is only in a section added later (vii. 9-17) that
   the seer sees before the throne of God a numberless crowd of all
   peoples who have come there, because they have steadfastly endured the
   great persecution of the Christians.

   In the Fourth Gospel, however, the admission of Gentiles to
   Christianity is quite a matter of course. When Greeks come near to
   Jesus and wish to meet him, he sees in their coming the beginning of
   the hour in which he will be glorified, that is to say, exalted to
   heaven (xii. 20-23). This story, which at an earlier point in our
   discussion (p. 78) seemed very curious, is now intelligible. The last
   and greatest goal of Jesus earthly message was the admission of the
   Gentiles to Christianity. And in x. 16 he says: "And other sheep I
   have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring . . . and they
   shall become one flock, one shepherd." Only such views as these could
   make Christianity a world-religion.

   For the same purpose again it was important that it should not seem to
   be dangerous to the State. In the case of Paul, the Acts of the
   Apostles always represents the Roman officials as recognising that it
   did not really threaten the State (xviii. 14 f.; xxiii. 29; xxv. 18 f.;
   cp. xix. 37; xxvi. 31 f.). In the Third Gospel, the same author, going
   beyond Mk. and Mt., tells us that Pilate declared three times that he
   found no fault in Jesus (xxiii. 4, 14 f., 22). Jn. emphasises this
   still more (xviii. 28-xix. 16) and adds, moreover, that in the course
   of his trial Jesus expressly said that his kingdom was not of this
   world (xviii. 36).


   If Christianity was to become a world-religion, it had to break away
   more and more from Judaism; and this cer tainly could not be done
   without a struggle. The great majority of the Jews from the time of the
   Apostle Paul had already adopted a hostile attitude towards
   Christianity: this would make the Christians despise them all the more.
   The way in which Jesus is represented as speaking of the Jews, the Law,
   the feasts of the Jews, as matters of utter indifference to him, and
   which to us seems inconceivable (p. 15 f.), entirely harmonises with
   the ideas of Christians in the second century, who were for the most
   part Gentiles by birth, and is most appropriate if the Evangelist was
   alive at the time of the rising of Bar Cochba (p. 200 f.). When he
   represents Jesus as being continually engaged in controversies with the
   Jews, all those points are touched upon which were in question between
   Christians and Jews in the second century: Jesus is really the Son of
   God; the Jews refusal to believe this is simply due to obstinacy, &c.
   In this way, the author answers all the needs of his time. We must
   leave the question whether there were also followers of John the
   Baptist to be refuted, and whether it is against these that proof is
   offered of the great superiority of Jesus (p. 80).


   We see more clearly how the author appreciates those intellectual
   movements of his age with which he feels that he him self has something
   in common. He prepared the way even for Montanus of Phrygia and his
   followers, who after the year 156 came forward with new prophecies and
   declared that this age of theirs, the age of the Holy Spirit which
   filled them, represented a higher level compared with the time in which
   Jesus lived, by making Jesus himself say in Jn. xvi. 12 f., that the
   disciples could not at the time understand many other things which he
   had to say to them, but that after his death the Holy Spirit would come
   and lead them into all truth.

   But it was, in particular, the captivating ideas of Gnosticism that the
   Fourth Evangelist appropriated (pp. 152 f. 158-160). He did a great
   service to his age by showing that one could be a thinker, appreciate
   knowledge, stand in the midst of a stream of thoroughly intellectual
   movements, and yet remain a faithful son of the Church. In this way, we
   may presume, he contributed not a little to keep Christians from
   splitting into two classes having hardly any connecting link, the
   intellectual aristocracy of the Gnostics and simple believers. In face
   of mutual feuds and of persecution from without, such cleavage might
   have endangered the continued existence of Christianity altogether. The
   Second and Third Epistles of John, which aimed at keeping the
   communities closely knit together by means of the authority of the
   Church, also deserve part of the credit for having warded off this
   danger. To us the effort may not seem, very exalted or even very
   beautiful: but, nevertheless, it was productive of good.


   The Fourth Evangelist, by adopting the view that the visible world is
   only a perishable copy of the invisible, at the same time introduced a
   revolution in the ideas about the state after death, the results of
   which have been felt even down to the present time. The Old Testament,
   and with it Jesus and the whole of primitive Christendom, imagined a
   future state of happiness upon earth. Even in the Apocalypse (xxi. 1
   f.), we read of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven upon a
   renovated earth.

   Only in a few passages does Paul express the idea (2 Cor. v. 1-8; Phil.
   i. 23) that the faithful immediately after their death will come to
   Christ in heaven. It is not until we turn to the Epistle to the Hebrews
   (xii. 27 f.) that we find the teaching that at the end of things the
   earth will pass away entirely and only the heavens remain; there, in
   the heavenly Jerusalem, which will not descend upon earth, is also the
   place where Christians will enjoy eternal happiness (xii. 22 f.). But
   whereas this truth is not easily to be discovered in the Epistle to the
   Hebrews, in Jn. it is expressed with absolute clearness (xiv. 2): "in
   my Father's house are many mansions. . . I go," by being exalted to
   heaven, "to prepare a place for you."


   But the Fourth Evangelist exercised the greatest influence by adopting
   to some extent the view of the world held by the great thinkers of his
   age and applying it to the Person of Jesus. Paul and those who followed
   him (pp. 144-146) had already ascribed to Jesus a life with God in
   heaven before his descent upon earth, and even a share in the creation
   of the world; but Jn. is the first to start clearly with the idea that
   Jesus was the Logos and that without him God could have produced no
   effect upon the world, because He, being perfectly good, was obliged
   without question to keep at a distance from the world which was
   thoroughly evil. The idea that Jesus was begotten of God as a human son
   is begotten by his human father, an idea which Paul and those who
   followed him had given expression to before Jn., must of itself have
   helped very much to make Gentiles familiar with Jesus from the start
   and favourably disposed towards his worship, for they knew of and
   worshipped so many deities who were begotten by a god. But the
   statement was truly a greater one when it could be said that the Logos,
   whose work the deepest thinkers had found to be necessary if the divine
   influence was to come into the world, was no other than Jesus. While
   the conception of Jesus as a Son of God might make an impression on the
   lower classes among the Gentiles, that of Jesus as the Logos would
   attract the people of culture. And, as a matter of fact, it was very
   important that Christianity should not always remain a religion merely
   for uncultured and uninfluential people. In the form in which the
   Fourth Gospel presented it, it was capable of satisfying the highest
   demands of the age. Here attention was no longer paid to the fact that
   this Jesus in whom people were to believe was a Jew--a fact which might
   have greatly repelled many Gentiles--for he is described in such a way
   as to make him quite superior to everything Jewish. And so Jn., even
   more than Paul, has brought it about that Jesus should be recognised as
   being what he was--without Jesus himself thinking the idea out--the
   Saviour of the world.


   True, there is another side to this picture. There was now no longer
   any other way of attaining to blessedness than by believing in Jesus.
   He himself must now be represented as continually requiring people to
   believe in him--a request which the Jesus of the Synoptics made so
   seldom. The branches must abide in the vine (by which Jesus means
   himself), otherwise they will wither. "Apart from me ye can do nothing"
   (xv. 4 f.). But this means at the same time that one must be a member
   of the Church and submit to the ordinances of the Church; for example,
   to those of the Second Epistle of John (verse 10 f.), which forbids one
   to receive Christian brethren who hold different doctrines, or even to
   greet them. People are now divided into those who are in communion with
   the Church and are blessed, and those who are outside and are not; and
   the fact that one belongs to the Church is apt, moreover, to depend
   more on faith than on that doing of the will of God which Jesus
   required so continually in the Synoptics. On the other hand, the
   feeling that one is one of the elect leads only too readily to
   presumption; the power which is associated with ecclesiastical
   officialism leads to domination, and even, in certain circumstances, to
   mercenariness (1 Pet. v. 2; 1 Tim. iii. 8).

   Nevertheless, it was necessary to establish a Church communion. The
   desire to enjoy a common religious possession with people of a like
   mind cannot be repressed. Moreover, such communion is a powerful
   support to the individual, whether he comes to be distressed by doubts,
   is in trouble, or is in danger of falling into sin. Institutions which
   serve this purpose, whatever dangers may lurk in them, must be
   considered instruments of progress.

   To all intents and purposes, the Fourth Evangelist never speaks of such
   institutions (xxi. 15-17 is by a later writer; see p. 186 f.). He has
   no interest whatever in episcopal authority and such like things. Had
   he had, it would have been a simple matter to make Jesus say something
   more than he does in xx. 21-23 about the privileges of the Apostles.
   His idea of the Church is still thoroughly ideal a community with
   Christ alone as its head. Nevertheless, we should make a great mistake
   if we were to think that he is indifferent to the Church. Every one who
   wishes to be blessed must share the Church's belief in Jesus; he who
   does not share it is already judged (iii. 18). He who wishes to be a
   shepherd of the Church must come in to the sheep through the door,
   which is Jesus himself, that is to say, through faith in him (x. 7-9;
   see p. 135). Indeed, according to the one point of view, with which, it
   is true, we shall soon have to contrast another, no man can have life
   in him unless he partakes of the Supper (vi. 51b-56).

   But beyond question the author, while emphasising these thoughts, does
   so in moderation. In the First Epistle of John, the believer's
   consciousness that he comes from God, possesses full knowledge, and is
   free from sin (iv. 4, 6; ii. 20 f., 27; iii. 9; v. 18 by the side of i.
   8-ii. 2: "if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus),
   certainly goes very far; but it is due to a connection with Gnosticism,
   more than to the idea that one belongs to the Church. Both authors
   never forget that it is the individual who must have the faith and keep
   the commandments of God; they do not say that, because he is a member
   of the Church, any demand which should really be required of him will
   be lessened. If, on the one hand, the Church is a blessing, and so far
   as it is an evil, on the other hand, is a necessary evil, we shall have
   to admit that only the Second and Third Epistles of Jn. transgress the
   limits of what has to be recognised as an appropriate move forward.


   The really dangerous aspect of the matter when, by describing Jesus as
   the Son of God and the Logos, people easily induced the Gentiles to
   believe in him, is seen in another direction. They had to carry this
   description through. It had to be shown in detail how be walked on
   earth as a divine being, simply proclaiming his high rank, doing the
   greatest miracles for his own glorification, and for that reason
   keeping away from the grave of Lazarus for two days, while at the same
   time an effort had to be made to maintain that he was really a man. We
   need not stop again to explain how difficult it is for the mind to
   imagine this figure, or how hard it is for the religious sentiment to
   accept it. Even if it were applied to the Jesus of the Synoptics, that
   would be a hard saying: "I am the way and the truth and the life; no
   man cometh unto the Father but by me" (xiv. 6). People without number
   have either never had an opportunity of hearing about him, or in spite
   of knowing of him, hold to another religion or to a way of thinking
   which cannot ascribe any merits to some mediator who has appeared at
   some previous date; and yet, as a matter of fact, they display as much
   humility, love, and fidelity to God as the many Christians who have
   devoted themselves to the faith of the Church. But how much harder is
   the saying, when it is the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel in whom one must
   believe unconditionally if one wishes to enter into communion with God!

   For centuries this demand has been made and complied with; and the
   books of history suggest rarely to some extent how many have been the
   doubts, and how great has been the torture of souls. To-day, in ever
   widening circles, people resolutely refuse to comply with it. And since
   this has happened, it may be considered fortunate that Jn. has made the
   demand so emphatically. For as a result of it we have been made to
   decide that no further move can be made in his direction, and that we
   must go back to the Synoptics and try to find in their account
   and--with their own guidance--in the background of their account, the
   figure of Jesus as he really existed.


   But why did this person write a Gospel? We are sure that the question
   has long ago occurred to many of our readers. But what other kind of
   book should he have written? A treatise, or a letter like the First
   Epistle of Jn. as found in our Bible? What does this contain? Hardly
   anything but general maxims: we must love God, we must shun false
   teachers. Now the Gospel also contains such maxims: God is Spirit; a
   man must be born from above (iv. 24, iii. 3), and so forth. But
   Christianity does not purpose to be a system of Wisdom, based upon
   theory; it is a religion which appeals to Jesus. Therefore in a book
   which is to make an impression he must be represented as coming forward
   and saying: "a new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one
   another;" "I am the Light of the world;" "I am the Bread of Life;" "I
   am the Resurrection and the Life" (xiii. 34; viii. 12; vi. 35; xi. 25).
   At Jesus hand the Christians, and with them the Fourth Evangelist,
   wished to receive no less than all that they thought themselves
   entitled to hope for. And, similarly, if all the blessings which still
   make Christianity precious to us at the present day were to be brought
   into the world of the Gentiles, it was of all things necessary that
   Jesus should be recognised by them; it was necessary therefore to
   record his acts, especially if the Gnostics introduced the danger of
   resolving his earthly life into a mere phantom existence (p. 150).

   And it was necessary to be able to describe everything as being as
   sublime as possible. It would not do to stop short at the teaching of
   Paul, that Jesus laid aside his divine attributes before he came down
   from heaven. If he ever possessed them, he must actually reveal them,
   and reveal them just where they could be seen by human eyes--upon
   earth. This idea must necessarily have arisen sooner or later. The
   higher the god, the more powerful his help; and Gentiles, who hitherto
   had always turned from a god who was not sufficiently powerful to one
   who was supposed to be more so, would only address themselves to a
   powerful god. In fact, even if Jn. had refrained from writing a Gospel,
   another person would have written one in the same sense, and we should
   simply have to make our complaint elsewhere.


   What we have said may have suggested that the Fourth Gospel with the
   Epistles of Jn. met the needs of its age in a very successful way, but
   hardly gives us anything that is of value for all times. Certainly, the
   abiding worth of the Gospel is not to be found where people seek it,
   and where the claim of the book itself, that it is a history of the
   life and work of Jesus, implies that they must seek it. Nevertheless,
   it is seen to be all the greater in other respects.

   If the authors of the Gospel and the First Epistle were not thinkers in
   the strict sense of the term, but have taken up philosophical ideas
   simply in order to defend their own religion, yet by their
   declarations, "God is Spirit" (Jn. iv. 24: that is to say, God is of
   spiritual nature; not, God is a spirit) and "God is Love" (1 Jn. iv. 8,
   16), they have expressed the nature of God with a precision which
   cannot be surpassed. Their leaning towards Gnosticism has given them
   other ideas of abiding value: a deep-rooted feeling of dependence upon
   God (Jn. iii. 27; pp. 149 f., 159 f.), and that interest in knowledge
   and truth which no religion can ever dispense with. And yet, at the
   same time, the onesidedness to which this might lead is obviated by the
   fact that what is made the test of knowing God is the keeping of his
   commandments (1 Jn. ii. 3).

   Equally deep is the truth hidden in the saying of Jesus (Jn. vii. 17):
   "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching,
   whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself." The context
   shows that by the will of God, which is to be kept, is meant, not the
   command to live a moral life, but nothing else than that teaching of
   Jesus which consists in declaring that people must believe in his
   divine origin. They will find this to be true as soon as they humbly
   accept it. Whether this statement is correct is another question. But
   it carries us farther than its application in this passage. It contains
   a criterion which is true in all cases and will show how man, to whom
   the knowledge whether a thing is of God has been made so difficult, can
   learn in another way, by trial, by a provisional submission of his
   will, whether it will satisfy him to such an extent that he can rest
   assured that it is divine.


   The First Epistle of John speaks in most beautiful language of what is
   at the heart of religion, communion with God. In the Gospel, since it
   is assumed that God is separated from the world, this communion is
   always effected through Jesus, who says, for example, in xvii. 23, "I
   in them, and thou in me"; according to the Epistle, man himself,
   without a mediator, feels that God is in him and that he is in God (p.
   209 f.). This mysticism, the intenseness of which remains, whether it
   consist in a feeling of union with God, or with Christ, is something
   peculiar to the Johannine Writings. Nowhere else in the New Testament
   has it so profound a meaning; in most cases, indeed, the gap between
   man and God, and man and Christ, is represented as being so great that
   the writers cannot imagine any such union. In the Johannine Writings
   the idea at the same time serves in a valuable way to counter balance
   the emphasis laid on knowledge, and thus assigns the feelings the place
   that rightfully belongs to them in religion.

   The actualisation of this close communion with God, however, is found
   in love of God to man and of man to God, and from these in turn flows
   the love of the brethren for one another. Not even Paul in the
   thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians has written
   anything more profound about love than that found in the First Epistle
   of John (iii. 13-18; iv. 7-21). The original source of love, it tells
   us, is God. Our love for Him and for the brethren only flow from His
   love; but it should do so for the very reason that God first loved us.
   It is of the very essence of love for God that we should keep those
   commandments of His which are not hard when they are obeyed from love,
   and that all fear of Him should vanish. In fact, though God is
   originally unknown, through our love to the brethren, he becomes
   perceptible as one who is present in our souls. And the Fourth
   Evangelist could not have summarised the life-work of Jesus more
   appropriately than he does when he makes him say (xiii. 34 f .): "A new
   commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another. . . . By this
   shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to
   another." In this way, as a matter of fact, he turns from his great
   doctrines about Jesus dignity and his derivation from God, to the
   simplest fact which the Synoptics tell us about him.


   He does this again, though with a different result, in what he says
   about the redemption brought by Jesus. According to the Synoptics,
   Jesus emancipated (redeemed) those who attached themselves to him from
   two kinds of illusion and from two kinds of sin: from the illusions of
   a religion of fear, and of a religion of pretences, as it is
   represented in the parable in Lk. (xviii. 9-14) by the Pharisee as
   distinguished from the publican, and from the sins of selfishness and
   worldliness (Mt. xvi. 25 f.). He does so by proclaiming his teaching,
   by illustrating it by his own example, and by his death, which proves
   that he is ready not merely to come forward and champion his cause, but
   even to die for it. Remission of guilt, forgiveness of sins, was
   included in this emancipation from the religion of fear. He is not in
   the least aware that his death is required in order that God may be
   merciful out of consideration for the sacrifice. When he promises the
   spiritually poor, the meek, the merciful, those who do God's will, and
   those who become like children, that they shall enjoy the Kingdom of
   Heaven, no previous conditions are laid down (Mt. v. 3-9; vii. 21;
   xviii. 3); when in the parable in Lk. (xv. 11-32) the lost son returns
   home penitent, his father goes to meet him, falls on his neck and
   kisses him without asking whether any one has offered a sacrifice for
   him; while Jesus is still present amongst his followers, he teaches
   them to pray "Forgive us our sins," and comforts them with the words,
   "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy-laden, and I will
   refresh you" (Mt. vi. 12; xi. 28). Picture to yourself a scene in which
   some poor child of man, burdened with guilt, casts himself at Jesus'
   feet and asks that he may realise this promise. Had Jesus thought his
   own death necessary before forgiveness of sin could be realised, he
   would have been obliged to say to him: "No, no, I did not mean that;
   you must wait until I have died for you on the cross." And yet before
   the declaration in Mt. xi. 28 he was silent about it!

   On the last evening of his life, Jesus said: "this is my body;" "this
   is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many" (Mk. xiv. 22-24).
   But only Mt. tells us that he added "for forgiveness of sins;" and in
   the words, which have been thought so sacred, and moreover from the
   first have been repeated at every celebration of the Supper, we may be
   certain, nothing was omitted. On the other hand, additions might
   certainly be made; the person who officiated at the celebration would
   first express something as his own idea, and then at a later date this
   would be wrongly regarded as a saying of Jesus (we have a very clear
   example in the introductory words, "take," "eat," in Mt., of which Mk.
   has only one, and Paul, in 1 Cor. xi. 24, and Lk. neither).

   In what sense Jesus thought of shedding his blood for many, we can
   easily realise when we remember that he was reclining at the paschal
   meal (pp. 117-130). God had promised to pass by those houses, the doors
   of which were smeared with the blood of the Paschal lamb, when on the
   night before the Exodus of the Israelites with Moses from Egypt, he
   would kill all the first-born (Exod. xii. 7, 12 f.; 21-27). The lamb,
   therefore, had to die that others might be spared from death. In like
   manner, Jesus will give his life to the fury of the enemy, that his
   followers, whose lives would otherwise have been equally threatened,
   might escape, since after their Master's death people would think them
   harmless. We see then that he certainly wished to make his death a
   sacrifice, not, however, in order that they might have forgiveness of
   sins, but that they might be preserved from misfortune, and from a
   misfortune which they did not deserve. [8] And if he added further,
   that his blood was the blood of a covenant, his idea was that he was
   again knitting them closely to God by a covenant, and that in the Old
   Testament whenever such a covenant was made a sacrificial victim was
   slain (Jer. xxxiv. 18; Gen. xv. 10, 17 f.; Exod. xxiv. 3-8). Here again
   there is no idea of a sacrifice for sin.

   And the only other passage in the Synoptics in which Jesus attaches
   importance to his death for the salvation of men, can be understood in
   the same way as the paschal sacrifice: "for verily the Son of Man came
   not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a
   ransom for many" (Mk. x. 45 = Mt. xx. 28), that is to say, that they
   might be spared from the danger of themselves falling victims to
   persecution. Instead of the Greek word "ransom," Jesus, who spoke
   Aramaic, may very well have used a word which simply meant "an
   instrument of escape." If, however, a sacrifice for the forgiveness of
   sins were really intended, we should be compelled to suspect that the
   concluding words ("and to give his life" . . .) are a later addition
   based upon an idea of the Apostle Paul, since they would be in
   contradiction with all that we have just found in the Synoptics. As far
   as the context is concerned, they can be dispensed with at once, and
   are not found in Lk. (xxii. 27) where the introductory words (in a
   somewhat different version) occur.

   Paul or some of his predecessors (1 Cor. xv. 3), with their strictly
   Jewish way of thinking, introduced into Christianity the idea that God
   was so angry with men for their sins that he had decreed the eternal
   destruction of all of them, and could only have mercy upon them if his
   own son died on the cross as a sacrifice on their behalf. In doing so,
   according to the opinion of Paul, Jesus took upon him the punishment of
   death which originally men themselves deserved; but he took it upon him
   as one who was guilt less, and therefore his offering became a
   sin-offering to God. This view has been held fast to in Church doctrine
   down to the present day, regardless of the fact that it is not found at
   all in the Synoptics, and only sporadically in the Fourth Gospel (p.
   209), and that in the New Testament the purpose of Jesus' death is
   described in more than twenty different ways, [9] which would not
   certainly have been the case if people had known of one generally satis
   factory explanation.

   If, as the Fourth Gospel represents, Jesus is the Logos, it cannot have
   been through his death that he first brought redemption. He is supposed
   to bring the world into conformity with God's will, since God himself
   was obliged to avoid contact with it. This he could only do by his own
   activity, and so, when upon earth, by his works and preaching.
   According to Jn., he may be compared especially with the light which
   shines upon the world; and so the only important question is whether
   people turn to him or away from him (iii. 19-21; i. 4-13). If they do
   the former (that is to say, as Jn. puts it, believe in him), they are
   quit of sin from that hour. But this brings us at once face to face
   with a character which is familiar to us from the Synoptics. In the
   Synoptics also Jesus brings salvation by his words and works, not by
   his death; and declares that people's sins are forgiven at once,
   wherever he finds the right frame of mind (Mk. ii. 5, 9; Lk. vii. 47

   May we suppose then that Jn. here preserves a correct recollection of
   the Life of Jesus? Certainly not. He only arrives at this agreement
   with the Synoptics after making an extraordinarily roundabout journey.
   Paul, influenced by a kind of piety which was very conscientious, and
   for that reason very punctilious, in his teaching about the sacrificial
   death of Jesus introduced foreign matter into the Gospel. Jn., though
   in a tacit and quiet way, removes it again. Had he remembered that it
   was not originally part of the Gospel, he would have omitted it
   altogether, whereas, as a matter of fact, he uses it several times (i.
   29, 36; on xi. 50-52; xvii. 19b, see pp. 271, 272 f.). It is not used
   by him in other places, simply because it could not easily be adapted
   to the other new matter which he felt obliged of his own accord to
   introduce into the Gospel of Jesus, we mean to the doctrine that Jesus
   was the Logos. To this doctrine itself he had only been led by that
   other mistake made by Paul when he supposed that Jesus was begotten as
   the Son of God before the creation of the world, and had existed in
   heaven down to the time of his descent upon earth. The idea that he was
   the Logos only carries us one step beyond this teaching. And yet it is
   this alone that gives rise to the doctrine that Jesus brought
   redemption, not by his death, but by his appearance upon earth. Thus we
   have here an exemplification of the great law of intellectual progress,
   that very often one truth proceeds from another only by the pathway of
   error. Jn. only succeeded in arriving at the truth which already
   existed in the Life of Jesus, by adopting the second of Paul's mistakes
   and carrying it farther.

   We ourselves, nevertheless, have reason to rejoice at the result. We no
   longer find in Jn. any of Paul's laborious arguments to prove that the
   Jewish Law has ceased to be binding upon Christians, and that the
   sinner is justified, that is to say, is declared righteous by God,
   through faith. If God is to declare any one righteous, he must be
   represented as a judge, and must as such examine one's works; and the
   faith which the sinner has merely to exhibit will not be a work, but
   the opposite of any kind of service: it must be simply trust, purely
   the opening of the hand to receive a gift from God--and this, moreover,
   is what it really is. Paul himself in truth found it very difficult to
   preserve intact the most deeply-rooted feature of this kind of faith,
   for with him faith always involved the acceptance as unimpeachably true
   of two facts of the past which criticism might only too easily shatter,
   and as a matter of fact has shattered altogether. The first is that
   Jesus suffered death for the purpose of blotting out the sins of
   mankind; the second that he rose from the dead after three days.

   Now, the latter Jn. also requires us to believe, that is to say, to
   accept as true; but the faith in Jesus person which Jn. asks
   for--although it also includes acceptance of the truth of his heavenly
   origin--consists again, exactly as it does in the Synoptics, simply in
   feeling oneself drawn to him, in confiding in him, in recognising him
   as one's redeemer. Similarly--in place of the above-noted difficulties
   in Paul's teaching about justification by faith--in the Johannine
   writings everything has once more become so simple that the important
   matter is again, just as in the Synoptics, to do the will of God or
   Jesus, concerning which especially the First Epistle of John speaks in
   such beautiful language (ii. 3 f., iii. 22, 24, v. 3 f.; Jn. viii. 51,
   xiv. 21, xv. 10, 14). In fact, when Jesus washes his disciples' feet he
   speaks of it simply as an example which he is giving them (xiii. 14
   f.), an idea, for a parallel to which we shall search in vain in many
   writings of the New Testament. If the roundabout way by which the
   author arrives at the teaching that Jesus was the Logos, and in the
   later course of which this beautiful language has all taken shape,
   represents doctrines which are as unacceptable to us now as they were
   before; if Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet on the last evening of
   his life, about which the Synoptics know nothing, remains now, as much
   as before, something which did not happen; yet the result has been that
   the working-out of those ideas current amongst Christians of the time
   which so often took people farther and farther away from the original
   form of Christianity, leads us back in several main points to its
   primitive simplicity, and so to what at the present time is the only
   form that can satisfy us.

   [8] On this see a note by the editor of the present series, and my
   reply to it, Appendix, pp. 261-269.

   [9] For further explanation, see Appendix, pp. 270-277.


   But the Fourth Gospel is most distinctly modern when it substitutes for
   the materialistic and literally understood ideas of the earliest
   Christians, the spiritual interpretations which were already implied in
   them without people being conscious of the fact. Usually people have no
   idea how many of the liberal ideas of the present may be found in this
   Gospel. As regards miracles, we have already decided, that they are
   only emphatically declared to be real events from one point of view,
   but that from another standpoint they are regarded purely as symbolical
   descriptions of profound truths (pp. 95-100, 105 f., 109); and those
   who are no longer disposed to use them as buttresses of the Christian
   faith need only appeal to the words which Jesus addressed to Thomas
   (xx. 29): "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
   The doctrine of the Trinity, which represents that from eternity
   Father, Son, and Spirit have existed as three divine Persons, and yet
   only as one divine substance, cannot by any means be maintained in face
   of Jn.'s statement (vii. 39): "the Spirit did not yet exist, because
   Jesus was not yet (by his exaltation to heaven) glorified." The belief
   that prevailed throughout the whole of the first century, that Jesus
   would come back from heaven to establish the blessed kingdom of the
   last days, has, in the mind of Jn., resolved itself into the idea that
   the Holy Spirit, though of course at a quite different time, will come
   into the hearts of believers. It is all the same to Jn. whether he says
   that Jesus will come again (xiv. 3, 18, 28; xvi. 22), or that the Holy
   Spirit will come because God or Jesus will send it (xiv. 16 f., 26; xv.
   26; xvi. 7). The Jesus who has been exalted to heaven is for Jn., that
   is to say, as he was already for Paul (2 Cor. iii. 17), this Spirit;
   and this again is the reason why the Holy Spirit does not exist before
   Jesus ascension.

   It was generally expected by the early Christians that Jesus second
   coming from heaven would be the signal for a bodily resurrection and
   for the judgment to be held before the throne of God upon all mankind;
   and that eternal life would then begin. In Jn., on the other hand, the
   judgment takes place during life, when a distinction is drawn between
   men, and the one section turns towards Jesus, the light which streams
   upon the world, while the other turns away from him (iii. 19-21). This
   very moment marks the be ginning of eternal life for such as believe in
   him or acknowledge God and Jesus; and it is a life which can never be
   interrupted by the death of the body, and so does not need to be
   introduced by a resurrection of the body. Compare xi. 25 f.; xvii. 3,
   and particularly v. 24: "He that heareth my word, and believeth him
   that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath
   passed (already) out of death into life." In fact, participation in the
   Supper, which according to vi. 51b-56 seems so essential, is made a
   matter which at bottom is of no importance by the concluding words in
   vi. 63: "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing;
   the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life." In
   fact, we can hardly conceive of the matter in a more modern way. And
   obviously it is not merely the Supper that is stripped of its
   importance by these words.


   We have thus produced ample evidence to show that, although we cannot
   admit the claim of the Fourth Gospel to be regarded as a record of the
   life of Jesus, it deserves the highest consideration at the present
   time when it is viewed as a book dealing with the essence of
   Christianity. So long as it is read with the idea of finding each
   particular statement about Jesus' works and discourses to be correct,
   it cannot be enjoyed. But when this idea is abandoned, and when, in
   addition, Jesus continual claim upon people to believe in his heavenly
   origin is set aside, when therefore attention is given only to the
   thoughts which he is made to express, or when one reads attentively the
   First Epistle of John, one is impressed by a profundity of thought and
   feeling, the equal of which cannot easily be found anywhere else in the
   New Testament.

   We may be sure that from the experience of his own soul he knew the
   value of the benefits offered by religion. He is aware that the
   religious man has light to illuminate his path (xii. 35), and that he
   possesses truth--truth which does not merely preserve him from error,
   but, more than that, delivers him from sin and leads him to holiness
   (viii. 32-35; xvii. 17-19). He knows of that faith which means
   resigning one's ego entirely to a higher personality; he knows of that
   depth of meaning imparted to life which implies that this truly begins
   at the moment of faith's awakening and cannot be interrupted by the
   death of the body; he knows of a spring of living water in his soul
   (iv. 14) and of the true bread from heaven which lasts for the life
   eternal (vi. 27, 32); he knows of a peace which the world cannot give
   (xiv. 27; xvi. 33), and of perfect joy (xv. 11; xvii. 13). In a word,
   he knows what it is to feel oneself a child of God and a friend of
   one's Master, instead of a slave who does not know what his Master is
   doing (xv. 14 f.); he knows what it is for a man to feel at one with
   God and with his Saviour.

   For all that constituted his religious aspirations he now found
   satisfaction in Christianity. But to him this means that he found it in
   the person of Jesus. For, in addition to all that we have mentioned, he
   knew something else: that no man has ever seen God, that none can
   receive any thing unless it be given from heaven, and that one must be
   chosen and cannot be the chooser of his own Saviour (i. 18; iii. 27;
   xv. 16). Consequently he needed revelation, and, sharing as he did the
   ideas of the age in which he lived, he could only conceive of this
   being imparted by a divine being who came down from heaven, proclaimed
   all truth, and brought every kind of salvation. The result is he has
   sketched the Jesus of his own mind in such a way that we men of to-day
   are often no longer able to find in him the true revelation. And yet in
   spite of this we can understand the way in which this deeply religious
   man came to build up this faith of his, In his Gospel we can still
   discover some very homely statements about Jesus, which show how at
   first a person's attention might have been attracted to him simply as a
   remarkable phenomenon: "never man so spake" (vii. 46); "he that
   speaketh from himself seeketh his own glory, but he that seeketh the
   glory of him that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is
   in him" (vii. 18); "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth
   down his life for the sheep" (x. 11). But the author having by such
   observations as these, which are really appropriate to the historical
   Jesus, gained confidence in Jesus, his longing for revelation would of
   itself carry him farther so that he could accept everything else that
   was recorded of this same Jesus and all those ideas that necessarily
   seemed to him to be presupposed if in his own person he represented a
   perfect revelation of God. [10]

   This again leads us to the thought that the author of the Fourth Gospel
   deserves credit for wishing to ascribe to Jesus all the sublime
   thoughts that he had made his own, especially when we remember that
   people of other ages, the present not excepted, have in the same way
   been only too ready to find in Jesus all that at any time has seemed to
   them truest and best in religion, We can understand now how it is that
   the author sees in this Jesus, and in him alone, the way to God, the
   truth and the life (xiv. 6); we can understand the confidence with
   which he can make him say, "whosoever drinketh of the water that I
   shall give him shall never thirst" (iv. 14), or "if a man keep my word,
   he shall never see death" (viii. 51). And one will be glad to be able
   to say after him, though the words were addressed to another kind of
   Jesus, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life"
   (vi. 68).

   At the same time he has not shut his eyes to the truth that Christian
   knowledge needed to make progress. After the death of Jesus, the Holy
   Spirit is to guide the disciples into all truth (xvi. 13). We may
   certainly suppose that the Evangelist himself felt that he was
   receiving some of this guidance when he advanced so far beyond his
   predecessors in his effort to spiritualise Christianity. In fact, he
   has contributed very greatly towards establishing the truth of those
   words which in his Gospel (iv. 23 f.) Jesus addresses to the woman of
   Samaria: "the hour cometh and now is (already) when the true
   worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth . . . God is
   Spirit, and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

   [10] In the suggestion here offered, which of course is not meant to be
   anything more than a suggestion, we have deliberately assumed that when
   the Fourth Evangelist devoted himself to Christianity he was of mature
   age. The growth of his ideas could be explained with very much greater
   simplicity if we might suppose that he had been educated in
   Christianity from the days of his youth.