A Full-Stored Treasury of Sound Theology
Many Johannine tomes are more concerned with rethinking Christology rather than relishing in the old paths, more concerned with literary critique than looking at Jesus, more concerned with hypothesized compositional layers than the coming of the God-man to save sinners. Hutcheson’s aim in writing this commentary ought to be the aim of every biblical commentator—”to do service to the church of Christ in my generation, and to contribute my endeavours for promoting that public design of making the holy scriptures yet more clear unto the Lord’s people.”
One of the reasons I frequent used bookstores is the promise of hidden treasure. Buried beneath stacks of tottering books with faded covers can lie treasure of immeasurable value—gems forgotten by the passage of time. To discover that gem is like knowing a delicious secret before anyone else. I found that secret gem one morning when I stumbled upon The Exposition of the Gospel according to John by the Scottish Covenanter, George Hutcheson.
Hutcheson’s work contains all the hallmarks of robust Puritanism—doctrinal precision with heartwarming devotion to Christ. It is no wonder, then, that Hutcheson was one of Charles Spurgeon’s favorites. Hutcheson’s commentary on John was Spurgeon’s favorite to consult. He said of it, “Excellent; beyond all praise. It is a full-stored treasury of sound theology, holy thought, and marrowy doctrine.”1
For many today, however, George Hutcheson remains a stranger. Hutcheson (1615-1674) was a Church of Scotland minister, biblical commentator, and key figure in the events involving the Scottish Covenanters. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh (MA, 1638) and pastored in the villages of Colmonell and Irvine in the county of Ayrshire. He was close friends with David Dickson, another prominent Scottish Covenanting minister, biblical commentator, and Principal of the University of Glasgow. Hutcheson wrote other commentaries, such as A Brief Exposition of the Twelve Minor Prophets (1653-5), An Exposition of the Book of Job (1669), and more.2
Overview of Work
The Exposition of the Gospel according to John (1657) originated from Hutcheson’s preaching notes on the Gospel of John, likely from sermons preached at Colmonell, Ayrshire. Hutcheson explains in the introduction how he prioritized writing this commentary after he was faced with his mortality from some unknown incident. In the shadow of his own finitude, Hutcheson wrote this work to point to the infinite Son of God, who is “the fountain and preserver of life in living creatures” and who “hath undertaken to work the work of redemption of sinners, and so hath engaged himself to carry it through” (12, 84).
The commentary is a mid-sized volume of 439 pages. However, due to the density of the exposition and Hutcheson’s ability to make every word count, it feels more thorough and comprehensive than the largest contemporary tomes on John. The structure of the commentary is a combination of explanation and application. Hutcheson walks through the entire Gospel verse-by- verse. He first explains each verse and how it relates to the overall scheme of John’s narrative. Then, he has a section labeled “Doctrines,” which is a numbered list of various systematic doctrines and practical applications of the verse.
The explanations of the verses are clear and useful, but what makes this commentary stand out is the depth of doctrinal clarity and the breadth of application after each verse. Hutcheson combines lucid dogmatic explanation with sensitive pastoral application. For example, consider how in the space of a brief paragraph Hutcheson goes from elucidating the unity of the divine essence and the distinction of the persons in the Godhead, to redemptive-covenantal language, to an encouragement for believers to trust in Christ because of his nature and offices:
“The Son’s coexistence with the Father is also a matter seriously to be considered by believers, wherein they may see the deep wisdom and rich love of God, who hath found a way of reconciliation of lost man by the same in nature and essence who is the party offended, and that the unity of the divine essence and the distinction of persons should contribute to make the redemption and reconciliation of lost man effectual by him; wherein also believers, who have fled to Christ for refuge, may not only find him to be true God, able to supply all wants, and to save to the uttermost, but may also find the Father in the Mediator, as being one in essence with him.” (11).
Hutcheson and Reformed Orthodoxy
Spurgeon’s description of Hutcheson as a “full-stored treasury of sound theology” is certainly apt. Hutcheson’s exposition is a theologically sound distillation of the basic tenets of Reformed orthodoxy. His exegesis is doctrinal and biblical; his understanding of the Trinity and Christology is classical and conciliar; and his articulation of soteriology is set within the broader framework of covenant theology. Not only is the content of Hutcheson’s exposition markedly Reformed, but his method of exposition is reflective of earlier theologians, such as the sixteenth-century Reformed scholastic theologian, Girolamo Zanchi. R. A. Muller notes, Hutcheson’s style of adding “a series of doctrinal loci at the end of the exposition of each pericope” is similar to Girolamo Zanchi.3