We Beheld His Glory - a book review by Tecwyn Morgan

We Beheld His Glory

(Brother John Hellawell)

Book review by Brother Tecwyn Morgan (printed in The Christadelphian, July 2017).


When the Apostle John made that inspired pronouncement, he was giving his eye-witness account of the life of the Lord Jesus, but it was so much more than a statement about a glorious life, well-lived. The Bible-long theme of God’s revealed glory came to a climax when the Lord Jesus was born, for he was the embodiment of God’s eternal purpose, and he was to reveal the extent of God’s love for mankind, a love which still energises His gracious offer of salvation.


Dealing with such profound themes requires a degree of spiritual maturity as Brother John Hellawell readily acknowledges by commenting that many expositors of John’s Gospel account have had their work published posthumously. Fortunately Brother John is alive and well and his latest book is a welcome addition to Christadelphian expositions about the Gospel. If you are wondering why you should buy and read this book when you already have The Gospel of John by Brother John Carter, please let me explain how these two books differ.


Brother Carter wrote his exposition in the first instance as a series of magazine articles[1] which were later published in slightly revised form as a book. He was a great reader, as many of his books now in the CMPA library testify, but in the 1940s it was not fashionable to cite numerous outside publications. So whilst there are many allusions and quotations from other writers, they are not identified or codified. That is one big difference, for Brother Hellawell cites extensively: his Bibliography comprises thirteen pages of this large-format volume, and there are extensive citations and quotations from other expositors all the way through. This helps the reader on two counts. First, it brings us up to date with more recent scholarship, for most of the cited works are post-1941. Secondly, it helps the studious reader decide whether any other expositor’s writings are worth following up.


Another big difference is that writing for a magazine readership brings its own constraints about size and detail. Brother Carter’s writing is widely admired for its clarity and conciseness. The 236 pages of his book expound the entire Gospel, including a seven page introduction and a scripture index. Brother Hellawell was not so constrained. His book is 480 pages long in the same size format as his recent Beginning at Jerusalem (CMPA, 2014) and the very detailed forty-one page “Introduction” looks at all the relevant issues, including authorship, date of writing, comparison with the Synoptic Gospels, destination (for whom the Gospel was originally written), vocabulary, historicity and structure. If you start reading at the beginning and work your way through that detailed consideration you might get a wrong idea of how this book is going to expound the text itself. For page sixty begins the commentary itself and then the book settles down, leaving behind the scholarly debate and confusion.


Prologue to Epilogue

Readers familiar with Beginning at Jerusalem will recognise the approach that has been adopted, with one major exception. First comes the passage of scripture under examination, picked out in shading, using the RV text and including any marginal variations. The exposition follows, making frequent references to other passages of scripture, which are often quoted in full. This makes the reading much easier and John’s thought process more understandable, compared with having constantly to turn up those passages. Brother John works his way systematically through the Gospel, acknowledging problems where they exist but not getting drawn into the controversy that has sometimes marred our consideration of this wonderful Gospel message. He never avoids considering issues like the rebirth of the spirit (in John 3) or the work of the Comforter (in John 16); he just expounds the view that has become widely accepted among us, notwithstanding some attempts to suggest otherwise.


John accepts that different opinions exist outside of the brotherhood, especially about the person and nature of the Lord, but this time he does not break the continuity of his scriptural consideration by digressing to consider them as he goes along. Instead he reserves such matters for a set of six detailed appendices which consider items like “John’s writings and the doctrine of the Trinity”, “The Identity of the ‘disciple Jesus loved’”, “The house at Bethany” and “The post-resurrectional appearances”.


As was apparent with another of his books (Puzzling Passages, CMPA, 2015), Brother John loves to try and sort out a puzzle and offers some solutions to questions like: Did Jesus keep the Passover?, Why did Judas betray Jesus?, Who was Judas?, and Was Mary Magdalene also known as Mary of Bethany? You may not agree with his conclusions but his arguments are worth following through before you make up your own mind.


This then is a book that will appeal on several levels. If you want quietly to contemplate the life of our Lord as revealed in this inspired Gospel account, start at page sixty and work your way through it as you draw ever closer to the Lord of life and feed upon him. If you have problems to resolve about some passages or themes in the Gospel, you will find a lot of help here as Brother John studies those issues with you, drawing upon the writings of others and carefully indicating where further help can be found. If you want a concise consideration of the Gospel with insight and clarity, read Brother John Carter’s study and follow it up with this more leisurely and detailed consideration

[1]In The Christadelphian: January 1937 to January 1941.